Hello and welcome, DB--

I attended the SOAR trainings at Cascadia Behavioral HC here in Portland, OR. The SOAR (SSI/SSDI Outreach, Access and Recovery) training is designed for social workers and other advocates, and it's running around the country right now, what with the revitalized Interagency Council on Homelessness and the renewed interest in various states to substantially reduce their chronically homeless populations.

A number of recent and compellng articles (The New Yorker, "Million Dollar Murray," February 2006) in the national media have made the case that actually housing someone in an apartment and setting some kind of social worker supervision over them is cheaper than the ER visits and the treatments for the addictions and other health issues that attend upon chronic homelessness. That is, hooking someone up with the SSI/SSDI benefits they're entitled to, addiction counselors and treatments, getting them an apartment and foodstamps, all still add up to less than the millions of dollars needed for untold years of hospital visits, police involvement and repeated incarcerations. Additionally, as I'm sure you know, there've been a number of pretty substantial changes to the SSI/SSDI application appeals process, and the impact of electronic application technology has been considerable in the last several years--all of these factors lead to the current popularity and need for this SOAR training I attended.

The training was put together by a very successful and inspiring social worker in Baltimore, who, prior to riding circuit around the country with this training seminar, used to achieve really incredible results with the applications she was assigned--something in the neighborhood of 80% of her SSI/SSDI applications were approved on the first attempt. The comparable statistic here in SSA Region X is approximately 35% (this excludes 'ordinary' retirement-age applications).

It's a very valuable and insightful training, highly applicable to my job. It's also an excruciating and absolutely depressing training. more because of the subject matter than anything the individual trainers could have done (although, in all honesty, they really could have been a bit better organized and they could have presented these matters in a more constructive format. If I have to hear the phrase "clinical Colombo" one more time, I swear I'm going to break something important and expensive. And then I'm just going to let it sit there for fifty years while I run out of money to fix it properly).

I'm intensely frustrated at this system. It criminalizes and alienates those who most need the help it offers. Apparently there are limestone caves in the east where they keep mountains and mountains of SSA files and a fleet of overworked forklifts, and one reason why it takes so long to get things done is because every time someone requests a file, you literally mount an archeological expedition to find it. It makes Kafka look like a sitcom.

Anyway. That's the training I went to in the last couple of days.

Thanks for your interest, DB--


paulmonster-resident services coordinator


ps--don't worry, David. I've been looking forward to tonight's curtain speech all week.



I've just spent two days and three thermoses of coffee struggling to survive an extended seminar on how to help someone apply for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI). We go home with binders of materials, binders the size of Montana. I should be capable of extended, coherent speech within a week or so.

paulmonster-form #1698


I had the table laid out with three batches of cookies and a massive pot of coffee brewing on the counter behind me. Reruns of 'Mad About You' were on TV, and outside it was a gorgeous summer day, so we thought we really needed to lay out a good spread to get my residents into the lobby to meet me. L., however, was already in the lobby.

L. is a small, furtive woman, with dark browns and deep circles of wrinkles around her eyes and her mouth. There is obvious evidence of behavioral disorders and disabilities. You can read the story of her life in the shuffling walk, the thin, cold shoulders and the narrow, cracked line of her teeth. She lives in a tiny studio apartment in a hundred-year-old SRO building in downtown Portland.

My supervisor A. warned me that L. is hard to turn around; she doesn't trust people, or change. She's had a rough time of things and she's seen a lot of people turn their backs on her. She can be spiteful and vindictive, pacing the lobby like a malevolent, radioactive squirrel.

All of this notwithstanding, L. is one of A.'s favorite residents. She can be very sweet and open, in her own way. She has two cats that she cares very deeply for. As with my Mom, the smallest gestures cause enormous delight for her. A. makes a point of giving me as many details about L. as possible, anticipating that I will need to be on the ball with what she needs.

