"Love is a harsh and dreadful thing to ask of us, but it is the only answer."--Dorothy Day


Did I Forget to Mention...

That I Got A New Job?!?!?!?! Wooooo...WooHoo! Oow! Woot!

As of January 11th, I will no longer be at my crappy, crappy job. I am the new assistant director of a program downtown, which will take like 3 hours a day off my commute, and will save what is left of my vocational sanity. Woot!


On Joy...

On Sunday, my family unit (consisting of Nathan and Wilber, and myself) was asked to light the advent candle representing joy. I was at first very grateful to be at a church that acknowledges the importance of these people in my life. And then was glad for our candle to be the candle of joy. [The first week of Advent, Nathan was highly, highly amused that my first instinct for the candles was "Hope, Peace, Love and Happiness," the order of the last three being a kickback from my hippie days when I used to sign everything with a peace sign, heart and smiley face and sign my name with a flower at the end of it.]

Joy has been an elusive thing for me. I tend to dwell in all the murky and mucky parts of life, and think that I am failing at something because I have yet to find happiness, which is joy, which is of God. But then something has changed within me as of late. I have begun to realize that joy is something different. That it can be found in the midst of sorrow, exhaustion and worry. That it can bring with it peace, and hope, and is found where love is present. On my way to church on Sunday morning, exhausted from having worked the previous night in the mounting snow, I sat on the train and thought about what it was that we were about to read to the church. And I thought of the days of laughter spent with friends celebrating holidays and birthdays and Tuesdays. Of the glimmers of hope with difficult patients, and of people in my life who see and understand what it is that I am trying to do. So as the holidays, and the New Year approach, I continue to seek the joy in life, to know that contentment may be better than happiness, and to look to the coming days with hope that it can only get better. Peace to you.


Moments ago the day passed away that marked my 29th birthday. I confess I have been dreading this day. As I said with 28, I don't age well. The numbers really bother me, and I often feel like there are milestones one should reach at certain points in time. So, that's one of the things I've been working on this year. Learning to be content where I am, knowing that God is at work in my life and that I am where I am supposed to be and am doing what I am supposed to be doing. So the highlights of 28, in no particular order...

(1) Decided not to go to my high school reunion, without guilt or strain.

(2) Started teaching Sunday school. Granted most weeks there is only one kid in my class, but she is maybe my favorite kid so it's good. And it provides me with levity that my life is often lacking...and opportunities to sing 'the Noah Song' (as seen on Ugly Betty) at the top of my lungs and to discuss the actual location of Santaland (which is neither in Zimbabwe nor in New Jersey).

(3) Got the tattoo I've wanted since I was 20 or so.

(4) Found the job that is the reason I became a social worker, and it is nothing like I thought it would be. I am exhausted and at times overwhelmed by the gravity of it, but I know that I am doing something good and worthwhile.

(5) Reconnected with friends I have dearly missed.

(6) Made new friends who I adore.

(7) Celebrated a 10th Friendiversary (or friendship anniversary).

(8) Have fully moved on, and started over.

(9) Have begun to let go...just a little bit.

I've decided that 29 will be the year I become outwardly edgy. Don't ask why, as I have no idea. And I'm not sure yet what this will include, but I'll let you know as it progresses.


Act Up.

A few months ago, there was an article in the Times about rising HIV infection rates among young men in NYC. It is a very disturbing statistical marvel.

"Over a five-year period, the number of new H.I.V. diagnoses in men under the age of 30 who have sex with other men increased by 33 percent, to 499 in 2006 from 374 in 2001. During the same period, the infection rate for men over 30 decreased by 22 percent."

There was an article in Forbes today citing the same statistics, but on a national level. This is just inexplicable and so, so disturbing. I am occupationally, and by my very nature, not a finger pointer, but in most cases there is no reason for these increases to be the case. When you read the literature, the increases in infection rates among young men who have sex with men are explained by the fact that HIV is now seen by many as a treatable chronic disease, and that many people believe there is a cure, or at least one on the horizon. Therefore, it is believed that there is no need for vigilance.

For some reason, as of late, I find myself swathed in plays related to the early days of the AIDS epidemic. First it was the watching, and rewatching, of Angels in America, which is beautiful and amazing, and I believe one of the great masterpieces of modern theatre (despite the fact that it is like days long). And then in an effort to buy this play at a discounted rate, I came upon The Normal Heart, another brilliant play written at the beginnings of the epidemic about the activism and utter desperation of this time.

Tomorrow is World AIDS Day. It is a time when communities take pause to remember those they have lost to the epidemic, and renew our dedication to stopping this. Nothing frightens me more than thinking about what this disease can do to someone, about the prospect of this happening to someone I love. But really when this happens to one of us, it happens to all of us.


For Love of Snuffleupagus.

There are many days when I believe the world, or at lease my part of the world, has become a parody of itself. Today there is an article in the Times about Sesame Street. The powers that be have come to decided that the early, pre-Elmo, episodes of Sesame Street are not suitable for children.

"The show rolled, and the sweet trauma came flooding back. What they did to us was hard-core. Man, was that scene rough. The masonry on the dingy brownstone at 123 Sesame Street, where the closeted Ernie and Bert shared a dismal basement apartment, was deteriorating. Cookie Monster was on a fast track to diabetes. Oscar’s depression was untreated. Prozacky Elmo didn’t exist."

It's a sad, sad state of affairs when you have to subversively introduce your children to the Cookie Monster who is actually a monster with a great love of cookies, the Oscar who is allowed to just be grouchy without being diagnosable, and the Big Bird is allowed to have a very large friend who no one else sees. We miss you, Snuffy.



Have I said before that I love my church? And by love, I mean LOVE. This group of people is what keeps me going from week to week, day to day. They never tell me I work too much, because they know why I'm doing it. Or that I should settle with the job I have, though I am somewhat miserable. They brunch, and lunch, and dinner with me. And Halloween, and Thanksgiving, and Christmas. We sing, and pray, and walk, and protest, and eat with great joy. And now you can listen along, and know some of the reasons why Christ's Church for Brooklyn has become so, so important to so many of us. Click here for our podcasts.


Norman Mailer.

