Thursday, October 31, 2019

Vocalese


Two of my longtime lawyer friends have echolalia. It’s a speech phenomenon that involves the imitation of words, sentences, or sounds. Echolalia is common in children learning to talk. In its severe form, echolalia can be a symptom of mental disorders like autism. 

Each of my friends has a very mild version of echolalia. They compulsively repeat the last few words you say in conversation. As with certain hypnotic accents, the challenge for listeners is to resist echoing their echoes.


A few months ago, a cute guy in Vancouver told me “It must be hard to be a lawyer with your stammer.”

What stammer?

Ok, maybe I’ve always had a bit of a stammer that comes out when I’m stressed or nervous. It's never really interfered with life. I’m much more concerned about my PTSD-amplified trichotillomania, which causes me to relentlessly rub my scalp and pull my hair out.

Nowadays I’m well aware that I’m a person who sometimes stammers and who often pulls at his hair. Of course, I’m usually not consciously “aware” of doing either at the time. I assume my two lawyer friends with echolalia are the same – surely they didn’t make it into their forties and fifties without someone pointing out their obvious quirk of speech. 

Here’s a helpful hint from a disabled person:  don’t tell anyone living with depression, anxiety, compulsive disorders, or other mental illness to “snap out of it.”


While I’m in confessional mode, I should also mention that I compulsively hum or vocalize as I go through the day, particularly when I’m in a good mood. 

When I catch myself, I try to identify the song and analyze why my subconscious chose it. Sometimes I’m merely harmonizing along with the jazz or classical music playing in the background. Other times particular people or places will trigger the musical motifs associated with them, like the friend who always inspires “The Way You Look Tonight.” 

Shop clerks and strangers often notice, and usually smile. As with yawning, I’m contagious – I’ll walk out of Trader Joe’s and hear folks humming along behind me.

I generally default into random improvised vocalese, untethered to any particular melody. For some reason, eventually the song fades into “Somewhere That’s Green” from Little Shop of Horrors. I have no idea what that means.


Last week I picked up my nephew from an appointment downtown on our way to dinner at Grandma’s.

When the elevator doors opened, there he was, smiling: “I heard humming and knew it was you.” 

Apparently when I’m in a good mood I can’t sneak up on people.




Tuesday, October 29, 2019

Monologuing


The best class I took while I was in law school was Harold Bloom’s graduate Shakespeare seminar. For law school credit - Yale really is heaven. 

Professor Bloom was the Pope of Bardolotry when I was a mere altar boy. Thirty years later, my memories of his in-class sermons and catechisms blur with the volumes of scholarly criticism. What I remember best about Hal at Yale, other than his obsessive identification with Sir John Falstaff, was this observation about Hamlet's monologues: Shakespeare's character is revolutionary because he changes by listening to himself think.   


These days I'm the plaintiff in a lawsuit against Ogden Murphy Wallace PLLC, “Seattle’s sleaziest bottom-feeding law firm®,” and one of its attorney/private investigators, Patrick Pearce. Defendants collaborated with my former employers at the Washington Attorney General's Office in a discriminatory and unethical scheme to deprive me of the benefit of the disability attorney I'd hired. 

Even though I won in the Court of Appeals, last week I joined Defendants in asking the Washington Supreme Court to accept review of our case. As I wrote in my blog essay “This is what ‘Impact Litigation’ Looks Like,” I try to use my personal experiences to educate folks about the challenges facing people living with both mental illness and a hostile legal system. 

When I was in private practice, I would have been alarmed to have a chatty client like me. (I know I make my mother and my lawyers nervous. Luckily I’m not on Twitter). But I’ve learned to trust my instincts, both as a writer and as an experienced civil rights lawyer. Even when I stumble in my efforts to figure things out, I’m always trying to tell the truth. 


On the other hand, if you’re the only real audience, storytelling becomes “monologuing." 

As Hal Bloom’s Hamlet analysis suggests, that’s not necessarily a bad thing. I learn a lot from putting words on a page. However, I’m not doing this solely for my own health. I also write long, sometimes snarky epistles in hopes that someone on the other side will actually read them.

Before his retirement, my father spent four decades as an insurance claims adjuster handling high-value commercial liability matters. He’s been bemused by Defendants’ myopic and reactive strategy. (His current theory:  no one with decision-making authority has read the file yet.) Dad is also a veteran bridge player. Defendants are acting as if they held cards that everyone else at the table knows are not in their hand.
Nevertheless, because I believe change is possible, the impulse to offer second chances is never completely futile.

