A Year at the U. of Michigan SSW

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Introduction

In 2009-2010, I completed the second year of my master’s of social work at a top-ranked school of social work. This document conveys substantially the words and ideas that I recorded on a daily basis during that school year. I originally recorded these words in a private LiveJournal blog. In summer 2013, I edited these materials into the form presented here and added links to some relevant materials. I expect to do a bit more editing as the need arises. All names are pseudonyms.

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A Year in the Life of an MSW Student:
Reports from a Master’s Program in Social Work

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September 22, 10:14 AM – Intro

Getting underway in the second year of my studies to earn a master’s degree in SW (MSW) at a well-known school of SW (SSW). Thought about blogging it; decided not to; changed my mind. I’ll explain why later.

We’re at late September here, so I’ll have to be doing a bit of catch-up. Right now, I’m using the computer at the place where I have my field placement, also known as a practicum or internship.

* * * * *

September 22, 10:19 AM – Distancing?

Why did I decide to blog this experience? Part of the answer is that I had a weird experience with a classmate last week, and it reminded me of old times – of my previous experiences in SSWs.

The weird experience goes like this. After class on Monday night last week, I had a long conversation with Hannah, another second-year MSW student.

Hannah is popular and friendly, and she wanted to know more about me. I told her about some of my experiences last year at my previous school, where I transferred from. It was a really harrowing experience, being at that school, and I had a lot to say. As I talked, she seemed interested and was encouraging me to talk.

So did the world change in some major way between then and Thursday morning? Thursday, in the other class we have together, I got no eye contact from her. There are only eight people around the table in that class, and the class lasts for an hour and a half, so the change was obvious and dramatic. But why it happened, I am not too sure. If I was boring her, why did she act so interested?

* * * * *

September 22, 10:23 AM – Silence from the Expert

A couple of weeks ago, I emailed a professor to see if she would be willing to supervise me in an independent study. She had just taken over as the editor of a journal on SW education, and I told her I had become interested in SW education.

She wrote back to ask what particular topic I was interested in. The basic idea I conveyed to her was that I wanted to explore the topic of quality improvement in SW education. I mentioned that I had had some surprising conversations and experiences with administrators at two different schools of SW. One of those administrators happened to be the previous editor at the very journal where she was now taking over.

And, well, that was the last I heard from her. Yesterday was the last day to add courses for this semester, so I guess the independent study is not going to happen.

* * * * *

September 22, 10:40 AM – Class Discussion

My Thursday afternoon class had its second meeting last week. It’s a course on clinical mental health practice. I found it to be a good class session. The discussion focused on experiences that students have had in their field placements (internships) so far this semester. I don’t think that’s what the official topic of the day was supposed to be, but that’s how it turned out.

I noticed that not all students were participating. After class, I talked to one of them. She seemed to feel that the session had been a waste of time. I guessed that the questions being discussed were not relevant to her internship. I don’t think she asked any questions during the class session, so maybe she didn’t have any.

* * * * *

September 22, 10:47 AM – Tech Skills Class

Last night (Monday), I had my three-hour, once-a-week mini-course in computer stuff related to SW. Most of my courses are clinically oriented, but I’m taking a couple of mini-courses because their topics interested me and because I wanted to get at least a bit of exposure to the more policy-oriented types of students and professors at this SSW.

I didn’t fare too well in last night’s class. The previous week, I had followed everything really well, but this time I wasn’t concentrating. It wasn’t too interesting, and anyway I was somewhat distracted by the antics of Hannah, sitting in the row ahead of me. She was still not looking at me or being friendly toward me.

This sort of thing seems to happen when you’re new in town. The first people you meet tend to be those who seem to be available and willing to be your friend. And sometimes there’s a reason why they’re looking for new friends.

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September 22, 10:54 AM – My Negativity and Self-Centeredness

As I review my first entries, I realize I’m talking primarily about problems and concerns. I think I’ll probably be treating this blog as a zone for self-therapy. In other words, the purpose here is not to provide a well-rounded description of all aspects of SW education. I expect to focus on problem-solving – on figuring out what is not working well, and finding ways to make it work better.

Also, I’m talking about me. Of course, I hope this is useful to anyone else with whom I may share this blog. A focus on my own problems is selfish. It does have the potentially redeeming virtue of addressing things in my own life, where I have a relatively good idea of what I’m talking about.

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September 22, 4:56 PM – Supervision Meeting

What a day!

At the place where I’m doing my internship, we had a domestic violence (DV) group meeting this morning from 11 to 1, and then a supervision meeting from 1 to 3. Except that it went to 4:30 instead. Because of me.

Well, and what an interesting group of social workers we have, working with these men who have committed acts of domestic violence, who are mostly here by court order. Among the crew in this supervision meeting, we have Rose, who is shy and demure; we have Betty, who has long crisscrossing scars on her forearm; and towering above all in majesty, or at least in argumentative ability and inclination, we have the Wicked Witch of the West, goes by the name of Bobbie.

This morning’s DV group meeting was the third one I have sat in on. Second one, yesterday, wasn’t too interesting; it was basically just an introduction, for new entrants into the DV program. First one, last week, was noteworthy because it included this guy, Alan, who everyone in today’s supervision meeting is describing as an alcoholic, an abuser, an arrogant jerk who flaunts his male privilege all over the place. But I’m thinking he doesn’t seem to be enjoying much actual privilege: the judge has recently upped his sentence to five years on probation.

Bobbie sees that I’ve been silent. She asks me what I thought of that first group meeting. Everyone else thought Alan was being manipulative. I said I thought he was just frustrated. Bobbie doesn’t like this. She says Alan made “a sale” to me, which in DV-speak means I bought his act, I believed the sad little story he was telling. But I’m not naive. As I sat in that meeting, I could see both that he was frustrated and why he was frustrated. Bobbie said he was raising his voice; but what I saw was that Bobbie was the one raising her voice.

What I’ve observed, in this and other meetings so far, is that there is rarely a dissenting opinion among staff members. Bobbie, usually, or whoever is dominant in the meeting, states the official view on the man in question, and others seem to agree with it. After Bobbie had made a wreck of the program’s introductory communications with Alan in that meeting, she handed it off to Theresa, who did a much better job of communicating with Alan. Unfortunately, Alan called Stanley (the president of the agency) afterwards, and told him that he appreciated Theresa’s approach. In today’s meeting, Stanley responded to this by asking if maybe Theresa was being too easygoing with these guys.

Betty tells me that she works with abusive men who are in prison, and that those men have committed horrible acts of violence against the women and children in their lives. And so, she says, every one of these men in our counseling groups is capable of committing the same kinds of crimes; and this is why our real clients are the women and children, not these men who are being charged good money to attend our counseling groups under court order.

Bobbie bores in with more questions, and soon I’m up to my neck. I say it doesn’t seem very respectful to be laughing at and ridiculing these men. Anyway, if Betty were right – if these particular individuals truly were that dangerous – we’d want to be getting their girlfriends and wives away from them, not helping the men to do better in those relationships.

Bobbie and the other group leaders have a rule for the men in the DV group: in group discussions, they can never use a third-person personal pronoun. In other words, don’t say “he,” “she,” or “they.” Instead, name the people every time. So instead of saying, “I asked Henry, Susan, and John if they wanted to go to their place,” a group member would have to say, “I asked Henry, Susan, and John if Henry, Susan, and John wanted to go to Henry, Susan, and John’s place.”

Mark, an intern who is focusing his internship mostly on the DV program, thinks that the theory behind this rule is that it might train the men not to treat the people in their lives as mere objects. But is there any research showing that it actually works? As far as I can tell, the rule just makes it harder for the men to express themselves – especially those for whom English is not a first language. We have our diversity talk in the SSW, and then we have this reality of practice.

It’s as if the group leaders want to invent excuses to find fault with these guys. Almost every time one of them speaks, Bobbie or someone else is correcting them for saying “she” instead of “Susan,” or is pointing out how the guy is contradicting himself or “obfuscating” or “making a sale” or doing one of the other no-nos on the list of no-nos on the wall. The unspoken message seems to be: you guys abused your power over other people, and now we’re going to show you how that feels.

So of course I dare to say so. I know, of course, that in many ways you are not supposed to express your true feelings in our society. You will offend people; you can be sued for libel or slander; you will make yourself out to be negative, disgruntled, a crank or crackpot or bitch. Instead, you are supposed to embody positivity and radiate success. I know this, for heaven’s sake: I have been a lawyer for nearly 30 years.

What is different about me is that I have returned to school with a determination to ask the important questions during the educational process, rather than talk myself into some surreal post-graduation existence where nothing makes sense. I have already tried that approach. I am older and more experienced than most of my classmates. They have yet to travel the road to self-delusion.

I used to think that the Libra sign – the scales – meant that I would always strive for personal balance. Now I think it means that I tend to swing to the opposite extreme of everyone else. So, for example, if I find myself in a place of nonsense, I am likely to be especially direct and factual. It’s not because I want to be difficult. It’s because I am afraid of what happens when people overdo a certain style or viewpoint.

So, as I say, I answer Bobbie’s questions directly and honestly – and, next thing you know, I’m in the same position as those guys in this morning’s DV group: suddenly I’ve got a half-dozen staffers ganging up against me, with Bobbie leading the charge. But I don’t roll over and die as they seem to expect. Stanley, who hired me for this internship, is staring hard at me, and finally he says I don’t seem to be interested in learning at all.

There’s a weird interlude in there at one point. Stanley says something that doesn’t seem to add up, and I say so. Before he can reply, Bobbie steps in, in an almost protective way, with a hand reaching out across the table and to her right, as if to block him. Suddenly, it feels like they’re a couple. I realize they are both married, but I’ve never thought to ask whether they are married to each other. Maybe it’s more like Bobbie is Stanley’s spokesperson in difficult situations. I don’t know. It’s just a strange little moment.

As the argument goes on, Jane says she has to leave. Her parting remark is that she is just terribly disappointed that I have turned out to be such a purveyor of male privilege. José presents a list of several ways in which I have not been handling my side of the debate properly. Theresa, who just got through criticizing me for interrupting someone, says that there are no rules and therefore it’s OK for the gang to interrupt me.

Maybe the weirdest contribution came from Catherine, whom I have never seen before – another intern like Mark and me, wasn’t even in the meeting last week with Alan. Catherine disagrees with me completely: she says she can clearly imagine what Alan and that meeting were like. Apparently her SW training has taught her that she can ethically evaluate people whom she has never met. Nobody here is laughing at her for such nonsense. She’s blatantly parroting what Bobbie wants her to say.

I defend myself against all this. Among other things, I explain that a lot of harm gets done in the name of therapy. We may not like the clients, but this is not a popularity contest. When Bobbie keeps doing her cross-examination of me, asking question after question after question, I point out that this does not seem to be a discussion but, rather, an attempt to win an argument or obtain a conviction.

Someone says that I seem defensive. I ask if it is surprising for a person to be defensive when they are defending themselves. Instead of everyone in the room ganging up on someone who questions organizational dogma, I say, I would think that at least one social worker would speak up on behalf of the underdog.

Mark, my fellow intern, says that these supervision meetings are definitely confrontational like this, so it’s normal and appropriate that everyone would be ganging up on me. He’s had the same experience, he says, in a couple of previous meetings. But then, after the meeting, with a few people still left in the room, he admits that he would have hesitated to just come into my first supervision meeting and challenge the whole purpose and method of the organization. But what about them disparaging my whole worldview and making personal remarks about me when I try to defend it?

Mark is a good guy. Mellow personality, not piling on me along with most of the others in the room. Later, I decide that this is his way of trying to make my participation seem normal. To his credit, he did try to speak up mildly on my behalf at one point, and they jumped on him too.

I’m only a beginner, so we’ll see, but so far it seems that Stanley and Bobbie could learn something from the seemingly more effective styles of Theresa and Rose, instead of just expecting them to become harsher and more offensive.

Right up to the end, Bobbie was still finding fault with things I said during the meeting, and that seems to be her basic modus operandi. Apparently it’s all about how others – me, clients, even her colleagues – are wrong, and she’s right.

I’m no DV expert, but I would think that self-respecting men would not tend to be in the position in which these guys find themselves. Some of them have apparently experienced serious abuse personally. So now we subject them to a group free-for-all, like what I experienced today, where a half-dozen people are jumping down their throats for whatever they say. But is this effective? Continuing to demean these guys – to tear down what they say, and how they say it – seems like a shove in the wrong direction.

But we’ll see how it goes – assuming, that is, that they don’t eject me from the group. I don’t think they will, but I’m afraid some of them will be looking for ways to punish me. I can report that at least there was no hatemail in my email inbox when I got home, just now, so evidently I will live to fight another day. But as I was driving away at day’s end, I had to acknowledge that this internship could turn out to be quite unpleasant.

* * * * *

September 22, 8:39 PM – I Did

“I did,” said the client. “You can’t take that away from me.”

It happened in today’s group meeting. The young man seemed witty, sharp, really focused. He was going through his paces, following the expected routine in the domestic violence group. There was something he was supposed to do, according to the procedure – I don’t remember what, right now – and he believed he had done it. One of the group leaders faulted him for failing to do it, and that seemed to sting him. So he came out with this reply.

It sounded like the kind of thing that a prisoner would say to his captors, like a retention of a shred of pride in himself, despite all the negative stuff they were trying to make him believe about himself. I’m not saying that’s exactly what it was – I don’t have access to his story – but it did sound like that.

I’m worried about tomorrow. Looking at the previous entry here, I’m seeing that the length of a blog post could be directly proportional to the amount of anxiety underlying it.

* * * * *

September 23, 1:26 AM – Still Some Anxiety

I’m up late, doing an assignment for tomorrow, and being distracted by this whole thing that happened today. Or I guess I should say I’m doing an assignment for today, since it’s 1:27 AM.

I keep going over pieces of today’s fireworks in my mind. I’m thinking of Jimi, the black guy who always says, “I wasn’t finished” when our young male clients interrupt him. He insists on that rule for himself, but he didn’t utter a peep today when I was challenging the group’s right to interrupt me as I tried to speak. I’m thinking of what’s-her-name with those scars, and how Bobbie kept jumping in.

And then there was the closing part of the group meeting, where Bobbie looked at the half-dozen men sitting in that circle and told them that, in the next meeting, they would explore why men use humor to dodge issues. I’m sure it does happen; I’m sure it’s maddening sometimes. But humor is a strength too. It reduces conflict. It helps people deal with pain and hardship. It puts things in perspective. And every now and then I see a piece of research that seems to indicate that women prefer men with a sense of humor. Maybe not Bobbie. But there are women in this world who have a better attitude toward men.

I had a couple glasses of red wine an hour ago, but I’m still kind of wound up about the whole thing. My roommate came in from work around midnight, ate and did his exercises, and is still awake. He is one hardworking Chinaman. But I’ll be getting up in the morning several hours before he does.

* * * * *

September 23, 11:39 AM – Supervision Meeting

Yesterday’s supervision meeting was for the domestic violence (DV) group. Today’s is for the mental health group. This is the group I’m supposed to be in; I’ve just been going to the DV group’s activities for something to do, because we (the new mental health interns) haven’t been given any opportunities to meet with actual clients yet.

The mental health group consists, at this point, of Pam (our supervisor) and four interns: Kendra, Allison, Campbell, and me. I like Pam. She is sweet. She seems like she would be a good counselor. And she seems to be straightforward. Part of the reason I went over to observe the DV group is that, last week, Pam told me it is difficult if not impossible, in this region, to get a regular full-time job as a mental health clinician. She is sorry if she is the one to break the news to me. She probably knows they are not exactly emphasizing this at the SSW. In fact, nobody has just come out and said it. So I guess it has seemed advisable for me to have at least some sense of what is happening in other kinds of SW practice.

In today’s supervision meeting, Pam says she wants to hear us tell what we have been up to, “because I’ve heard rumors.” Kendra starts, talks briefly about her activities, and then Pam decides it’s my turn. I provide a brief summary of the DV group and then ask Pam if she’s heard anything about my experience from yesterday. She says no. So I proceed. I decide to tell them the thing about how clients in the DV groups always have to use names, can’t just say “he” or “she” or “they.” The other interns find this very strange.

Pam is surprised to hear that I would have been in the hotseat for two hours in yesterday’s meeting. I say it was traumatic. She, mercifully, does not find fault with me, and does not require me to go on at length. She says she’s never actually been in one of those DV meetings herself. She honestly does not seem especially interested, one way or the other; I think she really did just want to know what I’ve been doing, with no ulterior motive. And then the spotlight fell on Allison, to take her turn explaining what she’s been doing.

A couple of minutes later, I started to relax. Was that really all there was to it? Someone with a mental health orientation stumbled into a DV program meeting, disagreed with its style, defended his views, and is going to be allowed to return to the area where he’s supposed to be doing his internship? Pam says she will be setting us up with clients within the next week or two. This sounds good.

* * * * *

September 23, 12:03 PM – Suspended

After the supervision meeting with Pam, I go back to a computer. We don’t have offices – the place is too poor for that. There’s just a row of old computers along a wall in an entryway sort of area, where client files are kept. Counselors’ offices are located along this entryway. There are five or six offices, each shared by several counselors. Last week, Pam explained to me that the mental health workers there are part-timers. They come in to meet with clients, and then they leave. White sheets on the doors indicate which counselor has been scheduled for which room. I think they are only part-timers so that the organization can avoid having to pay benefits for them.

At the computer, I log in. Jimi, the black guy, comes by, and for the first time he says, “Hi, Ray.” So I guess yesterday’s meeting counted as an introduction.

On the computer, I was planning to go to my blog site and make a note of what had happened in the supervision meeting, but for some reason the computer is not letting me read my email. But I can see there’s a message from the front desk receptionist, telling me that Stanley wants me to call him. My anxiety level goes up about four notches.

I am just in the process of fiddling with the email, trying to get in and read it and make sure of what all it says, and then Pam comes into the area and tells me that Stanley wants to talk to me on the phone, using the phone in her office (which is all the way around in the other wing of the building). She mumbles something about how he couldn’t call me on the phones located next to the computers where I was sitting. Apparently he didn’t want to talk to me face-to-face.

Pam and I walk around to her office. The phone’s handset is lying on the desk. She picks it up, confirms that Stanley is still on the line, and hands it to me. I say, “Hello?” He says, “Ray, this is Stanley. We are putting your internship on hold.” He goes on to say something about how he will be making contact with Sandra, the coordinator at the SSW.

I say OK and hand the phone back to Pam. She talks to him. Her words and her change in posture seem to say that he is only now giving her this same news. She sounds like she has just heard that someone is in the hospital. She finishes with Stanley and turns back to me. We have an awkward little moment where I say, “We’ll talk later,” and she does not seem to know what to say.

I pass Allison, Pam’s other SW intern, in the hall. We have been hanging out, in our spare time, and by now I know a chunk of her life story: went to the Army at age 19, trained to climb out of helicopters, fell 30 feet, broke her hip and pelvis, grew up in this area, went to the same college as I, was stationed in Korea and at Ramstein, etc. She is my friend. So now I stop her, put my mouth close to her ear, and whisper that my internship has been put on hold. She says, “Oh, OK,” and never stops smiling. She’s an upbeat person, and it was just a passing contact, so I can’t say for sure. But my impression is that she’s not particularly concerned or interested. It’s like I told her that my favorite ball team lost their game today, if that.

I go back over to the row of computers, in the other wing. On the way, I see Rose. She says, “Hi, Ray,” like nothing’s going on. I surmise that she has not yet heard the news. Another intern is sitting at the computers. This is a young SW student from a different department. Last week, I spent an hour giving her an orientation to the place, when I could instead have been doing my homework. We have also spent quite a bit of time chatting. I tell her the news and, to my disappointment, I get more or less the same reaction as from Allison. Evidently she couldn’t care less. I leave.

On the drive home, I am kicking myself for not following my instincts. I had met some people from the organization’s DV program back in the spring, at the SSW’s Open House; I had looked at their literature; and I had concluded that they definitely did not sound like the kind of group I wanted to be involved with. I had specifically put their materials aside with a note that read, “Not safe.” This was the only organization at the Open House for which I made a note like that. And yet that’s where I wound up and, unfortunately, my prior instincts had proved correct.

Yes, I had been bored; yes, I wanted to be getting involved with actual clients somehow, and DV had seemed better than nothing; yes, I was just marking time until I had some mental health clients and could ease out of the DV area. But now it seemed that I would have been further ahead to just twiddle my thumbs, do my homework, and kill time.

So now, the next step seemed to be to get in touch with Sandra, at the school, and see if she would be supportive, or what perspective she would take on the matter.

My fantasy self was saying, This is just the start of something big and positive. And I knew it could be. I’d had that kind of experience before, where the closing of a door is actually the opening of a door into a different room.

* * * * *

September 23, 12:30 PM – The Fun Professor

I am going to focus on next steps, one at a time. My starting point is, it’s Wednesday afternoon.

I have a young female professor for my Thursday afternoon class. She’s entertaining. Her ears stick out a bit, but that’s not the main thing. The main thing is that she just keeps dropping these kinky little remarks, using words like f*ck (without the asterisk) that professors almost never use, and so forth.

This attitude inspires me to relax and participate. I participate more than most. Two weeks ago, after class, I emailed the professor to make sure this was OK, and to verify that she wasn’t irritated by one thing I had said that was maybe too lighthearted. She said she did wonder if I would have said the same thing to an older professor, but generally yeah, things were good, and she encouraged me to keep on participating.

Well, then, last week I emailed her again to follow up on that. But this time I didn’t get a reply. That was making me nervous. Had I offended her? Was she just too busy and not interested in exchanging emails when she already had a full schedule? Was she trying to decide how to answer?

Now, finally, I have a reply. But before getting into that, I think maybe I had better take a nap – I’m really tired – and maybe go for a run. I haven’t run for a week, because I’ve been nursing my sore right calf. But it doesn’t seem to be sore anymore, so maybe it’s time to get back to it. And then maybe I had better spend the afternoon doing the rest of my reading for this afternoon’s class, where Dr. Krishna may be giving us a quiz, as he was hinting last week.

* * * * *

September 23, 12:58 PM – More About the Fun Professor

So, OK, I opened the email. I decided not to run because it’s hot outside and I’m stressed. I tried to nap but couldn’t sleep because it’s hot and I have a headache. So I have lunch on the stove – it’s hot – and I am looking at the fun professor’s reply.

Well, the long and short of it is that she sent me an encouraging, positive email message. So, OK, I seem to be losing the game, but at least I’m not a complete loser.

* * * * *

September 23, 1:31 PM – Student Organizations

One great thing about attending a prestigious SSW is that it has tons of things going on. This has two benefits: for those who don’t know precisely what interests them, this gives them opportunities to float around in a sea of possibilities; and for those who do know what they’re interested in, there’s a greater likelihood of finding a critical mass of likeminded compatriots.

For this purpose, a large student body is helpful. Having 500 or more MSW students in the same building automatically generates a broader variety of interests than does having just 50 or 100. Being highly ranked helps too: it attracts motivated, intelligent students to this one place, instead of leaving them scattered among less celebrated schools. Do they make more of an impact here? Not sure.

* * * * *

September 24, 10:45 AM – Dr. Krishna’s Class

Went to my class on mental health work with adults last night. Dr. Krishna started the class with his usual New Age / Baby Boomer thing: put on some music with that goofy, hippie-ish Windows Media Player acid trip “visualization” software playing. Granted, he may not know any other way to play music on a PC, but it did seem to fit, except that some computer bug was making the visualizations all green.

Dr. Krishna did not start out on the right foot with me. First day of class, a couple weeks back, before class started, I was sitting in the front row, and for some reason he was staring at my legs. I was wearing shorts, and my legs were visible under the table. Actually, if I had to pinpoint it, I would say he was staring at my shins. He knew that I caught him doing it; so then he comes over and stands right in front of me and does it again. The man is 6’ plus; he’s standing right in front of me; he’s staring down at my shins; and I’m getting irritated because it feels like he’s trying to let me know that he doesn’t think my skateboarder shorts are appropriate. Or something; I don’t know.

So then, of course, I was a bit on my guard about this guy. Last week, I came into class, he asked me how I was doing, I said “I’m here – that’s got to count for something,” and he doesn’t seem to detect any humor in it. He says, “Well, we’ll see how you do on the quiz.” He wasn’t smiling. As it turned out, there was no quiz. It felt like he was trying to give me a little dig for some reason.

Remember: this is the guy who’s going to give me expert training in providing mental health services to adults.

Last night was better. At least some of that was due to a change in perspective on my part. Having just encountered real hostility over there at the internship place, I didn’t have much interest in holding onto a petty grievance or anxiety about Dr. Krishna. Let him stare at my shins. Who cares?

Mark, from Stanley’s agency, is in Dr. Krishna’s class. This time, he sat up front by himself, instead of sitting somewhere where I could join him. He also seemed to be trying not to look at me. This surprised me. I started wondering whether he had discovered that I was not allowed to be at the internship place anymore, and was now going to be avoiding me. But no, at the break he said he hadn’t heard the news, hadn’t even gone into the internship yesterday. We had a good conversation, standing outside the SSW. He said he had thought it was great that we could exchange views so frankly during that supervision meeting.

I was actually laughing about Mark yesterday, as I recalled the casual attitude that he had displayed when the argument began at Stanley’s agency – almost, I would say, his encouragement to go ahead and express myself. He was like a friend who would say that we ought to tie a flare to a dog’s tail just to see what happens – and then, when the dog takes off through a wheatfield and sets half the county ablaze, Mark says he wasn’t serious, he didn’t think I would actually do it, etc.

During that conversation with Mark, his friend Natasha came strolling up. Natasha, whom I had not previously met, is a flamboyant character – funky clothing, amusing mannerisms. If this were an art program, Natasha would be the kind of person that the other cool students would want to imitate and make friends with, just because she gives off such an interesting air. But since it’s SW, I suspect that if I were to adopt a comparably daffy style, she and everyone else would ask what’s the matter with me.

Moral of the story: if you’re going to be strange, you have to do it in your own, original way, which will seem normal to you, so that you can accuse other strange people of not being normal.

[Incidentally, I never did see Natasha again.]

But back to Dr. Krishna. In last night’s class, we got to watch him role-play himself, with one of our classmates who role-played herself. The SSW has a soundproof observation booth with one-way mirrors, so the two of them were there in the fishbowl and the whole class of us were seated in the observation area, looking through those windows. We could hear them because there were microphones in that room, but they couldn’t see or hear us.

He did two role-plays, there in the fishbowl. First time, he and the student were really on target. We applauded them when they came out of the room and debriefed with us. In the second one, the student was wearing thick eyeglasses, and Dr. Krishna thought he saw her eyes misting up when what he was actually seeing was just visual distortion due to convexity, or whatever they call it. So he was treating her sad mood and she was trying not to giggle. This all made me feel much closer to Dr. Krishna, who if he really could be a screwup, would perhaps not always be the kind of guy who started the semester by telling us about the wonderful wisdom he was going to impart to us.

* * * * *

September 24, 11:13 AM – Thursday Morning Seminar

I have a seminar that runs from 8 AM to 9:30 AM on Thursdays. There are two professors and six students, counting me. One of the professors, Helen, is retired but is interested and expert on the topic. The other is an assistant dean, name of Melinda. I think they are co-teaching because Melinda does not ordinarily teach classes and is mostly just interested in the technical aspects of the class, which maybe I’ll describe later. I’m the only male.

Hannah is one of the students in this class. She was still not giving me eye contact this morning.

I’d love to talk with Hannah about this body language, but we are social workers, and painful experience over the past five or six years has taught me that social workers are not very good at sorting out their relationships and misunderstandings – that, indeed, I can get in trouble for even trying to sort out a misunderstanding with a female social worker. So I guess I’d say I’m hopeful that Hannah will rise to the occasion and start being friendly toward me again.

Jennifer is another student in this class. Jennifer appeared in a panel presentation at the SSW’s Open House last spring. This was a panel of students who were there to tell us newcomers what they had experienced here at the SSW. I remember Jennifer telling us that she had been accepted to the SW PhD programs at Columbia, and Michigan, and Chicago. She was pretty arrogant about it. I was thinking, OK, is this the kind of attitude I’m going to get at a prestigious SSW? Am I going to be surrounded by people who are too good for their students, or for the lowly clientele that they or their students are supposed to be serving?

I had good reason to ask the question, as I had previously encountered some SW professors with precisely that attitude. Like one who told his PhD students that they were simply inferior to the PhD students at his alma mater. That may have been true; I just don’t know how it helped his own real-life students. “You’re inferior; your GRE scores are inferior; get used to it, and accept your place in life.” Not exactly what he said, I hope – I wasn’t there, and only have classmates’ reports on the matter – but evidently the message came through clearly enough.

So far, I would say I am not running into many of this type here, and this is a relief. There are some arrogant people, including some who are old enough to have outgrown it, but that is not overall the ambiance I am picking up.

This Thursday morning class is a mini-course. It will meet for only part of the semester, and is worth only one credit. It has an interesting structure. We are in our classroom here in the U.S., and we are connected via videoconference to students enrolled in a similar course at an SSW in Asia. So we six Americans have divided into three pairs, and the students in that Asian classroom have done likewise. Our Team No. 1 will be combined with their Team No. 1, and so forth. The three Asian-American teams will each do a presentation at the end of the course, a month or so from now.

My American teammate is Brenda. She was going to send out an email, last week, to coordinate the American and Asian parts of our team. But she didn’t do it. After waiting three or four days, I sent an email to see if it would be OK if I did it, because we were supposed to be reporting back to the professors, this week, regarding our progress. In reply, Brenda let me know that she wouldn’t be in class this week. So I did the introductory, coordinating email to the other team; and after class this morning, I typed up a fairly detailed report on the class discussion and sent it to her.

A day or two ago, I sent Brenda an email with some questions about the other group. No reply. She did say she was having some problems with her computer.

* * * * *

September 24, 12:20 PM – Meeting with the Field Liaison

One other development, this morning, that I had better make a note of.

After this morning’s seminar, I went to see Sandra, the Field Liaison. Field Liaisons are members of the SSW faculty who arrange our internships. There are apparently nine or ten field liaisons in the SSW. Sandra is responsible for at least a couple dozen interns’ placements, including mine.

I first met Sandra during orientation, three weeks ago. I met her briefly in the hallway, recognized her instantly from her photo on the school’s webpage, and had a friendly little chat with her. She told me that the SSW’s entering class was one of the youngest in years, and that it would be even younger if there hadn’t been a few people like me to pull up the average somewhat. I’m 53, so I probably counterbalance a whole troop of twentysomethings.

I wasn’t scheduled to see Sandra until tomorrow, but I thought I might as well see if she was available. She was, but only for a few minutes. I went in. She was not too warm and friendly now. She asked me what happened at my internship. She told me that, in her view, there were two sides to every story. I told her about the DV program, about Bobbie and the rule about not using personal pronouns, etc. She didn’t say so, but I think this seemed weird to her.

She asked a few questions and then said that she had spoken with Stanley and that our stories agreed in some ways and diverged in others. She didn’t seem interested in sorting out the parts where we diverged. She also didn’t seem inclined to accept my version where we differed: her face was hard. When I finished, I said, “So that’s it,” and she replied, “In your view.”

Sandra said that Stanley had contacted his boss – I thought Stanley was the boss, but I guess in some organizational sense that’s not the case – and they were in the process of deciding what to do with me.

So Sandra wasn’t very happy with me. At this moment, the honors definitely would go to those SW interns who overlook abusive and unethical treatment of clients in their internships. The head that sticks up gets lopped off.

But that’s premature. We’ll see how it unfolds. I’m glad to give Sandra a chance to do her magic.

P.S. Just now, I decided to send Sandra a follow-up email. It said, what about the problem that there aren’t enough clients for all those mental health interns at that place, and do I want to be there anyway if I’m going to be operating under a cloud of suspicion or unfriendliness?

* * * * *

September 24, 5:43 PM – Lucretia MacEvil

I’m in love.

I’m not really, and I don’t intend to be. But I was sitting by this young woman in the fun professor’s class today, and we talked briefly about something, and I happened to notice that she has stunning eyes. And a wonderfully calm style. For a few minutes, I felt that I had a friend who was not going to be like all these other cold people in this cold place.

But then it was half-time, the midclass break, an hour or so left to go in the session, and when we came back after the break, we reverted to normal roles – which is to say, that was the end of that.

I actually did learn something in class today – or, actually, before class. I arrived early, took a seat, and proceeded to fiddle with my laptop. Damn thing wouldn’t pick up a wireless signal. As I played with the laptop and didn’t try to make eye contact with anyone or otherwise be sociable, what do you know – suddenly one or two of my classmates want to talk to me. This, in a classroom where it’s been like pulling teeth to strike up a conversation.

* * * * *

September 24, 5:48 PM – The Fun Professor Screws Up

One thing I really like about the fun professor, if I haven’t said this already, is that she opens her mouth and pretty much says whatever’s on her mind. It’s refreshing. She’s not hiding behind a whole bucketload of pretenses. Or maybe she’s discovered that the best place to hide something is in plain sight. Whatever; it works for me.

But today, as the gods of irony would have it, she screwed up. She had just gotten through lecturing us about the important of being politically correct, although here they phrase it as “culturally sensitive.” Like, you shouldn’t go up to an Asian person and say, Which country are you from? because they might actually be Asian-American, i.e., born here, from here. In that case, you may be making them feel like they aren’t welcome in the U.S. – although, come to think of it, they may actually not be welcome here, like when “patriotic” Americans were attacking Sikhs, whom they had confused with Muslims, not that attacking Muslims would have been a particularly patriotic thing to do either.

So after the fun professor gave us all this advice about what to say and not say, complete with rolling her eyes to indicate how clueless it would be to say this or that, she marches right on and proceeds to say something about short men who compensate for their shortness by buying big trucks. And then – realizing, perhaps, that she was standing about ten feet away from Henry, who happens to be a short man – she tries to rescue herself by going on into the story of Napoleon, who was enormously successful in some sense despite being short. This is not enough, however; it seems she wants to demonstrate the modern-day equivalent of “some of my best friends are black”; so she explains that she knows lots of short guys and they all drive big trucks.

The rest of the story is that there is no rest of the story. Henry didn’t dare say anything, and neither did I, the other male in the room. (There’s a third one, also short, but he was absent.) I’d have been willing to pipe up, if I weren’t already a half-inch from getting my butt thrown out of here for speaking up on behalf of people who are taking a beating at the hands of the self-ordained righteous. But, actually, I do like the fun professor, and the thought that crossed my mind was that I don’t want to hinder her from blurting out goofy stuff. Between that and the stifling thought control that I had experienced at Stanley’s agency, I’ll take goofy stuff any day.

* * * * *

September 24, 8:09 PM – Brenda Makes My Evening

OK, I was wrong once: I thought I had made a mistake. Turned out I hadn’t.

And then there was today. I was in a mood. Not a black mood, exactly. Grey, maybe, or taupe. Or would that be mauve?

So I am doing penance for ever doubting Brenda, my wonderful and trustworthy partner in the Thursday morning seminar, who had already told me she was going to be at a conference sometime this week. This wonderful, sweet person just sent me all kinds of praise for the hard work I have been doing for us in our joint project with our Asian colleagues.

Effusive praise is probably how you keep a sucker doing your work for you, but whatever. Tonight, I’ll take the praise – and do some more work for her. And, I should say, for me too. If I get that project rolling, I may create the permanent impression of having carried my own weight, and then I can coast.

* * * * *

September 24, 11:32 PM – The Laboring Sucker

So, OK, I spent an hour and a half revising an online thing that Brenda and I are working on, and then the stupid webpage did the funky chicken and all my work was lost. Remember to save your work. I do, now. So then I spent the hour and a half again, produced something less inspired because it’s always more tedious the second time around, and duly notified Brenda that I have been slaving away. So that’s the end of that.

Now my weekend begins. It runs from Thursday night through Monday afternoon, at least if I don’t have an internship to go to on Monday morning.

No further response from Sandra, the field liaison. I’m sure she’s busy.

It was probably a screwup to go in to visit her without being all dressed up, just wearing the shorts and T-shirt I wore for purposes of biking to campus in this warm weather. But getting dressed up means taking the bus, and that means a separate trip just for the conversation, which means I would have had to turn today’s 10-minute conversation into an hour-and-a-half expedition tomorrow.

I suspect it was also a breach of decorum to see if she was available for a walk-in today, instead of just sticking with the appointed special trip tomorrow morning. Sometimes these SW people can be pretty stuffy. I did tell her that I was fine just waiting until tomorrow, if she’d prefer. For whatever reason, she didn’t seem kindly disposed toward me today.

* * * * *

September 25, 10:52 AM – A Reply from Sandra

Got a reply to yesterday’s email to Sandra. First of all, she’s not going to let me split my internship. I can see, of course, that a field coordinator would not want to (and may not even be able to) do field visits, one per semester, at twice as many internship locations. Also, ten hours a week at a place may not be enough to let an intern really sink his/her teeth into the task, though I would think that would depend on the student and the place. You know, a lot of these SW students are having their first professional work experience. I’m probably better positioned than most to get the basic idea of a place pretty quickly. But anyway, I’m sure Sandra has her reasons. I did hear another student talking about how she was splitting her internship, but maybe that was a special case.

The problem is that, when you’ve got hundreds of MSW students at your SSW, some of them are guaranteed to get stuck in lousy, waste-of-time internships. So those unlucky individuals are going to face this difficult choice of whether to stay or set out in search of the unknown – to seek, that is, some other internship, which may be just as bad and much further away. As Sandra says, my alternatives at this point may be located outside this county, which could mean a half-hour drive each way, three days a week. And no guarantees that the next place I go to won’t have equally serious problems.

I was talking with a student yesterday whose internship place dumped her. From the way it sounded, it was a mutual thing: she was learning nothing, killing time, getting insulted by her supervisor on the job, and was eager to find something else. It seems like some of these places accept interns just to have some free labor, or maybe as a favor to the SSW, or as a free way of trying out a potential future employee. There does seem to be a need for a more competitive market among internship opportunities, with more opportunities chasing fewer students. This, I guess, is one of the drawbacks of growing a big SSW that will dump hundreds of new SW students in the community every year: there may just not be enough quality places nearby where they can all get good field training.

In this email message, Sandra says this:

It is not my job to determine who is right/wrong and so I don’t listen with that determination. What I do listen for is the learning that needs to take place. That is why I asked you to self-reflect and think about what you learned from this programs group supervision process and from the groups you observed. What did you learn from other facilitators? In this case what have you read about the Domestic Violence laws, other alternatives to DV programs, and any clinical writings on subject. As a student did you read & review all the materials given, so that you understand the framework of the program, the philosophy, the data sets of evaluation information, etc.? Even if Domestic Violence is not an area in which you intend to practice, chances are that in most clinical settings you will encounter it.

I am not sure I agree with Sandra on the claim that it is not her job to determine who is right or wrong. Whose job is it? The university handed out a “Campus Commitment” brochure that says a hostile environment exists when there is harassment so severe, pervasive, or persistent as to interfere with an individual’s ability to participate in university activities. I came in for some pretty profound harassment there at Stanley’s agency, and the agency’s subsequent behavior has obviously curtailed my ability to participate in a university-sanctioned internship. The brochure says the university “generally takes action to stop the offending behavior in an effort to promote a respectful environment.” If Sandra doesn’t act on this, who else will? Besides, I don’t believe her claim: she does in fact show signs of having decided that I am wrong.

Case in point: I’m kind of surprised that Sandra is asking me whether I did all of the reading related to the domestic violence program. The question is not whether I had read the right stuff – it was whether I would be bullied into approving clearly unethical behavior. Academic literature would have been relevant to an academic discussion. The people in charge at Stanley’s agency were not interested in that. They already knew what they were going to do, regardless of the literature, and they had been contracted to do it.

I’m not sure what to make of Sandra’s claim of playing a neutral role. She’s asking me these questions about my reading, but is she asking Stanley similarly tough questions? As far as I can see, she is standing up for the way things are done there, and in practice she is supporting Stanley’s behavior and conclusions. Nobody at this SSW is talking about an investigation to determine whether Stanley’s agency is in fact compelling SW students to behave unethically, either by participating in the abuse of those men or by claiming to be getting internship experience when they might just be sitting around doing homework.

It seems like the organization’s behavior toward its interns is generally accepted as valid – that, in other words, there is not much of a quality control effort regarding the internship experience. And when you’ve got to spend 24 hours a week as an intern, as I’m supposed to be doing, that’s a big chunk of time to spend getting no training, or bad training.

* * * * *

September 25, 11:03 AM – The Assistant Dean

Sean Hennessy is the assistant dean in charge of something or other. They seem to have a collection of assistant deans here, sort of like vice presidents at a bank I guess, and he’s the one I had the most interaction with during the past two years, since I first applied for admission. (I applied, was accepted, and deferred for a year while I was taking PhD-level courses in SW at another school. More about that later.)

Sean’s a big, agreeable Baby Boomer. I thought it was kind of funny that, during my interview to get into this place, he was the leader of the discussion. He sat there with a black woman who was friendly to me, and a Hispanic woman who wasn’t, and here it was the aging white male – with salt-and-pepper hair like me – who led the show.

Up until a few weeks ago, Sean had been very available to me. I really hadn’t bothered him too much, but of course there are various communications over the months prior to registration. In the last such communication, this August, a few weeks before I picked up and moved here at the last minute, I let my guard down a bit and told him that I was concerned about meeting a hostile environment – starting with that interview, and continuing to the present. He replied immediately. He said that there are some wounded people in SW, who can make things more difficult; and he encouraged me to let him know if I wanted to have a further discussion.

Yesterday, I sent Sean another email, vaguely hinting that I was interested in talking to him. Based on previous experience, I knew that gossip can really fly among SSW faculty and administrators. So I wondered whether, say, Sandra’s reactions to my internship situation reflected what she was hearing and/or saying in conversations with any of her peers. Also, several weeks have passed since my last contact from that expert in SW education. She had replied quickly to my first message, so I wondered why she was now much more reticent.

Sean didn’t give me the usual same-day reply to yesterday’s email, but of course it’s only been one day.

* * * * *

September 25, 11:03 AM – Technical Note: Time of Entries; Privacy

It looks like this blogsite puts the time and date of actual posting, not when a post was first started. I have the option of setting the time manually. I’ll try to set the time on posts, when necessary, to reflect the time of day when I’m doing the bulk of the writing or thinking about it.

During this year, I plan to keep these posts private. I don’t know what I’ll do with them after that. Right now, unless someone knows how to hack into this site, I should be the only one who is able to read these entries.

* * * * *

September 25, 11:20 AM – Note from the Fun Professor

I got a bit of an opening from the fun professor. I had sent her a message before class, telling her that I was inclined to participate a bit less than the previous weeks. I’ve recently run across some materials that have made me more mindful of how some students resent those who participate often in class discussion. It seems that some younger students are especially likely to feel this way about some older students.

So she replied, just a little while ago, in brief and generally friendly terms, and I decided to take a chance and tell her about getting suspended from my internship. I just said that it had happened, and then it occurred to me to ask whether she might know of a place where I could get a better training experience.

The fun professor doesn’t seem to be in any kind of gossip loop against me. As with the assistant dean who teaches my Thursday morning seminar, we just have a positive and friendly rapport.

* * * * *

September 25, 3:27 PM – No News Is Good News

It’s late Friday afternoon, and still no indication from Sandra as to whether Stanley definitely wants to get rid of me.

I’ve decided I want to go back to Stanley’s agency, just avoid the domestic violence group, focus on the mental health area, try to be available for as many observations and clients as possible, spend the rest of my time doing homework, and call it good. It’s not looking like I’m going to get what you’d call intensive, high-quality training there, but I’ll probably get at least an introduction to clinical work.

Part of me is saying that I already have an idea of what Stanley’s agency is like, so why not use this opportunity to get some exposure to some other kind of place? The other part of me is curious about organizational dynamics, or whatever you call it – about what goes on in these places. If Stanley decides he wants me back, it’ll surely be because he’s already spoken with Bobbie and Jane and anybody else I pissed off, and they will have collectively decided that disagreeing with their techniques doesn’t make me a horrible person. Or maybe it just means they will not want to get a black eye, reputationally, by terminating an intern.

So of course that triggers the imagination. I’m seeing Mark and Rose and the others who may have been at least curious about what I was saying, and maybe in some cases agreeing with me – I’m seeing them sitting around a table in a meeting, which they’ve surely had by now, talking about what to do about Ray. And there has been a dominant viewpoint, I’d have to guess, expressed by Bobbie. And Stanley has spoken to his supervisor, who has urged caution and reflection on how to handle a well-intentioned opposition.

And then they’ll reach a final decision to get rid of me after all, and don’t let the screen door hit me on the way out.

What I think I’ll do is wait for their decision. If they want me back, I’ll go in and have some conversations with these people and get a feeling for whether they’re going to be quietly sharpening their knives when my back is turned, or whether they love me and want to keep me forever, or just what they’re thinking. And maybe Pam will pull a rabbit out of the hat and bury me with high-quality client work opportunities after all.

* * * * *

September 25, 4:44 PM – Alternatives

Another possibility I didn’t think of, until now, is that Stanley and Pam have been talking with each other about why I didn’t have enough mental health clients and observation opportunities to keep me busy in my actual internship appointment.

This comes to mind because I’m thinking about Pam’s warning that there aren’t really full-time jobs in mental health anymore. Apparently there have been cutbacks in staff at a lot of places.

What I really want to do is to contact another agency and see if they have more work than this place. But I’m not sure that’s permitted. I remember, in general terms, that we were not supposed to make direct contact with agencies; our internship jobhunting had to go through the Field office at the SSW. That approach has its logistical advantages for the agencies and the field liaisons. But for students, we basically had to decide, thumbs-up or thumbs-down, for each opening we had. Take it or leave it, one at a time. So, for me, the mental health side of Stanley’s agency was third on my list of choices. The first two didn’t want me, and I wasn’t allowed to speak with any others.

* * * * *

September 25, 10:36 PM – Notes from a Group Session

Here is a writeup of my notes from observing a domestic violence group session:

In this group, there were several therapists and a number of clients. Everyone was seated in a circle. One of the therapists, a male, was seated a couple of feet to the right of a client, a female, who turned out to be the most difficult person in the group that day.

The therapist was pretty calm, although I think some aspects of his style could have been improved. For one thing, he let the woman get away with waving her hands more or less in his face – her hands were more than halfway across the space between him and her, and she was gesturing vigorously as she spoke. Her voice was raised, not to the point of yelling, but to a shrill, hectoring level. When she wasn’t talking, this woman was yawning right in people’s faces, not even bothering to cover her mouth. She seemed to be trying to be rude as possible. The yawns did not seem real. I counted: at one point, she yawned at a rate of about once per minute, for five minutes in a row.

This woman was saying some pretty offensive things to the therapist, and unfortunately he was letting her take the lead. Somehow they got onto the question of whether the therapist had ever gone for a walk with his wife. The therapist said that, yes, he had; in fact, they had gone for a long walk the previous weekend. So then the woman replies, “That’s great. You take her out away from people, where she’s not safe and you have physical control, and then you can say whatever you want to her, and she just has to sit there and listen!” I could see the therapist’s face turn red, but he controlled himself. He explained that no, in fact, going for a walk was one of his wife’s favorite activities.

The woman wasn’t done. A few minutes later, she accused the therapist of raising his voice during that exchange, but later she admitted that he had not done so. She was also trying to control his choice of words, so she interrupted when he said something she disliked. She interrupted quite frequently, in fact, and thus succeeded in getting the therapist flustered; and when he did start to make a point, she would say things like, “There you go again!” and “Do you see what you’re doing?” At one point, she even managed to get several members of the group laughing at the therapist. She was really a piece of work.

What was most remarkable about the whole experience was that, of course, the man was the client, and the woman who was carrying on like this was Bobbie, the group leader. Everything else I have said is true, except that I have actually softened it because I can’t disclose details about the man’s situation. The social worker, in this situation, was doing just the sorts of things that we are taught not to do with clients. Indeed, my impression was that she was deliberately trying to provoke him.

Some might think that testing his ability to control himself could be a valid function for a social service agency. But of course life is full of people who provoke us. Violent people aren’t violent toward everyone. The fact that a guy could control himself with Bobbie, under threat of prosecution, is irrelevant to the typical domestic violence situation.

* * * * *

September 26, 9:56 AM – See You Wednesday

Got an email from Mark, my fellow intern from the agency. It ended with the words, “See you Wednesday.”

As Stanley et al. delay their decision on my internship, I continue to indulge these fantasies about how they made a hasty decision, but as they think about the matter further, they begin to hesitate. They know that I am sincere. Stanley’s boss asks him, “What’s this about?” and Stanley says it’s about me saying their treatment violated SW ethics and the boss asks Stanley, “Well, does it? Is he right?” And then there follows a lot of soul-searching.

Part of this fantasy involves a group meeting where the staffers are asked their opinions about me and what happened in that supervision meeting this past week. And Mark and maybe one or two others venture the opinion that I had a point, etc. And Stanley and Bobbie realize that they can’t just cut me loose, not when a part of the staff believes I got a raw deal.

Problem: Mark said, “See you Wednesday,” referring to our Wednesday evening class. My internship days began on Mondays. In other words, it doesn’t seem that Mark has heard anything about hesitation or readmission of me to the agency. There doesn’t seem to have been a consultation of staff.

* * * * *

September 26, 9:26 PM – About That PhD . . .

Let me clarify something about myself.

I did the first year of my MSW in an SSW that I will refer to as just SSW1. That was in the first university that I attended when I returned to graduate school in my late 40s. I will refer to that university as U1. I left there to start a PhD program that combined SW and parks & recreation. That involved attendance at SSW2, in U2. Now that I have finished my PhD coursework, I still have to do the qualifying exam and the dissertation at SSW2. But first, before my credits from SSW1 became too old to count toward a degree, I decided to finish the MSW. This brought me to SSW3, located here at U3, where I am now.

Needless to say, there were lots of thoughts, experiences, and decisions behind these several moves. We may get to some of that later. Right now, I just want to say something about the PhD.

There are lots of reasons to get a PhD. Not good reasons, necessarily, but reasons.

One reason that used to be a good reason was that you want to be a college professor. This is sort of a good reason to get a PhD related to SW. Not necessarily a PhD in SW. I’ve recently had SW PhDs, faculty members at two different schools (not schools that I’ve attended), tell me that in their opinions a SW PhD tends to be a waste of time because most SW PhD programs are pretty mediocre. To teach in an SSW, you don’t absolutely need for your PhD to be in social work. It could be in some other department, like sociology or psychology, and your training might be better. But to teach in an SSW, you do pretty surely need an MSW. Which is why I’m here, finishing mine. That’s not the only reason, but it’s an important one.

The reason I say that the desire to be a professor “used to be” a good reason to get a PhD is that I’m just not sure what’s happening in higher education. An excellent instructor online, communicating with students from halfway around the world, may be able to do a better job than a lackluster PhD babbling away in the front of the room. S/he can surely do the job less expensively, and in these times of reckoning, that matters.

Anyway, the story used to be that all these Baby Boomers were going to be retiring and the universities would be desperate for new professors in many departments. Financial calamity has changed a lot of retirement plans. Retirement itself has changed: people want to be busy and needed in their golden years. Right now, enrollments are fairly steady, in many places; but I wouldn’t bet that that will continue unchanged forever. There are some problems of funding, of the job outcomes that college graduates are now experiencing, etc.

So it’s still not entirely clear that I will be employable as a SW professor after I finish my MSW and PhD. These concerns would be there even if I weren’t a middle-aged white male who doesn’t always agree with orthodox SW doctrine.

* * * * *

September 28, 10:08 PM – Waiting for the Bus

5:02 PM. [Time when notes were taken.] Sitting at the bus stop, typing on my laptop. Haven’t gotten it set up for wireless yet, so I’ll have to post this later.

I sent a message to Sandra at 4 PM, noting that I hadn’t heard anything from Stanley. I imagine she’ll confirm that she hasn’t either.

Also, I still haven’t received a reply from Sean, the assistant dean, and at this point perhaps I won’t. So what should I infer from that? That he’s not interested, I guess, or doesn’t want to meet with me, or something along those lines. Maybe there will be an opportunity to chat briefly about my concerns later, or maybe my concerns will just go away.

Well, that was fast. Here’s the bus.

* * * * *

September 28, 10:12 PM – Today’s Email

I sent a follow-up email, today, to the expert professor, the one who is now editing a journal on SW education, with whom I wanted to do an independent study in that subject area.

I got a reply from the fun professor today. She does an admirable job of being loosely supportive – not getting into details, and not implying that she wants to get into regular correspondence with me, but acknowledging what I tell her, and conveying a sense that I could bother her further if I really needed to. So, OK, I feel like I’m winding down a bit from last week’s anxieties, and it’s mostly time to just put the shoulder to the wheel and get some work done.

* * * * *

September 29, 10:21 AM – Terminated!

About an hour and a half ago, Sandra sent me this email:

Good Morning:

I had a late afternoon email from Stanley that included a letter that indicates that you have been terminated from your placement. You will need to make an appointment with me to review you [sic] options. Below is a link to the termination paperwork that you will need to complete. I have Stanley’s statement, including a signature that we will use for his part of this.

We will then begin to look for another placement.

So this let me know that I didn’t need to spend any more time imagining that the delay over the weekend was due to soul-searching and/or consultations among staffers at the agency. Stanley wasn’t going to be content to let me return to the mental health placement I had signed up for, where I would have no further involvement with their domestic violence program; he really wanted to get me as far away as possible and/or to do what he could to damage my career. Did Pam put in a defense for me? We’ll never know. But probably not.

I also noticed that Sandra seemed to be taking progressively less cordial positions toward me. When I met her during orientation, she was very friendly and outgoing. Here, for example, is her message to me from four weeks ago:

Wow. . . .no sleep . . . welcome to grad school. I can’t wait to meet you at orientation. I’m glad the interview went well and that you [and Stanley] both agree that the fit is good.

Quite a contrast against this morning’s message!

* * * * *

September 29, 10:29 AM – Reasons for Termination

I have filled out Sandra’s form. It asks for my name, address, semester, etc. It also poses two mini-essay questions, to which I have replied as follows:

Provide a brief explanation that supports your reason [for terminating your placement]:

The Behavioral Health unit (my placement) had virtually nothing for me to do, so I attended several domestic violence sessions. These blatantly violated SW principles. Agency personnel insisted that I state and defend my views. I did so. Next day, the agency ended my placement. It appears that others in the agency agree with much of what I presented.

Provide a brief explanation of the results of these discussions:

Field instructor listened, seemed surprised by the agency’s termination decision. Field liaison listened, said my account differed in some unspecified regards from the agency’s account, indicated that field liaison would not mediate these differences, gave me option of waiting to see if the agency would let me resume work solely in Behavioral Health area or choosing, instead, to terminate placement. I opted to wait and see.

I sent that first page of the form to Sandra as an email attachment. In the email, I said I was readily available to meet with her in the next few days, and asked whether the next step was for me to give her a list of places I want to interview at or, instead, to get from her a list of what’s available.

* * * * *

September 29, 11:04 AM – Some Ethics of a Loyal Opposition

I’m sure that many successful and/or diplomatic people would not have responded as I did to Bobbie’s inquiries, during that meeting last week. Some would have claimed, truthfully or not, to have no problem with the unethical way in which things were done at Stanley’s agency.

I could have done that, and if I had been at an earlier stage in my career, I probably would have. But I decided, some years ago, that life is complicated enough without inventing more ways to confuse each other.

In this case, I disagreed with what they are doing, and I said so. Some people welcome that kind of straightforwardness. Those are the kinds of people I want to gravitate towards and build my future with. There are no guarantees, but there is some chance that freeing me up from this internship means I become available for a place with a better attitude.

The common wisdom is that you pick your battles. The bad guys know this. So their mission is to figure out where you’ll decide it’s not worth fighting. If they focus their efforts there, they can get a toehold in those places, and build their strength. Your being predictable makes life easier for them.

In all events, if you are the only social worker who defends the best practices, ethical principles, or other guidelines that should be governing a situation, then the others simply aren’t doing their job. You probably have an obligation to say so.

* * * * *

September 29, 12:22 PM – No Chance of Dialogue?

When I replied to Sandra’s email, I included this:

After our meeting last week, I was concerned that you may have arrived at unflattering conclusions about me. You indicated that Stanley’s views of the matter diverge somewhat from mine. I haven’t seen or heard what he has to say on the matter, so I haven’t been able to respond to what he says. In any event, if I understand correctly, you don’t want to indulge a dialogue or encourage our mutual responses to one another.

I appreciate the ideal of being nonjudgmental, but in practice it seems that people do tend to make judgments. I would be in an undesirable position if Stanley’s remarks were unintentionally given more credence than mine. I mention this in case Stanley’s remarks have a negative effect upon your (or anyone else’s) decisions regarding the openings available to me at this point.

The astute reader will note some potential flaws in my approach here. I raised one or more difficult questions instead of just letting them slide; I raised these questions in writing rather than face-to-face; and I raised them in terms that pose some doubt as to Sandra’s impartiality and/or other positive traits. I think there are good replies to those concerns. But let’s wait and see what Sandra does with them.

* * * * *

September 29, 12:50 PM – Dr. Krishna and Other Men

This SSW used to have a group called “Men in Social Work.” Apparently it disbanded. I can see how that could happen, as there are almost no men here.

In the late 1970s, my girlfriend became a feminist. She proceeded to accuse me of various evils. I, and many other men, thus found feminism to be attacking and exclusionary.

Not to say that I disagreed with its message. For the most part, I didn’t. I readily agreed, for instance, with an article we read in a philosophy class in 1977, arguing that language could send limiting messages, as in the generic “he.” (Example: When the farmer decides to begin harvesting, he may work very long days.) Ever since, with hardly any exceptions until the past few years, I’ve referred to “him/her” and “s/he.”

Young women (and many older women) nowadays don’t seem very interested in fighting the old battles. They call each other girls; they use the generic “he”; and so forth. There’s third-wave feminism and postfeminism. We haven’t heard much about these in SW classes, but they seem to take more intelligent, nuanced positions. For instance, as one female classmate put it, they don’t simplistically and implausibly assume that men are the enemy.

Antagonistic, second-wave feminism was at the cutting edge 30+ years ago, but now it is showing its age. Yet many cling to it in academia. Consider, for example, a meeting where there were four men and one woman, and the male chair decided to begin with a joke about how male drivers don’t stop to ask directions. What if I had been the only male in that meeting, and the female chair had told one of my dad’s old jokes about women drivers? To me, it would be awkward. I’d wonder how it made the other women feel. I wouldn’t think that one woman had the right to speak for or against the others.

At present, it seems that male SW professors tend to be especially denigrating toward male students. It’s reminiscent of that experience that some women or black people have had, when they encounter senior women or black people in positions of power in their workplaces. Those senior people were able to make their climb against hard odds, in a white male world, because they proved themselves time after time. So they are reputed to be especially tough on young people of their own type. From what I understand, they don’t want the reputations of women or black people being damaged by the incompetence of some slacker.

What’s different in SW academia is that the white male professors behave like this, not because of academic merit, but rather for political and otherwise corrupt reasons. Ironically, that’s what the stereotypical white male has apparently done for centuries: put down potential rivals, empower others as slowly as possible (even while pretending to be very pro-empowerment), and ultimately transfer power to their favorites.

So anyway, about Dr. Krishna. He’s been dropping these little remarks. So far, it seems like his examples of smart and successful people tend to be female, and his stories of screwed-up individuals tend to be about males.

Dr. Krishna says, “Men wear a mask.” Pardon me, but I don’t wear a mask. This thing on the front side of my head is a face. As far as I know, it conveys approximately the type and amount of emotion that I want and need to convey, at my age, for purposes of getting along in a world of men, women, employers, and professors. I haven’t found, for instance, that I can assume it is safe to express deeper emotions. In my experience, many women comport themselves more or less the same way.

* * * * *

September 29, 2:42 PM – Preparing for the Meeting Tomorrow

Sandra replied. 3:30 PM tomorrow works for her.

She says she’s going to treat my eviction from Stanley’s agency as a one-time thing and it won’t be an issue unless it happens again. In other words, I’m on probation. Not formally, of course, but I am certainly not being congratulated for defending abused clients, promoting SW principles, or speaking truth to power.

It’s not that there has been any explicit determination that I failed to do those things – that, in other words, I’m just kidding myself. The message is, rather, that those sorts of considerations are secondary. The core principle, the one I have transgressed, seems to be that I should have done whatever it takes to achieve personal success.

I have to wonder whether that’s how they would handle a female student in a similar situation. Sometimes it does seem easier to stereotype a male student as being troublesome rather than principled. In SSWs, you hear enough comments about male criminals and abusers and such. You begin to think that men are the cause of most of the misery in the world.

Actually, I think some men are the cause of much of the misery in the world: Hitler, Stalin, Genghis Khan, some of my former bosses, etc. But that’s not your average random male.

Sandra says I’ve got limited options for alternate placements. So, basically, you’ve got to make that first choice count.

It’s too early to completely write off my theory about how I’m freeing myself to gravitate toward better positions, but at this point the situation doesn’t look too good.

Which makes me wonder how many good field placement opportunities there are. Was Stanley’s agency the only one that had four interns mostly sitting around and twiddling their thumbs? I wouldn’t think so. The other student who says she got dumped by her placement was also having to sit around and do homework.

* * * * *

September 30, 12:26 PM – Text vs. Video

Just made a sort of obvious discovery: I prefer video.

Today’s assignment for Dr. Krishna’s class is a pass-fail paper, last of three in a row. Each week, we write short answers to some questions and email those answers to him. This week’s assignment involved watching some videos of a guy interviewing a client. Much more interesting than reading articles! Of course, we’ve got to be able to read this stuff too. But a picture is worth a thousand words, etc.

This is inspiring because Dr. Krishna gave us a list of dozens of counseling-type videos in the library. Gestalt therapy, motivational interviewing, etc. Not sure if I can bring those home, or exactly how I’ll tackle that project, but that’s where I want to go next in my learning about therapy.

* * * * *

September 30, 12:32 PM – Alternative Placements

So I’m meeting Sandra in a few hours, to see what’s on her list of possible new placements for me. Yesterday, I took a step to add to the list: I sent an email to an office, here at the university, that works with students who have gotten themselves in trouble. It looks like there are several roles that people play in that office: you can sit on a panel that decides cases, you can be some kind of officer, or you can be an advisor to the students. I’m thinking, OK, it’s not exactly mental health work, but it really fits with the law degree – did I mention I have a law degree? – and in a way it is mental health work. These tend to be males, presumably; in trouble with the law, apparently; therefore, as I am learning, very likely to be characterized as having some sort of mental problems.

I called that office to see if they thought they could turn around a reply to an email pretty quickly, and the receptionist said yeah. So let me check my email now . . . nope, nothing yet.

* * * * *

September 30, 4:04 PM – Nice Conversation with Sandra

Sandra is a cool person. Let me just say that her mood or tone was much warmer than it was in our previous meeting.

We had a very nice conversation. No sense of faultfinding. Sandra says I’m not the first; sometimes people terminate or get terminated in their placements. Her main thing is, what is the learning from this experience? I tell her that it would have been interesting to process it with the agency, but they aren’t interested in that.

She showed me the letter that Stanley wrote to explain his decision. It was basically a rant. I’m supposed to be getting a copy, and I’ll talk about it more at that point, when I have it right in front of me.

The more difficult part, going forward, is that there aren’t too many internship opportunities out there now. Sandra had only one to show me. It’s in another county, about a half-hour from here. She’s already sent them my résumé. If they want to talk, that’s fine; I can always learn from an interview. They’re not working in an area of interest for me but, as Sandra points out, this is my last grad school opportunity to try something different. She says that sometimes those turn out to be the best placements, as the student discovers a passion for something new.

She’s receptive to the other internship possibility, on campus, that I’ve inquired into. We’ll see how that goes. She’s also going to put in a call to an outdoor place, where maybe I could be a ropes course facilitator. Again, not my first choice – I’ve already done it, and it doesn’t get very far into clinical mental health – but at least it’s a possibility.

Sandra inquired about the role in which I see myself in my career. I said I’ve been working toward a faculty position, but I’m not sure I fit in an SSW. It seems important to me to articulate what I’m seeing and feeling, and that seems to irritate social workers. I was comfortable telling her that; she made me feel at ease.

It would be nice if the tensions of these first few weeks at this SSW would fade, and I could feel safe and accepted here.

* * * * *

September 30, 4:23 PM – Ran Into Paul

I was just coming into the SSW for my meeting with Sandra, and there was Paul. Paul is a cool dude, fortyish, smart. Originally met him at the Open House, back in the spring. He had a serious job overseas before coming here; now he’s an MSW student in mental health. I’ve only seen him once or twice this semester.

Just as I begin to ask how his internship is going, and to tell him about mine, who heaves into sight but Hannah, the one from my Thursday morning class who I told all about myself, and who then stopped talking to me. Now Hannah can’t avoid pretending to be friendly toward me, because otherwise Paul would wonder what the hell is the matter with her. So the three of us have a brief pseudo-chat, and then Paul and I head outdoors. I’ve got about 12 minutes until my meeting with Sandra, so we exchange internship stories.

His internship is going well. He’s getting exposed to different therapeutic encounters, hearing stories from clinicians, engaging in discussions of clients and diagnoses, etc. Apparently he will be meeting with clients soon. He’s only at the start of the full two-year program, so he is ahead of the game among first-year MSW students. I think he’ll be good at client work.

When I tell him about my internship – about the stuff they were doing in their group sessions, and about how I challenged it and got terminated – he says he thinks congratulations are in order. He gets it.

Typing up these notes in the library just now, Hannah came strolling by. I think she wanted to make eye contact. I ignored her. I don’t like the on-again-off-again stuff. I would rather wait until I have an opportunity to learn more about this behavior.

* * * * *

September 30, 9:32 PM – Notes from Dr. Krishna’s Class

5:25 PM. Sitting in the back of the room in Dr. Krishna’s class. So far, the back row is where at least two of the three guys in this class have been, every week except the first one.

One thing I said to Sandra, during our meeting today, was that I’ve been trying to train myself, for some years, to just express things as they seem to be. It is not a popular form of behavior. There is almost always someone who doesn’t want to hear it. But it occurs to me that perhaps this training does have some payoffs.

I’m thinking particularly about that scene in the supervision meeting, last week, when I summarized an hour’s worth of harassment of one client in just a few sentences. Nobody had said it like I said it; and once I said it, it was obvious that I had seen that client’s positions and fears pretty clearly. A couple of the other staffers acknowledged that I had put my finger on exactly the situation with him.

6:53 PM. Just back in the classroom after our break. Mark and I sat outside in the cool air and shot the breeze about the agency. He’s gravitating toward working with Jimi rather than with Bobbie or other female group leaders. He suggested a guy on campus whom I might contact to see about an internship.

7:28 PM. Ann is at my table in the back of the classroom, so we pair up when it’s time to do role-playing. I already had a class like this, at SSW1, but my credits didn’t transfer over as one might hope, so I’m doing it again. Ann decides to play the part of a guy who got a DUI and is court-ordered to attend substance abuse sessions. I’m supposed to affirm and support her decision to seek counseling, but that doesn’t really apply to the role she’s chosen – the guy was under court order – so I just start asking ordinary questions, like how does the DUI program work and what are her obligations in it. She gives me positive feedback about how I handled the counselor’s role in that situation. We don’t switch roles; there isn’t enough time.

7:44 PM. Dr. Krishna just had us practice some relaxation techniques with the lights out and his soothing voice speaking from the back of the room. Bad idea for a night class. I’m ready for bed.

* * * * *

September 30, 9:32 PM – I’m Seeing a Pattern

My girlfriend just called. She doesn’t call often, but we’re nearing a full moon.

It occurs to me that maybe this is why Sandra was so pleasant to me this morning, and why Hannah was trying to catch my eye. For years, I’ve kept a note to myself to pay attention when we’re about six days ahead of a full moon. It seems like people are especially inclined toward atypical behaviors, good and bad, in that period of three to six days before.

Maybe this is why five women commented on my Facebook post yesterday. That was a first.

Could be superstition, but that’s OK. With the right superstitions, you can organize reality in a variety of interesting ways.

* * * * *

September 30, 10:04 PM – Race

Last night, the black SW students organization had their first meeting of the new school year. I think some of them must have decided to get together again tonight, because there was a group of black students in the lobby of the SW building when I was on my way to class.

I sent their organizer an email to ask if you had to be black to join. She said no, of course not. I probably would have attended, but I wasn’t on campus last night and didn’t feel like making the trip. I need the exercise, but my bike is basically in its end times. I still use it, but there’s a risk of injury. A couple of years ago, its chain slipped while I was pedaling hard. I fell hard, in the middle of traffic. Lucky I didn’t get run over. Splintered my collarbone (lucky I didn’t get run over) and wound up getting a couple of surgeries. I should have bought a replacement then, but I couldn’t find one I liked in a price I could afford. But I’m looking again.

I was interested in the black students group because, when I was writing my articles on SW ethics, I noticed some things that I liked in the ethical principles of the national black social workers organization. I’ve been vaguely kicking around the idea that, in some ways, I have more in common with blacks than with whites in the U.S. Not so much the suburban ones, though. During the past year, I lived on the edge of a minor ghetto, and I found that middle-aged black people there tended to be friendlier to me than a lot of whites are.

The topic of race came up tonight in Dr. Krishna’s class. He had assigned us to read an article on what they call “racial microaggressions.” As with a number of other SW concepts, that terminology exaggerates and injects hostility into situations that could more accurately and effectively be characterized in less inflammatory terms.

The concept is that, if I praise a black student for having really good language skills, I could be construed as implying that I am surprised that a black student would have good language skills. And that could be the case. But it could also be just that I mean the person has really good language skills, period.

If I have positive intentions, and if that is apparent to the black student, it seems excessive to accuse me of having engaged in a racial microaggression. Even if I conveyed my impressions imperfectly, the better characterization could just be that I committed a faux pas. I screwed up in a race-related matter, and that could have aggressive connotations, but we can’t safely assume aggression in everyone who commits such a screwup.

So, for example, when a little old white lady in an unfamiliar urban neighborhood sees a young black man approaching, and clutches her purse tightly, she certainly does seem to be sending a race-related statement. But we can’t be sure of that until we observe whether she does the same thing toward a similarly dressed young white man. In any case, before applying the far-fetched label of “aggressor” to her, we might take a minute to learn about her experiences. Yes, it is pleasant to flatter oneself on one’s racial sensitivity, but it can be a cheap thrill, built on presumptuous disparagement of another person’s background.

A different case: the young white woman who has been sexually assaulted. When she encounters a strange man in a parking garage or some other isolated setting, she acts like she is afraid of him. She wouldn’t behave this way toward a woman in that same setting. We don’t accuse her of being a gender aggressor. Her behavior has certain drawbacks for her and also for innocent men in her vicinity, but there’s got to be some understanding of her circumstances. That’s different from the same fearful behavior by a young woman who has not been attacked, and indeed is not even afraid. That may be a matter of exploiting her gender advantage – of the option, that is, to call the police if the man’s behavior or appearance displeases her.

* * * * *

September 30, 10:34 PM – The Expert Speaks

After getting home from Dr. Krishna’s class tonight, I wrote up some posts in this blog, fiddled with some other stuff, and caught up on my email. I saved one message for last. Lo and behold, I do have a reply from the expert in SW education.

The truth is, I’ve been avoiding it. I’m afraid she won’t be very positive and pleasant. But let me fortify myself with some potato chips and a glass of wine, and take a look. . . .

And, of course, I forgot. The full moon. She says she’ll be out of town next semester, so she can’t help me. Well, OK, but of course I was interested in the present semester, when I emailed her weeks ago. She offers the names of two other professors who might be interested.

* * * * *

October 1, 9:44 AM – I Think I Understand Hannah

I think I must have been dreaming about Hannah last night. I woke up this morning with a feeling that I understood her behavior.

What I am guessing is that Hannah wants to be needed. It’s a perfectly normal, healthy human need, and good for her.

The part that seems to be maladjusted, in my guess, is that she doesn’t get enough of that need from ordinary interactions. So she modified her interactions with me, in order to generate a higher level of need.

When I told her about my previous experiences in SW education, I sent the signal that I needed her in at least two ways. First, I needed her to keep my information confidential. I’m not sure how desperately I needed that, but I did tell her that this was important to me. Second, I needed her to be my friend. I’m sure it became clear that, as an older white male student, I felt quite unusual, isolated, and vulnerable in this SSW, and also in SSW2, which I was telling her about. I definitely did welcome her friendship.

So then, instead of making sure to be a reliable, friendly acquaintance, Hannah reacted by withdrawing any signs of friendship or affection. This would predictably provoke hurt, anxiety, and confusion in a person who thought that s/he had made a new friend.

Some people would express that hurt by trying to catch her eye, get a smile from her, or otherwise obtain some reassurance. They would let her know that she was needed and valued. So then, after a short period of deprivation, she would begin to give them those reassurances, and the basis for a dysfunctional friendship would be formed. Thenceforth, Hannah would be there for that person, with occasional exceptions when she would withdraw again, thereby reassuring herself and reminding the other person of that person’s continued need for her.

It’s called intermittent reinforcement. I think they use it when training dogs. You don’t reward them every time; if you do, the reward loses its appeal. You keep them guessing.

Just being Hannah’s friend, developing a gradual and possibly deep friendship over time, may not seem to be a realistic option for her. She said she grew up in a military family. They moved frequently. To survive socially as the constant outsider, she may have found it necessary to develop skills in quickly forming a supportive group around herself. She’s smart, fun, pretty – she has a lot to offer, and the relatively isolated and vulnerable kids she met, in her travels, might have tended to be especially grateful for whatever morsels of friendship she could provide.

This is just a preliminary reading, based on early experience with Hannah. A better explanation for her behavior may develop as we go along. Whatever the explanation, she’s not the first society maladjusted person I’ve met in SSWs, and I’m sure she won’t be the last.

* * * * *

October 1, 12:20 PM – Unsung

Yesterday, I got an email from an MSW student, praising three of our classmates who made valiant efforts to prevent a local theater from hosting a concert by “a singer whose lyrics include messages about pouring acid on gay people and shooting them in the head.” They failed – the show went on – but at least they tried. Good for them.

SW education is especially attuned to the rights of selected kinds of people. Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered, and (gender identity) questioning people (LGBTQ) are included among those prioritized kinds of people. Lyrics and other expressions that encourage physical, social, or psychological attacks upon LGBTQ people are relatively likely to inspire opposition from SW students and professors.

I would expect a typical SW educator to find it almost absurd, if I offered my own experience as a point of comparison. For them, I am in no position to complain about physical, social, or psychological attacks – especially not attacks committed by social workers.

So, for instance, I did tell Stanley, Bobbie, and others at the agency that I felt they were ganging up on me and attacking me, during last week’s supervision meeting. In my case, though, it was the attacked person who was disparaged and terminated, and then placed into a kind of probation by his field liaison.

Another way of looking at it: if I had been terminated for being gay, people would have sprung to my defense. If I had been terminated for being professionally ethical, and happened to be gay, people also would probably have sprung to my defense, especially if I was insisting on ethical behavior in connection with some LGBTQ issue. But being terminated for just being professionally ethical makes me a suspicious character.

* * * * *

October 1, 7:03 PM – Learning About Diversity

This is an expansion of cryptic notes I made today in the fun professor’s class. Last class of the week – woo hoo! Let’s make it count.

Not long after the start of class, the fun professor had us divide into three groups, four or five students each. Each group happened to contain one male student.

In the groups, we discussed questions that the professor had typed on a sheet of paper. The questions addressed basic stuff about working with minorities.

One of the members of my group was a large woman named Aminah. Aminah wears what appears to be a Muslim kind of gown with a head covering. Her accent is completely American, but she has traveled to the Middle East. Apparently she grew up here as a bilingual child of fairly well-to-do Muslim parents.

We start discussing things to be sensitive about when dealing with our clients. Almost immediately, Aminah says that we have to be aware of the potential imbalance of “privilege.” Like if, she says, the client is a member of a minority and the therapist is a white male. And she looks at me.

Now, Aminah knows nothing about me. I might be a therapist who spent 13 years in prison for a rape that I did not commit. My client might be a young female who knows exactly what she can get away with. But Aminah’s starting assumption is that I need to be watched.

What’s striking is that Aminah is so confident about this. It wasn’t a goof; she didn’t try to refine her statement, or acknowledge any potential misunderstanding. Nor did anyone else in our group utter a peep about it. And unless I wanted to risk being back in the hotseat, and to increase my risk of expulsion from the program, I certainly was not in a position to challenge her on it.

There’s a good chance that, actually, Aminah is the privileged one. I’ll bet she went to more elite primary and secondary schools than I did. Listening to her tales of travel to the Middle East, there’s not much chance that she ran around barefoot as a child. She is a woman of color – not much color, to be sure, but she is colorful enough to qualify as an exotic individual, welcomed as an example of “diversity” within an SSW. For all we know, she could be a plain old suburbanite masquerading as something else. None of us knows if, for example, any other females in her family wear such garments.

I don’t have any such gown. Sure, I may be one of only two or three male students over the age of 50 in this SSW. I may have had hard experiences. But unless I wear them on my sleeve, so to speak, I’m just one more member of a disfavored stereotype. You have to wonder – who’s going to be working with the homeless men, the alcoholic men, the low-IQ men, the boys whose fathers aren’t around, the women who want to get along with men, and all those other SW clients who don’t share Aminah’s privileges or agenda?

* * * * *

October 1, 7:58 PM – Processing the Lesson on Diversity

I can’t blame the fun professor for that little episode in class today, with Aminah and my female classmates. When our groups ended their discussions, the professor asked for our thoughts. She and my classmates came out with a handful of stories in which people are not what they appear to be. “Give up on the idea that you know who the client is, based on their appearances,” she says. “No matter what they look like, their life experiences are unique.” Good message. None of the stories featured an ordinary white male who was inappropriately judged. But then, Rome wasn’t built in a day.

I took it rather hard, this little episode. I didn’t say a word during our group discussion, and I’ve been thinking about it ever since.

I can’t really say exactly why this incident had such an impact on me. I don’t know. Maybe this was my own full moon moment.

I guess there are lots of reasons. Partly, I guess, this may have been the first time I encountered a young person who seemed to consider me completely irrelevant and powerless. Like, whatever I may think or feel can just be swept out of the way.

It probably wouldn’t have affected me so much if I had an internship in place, had family or friends in this town, and was generally positioned to feel confident about the future. I’m actually in a kind of vulnerable position right now.

After our group discussion, the class as a whole discussed what people had said in the groups. The subject of racism and sexism came up. Several students said they would refuse to meet with a client who was openly racist or sexist. The fun professor informed them that they have a professional obligation to serve clients without discriminating among them because of their views. But what about the client who is forced, by a court or by the need for help, to meet with a social worker who is racist or sexist? Aminah will most likely be working, at times, with men who resemble me. It’s a scary thought.

At the midsession break, I almost ran for the door. I went out and just wandered around. It was a lovely autumn day. I found a patch of sunshine among the trees, and idly paced back and forth, looked up at the sky, and otherwise killed time until long after I saw Lucretia MacEvil, a half-block away, go striding back into the classroom. I just didn’t want to go back in there.

But then, eventually, I did. Everyone else was in their seats, and the professor was talking. I endured the final hour and, when the time came, I got the hell out of there.

So I’ve been writing this up, reliving it, and thinking about it for at least a couple of hours now. At this point, I’m drained. Hopefully this is just a moment of weakness or overreaction that will make me more prepared to deal with such instances in the future.

* * * * *

October 1, 9:43 PM – Rainy Friday Morning

No classes for me on Fridays. No internship news yet. Lots to do.

I woke up very aware that time is passing and I need to be putting in hours at an internship if I hope to graduate in May. Sandra said I could do my hours in a subsequent semester if necessary, but that’s not an option for me. My transfer credits become stale after May – it’s been too many years since I earned them, according to CSWE rules – so either I graduate in May or I lose the credits from my first year of SW study, which means the end of my MSW.

Along with that awareness, I woke with a feeling of defeat. I think it’s a cumulative effect from the internship situation, the classroom environment, and the work I need to get done. Not hopelessness – not quite that bad – but more like dread, like the ship is sinking and I do not yet see how I am going to survive.

* * * * *

October 2, 9:36 AM – Running

It occurs to me that there may be another reason for my more emotional state recently. I haven’t been running.

This summer, I was working toward distance running. I got up to 18 miles. That’s the longest I’ve run since 1992. It was nice. I could just go out and cruise around for 10 or 12 miles, no big deal. Wasn’t setting any speed records, but at an average of around 6.5 to 6.8 MPH, I wasn’t just walking either.

But then it came time to move, and I got distracted and lazy. I pretty much stopped running for a couple of weeks, and that was a mistake. When I was younger, no problem. But if I don’t stay toned now, I get injuries.

So, sure enough, when I got myself moved to this place and started running again, I was running shorter distances of three to five miles to get back in the groove. Even so, I pulled one calf muscle and then, a week or so later, I pulled the other. So then I couldn’t run two blocks without feeling like I was at risk of pulling those muscles again. I’ve been biking to school three days a week, and that’s 20 minutes of huffing and puffing each way. So I’m getting exercise, but not like before.

I’m seeing more research reports, these days, that talk about how important exercise is for maintaining a positive mental attitude. So, OK. I need to run. It may be a cold and drizzly morning out there, but I need to do it now.

* * * * *

October 2, 9:44 AM – Asian MSW Students

Yesterday morning was the Asia seminar, with six students and two professors co-teaching. Only a brief greeting’s worth of eye contact with Hannah. As Brenda’s class slave, I slid a USB thumb drive across the table to her, containing the stuff that the professors posted on the course website late on the night before class. I knew she wouldn’t have it, and anyway I had Adobe Acrobat, and I used it to clean up the PDFs so they were easier to read.

Our team – Brenda, me, and three Asians – will be doing an international comparison of juvenile justice systems in their country and ours. So the reason they posted their material at midnight, our time, was that it was Thursday noon for them, and they were finally getting focused on their Thursday night class assignment.

Yesterday was the first time we got to “meet” our teammates via video link. It wasn’t working perfectly, but it showed their faces well enough, as they sat in their classroom. There were eight people and one instructor in their class. As with our class, there was only one male, a student who looked to be in his thirties.

Our three female teammates, like all of the students in their class, were smiling and friendly. During the video chat, which went on for an hour and a half, the groups decided which school’s website they would use for their group interactions. The other two groups chose to use the Asian class’s website. Our group wants to use our website. Ours has a wiki feature, and I have already posted some material there to demonstrate how a wiki works. I’m not sure if they were just being deferential to this old guy, or if they genuinely thought it would be helpful to use the wiki.

* * * * *

October 2, 1:40 PM – Internship Possibilities

This morning, I got an email from a professor named Mensch. I had exchanged some emails with him at the start of the semester, regarding his area of interest, and I had just recently followed up with another message, to see if he was available to talk about possible internships.

Turns out he’s really interested in helping students solve problems. He spent an hour with me, introduced me to a former assistant dean, suggested several people and places that I might contact, and talked about how my experiences and abilities should position me for a variety of internship options. He said there are more placement opportunities in other areas – Community Organization, for instance, and Social Policy – than in mental health. We talked about how maybe dispute resolution or mediation would be a possibility.

I have to say, I wished Sandra had taken such a positive attitude toward me. I came out of the meeting with this guy feeling like I had a lot to offer, I had options and opportunities, and we just needed to make it happen and get me back into a placement.

On a separate note, I ran into Darchelle today. Darchelle is another intern at Stanley’s agency. I don’t think I mentioned her previously. She was not in the mental health area and I saw her only a few times while I was there.

Today, Darchelle was putting something into the microwave, by the vending machines outside the library. She saw me and said something about not seeing me around the agency recently. I told her that they had terminated my internship. She said, “No way.” I said yeah, long story. I couldn’t tell if she was interested in hearing more, so I left it at that. Last thing I needed was to deal with another Hannah, or to get a brush-off from yet another SW student.

* * * * *

October 2, 2:01 PM – Chat with Asia; Internship Inquiries

After the conversation with Mensch, I went to the SW library. Brenda was there, and she was just starting a typed chat with one of the students in Asia. So the three of us chatted online for an hour or so, and we seem to have figured out some next steps to take for that course.

I was concerned about Brenda, but now it seems like she and I are a lot more motivated to jump on this project – like the students in Asia are not really into it. A key variable: I think they’re all part-time students, holding down full-time jobs and managing families while attending night school.

While I was sitting there at a computer, an MSW student came in and sat down in the cubicle facing mine. I remembered her face, but not her name, from the Open House that I had attended here at the SSW back in the spring. She and I and two other people had shared a dinner table that evening. She didn’t seem to remember me at all. I asked Brenda – both of them were second-year MSW students – but she didn’t know that woman.

While our online chat was underway, I composed a handful of emails to professors and others whom Mensch had recommended, or who had come to mind as we were talking. None of them had replied by the time I was ready to go, so it looked like there would be no more on-campus interviews or meetings for me today.

As I was leaving the library, I saw the MSW student from the Open House, standing at the vending machines. I said, “You don’t remember me.” She said, “I know I’ve seen your face, but I can’t remember where.” As soon as I told her, she remembered.

I noticed something interesting during that Open House. I’ve heard that 90% of the MSW students here are working in Interpersonal Practice (especially clinical mental health). But of the four or five outgoing, friendly MSW students with whom I wound up in conversations during that Open House, all but one were Community Organization majors.

I got on the bus, got home, and wrote up these posts. Still haven’t even brushed my teeth – ran out to get on the bus, the moment I saw that email from Mensch, so I could catch him before he left. Had to apologize to Brenda for imposing stale odors, but she said she hadn’t noticed. I’ll definitely need to brush my teeth sometime today. But first: it’s time for that run.

* * * * *

October 2, 3:47 PM – Internship Update

The run was OK. I decided to try a new self-rehabilitation technique: jog until the calf feels weird, then walk. Repeat until I get bored, then quit.

One of my email messages today was to Sandra. I asked her if maybe we should consider looking for an internship for me outside of the mental health area.

Got a reply from her a little while ago. She was out yesterday and in a meeting all morning. She’s going to check now on that one place that she sent my résumé to.

I don’t yet know what to think about the thing of looking for some other kind of internship. If Mensch was correct in saying that there are more opportunities outside of the mental health area, maybe Sandra should have mentioned that.

Then again, I’m not sure how these things are divided up. Maybe I was assigned to her because she only does mental health internships, and therefore just wasn’t thinking about other possibilities. But, OK, Sandra, you know I need to finish my internship hours, so let’s get cooking!

Not to put all the blame on her. After that experience at Stanley’s agency, I have not been super-eager to get into another placement. I know I have to do it, and I’m going through the steps, but it seems I did need a week or so to regroup mentally.

I forgot to mention. Mensch said there’s a shortage of mental health clients for interns across the board. It’s not just the agency I was at. Part of the problem has something to do with state funding. Basically, this SSW, and the one or two other SSWs in the area, have overloaded the local market. In mental health, there are more interns than there is work for them to do. So that answers that question: I probably would not have tended to have significantly more client contact if I had signed up to do my internship at a different agency.

It’s weird to think that, with all the mental health needs this country has, there isn’t any mental health work for free trainees to do. St. Francis of Assisi preached to the birds; how about something like that? Or, let me think, can we not go out and have group sessions at churches and homeless shelters?

* * * * *

October 2, 6:32 PM – Last Internship Comment of the Day

I decided that I probably won’t be allowed to organize a therapy group at the Humane Society. Or at least I probably won’t get internship credit for it.

I also decided that, being a not-very-religious kind of person, the idea of pastoral counseling may have limited mileage. But I did send an email to a pastoral counselor at one local church that seems to be somewhat liberal and, as such, may be receptive to someone like me.

One of the people to whom I sent an email this morning was, duh, my academic advisor. The professor says my advisor is a creative, brilliant individual. I haven’t actually met him because I missed the first day of orientation. But now is obviously a good time to make the acquaintance and see if he has ideas. I have an email from him, setting up a time to meet on Monday. So that’s a bit more progress.

I’m regretting that I was critical of Sandra in my earlier post. I think she probably held back on the non-mental health internship options because that could raise problems for my future. Mensch thought that there could be licensing difficulties or some other kinds of complexity down the line, if I want to go into mental health but didn’t do my field placement in that area. Anyway, no further comment from Sandra, so I assume she’s still waiting to hear back from the people at that place where she sent my résumé.

End of week. End of internship-seeking project, for now. Time to do some homework!

P.S. I sent in an email, reporting a problem with an SSW webpage. I thought it would go to some webmaster. Instead, Assistant Dean Sean Hennessy replied, thanked me for letting them know, said he owed me an email, asked how I was doing. Well, at least he owned up to it. He’s been pretty friendly overall.

* * * * *

October 2, 7:09 PM – Men on the Faculty

I was thinking about these guys at the SSW who tried to help me out today. All three of them were, I think, in their late 60s or older. It just occurred to me to do a count of men on the faculty, and see how old they are.

I count 49 people on the list of faculty. Of those, it looks like 20 (41%) are men. Assuming they earned their bachelor’s degrees at age 22 or older, 11 (55%) of those 20 seem to be 50 or older.

Then again, to my surprise, 22 (76%) of the 29 female faculty members appear to be 50 or older. This is very different from the percentages at SSW2 (where I have been doing PhD coursework for the past two years). There, younger female faculty members were replacing older and retiring males; there were virtually no young male faculty members.

I’m impressed. For some purposes, I would prefer to have a somewhat older faculty. I admit, the fun professor is young, and I like the energy and open minds of some other young professors. I’m also not too interested in taking classes with faculty members who are still fighting wars from a generation ago, or who generally believe that their favorite articles from the 1970s and 1980s contain what we need to know.

But if this school has managed to collect older faculty members who have a demonstrated ability to look beyond fads and to approach issues with balance and nuance, that would be fantastic. All I can say, so far, is that most of the professors I’ve met so far, young and old, male and female, have seemed to have good attitudes, and that’s what I hoped to find when I decided to come here.

* * * * *

October 2, 8:57 PM – Job List

This afternoon, I got the weekly email from the SSW, listing open jobs. This week, most of them are in-state. There are only three from “away,” as they say in Maine. One is for a world-class consulting firm on the East Coast. Unfortunately, that one has already expired. The other two are for project assistants at some organization in Philly.

I’m guessing this is not going to be like Columbia Law School, where would-be employers from all over the country showed up during interview weeks in August, in search of “the best and the brightest,” as we considered ourselves to be. There’s probably a hiring fair of some sort here, but if so, apparently it’s going to happen later in the school year; and the indications so far are that the organizations that set up booths will mostly be from in-state.

* * * * *

October 3, 2:44 PM – No Internship Leads

Just got an email from Sandra. She says the place she sent my résumé to has decided not to take on another student. Well, she sent the résumé to them because they had indicated that they did have an opening. If that was a mistake, why did it take a week for them to tell her?

It appears that they saw my résumé first, and only then decided that they didn’t want another intern. I would guess they asked Sandra what happened in my previous placement. I would certainly want to know, if I were in their shoes.

Even if they didn’t ask about my previous placement, I’m going in with a couple of strikes against me. I’m not the right type for this place, in terms of gender and such. (If I could provide more details, you’d know what I mean.) Also, I don’t have a great history as a social worker. Experience in corporate law is going to sound a bit strange. I could leave that decade off my résumé, but then people would think I have been a Bohemian for my entire adult life.

As for the week’s delay, that I can’t explain. The general appproach, in the field placement office, is that students are permitted to pursue only one internship at a time. So I guess Sandra just sits and waits and does nothing else, once she has sent my résumé somewhere.

Incidentally, I pulled my calf muscle again when I ran a little while ago.

So, alright. In response to my indication of interest in pursuing an internship outside of mental health, Sandra is now asking if I am considering making a change in my MSW area of specialization. I don’t know the rules on that. I’ll ask my advisor about it on Monday. To Sandra, I offer some examples of internships that aren’t necessarily in the formal mental health area, but still involve direct work with individuals. Maybe this will give her some ideas for what I can try next.

Although Sandra claims not to have drawn any negative conclusions about me from my experience with the previous internship, I am definitely not getting enthusiastic support and prompt attention to this pressing problem. If I had to describe the situation as it appears to me now, I would say that Sandra claims to have taken a neutral position, and she may or may not be telling others (or even herself) that I am a problem child, but it doesn’t seem like she really believes in me.

Sandra is probably quite sincere in what she is telling me. The social workers I have met have not generally been very self-questioning or self-aware. She seems like a nice lady, so I have to think she feels that we are going through a process here in an orderly fashion, and never mind if it requires me to put in 40+ hours per week in the tail end of the semester in order to meet internship requirements.

Another student recently said that I would be better off if I could get switched to someone other than Sandra. I’ll ask my advisor about that too.

* * * * *

October 3, 3:47 PM – Too Many Cooks and Not Enough Broth

I’ve been digging around in the school’s website, looking at internship information. To my surprise, I see that Stanley’s agency is now listed as having more internship slots open.

I hadn’t really asked myself why the agency had that bank of ten or twelve computers, on that long table against the wall. Do you suppose the place serves as a sort of holding tank for overflow MSW students? Is this why Sandra didn’t have much of a reaction to my report that there was so little client work to do there?

It begins to appear that the SSW may have brought me (and hundreds of other students) here, knowing that there would not be enough good placement opportunities for all of us.

I’m glad for the size of the MSW program. I see that it does open up possibilities in a number of other areas. But if it is just assumed that I will mostly fiddle away a 24-hour-per-week internship for the entire academic year, I would appreciate being told that before I choose my school, or at least before I arrive on the premises, so that I understand that it is normal or at least unavoidable that I will have to keep myself occupied doing homework.

* * * * *

October 4, 3:51 AM – Up Late

Wow, I’m up late. I finally got started on writing something related to my experience in SSW2 last year. I had to write it – I have a deadline coming up, and it was stressing me out.

I won’t go into the details of that whole experience here. It’s not from this academic year, so it doesn’t really belong in this blog. But where it does continue to have an effect on my SW education going forward, I’ll report that.

But not right now. Right now, I need to get some sleep.