On Saturday night, as I was starting my shift at job #2, I opened up the New York Times for a quick glimpse at what had happened as I slept the day away. I was very sad to find that Norman Mailer had passed away. He is the author of one of my favorite books, The Gospel According to the Son, and one of the most interesting people I've ever held audience for. I saw him speak last winter when he was promoting his book The Castle in the Forest. His writing was seen as revolutionary for the way he portrayed war in The Naked and the Dead, making him a part of the new movement of creative non-fiction. I feel like people like him don't exist anymore. People assured enough to write the things he wrote, such momentous material with such confidence. To run for the mayor of New York on a secession ticket. To (allegedly) head-butt Truman Capote.


The Good Fight.

I received an e-mail a few days ago from the NYU School of Social Work asking for volunteers to speak on a panel of recent SW graduates for the 2nd year students at NYU. The presentation is to be entitled "I Wish I Knew Then What I am About to Tell You Now". I laughed hardily when I read this (as NYU and did not have the best experience with each other) and passed this on to a school friend (who also laughed hardily). On one of my bus rides this week, I spent alot of time (as it was long bus ride) thinking about what it is that I would say to these students, on the cusp on entering this field.

I have come to realize after doing this work fo a few years, that about every six months I hit a valley. It is what we in the biz call "Compassion Fatigue." Really, that's just the polite way of saying that I am so tired of being shat on from every direction (very graphic, I know). I am always hesitant to actually speak about the work that I do, because I feel there is a danger of making me look like a saint or a martyr. This is not what I want. I did not choose this work, I feel. It chose me. A friend of mine recently wrote to me (paraphrased and taken entirely out of context) "Casey, you've been through alot of shit in your life." I have, there's no way around that. And because of this, my head works in a different way than it otherwise would. I am ever-aware of the sadness and desperation around me and at times if feels like I am drowning in it. And I have used my work as a means to learn how to swim, or to at least tread water.

I wrote this a few weeks ago...

According to our friends at Wikipedia (who know everything) "[compassion fatigue] results from the taxing nature of showing compassion for someone whose suffering is continuous and unresolvable. One may still care for the person as required by policy, however, the natural human desire to help them is no longer there." I don't know if this actually describes what I'm feeling, but it's a bit of this. I'll give you an example, albeit an extreme example, of one of my days. A couple of weeks ago, I went to work at my full-time job and did that, openly discussed the perceived mental illness of a patient who I believe to have been manipulating me for weeks and others in the system for years, was told that the fact that I am reserved and not that social with my co-workers makes me a bad social worker, and then went home to take a nap before going to my second job. Then an hour later, I woke up and went to work. At work that night I picked up four people from the street and took them to shelters, some of these places among the most horrific I've ever seen. Then I went home and slept for a couple of hours, and as this was Saturday I went to work at my food coop. Instead of my office job, I ended up working at a soup kitchen which was drastically understaffed. After working two hours longer than I was scheduled to, I went to get on the train to go see friends in Hoboken to watch a football game that UT would then lose. As I was swiping my card to get on the train, a man asked me if I had a quarter. I did not and I said so honestly. He asked me if I had anything else, and I reached into my pocket where I had three pennies. I said "All I've got is three pennies." and I handed it to him. I do understand that three pennies is very little to give someone, and it really won't get you much of anything, but still it is something. But as I walked away, I heard the man throw my pennies on the ground and walk away to ask someone else for a quarter. I was furious. I may or may not have called him an asshole. I don't know if this is excusable or not, but that was my breaking point. I had spent roughly 24 of the previous 36 hours working with the homeless. I was terribly exhausted, as I had slept about 4 hours in that time. And I had more than once been told that what I was giving was not enough when I knew most assuredly that I could give no more.

And then the valley got a bit deeper and I lost it a little. I yelled at my boss (my version of yelling, which isn't really yelling as I don't yell). I heaved and sobbed, within an inch of quitting my job. And then I started, once again, looking for new work. As I am a part-time worker at my second job, I am weekly meeting new people. I am a fresh set of ears to listen to the struggles of this start-up and of many of the young people that work there, and have heard the things that I feel almost constantly in my day-to-day job.

"This shouldn't be so hard."
"Why are social workers so crazy?"
"I can't really survive on what they're paying me."
"I don't know how much longer I can do this. I really wanted to help, but I feel like I'm getting no where."

And so now, this is what I would say if I were to speak to the NYU School of Social Work Class of 2008.

(1) Know that this work will always be difficult, but there are days when it is amazing. Store those up for when things seem impossible. But know that it's okay to move on to a different kind of work. Social work has a million different facets. Try something new, but don't give up. If you feel compelled to struggle on, the profession needs you.

(2) I have no idea why social workers are so crazy. I hope and pray that I don't turn, but think it may have already happened.

(3) I have decided, in my advanced age (I turn 29 next month), that there are very few people in the world who are paid what they are actually worth. Some are paid far too much for the work they do, but most are paid far too little. Know that you are in good company. And keep looking for a second job (or wealthy spouse) with which to pay off your student loans.

(4) As said in #1, know that if you feel compelled to struggle on, we need you here. When we stop feeling the need to fight back for the good of our clients, that is when we need to find a different career all together. I've met many people along the way who have reach this point and kept on going, because this is their chosen career and they are looking for nothing but security. They are the people who create the social work battlefields. All of us dodging the bullets of negativity, and distrust, the arbitrary choosing who is friend and who is foe. And making us all feel like we're going crazy. Know that you are not alone here. And that once I am a supervisor there will be a day of reckoning [=)], and you can all come work for me. Or for some of my wonderful social service friends and mentors. There are a few us left fighting the good fight.


Some Solace.

So I haven't really written anything of substance in a while, but I've got some stuff in the works. Don't worry. Until then, an article to read. It is about the perceptions of women at work, in leadership roles, and not. And if you've spoken to me to any depth in the past two weeks you know that I am struggling a bit (really more than a bit) with this. So an article...Not so encouraging, but at least providing a bit of solace.


An Explanation.

In one of my time killing efforts, while watching television and surfing the Web from my couch, I decided to take the following personality test. Apparently, I am like 1% of the population, thus explaining why I am so terribly misunderstood. =)

Click to view my Personality Profile page


This week.

So just a few things...

