Leaving the Day Job in Meat Space

by William Skink

Before leaving my job at the homeless shelter last month I gave Ed Kemmick a call to pitch a guest article for publication at Last Best News. Last Friday my “in-the-trenches look at homelessness” went up, which you can read here. I’d like to thank Ed for giving me a more credible platform from which to share my experiences.

I’ve learned a lot these last 7 years as Missoula has struggled to deal with the shelter-resistent population. I have listened to the frustrations from first responders and watched well-meaning politicians pass misguided ordinances. I have watched the crisis at the jail develop and directly experienced the resurgence of meth when I was assaulted last September.

My frustrations stem from lived experiences, not just from things I read online. I have earned my cynicism. Until now, though, I haven’t been able to write as directly as I would have liked to about the local issues I have been directly involved in. That’s going to change.

When I was given the boot last June from 4&20 Blackbirds, I explained my reluctance to take on local issues more directly in the comments when I said that I would like to write more about local stuff, but the actions of people who don’t like my opinions have made that much more difficult. A few days after making that statement, my former boss and current state representative decided to add her two cents on Jay’s move to “re-boot”:

Jay, sorry for the delay in reading this post. I was told last night about the reboot… because like most people, I stopped reading 4&20 long ago.

In the beginning this was a useful forum for progressive voices.

In the last few years, it has been toxic and angry and ugly.

As I wrote in a comment minutes ago to J-girl, in politics if you hate EVERYONE in the room, there is nobody left. At 4&20, the room was empty except a bunch of guys holding rocks.

I welcome the change and reboot. Brave and overdue.

And for what it is worth, I would block Mark Tokarski. I don’t know the guy and he is welcome to cast that venom in a forum that he hosts– or do it in the Missoulian comment section– but I don’t need that kind of rhetoric when I read from thoughtful contributors to 4&20.
Good luck and let me know how I can support your work here. Best, Ellie

I didn’t respond to this comment at the time, but I’m going to now.

I’m not “in politics” so I have to take Rep. Hill’s word that if you hate everyone, there is no one left. For the record, I don’t “hate everyone”, but I do get frustrated and angry from time to time. Up until now I couldn’t really say that part of my frustration was the failed leadership of a non-profit director who jumped into politics while leaving the non-profit in a less than stable place, but there it is.

Instead of being in politics, for the past 7 years I’ve been in the real world where the practical trumps the political. And because I’ve been more focused on practical needs, the relationships I’ve been able to establish will continue in my absence, and those relationships are more important than I can describe.

As I try to recover from my burnout, I’m very worried about those on the front lines. Last Best News followed up the Indy’s feature on meth with a great piece worth reading, echoing the criticism of the Montana Meth Project. But meth is just one of many issues that are emerging simultaneously to the forefront.

There is an aging crisis coming (some would say already here) and a lack of skilled nursing infrastructure to deal with it, there is the jail overcrowding issue that has made my job and the jobs of police and other first responders more dangerous (the guy who assaulted me didn’t even go to jail, just appeared before the judge, pled no contest, and was back on the streets in hours).

Adult Projective Services is overwhelmed, Child Protective Services is overwhelmed, access to treatment for addiction is abysmal and Warm Springs is busting at the seams. Meanwhile, a person who used to be in a position of influence was recently busted on drug charges:

A former state doctor who is facing an indefinite suspension of his medical license for alleged illegal drug use was arrested in Butte Friday night on misdemeanor charges of disorderly conduct and possession of dangerous drugs.

Mark Jay Catalanello was a staff physician at the Montana State Hospital in Warm Springs and served as the medical director at the Montana Chemical Dependency Center in Butte until October, when the Montana Board of Medical Examiners temporarily suspended his medical license amid accusations that he was using illegal drugs.

I hope this provides a little context regarding my cynical disposition. I also hope that people will respect the fact I’m going to continue writing under a pseudonym here. I don’t want to give any of the unstable people I’ve had interactions with in my day job more insight into my personal opinions than necessary.