* * * * *

October 5, 3:01 AM – Up Late Again

It’s 3 AM Monday morning. I’ve been scanning articles and other handouts. They sure use a lot of paper here. The profs come in with a stack of handouts, I take them home, I run them through the scanner and use Acrobat to PDF them, and I recycle the paper.

I’m trying to be a good influence on my Chinese roommate, with whom the only disagreement we’ve had so far has involved ways to save water. I’m a little concerned that he might be hard to get along with, though. I was able to get into this apartment at the last minute because his previous roommate, a friend of his, bailed out after one week of living together.

I’m only now coming to grips with this scanning task. It seems I’ve been running behind. I vaguely knew that the worktable next to my desk has become increasingly cluttered with indeterminate stuff. I can still only see only a bit of the tabletop. But I’m gaining on it.

I spent the weekend working on that document involving my experience last year at SSW2. At the moment, I need to get to bed, so I’ll elaborate later. The basic idea of this particular document is that I have filed a complaint against SSW2 with the U.S. Department of Education. “ED,” as they call it, wants more details. So that’s what I’ve been doing.

* * * * *

October 5, 10:28 AM – Alright, Sandra!

Sandra sent me an email at 7:40 AM. That’s about when I was getting up. I think it was 3:45 AM when I finally fell asleep. I was wound up about the stuff I have to do.

So I’m just now checking the email. I’ve been trying to wrap up that other thing, from SSW2.

Sandra says, “I’ve put out an email to the rest of the team regarding possible placements. I will follow up with each individually this morning.” That’s excellent, and I told her so.

I am also impressed that she was at it so early, and that she did send me an email on Saturday. Some university people wouldn’t have bothered.

So I think the delay, to now, has been just that she was in that bureaucratic mindset, where no other options are going to develop as long as we’re waiting to hear back from one agency.

There seems to be some degree of disconnect among the various field placement people. It’s not just Sandra. I heard a professor say something about a student who had come to him seeking help: like me, she was leaving one internship and trying to find another. I’m guessing that the student took her problem to that professor because she, too, was having no luck with the field office.

Maybe the field people have too many students to keep track of and don’t have the time to compare notes with each other. Otherwise, you’d think that maybe I would get pointed toward the place that that other student was leaving, and she’d get pointed towards mine – assuming, that is, that it was a case of mismatch and that her agency was still open to taking me on as a replacement for her, and vice versa.

* * * * *

October 5, 1:09 PM – Think About It

Just spoke with my academic advisor. Affable old guy. He said Sandra is an excellent field liaison, with tons of contacts.

I think what must be happening, there, is that Sandra is a very organized, efficient individual, with professional instincts and bearing. So she makes a good impression on the faculty. I don’t know if students are allowed to evaluate their field liaisons, or if anybody reviews the unusual cases, such as mine seems to be.

The advisor wanted to hear about the previous internship. I asked if he wanted the short version or the long version. He said the short. I gave him the short. Turns out he wanted the long.

Several times, he advised me to “think about” the situations I was describing to him. I hear that advice frequently at this SSW. Sometimes it seems well-intentioned, and sometimes it feels like more of a control thing – sort of like Bobbie, with her “Do you see what you’re doing?” type of put-down. The advice to think about it implies that I haven’t already thought about it, or am not continuing to think about it.

The advisor said something about an “eternity in a grain of sand.” He explained that this phrase means that you can derive limitless insights from even the smallest and most mundane thing. And it’s true. There’s often a great deal of information in, or behind, even the small and the seemingly trivial. You just have to be careful that you’re not reading things into the situation – not inventing content that’s not really there.

Meanwhile, I just looked it up. It’s from Blake’s “Auguries of Innocence.” The actual quote is:

To see a World in a Grain of Sand
And a Heaven in a Wild Flower,
Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand
And Eternity in an hour.

I’m not quite sure what the rest of it means, but I don’t have time to investigate it now. I think I have a paper due on Thursday for the fun professor.

But to finish the story of the advisor: I was impressed that he seemed so oriented toward patient contemplation of events, in hopes of teasing out their meanings. Along those lines, I told him I was a bit disappointed that Stanley and Bobbie didn’t rethink the matter, next day or next week, and decide that it might be useful to keep me around to argue with. You can always get people to agree with you, when you hold the power to hire and fire. It’s harder to get people who will dare to tell you what you may be overlooking. I didn’t complain that Sandra, too, had no evident interest in contemplating grains of sand.

The advisor said that I would find that higher education is a place where my job is to learn, not to give my own opinions. To him, what I cited in the Code of Ethics was just my opinion.

I guess students are entitled to keep their own opinions if they come from a funky culture, like being transgender or growing up somewhere in Africa. The message seems to be, don’t bore me if you’re not cool. But I did think that higher education was supposed to be a place where people – even ordinary white people – learn by trying out different ideas, not just by letting someone like my advisor tell them what to think. When you accrue enough experiences of defending your opinion and finding that you actually don’t have all the answers, then you start to be educated. You start to develop an instinct that says, “What am I missing?” It doesn’t sound like my advisor has reached that point.

Maybe professors here keep saying, “Think about it,” in hopes that this will sound wise. Maybe it’s a secular version of “I’ll pray for you,” with its combination of positive encouragement or well-wishing and its potential hint of condescension – along with a sense of send-off, as in, “You really need to think about this patiently, and I hope you find someone who will have more time than I do for that sort of thing.”

At one point, the advisor said, “It sounds like you think you could teach us something.” He seemed to think that would be just the most ridiculous notion. I was not sure what to say. I am in my fifties. I practiced corporate law in New York. I have published articles on SW ethics. I am training to be a SW professor. You would sure hope that, by this point in life, I would have something to teach somebody. But I guess tenured profs at elite schools are exempt from learning, or at least they are not going to be subjected to it from the likes of me. It was as if learning was a mark of inferiority, suitable for infliction only upon the young.

This discussion was not horrible. I appreciated that the advisor was available to meet with me. And maybe there’s no harm in at least reminding people (once) to make time to think about things.

Near the end of our talk, as if to remind me that there are layers within layers, I suddenly heard what the advisor was saying to me. I did stop and think for a moment – about what was happening, right there in the present-moment experience of this conversation. It suddenly became clear to me that this professor needed me to just agree with whatever he said.

And so that’s what I did. And almost instantly, he switched out of his preacher mode and into a more constructive, problem-solving mode. There were just a few minutes left before he was due to teach a class, as he had reminded me several times; but now he stopped talking about that and began to have a genuine discussion with me. He told me about his son; he said a few words about his wife; and after a pause, he said that his wife happens to know all kinds of people around town and might have some ideas for an internship for me. He was already two minutes late for class when I left his office, and he seemed happier than he had been during most of our conversation.

There wasn’t much time to form what the advisor might call an “opinion” about the dynamics of that conversation. My working hypothesis is that my advisor’s first priority, in our meeting, was to make himself comfortable. Since I was a student, despite (or perhaps because of) my age, he needed me to take a subordinate position.

Once I did that, he could stop jockeying around for some way of demonstrating my inferiority – my failure to think about it, or my having opinions – and could instead take a constructive step toward helping me with the internship problem that had prompted me to contact him. Didn’t actually get to the point of being able to ask him the questions I went there to ask, but you can’t have everything.

* * * * *

October 5, 1:36 PM – About That Paper . . .

According to the syllabus, I definitely have a paper due Thursday for the fun professor. The assignment is to find a memoir written by, or about, someone who has had an experience of mental illness; read that memoir; and then write a paper on it. Fine. I just have to read a book and write a paper of five to eight pages in the next couple of days.

I wouldn’t have let things slide to this late moment if I weren’t confident of my ability to write. I sometimes tell people that it takes me ten pages just to clear my throat. This is a reflection-type paper, not a research paper, so it should roll OK. But first, I do have to find the book I want to read, and read it.

I did think about faking it – find the severely abridged Google Books version of it, patch together something on the basis of what reviewers and other webpages say about it, and be done with it by midnight. But I’m inclined to try to do a good job of it. Even though the fun professor has not (yet) become my Facebook buddy, she does make me want to be a fun and/or interesting person too. So I’m kind of motivated to see if I can’t write a worthy paper for her.

* * * * *

October 5, 5:01 PM – Mockingbird Years

I looked through the list of memoirs given to us by the fun professor, wasn’t too interested in most of them, and finally hit upon this book called Mockingbird Years: A Life In and Out of Therapy, by Emily Gordon. I looked for it in the university’s online catalog, but for some reason they didn’t seem to have it. So I biked over to the public library. I don’t yet have a driver’s license from this state, so I couldn’t check it out; but that’s OK: I have spent a very pleasant hour and a half sitting and pacing back and forth in their little walled garden, reading.

That little garden was pretty, and it was nice to read and to spend the time outdoors. After an hour and a half, I’d had enough, and anyway it was time to head back to the SSW for my evening class. So I put the book back on the shelf – not precisely in the right location, so that it won’t vanish between now and 8:30 PM, when class will be over and I can come back over and finish it.

* * * * *

October 5, 6:53 PM – Computer Class

As I walk into the SSW, there’s Hannah again. I swear, she lives at the entrance of the SSW. This time, she looks at me. I see this because I am looking at her. We both smile.

I go to the computer classroom. There’s Sonya, the Russian woman from my Thursday morning Asia class. She’s been friendly. She has a great attitude. We talk about having kids. I don’t have any. She says it changes your life.

As usual, I sit in the third row of computers. It’s the last row, at the back of the room. The room is wide, but not very deep. Three of the five males in this class of 20 students are seated in the back row; the other two are with female friends in the second row.

Tonight’s problem is that I can’t read what the professor is displaying on the screen with his computer, up there at the front of the room. I haven’t been able to read it in previous weeks, but he has given us handouts, and those are usually quite clear. But tonight, there are no handouts.

He starts the class with his usual rapid stream of instructions. As usual, a good chunk of the class does not follow what he is saying, so he has to do it again, and then follow up with one-on-one hand-holding, so that those who are thoroughly confused and/or intimidated can catch up. My guess is that he wants the class to have an ethic of being competent at what he is trying to show us, and his way of instilling that kind of pride or self-expectation is to treat competency as the norm. Not a bad ambition, but it stigmatizes people whose only sin is to be nervous and unsure (or half-blind).

Tonight, unfortunately, I am one of the lost. I would be much less lost if, as the professor has suggested, I had practiced this stuff during the week since the last class session.

I haven’t done that. There is a reason. This is a one-credit, pass-fail class. The professor has already described what he wants us to turn in, as our project for the course. It’s due next week, which is the final class session. I already have a general idea of what I want to do, and we’ve already covered the tool I plan to use for it.

I’m interested in learning more. But I have been working with computers for 30 years, and I have a pretty good sense of what I’m going to remember and what I won’t remember. What I won’t remember is the click-here, choose-this-file kind of instructions. Software changes rapidly. If you don’t use it regularly – and I won’t be using this software regularly – you lose those detailed, step-by-step instructions. What tends to stay familiar is the big-picture concepts, but he’s not teaching us those.

The professor makes the rounds to see what’s on everyone’s screens. He’s gentle and supportive with the female students who need his assistance. But when he gets to me, and sees that I’m not where I need to be, he steps back and says, “Whoa! What’s this?” It is embarrassing.

It occurs to me to move to the front row. But then it occurs to me that what I should really do is just leave the class, get back over to the public library, and finish reading Mockingbird Years tonight, if I can. So now we have a 10-minute break halfway through the class session, and that’s what I’m going to do.

* * * * *

October 5, 9:03 PM – Public Library Redux

I’m dictating this to my voice recorder, as I head home on my bike. Kind of cold out.

Just finished reading Mockingbird Years. Library closed at 9, so I was racing to get through the pages and still understand them. Sometimes the author casually drops a major revelation, like her rape, in just a sentence or two, so I had to stay really focused while pushing ahead.

Oh, by the way, don’t bother hiding your books in a different location in the public library. In the two hours since I left, someone had already found the book and had put it back in its proper place. Impressive.

* * * * *

October 6, 8:14 AM – Career Questions

It occurs to me that I should explain why I am examining and questioning the SW educational experience.

When I went through law school, I did what was expected. I sought admission to several schools at varying levels of competitiveness; I went to one of the most prestigious schools that accepted me; I chose an area of focus; I graduated after the usual three years of study; I got admitted to the bar; I went to work in a law firm; and I started down the road toward partnership.

I don’t think that was the best approach. At least not for me. It took me a while to process it all. Ten years after starting law school, I started a book about the process of becoming a lawyer. The book got published. Nothing earthshattering, but it did draw some good reviews.

One thing that seemed funny about law school, as I thought about it, was that it attracted all these people who were supposedly very bright, very inquisitive; yet hardly any of them seemed to be questioning the process itself. Just get on the treadmill and get through it. They imagined that life would begin after law school. In some ways, I’m sure it did. But in other ways, their unquestioning conformity insured that they would tend to perpetuate the same process.

This might be great, if the legal profession were highly regarded for its efficiency, affordability, and ethicality. As it was, my colleagues and I were just exploiting the victims of a dysfunctional and exploitative system.

That was a problem. There was another problem. I, personally, was not very money-oriented. So after a couple of years in a corporate law firm on Wall Street, I was looking around and asking myself, What am I doing here? I didn’t admire the work we were doing, and I didn’t have any desire to live the life of a partner in my firm.

So now that I am back in graduate school, I am trying to avoid making the same mistake again. I am looking at possibilities, and I am questioning things that don’t seem right. I’m doing it in real time, as the questions arise – not postponing them for some Tomorrow that may never come.

I understand that this approach may seem strange to some young people who are going through their first career-decision process, who haven’t yet experienced burnout and so forth – and also to SW professors, who have perpetuated and benefited from dysfunctionalities in much the same way as the lawyers.

* * * * *

October 6, 9:40 AM – Internship Update

Got an email from Sandra about an hour ago. She has sent my résumé to a place that’s an hour away from here. I don’t know if this means she won’t be doing anything else to find me an internship until she hears back from them. She hasn’t heard anything so far. Not sure when she sent it, or if she had a phone conversation with them before sending it. I thank her and ask if this means she heard nothing back from that ropes course place.

On a brighter note, here’s a message from that church, of all things. I have noticed that there is now a fad of saying, “Thank you so much” instead of just “Thank you.” I should Google to see if that phrase appears in connection with other phrases, like “conveys warmth.” But now I’ve wiped that snide grin off my face, and I am beginning my reply to the minister with the words, “Thank you so much.” She sounds like she’s interested in working out some kind of internship for me, if possible.

In the first draft of my reply to her, I express desperation and offer to wash her car. This makes me giggle. Then I look at what I sent her previously. It was very stiff and formal. So, OK, if that’s what works for her, let’s rephrase.

* * * * *

October 6, 10:17 AM – Gay SW Professors

I am thinking that maybe gay male SW professors are not happy to see me.

The professor in the computer course, last night, is gay. I don’t know why he made such a public display of my confusion. Maybe he assumed that I would be totally on top of computer-related stuff.

There was a gay professor at SSW1 who would yell at me. Another gay professor at SSW1 treated me like a pariah. There was also a gay professor at SSW2 who was quite unfriendly to me.

I am thinking, now, about a gay professor who was leading our discussion group in the second day of orientation here at SSW3. I was late to his session, and thus didn’t have time to complete a questionnaire that he distributed to the group. When everyone else was done, he said the group would have to sit and wait until I finished.

It felt like one of those incidents in the Army where everyone on your squad is punished because of your mistake. It’s the sort of thing that can turn people against you. But then, after this professor had drawn attention to my misbehavior, he didn’t actually allow time for me to finish. Within a minute or so, he was moving ahead after all.

I don’t know what was going on inside his head. It looked like he wanted to shine an unfavorable light on me, and once that was done he could proceed as planned. Nice orientation.

At the moment, I’m not recalling any gay SW professors who have been friendly and encouraging. That seems strange. I’ve had gay friends since high school.

This is only a preliminary concern. There are possible counterexamples. I have seen one or two female students being embarrassed by the professor in our Monday night computer class. He has also seemed friendly to me in our one or two previous classroom encounters. The yelling professor at SSW1 didn’t yell at anyone else, at least not in our class, but he did demean some of the women.

* * * * *

October 6, 12:28 PM – Oh, and Thank You

I just realized that I totally forgot to send a thank-you note to Mensch, or to the advisor whom I met with yesterday.

While I’m at it, I’m adding a follow-up question to the advisor. I want to know how come Sandra doesn’t seem to have any other openings of any kind for me, at least not within an hour’s drive of here, when other people are telling me that there tend to be quite a few opportunities for interns in non-mental health areas.

I’m not phrasing it that way, of course. I’m just asking about the opportunities.

I don’t think switching from Sandra to a different field liaison will help. That’s the kind of move that’s sure to be mentioned, if anyone wants to portray me as being difficult to deal with. Besides, it’s unlikely that any of her colleagues would be motivated to show that Sandra failed to get the job done. Most university employees seem to prioritize getting along with their peers over serving students. They seem very unlikely to do something that would support the student at a colleague’s expense.

* * * * *

October 6, 1:24 PM – Gatekeeping?

I was just going to lie down for a nap. I’m tired. But now I think I had better make note of a question that just occurred to me. Do you suppose there has been a decision to prevent me from graduating?

There is something that happens to SW students sometimes. I’ve heard it referred to as being “counseled out of the profession.” I saw it happen at SSW1, with a student who wasn’t ready for grad school of any sort. She just quietly disappeared at the end of the first semester, after some “counseling” with an administrator. It has probably happened to other SW students whom I never noticed or got to know.

This process of eliminating SW students is part of what’s called the “gatekeeper” function. People who are not suited . . . wait, let me dig into my stash . . . OK, here we are: an article by Currer and Atherton (2008) called, “Suitable to Remain a Student Social Worker? Decision Making in Relation to Termination of Training.” A quote (p. 282):

[W]e had concerns deriving from our role as educators. There appeared to be a danger that judgements made concerning students might be harsher than those made in the workplace. Since the period of training is one when mistakes can be expected as part of the learning process, this seemed paradoxical.

So now, by golly, I wonder if we aren’t closing in on something here. As I continue to dig, I find an article by Urwin, Van Soest, and Kretzschmar (2006) called, “Key Principles for Developing Gatekeeping Standards for Working with Students with Problems.” Here’s a quote from page 169:

Specific student problems can range from sexual harassment . . . [to] not meeting responsibilities in the classroom . . . rigid thinking, and lack of openness to learning.

Is that why the advisor wanted to go into such detail about my previous internship experience, during our conversation yesterday, and why he had so little to offer about the future? Is that why I’ve been hearing recurrent advice to “think about it,” or to learn from the situation, or to listen instead of talking? Have I been diagnosed as being guilty of “rigid thinking” or of “lack of openness to learning”?

Look, it’s great advice, for someone who does not understand what the other party is saying. There’s a simple test for that: ask the two sides to articulate their opponent’s viewpoint. It’s a test that I passed in, for example, the supervision meeting with Stanley and Bobbie; it’s a test that they did not pass in that meeting. If I can summarize what the other person is saying, and then explain why my response addresses their view and goes beyond it, I am not demonstrating lack of openness. I am demonstrating an ability to engage in rational discussion.

It seems like this advice to “think about it” first came to my awareness about the time of that fateful supervision meeting. I heard it from Stanley; then Sandra echoed it in different terms; then the advisor said it again yesterday. Each time, they didn’t seem to be hearing what I was saying; they were just insisting that I should hear what they were saying.

Well, if there’s one thing I learned at SSW2, it’s that SW professors don’t get it, and they won’t get it. It’s just a different mentality. There are different kinds of SW professors, of course; but the track record so far is that, when I get to this point with one of them, I’m wasting my breath. SW is just not, in general, a very thoughtful profession. Things are almost never processed very well. I hoped – I probably expected – that things would be handled much more professionally at this top-ranked school.

Maybe they will be, overall. We’re only just starting. But the evidence is dispiriting so far.

I definitely don’t know, for a fact, that there has been a big powwow and that I have been deemed unworthy. Or that a negative story on me is being conveyed with a gesture here and a remark there, each one knowing what the other is trying to say about me.

Our gatekeeping friends are hopefully mindful of what Urwin et al. found: “While the specific student problems were varied, a general agreement emerged that the outcomes [of gatekeeping efforts] were almost universally unsatisfactory” (p. 169). Also Currer and Atherton (p. 290) (quoting Hugman): “If they are not simply to impose the values of a dominant group, professions need to be communities of ethical communication.” So far, we’ve got poor results on that.

* * * * *

October 6, 4:07 PM – We Are All Connected

Mensch emailed to ask if he and I were supposed to meet on Thursday. He had us scheduled for a meeting at 10:30. I replied no, I didn’t think we had a meeting then; but I said that I was tempted to use the opportunity to meet with him anyway, because progress with Sandra was very slow.

So Mensch took it upon himself to call Sandra, on my behalf, and ask what was happening. That caught me by surprise. Of course, I appreciate his concern. I just would have liked an opportunity to think about whether I wanted him, or anyone else, to take a direct role in this. I can’t imagine that this makes Sandra more comfortable about working with me. But maybe his instincts are right. Maybe his prodding will help.

I had better be aware that, when I tell a professor something, they may go ahead and take action on it. This time, I found out about it. Mensch has been here a long time, so I have to assume that he considers this kind of intervention normal and appropriate. Indeed, maybe this is what SW professors have been doing all along, with the information that I have shared with them on what I assumed was a relatively private basis. There’s no academic ethic of transparent communication, so you never really know what’s being said about you.

I thanked Sandra for letting me know. Maybe she was trying to find out if I put him up to it. Or maybe she was letting me know that anything I say to a professor is apt to echo all over the place.

The other professor to whom Mensch introduced me, as I sat in his office, did not reply when I followed up with a pleased-to-meet-you email last week. I hope that means nothing. The usual etiquette in higher education seems to be to write back and say, Sure, Mr. Student, glad I could help.

So, alright, now I have this email from Sandra telling me that she’s heard from Mensch, and that she has already told me that I can switch majors if I want to have more placement opportunities. Of course, I have told her that doing so will apparently mean that I can’t graduate in May, because I won’t be able to complete the courses required for that major by then. So I’m emailing back to ask if I have to change majors in order to find an internship.

* * * * *

October 6, 4:29 PM – Majors and Concentrations

Let me clarify what I mean, when I refer to my “major.” There aren’t actually “majors” here, though I think of them that way.

This SSW requires each student to sign up for a “practice area concentration” and also, somewhat confusingly, for a “practice method concentration.” This doesn’t work too well. Students and even faculty get confused. For instance, “Social Policy” is treated as a practice method, when it sounds more like a practice area. Or what’s the point of saying that you have “Community Organization” as your practice method and “community and social systems” as your practice area?

Like most of the students I’ve talked to, I just refer to my major, except when some form requires me to distinguish the practice method from the practice area. Then I go to the SSW’s website and look them up, to remind myself of which is which.

* * * * *

October 6, 10:45 PM – Internship Update

I just got an email from a well-known environmental psychology expert who works in another department at this university. I emailed her last week, playing the long-shot possibility that she would have a lead on a possible environmentally related therapeutic program that might be interested in having an intern. She knows of one place that used to have an intern. I’ve sent them a résumé and a self-introduction.

Earlier today, I realized that I still hadn’t heard back from a dispute resolution place that I contacted a couple of weeks ago, so I called them. They didn’t seem to have any idea who I was, but they took down my email address and said someone would be back in touch with me. An hour or two later, I got an email from them, telling me that they weren’t actively looking for an intern now, but inviting me to send a résumé for future reference. I sent one right back to them.

* * * * *

October 7, 9:39 AM – Writing a Paper

Up earlier than intended, due to my elbow hitting the top of my alarm clock and it going into a frenzy of buzzing and talk-radio DJs speaking loudly about some random affair. I couldn’t figure out what the hell was wrong with it, or how to shut it off, so I pulled the plug but, alas, I was awake.

Got back into the writing of the Mockingbird Years paper for the fun professor. Had a nice phone conversation with my girlfriend last night. She’s a six-hour drive from here, and I don’t call her very often when I’m trying to do homework, which tends to mean Tuesdays through Thursdays. It irritates her that she does most of the calling.

After the phone call, I kept at the paper, and wrote about four pages. I’ve written another two this morning. I had the page length wrong; it’s supposed to be seven to nine pages. It’s slow going. I’m writing about the memoir without having it present, due to those rules at the public library, but I do have a Google version and various reviews and commentary to remind me of stuff.

* * * * *

October 7, 11:49 AM – Internship Search – Update No. 833

Got an email from Sandra, assuring me that she, too, is concerned about the prospect of making me drive an hour each way to the place where she has sent my résumé. She says she’s looking into other possibilities. I tell her that I appreciate it, and that I got a bit thrown by the tone of our meeting after she heard from Stanley, but that I’m returning to my customary faith in her.

She says I have to change my major if I want an internship that is not formally classified as Interpersonal Practice. So I have to ask my advisor if I can make that change and finish the required courses in time to graduate. Or, you know, I think I’ll ask Melinda, my Thursday morning professor instead. She’s an assistant dean and is probably more familiar with my transcripts. Obviously, I wish the advisor and I could have gotten to those sorts of issues in our conversation on Monday, but OK, maybe this is better.

* * * * *

October 7, 2:03 PM – Correction

I read that message from Sandra wrong. She didn’t say she was worried about the driving distance and time. She said she was worried about the passage of time without me being in an internship.

In my previous message, I said that she kind of threw me, with her reaction during our first meeting after Stanley showed me the door. I told her that my normal reaction was to trust people, and that’s what I was inclined to do with her. She didn’t reply to any of that.

* * * * *

October 7, 8:44 PM – Role-Playing

We did some role-playing tonight in Dr. Krishna’s class. My group consisted of Lisa, Stephanie, and me. Stephanie played the role of therapist; Lisa played the role of client; I was the observer.

Lisa was a hard client. She played the part of an adolescent male client she has already worked with on her internship. Lisa is maybe 23 years old, and tiny, and she has clients already. Or at least a client.

Apparently this kid was a real handful for her, because in her imitation of it, Lisa was just about impossible for poor Stephanie to talk to. When they were done, I complimented Lisa on her acting ability, and Stephanie on her effort, and on finding a subject – sports – that the boy liked to talk about. She was nervous and kept saying she was no good at this. I hope I encouraged her.

After class, I found myself thinking that, with some clients, we are trying to fix something that can’t be fixed. The thought does nudge me toward a community-level orientation, where we focus our efforts on helping communities to become more capable in dealing with such clients, and also to reduce the future numbers of unfixable individuals.

* * * * *

October 7, 9:04 PM – I’m My Own Grandpa

Funny thing. I’ve been expecting these young students to treat me like a colleague. Tonight, in one of my young female classmates’ face, what I saw was something different. I saw, or imagined, the look that I’d expect to see on the face of a teenage girl whose parents have split up, who is now trying to trust her dad. The look I saw was that of someone who needed me to be a good, reliable older guy.

This may seem obvious to those guys who have had kids and have been socialized, by men and women around them, into the role of father and then grandfather. This is decidedly not my life course. I’m not a grandpa, I don’t act like a grandpa, I don’t want to act like a grandpa, and I don’t feel like a grandpa. To each his/her own. My path is, to the extent I can manage it, the path of a younger person. I don’t mean I actually am a younger person. I’m not kidding myself. I just mean nothing seems to be compelling me to become an old guy. Nothing except time, that is.

But the look on that face – I don’t think I was imagining it – is a bit of inspiration. I don’t want to act old, but I think I probably should stick with the bit of learning I had last week, or the week before, when I didn’t try to engage any classmates in conversation but was available in case they wanted to talk to me. This isn’t how I plan to carry myself when I’m around mature adults, but around these young SW students – some of whom have doubtless been through hell – and around the SSW, I guess, they may need me to adopt a persona that is safer for them. Maybe some of them are just afraid of being rejected.

* * * * *

October 7, 9:14 PM – Relaxing a Bit in Dr. Krishna’s Class

5:14 PM. Mark asked to borrow my copy of the syllabus. He’s had a miserable day. Someone accidentally looped her bike lock through his bike as well as hers. So instead of jetting around campus on his two-wheeler, he’s had to walk, take the bus, drive, pay for parking, etc. I don’t know why he’s so antsy. It sounds like he’s been commuting back and forth all day.

Just now, he asked to look at my copy of the syllabus for Dr. Krishna’s class. When he gave it back, I looked at it myself. I hadn’t previously focused on the fact that suddenly leaps out at me: a majority of Dr. Krishna’s assignments are going to be pass-fail!

This has meaning beyond the fact that I can goof off, if I wish. It reduces my stress level by about 50%. I’m not even sure why, but I can literally feel it happening in my body, and I’m not a very feel-it-in-my-body kind of guy. Dr. Krishna would be pleased to hear of this. He’s still having us spend a few minutes in some kind of relaxation technique in class. Tonight, I noticed that one of the students refused to close her eyes and do what he was suggesting, there in the darkened classroom. My guess is, she’s a Christian fundamentalist, and anything that vaguely resembles a spiritual moment trips her trigger.

I’m quick on these guesses about people. But I know I’m only right half the time, give or take. Guessing just makes me pay more attention, to see if I’m right.

Dr. Krishna began the class by asking for volunteers to take turns reading a long poem out loud. I was his first volunteer. Then he gave us a handout, with the story of a guy on it. The guy is 55. His wife has left him, and he’s eager to get her back. We have to think about what we would say to him. The things that these young women said they would say to Mr. G, to make him feel better, just made me wince. There was one, out of six volunteers, who said something that I, in Mr. G’s shoes, would not have considered utterly clueless. One of the others actually said something like, “Mr. G, you seem desperate.” Dr. Krishna picks up the theme: “Mr. G, I’m sorry, but you seem to be a complete loser.” Everybody laughs. I grit my teeth. What if we were talking instead about a heartbroken female client?

I am half tempted to offer a general-purpose comment to the class, but there’s a student named Shelly who’s approximately my age, and she starts down the path of telling a long personal story. Not how I want to present myself! Definitely deters me from wanting to offer my point of view.

* * * * *

October 7, 10:08 PM – I Love Being Right

Tonight in class, Dr. Krishna (apparently an expert in working with men who have battered their wives or girlfriends) said that some fields of interpersonal work have turned away from the name-calling, harassing treatment of people who have misbehaved in some way, but the treatment of male domestic abusers is still behind the times in that regard, still using what I saw at the field placement. That harassing, blaming approach, he says, tends to harden people rather than teaching them a better way.

Mark sat in the back of the class with Mohammed and me tonight, and I could tell that he was looking at me as Dr. Krishna was saying this. During the break, Mark told me that he recently came across an article that said just what I had said to Stanley and Bobbie and Jane, about how we have an ethical obligation to treat people with dignity. Apparently the article echoed Dr. Krishna’s recommendations about using a more respectful approach: “Create an atmosphere that is conducive rather than coercive to change.” I’m wondering if my comments in the supervision meeting caused Mark to question their approach and go hunting for this article. That would be a nice outcome.

* * * * *

October 8, 10:56 AM – Catching Up

Just had the class with the students from Asia. I’ll get to that in the next post.

After the class, I spoke with Assistant Dean Melinda. She says switching to Community Organization from Interpersonal Practice is no problem, and I should be able to finish the courses I need in the spring semester. Nothing judgmental about it; she is just friendly and businesslike. Very straightforward. She asked who my field liaison is, and said that Sandra is excellent.

Went to the registrar’s office. They pointed me toward the forms on the SSW’s website. Went to the library for a computer, found the form, printed it, signed it, put it in my advisor’s mailbox. Back to the library, and here I am. Getting sleepy. It’ll probably be too cool for a nap outside, so I may have to resort to one of the soft chairs in the library. First, a shish kebab from the place down the block.

* * * * *

October 8, 11:07 AM – Asia Class

Funny class this morning. We used GoTo Meeting software. Each of us had a laptop. Our colleagues in Asia were all in one room, each using their own laptops but sharing a microphone. We had brand-new headsets.

Audio quality was poor. Couldn’t hear most of the students in Asia. One of them was clearer than the others. Maybe she had her mouth closer to the microphone. I could hear Brenda pretty well. That was good, because her alarm didn’t go off, so she joined us from home in a really sleepy voice, a few minutes after class started. We all used a mix of talking and typed chat. Didn’t make much progress. Our presentation is three weeks from now.

I was leader for our group. Whatever I showed on my screen was what everybody was seeing in the GoTo software. So if I needed to change to a different screen, everybody got dragged along. So I was doing chat in one window, GoTo in another, looking at an outline somebody posted to our group discussion website in a third window, listening to people talk and all kinds of static in my headset, and trying to carry on a conversation with one of the co-teachers of the course. Multisensory overload. Gave me an excuse for a headache later, should I decide to have one.

This morning, in our fifth class session, we have reached a point where all five of my classmates here, in the Thursday morning Asia class, are prepared to look at me and say hello. Hannah and I have returned to that through, I guess, a gradual, silent process. She was all smiles for me today. The last holdout was Jennifer, who had to be friendly because I held the elevator to wait for her, when I saw her coming through the front door of the SSW, on our way to class. So we chatted for the first time, for a good 20 seconds.

* * * * *

October 8, 1:42 PM – Being Here

Had a long nap. It’s chilly in the library today. Everyone’s wearing jackets. I have a feeling they’re going to trim energy costs here this winter. As usual, I’m hunched over the monitor, so as to minimize the chance of passers-by eyeballing what I’m typing. The text is small enough, but the title of my blog isn’t. I guess I should change it to something innocuous.

On my way into the library, I passed the classmate who sits next to me in Dr. Krishna’s class. As usual, she didn’t seem to notice me. I bet she’d notice me a hundred yards away, though, if we were in a parking garage.

On the other hand, inside the library there was another student from that same class, a woman from Hong Kong who has been consistently gracious to me and, it seems, to everyone else.

I think often about the whole situation with Sandra. Everybody says she’s so good. I have told her that I am always grateful for her responsiveness. She usually gets back to me pretty quickly.

She probably thinks there’s something wrong with me for offering again, yesterday or the day before, to discuss the situation with Stanley at the previous internship. The typical social worker line seems to be that we just forget these things and move on. But I don’t think that’s what actually happens. What I’ve observed is that the story and the original impressions about it do stay in the social worker’s mind, ready to come back out at the moment of gossip.

When I was walking up the sidewalk to the SSW this morning, the fun professor was coming out. She saw me and said hello when I was still 30 feet away from her. It had the feeling of one of those oh-it’s-him types of encounters. Her hello was pretty flat. I made sure to say hi, smile, and keep walking, so there would be no anxiety that I might want to stop her and talk.

Hmm. I think I chose the wrong computer. There’s a bank of stand-up computers behind me and to the right. Just now, I looked back and saw this woman standing there, talking to a friend who was working at one of those computers, and staring at me. I like to think she couldn’t read, and wouldn’t be reading, over my shoulder. But whatever. It’s time for the fun professor’s class.

* * * * *

October 8, 8:55 PM – A Piece of Work

I have an email from Sandra. She sent it this morning, 20 minutes after I sent her my email to let her know that I have started the process to change majors to Community Organization. She says she just got off the phone with someone from the mental health place that’s located nearly an hour away from here. Now they want to meet with me. Does she have some special reason for wanting me to drive that distance?

Sandra says that, unfortunately, that agency is not available to meet with me until next Wednesday, six days from now. Another delay of nearly a week! And then what if the interview doesn’t go well? Oh – and Sunday will be one of the days when they expect me to work. It’s a Catholic agency. So, what – I have to attend church services too?

Sandra’s email pretty much disregards my request for a list of placements that are available in community organizing: she’s “not sure how [I] want to factor that in.” So I’m replying with a message that says, once again, I need to avoid driving that kind of distance, given the age of my car. Not to mention that winter is coming. Last winter, someone told me, they had four months of snow here. I don’t want to be driving six hours a week (or more, as I play catch-up), from now through April, for an unpaid internship. So I am writing to repeat that I am switching to Community Organization and to request, once again, a list of placements available for Community Organization majors.

Sandra says she’s not going to be in the office tomorrow, Friday. Looks like I missed an opportunity to respond to this message. I must have checked email at school a half-dozen times today. Obviously, this message had to be there – she sent it at 11:18 AM – but somehow I did not see it, or else somehow it was not there.

Maybe my home computer had already downloaded it. It didn’t appear to be in my inbox when I got home after 5 PM, but maybe I misunderstand how the email program works. It’s Thunderbird, in Linux, and I’m pretty new to it. So I don’t know. Somehow or other, we had some slippage. So apparently she won’t be signing my paper to transition to Community Organization until Monday at the earliest.

* * * * *

October 8, 11:27 PM – Glimmers of Progress

OK. I have finished and submitted the thing I had to write for the Department of Education, regarding the complaint I filed against SSW2. I’ve now sent ED more than 300 pages of documentation. It’ll probably be quite a while before I hear from them again. They move pretty slowly.

If email is to be trusted, that minister seems to be getting excited about the idea that I might help her out. I’m thinking that the switch to Community Organization is just the ticket. It sounds like she has only a few people who need strictly counseling/mental health types of assistance, but has lots of other stuff going on. I told her I’m not very religious, but that seems to be OK with her. So, yeah, if I can set up an internship there, and if they don’t hound me to convert, that would be pretty sweet. I got her email earlier today and have been thinking about it.

Looking back at what I wrote earlier, it occurs to me that maybe I should explain that remark about being spied by a woman in a parking garage. I was shaking my head, back in the 1980s and 1990s, when all the Baby Boomers were raising these kids not to talk to strangers. Result: they don’t even know how to look at someone and say “Hi.” The best I can do with these female classmates is to break even – not to rape anyone, and to pass back into functional nonexistence at the earliest opportunity.

Caveat: nonexistence is not expected if you’re a professor or somebody otherwise positioned to make an obvious difference to their careers. In that case, they’re all smiles.

* * * * *

October 9, 11:36 AM – Everyone Is a Client

Five years ago, in my first year in an MSW program, I arrived at a conclusion: in SW, everyone is a client. Everyone, including professors and fellow students. But there’s another part to the lesson. Maybe everyone is a client – but I am not their therapist. I don’t want to be, I can’t be, and they don’t want me to be.

That last part is important. Unlike some other kinds of psychologically oriented training, SW students and educators do not seek mental health treatment, even when they really need it – and when they do seek it, they don’t talk about it. Doctors usually take care of their own bodies; lawyers typically know how to protect their personal interests; but social workers treat mental health as though it’s for someone else – and, usually, someone who has Problems. There’s just not a culture of treating oneself as being forever under construction, always seeking to improve, being open to insights from professional practitioners.

There are exceptions. The fun professor has recommended that everyone who plans to be a mental health worker should have some experience as a mental health client. She was saying it in the sense that people should be aware of their own issues. But, as I say, that was unusual. I might have added that people should also be aware of what it’s like to be a mental health client.

The first social worker I met, in her professional capacity, was a practitioner in the town where my wife and I had lived. When my wife said she wanted a divorce, I dragged her off to see this social worker, who presented herself as being a competent mediator. She seemed to have lots of space in her schedule. I didn’t think about what that might mean.

Move ahead to the second or third session, and already we have the two of them facing me. The social worker was actually quite a bit harsher toward me than my ex-to-be. It seemed we were there to pay the social worker to vent her feelings about men.

The social worker didn’t have a website at that point, or else I didn’t know where to look for it. Later, when I found it, I noticed that she advertised herself as a specialist in – would you believe – eating disorders. Gee – would that be something she should have mentioned?

I sure know how to pick ‘em. But, you know, the guy has a broken heart. I guess that makes him fair game.

* * * * *

October 9, 1:16 PM – Asia Class – Group Meeting

Our group just met online, in the chat (i.e., typed word) forum – Brenda, me, and our three Asian colleagues. Noon our time, midnight theirs. For a while, we were all kind of stiff and, I think, slightly irritated at our lack of group progress/consensus. But then some magic happened, and we all got funny. It was a really great experience. Their English is pretty much like ours, right down to the slang. We were joking, punning, thinking. I don’t think we could have had such a sustained session of ideas and entertainment if we had been face to face, or even voice to voice.

So I think we have a plan, sort of. And a lot of work to do. We’re supposed to have something posted to the group website in 48 hours. Which is asking a lot, because I also have to do my final paper for the Monday night computer class. Also, my driver’s license expires on Monday, which also happens to be my birthday. And that’s hopefully when the internship thing will finally come together. It’s like Monday is going to be the perfect storm.

* * * * *

October 9, 11:41 PM – Everybody’s Doing It

Funny coincidence. Hannah and Sonya are the only people I know in the Monday night computer mini-course. So guess who was lined up, waiting for advice from the computer guru in the Graduate Library this afternoon? First time I’d ever been in the place, and there we were, the three of us, and nobody else from that class. I can’t speak for them, but I’m really kind of clueless about our final paper. So I got to talk to Sonya a bit about Russia in the Gorbachev era. She’s a sweetheart, no doubt about it. And also talked to Hannah about what she plans to do her paper on. It sounds better than mine.

This is the only thing I’ve posted in recent hours because I’m trying to focus on that paper. I did drive my roommate and myself over to the Kroger grocery store a little while ago. Like most Chinese students, I guess, he doesn’t have a car.

I just want to do the paper and be done with it. It’s a computer thing, which means I could enjoy spending weeks, months, years at it. But I don’t need it right now. So in the triage center of my life, it is welcome to get itself done and go away.

* * * * *

October 11, 3:28 AM – I’m Dying

It’s 3:30 AM and I’m still up. The good news is, I have almost finished that paper. Actually, I’ve done it as a YouTube video and a couple of blog posts, but I’ll put it in PDF form with some links. Hope he likes it.

Went out and sat in the SSW’s garden yesterday. Looked at the snowflakes falling on my jacket. Early snow, and not much of it. Thought about being someone that nobody liked. The good thing about being a reject is that you facilitate a sense of community among everybody who isn’t you.

Don’t worry. This story is not going to end with me jumping off a bridge and breaking my arm.

If I were a young female, I think this would be a great school to attend. I mean, it’s pretty good for me too, with some exceptions that I am diligently logging and complaining about and so forth.

I was thinking this would be a great school for a young female as I read an email message about how today is the day of reckoning for the kickball game against the school of public policy. Nice to have that kind of stuff going on.

In other extracurricular news, the Mormon guy who lives a couple of doors away from me has organized a religion and spirituality group. Lucretia MacEvil is part of it, and supposedly so am I. I’ve been kind of avoiding it, though, because my concepts of spirituality aren’t, you know, orthodox. Then again, I’ve been kind of excited about the possibility of setting up my internship with that minister.

A bunch of other groups: a Social Workers for Veterans group, a Nontraditional Students group (I’m in that too, but it’s getting a really slow start), etc. Being a commuter from the north part of campus definitely suppresses my participation in some of these things, but I’m glad they exist.

All kinds of other news, while I’m rambling, half-asleep here: free dental clinic, depression screening, job ads . . . lots of stuff comes floating down the pike via email at this place. Lots going on, including me: I’m going on and on and on . . .

* * * * *

October 11, 7:34 PM – Jockeying with Asia

The Asia class is funny. Everybody keeps posting materials online for everyone else to read. I don’t know if anyone has actually read any of these materials, including the people who posted them. The exception is for the things actually written by the poster him/herself. We’ve got enough materials for a publishable article, if only someone knew what it all says.

Honestly, we’ve all done some work. I can’t shake the feeling, though, that we’re playing a game of academic chicken – like it’s just a question of who gets most anxious about our assignment, and finally becomes the group leader and does a disproportionate amount of work in exchange for assured academic survival.

So I’ve just spent a couple of hours reviewing YouTube videos on the subject of juvenile justice (JJ). This is our group topic. The Asian students want to learn about JJ in the U.S. It’s an admirable instinct. After skimming through a bunch of dry materials, I decided to try my hand at assembling a video, a sort of “welcome to JJ” piece that will give them the information they need.

I got the idea to do that after posting that YouTube video for the computer professor. He emailed me earlier today to say he likes it and he’s going to suggest it to the other students in class tomorrow night. Great!

* * * * *

October 12, 9:32 AM – I Don’t Get It

OK, I really don’t get it.

I called the SSW’s assistant registrar this morning to verify what the assistant dean told me. The assistant registrar says there should be no problem, in the spring semester, lining up the two classes in Community Organization that I will need to graduate.

So here’s an email from Sandra:

Ray:

I’ve read your email this morning. Please send me an email response back that indicates that you are not interested in the interview at [the place that’s an hour away from here]. Once you’ve done that, I will start working on the Community Organization placement. Keep in mind that it might not be in this county either. Once you turn down [the place that’s an hour away], we won’t come back to it.

This is a very curious message. Why is she requesting yet another confirmation that I don’t want to go to the place that I never did ask her to contact? It’s a little spooky. It feels like she is requesting a gold-plated confirmation that I am deliberately choosing to screw myself. This is why I called the assistant registrar. I wanted to double-check that I’m not missing something important here.

That faraway place is a relatively conservative religious organization, just like Stanley’s agency. I wasn’t too concerned about it at the first place, but in the aftermath I have wondered whether that’s a reason for some of the judgmentalism I encountered there.

I did ask Sandra, weeks ago, about one of the other places on my original list, a non-religious place, but she said she they were already getting underway and she did not want to send another student there now. I didn’t entirely understand the logic of this, but I was hesitant to directly challenge her latitude to do whatever she feels like doing.

The idea that she needs to “start working” on my Community Organization placement makes it sound like it’s going to be another long, elaborate process. This is not consistent with what I got from Mensch and the others who were saying that there are lots of opportunities in Community Organization. Why not just tell me what the options are, give me some choice in it, and call the place I choose?

It is enough to make me wonder whether Sandra responds to a male her age by becoming – or acting as if she had become – uncommunicative, uncomprehending, uncooperative, slow, or otherwise difficult. Is there an effort underway, here, to build up a case that I am a troublesome student?

I asked for a list of choices again in my reply email to her this morning. We’ll see what comes of that. Very strange!

* * * * *

October 12, 12:29 PM – Sandra Replies; It’s Up to Me

Sandra emailed to say that I can see what placements are available by just going to the school’s website and looking at its list of available placements. So I guess this means the list has changed again since we last discussed it, when she told me that the only things shown there at this point were for first-year students.

She also tells me I have to revise my statement of internship goals to make sense from a Community Organization perspective. I could have been working on that over the weekend. It shouldn’t take long, but I don’t know if I can do it today. I have to go meet the minister in a couple of hours, and I’m supposed to be chatting online with the Asian students, although it’s starting to look like they’ve all gone to bed.

* * * * *

October 12, 12:29 PM – Scanning the Placement Listings

I am looking at the SSW’s field placement listings. Out of curiosity, I start with a search for placements in Interpersonal Practice, my previous major. I check all of the boxes. It gives me a list of maybe 35 places. Stanley’s agency is still on the list. The faraway place that she was trying to send me to is not on the list. Most of the others are located within this area. But I guess these are only available to first-year students?

I try again, this time searching for Community Organization placements. This is scary. There is a total of nine listings. Two of those are at Stanley’s agency. One is for a program abroad, which I obviously can’t attend here. One is for work within the Asian-American community, which would be OK if they aren’t looking for Asian-American interns. Two are for a sexual assault program that provides services to victims of assault. Even if I hadn’t just gotten canned from a place with a comparable mission, this does not sound well-suited for a male applicant.

OK, call me an idiot. I surely should have scanned these listings instead of just relying on someone’s word for it. But wait. This can’t be right. There are enough Community Organization majors in this SSW to support a number of different Community Organization-specific classes. Sandra knows that my reason for switching to Community Organization is to find a placement. Are we saying that she let me do that, knowing that there were not likely to be any placements for me? And why was she saying that the available ones might be outside of the county? These all seem to be within the county.

There are one or two possibilities on that list, but I’m not excited about them. I turn to an email that I received last Friday, that I found about an hour ago in my junk mail folder. It’s from a guy who runs the campus ropes course. He says this is only marginally involved with SW, but he invites me to call.

I’m really starting to think that I should have just disregarded Sandra entirely and set forth in search of my own internship in the first place.

* * * * *

October 12, 1:01 PM – Sandra the Puzzler

I was just thinking about how Sandra was so definitely not interested in trying to reach a mediated solution between the agency and me, or in understanding why Stanley’s account differed from mine.

Typically, when I think about that kind of attitude, I just accept it on a superficial level: there are some people who don’t like to get into the details of what happened in a particular situation. But sometimes that’s because the details don’t favor them.

Maybe losing a job is supposed to be the fault of the fired employee, in Sandra’s thinking. Maybe she thinks that, as a man, I have no excuse for losing an internship. A job is how men support their families, and maybe it’s assumed that men are supposed to do whatever it takes to keep those jobs.

Maybe not having a job – or, in this case, an internship – makes me like a client. Maybe it breaches the membrane that divides the relatively well-dressed, highly educated social worker (especially the social worker in academia) from the tacitly inferior and screwed-up people of the hard-luck class. Maybe Sandra recognizes a connection between (a) failure to be morally pliable, on the job, and (b) likelihood of becoming homeless or otherwise failing to maintain a middle-class standard of living.

Who knows? Maybe she’s worried for me. Maybe she thinks that I am displaying an inability to see what needs to be done, from the perspective of middle-class values, and to make the ethical compromises required for its achievement. Or maybe she’s just linking my behavior to that of a dozen crotchety old men whom she has known; maybe she’s tired of old guys who don’t go with the flow and make life easy, like younger people tend to do.

* * * * *

October 12, 6:59 PM – Meeting with the Minister

Had my meeting with the minister. Intelligent, organized kind of person. She’s got several potential clients she would be willing to refer to me, but clearly not enough to constitute an internship. I guess I am still going to have to cobble together this internship on my own.

She says another student has done something similar. She refers clients to that student. That student has been paying an MSW to provide the required weekly supervision. At $60 for an hour of supervised discussion each week, that would add a couple grand to the annual tab for going to this SSW. Maybe she gets a reduced rate. We’ll see about that.

I told the minister that I seem to be a problem child in the SSW. I think this made her a little nervous. She doesn’t want to be referring people to a nutjob. She says she has several SW professors in her congregation. I say that’s OK; I seem to be doing OK in my classes; it seems to be primarily a matter of Sandra. I had to mention Sandra. The minister asked who my field supervisor was, there at the SSW.

She asked me to tell her a little about myself. I told her about my experience at Stanley’s agency – said that there was something going on there that was not ethical SW practice, and that I had held back on saying so, probably longer than I should have, but when I did spell it out, they canned me.

The minister is a quick study. She said I obviously knew the story of graduate school – you suck it up, do what you’ve got to do to graduate, and then go out into the world and do what you want to do with your career. But at this age – and she seemed to be making this up on the fly, figuring it out as she went along – at this age, she said, why would I want to do that? “Like you say, insist on the ethical thing,” she said (or something to that effect). “Insist on change, create havoc, and then write about it.” Made me laugh. Impressive deduction, in terms of how this seems to be going, but I didn’t come to this MSW program to do that.

I’m not sure what she meant by “create havoc,” though. Not “intentionally make things difficult for everyone,” I think. I think her point was, rather, that if you don’t grease the wheels, go along to get along, you tend to be seen as a problem. Systems aren’t built to coexist with people who question systems. There is no – what do they call it? – no resilience engineering in the design of your average SSW.

So we’ll see. If I can piece something together, I’d like to work with this minister. The other unknown, which she raised, is insurance. I’d need liability coverage. I think there would be some malpractice insurance through the school, but I’m not sure how far that goes.

* * * * *

October 12, 6:59 PM – Computer Class R.I.P.

I walked to class tonight. These several long walks, and not running, seem to have helped to heal the sore calf muscle. No pain and not even any sharp twinges. I’ll probably give it another week and then start running again a bit.

This time I walked through the woods. There is a bridge across a small river, and a set of trails. Some light mud, but my white sneakers survive despite the requisite plunge into a ditch.

Saw Paul in the library before going to class. Shook his hand, said hello. He’s doing well, writing some papers. In the computer classroom, I plopped down into a seat next to Sonya. I love Sonya. She’s a mom. Very calm, sweet person. She seems to have no hostility toward men, which is a breath of fresh air. Makes me feel accepted. We have a nice rapport. She wishes me happy birthday, says her husband is a Libra too. I’m 54 now, by the way. I tell Sonya there seem to be no internships. She shows me that I wasn’t doing the search for internships the right way. When she does it, there are lots of agencies on the list.

The computer prof says he’s not going to show us any more technical stuff. He speaks for a half-hour about different kinds of related computer programs, and then he says we can stay and work on our projects, or leave if we’ve already finished them. So I leave.

My paper folder in the SSW has a couple of documents for me. I glance at them, but can’t really read them because I wore my long-distance contact lenses tonight. Incidentally, from my second-row seat next to Sonya, I could read the computer professor’s display at the front of the classroom very clearly this evening, although I couldn’t really read the computer screen right in front of me.

It’s spitting rain outside, so I head for the bus stop. There’s a bus there, so I sprint across the street and catch it just as it’s leaving. The bus drivers at this university very kindly wait for running students.

* * * * *

October 12, 8:32 PM – Let’s Try That Internship Search Again

What I was doing wrong, on my previous search of the online database of placement opportunities, was that I checked all options, thinking that this would give me all of the possible placements under Community Organization. What Sonya showed me was that you get all of them if you click none of the options. But now that I do it that way, upon closer inspection, it develops that I still get the same results. I think the difference may be that she was searching across the whole state, whereas within this county I still get only those nine choices I mentioned before.

As I’m doing that, my girlfriend calls me. I’m not very good company on the phone right now. I need to make this internship happen. Turning back to it, it suddenly occurs to me that it might be good to do something outside this county after all. Maybe not an hour away, but maybe some distance would help. I’ve been in more than one college town where, as someone once put it, you can’t swing a dead cat without hitting a therapist. Overserved local clientele, while the real needs lurk beyond.

I’ll think about that.

Out of curiosity, I look at a policy research opening. They want someone to do research, write stuff, present at conferences, publish articles. I know how to do that. Part of me says this is what I should do, if there’s still an opening, so as to develop my PhD career. The other part of me says no, I came here to get hands-on experience in direct practice with people, and I should make that happen if at all possible. I agree with the other part of me.

One thing about that research option, though: I could burn through my hours requirement very quickly, spend 15 hours a day on a research project, make up for lost time. OK, it’s tempting as a way to solve my short-term problem, but no. Not yet.

* * * * *

October 12, 10:42 PM – Evaluation

I’m looking at an internship opportunity that would teach me about evaluation. I’m evaluating this, and myself.

The problem with being a lawyer (or with being a Libran) is that I take the opposite position, against whatever I believe, and often talk myself out of it. That could be good, except to the extent that life is a game, like a multiple-choice exam where your first answer is most likely to be the correct one.

So here’s the argument of the moment. I came here to get firsthand experience in dealing with people in need. But I think to myself that I certainly don’t want to do that as my full-time career. I would be bored; I would burn out; I would need too much mental stimulation, and I would try to get that by cross-examining my clients, drilling down into the intimate parts of their lives until they would want to kill me, or themselves.

We can’t have that, if that’s really true.

Meanwhile, there is more than one way to get practical experience in dealing with people. For instance, instead of handholding people, I could be evaluating the effectiveness of others who are doing the handholding. This has a powerful appeal to me because of previous exposure to alleged do-gooders who were actually do-harmers.

So – fine. I can just ask my advisor to approve another change of major, this time to Social Policy, and I can just turn my back on the possibility of direct practice without ever having actually done it. This is not a pretty picture either.

* * * * *

October 13, 1:19 AM – Asian Students

Just got off an hourlong typed chat with two of our Asian colleagues in the Thursday morning class. Very pleasant. We’re now friends on Facebook. Turns out we’re all three born in October. What are the odds of that?

In other Asian student news, my roommate just got home. I went downstairs when I heard him coming in the door. I said, “Hey, thanks for coming home. You reminded me that I’m hungry.” He found this amusing. Anything to lighten his day. That’s what I’m here for.

* * * * *

October 13, 1:34 AM – We End This Day with a Question

My advisor put my change of major sheet into my folder instead of giving it to Sandra. I picked it up on my way out of the building tonight. It’s definitely the original document, with his and my original signatures.

This means that, unless he went to the trouble of making a photocopy and sending that to Sandra, she hasn’t received it yet. It requires her signature to be effective. Officially, then, I may still be a major in Interpersonal Practice rather than Community Organization.

Wait, I just thought of a way to check. There’s a webpage that will tell me. . . . Yep, sure enough, I’m still an Interpersonal Practice major. I wonder if Sandra forgot, or is assuming I’ll have the form in to her tomorrow, or has decided it’s not essential for me to switch majors after all.

* * * * *

October 13, 12:09 PM – More Internship Hunting

Another pleasant chat with Brenda and the Asia group this morning. We seem to have a plan. One of the Asian students is slowly emerging as leader of our group. Fine with me! It’s a three-credit course for them. They have to write a major paper. All we have to do is the presentation, two weeks from now.

Talked to the guy about an internship on the campus ropes course. They don’t have much going on. There was a much more active ropes course program at SSW1. Well, not in the SSW itself, but there at U1. It’s basically not an option for my internship here.

I just sent Sandra a list of about a dozen places where I would be willing to do a Community Organization internship, and asked her to cross off the ones that are already taken.

I was thinking some more about that minister’s remark about wreaking havoc. I don’t know if she meant that she considered me a troublemaker or if, instead, she was hoping that I would wreak havoc and then write about it.

* * * * *

October 13, 2:39 PM – Catching Up

Catching up on a couple of old notes here. This will happen sometimes. I make a note of something; it gets buried in the pile; and then, later, it emerges. Like wintertime in the Middle Ages, when the ground was frozen and they couldn’t bury people who had died, so they just put them up on the roof. Eventually spring comes around; things slide off the desk, or the roof, as the case may be; and now it’s time to do some housecleaning.

One thing I noticed: there is a professor here with whom I had been exchanging friendly email messages before arriving. We even became friends on Facebook. But then he became obviously distant and unresponsive. Two possible explanations: either there is a story about me circulating here, or his buddy at SSW2 badmouthed me. Welcome to SW academia.

Another note: I’ve thought some more about the feeling I had, during the conversation with my advisor, where it seemed like he was digging into my story in search of some kind of weakness. I think part of my discomfort about it may have had to do with impostor syndrome. This is where you are in some kind of respected place, some job or university or whatever, and you’re pleased to be there, but part of you fears that someone is going to look into your soul and know that you don’t really have what it takes to belong there.

Someone was telling me, the other day, that the SSW is aware of the problem of insufficient mental health internships for all the mental health majors. But the school doesn’t want to discriminate against mental health majors by favoring other majors (e.g., Community Organization) that have more internship opportunities. I guess that logic could have a certain screwy nobility to it, if it didn’t coincide so neatly with the decision to keep bringing in those mental health majors and their tuition dollars.

I was thinking about a conversation I had, one time, with a SW professor. I told him that the real challenge would be to teach SW students how to be wrong. He said, “How to be wrong? What do you mean?” I explained that SW education trains people to present their favorite complaints passionately, but mostly to people who already agree with them. So it would be helpful to expose students to videos, training simulations, or other scenarios where they would see what appears to be an obvious case of discrimination, or abuse, or whatever; allow them to form their passionate opinions against the discriminating or abusive person; and then fill in the other half of the story, so as to demonstrate how glaringly wrong their assumptions were, and they shouldn’t have gone off half-cocked like that, and how much damage they would have done if they had been making the decisions in that situation.

I have belatedly grasped that I may have credited the fun professor with more friendliness and openness than would actually be the case. Like what somebody said to me: you hear “No” a lot at this university. People in universities are generally too busy; they can’t or won’t accommodate all of the people whom they might want to talk to, or even all with whom they should be talking. Applies to me too, in some ways. If you want time for people, you’ve got to make some hard decisions.

End of catch-up session.

* * * * *

October 13, 3:02 PM – Notes from Mockingbird Years

Some quotes from Mockingbird Years that I thought I might use in my paper, but didn’t:

  • “I knew that, whatever its ends, therapy was a sad, manipulative parody of authentic relation” (p. 213). A parody? Not generally. Parody implies intentional mocking, and that’s just not a good description of therapy. The better statement, I think, would be that therapy is a substitute – often a damned poor one – for ordinary friendships in what should be a healthy society.
  • “I live on the fringes of academic life, where I can witness the ways in which those most engaged in the game of uncovering power relations exploit this ideology to establish power centers of their own” (p. 226). Kind of what I’m saying in this blog.
  • “Farber considered himself to be responsible to us, not for us” (p. 226). Farber was the therapist whom she idealized, the so-called anti-therapist. Be that as it may, it seems like a useful principle or orientation to keep in mind.

The author quotes a poem by T.S. Eliot:

The whole earth is our hospital
Endowed by the ruined millionaire,
Wherein, if we do well, we shall
Die of the absolute paternal care
That will not leave us, but prevents us everywhere.

* * * * *

October 13, 6:46 PM – How Many Full Moons Are There in a Month?

I have an acquaintance from Hong Kong. One time he tried to tell me that there is a full moon every two weeks. This is not the case. In the present month, though, they may have made an exception.

I say that because, for some reason, I got it into my head that it is Wednesday. I got my stuff together, walked 45 minutes to school, and went to my classroom. I looked in the door, and it was all wrong. There was a black woman teaching. What have they done with Dr. Krishna? Why are the tables all rearranged?

I stopped a guy in the hall and said, “OK, weird question. What day is it?” He had to think for a minute. While he was pausing, I jumped in. “Wednesday!” I said, hopefully, as if to affect the outcome. “Today,” he said, “is Tuesday.” Thankfully, he did not look at me like I was crazy or senile. So, all right, I turned around and marched back home.

I think it must have been, for him, a little like it was for me, one time, when I was a philosophy undergraduate at Cal State Long Beach. There was an 85-year-old woman working on her master’s in philosophy. She walked up as my friend Kevin and I were standing on the sidewalk, talking, and she asked us what we were going to do on Birthington’s Washday. She repeated the question. At the time, we just thought she was dotty. Subsequently, I have wondered whether she was making some kind of obscure joke.

Today was also religion day. The Mormon guy’s religion discussion group now has a blog, and there were several new posts on it: one person offering a sermon based on various Bible passages, a few others sharing their testimony about how they became Christians, or what their faith means to them. I also saw that, after I got off the chat this morning, Brenda and two of the Asian students continued for another hour, talking about their beliefs and how God was testing them and whatnot.

There’s a lot of talk about spirituality in SW. I haven’t looked into it too much. What I’ve seen so far just seems to be religion. Maybe I’ll take a closer look at that at some point. But it’s interesting that Brenda et al. didn’t even try talking about it with me. Hopefully I’m not going to be the odd man out in this group.

Well, of course, I am, and not only because I’m the only man – but I mean on the subject of religion specifically.

* * * * *

October 14, 9:33 AM – The Relaxation and Stress Reduction Workbook

Today is Wednesday. I’m sure of it: the computer says so. And on Wednesday evenings, I have Dr. Krishna’s class. Each week, Dr. Krishna’s syllabus assigns readings on topics in Interpersonal Practice, and also a couple of short chapters from The Relaxation and Stress Reduction Workbook. Today’s assigned chapters from the Workbook, for instance, are each about 15-20 pages long. One is on self-hypnosis, and the other is on how to refute irrational thoughts.

I think the assignments from that Workbook are a good idea. I have been curious about self-hypnosis for a long time, and I appreciate the opportunity to get into it a bit. For me and for other SW students, knowing yourself and how to reduce stress seem like valuable, important objectives. We’ve all got our issues. There are lots of interesting topics in the Workbook – progressive relaxation, time management, stress management, nutrition, etc. – and the effort to introduce SW students to self-care seems very intelligent, given the indications that SW students often have a lot going on inside.

That said, I have not actually read those chapters – yet. In fact, I confess that I have not read most of the assigned chapters in the Workbook so far. Nor do I get the sense that most other students have.

Part of the problem is Dr. Krishna. He means well. To be sure, he means well within his customary power structure (or, if you will, within his customary compensations for various insecurities), but I can’t say he’s much different from other SW professors in that regard. He does mean well, and good intentions are important.

The problem is that he is what some would call an aging hippie. He has maybe ten years on me – he is a child of the ‘60s rather than the ‘70s. He falls into a different group, from my perspective, because people his age remind me of my older sister, with her toes in pre-Beatles music and her closer acquaintance with the ‘50s. A lot of things changed between 1962, when she turned 15, and 1970, when I did.

Dr. Krishna’s roots in the ‘60s are a problem because it doesn’t seem like he’s connecting with the class on this relaxation stuff. The Workbook talks about things that some people do get excited about and committed to nowadays – meditation, for example, and exercise – but this class is obviously not picking up on that energy. It seems that the subjects of meditation etc. are reaching them through the filter of Dr. Krishna’s style, and possibly that’s a turnoff. I suspect that, for a lot of these kids, their parents or grandparents have already made the hippie era seem quaint or irrelevant, like when my parents would talk about zoot suits and Fibber McGee.

It’s good that Dr. Krishna can and does feel the freedom to assign such materials. And I’m sort of glad he has that aging hippie air about him. It may be worth preserving. But if he wants the class to be motivated about the Relaxation and Stress Reduction Workbook, I think something is going to have to change.

* * * * *

October 14, 10:01 AM – Evaluating Dr. Krishna

I may have mentioned that Dr. Krishna distributes a questionnaire at the end of each class, mostly asking open-ended questions about what was good and bad about today’s session and how things can be improved. Then he summarizes them briefly, at the start of the next class session, and uses them for cues on what we should do that day. That’s got to be hard: I’m sure he gets an unkind remark or implication every now and then.

Or maybe not. It’s tough to get SW students to be as frank, when they are speaking directly to their professors, as they are when they talk to one another about their professors. It happens even on end-of-semester evaluations. They want to be nice, they don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings, and they sure don’t want to take the chance that the prof will see the handwriting or will recognize the writing style or choice of words, and thus be able to figure out which student wrote the critical comments. So I have repeatedly talked to students who bitch all semester long, but then (if I ask them afterwards) surprise me with the meekness of what they actually put on their end-of-semester evaluations.

Even when the hard truth does reach the prof in question, you know, change is difficult. That’s what we learn in SW. People resist change. Professors seem to invent justifications or excuses or reasons not to care, just like people in the outside world. And so the complaints trickle in, year after year, and are watered down or discounted or otherwise rendered ineffectual.

That definitely was happening with certain profs at SSW1 and SSW2. I haven’t been here long enough to say whether it applies to SSW3 as well. Dr. Krishna, I would think, probably does try to take those evaluations to heart and make changes accordingly.

Even when you seek feedback frequently and take it seriously, as Dr. Krishna seems to do, you’ve got to be aware of this additional level of reluctance to hurt someone’s feelings. I’m not sure what the solution is. My own preference would be to engage more closely with individual students during class – to dig in and find out what they’re thinking and what’s important to them, and to try to encourage all of us, myself included, to get past the nice-guy layer. Not to be nasty: much the contrary, to practice expressing anger, frustration, and other criticisms and negative reactions effectively, in ways that the targeted individual will understand and respect.

* * * * *

October 14, 10:17 AM – Being a Professor

I’m thinking some more about the idea of getting past the nice-guy layer with your students. There may be some limits on how much a professor can do about that.

Every now and then, I see an article about how some professor somewhere required his/her students to write an article on some delicate topic, or from some perspective that they disagree with. The prof thought that s/he was just assigning a thought-provoking activity, and then it turns up on CNN and the whole country is accusing him/her of being some kind of Nazi or racist.

Higher education has a built-in go-with-the-flow ethic. Don’t do controversial stuff. Don’t bring notoriety to your department. Just do the safe, typical thing – just process the students through your class, semester after semester – and become comfortable with that. Don’t rock the boat; don’t roil the waters.

Often, it seems, professors stop questioning themselves. It’s not surprising; it happens to judges and other people in positions of power too. You spend day after day, year after year as a person of status. You’re treated differently. I see it all the time. If I wear a backpack or otherwise look like a student, the other students give me visibly different treatment, as I walk around campus, than if I carry a satchel or wear even a slightly more professional-looking jacket. It’s as noticeable as the difference in treatment that I used to get when I would switch between suits and jeans.

Students pick up on the rules pretty quickly. The profs make the rules here. Do what they want. Sure, they’ve got some weird views, you can’t necessarily take them seriously, but some of the courses are interesting and, anyway, you’ve got to get the degree. So students almost invariably slip into the routine. By this point, they’ve been selected and trained to do that over many years.

Ironically, the difficult students are sometimes the most important ones. Some students are difficult because they haven’t bought into that cynical ethic. They are actually expecting their educations to make sense. But that’s not how professors tend to see it. They’ve been rewarded for being noncontroversial. They’ve seen people get burned for pushing the limits. The ones who survive tend to be those who find it natural to favor the familiar path, even if it happens to be dysfunctional. Students who don’t fit the mold set off their alarm bells.

Even in Dr. Krishna’s class, there is not a classroom culture that promotes the hard, honest recognition and articulation of actual student experiences (questions, disagreements, or whatever) on a real-time basis. That would take a lot of time, and it would be uncomfortable. SW students are taught to just forget about it.

And so we have these perfectly reasonable assignments that don’t get taken seriously; and in the larger picture of a SW education and career, I wind up having to deal with MSWs (e.g., internship supervisors) who are shocked when I act as if things were supposed to make articulable, defensible sense.

* * * * *

October 14, 11:21 AM – The Intellectual Environment

Nice run. Only ran a half-mile, but I did it without injury. The right calf was squeaking just a bit. Innovation: take shorter strides. Seems like a no-brainer, but evidently it was beyond my imagination until today.

In addition to the two chapters from the Relaxation and Stress Reduction Workbook, Dr. Krishna has also assigned, for today, a chapter from the required textbook as well as a chapter written by another SW professor. The chapter in the required textbook is 34 pages long, and the other chapter is 18 pages long.

Incidentally, the required textbook cost $85. I know it takes a lot of work to prepare a course, and once you’ve done it, you don’t want to be switching your readings around and redesigning the course every semester. But these days, you can get an awful lot of good stuff online for free. And they pay social workers chicken feed.

As with the Workbook, in Dr. Krishna’s class, we almost never discuss the assigned readings. He lectures for part of the class, typically covering the high points from the readings. It is helpful, but it also provides a reason not to do the reading, especially since there does not generally seem to be anything remarkable in it.

We don’t have exams in any of my classes this semester; we write papers and do presentations instead.

It is rare to overhear students discussing ideas from the assigned readings. In part, I think, that’s because social workers don’t want to sit around and talk about ideas. We want to get out there and practice our skills, or the lack thereof, on real-life people.

It is accepted as normal, here, that people would be juggling all kinds of things in addition to a full-time course schedule. I’m a real lightweight, taking only 15 credits this semester – of which six are credits for my stillborn internship. I’ve run into students who are taking 18 credits, and one taking even more. Seven classes! And that’s on top of the other things they’re doing: not only internships, but also raising kids, working at a job, etc. Let me know when you find an engineering grad student doing that. My Chinese roommate is crushed with a three-course load of engineering plus his assistantship.

Not to say that SW is easy in every sense of the word. There are many ways to make something difficult.

* * * * *

October 14, 11:58 AM – Why I Can’t Read

There’s something I’ve noticed about the things we read in our classes. They are very difficult to read.

I don’t mean that they are too technical and complicated. Some are, but many aren’t. I mean that, very commonly, there does not appear to be a good way to read them.

Suppose, on one hand, that you read them uncritically. You just read the stuff, it sounds good, and that’s that. What often happens, in that case, is that what they say seems obvious, and therefore not too important to read. So it’s hard to actually do the reading.

Suppose, on the other hand, that you read the assigned readings critically. In that case, it may be difficult to get past the first or second sentence, in the assigned text, without bogging down in the remarkable absurdities and contradictions of the author’s viewpoint. It becomes impossible to read such material in a thoughtful manner within a reasonable amount of time.

To illustrate that latter situation, here’s an excerpt from the start of today’s chapter in the required textbook:

In order to change, clients need to become less preoccupied with the problematic behavior of others and begin to explore their own role in problems.

Seems reasonable, right? Of course, the world is full of reasons why we should be preoccupied with the problematic behavior of others – if they’re your children, for example; if they’re dangerous criminals; if they’re the doctor who isn’t quite as skilled as s/he may believe; etc. The position taken in this quote is that the client should focus on changing him/herself, not others, even if others are the problem.

Well, then, two pages later, the book says this:

Even though these concerns and complaints may include overreactions or strong transference distortions, from the client’s point of view, they are the truth. Thus, as emphasized in Chapter 2, the therapist joins the client there, validating and even helping clients articulate more clearly how the problematic behavior of others is indeed troublesome.

So, whoa – say what? I thought we were just saying that we need to get the client away from this sort of thing. Now we’re going to begin “where the client is,” by agreeing (or are we just pretending to agree?) that s/he has a reasonable concern about the behavior of others.

And then, a couple of sentences later, the book offers this example of what you might say:

THERAPIST: So, from your point of view, it seems that they are being unfair again.

“From your point of view”? Is that the author’s idea of how to join the client where s/he is? It sounds more like I’m yelling down the mineshaft: “Hey, everything looks OK from up here, but I guess that’s not how you’re seeing it?”

You may recall that I was not too happy with Sandra when she listened to my story about the internship, and then replied by saying that what I had just told her was from my point of view. She seems to have been doing exactly what is recommended in this text: make it look like you’re supportive; persuade the client to share their personal concerns about some important and upsetting thing – and then pull back and let them know that, whatever they may be feeling or may have experienced, you’re back to the position of taking it as just their side of the story, not as what’s really happening.

To be fair, not all social workers are like this. Some are quite prepared to accept your viewpoint as the gospel truth. Especially if it’s what they want to hear. If it involves certain kinds of discrimination or abuse, for instance, you won’t be hearing them talk about how it’s just from your perspective.

Today’s assigned chapter goes on to provide caveats to explain how we can have it both ways at the same time. But I don’t think that tends to succeed. Sandra may have been going by the book, but she left me with the impression that (a) she’s inclined against me and (b) her expression of interest in my viewpoint was not sincere, not in the sense that what I said would make any difference in anything. It seemed like the purpose of asking for my side of the story was primarily to figure out more precisely where I was wrong.

* * * * *

October 14, 2:18 PM – Reply from Sandra

Oh, she’s really a piece of work, that Sandra.

I got an email reply from her, about 24 hours after I wrote to her, telling me that the first place on my list – and I listed 14 agencies – is not available. Not a word about the 13 others. Instead, she tells me that another place, not on my list, has an opening and might be interested.

Let me give you the text of these messages:

12:09 PM yesterday:

Hi, Sandra . . .

Here is a list of agencies I am interested in, culled from the list on the website. The agencies listed here are in no particular order.

I can reduce this list further, as needed, but I wanted to ask if you would mind eliminating those that presently have no openings. I’m not equally interested in them all, but I am heeding your remarks about availability.

Then, 11:52 AM today:

Ray:

The first agency on your list is not available. Would you consider Kids Agency? I know that it is not on your list, but they have a potential opening and might consider taking you on. Please read their web site and let me know. [link provided]

My reply, just a little while ago:

Well, of course that agency has always been interesting to me. But what would this particular opening entail? I didn’t list them because what I saw on the placement list wasn’t up my alley.

Beggars can’t be choosers. If you’re saying that there are no openings at any of the others I have listed, then I’d have to think about that too.

Her reply:

OK. . . it was just a thought I had. I will continue working on your list.

My reply, just now:

Thanks for that, Sandra. But do you know what they’re looking for at Kids Agency? If it’s different from what they listed, I’m listening.

As far as the other ones on the list, I was just hoping that you would know offhand whether any of them have openings. I don’t mean to make you call 14 places on my behalf. If it comes to that, tell me and I’ll narrow it down and prioritize among them.

And now I have another rapid response from Sandra:

Right now that is what I’m working on . . . going down your list and finding out who has openings and who would consider a 3 day per week, two term student. A couple, so far are off the list: [names of three agencies].

So no response to the specific question about what the opening with Kids Agency would entail. It could be just anything. Or nothing: she calls it a “potential opening.” Or was she wondering if my list was random – if, indeed, I would gladly go with anything that might come along?

Up to this point, I have been wondering if Sandra was deliberately slowing things down. It wouldn’t make sense, as I’ve said, but why the 24-hour delay in providing a simple answer, and all the other delays, avoidant responses, roundabout procedures, etc.?

There is a saying: never attribute to malice what can be adequately explained by stupidity. But Sandra’s not stupid.

Even though I’ve offered to prioritize the list, she seems to have consigned herself to the drudgery of calling 14 agencies to see if anyone might want me. I don’t get it: why not start with the ones that interest me most, and maybe only have to call a couple? Sandra has been in responsible, management-type positions, and as I say she makes a good impression generally. Something odd here.

I hope she’s not calling them and saying, Hi, I have a problem student, would you be willing to take him off my hands?

Maybe the situation is just that Sandra considers this an impossible challenge. Maybe she has convinced herself that I will be a misfit wherever I go. And that could be based on experience. She may have had discouraging results with other students who have come into her office, blathering about ethical practice when they run into the “realities” of internship slots.

I surmise, from all this, that the field office does not maintain a current list of available placements, even when it has students (not just me) floating around in search of a placement. Seems odd not to have this, if your school is having such a hard time fitting so many students into a limited number of internships.

Maybe Sandra is relaxed about my situation because she knows of some escape hatch, some way to fake it, ultimately, if that becomes essential to help a student graduate?

* * * * *

October 14, 8:48 PM – A Conversation with Reagan

Just got back from class. Walked via the railroad tracks in the dark this time – cut down past the hospital and its helicopter pad. Wasn’t any faster – still about 45 minutes at a stiff clip – but at least I didn’t have traffic noise the whole way. Jogged for a few spurts. Calf is feeling good.

Before class, I had a 20-minute conversation with Reagan. Reagan was a friend of a friend. Now I hope she’s a friend, or at least an acquaintance. I really liked what I saw in her. Solid, competent individual.

We arranged to meet at the SSW. Despite the cold, we decided to sit outside. I told her the condensed story of the internship fiasco. She said yeah, there aren’t enough internships to go around, not even in Community Organization, what with these several universities all trying to dump their SW students into the same slots.

That’s probably part of why they found me so unusual at the agency I was at before. They’re probably used to students totally sucking up to them, out of desperation. The local kids probably know that internships are scarce.

This seems to support the theory that maybe Sandra is locked into a sort of bureaucratic nihilism, where at a certain point she’s got too many students and just not enough places to put them, even without people like me coming along and making life more difficult with unrealistic expectations of good training.

* * * * *

October 14, 9:11 PM – More Role-Playing

In Dr. Krishna’s class tonight, we did another role-play. Same team as last week: Stephanie, Lisa, and I. We did this in the classroom again, even though Dr. Krishna had made other rooms available to us. That was mildly curious: it seemed everybody wanted to stay in the classroom. Stephanie said that, this way, we wouldn’t have to move. Given how flustered she had been last week, I was surprised that she didn’t want to be in a quieter place, where it would presumably be easier to concentrate.

Last week, we did a roleplay with Stephanie as therapist, Lisa as client, and me as observer. This week, we did the two other combinations. First, I was a client and Lisa was the therapist.

It took me a minute to decide what kind of client to be. Part of the reason for this was that Dr. Krishna was hovering nearby (and, once we began, he took notes). I was a bit concerned about that because of a role-playing experience I had had in a counseling psych course at U1, where the prof had selected me to play the part of a white racist. On one hand, I wanted to do a good job; but on the other hand, I wondered if he put me into that role because he assumed I probably was something of a white racist, and was looking for confirmation. So this time, I wanted to give Lisa a run for her money, but I didn’t want to do such a good job as to create a negative impression about myself.

I decided to pretend to be a person who was thinking about getting a degree in SW, asking Lisa for advice. I characterized it as an informational interview, but she decided to treat it, instead, as a clinical encounter, and that made more sense. She did a good job, not getting sucked into the various questions and uncertainties I expressed. Example: I said I wanted to do clinical work, but I was afraid I would bring my own issues into the clinical setting, and I complained that it’s unfortunately not possible to get firsthand exposure to clinical work without actually going through the SW program and only then seeing how well or how poorly I might fit in clinical practice. Lisa kept bouncing it back to me, not answering my questions (as I hope she would do in an informational interview) but instead asking me for my thoughts on them.

Then it was my turn to be the therapist while Stephanie played the part of the client. She pretended that she had suddenly begun having sharp, disturbing recollections from childhood. I asked a series of probing questions. Afterwards, as observer, Lisa praised me on several points, but suggested that I should strive to show more empathy. It was good feedback; I know I can be pretty analytical at times. I told them that I had drilled in like that because I had wanted to find out if Stephanie was portraying a person who was having delusions or who posed a danger to herself or others. They hadn’t thought of that possibility. It was interesting. Their default focus was on feelings; mine was on thoughts.

* * * * *

October 14, 9:32 PM – Dr. Krishna’s Meditations

Dr. Krishna began class tonight, as usual, by playing some obscure music from an exotic culture. He’s trying to create a calming environment. Good for him.

Going through the feedback surveys from last week, he notes that numerous students have expressed an interest in having more role-playing time in class. He asks if students would rather start tonight’s class with some role-playing, or with his semi-meditative piece, or what. Nobody says anything.

He decides to begin with his semi-meditative thing. So he shuts off most of the lights, as usual, and goes to the back of the room. We are to put our feet flat on the floor and let our hands rest in our laps. Then he begins: “My arms are heavy,” he says slowly. He pauses maybe six or seven seconds and repeats it. Then likewise with “My legs are heavy.” I forget the order of the others, but they include my arms are warm, my legs are warm, my solar plexus is warm.

There’s a weird one in there, and I would have a problem with it if I were still a fundamentalist Christian. “It breathes me,” he says. “It breathes me.” I am guessing that this is a way of making us feel connected with the universe in some spiritual sense, but if I were still religious, I would be very uncomfortable with the thought that something beyond me is controlling my breathing. Are we doing a séance? Next he will be inviting thoughts of Lord Satan?

I don’t have that religious concern myself, so I just try to go with his shtick, but I don’t get anything out of it. And as someone remarked, the room is on the cool side, and I am skinny, so my arms and legs have yet to feel warm or heavy. Maybe it works for others. But at the end of the session, when the lights are back up, he asks if anyone has any questions from the assigned chapters from the Relaxation Workbook. Nobody says anything.

To his considerable credit, Dr. Krishna then has us stand up and sing. I don’t sing; my voice has been a wreck for a while now, because I hardly ever use it. But it’s still fun. We are all holding sheets with the lyrics. “Breathe in. Breathe out.” Nice, simple song, and people do sing. I should have applauded that little exercise on tonight’s end-of-class feedback form.

* * * * *

October 14, 9:47 PM – Clinical Training with Dr. Krishna

After the meditation thing, Dr. Krishna gives a mini-lecture. He throws in an example involving abusive males.

Then we go down to the clinical suite, with its one-way mirror and observation room. The tech people haven’t turned on the camera and microphone, so Dr. Krishna can’t take his role-playing volunteer into the room, where the rest of us can watch without being seen or heard. As an alternative, he decides to squeeze himself and the volunteer into the narrow space in the front of the observation room.

The volunteer this time is Shelly, the woman my age who always has a lot to say. He demonstrates how to interview an anxious client, using her own actual anxiety about interviewing clients, which she has not ever done yet in the real world.

I’m glad Shelly has lots to say. It’s good to participate in class. But her speaking needs to be bounded in by others’ participation. Everyone has lots to say, and they should say it. But they’re mostly young and intimidated or unmotivated or something.

It’s ironic, or maybe it’s predictable, that someone who focuses on one-on-one interactions, as Dr. Krishna apparently does, does not develop a highly stimulating learning environment in the classroom. That may be part of the reason why we’re naming the role-plays, on our feedback forms, as the most rewarding parts of the class. It’s similar for the fun professor, now that I think of it. They’re not bad teachers, I’m saying; they just – I don’t know, maybe they’re not trying to be imaginative in their teaching. The fun professor does use movie clips sometimes, and that can help to make the clinical setting more real.

When Dr. Krishna is done with Shelly, she voices her feedback. She rhapsodizes about how wonderful and magical his technique is. If she weren’t my age and married and rather obviously not coming on to Dr. Krishna, you’d think she was coming on to Dr. Krishna. Besides, she’s not alone in this. A number of the female students have expressed admiration for his skill. Remind me to become a SW professor when I grow up.

Seriously, I hope Dr. Krishna considers hero worship problematic. We don’t want students or clients to be too focused on the therapist’s magic. The therapist or teacher is not going to be with you when you go out into the big, wide world. I’d be happier if Shelly were gushing about how much more competent or confident she feels after this learning experience. But he only demonstrates his own technique, in these role-plays; he doesn’t demonstrate the student practicing on him. That may be a fruit of experience – he may find that students are just too intimidated to try – but, you know, in most of his classes he may be the only old male in the room. If these students can’t work with him, what’s going to happen when they encounter older male clients who are less friendly and supportive for them?

During the discussion, Mark sympathizes with something Shelly says, about being flustered when she’s role-playing the therapist. She is trying to listen and talk to the person and, at the same time, to apply what she’s learning in class, and it’s a bit overwhelming. Mark says that a supervisor at a place where he worked previously told him that you have your normal way of relating to people, and then you go to MSW school, and after graduation, it takes you a while to get past being confused and to recover your old momentum in clinical settings. I wonder if this means that you will need to forget much of what they taught you.

* * * * *

October 15, 3:27 AM – Another Late Night

I am almost done with a huge investment of time in a potentially unnecessary project. The Asia class starts in 4.5 hours. I may just sleep and then go online at home to connect with the group, as Brenda did last week.

I’ve been up working on the project for that class. Sort of. I’ve taken it upon myself to assemble some video excerpts into a presentation on juvenile justice in the U.S. This is partly because our Asian colleagues wanted to know how it works here and we didn’t seem to be answering that question very clearly (not surprising, since the juvenile justice system is different in each state).

It’s also because they keep wanting to do a PowerPoint presentation, and I think the profs have made clear that they would really prefer something with a little more pizazz. So I spent hours combing YouTube for relevant videos, and then more hours editing them into ten short videos on related subjects. And now I am taking the last step in the project, of combining them into one presentation.

I don’t actually know if my colleagues will think this is useful, or even look at it. They may have already viewed my previous version, which was a half-hour long. This one is ten minutes. Whatever. Anything, I say, except these incredibly tedious PowerPoint presentations that they have worked up. Nobody wants to sit there and watch slides that explain all kinds of governmental branches and agencies that nobody will remember, and that can be looked up whenever someone does need to know about them. This is an opportunity to make juvenile justice a personal subject of interest.

* * * * *

October 15, 8:40 AM – Missed Class

I didn’t actually get to bed until about 4 AM. I decided not to set my alarm. It was too late, at that point. I would have been essentially useless in class and throughout much of the day. I shouldn’t have stayed up so late. So I woke up on my own about a half-hour ago.

I especially probably shouldn’t have stayed up to work on that video. I decided I wanted to wrap it up and present it in a format that people would find useful, not just in this class but in the future. And that may be very nice, but so far the team has not shown any interest in using video. But I don’t know what else I can contribute, exactly. We already have hours’ worth of material on the PowerPoint slides that two of my teammates have been developing. There are five people in our group, and we have only 15-20 minutes of class time within which to offer our presentation.

We pause here for an hourlong interruption, while the online portion of the class gets underway. This time Brenda’s in the classroom and I’m the one at home. We chat and then switch to a GoTo meeting again.

It’s nice working with Brenda and those Asian students. Working as part of a group is rewarding. It turns out we may be using some of my video after all.

* * * * *

October 15, 11:19 AM – A Nibble! I Got a Nibble!

Alright! Sandra has an expression of interest from the eighth place on my list. She sent me the email to say so at 9:20 AM, but I’ve been distracted with the Asia group and only now thought to check email. So that’s really good news. It’s a local place, which means I save those hours of driving.

She needs a revised goal statement from me before she can send them my résumé. Not a problem. Now that I know specifically what kind of place I am looking at, I should be able to work up a decent version for them.

* * * * *

October 15, 4:39 PM – Muslim Is the New Black

I’ve seen a couple of articles recently, asking “Is green the new black?” or something along those lines. The concept seems to be that black has been the fashionable color for long enough, and it’s time for a replacement.

Today, in the fun professor’s class, Lucretia MacEvil was wearing a Muslim-type scarf and dress. I didn’t even recognize her inside there, though I certainly could have if I had looked directly enough. But I’ve been trained to not make scarved women uncomfortable with my stares. Anita, sitting next to me, must have wondered what was wrong with me when I asked, “Is she new to this class?”

I think the reason for Lucretia’s garb was that the religion group was having some kind of demonstration of solidarity with various systems of belief from around the world. I probably could have joined in. When I told Lucretia about my Buddy Christ, our conversation didn’t go too far. So I don’t know if the religion group is open to nonbeliefs or indifferences of the world. But if it’s any consolation, I do have an old yarmulke around here somewhere, from my New York Jewish wedding.

If it’s cool to dress like a Muslim, then maybe Western culture is opening up to Middle Eastern culture. Maybe white culture has merged with black culture. I wouldn’t think so – black culture keeps reinventing itself – but anything is possible. Either way, this could be bad news for those people who were betting that Chinese culture would be the next cool.

* * * * *

October 15, 4:53 PM – Movie Day R.I.P.

Today, the fun professor wanted to show the class a YouTube video. Unfortunately, as has happened repeatedly, neither she nor the computer guy could get the computer to work properly. As I understood it, the problem this time would have been solved if they had just downloaded the video. So I suggested this. The fun professor didn’t hear me, but other students said the video is on YouTube, so you can’t download it.

That puzzled me, as I must have used a half-dozen different programs, at one time or another, to download videos from YouTube. I downloaded video from YouTube just last night, for the Asia class.

I thought maybe they didn’t understand me, so I said it again, this time to the fun professor. But she and they repeated that you can’t download videos from YouTube.

It was strange that they didn’t say, “Can you?” They didn’t want to know if there was something they were missing, and they didn’t want to know if maybe I had knowledge or skills that they lacked. I remember being relatively impatient with chatty old students – indeed, I’m still having that reaction to Shelly, in Dr. Krishna’s class – so I think maybe they would prefer me to be seen and not heard.

* * * * *

October 15, 5:20 PM – The Business School

Last week, in the fun professor’s class, I did something different during the break.

That class meets in the far corner of the Education building, which is the next building over from the SSWB. As such, the fun professor’s class takes me to a slightly different part of campus.

Normally, during breaks in that class, I just walk down to the restroom, maybe walk over to the SSWB and retrieve my bike from where I left it in the morning’s rush to make it on time to the 8 AM Asia class, maybe just go back into the classroom and wait for class to resume.

This time, I went where Lucretia MacEvil goes during break. Each time, she goes into a nice-looking building located kitty-corner from the Education building. After I came out of the restroom, I went over to see what was the big deal with that building.

Turns out it’s the business school. Pretty, clean, modern building with a big sculpture, lots of glass, huge lobby filled with tables and easy chairs, scads of students hanging out, talking or working on their computers. Table at one end of the lobby, handing out brochures for some kind of business program or seminar or something. Some people are wearing suits.

The contrast with the SSWB was something like the contrast between Grand Central Station and somebody’s living room. The SSWB lounge isn’t really as warm and welcoming as a living room, but you would definitely not use the word “grand” to describe it.

Even more stark was the contrast between the types of students. Back in the Education building, a half-dozen of the students from my class were standing around at the top of the staircase, each talking into a cellphone, each in her own world. There was only one student – a woman named Beth – who was actually just hanging out, theoretically available to talk to the likes of me, though I don’t know if I have ever managed to make eye contact with her. That scene was a world apart from this B-school lounge, with all these people smiling and interacting.

I don’t know if I mentioned that I did a joint degree program when I got the law degree. It was a JD/MBA. I don’t suppose every B-school student and class has that energy level; but being over there in this university’s B-school did remind me, a bit, of what my own business educational experience was like.

And now these are, in some ways, our competitors. With the loss of faith in Wall Street, I’m told, a lot more business school students are interested in bringing entrepreneurial techniques and orientations to the world of doing good.

Speaking of which, the other evening, during the break in Dr. Krishna’s class, I ran into a big guy outside the SSWB, name of Adam. He got a bachelor’s degree in accounting and is now getting his MSW with a focus on management of nonprofit organizations. Good for him. I hope he can get enough management coursework to compete with the MPAs and MBAs.

* * * * *

October 15, 5:43 PM – Pull Off Your Dress

“Influential role models need to look the part, and Susan P. Lewis can really pull off a dress. A Southern lady from Tobacco Road, this animal lover and former bulldog breeder combines her Vogue style with a contagious air of confidence and commitment.”

I recently came across a webpage, on an SSW’s website, that used words very similar to those. The webpage was talking about a man rather than a woman, and it referred to pulling off a bowtie rather than a dress. I’m sure the writer meant “pull off” in the sense of “you pulled off a major achievement,” not in the sense of “get undressed.” I’m less sure whether the writer also intended a sly allusion to the other meaning.

To me, there’s no problem in this regard with the webpage as written, allusions or not. I cite it as an amusing example in the area of freedom of expression. An SSW can post this sort of remark about a man; but in classroom or workplace discussion in this profession I have to be concerned about the possibility that someone would correct or attack me if I were to speak of some woman’s Vogue good looks. There is a certain sense that men are not supposed to find women attractive.

If I were interested in criticizing the SSW’s webpage itself, instead of using it as a starting point for a comment on sex discrimination, I would also raise a question about its seeming promotion of upper-crust sensibilities. But whatever. That’s a different issue.

* * * * *

October 15, 7:27 PM – Beth Gets an Internship

Had a brief conversation with Beth today, the one who avoids giving me eye contact. Or one of the many who avoid it, I should say. She is in both of my three-credit classes, i.e., with the fun professor and also with Dr. Krishna.

I was a little worried about her. She lost her internship too. She just straight-up announced it to the half-dozen of us who were present in the classroom before the fun professor’s class began, several weeks ago. Apparently it was another deal where there wasn’t enough work, plus they were harassing her for some reason.

Beth, it turns out, has now obtained her second internship – at a mental health place right here in town. We both lost our first internships at about the same time. Not sure, but I think my suspension might have happened first.