"If You're Open to Growth, You Tend to Grow," NY Times 7/6/08

As I mark each major milestone in the litigation, my wordy navel-gazing isn’t meant to benefit only myself and my benighted opponents. These monologues also provide raw material for future storytelling and public education.

For example, as I was preparing my Answer to Ogden Murphy Wallace’s petition for review in the Washington Supreme Court, I went back and counted the times I offered to settle my claims out of court for a reasonable but increasingly large amount. On each occasion I also explained why Defendants should stop waiting for more shoes to fall:

            A   $________ (4/14/17)
            B   $________ (4/21/17
            C   $________ (7/12/17
            D   $________ (11/21/18)      
            E   $________ (3/18/19)
            F   $________ (9/8/19)
            G   $________ (9/20/19)      
            H   $________ (10/16/19)    
            
Defendants and their paralyzed insurers and lawyers have yet to respond with a single settlement offer. One of these days I’ll plug in the dollar amounts. For now, I’ve been doodling equations on cocktail napkins:  

a < small fraction of Defendants’ litigation costs so far  

g > 5a

h < inevitable cost to Defendants’ reputation

etc.

Someday, bored professionals trapped in Continuing Legal Education seminars or Adjuster Continuing Education courses will hear about my story. Just like Alexander Hamilton.


In addition to collecting my thoughts, giving peace a chance, and raising public awareness regarding systemic problems with the legal system, there’s one final reason I keep writing long letters for Defendants and their lawyers to ignore:  endless conversation at family meals.

Like my father, my next oldest brother is an insurance claims adjuster. Like me, my youngest brother is a lawyer. My other brother does something mysterious with computers for Google. He's the tiebreaker. 

For the past three years, I’ve regularly reached out to the other side in the litigation and suggested they change their ways. I've also gave them enough rope to hang each other, then tie themselves to the tracks in front of the runaway train. Which brings us to the eternal question:  Who’s stupider, a lawyer or an insurance claims adjuster?



Monday, October 21, 2019

This is what "Impact Litigation" Looks Like


Today begins an exciting new phase in my lawsuit against Ogden Murphy Wallace PLLC, the Seattle private investigator firm that collaborated with my former employers at the Washington Attorney General’s Office to harm my family and me. 

It’s been a long and winding journey through the legal system. Now I'm in front of the Washington Supreme Court. I hope my case can have an even greater impact in the lives of other people living with disabilities, and other victims of dishonest and unethical lawyers.

A disabled attorney arguing before the Washington Supreme Court

In November 2015, my doctor diagnosed me with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. My symptoms were triggered by recent events, but they were rooted in trauma that occurred thirty years ago. Unfortunately, my employers thoroughly bungled their response to my disability. 

My distress significantly increased after my employers hired a purportedly "independent" attorney/private investigator. He was supposed to look into a specific discrimination complaint challenging homophobic bias in the workplace. This investigator was the only lawyer dealing directly with me. He had the last clear chance to avert disaster. Instead, he collaborated with unethical lawyers at the Washington Attorney's Office in a scheme to deprive me of the benefit of the disability attorney I'd hired. Then they schemed to cover up their misconduct.

But the attorney-investigator's ethical lapses were just a marketing gesture to please his agency clients. The investigator's actual taxpayer-funded assignment was to lie to me, to accommodate my employers' prejudices, and to secretly focus his investigation on phony supervisor complaints about my conduct. The final investigation report whitewashed my employers' abuse, and clumsily attacked my character. 

The investigator's name was Patrick Pearce. He's a partner in the Seattle firm Ogden Murphy Wallace PLLC, Seattle’s sleaziest bottom-feeding law firm®.”


Like the federal judiciary, the Washington court system has three levels. Superior Court is our trial court with general jurisdiction. After unsuccessfully reaching out to Ogden Murphy’s managing partner in an effort to clear my name, in May 2017 I filed my Complaint against Defendants in King County Superior Court.

Unfortunately, the trial judge quickly threw out my Complaint out on a frivolous technicality. Without reaching the merits of my allegations regarding lawyer-investigators, the judge agreed with Defendants that each of my legal claims was automatically barred by a Washington statute, RCW 4.24.510.

The Legislature passed the “Brenda Hill Bill” in 1989 to protect private citizens like Ms. Hill who voluntarily report misconduct to the appropriate government agency, then face grinding legal retaliation by the wrongdoers. The trial judge in my case erroneously concluded that this law also grants absolute immunity from civil liability for any injuries caused by paid government vendors during the course of their contractual engagements. The lower court also ordered me to compensate defendants as supposed "whistleblowers" under the statute, which obviously would have bankrupted me.