People start moving into the lobby and immediately everyone globs onto A., since she's the face everyone knows and loves. Also, A. is tall and curvy, whereas I'm male. But you must never underestimate the power of cookies and coffee; the cookies and the coffee are like twin gravitational wells, against which no body can exert any real resistance. Soon enough small knots and strays peel away from the gaggle around A., and then, much to everyone's surprise, I, too, now have a gaggle of Brechtian/Dickensian characters, pleading or wheedling or curious or hungry or all at once.
  • M., a stooped, greying, fastidiously combed yeti of a man with wistful eyes and yellow-stained fingers. Wants to open a shoe-shine stall by the waterfront. Need to call City Hall.
  • E., a septuagenarian Navy veteran with children ranging in age from 59 to 16. He's still paying child support. Very genteel and soft-spoken, understated sense of humor. Can I score him some baseball tickets?
  • P., alcoholic, tattooed, nerve damage in his legs, just qualified for a coveted Section 8 voucher. Misses his motorcycle. Overwhelmed by complicated websites. Needs help with application forms. P. belly-laughs like my Grandpa. A. notices that I can make P laugh, and she smiles and says I'm doing good.
Finally, L. steps up. She's been hovering by the coffee pot, obviously waiting for A to stop talking to D in the wheelchair. L is clearly upset by the delay, she won't talk to me without A there but she can't keep waiting, it's very hard for her to be patient and she doesn't like it. By the time we get her to sit down at the table with A and I, L is downcast and agitated, and A is nervous. Both A and I take turns calming L down, opening her back up again.

What followed was a fifteen minute nonstop monologue on how L grew up with horses. Tall horses, proud horses, gentle horses. She knows how to turn them, how to rein them in, how to connect with them. She knows how to take care of them, how to feed them, how to watch out for them. She's scared of the big, fiery ones. She hasn't seen a horse in thirty years. She misses them. She would really, really like to ride a nice, gentle horse again. Could I get a horse for her to ride?

Later A. tells me that when she was talking me up to L., A. mentioned that I knew how to ride horses bareback (when you don't have a college degree to put on a resume, you put down everything you've got), and I guess that's what got through to L. more than anything else. When L. said she didn't know what to say to me, A told her to ask me for something that I might be able to do for her, because that's what I'm here for.

I'm looking for horses right now.



For Those of Us Keeping Score (an homage to the Harper Index)

Number of bottles of beer that can fit in my backpack, in addition to my notebook, stamp portfolio, letter-writing kit, Book of Days, and minimum 3 books being read: 12.

Pages of "Ulysses" read since starting again on Bloomsday: 27.

Loads of laundry finished since ending Tour: 10.

Number of times I've had to move my car while at work because of stupid parking meters: 11.

Number of weeks at my new job: 2.

Things I've crossed off my Critical To-Do List in Those 2 Weeks: 2.

Things I've added to my Critical T0-Do List in Same Period: 6.

Keys on my keychain: 10.

Phone numbers in my cell phone: 116.

Letters Sent this week: 3.

Record number of hot dogs eaten in one day: 5.

Translations of Ovid in my Library: 4.

Water bottles lost: 2.




Nightmares Part II; An Open Letter to An Ex-.

I still dream about you, altogether too often. In my waking hours I'm content with forgetting you, content to allow the slow wake of days wash away the memory of what I still know to be a disastrous connection. You were right to say that I am slow to trust; once that's been lost, I have nothing left to give.

But when I dream of you,

(it's very painful to admit this)

I dream of reconciliations. Gentle explanations. Revisions. Things we both should have said to each other. Undoings and remakings. And, as with all dreams, there is a strange pervading logic that inhibits my senses, tells me that this is right and worthwhile, and my affection for you blooms all over again. I forget my humiliation. I forget my own stupidities. It doesn't help that this dream invariably involves spectacularly delicious reconciliation-sex.

Waking from these dreams either involves a slow, tortuous realignment of my senses and my memory with the true state of things, or else I awake with a heavy heart, in no wise rested, squinting in the dull light of day.

I am still content to be as I am, unseeking and unsought-for. I have no further interest in heartache. I wish I could stop dreaming of you.

paulmonster-bdh/sans souci


Nightmares Part I

One of the things I both dread and heartily dislike, is when theatres call you up on the day and ask if you can audition for them.

For one thing, everyone in PDX knows that every actor who lives here has a day job, or is looking for one. Furthermore, I personally have no idea how rational, grown-up people can think that other supposedly rational, grown-up people have absolutely nothing scheduled on a day-to-day basis. The brazen assumption that I might have a completely and utterly open day on my hands absolutely eludes me.