I wonder whether they have been offering Beth the chance to drive a half-hour (as in the first place to which Sandra sent my résumé) or an hour (as in the second place) in order to get an internship. Not sure how Sandra et al. made the decision as to whether it would be Beth or I who would have access to that in-town opportunity.

* * * * *

October 16, 1:28 PM – The Goals Statement: Sandra’s Feedback

It’s tough to keep up with all that’s happening, in the analytical approach I am taking to this year in the SSW. I’ll keep that approach as long as possible, but for right now I need to expedite matters. So I’m just going to present the emails that Sandra and I have exchanged this morning, up through the message she just sent me, regarding my statement of goals for my internship:

Ray:

I’ve just read your goal statement. Although interesting, you don’t specifically speak to the skills that you want/need to learn. Field Instructor’s need to get a sense of what you want to learn, not what you already know. This helps them determine if they can provide you with the learning you are requesting.

So, please take another look at your goal statement, review the guidelines and re-submit. You might want to pull skills from the Field Instruction Skill Inventory and include them in your goal statement.

That was at 11:01 AM. I replied thus:

Sandra – thanks for your feedback. I have added a paragraph at the end that lists skills of particular interest in this context. Further feedback is welcome.

That was at 11:52. Here’s her reply, which I just got:

Ray:

You need to follow our guidelines. One page. . . .3 paragraphs. You need to tell less about what you already know, as that can be discerned from your resume. You are providing too much information that is irrelevant at this stage of field placement process.

Please write in much more detail regarding the Community Organization skills you want to learn. Your new paragraph was too generic.

* * * * *

October 16, 3:20 PM – Field Instruction Skill Inventory

I’m thinking about this list of skills that Sandra pointed me toward this morning. It’s a strange document. They had us fill it out during the second day of orientation, and if I’d been blogging at that point, I would have said something about it.

This Skill Inventory presents a list of 108 SW skills. The form says, “Think about the practice skills below and rate yourself regarding your skill level at this point in your education. Are you able to:” and then it lists the 108 items. For each of these 108 items, you have four options: you can indicate that you are “Unable to Practice Independently,” or that you “Need More Training,” or that you are “On the Cusp of Independent Practice,” or that you are “Able to Practice Independently.”

Item no. 1 is, “assume responsibility for your own learning.” The question is, can you do that?

Well, as Clint Eastwood would say, it depends. Do you feel lucky? For instance, I sure took responsibility for my own learning at Stanley’s agency. That turned out to be a big mistake. I was supposed to let them tell me what to learn. So for this first item, I guess I’d have to indicate that I disagree, or perhaps even strongly disagree, with the claim that I know how to assume responsibility for my own learning. Which raises the question of whether I was capable of making a good decision about my learning when I chose to study SW.

Next, item no. 2: “deliver services congruent with approved plan of action” – am I able to do that? Well, at Stanley’s agency, the approved plan of action was to harass and belittle the men in the domestic abuse group, and I wasn’t comfortable with that, so I guess I’d have to say I “need more training” in that.

Seriously, what plan? Approved by whom? What services? If the plan of action calls for psychiatric services, well, no, I can’t deliver that. If I try, they’ll arrest me. I’m not licensed. But that’s true of most social workers.

Skipping ahead, I do wonder who in his/her right mind would check the “Unable to Practice Independently” box for many of these items. Completely unable to “demonstrate empathy” (item 10)? Completely unable to “sustain relationships” (item 24)? Just the kind of social worker we want. Unable to “complete work efficiently” (item 41) or “manage time effectively” (item 71) – excuse me, but isn’t this being given to students who have been admitted to a leading SSW? And didn’t I just answer those questions (see item 23, “organize and prioritize workload/tasks in an effective and efficient manner”)?

These 108 skills are not divided into any categories. So macro-oriented item 28 (“apply program evaluation techniques”) is followed by micro-oriented item 29 (“apply active listening skills”), and likewise for other items throughout the form.

I am not sure I should be telling an agency that I want to learn some of the items on this list. They might wonder where I got the idea that I should “synthesize learning from different sources into a coherent framework” (item 11), for example. They might believe that an eclectic, post-framework kind of approach is superior.

There is a list of references at the end of the form, typed in profoundly unprofessional format – which I mention because students are graded on, and can lose points for, their failure to follow APA format guidelines. I have glanced at one of those original sources. It lists 23 skills. Most of the words and terms I searched for, from that original source, did not appear in this list of 108 items.

To summarize, I don’t know what this list is, or where it came from. In some ways, it doesn’t make sense, and in some ways it does not seem appropriate for this program. I’d be glad to present these concerns to Sandra, and make a constructive difference here and now, but so far I’m not exactly being encouraged to question things.

* * * * *

October 16, 6:48 PM – Further Exchange with Sandra

I replied to Sandra. She sent me another email at 3:59 PM:

Ray:

The goal statement instructions that I sent you are clear and although I did think your statement was interesting it had far more personal information than should be shared in your goal statement. I understand that you’ve had more experiences that most of our students, but you need to condense it. Many of our students have also not had experience in Community Organization, yet are able to clearly define skills that they want/need to learn.

I know that we can go back and forth on the requirements via email, but I believe that your placement is very time sensitive. I suggest that you contemplate this over the long weekend, make one more attempt to condense and be more specific.

If it still misses the mark, then we will set up a time to meet and discuss this in person.

The thing about “personal” information is interesting. SW is a profession in which you will hear people insist that the personal is political (and sometimes the other way around as well). SW professors are ready to trot out very personal stuff – in classes, in presentations, etc. – when it relates to or supports their message.

It’s not as though my goals statement discusses my love life. What Sandra is calling “personal” has to do with stages in my career. If Sandra had been present at my many interviews over the past 30 years, she might realize that I do have some sense of what potential employers tend to ask when we are meeting face-to-face.

Oh, I almost forgot to mention. This time, Sandra sent a copy of her message (with our previous correspondence) to Dr. Lorna, director of the field placement program. Maybe she’s been blind-copying Dr. Lorna all along, and is only now letting me know. Or maybe Dr. Lorna has asked her what in the world is going on in my case. Maybe Sandra hopes this will intimidate me. Or maybe she needs to document, for Dr. Lorna, why I am such a difficult student. Who knows?

I don’t know Dr. Lorna. Her bio says that she’s been a social worker since forever. And of course she should be, for her position. But this raises the concern that she will have a cookie-cutter idea of who a student should be, and that probably doesn’t work in my favor.

* * * * *

October 16, 9:17 PM – Reply to Sandra

Dear Sandra:

I see that you copied Dr. Lorna on your message. I gather that there must be conversations going on that you haven’t mentioned. Could you tell me what that’s about?

I do think it is reasonable to ask why, at this time of urgency, you have expressed this sudden demand for a shorter goal statement. You have had a two-page statement for months, have not objected to it, and have already sent it to five organizations, two of which have expressed interest in interviewing me. Indeed, you seemed prepared to send it out again several days ago.

If some new development absolutely requires a one-page goal statement, as I said before, I do need some indication of what you want me to delete. A guessing game is not the solution. As I say, I did not consider any of that material irrelevant. I acknowledged your superior knowledge in these matters, but this did not change my level of understanding. Obviously, if you do not tell me what you consider superfluous, I might very well delete the wrong things, requiring yet another rewrite and more lost time. I am also concerned that I may lose an opportunity altogether, if a potential placement loses interest in me due to a nice, brief goal statement that fails to provide information that, in my experience, interviewers have considered relevant.

Likewise, regarding the third (skills) paragraph, I simply do not understand how to proceed without some kind of example or illustration of what you are looking for. As I said, it does not seem possible to write a single paragraph that provides “much more detail,” as you require, on so many different skills. That sounds like the very definition of multiple paragraphs. Of course, I could just ram a bunch of material into a pile, but this would not be consistent with good writing as I understand it, and I am claiming that writing ability is one of my strengths.

We agree: this is very time-sensitive. There have been some surprising delays. At some point, if possible, I would like to learn more about the reasons for those delays. But right now, I am focused on getting this document finished to your satisfaction. Would you please help me with that?

Ray

* * * * *

October 16, 10:44 PM – Pessimism

Something I don’t really know is whether it counts as pessimism if it’s also accurate. I mean, if you say, “Our picnic is going to be rained out” as the lightning flashes and the drops begin to land on your windshield, aren’t you just verging on realism?

It’s a tricky question because pessimism can be self-fulfilling. Likewise optimism: I’ve heard a couple of people recently use the saying, “Fake it ‘til you make it” – meaning, I think, something like what Woody Allen said: half of life is just showing up. Your optimism can make you; your pessimism can break you.

Not reliably, though. Optimists’ bones line the westward wagon trails. Some were sure that God would provide. And many pessimists console themselves with the money they made by being paranoid, hyper-alert, suspicious, and otherwise unpleasant.

I think the present situation is that I can be an optimist that I will survive and will probably be more or less happy, even if they throw me out of the SSW; and at the same time I can be a pessimist about what is, for me so far, a hostile and discouraging profession.

The field placement situation, in particular, is not going well. Let us review. I came here in the belief that I would be acquiring experience and credentials in interpersonal work in the mental health area. Because there are too few clients for interns, it turned out that I was not going to be getting very much experience; and because I wasn’t getting experience, I got tangled up in the domestic violence side of the agency, and got terminated because of it. So now I have no placement at all; and even if I get one, it will have little if any interpersonal practice content.

Whether I will get an internship is an open question at this point. There may be a good reason why Sandra is suddenly insisting on a one-page limit to my goals statement, although her refusal to talk about it suggests otherwise. There may be some perfectly reasonable and nonthreatening occasion for Dr. Lorna’s involvement, but again there seem to have been conversations that they do not want to tell me about. There may be a good reason why Sandra sent my résumé to a place an hour away, without my consent, but that act certainly isn’t consistent with standard procedures here as I understand them.

It is still possible that Sandra means well, that there are perfectly normal and nonthreatening reasons for her new demands and for Dr. Lorna’s involvement, and that everybody is determined to get me into the most appropriate placement as quickly as possible. These things are possible. They just don’t seem to be what is actually happening.

It feels like my chances of being pushed out of the SSW are much larger, at this point, than my chances of being praised for anything that I might do. Except that I do hope to hear praise from the fun professor, next week, when she will hopefully hand back our graded papers.

* * * * *

October 17, 12:28 AM – No Reply from Reagan

I had that chat with Reagan the other day, and afterwards I sent her a thank-you email. No reply. That’s OK – it was just a one-time chat for limited purposes – but I wish it weren’t so hard to make friends on campuses. But like I say, people are busy. They’ve already got more people in their life than they have time for. And in my experience an old white student is just about last on the list of people whom a college student would want to stay in touch with. But I really wish I had somebody to talk to.

My girlfriend has been talking about how she wants to have kids. She’s young, and she’s Chinese, and it’s her culture to have kids. Kids, and kids, and more kids. The world needs another billion Chinese people, and eventually it will probably get them. Anyway, I think we’ve reached the point where she needs to be looking elsewhere. We haven’t talked much during the past week or two. It’s a drag, but it’s reality.

Meanwhile, there’s always Facebook. At least for a little while.

* * * * *

October 17, 12:45 AM – Discouragement

I have been meaning to write up an account of some experiences from SSW1 and SSW2. But right now, I’m not sure what’s the point.

I’ve been writing this blog in the vague belief that someone would read it and that it might make a difference. But now I’ve got to think about that.

If social workers read it, they’ll stop soon, because I’m critical of SW, and I can tell you that they won’t want to hear it. There will be exceptions, but not many. For all the criticisms of SW that have been published or shared, the only one we’ve covered in a class, in my three-plus years of graduate study in SW, is Flexner’s critique from 1915. This is not a profession that strives to detect, understand, and correct its weaknesses.

If non-social workers read this, that would be great, but it won’t make a difference. I’m not saying anything new, beyond the details of my story and maybe some circumstantial insights. If this sort of thing were going to make a splash, it would have done so by now. SW is a poor handmaiden of other fields – psychology and psychiatry, in the mental health arena; business administration, in the arena of management; public health, in that area; and so forth. Nobody with money and power is looking at SW. It’s a backwater.

And maybe that’s the solution for me. I guess if I don’t get an internship and therefore don’t get the MSW, at least that’s one less degree to live down. It’s already been a millstone around my neck, this thing of having JD and MBA degrees and then not using them since the 1980s. Enough of that, already.

But it’s weird to think of investing four years of my life in SW master’s and PhD education for nothing. It goes beyond a career adjustment. This is like a seriously bad investment, or a marriage gone south. It goes to the core of your judgment, your fit with the world, your self-worth. How could you let something like this happen? And usually, you don’t know. There’s not a really good excuse. It just did.

I don’t know if I can teach in an SSW. They are such godawful humorless places. When I came back from the B-school the other day, during the break in the fun professor’s class, I felt like a better person – like there was a future, there were lots of smart and industrious people in the world. The fun professor started talking about treatments for depression, and because I had just come back from the B-school, I was inspired to ask her, what about socioenvironmental treatments, like putting people in better and happier living circumstances. She wasn’t sure. On one or two occasions, I’ve seen her come back with answers to questions that someone posed during the previous class session, but I think my question did not really capture her imagination.

No, you know, make that definitely not. I definitely cannot teach in an SSW. I’ve been entertaining idle fantasies about how maybe some SSW, somewhere, will tolerate my practical jokes and sense of humor and attempts to challenge students with unexpected perspectives and unorthodox approaches. Well, screw that. I don’t want to be tolerated. I’m still hoping – I’ll probably die hoping – for a place that is delighted to have me. Maybe it’ll be a high school. Maybe it’ll be in Asia. I really don’t know. But I’ve got to broaden my perspectives considerably, because SW just isn’t happening.

* * * * *

October 17, 9:21 AM – Deskilling

There’s something known as de-skilling. This is where you take someone who had some degree of competence, and through your efforts to help them or teach them or whatever you’re doing, you actually make them less competent. Classic movie example: when Nurse Ratched in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest returns the newly confident Billy Bibbit to his former stuttering, servile condition.

I was thinking about deskilling the other night, in Dr. Krishna’s class, when Shelly was gushing on about his wonderful therapeutic talents. He didn’t seem to be indulging in the ego boost, but hearing that sort of thing over the years may explain why he gave us that line, at the start of the semester, about how he has this marvelous wisdom to share with us. For me, what matters is not what she thinks about him; it’s whether she emerges from his class sessions with visible improvements in her therapeutic skills.

Deskilling comes to mind in this current go-round with Sandra. I’m not supposed to be asking questions or seeing things from a different perspective. Different perspectives are appropriate for people who have darker skins, speak with an accent, and wear colorful garb from some developing nation. In that case, we pat ourselves on the back for our cultural competence in being vaguely associated with such individuals. When the novel perspectives just come from some tedious person who looks like he could be the professor’s neighbor, where’s the glamour in that?

These influences do have a cumulative effect. I’ve noticed that I tend to arrive at school in the fall with a fairly relaxed, sociable attitude from my summer experiences – and am then reduced, by a thousand small cuts, to a much more anxious, much less confident (and, I would think, seemingly less competent) kind of person. Two years ago, I was still able to maintain a relatively light attitude throughout the school year. But last year was a hard one, and the process of deskilling seemed to resume, this September, from the previous year’s low water mark. I don’t know. Maybe I’m experiencing a form of retraumatization.

This blog is filled with examples. It turns out the fun professor doesn’t actually mean to stimulate humorous classroom interaction, when she says something funny; classmates avoid eye contact and pretend not to see me; Dr. Krishna offers his examples of abusive and pathological males; Sandra accepts Stanley’s disparaging version of what happened in the supervision meeting; Assistant Dean Sean Hennessy isn’t actually too available to talk about stuff; nobody seems to imagine that I might be able to help with a computer problem; and so on. I am the Invisible Man. Through a persistent cumulation of micromessages, this student who has so much to offer is pared down until he looks like an irritant and a problem. It’s a remarkable outcome, for a training program in a so-called helping profession.

If it can happen to me, it can happen to others. And it does. I was struck, at SSW1, by the observation that the place could be located right smack in the center of a state full of rednecks, and yet have so few redneck students. If you’re a plain Jane; if you’re heterosexual; if you’re a Christian – basically, if you’re not something special, you’re . . . well, you’re just not. You’d think that a profession that purports to be oriented toward helping the downtrodden would have a deep culture of seeking out and supporting its members who are wallflowers, misfits, recovering addicts, ex-convicts, white trash, or otherwise unable to present themselves as members of the “in” crowd. You’d think that a profession that claims to be concerned with equality would insist upon equality in its own internal dealings. But that’s not SW.

One other observation. When people are deskilled, they don’t tend to act to change things. They don’t think they can, or should, or are allowed to. The SSW would find it difficult to completely persuade me that I am without logic or competence. But to the extent that deskilling has occurred in my case, I am probably behaving more or less as other deskilled people do. For instance, I am complaining. There is no direct route by which I can safely go to this or that professor or administrator or committee, lay out my concerns, and count on getting honest and intelligent engagement with what I am saying. So like a dissident in a repressive society, I can only talk – I can only whisper, in this blog – about the deplorable facts.

In other news, on one of the group websites I was looking at the other day, I saw a message from an incoming PhD student. She was asking for contact with students who are already in the SW PhD program here. She basically wanted information about things to be prepared for, etc.

I emailed to let her know that I’m an MSW student here and a PhD student elsewhere, and I’d be glad to talk to her if she doesn’t wind up with any better sources of information on SW PhD programs. So far, no response.

* * * * *

October 17, 1:27 PM – Elitism

There is a lot of elitism in a university like this. Everybody knows how hard it is to get into most graduate programs in this place. It is natural to consider yourself special.

This elitism is not merited in the case of the SSW. As an administrator admitted to me early on, and as I have seen in my classes, a fairly small fraction of the MSW student body consists of nationally competitive students, while the rest are typical of the students you would expect to see in any number of MSW programs around the country. Because of the notoriously noncompetitive nature of MSW program admissions, classes cannot be conducted at a level that would challenge national-level students. The national-level students are here for the elite credential and, in some cases, for special opportunities not available elsewhere. The university is interested in enrolling nationally competitive students to burnish its credentials and, of course, to pay their boatload of out-of-state tuition dollars.

I would like to say that SW makes a tradeoff of heart for head – that, in other words, people are here for reasons of character that are not reflected on GRE scores (which this program [did not require] for admission. But that’s not my experience. I am not seeing evidence of exceptional character. Among other things, SW does not enforce a humble, compassionate orientation that treats everyone with respect. (Incidentally, the Code of Ethics has not mentioned “compassion” since the 1960s.)

Compare work in the ministry. It varies, of course, from one religion and sect to another. But in many cases, one can say, the advice is to be brilliant if you can, but expect yourself to serve the least among us; make your humility a matter of your true self, not merely of appearances; and value your colleagues and students for the gifts they do bring, rather than disparaging them for what they lack. In such regards, the best SW faculties of the 21st century may compare poorly against good medieval monasteries.

* * * * *

October 17, 2:39 PM – Woman Who Studies Men

Hey, I just ran across a PDF of a page from the SSW’s faculty list. I forgot I had it. At some point, browsing through that list, I came across the biographical sketch of Dr. Barbara, a SW professor here who studies men, and I made that PDF to keep track of her.

It sounds like she’s especially interested in men in the workforce, which is especially interesting to me. Did I mention that my PhD studies at SSW2 are in the combined areas of SW and leisure studies?

So I’ve sent her an email, asking if she has time to talk. I told her that gender issues are not my primary interest, but I’m feeling a tad beleaguered in that regard at the moment. Could be a very worthwhile conversation, if she’s up for it. I love the idea that this SSW, despite my ranting and the behavior of Sandra et al., would have someone like this on its faculty. But a woman? Imagine an SSW hiring a man as its expert on women’s issues. Can’t say it’ll never happen . . . but, most likely, it’ll never happen.

* * * * *

October 18, 1:56 AM – Asia Group Meets Online

I just signed into the Chat, on the university’s website. One of the students in Asia is already logged in. I had posted some questions for the Asian students and also for Brenda, with whom I am supposed to compare notes regarding my part of the presentation. Our group presents on the 29th, a week from this coming Thursday. So we’re meeting in Chat at 9 AM our time.

* * * * *

October 18, 8:56 AM – Up

Got to bed really late. Around 4 AM. Couldn’t actually fall asleep until about 4:45. Got up a half-hour ago. I’m beat. I’ll probably take one or two long naps during the day, like yesterday. I decided to start the qualifying exam (actually a paper) for my PhD. It’s something that, ideally, I will get done before January. Can’t go into the details of the timing now – the chat people are waiting for me.

* * * * *

October 18, 1:39 PM – Longwindedness

Our Asia group chatted for more than four hours. Went over PowerPoints in great detail. They had tons of questions about the juvenile justice system in the U.S. They were disappointed that I had taken down the YouTube video about the alternative system being used in Missouri. I didn’t think anyone was interested, and that’s apparently true for most of the videos I put together and posted; but they liked the Missouri thing. They were referring it to their friends. So now it’s back up.

I finally bailed out of the chat at the four-hour mark; looks like they went on for another half-hour. I needed to go for a run, eat, and get the rest of my world underway.

The other day, I posted another video, as an intro to the Nathaniel Abraham juvenile case we’re using in our presentation. This video is about two minutes long. It intersperses news reports on the case with footage from a Baby Boomer ranting about that case in highly opinionated and racist fashion. It’s ugly, and my group is not fond of it.

The group didn’t talk about it very much, and they didn’t resolve it. So I think they are hoping I will withdraw it. But to me, higher education is where you get in touch with uncomfortable realities, and figure out solutions or improvements for them. It’s not helpful to be ignorant, and then to be shocked when you finally do encounter what the other side is saying. But SW education tends toward saying and sharing things that we prefer to hear.

Funny thing. During that discussion, Brenda (a white woman) kept referring to the racist guy in the video as a WASP (i.e., White Anglo-Saxon Protestant). She didn’t seem to know anything about him. I think she was just assuming that, since he was a white racist, he must be all the rest as well. But he could be Irish, Polish, Catholic, atheist, etc. She said, “I’m not a WASP.” I said, “I am.”

* * * * *

October 18, 3:22 PM – I’m a Helpful Guy

Just got an email from that woman who wanted to know about PhD programs in SW. Spent the better part of an hour scraping together materials in response to her questions. I hope she finds it useful.

I basically advised her to grow her career organically. Take whatever she likes most about her present situation – the people she can network with, the things she can write about, or whatever – and build on that. Let your strengths lead you. Don’t just apply to some school because of its name or because you think it’s time to do so. Let life guide you to your most suitable opportunity. That’s what I’ve tried to do, and look at how it has turned out so far.

* * * * *

October 19, 12:41 AM – Silent Sandra

Just checked my email. No reply from Sandra. I think we be nearing the end of her game, whatever it is. No, Sandra, I’m not going to try to read your mind. I can’t guess what you’re talking about, and I won’t guess, because I don’t want to lose another week to this silliness.

My sense is, still, that she knows exactly what she’s doing, i.e., that she is fully confident that she has the support of Dr. Lorna. If I wind up in a meeting with Dr. Lorna, I can ask for a transfer to a different field liaison, but previous experience in bureaucracies suggests, as I think I said in a previous post, that the next person is apt to just continue stringing me along, same as Sandra has been doing.

* * * * *

October 19, 11:34 AM – Dread

Well, it’s past 11:30. I told myself that I would deal with the Sandra situation at 11. In fact, I have a pop-up reminder for myself to “Contact Dr. Lorna if necessary to get the internship happening.” There’s nothing in my email inbox from either of them. So it’s time.

* * * * *

October 19, 12:02 PM – Message to Dr. Lorna

Wow, that took a while. OK, well, I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that I spent a half-hour composing that message. Here’s what I sent:

Dear Dr. Lorna:

I don’t believe we’ve met. This morning, I am writing to you about a problem. That’s not necessarily the best way to make an acquaintance, and I’m sorry about that. I’ll do my best to make it brief, and will welcome an opportunity to meet in person, on this problem or just for a more general introduction, if your schedule permits.

The problem is that I have no field placement, and do not appear to be progressing toward getting one. I think you’ve received copies of Sandra’s message to you, and my reply, from the end of last week. I have received no further reply from Sandra, and do not know what to do. I gather, from her decision to send copies to you, that you are the person I should be contacting about this; but if that is not correct, kindly point me in the right direction.

The immediate roadblock, for purposes of progress toward getting a field placement, involves my goals statement. Those previous messages provide detail on that. Unfortunately, that roadblock is one in a continuing series. Nearly four weeks have passed since the termination of my first placement. During those four weeks, I have not had a single interview for another placement.

My impression is that Sandra began to regard me in a less positive light after termination of my first placement. In our first meeting after that event, Sandra’s behavior toward me was profoundly different than it had been previously. Based upon her statements in that meeting, it appeared she had accepted the views of me conveyed to her by someone at that agency. In response to that impression, I offered to discuss the matter further, but she declined.

There is much I do not understand about this situation. Whatever may be transpiring under the surface within or among individuals, however, I do have an undeniable and growing need to get into a placement and to resume putting in the required number of hours.

For that purpose, I am open to your suggestions. I don’t know whether the appropriate step at this point would be to try a different approach with Sandra, or to transfer to a different field liaison. I imagine you have experience in this sort of thing, so I am approaching you for assistance in expediting this matter.

Thank you for your time.

Sincerely,

* * * * *

October 19, 12:07 PM – Weekly Job Bulletin

I have a copy of the SSW’s weekly email, listing jobs available in the field. This time, there are more jobs from out of state. Two in Chicago, five in Indianapolis, one in South Carolina. Looks like some bureaucrat in Indy must have signed some document. Two of those five are for chemical dependency counselors; another two are for bilingual home-based counselors/case managers. (All references to bilinguality here are to Spanish and English.) Meanwhile, there are only four listings in-state: one for a bilingual therapist, one for a project coordinator, one for an administrative coordinator, and one for a substance abuse/mental health therapist.

The project coordinator position is part-time, paying $12/hour for 20 hours/week. There are apparently no particular degree requirements of any kind for that position. The bilingual counselor needs an MSW or related degree and must work evenings (not clear how many per week). Not much info on the substance abuse/mental health therapist position. The administrative coordinator position pays $38K plus benefits and requires a “master’s degree in Public Health or related field,” among other things. Out of state, the Chicago jobs are for a bilingual infant and toddler case manager (requiring a bachelor’s degree “in Human Services or Social Work”) and for a program supervisor with MSW or related degree and two to five years of clinical and supervisory experience. In Indianapolis, one of the jobs is for a part-time child development specialist with a high school diploma. The chemical dependency counselor positions require a master’s degree and state license in a human services field; one also requires experience. One of the bilingual home-based counselor positions requires a BSW or related; the other requires an MSW in SW or a related field. Finally, the one in SC requires five to seven years of experience in Community Organization.

If I were planning to go to work as a practicing MSW immediately after graduation, I think I would not be too pleased with the number and kinds of opportunities listed in this bulletin, considering that there will be several hundred graduates from this SSW alone. But I guess if the economy improves, things could look better a few months from now.

* * * * *

October 19, 3:48 PM – The Official Termination Form

At the end of last week, Sandra put an official stamped copy of the Field Placement Termination form in my folder in the SSW. Accompanying it is a letter from Stanley dated September 28.

They credited me for 60 internship hours. If you include all of the time I have spent on that internship, I’m far above 60, but ultimately I just decided to leave it at that.

Sandra’s portion of the form says that I still need 282 hours for this semester. From next week through the end of the semester, there are a total of eight weeks. If by some miracle I were to start at a placement next week, that would mean I’d need to average about 35 hours per week. If they don’t get me started until the week after that, I’ll need to put in just over 40 hours per week. At that rate, we’re not talking about some fiddle-around, part-time hobby type of internship. That’s a full-time job, which means either finding a place that really needs me or doing all my homework at the office.

The termination form has a place for Sandra to write Comments/Recommendations. Here’s what she wrote:

Student completed 60 hours of placement at [agency]. I’ve requested that Ray review his goal statement for the next placement opportunity. I’ve also informed Ray, via email, that placement options for Interpersonal Practice in mental health are minimal right now + that he may have to consider postponing his graduation date.

Postponing? What? I don’t think so. I had already responded to this. I told her I have to graduate by May.

* * * * *

October 19, 4:22 PM – Stanley’s Letter

I am looking at the letter that Stanley sent to Sandra, dated September 28, regarding his reasons for terminating me. It is an interesting letter.

The letter lists the people who were present at the meeting. I think I may have said, in a previous post, that there were a half-dozen staffers. I didn’t bother to try to recollect the exact number afterwards, but here Stanley tells us that there were six licensed social workers, two other staffers (who do work directly with clients but apparently had no degrees related to mental health work), and we three interns.

The meat of the letter comes in two paragraphs. One of them consists of quotations from me; the other presents his conclusions. I’d like to take a closer look, but I can’t right now. Right now, I’ve got to get some other things done and prepare for this evening’s meeting, the first meeting of the Nontraditional Students group.

* * * * *

October 19, 5:28 PM – Quotations from Chairman Stan

It’s funny, what counts as proof of unsuitability for an internship. One of the quotes that Stanley’s letter provides to Sandra, in support of his decision to terminate my internship, is that I said, “No program is perfect.” That is, in fact, the first quote Stanley provides. He also quotes me as saying, “No one is perfect and knows everything, everyone has things they need to learn.”

These are not exactly controversial statements. People are not going to drop their forks and choke on their dinner if you tell them, “Nobody’s perfect.” It is disturbing that Stanley would even consider including quotations of this nature, in a letter explaining the termination of an internship.

What I think is happening there is that Stanley finds it galling to imagine that a mere intern would dare to critique his program. That seemed to be the point of a question Bobbie put to me during that meeting. She asked me how I would have felt if, during my work as a financial analyst years ago, some fresh-faced intern had come in and had tried to tell me that I was doing something wrong. I said, if that had happened, I would have been a fool not to listen and think about what that person was trying to tell me.

Stanley’s letter also quotes me as saying, “I am a therapist.” I was talking with someone about this afterwards, and neither of us could recall me saying that. The closest we could get was to imagine that maybe I was trying to set the scene for some kind of hypothetical example, and I said something like, “So. I’m a therapist. I’m sitting in my office. Some guy comes in . . .” I really don’t know. But if I had said I was a therapist “at least three times,” as he claims, and if it bothered him, you’d think he would have stopped me, one of those times, and would have asked why I was claiming to be a therapist. For all he knows, I might be a therapist indeed – an aromatherapist, perhaps, or a horticultural therapist. The world is full of therapists, and maybe my home state doesn’t license or restrict the use of that term. As a responsible social worker, wouldn’t you want to make sure you understood what your intern was trying to say, before using this as an excuse to fire him?

The therapist issue, if you can call it that, occupies much of his quotations paragraph. He does have some other quotes, but I don’t want to beat this thing to death. But here. Stanley says, “He [meaning me] blamed his ‘defensiveness’ [his word] on us saying, “It is normal to be defensive when you are being attacked.” But I’m pretty sure that’s not what I said. I’m pretty sure I posed it as a question, along these lines: Would it be inappropriate for a person to be defensive when he or she is attacked? And “defensive” wasn’t my word – it was Mark’s.

Stanley has an MSW, and the agency’s webpage says that he has published scholarly articles. Unless he somehow got through with a horribly deficient education, we can safely assume that he knows that he should not use quotation marks if there is some risk of misquoting. What he presents to Sandra, in this letter, is a set of quotations, as if he should be trusted to provide a verbatim word-for-word account of what I said in that meeting.

But let’s go with one more quote that he does get more or less right. He quotes me as saying, “What are the rules are we allowed to speak or do we wait until people are done.” This quote seems to lack punctuation. But if the punctuation were supplied (e.g., “What are the rules – are we allowed to speak, or do we wait until people are done?”), it would seem like a fair question. Someone had criticized me for interrupting another person while she spoke; but nobody said a word when these staffers repeatedly interrupted me. So I was asking why.

Again, I really can’t explain why Stanley would be telling Sandra about this sort of trivia, or why these things would justify her judgmental behavior toward me – never mind warranting termination of a formally contracted internship. It is as if Stanley wished to document the dearth of analytical capacity he displayed in that supervision meeting.

This man runs an agency employing maybe 20 mental health professionals. Scary.

* * * * *

October 19, 6:29 PM – Oops

Well, as you see, I just got sucked into writing that other post after all. The Nontraditional Student group dinner starts in one minute. I guess I’ll be fashionably late.

I want to get this review of Stanley’s letter done already. It’s been on my mind. Writing it up helps me to go through it carefully and formulate my thoughts on it. . . . But now I really need to pull myself away from this keyboard and go.

* * * * *

October 19, 9:33 PM – The Nontraditional Students Group

Arriving at 6:52 PM for a 6:30 made me the last arrival, but apparently not by much. There were eight of us: two black and six white, of whom four were male and two were female.

I sat next to one of the white females. Pleasant person, I was thinking maybe 33 to 35, but from some of her comments I think my estimate must have been on the young side. We exchanged a bit of autobiographical info, nothing major. Reminded me of my ex-wife, in terms of her looks and professionalism and, I don’t know, the way she conducted herself. It’s mostly a compliment, except for the sense of reserve, of holding something back, that surely wouldn’t strike most people as ominous.

Sat across from Luke, the organizer of the group. Relatively quiet guy, mental health major, clams up whenever the topic gets a bit risky for a social worker to talk about. Afterwards, when it was just four of us guys standing around, he loosened up a bit.

One of the guys was Paul, the cool fortyish dude whom I run into around the SSWB every now and then. The other was Thomas, probably in his late fifties, country guy with a southern accent. Thomas, I’m thinking, is a fish out of water. He’s got nobody to talk to in this school at all. He said it was hard for him to even begin to find his bearings in these classrooms full of twentyish women, to even know how to talk or what he was allowed to say. I agree, but he says it more pathetically than I do. Tonight, a couple of times, he pointed out that men commit far more suicides than women. My bet is, he has looked down the barrel of that gun, at least metaphorically speaking, more than once. Maybe he got laid off somewhere, saw a bleak future, decided that going back to school was his last real chance. He didn’t want to let us go. I think he would have stayed there and talked to us for another hour. When you look into the Abyss . . . .

The other female was Beth, from the fun professor’s class. I hadn’t really thought of Beth as being a nontraditional student – which I guess most of us are taking to mean an older student, whereas the official concept seems to be more oriented toward those who didn’t go directly from high school to college and/or from college to grad school.

A bunch of older students weren’t there. Mark, my fellow intern from the mental health agency, wasn’t there. Shelly, from Dr. Krishna’s class, wasn’t there. People around the table rattled off a half-dozen other names or descriptions of older students they knew. Luke encouraged us to spread the word about the group.

We may try to get together informally in the SSW lounge around noon on some Thursdays to grab lunch. That seems to be a time when some of us are available.

Someone confirmed that they, too, had heard that there is a serious shortage of internships. But I also heard some good comments about the school tonight. Somebody was saying that one of the female professors openly acknowledged that male clients are severely underserved in SW. We are at the point where we are grateful for such crumbs of acknowledgement. A couple of the guys mentioned female professors who encourage them to participate in class. I feel that the fun professor is like that; I said something positive about her at some point. Someone said that Sean Hennessy, the assistant dean, has made an effort to bring in male students, to maintain at least a bit of gender diversity in the student body.

It bugs me that I’m so preoccupied with the gender thing. It’s not what I’m here for. I hope things can eventually mellow out and I can feel more welcome. I just need no more Sandras, no more Aminahs, no more Stanleys and Bobbies for a while. Just nonjudgmental people, of whatever description, who don’t make me feel unwelcome because of my age or gender or skin color.

* * * * *

October 19, 11:16 PM – Examining Stanley’s Conclusion

OK, let’s do this and get it over with.

I try to go through important stuff in a relatively thorough manner, even when it’s not especially pleasant work. So I’m going to work through Stanley’s conclusion, in his letter to Sandra. His conclusion is that I am “not ready to take direction in a practicum setting.”

To support this conclusion, he cites three observations: he says I have “a significant self-important schema, a considerable blindness to obvious [social cues], and an unwavering self-confirmatory bias which creates an inability to consider a view or data contrary to his own pre-set beliefs.”

Let’s go down his list. First: “self-important schema.” I just Googled for that term. Stanley appears to have invented it; there are no occurrences of that term in Google Scholar. I tried “self-importance schema”; that brought up one hit, but a look into the relevant document produced no insight. I got the same results from repeating those same searches in regular Google. Self-importance does not appear to be a significant topic within schema therapy; a search along those lines produces only a small number of results. Besides, Stanley and I have scarcely spoken since our initial interview. Did he think he would be capable of conducting a professional diagnosis while arguing with me in the supervision meeting? Or did he just decide to plunge into schema theory without any diagnosis at all?

It appears that Stanley is simply using big words to sound intelligent – that all he means is, I act like he’s not the only important person in his agency. That would be true: he’s not. But really, do I act self-important – do I have an exaggerated sense of my personal merit? I drive a beat-up old car. I live with a roommate to save money. I don’t hear accusations that I’m on some kind of ego trip. I used to indulge in a lot more self-deprecating humor, until I realized that social workers are especially inclined to take you seriously when you disparage yourself in jest.

Stanley’s point seems to be that I’m not as important as I think I am. This is, again, what I saw in his mindset: he is preoccupied with cutting people (especially men) down. If he knew anything about me, and if he were interested in actually doing SW, he might be applauding me for what I have achieved, not sneering at me for what I haven’t. What competent mental health practitioner would find it appropriate to engage in this sort of personal mudslinging? Besides, how did the presence or absence of self-importance in my personality become the topic? The issue at hand was his agency’s way of treating clients.

In New York, I worked for a lawyer who had gone to Harvard College and Yale Law School. Or maybe it was the other way around; I can’t remember. This guy would pride himself on hiring some of the best, most expensive secretaries in the city. Then he would make them out to be complete idiots. It was psychological sadism. Proud, accomplished women would sometimes leave his office in tears; and after he had rubbed their noses in it, he would get rid of them, or they would flee.

In other words, I’m not impressed that Stanley and Bobbie could make their own staff members cry. It’s got nothing to do with how important I consider myself in comparison to a boss who behaves like that. I think any decent person would wonder what the hell is the matter with him.

So, OK, item no. 2 on Stanley’s list: “blindness to obvious social cues.” Someone with just enough mental health training to make them dangerous will whipsaw the client with conflicting diagnoses. If the person is not attentive to what the clinician considers a cue, then s/he may have a problem of self-importance or other social failing. But if the person is too attentive to “cues,” s/he may have a problem of hypervigilance. The insidious thing about such remarks is that, again, they function as political accusations: easy to fling around, but difficult and time-consuming to investigate carefully – and the accuser is not likely to be interested in any such exploration, not unless s/he is getting paid for it.

Stanley seems to be referring to some cues that someone was sending me during the supervision meeting. He describes them, in the quotations paragraph, as “nonverbal cues.” He doesn’t say what they were. Maybe someone was winking at me; maybe someone was checking their watch. But I’d have been glad to end that exhausting argument. I had no interest whatsoever in being attacked for two solid hours. I avoided all opportunities to speak up, and finally spoke up only when Bobbie insisted. If you don’t want my opinion, don’t ask for it; and if you don’t like my opinion once you’ve dragged it out of me, either learn to discuss differences of opinion respectfully or leave me alone. What continues to surprise me, about Stanley and Bobbie, is that it should be necessary to remind them of such obvious principles of ordinary human interaction and mutual respect.

Nonverbal cues are an important part of communication. Nonetheless, we are trained, in SW, to pay attention to the verbal cues as well. When someone is telling you that they feel they are being attacked, this tends to be even more obvious than when you wink at them or check your watch. It is pretty strange to ignore that complaint, and to continue attacking them, and then to blame them for not figuring out what you are nonverbally telling them to do. Imagine a similar situation involving a female student, showing signs of trauma due to a gang attack by a largely male staff led by an extremely aggressive man.

“Back off” is a message that Stanley and Bobbie do not seem to understand. I mean, wouldn’t it be an obvious social cue when your staffers start crying in response to the harsh things you are saying to them? Why would they try that same treatment on me, when they had already seen what it had done to others in their organization?

We have, here, a sort of mirror effect. It seems that, by standing up to Stanley and Bobbie, I gave them a reflection in the glass – an opportunity to see how it feels. That wasn’t my goal – I was just refusing to be shouted down – but apparently it was an outcome all the same. They didn’t like the experience, but evidently they haven’t yet drawn the obvious inferences from it.

Final item on Stanley’s list: “unwavering self-confirmatory bias which creates an inability to consider a view or data contrary to his own pre-set beliefs.” According to one source, “Self-confirmatory bias refers to a situation in which the clinician makes a diagnosis (possibly based on a stereotype or prejudice) and then notices only evidence that is consistent with that diagnosis.” Stanley’s point seems to be that I ignored evidence that would tend to disprove my views.

But what views is he referring to? The quotations and criticisms in his letter are almost entirely process-related, with tangential relevance (at best) to the actual topics of discussion in the supervision meeting. One of the views I presented, in that meeting, was that the men in his domestic aggression groups should be treated as clients of the agency, and in any event SW ethical principles require that they be treated with respect. I also suggested that Bobbie’s harsh methods were counterproductive. Stanley’s letter completely ignores those kinds of topics. Instead, he goes into this stuff about whether I said that I was a therapist, or that nobody is perfect.

It seems, in other words, that the evidence Stanley thinks I was overlooking was evidence about me. He was displeased with me for having divergent views; and when I did not back down, he and Bobbie dropped the client-oriented issues that we were supposed to be discussing, and turned to attack me personally – and that is the attack that Stanley continues in his letter.

What Stanley encountered, in me that day, was simply someone his own size. He wasn’t interested in just letting me go back to the behavioral health side of the organization, where I was supposed to be anyway, because that would not punish or silence me or show me who’s boss. He also wasn’t interested in a reasoned dialogue with me, because reason wasn’t going to lead to his preferred conclusions. Once again, it’s the mirror effect. Stanley accused me of ignoring the evidence because he, not I, was willing to see only one way of interpreting the evidence.

This is the nature of the internship environment into which God knows how many MSW students at this SSW have been immersed for hundreds of hours each, year after year. It is abhorrent to contemplate that students trained in this sort of environment are then turned loose, after graduation, to practice on some of our society’s most defenseless individuals.

* * * * *

October 20, 12:03 AM – Implications for Sandra

The experience with Stanley leads to some insights about Sandra and the SSW.

As a practical matter, I realize that I can’t expect Sandra to think carefully about Stanley’s letter. I would expect, however, that she would try to determine whether A leads to B – whether, that is, the things that he complains about are relevant to a decision to terminate my internship. Otherwise, it seems that she would accept virtually any complaint at all – about my religion, my height, my choice of toothpaste.

In trying to bring in as many MSW students as possible, the SSW apparently makes itself highly dependent upon agencies to supply internships of any quality; it seems the SSW cannot maintain appropriate standards regarding treatment of interns.

* * * * *

October 20, 12:52 AM – Call It a Day

I noticed, a little while ago, that I have a reply from Dr. Lorna. Looks like she sent it while I was with the nontraditional students group. But I just can’t go there now. If I look at that message, I might be up until 3 AM again.

I have to get serious about getting my sleep back in order, and especially with getting to bed at a decent hour. I’ve been working my way back, the last couple of nights – going to bed at 2 and then 1 AM. I want to be going to bed at 10 or 11 PM and sleeping at least six hours, if I can. You live longer and happier that way.

* * * * *

October 20, 8:13 AM – Gender Studies Major

When I was waking up this morning, I remembered something else that the woman sitting next to me said, last night, at the Nontraditional Students get-together. She said she was a gender studies major in college. That’s different. My ex-wife was a religion major.

I had a classmate at SSW2 who was a gender studies major in college. She was functioning as my own personal stalker, encouraged by the SSW’s administrators, during my second year there. I’m not saying that the woman last night has an ax to grind when dealing with men. Her passionate commitment to women’s self-defense courses may be reasonable enough.

Now that I think of it, after she stood up and said she needed to get going, she went down to the other end of the table and talked with the black women for another ten or fifteen minutes. She had previously been mostly surrounded by us guys, and hadn’t really been able to talk to those women. Who knows? Maybe the Nontraditional Students group meets very different needs for men and women in the SSW.

* * * * *

October 20, 8:43 AM – Message from Dr. Lorna

I got a reply. Here’s what she says:

Hi Ray–thank you for your email–I have followed some of the discussion as I always do when a field placement is terminated which is my way of trying to keep things on track. I think the best thing to do at this point is to write up the 1 page Goal Statement using the suggestions that have been put forward. If you are still unclear about how to do that, I think a meeting would be in order with Sandra. I am not aware of any additional issues but I think it fair of you to share your observations if you meet with her. Obviously we want students in placement as quickly as possible as well.

We can’t move forward until we have a Goal Statement that meets the standard as this is what is sent to the agency to review. We want to assist you in putting your best foot forward. My understanding is that Sandra is ready to move forward with you once she receives the revised Goal Statement.

I hope this is helpful–I am happy to meet with you to talk about your revision is [sic] you would like.

So, OK, what to think? Dr. Lorna has followed some of the discussion. Not sure how, but it appears Sandra has been copying her on our correspondence. I wonder why. Dr. Lorna says it’s because she wants to keep things on track. I have lost nearly a month in the middle of a semester. Surely that cannot be her concept of keeping things on track.

Most students who lose their first internships can be expected to blame themselves to some degree, and to become worried about what’s going to happen to them. So then it might be easier to stick these students into some really questionable placement openings. The students would have been outraged if they had been put in these kinds of places back in August; but as the weeks pass without a placement, maybe they become increasingly desperate and grateful for any placement at all.

It seemed like Sandra hesitated when I told her (during our second meeting, wasn’t it?) that I had to graduate in May. Maybe they weren’t “gatekeeping” me – deliberately trying to keep me from graduating. They may have just been thinking, aw, Ray’s an older guy, he’s got bucks, he’s not in a rush, he’s the first person we should try slowing down. He can afford to stay another semester, whereas some of these younger students really need to finish their internships and get their careers started. Maybe it just took her a while to understand that I really might have to graduate by May or not at all.

Now, what should I do? I could try to write the kind of goal statement she is talking about. But I seriously don’t know what she wants, and I am especially perturbed that she can’t point me toward an example of that skills paragraph.

At this point, I think I had better grab opportunities if I can find them. Instead of depending on Sandra any longer, I want to take Dr. Lorna up on her offer to meet with me. I want to ask her if I can transfer to a different field liaison; I want to learn more about how the SSW works; and I want to see if I can wangle an opportunity to do my own kind of independent internship.

* * * * *

October 20, 10:36 AM – Collaboration

Something funky has been happening in the Asia class group. I haven’t been blogging it because I haven’t fully registered it. It sort of snuck up on me.

Last week, I spent hours working up those videos. I thought the Asian students, curious about juvenile justice in the U.S., would find this informative. Then I came up with that ten-minute summary. They didn’t watch it. Instead, we spent a large amount of time, on Sunday, answering questions that those short videos already answered. I dunno – maybe they thought I was just doing what everybody else in this group seems to be doing, dishing out lots of suggested reading or viewing that nobody will take seriously.

I did get some feedback from two of my fellow group members, during our long chat, on the two-minute Nathaniel Abraham video. They weren’t too happy with it. I went back to the drawing board and revised it substantially.

Otherwise, our four-hour chat focused on the PowerPoint slides that Brenda and the Asian students – one of them in particular – have been working up. The slides are nicely designed. But they contain way, way too much material. They seem to want me to contribute still more material.

I proposed, instead, that perhaps my contribution could be to merge these students’ separate PowerPoint presentations into a single collaborative, interactive presentation of the type that our professors have requested. Not ten minutes of talk about juvenile justice in the U.S., followed by ten minutes of talk about JJ in Asia, but instead a joint treatment of what happens when a kid first enters the system, how his/her case proceeds through the system, what are the outcomes, etc., talking about both countries simultaneously.

My fellow group members seemed to like this. So I asked for their feedback on the revised introductory video, and on a set of six slides where I did a prototypical merger of their individual PowerPoints. Total viewing time, for these two items, would be about five minutes.

Actually, I requested that during our last chat, and I requested it again in an email that I sent them all the next day. I emphasized that I needed their feedback to know whether they felt I was on the right track.

They didn’t send me anything. Instead, they spent some more hours chatting again last night, apparently piling up more PowerPoint slides. I don’t get it.

* * * * *

October 20, 11:22 AM – Sandra Is Available

Just got an email from Sandra, telling me that she is available to talk to me about my goal statement this week. I guess that pretty much precludes a meeting with Dr. Lorna. But I’ll wait to see if Dr. Lorna replies. It’s time to take determined steps with a field liaison who is motivated to answer my questions and make things happen. No more screwing around.

* * * * *

October 20, 8:06 PM – No Response Yet

No response yet from Dr. Lorna. I’ll send her a follow-up message in the morning.

No responses yet from anyone in the Asia group. Have I been voted off the island?

No response yet from Dr. Barbara, who studies men. But it’s been only three days. She may have left town for the fall break, which we’re having this week.

No response from Assistant Dean Melinda, to whom I suggested that the audio volume on the Asia side might be turned up too far, during our online video conferences – that backing off a bit on their end might reduce the distortion. Maybe she passed that note on to Asia without comment.

* * * * *

October 20, 10:36 PM – Choice of Major

I think it will be OK that I have switched away from the Interpersonal Practice major. It looks like I can still be licensed in mental health, if I want to do that. I’m not sure I will want to be licensed in mental health, given what appears to be a glut of MSWs and other mental health workers. I am also concerned that there is a substantial risk that not only my colleagues but also my supervisors, in mental health, will have issues or prejudices that could make me feel very unwelcome and/or unsafe, on both personal and professional levels.

As alternatives, I like the energy and attitudes that I get from Community Organization majors. I am not super-excited about any Community Organization placements that I have looked at so far, though. I also don’t like having to take two courses in Community Organization next semester. Or I could switch to a Social Policy major. I have lots of background in that sort of thing.

I didn’t come here to do policy. It can be pretty dry and boring. But, OK, I’m here. Now it’s a question of doing what I have to do, to get through this damn program.

From one perspective, a switch to Social Policy is a great idea. Policy is supposedly an area in which this school’s reputation is especially valuable. I might have a broader and more interesting selection of job opportunities after I get out.

If I don’t go that route, I guess my ideal placement at this point would be to patch together something in which I can do a variety of things: spend a few hours each week working with those troubled members of the minister’s congregation who need someone to go to, and a few hours on the ropes course, and a few hours in some kind of mediation work, and basically whatever else comes up. Get a really broad, if shallow, exposure to the varieties of SW practice. This sounds like the most fun, the most complicated, and, sad to say, the least likely.

* * * * *

October 20, 11:12 PM – Subgrouping

I have been thinking about the Asia group. I have a couple of theories of what may be going on.

The chat room saves the chats. I’ve been clearing out the chats and saving them as PDFs in another part of the webpage. The other members of the team seem indifferent to this and/or pleased with it.

When I cleared out one of our chats last week, I read what the group discussed after I bailed out, at the end of one of our meetings. Turns out they spent that last half-hour mostly talking about religion. Two of the three Asian students, and Brenda, are Christians of the variety who (I didn’t read it very closely, but they appear to) believe that God is constantly active in their lives. So it looked like they did some bonding along those lines. That doesn’t really matter to me, and it may not even be relevant to the present situation. But, by coincidence or not, these same three are now pretty much controlling the direction of group effort.

I mentioned the video, and the PowerPoint illustration, a couple of times in that chat. They barely responded to those remarks. I guess maybe they were just extremely preoccupied with their PowerPoint slides. But at this point, it doesn’t really feel like I am part of the team anymore. So, I don’t know – is it just that they’re not very good at collaborating and/or communicating? I doubt that’s true, but then what’s the explanation?

We experienced a sort of group disconnect once before, when we decided that we would begin our presentation by talking about the case of a particular boy who entered the juvenile justice system in the U.S. Somehow, after we reached that decision, Brenda and one of the Asian students decided to create PowerPoints that started somewhere else altogether. So then we got together and spent an hour discussing how they had set up their PowerPoints, before Brenda said, hey, weren’t we going to start with the case of that boy?

I think what I’ll do is just hold out until they get off the PowerPoint kick. Surely, dear God, they will eventually remember that, oh, yeah, we still do have to merge our two distinct PowerPoint presentations and decide who’s going to present what – we have to work out the choreography, if you will – and yeah, it still would stimulate discussion and make the presentation more engaging if we could show the class some good video. So then maybe I can get someone to talk to me about it.

* * * * *

October 21, 9:38 AM – Switch to Policy

I’m going to do it. I woke up thinking, just do the safe, practical thing. Just get through this program.

I still don’t have a reply from Dr. Lorna. So it looks like I’m stuck in bureaucrat-land with Sandra, with her ongoing potential for random and unpleasant surprises and delays.

So I have completed the change-of-major form and have emailed it to my advisor for his signature. As I told him in my message, there don’t seem to be many available placements in Community Organization at this point after all, and meanwhile I have a solid foundation in Social Policy and should therefore be a strong candidate for the positions that are available.

Interestingly, as I reviewed the list of Social Policy internship places again this morning, I noticed that the one Sandra was going to send me to last week, right here in town – the one whose writeup wasn’t what I was looking for, that I hadn’t put on my list – actually has a bunch of potential slots, when you search for Social Policy rather than Community Organization internships. So if that place is still a possibility, maybe I can go in as a Social Policy major but wangle some other kinds of experiences with them on the side.

The other thing is, it looks like it will be easier for me to do the required coursework for policy next semester. I believe I have already taken most of those courses. If I am correct in that, that will open up one or two course slots that I can use to do some background work for my dissertation. Obviously, this is something I would prefer to verify in advance, but I’m not confident that my advisor would have checked that sort of thing on my behalf.

I’m not disappointed about this, this morning. I think I’ve gone through my experience of disappointment during the past seven weeks. It has belatedly occurred to me that the interpersonal dysfunctionality and the cheerless atmosphere that I have experienced in SSWs may be particularly concentrated in the realm of mental health practice. Community organization may not be the only place where I can find upbeat people in this SSW.

So I mostly just feel that it’s on to the next opportunity, and wish me luck.

* * * * *

October 21, 10:45 AM – Fast on the Draw

My advisor has already replied. He is willing to sign the form and, what’s more, he’ll do it by PDF, if Sandra will accept it in that form. So I could conceivably be in a Social Policy major, write up a goal statement, and have my materials out to a placement site by the end of the day. Conceivably, I said.

So I passed the question on to Sandra. And now, having just sent it and written these words, I already have a reply from Sandra! Alright. She says a PDF is fine. . . . I have now sent that information on to the advisor.

I think I may owe it to myself, and to the advisor, to have another meeting with him. Not now, God knows. I need to get a lot of things done in short order. But at some point. I don’t know if we both put our best foot forward in that first meeting. He has maintained a good attitude in these matters of paperwork, and I would like to get past the initial crustiness, or whatever it was that I encountered, and see if I can learn more about his better side.

* * * * *

October 21, 11:27 AM – Where’d Everybody Go?

The terrible trio (i.e., Brenda and the two Chinese members of the juvenile justice group in my Asia class) have recently posted updates on their ever-more-complicated PowerPoint presentations, and Brenda has actually offered four curt sentences (presented as points 1, 2, 3, and 4) in response to my requests for feedback. This, I hope, signals that the tide has begun to turn. So I have just sent this message to them:

Hi, all . . .

I feel like I was at a bus stop with a bunch of people, and I bent down to tie my shoe, and when I stood back up, everybody was gone. You know, like somehow I missed something really big and obvious.

No, wait. I have a better analogy. One time, I went sledding with my girlfriend, after a winter snowstorm. This girlfriend was a rather strong woman. Not a small person. So I slid down the hill, and that was great. She was afraid, but I stood at the bottom and said I’d catch her. So she climbed on the sled and took off toward me. And, you know, as she got closer, I saw that she was really flying. I thought to myself, wow, if I try to stop her, I could wind up with two broken legs. So as I pondered this, it seemed that the only thing I could do, under the circumstances, was to just step out of the way. So she went sailing into a trench. Thank God nothing got broken and nobody got killed. I think it’s hilarious now, but I can tell you she was not too happy with me at the time, and of course I felt like a schmuck for promising something I couldn’t deliver.

So I learned not to imagine that I can stand in the way of a locomotive. Just wait for it to come to a stop. Then, if necessary, it’s safe to stand there and argue with it.

Ray

I’ll see Brenda in class tomorrow. It’s fall break week, but not for that class. The first group is doing their presentation tomorrow. Hopefully this will bring my teammates back to Earth, and they will begin to think in terms of how we will actually develop an interactive and engaging presentation.

* * * * *

October 21, 11:51 AM – The Goal Statement: It’s a New Day

I’m working on the Social Policy-related goal statement for Sandra. It’s going pretty quickly. It should. This is a much more familiar area for me.

When Sandra sees this nice, canned, one-page document, which may meet all of her requirements in the first draft, she will probably think that I was holding out, just giving her a hard time, and that I could have written something like this all along. It’s not so. I really don’t know my ass from my elbow in Community Organization. I still don’t know what I needed to write to satisfy her. But, you know, she was the one who encouraged me to try something new. If she’s going to offer that kind of advice, she ought to back it up with some support – with specific and timely responses to relevant questions.

I still don’t know why Dr. Lorna offered to meet with me, and then didn’t reply when I tried to take her up on that, though of course I can always speculate.

But whatever. We’re moving on.

Oh, by the way, Dr. Lorna is not actually a Doctor. I’ll keep calling her that in this blog, to minimize confusion, but she’s actually just an MSW.

* * * * *

October 21, 1:33 PM – Running!

Perfect autumn day. Temps in the mid-60s. Brilliant blue sky with cirrus wisps. Trees in glowing yellow and orange, and even some reds. Ran down to the river. Wait, let me Google Earth it. . . . 1.7 miles from here to the far side of the river? Didn’t realize it was that far. Ran east along the river this time. There’s a park and a bunch of islands connected by footbridges. Still doing my slow, slow trot, but sometimes forgetting and starting to speed it up again. Four miles, total, with barely a whisper from the calves. Nice!

* * * * *

October 21, 1:59 PM – Moving On?

Just got this from Sandra:

This looks good and I would not suggest any changes. I would like to have a conversation about your change to Social Policy. Before I can sign off on your change in method, I need to make sure that I have a placement opportunity to offer you. Please do a sort from the placement listings and give me a selection of 5 or 6 and I will start taking a look at them. Once you develop your list, make an appointment and let’s talk.

I sent her back a list of seven places, and told her my schedule is pretty much open.

I don’t know why she wants to meet with me about the change to Social Policy, when she was OK without much of a discussion of my contemplated change to Community Organization. Especially since I’m a lot more familiar with Social Policy than with Community Organization. Seems backwards.

She wants to make sure she has a placement to offer me before she will sign off on the change to Social Policy. But she was OK with the change to Community Organization without knowing whether she would have a placement to offer me.

She needs to talk to me before she’ll know if she has a placement for me. She won’t know what kind of placement I want by just looking at my goal statement, and won’t be able to find out whether she has a placement for me by just calling the seven places on my list. But she was able to refer me to Kids Agency without any of that, just because they had an opening, almost at random.

This is really feeling like a game.

* * * * *

October 21, 8:45 PM – Scheduling Is Not My Strong Point

I went running out of the apartment at 4 PM and raced off to the movies. It was my first visit to this town’s dollar theater. Saw District 9. Highly recommended by viewers, and justifiably so. Came walking out into the lovely evening. Got in the car and drove to the SSW. I just planned to come back home by way of the university; I needed a book from the library.

Went into the SSW. Headed for my folder to see if I have anything there – and whom do I see in the hall, but Stephanie and Alice from Dr. Krishna’s class. What are the odds of that – all three of us being in the building at the same time, during our week off? I have been emailing Stephanie, trying to set up a date when we can interview each other for Dr. Krishna’s assignment, due next week. I say to her, “Are you going to be around here for a while longer?” She and Alice laugh, and she says, kind of sarcastically, “No, we were going to just leave now.” Not sure quite what’s up with her, but I beg off and make a dash for the folder.

My thought processes begin to function. I pass another woman in the hall. I say, “Excuse me, but isn’t this fall break week?” She pauses and says, “Well, uh, fall break was Monday and Tuesday.”

And then here’s Sandy, another older student, who says, “Is that who I think it is?” and comes up and gives me a big hug. She laughs when I tell her that I thought this was still fall break. She starts talking about something or other. I feel like I’m having a sort of in-body experience – like I was previously somewhere else, but now I’m back, I think.

And then it’s time to go “back” into the classroom, where Mark and Dr. Krishna and Mohammed laugh at my story. Dr. K does his relaxation thing, lights out, and this time it actually works, or maybe he was just putting me to sleep. So then I know I am definitely back in my body, here in a SW classroom. And goodbye, fall break. It was fun while it lasted.

So to sum it up, a funny thing happened this evening. When I went into the SSW to pick up a book, I was in the middle of my fall break week; but by the time I came out 90 minutes later, I had attended the second half of Dr. Krishna’s class, which is where I was supposed to be just about the time the aliens were starting to win in District 9.

* * * * *

October 21, 10:50 PM – Dr. Krishna Miscellany

I’m feeling somewhat more welcome in Dr. Krishna’s class. It didn’t feel like a cheerless place tonight. Sadly, that does seem to be the feeling, these days, in the fun professor’s class.

Mohammed said I didn’t miss much in the first half of tonight’s class. Towards the end of class, Dr. Krishna took us all down to the therapy suite. There, he did another role-playing therapy session behind the one-way mirror with Shelly, the talkative fiftyish blond, while we all watched. I think he wanted to wrap up loose ends from last week. Yet she keeps bringing out new material, telling more things about her life. I think he wants to put a lid on it. My alarm bells are going off as she talks. I’m thinking, you can’t tell those kinds of details about yourself in a room full of SW students. But she seems to be OK, so far. It looks like these young female classmates may be growing fond of her. Or maybe she’s just stirring their therapeutic impulses.

I think maybe she talks so much just because she’s nervous, because this is hard for her, being back in this place with all these young people, and she is just a person who puts it out there, communicates what she’s feeling, which would be great if all social workers had that kind of orientation. I feel a little sheepish about being impatient with her for talking too much. I’d rather have it her way than the other way.

Mark may be 40, but he’s got the rhythm of the class. When he says something, he has the voice of experience. He comes across as really calm and levelheaded. This is the kind of guy who can be a guy, I’m thinking, and still be accepted in an SSW. Like Paul; not like Thomas. I dunno; maybe those 15-20 years of difference in age between Paul and Mark, on one hand, and Thomas or me on the other, are substantial enough that those guys still seem familiar or appealing to these young women, whereas Thomas and I are just too old.

* * * * *

October 21, 11:57 PM – Conspiracy? Naah. Well, maybe.

SW professors are inveterate gossips. Therefore, I have to assume that people at this SSW has been talking with people at SSW1 and/or SSW2 about me. And if that surmise is justified, it means that they know, here, that I have filed a complaint against SSW2 with the U.S. Department of Education. This thought prompts me to review the situation with Sandra.

At this moment, it feels like Sandra has been stringing me along, in a make-believe search for an internship. The only interview she has gotten for me so far has been at that place an hour away, that supposedly took a week to respond to the materials she sent them about me, and that was not going to be able to meet with me until another week had passed, and that I didn’t ask her to connect me with in the first place.

Dr. Lorna made a show of being concerned and, if necessary, available, but did not respond when I actually took her up on her offer to meet with me, did not respond to my question about switching field liaisons, and does not seem to have done anything to move this matter along.

So I am concerned that Sandra will invent some new excuse to delay the matter further. For instance, she might pretend to search long and hard, and only belatedly find a possible internship, and send me to a place that will, again, delay as long as possible and ultimately decide they don’t want me.

You know the saying – just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they’re not out to get you.

I have to assume that my act of filing a complaint against SSW2 with the Department of Education would be received as a horror story here. An admissions official at SSW2 once let me know that a transfer applicant who had filed suit against his/her previous school would be denied admission at SSW2. She didn’t express any concern about whether the lawsuit might have been justified. Whatever their ethical principles may say, social workers tend to favor institutions and powerful individuals against those who lack power. For instance, Sandra plainly jumped on Stanley’s bandwagon without exercising much critical thought.

I only filed the complaint against SSW2 in the later part of the summer, and I kept mum about my plans to come here, so probably there wouldn’t have been any comparison of notes between these schools until September. But once Sandra and Dr. Lorna decided that I was a Problem, it would be likely that these social workers would start looking into my background for signs of Trouble, and would then have a meeting to discuss my case.

Now, it is possible that this would explain why my role-playing group, in Dr. Krishna’s class, was the first one that he listened to last week; this could also be why he was taking notes while listening to me, as I pretended to be a client. He didn’t seem to be taking notes while listening to other students. My group sat in the back corner of the room, which was not an obvious place for him to start.

I know there’s a good chance that this is all circumstantial trivia. I just don’t know how good that chance is. We’ll have to see what the meeting with Sandra brings.

I did get a letter from the Department of Education today. It’s a fairly thick envelope. Six pages, I would guess. I haven’t opened it. I need to be able to sleep tonight and function tomorrow. I’d rather be curious about it now, and irritated later, than the other way around.

* * * * *

October 22, 9:53 AM – Thursday – Asia Class

Just got out of the Asia class. The first group presented. They just basically ran through a bunch of PowerPoint slides. The professors said they wanted interactive presentations, but there was very little audience participation during it, and very few student questions afterwards. The instructors asked almost all of the questions. Oh, and the volume level on the Asia side still seemed to be turned up all the way; we were still getting that distortion.

The instructors seemed to be impressed. They said the first group did a very good job – that this is a tough act to follow. I know they did a lot of work – it’s obvious in their PowerPoint slides – but hopefully we can do better than that in terms of actually putting ideas into play and provoking class participation. I don’t know if students actually learned much in there today.

Came down to the library, fired up the computer, and what do I have but an email from Sandra, offering to meet me at 10 AM. Glad I checked the email right away.

* * * * *

October 22, 10:51 AM – Lovely Meeting with Sandra

Well, we were just the picture of personableness, Sandra and me. We talked for 40 minutes. Nice, friendly exchange, little stories about our various experiences, etc.

She made a list for herself of the things I’m really looking for in an internship. We excluded some things, like rewriting a policy manual. I groaned when she mentioned that possibility. She began by asking me to explain my interests in Interpersonal Practice, then Community Organization, and now Social Policy. She seemed to understand and accept my explanation. So then she set to work on developing that list.

One thing that seemed to resonate with her was when I offered the example of an executive assistant job I had one time. I said the CEO of the organization asked me to look into some things that were changing in their industry, and assess how the organization was doing in terms of keeping up with this changing picture. I did that. Some of the organizational problems that I identified seemed to emanate from the executive suite. My boss didn’t like that. “They fired me,” I told Sandra. “Of course they did,” she replied. But she also went on to describe how she, herself, had once had a male executive assistant who had challenged and disagreed with her. Apparently they worked out a good working style with each other; she said his views had been very helpful.

She related that to the situation with Stanley at the agency. She seemed to see that whole go-round from a different perspective, now that I had brought to mind her own experience with someone who had apparently been a bit like me. I told her that of course I don’t want to get fired, but I do want to focus on developing the skill of looking at a problem and saying, “Hey, that’s a problem,” not pretending it’s not there in order to make some dysfunctional person or group happy.

Near the end of our meeting, Sandra said something to the effect that my maturity and education make me a bit atypical or difficult to fit into a good placement – something like that, anyway – and that she wants to get me into a placement where I will be, what did she say, engaged or challenged. That would be great, if it actually happens. This prompted me to add some thoughts. She stifled a yawn. Our meeting was just about done.

She says she’s going to take the day off tomorrow, because she has to do site visits for the next six weeks, starting Monday, and will have no free time. I said, “Good for you.” I do believe in taking breaks. I asked her if she will be able maybe to make some forward progress on this internship search today. She said maybe.

She says the two placements that seem most suitable for me are handled by other people on her team, so she will need to check in with them and find out what’s available. Her focus tends to be in the management-type placements. Maybe that’s why she wasn’t interested in revisiting my experience at Stanley’s agency; maybe she has never had much clinical-type experience or interest.

I don’t really know why things were just so much easier today with Sandra.

It’s weird, when I write these posts. I think to myself that I’ll just write a couple of paragraphs, and then it often turns out to be a whole story. I think to myself that that’s OK, because it makes it easier to keep up with the story later – I won’t have to write as much, next time, and can just update what I said previously – but it seems like there continue to be new complications and unexpected developments. Not sure what to make of that. I guess I’ll just keep logging things to the extent I can.

* * * * *

October 22, 1:09 PM – Thursday Noon

Napped for an hour in the library. Strolled through the lounge at 12:20; no older students present. Grabbed a shish kebab at the place. When I got back, here’s Thomas. Talked for maybe 15 minutes at the top of the stairs, above the library entrance. Mark came by, so we did introductions, and then I followed him into the library. Now I’m doing a chat with one of the students in Asia. She wants to know what my little story about sledding meant. She seems receptive to the idea of getting the class more engaged. This is a major coup; she has been cranking out the PowerPoint slides faster than anyone else, I think. It’s like converting the Pope.

* * * * *

October 22, 6:38 PM – Beer

Rainy, drizzly early evening. 48 degrees. Went for a run: T-shirt and shorts, as usual. Passed another guy doing the same thing. You gotta condition yourself.

Not eating properly makes me want beer. I think my brain knows that this is a rapid source of energy. And then the other part of my brain says, whatever, let’s get in the car and go to the store. Which I can do, even though it’s only Thursday night, because last weekend my roommate still wasn’t inclined to go to the store as late as Sunday, so I finally just went by myself. So maybe it’s not all that much of a time-saver for him to ride along with me instead of taking the bus. Maybe he goes with friends and enjoys that. Or maybe he doesn’t want to impose on me; I’ve been finished with my shopping before he is, each time so far. I guess, for now, if he wants a ride, he’ll ask.

Social workers don’t usually have many favorable things to say about alcohol. There seem to be two reasons for this. One is that they have seen the damage that alcohol can wreak in people’s lives. Marijuana isn’t quite the same in that sense, but social workers seem not to have many positive things to say about it either.

This gets us to the other reason why social workers don’t seem to have much to say on behalf of alcohol. This is in the category of what’s politically, socially, or otherwise correct behavior. Name your Billy Sunday religious vices circa 1910 – alcohol, gambling, cursing, smoking (not sure about heroin – I believe it was legal back then) – and SW is pretty much his kind of religion. Which may naturally prompt some to be skeptical.

* * * * *

October 22, 7:02 PM – Good Session in the Fun Professor’s Class

I think that conversation with Sandra this morning gave me hope. I felt, or wanted to feel, that everything is fine, there is no game going on at all, that’s just my imagination, I am accepted and even appreciated here, I have a lot to add, etc. Also, it was nice to think that I will be able to graduate – that I’ll have an internship and will be able to put in the required number of hours.

Or maybe it was just that I went to a movie last night and had a bit of a fall break. Or maybe I was in a good mood from that weird dream I had last night. Don’t remember much about it. It wasn’t even that upbeat. It was just interesting. My ex-wife was in it, but now she was speaking to me. Sort of. Not too friendly, but at least speaking. My brother was in it. It seems like all kinds of people were in it. It involved some parties. That’s all I can tell you. Maybe it was just good to see some familiar faces.

Today, for the first time, apropos of nothing, the fun professor asked the people with laptop computers to please put them away. I had only taken mine to class a couple of times, and that was a while back. There’s no point. There’s no exam, and she hands out printed copies of her PowerPoints at the start of each class. Most of the notes I write are for this blog or for things I have to do or other personal stuff. I write those notes in a scrunched little scrawl on a sheet of paper, using all kinds of obscure abbreviations that would be hard to interpret even if I wrote them on the blackboard. I don’t want to display those notes on a nice, clear LCD monitor for the person sitting next to me to read. Not yet.

The person sitting next to me today, on one side, was Rachel. Rachel is a quiet little Christian wife. On the other side of me sat Lucretia MacEvil. There was a blank chair between me and each of them, so I had room to spread out. The three of us talked about religion during the break. I told them about how I knew a Christian guy at SSW1 – actually, I knew a bunch of them – who found the process of SW education to be hostile to their religious beliefs.

Well, on one level, I’m not very supportive of their beliefs either. But what I decided, back then at SSW1, was that if they’re going to let these Christian students into their program, they can’t then proceed to treat them as second-class citizens. These are our professional colleagues. Let’s not go out of our way to treat Aminah with special respect just because she’s exotic, while treating these plain old Christian white people as though they were nothing special. They are special, even if their religious beliefs are daffy.

So now that we had discussed religion during the break, I was all primed to do the Lord’s work during the second half of class. The fun professor gave us handouts that listed all kinds of anxieties, obsessions, and compulsions. One of the categories was religious obsessions. One of the behaviors listed as an obsession, under that heading, was “Excess concern with right/wrong, morality.” I agree that there can be too much concern with right and wrong, or with anything else. But I don’t think we should be in the business of telling people how to practice their religion. When I nibbled at that thought out loud, Aminah raised her hand and volunteered how there are some Muslims who go overboard on various aspects of their faith. So I said, right, it seems like the question of whether people are going overboard needs to be decided within a cultural framework, with reference to how other people of their own faith behave – not just with reference to what’s considered normal in mainstream American culture.

Next, Lucretia role-played the part of someone who has bipolar disorder. (Yeah, class was a bit jumbled, but it was interesting.) Lucretia said she uses alcohol and drugs during her down moods, and engages in risky sex and is otherwise a bad girl during her high-flying moods. She wasn’t a very good actress. I think she basically has no idea of how bad girls behave. I’m not complimenting or criticizing that, just stating the observation. Although, with those eyes, she is definitely trouble.

The fun professor talked about how kids need to learn to be apart from their parents so that they won’t have separation anxiety. She seemed to think it was weird that some families would raise their kids in such a way that they need to be with each other. I’m not sure that’s bad. This, too, seemed to be a culture-based judgment. But I didn’t say anything. Interestingly, Lucretia corrected the fun professor: she is not “white,” she said; she is European-American.

The fun professor also talked about farting. It was just another of the occasional, amusing tangents she goes off on. She was talking about how some people have a compulsion that causes them to think of, and treat, ordinary bodily functions as though they were bad or disgusting. She told us about people who feel they could not accept a potential boyfriend or girlfriend who farted in their presence. “In fact, I’m farting right now,” she said. Everybody laughed, and this launched us on a most edifying discussion in which classmates testified as to their fear of peeing in someone else’s house because it makes noise that everyone can hear. Henry volunteered that this is the purpose of the bathroom fan: it is a noisemaker, a generator of white (excuse me, European-American) noise that overrules such ill-favored gastrointestinal rumbles. He didn’t quite say it that way, but you get the idea.

We talked about other things. The fun professor says that she always just gives clients a GAF score of 70. We aren’t too sure what that means, and I guess that’s OK; I don’t think the professor is too sure either.

I participated more in class today, and that felt good. There were a couple of students whose stony facial expressions did not exactly encourage me to talk. But I was expressing my thoughts concisely, and they were quite relevant. For some reason, I was inclined to notice the positive expressions and other forms of feedback that I was getting from several of the others.

It seems like the fun professor is getting the class to open up a bit more. Or I guess it’s not actually her doing; it’s not like we’re doing icebreaking activities at the start of each session. I think it’s just that we’re very slowly getting to know one another. Too bad they don’t have lunch hour or homeroom in graduate school, where you’d have a certain time of day when you would enjoy an enforced bit of exposure to each other.

I stayed inside during the midsession break because, for possibly the first time, it occurred to me that the break would be a good time to talk to the fun professor. I think we built up a bit of a rapport. At least she gave me her bag of pretzels after class, when nobody else wanted it. (Yeah, she brought pretzels for us. She and Dr. Krishna bring something every week. He usually brings little chocolate bars.)

* * * * *

October 22, 7:58 PM – The DSM

When we talk about mental disorders in class, we’re referring to the “Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders” (DSM) published by the American Psychiatric Association (APA). The DSM pulls together the official mental disorders into one volume. The decisions about what counts as an official mental disorder are based on theory and research into the many kinds of normal and abnormal mental behaviors that people exhibit.

So, for instance, manic-depressive (i.e., bipolar) disorder is in the DSM, and so are schizophrenia, eating disorders, specific phobias (e.g., fear of heights), and so on. A lot can change in 20 years, though, so the next edition of the DSM may be quite different. But I would guess that the old standbys (e.g., major depression, schizophrenia) will remain roughly the same.

Typically, a DSM disorder requires the client to meet a bunch of criteria. So, for example, the obsessions in obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) apparently have to involve persistent and seemingly uncontrollable thoughts that cause considerable distress and/or disruption of daily living. That’s what was presented in class today.

It’s fun to think about which of your friends or family members can be diagnosed as having what mental disorder. But you have to be careful with this stuff. You could be sticking a label on someone that they really don’t deserve. For instance, going back to the religion example, what if the person is a religion nut, but his/her behavior is based on a rational reading of the Bible or other scriptures? There’s a difference between crazy religious behavior and religious behavior that you’d have to be crazy to indulge.

Note: the diagnosing does not stop with everyone else. When you start taking courses that introduce you to the psychiatric diagnoses in the DSM, you diagnose yourself too. Remember, everybody is a client. So this week you’re studying bipolar disorder or attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder or post-traumatic stress disorder and you feel this growing horror as you realize: it’s me! That is exactly me! Or, well, not exactly. Upon closer inspection, it develops that you’re missing a couple of the essential elements of the diagnosis: your symptoms have not persisted for six months, or you do not have flashbacks, or whatever. But, wow, that was close. I was almost psychotic. There but for the grace of God go I.

* * * * *

October 22, 9:00 PM – Anxiety Disorder

One diagnosis we have studied recently: anxiety disorder. This was one that I thought I might have. I do feel anxious here. So of course I wondered what was going on when the fun professor said, today, that she knew that Beth and I had both volunteered to be make-believe clients in a role-play on anxiety disorder, where she would interview us and we would pretend to have anxiety disorder.

What made me anxious about her words was that I had not actually volunteered for that. The fun professor invented it. So what’s this about? Is she trying to hint that she thinks I have anxiety disorder? Has she already diagnosed it in me – was this an accident, on her part, where she let the cat out of the bag, gave me a glimpse of how she sees me?

Of course, there is also the possibility of dementia – that I did volunteer, and have completely forgotten doing so. Hmm . . . I’ll have to look up the symptoms for that.

Even if the fun professor herself is actually not thinking that I have an anxiety disorder, you can just about guarantee that many social workers are, in fact, on the lookout for ways to characterize you as having a mental disorder. There’s the power of diagnosis, and there is also a desire to position yourself as being normal when compared to someone who is even more screwed-up than you. Diagnosis is never positive: the best you can do is break even, if the expert decides you don’t seem to have that particular disorder at present.

One time in SSW2, I was talking to a professor, next to her open office door. Another professor came up and they started talking. While I was waiting for them to finish, I noticed that the painters had not yet removed the masking tape from her door hinges. So I started peeling off the tape. The other professor laughed and said, “You can be diagnosed for that!” I’m guessing she was alluding to Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder. Many messages there: don’t be a guy, be aware that they’re watching you, be warned that they may be inclined to talk about your disorders (and may not understand them very well), etc. As students well knew, you’d have to be crazy to admit mental problems to a SW professor.

* * * * *

October 22, 11:34 PM – I Almost Forgot ED

Oh, yeah. As this day winds to a close, I recall that I still have that letter from the U.S. Department of Education (which calls itself ED) here in this stack of papers. I put it off last night because I wanted to sleep, but that excuse is getting old. I think I will be able to sleep tonight, no matter what the letter says. I’m tired. . . .

Well, and what do you know. The Department of Education has decided to open an investigation of three of my four complaints against SSW2. This feels like a step in the right direction.

Today was a good day.

* * * * *

October 23, 2:39 AM – Piece of Work!

I hoped to fall asleep earlier. I think I can now.

I thought Sandra had not bothered to send me a follow-up email before the end of the day today. But I was checking the wrong mailbox. She did indeed send me a message.

She wants to know if I would be interested in a placement at Disability Agency. This mystifies me.

It’s got to be another wild goose chase. Hmm. I think I already considered and rejected this agency. Let me check.

No, I’m falling asleep here at the computer. I’ll have to deal with it tomorrow.

* * * * *

October 23, 5:52 AM – Up (groan)

So, obviously, I’m up early, with not nearly enough sleep. Right now, I’m not at my best, but I’m looking at our previous exchanges on Disability Agency. I am just thinking and moving really, really slowly right now.

* * * * *

October 23, 7:51 AM – Doubting Sandra

I am really confused.

Kids Agency was not on the list of preferred Community Organization agencies that I gave Sandra on October 13, that she was supposedly working on. She asked if I might be interested in working with them nonetheless. I said they did not look like a good match. I asked her for more details, though, just to be sure. For some reason, she didn’t provide those details, even when I asked again, a couple of days later.

Then she sat there yesterday and told me that it would be good for me to go to Kids Agency. That was exasperating. But I guess she finally realized that I was just not too eager to go there. So then she takes out her pen and asks what I am looking for in a Social Policy internship. The short answer is that I am looking for an internship like the ones named on the list of Social Policy internships that I gave her yesterday. But apparently she doesn’t like that list.

Instead, last night, I see in her email that she has talked to George, her colleague, and they think Disability Agency may be a good match for me. That’s nice. It was on that list of Community Organization places that I sent her ten days ago – the ones she did not contact for me. But it was not on my list of Social Policy-oriented places.

I think I am getting the hang of this. Just give Sandra a list of places where I don’t want to go, and maybe that will inspire her to send me to a place where I actually do want to go.

Let us recap. Sandra refused to set me up with a Community Organization placement until I had changed my major from Interpersonal Practice to Community Organization; then she refused to send my résumé out to Community Organization places; and now that I have changed my major again, to Social Policy, she is trying to steer me to Disability Agency, which does want Community Organization majors but does not list any openings for Social Policy majors.

It feels like one time, back in the ‘90s, when I was shopping for a car. I went to the new car dealer. The salesperson talked to me about what I was looking for, made a list of features I considered most important, seemed very interested in making me a satisfied customer. He was going to talk to the manager and research this. I went home. A day or two later, I got a call. Salesman says they are going to have a hard time giving me what I’m looking for, but they do happen to have a model on the lot that is completely different, in case I would be interested. Or if not, I can wait a while longer and they will try again.

You may share my suspicion that the alleged consultation with the manager consisted of something like, “So – how are the kids?” “Fine. We’re thinking of taking vacation in Colorado this summer.” And then the salesperson reports what the manager is willing to do for you – which is, in other words, exactly what the salesperson intended to try to sell you all along.

* * * * *

October 23, 10:33 AM – Trusting Sandra

I have just sent an email giving her the go-ahead:

Sandra – if you think this is a better match than the places on my list, please do send my materials to them today. I have only one caveat: I assume you are confident that the organization will be making a speedy decision on my submission. I do not want to send my materials there if you do not know, for a fact, that they are eager to take on an intern now.

It’s always possible that Sandra was indeed yanking me around earlier, when she first concluded that I was a bad boy because that’s what she heard from Stanley, or from one of her buddies at SSW1 or SSW2, but now maybe they’ve had a faculty meeting about me and she has heard something positive to go with the negative, and feels inspired to get me a placement after all.

* * * * *

October 23, 2:41 PM – Screwy Day

I have been napping and very inefficiently trying to get things done all day. I can function on four hours of sleep, especially if supplemented with naps. Three hours seems to be the dividing line, where the next day is pretty much shot.

I got an email back from Sandra’s colleague George, about an hour ago. He says that he has sent my stuff to Disability Agency, and the person there is usually quick to reply. He says, “I expect to hear back from her regarding an interview very soon.”

My optimism and reliance on Sandra tell me that she and/or George gave Disability Agency a rousing vote of confidence and that they are eager to meet with me. Which would be good. Enough of life in limbo, already.

I don’t know how much golf Sandra is going to be able to play today. It’s cold and rainy.

* * * * *

October 23, 3:21 PM – Dr. Lorna Replies

Just received this from Dr. Lorna:

Hi Ray–the week got away from me and I understand from Sandra that you are now changing your method to Policy and that your Goal Statement was excellent! I know she is looking to see what is available and that the two of you have been in touch. I am not sure if you still think you need/want to meet with me?

At any rate, if you do–the best way to get an appointment is to walk into the field office with your calendar and ask Dawn to find a time that works for you as she manages my calendar.

Thanks and have a good weekend!

So here is an artist’s rendition of how that conversation went:

SANDRA: By the way, I received an excellent Goal Statement from Ray.

DR. LORNA: Ray . . . Right.

SANDRA: I told you – he’s a very good writer.

DR. LORNA: I wonder why he didn’t do the Goal Statement properly in the first place.

SANDRA: He just wanted to do it his way. Some persons resist change.

DR. LORNA: So, good. Now he knows how to write a better Goal Statement. So I guess he doesn’t need me after all. I’ll drop him a line to make sure.

* * * * *

October 23, 4:35 PM – Weekly Job Bulletin

Today’s job bulletin from the SSW is much better than the previous ones. Sixteen jobs in-state; 21 jobs elsewhere. Almost all of the latter are in Massachusetts. As before, the in-state jobs are a mix of part- and full-time, salaried and hourly, requiring MSW or other graduate degree, or undergraduate degree, or high school diploma. Salaries look mostly to be in the $30K range, but there are a couple that could go up to $44K.

* * * * *

October 24, 1:02 AM – My White Male Privileges

I chatted online with the two Chinese students in the Asia group today. First one and then, some hours later, the other. First was the one who has been the organizer on their side. She goes by an English name, Laura, even though she has a Chinese given name. This is a common practice among Chinese students in English-language settings.

During our chat, Laura made a comment about white male privilege. It seems that the first step in trying to get something done with a social worker is, often, to address his/her discriminatory beliefs. It’s tiresome.

I mean, in the real world, where is my privileged advantage? Not some other guy: me. I don’t have savings or wealth. As an out-of-state student, I am paying more than most of my classmates for this year in the SSW, even though my own income and that of my family of origin would almost certainly fall into a lower stratum than most of theirs. I don’t have parental financial support. As an older guy, I am going to have a harder time finding a job after graduation. These days, men have been losing their jobs at a much higher rate than women. As a white male, I don’t qualify for the SSW’s scholarships, which go to female and minority students.

I was talking with an out-of-state female classmate the other day. Her year in this school is, she says, about 90% paid for by scholarships and grants.

Unlike my female classmates, I am fair game for derogatory gender-based comments and beliefs within the university. I would say jokes too, but nobody seems to tell jokes anymore, at least not in the SSW.

Out in the big wide world, if a woman yells at me, there’s a good chance that someone in the vicinity will try to find out if I’m causing problems; whereas if I yell at a woman, there’s a good chance that someone in the vicinity will try to find out if I’m causing problems. If she chases me, other guys may well try to grab me, which they will also do if I chase her. My odds of marrying into better financial resources are not as good as hers – except if the guy she chooses to marry happens to be me. But in that case, if we divorce, she is usually pretty certain to get the kids. In all events, I’m far more likely to die of suicide, and to die younger. I could go on.

I am relatively aware of the problems that women and minorities face. I don’t need my nose rubbed in it to get the message.

At a certain point, people on the receiving end are apt to lose their sympathy for the cause – indeed, their faith in its rightness. It’s not a matter of wanting to recover vanishing privileges of male whiteness. I’m not asking to be paid more than women, to be given opportunities they don’t have, or anything of the sort. I’m asking for the same treatment that I would get, in this class and in the SSW, if I were, say, an African-American female.

* * * * *

October 24, 1:29 AM – Power in the Asia Class

After chatting with one Chinese member of the Asian group in the morning, I chatted with the other in the evening. This one, who uses the English name of Annie, said I seemed to be proceeding backwards, when I suggested having the big picture in mind before spending hours on PowerPoint slides. She had been fun and friendly before, but now she seemed much more negative. Maybe she didn’t like my locomotive metaphor. People are capable of feeling offended, if you dare to point out that they have run over you.

By now, I really don’t know where they’re all headed. They are not happy with me because I am failing to add still more PowerPoint slides. We’re in this Asia class in order to have an international collaborative experience. We are doing our bit to improve global cooperation. It’s typical for a SW analysis: focus on obvious, often simplistic differences among people, such as skin color, sex, wealth, or national origin.

But meanwhile, on the cutting edge, differentials of power and favor are forever creeping back in, sliding under the door in new forms that SW doesn’t want to acknowledge or address. In the present example, our group shows that people of any kind will abuse power when they have it. For purposes of using and abusing power, women tend to be more or less the same as men, and likewise with blacks and Asians and whites. When people sort themselves into groups, those with the most power do tend to exclude and subjugate the rest. They create advantages for themselves. And if you try to talk to them about it, they generally don’t want to hear it.

* * * * *

October 24, 8:08 AM – She’s Right

That’s the secret for a long marriage. If you disagree with your wife, she’s right. Not that she really is, but you may as well just let her think she is.

Putting it that way sounds patronizing. But this is what I’ve heard from guys who’ve been married 50 years and more. It’s probably best, though, if it’s practiced mutually and sincerely. Nobody is right all of the time, but we all need to be right sometimes.

I raise it because it occurred to me, this morning, that this could explain why Sandra was so sociable the other day. It now seems that, as with the advisor, I just needed to figure out what she was being right about, and just go along with that; and once I did, I was being a good boy again.

When I switched to Community Organization, Sandra suddenly became much stricter on what she would accept as a goal statement. The two-page version was no longer acceptable, and yet she would not help me understand how I could do what she had said I should do in a third paragraph that would fit on one page.

Now, I think, I see the signposts I missed at the time. I thought she just wanted an improved Community Organization goals statement. The fact is, she didn’t believe I belonged in Community Organization. “You were struggling,” she says. She didn’t want to demystify the situation for me; she was content to let me struggle, let the weeks pass until I went in a direction she preferred. When I finally gave up and switched to a Social Policy major, I was able to write a much more canned (i.e., “professional”) goal statement – because it was an area in which I was already experienced, and therefore (ironically) didn’t need an internship. She was “right” about my fit with Community Organization; it was just a question of how long I would need to figure that out. Now that I have figured it out, I am no longer questioning her rightness, and that makes it easier for her to revert to her preferred, sociable self.

By the way, in writing the third paragraph of the Social Policy goals statement that she liked so much, I completely ignored her advice to check the Skills Inventory for a set of skills that I want from my placement. Indeed, the third paragraph hardly even mentions anything that could be considered a skill. Nonetheless, Sandra was willing to send out this goals statement to an agency almost immediately.

* * * * *

October 24, 8:43 AM – Learning in the University

Sandra and I would learn a lot if we revisited the history of this thing. We won’t, and that’s too bad. It could be a great learning experience. We won’t, because universities are focused only on a certain kind of learning: the kind that is fun for your professor, because it puts him/her in charge.

The quick test of this is to go into your classes and ask your professors what they would like to learn from you. I can assure you that it doesn’t matter whether you’re 18 or 54, or how many degrees or other experiences or credentials you have. Most professors will find it amusing, strange, or even offensive that you would think you have things to teach them.

They may say that’s not true, if you put it straight to them in those terms. So, OK, try it a different way: during the semester, just use the same kinds of phrases that the prof uses to you: “You may need to do some more work to master this point.” “One thing that is important for you to learn is . . .”

Even if I had nothing to teach Sandra, she could still learn. She doesn’t have to learn from me; she could learn with me. We might both have learned from the mere act of sitting down together and trying to figure out what went wrong during this past month. But actually learning from it would have required a willingness to be truthful about the games, and to admit one’s mistakes, and that just ain’t happening.

* * * * *

October 24, 10:17 AM – Who’s Right in the Asia Group?

To finish the thought:

The whole matter of letting the woman be right comes to mind, this morning, as I ponder the Asia group. Here’s how things stand on our presentation, which is taking place five days from now. We have two completely distinct PowerPoints. The three Asian students have nine slides that are prepared in one style, with a certain typeface, background, etc. – a dramatic reduction from the 17 slides they had previously, by the way – and Brenda has 20 slides that are prepared in a completely different style. The slides do not seem to address the same subjects, nor proceed in the same order. There has still been no comment on the video and the sample of six slides that I prepared to illustrate how I would merge their presentations.

The learning approach they are taking is to master the subject first, and then figure out how to present it. The priority of our professors (who are writing an article on our experience), however, is to use the video technology to achieve seamless interaction between two classrooms halfway around the world from each other. Developing two distinct PowerPoints that are heavy on the substance but neglect the collaborative process is, to use my Asian colleague’s term, backwards. It misses the point of the course, from the professors’ perspective; it is precisely what the professors said they did not want us to do.

I just got an illustration of how our collaborative process is faring. A little while ago, I was on the website, looking to make sure I had the latest versions of the PowerPoints described above. One of the Chinese students was online. She said the three Asian students were getting together to chat about their side of the presentation. She didn’t invite me to join them, and was slow to respond to my chat entries. Finally, she said I could just ignore them as they had their discussion. I took the hint and said no, I didn’t need to be logged in to the group; I was just passing through. Just email me if you need me, I said, and then I logged off. They haven’t emailed me.

* * * * *

October 24, 3:30 PM – They’re All Right

Nice phone conversation with Brenda. She’s watching football on the tube while making more PowerPoint slides. She says she’s frustrated with the Asia class too. Taking waaaay too much time, she says. I volunteered to do the wrap-up parts that she’s working on, but she said she wants to do it and then post it on the website and wait for feedback from Asia. I’m thinking, yeah, good luck with that.

It’s news to me that she is so frustrated. In the online chat, she has really seemed to be in agreement with what the Asian students – Laura in particular – want. Message to me: never assume unanimity among individuals. Most of the time, everybody is thinking different things, even if they don’t show it.

But OK. The American game plan seems to be to punt. In other words, I’m thinking the folks across the pond will be more attuned to teamwork as the clock winds down toward game’s end. We’ll see how the quarterback feels 48 hours from now.

I have almost talked Brenda into the anarchist approach, which entails going into the classroom and letting things unfold naturally. Not everyone can do this, but we are trained professionals.

Oh, by the way, she was floored when I gave her a brief version of the story of what happened at Stanley’s agency. She says this is way more entertaining than her internship. I know. It’s my life. I should charge admission.

