it’s been a little while…

Many, many things have happened since I last posted. Not only do I have my Master’s degree, but my LCSW as well. I have a real full-time job as a psychiatric social worker on a geriatric in-patient unit. My wife and I have moved in with our daughter and her kids. My son is going through a divorce (he can’t move in with us, though: he has a cat and I’m deathly allergic). Lots of change in a little space of time. My anxiety has been through the roof most days since July.

I have been unable to read anything new, so I’ve been re-reading the Harry Potter books. My car stereo is down to two kinda functioning speakers, so music hasn’t been as enjoyable, so nothing new there. I guess some sameness in the middle of this insanity is ok. Once the dust truly settles I can get back to other things.

My hope is to have the time to update her more often. I know blogs are passe now, but I’m not young and hip enough for a vlog. See you soon.



Well, hello there stranger!

I am in the process of updating the site, and hopefully adding more stuff and things. Like posts. Not sure about what form this will take. Maybe I’ll start a whole new one somewhere else. Not doing the vlog thing. I don’t think anyone wants to see that.

r. i. p.

Rich Macchi (picture via Kriss Barnhart)

Rich Macchi (picture via Kriss Barnhart)

This past weekend it was difficult to keep my concentration at work. I threw myself into whatever task I could find or create. The good thing was that I got through a lot of paperwork. My coworker on Sunday had little left to do, as I was pushing through all the work. The reason for the need to keep moving was that late Thursday I learned of the death of one of my oldest friends, Rich Macchi.

I met Rich in the Fall of 1984 at BC High. I was part of an “out” group of nerds, geeks, and other odds and ends. Personally I was more odd than end. Smart but ambivalent about school work. Hockey player but hated hanging around with jocks. I stuck to the clarinet from then on. We had claimed our own table in the cafeteria, and first thing in the morning we would gather for some coarse language and laughter. Usually at each others expense. Snort an Oreo? Sure! Practical jokes? Oh yeah. We even had our own Christmas Tree.

Enter: Rich!

Enter: Rich! (picture via Kathryn Moakler Goodman)

One morning as we sat at the table before classes, this kid came and sat down with us. None of us had met him before. Without missing a beat he fit right in. Within a minute he was an indispensable part of the group. We joined the new school band together. He was already an incredible drummer.

Over the next 10 years Rich and I would be each others’ foil. We pushed each others’ most deeply held beliefs and convictions, sometimes to the point of almost physical altercation. We tried on many ideas and philosophies: we were Catholic (him not so much), Buddhist, Atheist…never satisfied with one answer, but always searching. Always questioning. Never letting the other get away with convenience or accommodation.

We also spent much of the time talking music. On the 20th anniversary of Sgt. Pepper’s we drank excessively and deconstructed each song. Granted by the third listening we were reduced to “Wow…that’s awesome…cool…” but still.

Some people have said that Rich wasn’t afraid to try anything. I’m not sure that that is a completely accurate sentiment. I think that rather Rich was not afraid to become who he was. New experiences were opportunities to find boundaries, push past them. Learn.

Rich in one of his many communities. (Photo via Kate Morrissey)

Rich in one of his many communities (Photo via Kate Morrissey)

Regardless of our other beliefs, or whatever label we put on them, Rich and I shared two core convictions: the sacredness of Human Connection, and that “life is stories”.

Rich was forever meeting people, drawing them into his circle, and introducing them to others. He built networks effortlessly. For me this imperative is expressing itself in social work, where I try to make deeper connections with my clients and truly place myself where they are. For Rich it was a constant expanding of friends. And the stories…

He could pull you in with a few words, and before you knew it he was launched into storyteller mode. He collected them, remembered them all. And there’s the stories we have in common which I’ll never forget.

Spending a night with another friend from high school in my college apartment in Worcester in an altered state, trying very hard to rhyme something with “pachinko machine” and failing. The night devolved into a raucous seemingly hours long rendition of “Row Row Row Your Boat”.

Leaving campus between classes to take the train from Dorchester to in-town Boston. Walking around Harvard Square singing “Feelin’ Groovy” at the tops of our lungs.

The fact that he could learn anything he put his mind to.

I could continue on about the Rich I knew. There are many other stories of him out there, and I hope to hear them in the future the way he would want: in person with his friends. We had drifted apart the last few years, but always with the thought that we had time to reconnect. Dammit; that’s a lesson I should have learned by now. There is never enough future to count on. You have to do it now.

Goodbye, Rich. I will always remember and cherish the stories we shared.

Rich, god of fire! (photo via Ashley Pappas).

Rich, god of fire! (photo via Ashley Pappas).