King County Courthouse

The party who loses in Superior Court has the right to appeal to Washington’s intermediate appellate court. The Court of Appeals is an “error-correcting” court. Unlike frantic and under-resourced Superior Court judges, the Court of Appeals judges and their clerks have time to carefully examine the record and the applicable legal authorities. Lots of time.

After a long and painful delay, on September 3, 2019, a three-judge panel of the Court of Appeals issued a published opinion reversing the lower court’s ruling. The Court of Appeals also vacated the cruel judgment ordering me to pay for all of the other side’s legal expenses. I am grateful for the Court’s vindication.

Washington Court of Appeal, Division I

After the Court of Appeals rejected Ogden Murphy’s arguments, I once again offered to settle my damage claim out of court for a reasonable amount. Instead of responding to my offer, Defendants filed a petition seeking discretionary review in the Washington Supreme Court. 

In most Washington cases, the Court of Appeals has the final word. Like the United States Supreme Court, the Washington Supreme Court accepts only a small number of appeals each year. Unsuccessful civil litigants like Ogden Murphy have less than a ten percent chance of attracting the Court’s interest. Nevertheless, like virtually every other petitioner, Defendants argue that the lower court’s ruling in this case involves not just a clumsy legal error but also a tremendous miscarriage of justice that puts every Washington citizen in dire peril. (Go ahead, read Defendants’ overzealous Petition for Review for yourself.) You and I both know Defendants and their insurance defense lawyers are merely stalling.

Ordinarily, this is what would happen next:  The successful appellant – that’s me – would file an Answer to Defendants’ Petition for Review after thirty days. (Actually, what ordinarily would happen is that Roger would ask for a thirty-day extension – but that was the old Roger.) My Answer would explain how the Court of Appeals got everything perfectly right, and besides this case involves such a messy yet simultaneously boring can of worms that the Justices shouldn’t worry their pretty be-wigged heads over it. On the first Tuesday of March 2020 (or maybe the first Tuesday of February or April), a panel consisting of five of the nine Justices will meet behind closed doors to work through a month's worth of Petitions, Answers, and staff analyses. After discussing a stack of approximately fifty cases, the Justices will vote to hear around five appeals, and deny the other forty-five Petitions. My case would almost certainly be one of the rejected forty-five. Defendants and I would go back to the same old trial judge, and we’d all start the case over from scratch. 

However, as I’ve tried to tell mostly unlistening audiences from the beginning, this is no ordinary caseToday I filed my Answer to Defendants’ Petition for Review – two weeks early

Unlike an error-correcting tribunal, the primary role of the Washington Supreme Court is to answer legal policy questions and provide high-level guidance to lower courts and litigants. But the Court can only make legal rulings when they’re asked to resolve a real dispute between two opposing parties. In my Answer, I therefore joined Ogden Murphy in asking the Washington Supreme Court to take review. I agree with Defendants that this case presents important issues of substantial public interest that should be determined by our Supreme Court.

Another disabled attorney arguing before the Washington Supreme Court

In this case I am both the lawyer and the litigant. But nowadays I think of myself as a writer.

Over the last three decades I’ve written or edited countless Petitions for Review and Answers. For its first seventeen pages, my Answer resembles all those other briefs – properly characterized allegations, accurately cited authorities, transparent and logical arguments, elegant but tediously legal prose. A well-written but normal brief. For example, I refer to myself in the third person as “Plaintiff” and “Leishman.” You can read my entire Answer to Defendants’ Petition for Review for yourself. You’ll probably think it’s boring. 

However, the conclusion of my Answer differs from every brief I’ve ever filed with a court:

At this point I will abandon the third person mask, and speak directly to the justices of the Washington Supreme Court. Not because I appeared before you as an advocate before I was sidelined by my disability, nor because we previously collaborated in the work of the bench and bar – but because as an honest plaintiff and lawyer I want you to know exactly what kind of wormy case this is before you decide whether to open the can and accept review at the suspiciously enthusiastic request of both parties.

Washington courts and litigants would indeed benefit from the Court’s guidance regarding the Brenda Hill Bill, potentially justifying a few additional months of painful delay for my family. But to make the subtext explicit, I am joining Defendants’ request for review because this case also involves two vexing perennial issues:  the systemic challenges faced by litigants who can't afford a lawyer, and the decline in professionalism by members of the bar.

After I settled my employment claims against the State with the help of my attorney Ms. Phelan, I reached out to Ogden Murphy’s managing partner in an effort to clear my name. I naively believed this was all a horrible misunderstanding. In my defense, (1) I was still addled by PTSD; (2) while in private practice I never had the misfortune of encountering faux independent attorney-investigators who lied about their assignments; and (3) I had not yet obtained copies of the Attorney General's Office’s incriminating documents via the Public Records Act. In any event, Defendants responded by lawyering up.