* * * * *

October 25, 5:48 AM – Brenda’s Group Interaction Style

Nice sleep. It’s good.

I must have been thinking or dreaming about Brenda during the night, because I woke up with a sense that I understand something that had puzzled me about her behavior in this group. She has done the same thing twice now: go along with an extended discussion that seems just the opposite of what we had previously decided – and then, when someone else suggests doing what we had previously decided, she says, “I thought that’s what we originally decided to do.”

I guess the point is that she really avoids conflict. So if the person who seems to be leading the group discussion takes us in a strange new direction, she goes along without complaint, and pipes up only in agreement, as a follower rather than leader, when someone else says that we seem to have changed direction.

In a sense, I guess, I have been avoiding conflict too. Not in her way, though. When everybody ignored my introductory draft of a proposal for how we might merge the Asian and U.S. PowerPoints, I guessed that there had to be some kind of side conversation going on, or some shared rejection of me based on gender, or something that would explain why they were all mysteriously sidelining me. So instead of going along, as Brenda did, I disconnected from the group or, as I would put it, I stopped and waited at the point where they started down the dead-end trail.

That approach has helped to minimize my time commitment. But maybe I missed an opportunity there. What I could have done, had I been determined to make this thing go my way, was to not be intimidated by the seeming group nature of the sudden new direction, and check with Brenda individually.

I’m not sure this fully explains what was going on. I did repeatedly ask for feedback, and didn’t get any at all from Brenda. Maybe she really did have to get to the point of frustration with so many slides, so much material, and, as she sees it, so many changes of direction from the Asian women.

* * * * *

October 25, 4:56 PM – Sunday Afternoon Progress Report

This morning, I ran. Temps in the 40s, just a bit of mist. I was cold for a little while, but I stuck with the short steps and slow pace until I got warmed up. Today’s run was a tour of this part of campus, including some indoor stretches down long corridors. Found the audio/video editing lab. I might go over and hang out there once or twice, just to remind myself of what it’s like to be around creative people.

Right now, I’m gazing out over our version of a village square, here in grad student housing. The buildings are laid out around an area maybe half a city block across. A while ago, the little kids were out there with their parents, everybody carrying around pumpkins and then lining up for a big photo shoot. Maybe 20 or 30 children and about as many parents.

I keep a video diary of sorts. It really just amounts to pulling out the video camera now and then, when I think of it, and recording some images in my vicinity. So I grabbed the camera and videotaped all those parents and pumpkins and kids. It looked like they were having fun. I had to turn out my room light and videotape from a darkened room, because somebody at SSW2 told me that you can be questioned and maybe prosecuted if anyone sees you videotaping kids. I guess the idea is that we don’t want perverts to have stuff that they can use to be perverted with. I’m not sure how much sense that makes.

My roommate was going to go to school, got dressed up and walked out and across the square, but his Chinese friends didn’t let him escape. Most of those pumpkin-loving kids and parents are Asians; Asians seem to be the primary users of grad student dorms and such. I think they just don’t want to risk getting wrapped up in the screwiness of American laws and landlords and such. The university is usually not going to exploit them in unexpected ways, so it’s safer to just use student housing. As at SSW2, the Chinese students have their own ghetto, such as it is; most seem to speak Chinese whenever possible, even after years in America.

So anyway, the roommate came back, a few minutes later, with a pumpkin and a printed pattern for how to draw a jack-o-lantern face on it. He showed me the pumpkin and the pattern. I said, Oh, yeah, that’s great, and went back to loading up my TV tray with consumables. I think it might have surprised him that I wouldn’t join in on the American holiday celebration. We tend not to be quite as unified in these things as the Chinese. It belatedly occurred to me that he may have thought that I would want to carve it with him. I don’t know. I just saw him disappear into his bedroom with a knife.

* * * * *

October 25, 9:38 PM – Networking with the Boss

Assistant Dean Sean Hennessy has sent me an invitation to join his network on LinkedIn, a social networking site. So the perennial question: do you invite the boss to your party? Could be great or a nightmare. But which?

LinkedIn seems to be a leading business networking site. That would be, in theory, why I’m on there. But I haven’t tried to do much networking in recent years. I can’t remember why I signed up. Maybe they were running a promotion of some kind. Anyway, I’ve been on there for a while, and now Sean is there too.

So if I become linked with Sean, what’s the worst that could happen? This is a question we have learned to ask, in our study of Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT). You get the person to state what they are afraid of, at worst, and then hopefully, as the fun professor described it, they look at what they’ve just said and say, “That’s pretty crazy, isn’t it?”

So the worst that could happen would be that Sean is going to plow through my list of contacts and see who’s on there (quick check: any mental patients? well, OK, a few) and pick out those whom he might contact to talk about me. But that would be pretty crazy, wouldn’t it?

* * * * *

October 26, 10:39 AM – Paper for the Fun Professor

I have just printed out a paper for the fun professor. It was supposed to be four to six pages (double-spaced). It’s almost eight. This is asking for trouble, although less so at the master’s level (in my experience so far) than at the doctoral level.

She wanted our thoughts on a minimum of three articles. It would be possible, but not easy, to present thoughtful commentary within those limits. It’s tougher when you have serious doubts about the assigned articles. I had to lay some groundwork to suggest that perhaps I am not crazy, angry, argumentative, or otherwise deserving of exclusion if I do present some such doubts.

Meanwhile, the Asia group is meeting in the online chat room. It’s not going as I’d hoped. It started out in comical form: nobody wanted to take the lead. But they got rolling soon, and now they’re debating how to refine the current state of the PowerPoint. They have combined it into one set of 32 slides, many of which are packed with information. Remember, this is for a 20-minute presentation.

I bowed out about 45 minutes ago. I’m still logged in, and I’ve looked back occasionally, but . . . wait, let me check again . . . yeah, they’re still talking about jamming in more information. Aw, whatever. They’re having fun, I guess. It can be pleasant to pass time with a group of likeminded individuals.

So anyway, about the paper. Our grade for this semester, in the fun professor’s class, is based on three papers. The first is the one I’m hoping she’ll like, about Mockingbird Years, that we handed in a couple of weeks ago and that she has said she will hand back on Thursday. The second is the one I’m working on now. The third will be a case analysis, seven to ten pages, that we will also briefly present in class.

What I say, in this paper, is essentially that these SW articles that lecture the rest of us on how to be less privileged or stigmatizing (or whatever) are not very helpful. Their arguments just don’t seem very well reasoned. I suggest that the vulnerable persons whom these writers supposedly want to help would be better off if these SW advocates would stop the lectures and focus, instead, on the less glamorous work of reaching workable compromises and setting up a culture of dialogue rather than accusation.

* * * * *

October 26, 11:06 AM – Asia Group Chat Update

Wow, they’re still at it. More than 90 minutes now, on top of the hours and hours they have spent previously on these PowerPoint slides. To their credit, they do seem to be working collaboratively now, slide by slide. All four of them appear to be participating in the discussion. Hey, if getting me out of the picture was helpful for that purpose, that’s fine with me. At this point, just tell me what to present and I’ll spend my five minutes at it and be done.

To keep this in perspective, though, the group that went last week felt that they had spent “a lot of time” collaborating – when all they had was a single two-hour online meeting. I’m going to estimate that our group is now somewhere around the ten-hour mark. My one real comment, this morning, was that I’m still wondering about the overall presentation plan. Nobody responded.

The other thing is that, after my phone conversation with Brenda the other day, which went on for long enough to inspire me to wash the windows in preparation for winter (I was wearing a headset), I do suspect she is pulling her hair out. She vented a lot during that call. She’s got too much on her plate already. She doesn’t have time to spend ten hours, plus days upon days of reworking PowerPoint slides, for a one-credit pass-fail class. It just doesn’t make sense.

* * * * *

October 26, 12:20 PM – They’re Still At It

This place reeked last night. I went downstairs this morning and saw that apparently it was because my roommate carved his pumpkin. He did a really nice job of it. Got a pattern off the Internet and carved it out. He says he can’t put it outside now because the squirrels will eat it. I think he must mean raccoons or something – I don’t think squirrels eat pumpkins. Too big to stuff into their cheeks.

Meanwhile, I just sat down at the computer and, Lord, they’re still at it. Nearly three hours just this morning! Oh, and I want to correct my previous estimate. I bet they’ve devoted more like 12 to 15 hours online at this point, plus their many hours of offline work, each producing their own individual slides.

Reviewing the chat history, it looks like Brenda just bailed out about 15 minutes ago. At that point, the leader said, “We kinda havent settled who is presenting which part.”

I was thinking, during my run – oh, I forgot to mention, I just had a great 5.3-mile run, if I can trust my pedometer. I bought a pedometer a few weeks ago; and now that I’ve found what Google Earth says is a mile of flat paved trail along the river, I was able to take a first “step” toward calibrating it. So it looks like I’ve got a stride of about 3’10” for that distance.

So, OK, just now they’re wrapping it up.

* * * * *

October 26, 3:18 PM – Shoulder to the Wheel

My right shoulder is sore, up toward my neck. I don’t know why. I think it must be from pushing that damn boulder up the mountain, day after day, only to watch it go rolling back down again.

I’m looking at the PowerPoint that the group has assembled, and it is a disaster. I don’t know where Brenda is, but I had better try to find her. After all this work, to have a product like that . . . she may be suicidal.

I’m exaggerating, of course. It’s not worth killing yourself over. It’s not nearly that bad. It’s just a small train wreck.

It has occurred to me that maybe I am a participant in some kind of research, some kind of study, where they want to see what a person in my position will do under certain bizarre circumstances. You know, like the study where there were four people in a room, looking at diagrams where one line was clearly longer than the other, and three of them were insisting that the short line was actually longer than the long line, and the question was whether they could get the other person, poor schmuck, to agree that short was long and long was short. And of course they succeeded, else we wouldn’t have heard about it.

Alright. I am going to have to try to do something positive and undeniably creative here. I think it could be that they just haven’t ever done a presentation before, our friends in Asia, and they are freaking out and that’s why they keep completely revamping the PowerPoint. We should be thankful that the PowerPoint itself is not a living thing, being repeatedly yanked around and rearranged and shoved in different directions, because by now I think it would be suicidal.

* * * * *

October 26, 4:00 PM – Message to the Asia Group

Here’s what I sent to my colleagues in the juvenile justice group in the Asia class, a little while ago.

Dear JJ Team Members:

I am looking at the latest draft of the PowerPoint, the October 26 version. I know the Asian members have wanted to focus on accumulating knowledge before worrying about the overall plan for the presentation. So as you see, I have been lying low, not pushing the point. But now that our presentation is just a couple of days away, it seems important to start focusing on the big picture.

One thing I have been emphasizing is that we probably should not try to present everything we know. In our discussions following last week’s presentation, we agreed that just presenting a lot of material in PowerPoint slides is not a good way to engage our audience. So I suggested that we should consider distributing a printout that contains all of the information – but that, in the presentation, we should not force them to go through every last detail. Rather, we probably should focus on the high points and make sure we are keeping the class interested.

We’ve agreed that our classmates will probably not be too interested in the detailed workings of a juvenile justice system – even in their own countries, much less in another country. If they are not interested, we do not owe them a thorough introduction to it.

Right now, we have 32 slides. Some are just title slides, but others contain a lot of information – text or diagrams – and would probably require extra time to present. My rough rule of thumb is that it takes me about one minute, on average, per slide, in the actual presentation, if I am just doing a straight PowerPoint presentation without a lot of discussion.

By that calculation, we have about 50% more material than we need. And that’s if we go straight through the slides, which would be a waste of an opportunity.

The more it appears that we have an agenda and have limited time for questions, the less discussion we will get. Our classmates have all spent years in school. They know how to take a hint. So if we indicate that the PowerPoint is our guiding source, they will readily slip into a passive mode. And as we saw last week, their minds will shut off, and there will not be many questions, and not much discussion.

Let us not underestimate our subject. Juvenile justice systems may be boring, but the realities of people’s lives are another matter. The case of the 11-year-old boy who was tried as an adult, the Missouri alternative – things like these can be very provocative. We don’t need to “cover” a bunch of material. We just need to stimulate discussion.

The PowerPoint preserves an important bit of structure we agreed on earlier, which was that we don’t want to tell the whole story at once. We want to introduce the cases, and then discuss some relevant topics, and then wind up with the outcome near the end.

As we develop the presentation plan, we may want to eliminate or merge some of the diagrams that now appear on a number of slides in the PowerPoint. I suspect the class will find it easier to understand us if we choose one or two diagrams or charts, and keep referring back to those, to clarify what we are talking about, as we move through the juvenile justice process. An example of what I mean appears in the Proposed Merger illustration that I have posted on our website (Resources > PowerPoints).

These are my preliminary thoughts, in response to the current draft of the PowerPoint. If you are interested in sharing your reactions to these thoughts, that will help me to understand your concerns for the presentation.

Take care . . .

Ray

* * * * *

October 26, 4:39 PM – Dread

Uh-oh. An email from Sandra arrived in my inbox about an hour ago. No subject line. I don’t know why I would be anxious about this. I’m hoping the crisis has passed. I guess it’s one of those Pavlovian things: the email from Sandra arrives, the bell rings, my blood pressure goes up.

OK, let’s see what she says . . . woo-hoo! I have an invitation to interview with Disability Agency! I’m still in the game!

Alright!

In other news, before working up the courage to look at Sandra’s message, I fielded one from Brenda. She says, “I’ll add what I can add to the PowerPoint tonight. But after that, I’m done. Done!” I’m glad I bailed out on some of these long, long online chats. I should have bailed out of more of them. I have a feeling I’ll be pinch-hitting as we go into the ninth inning.

* * * * *

October 27, 1:31 AM – Weird Night

Went to bed around, I dunno, 10:30 PM, woke at 1. Hopefully I’m in some kind of process of returning to a normal bedtime. I know when I wake up in the middle of the night and lie there for a little while, it’s better to get up, do something, eat something soothing or go for a run, and then try again in a couple of hours. So that’s the plan now. The full moon is less than a week away, and maybe that’s related.

Anyway, here’s an email from Brenda, sent about 11 PM. She totally ignores my message, notifies the group that she has posted her updated PowerPoint slides, although she didn’t get them all done. (When I was describing the latest version of the PPT as a train wreck, I neglected to mention that that’s one reason why. Quite a few of the slides are incomplete.)

Also, an email from Marty, the lady at Disability Agency who is my prospective field instructor. She wants to schedule our interview for a week from now. So that’s another week before I can start putting in hours. Then again, she tells me that the reason she can’t meet sooner is that they’re having a Disability Fair on campus during the coming week and she has to attend a bunch of those events. She invites me to attend some of those and says I can count the hours toward my internship if I do join them. It’s a gamble that she’ll like me, but I think maybe Sandra kept steering me toward them because they’re eager or at least willing to have more interns. So anyway, we seem to be back to the scenario of attending movies (one of the kinds of events offered this week) and other such things in order to rack up those internship hours.

I did notice some of these events on the SSW’s schedule, but we get a lot of emails, and I hadn’t registered that Disability Agency was the organization in charge of those events. So it could turn out that I’ll spend a bunch of time this week going to those things. Maybe I’ll even meet her there, and we can expedite this process.

* * * * *

October 27, 8:38 AM – Disability Events

Just went through the list of disability events scheduled for this week. Some of the interesting ones occur during my classes. But there are still maybe a half-dozen that I can attend. Besides getting hours toward the field placement requirement, some of these look like they will definitely be worth the price of admission (free).

I am especially looking forward to wheelchair basketball on Friday night. I saw that movie, I forget . . . oh, Murderball . . . and I know this is not that, but that was a pretty cool flick. Marty wants me to write up a few notes on what I got out of the experience that’s relevant to Social Policy, so we can discuss them.

It occurs to me that Sandra may have steered me to Marty precisely because Sandra thinks I am damaged goods. Marty deals with disabilities, and I could be characterized as having a form of disability that prevents me from collaborating in the abuse of clients in screwed-up mental health agencies.

Maybe this is cockeyed optimism talking, but it was nice to see Marty’s email reply. Unlike these overly terse social workers whose hyper-brief messages sometimes seem designed to defeat good humor, she went on for a whole paragraph. A paragraph! In an email message! She’s, like, a regular gabfest. Anyway, I want to meet whoever it is that would adopt such a genial tone.

* * * * *

October 27, 3:43 PM – TheraPaws & Paws with a Cause

Very cool experience. Showed up at the center of campus at 11 AM. There was a dogs for disabilities kind of event. People had their helper dogs there. Two kinds of dogs: Paws with a Cause, and TheraPaws. Cutest dog of the bunch was a fuzzy little TheraPaws pooch named Misty. TheraPaws dogs go into hospitals and nursing homes to give people companionship and love. They don’t necessarily have to be trained to do anything special; they just get to be dogs.

There was another TheraPaws dog, Jerry, a larger dog. A mutt, his owner said. Jerry really liked me. We were just friends, hanging out together. Jerry had a way of putting his paw over the front of my shoe. The owner said he does that to the footrests on empty wheelchairs sometimes. When he said that, I had a weird, Sixth Sense type of feeling, like whoa, Jerry senses that I’m going to die. Didn’t faze me too much; I guess I just liked the movie.

The Paws with a Cause dogs were mostly there with their trainers. Most were golden retrievers. They live with someone for a year or so, then go off for specialized training. After that, they are ready for placement with someone whose disability calls for a dog that can help pull off their shoes or jackets, or can (as one dog demonstrated) pick up a dime if you drop it on the floor. Pretty impressive. There were two “working” retrievers there – retrievers, that is, who were no longer in training, but had already been placed with people with disabilities. One was with an older guy with a cane. The other was with a younger guy in a wheelchair.

It was really fun to be out there on the main campus walk with these dozen or so dogs and their owners and trainers. Students would come by and smile and want to pet the dogs. It seemed like the ones who connected with the dogs had their own dogs back home. They understood that the dogs were their friends. Lots of smiles, lots of positive energy.

I was standing there at one point, just standing back and watching the whole scene, and I was thinking, what a positive, upbeat kind of work. Like, if you really want to make people happy, get a dog and take it to the hospital.

* * * * *

October 27, 4:00 PM – Hearing Disability Panel Discussion

I hung out with the dog people for an hour and a half and then headed over to the SSW. When I got there, I wondered why I had done that: it’s a hassle to type up these posts in the SSW library, where people can read over your shoulder, however unlikely that may be, and have at least some chance of knowing what you’re typing about, if they do catch a few words off your computer screen. Especially when, as was the case today, there are so many users here.

The adjacent computer classroom was not being used, so I went in there and sat down at one of the computers. It was very slow. By the time it was finally ready to go, I was getting sleepy. I quit after about five minutes and went out to one of the easy chairs. There was a young woman studying at the middle of the three chairs. I asked if she would mind if I slept in the one to her left. She said no problem even before I said “sleep.” So I did. I woke myself up with the beginning of a snore after about 15 minutes. That was apparently enough for her; when I opened my eyes, it looked like she was packing up. I went back to sleep. When I woke up next time, she was gone. I don’t think I snored anymore, but no guarantees.

After an hour of napping there, it was time to get up and head over to the Student Union for the next disability event. Biked over – totally blew past another biker on the way – and found the room. Went in, sat down. This was a presentation by five people who were deaf or hard of hearing. Maybe 15-20 people in the audience. Everyone is using sign language. I don’t sign, so I had no idea what they were saying.

The members of the panel were all different. One was a guy from Gallaudet University who is, they said, Deaf with a capital D, which I think means he doesn’t speak or hear. A couple of them had cochlear implants and spoke normally. One, a woman of maybe 35, had never learned sign language and also did not have implants and was pretty hard to understand. One was a doctor, made it through med school and all without being able to hear.

This wasn’t too stimulating for me, but it had its moments. It was the kind of thing I need more exposure to, to get a better sense for why people with disabilities are so preoccupied with the terms we use, the jokes we tell, etc. These people are busting their butts to make a go of it, and then someone comes along and trivializes them. It was also interesting to see how different they all were in their attitudes, hearing-related abilities, views on deafness, and life experiences.

After the presentation, I found Marty, the lady from Disability Agency. I knew which one she was because she identified herself when she asked a question of the panel after their presentation. She was too busy to have our interview now, but we already seem to have worked out a mutual understanding that I will be doing my internship there. She told me to just notice the policy issues in these various events and we can discuss them later.

So now I’m writing this up at a computer in the food court, in the basement of the Student Union. It’s my first time to use this building for anything, sad to say. As an undergraduate, I would have been all over this campus, in and out of its various buildings on various social and administrative missions, but a student my age is kind of an alien being on a college campus, so I really haven’t been around much. But I like this place. It feels human. The whole campus feels more human than the campus at U2 did, but I’ll have to get into that later. Right now, I’m sleepy.

* * * * *

October 27, 5:56 PM – Message to Asian Colleagues

Alright. We are just about out of time. I have just sent this message:

Dear Asian Colleagues:

I do not know why you have been ignoring my communications for the past two weeks. As you are aware, I have repeatedly expressed fundamental concerns with the shape and direction of your work. I am also amazed at your repeated revisitation of matters we discussed and settled weeks ago.

For reasons I have described at length, it does not appear that your contemplated presentation will be of the quality level we have discussed. There is also an obvious problem with collaboration – which, as you know, is a key aspect of our assignment.

At this point, since you refuse to incorporate my concerns into your presentation plan, it appears that we will need to do separate U.S. and Singapore presentations. We may not have enough time left to develop a joint presentation that addresses the concerns of all group members.

Given the shortness of time, I have developed a tentative operating plan. In the spirit of collaboration, for your information, that plan is as follows: unless Niki objects, I intend to lead off with the brief Nathaniel Abraham video, as we discussed long ago. I am not sure whether I will show it all at once or will take breaks in it. Depending on my further review and on any comments Niki sends me, I/we may instead use the longer video, in which case my/our portion of the presentation may consist primarily of alternating pieces of video and discussion.

I plan to conclude with the brief Missouri video – depending, again, on whether Niki has contrary wishes. As I have explained, it may seem appropriate to shift the order of these and other contributions, depending on where the discussion takes us.

I would still be willing to work out a team approach, provided it can be done collaboratively and in a mutually respectful fashion. For that to happen, there will have to be rapid and vastly improved communications from you, including particularly your direct attention to my previously expressed concerns.

I hope that can happen. It’s up to you. If you are not willing to work with me, then I guess we will see you on Thursday.

This time, hopefully, I will get a response.

* * * * *

October 27, 9:51 PM – First Social Entrepreneurship Class

Went to the first of the five sessions of the Social Entrepreneurship mini-course. Like the Asia class and the earlier computer class, it is one credit, three hours per session. Starts tonight and goes Tuesdays and Thursdays for the next couple of weeks, and then that’s it.

The ambiance in the classroom tonight started off kind of cold. I think there were maybe a dozen of us. People sitting there, staring at the wall, waiting for things to begin. Prof walks in, talks to us about the course expectations, the meaning of Social Entrepreneurship. She has a guest speaker who has actually developed an idea that helps people and pays for itself, which I guess is what S.E. is, more or less.

I think I was one of just a few people who had done the readings. It made me more confident. I participated actively. I would sit back and wait until others said something, but then if nobody did, or if it seemed like they weren’t into it, I said screw that, I’m here for an education, and so I’d go into it.

So, for example, I asked the guest speaker what kind of person she was. People laughed at that. I think they were laughing because it was what they wanted to know too. You know, we hear that a person can just start an enterprise and change the world in some small or big way, save lives, etc., but – how? I wanted to know what makes her tick.

The prof seemed glad that I was an active participant. The other guy who had obviously done the readings was active too. Others participated to varying degrees.

We broke into small groups and talked for 25 minutes. Our group had me and another guy who was there because he faces an actual need for some entrepreneurial ideas in his nonprofit. So he and I were motivated. And then we had two other group members who just weren’t into it.

Partway through the class, I discovered that Campbell, one of the mental health interns at Stanley’s agency, was sitting behind me. I didn’t see her when I came in. Not sure why not. The students were seated at, I guess, one and a half rows of tables, and I was looking for an open seat, and wasn’t scanning the faces. But there she was. She hadn’t been very friendly at the agency. Not unfriendly; just not especially interested in whether I existed or not.

I wondered whether she was party to any bad reports about me, now that I was gone. Often, it seems, people get badmouthed after they leave an organization – especially if they’re forced out. It’s like they need to justify why they’re still there, what they’re doing right that the other person did wrong. So it was gratifying to feel like my normal self, to be joking around and asking questions and having some laughs with the class. I liked feeling that I had the possibility of getting away from that agency’s brooding mental health environment – like it was an odor that gets into a person’s clothes, and then they carry it around.

* * * * *

October 28, 1:26 AM – Asia Group – 32 Hours and Counting

Got home from the Social Entrepreneurship class, warmed up some pizza, reviewed some of the entries in this blog from a week or so ago, to see if they make sense. Tried to go to bed at 10ish, but just napped. So I’ve been up. But now I am tired and need to sleep. But first, just in case the Asia group has had a change of heart and needs urgent feedback, I need to check my email. . . .

Wow. 23 emails. Are you kidding me? Ah, but here’s what I really wanted to see. Brenda has emailed me with one whose subject line says, “Agreed.” Alright! We are going to simplify and just get this damn presentation over with.

No response from the Asia people. It’s 1:30 PM their time, and I know they’re awake because my roommate is, and he seems to still be on China time. Just now I heard him putting some rice into his rice cooker, so I guess it must be lunchtime where he is.

* * * * *

October 28, 1:29 AM – The 22 Other Emails

No wheelchair basketball on Friday night. Rats. I was looking forward to seeing that.

My advisor got an award for best article of the year. Pretty cool.

A friend has just discovered a 2006 article about Sallie Mae.

It’s time for bed.

* * * * *

October 28, 11:38 AM – Asia Class – Things Speed Up

My message to the group got some attention. First, from Laura, our colleague in Asia:

Just want to say that I really appreciate you following up on the presentation and the matters outlined in your announcements. My most sincere apologies if we have appeared in any way to rebuff your attempts to communicate with us or even to leave you out in the cold. That was never in our intentions right from the start and it still isnt so.

For a lack of a better reason and without sounding defensive, we have been quite tight for time on our end here as we juggle our jobs and the demands of school. We saw the earlier posting that came in yesterday and honestly, we werent very sure what kind of reply would be best in attending to one another’s concerns as well as in moving us forward. Although we arranged for last night’s meeting in the hope of working through the presentation flow and engagement, we were also hoping that it could provide an opportunity for us to clarify matters. Again, we apologise if we had arranged the meeting without first checking if all of us could actually make it.

I think that we really enjoyed the experience of working with you guys and attempting this collaborative piece. Your sharing and experiences have really challenged some of our thinking. I’m really sorry if we have not paid attention to the concerns that you raised with regards to how the project was shaping up. We definitely wanted the presentation to be solid, engaging and impactful. However, it was quite difficult for us to start off from the ‘how’ to present when we were not too sure of the ‘what’ we were presenting about.

We are definitely still very keen to proceed with the presentation as a team. And we definitely want to iron out any kinks in our communication. I really do hope that we could work something out and allow us to tap on each other’s strengths and expertise to do a good presentation tomorrow. More importantly, I do hope that our experience in working with one another has been a pleasant one.

Our professor has kindly arranged for us to chat together at 8 am EST. Hope that we can all make it.

See you tomorrow morning!

I also have emails from each of the two professors here in the SSW who are co-teaching the Asia class. (The students in Asia have their own instructor.) Assistant Dean Melinda responds to a question I emailed her late last night, actually about 3 AM, regarding the technical arrangements for showing video during our presentation. Then she says this:

I am going to join the chat time at 8:00 a.m. today that the instructor in Asia has convened. I was concerned when I read the note you sent to the students in Asia. I also read the response from the Asia students. I hope that your group can work out your differences in perspectives about the presentation during the chat time this morning or in other communications you have prior to the session tomorrow.

Helen, the other U.S. professor (emerita), writes this:

Ray, things have gotten messed up re tomorrow and I would very much like to have you call me or email me so that we can get things straightened out. Collaboration is always difficult, especially at a distance, etc., but the benefits far outweigh the disadvantages. I am in my office now and will be here from 1:30 to 2:30 following a noon meeting from 12-1.

So let me catch up with this much. No, actually, I’m going to have to write a reply to the Asia group, and I’ll post that here. Time is pretty tight today; I won’t be able to be as thoughtful as I would like.

* * * * *

October 28, 11:47 AM – Disability Agency – Writing Veterans

In the interests of getting acquainted with Disability Agency, I just got out of a 1.5-hour presentation, here in the SSW, put on by a half-dozen military veterans, all older and mostly from the Vietnam era, who have spent their years with psychologists and psychiatrists and who now supplement those kinds of services by writing. They all have psychiatric as distinct from physical disabilities. They said bipolar was the prominent disorder among them, though one said he was schizophrenic.

Their presentation was pretty intense. Some great ideas came up from the audience of, I guess, about eight people, almost all of whom seemed to be psychologists or social workers. Someone said they need a blog. I asked for an explanation of what purposes writing served for them, seeing how some of them presented these short, intense poems while others read (in one case, recited from memory) from longer journals and even book-length manuscripts. A guy in a wheelchair, with 25 years of experience in working with vets, had a suggestion for them, but a couple other members of the audience shut him down.*

I’m really rushing here. I’m supposed to be at another disability thing, somewhere else on campus – not sure exactly where the address is – in five minutes. That won’t happen – I still have to write a reply to the Asia group – but I’ll do what I can. But yeah, I’m rushing.

*The guy in the wheelchair suggested that the veterans should distinguish the experience of recalling the historical facts of their moments of trauma (e.g., one vet’s recollection of an incident in which he was playing chess with another soldier when the 1968 Tet Offensive began, and the other soldier’s brains were blown out, as he put it, right there while they played chess) from the experience of being superconscious of experience. I had to spend 10 minutes after the presentation talking to the wheelchair guy to understand his concept. His idea seemed to be that they can get stuck, dwelling on the facts of the past, or they can use that discovery of superconsciousness to experience the present moment differently, including the present moment’s recollection of past experience.

* * * * *

October 28, 11:56 AM – Reply to Asia Leader

I just sent this to the group. We have a chat underway at this very moment, but I wanted to put this much down for the record, in an email, knowing that the instructors may look at it. (They don’t appear to be reviewing our chat history.)

Thanks for your note. I hope I didn’t state a position on your intentions. I’d have to review my previous note to be sure, and time’s a bit short for that right now. I hope we can talk about it afterwards. Suffice it to say that I meant to be focusing on actions, not intentions. I was expressing increasingly direct and obvious concerns, and yet I was getting no response, and I do not understand why not. So I would like to talk about that, later on, and learn from that.

Moving ahead – I see that we have a chat underway. Sorry I missed the beginning at 8 or I guess 8:30 AM – I was still sleeping. Had an event to attend this morning, but hopefully we’ll make progress now. The basic idea, to my present understanding, is that we’ll surmount the technical difficulties by showing the videos at the start and end, and then go to the group discussion between the videos. I’ll address other stuff as it arises in the chat that is now underway.

When I first read the instructor’s message this morning, I was irked that she said she was “concerned” about something in my message. In SW-speak, “concerned” often means that I am a problem. I would have felt better if she had expressed “concern” after I sent that message on Monday, explaining that the situation seemed urgent from my perspective.

Looks like I’m going to miss the thing I was supposed to attend. Make that definitely. I’m definitely missing it. That’s unfortunate, but it’s after midnight in Asia and we need to be getting our act together.

* * * * *

October 28, 12:45 PM – Chat In Progress

We are chatting. They are now thinking in terms of the actual mechanics of the presentation. Christ, talk about last-minute! Not as bad as it could be. They are motivated. It is good.

* * * * *

October 28, 12:50 PM – Note from the Assistant Dean

Oh, wow. Assistant Dean Melinda sent me this message a half-hour ago. Just noticed it in my Inbox, during our chat:

I am concerned about the ways that you are choosing to be involved with your group. I was especially disappointed to see the type of messages you have recently been sending to the group. I know that you may be frustrated but the ways that you are conveying this frustration in writing seems to not be productive. I hope that you re-engage with the group members. I attended the chat meeting that was called in response to your note at 8:00 this morning and I know that you did not participate in the session. I also have heard from the instructor from Asia that you missed the session that was set for 9:30 this morning that had been originally set by the group. Please follow up with Brenda about the final plans for the group presentation tomorrow that emerged from the discussions this morning. We instructors will give your group 15 minutes tomorrow morning to finalize the presentation. We can have the class watch the video while the group meets through c-tools about the presentation.

Your other instructor and I would also like to meet with you to discuss what has occurred.

So there you are. Just as with the Stanley agency situation, the SW professor singles me out for attack. Does she know or even care what has actually transpired?

Ironically, Assistant Dean Melinda is sending me this at precisely the moment when the group is finally responding to me on the chat. She sent that one minute before I posted my brief response to the Asia group. So this is how a social worker should respond to this sort of situation, in her view: Don’t let the group develop its own capability to sort out its misunderstandings. Contribute to the scapegoating or ostracism of the disfavored member.

Interesting thing: the portion of this morning’s chat from 8 AM to 9:40 AM has been deleted. It was not available for my viewing when I logged on. So far, I have been the only one who has deleted any chats (as far as I know), and I have done so only after posting them in PDF format in the Resources > Chats section of the website. It appears that something was said in the first hour and a half of discussion that one or more instructors or students did not want me to see; I was the only one not present.

* * * * *

October 28, 1:34 PM – Tug of War

Interesting dynamic during the chat today. At one point, Laura had to step away, so it was just Brenda and me on the U.S. side and Annie and the third (non-Chinese) student on the Asian side. We were finally at the point of treating the discussion as an important part of the presentation rather than an afterthought. So here’s a brief excerpt of how that part of the chat went:

ANNIE: how much time do we need to set aside for the discussion?

ME: What do we really, really need to communicate in this presentation?

ANNIE: what did you have in mind?

ME: I dunno. We need to decide.

ME: What’s essential.

ME: That’s what we need to allow time for.

BRENDA: welllll. . . ..I think, if I’m not mistaken, this is what Ray had in his previous notes, no?

ME: Oh, probably.

ME: You know, the take‐away message: the thing they will remember a year from now.

BRENDA: or I mean announcements

ME: Open question to you: what is really important about JJ?

ME: Maybe: intercept proactively, don’t criminalize kids, save the public’s money, take a positive attitude?

3rd ASIAN STUDENT: for me its abt how the JJS [juvenile justice system] manage to achieve its goals so far. . .

ANNIE: i think (this may be my patriotism speaking :p) that i want to see what we have been doing in JJS, what is good, what can be better

ANNIE: i meant to add that our sys is pretty good (tho def not perfect)

3rd ASIAN STUDENT: to understand what is the gaps between best practice and common practice. . .

ANNIE: Hi laura. . . glad you are safe. welcome back

LAURA: hey guy..

LAURA: guys i mean..

And that was the end of that. When Laura resumed the chat, she immediately claimed to be confused and yet would not explain what she did not understand about what we had been discussing (even when I summarized it for her). Annie said, almost immediately, that she was confused too, and the third Asian student dropped back into near-silence. The discussion of our message went no further; Laura turned it back to the PowerPoint. So now, at very nearly the last possible minute, our group still did not really know what message it was trying to convey. We just had a bunch of information to lay on people.

* * * * *

October 28, 2:13 PM – Post-Chat

It’s been another two-hour chat. We were at loggerheads on the question of discussion vs. lecture style. The Asian people have wanted, all along, to stick like glue to their PowerPoints. I don’t know why Brenda has been going along with that – in the chat just now, she said she hates using PowerPoints and giving presentations and would much, much rather just have a discussion.

It’s interesting, how it has turned out. Brenda has just now played the role of the decider. Somehow, everyone wound up looking to her to decide what we should do. She proposed a compromise – we in the U.S. will do a discussion-type presentation, and our colleagues in Asia will do a PowerPoint presentation. And everyone went along with that. Did she somehow naturally gravitate toward that outcome? In other words, did her collaboration style require her to spend all those hours of work creating PowerPoint slides that she did not want to use? Interesting.

I emailed Brenda a copy of Assistant Dean Melinda’s message while we were chatting. Here’s her reply:

Oh geez. Would it help if I came along? I think by you not being there this morning, they totally ran with that without knowing the whole story.

Here’s the reply message I just sent to Assistant Dean Melinda:

I’m available to talk between now and 5 PM, if anytime in there works for you. I am certainly interested in understanding these remarks.

I’d like to hear whether she has any idea of what has happened in this group over the past two weeks.

So now, unless Melinda takes me up on my offer, I have time to write a paper that’s due tomorrow for the Social Entrepreneurship class.

* * * * *

October 28, 3:40 PM – Post-Lunch Post

I just got back from the bar down the street. I decided that I haven’t been eating enough and I should go for that old standby, the burger and fries. This was breakfast and lunch for me today. It took 45 minutes. I probably should just stick to the shish kebab shop. There, I’m in and out in ten minutes or so.

Assistant Dean Melinda will meet with me tomorrow after our presentation. Apparently my most recent message to the group has not affected her thinking.

It looks like I won’t be getting too far on that paper, this afternoon. Right now, lunch and overnight sleepiness are settling in. I’m going to nap. It’ll probably take an hour. Dr. Krishna’s class is at 5. Oh, well.

* * * * *

October 28, 10:19 PM – Chat with the Asian Instructor

Our Asia class has two co-instructors here in the U.S. and an instructor for the students in Asia. Tonight, I think the Asian instructor (English name Connie) must have been watching and hoping that I would log in to our Chat area, because shortly after I did, she did too. Here is a portion of that chat:

CONNIE: I think all of us were surprised at the tone of your posting.

ME: Why so?

CONNIE: It sounded harsh. After the presentation, perhaps we can take some time to process what happened. Hope all parties will be open to learn from the experience.

ME: Definitely. Like I say, I expressed those concerns very plainly, starting weeks ago. I take it that you and Mary did not read our chats, else you would have had a better sense of the development of the matter.

CONNIE: I’m glad to get to hear your side of the story at least for a while now. I am trying to keep an open mind on the matter. I know it’s hard for you to do so, since you would feel targeted against in the development. But hope you keep an open mind too.

CONNIE: Anyway, i’m very sorry. I need to prepare for the day now.

ME: OK. Thanks for chatting. Have a good Thursday. See you in a few hours!

CONNIE: yup, see you soon.

So it will be interesting to see if they’re serious about processing it, and if she does indeed manage an open mind.

* * * * *

October 28, 10:23 PM – Jeopardizing Their Article?

You know, I really majored in the wrong thing in high school. Or maybe junior high. I’m not sure, but somewhere I went off the rails.

I just got off the phone with Brenda. We are, like, what in the world is happening in this Asia class? Assistant Dean Melinda calls me on the carpet; Helen says that she has reviewed our PowerPoint and that it is not quite right (which Brenda knows – Laura and Annie in Asia have been changing her slides); and while I was on the phone with Brenda, Connie and I had the chat I just mentioned.

All we can guess is that our professors are freaking out at the idea that their research about this nice international collaboration is in jeopardy. It appeared, in today’s chat, that the ultimate problem was that our two different cultural systems have given us two different concepts of education. In their system, education tends to be controlled and hierarchical. In our system, it tends (or at least is supposed) to be flexible and engaging, at least at the graduate level. At least in some disciplines. (Neither Brenda nor I had pre-MSW education in SW.) So it looks like our Asian colleagues are wanting to open their classmates’ skulls and pour in their knowledge, whereas Brenda and I are wanting to engage their curiosity.

This cultural difference, if we have accurately identified it, seems like exactly the kind of thing that somebody should be writing an article about. But instead of being encouraged to explore our differences and develop a more informed understanding, I am getting leaned on. It seems I may be jeopardizing the predetermined outcome of the project by inserting messy realities.

* * * * *

October 28, 10:33 PM – Approaching the End: Conversation with Brenda

So Brenda and I spent more than an hour on the phone, and I must say, it was very nice. Half the time, we weren’t even talking; we were looking up stuff or trying to find files or, in my case, chatting meantime with the Asian instructor.

During that hour, we worked out how we are going to present the subject of juvenile justice in the U.S. We also made some pre-emptive plans in case Laura and Annie put us on the spot by asking us to discuss the U.S.-related PowerPoint slides that they invented for us.

Brenda says, “I couldn’t have been you during that chat today.” She says that there were times, during that chat, when she just had to put her head on her desk and moan; she explains that she would have gone ballistic if she had been trying to communicate, as I was trying, with these Asian classmates. But, you know, I think she probably wouldn’t have. The combined strength and weakness of her approach seems to be that she goes very much with the flow, exerting only the least amount of pressure at the last possible minute.

Now I have some minor items to prepare for the presentation. I also have a boatload of blog posts to enter here from earlier today, but I suppose those are going to have to wait until tomorrow.

* * * * *

October 29, 4:33 PM – Sorry?

I have an email from Sandra with the subject line, “Sorry.” What the hell is this? She is apologizing for something? There is no chance.

I don’t have time to process this right now – I am still not done with that paper – so I am not going to open the email until I get through with the paper and at least some of the reading for the 6 PM Social Entrepreneurship class. And actually probably not until tomorrow, because I have tentatively decided to go to the store tonight, and you know what that means: beer, and chocolate, and possibly even some Krispy Kreme donuts. It’s been more or less a week, and I’m due.

I don’t know how people get through life and keep up with all the crazy shit that happens every day, or many days. There’s so much to process, it’s so interesting and often important, and without going through the steps you really have no idea how you wound up where you did. I guess the answer is that most people just don’t have the time for that. They have to treat life as though it were, or could or should be, simple and straightforward.

* * * * *

October 29, 11:17 PM – The Presentation, R.I.P.

OK, I’m catching up from the day’s events. First thing: the presentation in the Asia class.

Arrived at 7:45 AM. Sat next to Brenda. She got on her laptop to Asia, and there seemed to be some minor usefulness in having that back channel of communication open while we proceeded.

At 8:05, we started. Showed the two-minute video I had uploaded, about the 11-year-old boy who was tried as an adult, spent 10 years in juvenile detention, got out, got caught with drugs, and is now serving up to 20 years. Then we showed the video with the Missouri, non-punitive alternative to dealing with juvenile misbehavior. We were going to save that one for the end, but we had to do this first for technical reasons related to the camera linking our classrooms in Asia and in the U.S.

So then we were on camera, and I was in the spotlight. I described a few things about the video and about juvenile justice. I had told Brenda, last night on the phone, that I was banking on getting the retired professor started up and talking. That did happen; and when it did, I tapped Brenda on the leg. We weren’t fighting it; we were ready for it. I think everyone appreciated her knowledge in this area.

So then it went over to the Asia group, and they ran through their PowerPoint slides, including the ones where they had given our 11-year-old the wrong name and had offered statements about juvenile justice in the U.S. that just weren’t accurate.

Occasionally they would flip things back to us for comment. Brenda just sat there, like a stone, not saying a word. So I fielded everything. It was fine; I was willing to do that. But between their fubar slides and our one-man-band presentation, it was truly a cluster. Brenda did jump in once at the end, and also presented a PowerPoint slide she was particularly interested in, but that was about it for her participation.

It was actually kind of funny. I wish I had set it up as a joke, because it would have been hilarious. One of our Asian classmates would refer to one of the PowerPoint slides, and it was mostly impossible to tell which slide they were referring to. So I sat there and watched our classmates flip back and forth, trying to follow the presentation: everybody on a different page; everybody mystified.

Afterwards, Assistant Dean Melinda reminded me that she wanted to speak with me in her office. I went to pee, saw Brenda by the elevator, gave her an arm-around-the-shoulder hug. She seemed demoralized.

I’m sorry it wasn’t a much, much better presentation. We all did a lot of work. It could have been a really “up” experience. But, OK, Asian prof Connie said we’re going to process it, and maybe that’s a positive outcome in its own way, assuming it happens.

I ran into Hannah in the library later in the day and asked her if we were truly terrible. She gave me a big smile of greeting, said it was obvious that we had two different presentation concepts, and said we weren’t terrible. Her smile faded and I figured my time was up. I thanked her and moved along.

* * * * *

October 30, 12:24 AM – Called on the Carpet

So I went into Assistant Dean Melinda’s office. She closed the door. I was, like, OK, here we go again. I went down this road last year at SSW2. It’s getting tiresome.

On her computer, she pulled up that message I sent to the group, where I said we were at a point of crisis, apparently I would have to come up with my own emergency plan, Brenda can join if she’s interested, but anyway there may not be enough time left to work out a coooperative presentation now.

Melinda found a lot of problems with that message. She said it was harsh, it was the kind of thing that would just destroy collaboration, it was inappropriate. She accused me of dragging Brenda into it. That was a surprise. Was Brenda playing the middle with everybody – was she telling Melinda that I was making her do things she didn’t want to do? Melinda said that Brenda and I should have responded to the Asian students’ requests to have yet another online chat. She believed that this chat would have solved our problems.

I verified that Melinda had not reviewed our previous chats. She said the chat history eventually drops away; she didn’t realize I had saved those chats as PDFs there in the course website. I kept saying that I could see how she could come to some of her conclusions if she was not familiar with what had actually happened. After I repeated this a few times, she got curious and tried to open one of them. When I said we probably had 12 to 15 hours’ worth of chats there to review, she gave up on that. She did not pause to reflect on the thought that our group might have spent 15 hours in online chat.

I was originally of a mind to just blow it off and accept that, once again, I’m dealing with a social worker with a preconceived opinion and no desire to learn things beyond her original belief, and no real training in critical thinking. But then I decided to try to get past Melinda’s initial biases and assumptions and her failure to ask questions or learn the facts before deciding.

Maybe the high point of my effort, in those regards, came when she blamed me for not expressing my views more forcefully last week or so, instead of waiting to the last minute. I admitted that that might have made a difference. But I also said I wasn’t really sure of that, because our Asian classmates ignored me even when I explicitly stated my concern at the start of this week.

When she blamed me along those lines, I explained something that, I think, gave her some pause. She wasn’t entirely ignoring what I was saying. I was having to repeat myself; I was having to stand my ground and make a forceful presentation of what I was saying to her; but when I did, and repeated it, she did seem to take some account of what I was saying.

I told Melinda that I had found SW education to be a blaming kind of enterprise. I found it ironic that she was sitting there and blaming me for blaming my Asian colleagues. I said I appreciated her advice that I should have spoken up previously, and I said I could see that there would have been some advantages in doing so. At the same time, though, I told her that my experience in law had taught me that there is almost always some excuse, some reason to find fault with what someone has said or done or implied, if you are inclined to find fault with them.

Speaking up last week, I told her, would have exposed me to the risk of being blamed for causing problems. Waiting until this week had two advantages: there was always a chance that it would prove unnecessary to make a more forceful point, and now we had the deadline breathing down our necks and could not afford to screw around anymore.

But then Melinda blamed me for that too – for playing this power role, as she saw it, of refusing to cooperate unless they did things my way. Here, again, I said I could see how she would come to such a conclusion, given that she had not read our chats and was not familiar with how this situation had developed.

There was more, but that was the gist of it. When I left her office, after maybe 15-20 minutes of discussion, it felt like she had heard some of what I had told her, but had not reached any fundamentally different impression of the situation, or of me.

* * * * *

October 30, 7:22 AM – Social Entrepreneurship Class

I got my Social Entrepreneurship paper done and submitted in time yesterday. The papers are due at 6 PM on the day of class.

In that class last night, we had our first student presentations. The prof just wants five-minute presentations on one of our papers. Three people presented. First was a guy named Josh. This week’s paper asked us to discuss some social enterprise we are familiar with or interested in, and these presenters all seemed to present what their papers said.

A little clarification on what I said previously, as I come to understand the concept better: a social entrepreneurship seems to be a business that is formed for the purpose of doing good. It’s not quite a nonprofit – it supports itself, at least to some extent, by selling some kind of product or service – but it’s also definitely not a for-profit business, because it is trying to provide that product or service at the lowest possible price, without generating profit.

Josh did a little presentation on some organization in Israel. Next up was Campbell. She hadn’t been especially friendly toward me at the agency, but apparently I am succeeding in making myself out to be socially acceptable in this class, because she is now joking with me a bit.

The third and final presenter was Alyssa, who is also in the fun professor’s class. Alyssa seems to drag through life. She’s somewhat attractive but lethargic. I think it must be medication. If that guess is accurate, it could explain why she’s overweight.

During my first-year SW internship at SSW1, a classmate said that she had earned her BSW at a smaller college that had a really good program, but had then decided to earn her MSW at the larger and more prestigious state university. “You will be surprised,” her favorite professor told her before she made the move. When she got there, she told me, it was like her classmates had been recruited from a meeting of the local Narcotics Anonymous.

I didn’t find it to be nearly that bad. Then again, I was not very cued in to medication or drug use symptoms. I did know one or two glassy-eyed classmates who took heavy meds for serious mental illnesses, and I also encountered some students whose behaviors suggested that medication might help to improve their lives. So I can’t really say if the student who criticized SSW1 was exaggerating, or if I was just ignorant on that score.

The Social Entrepreneurship instructor teaches in one of the world’s most prestigious business schools. She’s surely exposed to some very bright, creative, motivated people on a daily basis. She’s teaching this course in the SSW because, you know, entrepreneurship is a business concept, but the social variety is somewhat less so. She maintains a very positive attitude. But as I watched her smile fade during Alyssa’s presentation, I suspected she was thinking something along the lines of, “I cannot believe this is a graduate student.”

But I might have been wrong about that. Maybe the instructor is just a marvelously patient and flexible person. Unlike the other two presenters, though, the class did not applaud after Alyssa’s presentation. I didn’t know whether to feel bad for her, or for the class, or what. Alyssa didn’t seem to care much, one way or the other.

The professor displayed the same equanimity in her final remarks, when she reminded us that our papers are due at 6 PM on the day of class. She had received only a few so far, she said.

* * * * *

October 30, 10:21 AM – The Corporate Type

In the Social Entrepreneurship class last night, we had another guest speaker. This one was a guy who runs a for-profit business that provides services to nonprofits. Among other things, he sets up computer systems that nonprofits can afford to purchase and maintain.

He describes himself, during his presentation, as “a corporate type.” He’s right about that. He’s maybe 40, talks fast, praises the for-profit business model as one that allows him to hire talent and get access to capital, and uses simple financial concepts that, I am sure, some SW students don’t understand. He makes a very clear, intelligent presentation.

He has some interesting things to say. For example, he says that his organization used to offer various classes and services frequently and without charge to people from nonprofit organizations. But they have switched to charging a minor fee and making those services somewhat less available. This, he says, has vastly improved attendance and completion. I guess the idea is that, when people can get something for free any old time, they don’t take it as seriously.

Toward the end, as he rips through his material, I raise my hand and begin: “You say you are a corporate type.” This causes the class to chuckle. But he agrees. That’s who he is. So my question is what he would say to a social worker who is thinking of coming to work for his company, who isn’t accustomed to a business kind of SW position, and is maybe somewhat intimidated or put off by the (I didn’t say it, but I probably implied) harsh corporate environment. His response is something along the lines of “adapt or die.” There is always some truth to that, but also always some falsity. I think, at this point, that most students in this class are pretty thoroughly intimidated. It’s just different from what we’re used to.

One drawback of his business model, as he acknowledges in his list of difficulties, is that there is pressure and there is burnout. His employees are aware that they have to achieve certain targets if their part of the business is to survive. So it sounds like they are working long hours and in other ways are not getting what they bargained for, when they decided to get out of the corporate rat-race and reconfigured their lives to make a lot less money, have a better lifestyle, and make a difference in the world.

* * * * *

October 30, 1:48 PM – Friday Morning

Met with retired professor Helen. She just wanted to convey her concern about the tone of my announcement to the Asia group on Tuesday. I told her that there was a history to this thing, developing over the previous weeks. She was vastly more receptive to that than Assistant Dean Melinda had been.

She still felt I should have been more diplomatic. I told her that, without denying the importance of diplomacy, we did our best intercultural learning on Wednesday, after I bluntly confronted the Asian members of our group. I said social workers aren’t familiar with effective confrontation – that, too often, their response to a differing viewpoint is one extreme or the other – either hatred or passive cooperation.

It was a much more congenial meeting than the one yesterday. There are various possible reasons for that. Helen comes from a previous generation; she has the wisdom of age; she is less hostile to men; she is more focused on educating students; her education was better. Not sure which may apply.

After meeting with Helen, I ran some errands. Just got back. It sure rains and drizzles a lot here. But it’s a nice day, temperature-wise: upper 60s. Time for a run, and then I really need to eat.

P.S. As I write this, I find myself thinking about something Helen said. She said I seemed to be preventing Brenda from participating in the discussion during our presentation. This, I think, is very interesting. We were seated around a rectangular table. The camera was on the wall, next to the screen where we could see the classroom in Asia, five or six feet beyond the head of the table. So when I faced the camera, Brenda was behind me. I couldn’t see what expressions or gestures she might be making – but Helen could, from her seat across the table, and so could everyone in the classroom in Asia, especially when Melinda focused the camera on Brenda and me, as we were presenting.

I am not an insensitive conversationalist. If Brenda had cleared her throat or spoken up at the pauses, I would certainly have known – especially but not only in this environment – that it was time for the man to be quiet. So what was going on, to give Helen this impression? I would hope that Brenda was not sitting behind me making faces, but it seems there may have been some nonverbal signals at my expense. I’m sure Helen didn’t just dream up the impression that I was preventing Brenda from participating.

So maybe this is why, at one point during our presentation, Melinda admonished me, “Let Brenda speak!” in a “jeez, Ray, be fair!” kind of tone that made it sound like I was deliberately preventing her from doing so. It seems I may have benefited from time to process this, or prior experience with such people, so as to address Brenda’s nonparticipation at the time.

This makes me wonder what Brenda’s part might have been, in that chat that took place between 8:00 and 9:40 AM on, I think, Wednesday morning. She was late to join that chat – 8:30, I think she said – but that certainly would have given her plenty of time to make clear that she enjoyed working with me and that she shared my frustration with Laura and Annie, our Chinese Asian colleagues. I don’t have any indications that she actually did that. The profs sure seem to think I was just being difficult.

* * * * *

October 30, 10:34 PM – Videos

This is probably a dumb thing to do, but I have spent several hours tonight, doing what I decided to do when Dr. Krishna distributed that list of psych-oriented videos to us. The SSW is in the process of closing down its library, apparently, and the videos that I was starting to get into have all vanished to some other library. So, taking the cue, I have gone online and have sliced and diced the university’s collection of potentially interesting and relevant DVDs down into a set of 1198, then 719, and now continuing on down toward a manageable number of DVDs that I would like at least to glance at.

This has taken hours, and it’s not as though I have the time. I just decided that this was too good a learning opportunity to pass up. A smallish number of these videos sound very interesting. So we’ll see what develops from that. Maybe I can borrow a few a week, or just stop by the media room, wherever that is (somewhere in the undergraduate library, apparently), and glance through one or two of them, whenever I’ve got a few minutes to spare – like, maybe, during class breaks.

* * * * *

October 31, 6:05 AM – Notes from the Fun Professor’s Class

In this week’s class session, Aminah smiled at me from across the room. It was a warm smile. I don’t know if it came from within the sexist framework she presented during our group discussion, there in class, some weeks back. You know, a smile that says, “OK, you’re safe to be friendly with now, you have accepted your second-class status as a white male.”

It could have been a smile from some other perspective that would be more compatible with my actual equality and genuine acceptance. For example, maybe she was making that statement about white males, during our group discussion, because she feels this is the sort of thing one must say, but she meanwhile shares the inclination of many women (most, I hope) to treat a man as a legitimate kind of person, whom they should try to get along with and be civil towards.

The fun professor kept watching the clock. Not sure if she had a hot date, wasn’t interested in the topic du jour, or felt that students weren’t into it. Due to the full moon (not her stated reason), she let us out a half-hour early.

* * * * *

October 31, 12:54 PM – Notes from Dr. Krishna’s Class

Catching up on ancient history, here, from Wednesday night.

Beth was actually looking and smiling at me in Dr. Krishna’s class on Wednesday evening. Surprised the hell out of me. I almost wondered if there was something wrong with her. She’s never been unfriendly; she just hasn’t remotely been whatever this is. Maybe it’s just the ice is broken.

The student who sits next to Beth in Dr. Krishna’s class – don’t know her name – has also avoided talking to me or looking at me until this week. This time, she was talking to someone else about her undergraduate SW studies, but was including me in her glances. Eventually I said, “You went to UNLV?” “Yeah.” “Did you have any classes with Epstein?” She says yeah, he was tough, he made them write a paper on what was wrong with their field placement assignments. That, she said, was hard, to be critical like that.

During the break, Stephanie and Lisa were talking. They said something about Dr. K’s meditation sessions. I said I wondered if the “breathes me” stuff was offending any Christians in class. Stephanie said she does believe in demonic possession. Lisa just looked at her.

In the last half-hour of Dr. Krishna’s class, we went to the clinical suite again. Beth and I and the woman from UNLV walked in and sat down, in that order. The one from UNLV acted like she didn’t necessarily want to sit next to me but couldn’t quite figure how to choose a different seat without being totally offensive.

Inside the one-way mirror room, Dr. Krishna interviewed a platinum blond who sits in the front row in class. Golden Girl pretended to be a 17-year-old who has been compelled to come to therapy. Made us all laugh: she was looking around, rolling her eyes, making weird faces, the whole thing. An excellent actress, if typecast. Poor Dr. Krishna. Teenagers are not his thing. He was so sincere and serious and reasonable.

I was thinking, afterwards, that I would have handled her a little differently. “Listen, kid. I get paid if I send you back home to your mother. I also get paid if I tell the judge you need to be in a juvenile home until you turn 18. I don’t have to like you; I have lots of friends I like already. So how’s it going to be?” I predict a bit of tough love would have nicely complemented Dr. K’s humanistic gentleness in this particular instance.

On Thursday, Golden Girl came into the library, saw me sitting there, gave me a glowing smile. I love full moons.

* * * * *

October 31, 2:51 PM – End Mental Health Inquiry Month, Begin Period of Parsimony

You know what? This blog is out of control. It is eating my life. At this moment, I have literally a half-dozen posts started, from earlier today and I think maybe one or two are from yesterday, and I probably have 20 or 30 other little notes lying around here and there, regarding things I wanted to plug in to clarify some earlier note.

I’ll combine or otherwise finish those posts. But we can’t go on like this, the blog and I. So I have come up with a new idea. It is, by sheer coincidence, the end of the month, and it occurs to me that this is a great excuse to back off. What I am going to try next is to see if I can change modes somehow, here at month’s end. In fact, as I think about it, I believe I ought to try doing that at the end of each month – you know, somehow take a different approach to what this blog is or should be.

So, OK, on that basis, let’s just say that the past 40 days, or whatever it’s been since I started this blog, have been the period of intensive analysis. I’ve gone into all kinds of speculations about what’s happening and what these people are up to and so forth. I’ve had time for it, or I’ve made time for it at the expense of letting other things slip.

This introductory period has hopefully provided a good foundation for whatever comes next. It is reasonably safe to assume that these various undercurrents will be flowing along, taking shape, but always having all kinds of interesting dimensions and implications. And if I had the time and inclination to keep up with this, I probably could crank out a thousand pages, or whatever we’re on pace to generate during this academic year, at this rate.

So let’s just summarize it by saying that I have been doing a part of what I do, of what I always have done, which is to speculate and analyze and so forth. And now, as I say that, it occurs to me that there’s a certain symmetry to this. I started out with the idea of being an Interpersonal Practice kind of MSW, a person who is training to do clinical work on paying clients. And it may ultimately turn out that way, career-wise. So let’s say this has been the period of mental health inquiry.

But in the meantime, to finish this MSW, I’m having to switch over to a Social Policy-oriented kind of internship. I am tempted to say that the coming month should therefore be the Social Policy month, but I think that could be a bit hasty. I think I’d better wait and see on that: get into the internship, get closer to the actual policy-oriented course requirements that I’ll be trying to complete next semester, and get to a place of being able to say more clearly what kind of policy we’re talking about.

There’s another way of seeing November, and that’s to see it as it always turns out to be, for me: the first, biting taste of winter; a stark and desolate thing that hints at January’s grimness. In student terms, in November school becomes less fun and more work.

So let’s say that I am now entering into a period of consolidation and organization. I want and need to pare things down, consistent with the increasingly leafless trees and what will soon be the poor, picked-over Thanksgiving turkey carcass.

* * * * *

October 31, 5:56 PM – Miscellany

Alright, so let’s clean up loose ends. There are some notes in this desktop mess that are just not going to make it under the end-of-month wire, but that’s OK.

I did look at Sandra’s email message with the title line of “Sorry.” She wasn’t apologizing for her previous behavior, nor was she regretfully informing me that my internship had been canceled, or anything like that. She was just apologizing for sending me an email, asking how my interview went, a week before it actually happened.

When I was at the store Thursday night, I looked at the candy for the kids for Halloween. There are sure to be a boatload of trick-or-treaters, now that my roommate has finally stuck his pumpkin out on the doorstep, squirrels be damned. I suddenly realized I had no idea what counts as good Halloween candy, especially for Asian kids.

Stephanie just came out here to my place so we could do our interviews for Dr. Krishna, due this week. When she left, the little kids and their parents here in the graduate housing units all came trooping through, on a Halloween tour I guess. There were about a million of them. I sure hope my roommate knows what he’s doing with that pumpkin.

I wound up attending only a few disability events this week – four, I think. One got scratched from the list when I had to be on that last-minute chat with the Asia group; the Friday night wheelchair basketball game was canceled; etc.

My roommate was up until 6 AM yesterday. I know, because he was still up when I got up. He went to bed a few minutes later, or at least his room light went out. Then he got up three hours later, at 9, and ran for the bus.

I may not have mentioned that he actually had a female visitor a couple of weeks ago, or should I say the two of them came in, she introduced herself, he put down his backpack, and then they left again. Pretty Chinese woman, or maybe Chinese-American, with good English. So, see, we’re not total monks here. We do have a date, of sorts, between the two of us, every couple of months.

* * * * *

October 31, 8:03 PM – Presentation: What I Did Wrong

Both Assistant Dean Melinda and retired prof Helen have told me what Brenda and I did wrong in our part of the presentation on Thursday morning. Brenda was my teammate, but for some reason they have not required her to join us for these meetings. Are they not aware that she agreed with and supported my reactions? Why have they not asked about that possibility?

What “we” did wrong, they said, was to use a discussion approach rather than “running through the slides,” as Annie in Asia described her approach. Our interactive approach failed to “cover” as much material. They evidently felt that people learn more from PowerPoints than from videos and discussions.

I don’t think any other students in our class have been, or will be, singled out for such criticism. In Helen’s case, I had to make a trip to her off-campus office for the purpose. One can imagine what would have happened if an otherwise all-male class had engaged in this sort of browbeating of the sole American female student.

Melinda also praised Laura, the Asian instructor, for sending us a statement in which she professed an earnest desire to work together, and expressed a sincere apology for any misunderstanding. Melinda didn’t seem to care whether Laura’s behavior before or after that announcement was at all consistent with it. The important thing, it seems, is to make very sincere-sounding statements.

* * * * *

November 2, 7:45 AM – General Update

When Stephanie and I met and did the first round of our interviews of each other, as make-believe client and therapist, we told each other a bit of our real-life concerns, and recorded it for Dr. Krishna to hear. I’m not entirely comfortable with that, but it’s hard to do a role-play with a totally make-believe person. I suppose Dr. Krishna gets to know a lot about his students. Hopefully the details are not shared around the SSW during faculty discussions of students.

Halloween came and went. Ran yesterday, as usual; some discomfort in the right calf. Long online chat with girlfriend yesterday. Not really much happening in terms of school right now; cleaned up some miscellaneous stuff over the weekend.

* * * * *

November 2, 9:43 AM – Empathy

On my run just now, I was thinking about Stephanie’s criticism of my style. I need to show more empathy, she says. Empathy, according to our $85 textbook, means deep understanding. It’s not just, “I hear you” or repeating back more or less what the client just said to you. Empathy is – well, I guess the question is, what is empathy for Stephanie?

Here’s an example from the book, and I have to think this is what she’s looking for . . . no, wait, I’m not going to type it all out. In summary, the client says she feels empty, the therapist asks her to help him (the therapist) understand, she tries, and then the therapist restates what he heard. This time, the book tells us, the client felt understood.

Ah, but that was after weeks of previous sessions – not just ten minutes of general statements, which is all Stephanie and I had! This is exactly what I don’t want to be – a phony therapist who has learned various gimmicks that substitute for real understanding.

Stephanie criticized me for asking lots of questions. OK, I’m sure there are different styles. But yes, I want to get to the point of understanding the client’s situation very well. I don’t want to “demonstrate empathy.” I want to have genuine feelings that come out of seeing and feeling the client’s situation as s/he feels it.

Well, she and I will have to have this conversation. I assume we’re going to get together sometime today to do our second round of interviews of each other.

* * * * *

November 4, 8:15 PM – An Internship!

I went to my appointment at Disability Agency this morning. Hit it off really well with Marty, who will be my supervisor. Continuing from our previous interaction, it was just sort of assumed that I’m joining their operation. Very smooth.

I don’t think I’ve ever had as many laughs in an interview. Marty takes me around, knocks on some doors, introduces me to various people. Inside one door, we find a half-dozen people sitting with party hats on their heads, eating cupcakes. Evidently it’s someone’s birthday. We proceed to joke around and shoot the breeze with those people for a while.

Several of the people I meet have fairly significant and obvious disabilities. I have always been one to notice and, I guess, to avoid this sort of thing. I think it was common, when I was raised, for people to treat persons with disabilities as rejects, and I guess I’ve generally followed that training in adulthood. I really haven’t associated much with such people.

After Marty has taken me around the place, back in her office, I tell her that there seem to be quite a few things I can do for her organization. The main thing, I say, is that I want to avoid getting sidelined into some trivial thing like happened when I was an AmeriCorps volunteer, placed with a nonprofit organization, for the summer of 2003. I wound up fixing their computers all summer. They needed it, but they needed other things more. Marty seems committed: she says she hopes she does half as good at being my supervisor as the person who was her supervisor when she got her MSW.

So, OK, we have a date. Friday morning, I’m going to be joining one of the Disability Agency people, not sure of her exact title, for an all-day meeting in the state capitol. This woman seems excited to have me on board. First thing she says is that I can help her revise the organization’s policy manual. Something inside of me dies. I’ll have to see how I can weasel out of that one. But my options are limited; I desperately need hours.

So I’m excited about the organization, and I’m dreading the meeting on Friday. I’m praying for good weather, so if all else fails hopefully I can sneak out to my car and take a nice long nap. Don’t laugh – I got through 18 months of employment in a federal agency that way. The world is full of burnouts who regrettably underestimated what a nice midafternoon snooze could have done for them.

* * * * *

November 4, 9:16 PM – An Approach to Parsimony

I may have decided that November would be a month for taking a more streamlined approach to this blog, but that doesn’t mean I had any idea what a more streamlined approach would be like.

It may be something I have to work my way into. At present, it seems that it’s feast or famine with me. Either I’m going on endlessly about trivia, or I’m preoccupied with other stuff and am not really getting around to blogging at all. I’m only a few days into the month, but that’s how it looks at present.

What I’ve tentatively decided is that I should try to record stuff but not necessarily process it. If I have time for processing, fine. If not, fine. The main thing is, now that I’ve laid the groundwork to understand what’s going on with my world here in the SSW, maybe it will be enough just to rattle off a bunch of somewhat disconnected thoughts. Just to keep up, in some sense of the word. To cover the material.

* * * * *

November 4, 9:21 PM – Catching Up, Part 1

So here we go. Some of the following comments come from notes taken in class; some will be entered on the fly, as I encounter new material. Please pardon the abruptness and, no doubt, the sometime strangeness of these comments, offered without contextual information. Hopefully what has come before has provided at least some introduction to what’s up.

Let me begin by saying, again, how amazed and impressed I am by the many important, somewhat relevant, and completely irrelevant learning and experiential opportunities, presentations, and so forth that are available here at U3.

I just got a notice from . . . wait, interrupting to take a quick replay of Weird Al’s “Craigslist.” Always liked The Doors . . . OK, a notice from Assistant Dean Melinda, reminding me that the Asia class starts tomorrow morning at 7 AM, due to the time change. 8 AM our time, I guess, would be 9 PM Asia time, too late for their class.

The Mormon guy’s religion group is meeting in the SSW for a discussion on Friday. I can’t join them because I’ll be at that godforsaken all-day meeting in the state capitol. Hmm – two-hour religion discussion versus all-day meeting of bureaucrats. Tough call. Fortunately, the decision has been made for me.

Now that I slow down and try to recall things, I find I’m beat. I’m going to have to call it a day. I’ll have to do more catching-up tomorrow.

* * * * *

November 5, 5:52 AM – Catching Up +++

Wow. I will certainly be regaining lost ground quickly, in terms of internship hours. I have two emails from Marty in my inbox this morning, both sent after midnight. In addition to the all-day thing on Friday, she has lined up all-day things for me on Monday and Tuesday. One involves a carpool trip to the state capitol again. The other is a presentation of disability awareness, I think, in various classrooms at a local elementary school. That one requires me to read a half-dozen things she attached to the email.

I have to wear business casual clothes for these events, of course. That’s OK, and appropriate, but not my preference. Good thing I just ordered another shirt online the other day, at a clearance price.

I have a couple of papers to write for classes next week, so it’ll be a homework weekend. I also have another one- to two-page paper due for the Social Entrepreneurship class tonight, but I will hopefully have some time to write that today.

The Social Entrepreneur professor gave me an F on my first paper. She handed it back to me with an unnecessary public announcement, just before class, that I seemed to completely miss the purpose of the assignment. She has given me the option of rewriting it. This will be interesting.

During that class, our guest speaker was a business-school student, one of four who are setting up a venture capital fund for purposes of investing in social enterprises. He wasn’t available for discussion during the break – several other students were ahead of me in line, and then, when class ended, he had to run – so I spent 20 minutes writing up an email to present an idea for how MSW students could get involved in his activity. Otherwise, you know, a person could wonder what’s the practical relevance of his presentation for us? He sent me back a one-line email saying that my suggestion already seemed to be addressed by some unspecified program here at the university. He included a URL link. It didn’t work.

I’d write more now, but our Asia class meets at 7 AM, so I’ve got to get it together and get out of here. I’ll add more catch-up notes from a computer in the library or elsewhere on campus.

* * * * *

November 5, 9:27 AM – End of Asia Class: No Comment

At orientation, on my first day at this SSW, back in early September, we had a small-group discussion. I noticed that one of the members of our group seemed to have a very focused style. I ran across her again later, and watched her interactions with other incoming students. The striking thing, correcting my first impression, was not that she was focused. It was that she seemed to be making a point of having no interactions with anyone beyond what was necessary.

This comes to mind because, this morning, we had our last session of the Asia class. The third and final group presented. They ran through their PowerPoint with almost no discussion, though I must say we did have a nice discussion after the video was shut off, just among those of us in our classroom here in the U.S., as we sat around eating donuts kindly provided by the two U.S. members of the third group.

The topic of this presentation was domestic violence. It is a profoundly unsafe subject for male students. It is especially so in my case because I have become attuned to the subject. It was interesting, though, that the presenters began by stating that domestic violence includes psychological as well as physical abuse, and that American law has been changed to clarify that men can be the recipients as well as the aggressors.

This recalled a New York Times article I read this weekend, talking about how fathers are often profoundly excluded from or limited in their interactions with their children – when, for example, a social worker comes to the door to talk about the kids, is greeted by the father, and asks to speak to the mother. And yet our presenters decided to concentrate just upon violence against women – and this was entirely agreeable to the SW instructors and students in the Asian and American classrooms involved in this morning’s presentation.

I mention the woman from orientation because I was thinking about how neither the male student in Asia nor I uttered a word during the entire class session, and these SW females were OK with that. They know what they want to talk about, and we know better than to have unnecessary interaction with them. Strange environment!

* * * * *

November 5, 9:28 AM – Almost Naptime

I have to write that paper for tonight’s class. Soon. But first I have to nap. I am tired. But first I have to try to jot down a few more brief thoughts.

God only knows how I’m going to stay awake in those meetings etc. with Disability Agency. I’m anxious about it.

The audio was still bad in this morning’s class from Asia. Not sure if Assistant Dean Melinda ignored my suggestion about turning down the volume level over there, or what.

Ran out of the house without checking my calendar for the day. I know I have the fun professor’s class at 2 and the Social Entrepreneurship class at 6. Total of 7.5 hours in class today. It seems like there might be something else on the schedule, but I don’t remember what. Obvious disorganization on my part. I could bike home to see the schedule, but I have to walk the bike up the hills, now that its gear shifters are completely nonworking. Besides, the round trip would consume nearly an hour of wasted time, during which I would possibly be missing the thing I thought I wanted to attend anyway. I’m gonna say there was something at noon, but I just don’t remember what.

Forget it. I need to sleep.

* * * * *

November 5, 1:10 PM – Like Pulling Teeth

I probably should have started by writing a response to the grade of F that the Social Entrepreneurship professor gave me. After about two and a half hours of struggling to write a half-page in the paper due today, I have belatedly realized that my productivity is being severely hampered by hyper self-criticism. It seems that I can barely get a line down on paper without thinking of several reasons why it is completely pointless or absurd.

And what I am writing probably is pointless and absurd in many ways. But that is equally true of many college papers, and yet people (including me) have traditionally been able to write them, get them done, turn them in, and move on. And here I am, trying to write something of publication quality for what is, I think, a pass-fail class.

What’s really wretched about it is that the case I have chosen for analysis is one she already covered in class. Well, it’s safe, right? Only she’ll probably knock off a letter grade for lack of originality. Not that I’m presenting just what she said about it; I’ve identified a dimension she didn’t mention.

Aw, whatever. It’s time for lunch.

* * * * *

November 5, 5:48 PM – Notes from Tuesday Night

Tuesday evening, after the Social Entrepreneurship professor told me that my paper completely missed the assignment, I went back to my seat, next to another one of the male students in the class. The class is almost one-third male (5 out of 16), which makes it the record-holder in my experience here. He was talking about how some professor gave him a B– on a paper; he went through the specific point allocation with her; she admitted she could not explain how she had decided to give him that grade; but she did not change the grade.

As I sat in the Social Entrepreneurship class and listened to the business guy give his presentation, I thought to myself that I am probably somewhat opposed to “progress” at this point, at least where it seems to be a euphemism for running over people and not feeling obliged to make things right. That’s certainly not the only thing that progress can be; but, too often, in our world, that is what so-called progress amounts to.

During the break, I talked to Campbell, from Stanley’s agency. She said she hadn’t heard anything about my experience or reasons for leaving the agency. I was not sure if that was true, especially since I had told Pam and our co-workers about it in our supervision meeting the next day. She wasn’t present that day, but I wondered – wouldn’t people normally ask what happened to a former coworker? Then I remembered how other fellow interns at that agency had received the news with indifference. So, OK, maybe she really had neither heard nor inquired into my departure. Funny kind of workplace.

Campbell says she has four clients – that is, four real people who are coming to her for counseling each week. She will be losing one or two of them at the end of the semester. I don’t know what she’s doing with the rest of her internship time. I think she’s splitting her internship with another place. But anyway, at least she has a couple of hours each week of actual interpersonal experience with clients.

As I sit in these various classes, there seem to be lots of references to how attorneys and accountants are needed for purposes of helping the poor. I would say lawyers especially provide the services that these nonprofit organizations most need and can least afford on a day-to-day basis. I am tempted to say that only philosophers are more desperately needed in this profession.

I got a headache as I sat in the Tuesday night class, listening to the various reminders of the business environment and mindset.

* * * * *

November 5, 6:05 PM – Notes from Wednesday Night – Dr. K’s Class

Some loose notes here.

I was impressed that Dr. Krishna acknowledged the need for safety in discussions of gender and sexual orientation in class. I vaguely wonder whether that applies to remarks about short men buying big trucks. Safety was not a word I would have used to describe my years at SSW1 and SSW2.

Strolled through the main lounge during the mid-class break. There was Paul. Sat down and had a nice chat, a couple of laughs. Good to see him. Says he’s going abroad over the Christmas break. Must be nice. I told him Disability Agency will own me over the break.

On another note, it’s a mistake for these profs to assign long readings. It’s now fairly obvious that almost nobody does the readings. So when we get to class and the prof asks a question for discussion purposes, everyone is afraid to answer because the readings might turn out to have a different answer, and that will prove they didn’t do the reading. If this is the way it has to be, then we should be assigned to do the readings afterwards, or should have more focused readings, or something.

During class, Dr. K played an audio recording where one of his students played the role of one of her clients, and he was playing the part of the therapist. Another way of getting around the problem that you can’t get mental health training without practicing on real people.

We seem to have reached a somewhat set seating arrangement in Dr. K’s class. There is a bank of four cheerleaders on the right front table – different ages, body types, etc. There is another bank of four skeptics at the third table back on the left side of the room – all plump, around 25 years old, white. There are Mohammed and me in back, and Mark at the far left front. There are a couple of women who sit together and hang out together during break; and then there are four or five women who sit alone, scattered around the room.

Dr. K believes that crying relieves pain. Of course it does for many people on many occasions. What surprises me is that, after his years of working with “hundreds,” he says, “if not thousands” of men, he would make such a simplistic statement. There are bitter tears. There are tears of regret, of defeat, of pain. Getting someone to cry is not necessarily a sign of therapeutic success. You may have just led someone to a place where they cannot endure life anymore.

I’m now eleven minutes late for the Social Entrepreneurship class. Time to go.

* * * * *

November 7, 1:22 AM – Meeting in the State Capitol

Nice sunny day. We were pinned inside a conference room in the state capitol, with the blinds covering most of the windows.

I usually hate meetings. I hated this afternoon’s part of today’s meeting, because I was miserable. I had a double lunch – I was really hungry – and promptly became sleepy. My nodding off didn’t seem to bother the people in the room. But it was still torture.

The morning’s portion was more interesting. There seemed to be a lot of things I could add. These people have a very cooperative, helpful attitude. It’s good.

In other news, I just sent an email to Connie, the prof in Asia. She had said she was interested in processing our group’s meltdown, but I hadn’t heard anything more from her. So now I have taken her up on it. I’ll be interested in seeing whether/how she replies. In my email, I included a relatively brief outline of the events and issues in the Asia class, to inform her on matters that she hadn’t known about. When I did this, I saw that I had sold myself short: I did, in fact, send announcements of the situation a week earlier, and I think all such announcements went to professors as well as students. So I don’t know why Assistant Dean Melinda was acting like they had no advance notice that things were not going too smoothly in our group.

* * * * *

November 7, 10:15 PM – Weird Day

I was exhausted last night. Went to bed at 7:30 PM. Slept until almost midnight. Got up and worked until 6:30 AM, and then slept until 10:30. This succeeded in persuading me that today was Sunday, not Saturday, which stressed me out because I couldn’t believe how much stuff I had to organize and get done before bedtime. At a certain point I looked at the date, which appears in small print in the bottom right corner of my computer monitor, and this was a huge relief. It’s only Saturday. Or at least I hope it is, because I got nothing done today other than running and taking another long nap and paying bills and all that stuff. It’s after 10 PM now, and nobody knows when I’ll be sleeping next.

My girlfriend is re-emerging from silence. She loves me and misses me. I know she does. That’s not to say we have actually resolved important issues, other than that one, which I guess is at least a minor achievement in itself – to remind her, it seems, that I’m a great guy when I’m not around.

* * * * *

November 8, 11:22 AM – I’m Sick

I don’t know how sick, or what with. But I’m sick.

Yesterday, I went for a run. I didn’t seem to have nearly as much energy as the day before. It wasn’t that I couldn’t catch my breath – that would be overstating it – but my breathing didn’t feel right. These things happen in middle age, so I didn’t worry about it. I did think that it might be that I wasn’t eating enough to support a five-mile-a-day running habit, and that’s surely true. You can’t eat like a bird, one or two meals a day, and expect to be mighty.

By the way, I’ve noticed something about autobiographical writings. The people who read them with the greatest interest tend to be those who love you, and also those who hate you – the latter because they are looking for dirt on you. So I just wanted to say that I hope my friends and enemies are all thankful for the trouble I’m going to, to make this entertaining.

Not that this particular message is. It’s just a message about me being sick. And I am. I found out this morning. I woke up coughing. Not the deepest, most chest-wracking cough I’ve ever had, but definitely more than a polite little wiffle. So then I went for a run, and by the time I reached an estimated four-mile mark (forgot the pedometer, not to be confused with pedophile), I was feeling a bit woozy. So I limped on back, cutting through backyards and such as I deemed necessary to shorten the route, counting on the politeness of my neighbors, and also their fear of a coughing man.

They should fear a coughing man. This is the season of not having enough flu vaccine to go around. Normal flu, and also H1N1, a/k/a swine flu. I dunno if I mentioned, but I did go to the Lutheran church that’s supposed to be handing out the stuff, but nobody has enough of either variety. They’re giving it to high-risk people and medical personnel.

H1N1 is presently killing only a few people, but they’re fearing it could get much worse. Not me: I’m just fearing that I’ll have to miss events I don’t want to miss, notably tomorrow’s gig with Marty from Disability Agency. We’re supposed to spend, like, six hours doing her dog-and-pony show at that elementary school. I’ve been nervous about it but also looking forward to it. I just never get to spend time around kids.

So today is going to be a day of writing papers and sleeping, most likely.

* * * * *

November 9, 8:55 AM – The Asia Prof Dismisses Me

Here are a couple of key paragraphs from the end of the message I sent to Connie, the professor over in Asia:

If you look at pages 15-27 of the PDF of our October 28 chat [i.e., the day before our presentation], you’ll see the group’s first attempt to think specifically about what it was trying to do and how it planned to do it. The centrality of those questions emerges in, for example, Annie’s question (bottom of p. 17), “How much time do we need to set aside for the discussion?” and my reply, “What do we really, really need to communicate in this presentation?” Remarkably, at that point (p. 18), on the day before our presentation, nobody could say clearly what we were trying to accomplish. Brenda observes (bottom of p. 20), “I think, although this is a little to [sic] late, but we’ve never really hunkered down the message in the beginning; hence some confusion.” [The usually silent Asian student] echoes, “Agree with brenda.” A short time later, I said, “I forget who said it, but I agree – this is the discussion we needed to have two weeks ago” (bottom p. 25), and Brenda replied, “That would ahve [sic] been me.”

Somehow, after all the hours upon hours and revisions upon revisions of myriad PowerPoint slides, it was only on October 28 that the American students were heard, when they insisted that they did not think that we should concentrate upon developing a perfect PowerPoint presentation. Brenda says (top of p. 23), “Ray, as I mentioned before, I agree with you. I much prefer a discussion, especially since I have a fear of presenting” (and again, similarly, at the top of p. 24). . . . .

I hope this additional information has refined your understanding of events in this interaction. Interestingly, my present perception is that our group’s difficulties stemmed from personalities and/or group dynamics as distinct from culture. It seems that we confused each other in several different directions. Whether insights of that nature go beyond your interest in “processing,” I can’t say, but I will certainly be interested in hearing about and/or participating in any further learning that may arise from this experience.

So now I have a reply from Connie:

Hi Ray,

Thanks for emailing your explanation. In my review with all parties involved, I have stressed that while I found your handling of the situation towards the end inappropriate, it was probably hard for you to make your points heard to a group process where the majority was made up of three Asian students who communicate regularly with one another.

I believe that there was ignoring by both sides of the other side’s emphasis. In your case, I see in your explanation below the focus on the few things you really wanted to push through, and a lack of the concerns that the other students had in response.

All in all, I hope that this had been good learning on engaging, working in groups, resolving conflict, and growing from feedback.

Thanks again, Ray, for following up. Best wishes in your studies and future work.

It’s a nice message on the surface, but it distorts and dismisses the realities. Until now, for example, nobody has suggested that I ignored anyone’s emphasis. I didn’t. In other words, the most Connie will do, here, is to suggest that maybe I don’t deserve all of the blame. That’s not fair, and it’s certainly not processing.

I haven’t received any further comments from the Asian students, and I probably won’t. So the SW professor’s approach, in this particular case, did not succeed in reconciling the disputing parties or resolving the issues.

Nor did she teach anything about conflict resolution. What we had, here, was just the arbitrary, unexplained final judgment of a parental figure. That could easily be exactly the wrong thing – if, for instance, Assistant Dean Melinda or one of the Asian students are merely reenacting some previously learned dysfunctionality in their dealings with men. Indeed, Connie may actually be reinforcing that dysfunctionality.

* * * * *

November 9, 9:23 AM – I’m Less Sick

Took a pill, slept six hours last night, with lots of tossing and turning and chills and sweating. Woke at 3 AM, feeling incredibly tired. I think that may be when my fever broke, if I did have a fever. I put on some warmup clothes and took a blanket downstairs, to the ground floor, where it’s cooler. Slept in my old easy chair for a while, and then draped myself across my foam loveseat, and that was good for another four or five hours.

Didn’t go to the elementary school with Marty this morning. Decided to check in with her in midafternoon, to figure out what to do about tomorrow. Five of us riding in a cramped car to the state capitol, with me coughing: great way to introduce myself to the staff. Hung around Disability Agency waiting for her; had a brief but meaningful conversation with a guy in a wheelchair who does their fundraising. Finally caught up with her, said a few words, and started to cough. She expressed concern that I might have strep throat. She said if I don’t, I would also have the option of driving my own car up. I should have just suggested that in the first place; don’t know why I didn’t think of it. I guess I didn’t want to drive and I did want to ride with the gang, and I was trying to figure out how to make that happen.

Just checked the symptoms of strep throat, and I’m pretty much not having them. I am just coughing. Recovering from a nasty one-day thing, I think. Not sure what it was or is.

We’ll see how I feel tonight. If I can, I’ll get up and go at 7 AM, as they are doing, and then I’ll be back here just in time to get to the last session of the Social Entrepreneurship class. Speaking of which, I spent hours writing a rebuttal of the prof’s grade of F on my first paper. I emailed that and my final paper to her a few hours ago. A couple of key excerpts, to convey the general idea of my letter:

I do appreciate your offer to rewrite and resubmit. Having devoted a number of hours to the writing of this version, however, and having come up with an argument that I consider important, it seems more appropriate to defend what I have submitted.

As a first observation, your comment revises the assignment post facto. The quote from the syllabus, above, plainly begins with a statement that we were to describe a social innovation, not a social enterprise. Your grading comment treats social enterprise as though it were synonymous with social innovation. In other words, that comment makes no reference to social innovation, even though that is what the assignment specifically requires.

It is surprising that you would thus conflate the two dissimilar terms. That move is not consistent with the materials you have asked us to read. Consider, for example, the definition of social innovation provided by Phills, Deiglmeier, and Miller (2008, p. 36) . . . .

So we’ll see what that brings.

I have only begun to do the paper that’s due tomorrow for Dr. Krishna. He’s been pretty flexible on due dates. First, this evening, I have to read the 43 pages of material that Marty sent me for the all-day event in the state capitol tomorrow.

In other news, I finally submitted something to the religion group’s blog. Here’s the concluding paragraph:

Spirituality, I think, is not a matter of imagining that your elevated feelings of a “higher” reality are anything more than funky chemicals in your skull. It’s also not a question of whether God exists. His existence or nonexistence does not make anyone spiritual. I think, much to the contrary, that it may be more spiritual to simply admit that you don’t have privileged knowledge about Truth. Spirituality, in my working hypothesis, begins with daily renunciation of transcendentalist hubris – with, if you will, the recognition that, if the gods had wanted us to know more, they would not have played games with us; they would have told us plainly.

* * * * *

November 9, 4:00 PM – Response from the Social Entrepreneurship Prof

Got a message from her several hours ago:

Ray,

Yes, I have received your email and have quickly skimmed your memorandum. I will read it thoroughly later this afternoon. I am so very sorry that this happened – I think you have deeply misunderstood me as both a person, and as a teacher and you seem intent on judging me in the harshest terms (as you feel I have done to you?) Perhaps it is best for us to speak in person, and I can explain myself more thoroughly. Please let me know if you’re interested in further conversation and if so, a time that’s convenient.

I used to be eager to have exactly the kind of meeting she suggests. Since starting in SW, I have become more aware that those meetings do not always get to the issues – that, if anything, they can become an excuse for inaction, manipulation, and distortion. The idea seems to be that the professor has been reasonable, has gone out of her way to meet with me and discuss my concerns. Sounds good on paper. But in this example, what I see is that the professor is quick on the draw with defenses that really don’t fit the situation. So what I decided to send her, in reply, was this:

I don’t think there’s been a misunderstanding. On closer reading, I think you’ll see that I have not judged you in harsh terms; I have simply described and responded to what you have said and done, good and bad.

If I have described anything inaccurately, or if any of my inferences are unreasonable, certainly I would be interested in hearing about that. Otherwise, however, I am simply addressing the extreme – in my case, virtually unprecedented – grade of F. It does not appear to be defensible.

It’s a good starting sign, that she replied with some degree of concern. I would like to give her a chance to explain herself carefully, taking all the time she needs to come to grips with what I’ve presented. That may not happen – probably won’t, if experience is the guide – but I want to try that first.

* * * * *

November 9, 6:21 PM – Further Thoughts About the Asia Prof

It occurs to me that there may be another explanation for the response that I got from Linda, the professor in Asia. What may have happened is that she notified professor Helen and Assistant Dean Melinda when she got my email, and they – Melinda, most likely – let her know that she was irritated with me for not just staying down once she had knocked me down. So then the Asia prof saw that she needed to walk a fine line. She couldn’t just overrule Melinda by going ahead and processing the event with me, as she had originally indicated she would do, but at the same time she wanted to try to do the right thing. So she sent me a diplomatic message that acknowledged as much as she could acknowledge, regarding the things I had said, but at the same time shut me down, so that neither she nor I would get in further trouble with Melinda.

No way of knowing whether that’s at all what actually happened. It’s just a charitable reading on behalf of Linda.

But I guess if that really is how it went down, the Asia prof would presumably at least have a conversation about it with her students. Well, and she did. She said so. But, I mean, the conversation would perhaps get to the meat of it – would convey, that is, the sense that they had not handled things well. So then I would expect, with maybe 75% likelihood, to be getting some kind of conciliatory message from those students, if only to cover their tails with their professor. Haven’t gotten anything like that from them, though.

* * * * *

November 9, 6:32 PM – Social Workers – A Cut Above (Me)

Interesting quote from a research summary: “Subjects from poorer backgrounds were far more engaged [during conversation] – nodding, laughing, and raising their eyebrows – than their less attentive (and more fortunate) peers.”

Funny, what counts as being fortunate.

I really hadn’t paid much attention to the possibility that the lack of interpersonal skills I find in so many of these SW students and professors may just be a residue of their relatively well-off status – that these, perhaps, are the kinds of families that can afford to encourage their daughters to pursue low-paying careers. Maybe these kids learned, in their upbringing, that a friendly person tends to be a lower-income person and, in the case of whites especially, would therefore tend to be undesirable – that such a person might fail to understand the social niceties, and could thus engage in spontaneous and politically unguarded behavior that might make them feel stiff and awkward.

* * * * *

November 9, 7:38 PM – I Called It Right

Got a response from the Social Entrepreneurship prof. She did provide something of an explanation. I have sent her a reply. What I think she hasn’t understood – what I’m not sure I understood, until I had to articulate it – was that a grade of F was the most extreme rejection of my basic competence to write a paper. Business school types can overdo the winners vs. losers mentality; B-school education can be simplistic. It’s like a lot of higher education, but more so: there isn’t much of a culture of trying to figure out how you might be wrong. My bet is that, as far as she’s concerned, the professor is always right and therefore need not defend his/her decision.

Update, 9:57 PM: She has replied already. She’ll meet me for a face-to-face conversation, but that’s all. It’s just a one-sentence reply. She previously claimed to have been dismayed that I would consider her harsh. Yet, as she said, the F stands.

Not sure why I’d meet her. She certainly hasn’t said she wants to discuss or hear more about my perspective. She just says she wants to explain herself face-to-face. No need for that; I get the message already. As I learned last year in SSW2, a face-to-face meeting brings the additional risk, for me, of being accused of something unpleasant after the fact. Writing has its drawbacks, but if done reasonably well it tends to limit the extremes of subsequent false accusation.

So let us recap. A male student is harsh when he objects that his female classmates have been ignoring his questions and inputs for weeks. He is “blaming.” But a female professor is not harsh when gives a student an F and refuses to defend it in response to the student’s objections.

* * * * *

November 9, 7:48 PM – Parsimony Check-In

My last several posts have been more or less like the ones I entered in October. It doesn’t feel like I’m actually being parsimonious with my entries; I just have less time to write them.

There is certainly some parsimony where I have laid the groundwork previously. For instance, I have previously described the Asia class at length; now I can just refer briefly to its professors and students. So maybe that should be the game plan. Maybe I should go ahead and introduce new players and events in detail, but then just refer briefly to subsequent developments.

So, for example, in the case of this go-round with the Social Entrepreneurship professor . . . well, I’m not really sure what I should have done. I guess one solution would be to wait until the next day, and then write a summary of the previous day. It may have less passion and detail, that way, and maybe it will be shorter. So, OK, I’ll try that.

* * * * *

November 11, 9:05 AM – Lobbyist!

Somehow, I seem to have deleted the post I wrote yesterday morning about our day in the state capitol on Tuesday. Or maybe this blog malfunctioned. Not sure. I’m short of time and I don’t remember it nearly as well now as I did then. So that’s regrettable. But I’ll piece the high points back together.

Left home at 7 AM Tuesday. Found the designated location by about 8:15. I was the first of our group to arrive. There were five of us in Group K, organized by our community economic development lobbying organization. We met for a continental breakfast in an ornately decorated room right there in the high-domed state capitol building. A spunky little woman with years of lobbying experience gave us a demo on how to present a viewpoint, on some issue, to a state senator or representative who might be very short of time.

Marty parceled out four issues, one for each of us, and said she would take care of the rest. My issue was the Earned Income Tax Credit. I had already read the talking points sheets they had distributed to us, but now I got a copy of a more detailed report, so I was cramming that to try to learn something about the subject that I was going to be advising an elected official on, a few minutes later.