(1) This week someone called me frivolous. They didn't really call me frivolous, but they essentially called me frivolous. I got mad. "How dare you call me frivolous?" I said. "There's no one less frivolous than me." And then I replayed in my head many of the conversations I have had with friends over the last few weeks, many of them about shoes, Britney Spears, and various pieces of TV drama, and thought "Whatever."

(2) I was reading an
article today about how Watson, of Watson and Crick who discovered the DNA double helix, had been suspended from his job for some decidedly racist comments he made. At first I thought, "Wow. This is PC gone entirely too far. Just leave him alone. He's old." And then I read more of the article and thought, "Okay, so maybe he should watch what he says just a bit." And then I read more of it and decided that, though his belief that stupidity is a treatable disease would be a very funny SNL sketch, it's probably best that he just goes home.

(3) Did you know Crayola makes a color called 'Purple Mountain's Majesty'? I saw it today and was shocked by the nationalism.


For the Bible Tells Me So.

A few weeks ago, in one of my activism e-mails, I received word of a documentary, called For the Bible Tells Me So, coming out about the relationship between the Church and the GLBT community. Aside from having what my best friend and I agreed is the creepiest trailer ever (Watch here. Just imagine the little girl sitting in the dark in a clapboard house playing with a scary doll.), the film looked very interesting.

I went to see it yesterday at a theatre in Chelsea. With films like this, one of the most intriguing things about it is the audience. The film is a collection of stories of religious families who have children who are gay or lesbian. One of these families is the family of Senator Dick Gephardt, and one is the family of Gene Robinson, who was elected the first gay bishop of the Episcopal church in 2003. The others are everyday people who have dealt with this extraordinary conflict in their lives with extraordinary love for their children.

Another part of the film is theologians speaking to the question of what the Bible truly says about homosexuality. Though they do not speak in the film, we hear the words of James Dobson, and Jerry Falwell, and Jimmy Swaggart. Awful, awful stuff not to be repeated here. But then you hear from Bishop Desmond Tutu. He says in so many words that we, when we focus so much on condemning people for the perceived sin of being gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgendered, are going against the fundamental message of Christ. That God never condemned someone for being oppressed. That God did not condemn African Americans for being enslaved, or women for being subjugated, or Blacks in Africa for being crushed by Apartheid. And just the same, He does not condemn our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters either.

"Jesus did not say, 'If I be lifted up I will draw some'." Jesus said, 'If I be lifted up I will draw all, all, all, all, all. Black, white, yellow, rich, poor, clever, not so clever, beautiful, not so beautiful. It's one of the most radical things. All, all, all, all, all, all, all, all. All belong. Gay, lesbian, so-called straight. All, all are meant to be held in this incredible embrace that will not let us go. All."--Desmond Tutu


A List.

Casey (is (a(n))/ was (a(n))/ has (a(n))...

100. Properly punctuates text messages.
99. Not girly.

98. Recently tatooed.
97. Planning another.
96. Over-employed.
95. Cries at commercials.
94. Cries at movies.
93. Cries at everything.
92. Hearts Neil Patrick Harris.
91. Not competitive.
90. Good at Trivial Pursuit.
89. Planning to go on a game show.
88. Writing a book.
87. Writing a play.
86. Prefers to take as few trains as possible.
85. Never leaving Bklyn.
84. Laughs loudly.
83. Involved in too many Internet communities.
82. Always capitalizes Internet.
81. Fiercely liberal.
80. A Straight ally.
79. Impeccable memory.
78. Messy bedroom.
77. Laundry procrastinator.
76. Longhorn.
75. Texan Expat.
74. Random gift giver.
73. Has been known to expertly mime a colorguard routine.

72. Friendship maintainer.
71. Prefers to walk.
70. Distractable.
69. Starbucks Junkie.
68. Surprised at how many grown men play Dungeons and Dragons.
67. Obsessively informed.
66. Voracious reader.
65. Acupuncture convert.
64. Watches alot of crime drama.
63. Book snob.
62. Music lover.
61. Afraid of the dark.
60. Never left North America.
59. Understands, but afraid to speak, Spanish.
58. Allergic.
57. Carries a very big purse.
56. Enjoys the fact that the mullet is making a comeback.
55. Overwhelmed by noisy rooms, loud talkers.
54. Will judge a man by his shoes.
53. Loves Post-Its.
52. Believer in Revolution.
51. Hoping to someday have an FBI file.
50. Owns an eye patch.

49. Read On the Road while on the road.
48. Said to have entropic hair.
47. Rents.
46. Sings.
45. Types with perfect Jr. High typing class form.
44. Good listener.
43. Empathic heart.
42. Quickly frustrated.
41. Will listen to the same song over and over and over.
40. Goes to the movies alone.
39. Convinced that the Statue of Liberty (Joan) is wearing Doc Martens.
38. Bad with money.
37. Worries alot.
36. Great lover of dance movies.
35. Angsty in adolescence.
34. Nearly passed out when Sting sang Fields of Gold (in concert, circa 2000).
33. Surprisingly good dancer.
32. Not really a drinker.
31. Wishes smoking wasn't bad for you.
30. Has recently started wearing earrings.
29. In love with silver shoes.
28. Likes to wrap gifts.
27. Plans to buy a conga drum.
26. On Roommate #20.
25. Socialist.
24. Careful driver.
23. Enjoys seeing nuns out shopping.
22. Maker of a To-Do lists.
21. Fighter.
20. Does not believe in Hell.
19. Cold all the time.
18. Tries not to use staples.
17. Pen connoisseur.
16. Has lots of keys.
15. Names electronics.
14. Whistles well.
13. Gifted and talented.
12. Has four calendars.
11. Former temp.
10. Former copy editor.
09. Former secretary to evil.
08. Former medical records tech.
07. Former book shelver (not a librarian).
06. Former sandwich artist.
05. Is running for president.
04. Believes firmly in equality.
03. Volunteer.
02. Best friend.
01. Child of God.


A Plan.

When I started college in 1997, I wanted to be a teacher. It was all I ever wanted to do. But the English department was often frustrating (including the professor who gave all of her slightly indie students Fs on a paper, just for kicks) and the education department was at times infantilizing. There were many moments when I began to look for another career. I contemplated photojournalism, and law school, for a fleeting moment (very fleeting) ministry. But the thing that always won out was bird house builder. I felt like it would be a trouble-free career. No one takes those things too seriously. I had enlisted my friend who dropped out of architecture to be my designer, one of my musician friends to help me paint, another English major to sell them (and at her request, make beaded lamps while she sat at the counter). But alas, like so many of my dreams, it was just that, though I still look to it when I am looking for an out.