On the surface, this lawsuit appears to be just another factually messy and time-consuming case involving too many lawyers and an impaired pro se plaintiff. Two years ago, distinguished Seventh Circuit Judge Richard Posner shocked the legal world by announcing his retirement from the federal bench because he “suddenly realized that people without lawyers are mistreated by the legal system, and he wanted to do something about it.” Under the circumstances, it is sad but not surprising that a busy trial court judge grasped at the slimmest of reeds to get rid of us. I filed this pro se lawsuit in May 2017. That means that if the Court denies review in the ordinary course of things, I will be starting over from scratch in Superior Court after waitinthree years. Fortunately I have a strong support system, much improved mental health, and appellate expertise. How many less privileged pro se litigants are mowed down each year by the weaponizing of RCW 4.24.510 and similar miscarriages of justice?

This case also demonstrates what happens when lawyers routinely lie and judges do not stop them. Together with their high-ranking collaborators at the Attorney General's Office, Defendants lied to me about the scope of their investigation. Complaint at ¶ 44. Defendants then lied to the Court of Appeals about the undisputed record documenting their misconduct. See Appellant’s Reply Brief at 7-8 (citing Respondents' Brief at 13 n.5). Now Defendants are lying to this Court about the actual allegations of my Complaint.

Like Defendants and their cynical lawyers, I do not expect the Court to accept review of the Court of Appeals’ straightforward and sound ruling. Nevertheless, despite the continuing harm to my family from Defendants’ delay tactics, I hope that you do choose to shine the bright light of justice on this particular story.

As I’ve written on my blog, one of my epiphanies after being diagnosed with PTSD was recognizing that the fight for full inclusion of disabled people hasn’t progressed much further than where LGBT folks were when I began advocating for that community over two decades ago. In particular, few plaintiffs living with mental illness have the capacity to engage in a coordinated campaign of public education and impact litigation. Someone has to do it. This Court should accept review, and affirm the decision of the Court of Appeals.

The Washington Supreme Court

I realize there’s a risk the Supreme Court will reverse my hard-won victory in the Court of Appeals, and stick me with a crushing bill for the other side’s legal expenses. I’m pretty confident that worst case scenario is unlikely – not just because I’m an experienced court observer, but also because apparently I’m the only person who’s actually read all of the legislative history, caselaw, and the undisputed contemporaneous evidence in this case. So far.

In any event, I’m willing to trade that small risk and a few extra months’ delay for the opportunity to shine a public light on the legal challenges facing people living with mental illness and other disabilities. 

I am on a mission.



But I don't want to do it alone anymore.

For many years I was involved in high profile LGBT and other civil rights cases as an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union. I frequently filed amicus briefs with the Washington Supreme Court explaining how the legal dispute between particular parties had the potential to affect the rule of law and the rights of other community members. When I represented injured plaintiffs myself, I would welcome briefs from other advocates as amicus curiae – Latin for “friend of the Court.”

Today I am sending a public “Dear Colleague” letter to Washington attorneys at various advocacy organizations inviting them to file amicus briefs or letters of support asking the Washington Supreme Court to grant Defendants' agreed Petition for Review. Feel free to forward my invitation to anyone you think might be interested. The amicus deadline is Monday, December 4, 2019. I even submitted my Answer two weeks early just so everyone would have an enhanced opportunity to do their due diligence. 

The members of the bar and our colleagues on the bench pride ourselves on being an honorable self-regulating profession. Please send your organizational and individual message to the Washington Supreme Court – and to the folks at Ogden Murphy and the Attorney General’s Office – that “lawyer” and “liar” aren’t synonyms.


Recently I published an updated version of "My Story So Far." I recognize even my summaries are much too long. But the important stuff isn’t complicated at all.  

The other day an old friend interrupted one of my stories about the endless plagues that beset me, and said “Just give me your elevator speech.” I started my legal career on the 49th floor of Seattle second-tallest building. Elevator rides and speeches could take a while:

·      This case involves unlawful and unethical conduct by two sets of lawyers who should know better:  the Washington Attorney General’s Office, and the Seattle firm of Ogden Murphy Wallace PLLC.

·      When I filed a complaint about sexual orientation discrimination in the workplace in March 2016, my former employers at the Attorney General’s Office hired Patrick Pearce, one of the dishonest private investigators at Ogden Murphy Wallace, to conduct a fake “independent” investigation into my discrimination complaint. 