We went to our first meeting. It was with the representative for our district. She was accompanied by a legislative aide for another representative. The first person speaking, from our Disability Agency group, was a staffer named Ellen. She had sounded very negative at breakfast. She seemed a bit odd, but didn’t appear to have any physical disabilities. I felt she did a good job in presenting her issue, except that our instructions had told us not to be emotional – that this would tend to turn off the congresspeople. Next was Anna, a black woman who had difficulty walking due to some problems with her legs. Then Margaret, a middle-aged bachelor’s-level intern with the agency, then me, and finally Marty. When it was my turn, I cited a statistic that seemed to surprise everyone. I stuck to my guns, praying it wasn’t something I had dreamt last night. Turns out I was right. So there: I drew some attention to the cause.

I probably do dream of bureaucrats and statistical debates, whereas I could be dreaming of half-naked people steering canoes around in tropical paradises. Dr. Krishna told us that his kids attended the University of Hawaii. This is something I should have looked into myself.

Anyway, after that first half-hour meeting, we went through several visits to offices where the representatives and senators were not presently in the office, but their bright, friendly young representatives were very willing to sit down and listen to our spiels and ask questions. All except the secretary at a Republican representative’s office. She was civil, but she might as well have held up a sign that said, Who invited you?

Actually, I think the aide who seemed most knowledgeable was not such a young person. She was a middle-aged woman who had been an aide for 15 years, I think she said.

Marty was pretty motivated. She kept wanting to walk faster than Anna could. She didn’t want to be late for our meetings with legislators. I hung back with Anna. Eventually, Ellen did the same, and then we could take turns and I wasn’t the only one who didn’t get to walk with the boss.

During this whole process, I was working out the kinks in my little performance. Eventually, I was able to present it as being just straightforward and obvious that our state would want to authorize an informational aspect to the Earned Income Tax Credit, so that the state could be sure to collect its fair share of federal funds.

Our last presentation was to an influential representative whom we met in the hallway outside the House of Representatives chamber. She only had a few minutes, but she was still ready to listen. So we stood there amid all the loud conversations taking place around us, and each of us put forward our best foot on our issues. Then she had to go back inside the chamber – they were waiting for her.

It was really an educational day. I wish the machine hadn’t eaten my notes – there was more to tell – but let’s just say this sure was a more instructive experience than sitting around at Stanley’s agency, doing my homework. Made for a long day, though. I went from the capitol directly to Dr. Krishna’s evening class.

* * * * *

November 12, 1:09 PM – Busy Busy

One PM and I’m only now catching up with yesterday. But it’s important, because last night was just great.

I was feeling like my normal self again in Dr. Krishna’s class. The tables were all screwed up when we entered the room. The Gang of Four plump twentysomething female clique started to put everything back in precise order. This brought to mind Brenda’s remark, which I have never remembered to check out: she says there is a sticker on the wall in each SSW classroom, providing instructions on the proper arrangement of tables and chairs.

I resisted, to the extent possible; namely, I just plunked down at Shelly’s table, where it was, and ignored the Gang of Four. So their left half of the room was organized one way, and our right half was organized the other way. This left me sitting closer to Dr. K than anytime since the first week, and I must say it felt much less comfortable to be spacing out and faking it than usual. Usually I can sit in back, be nodding off or whatever, and it doesn’t seem to matter. But this time I felt like that was not right, not what I wanted to be doing. Not that I can control the sleepiness itself, but being closer to inclusion made me want to be more engaged, which would help. But I’m sure the tables will be back in proper order next week, so this is probably a false alarm. No point waking up if you don’t have to.

Dr. Krishna did a role-play with one member of the Gang of Four who pretended to be suicidal. It was pathetic. I don’t mean that as a slam against her. To the contrary, I’m glad she hasn’t ever been seriously suicidal. But you could tell. She wouldn’t know despair if it were rubber-stamped on her forehead. Not to say she or one of her friends would never “attempt suicide,” in the sense of doing something physical to herself that will attract attention in a somewhat dangerous way, sort of like driving at the speed limit in the fast lane on the New Jersey Turnpike. Nor would I doubt for a minute that she has known her fair share of suburban pain, or that it can be pain indeed. But despair? Not hardly. Me neither, compared to many; but perhaps somewhat more than she. Enough, anyway, to know it exists.

* * * * *

November 12, 10:00 PM – Yesterday, the All-Star Game

Ran out of time to finish the previous post. There is a lot to say from yesterday, and I had to get to the fun professor’s class. Which, now that I mention it, I may as well summarize right now. She had two different guest lecturers – the second one had apparently never replied to her invitation, so she had arranged someone else instead, and then at the last minute the second one confirmed, and the fun professor did still want her, so we had double our pleasure.

Or maybe more like 1.2x our pleasure. The first presenters were actually not too stimulating. In fact, I kept falling asleep as they talked. After they were done and gone, the fun professor admonished us in general terms to leave the room or put toothpicks in our eyes or count the number of times the person says “uh,” if necessary, in order to pretend to be awake and listening. But here, again, I suspect honesty is the best policy. It might make more sense to let us fall asleep quietly and naturally, as a gentle but clear reminder that presenters cannot just sit at a table and read from a bloody PowerPoint for 45 minutes if they hope to be considered educational. I didn’t say that, but after class I did go up to the fun professor and apologize and offer an explanation. She said I sound like I’m sick, meaning that this could be why I’m falling asleep. I said no, actually, the problem is that I have to wake up enough to recognize that I’m falling asleep, before I can then take the next step of realizing that I should do something about it. I’m not sure she got that, and that may be just as well. But it can take a very long time to process a simple thought (e.g., “get up and leave the room”) when you’re non compos mentis. I did eventually arrive at that thought, however, and during the break I went over and took a 15-20 minute nap in the SW library, making good use of that facility.

So anyway, now that I’ve said my bit about today’s session in the fun professor’s class, let me tell you about yesterday. The main thing, you know, was the basketball game. These two Jewish women decided we should have a Poets League basketball team. I think they made it up. The concept was that we needed to have a game of basketball for people who really suck at basketball. So we did. We actually had more than a dozen people show up for half-court play, so we alternated in and out. We played for more than an hour. Nobody kept score, although if anyone asked I was usually able to say we were ahead by one point. Nobody got hurt. Nobody got mad. We had guys who were at least 6’6” tall and we had Henry from the fun professor’s class, zipping around and just generally moving like a bat out of hell. The guy is quick. At one point, I said, “Henry, you’re a pain in the ass.” I think he took it as a compliment. He’s maybe 5’3” and I’m 6’2”. He would loudly announce, “I’m guarding someone a foot taller than me,” right before he took the ball away from me. We had a few somewhat tallish women and some short ones. I didn’t know any of the women before. Mohammed from Dr. Krishna’s class was there, as was Adam, the super-tall accounting major turned SW student. It was a great experience. It was really probably about as much fun as men and women can have together, short of . . . oh, what’s it called . . . oh, yeah: contra dancing.

I had completely forgotten about the basketball game. I would surely have just gone home after Dr. Krishna’s class. But Shelly and Stephanie . . . wait, I have to tell you about Stephanie. I had gotten worried about her. She was dealing with lots of stuff in her family. I think I’ve described how she and I had those interviews for Dr. K’s class, and she seemed to be wanting to tell me more. Then she was absent from class last week. I put in a call to see if she was OK. No reply. I think I sent her an email too. So then I saw her before class last night. I was asking if she was OK, and her reaction was like, of course, why wouldn’t I be OK? I guess her concept of email etiquette allows her to just ignore someone’s expression of concern? To me, it is rude to just ignore someone, but possibly this is considered normal for people of her generation?

It was confusing. She had seemed like she needed to talk to someone, but I guess that was then and this is now. Maybe she was just trying to pretend that our conversation had meaning for her, to make me feel better or something.

So anyway, they were hanging out after Dr. Krishna’s class, and I was trying to talk them – Shelly, especially – into joining the running group that I am now trying to form. By the time I got downstairs, it was after 8 PM, and here comes Henry, from the fun professor’s class. He asks me if I’m going to play basketball, and I say yes, by golly, I am going to play basketball. I had forgotten all about it, and Mohammed (who walked downstairs with me) hadn’t heard about it.

So you can add these to the various ways in which it has started to feel like I am welcome here. I think as long as people aren’t accusing or implying nasty, unfair stuff, I can roll with things fairly well. Especially when I have a cold and am therefore licensed to consume great old drugs from my medicine cabinet.

Speaking of which, the buzz from the basketball game wore off by about midnight, at which time my left ankle was hurting pretty badly. That ankle almost never bothers me at all, and certainly not like this. I figured it had to be just a part of the adaptation back to being active and keeping my joints in shape. Haven’t played basketball for decades, so doubtless there’s a certain adjustment process underway there. Eventually, last night, I took a huge naproxen sodium (basically, prescription-strength Advil) tablet that they had given me for some reason a few years back. I didn’t realize that the stuff was good for your sleep, but I conked out for eight or nine hours. Or, you know, maybe it was the basketball, or the feeling of belonging.

* * * * *

November 13, 1:02 AM – Miscellaneous Updates

I have to be at Disability Agency at 9 AM. I’m dreading it. Not because of the work itself. I get to speak with a variety of people around the agency and learn what they do. It’ll be interesting. I’m sure I’ll have ideas for how I can help. What I’m dreading is that I’m going to need a nap at a certain point, and I fear I won’t have any options. Hopefully it’ll be warm enough in the car, and I’ll be able to sneak out once or twice. I think I still have a sleeping bag in there to drape around me.

I saw a slightly less patient side of Marty on Tuesday, so I’m a little nervous about how this napping thing will play out.

Meanwhile, I bought a new bike yesterday. I knew what type of bike I wanted. One came up for sale on Craigslist, barely used. I held out for a price I was willing to pay. Ultimately, the seller went for it. So now it sits in the basement. Not sure how often I’ll ride it to campus. It seems too nice to be getting knocked around in the bike racks. Besides, this is the land of bad pavement. But we’ll see.

Haven’t seen my roommate for a week or two, except his back from my window, once or twice, as he walks for the bus. He seems to have settled into a routine of coming home late, like around 2 AM, going to bed at 3, and getting up at 9. He has this nice Chinese alarm clock that doesn’t buzz and doesn’t ring, at least not in our ding-a-ling-a-ling style. His just has a pretty little bell that rings in a very casual, unhurried way, sort of like a tiny clock tower: ding. ding. ding.

My desk is buried in papers representing various forms of trivia I’m supposed to be taking care of. Like today, I got a certified letter from my insurance company. I’ve already paid the year’s car insurance – over $700. They sent me a $28 bill that I didn’t get around to paying, as an adjustment when I moved here. So now they want $45, with late fees. You’d think it was a California parking ticket – careful, it can go to $5,000, and then they send out a warrant for your arrest.

The fun professor blizzarded us with her usual stack of printed handouts today – PowerPoints, journal articles, etc. She’s PDF-averse, I think, else she’d just put this stuff on the course website. I’ll have to scan her stuff into the computer on Saturday; no time for that right now.

I really don’t know what else is in this stack, other than a bunch of mail and a sheaf of random notes from classes. But there must be more in there, because it’s several inches deep.

I’m in contact with a Chinese friend for advice on my girlfriend situation. It looks like the girlfriend and I will, and should, part ways. For some reason, I started screwing around with Match.com last night, or maybe the night before. I don’t even remember why. I think maybe there was an ad for Match.com on Facebook. Anyway, I wound up finding (of course) that there are several women in this part of the world who have been waiting for nobody but me, me, me to come along.

Or whatever. We’re not likely to see much action there. I didn’t have a good impression of Match.com, when I tried them out some years ago. I don’t plan to do any dating until sometime later, after I move on to whatever comes after graduation in May. But some contra dancing might be a good idea in the meantime. You gotta patch together something resembling a support network.

* * * * *

November 14, 12:30 PM – Internship: First Day in the Office

Showed up at Disability Agency yesterday at 9 AM, dressed in what I’m treating as “business casual.” I remembered to wear a tie and a blazer during Capital Day last week, but for me business casual, these days, usually means wearing a button-down shirt, Dockers, and 25-year-old brown loafers whose color has rubbed off in some spots.

I met with Marty, who started to give me another tour of the place and then remembered she had already done that. Next, I met with Ellen, the staffer who had seemed negative during Capital Day last week. Instead of being put off by her negativity, somehow we got into a conversation about some deep and dark stuff in her life. We spent 45 minutes together.

Next, I spoke with Hans, the computer guy. We wound up having a sort of all-day meeting, where I met with him for five minutes and then one of us would get called away, and then we’d get together again for another five or ten minutes, and then the other one would have to go deal with something else. He says I’m one of very few people who has come through there, so far, who has shown an interest in computers. So it looks like we might do some fiddling around with technology.

After that, I followed up with Anna, the African-American woman whom I had met in the state capitol last week. We, too, had a long conversation. She didn’t have an office; we were speaking in low tones at her cubicle, where at most only one or two of her immediate neighbors would be able to overhear us.

I told her some of my favorite stories about race, like the one from SSW1 where we white middle-class students were having a “diversity seminar” taught by a white, middle-class woman. The instructor had us divide into groups. There were six groups of five or six people each. Then the instructor noticed that there also happened to be six black people in the room. They had gotten somewhat concentrated into just two or three groups, but the instructor fixed this: she divided them up so that each group had one black person. That way, she said, we would have diversity. Anna found this absurd. So as I briefly ranted on the cluelessness of diversity as it’s taught in SSWs, Anna kept heartily agreeing and saying, “Thank you,” in that mildly exasperated sort of way that people use when they mean, “It’s about time somebody said that.”

Then I ran into Ernst, an old guy from Eastern Europe. I told him about the time, in 1988, that I got a courier flight from New York to Frankfurt for only $150 round-trip. I wound up on a train back from Budapest, behind the Iron Curtain, with a Romanian guy who was fleeing to West Germany. He was being shadowed by a member of the Romanian secret police. I could see the guy, right there in his train compartment. We jumped off without warning at a place other than the destination stated on his ticket. His friend was waiting there, and drove us to Munich. Ernst seemed to want to talk more about life in the old Eastern Europe. He asked if I happened to be a beer drinker. So we will be quaffing a few pints after he gets back from some gig, a week or two from now.

At some point, I left and drove to the nearby shopping mall, where I took a nap, and then woke up and got a burrito.

Back at the agency, I met with Angie and Melanie. Angie is a lawyer. She’s serious and focused, with a really nice smile. She is working hard to help find jobs for people with disabilities. Then I was on to Dominique and Su. Dominique is a pretty young woman in a wheelchair, with cascading auburn hair and some kind of palsy-like disability. Su is a boyish person in a man’s suit jacket and shirt. They work with young people with disabilities, ages 14 to 26.

I ended the day in a brief chat with Marty. She was wanting me to get started on promoting the 2010 Census, because she had received some materials indicating that people with disabilities should use this opportunity to make sure they are counted in the federal budgeting process and other things that will be influenced by the census for the next ten years. Upon closer examination, I discovered that, this time, the Census won’t have any questions about disabilities. Marty says nobody in the disability community seems to have recognized that. So it seems I may have saved the Agency a boatload of additional time and money spent on an unprofitable pursuit focused on getting people with disabilities to respond to the Census. I mean, they should anyway, but not to help people with disabilities.

All in all, it was quite an introduction. I don’t know if I’ve ever started a job, or internship, or whatever, on such a positive note. It was really good. I think there will be lots of things I can do for them, and will enjoy doing. So far, a tremendous step up from Stanley’s agency, in terms of the kinds of things that are important to me in workplace ambiance and fit.

* * * * *

November 14, 1:09 PM – Acceptance

The past week or so has done more to make me feel accepted, in this SSW, than all the weeks that came before. There are several contributing factors.

First, Shelly made a huge difference, there in Dr. K’s class. Because she’s more or less my age, and because we had such a good conversation in the library a few weeks back (and she hasn’t since retreated and made me feel like she has decided I’m somehow undesirable after all), I feel that I can talk and behave normally around her; I can be myself. This had the effect of putting me into a sociable mood. For once, I wasn’t in a hurry to get out of the building and away from that unpleasant ambiance after class ended. And that led to running into Henry, who reminded me of Poets League basketball.

Another important thing is the internship. Suddenly I actually belong here in the SSW; I have a field placement like everyone else; I will most likely be able to graduate. And it’s not just a placeholder; it’s an internship where I can make some substantial differences. I have been thinking, for years, that what I need is to find a place where I can be accepted as I am and can contribute something. It’s much, much too early to be seriously optimistic about this place – as we’ve seen, a lot can change in a hurry – but I’m really encouraged so far.

Distancing myself from the girlfriend probably helps. Like most people, I have a way of resubjecting myself to certain kinds of situations that have already proved not to work well. I don’t choose them because they’re best for me; I choose them because they’re most familiar. So I’m experiencing a mix of loneliness and relief, but at least I’m not kicking myself.

It also helps to be having less contact with SW faculty. At the moment, I don’t have Sandra or Melinda or the Social Entrepreneurship prof finding fault with me. I only have the fun professor and Dr. Krishna, and they’re both pretty relaxed, or at least nothing is going on that hits any of their triggers and brings out any negative or threatening attitudes toward me. And it helps to have reached a point where there are some friendly faces in the SSW.

* * * * *

November 14, 1:58 PM – Naps

Got a bit of a quandary here. Marty has repeatedly said she’s not going to be counting my internship hours, she’s too busy for all that; but at the same time she has repeatedly expressed an interest in keeping tabs on me. So when I went out for lunch yesterday, she said she wondered where I had disappeared to. Maybe I am in a sort of pre-trust, probationary category.

That’s not the quandary. That’s just a sort of curious or awkward phenomenon that will hopefully work itself out in some tolerable way. The quandary has to do with naps.

In our conversation at day’s end, I told Marty that I would sometimes need to take naps. She didn’t tell me I couldn’t. She just said I would have to subtract that time from the hours I am counting toward my internship requirements.

Which makes perfect sense. If you’re working an hourly job, you get paid for the hours you spend working. You don’t get paid for the hours you don’t spend working. Also, the internship has a specific number of required hours of work. Regulatory-type people would not be pleased if you spent some of those hours in dreamland. I also like to think that Marty considers me an asset, and wants to get the maximum possible benefit out of every hour of my internship.

I am going to have to look at the field placement office’s manual, to see what it says about working hours, meals, breaks, etc. in field placements. Someone said that people at the agency can take a half-hour for lunch, but Marty has not said anything of the sort about me.

Here’s how it can matter. Yesterday, I cut to the heart of that census issue in just a few minutes. I was rested and sharp because I had taken a nap at lunch, on my own time.

As I know from experience, both my own and what I have seen in others, it is entirely possible to spend hours stumbling around an office in midafternoon, either resisting or oblivious to our primordial inclination to take naps during the daytime. If I had not taken that break, I might well have just plowed ahead with the work that Marty wanted me to do on the census, without ever recognizing that the Agency didn’t need to do that work. So I donated a half-hour of my own time, beyond my internship requirements, to take a nap that may have been why I saved the Agency a potentially large amount of wasted time and effort.

I wonder what would happen with my need for naps, if I could get it characterized as a disability. Could I then stop and take a nap without being docked for it, and without feeling like I was doing something bad? It’s weird, at this moment, to be in a world where we can’t stigmatize people with deformities or diseases, but we can still stigmatize those who get sleepy after lunch. There are, and should be, ramps for people in wheelchairs. How about a couch and a pillow for me?

* * * * *

November 14, 2:08 PM – Saturday

Some random comments here, from the present and also from some class notes lying on my desk.

Just got up from a 1.5-hour nap. This is after several nights of six to eight hours of sleep. I think I’m in a sort of psychological Indian Summer, where I can pause and take a deep breath.

The university’s automatic course evaluation system has been pestering me, by email, to complete my evaluation of the Asia course, taught by Assistant Dean Melinda. I can’t risk alienating her with a truthful evaluation, which she will see long before I graduate; and on the other hand I don’t want her to be able to say that everyone filed an evaluation and I didn’t seem to have any major complaints at that time. Besides, it’s not as though she’s been interested in my feedback.

Residents of this graduate housing complex are out there in this sunny, warmish day (temps in the low 60s). They’re cleaning up junk and raking leaves. I’d rather just let the leaves lie – they’re pretty even on the ground – but that’s not the custom. I know, they eventually get soggy and start to decay, and aren’t entirely compatible with the standard American lawn, etc.

I got some nibbles and winks and whatever they call it from the Match.com activity. I can’t tell who this is coming from until I join, but I have decided not to proceed with any of that. It doesn’t make sense to get involved with someone here. My health insurance and library access, after this academic year, will be back at SSW2.

It seems my message stimulated an active discussion for the religion group at the end of last week. The Mormon guy didn’t post my message until after that discussion. Apparently he wanted to ask them whether a message against religion belonged in their blog. So now there have been a couple of messages in response, explaining how fundamentalist Christians don’t actually have to feel an obligation to try to save souls, or otherwise disputing what I said in my message. But to me, the best response comes from some anonymous reader, who said, “This was a beautiful post. Thank you so much for sharing this with us!”

The ratio of men to women has been less extreme in most settings, I think, since I made this transition into the Social Policy sphere within SW.

It seems I should get some exposure to a different type of SSW. I have attended three large state university SSWs. Somebody was telling me about one of the two other SSWs in this area. It’s more of a large regional type of university, without many national pretensions. She said the professors are very open and supportive. She made it sound like it had a great atmosphere. That could just be because the person who told me that is female, but I’ll have to look for an opportunity to learn more about that place.

* * * * *

November 14, 2:44 PM – O Gleaming White Porcelain

I forgot to include a funny little note that I wrote to myself, here, from that first meeting at the capitol. The note says, “Defer trip to bathroom as long as possible – opportunity to wake up.” It’s written in cryptic shorthand.

The first funny thing about it is that the handwriting is visibly decaying as you move from the start of the sentence to the end. I’ve noticed that I can keep writing as I’m falling asleep, but the print gets smaller and starts to stay in the same place, until I’m really just scribbling a black dot on the page – and am asleep.

The other funny thing is that I was, in all seriousness, parceling out my excuses for events that would wake me up, saving them like the last drops of water in the canteen of a lost desert explorer. It’s a trick I’ve used while driving all night: exploit every rest stop, every refill, every stop to pee. Plan for it; develop the concept into part of a larger scheme; make rules for what will count as a legitimate opportunity to actually do it. But you dare not make it so complicated that thinking about it puts you to sleep; that possibility raises an issue of knowledge management that I will have to think about . . . you get the idea.

So that’s how it was for me with this hoped-for trip to the restroom, during that incredibly boring meeting. Anticipating the restroom, I would stay awake for another precious half-minute. Entering the restroom, I would find the fortitude to carry on.

* * * * *

November 14, 8:36 PM – The Dumb Statement

One of the students presenting in the final session of our Social Entrepreneurship class, this past week, was an African American woman. Her presentation was unbelievably casual and poor. She made some really dumb statements. I wasn’t the only one who thought so; I heard and saw indications of similar reactions in other students.

Some people in universities seem to feel there is an unspoken rule that prohibits me from saying the words “dumb” and “African American” in the same paragraph. I want to suggest some reasons why that’s not a good rule.

For one thing, there are, in fact, dumb African Americans, just as there are dumb whites and Asians and Jews and everyone else. It’s not nice to say so, and in fact I didn’t say so. I just said some of her statements were dumb, and that’s true. They were.

If I had been the other African American woman in that class, I would have hoped that my white classmates would be capable of distinguishing a dumb African American person from a smart one, or dumb statements from smart ones. If my classmates received this sort of behavior in silence, I would be left wondering whether they silently considered me to be like her in my academic attitudes and abilities.

I also don’t want to be deterred by people who fling around irresponsible accusations of racism. There certainly is racism in the world; but there are also people who get a lot of mileage out of making such accusations. Far from glorifying any particular skin color for special treatment, I want to get past skin color and focus on the person. Whatever color she may be, there’s a reason why that woman conducted herself in that seemingly inappropriate way in that classroom.

One reason may be that she comes from a culture or has a belief that is alien to me. For example, in her mind, she may have been just creating an air of relaxed collegiality. I would say it didn’t work, not with that class. So during her presentation or afterwards, in front of the group or privately, I would like to be able to find out how she perceived herself and her performance. I want to be able to ask questions without being in danger of being called a racist – without fearing that some authority like Assistant Dean Melinda will attack me for doing what makes the most sense under the circumstances.

Another possibility is that the woman has the mistaken idea that she can coast – that because she’s black, it really doesn’t matter what she says or does, she’ll pass the course and nobody will dare to say anything to her about it. That kind of arrangement would not be fair to others. Nor would it do her any favors, not if it sets her up to go out into the real world and fall flat on her face.

Whether I say that she’s African American or not, the appropriate thing in an institution of higher education is to be able to question what’s going on. Hopefully my skin color is not used to prohibit me from raising such questions, and hopefully her skin color is not used to protect her from addressing them. Those seem to be essential preconditions for dialogue and learning.

* * * * *

November 15, 3:20 PM – Living with a Basket Case

Our guest speaker in the fun professor’s class, on November 5, was an Iraq war veteran. He’s in the process of getting help for PTSD for himself. Seems he was shocked into doing so when some of the young men under his command started killing themselves, after their unit returned to the States. He couldn’t very well recommend mental health services for them if he refused to get help for himself, he said.

He had gone into the Veterans Administration hospital one time, in hopes of finding someone to talk to. Unfortunately, he said, nobody there had any idea about essential aspects of the military experience. It seemed to him that they could not possibly understand what he had experienced and was experiencing. So he walked out. But then he went back, months later, because he wanted to be able to recommend mental health care for his men. He feels he has come a long way in the last few months.

By interesting coincidence, the person who presented in the fun professor’s class the following week, November 12, was his wife. After he left us on the 5th, I asked the fun professor if we could ask the wife what it was like to live with him. She said she didn’t know, but she would ask.

I had a personal interest in that question. My dad wrote up his memories from World War II. He described himself as an emotional basket-case when he came back from the war. I had a hard time prying many specifics out of either him or Mom. On one level, I didn’t need specifics; I was born about 11 years after he came back, and I grew up with firsthand knowledge of what he was like. But it would have been really interesting to hear someone talk about that. It would have been interesting to me, personally, and I think it would also have been interesting to my classmates, including those who are now having to deal with soldiers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan, and with their spouses.

The wife was here on November 12, but not to talk about her husband. She avoided that subject entirely. Nobody asked about it, and the fun professor confirmed, after she left, that she had indicated she did not want to talk about life with a war veteran. All of which is fair enough. It’s their business. But as a comment on the educational aspect, I think I would not have been falling asleep if their dry presentation had been spiced up a bit with that real-world link.

* * * * *

November 15, 10:34 PM – End of Weekend

I’m still trying to get through the accumulated stuff on my desk. One item that I did manage to unearth was Dr. Krishna’s markup of the paper I handed him a couple of weeks ago, regarding my interview of Stephanie. He had lots of good comments, especially on the transcribed interview excerpt (i.e., the typed-out portion) that he had asked us to include. As I read through the things that Stephanie said in that excerpt, and the things that I said in reply, I can now see that I did miss opportunities to explore her feelings. I was doing more of a factual kind of digging and less of an exploration of feelings than he wanted me to do.

I’m still not entirely on board with that. I do think a good therapist should understand the facts. But I did see that I had missed some things.

Fell and cracked a rib on my run this morning. Could be a bruise or a break, but I’m betting a crack. It’s the sharp pain, but not as frequent or deep as a full break. It doesn’t stab me with every breath. I was on a trail through the brush, tripped on an old fence wire, just above ground level, and fell hard. Nine-mile run altogether, including a stop at the rec center. I’ve begun using the weight machines again, just in little amounts to start with.

Total meltdown on the running group. My 30 first-round respondents dwindled to six, and for some reason my email to those six was not distributed by the email system in time to make arrangements with everyone for our Saturday morning run.

I didn’t make any progress on Dr. Krishna’s paper this weekend. I also didn’t entirely succeed in digging out of all this accumulated stuff. I’m making progress. But now I’ve got to be at the Agency at 9 AM, and before then I need to get some sleep.

* * * * *

November 17, 3:04 AM – Meeting with My Advisor

A new semester is coming, so of course I had to meet with my academic advisor, to go over my list of courses. I left Disability Agency an hour early, drove to the SSW, and fed the meter an hour’s worth of quarters. I was going to make it just a half-hour, but I decided to be on the safe side.

In other words, I did not see it coming.

Almost immediately, the advisor said he’s been hearing that I’m getting into trouble in my courses. Not the six credits’ worth of courses I am taking with Dr. Krishna and the fun professor, nor the six credits of field placement at Disability Agency. No, he is referring to the two one-credit mini-courses I have just finished – Assistant Dean Melinda’s Asia course and the Social Entrepreneurship course.

Someone has told him about these two courses. But who? The Social Entrepreneurship prof is from the business school. I assume she has no idea who my advisor is. So Melinda or someone else must have contacted her, or vice versa. Much goes on behind the scenes. It’s like a story from ancient Greece, where the gods deliberate among themselves and the mere mortals tend to be on the receiving end. There’s no check in place – no openness toward the student, in particular – to prevent a prof with a bad attitude from conducting a vendetta against a student. Professors are free to gossip about students, and to go fishing for other faculty members who share their negative attitudes. You don’t want to cross this line. Once you’ve been tagged as a target of gossip, then any marginal or atypical thing you do becomes fodder for the formative myth.

The advisor also said I had also gotten into trouble in my internship. That surprised me, on several counts. First, I now saw that whatever I had previously said to him about Stanley’s agency had been a waste of breath. Second, it suddenly occurred to me that he might be working up to a larger point – like maybe he was going to tell me that I was being expelled from the SSW. Third, I felt like I was having an argument in a dysfunctional family, where past failings, real or imagined, are forever dredged back up and re-presented, for purposes of tearing someone down.

The advisor did not seem to have any new learning to share, in that reference to events in Stanley’s agency from nearly two months ago. He just mentioned it, and then turned to the task of telling me what I had done wrong in these two mini-courses. And that is SW education, as I have experienced it. How can the school help me to succeed? Not asked. How do I feel about this experience of being attacked by multiple professors? Not asked. What is it like to be 54, in a program where the average age is 26? You get the idea.

The advisor could not understand why I would challenge the Social Entrepreneurship professor’s conclusion that my paper was a total failure. He gave me the example of a paper that he had co-written, that a major journal rejected completely, and that then won an award when he got it published at another journal. I pointed out that, of course, he had the option of taking his paper wherever he wanted, or simply dropping the matter entirely, whereas a student does not have those options in mid-November.

It was basically that kind of conversation. Lots of really obvious stuff, as in the conversation with Melinda – and yes, I had to go through the story, yet again, of what had happened in our group interactions in her Asia class. In fact, he was having a hard time getting his arms around the story, so he had me go through the whole story twice, and a third time for some parts of it. So much for Melinda’s claim that she just wanted to alert me to some things to think about. Apparently she had decided not to let matters rest there after all.

At a certain point the advisor told me that, in fact, his job was to advocate on my behalf. That was truly remarkable. I was thinking, oh, wow, is this how SW advocacy is done? Because it seemed like you were actually trying to make a case against me, good buddy, when we were going on for an hour on the various ways in which you felt that I was completely at fault.

The advisor seemed to think that it would be appropriate for Melinda to oppose me if I uttered any criticism of SW education. I was surprised that he felt that way. Surely a leading SSW fosters a mindset in which everyone is encouraged to participate in quality control – to offer constructive criticism and to search for ways to do things better. Or – not. Not according to the advisor. In his view, academia enforces conformity. Citing Kuhn, he observed that higher education punishes deviation from accepted views and behaviors.

I left the advisor’s office, came home, puttered around for a while, and went to bed at 9 PM. I was discouraged. No, more than that; I was drained. But when I woke up at 2:30 AM, I realized that there was at least one positive aspect to this ordeal: at least I did not get a parking ticket.

* * * * *

November 17, 4:27 AM – The Door Ajar

In my advisor’s defense, I want to mention, in passing, that at least he does close his door when we are talking about my personal affairs. So far, I think almost everyone else has left theirs slightly ajar. I don’t know how much sound from our conversations is thus audible in the hallways. I should try to see whether they do this when female students are meeting with faculty.

* * * * *

November 18, 7:31 AM – Disability Agency: Physical Layout

Another day in the office. Let me tell you how the place is laid out.

From the main street, you drive into a large loop drive, a mile in circumference. Basically, an industrial park, only partly developed, without much industry. Disability Agency is located halfway around that loop. It’s kind of sleepy back there; not much traffic at all.

At the Agency’s driveway, you pull into the parking lot. If you keep going to the back of the parking lot, you go through a gate into a fenced-in area. The gate has always been open, as far as I’ve seen. This fenced parking area continues around back of the building.

Instead of going into that fenced area, you park and enter the front door into a hallway. No lobby. There is an office to the left. That office functions as the reception area. There are four desks in there. Or you could skip the reception area and just proceed straight down the hallway. After the reception area, the next thing on the left is the kitchen, and if you go through the kitchen area further to the left you hit some meeting rooms. Over there to the left, you can also find a warehouse space with various prosthetics and other devices and equipment for people with disabilities. The warehouse space has a big garage door that opens into the fenced-in parking lot, out back of the building.

Or instead of going left, into the kitchen or warehouse areas, you could just continue straight down the main hallway, and you’d wind up in a sort of bullpen, a semi-open area of assorted desks and cubicles, toward the back of the building. Or you could make your first right, after coming in the front door, and now you’d be following hallways that go around a square, left-left-left, winding up in the bullpen and ultimately back at that long main hallway. The executive offices, including Marty’s, are mostly located around that square. There are also several intern desks alongside the hallway, halfway around the square, not far from Marty’s office. I’ve been sitting at one of those.

The computers at the intern desks are not the latest and greatest. Like most computers in the Agency, these still use the old, heavy CRT monitors, not flat-screen displays. Mine is less desirable than the other; its monitor is smaller. The other computer, aside from mine, was used on Monday by another volunteer, a pretty Asian-American woman with a speech impairment named Jewel, and was used yesterday by my fellow intern, Margaret. I have gradually figured out that Margaret’s irritating habit of not looking directly at me is due to a nasty vision impairment. When she works at the computer, she expands the letters so that they are maybe three inches tall. Needless to say, she doesn’t fit much text onto the screen.

The outer wall of the hallway where I sit has several offices. One belongs to Robin, whom I can thank for that boring meeting in the state capitol. In case I haven’t said so, she’s the Director of Operations. Another office on this hallway seems to be shared by Bill, who attends Marty’s supervision meetings, and Betty, a quiet, gray-haired, sixtyish specialist in occupational therapy.

* * * * *

November 18, 8:41 AM – Tuesday in the Office: Blog Post on Definitions of Disability

Sometimes, in a new job, you have to find ways to entertain yourself and yet be somehow useful or at least be learning things they will want you to know. What I decided to do, yesterday, was to post a couple of items on my blog. I decided to start with a post on the various definitions of disability. I wanted to get a sense of how the definition used in the American Community Survey (ACS) compares to other definitions. It looks like the ACS is the one that will be giving us the most targeted information on the prevalence of disabilities in our three-county service area.

Except for one big chunk of time out of the middle, it took me most of the day to write that first, definitional blog post. The Census Bureau seems to have quite a few things going on – different ways of defining and counting disability for different purposes – and I had to wallow around in them for a while. The basic idea is that disabilities used to be treated according to a 19th-century medical model, in which there are these things wrong with people and doctors have to fix them to the extent possible, and otherwise those people have to find their own ways to survive; but now we use a social model, in which it’s too simplistic to say that a disability is just something wrong with an individual. We notice, instead, that society deals very well with some disabilities (e.g., visual impairment): they are extremely common and generally accepted and are treated with common devices (e.g., eyeglasses), with very little comment or stigma.

In other words, people do have physical and mental impairments; but those impairments tend to become interpreted or constructed as disabilities through certain social processes and priorities. So, for example, when my brother was born profoundly retarded, there were tons of things he couldn’t (and still can’t) do; but it was up to family and society to decide whether my parents could take care of him at home, or whether he would instead be put into an old brick institution with hundreds of others like him, or in a group home. There have been tremendous improvements, over the years, in society’s treatment of him. He’s not so completely rejected (not to mention isolated and abused) anymore.

I am still moving toward the ACS, and that may turn out to be politically tricky for me. People around the Agency seem to have been citing various statistics about disabilities. I don’t want to offend whoever put those statistics together. But when we’re peddling this stuff to state senators and representatives, it seems like we need to have it right. So I am starting with my blog, which gets little traffic and does have the advantage of giving me a place to keep track of the webpages and other sources I am using for guidance. Later, I’ll feel my way into the project of translating it for Marty and/or others in the Agency. It’s definitely Social Policy-related work, and it feels like a natural start, so I guess so far, so good.

* * * * *

November 18, 9:03 AM – First Supervision Meeting

Marty had her first supervision meeting with her supervisees yesterday – the first, I mean, since I started. I think she has different groups. This group meets once a month. Yesterday’s meeting ran from 11:30 AM to not quite 2:30 PM.

Counting Marty, I think there were ten people in this meeting. We had Betty and Bill; we had Anna and Margaret and Ellen; we had Melanie and Jewel and me. Bill is a portly, fiftyish guy with a gruff sense of humor who seems somewhat able to walk but evidently prefers to ride around on a motor scooter wheelchair. He seems to be here on some kind of quasi-volunteer basis, coming and going irregularly. I think he is a licensed social worker, or is trying to become one, and has to attend these meetings as part of that. He didn’t look at me, didn’t acknowledge me or introduce himself, and when I’ve seen him in the halls, he hasn’t looked at me.

We also had another woman, probably in her 30s, named Carol. She seems to look at me like she doesn’t like me or doesn’t trust me or something – not, anyway, in a very friendly or welcoming way, though I know it will probably turn out that there is some kind of disability at work there, or some other total misunderstanding on my part. I’m just describing the first impression. Anyway, some of us are volunteers; some are interns; some are there to meet continuing education requirements or for other purposes; and some are on the staff.

We went over some items of business and then listened to several members of the group discuss various cases of people they are working with. One of those cases sounds pretty hard-core. Apparently the guy has several significant disabilities, mental and physical. He’s hard to deal with, hard to help, and hard to please. He’s frustrated, and the volunteers and interns who have worked with him are frustrated too. There’s no funding to help him, which means that volunteers and interns tend to be the ones who work with him, and this means that he doesn’t have much continuity of assistance here. By the time an intern – currently Margaret – begins to figure out what he’s all about and what works with him, her internship is done and she’s out of here, and then they start back at the beginning, with the next intern.

At one or two points in the discussion, some of the people in the meeting seemed to be laughing at the client I just described, and I was not comfortable with that. But I realize that I would probably be singing a different tune if I actually had to deal with him. Social workers do sometimes talk about burnout and compassion fatigue.

The meeting dragged. I was finding it hard to stay awake. Based on comments that I heard before the meeting, and the behavior that I observed during the meeting, I think it would be fair to say that this monthly meeting is a chore for most if not all participants. But like I say, I think it is required for licensing purposes, at least for some attendees.

After it was over, I went out to my car and took a 15-minute nap. Temperatures are still in the 40s and above in the daytime, and it was sunny, so I can still do this. I don’t know how I’ll manage it in the winter. Maybe I’ll have to warm up and run the car and keep the heater turned on. There doesn’t seem to be an undisturbed place to snooze inside the building.

* * * * *

November 18, 10:35 AM – Miscellany

So I’ve been sitting here for a couple of hours, composing posts and also dealing with some other stuff. I’ve got some calls to make and bills to pay, and then I’ll be off to Dr. Krishna’s class at 5 PM. Actually, I was thinking I might run there in my shorts, switch into long pants for class (if I want to lug them along), and then back into shorts for Poets League basketball afterwards. We’ll see.

Meanwhile, let me take a quick scan of the email messages I haven’t responded to yet. We’ve got a note from one – count ‘em, one – person who wonders what happened to the running group. So let me start with that. . . . alright, I’ve sent her a message asking for her advice on whether I/we should keep trying to get the group going. I mean, it’s late November.

Next, the big item for last night and this morning has been figuring out my spring semester course choices. I have a problem. The switch to a Social Policy major means that I have different courses to take – that, in brief, neither my mini-courses nor my course with Dr. Krishna, this semester, have counted toward my graduation requirements. So now I apparently have four remaining courses to take in the spring semester. I need to see if I can get exempted from at least one of them, because these courses are expensive and anyway I’m sick of taking courses, especially when they cover stuff I have already covered in previous courses.

In class today, Stacy said that she met this really nice girl at orientation and hasn’t seen he since. It made me think about the relative anonymity of this place. Like, the other day I discovered I had this big ugly black hair growing out of the top of my ear. It has probably been evident to all these persnickety young females for weeks. Well, jeez. I don’t walk around with a mirror held to the side of my head all day. I didn’t realize this sort of thing happened. This is the first time I’ve ever grown old. I’m not sure how it’s done. Puberty, they warn you about. This, forget it.

* * * * *

November 18, 3:25 PM – More Trivia; Internship Paperwork

Just in case anyone was wondering what graduate school is all about, I have spent the past hour or two dealing with miscellaneous calls and messages involving financial aid and the registrar. Among other things, it seems the university has arbitrarily demoted me from having six credits of internship credit this semester to having only one. Sandra wonders why. She also has no paperwork to support my switch to a Social Policy major, so I have been back in touch with the advisor about that. Registration is coming up on Monday, and at this school it all happens very fast, every man for himself. Last semester, I was blocked out of two courses I wanted to take because I didn’t move quickly enough.

Sandra also wants to do a site visit at Disability Agency on December 14. I think she has to do one each semester, and that’s about as late as she could possibly do it this semester. She also wants a draft of a placement agreement from me. This is some kind of long, complicated document that every student has to complete and submit for their internship. The other students had theirs in a month ago. It’s a hassle for Marty, and also for me. But it’s got to be done.

* * * * *

November 19, 9:09 AM – A Paucity of Role-Play Volunteers

I was wrong about nobody getting hurt in last week’s Poets League basketball game. Mohammed came to Dr. Krishna’s class last night with a broken finger in a splint. Or at least he says it’s broken. They didn’t X-ray it. I think it might have just been a nasty jam. But anyway, he’s hurt, and therefore he wasn’t going to join us in last night’s game.

Speaking of Mohammed, I screwed up and actually started to call him that. That’s my pseudonym for him, here in the blog, and that’s how I’ve begun to think of him, but that’s not his real name, and he might have been offended. It would have been like the time when my sister sent a birthday card to my Jewish fiancée, using the wrong surname. Like maybe she thought all Chinese people are named Wong and all Jewish people are named Cohen.

Overall, it was the usual routine in Dr. Krishna’s class. He starts with his funky music – Hawaiian, this time – and then asks if anyone has any questions from the assigned reading, and nobody does, and he then proceeds with a PowerPoint, and then some role-playing, etc.

This time, Dr. K wanted a role-play volunteer to help him demonstrate, to the class, how to work with an angry client. I wasn’t likely to volunteer to be that make-believe client. As before, I am hesitant to adopt a persona that I don’t want to be stereotyped as. The trite formulation of the angry white male is just too common, these days; I don’t want to be identified with that. I don’t want him or my classmates looking at me, for the rest of the semester, every time someone says something about working with angry men.

I was especially disinclined to volunteer this week because, at the start of class, Dr. K began by reading the class what I had written on my anonymous feedback form at the end of the previous class. (I say that the forms are anonymous, because they’re supposed to be, but I have noticed that Dr. K does sometimes watch as students place their feedback forms in the stack. He might know who was first and last, and possibly who was next to first or last. Whether he watched me put my form on the stack last week, I don’t recall. He might also recognize handwriting.)

On my feedback form, I had written that I should have volunteered for the role-play, involving the student who pretended to be suicidal. It was a frank remark, which was my first mistake. He doesn’t seem to read every feedback form to the entire class. I didn’t think he would read this one. It implied that the other student had not done a good job. It’s one thing to tell the professor that maybe some of the role-plays are not very instructive (which, to me, suggests that the students are somewhat limited in their ability to have genuine empathy for clients occupying these various situations). It’s another thing to convey that view to the entire class. So, OK, maybe I should be careful about what I write on his anonymous feedback forms.

After he reads my remark to the class, he says he doesn’t know whether that means the person who filled out the form (i.e., me) has experience with being suicidal. Speaking up now might feed the imaginations of gossipy classmates. So I sit silently. So does everyone else.

When it comes time for someone to volunteer this week, nobody does. Eventually, Stephanie raises her hand. She has already done it once, but nobody else is offering. I suspect that’s because others share my concerns about the safety and wisdom of making oneself out to be a troubled soul, in full view of these SW students. And it’s too bad, because Stephanie is not a very angry person, and she does not do a very good job of pretending to be one.

Before standing up to join Dr. K up front, for some reason Stephanie turns back to me, of all people, seated two tables behind her, and says, “Oh, Ray, don’t you want to volunteer?” Without missing a beat, I said, “What am I angry about?” It was a neutral remark. I wasn’t saying no. She, or Dr. K, could have suggested a scenario, like, “Well, you could pretend to be angry because . . .” whatever. That didn’t happen.

So – do you suppose Dr. K doesn’t want me to volunteer? Is that why he read from my feedback form – was he trying to intimidate me from further frank remarks or other active participation? He has seen me in several small-group role-plays by now; I think he knows I can pretend well enough.

I’ll have to think about it. There’s probably some class participation credit to be earned by volunteering. Maybe I will, if a better opportunity comes up.

* * * * *

November 19, 9:22 AM – The Clueless Therapist

Last night, after Stephanie’s role-play, Dr. Krishna played a video of a Latina therapist interviewing a Latina client. He talked about them as though their being Latina somehow made them similar to one another, as though two white guys in a similar situation could be assumed to be similar to one another.

Dr. K was full of admiration for this Latina therapist. I wondered what he was smoking. I asked him for the name of the videotape afterwards. It was an APA video on “Ethnocultural Psychotherapy.” I would think that an SSW oriented toward real multiculturality would not treat nonwhites as though they were exotic, such that only a person of color could properly star in such a video; the implication is that whites are just regular and normal, without any ethnoculturality worth noting. We are actually just as interesting, diverse, screwed-up, and weird as everyone else.

I disagreed with Dr. Krishna’s view, regarding this Latina therapist, because it seemed to me that she was all over the map. She has the client in tears, thinking about her relationship with her mother; and then, apropos of nothing, the therapist suddenly puts the client back into her head (i.e., into her judging, thinking self, as distinct from her feeling self) by asking her whether she had a similar situation at work. It seemed, to me, to be a naked grab for a clever interpretation: I thought, in other words, that the therapist was trying to show that she has discovered an interesting parallel between the way the client interacts with her mother and the way she interacts with someone on the job. But it fails. The client doesn’t see much of a connection and I, watching the video, don’t either. So the moment of therapeutic intensity – getting to a place of raw feeling – was lost. Nor did the therapist recover gracefully. Instead of attempting to go back to where the client had been, she plunged onward toward nowhere in particular.

I was surprised that Dr. K went on to praise the therapist for seeking such insights, as if the mission here were to show the client just how smart and helpful the therapist is. He had impressed me, a few weeks ago, when he criticized a therapist for making that kind of interpretive lunge, at the price of getting away from the client in the here-and-now. But I wondered whether he was unwilling or perhaps unable to think critically when the star of the show was a nonwhite therapist.

It didn’t stop there. Dr. K started talking about the client’s hesitation about continuing in therapy. He spoke as though this were an indication of a problem in the client. I was thinking that I, myself, would have been irritated with the therapist, if I had been the client. I would probably have stopped her and asked, “Where are we going with this?”

I’d have been glad to share these thoughts. But Dr. K is not seeking a dialogue on how we could improve on this therapist’s style. He has already praised her. Criticizing her at this point means rejecting his viewpoint. I’m not going to do that. I already get enough static for challenging professors’ thinking in ways that they find uncomfortable.

After that, we took a break. Then Dr. Krishna led us through his usual autogenics session. Lights are down low in the room; we are focusing on our heartbeat and on visualizing a calming place; and then here come Stephanie and Su Ling through the door, hustling and bustling and otherwise completely disrupting the quiet moment as they embarrassedly make their way to their seats. I was impressed that they did not seem to fluster Dr. K in the least.

Then we broke out into dyads and did role-plays of working with angry clients. I poked the back of the woman sitting in front of me. I hadn’t been introduced; she was one of the half-dozen lone wolves in Dr. Krishna’s class. She was willing, so we were a pair. We had time for only a one-way, and she wanted to pretend to be the angry client rather than the therapist. So I asked her questions, and she answered. At the end, she said she thought I had done a really good job, that she was very comfortable telling me the things she told me. I suspected that her role-play drew quite a bit on her real self, or on a close friend of hers. She seemed to have pretty quick answers for complex, personal questions that might have required her to think a minute if she were just inventing answers. I hoped so, anyway; I liked the idea that I might actually have been helping someone. I told her that I’ve previously gotten feedback that I’m not empathic enough. This surprised her.

Next week: no class, due to Thanksgiving. I suddenly realize that, after the fun professor’s class this afternoon, I am free from classes for nearly two weeks. This is fine with me. I have a lot to do.

* * * * *

November 19, 11:06 AM – Poets League Basketball, Round 2

We played again last night. Henry wasn’t there; Mohammed wasn’t there; some others weren’t there; but we still wound up with enough to have four or five people on each team throughout the evening. They were late to get there – we didn’t actually get started until around 8:30 – but this time we played until 10:30 PM. Or beyond; that’s when I left.

Height or no height, three of the female players were really quite good. They could dribble, which I basically cannot do; they could pass, they could hit baskets. One of them seemed like she almost never missed.

I got in a few magical shots, using skills I last practiced in 1971 or so, where I would loop back and then do a slop shot that I used to be able to do pretty well. The others found this amusing. I always did think the Harlem Globetrotters were the most interesting team.

It was quite a workout. Once again, I was just soaked in sweat. I guess we won’t be playing next week, but hopefully we are moving toward a place of having a core group of people who just like to play basketball. It would be good to continue this through the winter.

* * * * *

November 19, 6:30 PM – Bureaucracy

No response from the advisor yet. I hope he decides to approve my request for a waiver out of more redundant courses. I really probably should have been exempted from both the fun professor’s course and Dr. Krishna’s course this semester; they are pretty much what we already did at SSW1.

The registrar’s office seems to have worked out its problem regarding the shift on my record from six credits to one credit of field placement. They say I’m now back at six credits.

In the fun professor’s class today, Beth told me that, during the orientation day I missed, they announced that only 10% of the incoming class was over 26 years old. Beth, like me, is enjoying her second internship much more than the first one. We had some presenters on SW practice with old people, and also watched a video on Foundation House in New York. At the break, I took a stroll with Lucretia MacEvil, wandering around the halls of the Education Building, talking about tenting out and hibernating in the winter.

Riding the bus home in the gray, darkening evening, I felt that the weather here is miserable. I just closed my eyes and slipped into a state of semi-sleep.

* * * * *

November 20, 10:36 PM – End of Week

Went to a meeting with Marty, this afternoon, to listen to discussions for a water-oriented recreational facility at a nearby park – you know, pools and slides and all that. Marty’s involvement will eventually consist of advising on whether the plans comply with laws on accessibility for people with disabilities. But we’re premature: the people at the meeting, from various organizations and municipal departments, aren’t ready to commit to this project. So we don’t accomplish much.

Afterwards, I drive Marty to the bus station downtown, so she can catch a bus home. I should have asked; I probably could have just driven her there. This town’s not that big. But maybe it’s just as well. I don’t need her entertaining any weird social worker fantasies about how I might be stalking her, or otherwise giving a damn where she lives. Not that she seems like the type. I think my jaw would drop open if she made any such claim against me. But then, my jaw has dropped open before.

In the meeting about that recreational facility, when we introduced ourselves, I said I was Ray from Disability Agency. Marty, next in line to do a self-introduction, started by making clear that I am just an intern at the agency. It felt a little like I’d had my wrist slapped. I don’t think she would be too concerned that I might be piping up and making the Agency look bad. I’m guessing that she just wanted everyone to be clear that she, and not the corporate-looking white male, is the spokesperson for this agency.

We had started the day by meeting with a guy from the bus company. Marty has been agitating for installation of an accessible bus stop out in front of the Agency’s building, a half-mile closer than the next nearest bus stop. So the guy showed up and we went out to look at and measure and talk about the spot where this bus stop is hopefully going to appear.

I had to nap twice today, for an hour altogether. Pretty darned cold in the car. I’ve been draping the sleeping bag over me, but it’s still not quite enough.

Oh, and I now have a desk in the receptionist area – that first room to the left as you come in the Agency’s front door. I chose this location. Marty was willing to let me stay back there in the executive suite. But I figured I’d learn more on the front lines, where all sorts of people come through the door.

My desk in that reception office is on the other side of a bookcase from where Erin sits. Erin is an attractive, twentysomething brunette in a wheelchair. Already, on my first day in this new spot, she’s got a visitor, a guy in a chair who hangs out and talks to her until Marty comes in to tell me something – at which point the guy quietly rolls over to another desk and attends to some paperwork.

The reception area is cold. The automatic door opener holds the front door open for quite a while, every time some lazy delivery person punches its button instead of just pulling the door open. So I’ll be wearing thermal underwear, probably starting Monday. That should help during naps too.

My advisor finally sent Sandra the change of major form, today, with his signature affirming my shift to a Social Policy major. In a separate message, he tells me he’s running behind, this week, and hasn’t yet gotten to the memo I sent him two days ago, proposing that I should be exempted from several required courses in the spring semester.

My roommate can be heard downstairs. I may go down and say hello, just to make sure it’s really him.

I think my rib hurts more now than it did last weekend. It’s not major, but it’s making its presence known.

Just added several RSS feeds from the university’s student newspaper to my feed reader. Should have done it months ago. Don’t know why it didn’t occur to me, of all people. I’m the guy who posted a thing on using RSS on a student group’s website, back in September, with a copy on my own blog. Judging from the message in which a professor solicited me to write that piece, RSS is pretty much unknown in the SSW.

* * * * *

November 21, 1:17 AM – The Field Placement Manual

Finally got around to checking the SSW’s field instruction manual, to see what they say about authorized breaks, lunches, etc. when working at the field placement site. I am making a bit of time for this stuff, tonight, now that Thanksgiving break has begun. It doesn’t actually feel too different – I’ll still be going to Disability Agency on Monday, even though Marty is flying out on a 10-day vacation this weekend – but these days at the end of the week have typically been the times when I’ve dabbled a bit in things off the beaten track. Along those lines, I haven’t checked tomorrow’s weather, but I’d like to go for a long run in the morning, if circumstances permit.

So anyway, it appears that interns don’t have any actual rights in the workplace, at least not according to the field instruction manual. I just searched my downloaded PDF copy of the manual for “rights.” There’s a mention of civil rights (e.g., discrimination on the basis of age or race). There’s a reference to human rights generally. And that’s about it. Tried another search for “lunch.” Nothing at all on that. Nothing for “workplace.”

“Employment” turned up more. When I searched for that, I found references to employee-oriented workplace requirements that may also apply to interns, especially regarding immunization/vaccination and mandatory drug screening. Unfortunately, the closest I got to anything indicating concern on the student’s behalf was a bit on safety in the workplace, which I guess the SSW would want to mention for purposes of protecting itself against liability, in case a student gets hurt or killed at work. It’s a concern, especially when your clients have serious mental health issues.

I tried a few other searches in the field instruction manual. Tried “sleep”; nada. Got three hits for “nap,” but they all occurred inside the word “inappropriate.” And that is not surprising. The field instruction manual is, by and large, an extended lecture on how students are expected to perform.

To be sure, these SW students are young. Many have been relatively privileged, and most have spent much more time in school than in the workforce. For purposes of fitting into a future employment situation, many of them surely do need guidance.

But, please, let’s not overdo it. Social workers are supposedly not fond of sweatshops. This is a university whose graduate assistants became unionized to protect themselves against exploitation. This university is located in a state that is famous for its employee resistance to excessive demands by employers. In short, this SSW, of all places, should be emphatically insuring that its trainees are getting a first-class introduction to both sides of the employment equation.

We don’t need Monica Lewinsky to remind us that legal issues can arise when interns are, as the field placement manual puts it, “over utilized.” To quote one webpage that comes up on a quick search, “Even though not required by law, most Florida employers allow employees short breaks throughout the workday. Time spent in breaks of less than 20 minutes must be counted towards hours worked.” As another webpage puts it, “The reasoning here is that short breaks increase productivity, as well as boosting morale. Therefore, they benefit the employer as much as they benefit the employee.” So tell me, on this subject of taking breaks for a nap or for any other reasonable purpose: are we to understand that an SSW endorses more onerous and less enlightened attitudes than a person would tend to encounter in the for-profit sector?

You might wonder how this school’s field placement manual could possibly neglect employee concerns. Yes, the manual does make that brief reference to overutilization. But what counts as overutilization? No clue. How about working 12 hours without a break – would that cross the line? Maybe; maybe not.

You’d think that some strengths-oriented SW instructor would have suggested, by now, that the manual could take a more positive stance. For example, it says, “Field instructors are strongly urged to document concerns, issues, or problems regarding student performance.” Well, great. What you do wrong will be recorded in your file. Meanwhile, how about documenting student achievements and signs of excellence? These young people are just starting their careers. Aren’t they going to need letters of reference, where their field instructor has some specific documentation to refresh his/her memory on the good things this person did, in his/her hundreds of hours of free labor?

It is common sense that people need breaks now and then. If you penalize them for taking those breaks, then some won’t. This can result in a workplace environment that some will find draining. That doesn’t sound right for SW organizations.

* * * * *

November 21, 1:27 PM – Saturday Afternoon

I just got an email from someone, offering MSW students a special opportunity to get “sensori-motor psychotherapy training” for only $2,500 per person. The training lasts for a full two days, so you can see why they describe it as “a great opportunity.”

My roommate just got up. Sheesh. I wonder what time he went to bed.

3:28 PM. I’ve spent two hours editing and clarifying my blog posts from the past two weeks. I’ve been trying to do this every Saturday, so as to keep up-to-date on this thing. Now I’m going for a run. Sky is clear, temp in the low 50s.

4:47 PM. Decided to ride instead. Bike’s maiden voyage. It’s fast. Now it’s time for chicken on the barbie, not to be confused with Barbie on the chicken.

8:32 PM. I am working on a paper for the fun professor. It’s not an assigned paper, per se; it’s an explanation of what Mockingbird Years was all about. She hasn’t read the book. I assumed or hoped she had. She’s forever telling us about movies that illustrate various issues in mental health or human development; for instance, just the other day she recommended Napoleon Dynamite. But how can I explain what a whole book is about? That seems to be what she is asking for. She says she can’t grade my paper without it. Is she telling me that none of her previous students have written about it, and that she can’t check the rather lengthy Amazon.com summary? I hope she doesn’t expect me to go through the entire nine-page paper and explain each reference to the text of the book. I’d have to re-read the book to do that.

12:39 AM. Got the thing almost done for the fun professor. Roommate came home a little while ago. I’m about to call it a day. I think I might have landed harder than I thought, when I tripped and fell on that run last week. I have another sore spot, up by my sternum. Didn’t notice it until I was out biking today.

* * * * *

November 22, 8:03 AM – Parsimony Analysis

Have my posts to this blog been parsimonious in November? Quick word estimates:

November 1-21: 25,000 (1,190 words/day)

October: 78,000 (2,516 words/day)

September 22-30: 18,000 (2,000 words/day)

I’ve been writing at less than half the pace of October, without feeling that I’ve been leaving out anything significant. That’s good.

I’m less happy about the overall amount of verbiage at this point. Assuming 285 words per double-spaced 8.5” x 11” page (Times New Roman, 12 point), that gives me a manuscript of about 425 pages. I’ve been averaging 210 pages per month for two months now. Fortunately, only 85 of those pages actually come from November.

What seems to have happened, in the big picture, is that I found myself in a strange and abortive internship; its sudden termination put my world in an uproar; and then there were aftershocks. That statement probably accounts for most of what I have written in this blog.

In the realm of aftershocks, I guess it is possible that Sandra and/or Dr. Lorna badmouthed me to Assistant Dean Melinda, priming her to go off half-cocked in the Asia class and to convey a tale of Growing Menace to my advisor. And, perhaps, to others as well. Whether that’s what happened, we’ll probably never know. These things don’t get examined in an SSW. But using that scenario as an example, I can see how much of this material could be triggered by just one or two rogue agents.

Assuming no further bizarreness, I expect that the pace of my blogging will continue to slow. December is only a half-month, schoolwise, and I have a bunch of schoolwork to do in the final weeks of the current semester. Next semester, by the time March comes around, I will probably be looking somewhat beyond the SSW and graduation.

The innovation of deferring my posts until the next day seems to have reduced the quantity of material. The blow-by-blow approach of September and October may have been helpful, to set the stage. But from now on, I will keep tending toward next-day summaries of current events. Not in every case. Yesterday, for example, I did want to provide slice-of-life updates at several points throughout the afternoon and evening, just as a change of pace.

* * * * *

November 22, 9:11 PM – F

Such a provocative letter.

The Social Entrepreneurship prof has given me an F for the course. Actually, a U, for unsatisfactory. I just saw it, while preparing my list of courses for registration tomorrow morning. So I have sent her an email asking how the grade was calculated.

I hope they aren’t trying to drum up an extra thousand bucks for the university, here and there, by searching for excuses to flunk students who need credits to graduate.

Apparently my advisor did not advocate very effectively on my behalf in this matter. I guess when you have to repeat a simple story three times, that’s a hint that the person is not really listening.

I did wonder why he said something about the grade appeal process when, to my knowledge, I was going to be passing these classes. It seems he already knew that I was going to get an F. Which makes me wonder whether he has heard that Assistant Dean Melinda is going to give me an F too. It’s odd that she and the computer prof haven’t already put in their grades. Those courses were finished weeks ago.

* * * * *

November 24, 12:21 AM – Almost Thanksgiving

It’s not tomorrow yet, but I want to jot down a few notes anyway. I suspect I’ll be rushing around in the morning and won’t have time to sit and think about what happened the previous day.

Tomorrow morning, I’ll be back at Disability Agency. The office is closed on Friday, so today and tomorrow are my only days there this week.

I’ll be excited to be there because I spent two hours in meetings, today, with Mike and his group. Mike seems to be in charge of the recreational aspect of what the Agency does. I invited myself to his group’s meeting after I heard Erin (who is part of his group) say something about gardening. I have taken a passing interest in horticultural therapy. So at this meeting, they drafted me to write a grant application letter for funding to start a garden. I was working on that until about 5:45 PM. I didn’t want to leave, but I hadn’t eaten since breakfast. So I’ll be eager to get back to that. The deadline is a week away, and there’s a lot I need to figure out before I can finish the application.

The Social Entrepreneurship professor replied to my email. I haven’t read her reply, or any of today’s other incoming email messages. From work, I went to the grocery store, and by the time I got home and finished eating and organizing things it was getting late. I didn’t want to get started on anything new. I just need to get some sleep and finish that grant. I can deal with the rest of it tomorrow night.

I couldn’t sleep last night, thinking about the F. Only got about four hours of sleep. So I sacked out for an hour in the car midday today. It’s easier to do that without worrying about it when Marty’s not around. So I only put in about 7.5 hours today at the agency.

I did register for my spring semester courses on time this morning, and got into all six classes I wanted. I’ll be dropping several of them in order to make space for the field placement. I’ll know which classes to drop after I hear from the advisor. He said he was “off his game” last week, and that’s why it was going to take him until Friday or Saturday to get back to me. Well, Friday and Saturday have come and gone. Now it’s going to be Tuesday, at the earliest, before I hear from him. So I wonder if he’s having additional behind-the-scenes conversations about me, or what this delay is about. My memo to him was not much more than one page in length.

I have a new officemate. Along with Erin, working away on the other side of the bookcase, I am now seated about eight feet from a newcomer, an AmeriCorps volunteer named Elaine, in a roughly back-to-back arrangement. So I share an office with two pretty twentysomething women in wheelchairs. Jewel stopped by my desk and asked me about my schoolwork and so forth today. So far, so good: these people seem very nice.

* * * * *

November 24, 11:15 PM – The Longest Day

Twelve hours at the Agency. I am a slave.

Actually, I kind of enjoyed it. I was working on that grant application most of the time, not counting the hours I spent talking to my wheelchair-bound officemates, this time joined by the wheelchair-bound volunteer guy who likes to talk to these women. Oh, and don’t describe them as wheelchair-bound. They, themselves, don’t care, but that’s not the politically correct term, because they’re not actually wheelchair-bound, or anyway it makes them sound weak.

Which I partially agree with, and will argue about another time. Right now, I primarily need to complain about my sore rib(s). I am tempted to say it hurts every time I cough or sneeze, but the more accurate statement would be Christ! It hurts like hell every time I cough or sneeze!

My theory on the rib is that it was sort of OK until I went on that bike ride, but somehow the stretching and/or vibration of hitting a million potholes leveraged it against the other end, the part that connects with the breastbone, until it broke loose and now both ends are in play and I’m getting whipsawed. That’s the technical diagnosis. I haven’t specialized in orthopedics, but I picked up some of the basic lingo in SW school.

* * * * *

November 25, 10:46 AM – Social Workers Speak

The SSW has posted notices about two new SW networking sites. One, MySocialWorkNetwork.com, doesn’t seem to have much going on, so far. The other, Social Workers Speak, leads off with this announcement:

Media Watch Exclusive: When Women Get Sick, Men Often Leave

Experts Discuss This Troubling Trend

I looked into it. The article says this:

Social workers are not surprised. Many have been helping families address this issue for years.

So, OK, they call it a trend, but apparently it’s not.

I looked at the source article, and at the “experts” who comment on it. First statement by one of those experts: “Many men do not deal well with women being emotionally, financially, or physically dependent on them even though they may have unconsciously fostered it. They want it, encourage it, but then resent it.” Doesn’t make sense. Men nowadays want women to be financially dependent on them? This does not sound like the reality for today’s working families. Show me the data.

Moreover, if they did encourage and want that, why would they resent it? I realize the author is trying to say that the contradiction is in the men’s behavior, but I’m not convinced. I think the contradiction is in the author’s incompatible hypotheses. Neither the article nor the expert cites any research in support of this speculation.

First impression: Social Workers Speak will waste my time.

* * * * *

November 25, 1:24 PM – Today’s Email

It is slowly dawning on me, how much work I have to do in the next few weeks.

I know, I’m supposed to be waiting until tomorrow to post this note about today. I’m still working out the balance between parsimonious summary and day-by-day updating.

The most recent email in my SSW inbox is from my advisor. He apologizes profusely for not getting back to me sooner. He says it is not his style. I believe that. So why make a special exception in my case? He’s not saying. Usually, I think, the person will accompany such apologies with some attempt at an excuse. “I have a medical condition.” Or whatever. No excuse here, though. For some reason, he just vanished when I needed his help in choosing my courses.

So now he says it looks reasonable, what I sent him about requesting an exemption from courses I have already taken. It looks reasonable? I thought he was an official part of the process of getting an exemption. I guess not. Now what? The manual doesn’t tell me where to go next. I guess I’ll send it to Assistant Dean Sean and see what he does with it.

In other news, we must have received a dozen emails, by now, with details about how to order an SSW Bar Crawl T-shirt. We also have the usual selection of email messages announcing visiting lecturers and workshops on all kinds of topics – poverty in Africa, media and foreign policy, minority social movements in Japan, etc. A couple of messages announcing highly competitive opportunities (a couple of fellowships, a new field placement, calls for papers). Those seem likely to be relevant, each of them, for small numbers of specialized MSW students. Updates on how Dr. Barbara, the expert on men, with whom I may be taking a course next semester, has won an award for best research paper.

Some Thanksgiving-related announcements about building hours, etc. A note from Dr. Krishna on some suicide assessment and prevention materials he has uploaded for us. He’ll be out of town, week after next, but he has lined up some guest speakers for us. Really a ton of email, for some reason.

* * * * *

November 25, 1:35 PM – About the F

> ––-Original Message––-
> To: [Social Entrepreneurship Prof]
> Sent: Sunday, November 22, 2009 9:04 PM
> Subject: Grade of U
>
> I see that you have given me a U in the Social Entrepreneurship class.
> Could you explain how this grade was calculated?

Her reply from yesterday:

> I calculated your grade in the following way:
>
> 50% Mini Writing Assignments – Two Unsatisfactory grades (first and last paper, which you did not complete)
> 30% Active Participation and Class Attendance – Unsatisfactory
> 20% In-Class Presentation of the Writing Assignment – Satisfactory
>
> You were graded at 55% U and 45% S which gives you a grade of U.

My reply today:

If I understand correctly, you are saying that you did not receive my last paper? I haven’t received the graded paper back in my folder, so I am guessing this is what you mean.

I am surprised to see that you have graded my participation and class attendance as unsatisfactory. I did participate, and I attended all sessions. Could you tell me how you calculated this portion?

* * * * *

November 27, 9:13 PM – Black Friday Comes

Day after Thanksgiving. The nation is shopping itself crazy. As an expression of solidarity, I have placed a small electronic gizmo into my Amazon.com shopping cart.

On Tuesday, Elaine, my officemate at the Agency, asked me if I was “going home for Thanksgiving.” Mom died last year, and Dad died the year before that – two years ago this month. I was glad that Elaine is at a place in life where she would not yet have contemplated that “home” may someday become more portable if not downright evanescent.

Yesterday, I ate leftovers. I have a big ham waiting for me in the fridge, but it seemed advisable to consume the salmon first, lest it rot. I had cooked the whole pound and a half on Wednesday, and ate half then. Yesterday’s big meal was the tail end of the fish, so to speak.

I got up at 1 AM. I was worrying about the work I still have to do. I spent a couple hours being productive – demonstrating to myself, in effect, that it’s all going to get done. Then back to sleep.

Today, I ran at noon. I saw ice on top of one passing car. Temps in the 30s, and windy. I had to wear a second T-shirt to be sure I’d be warm. I was going to take a shower afterwards, but my roommate had already wasted the water I intended to use. He loves the water. He likes to see it splash and gurgle. In a previous life, he was a trout.

I may not have mentioned that, in my email to the fun professor, I asked if anyone has tried to sound her out for negative observations about me. It’ll be interesting to see whether/how she replies. I’d ask Dr. Krishna too, but he seems to have more issues with men, and he doesn’t have the fun professor’s straight-shooting style. I don’t want a diagnosis; I just want to know if Assistant Dean Melinda is asking professors to talk about what’s wrong with me.

I’m having some problems with this paper for the fun professor. I’m going on for pages with all kinds of information, and judging from the assignment, it doesn’t seem like she wants that. So one solution would be: Stop. Just stop. So I will. Soon. Not yet, but soon.

* * * * *

November 30, 10:49 PM – I Finally Stopped

Here’s what I wrote yesterday, but didn’t post:

My paper is done. 17 pages. The fun professor is going to skin me alive. Or just reject it. She said 7-10 pages. But my case was complex. It took a lot of explaining. A whole weekend’s worth.

Well, I’m 10 days early. I’ll send it to her and see if she just coughs it back up.

So I sent her the paper, and now that I’m home from Disability Agency and have finished dinner (after seeing Zombieland at the dollar theater), I have a reply. It sounds like she is fine with its length. She just says, “Got your paper; thanks.” Then she adds an assurance that nobody has asked her any questions about me. I believe her, period. It is a relief.

* * * * *

November 30, 11:33 PM – The Bar Crawl

I didn’t get too many exciting emails during the balance of the Thanksgiving weekend. Another announcement of a talk on poverty reduction in Africa. A notice of a film on the wrongful occupation of Hawaii. Confirmation of my order from Domino’s Pizza. Stuff like that.

My favorite was the announcement promoting coffee consumption during final exams. And who sent us this message? Why, the Students for Recovery from Substance Abuse. You just know these people huddle and compare notes on where they can score the best Colombian. Beans, that is. Ironically, I think they sent us that one about the same time as those other people were sending us the 153rd email about the Bar Crawl T-shirts.

I don’t want to suggest that the Bar Crawl has been the single most frequently mentioned subject on the SSW’s mailing lists this semester. I think that’s probably true, but maybe not. But the preoccupation with barcrawling makes me wonder what would happen if these SW students were free to be themselves, to ditch the professional façade and be real about their own lives and needs. What would it be like if, instead of pretending to be perfect little professionals, we were encouraged to be truthful with one another?

* * * * *

December 1, 12:29 AM – Funky Day at the Office

I worked on the grant application for most of the day. It was hard because some people at the Agency are passionate about it, and I’m thinking that too much passion sends the wrong signal. To the people funding the grant, I’m afraid it will sound as though somebody at the Agency just got randomly excited about something. I don’t know much about grant writing, so I could definitely be wrong. I’m just trying to connect the dots, present everything as crisply and logically as I can, to these people who will be reading a hundred grant applications.

So we were two dogs, tugging at opposite ends of a piece of rope. Anyway, we have to wrap it up tomorrow.

After that, tomorrow’s big task – one that I would have been working on tonight, if I weren’t a bit burned-out in the post-paper transition after writing that thing for the fun professor – is the educational agreement that most of my classmates submitted back in October. Sandra wanted it by Thanksgiving, and that didn’t happen. And now, as I was looking at it today, I couldn’t figure it out. It wants something that is unclear to me. I didn’t find relevant guidance in the field manual or the orientation materials. Fortunately, a Google search revealed that one of the other top SSWs seems to be using some of the same terminology and imposing some of the same requirements on their MSWs, so I downloaded their field manual and will be hoping, tomorrow, to find my answers there.

Marty stopped in at the office. She’s still officially on vacation, but I guess she had to take care of something. She said she thinks Sandra’s Thanksgiving deadline for that learning agreement might have been a little optimistic. That’s good. The arrival of the boss often makes the employee just a bit more tense, and it did that to me, so I was pleased that she wasn’t critical of my tardiness. In fact, she said something nice, something about how I might still be at the Agency after I graduate. It was pleasant to think that she has a positive impression of me – that she might want me to stick around.

Right now, I am learning things from just sitting in the reception area, with these women in wheelchairs, and listening to their intermittent chitchat during the day, and from what volunteers say. Like, today we had this middle-aged volunteer working as the receptionist. A black woman shows up and asks for an employment application. The volunteer tells her that there are no positions available right now, that we’re just a nonprofit, and – I wrote down the quote – that “we only just work with disabled people,” as if that were something like garbage collection or cleaning toilets. So he managed to come up with three excuses for sending her away, and the last one can’t have sounded too good to the three women with disabilities who happened to be working at their desks in the reception area at that moment. Seems like a volunteer could get an agency in a lot of trouble with that kind of thing. I wondered about that guy’s orientation. Why not just hand her an employment application? For all he knows, she has a PhD in working with disabilities, or she’s a newspaper reporter, or, God forbid, she’s just a wonderful person who would make a fantastic contribution and is willing to work for next to nothing.

So that’s a mini-quandary in itself. Maybe I can suggest to Elaine, my officemate, that she mention something about employment applications when she trains these volunteers. Or maybe she does; maybe the guy was saying exactly what he was told to say.

I’d ask Robin (the director of operations) about it, but I sent her another message last week, about some late-night building-users who blocked the outside door open for 15 minutes on a cold night. I considered it a waste of heat and a security risk. These other organizations use the building at night, when there are no actual Agency employees present. So while it wasn’t a major problem, it seemed like something she might want to know about. She hasn’t replied yet. Also, she didn’t say hello to me today, when she came into the reception area. I know, that probably means nothing. In fact, it always means nothing, except for those rare but important exceptions when it means Something.

With these kinds of distractions, I’m not especially productive at my assigned desk in the office. If Marty starts to lean on me, I’ll have to find another place to work, or fake it in the office and do my work at home. I hope that won’t happen, though, because these experiences in the reception area feel less like school, or lawyering, and more like real-world experience in a nonprofit. At least for now.

* * * * *

December 1, 2:07 PM – Desiree

When I was here late last night, the Big Guy was booming sounds out of his office. I crept down the hallway to see where the music was coming from. Nothing else going on in the building. But he can’t do that tonight. Desiree, the third of the three people who work in the reception area with me (not counting the volunteer receptionist, which is a different person every couple of hours), says there are going to be five different things going on in the building tonight: a board meeting, a potluck dinner, and I forget what else. Oh, a weightlifting session. Desiree is a power lifter. She is maybe 5’3” and can bench-press 300 pounds. Hell of a disability. No, seriously, she does have some kind of thyroid-related issue. She runs these weightlifting sessions twice a week. The Agency has weight machines and free weights, and she works out here. She’s been to, I think, the Paralympics or Special Olympics or something, in Beijing and a couple of other places around the world.

Working with people with disabilities can be tricky. You get used to thinking that someone, like Marty or Margaret, has a vision impairment so, actually, it’s probably OK to pick your nose. They can barely see where I am, let alone what I’m doing. So then I get in the habit of misbehaving like that, and gradually come to realize that I’ve been scratching my crotch while seated directly in the line of sight of Elaine or Desiree, whose disabilities are decidedly not vision-related.

No, in case you were wondering, this is actually not something that I have previously been reprimanded for. But I seem to be working in that direction now.

* * * * *

December 1, 2:19 PM – Internship: Month-End Wrap-Up

It looks like I have wrapped up the month pretty well. Mike just came rolling in to tell me that our grant application is winging its way to the place. He seems to like the work I did, and he also seems to like working with me. This is all great.

Marty and I are doing fine. She even took a minute to explain why she made a point of saying, “Ray is an intern,” when we were at that meeting: it was because this project may be going on for a long time and she wants these people to know who they are supposed to be contacting if they want Disability Agency’s opinion on some aspect of it. I am impressed that she thought to follow up on it, when I hadn’t said anything about it.

(It is always possible that computer wizards at the SSW and/or the Agency have figured out my password and are secretly reading this blog, but that seems very unlikely. And if they were, sooner or later they would let something slip – someone would reveal knowledge that they could not possibly have obtained without reading my words, or they would give themselves away with the wrong kind of glance at a telling moment – and I would know. It’s not 100% sure, but that’s my bet.)

Desiree and Erin talk a lot. Their desks are next to each other, and they have both been working at the Agency for, I think they said, three years. Sometimes they sort of team up on Elaine. Today, one of them referred to her as a secretary. I thought there might have been a trace of a sneer in the remark. Elaine later asked them to call her an administrative assistant instead.

When they were out for a little while this afternoon, I told Elaine I am really impressed with her hard work and professionalism. She’s the receptionist (when there are no volunteers available for the job) and she’s also the volunteer coordinator and she does a couple of other things as well. She just never seems to get flustered, even when there are three lines ringing and people standing there waiting to talk to her. She has to wheel her chair back and forth between two different phones because one has voice mail features and the other doesn’t. She flashed me her beautiful smile when I said that. It seemed like she appreciated the compliment.

* * * * *

December 1, 9:25 PM – Social Entrepreneurship Update

Got a message from the Social Entrepreneurship professor yesterday:

That’s correct, I did not receive your last paper. You did not participate in a class in a way that I would categorize as satisfactory (i.e. there were several classes where you did not speak).

If you have further questions or concerns, please schedule a time to come in and speak with me.

Here’s the reply I sent yesterday:

Here is the email that I sent you on November 9. There were (and are) two attachments, namely, the paper due November 10 and the defense of the paper on which you gave me an F.

You confirmed receipt of the email shortly after I sent it. I do not know why you would have disregarded the November 10 paper, when you plainly did see the November 9 memo, and when my cover message clearly referred to both.

Worse, my records do not show any attempt on your part to follow up with me or to verify that I had indeed failed to submit the fourth paper. If that is a mistaken understanding of what transpired, please correct me on that.

Regarding your claim that I failed to participate in several classes, please clarify which classes those were, specifically, and also explain what portion of the grade was attributed to speaking in class as distinct from attendance. If I understand your calculation correctly, the alleged failure to participate in a couple of classes has resulted in a complete negation of my perfect attendance and frequent participation.

Her reply:

Ray, I have requested a grade change for you from U to S. (Your paper got lost because it wasn’t submitted via Ctools as I requested).

I could have pointed out that I sent it by email because she didn’t get the last thing I sent her by Ctools, and she had asked me to re-send it by email instead. But I didn’t. Instead, I sent a message to my advisor:

As I think about it, I am curious about how it came to your attention that I was supposedly having problems in the two classes we discussed during our meeting a couple of weeks ago. Could you tell me who presented this information to you? It seems I may be well advised to have a direct conversation with that person.

I think I can safely surmise that the person in question was Assistant Dean Melinda, but I thought I would check with you first, in case that surmise is mistaken. No point barking up the wrong tree.

Finally, I have sent a message to the ombudsman. This university has an Ombuds Office, whose purpose seems to be to provide information while taking a disinterested position on complaints. My question had two parts: can I file a complaint against the Social Entrepreneurship professor, and if so, will the university take it seriously, or will I just be wasting my time?

* * * * *

December 2, 8:01 AM – November Parsimony Wrap-Up

In this blog, November’s main innovation was to try to post more messages the next day, when I would be summarizing the facts rather than going into detail. So how did it turn out? It looks like I averaged less than 500 words per day from November 22 through December 1 – a mere fraction of the rate of October.

* * * * *

December 2, 10:26 AM – The Big Guy & the All-Staff Meeting

Yesterday, I sat through my first all-staff meeting at Disability Agency. A couple of people had warned me that these meetings can go on for two or three hours. I was prepared for misery.

As I looked around the conference room where we were all meeting, I was pleased to see that I had at least had some interaction with all but maybe a half-dozen of the people in the agency. It also seemed that all had been friendly. So far, so good. Very good.

The Big Guy ran the meeting. He is, I think, the executive director. He had introduced himself to me, very briefly, almost humbly, one day when I was still seated out in that back hallway, at the computer that faced the wall. He had asked me what I wanted from my internship. I said I just wanted a variety of experiences. He seemed friendly enough. I didn’t even realize, at the time, that he was the executive director. He just seemed like one more person whom I had met but hadn’t yet quite figured out who they were or what they did.

But now, in the all-staff meeting, the Big Guy was in charge and no-nonsense. He started out by saying that we have some new people, and would they stand up (if they can) and introduce themselves. So first there was the VISTA volunteer who is interested in microenterprise. He gave his name and said a bit about himself. Next was me. I gave my name and started to say a bit about myself. I got as far as, “Uh,” and then the Big Guy interrupted and said, “OK. Who else?” So I sat down, and we went on to the next person.

Since the Big Guy had pretty obviously cut me off where he had allowed the previous speaker to continue, I wondered if he had some kind of issue with me. He gave me one brief and seemingly unpleasant look while he was talking, early in the meeting, but then later looked at me again for longer than just a fraction of a second, this time with a more agreeable expression. I guess I’d say that, at present, I can’t read him.

Whatever may have been the case in other meetings, in this one the Big Guy’s approach was, get to the point and get it over with. The meeting ran for one hour, not two or three. I wouldn’t say he seemed especially popular there; he certainly did not run a cult of personality, surrounded by a group of admirers. There wasn’t much laughter, nor any particular sense of enthusiasm or other feeling in the air, as far as I could detect.

As I think about it now, there have been very few references to the Big Guy in any of my conversations with Marty, Robin, or other members of the staff. He seems to be more like the CFO (chief financial officer) than the CEO. Indeed, his office is next to the accountants’ office, and his primary presentation during the meeting involved items from the budget.

I came away from the meeting with a sense that employees are afraid of him, but that he does a pretty good job of leaving them alone.

* * * * *

December 2, 11:38 AM – Win-Win

Yesterday, at the all-staff meeting, the Big Guy said something about a “win-win” situation. That spooked me. I hear that term occasionally in SW – especially from guys, it seems, and especially from guys in positions of power who are interested in kicking my ass. It is almost as if they are reminding themselves, or perhaps pretending to others, that it’s time, now, to stop being crooked or abusive or whatever it was that got them into their positions of authority, and instead discover the decent, gentle, mutually supportive sides of themselves.

It’s sort of like if I were to go into church on Sunday morning, after a glorious Saturday night of drinking and carousing, and satisfy the Lord or at least myself with my fervent, heartfelt, hangover-inspired sense of guilt and sin and of the boundless glories of forgiveness and aspirin, not necessarily in that order. The next Saturday night feels like a year away, and is therefore fairly easily to renounce in its entirety for at least the next several days. Which is to say that the win-win outcome doesn’t actually happen; it’s more like a sentiment that, like all sentiments, has its time to be endorsed enthusiastically, and also its time to be disavowed or evaded with equal enthusiasm.

Stanley used that term, “win-win,” in our initial interview. The dean at SSW2 used it too. He used it in a meeting in which he was busy finding fault with me. He was one of the key players in the drama that ultimately triggered my complaint against U2 and SSW2 with the U.S. Department of Education.

I just did a Google search for “win-win.” I looked for the first five webpages that named some individual, either as the author of the webpage or as its topic of discussion. The names of the individuals that appeared on those five webpages were Stephen, Michael, Michael, Brad, and Henry.

At the moment, it seems this may have become just one more bullshit buzzword that gets passed around in management circles. I hope it doesn’t morph into a gremlin that tags along behind me and messes me up. In this world, there are winners – such as these guys I’m talking about – and then there are the people they stomp on. I’m not fond of creepy lingo that seeks to obscure that fact.

* * * * *

December 2, 2:05 PM – Homework Update: Dr. K, It’s All You

My mini-courses are done. I have done my last paper for the fun professor. All that’s left is stuff for Dr. Krishna. And there’s a bunch of it. One paper was due weeks ago. Another is due today. The third is due next week. I’ve been swapping emails with him this morning. He allows slippage, but I was afraid I had overdone it this time. But no. All is cool. “Main thing is, I hope you learn stuff,” he says. And I will. Writing papers is where I learn best.

Otherwise, I have that educational agreement for Sandra, due any time now. Marty was supportive, when we talked about it yesterday. She wants me to list several goals for each of the 14 or 15 points on the agreement form. She says it will be what I’ll show employers in the future. I’m like, yeah, but this is ridiculous – the semester is virtually over – everything I’m going to write down as a goal will be things that I’ve already done. Well, whatever. I’ve got to get it done on Friday at the office. Except that it’s really hard to concentrate and get things done at the office, in the busy and chatty reception area.

I think that’s about it for homework.

* * * * *

December 2, 2:31 PM – Spring Semester Course Process

I just left a voice mail with Assistant Dean Sean. I’m sure he’s busy, but I need to sort out the list of courses I have to take for next semester. Last summer, he would pretty reliably respond to my contacts on a same-day basis. We’ve moved noticeably away from that this fall.

I’m really not sure who’s supposed to be helping me figure out my list of courses. But it’s not like I’m dealing with a receptionist here. These are people who know what’s needed, who could direct me to the proper place with just a few words. So what’s up?

I could just go straight on and try Assistant Dean Melinda instead. I don’t think she’s going to be very helpful for me, but I could be wrong. And I may have to find out.

* * * * *

December 2, 2:59 PM – Keeping Up with the Competition

As I was looking through the internship manual from that other top MSW program, in search of guidance on filling out the educational agreement for Sandra, I noticed that their manual has a section called “Problems in the Field.” Our manual doesn’t have a section called that. We do have that section on student safety, and a lot of stuff on how it is the student’s responsibility to do this or that. But this is what I see in the first paragraph under that other school’s “Problems in the Field” heading:

There are occasions when problems arise at the practicum field site. These problems might include the threat or actual experience of physical or verbal abuse, or some problems might be specific to the agency or student’s poor performance. . . . [The SSW] will assist students in documenting the occurrence of any incident in which a student feels threatened. Also, some problems that occur at practicum sites are due to changes in the agency . . . . (See section on “No Fault Termination from Practicum.”)

I think I’ve read most if not all of the field placement manual from our SSW, and I don’t recall seeing anything like that. To double-check, I just did some word searches in my PDF copy of that manual. I searched for several terms from the foregoing excerpt, including “abus” and “student feel” and “fault.” These searches didn’t turn up anything like what that excerpt says.

I’m also intrigued that that other school draws up a “Practicum Improvement Plan” in the event of dissatisfaction with a student. Involuntary termination, they say, is rare, and (except in the case of “grave” misbehavior) is to occur only after the student’s failure to live up to that sort of Plan. Here’s another quote that would have come in handy, in my own dealings with Stanley and Sandra:

Whenever possible, the field instructor or agency representative . . . is encouraged to explore all options that might allow the student to remain in the agency under different, pre-approved supervision.

This would have been easy in my case, of course; I would have just agreed to confine my work to the mental health area, which is where I officially belonged anyway. But there was evidently no requirement, at this SSW, that Sandra and the people at Stanley’s agency work out any such solution.

Finally, unlike our manual, the other school’s manual states that students may also be removed from placements for reasons related to malfeasance on the part of the agency – as when, for example, the agency “is not meeting the outlined learning objectives.” Again, obviously, students are not the only ones who screw up placements.

Now, why does our SSW not have these kinds of protections in its field placement manual and procedures? One possibility is that the responsible individual(s) here are asleep at the wheel. They don’t know what other schools are doing, or they are too smug to care. Another possibility is that they know, they care, but they have made a different decision. What it looks like, in that case, is that they have decided to take a more punitive attitude toward the student. Again, this is consistent with a situation where there aren’t enough field placements to go around, and you can’t risk alienating any that you do have.

* * * * *

December 3, 12:06 AM – Course Registration Update

Last night, I sent this message to Assistant Dean Sean:

Sean, I am writing to follow up on my previous note about course exemption. You had handled some of my questions about course exemptions during the summer, so I am guessing that it is appropriate to raise this with you. I’m not finding specific guidance in the MSW manual.

The question at hand is whether I can be exempted from the several courses discussed in the attached memo. I need to finalize my schedule for the winter semester, but cannot do so until the question of exemptions is decided.

If I’m darkening the wrong doorway, please point me in the right direction. Thanks for your help.

I hadn’t received a reply by midafternoon today, so I followed up with a voice mail message. Here’s the reply he sent me at day’s end:

You are looking at substitutions, not exemptions. Exemptions are only for foundation courses. You will need to work out substitutions with your advisor and Assistant Dean Melinda.

He pointed me toward a web link where I downloaded the necessary form. It’s called a Request for Course Substitution. And now that I know to look for specifically that title, it’s easy to find via Google. There doesn’t seem to be a link to it on the SSW’s webpage, and my advisor didn’t seem to know about it. I just searched the MSW Student Guide for “substitut” and I found a comment on “substitutions” under the “Special Studies Courses” heading, and another under the “Courses from Other Departments” heading. The word appears in a few other places, but those, too, don’t seem to apply to my situation.

So anyway, it looks like I went to the right place for guidance. So now I’m preparing an email to Melinda, with the memo that I sent to my advisor, asking her whether she agrees with his impression that I do indeed qualify to take some other courses in place of the required ones whose content I have already covered elsewhere.

* * * * *

December 3, 8:50 AM – December Theme: Forget It

I was thinking about devoting December, in this blog, to the project of remembering events from previous SSWs and obtaining closure. But now I think it’s too early for closure. I spent hours last night writing up an account of one set of interactions I had at SSW2. And that was just the tip of the iceberg. I don’t have that kind of time now. They do have an important impact on this current year’s experiences, but for present purposes they’re probably best treated as background, with only occasional elaboration when it’s really needed.

So now I really need to get focused on writing those papers for Dr. Krishna.

* * * * *

December 3, 6:52 PM – OMG. An Intellectual Exchange. Now What?

Got back a graded paper from the fun professor. The assignment was to do a Self-Exploration in Relation to Readings. She handed it to me at the end of class, with an enigmatic remark about how she’s going to send me further comments by email. So I’ve sent her this email message:

I think I should congratulate you on what appears to be a remarkably restrained critique of my self-exploration paper. I am not sure, but it looks like I may have said some things with which you strongly disagree. The miracle is, if that’s the case, you don’t appear to have punished me for doing so. Or at least not much. Which would be added to the list of reasons why, unless I am forgetting some saint somewhere along the line, you would have to be my favorite SW professor, from my 3.5 years of graduate SW education in three different SSWs.

You did set a few alarms ringing when, at the end of class, you handed back my paper and said you had further comments but you wanted to phrase them “appropriately,” I think is how you termed it. I had a gray bus ride home, dreading an impending excoriation. As I say, there is precedent. So now that I’ve viewed the graded paper, your markings were a nice surprise, on a general level.

I hope you won’t struggle too much to achieve that appropriate phrasing. I don’t favor holding people’s feet to the fire on precise terminology at the expense of communication and understanding. Or at least I like to think I don’t. When I’ve got to make an argument, OK, I do, but that doesn’t seem like the chief priority right now.

Sometimes I reflect that SW education seems to be making me a Republican. To whatever extent there may be truth in such a statement, much of it would derive from two sources. First, being taught how to think (for purposes of a particular discipline or perspective) seems like an important task of higher education. But being taught what to think is problematic, and sometimes that is the nature of SW education. Second, without conscious effort, I tend to live up to the Libran stereotype of seeking balance. I simply gravitate toward the person or viewpoint that seems neglected. So, for instance, when I encounter uncritical work that seems to have enjoyed an uncritical reception, you can guess how I react. Or you need not guess: you see.

I’d be glad to discuss specific portions of my paper, or the whole thing. I will also acquiesce in a discussion of none of it, if you prefer.

Just to touch on a few points, if further discussion does occur:

  • One of your comments said, “See my notes, please.” I hope they weren’t attached; if they were, I am afraid I may have lost them. I think this is probably a reference to the anticipated comments mentioned above.

  • Your final comment is “wow,” which I surmise should not be construed as an indication that you find my words impressive. I am guessing, in other words, that this is one of the things you will articulate in those prospective comments.

  • On your question, “Do these points not bear repeating?” (in connection with my contention that McIntosh is reiterating concepts from e.g., Brown v. Board of Education): I think the answer is no. If those points haven’t gotten through by now, I suggest we take a hint and figure out why not. Chances are that the debate has become transmogrified into some form to which many aspects of Brown are no longer responsive. Repeating tired formulations conveys a probably deserved impression that we are somewhere other than on the cutting edge of the issues.

