Warning: This poem contains some intense topics. Highlight to read the warnings, some of which are spoilers. It contains emotional breakdown, worried people, a call to the police, extreme angst, erratic behavior, academic problems, reference to people refusing to solve problems they created, and other challenges. Given the length of this story arc, it doesn't exactly have a happy ending, although solutions are planned. If these are are sensitive subject areas for you, please consider your tastes and headspace before moving onward.
"Show a Genuine Concern"
When the call came through that
Kyle McCartney was breaking down
outside Ashby's Feed & Seed Shop,
Ansel pulled his patrol car into
a U-turn and headed there.
He parked in the closest spot
he could find and jogged to where
Kyle was trying to wring a song
from his guitar by brute force.
"Hi, Kyle," said Ansel. "We
just got a call about you and --
"So now I'm getting grief from
the shopkeepers too?" Kyle said,
pacing the sidewalk in a tight loop.
"No, Mr. Ashby emphasized that
he had a concern, not a complaint,"
Ansel said. "He was worried that you
might wander out into traffic, and now
that I've seen you today, so am I."
Kyle looked at the stream of cars.
"I won't," he said, but it sounded
so unconvincing that it made Ansel
worry even more about him.
"Can you tell me what has you
all wound up like this?" Ansel said.
"A lot of people know you here, and they
would get upset if anything happened to you.
If I know what's wrong, maybe I can help."
"I'm about to flunk out of college,"
Kyle said, his voice cracking. He
hunched over his guitar. "I only have
until finals before they kick me out."
"No wonder you're so unhappy," Ansel said.
"Let's go get ourselves some cocoa, and
then we can sit down to talk about this."
Kyle looked at his guitar case where
a few forlorn quarters glinted against
the velvet. "Maybe another time."
"My treat," Ansel specified. "Come on,
we'll feel better when we're out of the cold
and the noise. I don't know about you,
but I could use a sandwich, too."
He held out a hand to Kyle.
"I guess," Kyle said. He bent down
to put away his guitar, then slung the case
along his back. "Lead the way."
Ansel steered Kyle a little way down
the block to the nearest coffeehouse.
Cup of Comfort was a quirky little place
with its tables arranged in several clusters
to balance social opportunities with privacy.
Some of the furniture was plain wood, and
there were a few cloth-covered chairs,
while other tables and stools displayed
a variety of thematic collages.
They went to the counter, where
Ansel ordered the rich hot chocolate
with extra marshmallow cream, and
Kyle decided on the gingerbread flavor.
Then Ansel spied the sandwich of the day,
which was turkey with cream cheese and
cranberry sauce, available hot or cold.
"That looks delicious to me. Kyle?"
The younger man nodded, so Ansel
ordered three hot turkey sandwiches.
"Rough day?" the barista murmured
as she rang up their order, glancing
at Ansel's police department card.
"We've had better," he said.
"The niche is empty if you two
want some privacy," she said.
That was a stroke of luck.
The corner niche held a table
for two, most popular with couples
but also for discussions better suited
to a quiet spot in public than open air
or anyone's personal space.
Soon Ansel collected their food
and led Kyle back to the niche.
The rich hot chocolate was thick
and sweet, and it left a dollop of
marshmallow cream on Ansel's nose,
which made him cross his eyes when
he tried to get it off his face.
Kyle didn't even smile.
He just licked off the gingerbread man
that had come with his cocoa and
set it aside for dessert.
They both enjoyed the sandwiches,
though, and after a few minutes
the food helped Kyle settle,
just as Ansel had hoped.
"School isn't going so good,"
Kyle said, glancing at Ansel.
"What do you care, anyway?"
"I find when I show a genuine concern
for the people in my care, that makes
their lives happier and my job easier,"
Ansel said. "A good leader needs
to be a good listener. I'm the one
who gets called when people have
problems, and I can't fix those if I
don't even know what they are."
"I don't fit in, is the main problem,"
Kyle said. "The music program is for
people who want to join an orchestra or
a band, make movie soundtracks, teach --
you know, official jobs, not just busking."
"Do you pay taxes on the money
you make busking?" Ansel asked.
"Well yeah, somebody has to keep
the buses going and the community clinic
staffed and all that stuff," Kyle said.
"Then it's a real job," Ansel said,
recapturing a stray sliver of turkey.
"You couldn't find a college program
that suited what you wanted to learn?"
"Not really," Kyle said. "I couldn't afford
to go out of state and I was happy to get
into Bouchet because it's only a couple of
hours from home and they claimed to have
a custom major program. But they said if I
studied music at all, then I had to stick
with the program they already had."
"Even though it doesn't meet your needs,
either academic or personal, and isn't
working out for you," Ansel said.
"That's not very reasonable."
"Yeah, I tried pointing that out when
my grades started to fall," Kyle said.
He shrugged. "My academic advisor
is ... really strict, and she just said that
I must not be applying myself."
"That doesn't sound like you,"
Ansel said. "Okay, what would help?