My career path led me from teaching to writing, from writing to editing, somehow from editing to social work. I have, as you can probably tell, been experiencing a period of occupational frustration and general discontent. It has infected my personal life, which I hoped would not be the case. I have picked up other social working gigs, hoping that I would find some vocational satisfaction there, getting back to basics and away from the bureaucracy that makes this job ridiculous so much of the time. But this too has proven difficult. So again, what's next?

I have begun working on a five-year plan. I like to always have a plan. This week I start a part-time job working with people who are homeless and living on the street (There are people who are considered homeless, but who do not live on the streets. It's a complicated system.). It is down and dirty, back to basics social work. With this I hope to find some release and to actually feel like I am doing some good. And if that doesn't work, I will have at least made enough money that I can pay off some of my debt, which will vastly expand my options. I've been considering another master's degree in health care administration. I've mulled over going to law school (though I read through an LSAT prep book and was quite terrified). I've thought about leaving the country and either working somewhere in a structured program, or becoming an anonymous revolutionary figure (a la Subcomandante Insurgente Marcos). Or I could go back to bird house building. Or begin my presidential campaign (2024, the year I in which I will run and win, is just around the corner). Or maybe just finish my chart notes before 5pm.


On Charity...

I've read two very interesting articles today about Poverty and Charity. I've actually only read the first page of the one on Charity, so I'll spare you my commentary on both (for now), but will leave you with the links for some good, light weekend reading.


The Freezer.

On one of my favorite episodes of Friends, Joey is reading Little Women and when it begins to get too sad or too emotional, he runs and puts it in the freezer. I am currently in desperate need of a freezer. I am currently reading A Thousand Splendid Suns, the second book by Khaled Hosseini, who wrote The Kite Runner (another freezer book). With The Kite Runner, I was brave. I was reading it with my bookclub, and so had support for the read. I saw one of these friends at a birthday party while we were reading it and he came up to me and said, "I finished reading the book last night. I was sobbing for the last 100 pages. Be forewarned."* So I was prepared. When reading on the train, I would begin to feel that something bad was going to happen, and would just shut the book and stop reading. I would begin to read the book on my lunchbreak, and had the luxury of an office door to close when I began to weep. Even my most stoic friends have been affected by this one. So I know I'm in good company.

This weekend a friend loaned me A Thousand Splendid Suns. He said, "It's good, but watch out."* So I gathered up my courage and put it in my bag to read on the train. During day one, I saw the approach of something bad coming, but I turned the page and.... I should've known. But now I'm fully rapped up in it. There's no sparing myself. I began reading again as I ate my lunch today. It went a little something like this. Oh, how wonderful. Things are looking up..... Booo. That shouldn't happen..... Oh, but wait..... Are you kidding me..... He's alive....What?!?! And then sadly lacking a freezer or an office door to protect the world from the flood of my tears, I quickly shut the book and placed it on the floor. It is now staring up me, Read me....Read me. But I must hold out, for I know what lies within.

*All quotes are gross approximations of what might have actually been said.


Site for Rent.

This weekend my college roommate, Aydrea, was in town, and through an L.A. connection got tickets (very good tickets) to see Rent for herself and me and Nathan. I love this show. It is maybe my favorite thing in the whole wide world. It was the first musical I ever liked enough to purchase it, and sing it in my car over, and over, and over again. It is possibly the only movie I have ever had to see on opening night (and subsequently the only DVD I've ever bought the day it came out). I even considered auditioning for it (for about 5 seconds) when they had open auditions right after I moved to NYC. Needless to say, I was crazy excited to see it again. And it surpassed even my greatest expectations.

I had seen Rent three times before this, twice when it toured through Austin and once since having come to New York, and I was really overjoyed each time. But this time was something different. Aydrea knows the family of Jonathan Larson, who wrote Rent. Mr. Larson died from a heart ailment one day before the show was to open Off-Broadway, but his family has remained close to the show and to its cast each time, as it is obvious this show has so much of him in it. Since the beginning of August, two of the original leads, Anthony Rapp and Adam Pascal, have been reprising their roles, which is why it was such a tremendous deal for us to get tickets at this point. It was unlike anything I have ever seen. It is so clear from watching them that their love for this work runs deeper than the beauty of the music and words. They knew the man who created it, watched it unfold, mourned him through their work. It was amazing to see something I know backward and forward become something new, evolve before me with greater meaning to I had ever known. It was an unbelievable, unforgettable event.

And as if that was not enough, due to Aydrea's friendship with his family, we were able meet the stage manager of the show who proceeded to introduce us to the entire cast. They were all so kind and appeared to be so humbled by this show. Anthony Rapp and Adam Pascal stopped and said hello and spoke to us for a second but had to get away quickly to escape the throngs of screaming teenage girls who know them from the movie. But as the rest of the cast filed out each of them stopped and spoke to us, about the experience of doing the show, about the joys of their character, about how it's such an awesome experience to be doing this show at this time in its history. Tamyra Gray (who was robbed on Season 1 of American Idol) played Mimi and was truly astounding. A young man named Justin Johnston played Angel like I had never seen him played, and it turned out that I had seen him play Roger in the touring company when I lived in Austin. And then after everyone had left, the stage manager, John Vivian, took us on a tour of the stage. It will sound silly to anyone who has never been this in love with a play, or movie, or musical, but we got to stand on the marks the actors stand on when they sing Seasons of Love. We walked up Mimi's staircase, and sat on the platform where they sing Life Support. Truly unforgettable.


Three (or more) Beautiful Things.

Beautiful things to begin the middle of the week...

(1) Instant friends. (Bring It!)

(2) Austin Public Radio.

(3) The fact that New Yorkers enjoy wearing scarves in August.

(4) Having a lovely roommate who will gladly bring me my keys rather than expecting me to sleep in the lobby.

(5) New friends having finally made it to NYC after an arduous move.

(6) A new tattoo.


On Illness...