As you can see, the mere suggestion that a professor might be interested in carrying on further discussion by email is – well, I won’t say it is completely unprecedented, but it’s certainly an occasion worth noting. For the record, it occurs to me that Dr. Krishna might also be interested in that. I’m not sure. Even if he is, the topics in that class tend to be more about individual treatment, which doesn’t go to the policy level that appeared in the readings we addressed in this Self-Exploration assignment. In other words, that class is more practice-oriented; it doesn’t lend itself as readily to discussion or debate. Besides, as far as I can tell, Krishna is not interested in debate. I hope I’m not just imagining that the fun professor is.

* * * * *

December 4, 7:26 AM – Internship Hours Calculation

I just did my month-end calculation of hours worked for Marty. I’ve put in a total of 161.6 hours so far, if you include the hours I worked at Stanley’s agency and the 11 hours so far in December. (I don’t actually record tenths of hours. I just write down my starting and stopping time, and the number of minutes taken off for naps and other breaks. I usually round each of these values to the nearest five minutes. I put these values into a spreadsheet. It calculates the hours.)

I have to do a total of 342 hours for the fall semester, so I’ve got 180.4 hours yet to go. If I wanted to finish the semester’s load before classes start on January 6, I would need to put in 5.3 hours a day, seven days a week, between now and then. That’s not likely to happen. I don’t even have enough assigned tasks, right now, to achieve that.

Those weeks of missed time in September and October are really going to bite me. I guess it was an opportunity to write hundreds of pages in a blog instead.

For the entire academic year from September through April, I still have to do 522 of the 684 required hours of internship. From today to April 20 (the last day of classes) is 138 days. So, basically, I have to average 3.8 hours per day, seven days a week, for the rest of the school year, if I hope to graduate in May. Maybe I can at least make a dent in it during the break between semesters, starting as soon as I get these papers done for Dr. Krishna.

* * * * *

December 5, 1:21 PM – What’s Not in My Inbox Yet

Not to rush things along, but just to try to keep tabs on what’s happening in the email world, here’s my rough recollection of where things stand now, as of this partly sunny Saturday afternoon. I am waiting to hear from:

  • Assistant Dean Sean, who says he would love to have lunch with me. This will be a first. With hundreds upon hundreds of students, he can’t offer this to everyone. I wonder whether I have come to his attention. I replied to him on Thursday, so I imagine his nonresponse at the moment is just because he’s busy.
  • Assistant Dean Melinda, from whom I need some word on the substitutability of previous coursework. I sent her that request on Wednesday night. Hopefully I’ll get a response early next week.
  • My advisor, who has not yet volunteered an answer to my question of who contacted him with his negative reports about me. I’d like to have that answer before I speak with Melinda, if we do have a meeting, so as to kill two birds with one stone. I sent him that request on Tuesday night.
  • The Social Entrepreneurship prof, who has offered no comment on my impression that she conveyed false information about me to SW faculty. I sent that message, too, on Tuesday night. She’s been pretty good about responding on the morning of the next business day, so I assume I won’t be getting a response from her. I’ve scheduled a meeting for this coming Friday with the Ombuds office.
  • The fun professor, who told me on Thursday that she would be sending me more comments about my paper. It occurs to me that maybe she will be more in a discussion mode after the semester’s end. She seems like the kind of person who manages her time carefully, and maybe she allows only a certain number of hours per week for school-related stuff, in addition to her private practice.

* * * * *

December 6, 1:42 PM – No Time

Just a quick note. Ran 11 miles this morning. Didn’t have the time to spare, but I haven’t been running much, and I really have to stay in shape. Let it slip for a week or two and I’m courting injuries again, as I learned in September. I really could have run just three or four, and saved that extra hour, but I like to encourage myself to do it and enjoy it.

So it was a nice exploratory run, down the tracks into places I hadn’t seen before. Sunny, brisk day. Temperature in the high 20s when I started out, but it got up to around 35 by the end. Wore the shorts, as usual, but wore a long-sleeved T-shirt for warmth. Stopped off in the community college to use their restroom. They rent their auditorium to a church on Sundays, but I wasn’t there for that.

Roommate came in very late last night, as usual. I actually saw him, a few days ago, for the first time in weeks, so I know it’s still him who’s using that other room in this apartment.

When he came in, I was in a sleep daze, not really sure what was going on. It seemed that either he was walking up and down the stairs numerous times in quick succession, or else he brought someone home with him. If it was the latter, she was otherwise silent.

Got one paper done for Dr. Krishna. I’m halfway through the second one, rooting around online for a videotape or a transcript from an interview using logotherapy. That’s what my paper is on, and he wants us to discuss how someone has done it. Leave it to me to choose a method that’s hardly been heard of. Actually, I chose existentialism, and Dr. K suggested using logotherapy instead, as a therapeutically oriented, existentialist-influenced approach. One more paper to do for him after this one, hopefully by Wednesday, though that will be tough.

I have more things to report from this past week, but I’ll have to play catch-up with those later.

P.S. Correction. I see, now, that someone has used my mouthwash. I can tell because she used the cap to pour or drink from, and didn’t rinse it out, so the mouthwash left in it dripped down the outside of the bottle and made it sticky.

* * * * *

December 7, 1:57 PM – Reprieve

I have finished two of the three papers done for Dr. Krishna and sent them in by email. For the third one, it seems I miscalculated. I just got an email from Shelly, who tells me it isn’t due until the 18th.

She’s telling this to the wrong person. Immediately I decide to believe her, she who is becoming a sort of pen pal via email, and conclude that it’s time to eat, shower, shave, brush teeth, clean the tub, wash dishes, organize my computer, discover that I have a scheduling conflict for tomorrow at the internship (having taken the day off today, with Marty’s approval, to finish writing the third paper, which I thought was due imminently), and otherwise get my world in order.

* * * * *

December 7, 3:41 PM – Meeting with Sandra: Learning Contract; Trust; Empathy

Before the fun professor’s class on Thursday, I stopped in at Sandra’s office, to sign a form she needed me to sign. She saw me coming in and said, “Hi, Ray.” Her administrative assistant, with her back to me as she was working on something on the side of her desk, also said, “Hi, Ray,” when she heard my voice, but didn’t turn around to see me. She seemed to be in the middle of something and didn’t want to look up right then.

I went into Sandra’s office, and she closed the door, almost. She was charming, as usual. We talked about the educational agreement that I’m supposed to be sending her. I said that it intimidated me a bit. She said, “No!” in a mock-surprise sort of way. I couldn’t decide if she meant to say, “No shit, Sherlock, it intimidates everybody,” or if she meant it sarcastically, as in, “No – Superman is intimidated?” It didn’t sound like she meant it empathically, as in, “No! I’m so sorry to hear that.” But whatever. She explained that she just wants a one-sentence response to each of the 14 professional criteria.

Why be intimidated? Consider an example. The agreement asks me to “Identify one measurable professional practice behavior which illustrates how the student plans to achieve the field competencies listed throughout this Agreement.” The first of the 14 competencies is “Professional Identity.” So what I have now written on the form, following her advice, is this: “Ray will attend meetings of all staff and of recreational and supervision groups, and will conduct himself in a professional manner during such meetings.” For purposes of SW education, that is a professional competency. It seems ridiculous: Ray will remember to use paper towels in the restroom; Ray will put his right hand on the right side of the keyboard. I have a hard time writing things that I think are ridiculous. But that’s what I’ve entered. I sent a copy of my draft to Sandra at the end of last week, and she seemed OK with this.

During our meeting, Sandra said a funny thing. She asked how things were going for me at Disability Agency. I said they seemed to be going really well. She seemed pleased to hear this. She said, “You trusted.” I said, what? She said, “You trusted that we would find you a place.” I was, like, What? I did? I’m thinking, Sandra, do you not remember that your search pretty much struck out – that I had to change majors in order to find a reasonable opportunity?

When I was writing down my note about it afterwards, I had to laugh. It was like a scene from a movie. But then I started to wonder, hey, wait – what kind of story are they telling about me, around there? Evidently the idea is that it is hard for me to trust? But I did trust this time, and, see, it worked out just fine, and it would always be fine if I would just trust these people. Is that the concept?

For some reason, Sandra also wanted to tell me that SW is about empathy, and is therefore quite different from lawyering, which is about problem-solving. But . . . no, never mind. Forget it. I’m not even going to go there.

* * * * *

December 7, 4:02 PM – Recap of Dr. Krishna’s Class Last Week

In Dr. K’s class on Wednesday, I walked in right before class started. The tables were arranged in a big U this time, and there weren’t many seats left. There was an empty one next to Golden Girl, but her backpack was on it, and she didn’t wish to remove it as I approached her part of the circle.

So I continued around and plopped down next to two members of the Gang of Four. (The rearrangement of the tables had split them up; apparently there weren’t four contiguous seats when they arrived.) I had previously had a brief conversation with one of these two; hadn’t been introduced to the other. We wound up being a threesome for a discussion and then a role-play.

In the role-play, I was the client. Dr. K gave us typed instructions for this one – disclosed only to the actor, and not to the group members who were playing the roles of therapist and observer. The therapist was supposed to figure out my problem. I was to be a parent of a teenager who had decided he was gay. I didn’t include all the parts of what the paper said; I focused on the part about being a religious grownup who doesn’t understand his son. They said I was a good actor. It wasn’t hard. I’ve encountered a few dismayed religious parents along the way.

This time, I finally noticed the sign that another MSW student had told me about. Sure enough, it says this: “PLEASE – IF YOU REARRANGE ROOM, YOU NEED TO RETURN IT TO ORIGINAL CONFIGURATION.” It includes a diagram of how the tables and chairs are supposed to be arranged. I don’t know which is more interesting – that they would bother having such a sign, or that one of my classmates would have found it oppressive. Or that the people from the class before ours disregard it every time.

This class session was The End for Dr. K, for us. Next week, we’ll have guest speakers. He’s going to be out of state, participating in some kind of panel. He said he thought about skipping that, but I’m betting he didn’t really. It sounds like a career opportunity. It also happens to be in Utah in December. Hmm . . . I’m betting he knows how to ski. Express your inner child, Dr. K: thrash the mountain.

When class ended, Su Ling decided she did not want to forget me, and asked me for my email address so she could make me one of her friends on Facebook. I gave her that, and now I have friended her. I see that she has collected quite a list of Facebook friends.

So then, as we were leaving the classroom, I got started on what turned out to be an hourlong conversation with Shelly. We talked about school, and also about personal stuff. We seem to have had some similar experiences here. It was great, although it actually went on too long – I was starting to get antsy by the end, partly because the shish kebab place was closing and partly because I was increasingly late for Poets League basketball, which started shortly after class and, as it turned out, was just wrapping up by the time I did get there. Only six people showed up, counting me. We can expect a better turnout this coming week, because we’re meeting at a bar.

Had a short but pleasant conversation afterwards with the organizer of the Poets League, who incidentally has just won a poetry contest. I read her winning submission and I told her that I thought her work was brilliant. I wasn’t even saying it because she’s so nice-looking. I meant it. It is a truly cool poem.

* * * * *

December 7, 4:39 PM – Supervision Meeting with Marty

On Friday, I had my first individual supervision meeting with Marty at Disability Agency. She started out pretty tough. I had given her a draft of the educational agreement I propose to send to Sandra. She, Marty, seemed to want to go over it in detail.

It seemed like she had decided I was a slacker. It was kind of irritating, like I need to be watched at every step. But I just answered her questions, and after a while she relaxed into a more collegial attitude. I think she probably meant well. My sense is that she takes her duties as a field instructor seriously and wants to make sure I’m doing what I’m supposed to be doing.

Early in the meeting, Marty said that what I had written in the educational agreement was pretty bare-bones. I was, like, duh, of course it’s bare-bones. I don’t want to commit myself to do unnecessary work. I’ll try to do worthwhile projects, not busy-work. Maybe this is what set her off; maybe she really did think I was slacking.

I told her about what I had gotten from Sandra during our meeting. By the end, she seemed to decide that I am motivated, I have been working on valuable stuff, and I don’t need to be jumping through a lot of extra hoops. I sent the draft to Sandra for her comments, and she came back with a few, so I’ll have to get those done and turned in. Sandra’s site visit is one week from today, so we don’t want to delay this too much more. Even if I really am a slacker.

7:24 PM. It occurs to me that Marty may have reached a negative conclusion about me after I told her about taking naps. It’s still apparently something that many people do, but few openly admit.

* * * * *

December 7, 4:54 PM – Update on Stanley’s Agency

One of my classmates says she thinks maybe the people at Stanley’s agency were primed to go off when I spoke up. She says there’s a lot of stress in working with domestic abusers. She says the recidivism rate is high. She couldn’t think of the word, probably because we were standing in the rain at the time, but recidivism seemed to be what she had in mind.

But I’m not sure she’s right about that. The first article I find, in a quick search, says that the dropout rate from domestic abuse treatment programs is high; but it says (p. 434) that it’s hard to get good data about recidivism because people make the mistake of using a categorical variable – of treating a single shove as though it were equivalent to ten beatings.

The article also says that domestic abuse treatment programs often fail to meet the needs of participants. It raises the question of whether the confrontational style, such as I saw at Stanley’s agency, actually increases the dropout rate. I’m sure it does.

All in all, it seems like an article that Stanley should read. But don’t get me started on some research-based wild goose chase to prove some obvious point to someone who doesn’t want to hear it.

* * * * *

December 7, 6:47 PM – Recap of the Fun Professor’s Class Last Week

We had a guest speaker, as usual. This was someone who is an expert in motivational interviewing. She has taken a weeklong seminar in it. She showed us a video. In the video, the guy who invented motivational interviewing said that you don’t become a competent practitioner by just taking a seminar. But this woman has also practiced it for some years, so apparently she has had a lot of opportunity to learn, in practice, whatever they didn’t cover in that seminar.

Beth is changing. Today, in class, she was doing a much better job of looking directly at the fun professor when she spoke to her. Could be the result of therapy, if I may hazard a complete guess. Beth is a veteran of the Iraq war. It could also be that her internship is doing good things for her. For most of the semester, she has seemed to consider herself something of an oddball, an older person, being (I think she said) 31 years old, in this school full of younger people. But now she seems to have found a new basis for pride in what she does and how she does it, there at her internship. She definitely didn’t need to start at a place that wasn’t going to encourage her.

During the break, I wandered down to the restroom, then went outdoors, and then noticed a sort of lookout post or balcony on the top floor of the business school. I hadn’t been up there, so I walked over and sprinted up the steps. I arrived just in time to observe a really beautiful winter sun, golden in its late-afternoon glory, set against deep blue storm clouds. I went back and advised Lucretia, and she vowed to check out that top-floor perch for herself one of these days.

In class, we came around to the subject of drug and alcohol abuse. It’s a disorder, analyzed in the DSM, and ordinarily this class treats it as such. But iIn this particular discussion, we weren’t going at it from a purely clinical perspective. It was more like, there are actually people we know who use drugs. So my reaction was, Yeah, what about that?

I asked a question in which I mentioned that, of course, I had been at parties where people are passing around the stuff, and now as a social worker, am I supposed to laugh when some stand-up comic tells a funny joke about funny things that somebody did when they were drunk, or am I supposed to convey silent, quasi-religious rejection of all that, or what? The fun professor said that she gets that way when she’s at the crosswalk and the light says “Don’t Walk” and there’s a little kid next to her, and she’s thinking she should wait for the light to change, so as to send the proper message, but then sometimes she just goes ahead and walks anyway.

It felt odd to be asking this ethical question. It wasn’t a question that anyone else was asking. It felt almost like I had somehow stumbled into the wrong classroom, or that maybe this was the sort of thing that would matter to an older person. I don’t mean the kids are immoral or unethical. I mean it felt like something about the topic, or my question, or something, was alien to them.

* * * * *

December 7, 9:03 PM – The Email Inbox

It’s Monday night, and I still don’t have anything from anyone on that list of people I’m waiting to hear from. The one that is on my mind right now is Assistant Dean Melinda, from whom I need to know what courses I’m supposed to be taking. But maybe she feels this is not urgent.

Turning aside to check my grades, I see that Melinda still hasn’t turned in my grade for the mini-course either. I see that the Social Entrepreneurship prof has changed my grade to an S, for Satisfactory. I’m glad that’s been corrected. But that is not the whole story. There was a pattern of abusive behavior, there – the public humiliation regarding my grade on that paper, for instance, and her apparent eagerness to give me an F. I want to know where this behavior is coming from. She may be acting on her own, without the benefit of negative commentary from Melinda or anyone else, but I doubt it.

Anyway, back to the inbox. Here’s an email that lists the people graduating with their MSWs this month. There appear to be exactly 144 of them. They must be The Elect. I wonder if Brenda and the other graduating MSWs have gotten their grades from Melinda yet.

The university now has more doses of swine flu vaccine. They’re still prioritized for people who aren’t me (i.e., 10-24 years of age, or pregnant, or living with infants, or 25-64 with certain diseases). If they still don’t have enough vaccine for me by April, I may just give up on it for this year.

Here’s the weekly jobs bulletin, but I definitely don’t have time to parse it.

Bunch of other messages. Whatever. I need to get to work. There’s a 10 AM meeting related to Disability Agency. Marty needs me to go and then to report back to her on what’s up. She sent me a bunch of stuff to read.

Oh, but maybe I’d better not read it in the morning. If I don’t start that last paper for Dr. Krishna now, I will find it easy to defer it some more. This is the kind of thing you have nightmares about, years after your graduate education is complete. You dream that you typed the paper with disappearing ink, or on the wrong topic, or that you completely forgot about the course until the last day of the semester.

* * * * *

December 7, 11:34 PM – Critical Thinking and the Learning Contract

Alright, well, so much for that. Instead of getting started on that paper, I decided I had better take care of some stuff for the internship. This included getting prepared for tomorrow’s meeting and also doing a revised draft of the educational agreement for Sandra. She said that the draft I sent her was mostly OK, but parts of it needed revision.

The educational agreement strikes me as fundamentally bogus. I have spent hours putting together drafts of this thing, and discussing them with Marty and Sandra, and virtually everything in here is stuff that I was planning to do anyway. These are hours that I could have been using for some actual learning purpose. Besides, the course is graded pass/fail. Even if I wound up not doing something that I said I would do, I’m betting they’d let me slide.

It’s also bogus to call it an agreement. It’s not like this is something that Marty and I are negotiating. It’s just a self-generated list of assignments.

The educational agreement form lists nine “field competencies,” including the one I mentioned in a previous post, about how I would demonstrate my professional identity by attending meetings. Other examples of those competencies: engagement, research, values and ethics. These are phrased in terms of things that I will be doing in the future, during the semester covered by the agreement: I will be attending meetings, etc. But what if the situation changes? What if, for example, the recreation group decides that it doesn’t need to have any more meetings – do I still have to attend them?

After those nine field competencies, the educational agreement form lists five “practice area concentration competencies.” These are critical thinking, diversity, human behavior and the social environment, social and economic justice, and social policy. In the draft I sent Sandra, I tried the same approach as I had taken with the first nine items: I just stated something that I would be doing.

So for the critical thinking item, I said, “Ray will develop a synthesis of difficult-to-reconcile conceptualizations of disability.” That, as it turns out, was not what Sandra is looking for. For one thing, she wants more than one sentence here. This surprises me. In her office, she showed me another student’s educational agreement as an example. I wondered if that student would have been comfortable with that use of his personal learning agreement. It was a male student, so maybe that made it OK. In this section of his agreement, he used several sentences to address each of the items. She had told me to use just one sentence, so I asked her about that. She said that this guy was not her student.

Unlike the first part of the agreement form, this second part is no longer pretending that we are near the start of the semester, looking forward. Instead, it positions itself at the end of the semester, looking backward. So we did my forward-looking document looking backwards, and now we are doing my backward-looking document looking forwards. But I understand: we are just keeping things organized.

Here are the instructions for this second part:

Students will identify one professional practice behavior related to their assigned practice area concentration. This practice task should illustrate how you have reflected with your field instructor on your professional work as it relates to integrating the field competencies listed below.

Those are the general instructions. Then, for the critical thinking competency, the specific instruction says, “Identify one area where you have applied critical thinking relevant to your practice area concentration and reflect on the outcome of this experience.” One instance of critical thinking. That seems nonsensical. Is this like mountaineering, where scaling Mount Everest pretty much proves your ability? Pardon me for being critical, but isn’t critical thinking sort of like breathing, where it really tends to become an issue only when you stop?

If I may offer a suggestion, students should be considered to have failed the critical thinking requirement if they have gotten this far and have not yet posed any critical questions about this educational agreement. Students in SW, especially, should be thinking about what such a document is implying, whose cultural perspective it is imposing, whom it is disempowering, and so forth. Evidence thus far suggested that Sandra would not have much use for this sort of remark, however, so I didn’t enter it on my draft of the form.

* * * * *

December 9, 7:47 PM – Dr. Krishna’s Class R.I.P.

Just got out of the last class session. The guest speakers were a husband-and-wife team who have just retired from teaching SW. They were teaching us Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR). They said it’s good for dealing with trauma. As an example of trauma, he uses rape. Always rape. A good, safe, anti-male example.

The idea seems to be that you, as the therapist, wave your fingers back and forth in front of the client, or have them look at a light that shifts from the right to the left and back, and this takes them to a place in their minds where they are more in touch with their memories. Judging from the handouts, it looks like there’s a bunch of research support for it. But to tell the truth, when he was doing it, he looked a little like a shaman or a priest, waving his hands over some believer. I’m going to bet that, with anything this weird, there’s also a counterargument based on other research. But we’re not doing the scholarly stuff here. This is only the master’s level. Here, we just accept it at face value.

They also tried to teach us something called Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT). It was supposedly related to acupuncture. We were supposed to tap five times on our eyebrow, and then five times beside our eye, and then five times under our eye, and then five times under our nose, and then five times under our mouth . . . etc. Mixed in there somewhere we hummed “Happy Birthday” two times. You put your right foot in, you put your right foot out . . . The guest speaker was a goofball, having fun with it, not really into it, and that was OK. He had me volunteer at one point, told me to hold my arm out, and he pushes down on it while I’m supposed to hold it in place. You forgot to ask about rotator cuff injuries, bucko.

Mohammed is graduating, so I won’t be seeing any more of him. Once again, I called him “Mohammed” instead of using his real name. I did it twice. He’s very mellow, didn’t seem offended. Gave him my long-term email address. Maybe I’ll be hearing more from him. Mark has been friendly enough during class. At one point tonight, I leaned over to him and said, “This is a bust.” He said, “I was thinking about skipping this.” Several people did: Shelly, Su Ling, Golden Girl, one or two others.

After class, the Poets League Basketball people were supposed to get together for a drink, but then some of them got out of their class early, and our class had ended early too. So a group went over to the local bar and talked for an hour or two. Good conversations. At one point, several people who were in Dr. K’s class were talking about his autogenics and such. I think we were maybe one in favor of, two opposed, and one neutral. The strongest negative opinion was that you don’t impose that kind of personal preference on a captive audience. I am sure he was trying to give us a means of calming down in stressful circumstances, and I do believe it works for him, so I can’t be as critical about it. I guess I think it was more like something to cover in a couple of sessions, but not to require of everyone in every class.

So except for the fun professor’s class tomorrow and the last paper I have to write for Dr. K, my semester is done, except for the internship hours. Except . . . except . . . except. I guess it’s too early to break out the champagne.

* * * * *

December 10, 5:05 PM – My People Are From the Far North

Ran to school today. I’d wanted to do it all semester, but when it was warmer out, I was afraid I’d sit there and drip sweat in the classroom, or maybe freeze if they had the air conditioning on. Today, no fear of that. It was 15 degrees, with a 28 MPH wind. Wind chill is supposedly 14 below zero. So I definitely didn’t wear the shorts and T-shirt. I wore a red long-sleeved nylon shirt and my purple running tights. I bought the tights on the morning of a bike trip, when that was all they had left at the sporting goods store where we were starting out. It was either purple or freeze. So I’ve had them ever since. I bought some black ones last year, but I can’t find them.

But this is a lot to explain to everyone you pass on the street. So I suppose I just entertained a lot of people today. It was really cold running head-on into the wind on the way to school, for the first mile or so. But I did it. Total of 6.5 miles round-trip, counting the detour to the gym on the way back.

At the gym, I’m slowly recovering motion in the shoulders, which I haven’t exercised much for the past year or so, and the sore rib is also going away. I mean, not the rib, but the soreness.

* * * * *

December 10, 5:12 PM – In the End, the Fun Professor Breaks My Heart

Today was the last session of the fun professor’s class. During the break, she said she wanted to give me her reactions to my readings paper. This didn’t sound good. I guess I knew, but didn’t want to admit, that she probably would have written back to me by email, by now, if she had wanted to carry on what I had hoped was going to be an intellectual exchange.

I have a problem that way. Just last night, when we went out for drinks, someone commented that they had heard bad things about the fun professor, and I defended her. Someone else made a comment like that about her, a week or two ago, and I did the same thing then too.

This is not the first time that I have defended a social work professor in a one-way arrangement, where meanwhile she is talking me down or worse. Maybe I need to get that checked.

But let’s get to the point. Here’s what the fun professor said, in the note she gave me during the break today:

Your reading response paper appears to be well-written and well-thought out. However, it was very difficult for me to read.

You did a good job relating the chosen readings to your own experience; however, in terms of looking outside yourself and your viewpoints, I feel that you had difficulty. Here are some of my perspectives, from a more systemic level: The ability to see outside of one’s self, and to truly listen and have empathy for others are essential skills required to practice SW. . . .

As you know, I accepted your paper as written, and a grade has been assigned, which was not affected by these remarks. Please take these comments as motivation to seek out resources, guides, and mentors in the School of Social Work and beyond, so as to improve your skills in these areas.

These remarks puzzle me. She says my paper is well-written, but it was difficult for her to read. Apparently she means she could understand the words and ideas easily enough, but what I wrote was not . . . I don’t know, pleasant? Not what she wanted to hear?

It seems I must remind the fun professor of her own assignment. It allowed us to discuss three or more of the assigned readings “in light of your own experiences.” There’s nothing in the assignment about empathy for others or seeing outside oneself. Great things to do, obviously, but that wasn’t the assignment.

The fun professor says she’s giving me a more “systemic” form of guidance, which sounds like she thinks she is seeing things more objectively than I. That’s typical. Everybody thinks they’re objective and the other person is not. But the study of SW supposedly teaches us to know better.

As SSWs apparently require, the fun professor closes with the customary admonition to learn from her superior insight. She’s not willing to put that insight to the test, by talking about any of this stuff with me directly; she just wants to hand down the sage wisdom and move on.

I am genuinely sorry that the fun professor didn’t turn out differently. At the end, I was pathetically hoping that she was just postponing our intellectual dialogue – that she didn’t want to get into it while the class was going on because that might have suggested that she was favoring me. I even fantasized that our discussion would be so good that she would introduce me to some of her cool intellectual friends. And instead, all I can say is jeez. Just jeez.

* * * * *

December 11, 6:16 PM – When the Honeymoon Ends

When I got to Disability Agency this morning, I had two messages in my Disability Agency email inbox. One was from Robin, the director of operations, and the other was from Marty. Robin was replying to an email I sent her a couple of days ago, and Marty was agreeing with Robin. Robin’s message blamed me for misunderstanding an assignment she had given me, and being slow to get it done, and Marty piled on by saying that she, too, felt I had misunderstood the assignment, and that I needed to show some real progress by 1 PM.

Well, given my experience at Stanley’s agency, this really freaked me out. I guess the big word could be “retraumatized.” I doubted that they would actually fire me today, but the fact of the two of them ganging up like that, without any prior rumblings, did raise the prospect that they had reached a sudden and dramatic negative conclusion about me. Today was a Friday, and on Fridays anything is possible.

I talked with Marty, and she said the three of us would meet at 1 PM. I hoped she would have time to read an email message before then. I spent maybe two hours agonizing over the wording of a reply, and sent it to both of them. The reply reminded them of some factors that they seemed to have forgotten, and of some that they may not have taken into account.

This seemed to work. When we met at 1:00, Marty almost seemed to be positioning herself as a mediator between Robin and me. And Robin was really pretty nice too. They didn’t fully understand what I had tried to tell them about the assignment, but that seems to be common in flunkie jobs. You may have spent seven years as an investment banker; but if you’re working as a secretary or intern, somebody is still going to worry that you won’t understand their spreadsheet.

So I pretty much lost the morning. Along with the time spent writing up that reply to the two of them, I was suddenly in the grip of anxiety about what I would do if they were going to can me.

On balance, I didn’t like the email Marty sent me in the morning, but I felt she recovered nicely in the meeting. I was glad to have her as my boss. I was also thinking it was too bad they hadn’t had someone like her at Stanley’s agency.

* * * * *

December 11, 10:48 PM – Robin’s Assignment

This evening, I worked on Robin’s assignment. The assignment is to produce a one-page document with basic instructions for staff members to follow when they are making notes about work they’ve done with clients.

It’s an interesting assignment. At one point, some years ago, I worked in a federal agency where they had a database where employees would enter information about people and organizations that were doing work for the agency. It was amazing, how many ways there were to screw up the database. I spent months trying to sort out part of that database and keep it organized. In that case, there were tons of things to know about what should and should not be entered in the database.

The topic of recordkeeping has also come up in class. This was a topic that a professor yelled at me for raising at SSW1. There seem to be some conflicting concerns. On one hand, if you keep no records, you may not know or remember important facts about the client’s situation from one week to the next or, more so, if it’s been a while since s/he last came to see you, or was previously seeing someone else in your agency. You may also be vulnerable to a lawsuit if the client says you failed to do something you should have done, and you have no records to the contrary.

On the other hand, you can run into problems if your records contain stuff they really don’t need to contain. For example, your client might have told you about something illegal they had done. Your job is to be there for the client, not to help send them to jail. Such material is somewhat privileged, but it sounds like the kind of privilege that a lawyer will be able to pierce in many cases. You can also cause clients grief if you write nasty things about them. It does happen, sometimes, that the therapist doesn’t like the client very much. Well, that may be understandable, but let’s remember that the client has the right to see the records you keep about him/her.

And then there are the creative little things that social workers do in response to these sorts of concerns. For instance, we’ve heard in class that some social workers keep two sets of books. If a judge orders them to turn over their records about their work with Joe Blow, they may turn over only the official set of records. They keep the other set hidden or maybe destroy it. So then it may be the social worker who goes to jail.

So I am supposed to write up one page of guidance to help people be aware of, and avoid, potential mistakes of these kinds. Robin thinks this is a simple assignment. And I can see how it could look that way, if you haven’t actually sat down and tried to address specific issues.

I didn’t have much luck in explaining to her, today, why the instructions might not all fit on one page. I have managed to produce four pages of guidelines. In some areas, she’ll have to fill in some blanks in my knowledge about the agency. With feedback, I should be able to write a one-page document that will refer people to this longer document for further information.

So I’ve done it and sent it off, with a copy to Marty. I hope they like it.

* * * * *

December 11, 11:03 PM – The Ombud

It was a good day for real people. Do you suppose December is not really that horrible, despite the grayness?

Hmm. Maybe it varies by state.

I left Disability Agency at 3:30 and tooled over to the university. I went in for my 4 PM appointment with the Ombud, or whatever I should call the guy who seems to be the chief player in the Ombuds office. It was quiet. He was not exactly deluged with students. There was nobody there before me and nobody arriving after my appointment, which ran over.

I sat down and asked him what kinds of things his office could do for me. It seems the Ombud can look into things, suggest next steps, etc., but he won’t roll up his sleeves and take personal charge of resolving conflicts. I decided what the hell, I’m here, so I went ahead and gave him a brief overview of the story with the Social Entrepreneurship prof. Much to my surprise, he was curious. He wanted to know more about my situation, about what I had been experiencing and so forth.

I really hope he’s what he seems to be. I don’t need two heartbreaks in this cold month. He sure did seem to be making the right noises.

I came out of there thinking, you know, this is why this is a great university. It’s not because of all these self-important professors and their variously brilliant students. It’s because . . . well, let me put it this way. When I published my book that was critical of law schools in general and of Columbia Law in particular, you know what they did at Columbia? They mentioned it in their alumni magazine, same as all the other alumni books that get published. I mean, it’s not as though they sent me a bouquet of roses, but they gritted their teeth and gave my book at least a mention.

I’m just saying that a great university takes the long view, doesn’t conduct itself like a bunch of thugs. Or at least this is what I like to believe.

* * * * *

December 11, 11:39 PM – The Fun Professor’s Class, R.I.P.

Had my last class session of the semester yesterday. No more classes until January 6. This is very good.

I have already reported the fun professor’s comments on my paper, but there are also a few things I wanted to say about the rest of that class session. First, right off, when I walked in, in my purple tights, I saw that Lucretia MacEvil was not sitting in my usual vicinity. For the only time in the semester, she had moved up to be on the other side of the woman on her left. I didn’t know if I should take that personally or not. It’s not like we were ever friends. We were able to exchange civil words.

Last week, she said something about Thanksgiving, and I said mine was sort of noneventful. Then, in what I felt was a very insightful question – and a little bold, given our age difference – she asked if that was because of family stuff. I said yeah. I didn’t elaborate, and to tell the truth I’m not sure how well I could explain it. Thanksgiving has always been sad, for what it could have been. If anything, it’s worse with the folks gone.

I told Lucretia that I was impressed that she saw right into that, and suggested she consider doing interpersonal work, which is of course exactly what she’s training for. She looked pleased. That’s where the discussion ended. So, I dunno, maybe she moved away because she didn’t want to have to have another conversation like that one this week?

It also occurs to me – apropos of that, I guess – to make a comment about suicide. I’m not suicidal. I don’t make suicidal plans, I don’t fantasize about how everyone will be sorry, etc. At the same time, in another five or ten years, apparently I will be moving into a prime demographic category for that. So perhaps it would be appropriate to offer a progress report.

In this progress report, what I would say is simply that, in the last year or two, I have begun to understand how life for some men, at a certain age, can become suddenly and frightfully empty. Not because it doesn’t have its occasional fun activities and perhaps even some good people. More like . . . I’m not sure . . . I guess maybe there’s the potential for feeling like a complete failure, or unwanted, or humiliated.

It has occurred to me, in other words, that in our assorted classroom conversations about suicide, here in the fun professor’s class and in my other SW classes, I don’t believe I have ever heard anyone talk about suicide in realistic terms relevant to men in that prime old suicide demographic. And this is surely what you would expect when (a) social workers are not flocking toward opportunities to work with older people, and (b) even those who do contemplate working with old folks do not seem very fond of old men in particular. I mean, after all, virtually nobody here is fond of me.

It’s not a terrible overgeneralization to sum it up by saying that these girls tend to be interested in matters of typical concern for young women and their children. That’s entirely reasonable for them; but because SSWs tend to be so dominated by young middle-class women, this profession grossly neglects major segments of the population.

Here in the fun professor’s class, for example, she has told us about suicidal people who would go to the therapist’s office and talk about being suicidal, and would thus give the therapist time to work out a contract with them or have them escorted to the emergency room if necessary. These old guys, I think, are not going to do that. They’ve had years of experience in talking to young people, and in seeing how young people react to them. Why waste time with some young idiot? Typically, I think, they would not expect a social worker in her 20s to have a clue about what life is like for them.

End of midlife progress report.

Anyway, in the second half of the class, the scales were stripped from my eyes, and I could see. Specifically, I could see that the fun professor was not too eager to hear from me. She used to be; I’m not sure when that changed, or why.

Two redeeming moments in that final class. (1) Henry asks a question about what you’re supposed to do, as a social worker, when your employer is not only paying you peanuts but is also expecting you to work ten hours a day. The fun professor says probably the only thing there is to say under present circumstances, which is that you have to advocate for yourself. Lame, but true. But it was an “up” moment for me because it validated my view that social workers – or someone – needs to get serious about the workplace, and not just the home. There are women in the workplace now, so it’s finally safe for social workers to start to pay attention to its abuses. Late to the party, as seems typical of this functionally conservative profession, but better late than never.

(2) A black student who has skipped a lot of classes raises her hand and offers a comment (as we are discussing gay and lesbian issues) about how black men get beaten for being gay, whereas black lesbians don’t come in for the same degree of abuse. And suddenly I was, like, honey, I don’t care about the classes you skipped; I’m just grateful for the ones you attended, including especially this one.

And that was the end of the fun professor’s class.

P.S. I am aware that there are people who will castigate me for using words like “honey.” They can have their culture. I prefer mine.

* * * * *

December 13, 11:27 AM – Carrying the Parasite

I’m finally reaching the late stages in the writing of the final paper for my final class, for good old Dr. K., having deferred the thing just about as long as is humanly possible. Right now, I’ve beaten my way through a dozen pages of it and am very nearly ready to just write “The End” and forget about it. But I know better than to do that. I am an experienced student. Instead, I’m taking a break to comment on something else.

There is this phenomenon I’ve seen sometimes, where people keep winding up right back in the same kind of problem situation they were in before. We talk about it in our classes, where people from abusive families or relationships ultimately find themselves in other abusive families and relationships.

It’s like that parasite that infects the brain of an ant and makes it climb a blade of grass, where a bird can see it and eat it and enable the parasite to continue its life cycle in the bird’s stomach. Something like that.

I mean, social workers must be gluttons for punishment. It’s not enough that we’re going to make a pittance. It’s that we’re going to do this in jobs that can be incredibly draining.

What’s interesting is that many of us come from screwed-up homes, or have our own social or psychological difficulties or grievances. It’s as if we didn’t get enough of being bullied or abused or whatever happened to us previously, so now we want to make a career of it. Or like that’s all we know or expect for ourselves. Or maybe we’re trying to work through it, to re-experience it until we are desensitized or we understand it or we can finally figure out how to be at peace with it.

Last year, in my doctoral studies at SSW2, I did several class presentations where I emphasized an existential awareness of what is happening to us in real time, in the present moment. I told one of my classmates in that PhD program about my basic rule that everyone is a client. He came around to the realization that a SW education is a form of self-therapy for a lot of SW students. He seemed to consider himself exempt, unfortunately, and in that sense I guess he will fit in pretty well among SW professors. A good social worker is skilled at identifying the parasite in others.

* * * * *

December 17, 8:13 PM – Where Were We?

Wow. I’ve been busy.

Well, I finished the paper. I’ve been putting in time at the internship. Long phone conversation with the girlfriend the other night. Suffice it to say that distance takes its toll. I don’t think we’ll be getting together after the semester ends.

Lots of notes piled up here. I’ll try to work through them in a series of posts this evening.

* * * * *

December 19, 7:31 AM – ‘Twas the Week Before Christmas

I got busy with a dozen other catch-up things, night before last (Thursday), and then went to the agency yesterday, Friday, so I’m only now getting back to this project of catching up with my blog notes.

In the past month or so, in school and the office, I have adopted the habit of traveling light, carrying a pen and a square (actually, a rectangle) of paper in my pocket, a folded-up 8½ x 11 sheet, and making my notes on that. I can usually fit my notes from a class session or meeting on that. So what I have here on my desk is a bunch of those paper squares.

I’ve been meaning to suggest that I, and not the parents, should have been the one to give names to some of these people at Disability Agency. “Marty,” for example, is the perfect name for my field instructor, my supervisor there. It’s a miracle that I haven’t actually called her that yet.

We had some meetings this week. Mike’s recreation group met on Monday, though there were only four of us; not sure where everyone else was. Marty had a supervision meeting on Thursday, from 12 to 2:30 PM. Only four or five of us there too, this time. Carol the social worker is now being friendly toward me sometimes. Marty and I went to a meeting of a local city council on Tuesday night, so she could get up and speak on behalf of a budget item involving the city’s continuing efforts to make its sidewalks and other facilities handicap-accessible.

Closer to home, I have come to realize that there is another possible interpretation of events, surrounding the mysterious stickiness on my mouthwash bottle. It could be that the lady visitor told my roommate that his breath reeked of garlic and onions, and could he please do something about it. So maybe it was he, not she, who was guzzling from my bottle. I think this possibility came to mind as I pondered the annual Charlie Brown Christmas TV show, and particularly the part where Snoopy licks Lucy’s mouth, and she yells, “Ugh! I’ve been kissed by a dog!”

Speaking of the roommate, we have somewhat different schedules. My classes were basically done weeks ago; he still has two of his three exams yet to go. The purpose of education in my program seems to be for everyone to finish the semester as soon as the university will let us. Evidently departments vary on this point.

* * * * *

December 19, 8:12 AM – The Site Visit

Well, the day came. This past Monday, December 14. Sandra showed up at Disability Agency at 11 AM, as scheduled. She and Marty and I squeezed into Marty’s messy office. Seeing all the papers stacked up, and hearing Marty lament the need for filing, Sandra suggested that filing would be an appropriate activity for an intern. Inside, I felt a deep agony; but I showed nothing, and later I gallantly told Marty that I would be glad to help her with her filing. Fortunately, she hasn’t taken me up on that. It could be that she thinks I’ll mess it up. I like to think it’s because she wants me to have a good internship experience, and doesn’t think that telling me where to file things is part of that.

Sandra wanted to know what I’ve been doing. I gave her a list of items. She asked what I found challenging. I paused and said I had to think of something that was really hard. She said that “challenge” doesn’t necessarily imply “hard.” I said, OK, in that case it’s something of a challenge to work in the reception area, with all the chitchat, people coming in and out, and so forth; it wasn’t something I had generally done in my previous jobs. I said it wasn’t how I would ordinarily learn about Social Policy, but Sandra suggested that it might be one of the most important parts of my learning experience.

Self-care seems to be a big topic among social workers, or at least at this SSW. Sandra asked me about it during this meeting. I forget how she phrased the question – not “what do you do to unwind?” but something like that – and I said I run. She said, well, what else? I said I run some more. But this was not what she wanted. So I said I watch videos on YouTube. She didn’t moan, but you could see this was not what the best possible answer. I should have said I volunteer in a soup kitchen. It didn’t occur to me to say, Oh, and I write a blog about the SSW.

At the close, when Sandra asked if I had any other comments, I said I really appreciated how Marty had handled our three-way discussion with Robin, and I said the communication was very good. Somehow, that didn’t draw an especially positive reaction from Marty. Not sure why not. Maybe she thought I was trying to butter her up. Or sometimes, it’s because the person is not comfortable with compliments. I hope it’s not because, meanwhile, Marty thinks I’m a total loser.

Sandra is a social worker, to the core. Even our site visit meeting lasted for almost exactly 50 minutes. It’s as if time comes in pre-cut slices, and if for some unusual reason we weren’t going to have a 50-minute session, it would have to be either a 25-minute half-session or a 100-minute double session (plus, I assume, a 10-minute break). The challenge is always to squeeze everything into that 50-minute slot. I wonder how long dinner at Sandra’s house lasts.

Sandra was her usual charming self, complete with the carefully dispensed bit of personal disclosure. This time, it was that she’s a Gemini. I’m not the world’s most knowledgeable person on these things, but as she portrayed it, the idea is that the two sides of the Gemini work with or maybe against each other. This would actually not be a half-bad summary of who she has been for me.

Be that as it may, we signed the educational agreement, Marty gave Sandra a tour of the building (apparently it has been several years since the SSW placed an intern at Disability Agency), and Sandra was on her way. I’ll be getting in touch with her again when I’m approaching my halfway point (i.e., 342 hours), at which time we need to do a fall semester evaluation.

* * * * *

December 19, 11:01 AM – Waiting to See If I’ve Impressed Anybody

In the Site Visit meeting with Sandra on Monday, Marty made a comment about how I work on the level of abstractions, but sometimes it’s necessary to get me to focus on the immediate, concrete need. Not sure whether that was a response to Robin’s project, but since there was nothing else along these lines that came to mind, I thought it might be. So I got the sense that my hours of struggle with that document last Friday might have been wasted time.

I especially got that idea after Marty’s response to Sandra’s question about my biggest challenge here at the Agency. When I said it was being up in the reception area, Marty said she was surprised I hadn’t instead said that my biggest challenge was making the transition from a legal mindset to a SW mindset. That sounded like Sandra. I mean, Robin isn’t a social worker, and meanwhile it’s been more than 20 years since I practiced law. So I’m not sure what to make of that.

I was somewhat discouraged on Monday, after I saw that Robin had time to advise Elaine on how to improve a sign-up list for volunteers, but didn’t seem interested in saying anything about my document.

I moved on to other things. Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday went by. On Friday, Marty left for a two-week vacation. In the afternoon, Robin came strolling into the reception area where I sit, chatted with Elaine for a while, and then mentioned that she did get my email and has just been too busy with a major yearend report to respond. Apparently it’s quite a struggle to prepare that report each year. She said she feels like she’s being followed around by a huge, dark cloud. I said, “You mean the Big Guy?” She laughed.

So, you know, hope springs eternal. In its latest form, hope is telling me that Robin has now come to understand that the issues really do call for more than another one-page summary – that we need to sit down and talk when she has an hour or more to devote to the matter. This would be good. I don’t want to be useless.

* * * * *

December 19, 2:45 PM – The Bull Session

Things seem to be going really well, between me and my co-workers there in the reception area at Disability Agency. On Thursday, Marty stepped in to observe the four of us in a circle – two women in wheelchairs, one who sometimes uses a wheelchair, and me in a crouch, so I could be at eye-level with them – shooting the breeze.

They were filling a few of the huge gaps in my knowledge of disabilities. One topic that floated through the circle was how drivers can’t see you in a wheelchair if they have a high vehicle. Elaine told us about the time when a guy in an SUV backed up in a parking lot and hit her. Knocked her out of her chair onto the pavement. I said, wow, that’s about as bad as it gets, although come to think of it, I did recently see a video in which the cops pull up to the scene of an accident and run over the feet of a person lying on the ground.

We have a sheet of “Disability Do’s and Don’ts.” One of them is, if you see someone in a wheelchair, don’t pat them on the head. Erin says they do this all the time to her. Another on the list: people talk about her rather than to her, as if she were not capable of answering questions for herself.

Erin talked about how religious people see her in the mall and ask if they can pray for her. She says OK, whatever. So they do, and sometimes they are “touching her,” as she puts it, which I assume means they are “laying on hands” in religious lingo.

Erin has a twin who is able-bodied . . . oh, wait, that was another topic. How are we supposed to refer to someone who doesn’t have a physical disability? We aren’t sure, but we think that “able-bodied” is not an appropriate term for some reason. Desiree said it seems weird to call them “normal.” Erin agreed: she, too, is normal. I said, How about just calling them an American? “Excuse me – could you get that American guy for me? I want to talk to him.” That got a laugh. None of us seemed to know the proper terminology for this.

So anyway, Erin continues with her story about her able-bodied (or, as Desiree calls it, A.B.) twin. Apparently this is something that happens a lot with twins, where one of them has some kind of disability and the other doesn’t. She and her twin have done this routine, sometimes, where the one will stand in for the other, as a joke.

I ask them for their reactions when Ernst came into the reception area one day, looking for someone to help him with some physical task. He looked at me and said, “You’re a big, strong guy,” and led me away to do the deed. Did these wheelchair women feel slighted? Not in the least. I guess they’ve got other things to worry about. It was a relief to hear this. Like, we have not achieved so much that we now have the luxury of sweating the small stuff. These people with disabilities are still struggling for basic understanding from their fellow citizens. They’ve heard a lot worse.

I think it was good for Marty to see us there in the circle. I’ve been telling her that I’m learning a lot from these people, but this was the first time when she saw my co-workers actually conducting a sort of informational seminar for the newcomer (me).

* * * * *

December 19, 3:29 PM – Social Categories in the Disability World

I won some love at Disability Agency yesterday. I took in a space heater. I have one of those oil-filled ones, the kind that don’t start fires. I’m not needing it this winter, in my cozy graduate dorm room, so I decided to lend it to the Agency. It replaced the funky little electric thing they had been using, which has a short in its cord and has been blowing fuses. The volunteer receptionists need a heater because of those nasty drafts from the front door. So today’s volunteer got to use that; and after she left, I wheeled it over to Elaine’s desk. She and Erin were telling me that they are always cold and their feet turn blue from bad circulation and lack of movement, as they sit there forever in their wheelchairs.

There seem to be different categories of disabilities. I mean, obviously, there are, but I’m starting to sense some social nuances. For instance, Eric, a volunteer who is in a chair due to a skiing acident, does not necessarily have much in common with Aaron, the intern who has a fairly severe case of cerebral palsy but is nonetheless walking and talking (albeit in very spastic and hard-to-understand fashion). Aaron, in fact, is married and has published a book.

Another category: mental disabilities. People in the reception area were not too happy, the other day, with a certain person who walked in. Elaine and the others were polite to her, and answered her questions; but after she left, and I asked if she had a disability, Elaine said yeah, a mental disability, she was a “klepto” who had stolen things from the Agency before and had to be watched constantly. Which, of course, was probably true; I’m just saying there do seem to be distinctions among how different kinds of disabilities are received. Whatever the attitudes, it seems to me that Elaine and the others do offer a sort of halfway house here, helping these people to restart their lives if that’s what they need.

* * * * *

December 19, 3:48 PM – Compliments

I’ve taken a fairly open approach to my dealings with my coworkers, there in the reception area. I seem to be asking questions that they don’t ask; and once I do, this seems to open the door for them to ask questions of each other.

One thing I’ve noticed, with a couple of these people, is that they don’t seem to get complimented very much. Elaine drops things because her hands aren’t strong enough anymore to hold onto them; she is cold; she has lost the ability to walk; and yet she just keeps plugging away. Oh, to toot my own horn, she is very happy with Hans, the computer guy, for fixing the phones so that she does not have to roll back and forth between them in order to do her own job and the receptionist’s job when there are no volunteers; and he did that because, when I saw her doing that, I piped up and asked him to take a look at the situation.

But anyway, one time when there was nobody else in the room, I told Elaine that I was very impressed at how she just deals with things, keeps working, and hardly ever complains. After struggling with that remark for a moment, she finally said, “I’m going to take that as a compliment.” It would have been hard to take it any other way.

Same thing with Desiree. One time, I told her that she has a fantastic attitude, and she does. This remark seemed to catch her completely off-guard. She actually got up from her chair and walked (without her walker) over toward me. I wondered, for a moment, if she was going to cry. I said, “Oh, I’m sure people tell you that all the time.” She said no, nobody ever says that. I said I was surprised, because she does have a good attitude. She is always upbeat, helpful, conversational, just a very pleasant person to be around.

It’s not like I want to bury them in positive remarks. But I think I will try to pay more attention to when I could be building these people up.

In other news, Margaret is applying to SSW3’s MSW program. She doesn’t seem to think that her status as a person with a disability will give her a leg up. For her, SSW3 is like the city on the hill, a dream that she will struggle to get into and succeed at. I feel like I’m talking to an immigrant. Immigrants are the best citizens: they take nothing for granted; they cherish it all.

* * * * *

December 22, 10:36 AM – Internship Update

Today is Tuesday of a three-day workweek. The office is closed Thursday and Friday, this week and next, for Christmas and New Year’s Eve and Day.

I’m not going in today. I decided this morning. It’s because yesterday I spent the whole day screwing with my nearly useless desktop computer, there at the Agency. It has only 256MB of RAM, which means it sits and grinds forever when I have more than one or two programs open. So I have permission from Hans to track down some RAM and upgrade it. I’m going to work on that today, and do my work on my home computer, which is much faster.

As noted earlier, I spent the summer of 2003 as an AmeriCorps volunteer, fixing computers instead of working with kids outdoors like I was supposed to be doing. The agency I was assigned to had no money, so I had to try to work miracles with virtually useless hardware. I spent most of that summer in my apartment, because there I had tools and spare parts and other computers that I could swap parts in and out of, to test them. Meanwhile, the people in the office seemed to have decided that I was goofing off, because they couldn’t see me working. I bet there are quite a few volunteers around the country – thousands, probably – who are working at a fraction of their potential productivity because the nonprofits can’t afford the tools and equipment they need to function effectively.

10:30 AM. I have just placed an order for $30 worth of RAM for the computer. Hans is meanwhile setting up my laptop to work at the office. I’m sure it will be faster than these desktop computers that someone donated to them. I found that mine was built in 2001. Hans authorized an installation but not a purchase; I told him that I might have some RAM lying around at home. I do, but none that will fit their computer. I’ll probably wind up paying for the RAM myself, though if he offers compensation I’ll take him up on it. They’re a month or two behind on their mileage reimbursements – the Big Guy said they don’t have the money – so this will probably be my gift to the organization. If I wind up doing most of my work on my laptop, then this RAM upgrade will be for the benefit of the next person who tries to use that desktop computer.

* * * * *

December 22, 1:24 PM – Omwhat?

Hadn’t heard anything back from the Ombud, more than a week after our meeting, so I sent him a message yesterday:

I hope you had a good weekend. I am writing to follow up on the materials I sent you last week. If there’s anything else you need from me now, please don’t hesitate to let me know.

His reply:

I did receive it, thanks. I guess my question now is, what do you think are your next steps (and do you think they should involve me at all)? I do have some questions and points of discussion as I’ve thought about your situation and reviewed the materials you sent. If you would like to talk more, just let me know and we can set something up.

My reply:

Hi – I was thinking you were going to look into the business school’s relevant guidelines for grading, communications with students, etc. I don’t really know what my options are, but I guess you don’t feel there’s much you can do to help? Sorry, your message has me a little puzzled.

* * * * *

December 22, 2:53 PM – Never Did Hear Back

It’s been more than two weeks now, and Assistant Dean Sean hasn’t yet replied to my email accepting his suggestion that we should have lunch sometime. That’s a little strange. I guess something changed. I’ll remind him of it next time I see him, which will probably be sometime in the spring semester.

I sent Assistant Dean Melinda a reminder, a week after my previous message to her, and this time she did reply. She told me that my advisor is the one who has to approve course substitutions for the spring semester. Apparently he didn’t know that previously, when I contacted him about this. So I sent her email to him, with substitution request forms filled out, just needing his signature.

He didn’t reply, so later I sent him a follow-up. I got a message from him last week, telling me that he was getting his car repaired and would be back to me. I sent him another reminder yesterday.

We’re talking about what courses I need to take in order to graduate. I need his approval before I can get the registrar’s confirmation that I’m on track to meet graduation requirements. Right now, I have no idea what my schedule is going to be.

The advisor also never did respond to my question of who gave him negative reports about me in the Social Entrepreneurship class and in Melinda’s class. Also, no further replies from the Social Entrepreneurship prof, nor from the fun professor.

I received a separate message from Melinda, with a copy to Brenda, telling us how much she appreciated our contributions to the Asia course, saying that our classmates in Asia rated us positively, and inviting us to apply to join her in presenting her research in Hong Kong. No actual acknowledgement that she had read the materials or reconsidered her previous criticisms of me, unfortunately. Our meeting did not convey a sense that she would really like me to join her in Hong Kong. I think she may just be trying to document that she has behaved appropriately toward me.

I was half-tempted to go back through my emails for the fall semester and list all the professors and students who never replied to something I sent them. I have never understood this behavior. You get a message that you don’t know how to answer, just write back and say, “I don’t know how to answer that.” Or tell them a story. Anything. But don’t just leave it for the person to invent their own theory that you snubbed them, or you don’t know the answer, or whatever their guess might be. Especially if you’re a SW professor, supposedly expert in interpersonal interactions and mental health and such.

* * * * *

December 22, 3:20 PM – Omback

The Ombud called back. He was concerned that he had puzzled me. We just finished a conversation that must have run for 20-30 minutes.

First, regarding the Social Entrepreneurship prof, apparently there was some misunderstanding. He seems to have thought that he had done all he could or should do when he gave me a copy of the business school’s materials on student disputes. So that one is pretty much up to me. He’s not going to be talking to anyone further about that.

So pardon me, but that is odd. I wouldn’t have spent a half-hour telling him the details of the story, in response to his questions, if all he was going to do was to point me to some stuff that I could have downloaded for myself.

Previously, during our face-to-face meeting, I had told the Ombud about the situations with the Social Entrepreneurship prof and Assistant Dean Melinda. Now I added the story about my internship experience at Stanley’s agency.

The Ombud asked whether there was someone that he could talk to on my behalf, in the SSW. He said he has had previous interactions with Assistant Dean Sean. I said that was a convenient coincidence, in that I was still waiting for a reply from Sean regarding his suggestion that we get together for lunch. So the Ombud is going to send me some materials, to obtain my written approval for his sharing information about me with Sean, and then he’s going to contact Sean about this.

He says this probably won’t happen until January, so I guess we’re looking two weeks ahead or so. Meanwhile, it’s up to me to decide what to do with the Social Entrepreneurship prof.

* * * * *

December 23, 9:16 PM – The Grades Are Almost In

Just had a nice run – almost nine miles, out through the snow. Got my paper back from Dr. K via email. I’ve decided it’s time to bite the bullet and check my grades for the semester . . .

Well, it’s not great. No grade at all from Dr. K. I’ll have to see what his comments say. I think the deadline for grades is Friday, so he may just be running behind. An incomplete from Sandra for the field placement, which is no surprise; she is waiting for me to finish my 342 hours. And an A– from the fun professor. I haven’t seen her grading for the final paper, so I’m going to email her right now, to see how that turned out.

* * * * *

December 23, 10:58 PM – A Comparison of Grading Styles

In the spirit of processing the data as it comes in, here’s a little comparison of grading styles, of the fun professor versus Dr. K.

Since I haven’t seen the fun professor’s remarks on my final paper, I’ll have to use her comments on the assignment I turned in on November 5. I’ll juxtapose those against Dr. K’s comments on the paper I gave him the following week, on November 11. The paper I sent to the fun professor was the shorter of the two, at eight pages, so I’ll provide Dr. K’s comments from only the first eight pages of the paper I gave him.

These are, of course, different classes, different assignments, and so forth. Nonetheless, both Dr. K and the fun professor are practicing social workers. The fun professor is quite a bit younger – now that I check out her online bio, I think she must be about 33, whereas Dr. Krishna is around 62. He has a PhD and is a full professor; she has an MSW and is a part-time lecturer. Interestingly, his PhD is in counseling, not in SW. So of course their styles will be different.

And they are. Here is the complete list of their comments from the first eight pages of those two papers. I’m not going to reproduce pages upon pages of my papers here, so it’s going to be impossible to tell what some of these comments are about. But the difference in grading style is still quite evident.

First, here’s what Dr. K wrote on my paper:

Very good overview.

Why the focus on addictions?

Best to paraphrase so that you retain the knowledge better.

These are very general steps and they seem to apply to many forms of therapy. How is this one unique?

??

The value focus seems unique.

??

Very interesting discussion.

Makes sense.

Though some clients may have existential dilemmas as well or want a focus on meaning or spirituality.

Good point.

Yes, as in Native American perspectives.

Good point.

Do the future and the present come together in this approach in finding meaning?

Yes, well put. Are there also paradoxical solutions to value both equally?

And guilt for wrongdoing?

Now, are the notes that the fun professor wrote on my paper, some of which I discussed in a December 3 entry (above):

Not needed.

What about teachers + students?

How do you know?

So are you devaluing/denying her feelings?

Again, why deny this person his feelings?

Don’t ignore the individual in favor of the “many.”

Interesting interpretation.

This reading served as more of an intro to a book on this topic; maybe the entire book would have done as you suggest.

Strong word choice – why the need to attack?

And things are so much better today?

Do these points not bear repeating?

See my notes, please.

Wow.

Maybe there are two ways to take this comparison. Dr. K may be more of a pushover (i.e., reluctant to say anything negative), or he may be more interested in encouraging the student. Despite the difficulty in knowing what these professors’ comments were referring to, a couple of things may be apparent:

  • The fun professor provided little if any positive feedback.
  • Her question about “the need to attack” actually referred to my response to a situation in which I had been attacked. She apparently jumped on this before she had finished reading the sentence.
  • In that “wow” comment and otherwise, the fun professor’s approach to grading actually seemed to belittle my paper (see December 3, above).

It’s weird, looking at this paper now and thinking about how I had praised and defended the fun professor. I do seem to have begun with a pretty strong bias in her favor and/or with an excessive dose of wishful thinking. Maybe I assumed that a more entertaining instructor would also be more welcoming or open-minded or interested in ideas. Or maybe, even after all the criticisms voiced here, I am still overindulging a pro-female bias.

* * * * *

December 23, 11:10 PM – The Party’s Over

Before I forget, I wanted to post a few notes from today’s experience at the internship.

The first thing I want to say is that I am starting to become a little impatient with the environment in the reception area. Yes, I am getting some exposure to people with disabilities, both in terms of the clients who come in the door and in the more in-depth understanding I’m getting from hobnobbing with my coworkers there. But I’m getting literally nothing done.

It didn’t help that, in my efforts to make the computer run faster, I made an adjustment that actually made it run slower. It took a day or two for me to realize that, of course, what I had done would slow things down. It was slow anyway, and I have had years of coping with slow Windows computers. So I basically just sat there and made tiny progress.

If I’m diagnosing myself with anything these days, it’s depression. This is not my season. My uncle died on Christmas Day. Not this year – this was back in the ’60s – but the point remains: even though I wasn’t close to him, I felt that was a rotten trick on the part of God or life or whatever was responsible for his demise. We get one cheery day in the midst of all this dour wintry grayness, and it kills him.

I’m not sure how serious I am about that. But it does seem important to register a bleat of grievance in some form.

Today was better. I undid my mistake and the computer did speed up somewhat. But I still felt like I was wasting a lot of time. I am also thinking that this slow period – lots of the staff are out from now until January – is a great opportunity for me to do some good work, impress Marty, and thus gain some leverage in choosing where to devote my efforts in coming months.

I did some quick Googling on the disability that one of the staff members experiences. I hadn’t heard of it before. Now that I looked at it, I saw that her life expectancy was somewhere between age 40 and 50. She’s maybe 25 now. It’s probably much the same for others there; I just haven’t researched them all. And here I’m thinking I have a good shot at still being productive 25 or 30 years from now. So life gets her coming and going: her life is difficult in ways that mine has not been and probably won’t be, and it could be half as long as mine. Or less.

They don’t really go into the existential, mortality-type dimension of disability, in the conversations and materials I’ve come across here. They mostly seem to focus on the day-to-day level. But these sorts of thoughts have got to foster a vastly different attitude toward life, and people, and everything, than what I know and live with.

* * * * *

December 24, 12:00 AM – To Grade and Be Graded

I see that Dr. Krishna has given me an A– on the final paper. That was 40% of the grade, so I believe I can see the writing on the wall here. It’s going to be an A– for the semester, and that’s the way it goes.

In his comments on my paper, he did point out some things that I could have done to improve it, so maybe an A– was the right grade for me. I couldn’t say for sure, of course, without knowing the grade distribution. If two-thirds of the students got an A, then I would have some questions. I assume that’s not the case, but he and the SSW ain’t saying.

I know I worked a lot harder on the paper, and I bet I wrote a lot better, than some of the other students I talked to. But I guess it’s like the situation with the fun professor. If the prof disagrees with what you’re saying, it may not matter so much how well you research or present it. One student, for example, told me that she cited only one source from the professional literature. I cited 29. There’s no magic in numbers, but as a general rule, filling pages with your own opinions is not as good as making an argument based on what other researchers have found.

Dr. K and I did have a largely unspoken but, I think, potentially fundamental disagreement. He is a gentle man, and I am sure it is always worthwhile and often essential to have the ability to be gentle. But this is not a one-size-fits-all world. I don’t see that being gentle has always made him effective with his own students. To everything there is a season: sometimes it is the season of being straightforward, though certainly not belittling.

Let’s be more specific. In my paper, I included a transcript of a dialogue with a real or make-believe client, as Dr. K assigned us to do. I used a real conversation that I’d had with a guy I knew – call him John – some time back. I used this conversation because I had it on tape. The whole tape was much longer – it was part of an unrelated event – but I was able to take out part of it and modify it to fit the situation. I got to know John pretty well, and in my mind’s eye, I can pretty much visualize him saying these things. This first part, at any rate, was pretty close to what he said to me (using “T” as short for “therapist” – that’s me – and “C” as short for “client,” i.e., John):

T: So I understand your oldest daughter, Kay, has moved out?

C: Oh, she moved out two, three years ago. When she graduated from high school. I didn’t know it, but the other girls were making fun of her in high school. All kinds of rumors. Nasty stuff. I heard it from some of the guys when we were up in Canada. You’d be amazed what you hear around those campfires. And that’s why she had a rough time in school. It wasn’t all because of me. It wasn’t all because of me. Because I didn’t understand, of . . . if I’d only known, you know?

T: Yeah.

C: I don’t know what I could have done, but . . . to stop the gossip. But . . . to this day, when I see those other girls, well, they’re women now. They say forgive and forget. Bullshit. You don’t forgive when you can’t forget. And they were telling other stories, just silly as hell, see? But people, they like – they like to gossip.

T: I know kids pick on each other sometimes.

C: Oh, apparently it was just horrible, for Kay, and I didn’t know it. So it’s not, I’m not trying to beg off, or anything like that.

At this point, Dr. Krishna added a note that said, “Validate his anguish here.” Dr. K saw a certain set of words, and assumed that John meant exactly what he said.

I realize that Dr. K was not present, and also did not have a copy of the tape, so I had an advantage in my interpretation of these statements. I’m also certainly willing to cut a guy some slack. But I knew John, and I knew anguish was not a major part of his words. He was making excuses. He had learned that his original harsh, blunt statements toward Kay had tended to turn his wife and others against him, so he softened his language. But in reality he, not the other kids, had been Kay’s worst nightmare in the years before she moved out. And if you think about his excuse for a minute, you realize: according to his story, Kay spent years being tormented by other kids, and yet he didn’t know anything about it? That doesn’t sound like someone who is engaged in his child’s life, either directly or through conversation with his wife. He also makes it sound like his wife was a lousy parent – that she, like John, had been completely clueless, or that she wasn’t telling him about it and wasn’t taking care of it. This information certainly suggests that John had a confused and often unhappy life. But his message here was one of being misunderstood, not of being responsible for much of Kay’s misery.

I wasn’t going to argue with John. To the contrary, I wanted to understand his world. If I had been his therapist at the time of this conversation, and had somehow managed to acquire familiarity with his situation, I would have wanted to work toward seeing the world as he saw it. There was a reason for his excuses. Buying into them was not the solution. I wanted to be learning more about the feelings or other motivations – fear of losing his wife, perhaps – that persuaded him to claim a degree of concern for Kay that simply hadn’t appeared in his words and actions at the time.

So anyway, that’s an example of how Dr. K errs on the side of seeming to buy into the client’s story, and I err on the side of wanting to know the facts. I can empathize to a limited degree with the client’s original story. I do want to give clients a supportive, encouraging environment. I just don’t want them, and me, to get lost in the stories we tell ourselves about the awkward parts of life.

* * * * *

December 24, 1:35 AM – Late-Night Reflections

I wonder if people with disabilities are lonely. I’m afraid those who have able-bodied boy- and girlfriends may be in positions of tremendous weakness and dependence. That sort of thing can make for truly miserable relationships.

Since it didn’t make any sense for the Ombud to ask all those details about the Social Entrepreneurship prof if he was then going to do nothing more, I wonder if he was trying to gather statements from me that the university could use to defend itself against me. You wouldn’t think so, but if not, what was he up to? There probably is some provision somewhere that says the confidentiality goes out the window if the student sues the university.

I think I have discovered why my roommate loves his long showers. The other day, I ran through the electrical engineering area. They have classrooms that you can see into from the street. There are people wearing spacesuits in there, in clean rooms where they work on microprocessors. He probably spends his day over there in immaculate conditions, and then has to come home to the real world. Actually, we both keep things fairly well organized. But I think he must be counting on having his future wife do much of the housework. He never sweeps, scrubs, or mops.

I’m worried that I won’t put in enough hours on the internship, in time to graduate in May.

I need to get some sleep.

* * * * *

December 24, 11:47 AM – End Run Around the Advisor?

This morning, I got an email from the SSW’s assistant registrar. She has apparently done her audit of my course situation. They do this for everyone who is coming up for graduation. She has found that I need to register for a statistics class. This is one of the courses I asked the advisor to approve for substitution, since I have already had three graduate-level statistics courses.

I replied to her message by telling her that I’ve been waiting for weeks for my advisor to decide on my situation, and asking if she had any other ideas. She has just emailed back to say that I may want to try contacting Professor Hoozit, because he has to sign off on substitution requests anyway. I don’t know that I have ever even heard of Professor Hoozit. I looked him up, but neither his title nor his description give me any clue that he would be involved in this administrative stuff. I’m sure she’s right – the assistant registrar seems like a straight shooter – but it still feels like she reached into a hat and pulled out a name for the next leg of my wild goose chase.

So, OK, I’ve forwarded her message to Hoozit, with an additional note and the substitution forms I sent my advisor a week ago. I didn’t bother sending the memo I sent my advisor on November 18, in my first attempt to sort this out. The assistant registrar says Hoozit is out until January, so I guess this will have to come together in the few days before classes begin.

* * * * *

December 24, 7:57 PM – If You Want Something Done, Do an End Run

The assistant registar’s advice was sound. Professor Hoozit responded almost immediately. He wants to see course descriptions and syllabi, but he says the requests look reasonable and shouldn’t be a problem. So, wow, after five or six weeks of bouncing back and forth between my advisor and Melinda, it looks like it’s going to get done. I wonder why neither of them just pointed me toward the assistant registrar and Professor Hoozit in the first place. Welcome to life within the leviathan.

* * * * *

December 26, 8:05 PM – Gray Christmas

I got up yesterday morning and felt bad for the kids. It was raining. Lots of rain. Would have been a beautiful white Christmas, if it had been a few degrees colder. As it was, all I could do was let it wash the ice off the roads, so I could go running in my windbreaker in the afternoon.

Had an argument with the roommate. Ah, Christmas. Turns out he’s been deliberately leaving his shoes right inside the door for these past three months, where I could stumble over them whenever I go in or out, because this was his way of saying that I had done something wrong with the closet when I first moved in. I didn’t know that. See, you learn something new every day. I thought it was just the way he was raised, to park your shoes in the entry like that.

Just found a happiness survey. It says the happiest states are wealthy and tolerant. So, OK, I’m screwed. It seems the three states in which I have attended SSW1, SSW2, and now SSW3 are all among the bottom ten in happiness. This region generally came in last. Sounds like just the place for a career in SW. Happiness is probably overrated anyway.

Right now, I’m working on my qualifying paper for my PhD. That, and fooling around with various distractions when I get bored. I have put in very few hours toward the internship during this past week or so, and that’s problematic.

* * * * *

December 31, 8:40 AM – Happy New Year!

I decided I wanted to be sober this New Year’s Eve, so instead I drank my bottle of champagne last night. It had been in the freezer for an hour or more, it was really cold, André Extra Dry – you know, nothing but the best for moi – and it actually went down pretty fast. Must have been the chocolate bar I was consuming alongside. Watched some videos and went to bed, 2 or 3 AM. Up at 7, hung over of course. But now I’m better, sort of.

One of the videos I saw last night reminded me of that film from the 1980s, Brother from Another Planet. The concept in Brother was that there was this good guy from an entirely different place, who had an outsider’s perspective, and who was just taking in all the strange stuff happening in the Harlem ghetto where he had somehow wound up. I was thinking that, actually, it’s sort of like that for me in this SSW. I have my own real-life movie going on here, except almost everybody in this movie is white.

Still haven’t put in any hours on the internship. I’ve made a little progress on the quals paper for my PhD, but not much. A lot of this break has gone to miscellaneous cleanup and organization and just catching up from the semester. It will probably continue to be that way, to some extent – there are always various things that come up around yearend.

In the end, I got an A from Dr. Krishna. I was in A territory except for that A– on the main paper, so I guess the math worked out. I was concerned about how he and I see things differently, and we do, but I guess that wasn’t a problem for him. I dunno. Starting out, I was on my guard against the guy, maybe with good reason, but maybe I was too critical.

My follow-up message to the fun professor got a reply. She says she didn’t mark up our final papers, just graded them, but she’ll send me some comments on my paper after she comes back from break, sometime next week. Haven’t heard anything more from my advisor.

Still waiting on Professor Hoozit to tell me which courses I’m exempt from. He said it would probably be after New Year’s.

* * * * *

December 31, 9:54 AM – Complaint Against the Social Entrepreneurship Prof

I got around to investigating the SSW’s policies for filing complaints against professors. Turns out I have a month from the events in question. If you wait longer than that, you have to explain the delay, and maybe they’ll decide not to do anything about your complaint.

So I decided I had better not just keep waiting around for Assistant Dean Sean and the Ombud and just go ahead and file a complaint. It wound up being a 13-page letter with 30+ pages of attachments – emails and such. Took me the whole day yesterday to write the thing, until 1 AM. At that point, the only place still open, where I was able to get that celebratory chocolate bar, was the local gas station.

The complaint is supposed to go to the Academic Concerns Committee. The SSW’s webpage lists three members for that committee. But the MSW Manual says it takes four to have a quorum. Not sure what this means. There appears to be some slippage. So anyway, I sent copies to the three who were listed. One of them is Assistant Dean Melinda, who I’m sure will be just overjoyed to see it. Shit could hit the fan. But, you know, what I wrote looks pretty good to me. You’re always going to take some flak, say something that’s not quite right, etc. Definitely sticking my neck out. Whatever. It needed to be done.

The basic idea of the complaint is that the Social Entrepreneurship prof displayed a malicious attitude, like she was looking for every possible excuse to give me a failing grade in that course.

I could have made the complaint letter shorter, but it seemed important to present things carefully. I always say, better to be criticized for verbosity than to be dismissed for inscrutability. Or at least that’s what I say now.

So now we sit back and wait for whatever comes next. And work on internship stuff.

* * * * *

January 2, 9:59 AM – Back to the Salt Mines

I’m back at work. I’m at home, but I’m finally starting to do internship work. Right now, I’m trying to set up my laptop. I took it in and let Hans assign it to one of his interns, to reinstall my copy of Microsoft Vista. Well, they reinstalled it – and wiped out everything else on my whole drive. So now I’m repartitioning the drive and making an Acronis image, in case of emergency.

January 3, 11:33 PM. I can see I didn’t get around to finishing this post. Not much new to report. Did I say I ran 12 miles the other day, and when was that? Friday, maybe. Ran through the snow and the woods; just fantastic. Now it’s Sunday night. Ran another six today. Bitter wind, both times. They have these huge white swans in the river – very pretty, but I don’t know what they’re doing out there. Can’t they see the ice chunks? Don’t they run into them sometimes? Half the river is frozen now.

I spent the weekend working on blog posts on disabilities. At first, I decided it didn’t make sense to put in more hours during the break, on internship stuff, because I have no idea if this is what Marty wants me to do. But now I think, never mind. She won’t care about that. She’ll care if I have local-level data for her, and so far, I don’t, and I probably won’t by tomorrow morning.

What else. Did I mention the fun professor is going to . . . yeah, I think I did. Oh, I decided it was my turn to have my kind of shower nozzle. I asked my roommate, back in early September, if he minded if I put a flow restrictor on there. He said it would take him longer to get clean. I said OK, and didn’t do it. But now we’ve passed four months his way, and I have learned that he loves being in the shower for its own sake, and the apartment continues to demonstrate that he’s not quite the clean freak I imagined. For instance, he doesn’t care how dirty his half of the shower is (yeah, I decided not to be the only person who cleans the whole thing anymore). So I belatedly became skeptical. And on New Year’s, I installed the flow restrictor.

So now he can stay in there as long as he likes, and his only way to waste water is to do what he did yesterday, which is to just run the tub’s faucet full blast instead of the shower, and pour cupfuls of water on his head.

* * * * *

January 3, 2:12 AM – All Good Things Must End

I’ve been doing calculations for a blog post about disabilities for the Agency. Tomorrow is the last day of Christmas break.

* * * * *

January 4, 7:31 PM – First Day Back

It wasn’t the best first day back at the internship. Must be the weather. For whatever reason, I started out feeling unwanted. Actually, invisible. Like, when I sneezed, nobody said “Bless you.” Little stuff like that. Not sure why it bothered me. But once you’re on that kind of line of thinking, the evidence piles up. It kept feeling like people were walking into the reception area, being very friendly to Rick and Elaine and Erin, and totally ignoring me.

Maybe it’s because Desiree wasn’t there. She was out sick. It’s not the same without her around.

Today, I installed more RAM on the office computer. Did I claim full credit, already, for spending $30 of my own money to buy it? Consider it my gift of the year. Anyway, the computer is much faster now, thank you. Still can’t compete with my home setup, though. Two wide-screen monitors make all the difference when you’re looking through a dozen PDFs and a score of webpages for information on the point you’re trying to write up.

Funky thing happened in Mike’s weekly meeting of the recreation group. Persons present: Mike, Amanda, Erin, me. He went right through the issues and wrapped it up. Quick meeting, maybe 40 minutes. He finished, said, “OK,” closed his laptop, put it in his lap, and started to wheel away from the table. For some reason, nobody else moved. So he stopped and we started shooting the breeze about some minor thing. A few minutes later, I made some motions of being done with the meeting, and then Erin and Amanda did likewise, and then we all left at the same time. It’s weird, being old.

* * * * *

January 4, 7:46 PM – Res Ipsa Loquitur

Dear Professor Hoozit:

I am writing to follow up on my previous inquiry. I think you were going to check my transcripts and verify those courses that I offered as grounds for exemptions.

I guess it goes without saying that I’m hoping it all looks good to you – I’ve signed up for some courses in lieu that I’m pretty excited about. But anyway, I had better be dropping or adding, as appropriate, in fairly short order, since classes will be starting day after tomorrow – with or without me.

Cheers!

Ray

* * * * *

January 5, 8:33 PM – Classes? Why Not Just Take Them All?

Well, this is ridiculous. Tomorrow is the first day of classes. I will be taking 15 credits. At this point, unfortunately, I don’t know which 15 credits those will be. I know six of them will be the internship, but the other nine elude me.

To review, I have signed up for 18 credits – six classes – but have not signed up for the internship. This is because I am sure of being able to get into the internship, but am not sure of being able to get into other courses. As I learned last semester, people get frozen out because classes are full. So I signed up for my six classes right away, and got everything I wanted. I did this because it looks like I should qualify to be exempted from several required courses. So I had to sign up for the three required courses – I do want to graduate, after all – and I also signed up for the three courses that I would like to take instead. And that’s where matters have remained since I registered, back in November.

Last night, around midnight, Professor Hoozit emailed me this message:

Today was my first day back in the office and I had a lot of catching up to do. I’ll try to look into this tomorrow and make a decision. Your advisor should actually be the person to sign off on substitutions. Did he/she sign off? Sorry for the delay.

I was still up at 3:47 AM, finishing a post on disabilities for my other blog, and that’s when I noticed his message. My reply:

Jack, I so agree. He did seem to be in sympathy with it, but that’s as far as I was able to get. I first briefed him on it on, I think, November 18. Sent him a couple of follow-up reminders thereafter. His last response notified me that he was at a car wash and would get back to me. I think that was before Christmas.

For what it’s worth, I’ve really taken a lot of required courses in SW. I do look forward to this last opportunity to explore a bit. The alternate courses I’ve registered for look pretty good.

I’m sure you do have a lot of things on your plate. Thanks again for taking the time.

Right now, I am receiving preliminary assignments from professors, for classes that I will surely wind up dropping. And my schedule for tomorrow consists of six hours’ worth of classes, from 9 to 12 AM and then from 2 to 5 PM.

No, not tomorrow, Thursday. Classes begin tomorrow, but not for me. So, OK, I still have one day of breathing room.

When I say it’s ridiculous, I’m not complaining about Professor Hoozit. I talked to Marty today, at Disability Agency – she’s back from vacation – and she says good things about him. I think he’s doing what he can, trying not to step on toes, etc. I just mean that, for whatever reason, I wasn’t able to tell Marty, today, what my schedule will be for the coming semester, and I have not been able to buy my books and otherwise get myself organized for school.

I’m sure it’s going to work out OK. It’s just a hassle, and an expense, and lost time, and confusion, and I don’t know why it’s happening.

* * * * *

January 5, 9:02 PM – Marty’s Back

As I say, Marty is back from vacation. And I am glad to see her. With Marty, I feel there’s no bullshit and no unspoken assumptions, grievances, etc. People can be timid about expressing their concerns, and she’s just not, and good for her. We had a freewheeling conversation in her office, where I briefed her on what I was up to and what I plan to do next. She was fine with it. She’s busy, has lots to catch up with, has no time or desire to micromanage me.

It was a good conversation. I was not entirely able to prevent her from converting my brief update into an hourlong tête-à-tête, but I have to say it was reassuring to see she was so interested in talking to me, and so willing to do so. This is turning out to be a good working relationship.

I told her about my class schedule fiasco. She suggested I talk to Assistant Dean Melinda, who’s usually good at fixing things. I said there’s a story to be told regarding Melinda, and I will tell it to her, sometime when I am chauffeuring her to one of these various board meetings where we go to advocate on behalf of people with disabilities. This choice of words brought Marty as close as she gets to being mortified: she immediately said she hoped I wasn’t just driving her around, but was actually getting something out of these experiences. I hastened to clarify that yes, I do appreciate these opportunities, that I’ve usually tended to have jobs where they stick me in a corner with a computer to do my thing with writing or spreadsheeting or a database, and it’s important to me to be getting out and about a bit.

Nonetheless, I think we’re gravitating toward my default choice for this internship, which is to write blog posts on disability issues. I say it’s the default choice because I would have bet that this would be roughly the direction my internship would be going, when I changed my major to Social Policy. I have these computer- and policy-related abilities and experiences, so in this kind of work I am relatively sure of being able to find work that will run on into the night, sitting at the keyboard, not involving human interaction, so as to catch up on those elusive hours of field placement time.

And, in fact, I did work until about 3:45 AM this morning. Didn’t actually fall asleep until around 4:30. I had wanted to present Marty with some results from my investigation of disability statistics for the local population – with, particularly, a decent estimate of how many people in this county have one or more disabilities – but there seems to have been some chaos in the Census Bureau on this topic, starting in the last few years of the Bush Administration. Funding got cut, etc. So as far as I know at present, there aren’t good federal statistics on that question at the county level. So instead I was up until that wee hour writing a critique of what they are able to tell us on the matter. From there, I have Marty’s OK, and some suggestions, to seek those sorts of data from other sources.

* * * * *

January 5, 9:38 PM – Taking Stock

One time, a lawyer was telling me about the Fokahwi Indians. This was an Indian tribe on the East Coast, got displaced by the incoming white settlers, but some of them stuck around and have made a home for themselves there in the New York City area. And you can still see some of them, every now and then. They come up out of the subway, stop and look around, and announce, in their original New York accents: “Wi’ the Fokahwi.”

Tonight, I’m an honorary Fokahwi myself. I came home from the internship early, around 2:30 or 3. My roommate had a female here. This was my cue to do exactly what I intended to do anyway, but on a faster and more extended schedule. No, not turn up the music and start loudly cleaning the bathroom and singing along. I put on my purple tights and long-sleeved T-shirt and hit the road. Went northeast, for the first time, exploring new territory out in the countryside. Got completely turned around – I was basically headed for Canada – and then I spied two runners coming up the packed-snow road toward me. I waited for them. These two guys, in their fifties or so, are training for a marathon in Georgia in March. I asked if they minded if I joined them. They led me back to civilization. I split off from them at the Kroger, headed over to the gym’s weightroom for some brief and futile gestures, cruised by the library to pick up a couple of books, and headed home. About 10.4 miles altogether, according to the pedometer. Felt good.

The roommate and the woman were still, ah, studying together when I got back, but whatever; I had to eat. Did that, took a long nap, got up, and started pretending to organize things here in deskville, in preparation for classes. Actually organizing things would have required more time than I am prepared to spend right now.

I think it’s going to be a spring semester of devoting large blocks of time to the internship. As of this past weekend, I’m at . . . let me see . . . 257 hours. Oh. That’s not good. That means I put in only about 60 hours during the break. I guess I could have told you that. I’m sort of like the person who climbs on the scales, hoping to register a weight loss, knowing about those boxes of donuts, loved and not forgotten.

So, let’s see. If I can average a thousand hours a month . . . Seriously, it seems I’m going to have to buckle down on this, or figure on graduating in August. I did put in a lot of hours on Monday, and some on Tuesday, so maybe that will help a bit. Maybe those donuts . . . never mind.

Well, you know, in a way this is good news. Since Marty seems OK with my direction on the research, I can really just go nuts with it, or however I’m supposed to say that in SW, and put in some back-to-back-to-back 12- and 14-hour days. I can totally get into it, make this statistical research into a monster. I really can. I think.

* * * * *

January 6, 7:01 PM – Anybody Got a Coin?

Here we are. Tomorrow, for sure, I am scheduled to attend two classes. Six hours of sitting in classes that I may not be taking, once Professor Hoozit gets around to making his decision on my exemption application.

I was wondering if my advisor was deliberately trying to sabotage me, by dragging things out to such an absurd extent. I’d have to think for a while to imagine why he would do that. But Professor Hoozit too? I doubt it. Surely this can’t be malice or game-playing. No, as they say, never attribute to malice what can adequately be explained by stupidity – or, as seems more likely in this case, by indifference.

I don’t think I mentioned that Melinda did respond to my complaint against the Social Entrepreneurship prof, a couple of days later:

Ray – The process for filing a grievance is to first meet with the Associate Dean. Jack Hoozit is the Associate Dean starting in the spring semester. It appears that you are not grieving a grade since you received an S grade for the mini course. The Academic Concerns Committee may not be the appropriate venue for your concerns. Please set up a meeting with the new Associate Dean Jack Hoozit about your concerns. I am copying him on this message and will forward your initial attachments to him.

She sent copies of her message to Professor Hoozit and to the two members of the Academic Concerns Committee whom I had copied on my grievance. I don’t know if that means those really are the only members of the committee. I haven’t heard anything from either of them. One of them is Dr. Barbara, the expert on men. She’s going to be teaching one of the classes that, as of now, I am signed up for. Hmm. Let me check which one . . . yeah, it’s one that starts next Tuesday, not tomorrow.

I have no idea how those people will react to what Melinda sent them, or what her accompanying comments may have been. They may just accept whatever she says, or they may roll their eyes and chuckle when she claims that my concerns about a class are not academic concerns.

What it looks like, at present, is that the Academic Concerns Committee is not very functional, and everyone is willing to let Professor Hoozit try his hand at it. In that event, maybe he’s moving slowly to make sure he’s doing the right thing. I could be his very first case. If so, I am sorry if I am not helping him to make a nice, gradual entry.

Now, as I reread Melinda’s message, she calls him “the” associate dean. I know, I’ve been calling her an assistant dean, but she is, I think, an associate dean. Or should I say she was? When she says he is the associate dean, does that mean it’s a rotating office, and now she’s out? I just Googled it and, yeah, she has been listed as the “associate dean for educational programs.”

You mean Melinda is finally out of the picture for me?

Alright. So I have a hypothesis. Jack Hoozit is making his start as a dean. He is proceeding cautiously. He received his copy of my grievance via Melinda, and has surely looked at that by now.

What I have seen, among a number of SW professors, is that analysis goes out the window; the issues tend to get mashed together into a judgment on the person. In this case, that would be me. In other words, I should probably expect that a guy who can play the game in this SSW is someone who would tend to be comfortable with the behavior of people like Melinda and my advisor.

It is a strange and disturbing situation. It is enough to compel a man to get down on his knees and pray: Professor Hoozit, please hear my prayer: Please just tell me whether I have to retake courses that I have already taken once or twice or three times. Please tell me soon, so I don’t have to spend hours sitting in classes that I ultimately drop, and so I can buy my books and get started on the pre-course homework assignments that have been coming in. Please, Professor Hoozit. You’re my only hope.

* * * * *

January 6, 10:12 PM – Tomorrow’s Classes

My 9 AM class tomorrow is one that I want to take, not one of the required courses that I am hoping to be exempted from. The subject of this course is conflict management. It’s taught by Mensch, the guy who tried to help me out in my struggle with Sandra in October.

I am also signed up for a legal clinic course, combining law students and SW students. That one sounds like an opportunity to re-approach the world of law from a SW perspective. Together, these courses will do a lot to help me integrate my legal training into my new career in SW – assuming Professor Hoozit (excuse me, Associate Dean Hoozit) approves the exemptions.

My 2 PM class tomorrow is a required course in program evaluation. It is one that I have requested an exemption from, based on previous coursework. I do not have a good attitude toward this program evaluation course.

Well, I am going to do the optimistic thing. I am going to attend the 9 AM class and skip the 2 PM class, in hopes that the latter will be cut from my schedule. Otherwise, I shoot the whole day, hanging out on campus.

* * * * *

January 7, 12:22 AM – There Is a Dean

I admit, I was an adeanist. But then my prayer was answered. Associate Dean Hoozit came through. He sent me a message, less than an hour ago, telling me that my advisor, just today, has signed off on the course exemption requests. So I know which courses I am in. I have already thanked him for the miracle.

I mean, I don’t know with 100% certainty. I think I need to see some kind of signed confirmation. So I have sent a message to the assistant registrar, updating her on the situation and asking if it’s definitely OK to drop those other courses.

* * * * *

January 7, 10:31 PM – First Day of a New Semester: Mensch

Got up, got the bus, got to class with two minutes to spare. Walked in, walked back out to go to the restroom, and here’s Sonya, my favorite from the Asia class last semester. I still love Sonya. Every time I see her, she causes me pain, because she reminds me that all of the good ones are taken.

I sit next to her. We chat a bit. I’m the only male among eight females, not counting Mensch.

Another student in Mensch’s class: Darchelle, the intern from Stanley’s agency whom I had only seen one or two times while I was still there. She’s being very quiet, not making eye contact or anything. I’m not sure if she remembers me.

Mensch takes time, in the middle of class, to go online and try out the current condition of the university’s website for course webpages. We tentatively decide to use the website’s discussion feature to develop ideas. He seems to have a somewhat anarchic approach to class. I heard one student grumble about wasting time, but to me this approach is good: we are actively involved in figuring out how things should develop.

* * * * *

January 8, 12:02 AM – The Stalker & Me

Had a weird experience coming home on the bus after class. I was on the bench seat, the one all the way in the back that runs across the width of the bus. There were five seats in it altogether. I took the middle one. There was a petite female student to my right, two seats over, by the window. There was also a male student ahead of me and to the left, in a sideways-facing seat, maybe six feet from me.

This guy had a staring problem. When I walked on, he stared and stared at what I was carrying. But mostly he was staring at the young woman. I mean, he was beyond overdoing it. She was just looking out the window, pretending not to notice. I didn’t like him staring like that.

Her stop came. She got up to get off. He got up too. He went out first. It was daytime, and there were probably a half-dozen other students getting off at the same time. After they got off, he went walking past the rear of the bus, back in the direction we had just come from, as did most of the others.

She didn’t go anywhere. I’m sure she did eventually, but not while I was still able to see her. She was just standing there, looking toward where he and the other students had gone. The bus pulled away, and that was the end of what I could see.

I think it was surely her stop, and I also think she didn’t want to be anywhere near him. I would say she looked like she didn’t know exactly what to do, other than to stand there and wait for him to go away, which I hope he did. It’s not like he was going to attack her out there in broad daylight, on this cold day, but I suppose he could follow her and observe where she lived. This was unlikely, of course. Or at least it would have seemed very unlikely with another guy, someone who wasn’t so strange.

It was not until afterwards that it occurred to me that I could have said something. For example, I could have said, “Excuse me, do you two know each other?” I might then have followed up with a remark like, “Well, the reason I ask is that you’ve been staring at her like you know her. But if you don’t . . .” and fill in the blank. You know, let some fresh air into the situation. I suppose I might also have gotten a cue, from her response, as to whether maybe I should volunteer to walk her somewhere.

These things occurred to me afterwards, not at the time. So, OK, I’m a bit more warmed up, and maybe next time I’ll be slightly quicker on the draw. But the time when I needed it has already passed.

Point of the story: I think it would have been better if that young woman had been encouraged to realize that a man my age will tend to be harmless, and may even be helpful. In that case, it might have been easier for her to look my way and decide whether to ask me for a favor, instead of being totally on her own. It is unfortunate that the university climate has instead fostered a pervasive hostility toward men like me. It is too bad that she and I were not trained to reach out to each other in that sort of situation.

I hope it all amounted to nothing. But he was definitely unusual, and she looked scared.

* * * * *

January 8, 7:33 PM – January Is Probably My Least Favorite Month

Today was a day for everything to be screwed up. I can’t explain it. Oh, sure, I can explain anything. In this case, my explanation is that the new moon is one week away. But you know what I mean.

I slept on and off last night. I think I was worrying about getting everything done, especially the internship hours. Got up early this morning and worked on some school stuff for a while, but then I got sleepy again. Wound up sleeping another two hours, but they say that isn’t as good if it’s not REM sleep. Showered, etc. Had to clean a mountain of snow off the car. Slow driving. By the time I got down to Disability Agency, it was noon, and I was starving – no breakfast – so I stopped at the Subway for a sandwich. There was a long line, so that took a while.

I had to arrive at the Agency someday, and ultimately I did. There, I heard the story of Desiree’s van getting rear-ended, last night, by a bus. She had Erin in back, sitting in her wheelchair. Apparently the bus driver was fooling with his cell phone and hit the gas instead of the brake. Nobody hurt, other than Erin’s shoulder is sore. Funny thing: it was the party bus, i.e., the one that gives people a ride home when they’re too drunk to drive. And here the party bus driver seems to be partying. Poor jerk probably lost his job because of it. You can’t have drunks concluding that the bus is more dangerous than just going it alone.

Next, there was an old couple whose muffler fell off in the agency’s parking lot. Well, not completely off. I went out and looked at it. The front of the muffler pipe had rusted through; the rear was still in place. So if they drove anywhere, the front would be digging down into every crack and pothole. If that muffler met the wrong pothole, the result could be catastrophic. I tried to figure out what I could do for them. Their vehicle was low enough that there didn’t seem to be much chance of tying the muffler up, even if I had been wearing greasy duds and had been able to slide under there. I thought about driving the thing in reverse, for them, all the way to the mechanic, dragging the front of the muffler along the road; but it was a couple of miles to the nearest repair shop, and part of that would be along a busy four-lane highway.

So then they were on the phone, there in our reception area, trying to find out whether they had AAA or some other towing arrangement (they didn’t) and then where to find a tow truck and where to take the car, and so forth. I felt bad for them. People who come to the agency don’t usually have much money, and often have a hard time dealing with paperwork; and these people had strong foreign accents to boot, so they were on our phone for a long time, and the rest of us were trying to figure out what might help.