I realize it has been a long while, and I apologize. School, internship, and work have been in the way. Hopefully I can get into the swing of this.

Today was my final day at my internship at the VA. I wrapped up my clinical work, and I’ve said my goodbyes to the veterans on the long-term care ward. This has not been an easy process.

When I talked with the veterans, I said to them: “Thank you for letting me be a part of your life for this school year. I am honored to be able to help you, and thank you for your service.” For the Vietnam vets, I also make sure to tell them “Welcome home.”

One Vietnam veteran who could be the dictionary definition of stoic, looked at me for several seconds and then shook my hand. “It has been a pleasure” he said. The gesture and words from this man was quite an emotional moment.

I will also miss the work itself. Not only talking with the residents of the Long Term Care ward twice a week, but also working in other buildings as well. Completing psychosocials has been an amazing source of growth for my clinical skills. The conversations at times were highly emotionally charged. While keeping confidentiality means I have to leave out details, I can say that discharge planning can be a tricky, messy business.

My supervisor told me that I have been doing Masters level clinical work for a while now. She laid out the original plan for me, and told me how she altered it based on what I showed in my work. The feedback was great to hear. The time spent in discussion with my supervisor each week was invaluable in helping me process what happened and learn what I did well and what I can improve.

At the end of all this is a Bachelors degree in Social Work. My family has always valued education, and I must admit I’ve felt myself lacking at times over the years since I had the opportunity to get my degree out of high school but…umm…didn’t. Yes: this was self-judgment. My family never made me feel bad for not following through. I’ve lived a life of harsh self-judgment however, and I’ve worked hard to change that. This is a huge step in that direction.

I chose social work because I want to make a difference. It sounds hokey and stereotypical, however true it is. As a psychologist I could sit in an office and talk with people, one on one, and gradually help clients. As a social worker though I can be in the community, out where the people are, providing direct help.

That’s all for now.

A brief talk about homelessness

It is always interesting to me when either talking with people about homeless shelters or reading editorials by people on the topic, who declaim that shelters cause crime. Their solution is to simply shut the shelter down.

The question that follows is:

Where do the homeless people go?

The answer is simple;

Back onto the streets of your city.

They don’t disappear or disperse. They have nowhere else to go. Otherwise they wouldn’t be there in there in the first place.

Shelters serve specific areas. That means that the people in the shelter I work at are from the Quincy area. They are not causing waves of crime. These crimes would be happening anyway, possibly they would be worse since the homeless people would have no where to go every night. Granted that there are people experiencing homeless who do not use shelters, but we try to help as many as we can stay someplace safe each night.

It must be understood that a homeless shelter does not attract “freeloaders” from larger cities who bring drugs and gangs and crime to the city streets. While it is true that people experiencing homelessness can be found in larger numbers near a shelter, the main point that people tend to miss is that they were there before the shelter was; the shelter didn’t summon them magically. These are people who are already right there in the community with you.

These are men and women who live there, grew up there, went to school with you. Why should they leave their city? Rather than hope the problem disappears, why not help to make it better? I will admit that our building is not a glorious sight to behold. How about fixing it up? Maybe help pay for treatment programs so that guests can overcome addictions?

One reason the drug problem in Quincy may be seen as worsening is that Father Bill’s had to close it’s wet shelter back in 2002. As a result, these human beings no longer had access to the shelter, since it then became a dry shelter (no alcohol or drug use allowed, no intoxication without recrimination). In short, they were placed back on the streets from where they came. And there was surprise that crime saw an uptick?


Sorry for the rant. I’m doing initial research on a proposal to do more research that would deal with the intersection of three areas I’m interested in currently: the homeless, elders, and the continuum of care. Basically; elders are expected to stay home as long as possible, and avoid long-term care facilities. But what does that mean for a homeless elder? How does a sixty-year old man in an emergency shelter “age in place”? What does that look like, and what does it mean for the future as the Boomer cohort explodes into senior status?

I will be sitting down with several professors to see if I can work this into some kind of grant or assistanceship if I get into the MSW program at Bridgewater. That reminds me; time to start visiting grad schools! My list so far is Bridgewater, RI College, Simmons, BU, and BC. I was going to link to their sites, but it’s 2 am and I’m really tired.


We saw the film “The Way, Way Back” today, and it was great. I highly recommend it. They filmed it in Marshfield and Wareham. Parts of Deluxbury…I mean Duxbury, too.

Next time I’ll write something funnier. Maybe. We’ll see.

up and down

There are many things going on in life right now. Some are great, and some are…not so much.