At the beginning of May, as a means to combat my vocational frustration, I began facilitating a support group for people living with HIV and AIDS at the GMHC. It has a been a somewhat daunting but worthwhile endeavor. Each week I meet with between 2 and 10 people, and we talk about really anything you can imagine. I am sometimes shocked (i.e. on the days we talk about sex and drugs), sometimes frustrated (i.e. on the days we talk about insurance and medications), sometimes saddened (i.e. on the days we actually talk about living with AIDS). The past few weeks we have talked alot about the effect being diagnosed with HIV has on your life. Most every person in my group can tell you the day and time of their diagnosis. They can tell you what they wore that day, what they ate before their doctor's appointment, what the weather was like, who they talked to after they received the news. About the moment when they changed from person to patient. They talk about how despite the fact they might have no symptoms, they live each day knowing that they are sick, that they have a terminal illness.

I recently had a man in my group who was very newly diagnosed with HIV. When asked how he was doing with it, he answered that he felt like he had overcome alot in his life, and that this was just one more thing that he would conquer. He had beat a brain tumor and cancer, watched a parent die of a terrible disease. This would not be his greatest challenge. The others in the group were encouraging, but anxious, let him know about many of the trials he will face. After the group, I sat and talked with him one on one. He amazed me. He is armed for battle. But he is also nervous, and anxious, and guilt-ridden. And this is sadly how it goes.

There is something to be said for being prepared for what may come. This is why we have insurance and savings accounts. But there also needs to be space to live in the moment. To appreciate time with friends when you do not have to worry about what to do next. To feel great without worrying about when this will go away, and what will come after it. To live in the now. It is a difficult task though. You have to learn to change the things you say in your head. I feel terrible must be followed by but only for a moment. You must strive to remember what how you felt before your diagnosis, because oftentimes people take better care of themselves, and are in better health in the long run, because of their illnesses. Mind over matter is an important tenet of survival.

And this is where I come in. I am there to arm you for battle. I am there to fill your head with as much knowledge as you can handle. I am there to be your guide, and your advocate. To keep you active in the fight. I leave a meeting like the one with this gentleman somewhat overwhelmed. I left that meeting in dire need of either a hug or a cigarette. "What if I told him too much?" "What if that does not work out?" "What if he is already too far gone?" But meetings like these are why I do this work. I have been sick alot, with many things on the spectrum from life-threatening to annoying, so I feel I have a good amount of perspective on being ill. For alot of reasons, with my most serious illness, I felt like I had to go through much of it alone. When I was younger, I spent alot of time being angry about the cards I had been dealt with regard to my health, and it caused me alot sadness because I had no way to really understand what it was that could come of the trauma I had suffered. I still have days when I feel like that. But then there are days when I know very well. People need someone to help them understand paperwork, to know when to fight back, to walk them through what their days may look like, to be unafraid of the illness they are carrying, to listen indefinitely to their daily struggles, to be there for them when no one else can.

I don't talk about my job alot, because it is a party killer. I say "Oh, I'm a social worker," and the conversation can no longer be frivolous. It has to be about what we doing for a cause, and how difficult is it, and many times how the importance of the other person's job cannot compare to what I do. But know, that I could not do any of your jobs either. I am bad with numbers, overwhelmed by bureaucracy and philosophy. I cannot do chemistry to save my life. I've taken four physics classes and still cannot do vectors. I don't wear the proper footwear for corporate America. I am not armed for that kind of battle.


Indebted (2).

So, I've obviously been thinking alot about money lately. And after reading my last post, I know that I did not even touch the surface of what I really wanted to say. Where to begin?

As you can probably tell, I'm essentially a socialist. I do believe that it is our duty/privilege/responsibilty as human beings, let alone as Christians, to take care of one another. And we are clearly not doing this, as evidenced by our need for health insurance, and life insurance, and vast retirement savings, and by the fact that millions of people are homeless because their lives did not afford them the privilege of a safety net. I have spent alot of time thinking about this, as a large majority of the people I work with at my jobs have been homeless at some point. How is it that someone becomes homeless? You might say drugs, irresponsible life choices, or sadly, mental illness. But with all of these things what it boils down to is lack of a safety net. A job with no health insurance, so a minor ailment becomes a crippling one. A job that pays so little that they barely afford a place to live, let alone to save for a rainy day. Having fallen through the cracks so many times, that they are now senior citizens who cannot read or write, and do not have anywhere to turn to for help. In situations like these one thing goes wrong, and you are out on the streets, sleeping under overpasses, on doorsteps, in a chair at a shelter. But one of the most amazing things I have ever seen is how these people who have been let down by the system that is supposed to protect them then rise up to protect each other. Young, single mothers who babysit for each other so some of them have a chance to go to school or work. Homeless men and women who look out for each other, gathering information about what can be done to better their situation and keep them safe. Severely mentally ill people making sure that their neighbors, who may even be somewhat better off than they, are healthy and feel cared for.

I do realize that I am in a very easy position. I am not married, I have no children, so therefore there is no one counting on me for really anything. So it is not necessary that I set aside 15% of my income, or that I have comprehensive life insurance, or that I worry about someday buying a home, or needing a car, and it goes on and on. And thus I have room to think about the way things should be. And I, because of my aforementioned debt, don't do all that I could or should do. But I like to imagine what the world would be like if money had no power. If need always trumped want. If equality actually mattered. If every child was allowed a joyful and uninterrupted childhood. And I know how naive I sound. Please know that I am not naive, but simply hopeful.



So, if you know me at all, you know that I am in alot of debt. I went to one minorly expensive, and one majorly expensive university. I moved to NYC without a job, during a national employment crisis. So yeah, I have alot of debt. And I have mostly just resigned myself to it. I have 30 years to pay off my student loans, which will be just in time for me to retire. And everyone in the United States is in debt. It's what we do. It's part of the American Dream.

This is what I told myself for a long time, and it mainly worked. I went to work, paid my bills, occasionally ran out of money before having paid all my bills, but this was the only way I knew how to live. It would occasionally overwhelm me, and I would call one of the friends who knew me well enough to know exactly how deeply mired in debt I was, and they would listen to my panic and my hopelessness at finding a way to stop it, probably growing tired of listening me over and over and over.

