Monday, January 20, 2014

Looking up

I drove Grampa Munster home from our weekly coffee meeting with the other volunteers in his group. I don't usually do the driving for this particular gig because I already do more for him than the others in the group do, which is fine. I have the time. But I wanted to speak to him alone about the coming expiry of his probation and the steps which must very soon follow in terms of the supervisory order which Scooterville Police Department will surely apply for, and the subsequent court proceedings. I wished to advise him to keep me informed immediately of any progress on these matters and to expect me to accompany him in court. Grampa struggles with communication and gets nervous and flustered easily and is handicapped from effectively representing himself; something that has long attracted predatory tactics from both his psychiatric team and probation officer, according to reliable testimony.

Also I wished to run some errands in the neighborhoud of Down-n-Out Manor where Grampa is a tenant, and I knew he'd want to tag along rather than hasten his return to the third floor room where he imprisons himself but for a few outings per week: the coffee meeting, psych and probation appointments and his weekly day with me and the London Street Dobies.

As luck would have it though, Detective Biff and his partner were in the neighborhood to deliver Grampa Munster's paperwork and Grampa arranged for the detectives and I to meet, which he was delighted about. He'd been hopeful he could rely on me as an advocate in dealing with this new relationship with Scooterville Police.

This was an event of significant impact and it went extremely well. The proposed conditions of the court order - which could last for years; potentially the rest of G.M.'s life - contained only the standard restrictions: basically, no significant life changes (residence, career, relationships) without police consent and no contact with minors without approved supervision, or any presence in places where minors are likely to frequent - which is all great. I have been urguing Munster to look at the inevitable order, not as a hurdle but as a tool in helping him stay on the good side. A tool that is useful and appropriate given his presumed acknowledgement that help is required to be sure he'll succeed (otherwise he would not have come to our volunteer organization for help in the first place).

The usual prohibition from associating with prior offenders of the same ilk was, however, not included in the proposed conditions. Amazingly, Detectiive Biff strayed from the counsellor's and probation officer's advice and anounced his support and praise for the Mennonite Church's volunteer community and agreed that Grampa Munster needs our full support and should be free to attend our frequent community events. Furthermore he readily agreed to amend library restrictions if accompanied by myself or another trained volunteer and granted that certain park-type areas could be accessed for exercise walks under the right conditions - again supervised. He offered further concessions around movie theatres and supervised trips out of Scooterville city limits. I have a friend outside the city with horses on his property which Gramps would love to visit. He adores horses and dogs.

I explained to Detective Biff that my efforts to give Munster a little extra freedom came from my belief that the best route to community safety was not to encourage him to sit alone in his room day after day, letting his mind wander through potentially dangerous thoughts, but to get him out, filling up his time with useful positive activities; creating healthy habits and healthy rewards to reduce the need for selfish habits and rewards.

Detective Biff said he couldn't agree more! He gave me his card, told me to keep in touch, praised us for our work and acknowledged that we are all on the same team.

"I want [Grampa Munster] to succeed," he said. "If he succeeds, I succeed."

"Likewise," said I.


What an exellent departure in philosophy from these years of mistrust between the volunteers and the particular authorities who have worked with G.M. up until now.

Munster has a long history of incarceration; repeat offenses in the past and then a series of probation breaches, and now five years clean. We're all happy and eager now, while Grampa Munster remains nervous. He has not had this degree of "freedom" in about forty years, and he's unsure if anything is really going to change. I think that the slight loosening in restrictions is not the central issue. It is that we must use this event as a trigger and change our attitude and outlook. It's time to get out of the tower cell and participate in life again and make friends.

In the discussion with Detective Biff in this regard, I said to him, "I can't be Grampa Munster's only friend. There are other things I need to do with my life." I glanced at Munster when I said this. We've not used the word friend before, in terms of our association, though I know he wishes to think of me that way.