·      At the Attorney General's behest, Ogden Murphy barely acknowledged my actual complaint of discrimination based on sexual orientation, and ignored numerous other examples of the State’s implicit and explicit homophobia. Instead, Defendants whitewashed my employers’ misconduct, and parroted a litany of unrelated and unfounded complaints about my job performance. As wrongfully terminated Judge Patricia Petersen can attest, this is Defendants' standard technique.

·      What made the Attorney General's and Ogden Murphy’s misconduct particularly horrifying was that they schemed to deprive me of the benefit of the disability attorney I’d hired to represent me in my employment dispute after I was diagnosed with PTSD.  

·      After illegally framing and firing me, my former employers at the Washington Attorney General’s Office pressured me into quickly settling my wrongful termination claims against the State.

·      For the last three years, the Attorney General’s Office has taken extraordinary taxpayer-funded efforts to cover up their misconduct

·      Incriminating documents eventually produced under the Public Records Act reveal the likely reason for the cover-up:  Chief Deputy Attorney General Shane Esquibel, Attorney General Bob Ferguson’s top lieutenant, left his fingerprints all over the smoking gun emails.

·      Meanwhile, in May 2017, I filed a lawsuit against Ogden Murphy and Patrick Pearce, attempting to clear my name and obtain compensation from Defendants for their role in harming my family. At Defendants' request, the trial judge in Seattle quickly threw my case out on a frivolous technicality.

·      On September 3, 2019, the Washington Court of Appeals reversed the trial court’s erroneous decision. The court agreed with me that Washington’s whistleblower protection statute, RCW 4.24.510, does not grant absolute immunity from civil liability for injuries caused by paid government vendors in connection with their contractual engagements. 

·      On October 3, 2019, Defendants petitioned the Washington Supreme Court to accept review of the case. Even though I won in the Court of Appeals, I filed an Answer joining Defendants in asking the Court to take the case because it presents important issues of substantial public interest that should be determined by the Court.

Whoosh, here we are in the lobby.


Once upon a time I worked in glass skyscrapers. Then for a while I had a cozy corner office on campus in Old Main. Now I work at home with three kids, two Aussiedoodles, and PTSD. 

We live in a one-level ranch house, so my elevator speech has to be short:  This case is about what happens when lawyers start lying, and then won’t stop.



Prior blog posts about my lawsuit against Ogden Murphy Wallace PLLC and Patrick Pearce:

  • This is what a lawsuit looks like, Episode 3: Party Discovery (6/28/17)
  • This is what a lawsuit looks like, Episode 5: Never Surrender  (10/8/17)



Tuesday, October 15, 2019

Watch for Quiet Explosions


It’s been one of those weeks where I can’t stop writing. I described an earlier erruption of this cyclical phenomenon a couple of years ago in “Dear Reader”:

For the first time in my life, including the year I was the editor of a weekly newspaper, I sit down at my fancy new computer and just write. Words are piling up much faster than I can edit and publish them, file them in some lawsuit, or incorporate them into my book project. Then I can’t resist going back and tweaking sentences. Even in the legal filings. I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised by the frenetic pace – once the dam finally burst, I needed to process more than twenty years of repressed material. As well as publicly noodling about all the scary and exciting things in my life lately.

For example, I’ve started compiling a list of things I’ve given up in favor of writing lately. As with most of my writing projects, despite my best efforts the list is getting rather long. Item: I forget to eat and drink and pray. Or read, bathe, and parent. I am currently ignoring a painfully bruised toe my daughter Eleanor would insist is broken. [Ed. Note: She’s an obvious hypochondriac.] 

My favorite sacrifice so far: I deleted a text from a porn star saying he happened to be in town this week and wanted to have sex with me again. (Hush, we didn’t find out he was a porn star until later.) 

My newest shameful addition to the list of bad things writing made me do:  this weekend I exaggerated the symptoms of my sinus infection so my children would leave me alone to write. Meanwhile I left each of them alone to stare at their iPhones and be assimilated by the Borg. Trust me, it’s what everyone wanted anyway.


For decades, interacting cycles of stress and seasonal allergies gave me chronic sinus infections. Ah, the good old days.

Then three years ago, PTSD amplified my formerly mild case of trichotillomania, i.e. uncontrollable hairpulling and skin picking. In addition to rubbing my forehead till it throbbed, I would wake each morning with bloodstains on my sheets. It turns out compulsive nose-picking is another delayed trauma symptom. At this point my nostrils are permanently raw – a nosebleed just waiting to happen. And our dog Buster has developed a disgusting taste for bloody Kleenex.