My best friend and I trade New Year's resolutions each year, as we have seen each other over the previous 12 months, and know what would be good for the other person. Most of the time. His resolutions for me range from clean out your car and be on time, to this year's be more proactive. Part of this proactivity for me was wrangling my finances. And another friend, in whose apartment I have had a financial melt-down, invited me to go with her to Financial Peace University, which was being led by a friend of ours from our small group at church. I reluctantly agreed, and here we are. I spoke in a previous post about the inner turmoil this class has brought to me, about my struggle to be someone focused on social justice and the needs of others, but to also be fiscally responsible to myself. I can't help but feel that there is an inherent element of selfishness in financial planning. It is a world of my needs first and then yours with whatever I have left. This is not necessarily the way of Dave Ramsey's program, but it leaves Giving to the very last lesson, and speaks very little to the relative wealth of even the most indebted American in comparison to that of almost every other person in the world.

At CCfB this week, we discussed Luke 12:13-21 and Mark 6:25-34, and the ramifications these scriptures should have on our lives. My minister/friend Joe put it up on his blog, and he and I have been e-discussing this a bit today, as he knows I am involved in, and feel extremely conflicted about, Financial Peace University. Dave Ramsey overwhelms me. Every week, I find myself shaking my head at so many of the things he says. But I also know very well, because of what I've watched many of my family and friends go through, that it is necessary to get all of this under control. While I sometimes find Dave greedy, and feel that he is often twisting the meanings of the scriptures he uses in the lessons, I can also see the good in the system he has set up for people. I have always been very open with those closest to me about my financial situation, and talking to many of them about this class, and my struggles with it has helped me to get some perspective on it, and to know that in the end, if I am able to find a way to pay off at least some of my debt, that it will be worth it. And with that I have had to find a way to do this without letting it change my priorities. While Dave Ramsey's goals may not be mine, his means to getting there can be helpful for my situation. And I am doing my best to look for ways to get ahead, but am trying to allow God to show me the way to do this without sacrificing my health, or my sanity, or my principles.

I started reading The Irresistible Revolution around the time I started this class, and while at first it was one of the things that made me want to chuck it all, after much thought it has become kind of a supplemental text to guide me--looking at Dave Ramsey's stuff through a lens of social responsibility in addition to personal/financial responsibility. There is something anti-consumerist about Financial Peace University, because every financial decision is to be made with much thought for the consequences/necessity of it. And if you look at wealth building as what you can give back rather than giving it all to creditors, it changes things a bit. So, all of that to say, I'm still trying to work it out. And to remember this:
Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life? And why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these.--Matthew 6:25-29



So I've got some questions for you that have crossed my mind over the last few days. Think of this like a college history final. You have several options, but only a few will be on the exam.

(1) Do you think it's cheating to read by audiobook? Answer, then read the
article. It is not yet avaible in audio form.

(2) What, if any, are the ethical ramifications of non-profit organizations spending copious amounts of money on office facilities?

(3) Is it hypocritical to put a Fur is Murder button on your leather bag?

(4) Clinton or Obama, who can take it home?

(5) Does the
risk of “[going] too far in federalizing health care” outweigh the benefits of insuring over 6 million children? I'm just saying.

(6) When will the TV world run out of things to make reality shows about? How far is too far (either in lameness, or in ethicality)?

(7) Is ethicality actually a word?


Today marks the end of my 5th year in New York. We believe that this is the mark at which you become a real New Yorker, though I believe that being kicked by a homeless man and living with the mafia during my first year here should have designated me thus. But anyway, here's my list of integral lessons learned on the streets of New York....

(1) Sometimes public transportation can be relaxing. I've been known to take the bus sometimes rather than the train, because I can see outside and it gives me time to read.

(2) There are friendships that can survive anything--distance, time, and every kind of challenge--and come out better and stronger on the other side.

(3) A very large purse can in fact carry most of the things I used to keep in the trunk of my car. I currently have in my bag two books, a notebook, a can opener, wallet, phone, iPod, a multitude of hair accessories, and a pair of shoes.

(4) Moving to Queens is the greatest thing you can do for love.

(5) A kind and sane roommate is a necessity.

(6) No matter how many times I've been down there, and despite the fact that I worked there for three months, I will always get lost in the Financial District.

(7) Being alone does not have to equal being lonely. I have over the past five years learned how to navigate this city by myself, and how to be okay being on my own. Though there are times when it is a struggle, I know that I am not really alone, and that I have a wonderful group of friends here and all over the world, and that I can be proud of all I have done here.

(8) Though it will become commonplace to see celebrities, you will still have a running list in your head. My list includes Bebe Neuwirth, Cynthia Nixon, Brook Shields, Adam Duritz (my favorite), Pat Sajak, and the dad from the Wonder Years. I won't brag about the time I talked to an Oscar Nominee about grocery shopping. Or the time I got the phone number of one of the
contestants from the first Apprentice (while working at The Container Store).

(9) Even though you may have been flattered the first time someone on the street made a comment about your hotness, it will get old real fast (but depending how creative they are, it can still be amusing sometimes).

As said by my dear friend Nathan, God works in powerful ways. The life I have here is unlike anything I could've ever imagined for myself. At times, it is so much more difficult, but also so much more amazing.


The Usual.

I was just reading an article about flooding in England, Texas and China. It goes into significant details about the floods in England, and in Texas and the measures being undertaken to save lives and protect property. But when it gets to China, all it said was this,

In Asia, the monsoon rains produced the usual floods, landslides, evacuations and loss of life. In China alone, more than 150 people were reported to have died in the last week and 3 million were displaced across vast tracts because of the heavy rain. (emphasis added)

I was really bothered by the fact the word usual was used when talking about catastrophic weather conditions and loss of life. I do understand that this happens every year during monsoon season, but vast devastation should never be seen as an everyday occurrence. Is it just me, or is something very wrong here?



I was raised in the South, as a member of the Church of Christ, and thus I grew up with a very particular, and very conservative, view point on sex. But then I went away to college, became somewhat involved in the gay community, and began working with HIV patients, which lends itself to a very particular, and somewhat liberal, view point on sex. I remember very well how terribly weird it was to sit down at my desk, at my first real job and find a huge basket of condoms sitting next to me; my disappointment the day I learned that abstinence education does not work; my overwhelming embarrassment the first time one of my patients told me in detail about the sex she was having with her neighbor. But like so many issues, I believe that having been raised on one side and having come to live on the other has greatly increased the depth of my understanding of this issue.