Secretly, I dread those few days, in my Book of Days, that occasionally are wide open and unoccupied. They are fewer and fewer, but they do come silently and swiftly by, upon which instances I am beset with creeping fears about my usefulness in a serious world, or the key appointment that I somehow completely forgot to annotate.

Today I got a call from a venerable theatre in town, putting up a production that I am very much hopeful to be cast in (I don't want to jinx my chances by naming things just yet, that's the kind of luck I've been having today). And of course I dutifully juggled and shuffled some important and weighty things around, and I made the time to audition, which is what actors do.

On my list of things to do when I run the zoo, is to absolutely do away with such ad hoc audition arrangements, that only demonstrate how dissheveled and agitated people can be, especially when the stakes are high and at only a moment's notice. My audition was contemptibly overcharged and undercooked, suffering from my nervous agitation that only blew the lid off of all my bad habits all at once. The big mucky-mucks at the venerable theatre were inflicted with an overanimated, brash and slapdash rendition of tired old standby monologues that I've been overworking for far too long, now, plus a brazen attempt at a Parchman Prison Song that was perhaps the highlight of the effort, being novel and strange to their otherwise jaded ears. My tired standard audition pieces are John Donne's XIVth Holy Sonnet (it is something of a faux pas to perform such a thing for an audition), and an excerpt from the prologue to Wallenstein by Friedrich von Schiller, and then the Parchman Song. Taken all together, it was a flaming debacle, which, in any event, is still better than a limp anticlimax.

I should be hearing shortly whether or not I've made the cast. I haven't felt this nervous since last year's Othello. I'm hoping that that's a good sign.




I don't know, I guess I'm just link-happy this month.

  • My good friend and former castmate Anders Lijleholm hosts OMSI's Sound Science podcast. Anders is good people. The kind of guy who puts the 'fu' in kung-fu. The crazy thing is, his Mom was my high school guidance counselor. Oftentimes I feel like Portland is so tiny, you could've smuggled it into West Berlin on a microdot. (...I'm rather jealous of Anders' job...)
  • Sometimes you just have to Ask a Ninja.
  • Running on empty? Gasbuddy will fix you up right nice. (Christ on a stick, what Arab nation do we have to invade to get affordable gas again? My American dream is just billowing out the tailpipe here. Now, if only there were a healthy, affordable yet still individualistic transport alternative to rely on these days.)
  • I visit this site daily. I keep thinking maybe they'll show my home one of these days.
  • This place really makes me want to be a writer.
  • I got this from Rocketboom again. Really wonderful-excellent.
  • Someone please say they'll come see this play with me. Third Rail is a kickass theatre here in PDX, and I'm really excited to see their latest effort.
  • My notebook aspires to look like this. (Not quite there yet.)
  • It's deeply reassuring to me that you can still listen to the BBC these days.



Extraordinary Things Part II

Currently Reading:
  • Cobra II by Michael Gordon and Genl. Bernard Trainor. Riveting in an extraordinarily disheartening way.
  • Metamorphoses by Mary Zimmerman, based on Ovid's extraordinary work, of the same name. "Metamorphoses" will open ART's upcoming season. Very excited.
  • Ovid's Metamorphoses translated by Arthur Golding, 1567. It's a bit of a slog, Golding really isn't all that he's cracked up to be, especially after having read and loved more modern translations already. But it's the undisputed source for Shakespeare, Milton, Blake, etc., so it's worthwhile.
  • Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides. Absolutely brilliant, cannot put it down. Dreaming of Smyrna now.
  • Postwar by Tony Judt. Earlier I raved about The Cold War by John Lewis Gaddis. Thought it was insightful and concise, if perhaps too cursory. Shortly thereafter I read a review of the book by Tony Judt, which absolutely demolished Gaddis' lackadaisical approach. So I picked up Judt's somewhat competing book. And he's not holding back, he's showing you how it's done, he's following up on sources and taking a broad view of every decade, and it's remarkably well done. Much more authoritative, much more thought out.
  • I'm working on a recording of 1 Henry IV, for which I rely on nothing so much as the excellent annotations of the Arden editions.
  • My World-Traveling Housemate recommended Robin McKinley's The Blue Sword, and I'm only slowly growing an attachment to it. Perhaps there's altogether too much derring-do on my reading list already.
  • I love everything Hellboy.
Yes, it's a lopsided list, I know. I'm working on that.