I suppose I must be generous for a the next while and give him more of my time and be sure that things start to change; that he sees changes happening and is inspired. This is a critical occasion; a turning point, and we must ensure it is a turn for the better.

Monday, January 06, 2014

The ultimate horror

Lately I've been re-watching all my favourite holocaust films - somehow favourite feels like the wrong word; perhaps, in this case, most disturbing is better. These films tend to all blend together in my mind and it's a good time to try to sort them out as I endeavor to put together a review of essential films (of all genres) based on my own priorities and idiosyncrasies. Given my devotion to the art of storytelling and that I've watched at least two thousand movies in my days, I'll dare consider myself a bit qualified in this regard. Perhaps the April 2014 A-Z Blogging challenge will be the venue for the review. Or perhaps not until April 2015. There's a fair amount of research to do.

So I just watched Sophie's Choice which I hadn't seen in many years and I was really struck by Meryl Streep's performance. Incredible acting. Amazing, I thought.

In grade eight my best friend at the time was penning swastikas everywhere, for no particular reason as far as I was aware. I didn't know anything about the symbol. I'd certainly heard of Nazism but didn't connect it to the icon. So I drew one on my arm in pen; a goofy temp tattoo of sorts. Our teacher observed this, and addressed the class with a factual impromptu lesson on the swastika symbol and how it was a hurtful thing for some people and I immediately dispensed with my decoration. Shortly thereafter we read The Diary of Anne Frank and then devoted a long series of lessons to holocaust material. Whether this was all a response, or coincidentally the planned curriculum I don't know. I always assumed the latter.

The subject has haunted me in various forms ever since.

I have been able to wrap my head around the whole phenomena much better over the last few years but still - the sheer volume of cruelty and suffering can be - just too much to contemplate. Especially seeing images of children in concentration camps, waiting to die. It's devastating to me. Something disconnects, like an emergency shut-off switch, and I can't properly think about it.

So even though I fully understand that humans are natural born killers and it makes perfect sense to me and that the basic manifestations which made up the Jewish holocaust are still happening all over the world, though not at such an alarming concentration as far as we observe, there remains this overwhelming quality.

The DVD-extra documentary, however, offers these words from director Alan J. Pakula, and I was deeply touched by them. I was comforted in a way:

"One of the struggles of art, in dealing with the holocaust is that the reality exceeds the capacity of the imagination. Had it not really happened, no novelist, writer, thinker could have ever touched this experience without somehow exceeding any bounds of the capacity for art."

What a cruel trick; the name of this film. One will initially assume the choice is that between the two men; two lovers. But if you subscribe to the idea that there is not one holocaust story, but six million holocaust stories, then is there possibly one more horrific than this?

Pakula goes on to say: "I always believed the holocaust was an expression in the extreme of what is common to the mainstream of western society, which therefore makes it important, if not essential, for us to grapple with."

I totally get that. It's why I keep grappling.

Sunday, January 05, 2014

Happy. New year.

I spent the holiday season at Multispirit House, home of the Thoughtful Educator and his family, enjoying the company of two excellent cocker spaniels while the human contingent had gone off to Florida.

My stays there are very enjoyable. I love the affectionate, well-behaved dogs, and in the absence of house-mates, I can sleep well during the day before pulling occasional night gigs at the jail. The house is always clean, organized, well-stocked with anything I might need, and it's decorated in a very multi-spiritual way, with Hindu, Buddhist, Christian and Jewish iconography, so it's all very attractive and soothing to me and a perfect environment in which to achieve superior work - and the lack of a human audience allows me to noodle at the guitar without inhibition.

However there are rare treats too. Big TV's for superior movie-watching, and for video-gaming, and now a hot tub. It's getting to be a bit of a resort by my standards. And indeed I might be accused of making this last stay pretty much 100% vacation and zero work.

But pondering the theory of a restorative nature of vacations, I might honestly say that I feel well-equipped now, to get back to work in a big way.

It seems many things are lining up and pointing toward a successful 2014. I will stay in touch. That's a promise.