Most recently, I was diagnosed with a “mild case of MRSA.” (It really is thing). A round of thermonuclear antibiotics banished my stress-induced outbreak of underarm boils, a/k/a “furuncles.” According to my doctors, the acute infection is gone. Nevertheless, like a surprising percentage of the public and much of the healthcare profession, I’ve been “colonized” by MRSA. 

Do you where MRSA hides its colony? In your nose.

         From the Wisconsin Department of Health’s MRSA FAQs:

Q.    I was told I am “colonized” with MRSA. What are the risks of my spouse being infected by having close physical contact with me?

A.    Being colonized with MRSA means that you carry it on your skin or in your nose, but you have no signs or symptoms of infection. There is a small risk of transmitting MRSA to close contacts such as your spouse when you are colonized, but the risk is much less than when there is an active infection, with pus or drainage present on the skin. [Ed. Note:  Like boils.]

Q.    I am colonized with MRSA and have several children. Should I have them tested to see if they are colonized too?

A.    In most cases testing of household members is not necessary. Sometimes the family doctor may wish to screen all household members for MRSA colonization. This may be done when there are recurrent infections in one or more household members.

If testing is needed, the doctor will rub the inside of the nose with a cotton swab and then send it to the laboratory for a culture. If MRSA is found, your doctor may give you an antibiotic ointment to be put inside the nose to kill the MRSA.

Sometimes family pets (dogs and cats) will also carry MRSA, so if testing of household members is done, pets should be included in the screening process.

Even if treated, family members may become re-colonized in the future, but treatment may still be effective in breaking the cycle of recurrent infections.

For now, I treat my sinuses by freebasing alternate doses of decongestants and antihistamines. Do I want more or less flow? And where exactly?


As I’ve written before, I’ve settled on hydraulics as the primary metaphor for the writing process. Droughts and deluges. Sluicing and mixing. Pressure and release.

For example, whenever I feel a burst of writing beginning to flow through me, I think of the first part of Lord of the Rings, when Sauron's Dark Riders approach the weary hobbits at the Fords of Bruinen. Elrond releases the magical cataracts and floods guarding Rivendell. The result could be good or bad, depending on which side you’re on.

I have a good feeling about this week’s torrent of writing. In fact, I think the final product will be  a spectacular vintage. The kind of draught that decades from now will inspire an old gaffer at an inn, after a good pint of well-earned ale, to put down his mug with a sigh: ‘Ah! That was a proper twenty-nineteen, that was!’


In my previous incarnation as a fabulous gay uncle, I refused to learn how to change a diaper. That’s a task for actual parents. However, after living with teenagers, I now warn prospective fathers that diaper changing is the least of your worries. When I began guncling a pair of Aussiedoodles this year, I was fine with picking up pooper scooper skills. 

Buster is a stealth pooper – slowing down to a trot and casually flinging his waste along the wayside, like a redneck in a pickup truck littering on the highway.

In contrast, when it comes to bodily functions Bear is a Drama Queen. As soon as we’ve reached the maximum distance from a garbage can and it’s time to poop, everyone for miles knows exactly what Bear is doing. He generally goes about his business with a shameless ostentatiousness that rivals President Lyndon Johnson.


I mention Bear’s and LBJ’s public toilet habits for a reason. As I’ve been consumed by a complicated array of active writing projects this week, I’ve been losing track of larger and larger chunks of time. That’s how “flow” works.

It’s not just happening with activities that are particularly amenable to autopilot mode, like driving the minivan, or pretending to listen to Eleanor chatter about high school social drama. I’ve also been losing conscious awareness while performing tasks that supposedly require one’s full attention, like operating heavy machinery, singing showtunes, or parenting. Or taking the dogs for walks.

I connected the dots when I returned from long dog walks two days in a row. I realized I had all my plastic bags left in my coat pocket, and I couldn’t remember Bear pooping. You know what that probably means for other pedestrians.

So my apologies in advance if you’re in Bellingham this week and walking in Fairhaven Village, the Western Washington Universe campus, Sehome Arboretum, South Hill, or Boulevard Park. 
  
Watch where you step. 



Other essays from "Roger On Writing":

Blaming the Children”  (9/21/18)
Lilies That Fester”  (3/25/18)
Steam Heat”  (3/19/18)
Letting off Steam”   (12/21/17)
Super Fuzzy Things”  (9/8/17)
Dear Reader”   (7/22/17)






Thursday, October 10, 2019

I am a Sitcom Dad


Three actual father-daughter dialogues, on the occasion of my first Sehome High School Homecoming football game


[in the living room]

ELEANOR:       I have a headache.

PAPA:                I have a sinus infection. 

ELEANOR:       Don’t give me MRSA.