On the positive side; I was able to get the internship I wanted for my senior field work next fall. As part of the social work program, our senior field is an internship lasting both fall and spring sessions. The work should be at least 16 hours a week, and includes classwork, forms such as process recordings, and a capstone project.

The internship will be at the VA in Brockton, and will entail working with nursing-home eligible veterans with spinal cord injuries. These are veterans in long-term care, and the work includes group therapy, individual assistance, case management, and other things I will learn later. I am psyched for this opportunity. When discussing the possibility with the department field work supervisor, we checked off all the boxes I was looking for in a field placement; elders, long-term care, hospital, and veterans. This is the work I have wanted to do, and jumped at the chance to do it.

I also recently had to look for paid work. Two years ago this May, Borders Books in Hyannis closed for the last time, and since then the state has been helping me and my family get through my taking classes with unemployment assistance. Now, two years later, that assistance is over. I couldn’t have made it this far into the program without that help. Massachusetts is one of the best states for unemployment, and I and my family are better off for having it. Many bills would have been unpaid and grocery trips skipped otherwise. One more thing to be said for living in a solid Blue state.

The job I was offered recently, and took, is working at Father Bill’s homeless shelter in Quincy doing support staff work from 4 pm-midnight three days a week. Part of this involves helping check people in and other front-desk duties. The rest I’ll learn about soon in training. It feels great to know that not only am I getting a paid job for the first time in two years, but it is something  I want to be doing.

This semester we helped with a research project where the class interviewed guests of the MainSpring shelter in Brockton. The experience reminded me of why I wanted to go into social work, and I knew that I needed to work in the shelter. Talking with the men and women, listening to their stories, but not being able to delve deeper into what they were saying since we had to stick to interview protocols, was frustrating. My hope is that in taking this job I can help, and learn from the people and experience. I’m excited to have this job and work with this population.

All of this I chalk up to what happens when you stop fighting and pushing to move your life in specific directions. As Aleister Crowley once said; “A man who is doing his true will has the inertia of the universe behind him.” I’ve always thought it was a nice quote, and haven’t really understood it until now. (I hear you…”Crowley? Really? Weirdo…” But I worked in a bookstore, and as a person on a spiritual quest in such circumstances I read everything I could get my hands on. As Robert Hunter and Gerry Garcia wrote; “Once in a while you get shown the light/in the strangest of places/ if you look at it right.” A great piece of advice.)

Maybe some fine day I’ll write a but about Buddhist conceptions of karma; easily one of the most misunderstood aspects of the religion. Actually the link is the best explanation I’ve found, so I can check that off the to-do list.

I bring up karma because in one sense it is about actions and consequences. For me specifically, it involves damage I inflicted on my body over a ten-year span. The good news is that I’m recovery, and doing pretty well with it. The unfortunate news is that I am left with Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), and it’s brother Barret’s Esophagus. Oh; and I have a hiatus hernia (aka hiatal hernia) too.

This entails a complete change in eating habits. No more acidic foods, such as tomatoes! Thai food! coffee!! and pretty much every else I love to eat. Sriracha! Oh well.

I will meet with a nutrtionist soon, and see if there is more to life than apples and cinnamon, bananas and salad. And black licorice! That is the one good news, and explains why I’ve always loved the stuff. Anisette cookies are still on the menu! It also probably explains why I’ve loved Galliano all these years, although that is obviously off the menu anyway.

So there are ups and downs, like always. The frustrating thing, especially with the hernia, is that when the GERD acts up and keeps me awake late into the night, like tonight, then the hernia also acts up. That means no picking up the grandkids to give hugs, or play with them for any length of time. There is no way to get comfortable, since the pain shoots around the front to back, until it feels like my middle is on fire. It also makes it hard to walk across campus with my backpack on, like today, which is causing these issues now. I had a bad night last week, and overdid some lifting a couple of days later, and nowhere I am. Waiting for the pain killer to kick in and kick my butt.

So a lesson; don’t ignore your heartburn! Find out what caused it and STOP DOING IT for Chrissakes. It’s nothing to fool around with.


Sorry there isn’t more fun. So many other things are happening; my volunteer job is great, there’s new Kristin Hersh music, Chucklehead is talking reunion, hockey playoffs are starting soon…more and better stuff next time!


thoughts on “The Dead”

This is a paper I wrote for a class this semester; ‘Short Stories on Film’. The class is great, the material very interesting, and the professor really excited to be teaching it. This was the first assignment we had to do. In lieu of a regular post I thought I would share this here while I work on some other ideas. This has been a busy semester, so I have several half-finished posts. Perhaps I’ll put up another paper or two. Needless to say the work is mine, and if anyone tries to highjack it I will hunt them down and hurt them badly.