There was an article in the New York Times this week about how abstinence-only education may be on its way out. This is sad for the call of many religious groups, but I can tell you, in capital letters, that IT DOES NOT WORK. Teaching children nothing about sex, other than the fact that they shouldn't have it until some point far in the future when they may be married, leads them to (a) have sex despite the fact that they have no education on how to protect themselves from disease and unwanted pregnancy; and (b) to feel such a sense of shame about anything sexual that it scars even their church-sanctioned relationships. And this is really just the case for a very small portion of Americans. In other cultures, things like gender roles, the power structure of familes, and educational opportunities influence people's thinking about sex and relationships, and their effects of the future. In many countries, these elements are in part responsible for the AIDS pandemic.

For much of the last decade, most of the funding the United Stated provides for AIDS prevention has gone to abstinence-only programs. For a time, the current administration forced the CDC to removed information from its Web site that sited the effectiveness of condoms in preventing transmission of AIDS and other STIs. Many states have started cutting funding for such programs, but the federal government continues to spend money on something that has proven ineffective and impractical time and again. The issue has now become another part of political debate in the upcoming presidential elections. And many researchers have found abstinence education to be the wrong direction to move in the future, and have stated that this is dangerous and "morally problematic", but it has persisted for many years against the better judgment of experts. Maybe now is the time to put a stop to it.


End of Sentence.

I once had an e-discussion with one of my friends about (a) whether it was appropriate to edit someone's e-mail for grammar and punctuation and then send it back to them, and (b) whether the total lack of spelling, capitalization and punctuation in an e-mail was grounds for putting a stop to a potential relationship. I am known for such silliness as using a dictionary while writing e-mails and reposting blogs 5+ times for spelling, punctuation and formatting errors. I've had people e-mail just after sending me an e-mail, to apologize for the use of "there" meaning "they're". Which is why this article was maybe the funniest thing I've read in a long time. I would like my tagline to read "Casey Burke, a social worker and sometimes writer from Brooklyn, N.Y., is really rather low maintenance."


All at Once.

So it's been a bit since I've posted anything. I've started no less than 5 posts, but could not make any sense of them, so I quit. Right now, as I find myself reading several things at once, my mind is a bit muddled.

Every time I go to Austin, I come back with no less than 5 new books. Part of my circuit there is the book stores, so I hit Book People (a wonder in itself), the Half-Priced Books on North Lamar and the Goodwill near my old apartment that has an impressive, but very unorganized library. This time I can back with Mrs. Dalloway, Franny and Zooey, The Corrections, something called Total Happiness (an independently published book that was quite good until the end) , The Irresisitible Revolution, and Are Men Necessary? by Maureen Dowd (who is an op-ed columnist for the New York Times.) And now I am in the process of getting through all of them.

I started with Are Men Necessary?, which is a commentary on feminism, politics and the rise of cosmetic surgery in America (among other things). And then I moved on to The Irresistible Revolution, which is pretty amazing. And in addition to these two, I'm reading Financial Peace Revisited as part of a class I am taking. Reading The Irresistible Revolution right after Are Men Necessary?, has filled my head with thoughts of revolution, and the means to combat some -isms (i.e. material-, rac-, sex-, etc.), and to bring about others (i.e. optim-, femin-, liberal-, etc.). And then I read about attaining financial peace and am told that I should work toward "wealth building" and that I should have the means to buy a boat should I so choose (I won't, because boats make me nervous, but the choice is there). But the voice in my head responds "Savings, Retirement, Boats, Houses, Cars? But people are sleeping in the park across the street from my office. Something is wrong with this." I feel like I'm simultaneously living in two worlds.

I had been told about The Irresistible Revolution by some friends, but am just now getting to read it. The author, Shane Claiborne, is part of The Simple Way community in Philadelphia. He and several others have opened a community center and live there along side the residents of one of the poorest neighborhoods in the country. In the book he tells stories of protests, and important trips to India and Iraq, and of using joy and love to show the world there is another way. That conflict can be solved without violence, that poverty can be overcome when we care for each other, that dying people can be given dignity even if they cannot be saved. This gives me hope that my generation of Americans is looking at the World differently and seeing what has to be done to make it just, and safe, and peaceful.

So now I am wrestling with and trying to reconcile these two worlds. I find money very tricky, and am made very anxious by its presence in mass, but also by its absence. I have lived my entire life in a place of financial struggle (though I know very well that I and my family are among some of the wealthiest people in the world), and can see the great potential of finally winning this battle. I simply must hope for the discernment to know when enough is enough, and to use what I have to do what is right.



Today is my first day back from a very nice vacation. I was off for a week and spent 4 of those days in Texas. I enjoyed the heat, did a significant amount of car singing, spent alot of time with my wonderful friends, and got to see two of my favorite people get married (to each other). I got to go to Kerbey Lane, and Book People, and both of my favorite grocery stores. And at one point got so lost in the suburbs/woods as to confirm that I can never live there. Trees make me nervous.



I made a vague statement a few posts ago about having decided not to believe in Hell any more. I promised I'd come back to it, and have decided to do so today. When I was in high school, my best friend was Catholic. He told me once that his mother thought she was going to Hell for not believing in Hell. Isn't that a wonderful paradox?

A few months ago, I heard an oldish episode of This American Life, that spoke of Carlton Pearson, a Baptist minister from Oklahoma, coming to the conclusion that there is no Hell separate from that we have created for ourselves (and others) here on Earth. This was what solidified it for me, but there much more to it. Here goes...I cannot see the point in living your life, working and loving, sleeping and eating, running and walking, simply to achieve a place in Heaven, and thus leave an empty spot in Hell. First, there is nothing man can ever do to earn a place in Heaven. And I do believe, that under this same umbrella of grace, there is nothing man can do to take himself out of God's favor. I don't believe that this is something we earn by being in the right place, at the right time and being given the gift of knowledge of God and Christ. For so many of us, our Christianity is merely happenstance. I was born into a family that for generations had been a part of the church. I lived in a community where church was cool, and thus we went. The church I went to in college was about a 5 minute walk from my dorm, so there was no excuse for me not to go there. And the people I met there happened to be similar people to who I was at the time, and some of them have remained so. Now I am trivializing these things to make a point, but I don't discount God's hand in any of this. I'm simply saying, what if one of these things had not been so, and I had never come to know God? Is the sum of these circumstances enough to make me worthy of Heaven? Or maybe it's just that we should live our lives in love, doing what is best for our fellow man, trying to live a good life, and hope for the best. Or maybe know for the best. That God is on our side. That He loves us wholly for who we wholly are. That He has prepared a place for all of His creation. And that we will all be welcome there.