PAPA:                Do you know the difference between a “malingerer” and a “hypochondriac”? Why can’t we both go to bed now?

ELEANOR:       Homecoming.

PAPA:                I’ll grab my keys and change out of my sweatpants.



[in the front row of the minivan]

ELEANOR:       [suspiciously] Papa, are you writing?

PAPA:                Why do you ask?  

ELEANOR:       I can tell. 

PAPA:                How? [wondering if anyone else has noticed his perpetually beatific expression lately]

ELEANOR:       Your nostrils flare.


[approaching Civic Field]

PAPA:                Did I tell you Vancouver Men’s Chorus has been invited to sing the national anthem at a major sports event? We have a lovely new a cappella arrangement. Unfortunately, I memorized “Oh, Canada” when I was in elementary school in the 1970s, so it’s much too late for me to learn the new inclusive language.

ELEANOR:       Will you be televised?

PAPA:                Maybe on cable somewhere. It’s the International Gay Curling Championships.

ELEANOR:       Grandpa will watch it. He loves curling.




Tuesday, October 8, 2019

Aversion Therapy


On one of our walks this week, sweet-natured Bear accidentally traumatized a toddler. I gave the mother some pamphlets about Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.

Unresolved trauma can leave psychic scars, resulting in everything from claustrophobia to fear of flying. There’s a whole cadre of mental health counselors offering “systematic desensitization therapy.” They attempt to reprogram the patient’s amgydala – the almond-shaped brain structure that controls our ancient “fight or flight” instinct. As patients are gradually exposed to a phobic situation, their amygdala gets increasingly accustomed to the specific stressor. Eventually the patient’s brain stops releasing hormones like adrenaline and cortisol into the bloodstream.  

In a version of this therapy called “flooding,” counselors simply expose their clients to the full horror of their phobic situation. Repeatedly. Supposedly the amygdala learns from this experience that things aren’t so bad, and stops releasing stress hormones. Laypeople call this approach “sink or swim.” Or “abuse.”

Buster and Bear watching WWU students play Quidditch

As I wrote earlier this year in “Passive Aggression,” some people are born with a profound sense of place. For example, as you’ve probably figured out by now, I’m mad about Vancouver, British Columbia. Everyone should be – Vancouver is stunningly gorgeous and warmly welcoming. Other than being close to family, the best thing about my move to Bellingham has been spending as much time as possible in Vancouver. 

I originally moved up from Seattle four years ago to take a job with the Washington Attorney General’s Office as chief legal advisor to Western Washington University. As I’ve chronicled on this blog, the job didn’t work out. But the kids are thriving here. Despite the occasional biblical plague, now I’m thriving here too. Even though my parents moved to Bellingham thirty-eight years ago, this summer for the first time Bellingham felt like my home. 


Western Washington University is Bellingham’s largest employer and our dominating community presence. Other than when I worked at Western during 2015-16, I’ve always been a townie. Nevertheless, I’d occasionally visit the university for school events and community meetings. The girls' high school is across the street from Western. Despite my PTSD and various unpleasant work memories, I haven’t had any serious qualms about visiting campus. At least most places on campus.  

A couple of years ago I needed to meet someone in Old Main, where my office as the university's general counsel was located. Although I’d walked by the building a few times, I hadn’t been back inside since the Monday morning in 2016 when my supervisor’s supervisor’s supervisor arrived to take away my keys, and sent me home forever.

I was nervous as I walked through Old Main's long halls. However, as with my other cautious visits elsewhere on campus, I was relieved to find the building itself didn’t trigger any PTSD symptoms. Then I unexpectedly saw one of my abusers.

Except I didn’t see actually her. Half my visual field disappeared. I literally, clinically, and visually disassociated. This was one of only two or three times in my life when something like that has ever happened to me. 

I haven’t been back inside Old Main since then. And I became nervous about returning to campus at all.  


“Aversion therapy” actually refers to treatment where the patient is exposed to a stimulus while simultaneously subjected to some form of discomfort. The purpose of aversion therapy is reduce the likelihood of engaging in the targeted behavior. For example, when one of my children developed a nail-biting habit, I ordered a nausea-inducing nail polish. Of course my child merely acquired a taste for nasty nail polish.

Aversion therapy has been around for a while. According to Wikipedia, Pliny the Elder attempted to cure alcoholism in first-century Rome by putting putrid spiders into the wine goblets of suspected substance abusers. When I attended Brigham Young University in the 1980s, doctors were still attaching electrodes to the genitals of desperate Mormon gay boys as they exposed these youths to gay porn, in a futile and cruel attempt to shock them into heterosexuality. 