You're a capable musician, even if you're
not fully trained yet. You're a hard worker.
What do you need in order to get
back on track at school?"
"A new advisor," Kyle muttered as he
snapped his gingerbread man in half.
"Either my own major like I wanted in
the first place, or make them modify
the standard program instead of flunking
me because I don't play the way they do."
"There are many types of music, and
just as many ways or places to perform it,"
Ansel said. "Your teachers should know that."
"They don't care, and they don't have to care,"
Kyle said. "They're in charge. Students
either measure up, or drop out."
"That's not a very effective way to run
a school," Ansel said. "If nothing else,
it will tank their graduation rate, which
they do have to care about because
that affects the funding they get."
"They won't listen to me," Kyle said.
"I've tried. I'm just a student."
"How about if I come with you
this time and the two of us talk to
your academic advisor?" Ansel said.
"After all, she has to listen to me."
"It's worth a try," Kyle said.
He toyed with the uneaten half
of his cookie. "I'm almost full, and
I've seen how you eat. Want some?"
"Thanks, but I'm planning on pie,"
Ansel said. "I'll be right back."
He mulled over the menu before
choosing the pumpkin pie with
coconut whipped cream topping.
When he returned to their table,
Kyle just shook his head and said,
"Man, I don't know where you put it all.
Two sandwiches and a piece of pie?
Even starving college students
don't eat that much."
"I lived an active lifestyle,
working out almost every day,
even before this happened," Ansel said,
ruffling his pink hair. "Apparently, making
fancy colors can burn more calories."
"I didn't know that," Kyle said.
"Neither did I, until my soup mentor
told me. I just wondered why I felt
hungry all the time," Ansel said.
"Now that you know, maybe you
can help another crayon soup."
"You're always looking out for
everyone, aren't you?" Kyle said.
"It's part of my job, but I took this job
because it suits my personality,"
Ansel said. "I like it."
He dug into his pumpkin pie,
which was smothered underneath
so much whipped cream that he had
to probe with his fork to find the point.
It tasted utterly delicious.
"I envy how much you are
enjoying that," Kyle said. "For me
it feels like everything's gone flat.
Flunking out of college has been
a real fall from grace, and I hate
to think how my family will respond."
"I was going to ask how things were
outside of school," Ansel said. "I
guess they're no good either."
"My parents were so proud of me
when I got into the music program,
because it's more competitive than
other things like business," Kyle said.
"They'll be disappointed in me."
"We'll try to avoid that," Ansel said.
"However, I'm concerned that you don't
seem to have enough coping skills
to handle this big a challenge."
"I'm trying," Kyle insisted, "but
my whole life is blowing up in my face.
I doubt anyone handles that well."
"Good point," Ansel said. "Do you
have anyone to talk with about this?"
Kyle shook his head. "Not really.
I tried student counseling, but they
just told me to follow the rules. It's
the rules that are causing the problem!"
"So they didn't treat your stress
as a valid concern?" Ansel said.
"Kind of ... I mean, they said that
stress was bad for me, but they only
wanted to talk about tolerating it,
not fixing the mess," Kyle said.
"That's not very helpful," Ansel said.
"Academic failure is a clay problem,
not a rock problem. It's something
that you can and should change,
not something you have to endure.
That might mean changing majors, or
if that doesn't work, changing schools."
"I definitely don't want to move
to another college," Kyle said.
"Okay, we already have a plan
for addressing the academic issue,"
said Ansel. "I really want to find
you some better ways of handling
the emotional upheavals. Have
you tried community counseling?"
"No, just the student stuff," Kyle said.
"I didn't know that community services
would take college students, I thought
we were supposed to use campus stuff."
"That's because the campus services
are more experienced with the kinds of
problems that college students have,"
said Ansel. "Since they dropped the ball
in this case, I think it's time for us to look
elsewhere in search of solutions."
"Yeah, okay," said Kyle. He picked up
a few crumbs of gingerbread and licked
his fingertip. "I don't want to go back
to the student counselors anyway."
"I could take you to the community center
after we speak to your academic advisor,"
said Ansel. "I know the people who work in
the counseling office of the clinic. I bet
one of them could help you with this."
"Sure, why not," Kyle said. "It can't
be worse than what I had before."
"Good, we'll take care of that shortly,"
Ansel said. He used his fork to scrape up
the last of the coconut whipped cream, but
when the squeal of metal made Kyle wince,
he switched to his thumb. "Sorry."
"I've heard worse in my classes
from some students who really can't
play music," Kyle said with a wry smile.
He picked up their empty dishes and
moved them to the collection table.
"I can manage a bit of campfire singing,
but I'm no musician," Ansel said as they
left the coffeehouse. "For the most part,
I leave that to the experts like you."
"It was nice of you," Kyle said,
"that show of concern you mentioned."
"That's what I'm here for," Ansel said.