"Wisdom is a Woman."

Last night, as CCfB's regular minister was away on a very arduous trip to Jamaica, my friend Jen was in charge of teaching class and later preaching. When I walked in she asked me to read a scripture and said, "It has be read by a woman. You'll see why." The scripture was from Proverbs 8, and is the embodiment of Wisdom speaking in a female voice. I was greatly amused to be the voice of wisdom.

Growing up in the Church of Christ, I always knew that I would never be called upon to lead the church anywhere. Even then, I didn't have very many close female friends and found it difficult to relate to woman on any level, and thus could never see myself as a teacher of the fabled Ladies' Bible study, and I am not patient enough, nor knowledgeable enough, to being called upon to mold young minds. I remember in junior high and high school there were months when the boys were separated from the girls during Bible classes, and we always wondered what the other was talking about. The girls in my youth group were close enough to the boys that we got the secret out of them. While we were talking about sex, and why we shouldn't have it, they were being taught to be church leaders. In the coming months they would do sermons on Sunday nights, and lead singing and pass communion, while we sat in the pews and remembered the reasons you should never touch a boy on the knee.
Upon moving to NYC, I had my first experience with a gender inclusive church, and found it slightly intimidating, but also so freeing. To sit in a pew and listen a beautiful, honest prayer given in an untrained female voice. To see my friend Laura lead singing while holding her little girl on her hip. And last night, to hear Jen speak with such great understanding, while periodically stopping to tell her daughter hello.


Standing Still.

I recently got an e-mail from a friend--formerly of New York, now of Atlanta--and there-in he said, "So are you looking for a job yet?" It seems rude as I'm reading it now, but the main thing I cherish about this friend in particular is his total honesty. The job I currently hold is, at a year and two months, the place I've worked the longest (aside from my part-time stint in Med. Recs. Shout out to TOSRA!). I don't know what it is exactly that makes me move on so quickly, but there's this voice in my head telling me to keep looking even after I've found work and am somewhat settled. I generally last about six months before I start perusing the classifieds. I see a help wanted sign, it doesn't matter that SW jobs don't work that way, and I find myself wanting to apply for it. I am often in the mind-set I had when working as a temp or an intern, always thinking about what I'll do when this job ends. But the thing is, this job is not supposed to end.

So, this time around, I've been looking and interviewing for jobs since roughly January, taking one small break due to discouragement. I've had probably 10 interviews, with no call-backs for seconds. I don't know why. I'm not a bad interviewee. I'm polite and intelligent. I'm fully qualified for most of these positions. I'm not wearing cut-off shorts to, or smoking during the interview (though I think that would be funny if I did). As I like the thought of divine providence (more than the thought of once again being deemed unhireable), I'm starting to believe this is God telling me to stand still. And while I've got lots of valid reasons for hoping to move on, I'm going to give it a go. Hopefully, I can survive it.



A few days ago I was walking down 6th Avenue, when I saw my life story sitting the window of Barnes & Noble. It was a book called Girls Who Like Boys Who Like Boys. I immediately went into the store to read and buy it.
I have long been well-acquainted with the gay community. Call me what you will--straight ally, friend of the family, friend of a friend of Dorothy, or, my favorite, a S.W.I.S.H. And I have read far and wide about the relationship between a gay man and a straight woman (probably looking for validation), but find only tales of shopping and make-overs, scandalous evenings out, drugs and sex and angst, no sports EVER. But this isn't so much how it's been for me. So when I bought this book I was apprehensive.

The first story is about fashionistas. And though I do have a couple of friends with whom I shop and make commentary on the fashion mistakes of others (those who can't, teach), this is not what these friendships are really about. But the next few stories made me smile at recognizing us in them. The one about the friends that met in college and have been by each others' side ever since. The one about the friends who met through friends, and were instantly an item, working together, applying to grad school together, one allowing the other to cry all over his pillow when this doesn't work out. My stories are a mix of these. And though there are specks of raucous behavior in these stories as well, the sentiment of it, knowing that these relationships are just as important in people's lives as the ones sanctioned by law, is still there and makes me laugh and cry and want to write my own story.



I got an e-mail from my mother today, letting me know they had had to put my dog, Windsor, to sleep yesterday. I say "my dog" but he was really my mother's dog. He loved her with such devotion that made the rest of us jealous. I was often offended that he did not want to play with me, but would take the toy from my hand and go with it directly to my mother, as if bearing a slobbery bouquet of flowers. He was a very sweet dog. Hyper but not too much. Very smart and tolerant, as in high school my friends would often pick him up and make him dance and I was very found of making him do a dog show run. I used to take him for walks around the neighborhood--a rarity in his backyard life--and we would stop at my best friend's house, and Windsor would wait patiently as my friend and I talked for hours in his drive way. My best friend always spoke to him with a British accent as he thought the name Windsor warranted such a thing. He had a great love for stuffed penguins, and the occasional cow, but was known to turn his nose up at anything not black and white. And he knew very well that he was not allowed to bark in the house, so he would sit at the front window and if he saw something worth barking at would run to the back yard through the dog door and bark. So polite.

I have not seen him in almost 4 years, as that's how long it's been since I've been to my childhood home, but it is still sad that he is gone. He's probably the last pet I'll ever have, as my allergies are now beyond being able to tolerate anything other than maybe a fish. But he was a good pet, a loving companion, and a constant source of amusement. And he will be missed.


A Beautiful Day.

Yesterday, CCfB participated in the 22nd Annual AIDS Walk New York. The weather was beautiful despite the ominous weather reports, and we had a wonderful time spending the day together (which is always the case). We were 15 of the over 45,000 people walking that day. And we (with the other 45,000 or so people) raised $6,857,527. This is one of my favorite days every year, as it helps me remember why it is that I do the work that I do. But it was even more special yesterday, to be able to do this with some of my favorite people by my side.

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