Joyce and Huston: Poetry of Word and Image

            In the story “The Dead” James Joyce shows a night in Dublin through the inner world of his character Gabriel Conroy.  It is through partaking in Gabriel’s thoughts by the use of free indirect discourse that Joyce unfolds the story of Gabriel’s epiphany and the great themes he wishes to convey; the recognition of the passage of time, inevitable death, and what happens to the living.  Joyce gives to Gabriel a love of and a world bounded by words that is reflected in the narrative itself, and sets the tone for a story that moves between the mundane and transcendent.  In his pursuit of realism, Joyce employs an awkward yet resonant poetry to lift the narrative above mere description of a holiday party.  Above all to Joyce, and to Gabriel, it is the choice of words that is important, as can be seen in Gabriel’s constant fretting over his speech.  Joyce also shows this preciseness of word and poetic flow in his descriptions of the characters; “…on his hairless face there scintillated restlessly the polished lenses and bright guilt rims of the glasses which screened his delicate and restless eyes” (Joyce 8).  How, then, is the filmmaker to translate this exactness of phrase into the language of film? As Dudley Andrew asks: “…how is translation of poetic texts conceivable from one language to another…?” (Andrew 32).

In his essay “Adaptation” Andrew discusses the different languages of cinema and literature, and says that the symbology of film can be equally as powerful and expressive as that of literature (Andrew 32).  It is not enough, however, to merely go word for word by the original text, but the specific language of film must be used to capture and translate the meaning of the story.  The director John Huston, then, has taken on a difficult task to move the preciseness and poesy of Joyce’s vocabulary to the visual medium of the cinema in a way that loses none of the original power. In this task, Huston is successful.

Because of the nature of film Huston must move the narrative out of Gabriel’s thoughts rather than present us with two hours of voice-overs.  Huston is also allowed to fill in and give what is missed or passed over by Gabriel in Joyce’s text.  We hear Freddy Malins talk with Mr. Browne, rather than the conversation disappearing into the background in favor of the description of action that Joyce employed (Joyce 17).  Material that is added to a story runs the risk of distorting it and bending the original narrative out of shape.  In the hands of Huston, however, each addition was placed with as much precision as Joyce’s vocabulary.  The altering of Gabriel’s speeches, at the dinner table and the inner dialogue at the end, attempt to reach the viewer on the same emotional level as the story.  Simply parroting the lines would have been an easy thing to do but, as Andrew points out, it would appear “mechanical” (Andrew 31).

It is with the introduction of Mr. Grace, a new character, that we see Huston’s first attempt to reach for the poetry that filled Joyce’s work.  Even the use of the name Grace tips the viewer off, perhaps a little too obviously, that this gentleman brings something more to the story than just another piece of the background. Mr. Grace’s recitation of “Broken Vows” serves to elevate the moment.  The choice of this poem itself with its theme of youth and loss serves to move the narrative forward by unbalancing Gretta, setting her on the road to her own epiphany later in the story.  As she relaxes on the couch, she is confronted with the poem delivered in an accusatory recitation by Mr. Grace:

            “You promised me, and you said a lie to me,

            That you would be before me where the sheep are flocked.

            I gave a whistle and three hundred cries to you,

            But found nothing there but a bleating lamb”

In Mr. Grace’s reading, we hear the as yet unnamed voice of Michael Furey reaching out to Gretta.  She feels keenly the sense of responsibility and grief for his fate that she has buried over the years.  By including this work specifically, an ancient Irish ballad, Huston reaches for deeper meaning as well, for it is in Gretta’s “ancient past” where this memory lay.  It is a subtle tip to Gabriel’s, and Joyce’s, worry that the Ireland they know, the Ireland of the present, is fading and being overtaken by an Irishness of the past.  The viewer has a double meaning here, in keeping with Joyce’s writing style and use of subtext to confer multiple meanings.  Gretta’s past is reaching out to change her, and Gabriel’s, life utterly.  In an equal sense, this is something “general all over Ireland” (Joyce 70) as the present of the nation itself is being transformed permanently by an ancient sense of Irishness.  On each level sweeping changes in relationship are happening, and Huston does an excellent job of communicating this point by including “Broken Vows” and Mr. Grace.

At the end of the reading, Gretta appears almost in shock, and the rest of the group sits transfixed at this “very strange” poem.  Lily appears at the top of the stairs, cutting the emotion of the moment visually.  She signals and end to their collective revelry and brings them back into the present.