Not that they were much more of an interruption than everything else: for instance, the front door of the agency was broken today, so the wind would just blow in every time someone went through, until I would get up and go out and pull it shut. Elaine was out sick, so there were people coming in for meetings and volunteer opportunities and so forth, and she wasn’t there to steer them or work with them, so they were sort of milling around, asking to see someone else, and generally being a pain in the butt. Eric the volunteer wanted to use Elaine’s computer, but it was malfunctioning, so that brought in a string of staffers who tried to figure out what was wrong with it. A couple of times, I suggested just rebooting it, and finally they did, and that solved it. But then Eric got into something else, and went away, so the computer was alone again.

In short, it was the usual reception-area ruckus, plus. Desiree said she has been coming in on Sundays to get caught up in her work, because it’s just too distracting to get much done during the weekdays.

I happened to walk by where Myrna, the new intern, was sitting – back in the same hallway where I had been sitting at the start, when I first arrived at the Agency. We had a good conversation. She, too, is an older student in the SSW, relatively speaking; I think she’s probably only in her early 30s. As I sometimes do, I got on a roll, telling stories about the SSW, and I think she lost interest. I hate being one of those old people who rants about his/her pet peeves, so I felt kind of bad about that. Not the best self-introduction.

I really wasn’t getting anything done, so I went out the door at 4:20 PM. There, in the parking lot, was Aaron, struggling to change a flat tire. He had the jack in the wrong place, and it was bending his car’s body, but he couldn’t figure out where it was supposed to go, and I wasn’t quite sure either. It was just a crappy day, grey and windy and cold, and there he was, down in the slush, trying to manipulate the tire-changing hardware when he can barely walk. But, you know, the guy has a lot of pride in his ability to make his own way in life, disabilities be damned. So I really had no idea what to do. But I remembered that they have taught me not to try to jump in and help, but rather to wait for the person to ask for help. He didn’t ask, and I didn’t want to just stand there and make him feel like I was judging his performance, so after a minute or two of looking and hemming and hawing, I said good luck and I left. That felt weird, obviously. Was it the right thing? Who knows?

I left at 4:20 because I thought maybe I should go see a movie at the dollar theater at 4:30. I drove over there, and then decided I wasn’t into it, so I got back on the road and came home. Started to do some work, but then decided to take a nap. Forgot that I had put food on the stove. I use really low heat to warm things up, so fortunately there was no burnt food or ruined pot or kitchen on fire. In most apartments, I can cook by smell that way, but here the kitchen is too far away from my room, so the food just does its own thing until I remember it.

Just wrote Marty a note about today’s half-hour conversation:

Marty – I wanted to tell you how much I appreciate your style – as in, for example, our impromptu conversation there in the lunchroom today, when you made a point of making time to talk to me even though you were being summoned elsewhere. It was ironic that this would also be the day when that foreign couple would bring their muffler problem into the reception area, prompting me to bolt for the parking lot just as you were reappearing on the scene to tell me something. My boss makes time for me, and I don’t make time for my boss. A funky reversal. Sorry about that.

She hasn’t completely cut me loose to do my own thing, though. She says she wants me to let her know if I’m going to be coming in late. I was thinking the message was that she’s too busy to babysit me, but maybe I got that wrong, or maybe she’s in a different mood now that she’s more completely returned from vacation. Or maybe, it occurs to me, she wants to help me learn to re-adapt to corporate life, which I swore off of two decades ago. She did make another comment, today, about how maybe I will stick around after graduation. I guess that was the bright spot in my day.

* * * * *

January 8, 11:17 PM – Suddenly the Fun Professor Is Very Responsive

I sent the fun professor this message earlier this evening. My message said, “Again, I would like to see whatever you can provide to support your grade on my final paper. I thought I did a good job on it. I would be surprised if there were many that were better. I would be interested in knowing the distribution of grades, both on that paper specifically and in the course overall. . . . I was disappointed to see that your comments [on my earlier paper] seemed to be oriented toward a general viewpoint about me, rather than addressing specific aspects of the paper.”

I also mentioned that, at this point, it looked like I was going to have to file a grievance, because we were running out of time for the informal approach. And, well, by golly, that got a response, the very same day! The fun professor wrote back:

I thought that we had agreed in earlier messages to arrange a time to meet so that you could get your final paper back – this is still my intent. I am on campus Monday and Tuesday teaching, and would be happy to have it available for you to pick up, or I could leave it at a mutually agreed upon location. As for my grading in the course, you are more than welcome to witness my grading scale and the points you received; this can also be exchanged and/or discussed at the same time.

While I may have reactions to student papers, I do not let this influence my grading, as I have stated before. I also grade based on each individual paper, not in comparison to others. I am sorry that you feel the need to file a grievance. I have alerted Assoc. Dean Jack Hoozit of your intention, and would hope that you might consider meeting to have a discussion about your concerns prior to filing. Please let me know what you think; I look forward to hearing from you.

That was interesting. Why would she notify the dean that a student had expressed frustration to her? I don’t know – maybe it’s very unusual that anyone would dare say such a thing.

So I wrote back to ask why she did that. In my reply, I also pointed out that there was no arrangement about picking up the paper; she had promised to send it to me electronically: “I will send you comments on your paper once I return from break, after Jan 4. If you would like them on the hard copy, we can make arrangements to have you pick it up – professors aren’t allowed to return student work in your MSW folders.” I repeated my request for a list of the grades she gave in the class. Finally, I suggested that it was premature to contact the dean until it turned out that we definitely could not resolve our disagreement without the filing of a grievance.

* * * * *

January 8, 11:30 PM – Slouching Toward Hoozit

After the message to the fun professor, I sent this message to Associate Dean Hoozit:

I see that [the fun professor] has notified you of concerns I expressed to her. My understanding is that she and I still have a bit of time within which we may sort out the matter, without involving you; or if the matter does need to come to your attention, hopefully we will have refined and focused it beyond its present amorphous state.

Regarding my grievance against [the Social Entrepreneurship professor], I am thinking that you have a couple of weeks within which to respond. It looked like there weren’t enough members on the Academic Concerns Committee for a quorum, and then Dr. Melinda expressed the opinion that my concerns about a course may not constitute academic concerns suitable for the Committee. In short, I have been assuming that some other things need to be sorted out before that grievance can be properly addressed.

As an aside, you probably realize that I would gladly have let others provide your inaugural headaches. I would also have preferred to see such issues enter my life at a more leisurely pace.

On the foregoing impressions, I have not been knocking at your door, requesting a personal meeting. To my knowledge, we have not yet reached a point at which that is necessary. If you want, of course, I can be there.

As the [Social Entrepreneurship professor] grievance may suggest, I am hoping that focus and clarity will help to spare me from any further two-hour inquisitions. I think (I hope) that my communications with and about these two instructors have been clear enough to make that sort of thing unnecessary.

* * * * *

January 9, 2:28 PM – The Fun Professor Goes to Work

Here’s what has transpired between the fun professor and me, so far on this Saturday:

Ray:

Here is the breakdown of grades from the class:

102.5 A+
101 A+
97 A
96 A
96 A
96 A
94.5 A
93 A
92 A–
92 A–
89 B+
89 B+
86 B
82 B–

I did misunderstand and thought that you wanted to meet in person; I will forward you your final paper and my comments by the end of the weekend.

In her actual message, she provided the grades in random order. In the list (above), I have re-sorted them for readability. Assuming I’m on that list, my A– would put me at a 92, in the bottom half of the class. I wrote back to ask why she still had not told me the scores she assigned to me – for class participation, for the final paper, etc. The last half or so of my message read as follows:

I’m not sure how to interpret your silence toward my inquiries regarding appropriate feedback. For example, if I recall correctly, your only comment on the last several pages of my second paper was “Wow.” It came across as belittling. I think I did ask you about that, but I don’t believe you ever bothered to explain. . . .

During the semester, I appreciated your frankness and openness in classroom discussion, and I think I expressed that appreciation to you. I have been disappointed that you have pulled away from that approach. There is some rationale, no doubt, but I don’t know what it is. . . .

To me, it seems obvious that it would have been more constructive and efficient to begin with a less dismissive and more positive and adaptive attitude toward my inquiries. Even now, it appears that we still haven’t reached a point where student inquiries on such matters are taken seriously.

* * * * *

January 10, 2:04 AM – Mensch Is Alright

You gotta love Mensch. I just bought my books for his course. Total cost, with shipping, for all three, in new or like-new condition: about $40. They’re popular books, for discussion purposes. He’s supplementing them with a bunch of articles, so we’ll have some work to do. But the price is right.

* * * * *

January 10, 10:35 AM – Hoozit Speaks

Oh, rats. Associate Dean Hoozit has replied to my emails. That could be fine, but I need to focus on homework, including internship stuff.

But, OK, let’s see what he says. I haven’t actually met him, and haven’t had any contact from him until now except for the thing of arranging course exemptions. Like I say, Marty says good things about him, and I respect his judgment. But let’s see how it looks now . . .

First of two messages: bad news. “There are no exemptions for advanced courses, only foundation.” The message is pleasant enough, and that’s a good sign, but the content is not what I wanted. I am indeed required to take a fourth course, in place of the statistics course, even though I have already taken God knows how many SW courses and will be exceeding the number of credits required for graduation.

The good news is, he says that an independent study would count. I’ll have to think about that, and I guess time is wasting: the semester has begun.

Second message: my grievance about the Social Entrepreneurship professor, he says, has to do with the quality of instruction rather than with the grade, and is therefore not a matter for the Academic Concerns Committee. So Melinda was right. My complaint will be included in the prof’s annual review: “All student concerns toward instructors are taken with the utmost seriousness.”

The guy has a very agreeable, practical style. He does mention that I have cited two grievances, so I’ll have to address that in my reply. But it’s strange that my complaint is not going to go anywhere. It’s not like he’s suggesting an alternative, where students should go when a professor is harassing them or whatnot. Basically, it seems that I spent hours writing up something for her file. I guess that’s a fair second-best, if it keeps her from teaching any more SW students until she gets her act together. I’m just not sure it will.

I’m replying to thank him and to say that, if this fact about the Committee was in the MSW Handbook, I missed it. . . .

No, I just looked it up. It says so: “The Academic Concerns Committee shall hear matters related to academic and professional misconduct.” Now what? I can’t just hit him upside o’ the head and say, silly boy. . . .

[Time passes.]

OK, I’ve figured out a way to reply. Here’s what I’ve written back to him:

Jack – thanks for your reply – for being both quick and on point.

What you say is true: I have filed a grievance and am contemplating another. This, I thought, showed admirable restraint on my part. Seriously, it’s . . . well, it’s interesting, being the Antichrist. I mean, a 54-year-old heterosexual white male can feel a bit like a second-class citizen in an SSW.

I didn’t know the Academic Concerns Committee was only for grade-change types of issues. I was thinking there was also a professional misconduct aspect. That’s half of the deal with [the fun professor] too. On which, I’ll keep you posted.

What I originally wrote was, “A 54-year-old heterosexual white male can feel a bit like the black guy at a KKK rally.” But I took it out. There’s surely a SW article somewhere that expains why this would be racist. I haven’t read that article yet, so I don’t know; but at least I have learned, during my years in SSWs, that, when in doubt, white men are safer if they just don’t talk about black people. Not safe; just safer than the alternative. So, see, that tuition money has not been wasted.

* * * * *

January 10, 12:38 PM – Mensch Is My Co-Pilot

I’m looking into the question of whom to approach, on the faculty, to supervise an independent study focusing on the topic of SW education, like I wanted to do last semester. The list of faculty research interests includes only one prof who states an interest in SW education, but that professor is emeritus (retired). Not sure if emeriti can even do independent studies. Anyway, they don’t even show contact information for him anymore. He may be in a nursing home or something.

Let’s see who else I can dig up. I did have a reference to another professor, from the expert I contacted back in September, but I don’t see that her interests run in this direction. . . .

[A couple of hours pass.]

Well, isn’t that funny. I have come around to a point of seeing my specific interest, for an independent study, as a matter of the experience of leisure within the study of SW. I have run a dozen searches for related terms, trying to figure out who would be interested in the intersection of work, leisure, and SW education. Then it occurs to me: Mensch! Of course. The guy is a specialist in work. At least in some aspects of work. And work is a counterpoint to leisure. It’s not that much of a stretch. Besides, he likes ideas. I’ve already met with him. Relatively small likelihood of misfit. I’ll email him and see what he says.

* * * * *

January 10, 3:31 PM – Hoozit Drifts Toward the Exit Sign

Associate Dean Hoozit has replied again. The guy is diligent. I do appreciate that.

He clarifies things. He says, “It is rare that cases ever make the grievance committee. In your case, I would prefer to handle the issue without going to the committee.” He has already handled my complaint about the Social Entrepreneurship prof – he’s going to put it in her file – and he’ll handle my complaint against the fun professor when and if I bring it to him.

It sounds like he makes the decision as to whether there is an issue worth taking to the committee. He says, “I would prefer to handle it between the faculty member and myself and take it under advisement with respect to future hiring. That is my role and I would prefer to do my job rather than bring in a committee to have a hearing against them that also brings you into this and takes a lot of people’s time, unless it was absolutely necessary.”

Well, I know that a committee can take time and have a hearing. That was the point. Without the committee, we have just the one person’s opinion. Except in rare cases, he says, a complaint against a faculty member is just taken under advisement.

So then here’s the last line of his message: “Try to enjoy your time at the SSW. Look on the positive side of things!” When I read that, I groaned. But of course we knew that was coming. Sooner or later, the social worker is going to convert the issue into a commentary on the person who is not going with the mainstream. It’s de facto social work ethics once again: go along to get along. Play the game.

It doesn’t matter what actually happened. Here, it doesn’t matter whether the Social Entrepreneurship prof was maliciously inventing excuses to fail me. What matters is that I’m not a person of privileged background for SW purposes. Can you imagine what would happen to all these SW causes – race discrimination, sexism, poverty – if we advised those people to stop complaining and just improve their outlook?

It’s somewhat irritating to be told to look on the positive side, when the negativity is actually coming from the people I’m complaining about. If they make unfair and harsh statements about me, that’s “grading.” If I complain about it, I’m “negative.” Isn’t that like when some privileged bonehead dismisses oppressed people as “whiners”?

Just a few days ago, in Mensch’s conflict management class, one of my classmates remarked that social workers respond to conflict by papering it over and pretending that everything is fine. That approach can easily entail recasting conflict as the fault of a disfavored party, instead of holding both parties responsible.

Associate Dean Hoozit says that only three grievances were active when he started in his new role this past week, and two of them were mine. I guess it doesn’t take a PhD to realize that, when you bring in career-oriented students who mostly plan to work in the local area – young people, of a generally conflict-avoidant nature – they’re generally going to avoid making waves or doing anything that would be negatively reported about them. Not to mention the effect of punishing those who question the received wisdom, like when the fun professor faulted me for saying things she didn’t agree with.

Hoozit’s graduate degrees are in SW, so maybe he just hasn’t thought critically about these sorts of things. He says that neither the Social Entrepreneurship prof nor the fun professor have had complaints against them, and both have been positively evaluated. And that’s interesting. It seems like everyone I talk to about the fun professor and her class – including, just the other day, another one of my classmates there – have made negative statements about her and/or her teaching ability. As I say, until just the last few weeks, I was the one defending her; I was not looking for negatives. Offhand, it sounds like the SSW’s faculty evaluation processes are failing to capture students’ true feelings about their courses. But perhaps Hoozit is not a researcher; this may not occur to him.

Even if the evaluations were accurately capturing students’ reactions, there would be the additional likelihood that my views would not necessarily comport with those of the twentyish females who make up the vast majority of students in the SSW. And so Dr. Hoozit treats my complaint as society treats minorities, if you believe what social workers say: “Thank you, we’ve heard you, but what you want is not what the majority wants. Sorry.” The SW profession has not yet come under intense pressure to wake up to old people, and can thus continue, in its conservative vein, to treat them as problematic.

I mean, my complaint is going to go into the file, but he says it’ll be alone in there. So when they come to it, during the annual review, there will be some glances back and forth, an unspoken consensus that I am an outlier, and that’s about it.

In short, I wasted my time. I have become one of those crazy fiftyish people who stand on street corners and protest about goofy things. The example comes to mind of the protests against the Iraq invasion in 2003. Whatever.

Again, I don’t mean to be harsh toward Associate Dean Hoozit. His style remains a breath of fresh air. He is prompt; he is at least somewhat reasonable. That said, his response does illustrate why, this year, I started blogging my SW experiences. I might as well describe them on a blog. As experience has taught me, it’s not as though I will be able to get through to an SSW’s faculty or administration.

* * * * *

January 10, 10:08 PM – Johnny Gets His Grade

I’m really short on time, right now, so unfortunately I’m going to have to post what the fun professor sent me today, and what I sent back, without digesting it and working through it. It may still be readable; I just wish I had time to explore it more.

Ray-

Attached please find your final paper, with my comments, and a breakdown of your final grade. I needed to have the weekend to get it to you, as I prepared a hard copy to give you, and do not have access to a scanner at my house (having to use my friend’s). I have to say that my feelings are hurt by your implication that I am being somehow dishonest in this.

Also, I will not provide you with a copy of another student’s work as an example; this may have been a reasonable request before the final paper were due, but now the point is moot, as the final paper may not be rewritten.

If you have additional issues you would like to discuss, I would welcome the chance to meet with you, and either Dean Hoozit or your advisor. It seems that email has been an ineffective way to communicate, and think that a meeting in person would be more useful.

Her reply and the attached, graded paper are informative. I was going to analyze them here, but this message that I just sent to her (with a copy to Dean Hoozit) conveys the key points:

I am puzzled to read that you feel email has been an ineffective way to communicate. I think it has been quite effective. The problem, I suggest, is not related to email; it is related to forthrightness. I will explain why. . . .

Forthrightness is the issue for a couple of reasons. For one thing, I expressed uncertainty as to why, after repeated exchanges, you had still not shown me the grades you gave me on various assignments during the semester. . . .

Since your new suggestion to meet with my advisor coincides, today, with the same suggestion from Dean Hoozit, I surmise that this was one topic that you and he did discuss. (As Dean Hoozit knows, I waited a month and a half for a productive outcome from the last time I took a matter to my advisor, not to mention a two-hour meeting that did not address the issue at hand, so at this point a meeting with my advisor is not a realistic option for me.) . . .

If you wanted an efficient resolution of the matter, all you had to do was to give me the decency of a timely reply. Now that I do have some of the requested information, I see that the final paper is not the issue after all. Instead, the bulk of my lost points, for the final grade, are attributable to two other components.

First, you gave me 8 out of 10 for class participation. Since some people got total scores over 100% for the semester, I assume some got the full 10 points. I just can’t think of which students those would be. It seemed that several of us were fairly active in class participation. You and guest speakers regularly remarked that my questions were good. Indeed, as the only person in the classroom over the age of 35 or thereabouts, the feedback seemed to indicate that sometimes I was providing an irreplaceable perspective. So why is my class participation grade 20% worse than someone else’s?

Second, I am only now seeing that you gave me only 26 out of 30 on my first paper. That is really a remarkable grade.

That paper was a writeup of a memoir, selected by the student, related to mental health. I chose to read Mockingbird Years for this purpose. The grade for that paper consisted of five subparts. For instance, you were willing to award up to five points (out of the 30 possible) for the student’s expression of personal responses to the memoir.

You gave me full credit on two of those subparts. On the other three, you indicated that you were not able to give me an accurate grade because you, yourself, had not read Mockingbird Years. It came from your own list of suggested readings . . . . [Unlike students who chose other books, I had to spend several] hours responding to your request for a “summary of the book,” so that you would have a better sense of what I was writing about.

So if I understand correctly, you subtracted four points from my grade for the semester because apparently you felt that I did a mediocre job of discussing a book that you had not even read. . . .

We could have verified this state of affairs between ourselves, without involving the dean or anyone else, if you had just been up-front with me. I told you before, and I’ll repeat: I appreciate (indeed, I admire) the forthrightness that you brought to class. . . .

[But do you remember your] remark about the people you worked with in Louisiana, people with their double-wide trailers and George Foreman grills? The remark, as you delivered it, certainly seemed like an ethnic and/or classist slur. Am I not right about this – shouldn’t a frank-speaking teacher foster a classroom environment in which s/he too is open to correction and self-improvement? . . .

I do not think you are very well positioned to lecture me about empathy, as you did in connection with my second paper. I raised the point more gently in an earlier message to you, but you were not interested in talking about it. The gist of it seems to be that you espouse a superficial concept of empathy, in which you put on an understanding and supportive face while reserving the right to entertain ugly beliefs about your clients. . . .

I suggest that you should have been seeking to develop a positive perspective on me. Had you done so, I think you might have been inclined to welcome my invitation, back in late November or thereabouts, to engage in further dialogue. . . .

So, as I say, I think email has been quite efficient. As a therapist, you must appreciate the power differential that I would lately have experienced in a face-to-face meeting, on multiple levels: what a professor can allege about the words or actions of a student; what a petite female can allege about the words or actions of a tall male; what a licensed therapist can allege about a nonlicensed individual. Meeting with you one-on-one would open me up to false after-the-fact descriptions of what transpired – a valid concern, given your misrepresentation of our communications in your message of January 8 (9:04 PM). Not to mention the likelihood of intimidation if, as you now suggest, I were to meet with you and the dean, who seems to have adopted your perspective on the matter. . . .

I don’t think you would have been referring things to the dean if your purpose had been to get to the bottom of this, promptly and fairly. The goal instead seems to be to shut me up. What seems to have happened is that you failed to be forthright with me, and when I challenged that, you insisted that further communications must take place in a setting where I would be at a substantial disadvantage.

But let’s not play that game. You made a mistake in your grading, and you compounded it in the ways just described. I would appreciate it if you would apologize for putting me through this, and would correct my grade to either an A or an A+ for the reasons described above. I’m glad to answer questions, but otherwise I think the point is pretty well made. I don’t seem to have any further recourse, so I’m compelled to leave it at that.

* * * * *

January 10, 10:18 PM – Screw It

I have spent as much time as I can spare on the fun professor and all that. More time than I should have spent, actually. I might feel differently if I were confident that it would make a difference. It was worth a try, but enough already. At this point, I need to focus seriously on the internship, and the quals paper for the PhD, and on my four classes.

Jeez. It’s going to be a busy semester. This blog will be the first to take a hit. But maybe it’s OK. I’ve already written up tons of stuff. I guess I will have to try to write posts that just touch upon the high points, over the next couple of months.

Oh, by the way: as I’m composing this, I already have a reply from the fun professor: “Please let me know when you are available to meet with myself and Dean Hoozit, so that we may resolve this issue.” That’s all she says. It appears that she may not even have read my message.

* * * * *

January 11, 7:29 AM – Effectiveness

I awoke thinking about the fun professor’s statement that email has not been an effective way of communicating. It didn’t make sense at the time, but now I think I understand it.

I don’t think she meant “effective.” I think she meant “fast.” On that, I agree with her. It definitely took longer for me to write my long reply than it would have taken to sit in a meeting and hear what she had to say. But I already know what that’s like. My question is, how many meetings would we have needed before I would have been able to take her and Hoozit, step by step, through what I had to say?

Understanding people and their thoughts takes patience and time. If it were easy and obvious, we probably wouldn’t have disagreed in the first place.

She can decline to reply, if she would rather talk than write. That, I understand. But declining even to read what I wrote? Well, let’s wait and see whether the dean does likewise. I guess he may. It looked like he, too, may not have paid much attention to what I wrote previously.

Possibly the conclusion I should take away from this is that, if your shorter initial messages don’t get through to them, a longer message is almost certain to be ignored. Don’t get sucked in by the talk about empathy and communication. Just send them one or two relatively short messages and see if they are at all interested in talking to you – if they really are committed to working through misunderstandings and reaching a mutually satisfactory outcome. In this case, so far, it looks like they’re not. They just want to dispose of a problem, and if I go away without further communication, then for their purposes apparently that’s fine too.

* * * * *

January 11, 6:22 PM – Day for Miscellany

Mensch is gonna supervise my independent study. As for the details, I sat in his office with way too little sleep and tried to explain my concept. He didn’t actually say I was babbling. He just said he needs to see something more concrete.

The fun professor has replied again, after all. I’m not going to read her message now. Too much time spent on that. Either she agrees and has given me a change of grade and/or an apology, or she disagrees and refuses to talk further without a meeting. Either way, it’s not urgent, and I don’t have time for more distractions today. I had to make a trip to the Post Office to mail my copy of the book from Dr. Krishna’s class to its next owner, via a sale on Amazon.com; I had to spend an hour and a half getting a new auto insurance policy; I ran; I went to the doctor’s office; I really did all kinds of things today, but not homework.

* * * * *

January 12, 11:48 PM – The New Course: Psychological Testing

Just got back from the first meeting of my new class in psychological testing. The idea of this course is that psychologists use various kinds of tests, ranging from IQ tests to depression tests, to learn more about you. Instead of guessing that maybe you’re depressed, no, maybe you have PTSD, or could it be a personality disorder? – instead of that, they give you this test, and if you score a 98, you’re OK, and if you score a 26, you’re . . . well, you’re not OK.

I walked into this class, taught by Dr. Jerry Garcia – that’s right, another Baby Boomer – and whom did I spy but my not-quite-buddy Ken from the fun professor’s class. There was a seat on his right, so I plopped down there. On his left side sat a young woman. I guess that would be predictable: of the 23 students in the class, only four (17%) are male. We go around the circle and introduce ourselves; the usual anxiety for me, as I think many of these young people must be wondering what I’m doing here.

Then I hear the woman next to me introduce herself. She’s Karen Freud. This provokes reflection on the fact that Freude means “joy” in German. A person could contemplate the relationship between Sigmund and The Joy of Sex and perhaps The Joy of Gay Sex – which suddenly sounds a bit redundant. I wonder whether Freude could also be translated as “gay.” Probably. The world spins in very tight circles.

But I digress. Beyond Karen, the next person over was none other than the notorious Lucretia MacEvil. And the moment I walked in and sat down, Lucretia leaned slightly toward Karen, and then Karen’s head spun around, and she looked right at me.

It was one of those moments that was so obvious as to be awkward. Of course, nothing is for sure. But I’m giving this one 95%. From the look in her eye and the timing of the whole thing, I’m betting that what Lucretia whispered to Karen was something like, “Oh, no, not him.”

Well, and that’s as may be. I’m sure Lucretia takes after her pappy, Old Man MacEvil. But what I found interesting was the look on Karen’s face. If I may flesh this out in my usual guessworthy style, I would bet that Karen is not normally the type to be engaging in surreptitious gossip about classmates. Otherwise, I think she would have checked me out in a much more sly manner, when I was looking elsewhere. It seemed to me that her rapid head-spin was the behavior of someone who was maybe a bit startled or caught off-guard by what Lucretia had just said.

There’s another interesting piece there. When Karen did look at me, she looked right into my eyes and paused for a moment. Not for long, but definitely past the quick-flash kind of glance where she sees that I’m looking back, and quickly looks away. And so my fill-in on that part is that she was puzzled, was trying to connect what Lucretia had said with what she, Karen, was seeing. It is also possible that the moment got away from her, that her involuntary look at me and my “I see you” look back at her produced a momentary cognitive overload, where she was trying (and may still be trying) to calculate just what kind of embarrassing position Lucretia had inadvertently put her into.

Well, whatever. Those are my guesses. They may be completely off-target. But at least they give me something to wonder about, in case Doc Garcia makes me drowsy. It is a 6–9 PM class, you know.

But there may not be much chance of me getting sleepy. For one thing, Garcia is going to give us exams. Can you believe it? EXAMS. Who ever heard of such a thing? Graduate SW programs are very long on papers and other kinds of activities, and very short on tests. Which is fine with me, because tests freak me out. Maybe they shouldn’t. I usually do pretty well on them. But it’s hard for me to study for them. I usually feel like I’m wasting time when I do, because by the time of the exam, I have usually made myself completely sick of whatever the test is about. We’ve already covered it; I’ve gotten my nickel’s worth; I’ve spent umpteen hours preparing to regurgitate it; time for something new. So I prefer papers, where I feel like I’m actually learning something and pursuing knowledge. True to form, I was typing every word on my trusty laptop tonight, every syllable that poured from Dr. Garcia’s golden lips, and those notes will be very much what I study for those exams. I just won’t remember much of it a month later.

In the first moments after Karen’s glance, this mini-episode put me back in the twilight mindset of the fun professor’s class, where I really hadn’t felt too welcome. But then I was, like, whoa, buddy, snap out of it. So I started writing down the names of everyone, as we went around the circle introducing ourselves, and I tried to connect the names with the faces. This was, I guess, a response to my recent theory, which is that maybe these kids are just not sure what to make of me, and maybe they are looking to me for cues – and whether that’s the situation or not, I might as well just be myself, be fun and friendly and enjoy being in class, and forget about the idiots among us.

And so, in that spirit, I asked questions of Dr. Jerry Garcia. Not tons of questions, but several, and I responded when he asked us questions. I did this because I felt like it, and also because of that conversation I had yesterday with Mensch, where I expressed a concern about being an overly talkative older student and he said he’d prefer that over silence. I’m sure he would, and so would I. So class was actually pretty interesting for me, and I daresay my questions and responses were intelligent enough. So, in a sense, I think my new year is finally about to begin.

* * * * *

January 13, 12:00 AM – They Can Wait

Last night, Dr. Hoozit wrote to me, so maybe he, too, really did read my message to the fun professor. I’ll find out later. I can’t get dragged into reading and thinking about their messages now. I just spent too much time on that whole thing this past weekend. I don’t have any more time for it at all right now.

It might be different if I expected good news and a positive outcome from these messages. I don’t. Of course, we all have our hopes. In this case, my hopeful side says that the fun professor absolutely refused to read my message, but Jack Hoozit did read it, found it persuasive, and told the fun professor so. So then she read it after all, and did a little backtracking to get herself out of this. And then Hoozit emailed me last night to say that he felt it was all set right and everything is lovely now. This is my fantasy.

* * * * *

January 13, 6:15 AM – Efficiency

Efficiency is getting to be an issue at the internship.

It’s been an issue all along, but I’m noticing it more now. Yesterday, Desiree and I were laughing about our need to get our Agency work done on the weekends, because in fact she and I are probably the most talkative ones in the reception area. We complain about the socializing, but apparently we like it anyway.

Talkativeness, I’ve decided, is not the central issue. The central issue is that there are just forever new people coming in and out – visitors to the agency, to be sure, but also staffers. Anyway, it all adds up to a regular hullabaloo.

I was thinking that the solution was to get the laptop working and trek to other parts of the organization, just find a place to sit down and work away, and maybe soak up a bit of the culture. Easier said than done. I did ask Hans whether there was another desk somewhere, where I could work, but then I heard back from Marty, who told me that I needed to let her work through the regular channels for that kind of request. Yikes! A faux pas. I didn’t even know there were channels for seating.

Seating channels? Sounds like a strange concept.

I can see it’s going to be a long day. I woke at 4:30, after four hours of sleep, thinking about the whole internship thing, and I’m tired.

And then there is another problem with the laptop mobility concept. Elaine asked me if I was going to go ahead with the idea of sitting in other locations around the building. I said something about the seating channels. She said she would be interested in hearing what I think about the various cultures in the organization. Someone – can’t remember if it was her – said they had sat back in the bullpen for a while, and had found it difficult to get work done because there were so many different conversations going on. I’m sure it’s worse now – there have been more people added, interns and whatnot, in recent months.

So maybe I need to make a decision here. If I want to get more exposure to different aspects of the disability operation, then I should find a desk in the bullpen, where I can hang out, meet the people, and hear the chitchat. But if I want to get work done, all I need to do is keep my current desk and sneak off to unused conference rooms with my little old laptop.

Actually, “little” would not be the right description. My laptop is more like a brick, with a wide screen that’s useful for writing SW papers in one window while watching porn in the other.

Yes, of course I’m kidding. But it is a funny thought.

I can see it’s really going to be a long day.

* * * * *

January 13, 7:50 AM – Oatmeal

I’m running out of food. For breakfast foods, I’m down to one packet of instant oatmeal. It’s probably three years old. I don’t ordinarily eat the stuff. But there it is, and today it is speaking to me.

Strong run this morning, against a bitter wind. Felt good, once I warmed up.

I think I’ve made a decision about the laptop and all that. I want to get work done. I really don’t want to hear a million different conversations about various activities, not if I’m not going to be involved in them. And I don’t want to hear gossip. Let’s keep life simple. I have work to do.

* * * * *

January 14, 4:29 PM – What They Said

Alright, a couple of days have passed, I am done with classes for the week, and I am going out for a run, where I can contemplate the matter. So here’s what I get from the emails from the fun professor and Dean Hoozit.

First, from the fun professor:

It seems there have been a series of misunderstandings, and I do not wish to prolong this any further. Therefore, I will change your semester grade to an “A.” Good luck in your future SW endeavors.

Now, wait a minute. Did I deserve that A, or is she just trying to shut me up? Because if I deserved it, I would like to know why I had to fight so hard for it; and if I didn’t, I would still like to know why not.

That message came at 3:39 PM on Monday. Now, let’s see what Dean Hoozit said in his message of 9:05 PM that same day. . . . OK, he says he didn’t intend a side conversation at my expense; he feels it was appropriate that he contacted the fun professor, whom he supervises; and he suggested contacting my advisor as someone who might mediate in a matter that, he says, seemed to be escalating.

I see a couple of things there. One is that I may have achieved a reminder that someone in Hoozit’s position needs to take a neutral stance, not automatically side him/herself with the professor. The other thing . . . well, I want to think about that while I’m on my run.

* * * * *

January 14, 11:09 PM – Exercise Boosts the Spirit

So I went for my run, and came back, and I decided that I had probably better address some misstatements in Hoozit’s message. Here is an abridged version of my reply:

Dear Dean Hoozit:

I appreciate that explanation regarding the reference to my advisor. . . .

From my perspective, matters have not in any sense escalated. Such phrasing seems to imply that I may have pushed things farther than I should. I would say, rather, that I have presented my concerns and have attempted to narrow the focus . . . .

Some observers might feel that there has been an evasion, not an escalation. Surely I should not have had to jump through so many hoops in order to get the story on the grade calculation. But now [the fun professor] has acknowledged that the grade of A– was not the proper grade for me, so that point has apparently been resolved at last. . . .

I do not agree with her claim that there has been a series of misunderstandings. My complaint was, and is, that I received dismissive – indeed, arrogant – treatment when I reasonably sought an explanation of her remarks regarding my paper. . . .

I wonder whether she would be willing to engage in something resembling sincere and mutually respectful dialogue with me. It seems like a step that a self-respecting SW professor would want to try. . . .

* * * * *

January 15, 8:03 PM – End of Hoozit

Here is the complete reply that came in from Hoozit at about noon today:

If you have any more comments on this matter with your professor or myself, please make an appointment to speak with me.

She hasn’t sent any further reply, and probably won’t. He is speaking for both of them. That’s not a mediator. That’s an indication that a complaint about a professor, pursued diligently, will ultimately be construed as an attack on the SSW. And on that level, it seems I can forget about any formal grievance process; it has degenerated into an affair in which I make an appointment to repeat what I’ve written, and then Hoozit may put a note in the file.

No real surprise here. In SW education, when they’re looking to make a case against the student, they’re all about procedure. Everything is documented and orderly. It all looks so official and respectable. If, on the other hand, you are looking to make a case against a professor or administrator, it is ad hoc and informal. There will be no formal process to consider your complaint. What she says carries weight; what you say does not. It is reminiscent of the legal system, where a complaint against a self-represented defendant is likely to result in a guilty verdict, while a complaint against a police officer is likely to accomplish nothing. No surprise that such a system produces and approves places like Stanley’s agency, where the few at the top bully staff, who then bully clients.

Dean Hoozit, I am betting, will be perfectly content if I don’t say another word about this whole matter. It reminds me of a quote I saw the other day: “Attention deficit disorder is no longer a disorder in America. It is the norm. Attention is now the disorder.” There’s definitely not a commitment, here, to stick with the issue and make things right, or to treat the student and his/her concerns with respect, as the Code of Ethics recommends. His response, like hers, is more of a brush-off.

Obviously, I could go in and meet with him. And I know that some people think that’s the solution to everything. But this is not about being buddies. I don’t want him to smile and pat me on the back and think slightly better things of me. That doesn’t translate into anything concrete. I want a formal, institutional commitment to treat students appropriately. I want him to state that that commitment exists, and I want to see it implemented in this case. And if it doesn’t and won’t exist in this SSW, I want to know why not.

In other words, this isn’t, anymore, the part of the conversation where someone said or did something slightly wrong, and there’s a moment of awkwardness and hesitation, and then both parties try to get back to a more relaxed footing. This is the part of the conversation that comes after that, when I had to push and push to get anything, and what I got is confirmation that these SW professors reserve the right to treat an aggrieved student as a mere irritant. Just what kind of attitude are we learning, here, toward real people and their concerns? Is a real client supposed to just shut up and go away when encountering behavior that s/he considers oppressive?

* * * * *

January 16, 5:49 AM – It’s Not That Easy

I was delighted that Mensch was willing to supervise my independent study. But now I’m getting nervous. The deadline for adding courses is a week from Tuesday, and he is asking me for refinements on my topic. I could understand that sort of request as I get into the topic, once the semester is underway. But as a condition of registering for the course? I haven’t encountered this kind of foot-dragging from other professors with whom I’ve had independent studies.

So now I have sent him another email, addressing his questions (some of which I’ve already addressed) and mentioning that I’ve published an article in one of the better-ranked SW journals and have another article in press, and have published a book, so it’s not like I’m completely lost in the woods.

Here’s hoping that he relaxes and lets me proceed. Or if he’s not going to do that, get off the fence and tell me, so I can find somebody else. At this point, I just want to file the paper that says I am enrolled in this course. Without that, I won’t have enough credits to graduate.

* * * * *

January 17, 1:43 PM – The Monster Became a Mouse

I dimly remember thinking that I would get really active and make huge progress in researching and understanding disability statistics. But that was before the semester began. Marty and I have been comparing notes about how, somehow, it is difficult to get organized this month. I’m glad to hear it’s happening to her too.

I guess it could be the new moon. Maybe it’s depression. Maybe somebody is sneaking something into the water supply. Something like this could explain why I have been sitting in the agency and just spinning my wheels. Marty sent me an email on Friday, asking if they’re keeping me busy enough, wondering what I’ve been doing, expressing frustration that it took me days to give her a response on some minor question. I should have said that I learned how to delay things from my advisor and others at the SSW. Of course it took days. I was in the grip of a mental fog that entailed sitting in the reception area and vicariously participating in all the characters and lives that come trotting in and out, every day of the week. But I did finally get serious about policy-type work in the last couple of hours of the day on Friday.

I think what happens, in these cases, is that every passing year adds a dozen extra feet of length to the supertanker of your life, and what used to be a schooner that could turn with the breeze becomes a hulking blob that travels ten miles before it even begins to think about deviating. You know how the years are said to fly by more quickly for older people? Just think about what that means for the months and days and hours. Something that seems like ancient history for a younger person is only, you know, 10 or 20 years ago for me.

That, too, sounds like a pretty good explanation. But of what?

I think we were just at the point where I was rationalizing why I haven’t been doing work on the disability statistics; and I think the answer is that I needed to feel welcomed and wanted, back in the agency, and by proxy in the world of SW generally – after the Christmas break and, I dunno, the stuff with the fun professor and all. So I think I was sort of imbibing the generally supportive ambiance there in the reception area. And then reality strolled around, and I got a whiff of the coffee.

The other day, I was trying to help Elaine with some aspect of computer tech, and it occurred to me to offer it to Desiree too. So while I was explaining it to Desiree, Elaine was behind my back, giving it the thumbs-down. It seems that, when I thought I was helping, I was actually boring her. She made Desiree laugh, which is how I caught her doing it. This thing of trying to help – you gotta restrain yourself.

I did hang a bulletin board for Erin and Desiree, and I also rigged up a string on the door by my desk that makes it easier for the people in wheelchairs to draw the door closed behind them as they go through, instead of having to go back and forth – get through, turn around, go back to the door, grab the doorknob, pull it toward you, back the chair up a bit, etc. In a test run, Elaine said it actually did make door-closing quite a bit easier. And I think it was good for me to be somehow engaged in the practical aspects of life with disabilities.

But now it starts to seem like I need to get on the ball with my research. So on Friday afternoon, I did stretch my wings a bit. I took my laptop and worked for an hour or so in the conference room adjacent to the reception area. It was like night and day: much more efficient. So maybe I really will get going on the disability statistics. Soon.

* * * * *

January 17, 7:21 PM – Sandra the Good

This past week, Sandra and I engaged in a bit of friendly email banter about our agreement that we would figure on January 15 as the target date for when I would have completed my fall semester field placement hours. The banter was mostly mine – I was joking with her about how I might need until April – but on Thursday she did stroll out into the SSW’s lounge area, which is right outside her office, and point out that I might get my hours done more quickly if I weren’t just hanging out in the lounge. Something like that. She was smiling, and it was amusing.

Actually, that was the perfect time to tease me about socializing, because for once I was getting a chance to do it. I was passing through, saw a fellow student named Tony, and joined him. “Ray,” he says, “what have you been doing?” “Fighting off depression,” I told him. He laughed. “Man, we’re all doing that.”

Somehow it came to be my social hour, because then all these people were coming by, saying hello. There was Stephanie, from Dr. Krishna’s class – gee, it seems like a year ago since we were in that class – and Henry, of basketball fame, and here was one of the students whom I had met last March, at the Open House, and so on. Even the Mormon guy, sitting at one of the chairs nearby, finally looked up and said hello, notwithstanding my antireligious remarks of yore.

It was a bit like being back in the lunchroom in high school, when I dropped the class I had after lunch and somehow this fact remained unknown to the administration, so I had an hour and a half for lunch every day, and could therefore be the heart of our little lunchroom fellowship, whereas everyone else was on a rotating lunch schedule and could only stay for 40 minutes. Funny, I still think that lunch experience was more important than the classes I was supposed to be taking, whatever they were.

Sandra’s teasing me in the lounge, and her sort of playing along with my email banter, and so forth . . . well, like I say, she has a charming side, and naturally I prefer to see it. But I am resisting the temptation to revisit the things I blogged in the fall, to tone them down and make her sound better than she was. Those were real experiences, and that’s how it unfolded. It would be different if she and I had ever gotten to a point of dealing with those events, so that we could understand and learn from them and do it right. But just dropping it, as though it had never happened – that would feel a little like being in an abusive family or workplace setting, where nobody dares to challenge the boss on his/her tantrums, and everybody just hopes for the less freaky times.

* * * * *

January 17, 10:32 PM – Academic Bill of Rights etc.

I’m trying to decide what to do about the Social Entrepreneurship professor and the fun professor.

I just ran across an article in which Floyd Abrams, a well-known First Amendment attorney, addresses the topic of the Academic Bill of Rights, promoted by Students for Academic Freedom. I am particularly interested in this sentence from the fifth point in that Bill of Rights: “Faculty will not use their courses for the purpose of political, ideological, religious or anti-religious indoctrination.”

Floyd Abrams says that, if a higher education bill of rights became law in any state, that would enable people to sue for violations of the rights listed. In the article, he says, “It seems to me that having a decent grievance procedure on campus is far better.” He thinks that lawsuits against faculty might result in universities monitoring professors for classroom content and expression, to avoid liability.

And that may be. I’m sure there are good reasons why apparently no state has adopted such a bill of rights. I’m not up on it, and right now I don’t plan to be. But I’m interested in Abrams’s apparent assumption that there is, instead, an effective grievance mechanism on campus. So far, that’s not what I’m finding. I wonder if his position would change if he learned more about what students are actually experiencing in their universities’ grievance processes.

Be that as it may, Abrams is reminding me that I haven’t exhausted this university’s grievance process. I could try it. But I already know how that sort of thing tends to turn out.

Oh, by the way, the Ombud did call me back, a week or so ago. I’ll get around to calling him, to see what he wanted. I’m betting he’s going to tell me that he has arranged for me to have lunch with Assistant Dean Sean, which we’ve already scheduled for later this week.

So . . . do I have any alternatives, beyond Sean and Hoozit? I’m digging around on the university’s website. I see there’s a dean of students, but the webpage says that’s for non-academic matters. There’s a conflict resolution office, but that seems to be for complaints against students. There’s a vice president for student affairs. I guess I could check with them, see what they say. Or as another route, I could try to figure out who’s above Dean Hoozit, and go up through whatever additional layers there are in the SSW. It gives me a headache to think of it.

* * * * *

January 18, 6:24 PM – The Interloper

An update on Myrna, the new intern. I think I mentioned that she joined us at Disability Agency week before last. She attends the SSW too, though of course in that huge place I’ve never seen her. Her focus is on Community Organization. She’s smart, practical, businesslike, mature.

Which brings to mind a related thought. It occurred to me that, when Marty has mentioned the possibility that I might be staying on after my internship is over, she’s probably not talking about offering me a paying job. She’s probably talking about letting me stay, without pay, to put in hours toward my LCSW credential. So I would be allowed to help the agency with various things for the next two years while supporting myself somehow.

I’m not sure that’s actually what Marty is thinking. It just comes to mind because, when I see Myrna, I realize that she’s the kind of person who’s going to get hired in an ordinary business environment. She’s got her act together for purposes of getting everyday things done. She and I are in different worlds. I’m in a world of dealing with indicia of bias by the fun professor, and Myrna is in a world of doing what they pay you to do. I don’t mean that judgmentally, except in the sense that I’d rather be me and I’m sure she’d rather be her.

So, OK, in my typically atypical style, I’ve been wondering if Myrna will turn out to be like a guy I used to work with. We both had similar credentials and very different orientations. He was glad to take on all the work I didn’t want to do, and I was glad to let him. The firm’s work was extremely lucrative and, in my opinion, extremely rapacious, and it just didn’t interest me at all. I was looking toward my future, which was away from that place, and he was looking toward his, which was very much right there.

It comes to mind because Myrna and I were going to do a joint writeup of our notes from a conference call that we listened to, Friday morning. I dawdled, and Myrna plunged ahead and sent Marty a two-paragraph writeup of the key points that Marty was most interested in. It was a perfectly sensible thing to do. I found out about it at day’s end, by which time I should have sent Myrna my part. She didn’t send me a copy of hers, and apparently wasn’t planning to let me know she had already communicated her thoughts to Marty. So, you know, I’m curious about how this will turn out.

* * * * *

January 18, 8:07 PM – Spring Is Coming

There’s something good happening in my mood. It started this weekend, I think. I began sleeping better. I think it’s because I started to feel that it’s all going to get done somehow, I’m going to make it through, it’s just a matter of time.

Today, I was a bit stressed. End of the Martin Luther King, Jr. three-day weekend. I owed Marty a little poster for this job-creation thing she has gotten excited about. I predict it’s going to be a huge amount of work for not much payoff, but maybe that’s because I’ve got other stuff I want to do. She may be right to get excited about it.

Anyway, I got her poster done, but there’s more I need to be doing. I had to do major surgery on my computer yesterday and today – it had slowed to a crawl – and this really bit into my plans (or should I say hopes) for getting all kinds of good stuff done this weekend. And now, tomorrow morning, I’m back at the internship, and then classes in the afternoon and evening, and so on, classes and internship, through Friday. And I didn’t get any homework done, which is also worrisome.

But, dammit, spring is coming. I’m sure of it.

* * * * *

January 20, 8:42 AM – Poor Mensch

I just sent the form to Dean Hoozit, to get his permission to substitute an independent study with Mensch for the statistics course. I was talking to Mensch about it yesterday. He said he seems to be the mere instrumentality of a requirement that I take a course for three credits. I expressed my condolences; after all, it’s not as though I want to take this course, or should be required to; I’ve already well exceeded the MSW education of my peers.

Mensch was also unhappy about the fact that none of the students in our conflict resolution class have responded to his postings on the course website. I promised him I would. I came home and I did. I posted two entries. Now we’ll have to see whether anyone else posts anything.

One other thing. Right at the end of our meeting, Mensch said something about how he is involved with some kind of effort to think big-picture about the direction of SW education. This seemed serendipitous, that this is his interest and it’s also what I’m getting drawn into.

* * * * *

January 24, 8:45 AM – Catching Up

It’s been days since I posted anything here, and I’m afraid that’s going to be the pattern for the coming months. But it’s Sunday now, so let me see if I can update various items. (Last weekend and this weekend, I have spent the bulk of the time fixing and updating some things on my computer system.)

First, I got an email from the head of the Nontraditional Students group. The message says it’s an important group. But we’ve met only once all year. I think he took it on because no one else was willing to. Now he’s graduating and seeks a replacement.

I called it right – no more communications from Hoozit or the fun professor regarding my complaint. It sure looks like they did just prefer to have me go away, rather than make sure the issue was properly taken care of.

Hoozit let me know that he needed my advisor’s signature on Mensch’s form to let me take an independent study. He got it to the advisor on Thursday, and the permission was in the computer on Friday. Now I have an email in to the assistant registrar, to see if we are finally cool for me graduating in May.

I caught up with Sonya on the way to her car, after Mensch’s class, and invited any feedback she might have. I explained that I felt like a misfit, with all these younger students. She, in her early 30s, said that she knew exactly how I felt – that she, too, felt much older than most of our classmates. She says we should get together and talk about it. It was really cold, and she was obviously freezing, so we didn’t talk long. But we’re going to email each other and find a time to get together and talk.

At the internship, sitting in the side room with my laptop is an improvement. I have to bail out when they have a meeting in there, but otherwise it makes all the difference. I’m actually starting to get things done. One thing I need to finish is the evaluation of my first semester of field work. I have nearly completed my 342 hours for the fall semester, which means Marty and I will be meeting with Sandra soon.

I felt unwanted at the internship earlier this week. There was a meeting of the recreation group. I thought I wasn’t invited. Apparently they discussed it at some point when I wasn’t around, and didn’t send out an email, or at least not to me.

My little fixes around the reception area seem to be catching some attention. I noticed that Robin had the handyman in to talk about putting something on the door next to my desk, to replace the pull-string that I installed. Mike says they’re going to be putting up a regular coat rack so that these ladies have a place to hang their coats, now that I’ve rigged up a little wire coathanger thing from their bookcases, at a height that works from a wheelchair.

Marty has five interns this semester: Myrna and me from our SSW, along with three others from another school: two BSW students and one other MSW who has been here for a couple of semesters. This is time-consuming for her, and her schedule is already packed. She seems to take seriously her obligation to give back to the university and the profession, and she knows that students need a place to have an internship. I think a part of her may also feel that this is, after all, free labor, and surely it will contribute more than it will cost.

Lunch with Assistant Dean Sean will be happening, albeit rescheduled to this coming Thursday. That’s an interesting coincidence; Jack Hoozit is scheduled to appear as a guest speaker in Mensch’s class that morning. Hoozit and I still haven’t met face-to-face. So this will be one way to be introduced.

* * * * *

January 24, 9:38 AM – A Psychologist Visits Mensch’s Class

Mensch often looks at me in class. He has made one or two comments, in private meetings, that have conveyed a sense that he thinks of me as a sort of visiting lecturer or a post-doctoral scholar or something. Like I know enough to make him look bad, if I say the wrong thing at the wrong time.

It was even worse with his guest speaker this week, a psychologist who does couples counseling. Everyone else in the classroom was just sitting there, nobody participating much, so of course Mensch and the psychologist were looking at me a lot. It was interesting stuff, but at times it felt like we were having a three-way conversation instead of a class.

In this conflict management course, Mensch is trying to expose us to multiple perspectives on conflict. It goes without saying that a psychologist’s perspective on conflict is going to be markedly different from that of a lawyer, like the guy who joined us last week. These are not random individuals, either. This shrink is the head of something or other in the university hospital, and the lawyer last week was an obviously sharp and experienced individual. There’s definitely more insight to be had from the likes of these people than a student could ever hope to get from any one professor.

I was mildly concerned about some remarks this psychologist made. Like when she told a story about a wife who was going back to school full-time for her MSW, and there was some distance growing between her and her husband as a result. The psychologist made it sound like a problem with the man, where he felt “threatened” by her “growth.” But a person could ask whether the two of them were still sharing their worlds with one another. Ordinarily, in a relationship, you introduce changes gradually: there’s a new face at work, there’s a new family on your block, etc. But there’s nothing gradual about a full-time MSW program. Boom! She’s suddenly loaded with information and new faces and can barely keep up with it, much less describe it to him. I know that, from the experience of trying to track my own graduate school experiences in this blog.

Indeed, the decision to return to school can be a decision to spend less time together, or to invest less in your relationship and more in yourself. People do get divorced during the process of graduate education. A loving spouse ought to be worried about what it means and where it will lead.

The psychologist said something about how the wife “was able to develop empathy for her husband.” It came out sounding like pity, like she was rising above him. A person with a PhD might tend to think that going back to school is simply the smart thing to do, so it’s just a question of how long it will take the guy to accept her decision and adjust himself accordingly. Like, her decision is made; now he can like it or lump it. She wants to take advantage of the stability afforded by their marriage; she just doesn’t necessarily want to contribute to that stability right now. Apparently the psychologist thinks that’s OK. But if you were approaching the situation from a couples-oriented mindset, you might wonder why selfish individualism should supersede the parties’ mutual care, respect, and responsibility for one another.

Suppose the psychologist had said, “The wife eventually acknowledged that, by going back to school, she had introduced major changes in their relationship.” That would seem like a more reasonable acceptance of responsibility, rather than treating it as a cut-and-dried matter of him getting with the program. You know, it would be a very different matter if the two of them had agreed that they needed the additional income, or that it was her turn after putting him through graduate school. But even then, you’d have to be sympathetic on behalf of the spouse, male or female, who is surprised to discover how much graduate school can impinge upon a relationship.

I did feel that this psychologist, this guest participant in Mensch’s class, was a competent and well-meaning person. I appreciated her eye contact, and I was impressed that she did also make one or two male-friendly statements. They prompted me to verify that she was indeed wearing a wedding ring. She said that she had started out as an ardent feminist but had changed somewhat. I’m guessing that she, too, continues to learn from long-term exposure to people who are not like her.

* * * * *

January 24, 11:59 AM – The Legal Clinical Seminar

One of the classes I’m taking this semester is a clinical seminar in the law school. They invite SW students to join the class, along with about 15 law students. I think it’s pass-fail for us. The class meets for two hours a day, Monday, Tuesday, and Thursday, but we four SW students don’t have to be there on Thursday because that’s typically a day when we are supposed to be at our field placements.

We’ve had just one class session so far. I think that’s because the law school’s semester starts later, and we are out on Thursdays, and there was a day off for Martin Luther King, Jr. In the one class session that we did have, it was quite a contrast, between the law and SW students. The law professor was up there, taking the class through a case scenario. Like, suppose the child shows up at school with bruises. What is the teacher supposed to do? What is the school social worker supposed to do? What if the child showed up at the lawyer’s office with bruises? In each alternate fact situation, the law students weren’t just shooting from the hip, giving us their opinion; they were saying that, according to this or that statute or court rule, here’s what the law required in that case.

It was pretty fast-moving. I didn’t have the books yet, so for the first half of the session I was just sitting there watching. At the break, I went over to the clinical office and got the books. So then, in the second half of the class, I was able to jump in and answer one or two questions correctly. Then I answered one wrong, sort of (I had missed a change in the fact situation that the professor was describing), and that made me feel a bit foolish, so then I didn’t jump in when there was another one that I could have gotten right. Which was cool, because I was just doing this on the fly, without advance homework preparation. It was kind of fun to do law school on this basis, when I really didn’t have much riding on it.

As in my own law school experience, maybe a third of the law students seemed to be really on top of it, and another third participated now and then, and the other third didn’t seem to be engaged – hadn’t done the reading, or weren’t interested, or were sleepy, or weren’t the type to speak up in class. I always did wonder about the approach of having a class discussion that leaves some people behind. Maybe there’s no way around it.

Whatever the case with the law students, the SW students were really on a different channel. It was very interesting. Apparently the SW students are not expected to participate in that kind of legally oriented discussion. And that makes sense, because law is like a different language for people who haven’t studied it. I guess I would lean on the SW students a bit, though, to try to get them at least somewhat acquainted with the statutes that govern their work.

Like me, two of the other SW students hadn’t gotten the books. The third one might have; she (her name was Mary) had a bunch of stuff spread out in front of her during class. If so, it was still alien to her. At one point, the professor asked a question; Mary offered an answer; and the professor said, “OK, and what is your authority for that?” She had no idea what he meant. He was expecting her to cite a statute, as the law students had been doing, but apparently she was not yet quite sure what that was all about. And, in a sense, good for her: at least she was trying to participate, piping up when the discussion got close to something she understood. Something similar happened with one of the other SW students. She answered a question with a statement of what she had been told in SW class. This time, the professor knew not to ask her for a citation to the law; he just said, “OK,” and moved on.

After class, I approached Mary. I was just going to introduce myself. She had a confident air about her. Apparently they have a mock trial each time this class is offered, and it seems Mary had played that part in several previous semesters. Or at least that’s what I understood from am email last week from Nancy, the middle-aged woman who seems to be the chief coordinator of this whole clinical program. (Nancy was the one who gave me the books, when I went over to the clinic during the break.)

My approach to Mary was not too successful. I was piecing together who she was, and the concept of this role-play, and so forth. I said, “Oh, you’re the one who . . . help me with this . . . in previous semesters, you . . .” But Mary wasn’t giving me an inch. She just stared at me. I turned and looked at the professor. He picked it right up and said, “Mary has played the role of the mother, in our role-plays in previous semesters.” So then Mary and I exchanged a few words, but she didn’t seem too interested in conversation right then, so I said, OK, nice to meet you, and that was the end of that.

I had better luck with the other two SW students. I caught them as they were leaving the classroom, before I approached Mary. I told them that, as I had learned from the professor during the break, none of our future class sessions would be quite so law-intensive. I suspected this would be a relief to them. Apparently we’re going to be dealing with more opinion-oriented or ethically complex scenarios, though I assume some basis in the law will still be important. When I said this, one of them said something along the lines of, “I don’t know where it is written in the law, but I know a child abuse case when I see one.” Something like that. Both of these two (in their mid- to late twenties, I would guess) seemed to have some experience in child abuse cases. So we will all be an interesting mix.

* * * * *

January 24, 12:22 PM – A National School

One thing I noticed about the subject matter in our law class this week: there is a focus on state rather than federal law. When I was in law school, they seemed to make a point of focusing on federal or common law, whenever possible. The idea, back then, seemed to be that Columbia was a “national” law school, where we dealt in big-picture issues on the national and even international level. Students came not only from Sheepshead Bay and Long Island City, but also from Omaha and L.A.; and from there, you’d be more likely to go to work in Manhattan or DC than in Brooklyn or Jersey City.

Of course, it depends on the subject: some areas of the law tend to be dominated by state-level laws and regulations, and family law seems to be one. It might be foolish to go to a place like Columbia if you want to specialize in family law: I doubt they’d offer the depth, encouragement, or connections that you’d get at some other schools in the area.

I’m not so concerned with what happens in the law school here. But I have been meaning to mention that, in our SW classes, we have typically had a state-level orientation, without much of an emphasis on how things are done elsewhere. Certainly there are classes and extracurricular presentations on various national and international issues. But I haven’t encountered much interest in the different ways that various states may have tried to handle a certain kind of problem. Even in the Asia class last semester, when there was every reason to be comparing Asian approaches against U.S. national tendencies, we still wound up talking mostly about how things are done in this particular state.

The clear message is that we’re training people to take local jobs – just like that other SSW down the road, the one that costs much less. So that seems to be one area where, if this SSW wants to have a justified reputation as a national leader, they might start to develop an approach that is somewhat more distinct from what you’d expect from a community college or a glorified vocational school.

* * * * *

January 24, 10:38 PM – Pride Goes Before a Fall

Had a great run today. Came across a group of maybe 20 bicyclists. Stopped one of the laggards and asked who they were. WheelsAcrossAmerica.us, I think he said, and this was advertised as their Worst Ride of the Year. Well, pardon me, but I thought it was a pretty nice day – temps over 40 degrees, light mist, still some snow in the woods. Of course, a cold wind is a lot colder on a bike. Bully for them. Meanwhile, I put in maybe eight miles.

But all fun has its price. Between that and the laundry and struggling with computer issues, I don’t actually think I got too much homework done today. Let me check . . . No, that would be correct. In fact, I got no homework done at all. Not even a shred. But it’s not too late. It’s 10:30 PM and I am now starting. The computer is more or less cooperating, and I am starting to take it seriously. And not a moment too soon. I have a paper due for Mensch on Thursday, which I just realized may actually be Wednesday; it seems like he may have said that his papers would be due Wednesdays at noon.

Fortunately, Jerry Garcia is not requiring much reading at all. He just wants us to understand his pre-printed notes in great detail. During the break in his class this week, out in the hallway, several students were almost bragging about how they never bother doing the reading. One of them was from “a small college near New Haven,” he said. This could be code for Yale. I ran into Harvard people who would do that. “Where’d you go to school?” “Boston.” When you finally pinned them down, it would be like, “Harvard?” as in, will you still love me even if I’m superior to you? And I’d reply to their question: “Oh, yeah, I’ve heard of it.” It was different at Columbia. It’d be, like, “Columbia.” Period. Like, I don’t want to fight about it, and whoever you are, I don’t really . . . whatever.

Yes, I’m ranting. It beats doing homework. But remind me to ask that kid where, exactly.

* * * * *

January 25, 10:16 PM – More Catchup, Please

Just got back from Poet’s League Basketball. Not. Apparently nobody thought to check whether there would be courts available. I know I didn’t think of it. But when I got there, the others in the group had already come and gone. It turns out that intramurals own the courts on Monday nights. This could be the end for PLB.

I’ve been meaning to say that, while I may have complained originally about Marty’s treatment of my daytime napping, she very kindly expressed a concern about it the other day. She wanted to make sure that, with all the things we had going on that day, I would still have time to kick back a bit, if I needed. I thought it was interesting that she would express that concern. It seemed to indicate that she had been thinking about me in a supportive way. Maybe her mind has clicked into a gear where a need to nap could be counted as a disability.

One odd note: she made this comment when Elaine was sitting right there at her desk. Apparently she assumed that I had talked about this stuff with Elaine and the others in the reception area. Or maybe she wanted to be seen as being considerate of such needs. I guess in a way it broke the ice, so Elaine and Erin and Desiree have some clue on what is happening with me when I duck out midday for an hour or so. It only happens on the days when I’m there all day (which, so far in this semester, is only Wednesdays and Fridays), and not even always on those days.

Fridays, it seems, may not be my best days with Marty. Twice, now, she has sent me these slightly harsh email messages, waiting for me when I arrive at Disability Agency on Friday morning. I think maybe she is feeling pressured because she has goals for herself each week, or something like that, and Friday is crunch day in her world.

Speaking of Marty, we had a nice chat over sandwiches the other day. We aren’t quite at the point of being real working colleagues, but it’s tending in that direction.

Marty and Robin were joking, the other day, about what would happen if we get a big snowstorm – about how these people with disabilities might not be able to get timely transportation with these various vans and services that shuttle them around town. Robin says, “Ray, you’ll have to run in, by yourself, and open the place up.” I said, “No problem. I’ve already got my route selected, down the railroad tracks.” This made them laugh. I live about seven miles from the office, as the crow flies, and have actually been toying with the idea of running home one evening and back the next morning. That prompted Marty to tell me that it’s a $100 fine to get caught on the tracks. So maybe this is best done with something other than bright purple tights in broad daylight.

Weird experience the other day. A half-dozen boys of middle-school age came up to the door of my apartment, banged on it, and then ran away, laughing. We are forever tormented by our own unrepented sins. I mean, it seemed like something I would have done when I was a kid.

That line of thinking brought me to the realization that the boys I knew would probably have been most likely to do this to the door of someone unusual. I’m wondering, in other words, if I have now become that old man who wears purple tights, or perhaps just because of my age have made myself a bit of a target. It’s an unanticipated side effect of living in a graduate student housing complex, where some couples are old enough to have boys of that age.

* * * * *

January 25, 11:08 PM – Law School Class: A Hypothetical Case

Interesting thing in the law class today. We broke into four teams, with one SW student in each team. I felt like the biggest dud. The three law students I was with were all female, and at least two of the three seemed better at asking SW-type questions than I was. It shouldn’t be surprising. They’re presumably in this class because they want to specialize in family law, whereas I’m in it because I’m interested in the frontier between law and SW. And it’s been 40 years since I spent much time hanging out with kids, but not even ten years for these law students.

We were role-playing the part of the team that represented the children in a dysfunctional family. The other teams were representing, respectively, the state’s Department of Human Services, the child’s mother, and her live-in boyfriend. In our SW classes, we are taught that what our clients tell us is kept confidential, with some limited exceptions; but the members of my team seemed to think that counseling would be a way by which they, as lawyers, could learn more about what these kids were thinking. But now I’m realizing that maybe I’m the one who’s behind, here. We emphasize confidentiality, in SW; but with a court order, those kids’ (or anyone’s) innermost secrets could become the subject of discussion among an indeterminate number of lawyers and their clients.

I say they were asking SW-type questions. I mean they were thinking about all kinds of angles on child safety, especially for girls. Meanwhile, I was thinking that I wasn’t sure whether this teenager in our case was telling the truth. She was claiming that her mom’s boyfriend had fondled her. He had been living with mom for several years. He seemed to be doing more parenting than mom was doing. This story came up only now, after the guy put limits on the teenager’s overnight stays at her boyfriend’s place. So the law students were being social workers, and I was being a lawyer.

It was even worse when the professor had one representative from each of the four groups get together at a table in the center of the room – what he called the “fishbowl” – and negotiate about what was supposed to happen with the kids and the parents. In that negotiation, these law students were all so agreeable. It’s like they never met a crazy person from the real world. The lawyer for the allegedly abusive boyfriend is just rolling over and saying he’s willing to leave; the lawyer for the mother who loves the guy more than her own kids is suddenly perfectly happy if he moves out; then the child’s lawyer decides it’s OK if her supposed fondler winds up staying in the house with her.

The law professor was not impressed. He said, “You’ve got to argue like you believe in your client’s case. We [meaning the judges] can tell the difference.” No surprise there. If you can’t even convince your own lawyer that you have been wronged and that s/he needs to go forth and fight for justice, how are you going to win in court?

I dunno. I guess I have learned something about law since I graduated from law school. Now if I can just manage the same trick with social work.

It seemed to me that Indiah, my fellow SW student, turned in the most impressive performance in today’s role-play. She played the part of the social worker who was responsible for the report that recommended having the guy removed from his home. She came across as calm, clear, and convinced that she was on the side of Good. It was like the real thing, like these poor law students were having to try to crack someone who totally believed what she had reported.

* * * * *

January 26, 7:46 PM – Sex, Gender, and Your Lawyer

In SSW1, they taught me that sex is male or female, or having sex with someone, whereas gender is more like a role you play. You can be a male sexually and can have a female style. Or, I think I heard someone say once or twice, there are actually lots of different genders, though maybe that gets more into the territory of roles. Like, among guys, applying the more refined terminology we developed in high school, there are jocks and potheads and greasers and so forth.

The relevance of this sophisticated theorizing is that the law class today was interesting and a bit disturbing. We were back in the same groups, me and the three women and this time we had a newcomer, another guy. This time, the professor assigned my group to represent the interests of the accused step-dad, and the group that had been representing him was now assigned to represent the children.

My group just could not wrap their heads around the idea that the guy was actually our client. Or I guess one of them did, but she was talking so softly that the others seemed to disregard her. As before, Francine, who represented our viewpoint in group negotiations in the fishbowl, did everything but absolutely cave in to whatever the other teams were saying, the ones that represented the kids and the mom and the state.

Today’s innovation: the professor brought in a psychology doctoral student to serve as a consultant on psychological issues. She observed that, when the step-dad is accused in this kind of situation, he will tend to take it hard. She thought that maybe counseling would help over the long term. This, I thought, was insightful. She also thought, however, that it would be unlikely that a teenager would lie about a stepparent. I was going to try to grab her after class, to ask for a research basis for that assertion, but she slipped through my fingers. A quick search online, undertaken just a moment ago, suggests she may be wrong about that.

By the way, it’s not like I was totally gender-biased on this thing. I don’t have kids, don’t usually go around groping teenagers, etc. Yesterday, when we were assigned to represent the kids, the first thing I said was, If this guy really did this thing of fondling the step-daughter, he’s got to go. But even then, it didn’t seem like this law student was interested in the best interests of all three hypothetical kids. She didn’t want to consider what the impact of removing the father figure would be on the kids, if this was actually a false accusation. It was more like she wanted to use the one child’s claim to support a crusade against the guy.

I did have an opportunity to represent our group. I’m self-conscious about being much older than all of the other students, but that wasn’t the primary thing. The primary thing was that I just didn’t have the group’s backing. I spoke up forcefully at the start of our group discussion – I laid out a whole case for the guy’s perspective – and I could see that the quiet student saw it, but the others just let it slide. I haven’t told the students that I’m a lawyer, and I don’t know if the professors have been clued in on that. Probably not. It’s not a deep, dark secret; I just don’t want it to interfere with my experience of this class as a SW student, if I can help it.

All I can guess is that law students who choose to specialize in family law tend to be self-selected based on their personal experiences, which presumably tend to involve more exposure to their mother’s perspective than to their father’s. People have their issues, and they don’t always handle them professionally. This is probably as true for law students as it is for SW students. It seems like professional education of whatever variety should try to help students become aware of their personal baggage, and of the damage they can do when they handle a situation in a way that is inconsistent with their own profession’s ethical principles.

But even that doesn’t capture the full story. The other part is that it felt like I wasn’t entitled to really stand up there and say, this guy is a good guy, falsely accused, trying to hold this family together, etc. It was as if I were taking a Nazi as a client, and everyone else would consider me a scumbag for doing that.

I will say, there is no question but that this law course has the full attention of the students in it. One member of my group was screwing around with email and other stuff on her laptop, but I think she was the only one in the whole classroom who was not actively engaged in the events. I chalk that up to good teaching, to a feeling that you are actively involved in something that matters, and to having smart and/or motivated classmates.

* * * * *

January 26, 10:51 PM – The Things People Say

For some reason, Dr. Garcia always refers to “him” when referring to some anonymous child. Like, “Sometimes you’re dealing with a child who . . . and when you ask him to . . . “ I guess it’s typical. The person seen as problematic tends to be male.

Garcia has characterized himself as “older than dirt.” He’s only one year older than me. Do I get a vote in this? I guess I’m along for the ride. He also says he’s in the last third of his life. It doesn’t look like he exercises or works out. I don’t think of myself as terribly old. But I guess we are just old men, for purposes of the kids who predominate here.

In class tonight, Garcia was telling us about administering various kinds of psychological tests to kids. Sometimes the kids are mischievous. Like, he asked one kid to repeat some numbers backwards: 2, 8, 6. The kid spins his chair around, so that his back is to Garcia, and says, “2, 8, 6.” Another time, he asked a kid to define “ancient.” The kid just looked at him and smiled. And then there are the inordinately precocious kids, here in this college town, whose dad or mom wrote the book on something that Garcia is asking about. Garcia expresses his frustration; he tells us about trying to negotiate a form of the question so that the kid will just answer it; finally, aggravated, he says, “All right, kid, fight me.” Everybody laughs.

There was a song in the ‘80s that went something like this:

I like ‘em big and stupid
I like ‘em big and real dumb . . .
I met a guy
He drives a truck
He can’t tell time
But he sure can . . . drive
I asked his name and he had to think
Could I have found the missing link?
He’s so stupid, you know what he said?
Well, I forgot what he said, it was so stupid

In which spirit, a classmate was recently telling me about something one of her profs said, in one of those courses I got exempted from, but unfortunately I can’t remember what it was.

I do recall something that one student said in Garcia’s class. He asked us to define “abstract.” One student said it means “different.” She may be right, in a sense that she didn’t get an opportunity to explain. Even so, it gives me pause to consider what must be going through her head when her professors talk about abstract reasoning.

It never ceases to irritate and amaze me, what passes for professional language. Just the other day, in class, someone was describing a conversation she’d had. As she described it to us, she reported that her words to the other person were, “I’m sorry that you were triggered by what I said.” And I, in turn, am sorry that people don’t laugh out loud when they hear something like that. It starts with “I’m sorry,” and probably someone would therefore characterize it as an apology. It proceeds to place all the blame on the other person: “you were triggered.” It goes straight for the heart: you had an emotional, illogical reaction. You displayed anger or some other unprofessional behavior. And I am sorry about that, because it means you don’t know how to conduct yourself appropriately.

* * * * *

January 28, 6:05 PM – Hoozit Sighting

This morning, Assistant Dean Jack Hoozit was the guest participant in Mensch’s 9 AM class. And Hoozit, let me just say right up front, is in a different category from the two other presenters that Mensch has brought in so far. Both of those previous presenters sat up front with Mensch and talked about their kind of conflict management work, punctuated by a number of student questions. Hoozit, by contrast, stood up front by himself – Mensch was in a chair, seated next to a student – and talked, almost without interruption, from a PowerPoint presentation, for more than an hour.

I can tell you that it just about killed me. Fortunately, I had my laptop with me, so I was able to fiddle with that a bit, in order to keep myself awake. I was still nearly nodding off, though. I don’t think he saw it, except maybe once, when I felt like I was dragging my bleary eyeballs up from the desktop to the PowerPoint screen, only to see that he was looking at me.

But whatever. I was, once again, in the minority. Everyone else, these eight or nine female classmates of mine, seemed to be interested in his presentation. Or at least they weren’t visibly falling asleep. They even gave him a little round of applause when he finished, which they had not done for either of the other two – though I guess that would be natural, since he’s the only one so far who has given an actual presentation. Not that their applause was terribly enthusiastic.

Maybe I’m influenced in this by the behavior of Sonya, in particular. She seemed absolutely smitten. I guess he was her teacher in some class last semester. Before he began his presentation, he walked over toward her, and she said, “I’ve missed you.” Or, I should say, she purred it, in a voice about ten decibels lower and softer (whatever the decibel equivalent is for softness) than that which she uses with the rest of us. And afterwards, she told him she needed to schedule an appointment to talk to him. But me, you know, I’m just chopped liver. She said she will be emailing me later this week, in response to my email of last week, and maybe we will get together next week.

So Hoozit is the SW stud. I dunno. He may be gay or straight; I can’t say. To me, he’s just a fortysomething guy, nothing terrible, nothing special. He’s an assistant or associate dean, and I guess that counts for something. He’s got the ethnic shirt and the ethnic heritage, and he talks about Ahimsa – which, he says, is a Hindu term that means, “I will not harm you.” The core idea, he says, is that I come here with a truth, and you will not harm the truth that is within me. So, you know, screw the research; I already know what I believe.

The remaining challenge, I guess, is to get everyone else to drop their beliefs and accept his. He says, “People who are right all the time do not have much credibility. Admitting that they were part of that oppression is when they start to be trusted around those issues.” The assistant or associate dean of a top SSW seems to be advocating the ancient Brahmin philosophy of bullheadedness, which is appropriate because Brahmins are involved with bulls somehow. I dunno. Don’t ask me. Like I say, I was falling asleep.

During his presentation, Hoozit distributed copies of his PowerPoint, complete with a Chinese-language symbol denoting some deep concept. This reminded me that most of the students in my undergraduate class in existentialist philosophy were female. They seemed to love the professor’s abstruse prattle about things like being and nothingness, and essence and existence. I’m not sure why. You’d have to ask them. It probably has something to do with multitasking. Hmm . . . maybe I should get myself a funky Chinese symbol.

Dean Hoozit also distributed a two-sided handout, containing fuzzy, tenth-generation copies of copies of documents. These photocopies showed how dialogue is superior to discussion and debate. Naturally, I read the two sides of this dialogue handout in light of my own dialogue experience with him. The one side, contrasting dialogue against debate, says that “Dialogue causes introspection on one’s own position,” that it “creates an openness to change,” that it is collaborative, and that it “remains open-ended.” The other side of that handout, differentiating dialogue from discussion, says that genuine dialogue treats status and power differences as “key elements in both the process and the content of the exchange,” and that dialogue also “works to form active and immediate community among the specific individuals.”

Well, you could have fooled me. Is this what Hoozit really believes? According to that handout, dialogue “is often aimed at disruption, disequilibrium, confusion, and the destabilization of personal and collective realities.” That sounds like me, not him. It’s not like I was setting fires in the bathroom, but I think I’ve been pretty much in sync with the general idea that, if you speak truth to power, if you question the status quo, you’re going to seem disruptive to those who sit on top of the heap. As Hoozit told us, “When one group is in power, and is reaping great benefits from the oppression of the other group, why would they want to engage in dialogue?”

Hoozit says it’s different, being in the dean’s office. The dean’s office is located, of course, above other offices, on a higher floor. Most of the people who come up to see him, he says, are coming with some kind of problem. He bemoans the negativity of it. I can’t recommend a solution offhand, but I have to think that this should be pretty common in SW. We all deal with problems. But, OK, maybe this explains why he wasn’t too excited about rolling up his sleeves and really sorting out the issues that I took to him. I wasn’t looking for a quick-fix, smiley-face kind of positive. As Dean Hoozit says, dialogue is something that happens “over time.” It’s hard work. “Dialogue works best when you try to live it.” Right. Let me make a note of that.

* * * * *

January 28, 6:46 PM – The Census

This is a census year. Marty got a wild hair and decided to make Disability Agency a center for helping people fill out their census forms. I don’t know what to think of it. I hear that they are hiring very few people; then I hear that they are hiring 1,200 people in our county alone; then I hear that they have already hired most of the people they need. I hear that the jobs pay $17-19 per hour; then I hear that very few of their jobs pay that much.

And I’m supposedly the one who has the answers. Now that Marty has put us on the firing line, people are suddenly calling and emailing me to find out what’s going on. There’s a fair amount of interest in it. Some of these callers are people who really, really don’t have their acts together. They leave the weirdest voicemail messages; they miss their appointments; they sound like they are having a hard time getting out of bed. There’s no special Census Bureau allowance to focus on hiring people with disabilities. So then I think we’re getting people’s hopes up for nothing; and then I think it’s good for them to get some experience in the job market, including the test-taking part of it; and then I think that, in this economy, every additional person we can help is worth it.

I hope we are helping someone, because it feels like I’m spending a lot of time on this. The Census thing meant that I needed to work at least part of the day, every day this week. People need to be called back, their classes need to be scheduled. But I guess I shouldn’t worry. I actually just passed the 342-hour mark a few days ago. So I still have almost a semester’s worth of time to devote to disability statistics. And there’s no denying that this has been a learning experience.

* * * * *

January 28, 6:47 PM – Some Interactions

A bright student asked me, “What do you do to keep your mind occupied in class?” Email wasn’t the solution; it was too obvious when she was typing. I suggested an RSS feed reader. I explained how you can just sit there and scan dozens of headlines and very quickly get yourself up-to-date on whatever it is that you’ve subscribed to. Myself, I just sit there and think and make notes about stuff – usually about what the professor or other students are saying, but sometimes about other stuff, like my quals paper or the internship.

This week, I ran into Allison, my former coworker at Stanley’s agency. She says the funding has really dried up for mental health services, for many of the people they used to serve. It seems I got out at a good time. Whatever else may happen at Disability Agency, for sure I’m having an internship experience there, even if I did have to go without the clinical mental health experience that I came here for. As for Allison, I appreciate her friendliness. I can’t really put too much weight on her blow-off attitude when I told her my internship at Stanley’s agency had been terminated. I guess it’s easier for people to empathize with being canned when they’ve experienced it themselves.

The other day, an Evil Witch, off course from the 12th century, blew through Disability Agency. She flew up to my desk, found fault with me on various things, and left. She certainly knew the right words to say. I was discouraged. I worked for a while longer and then went home.

Finally had lunch today with Assistant Dean Sean. He bought me a burger. Whatever I may have needed from him has long since crawled away and died. He seemed to be just hanging out. It continued for an hour and a half. He wasn’t probing me for information. We didn’t talk about school stuff at all, except when I raised it; we just ranged around on various subjects. It wasn’t like we really bonded or anything, though I do have to say that now he seems more like an ordinary guy to me. The best I can figure is that he was doing a sort of commonsense therapy, like he just wanted to make sure I was doing OK. I must not be, because he said we should do it again sometime. Nonetheless, I appreciated his concern. I asked if he’s a beer drinker. He said actually he prefers wine. I said, well, that was OK, but I was working on a theory that beer improves mood. That made him laugh. I hate when the only time I make somebody laugh is when I was actually being serious.

Mensch was not looking at me as frequently in class today. It has belatedly occurred to me that possibly Hoozit gave him a story about our interactions. If so, I suspect this will come out in future interactions with Mensch. To his credit, he seems like a pretty open person, the type who prefers to talk about issues and sort them out.

* * * * *

January 28, 7:27 PM – The MBTI

Almost forgot to mention the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI). Mensch assigned us to do a free version of it online, and today in class we talked about the results. I scored as a moderate INFP, which is short for Introverted Intuitive Feeling Perceiving. They call this the Healer type of personality. They say that Mr. Rogers, John Kennedy, and Sir Galahad are this type. I guess the complete opposite of that would be an ESTJ (Extroverted Sensing Thinking Judging). They call this kind the Prick. Just kidding. Seriously, they call it the Supervisor. We’re talking George Washington and Judge Judy.

George Bush is supposedly an ESTJ. You’re not supposed to try to imagine what type George Bush would actually be; it’s necessary for the person to take the test before you can designate their type. But if really he is an ESTJ, I would say that I would be wrong in calling someone the opposite of me a “prick.” I think Bush is actually not a prick so much as a boob. Different organ altogether.

But, really, is this anything more than voodoo? (No offense to voodoo.) I guess it could be interesting to study it further. I say that because I noticed that, of the several students who volunteered what type they were in this morning’s class, most if not all were INFJ, which means they’re like me except they tend toward judging rather than perceiving. INFJ is the Counselor type – or maybe not really. Examples they provide include Mohandas Gandhi and Mary Baker Eddy. They seem more like advisors – like people who will tell you what you need to do.

If you’re into Enneatypes, whatever that is, these INFJs are apparently likely to be romantics, reformers, and/or peacemakers. Wikipedia says “INFJs may ‘silently withdraw as a way of setting limits,’ rather than expressing their wounded feelings—a behavior that may leave others confused and upset.” So that’s the answer: that explains my social experiences in SSWs.

I wasn’t sure I’m truly an INFP. I made a note to myself to take that test again in the summer, when I spend more time outside and around non-SW types of people, and see who I am then. Probably an ESTJ.

* * * * *

January 31, 3:32 AM – January, Good Riddance

The roommate was banging around and woke me up at 2 AM, as he likes to do, so I’m catching up on some stuff. I have learned that he is rich. I learned this, not from the fact that he spent $95 to buy a wallet, but that he has $95 for a wallet but not a dime for toilet paper.

Had a good 12-mile run around town today, incidentally, but it was cold, and there was too much patchy ice on the streets. I had to run – Aaron and I are teammates in a Fitness Marathon thing that Desiree at the Agency has cooked up, and we have to put in three hours a week doing exercise. I have only run once since last weekend, partly because I worked at the Agency every day this week.

It’s probably the lack of sleep, the lack of exercise and getting outdoors, and the lack of sunshine in this dark place; but for whatever reason, in keeping with the traditional spirit of my January experience, I would like to close out the month by complaining. If I do it right, this will not be the ordinary griping about the SSW. I am hoping, in this post, to achieve a darker and more negative level of kvetching.

For one thing, I’m feeling more like giving up on, shall we say, the true idiots in SW. I don’t know if I mentioned this, but last year I had a conversation with a SW professor who said that a lot of the best people are getting out of SW academia altogether, or have already done so. It’s just not a place for smart, inquisitive people, except maybe those who have abandoned much hope of intellectual inquiry, for the sake of just getting along and keeping that secure faculty position. Like one SW professor told an acquaintance of mine, you can’t change the SW academic system. You either accept it or you leave.

My complaint about “idiots” is unkind, and politically incorrect to boot, if you want to go back a century or so – when, I’m told, the original sense of “idiot” was the equivalent of the original sense of “retard.” And, I admit, it’s not fair to idiots, because what we’re talking about here is a deliberate orientation toward hearing only what one wishes to hear. Even a person with severe mental disabilities can be a real sweetheart, well-intentioned and sincere, and this is not that.

If I had it all to do over again, I think I’d get the MSW and then do a joint JD/PhD, and I wouldn’t do the PhD in SW. That way, I’d still be qualified to teach in an SSW, thanks to the MSW, but I’d also be qualified in that other field. In my case, I have that double PhD major in parks & recreation, but the point remains – I wish I had combined parks & rec with something other than SW.

For purposes of dark suspicion, the only other thing that belongs in this post, as far as I can figure right now, is that occasionally I have reason to wonder about Marty’s thinking. It’s probably a good idea to be on the lookout, whenever you deal with any mental health professional. These people are in this profession for a reason; and sometimes, as I have learned in SSWs, that reason has to do with making themselves feel good at the expense of their clients or students.

Even in this dark time, I have to say that I would rather have Marty as my supervisor than almost anyone else I can think of in this profession. I’m logging concerns because, you know, this is a blog. But you know what? I think I’ll let my concerns about Marty gestate for a while longer. I like her; I like her style of SW practice, for the most part; and I think I ought to give it all some time and see which way the wind blows. Let’s just say I am inserting a placeholder here, where I have a bit of dark suspicion but am not yet willing to present it as foursquare fact. Groundhog Day is coming, after all, and Groundhog Day changes everything.

* * * * *

January 31, 2:41 PM – The Self-Evaluation Form

I have been working on my fall semester evaluation for Sandra. The SSW field placement office has this survey where you have to answer various questions about your internship. Sandra wants the evaluation so she can schedule another visit to talk to Marty and me about how we’re doing here.

I got stuck at question no. 1 on the evaluation form, so I went into the reception area (from what has become my quasi-office in the adjacent conference room), pulled up a chair, and asked Eric the volunteer and Erin and Desiree what I have learned about myself while working at the Agency. Somehow this led to all of them agreeing that it would be hard to go back to work at a regular company after being at Disability Agency, because here they are accepted and not stigmatized. They said that, when they were interviewing for jobs elsewhere, they tried to minimize their disability – use crutches instead of a wheelchair, if possible, or go in without a walker and just take your chances that you won’t fall.

In the process of this seemingly tangential discussion, they actually did give me an answer. Erin was talking about her jobhunting experiences. She said these things happened, in her jobhunting experience, because “There’s something wrong with me.” I thought that was a very interesting phrase for having a disability, and so I said, “There’s something wrong with a lot of people.” Including me. So I’ll say that on my form, and Sandra will be pleased that I am identifying flaws in myself, and I will wish that everyone in SW education were more inclined to do likewise.

I got stuck again at another question. What are two strengths and two barriers that I have encountered in this placement? This time, only Elaine was available. In her opinion, I am sociable, and this is a strength but also a barrier, if it keeps me from getting anything done. So that’s what I’ll write.

The weird thing about the evaluation form is that it doesn’t evaluate us on the actual things we agreed to do. On the form that Marty and I spent hours putting together in December, we had to list things that I was going to achieve during the semester. So now I just have to do a self-evaluation on whether I did those things. Both Sandra and Marty are fine with the idea that circumstances may have changed, for some of those items, so that they turned out not to be real goals after all. So, then, what’s the point? Virtually anything can be either completed or changed. It just depends on whether your field instructor and your field liaison are interested in giving you a black eye or waving you on through.

Anyway, those consultations with Elaine et al. happened on Thursday. I didn’t get back to the evaluation until today, Sunday. But now I have finally managed to write up a draft and send it to Marty. It feels like another hokey assignment, but whatever; let’s get it over with.

* * * * *

January 31, 4:07 PM – What’s Ageism?

Sometime I’m going to have to sit down and study ageism. I’ve mostly heard about it in the employment context. But when we’re talking about racism or sexism, we talk about it in all kinds of contexts. So, as usual, treating the SSW as my laboratory, what if anything am I seeing and experiencing, here, that seems to be ageist?

Well, for sure I can say it is extremely rare that I will have friendships or even working relationships with SW students who are less than 30 or 40 years old. The 30s seem to be a marginal zone, where it is possible but not likely that we will have normal conversations where the other party seems interested in talking to me. Below 30, you can pretty much forget it.

I don’t think it’s that way for everyone. I imagine Dean Hoozit, when he’s my age, will still be in an SSW, wearing funky shirts and sporting Hindu ideas and Chinese symbols, and thus will probably still have a young female fan club. Like most people, I was never too good at that, and I don’t expect it to improve. I’m not celebrity material.

I recently heard one student say that it was weird, what she had received in an email from one of her professors. According to her, he had replied to something she sent to him by sending her a smiley-face icon and a note that said simply, “Don’t sweat it.” I’m guessing that the professor was a Baby Boomer, since that sounds like Boomer lingo. She found this inappropriately casual. It’s almost like the younger people don’t think that friendliness is a positive, useful trait. It certainly seems that I’m not supposed to be acting like I want to have conversations with people who are younger than me. People my age are apparently supposed to act like we’re on a pedestal, or maybe in a closet – there are only certain ways in which we are permitted to speak and be heard. Not sure. Just working on clues here.

So, I dunno. Do you suppose that, in these young students’ world, every conversation comes freighted with expectations and assumptions about what one person is trying to get out of the other? Like, it’s not a conversation, it’s an investment? Is this what professionalism means?

I think older people tend to be friendlier than younger people. At least to me. Also, despite the stereotype of being set in your ways, I think older people might actually be more adaptive to adversity. That, anyway, was the story I heard about the origins of Outward Bound. The British Navy wanted to find out why the older sailors were surprisingly more likely to survive shipwrecks than the younger ones. The conclusion seems to have been that, as the ship is going down, the older person thinks, Oh, Christ, another hassle. Most older people have probably lived through one or more close calls. But to the younger one, who has never experienced anything like this, it’s a freaking catastrophe, a cause for panic, the end of the world.

For a working definition, I guess ageism doesn’t mean treating me differently because of my age. I’m not 21, and I don’t want to be treated as if I were 21. For me, at the moment, ageism seems to be more along the lines of discouraging or prohibiting behaviors because someone else considers them inappropriate for my age. I dunno; it’s not something we talk about in the SSW. Like I say, I’ll have to look into it sometime, and see what the experts can tell me.

* * * * *

February 1, 12:42 PM – The Trip to DC

The SSW is organizing a networking trip to Washington, DC. I just got out of an informational session about it. It seems this is the first year when this SSW has done this. They have openings for 10 students and expressions of interest from about 25. So unless they get more funding, they will have to be making some decisions about who can go.

It looks like a great opportunity. They are asking students to kick in $150 and they’ll cover the rest for transportation, lodging, and a couple of luncheons. I’m hoping they decide that second-year students get first crack at it. It’s a three-day trip, two days of which are sightseeing and panel presentations and so forth. One day, the heart of the trip for me, will be devoted to shadowing an alumnus through his/her job.

* * * * *

February 1, 1:34 PM – The Law Students

Just had a little potluck lunch with the clinical law classmates, organized by Nancy, keeper of the clinical office. Apparently many law students are not getting jobs this year, and many who have been hired are being deferred for a year. So the students from this class are afraid that their graduating class will just be skipped, because of the economy, and they will wind up going into other stuff instead. The three I was talking to are second-year students. Two of the three have law firm jobs for the coming summer; the other one has a job as a legislative aide. Typically, they say, 80% of this school’s law graduates go into law firms, but this year is different.

It was nice talking to them. Two of the three were from the New York area. They say that the vast majority of the graduates of this law school go to places like New York and DC after graduation. Typically, that is.

The deal with the clinical course is apparently that we SW students are supposed to tag along on a trip to a smaller city an hour away, where the law school clinic has an arrangement with a family court. We go in there and get their cases and work on them. I was talking to Indiah and Miranda, the other SW students. They haven’t gone on that trip yet, but are hoping to do so this week. I’m not sure I can – I think I have other commitments both days. If not, next week for sure.

* * * * *

February 1, 3:58 PM – Law Class – The Client

Today, an amazing thing: they brought an actual (former) client into the law class. Young Latina talks about her experiences, as a teenage mother, with domestic violence and having her kids removed from her home by social workers. She’s now 32 and works as an advocate on behalf of parents.

This woman says the social worker and the lawyer handling her case were imperious, dismissive, unresponsive to her questions. She says social workers even lie on the record. They made the decisions; she had no idea what was going on. In her case, she was able to get her kids back, but it took a year and a half. The system “is scary,” she says; “it can tear you apart.” “You attorneys are our hope . . . .” Against the social workers, that is. “We wait three months for that court hearing, go in there for five minutes . . . yet we’re sitting there without the right to speak anything,” because the lawyer advises them to be quiet and don’t say anything stupid. Among the attorneys, she says she might even prefer a law student over an experienced practitioner, because the student brings passion to the case and is more likely to explain things to the client.

She says most social workers are judgmental, burned out, unwilling to give you an opportunity to fix the problem. She’s known good ones, but they’re rare. The savior, in her case, was “some white lady” out in the suburbs. This was not a social worker. It was just someone who interviewed her, decided to be the foster mom for two of her kids, but also decided that an injustice had been done, and worked with this woman to “get your babies back.”

Right now, this Latina woman is part of a team that consists of a parent-advocate (her), an attorney, and a social worker. Their job is to work with a parent before the kids are removed from the home. She says the parents are often more willing to tell their stories to the parent-advocate than to the social worker or the attorney.

In the discussion afterwards, it develops that the attorney provides the important, confidence-building service of emphasizing the parent’s strengths rather than his/her weaknesses. It is just so ironic that the social workers, the members of what is supposed to be a helping profession, are on the side of the system in this regard, focusing on deficits of the parent and on just “processing” families as “cases.” In some states, parents don’t have a right to be represented by counsel, even when they are illiterate. The social worker just steams ahead, armed with expert witnesses and the government’s resources, seeking to separate kids from their parents.

The law professor says that one strategy for a parent’s attorney is to threaten to ask for a jury trial. This, he says, will sometimes get the prosecutor to back off. There’s a real risk that jury members will have had children taken from them, or will know someone who has, or will otherwise not share the social worker’s supposedly enlightened view.