* * *
Barton Ashby -- He has fair skin, dark blue eyes. His short dark hair is turning gray. He runs Ashby's Feed & Seed Shop in Bluehill, and thus, knows most of the farmers and gardeners in the county. He takes part in many community activities, and generally keeps an eye on people. Barton dislikes large cities, and for that matter, going where he doesn't know people. He takes a vacation in Florida each January, and always goes to the same place.
Qualities: Master (+6) Feed & Seed Shop Owner, Expert (+4) Community Spirit, Expert (+4) Naturalistic Intelligence, Good (+2) Model Landscape Hobbyist, Good (+2) Strength
Poor (-2) Not a City Boy
Kyle McCartney -- He has fair skin, light brown eyes, and long straight hair of light brown with a short beard. He attends Bouchet College in Bluehill where he studies music, but he comes from out of town. As a busker, Kyle sings and plays an acoustic guitar. His repertoire includes folk and pop songs along with classical guitar tunes, mostly mellow stuff. He does much better in an interactive performance space, and much worse on a formal stage.
Qualities: Good (+2) Busker, Good (+2) Endurance, Good (+2) Memory, Good (+2) Serenity, Good (+2) Reading Crowds
Poor (-2) Starving College Student
* * *
"A leader must be a good listener. He must be willing to take counsel. He must show a genuine concern and love for those under his stewardship."
-- James E. Faust
"Policing with Velvet Gloves" is the article I got from a reader which inspired this poem, about providing much better training for police officers to handle a mental health crisis or a usually-healthy person who is overwhelmed. Another effective approach involves pairing a police officer with a mental health worker. These practices are typical of how emergency services operate in Terramagne-America, combining information and/or personnel from different branches to provide safe and successful service to everyone. They focus on de-escalation and problem-solving rather than force, which is safer for everyone. Contrast this with local-America, where police routinely kill people with mental disabilities. That means DO NOT TRY THIS AT HOME. Only call the authorities if 1) you are certain your local service is fully trained for the emergency you wish to report, or 2) innocent lives are already at risk and you're comfortable with the police killing the person you are complaining about, AND 3) you are not any of the multiple categories they hate which would put you at risk of being killed, or 4) you call from a safe place and do not give identifying information. Efforts are underway to establish standards for police handling of mentally ill people.
Among the most important factors in T-American society is layered support. Most people there know how to tell if they or a friend may be struggling, and how to comfort an upset person. They know some supportive and encouraging things to say when someone is having trouble. The health care system there is generally better and more accessible, which makes it more effective to assist someone in getting help. There are ways to help a broke friend, too, such as picking up the bill when you eat out. This excellent flow chart was originally designed for medical contexts, but applies to any situation where you want to support someone's problem-solving process.
Everyone has limits, and the result of piling more stress on any system than it can take is a breakdown of function called decompensation. This often requires some kind of crisis intervention to fix. It is crucial to realize that the problem is not just in the individual, as implied by programs which call for more coping skills, but rather that the stressed condition is a result of outside forces. Success requires that people know when and where to get help, and that said help is both accessible and effective. By T-American standards, Kyle's situation has already slipped farther than it should have, but the layered approach to community health enabled people to catch him before he actually wandered into traffic. There are simple and complex ways to prevent mental problems or catch them early when they are easier to fix.
Many factors including stress, distraction, and mental problems contribute to accidents. Therefore, focusing on mental health can help to reduce accidents. First, improve your situational awareness, and if you know someone accident-prone then keep an eye on them too. There are basic and advanced exercises to increase your body awareness.
See the exterior and floor plan for the Cup of Comfort coffeehouse. Here is the counter. Like many places in T-America, this one enjoys using upcycled items. These simple wooden stools have been collaged for interest. Collaged tables usually have a theme such as baseball cards, comic books, Tarot cards, or board games. Making a collage table creates value-added furniture, because people can talk about what's in the collage or play games on it. This is the niche table where Ansel and Kyle sit.
Yummy things on the menu include Rich-n-Thick Hot Chocolate, Gingerbread Cocoa with Gingerbread Cookies, Turkey Comfort Sandwich, and Pumpkin Pie.
Academic problems make life difficult for many college students. While the focus mainly concerns poor choices such as skimping homework or partying too much, college bureaucracy can also ruin student lives. Colleges must be held accountable for education, finances, and overall impact on students. Here are some ideas for problem-solving and for navigating college bureaucracy.
Distress tolerance is a vital life skill; here is a whole module on it. (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4) However, too much tolerance of distress leads to things like staying in an abusive relationship. Anger, fear, sadness, and other negative emotions alert people to problems. It is absolutely crucial to distinguish between problems can be solved and those that cannot. Large organizations are often tempted to tell people to ignore problems that could be solved, like Kyle's.
L-American colleges routinely discriminate against students with mental problems, or even just young people overwhelmed by more than they can handle. T-America does better, but there are still gaps. Bouchet College is fantastic if you're black, but if belong to another race, then you're not their top priority. There are way to hold colleges accountable for the mental health of their students, and discourage them from breaking or otherwise abusing people.