About Travis Mateer

I'm an artist and citizen journalist living and writing in Montana. You can contact me here: willskink at yahoo dot com
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4 Responses to Leaving the Day Job in Meat Space

  1. steve kelly says:

    “How dreadful knowledge of the truth can be when there’s no help in truth!”
    Sophocles, Oedipus Rex

    Hang in there. Trends do not look good. A “golden rule” for the times we live in: Best to take care of yourself and your family at least as well as you treat others.

  2. I speak fluent party hack. “Venom” means lack of respect for party hacks. This was explained to me years ago by Bob Decker, perhaps a genuine fella who was head of MWA at that time. I admired him, anyway. I was young and didn’t grasp it, but he essentially said that you have to curtsy at the door of party hacks, Hill being a current one, and if you don’t, you don’t get in the room. They own the news media, the forums, and the megaphones. You either kiss their sorry asses, or you are not heard.

    These are resentful people who have no dignity, no capability for honest inquiry, and treat every issue with deep cynicism. And they win the elections, making me think that the machines are rigged. Have not just one beer with them but four or five, watch them disintegrate into venom. They are snakes.

    And that is why she took special note of me, as I know them, live them, breathe them, understand them, and they hate me for it. I welcome the hatred!

  3. Rob Kailey says:

    No offense meant, Lizard, but you don’t present as cynical. You write as one who is bitter. There is a significant difference between the two. I’m not judging; I saw what my mother’s working with the mentally ill did to her, my father and what passed for our ‘family’. Given your previous employment, it is understandable. I hope that in time you can see the difference as well.

    We’ve had a brief and quickly derailed discussion before about whether or not politics is corruption and the notion that human society is inherently political. I suggest that any effort to effect change, practical or otherwise, is always political and always will be. The cynic often abandons that effort out of a belief that no result is better than any other. The bitter retain the anger of a lost hope, that if only ‘the other’ would DO in the right way then there might be hope for better outcome. That’s not a rationalization, it’s blame, in a kind of scattergun way. Maybe that’s your intention and maybe not. I’m not in your head, and can only read what you write. What you write seems pretty angry at potential allies. Note please, allies aren’t those who agree with us on all causes and affects. That’s MySpace thinking. Allies are those we need something from, and if they’re good allies, they need something from us as well. Practicality dictates gaining allies. Pushing them away because they don’t give you what you want when you want it, even if they want the same thing, pretty much assures disappointment and bitterness. There is no division between the practical and the political, save this: those who really understand that union control the money.

    I’ve had a few (or more) beers with Rep. Hill. She did not ‘disintegrate into venom’, or grow snakes from her scalp and turn me to stone, or spout party hackery. She’s just a person trying to do what she thinks is best, caught in the same miasma of power and control as the rest of us. Your experience with her, I presume as an employer, is obviously different than mine, Lizard. I’m not going to argue with your assessment, just as I clearly understand that you have no basis to argue with mine. As long as you contend that ‘politics’ is not part of the ‘real world’, then your bitter presentation of what is ‘real’ will continue. I’ll keep reading either way, of course.

  4. We are constantly hit with this: politicians who give us nothing, lie to us, manipulate us, stand firm on no belief and easily reject any cause that does not promote their careers, are said to be our “allies.” If we reject them for what they are, cynical manipulators, WE are called “cynics.” That was Decker’s point: you have to genuflect at the door before scumbags, or you don’t get in the door.

    Honest leaders form coalitions of people who barely tolerate in another, and in so doing are able to accomplish great things. That has not happened in Montana in many a decade. Tom Towe, Chet Blaylock, for instance, dealt up and down in an honest manner, and got things done. cUrrent Democrats, if they get anything done at all, do it for the other party, as they are under their skin right wingers with skeletons. That is how they are vetted for office. No skeletons, honest and open about beliefs … Take a hike.

    And you ain’t never sat down and had beers with anyone like Hill or anyone in power. How do I know this? I know you. I do suggest you do what I did, run for office, to discover the true nature of the political class. They care about nothing, no issue, no group. They do cry crocodile tears over wedge issues. When I ran in ’96 they advised me to back away from the two issues most important to progressives that year, ballot issues, minimum wage, clean water, and suggested in private that unions should be honored in public but also ignored. True story.

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