The dogs' anti-barking shock collar

In August my ex and his husband filed for divorce, and my ex moved to the Midwest to start a new life. The kids will be staying with me fulltime, but they look forward to visiting Daddy during school breaks. 

To make the transition as smooth as possible for the kids, I ended up taking over their lease on a comfortable ranch house. It’s been an adventure. After all these years living with Victorian antiques under cathedral ceilings, who knew I really belonged in a mid-century modern rambler? With a couple of dogs?

Our house is perfectly located up the hill from historic Fairhaven Village and Bellingham’s charming waterfront boardwalk. The neighbors are comically friendly. We’re close to the kids’ schools. 

We’re also just a block from the university. All of the dogs' favorite routes for walks go through campus. They're particularly fond of the rose garden next to Old Main.


Despite the unfortunate circumstances of my departure from the Washington Attorney General’s Office three years ago, I bear no ill-will toward any of my former clients at Western Washington University. To the contrary, I enjoyed my time at the university, and would welcome the opportunity to be part of the campus community again. Folks in Seattle can only dream about such a lovely setting and effortless commute.

Unlike typical wrongful termination settlements with the State, the Settlement Agreement that my lawyer negotiated does not bar me from seeking employment with Western or other state agencies. Indeed, one of the parties’ intentions when we mediated my claim was to facilitate efforts to find suitable employment in the Bellingham area. Every time there’s a lawyer-adjacent job opening at the university, I submit an application. 

So far I haven’t gotten any interviews. My mother says it’s because my blog writing is too frank. But the Washington Law Against Discrimination forbids employers from retaliating against applicants who previously asserted their right to be free from discrimination. My Settlement Agreement with the State goes an step further and prohibits my former employers from saying anything about me beyond my name, rank, and serial number.  

I think Western hasn't invited me to interview for any of these jobs because I’m a middle-aged white guy. Or gay. Or lavishly overqualified. In any event, hopefully by the time Western is ready to hire me, I’ll be ready to go back to work.


The modern words “aversion” and “avert” come from old Latin and English roots meaning “to turn away.” Who can forget the classic exchange in Monty Python and the Holy Grail between King Arthur and God:

God:       Arthur, King of the Britons! [Arthur and the Knights grovel] Oh, don’t grovel!  If there’s one thing I can't stand, it’s people groveling.

Arthur:   Sorry.

God:       And don’t apologize! Every time I try to talk to someone, it's “I’m sorry” this, and “forgive me” that, and “I’m not worthy”... What are you doing now?

Arthur:   Averting our eyes, oh Lord.

God:       Well, don’t. 

Avoidance, denial, and repression can be useful coping mechanisms in a crisis. But they’re not healthy longterm strategies.

Sometimes we can overcome the effects of traumatic experiences by desensitizing ourselves – directly facing the unpleasant stimuli, and persuading our brains we have nothing to fear. Other times we can channel negative energy into positive endeavors. Or we can avert disaster by plotting a new course. 

A couple of weeks ago, I was copied on an unexpected letter from a government lawyer who should have known better than to burden us all with clumsy lies. Reading the letter predictably triggered a rush of PTSD symptoms. Fortunately, I was able to take the dogs on a long walk through campus and the arboretum.   

Therapy can go from being a crutch, to a tool, to a muse. Recently I wrote about my experiences in "Walking the Dogs":

As we begin our walks, I’m often still stewing over some lawyerly letter, or another futile job application, or a Machiavellian public records request. I’ve turned into cranky R.P. Tyler from Good Omens as he walks Shutzi – writing letters to the editor in my head in response to each indignation. Fortunately, Bear and Buster refuse to put up with lawyer talk. 

On this day we all needed an extra long walk. As we left the house, I was mentally drafting an outraged response letter, plus a snarky bonus email. It helped me soothe my symptoms, process my anger, and channel my energy into something arguably productive.  

Then we ran into a lesbian walking her gentle golden retriever through the Quidditch quad on campus. The sun was shining. We chatted as dog people do. For the first time in weeks, Bear and Buster miraculously didn’t bark at the other dog.

As the dogs and I continued our walk, I abandoned my indignant mental letter. Instead, I started thinking about the ways people can learn to overcome adversity. When we got home the dogs napped on the couch. And I wrote down this essay.


Fall quarter started last week. On one of our walks, the dogs and I wandered by a horde of students waiting for convocation outside Old Main. I kept hearing sighs of “Ah, cute....” It's never going to be about me.

Change takes time. That can be a good thing. By the time I finally get a job interview in Old Main, Buster and Bear will be certified as “Service Dogs,” rather than mere “Comfort Animals.” So I’ll get to bring them with me. It’s the law.