Indiah (my fellow SW student) has commented, several times, on how everyone hates the Department of Human Services, on how they are a “punching bag.” I think she must have been working for DHS before she came back to school. But, you know, it doesn’t have to be that way. It sounds like an opportunity to ask whether social workers, and SW education, are capable of the “change” that they expect of everyone else – not to stop trying to do good, but to learn to ask themselves hard questions, to be responsive to input.

Anyway, some law students talked about the cases they have already started to work on, in this clinic, representing parents. Interesting stuff.

You know, I kind of hope these young lawyers don’t get jobs in big law firms. There are a lot of people in the legal system – a lot – who need them. And not only in family law.

* * * * *

February 2, 8:26 AM – Groundhog Day Reflection

I went for a run after the law class yesterday afternoon. Then I fiddled with some other things and, at 8 PM, went to the gym to meet the Poet’s League people. There were only five of us. Four of us were petite females. We decided we’d rather play volleyball than basketball. So we spent an hour and a half just banging a volleyball around. None of us were too good, but we laughed a lot. No judgmental stuff, no weird looks or avoidant behavior. I really think the ancient Greeks had it right. You’ve got to mix physical education in with the mental stuff. Granted, we were a self-selected microcosm; but activity does seem to promote a positive attitude.

When I came out of the law class yesterday, I felt that the internship and the law clinical course could be the high points of this year – indeed, of my MSW studies altogether. There’s some truth in what some SW students were saying the other day – that these SW courses are just the same thing, repeated by different professors in different ways. Mensch and Dr. K and the fun professor and the others certainly vary in their styles, and even in some of their beliefs, but there’s much more variety of experience and viewpoint in these two hands-on experiences.

Right now, I’m trying to get everything caught up and get ready to roll to the internship. I’ll go in late this morning, as I usually do. It’s best to have my stuff sorted out. Marty would be more impressed if I were on time, but at this point I am increasingly determined to focus on efficiency. I do have more than 300 hours yet to go, but I want to make them count.

I’ve said, for years, that Groundhog Day changes everything. Some winters, it does. This winter, perhaps with the aid of this blog, I do feel that a change set in, sometime around late January, for some reason. Graduation is only three months away, and that’s going to pass quickly.

* * * * *

February 2, 4:48 PM – If All You Are Is a Hammer, Everything Will Look Like a Nail

I’m sitting in the basement of the SSWB, in what’s left of the SSW’s library. They’ve moved the books to the university’s main library. They’re going to do something else with this space. Right now, all we have left is easy chairs, tables, study carrels, and computers.

I came here to take a nap after the law class this afternoon. Unfortunately, that didn’t happen. As soon as I walked in, before I could plop down in one of the easy chairs, Indiah came over and confronted me on my performance in the law class today. Granted, the SSW’s library no longer has books; but it is still a study space. There were people studying around us.

Indiah wasn’t one to take a gentle approach – of, say, asking me if I would mind talking about it sometime, or inviting me to go out and discuss it at a nearby coffee shop. There was nothing collegial or cordial about her approach. No, unfortunately, this woman who had presented such a solid and official front to those law students was now turning it on me. In righteous indignation, she seemed to believe that I owed her an explanation, right then and there. It was as if I were being called to account by a cop, or by a schoolteacher in junior high.

I didn’t like it. It was rude and disrespectful. It made me wonder what would happen if, in the SSW’s library, a male SW student behaved so aggresively toward a female classmate twice his age.

I told Indiah that I appreciated her willingness to ask me about it, and that was true. I’d rather hear about a grievance, and have a chance to respond to it, than have someone just resort immediately to gossip. I just wish she had presented it with some respect for reasonable differences among different kinds of people’s experiences and viewpoints.

So Indiah and I had a conversation, which actually turned out to be more like an argument, about how things went in the law class today. Her concern had to do with my behavior in a group with four male law students. We were appointed to represent the adoptive parents of an allegedly abused child.

This was not a hypothetical case, invented from thin air. It was based on an actual situation in which a boy had what looked like cigarette burns on his skin. The professor showed us the photos. Indiah was confronting me because I cooperated with that legal team in support of the parents.

Before we started working on that case, the professor told us that, several years ago, this state went on a binge of terminating parental rights, and wound up with thousands of kids who weren’t adopted and who just wound up languishing in the system. As I had seen during my first-year MSW internship at SSW1, sometimes there are not enough foster homes. In those cases, kids live in group homes and institutions. It’s not always a pretty picture.

Indiah felt that the case was obvious, that this was a horrible and extreme example of parental abuse, and that the child should have been removed from the home at once. And I – well, in class, and in the conversation with Indiah, and in my thoughts during this half-hour or so since the end of our conversation, I have increasingly felt that, for the social worker as for the lawyer, it depends on your starting point. On one extreme, if you’re a hired gun, working for pay, defending the adoptive parents, you will tend to see and believe the perspective that favors them. And on the other extreme, if you’re a self-appointed SW savior of helpless children, you will tend to see reasons why society and its children need your intervention.

I don’t have Indiah’s several years of experience as a social worker. But I do have some relevant experience – not only with kids, but also with people who have her unshakeable confidence that they know exactly what they are doing.

Maybe I can sum it up by saying that, if you put Indiah and me in the same horrible situation, she would have tons of answers, and I would have tons of questions. I have spent several years among SW students and professors now; and before I would allow such people to separate children from their parents, I would want to make sure that their self-confidence is supported by actual knowledge of relevant facts.

Take those burn-like marks. They did look like they might have been cigarette burns. But were they? We had only limited information in the case, but it seems like a person could ask: do either of the adoptive parents smoke? The case didn’t say. It did say, though, that the child had previously been in a foster home. The case also says that his biological mother hasn’t seen him for a year and hasn’t sought to regain custody of him, whereas she has custody of her other children (and also has “a protective services history” regarding those children). Hmm. Do you suppose those burns could have come from the birth mother or the foster parents? Can we find out how old those marks are?

Interestingly, the hospital people who photographed the burn marks didn’t believe his story that his adoptive parents burned him. Protective services had temporary custody of the boy a year and a half ago; did anyone see marks on him at that point? And the biological mother’s lack of interest in getting him back – doesn’t that support the adoptive mother’s claim that he is an extremely difficult child? Given that a therapist has seen the child and has diagnosed an attachment disorder, is it possible that, as the adoptive mother claims, some of his injuries are self-inflicted? For that matter, if the adoptive parents were abusive and/or neglectful, why would they be taking him to a therapist?

I could go on, but you get the idea. There are the unknowns, the things that a person might want to investigate before barging in and turning people’s lives upside down. If you really want to put the child in the best place available, you’d best make sure that he’s not already in it.

This was where the argument with Indiah became interesting. When I started raising questions about the facts, what she did not do was express an interest in discussing them. She didn’t seem interested in the facts at all. She saw burn marks on a boy, and that was all she wrote. By God, somebody was gonna pay.

I tried to get her to talk about other details – about marks on the boy’s ankles, about his state of nourishment, about the condition of his room, and so forth. She just wasn’t into it. She seemed to be stuck with the conclusion that this was an obvious case and I just needed to get on board.

Trying a different approach, I told Indiah about a time when I was a kid. My family went on a family trip. We took along my best friend. I said to Indiah, “Suppose my friend got hurt while we were out there. His parents haven’t seen him for two weeks at this point. Suddenly they get a call from Family Services, asking why their son has these injuries. They have no idea what’s going on. What then?”

Indiah said, believe it or not, that my friend’s parents would appropriately be investigated, to see whether they had been neglecting their child. If the investigation showed that there was no problem, they would be cleared. I said, OK, you’re saying that the parents are going to be investigated because they are “absolutely responsible for the integrity of their child’s body” – that was how she was phrasing it – even if it’s just an accidental injury that they were not involved in, and for which they have a good reason not to know what happened. You’re burdening this family with a thousand bucks’ worth of legal fees for a wild goose chase. Indiah said that, if they couldn’t afford counsel, they would get a court-appointed attorney. I moaned and said, Oh, yeah, and if that happens, what kind of counsel will they get? The lawyer may be good under the right circumstances, but nobody’s very good when they have a huge case overload.

Again, these were not questions that interested Indiah. And here’s how that seems to work. In the legal system – and, I am seeing, in the nation’s child system too – if you’re rich, you’ll have lawyers and judges arguing and deliberating for months over every last detail of your case. If you’re not rich, however, they’ll be making life-changing decisions in hours, in minutes, and sometimes even in seconds. And if you’re really not rich, it won’t even be the lawyers and judges making some of the key decisions; it will be social workers, facilitating an arrangement in which people are treated like cattle.

Indiah’s experience as a social worker, as manifested in her behavior in this instance, is the result of a system that just doesn’t have time or patience for getting bogged down in the realities of people’s lives. There are decisions to be made in the name of Truth and Righteousness, for the sake of the social worker’s personal gratification, and SW education and training favor those people who are willing to make such decisions. As I’ve recently seen, for instance, Dean Hoozit is not going to invest in a potentially time-consuming review of the behavior of the fun professor, because this is not a thoughtful, self-correcting system that seeks to identify and improve upon its errors. In his world, talk about one’s own errors is negative and undesirable.

Indiah and I went around and around for maybe 10-15 minutes, and then she abruptly stuck out her hand and said, “This has been a very illuminating conversation.” I shook her hand and said, “I agree.” Under the circumstances, I think we both meant that we were appalled. She went back to her seat with Miranda, where they giggled for a while, and I finally got the opportunity to sit down in my easy chair. Eventually, I fell asleep.

In a good educational environment, this sort of exchange would be the starting point for real learning. As it is, unfortunately, I don’t know how to proceed with that: I don’t know who in this place would facilitate any of Hoozit’s “dialogue” with people like Indiah. Nor does Indiah seem to be under any particular pressure, from any source in the SSW, to make good decisions in line with the facts of the case.

* * * * *

February 2, 9:49 PM – Being in Garcia’s Class

Here’s what it’s like. I walk in. Tonight, I got there late, so there were only a few seats left. I took one. Women on both sides. Neither turned her head toward me or otherwise tried to interact with me at any point during the three-hour class. The one on my left had to look somewhat past me to see the professor, there at the front of the room, so at one point I did catch her eye, and we exchanged a friendly sentence of two. Otherwise, though, I had no interaction with either of them. (Incidentally, I have seen no more of Karen Freud, who did that double-take when Lucretia whispered in her ear at the start of the semester. She may have dropped the course.)

The tables are arranged in a horseshoe shape. I’m seated on one leg of the horseshoe, looking across to the other. Unless I turn my head to the right to see Garcia, my natural line of sight, straight in front of me, includes at least a half-dozen SW students; likewise for them, looking my way from the other side of the horseshoe. I often see one of them looking vaguely in the direction of my legs. She never glances up to my face, or even bothers looking away, when I notice her doing it. The others almost never make eye contact with me, or even seem to register any particular awareness that I am there. With just one or two exceptions, this is also what I get from other students around the horseshoe, including some with whom I have had conversations. It is really as if these people and I had never seen each other before, and did not expect to see each other again.

This sort of behavior has been the norm in these SW classes. But it’s really palpable here. Garcia, with whom I share a similar age, gender, and socioeconomic tendency in some sense, receives three hours’ worth of smiles, attention, and interaction. He is an interesting presenter, and he seems to know his stuff, so that could be part of it. But it’s very different from Mensch’s class. Mensch knows his stuff too, but that fact doesn’t seem to minimize me at all.

I participate in both classes, but much more so in Mensch’s, where the class is half as big and it’s in a discussion format rather than Garcia’s lecture style. A lot of the difference in mood between the two classes may just be stiffness, like people aren’t sure if they’re allowed to be sociable with each other. But how it could persist for a whole semester, as it did in my classes last semester, I’m not sure.

* * * * *

February 3, 8:57 PM – Follow-Up from Indiah

Last night, I got an email from Indiah:

As promised, here are a few resources on medical identification of child abuse. Should any cases as egregious as the example in class today be assigned in the law clinic course, these might be useful in developing a case theory.

With the accompanying materials, Indiah kindly helps me to understand that child abuse can happen in a variety of ways and places on the body. This, she believes, will help me to know what has happened, when I see a case like the one we had yesterday. It appears she has no idea of what I was trying to say to her.

I noticed, incidentally, that the university’s email system shows her first name as being Tracy, not Indiah. Sometimes I think that being a social worker is like being an actor, except you leave the makeup on and just stay in role most of the time.

* * * * *

February 5, 7:18 PM – Internship Update

On Wednesday, there was a meeting at the university. Marty and Myrna, my fellow MSW intern, were there. They walked in together, they sat together around the circular arrangement of tables, they talked together. This didn’t seem to reflect anything special about Marty – she has been comparably focused on talking to me, when she has taken me to meetings and such – but I wasn’t too pleased that Myrna wasn’t even looking at me. Later, when I was thinking about it, I realized that Myrna has not stopped by to say hello even once since she started at Disability Agency, even though she does come in and out of the front door, past the reception area, every day.

Sitting away from the two of them at that meeting did have one advantage: I was able to take out the laptop and work on a mindless file-conversion task, converting a couple hundred old WordPerfect files to PDF, while I listened to what people were saying. I would have been afraid to try that if I’d been seated right next to Marty.

At the Agency, the reception area continues to be my one place of normal contact with real people, especially with Desiree and Elaine. It’s therapeutic. Problem: when I feel natural and relaxed around people, I start to tease them, and a couple of times already, I’ve teased Elaine more sharply than I should have. She’s a good sport. She doesn’t seem to mind at all, but I still think I should probably back off and just be nice to her. I’ve asked her about it, but maybe she would not tell me even if she was hurt or offended.

I think I’m teasing people because I’m lightening up. I’m becoming more settled here, and thanks to the internship I am spending less time in, or involved with, the SSW. I have been largely liberated from Melinda, from my advisor, from the fun professor and the Social Entrepreneurship professor, from Hoozit, from Stanley, from that whole negative, attacking crew and their various threats to my professional career and my personal self-respect. My key overseers this semester are practical Jews with years of experience in the real world. No telling how it will turn out, but right now it feels like I have entered a better phase.

Tuesday will be the last day of the Census exams I’m coordinating at the Agency. After that, Marty and I have to finish the fall semester evaluation and meet with Sandra, and then maybe I can get back to the disability statistics research that seems to be the most useful contribution I can make here.

* * * * *

February 6, 8:48 PM – Weekend Update

Still haven’t heard back from Sonya. We now seem to be pretending that we never did talk about getting together to have lunch and chat about the SSW. That’s OK; I had just hoped she would be willing to give me some frank feedback about my fit here or, as she seems to have interpreted it, about our fit here.

Within the last week or two, I finally got my wireless connection working, on campus, in my laptop. I was able to connect at Disability Agency, but for some reason not on campus. Unlike U2, this university doesn’t have a tech support desk in the library where you can take your laptop and get help sorting out this sort of problem. I’m not sure what fixed it; I just kept tinkering around until it worked.

I have fallen a bit further behind in the hours needed for the internship. I now need to average four hours a day, seven days a week, between now and April 23, when the field placement officially ends.

There weren’t any cases to pick up in the family court, so we didn’t make that hourlong trip on Friday. This was what I preferred; I was busy at the internship. But it means I’m not involved with any real-life cases yet.

The law prof selected me to play the role of a personal life coach kind of person in the mock trial. The law students will be doing cross-examination of me and the other SW students, each of whom has a role to play, on Monday and Tuesday. So I’m reading up on the case, learning more about this character that I’m supposed to be. Apparently I’m supposed to be rather flamboyant. I don’t know – do you think I should wear the purple tights?

This really is a better SSW than the others I have attended. So far, I have not encountered any true buffoons among the tenured faculty, and that is a difference from SSW1 and SSW2. I have also heard a few students talk about how excited they were when they found out that they were accepted here, and that sort of talk was rare to nonexistent among students at the other schools I’ve attended. But I am still hearing remarks from SW students who are appalled at the quality of the courses here. I heard this yet again, in a conversation just this past week.

We had another guest speaker in Mensch’s class this week. This one was from the university’s office of conflict resolution. She actually got her master’s degree in conflict resolution. Her office is oriented toward a social justice approach, where they try to maintain neutrality on the subject matter while making sure that oppressed viewpoints are fairly and fully expressed. She invited us to join her at lunch after class. I thanked her for that invitation, but said I had to go to my internship. But maybe I’ll look her up sometime for further discussion.

I decided not to go on the trip to DC. The general concept behind this second career, for me, is that I’m going to try to avoid obvious misfit situations. Doing pretty well at it so far, aren’t I? Seriously, I’m thinking of Washington, DC as the mother lode of traditional social workers, and this sort of group does not seem promising for the likes of me. I still remember when, just out of curiosity, I posted a question, on an NASW (National Association of Social Workers, based in DC) online forum, about finding a good group of conservative social workers. I’m not very conservative, but I am curious. They deleted that question.

So if I’m ever going jobhunting in DC, I’ll defer until I have a specific place to go and specific people that I want to talk to. Besides, I don’t have three or four spare days to fiddle away this semester. Maybe later, if I wind up being an unemployed MSW out there in the big unknown.

* * * * *

February 6, 10:00 PM – Leisure in My MSW Experience

It occurs to me to say something about leisure in my life this year. So here it is: Something.

But let me not overstate the case. In point of fact, there is not terribly much going on that would ordinarily be considered leisure, in this particular graduate school experience.

It’s not because of academic difficulty. Nor is it because there is nothing to do. There are movies I would like to see, for instance; and although I did see one just last week, at the dollar theater, a number of others have slipped through my fingers.

Part of it is because I have become a hermit. I just don’t have anyone to hang out with. It’s sort of like being back in high school, when I realized that I would have to get a job, so that I would have something to do while my friends were at work. But it’s worse now. I might as well be grinding away all the time, because it seems like people my age are not much fun anymore. Or maybe that’s just life in university towns. I haven’t really tried, either: I know I’m here for just eight or ten months, and may as well not invest the time it takes to get plugged into a social circle.

Being busy is the main thing, I think. This blog has soaked up tons of time, and that’s OK; but when you combine it with school and the internship and the PhD-related stuff and so forth, that’s just about all that’s going on for me.

In the physical activity aspect of leisure, I run because I have to. I mean, because I have strong incentives to. My joints ache if I don’t, and then I pull muscles when I do resume. It’s my time in the outdoors, my time to cruise around and think in an unfocused way. It’s good for my health. Running is pretty much my leisure, I guess, aside from that occasional movie and the very occasional Poet’s League events.

I guess I should add online videos to the list. I see videos almost every day. Most just have to do with the news, mostly from CNN. But occasionally I see something funny, or sad, or thought-provoking. Anyway, I’m in touch with the world that way, and through other headlines and tidbits that come up in my RSS reader.

Maybe another dimension of leisure in this educational experience is of a time-shifting sort. I laugh to think of funny things that people have said or done in the past. I look forward to May, and to this fantasy period of time when it’s warm out, and when I may hit the road and visit friends in various states and just camp for a while. Will it happen? I can’t say, but I did notice that planning and looking forward to my Florida trip in March, a couple years ago, helped to brighten my January, well in advance of the actual event.

Maybe there’s also some leisure in a more cerebral sense, where I get some mental space by thinking about people and relationships – you know, family and friends and places. Like, sometimes it feels like I’ve lived a hundred years. It’s not burdensome. It’s more like it’s rich. Show me two people who are both incredibly busy, and give one of them a rich past and the other a past that has just been a grind, and I’ll show you two very different levels of leisure experience amidst the hustle of daily life.

* * * * *

February 8, 4:49 PM – Turgidity

Often, assigned readings for SW (and sometimes for other social sciences) are written in a pedantic style that goes on at length and yet says almost nothing. Here’s an example from an email that landed in my inbox today. It says, “This program is designed for four groups of graduate students: (1) SW students in the Aging concentration, (b) SW students NOT in the Aging concentration, (3) graduate students in other departments, and (4) post-masters students.”

In other words, if you have or are seeking a graduate degree, it’s for you.

* * * * *

February 10, 7:59 AM – Snow Day

We have what looks like almost a foot of snow out there. The schools are closed, and that’s our cue at Disability Agency: nobody will be there except me, if I go in; and not even me, if I don’t.

This is good. I am already commencing my typical Thursday night self-organization, shuffling files between the laptop and desktop computers, scanning papers that have floated my way during the week’s classes, etc. This weekend, I’m really hoping to get some papers done. But first, I’m doing some blog catch-up.

* * * * *

February 10, 8:32 AM – The Mock Trial

I was rushing to get to the law class yesterday. It was meeting in the law school’s imitation courtroom, where they hold their moot court and other mock trials. I wasn’t sure where the mock courtroom was. I stopped a student walking toward me, down one of the halls in the law school, and asked directions.

Turns out the person I stopped was none other than Mary, the SW student who had been so uncommunicative, when I approached her after our first class. I didn’t recognize her, there in the hallway, under the big hat she was wearing. Unlike our previous interaction, Mary seemed to be in a good mood today. She was smiling and friendly as she showed me the way to the mock courtroom.

Along the way, I asked her which part she was going to be playing in the mock trial. She named one of the characters. We went into the courtroom, and class began. The professor said we should begin by calling my character to the witness stand. But the reason puzzled me: he said it was because Mary had to leave class early today.

So, OK, Mary took the stand as my character. Then I realized, of course, I’m going to play the character for real in the mock trial next week; the professor doesn’t want to give away all of the things I might have up my sleeve. So today, for purposes of practice for these law students, he’s using Mary, who has obviously not prepared very well for the role, and keeps checking her printed copy of the case materials when one of the law students asks her a question about her training and experience.

Mary was smiling at me frequently during her session on the stand. I was smiling back, of course; there were some tricky moments, and the character she/we were playing was an unusual one. She did an OK job, but I felt I was going to do a better job when the real mock trial got underway.

After Mary was done, next on the stand was Indiah. Her official role, which she was going to be playing in the mock trial next week, was (of course) the social worker who wants to remove the child from her supposedly abusive mother.

To my surprise, that was also the role that Indiah played in this practice session. She took the stand and the law students questioned her about her report regarding the mother and the child. So now I was confused. If the professor wanted to make this just a practice session, why didn’t he use me or Miranda instead of Indiah?

After class, I asked him what was going on. He said, Oh, you aren’t going to be playing those roles next week. She (I don’t know who “she” was – maybe Nancy, in the clinical office) has lined up other people for those roles. You SW students were just playing those roles today, in the practice.

So I’m an idiot. It never crossed my mind that we were just doing a one-day gig. I must have missed something somewhere. Is this why Mary was smiling at me from the witness stand – was she laughing at me?

The law professor said that he had intended both Mary and me to play the role. He didn’t get to my part; I was last, and the class ran out of time before my turn came. So I spent hours reading all those materials for nothing.

I felt bad when I left the class. It was windy and snowing lightly, small flakes blowing hard into my face. I turned my head toward the ground and trudged through the slush, thinking I was stupid and I was a joke and this young law professor must think I’m senile, and not knowing what to think about Mary’s sudden friendliness.

* * * * *

February 10, 2:07 PM – Why I Love This School

Just got an email from another MSW student. She writes, “This is why I love being at this school. Everyone is so helpful and supportive. Thank you all so much!”

So, you know, what I’m writing here is my experience, and in some ways that of others who are disappointed. I’d rather have her experience, but somehow that’s just not the way it is. We don’t get many positive outbursts like this. I don’t know whether she speaks for many other students. But I’m glad she’s happy.

* * * * *

February 10, 9:22 PM – Important People to Meet

I have an opportunity to make a few phone calls, here on this snow day – except that other people in town are probably not at their jobs either. So let me make a list for tomorrow or the next day.

One person I need to talk to is the assistant registrar. I sent her an email more than two weeks ago. Didn’t get a reply, so I sent a follow-up two days ago. Both messages asked for confirmation that the courses I’m now taking will meet all remaining requirements for graduation in May.

Mensch wants to talk to me about the independent study. I think he may be freaking out about the paper I turned in, week before last, in the conflict management course. It was rather . . . creative. Blame it on the full moon. What I think has been happening is that I am, or was, reaching a point of not caring, for too many reasons to list. I bet I made him nervous, like I’m going to write something truly bizarre for the independent study.

I talked to Sandra yesterday. Marty wanted a more impressive evaluation statement, but Sandra really just wants me to turn in something and move on. Note: we are counting on the fact that the internship is graded pass-fail.

* * * * *

February 10, 9:29 PM – Notes from Garcia

Last night, before the start of the psych testing class, I arrived in the classroom early and got to work on the laptop. Several others trickled in, including Lucretia MacEvil. I was content to ignore her, but she said, “Hi, Ray,” and asked how my semester was going. I kept it to a minimum. There’s no predicting, but I got a slight feeling that she would prefer to be liked, or at least not to feel like a complete horse’s ass. It’s understandable. If it’s important to her, she can let me know. I’m open to discussion.

Garcia didn’t give us the take-home midterm. Half the class was out, due to the heavy snowfall. The roads were for adventurous drivers only. He’ll give it to us next week, due one week later. How hard can it be? No assigned readings, just flip through his printed notes and my typed notes for the answers.

He said, and I verified online, that “dyslexic” does not primarily mean that you reverse letters in a word, like: “saw” instead of “was.” I didn’t know that. I thought that was the whole concept.

The idea of Garcia’s course seems to be that you provide a boiled-down printout of the notes that people need to learn; you tell stories about the various points in those notes; you make them regurgitate those materials on exams; and hopefully some of it sticks. Garcia got his degree from a place where I think you can get your PhD by mail. He’s not thinking in terms of honing our intellectual ability to question. As Orwell said in Animal Farm,

No one believes more firmly than Comrade Napoleon that all animals are equal. He would be only too happy to let you make your decisions for yourselves. But sometimes you might make the wrong decisions, comrades, and then where should we be?

Garcia seems to be thinking in terms of vocational education, conveying basic skills to low-level practitioners. This does not bother anyone. My classmates generally seem to be taking this course purely because it’s required for those who want to be school social workers. The attitude is just, Tell us what hoop to jump through, so we can get our credential.

You have to wonder whether SW education would be different if students were in a position of wanting to learn things they would need after graduation – to achieve specified performance criteria, for example, or even just to pass a licensing exam.

* * * * *

February 12, 8:26 AM – Role-Play in Mensch’s Class

Looks count, or so it seems. I wore my contact lenses today, for the first time in a long time, and I may as well have been a different person. Women looking at me, smiling, everyone friendlier than usual. Or I suppose it could have something to do with the new moon. Whatever it was, it really was a completely different experience.

I walked into Mensch’s class a few minutes late. “Thank God you’re here!” he says. My reaction is like, Who, me? He says, “In such a small class, we can’t afford to lose anyone.” Sonya isn’t there today; maybe car trouble or something. Mensch hasn’t said anything like this when any of the female students have walked in late. His reaction could just be because we are similar in age and gender, but I suspect the truth of the matter is that Sonya and I are the only ones who can pretty much be counted on to respond when he says something. He doesn’t seem like the type who would be comfortable just sitting up there and talking on and on, without any feedback or other indication that anyone understands or cares about what he’s saying.

My customary seat would have been available only if I had wanted to sit right next to another student. There are only eight of us in this class, and we don’t do that. Besides, I usually feel like a pariah in these SW courses; I don’t want to assume that some young woman would be comfortable with me sitting right next to her when there are other options. So instead I plopped down in Sonya’s seat. My nearest neighbor, with one empty seat between us, was Darchelle, the intern from Stanley’s agency.

At the break, Darchelle and I talk. She says, “You never did tell me what happened with you at the agency.” So, OK, I guess she was interested in hearing it after all, that time last fall when I ran into her by the microwave.

So I gave her a brief summary. She says some interns graduated and Stanley’s agency actually didn’t bring in too many new ones, so there are more mental health clients per intern. She has had an opportunity, herself, to work with a few of them, along with her administrative work. Apparently Pam or someone at the agency has been trying to make sure that they did have enough work for the interns to do and to learn from. I have no idea whether my experience influenced their thinking, but at least that part of the internship seems to have improved there.

It was encouraging that Darchelle seemed to want to talk to me. I got the same feeling from one or two other students too. In fact, as the class went on, it seemed that maybe only one or maybe two students were persisting in the usual SW treatment of not looking at me, not smiling, not seeming very pleased that I was present.

Mensch took us to the clinical suite, the place with the one-way mirrors that we used in Dr. Krishna’s class last semester. We took turns going into the “fishbowl” as pairs, while our classmates sat outside and watched us on the closed-circuit monitors and directly through the glass.

I went into the fishbowl twice. First time, I was with Bethany. Bethany is rather obese. She played the role of a chief of police in a town in Arizona, and I was an immigrant worker who was trying to get the cops not to hassle us. She took a hard-line attitude. Talking to her in the role-played interview was like pulling teeth. Afterwards, we watched the videotape and discussed our roles. She told the class that, if she had been that police chief, she would have felt that the meeting with me was a complete waste of time – meaning that I, as the immigrant guy, had achieved nothing. She made several remarks along these lines. It seemed pretty negative. Mensch did not seem entirely clear on why she felt this way.

What I think may be happening, with Bethany, is that she detects male privilege in Mensch’s treatment of me, and she is responding with the hostility that she has learned in her SW education. And although I’m not quite sure how this works, I think this behavior of hers might normally have been a cue to other women in the class. But in this case, Mensch and/or the other students may have felt that she was just being nasty. Darchelle still seemed friendly to me, and one of the other students seemed to want to talk to me as we left the classroom – which would have been nice, but I really had to take a leak, and when I came out she was gone.

I wondered, afterwards, whether Mensch deliberately paired me with Bethany because he had already detected some animosity there, like maybe she and I would make a particularly interesting pair. If so, he may have gotten a bit more than he bargained for. This was pretty much out-in-the-open hostility.

* * * * *

February 12, 9:15 PM – Friday Night Email Inbox

President Obama is going to speak at our graduation ceremony in May. It was just announced in the last day or two, and already we’re getting emails from people who want to know if we’re willing to sell any extra tickets. I assume that means each student qualifies for a couple of seats, but I haven’t seen any specific statement to that effect.

The assistant registrar tells me that I’m on track to graduate, as long as I don’t modify my current schedule. So knock on wood. I’m not planning any life-wrenching upsets for this semester. If I keep everything on track, come May, I’ll be among those proud graduates who get to sell tickets to see Obama.

The law professor can’t meet with the SW students this coming Tuesday. He wants to postpone a week. Our attendance at the mock trial is strictly optional. I’m not planning to go. After that, I’m not sure what involvement he expects from us, if any. Right now, it’s not shaping up as though the SW students are especially important for this course.

I may not have mentioned this, but a few weeks ago, Indiah asked him whether she was supposed to play a prescribed role without modification, or if she was instead supposed to behave like herself, with a social worker’s actual responses. He said just play the role. So I’m wondering if we were just brought along to provide a sort of live punching bag for the law students. I’m curious because I think social workers could ideally play important roles in legal matters, but perhaps that possibility lies outside the scope of this course.

* * * * *

February 15, 9:13 AM – Taciturnity

A couple of years ago, I went to a Christmas Eve service at the church I attended when I grew up. One of the other kids, a few years older than I, was still there. On this particular occasion, he was working as an usher, so I saw him when I went in. I hadn’t seen him for 35 years, but it was still very obviously, recognizably him. “Mike!” I said. “How are you?” “I’m fine, Raymond” – that’s what they used to call me – “how are you?” “I’m fine. What’s new?” “Nothing much,” he said, and I laughed. It was just how the words came out, the customary greeting, but in this case it was funny. OK, nothing new in 35 years; I guess I can check in later, in another 35 years, and see if there’s anything new then.

That’s how I feel as I contemplate this blog this morning. It’s always like that. The less you talk with someone, or about something, it seems like the less you have to say about it. I noticed, in the months after my divorce, that if I went for an hourlong walk, I felt like I had many things to think about at the end, many things I still hadn’t sorted out; but if I went for a shorter walk, apparently that wasn’t enough time for my head to get away from the swirl of the day-to-day stuff, and I felt a little bored, like there really wasn’t much to say.

So I’m here to say there’s not much to report, and what that means is that I’d have to focus on this for a while and really think about what has been happening since the last blog post, or the ones before that. And unfortunately, I can’t spare the time to do that. I am eyeing that spreadsheet where I keep track of my time for the internship, and I’m thinking it is going to have to be pretty much a full-time job if I hope to graduate in May.

This weekend didn’t help on that score. Mensch has been making noises about how he and I should talk about my independent study again. This would be the first time I have taken an independent study where the professor didn’t just essentially write me off for the semester, let me do my thing. And that’s been fine; that style works for me. But it seems that Mensch feels responsible to make sure I have some guidance, and I’ve got to admire that. When I go to his office, it seems like there’s always another student just finishing up a talk with him, or waiting for me to finish. He certainly has been available to talk to me.

So I was going to say that, to forestall him, I spent the weekend working on the independent study. I really wanted to put the time in on the internship, but I hoped that, if I could just report some progress on the independent study paper, I wouldn’t have to spend a half-hour or more in his office, assuring him that I’m on track and this is going to go OK. It’s a pleasure to talk to him – we seem to have pretty good conversations – but I’m starting to get desperate for time, so under these circumstances I really just want to crank out the paper and be done with it.

And I have to say, it was a pleasant way to spend a weekend. A few relatively short runs, five or six miles each, but otherwise just sitting here, learning about work and play (my topic for the paper) and writing up what I was figuring out. But now it’s a new week, and I have many fish to fry. So I’ve just sent Mensch an email, telling him about the weekend’s work, and asking for a few weeks to move ahead with it, so that I have something to report, something concrete we can talk about when we get together again.

* * * * *

February 15, 9:50 AM – (Groan)

Well, that was fast. Mensch got back to me immediately. He is unhappy that I didn’t talk to him again before proceeding with the paper, and he is insisting on a meeting this week. This makes me worry. I don’t want to spend hours talking about what I’m going to do. It makes more sense to me to talk about it, which we have done, and then try to write a draft, and see what he thinks. It seems like he wants to obsess on this.

In our last meeting, I felt like I presented the general idea repeatedly, but it seemed like he wasn’t hearing me. I don’t know why not, or what he’s looking for.

I hope this doesn’t wind up being a painful process in which I have to check in with him at every step along the way. I’ve already told him that I’ve published things. He knows I’ve got a law degree. I can write a decent paper, especially for a pass-fail course. But if he wants progress reports and veto power at every step, that could pretty much kill the fun of figuring it out on my own.

So, OK, I’ve sent him a reply, asking if tomorrow afternoon before Garcia’s class will work for him.

* * * * *

February 15, 11:48 AM – Monday Morning To-Dos

I just ran to the university and talked to the law professor. I can run to campus almost as fast as taking the bus. Killed two birds with one stone: three miles each way, so I got my exercise too. He says he didn’t substitute Mary for me; he intended all along for her and me to both play the same role. That doesn’t add up. Events did not develop that way, and she evidently didn’t think we would need to coordinate our story, else I’d have heard from her.

I’m re-sending an email to Jerry Garcia. I sent him a message last week, asking about critical thinking in SW students as a proposed topic for my optional paper for his class. I can probably get a B without the paper, but to get an A, I think I will need the paper. For some reason, he didn’t reply. I just checked – I definitely did send the message – so I’m not sure what’s happening there.

Laundry in the machine.

The law professor recommends that I check in with Dr. Snip, the SW professor who is somehow involved with the law clinical course. I’ve been avoiding her. I heard she’s not too pleasant. But I’m supposed to be working on a case team with the law students, and the course materials tell me she’s got final say on that.

Student Services tells me I have to get Jack Hoozit’s permission to change advisors. The other question is, to whom should I change? Mensch is a good guy, but I’m already involved enough with him for right now. Dr. K, maybe? I don’t want to be delayed if I need rapid action, but maybe I should just wait and see if there’s any dire need.

Mensch and I are meeting tomorrow at 4.

* * * * *

February 15, 1:16 PM – (Groan, Part II)

Nice little exchange of emails:

Dear Dr. Snip:

I am writing to ask if you would be available to meet and discuss the law clinical course. I’ve been attending the class sessions, but now that is winding down, and I would like to make sure my next steps seem right to you.

If you are available, my best times this week are tomorrow (Tuesday) at 3 or 5 PM and Thursday at noon. Failing that, first thing in the morning, any day, may also work.

Got a quick reply from her. The complete text of her reply is as follows:

I can meet tomorrow at 3:00.

So, OK! Warmth, compassion. Tough act to follow. Doing my best, here’s my response:

Great! See you then.

So I have Snip at 3, Mensch at 4, nap at 5, Garcia at 6. A regular gauntlet.

* * * * *

February 16, 4:35 PM – Meeting with Mensch

I thought Dr. Snip stood me up. She wasn’t at her office at 3. Turns out she has another office and was there instead. We just swapped emails. We’re trying to set up another time.

So I went down the hall and spoke with Mensch. He drew my attention to some lines in one of the papers I have given him in the conflict management course. He said what I wrote sounded great, he just couldn’t understand it. So this got me laughing, as I envisioned his fear that my paper for the independent study would be a huge, tangled, stream-of-consciousness mess that would take him a week to struggle through. I said, Well, you were concerned that this independent study needs to consume enough hours to be equivalent to a full three-credit semester-long course, so here’s your chance to put in some of those hours. He replies: No, see, the idea is that you put in those hours.

It was a good conversation. He dragged the story of the Social Entrepreneurship prof out of me. He says he knows this professor, he has no idea what she’s like in the class, but she seems like a good sort. He concluded that I’m a problem student, but he was smiling as he said it. He’s got roots in this university’s protests in the 1960s, but I have no idea if that’s who he is anymore. Maybe a little. I think he’s mostly just curious as to what goes on, in my experience as a student. I’m a break from the ordinary, I guess.

As I walked out of his office, I saw that the door was open in an adjacent office. The young woman seated in there might have been a student, or a very young faculty member; not sure. She started to turn around just as I was walking past, but I don’t believe she did it in time to see my face. It occurred to me that she may have been listening, and now wanted to see who this was that Mensch had been talking to.

So now I’m in the easy chair in the library, writing this, waiting for the adrenaline to wear off so I can snooze. I’m overdue for a nap. Talking with Mensch is not particularly stressful, but when he was questioning me about the Social Entrepreneurship prof and also seemed to want me to go on with more news about other interactions with professors here, I got a bit concerned about how he was construing this information. When they want one story after another, they are not usually sympathizing.

On a brighter note, I want to say that Mensch has a boatload of experience in the topics of work and unemployment, which are central not only to the independent study but also to the direction I’m heading for my dissertation. Right now, I feel like, if I were going to stay here another year, I would want to be taking another independent study or otherwise working with him on some stuff.

* * * * *

February 16, 8:24 PM – Munch & Crunch

Got back from Garcia’s class a little while ago. More on that later. Right now, I’m eating my salad and trying to decide which article to report on, in Mensch’s class Thursday morning. I had previously made a list of four, but now it’s crunch time, so I’m looking for the shortest, easiest one. I have to write and give the report, and also he’s assigned five articles to read, each at least 20 pages long, and that’s going to take hours.

* * * * *

February 17, 5:16 PM – Wednesday; Almost the Weekend

I was going to leave Disability Agency early today. I was falling asleep. I just needed a nap. But then I got into a conversation with Elaine, very interesting thing, about her personal life and plans. I may just be hanging around the same few people with disabilities, but wow, I am absorbing a lot about them, who they are and what their lives are like. It’s really an excellent introduction to some decent people.

And then Marty needed a ride someplace, and if I was going to be around for another 20 minutes, I could give her that ride, and save her 20 minutes of screwing around, calling for a cab and then waiting for it. She is hopelessly overloaded – was here until 3 AM the other night, she says – so, sure, I was glad to hang out a bit longer with Elaine, there in the reception area. Desiree and Erin were out to lunch – Desiree does the driving, in her big van with a wheelchair lift – so it was just us.

After dropping Marty off, I came on home. Earlier in the day, she and I had spent an hour and a half just sitting in a conference room, talking. She had sooo much else to do, like I say, but I know she feels responsible to spend some time with her interns, and I rarely bother her. So we were just talking about ethnicity and disability and my research into the disability statistics. Whatever I wanted to talk about, she was really there. It was a remarkable conversation. I told her I think she does a marvelous job of diligently putting forth the rights of people with disabilities. Her job would wear me down. I think she enjoyed talking to me, but I thanked her, all the same, for taking the time out of her ultra-busy schedule. I really haven’t had a conversation like that with anyone for quite a while.

Marty is not yet entirely on board with the idea that I will just focus on disability statistics in my remaining hundreds of hours at the agency. She wants me to have other experiences. I do too, but to a much more limited extent. I really want to come to understand how disabilities, and people with disabilities, are defined and counted. I want to be able to hold down my end of a serious conversation about that.

So anyway, I came home and went for a run. Stopped by the gym, as usual, and there I ran into Mark, my former co-intern at Stanley’s agency. He has branched out: he’s still working with the domestic violence program, but is also involved in something that helps released convicts find housing. So I guess he has to go out and drive around and check up on these guys. Sounds like he finds it interesting and challenging.

Right now, I’m eating the leftovers from yesterday’s massive salad, looking at email. Here’s a message from a SW student who is telling us that “Doing the 2 minuet survey will lead to increasing your Macro Resources!!!” She spells it that way in the subject line of the email message too. We just have to do two minuets, and then we have more macro resources. Something else I have to learn how to do.

But no doubt I’m wrong for poking fun here. For instance, it may not be a spelling mistake. It may be dyslexia, in which case I’m a jerk for faulting it. Or not dyslexia, now that Garcia has explained that this is not what dyslexia is. Not sure what to call it. Maybe this would be a good place to insert some remarks about contested realities.

In other email news, it looks like I’ve missed my chance to scalp Obama commencement tickets. The SSW has just announced that selling tickets above face value (free, in this case) is against the law. I guess I should be glad I heard about that before getting arrested, but I still feel like I missed an opportunity somehow.

Moving on . . . the library is letting me know that my electronically delivered article is now available. I made an interlibrary loan request for a PDF. To my surprise, I’ve found several occasions recently when an article was immediately available to me online through U2 but not here at U3. I’d have thought this place would have everything that U2 had. Actually, I tried to get this particular article through Columbia too, but apparently it’s not available to alumni. I’m not sure. I emailed to ask the librarian, but you know Columbia: too damn busy for trivial questions from unimportant people.

Last but not least, we have the inevitable email announcement telling me that Bar Crawl T-shirts are now available. I guess they have a new batch of T-shirts for every bar crawl, and maybe they have more than one bar crawl per semester. I regret to inform that my first, next, and last bar crawl will probably not occur before May.

* * * * *

February 18, 8:47 AM – Racing to School

Had to race around to get to school early this morning. It wound up that I spent most of last night working on my article review that I’m going to present in Mensch’s class today, and didn’t have time to read the five other articles he has assigned. This is awkward, because I’m the one who pointed out that he had only posted four of the five – as if I was just dying to get my hands on it. Truth is, I was afraid he’d check the class website and see who has downloaded what. I kind of wonder whether he deliberately left it off the list, to see if anyone would ask about it.

This fifth article was recommended by the person who’s going to be our guest speaker today. I was checking the list yesterday afternoon and sent Mensch a message asking where it was. He sent an email to everyone in the class mentioning that I had asked about it. We didn’t actually get it until last night. So now I’m in the library. Just got here, in my usual record time, and now I have 20 minutes or so to get the general idea of these articles, before class starts.

* * * * *

February 18, 5:04 PM – Please, God

I must be losing it.

Day before yesterday, I came out of the meeting with Mensch feeling like this was a pretty cool guy, although maybe overdoing it a bit on the supervision of my independent study. Today . . .

Here’s the deal. This morning, I had class with Mensch. He had a guest speaker. She’s a lawyer from South Africa and a PhD from London, now practicing law in Detroit. She talks about South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission. When she’s done, I have a couple of questions. I ask one, and then ask if it’s OK if I ask another. Nobody else is talking – the other students are just sitting there, and a couple of them are looking down at their notepads – so I go ahead. There are only five of us at the start – Sonya and another student were very late, and one didn’t make it to class today – and the lawyer seems relieved that I am talking to her.

Mensch then speaks up. It feels – don’t ask me why, but it feels like I was not supposed to jump right in with my questions. He kind of frames the nonexistent discussion, or something, and then she shows a film about a murder that was investigated as part of the South African process. When the film is done, there is some discussion. I am just listening to what the others say, but I don’t participate further. Mensch goes around the classroom and asks each student what they thought of the film. I’m the only one he doesn’t ask. The South African lawyer is looking at me, like, is there something going on here?

So then we have a break. The lawyer leaves. When break ends, it’s time to present our reviews of assigned readings. I’m the second of three. I describe my article, and then start to offer some criticisms of it. Mensch jumps in with some comments. Turns out that’s the end of my presentation. After he finishes his comments, he invites the third student to do her presentation. I think I’m the only student, so far, whom he has cut off like that.

Probably the explanation is that Mensch feels comfortable with me, and assumes that I will participate if I feel the need to do so, whereas (aside from Sonya) the others seem to need some encouragement. But I’m not sure about this. Possibly he felt defensive about the article; SW students don’t usually offer much criticism of assigned readings.

During the break, I am talking to Sonya. Turns out she was late because she had car trouble. Bethany, the obese woman who seems unfriendly toward me, comes over and stands on the other side of Sonya. Sonya and I pause for a moment. Bethany says something, and Sonya turns toward her. I didn’t catch all of what Bethany said, so I asked one of those clarifying questions, like “Which one was that?” Bethany is looking right at Sonya and me, but she ignores my question.

So now I’m wondering, should I be assuming that Mensch is not only aware of Bethany’s attitude toward me, or whatever it is, but is actually somehow sending signals that encourage her to think he’s on her side? It seems unlikely, but now I’m a little concerned about his degree of alarm about my paper. He had identified a couple of sentences that he felt I needed to improve – but is that really why we had a meeting that lasted more than an hour?

At this point, I’m just thinking, please, God, not another one. Not another SW professor whose issues start to come out of the woodwork, once I give him/her a bit of power over my life. I am suddenly realizing that I may be assuming greater friendliness, in Mensch, than is actually the case. I’m trying to recall how much he actually seemed to be enjoying our conversation the other day. Surely I have nothing to worry about here. Surely.

* * * * *

February 18, 7:23 PM – Sonya Foams at the Mouth

During the break in Mensch’s class this morning, Sonya was ranting to me about one of her classes. The instructor in that class is another one of those lecturer-level members of the faculty, like the fun professor and Garcia and the Social Entrepreneurship prof. In class on Monday, Sonya says, the students spent two hours raking her over the coals, telling her how bad her teaching was. I guess they are particularly unhappy with her bias against rich people. It’s interesting that nobody rakes faculty over the coals for other biases. The instructor left the class in tears – and yet, Sonya says, she still doesn’t seem to get it.

So then, at the end of class, Sonya and I were talking some more, but then she said she had to ask Mensch something. I was just going out the door when she approached him. He has made his first remarks about our big paper for the semester, which will be on conflict management in an organization of our choosing. Sonya asks him whether she can use the SSW as the organization that she will discuss in her paper. Mensch says, “Do you know enough about it?” He hadn’t actually said that we had to choose an organization we knew intimately. So it didn’t seem like he was too eager to encourage what she might have to say on that subject.

I headed on up the stairs, assuming that they would talk for a few minutes, but then Sonya comes out of the classroom and yells after me, “Sorry, Ray! I just needed to ask about my paper.” So I waited and walked her partway to her car. We compare notes on this class and others. She seems really unhappy with this program. She says Jack Hoozit is one of the few she can complain to, about other faculty and also about Hoozit himself, and she says she can do that because she got to know him before she shared her views. I said I had approached Hoozit with a problem and didn’t get too far. She says yeah, she can imagine how that conversation would go, if I didn’t already have some kind of working relationship with him. I’m thinking it may also help if you happen to be pretty.

So I tell Sonya to let me know if she does decide to go ahead with using the SSW as the target organization for her paper. She says, yeah, I guess we could ask about doing it as a team. I say, oh, that wasn’t what I meant, though that would be fine too. I just meant that I would like to use the SSW as the target, but I don’t know if I will do it if I’m the only one. So she’s going to email me if she decides to go ahead with that.

* * * * *

February 18, 9:29 PM – Garcia’s Class: Making the Most of the Break

During the break in Dr. Garcia’s class on Tuesday night, I strolled over to the men’s room. On the way back to class, I wound up in a conversation with the three other male students in the class. Inevitably, one of us said, “What are we, the men’s group?” You’d never hear a question like that if four women got together in an SSW. Someone at SSW2 once told me that the male professors there were getting that kind of response, likewise, if several of them would stop to talk to each other without a representative woman present.

One of these four students, a tall, lanky guy named Bill, was talking about the class taught by Dr. Barbara. This is one of the required classes that I managed to get out of. (Never did get a reply to the messages I sent to Dr. Barbara, by the way.) The other guy, the one from that small college near New Haven, chimed in too. They say she assigns absurd amounts of material to read each week – like, ten articles, which would be in the range of 150-250 pages, and nobody does it.

Then Bill describes how Dr. Barbara ordered him to move to a different seat, for some reason. He did, but he says the seat she told him to sit in was in some tiny little space, and there was a pole in his crotch, so he got up and went back where he was before, and she said, What are you doing, and he explained, and she said no. So he went back to polesville.

So then I moseyed on back to the classroom, and still had time to talk to Dr. Garcia. Gotta love those 15-minute breaks. This was my first conversation with him, one on one. I asked if he got an email from me. He said maybe; he’s got a stack and he hasn’t been able to get through them. The guy has a kind face, more so than I had realized while seated 15-20 feet away from him. I explain my idea about writing a paper related to critical thinking in SW students, as the topic on which I will be looking at something related to measurement and testing. He has some ideas and is very encouraging. So this is good.

Toward the end of class, Garcia handed out our take-home midterm. It’s 29 multiple-choice questions, and I’m sure every one of them has some kind of tricky wording or other mind game. This is what one of the guys was saying during the break, anyway – that apparently Garcia is known for that kind of test. I guess a person can become a bit twisted after years of testing people’s intelligence.

* * * * *

February 18, 11:34 PM – Other Notes

So then, I don’t think I mentioned, but as it turned out we didn’t spend any time at all in class talking about those five articles that Mensch assigned. It is possible that I displayed some ignorance of those articles in my questions or comments in class, and – who knows? – maybe that’s why Mensch seemed irked at me.

I was talking to someone, this week, about her idea of maybe going back to school for a master’s degree. I asked whether she was considering SW. She said she had thought about it, but she used to work with a social worker, and she found that the social worker’s approach to client interactions seemed really “contrived.” I think she may have meant a sort of phony niceness or fake genuineness.

Just found out, this evening, that it’s going to cost me more than $100 for a graduation robe, cap, tassel, and hood. You have to buy it from one of three places here. I guess they’re afraid that other merchants might use the wrong shade of black. It’s a couple of flimsy pieces of polyester, probably costs about 85 cents to make. Wait, let me check: yeah, here’s a merchant online where, if the SSW were to buy a couple hundred robes at once, they’d cost $13 each.

I met Dr. Snip today. She wears these big glasses that reflect in a funny way and make it hard to see her eyes. Her hair is in a style you’d ordinarily see on a young woman or a girl. The combined effect is that she looks to me like a happy, smiling person, and this throws me off because she’s not coming off that way at first. She isn’t saying much, seems to expect me to render an account of myself, asks a couple of questions that leave me trying to figure out if I should give her the two-sentence answer or the 15-minute answer. But then I guess she decided I was OK, because she thawed somewhat and we had more of a normal conversation. It was simple and straightforward, just looking for her basic perspective on the law clinical course. It felt like a good meeting, and once again I was wondering whether I am supposed to be concerned about the long and inconclusive discussions I’m having with Mensch.

I’ve started on Garcia’s take-home midterm. I can’t find sources that give me a definitive answer to its very first question. Like a number of other questions on the exam, it involves the Wechsler Intelligence Scale for Children. I spent more than an hour looking through various articles online. I’m sure the precise, black-and-white description of scale calculation is there somewhere, but it’s not in the things I found. Garcia’s recommended book predates the latest version of the Wechsler, so it’s no use. The answer is not in his pre-printed notes. I guess it can wait until tomorrow. I need to get to bed.

Homework is really starting to pile up, and meanwhile my spreadsheet tells me that I now need to average 4.3 hours per day, seven days a week, if I’m going to get the internship hours done in time to graduate. I have a feeling I’m going to be switching to rapid-fire mode on these assignments soon. Or maybe I should say panic mode.

* * * * *

February 19, 9:04 PM – Pieces of String Too Short to Save

My grandma went through hard times. She had a can with that label on it. She wasn’t exactly saving these tiny bits of string; she just hadn’t yet decided which way of throwing them out would be most economical.

I mention that because I’m writing to say that I’m too busy to write. I just watched some funny videos on YouTube and drank a beer and ate a chocolate bar. That was my woo-hoo big celebration of the weekend. Now my Friday night must veer back toward work.

But I will say I had a busy day at Disability Agency. I tripped on some boxes, fell, and hurt my right arm. We finished the last Census test. We finished my evaluation of the fall semester internship experience; now I just have to get Sandra’s sign-off. I directed a young man toward the American Red Cross Disaster Services program as something that I thought he might find interesting. It was warmish sunny and 40; snow is melting. And in the email, much happening too, like an opportunity to see a Theater of the Oppressed performance on Monday night. But I guess I won’t go to that. I’m getting tired of social justice. Not of fairness or kindness or equality, but of this term that’s repeated until it has no meaning, like

If ever a wever a whiz there was
The Wizard of Oz is one because
Because because because because be Cosby

* * * * *

February 20, 7:28 AM – Test

This is only a test.

* * * * *

February 20, 9:24 AM – Jerry Garcia’s Take-Home Test

I’m resuming the trudge through Garcia’s 29-question take-home midterm. Yesterday, at the internship, I was thinking about taking the Census test myself, to maybe get a part-time job for the summer. I took their sample test, raced through it in record time, and missed a boatload of questions. So, OK, I decided, I’m not yet in the mindset to be patient and grind through a test at an appropriate pace.

So Garcia is helping me with that. I am taking these questions very deliberately, one at a time. For the first question, I wound up doing some research into scholarly publications on the margin of error on a standardized IQ test. It’s probably safe to say he did not expect this, but I found the question sufficiently convoluted to warrant it. Fortunately, the next few have been more straightforward.

When I sit in Garcia’s class, I am a typing demon. I am usually one of the few, if not the only one, who brings a laptop. Nor is anyone else furiously scribbling notes on paper. I guess they’re all just planning to study from his pre-printed notes. Good luck to that, I say, as I review some of these questions.

12:05 PM. Done! Actually, I think there may have been only one or two questions where my class notes gave me info that I wasn’t finding in his printed notes. Anyway, I’m going for a run.

* * * * *

February 21, 8:12 PM – End of Weekend

I felt bad about something that happened on Friday. A woman showed up to take the Census Bureau test. She was flirting with me. That, in itself, would hopefully not be considered evidence of her mental instability. Afterwards, I said to one of the staffers who had heard her talking to me, “Looks like I’ve got a date.” The staffer laughed and replied, “We’ve got anything you want, here at the Agency.” I said, “She came in and told me her medication history.” The staffer said, “Me too.” I felt a little bit like we were exchanging a laugh at her expense. If so, that wasn’t fair, because when I was talking to her, I was acting like I enjoyed talking to her and, in fact, I did enjoy talking to her. I guess she caught me a bit off guard. The mental disabilities are a whole different ballgame from the physical ones.

Out on my run today, I saw that the ice on the main part of the river is mostly gone. It’s still there in the cove where they were ice skating, but that’s turning to slush too. Today and yesterday, combined, I ran about 2.5 hours. Temps in the high 30s yesterday, 40s today; shorts & T-shirt. Passed a guy wearing a huge parka. He said, “You must be freezing.” Funny, I was thinking he must be boiling. Multiculturalism.

I hoped to work on disability stuff all weekend, after finishing Garcia’s take-home exam yesterday morning. Had to deal with some other stuff, but still managed to put in quite a few hours. But as of now, I still have 250 hours to go – and even though I put in 42 hours this week, I still need to do 4.1 hours a day, every day from now until April 23.

Mensch just emailed to tell me he liked my critique of one of his assigned articles – I posted it on my blog, and just linked to it from the course webpage – but could I please put the critique itself into the course webpage, because that’s where he tracks and grades our submissions. OK, sure.

I’ve sent emails to two of the law students, to see if they’ll let me tag along to their court appearances. According to Dr. Snip, I’m supposed to be putting in a total of approximately 40 hours in classes, seminars, court attendances, etc. for this law course. I don’t know how many I’ve put in already, but maybe these will put me over the top.

Seems like I must be enrolled in another course here somewhere . . . oh, well, sure, there’s that pesky independent study. What am I gonna do about that?

* * * * *

February 21, 10:19 PM – Catfight

A rare public rupture in the smooth front of MSW student unity. First, message no. 1, sent by a fellow MSW student whom I don’t know, with organization names changed:

Just a quick note!

Please be aware that, if you are pro-choice/pro-abortion, Operation ABC is a group that wants to “end legal abortion by exposing the truth about its devastating impact on women and families.” If you’re interested in this event, just keep that in mind.

And PLEASE don’t be offended that I’ve decided to make you all aware of this. In the interest of full disclosure, I didn’t want someone to show up to the event thinking it would be an event focusing on the varying possibilities of legal abortion and find themselves mistaken.

Have a fantastic Sunday, and stay warm!

Despite that, here’s message no. 2, sent a while later by that same student:

It seems that some people are offended that I sent out an email disclosing the true opinion of Operation ABC. Let’s use this as a lesson that we can’t assume a person’s political stance just by reading an email. I sent out the message, alerting everyone that the “Abortion Beyond Politics” Event was connected to Operation ABC and the anti-abortion movement, so that people would be aware of that political/ideological leaning before they attended. In NO WAY am I associated with Operation ABC or any other anti-choice organizations. I’m offended that I was accused of being against women’s rights simply because I wanted my fellow SSW students to know the real message behind the event.

As social workers and SW students, we should all take the time to think before we speak (or email, in this case), and to consider the possibility that a person only wanted to shed light on a situation as opposed to being in support of it.

So apparently this student, whom I’m calling Michelle, got attacked for making an announcement about a pro-life group. I’m not pro-life, especially when life sucks, as it sometimes does at this school in midwinter. Point is, it seems like someone was on the lookout for an excuse to attack someone else for not saying things exactly the right way.

This reminds me that I saw some of that in Garcia’s class this past week. He made a comment about blind and deaf people. One of the students who has been most sociable looked around and uttered a sound indicating exasperation. Apparently she considered his comment politically incorrect. But nobody picked up on her cue, so she quietly dropped it. And there, perhaps, is the dividing line between a non-event and a scandal: she looked like she was hoping for an opportunity to put him down, and it didn’t materialize. Better luck next time.

Anyway, later this evening, we got a message from the SW student who posted the original announcement about Operation ABC, yesterday or the day before. I hadn’t paid much attention to it. But now I’ve gone back and dug it out, and I can see why Michelle might think that message would mislead some people.

And we have also now received several messages from other people who complain about spam on the email list, so I assume this is all we’ll hear about it. But I do wonder if abortion gets discussed in classes in the SSW. Somewhere, surely.

* * * * *

February 22, 7:07 AM – With Good Will to Share

I went to the SSW yesterday. The lounge was full, as usual – everyone talking and mingling happily with one another. A half-dozen students were in costume, having just come out of a masquerade session in Dr. X’s course on cultural interaction and acceptance. One was dressed as a crow in a kimono, which turned out to be a way of depicting a caw-cawk-asian. The students of the counseling practice class had just returned from the main walkway across campus, where they set up shop on benches, each week, and invite passers-by to sit down and discuss whatever is on their minds; so of course they were all in an upbeat mood, having just had their invariably uplifting interactions with those who did stop to talk. Other students were talking about SW issues, some presenting disfavored views in a spirit of intellectual inquiry and Devil’s advocacy. There were balloons; there was music. Everyone knew me, and they all seemed glad to see me. A couple of them invited me over to their place for dinner. Someone popped a bottle of champagne and began filling and distributing small plastic flutes, to celebrate the last day of classes before spring break.

This didn’t actually happen, of course, except maybe in a dream that I don’t remember. All I know is that I was imagining it shortly after I awoke, just a few minutes ago.

* * * * *

February 22, 7:52 AM – Monday Morning

It’s snowing. We already have maybe six inches, and it’s still coming down, although in tiny flakes. Temperature is supposed to go slightly above 32; not sure if it’ll melt much.

I awoke with a recollection of seeing positive educational opportunities in my day-to-day experience. I do visualize them still, somewhat; but when you’re in the trenches it’s hard to see more than a few yards in front of you. Need the internship hours; need the paper for Mensch on Thursday; got to get going again on the independent study. Looking beyond is risky, when you have to deal with the here and now.

An item from the student newspaper tells me that the university increased its number of lecturers at a rate of 40% over the past five years, while increasing its tenured and tenure-track faculty by only 9%. It says lecturers are often ideal for teaching undergrads. But . . .

Anyway, it’s time to get moving.

* * * * *

February 23, 12:42 PM – Heading Off a Threat

Marty wants to sign me up to join her to put on half-day presentations on disabilities at a couple dozen elementary schools over the next month or so. This would be good experience, though possibly overkill, if I were heading toward a career of working with kids. It doesn’t have too much to do with a plan of working as a PhD researcher, nor with the disability statistics research I’ve finally been making some progress on. There’s a ton to do there, and it could actually matter to the organization, and to me. I don’t think Marty thinks it really could make a difference. So I’m going to have to talk to her this afternoon about my career goals. I think she might just be trying to give me something to do.

I did volunteer to do something for her, back in January. She had an undergraduate guy from a different university here as an intern. I said I could function as an intermediate supervisor, take some of the load off her. She is incredibly busy and it would be good for me to get some supervisory experience in a SW context. She didn’t take me up on it. She is a very responsible person; I think she probably felt it would be unfair to him – that he deserved an experienced SW supervisor. But I think it might have been a good idea nonetheless. He hasn’t been here for a couple of weeks. I just learned he dropped out of school.

* * * * *

February 24, 5:54 AM – An Academic Blind Spot?

I have tons of stuff to report here, and no time. Right now, I’m waiting for the other computer to start up, so I can get to work. So I’ll take just a minute to report interesting results from a Google search, on the topic of “oppression of students.” I’m looking for an example of an area of conflict. Mensch wants us to find one. It’ll be the centerpiece of our major paper for him. So I’m trying to get a handle on tensions between SW faculty and students.

I didn’t get much of anything on that search when I focused it on SW. So I revised it to cover higher education in general. I ran the search in Google Scholar and got 125 hits.

Then I ran it on the Web in general. Results? 618,000 hits. Hmm. Could it be that academics tend to disregard an unflattering public impression of what professor-student relationships are all about?

Surfing the Web can be fascinating. But you know how it is with surfers. Wave’s up – let’s go! Except that, right now, it’s “computer’s up!” Time to get to work.

* * * * *

February 24, 6:32 AM – It Gets Darker at Sunset

Alright, well, I will post something about this. I see a message from Marty in my inbox, sent at 3:02 AM. I am predicting she is going to be voicing some negativity toward me. She doesn’t like to hear “no” for an answer. I’m not going to read the message yet, because I don’t want to get off on a long distraction.

Briefly, here’s what happened. Yesterday at the Agency, Marty said she’s going to assign me to just about every one of the school presentations she can. This, by itself, might consume a quarter to a third of my remaining hours. But I saw how it worked with the Census thing. What was supposed to be a minor thing wound up using most of the past month. It seemed like every time I’d get started back on the disability statistics, opening up various articles and websites for information, there would be more calls and emails from people who wanted to take the test and get a Census job.

My favorite call, by the way, was from a guy who left a message. When I called him back, he started in with this whole spiel about how he called me because he has a bag full of ladies’ shoes his brother got from somewhere. They are all rights. No shoes for left feet. Some kind of demo from a shoe store or something. Eventually I was able to interrupt and say, uh, no, actually, the message you left me was about the Census test.

I already knew that this was what Marty was planning to do with me. I guess it finally just hit me that my entire internship was not only not going to be devoted to interpersonal work, as originally planned; it wasn’t even going to be devoted to policy-related stuff, which was my backup plan. I can blame myself for some of that; especially in the first month or two, I enjoyed hanging out in the reception area. And that has been very instructive. But I’ve been trying, for a while now, to get going on some research that I can maybe put on my résumé as having some connection with my education. And presenting information about disabilities to schoolkids does not.

So yesterday, when Marty said that, I went back to my computer and stared at it. I sat there for more than an hour and hardly got anything done. She had said she would be out of a meeting at 3. But around 1:30, I packed it in and went home. So I got a message from her later in the day, telling me that she had missed me at 3, and I replied and said yeah, I got discouraged, tried to concentrate, couldn’t, went home and went to sleep. So she’s replying to that. At 3 AM.

* * * * *

February 24, 8:47 AM – Test Jitters

Waiting for the computer to finish something, so I can go to the Agency.

We four men of Garcia’s class were hanging out in the SSW lounge last night, in the minutes before class. The other three were talking about the take-home midterm. They seemed to think question 8 was the hard one. I couldn’t remember which one it was, and I was scared to look. By the time they were done talking about it, they had achieved the primary purpose of any post-exam rehash of the exam’s questions, which is to make someone feel that they have probably answered a bunch of questions wrong.

It didn’t help any when, later, in Garcia’s class, there was a question about where we would draw the line of being concerned or not, regarding a kid’s score on an IQ test. I said “two standard deviations.” Now, to tell the truth, I think I answered one standard deviation on the take-home. Why I said two in class, I don’t know. But I guess we’ll see how the grades turn out.

I see more students taking notes in Garcia’s class now. I guess the midterm sobered them up. The girl sitting next to me spends a lot of time texting in her lap, but she seems to be the only one doing that.

Garcia had asked us to please do the take-home test alone. I got a very slight hint that a couple of students teamed up anyway. But what do I know? Could be that half the class did.

I suppose there are ways to find out. Like, I had a class in my first year of MSW studies, at SSW1, where the prof normally let students grade their own quizzes in class, on an honor basis, as she presented and explained the correct answers. But then, one time, she told students to just pass down their quizzes now, as soon as the quiz was over. Sure enough, there was an embarrassingly obvious hubbub – gasps and delays and so forth – as students who had been waiting for her to give them the right answers suddenly had to come up with answers and hustle their papers forward.

* * * * *

February 24, 12:27 PM – Pleasant Surprise

I met with Marty for an hour this morning. She’s a good negotiator. The duty of attending her school presentations was not even open for discussion. She was saying that she wants me to have a good internship experience, and not to feel that I just focused on one thing (i.e., research into disability statistics) while I was here. So I came out feeling like I had possibly achieved something, merely by hopefully communicating to her that, no, I definitely do not want to be pouring more hours into random assorted tasks.

Now the mission for me is to review my schedule and see how many of the days that she has scheduled for school visits are committed to classes and other purposes on my schedule. I don’t want to fib about it, but if there are other things that I need to be doing on some of those days, I definitely have an incentive to make sure they get done too.

But for the time being, Marty is off for the rest of the week, taking care of other stuff, so I have a window in which to pursue some disability stats research, along with papers and other homework. But first, I made some time for a very worthwhile philosophical conversation with Hans, the computer guy.

* * * * *

February 24, 9:20 PM – Law Clinic – Case Conference

We had our first “case conference” session in the law class on Monday. The law students have split into teams of two people each, and each team seems to be handling four or five real-life cases. The cases are in various stages of progress: some are in the early pretrial stages, and others are coming up for trial in the next few weeks. The law students are serving either as lawyers for a parent or as legal guardians of a child. Apparently none of us four SW students (except Mary, who is apparently taking the course for the full seven credits, like a law student) is on a team.

Four teams reported on their experiences so far. Each of the four selected a case and talked about what’s happening in it. Of the four, one was at the stage of introductory conferences among lawyers, with not much mention of the social worker who was responsible for removing a child from his/her home. For the other three, each team has had some involvement with the social worker. One of these three said that their social worker is a peach. He has been flexible and understanding and really acts like he wants the young, single mother to get her act together, so that she can have her child returned to her.

The other two teams said that the social workers involved in their cases were awful people. The psychology prof sat in again. She said that you can have a social worker who has been on the job for just three months, and already holds this tremendous power over the future of the family from which this child has been removed. Someone said that these social workers generally don’t have MSW degrees and may have no experience in dealing with lawyers. One team said their social worker was actually yelling at their client and calling her a liar.

The psychology prof said that the law – in this state, at least – requires mandatory reporters (including social workers and psychologists) to report child abuse whenever they have a reasonable suspicion of it. She said courts are interpreting the law so broadly that mandatory reporters might even have to report spanking. And because courts can and do order mental health workers to describe what their clients have told them, you can’t guarantee confidentiality for something that a counseling client tells you.

Although we SW students (aside from Mary) are not on any teams, Indiah has apparently been consulted by at least one team of law students for her sense of what is happening with the social worker in their case. Indiah seems to have made a sort of transition in recent weeks. Today, for example, during a discussion of what a lawyer can do when confronted by an uncooperative or unprofessional social worker, she remarked that, if a collegial approach does not work, it is always possible to complain to their supervisor. This seems obvious now, but it did not emerge in the discussion otherwise, and it certainly sounds different from before, when Indiah tended to defend the child welfare people. Maybe her interactions with the law students have made them seem less like the bad guys; maybe she has now encountered instances of grossly irregular behavior by social workers. It would be interesting to talk to her about it, but she and Miranda are still not making eye contact with me. So like the country song says,

Is it still over?
Are we still through?
Since my phone still ain’t ringing
I assume it still ain’t you

* * * * *

February 24, 10:44 PM – Sandra’s Pissed

I dropped off the final, signed evaluation form at the SSW last night, before Garcia’s class. Slid it under Sandra’s door, as she suggested. Actually, I had turned in most of it on Monday, when I caught her in her office and was immediately greeted by her announcement that she was just in the process of sending me and Marty a scathing email. She did go ahead and send it. It told us that my hours would cease to count toward my internship requirement if I didn’t get the evaluation to her by the end of the month.

No follow-up email from Sandra today, so I assume what I slid under her door finished the job. What was lacking was, first, that I didn’t realize I was supposed to turn in an evaluation of myself on the last five items on the learning agreement – the ones that ask about my critical thinking ability and so forth. So I indicated that I had done an outstanding job on those, and put that into an envelope for her.

I had also forgotten that Sandra didn’t keep a signed original of the learning agreement we arrived at in December. For some reason, she wanted me to keep it. So I had to slide that under her door too, in the envelope last night.

I talked to Marty about it today. She says it’s a first; she has never before had an intern who drove Sandra to this point. I considered it a minor success: I had managed to put off a piece of absurd paperwork for as long as possible, thereby whittling it down to the absolute bare essentials. A good social worker must be a skilled time manager.

* * * * *

February 24, 11:03 PM – Sandra – It’s Me Again

Now that the fall semester has been completely evaluated, we turn to the requirement of writing a learning agreement for the spring semester.

The situation, as far as I can tell from my interactions with Marty (who tells me what it was like when she was a kid going through the MSW), is that the learning agreement and evaluation form are designed for young people, just out of college, who sometimes probably need or enjoy the kind of handholding that the form requires. So some of them really get into it, write paragraphs of all kinds of information, whereas Sandra just wants me to write that one sentence for each of the questions on the learning agreement form, as I think I described back in November or December.

Unfortunately, I have not learned much since December. I am still not very good at writing a sentence. It’s not so easy. I wouldn’t recommend it for just anyone. Yesterday, at the Agency, I sat for two hours and managed to write sentences for the first four of the 15 items on the learning agreement form for the spring semester. I mean, I would look at an item, try something, get distracted, etc.

I got stuck for quite a long time on the first question, the one about professional identity. This happened to me in the first grade too. On my very first day in school (we didn’t have kindergarten or preschool), the teacher told us to draw an elephant. I didn’t know how, so I didn’t do it. So he gave me an F. I learned from this experience: you always know how. It may just take a while.

And that’s what happened here. Last semester, Sandra gave me a clue of what would count as an acceptable answer, and I just wrote what she said, about attending meetings. But that was then, and this is now. Now I’m on my own, unless I want to go begging to her for another hint.

I mean, I look at the guidance, and I just freeze up. A student intern who is demonstrating professional identity, it says, “consistently establishes professional boundaries.” So why don’t I just say I’ll do that? Because it’s not specific and it’s not measurable. So how about if I say I will consistently establish professional boundaries with everyone in the organization, except where I make a mistake, as people sometimes do? Nope, can’t make exceptions. OK, then how about with everyone, no mistakes? Still not measurable. OK, with everyone, as verified by Marty? That makes it sound like her job, not mine.

Once again, you see the nature of the problem.

Anyway, Marty wants me to send Sandra at least a draft, within the next couple of days, so that she won’t come totally unglued. So I’ll have to get to that. This brings us to the next level of the problem, which is that at some point this form, despite itself, may force me to reveal some actual content. Let’s suppose that the form asked (which it does not): what, really, is this semester of field work going to be about? The obligation to send Sandra at least a draft gives me a bit of leverage: I can tell Sandra that this semester will be about disability statistic research, and then let Marty chisel me away from that to accompany her on some of her elementary school visits.

Truth be told, I would love to go fool around with kids in elementary schools. My dad built a big slide in our backyard, so all the kids around could come over and play on it. He took carloads of kids skating and sledding in the winter, and rollerskating at other times. I’ve admired him for that; I’ve often wished I had those kinds of opportunities to go play with the children. But things are different now. These are times when, as I say, a man can be arrested just for videotaping kids in the park.

Had a scare along those lines just the other day. I was at the Agency, and needed to take a nap. I got into my car and drove to an empty parking lot next to a brick building, partway around the loop, there in the industrial park. Fell asleep. Was awakened by kids playing. Turns out that brick building is a school. Kind of obvious, now that I look at it, but just didn’t notice it before. Had to get the hell out of there, before some busybody reported me for napping in a public place.

I realize this could sound paranoid to the inexperienced. Sad but true: it seems that nobody just thinks kids are fun anymore; you’re nearly a pervert until proven otherwise. And social workers contribute to that mentality. The penalties are too high. I simply can’t get into the spirit of fun among kids (assuming the kids, at least, are still fun), forgetting the usual adult inhibitions, and open the door for some Nazi parent or teacher to haul me in on some goofy accusation. Forget that. Statistics research is safer, and I’m sorry that’s so.

Now that I write this, it occurs to me that maybe Marty has not considered these things. I guess if SW training is mostly given by and to women, it could become easy to arrive at a slanted picture about men and kids. So maybe I should tell her some stories. I did tell her, the other day, that I was kind of discouraged. She didn’t ask about it. I don’t think she wants to get into anything resembling a therapist relationship. But she always is available and ready to listen if there is something I need to talk about; I just try to keep it to Agency business.

* * * * *

February 26, 8:30 PM – Mensch Notes

Mensch has been trying, all semester, to get students in the conflict management class to use the Discussion feature of the class website. Sonya and Bethany have contributed a few posts, but I am the only one who has engaged him and them in any efforts at discussion. I tried to get him to set up the Chat option, but he didn’t seem to want to do that. It didn’t make sense – he wants discussion, he’s not getting any discussion, chat-like services often do generate discussion, so why isn’t he interested? Maybe he has heard gossip from Melinda about the online chats we had in her Asia course last fall. Must maintain control.

I see that he has just handed back, via the course website, the paper that we had to turn in this week. It was a one-page summary of what we’re going to do our final paper on. Actually, he just wanted one or two paragraphs, but I made it almost a page (five paragraphs) because I wrote it as an introduction to the actual paper. So he has handed it back with questions. Lots of questions.

Probably the moral of the story is that a shorter submission gives him less to disagree with. It’s sort of like litigation: the more you say, the more they’ll use against you. I like to think that I’m ahead of the game by having developed my plan in much more detail than he requested. I would just like to have seen some acknowledgment of that.

Maybe he thinks he needs to make sure it’s not too easy for me. I’m thinking I might be best advised not to reply to his questions, which may generate more debate without any actual progress on the paper. Maybe I’ll just go ahead and write the paper, and answer them that way. I do appreciate that I’ve been given a critical reading, so as to make the final paper stronger.

* * * * *

February 28, 10:09 AM – Sunday Morning, Start of Spring Break Week

It has been gray and cold here for a hundred years.

Went to a vampire movie last night (new moon), and that was a good break.

I have great hopes for how much I will get done this week.

Marty has signed me up for a total of six school visits. That is less than she might have demanded. I would have preferred just two or three, to get the basic idea and leave it at that, but I know she had a limited pool of volunteers and conscripts to work with.

I’ve been working on the semester-end paper for Mensch’s conflict management course for the past few days. I don’t plan to fine-tune it right now; I just want to get it to the place where I can finish it overnight, if I find myself coming down to the wire.

* * * * *

March 2, 8:04 PM – Tuesday of Spring Break Week

I’m sitting here, reading a book that Mensch has assigned for next Thursday’s class. I’m reading it because I’m waiting for the computer to get itself sorted out. Actually, I’m not really reading it. I’m skimming, flipping through, trying to match the rate of “reading” to the amount of time I plan to spend on this thing, which in turn is keyed to the amount of time I think Mensch will spend on it. I’ve got to “get through it,” as we say in graduate school. In this case, I’m lucky: it’s an easy read, with lots of explanatory headings that summarize sections of text.

I was thinking today, as I was out on my run, that it’s not quite right to complain about how cold and grey this place is. Not when you don’t have sense enough to wear more than a T-shirt in it, for one thing, and not when it’s absolutely delightful to go running while the snow is coming down, or while the rare winter sun is soaking into your black shirt, on a quiet country road in an ocean of white. Experiencing winter from inside cars and buses and cities is another matter altogether. I’d pray for winter to last another week, if we’d all spend that week sledding, tobogganing, skating, and otherwise coming up with excuses to drink hot chocolate and laugh.

Computer technical difficulties, and going to a movie on Friday, did not help my plight. As of today, I’m up to the point of needing to average 4.6 hours per day at the internship, seven days a week, between now and April 23, when field placement ends, if I hope to graduate in May.

* * * * *

March 4, 9:06 PM – SSW2, Not to Be Forgotten

I have spent much of the past two days, and will probably spend much of tomorrow, writing up a thing about SSW2. It’s got to do with my complaint to the Department of Education. It’s something I’ve got to do, and I’m under a deadline.

I’ll try to say a bit, later, about my visit, this morning, to the unemployment support group that they run at Disability Agency on Thursday mornings, when I’m normally in Mensch’s class.

As I was leaving the group meeting, there was Marty, in her coat, just coming from or going to somewhere. I dodged her; her back was to me. I don’t want her to drag me away from getting through this other stuff I’ve got to do. Not that she would be likely to do that; she’s been giving me pretty free rein, for which I am grateful.

* * * * *

March 5, 7:49 PM – Thinking Like a Social Worker

Wow, temperatures are climbing quickly. It’s supposed to reach a high of 48 on Monday. Officially, spring is just a few weeks away. Still lots of snow on the ground, but patches of old brown dirt are showing through.

I got an email from Sandra on Wednesday and am only now making time for it. The spreadsheet now tells me I need 33 hours per week (4.7 per day) from now to April 23. So I didn’t open the email until I was ready to sit down and do internship work for a while. The email says Sandra wants me to revise two of the 14 items on my draft educational agreement. Not bad.

She’s also stuck on the idea that I think like a lawyer, and she wants me to think more like a social worker. I’ve run into this with some social workers before, social workers whose experience is on the micro level. I think it means that I’m analytical. Sandra’s experience is in working with people, I think, rather than with research.

It’s interesting to compare Google searches for scholarly publications on “thinking like a social worker” (23 hits) as compared to “thinking like a lawyer” (3,740 hits). A look at some of those SW sources tells me that the concept is not very well developed. I suspect what Sandra means is a matter of her personal idea of what a social worker is, as distinct from an established standard across the profession. So I’ve emailed to ask her for a hint of what she is suggesting.

* * * * *

March 7, 8:24 AM – Last Day of Spring Break

This morning, as I lay in bed, waking up, I heard the sound of a mourning dove coming through my window. Spring is near! Temps are supposed to reach 50+ this week. We’ve had pretty much solid sunshine every day since March 1. It’s like somebody flipped a switch.

Took a seven-mile run yesterday. There’s still a half-foot of snow in most places, but it’s long gone from the paved surfaces. Took a spin through the park, over by the dam, on its dirt trail and boardwalk. Lots of mud. Backs of my legs were spattered. Walkers out in force. At least a half-dozen other runners, all wearing tights, pants, coats, gloves, hats, even parkas. They looked hot. But I know: it’s not easy to stop fearing winter, once it has chilled you.

Wrote a five-page double-spaced reflection paper for the law course on Friday night. It was supposed to be three or four, but I got into it. The assignment was written for the law students, asking them to reflect on their dealings with their clients. In this course, we SW students don’t have SW clients. So instead, I decided to offer the other side, an impression of lawyers from the client’s viewpoint. Not sure the prof will like this. But I think it’ll be OK. He seems pretty realistic.

I was thinking about what a sweetheart Elaine is, at the Agency. The other day, we were talking. She rolled her chair up and touched it against mine. You wouldn’t think that just touching chairs would convey any particular feeling, but it really did. It was a surprisingly warm little gesture. Somehow, it was like she was saying, OK, I am really here with you now. I guess it’s because a person in a wheelchair tends to be more locked into looking where their chair is pointed, so when that chair is touching yours, you know you have their full attention.

Thursday, since I was on Spring Break and didn’t have Mensch’s class, I was able to go to that group support session they offer for unemployed people at the Agency. There were a few thirtyish people, and five out of about 20 were female, but I’d say the typical person there would be a male in his mid-40s, maybe older. The group is led by Netty and Laurie from the Agency. Both are really upbeat, positive people. I think these worried guys are there because of these two and their supportive attitudes.

It was a bit weird, though, attending that group. It wasn’t like a group session at a university counseling center. My first choice for an internship had been in the campus mental health center, but now I was thinking that, in a place like that, you get these smart students who have issues that you can relate to. In this Thursday morning group at Disability Agency, there’s a much greater variety of characters to deal with. I hope my classmates who got that convenient appointment right there on campus are not too unpleasantly shocked when they go out into practice and encounter a very different situation. What are you gonna do, as a clinician, when you’re facing someone who does not seem to be able or willing to think at all like you? Can you be patient with someone who keeps repeating themselves, or mumbles along about nothing, or seems to be hung up on some problem that seems obvious or trivial to you?

I put in 9.2 hours on the internship yesterday. I’m researching disability concepts. It feels good to devote time to internship-related stuff. It’s rewarding to have my hours actually get marked down on the spreadsheet, where they count toward something. I guess it’s less stressful than having to write a paper, where nobody cares how long you work on it, they just want the finished product. So now I just need 221.8 hours in the next 48 days.

* * * * *

March 8, 10:08 AM – Sandra Softens Up a Bit

I got a reply from Sandra on her thing of thinking like a social worker instead of a lawyer. She wrote back:

When you went to school to become a lawyer, you were introduced to theories and methods of looking at problems and possible solutions.

I’m guessing that in SW, we look at different theories and different methods of problem solving.

I’ve not seen anything specific from you to draw on, but I know that part of what you need to do, while here, is to start thinking in terms of SW. . .not law.

Clear as mud, right?

Nice tone. She’s not acting like she has all the answers. It seems she’s just working on the general assumption that I would come here as a former attorney and would need to learn a different way of thinking. Here’s my reply:

Sandra, I appreciate that. Let me see if this addresses some of it.

When I left law, I said to myself that I’d rather starve than go back to that world. I found parts of it engaging, but really hated some of the attitudes and the ways of treating and interacting with people. Anyway, that ended in the 1980s. (You know I published a book about this, right?)

There are skills of critical reasoning and of advancing viewpoints, but they don’t seem markedly different in good published work in law or SW. Interpersonally, SW students are far more conflict-avoidant than law students, sometimes to the detriment of clients and causes, but there are exceptions. On the other hand, from what I’ve seen in practice, advocates (Marty, among others) would be pretty comfortable in some kinds of legal settings.

I think what I’m doing, in my SW education, is looking for the best parts and constructing a sense of best practices. Working with Marty has not been perfect, but it has been very helpful along those lines – although, ironically, not so much the parts that remind me of law. She just seems to be a very good social worker.

I could write more, but maybe this is a good start.

* * * * *

March 8, 10:23 AM – March 1 Changes Everything

I think Groundhog Day didn’t have the usual effect this year because I am too far north. I think the effect may be arriving now.

Netty, at Disability Agency, has invited me to come back to their Thursday morning meeting for job hunters, sometime, and give a little talk.

Ernst, their resident expert on grantwriting, wants to have a beer with me. Ernst has been here a long time. We’ve set a date for this coming Friday.

Also, at the Agency, Angie suddenly wants me to help her research something. I’m not gonna do it. I just wanna focus on the disability statistics. Better news: in response to a question I sent her, she wants to talk to me about individual attention to participants in the unemployment group that I observed last Thursday. She says something about how the agency may be adding another staff person to deal with that. She also thanks me for my smart thoughts. Do you suppose she wants to offer me a job? That would be OK, as long as I can spend the winter in Florida. Or Hawaii. Hawaii would be OK too.

I think Angie is just dangling that job possibility to get me to help her out. Robin is a bigwig here, and she does not seem to appreciate my presence. It has occurred to me that, when Marty said something about me sticking around after the internship ends, she was probably just saying that I might want to volunteer and have her as my supervisor, for purposes of racking up hours toward SW licensure.

* * * * *

March 8, 6:04 PM – Indiah Hits a Double

I ran to school today. It was the only meeting of the law clinical course this week. I wasn’t thinking; I wore my stinky old salt-and-mud-stained T-shirt. I was preoccupied with deciding which items I needed to carry six miles, there and back, in my backpack. A backpack can chafe you after a while. I decided on a pen and a piece of paper, along with a lightweight change of clothes. The clothes were the only thing I really needed a backpack for, and that was ridiculous because I didn’t get there in time to change into them, because I had spent too long choosing and packing them.

It was an interesting session. Topic: mentally ill clients. You’ve got these parents who want to get their kids back, but they are their own worst enemy, doing all sorts of things that make them seem unfit to be parents. And then some who are fine parents, in fact, but whose mental illness marks them as suspicious, in the minds of the judge and/or caseworker – even if they have always been fine parents, have been consistently taking their medication, and are staying right on track, doing everything the social worker and the judge tell them to do.

Most if not all of the law student teams reported, once again, that the state-employed social workers and/or caseworkers in their cases were awful people. While this was going on, Miranda was looking at Indiah a lot. She does anyway. It’s like Indiah is her older sister. They were passing notes and talking between themselves. Finally Indiah piped up and said it seemed like a shame that these law students were all getting the impression from this class that social workers and caseworkers were all bad, bad, bad. This remark caused me to smirk. It just seemed so schoolmarmish, so lecturing.

But, you know, the prof was with her on this. He said to the law students, Look, you’ve got to work with these people. He said he has wound up in some great collaborations with social workers and caseworkers just by striking up a conversation with them on the side, as opportunity permits. And then Indiah pointed out that caseworkers don’t necessarily have a SW degree, most of them don’t, and scads of them were grandfathered in when the law changed. Kind of contradicts herself: so maybe these people were not properly trained, so maybe it is not surprising if they are bad, bad, bad. Indiah seems to be saying that people like her, with the proper degrees, are good caseworkers. The prof goes with this. He says lots of kids have gotten really horrible outcomes from inept caseworkers. One strategy seems to be to call the county community mental health office, see if they’ll get involved, because they often see things very differently from how the child protective people see them.

The psychology prof was there. She says parents diagnosed with borderline personality disorder (BPD) are really tough to work with, in this kind of situation. Apparently they have run across a lot of borderline cases in previous semesters, in this clinical class. She recommended a book, Stop Walking on Eggshells: Taking Your Life Back When Someone You Care About Has Borderline Personality Disorder. She says it’s designed for readers who aren’t mental health professionals. She also says that a difference between law and mental health work, in these child protective cases, is that lawyers have the law to go by, and that tends to keep them focused on obtaining an appropriate outcome, whereas therapists can just go “off the beam” – I thought that was a funny phrase – can just take off on some tangent, some cockamamie theory, and there may be nothing to reel them back in. This came up in a discussion of situations where therapists are doing a court-ordered observation of interactions between a parent with mental illness and a child, where God only knows how that kid is going to behave during that half-hour, or what the therapist is going to conclude.

After class, I checked with one of the law students, a guy named Hamilton, about tomorrow. He’s got to appear in court for a conference about one of his clients. He says I can go with him. This will be my belated first actual court-related encounter. For reasons of confidentiality, I’m not viewing the case file; I’m just going to go observe.

I was afraid people could smell my nasty T-shirt, so after talking briefly with Hamilton, I didn’t go over to talk to Francine about attending their court event later this month. Instead, I just slunk out of there and ran home.

* * * * *

March 11, 5:03 PM – Disability Training for Kids

I participated in my first Disability Awareness Workshop at an elementary school yesterday. We had a bunch of stations set up in the school gym and auditorium. I was in the auditorium. Marty was running the vision awareness station, putting blindfolds on these fourth-graders and handing them a red-tipped white cane, like blind people use, and letting them try to figure out where they were going.

Mine was the dysgraphia station. Someone had set up a mirror standing on edge on a table. The kids sat down at this table and were given a sheet of paper and a pencil. The paper had a connect-the-dots drawing of a dog. Their job was just to connect the dots. They were not allowed to look directly at the dots; they had to watch their hands in the mirror. The table and mirror were long enough to accommodate four little kids really scrunched in together. They all wanted to try it.

You could tell right away which ones were glancing down at the paper; their lines connecting dots went nice and straight. But the kids who only worked with what they could see in the mirror were drawing squiggly lines all over the place, trying to get the pencil to go from one dot to the next. I was no expert in dysgraphia; I just spoke up once in a while, with some remark about what it’s like if your hand doesn’t do what your mind is trying to tell it to do, or if some kid gets laughed at because they are struggling with something like this.

Next to me was another table. On this one, Marty had laid out several of those optical illusion drawings, like where you look at the picture and you may see a duck or you may see a rabbit. The kids all saw through that one right away. Another one, with busts of what they called a witch and a lady, was harder. Those who hadn’t seen it before could see the witch, but had an “aha!” moment when I covered part of the drawing so they could see the lady. The concept here was that when not everyone sees the same thing, it can be hard for them to understand what each other is seeing. Another activity at that table had them hold an index card to their foreheads and write their name on it. Everyone tried that too.

The room boss, a volunteer, was seeing to it that the kids rotated through at a good clip. Most got to try most of the activities, at my station and elsewhere. At first, I was a bit overwhelmed with the kids at the dysgraphia station, so another volunteeer, a play therapist, slid on over from her table, where she was demonstrating dyscalculia, and for a while she was also handling the optical illusion stuff. She was this friendly, outgoing person, threw her arm around me while we were talking, side by side, and I thought to myself, OK, your degree in play therapy is definitely not from a SW program. She said the kids really seemed to like me, and maybe I should consider becoming a teacher.

The dysgraphia, connect-the-dots activity highlighted some differences among kids in terms of learning priorities and/or abilities. I could see that some got the idea right away, and wound up with a page full of squiggly lines, while others seemed so preoccupied with doing the job “right” – drawing straight lines – that they missed the point. Others wanted to participate, but weren’t able to stay with it. Of these, one got terminally frustrated, to the point that he started drawing lines all over the paper and then forgot about that and started just making faces at himself in the mirror. Another lost interest in drawing the lines, picked up one of the children’s books that Marty or someone had laid out, and sat by himself, quietly reading. I wound up talking with his mom, who had come in as a volunteer. She and I compared notes on hyperfocusing. I told him it can be a gift.

Then Marty and another guy did presentations about disabilities. The guy had lost both legs and all of his fingers due to a medical problem. He had been a pianist before. He eventually decided to learn to play the piano again. He was able to make his thumbs and the stubs of his fingers do the job. He also took off one of his artificial legs. The kids were pretty much fascinated with all this.

* * * * *

March 11, 11:03 PM – Mensch’s Class: The Few, The Proud

We started class this morning with just four students. Someone had rearranged the tables so that we were in a much more intimate little circle. Mensch said that four students had notified him that they would not be there. Among them, Darchelle was out, and Sonya was out again.

I started by sitting back at one of the other tables. The reason was that my laptop was still not functioning right, despite shipping it to HP service in Texas. In fact, I’m trying to fix that right now, writing this while waiting on one of the software reinstallation processes. I emailed Marty that my laptop was like a part of me, and therefore I was very, very sick, and could not come into the agency today. Hopefully she realizes that I’m pretty much useless if I have to rely on one of the available computers there. I’ve been afraid to look at my email to verify that I haven’t received a message of complaint or irritation from her.

So as I was saying, I hauled in the laptop and other paraphernalia and set it up there at a back table in Mensch’s classroom. I kind of hoped that the installation processes could be done then, instead of now, and I loaded CDs and such into it for that purpose. Unfortunately, the laptop did not cooperate.

Last time, I missed the second half of class in order to go see the doctor. He says I’m not dying, so that’s good. While I was gone, the other students in Mensch’s class reviewed the videotapes of our conflict role-plays. It seems Bethany was not proud of her performance during the role-play with me. Or maybe today’s more intimate setting made a difference. Maybe these people don’t look at me because they have vision problems – maybe they can’t really see me across the classroom. For whatever reason, Bethany urged Mensch not to replay the video of her interaction with me. She also presented a summary of an article about conflict management; and while she was doing that, at times she was looking directly at me. Maybe the sunshine has healed her soul. Who knows?

I also noticed that, this time, another student who had been especially unlikely to look at me was now doing so as well. Was she taking her cues from Bethany, consciously or otherwise? This other woman, not your most cheerful sort of individual, was still not quite ready to hug me, but at least a disinterested observer through her eyes would have been less likely to doubt my existence.

Mensch did show the video of the other role-play in which I had participated, pretending to be a union leader. Apparently they didn’t get to that one last week. He thought I did a good job. Bethany didn’t gri