A challenge for Huston in moving the narrative out of Gabriel’s thoughts is how to maintain the momentum of the work, which is leading to his epiphany, without sacrificing the poetry of Joyce’s writing.  In answering this challenge, Huston gives a greater role to Gretta, allowing him to render her emotions in a visually poetic manner that cinematically echoes Joyce’s language.   In Joyce’s telling she is more foil than substance; a mirror through which Gabriel can see his revelation reflected back at him.  It is in the movie that her epiphany comes through more strongly.  Mr. Grace’s recitation serves to unsettle her, and give the impression that something is happening inside her as much as Gabriel.  She reaches her moment of enlightenment first when she is captured by the music as she is coming down the stairs.  Joyce’s original text hints at the importance of the moment, but it is filtered through Gabriel’s self-absorbed thoughts.  His description of her as standing in shadow removes her from the mundane and places her in another realm (Joyce 51), the realm of the dead and memory.  In his most visually poetic moment, Huston shows us a full shot of Gretta paused on the stairs silhouetted by the stained glass behind her.  She is veiled as a statue of the Virgin Mary, her face in light and body in shadow, all pointing to her being lost in this other world.  It is in this moment that Gretta feels the force of her revelation; the loss of her past love and how it colors her life to this day.  In both works it is Gretta’s epiphany on the stairs that is the engine for Gabriel’s own revelation to follow.  This is given more prominence in Huston’s film as it is a visual moment, where Gabriel’s moment comes through his thoughts and language.

After arriving at their hotel room, Gretta is unable to verbally convey her feelings to Gabriel, and he must interrogate her; he must use his words to draw forth the meaning of what she saw on the stairs.  In the film, the interrogation is rendered in another visually poetic gesture.  We see the couple move together and apart, alternating in light and darkness.  We see them also as shadows on the wall, evocative of the shadows of the past being called forth.  Gabriel and Gretta stand slightly apart (at 1:08:00) while their silhouettes embrace behind them.  In a moment of double symbolism it can be seen as Michael Furey and Gretta in an embrace from the past and also the coming together of Gabriel and his wife to a new shared understanding of their relationship.

For all Huston’s success in cinematically recreating the poetry and imagery of Joyce’s text, one moment remains inscrutable: the gap or passage of time towards the end of the story. In their hotel room, as Gretta sobs Gabriel takes her hand and then “…let it fall gently and walked quietly to the window.”  There is then a double space that indicates some time passing, and then “She was fast asleep.” (Joyce 67).  It is here in the text, unspoken, it can be inferred that Gabriel gathers his thoughts and processes what has happened.  The space is pregnant with unspoken meaning.  Action has taken place, since Gabriel and Gretta are now undressed and in bed.  What was said, if anything?  It remains a poetic silence, and allows Gabriel time to come to his epiphany.

Huston leaves this space untouched.  It is possible that he found no adequate way to translate the moment, considered insignificant, or unnecessary.  In the film Gretta is on the bed crying and then sleeping.  Gabriel stands at the window, staring at the snow “general all over Ireland” (Joyce 70) and finds the words to express his realization.  Huston uses the moment to move inside Gabriel’s mind in a voice-over.  Gabriel has synthesized the events of the evening, and has found his poetic language to give voice to his realization.  Here Huston, even with the editing and adding slightly to the soliloquy, ends with the language of Joyce and pays homage to the wordsmith while ensuring the audience is not left wanting for clarity of meaning.

Bringing James Joyce’s work to film may seem on the face of it to be a daunting task.  The precise use of language, both poetic and multilayered, that he employs does not lend itself to obvious visual interpretation.  A director may work word-for-word from the text, but the result would be mechanical at best and unintelligible at worst.  John Huston, in taking on the challenge of “The Dead”, reached deep into his considerable knowledge of cinematic and visual vocabulary.  He effectively translates the written word of Joyce into a visual language that is every bit as powerful and meaningful as the author intended.  This gives hope to other directors seeking to translate difficult literary works to the screen.  Huston shows us that cinema has the visual language to match the written word, even when those words do not immediately bring a visual equivalent to mind.  By taking Joyce, an author whose use of language was multilayered and precise, and moving him into the visual realm without sacrificing meaning or significance, John Huston makes it possible for other directors to attempt similar feats.

 Works Cited

Andrew, Dudley. “Adaptation”. Film Adaptation. James Naremore. New Brunswick, NJ:

Rutgers University Press, 2000. 30-37. Print

The Dead. Dir. John Huston. Perf. Donal McCann, Angelica Huston. Lions Gate, 1987. Film.

Joyce, James. The Dead. Claremont, CA: Coyote Canyon Press, 2008. Print.

%d bloggers like this: