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Monday
Jul222013

Years that End in "3"

It's now the middle of 2013 and I have barely blogged this year. This is one of the posts I've put off for months now, particularly since Buber Dog died and took the wind out of my sails. You see, the types of +20, +15+, and +10 posts that I have been writing since about 2009 are rather involved. But since 20 years on is a convenient time to have a glance back and measure the distance travelled, those coming of age years are starting in kind of fast and furious. I didn't plan to keep it going but it's sort of in my nature and things don't feel complete if I don't honor the urge.

Very practically speaking, I am also in circles trying to figure out what I want to do with blog platforms, either to move to Squarespace's new platform (a year old and getting better, but would be a LOT of work to make this site sing there) or to just get out of Squarespace altogether, and back to Wordpress. That would be a pain in the ass too. And then there is just staying here and bearing the frustration of how to present my posts to an audience I doubt even exists anymore. I digress.

The years that end in the number three have traditionally been transitional years. Of late, now that I have some language for it, I call them my death years. I was sort of dreading what might be in store for me in 2013, ascending to my 40th birthday in October. Entertaining writing such a sprawling post kind of depressed me if I were to write it before this May when I got the call from my new job, and a favorable interview, and then the position in June. But prior to that I was depressed out of my mind again. The Escondido move is something that is slow in reconciling though it's showing its benefits. The death of Buber Dog stressed both of us out, and in many ways we're grieving his loss and might be for a while still. So far, up till early May, 2013 was looking like it fit a pattern of those damned years ending in "3."

The summertime in those years seems to be particularly rich in some big changes. The summers fall in my "9" years, just on the eve of the decade years that bring something new eventually. But at the time, there can be a lot of uncertainty and confusion. Only in the space between 29 and 39 did I finally start to understand things in the language of spirituality, particularly Christian spirituality, in a way where these stark times could be seen not as the stuff of endings but as transformative experiences on the way to new beginnings. So this time around, even though there was some real downer time that could be said to be as bad as the times before, I could remain attentive and remember to wait for what comes next.

Lest you think I am just making this up, imagining a pattern, here is what I have in mind. Things come remarkably on time in these years.

1973

Nineteen seventy-three, the year of my birth, was both the ending and the beginning rolled into one trip from the womb into the cold world that probably could not give a rat's ass if I were to show up or not. Some people interpret the Exile from the Garden in Genesis to be symbolic of birth itself, separation from the only is-ness we ever knew, into the harsh world outside. Of course, we're all bornsomehow. Without really knowing it then, or for a decade or two more, that day of October 12 was when I was issued my pack for life, loaded up with all manner of ill feelings, conflicts and outright hostilities, broken relations, and more. Of course this pack has been mine to open up, often at this blog, in public, where the light might hit it and rob it of its power. So chalk 1973 up as the primordial death experience. (Actually, if you knew how much my mom probably smoked then, she was sort of giving me the stuff of death in utero!)

1983

A decade later, I was nearly unaware of who my mother was. There were faint ideas gleaned from extremely fragmentary tales about her. I think I knew I had siblings from her other family. For the longest time, the picture I had of her until I met her in 1986 was that she was tall, slender, with long blonde hair. If you knew what I knew about genetics then (nothing), you'd see my platinum blonde hair of my younger years and deduce that too! But in 1983 mom (Christina, aka Toni) basically did not exist. Eda did. Eda was my mom, for all intents and purposes. While I was aware she was not my own mom, she played the role willingly and with a good, compassionate heart that even my own mom is seemingly impossible to demonstrate toward me.

But life at Artesian Street was not as idyllic as my childhood stats might indicate. While my old man had a house that did provide a relatively good anchor to my existence, the fact is, the house has proven to be more important any anyone else who lives there with him. Eda, 22 years his senior, and having been married to a few men before, was growing apart from him as she found herself needing to develop her spirituality in her late 50s. For some time, she'd been in her own bedroom. I don't know how to indicate the distance that must have developed but I do recall arguments and being sent outside so they could hash it all out. And some time later, she told me of some threats of physical violence he had made that proved to be her last straw. She had to get out of there. Withsome sympathetic friends, and even the support of my grandmother, she left our house during this very week in 1983, thirty years ago now.

I wrote about Eda's comings and goings in a previous post.

The loss of Eda coincided with the fact that I had been expelled from my childhood school, Hawthorne, and had to find a new school. The search for a school during the first half of the summer (driving around town looking at magnet schools, chauffeured by my grandmother) was some of the last time spent with Eda during that era. Starting a new school made things more foreign than they needed to be. There was some of the usual harassment by other kids, especially once they found that my mom had just left, but I had a very understanding male teacher for the two years I went to Longfellow, and he helped deflect that.

The Longfellow experience introduced me to a wider demographic of kids than I'd have been among in my neighborhood school. It was a Spanish magnet program so there was a bit of an ethnic broadening to include Spanish speaking people (yes, Mexicans!) but also significantly more blacks than at Hawthorne. I suppose that has done me some good, though I was real lax with learning Spanish. I wish I had the presence of mind to know that would have done me good in the workplace 20-30 years later!)

The rebirth experience that moved me from the death experience of losing the only woman I'd called mom was one that took some years to piece together. Not to say it's complicated; I just didn't see it that way for a while. The autumn season around my birthday was when I was offered drum or guitar lessons. I opted for drums, having seen some young black kid come into the one room music store and do his lesson while I was at the store with grandmother Virginia. I suspect the lessons were something that were offered to help me get on with life after Eda left. Virginia drove me down there to the College area every couple weeks for a year and a half. Once she and my grandfather bought me my first drumset in early 1985, it wasn't too long before I lost interest. Then it took until 1989 before I found my own reasons to play.

1993

Two major endings happened in 1993, one of which was just on time during the summer. (The first was the breakup with Melissa, detailed out in an utterly brilliant 10,000 word journal earlier this year.) The other major breakup was perhaps more meaningful to me since it was one of those "artistic differences" that get us brooding muso types into so much trouble.

I've written about Rhythmic Catharsis some but sort of left the task of describing the end period to ...well, probably this year. I guess it's safe to say that at the time, RC felt more vital than having a girlfriend. There certainly was more friction in the "lovers quarrels" with Matt Zuniga, and if things went well, more reward. The task of RC was to give me some goal and purpose in my life when there wasn't much else going on. The fact that Matt rebelled so thoroughly made me more determined to make something happen. The project that defined the summer of 1993 was trying to get prepared to play a live show, like at a real place, not just in our usual parking garages or maybe at my house. Under the best of conditions, Matt was a thorn in my side, but the idea of playing in public made him completely obstinate, and any attempt to actually tighten up our drum-and-vocal songs was usually met with outrageously out of place vocal noises and other bits that just showed he wasn't going to try. I had to re-read journals from the era to recall how intolerable I got at his being that difficult. I had the yelling fits when we were out at the garages. I smashed my home phone. The whole thing with Matt and I arose because we could not play drums at home, so we went to garages. But that was just a way to blow off steam at first, and evolved into trying to play songs even withour limited means. Bashing those out could be fun but it seemed time to try to develop it so it would be stage ready. It's no stranger than some punk acts.

Because RC was really my baby, he could do whatever he wanted and not really feel too bad. RC gave me pride in accomplishment. At a time when the girlfriend broke up with me and I opted out of attending Mesa College (beginning the inadvertent ten year break), RC was something to challenge me to do better. For Matt to piss all over it was devastating. After some weeks of thinking we'd go to the Sprit club (across the street from the second Subway job I had), Matt utterly flaked on me as I went to pick him up. I was livid upon furious upon pissed. I recall getting to his place in the evening and he was watching Beavis and Butthead with his roommate. He just backed out entirely (maybe this is my karma for the Melissa ASB ball thing earlier in the year). I drove down to the club anyway, set up my stuff on stage and asked for a vocal mic, which of course had not been the plan. Then I proceeded to make my way through the set the best I could. It sucked donkey balls in every way except for the fact I did it under the conditions that day. The audience was just the club staff and maybe Bill Francis, who a short while earlier had moved into the trailer at our house when he fell on hard times.

The show was not the big thing. I had words with Matt later in the week and that started us into about a five month silent spell that only broke in January of 1994. What ended up happening though was that the Spirit club let me come back and do the same thing another couple times! Not sure I did any better considering I had never really tried to drum and sing at once. It was hard enough to even suck at one or the other! But both at once? Yeah. It turns out that the third show I did that way, in mid September was the start of a new era in my musical life. I did my solo RC show and another group, New Electron Symphony (NES) had no drummer and was instead using tapes and otherwise just grooving hard on their instruments. We shared the stage for their set and I played on two raucous jams. That launched me into a several month period jamming with them in their space—a geographic and psychic shift that needed to happen after all the Matt drama. Since the others were older, I was made the student and learned something about musicality that I would never have arrived at in the completely reckless non-tonal setting of Rhythmic Catharsis. When I later took on some new projects and further musical work later on, NES proved to be a key experience, even as short as it was. It's fair to say that the sonic atmosphere of some of my stuff like Receiving andAural Sects owes itself very much to NES.

An odd thing happened in the period though. It was definitely one of those death periods. RC was dead and never really came back in the same way despite an eventual reunion with Matt. But while playing with NES I had a sinking feeling that I was done with music. Done. Done. Done. Not so, said Ian McGehee, the mastermind of the group. He promised me lots of experiences lay ahead. It was kind of a liminal period in those days, feeling dead in one way but the future also not having taken a real shape yet. Interestingly, during the early part of 1994, the feeling kept on. And even though I later took out a couple ads in the local rag, and found some new playing opportunities, it was still surreal how I felt done with music. Odder still was that I was buying more drum gear—new pedal, a few cymbals, and other stuff—even as it seemed I was ready to pack it in. And then I totally shocked myself when I bought new drums almost exactly one year to the day after RC split up, and just at the time when the band at the time, Slaves by Trade, was making bigger plans by cutting a demo. Then we broke up. But that's next year's story.

2003

Now this is the part of this entry that I actually dread the most. Not because it's so painful or anything (though it was) but more that by 2003, the matters were more grave and nebulous and existential. It's a terribly hard year to unpack on a good day when I feel chatty. Since a lot of those things have been dissected in this blog since some of it was front page news (the blog started in 2002), there's no point in retelling it all now.

The year was spent as a 29 year old who was having a crisis of faith in life. Depression was the background noise but I had not really understood it as I later would once various teachers emerged to interpret those experiences for me in the light of the spiritual journey. By that point, the years of family strife, grief, stagnation in the work world, and frustration about not getting new music projects done all piled up on me. Throw in a bit of girl trouble as my ex called me out of nowhere and added to the general confusion. That year of 2003 happened in part because I realized sometime around the start of the year that I had grown separate from my inner life in recent years when I started to shut down in overwhelm after the deaths of two grandmothers, revelations of family misdeeds, and the restructuring of life at home (being ordered to have roommates now that grandmother was gone and the old man was able to throw a party as my new landlord). The matter of living at the house where I'd lived while grandmother Virginia was alive was something that frustrated my old man, who long had designs on that house. He didn't anticipate I'd live there. So he rearranged his plans to let me live there from 2001-2005 but acted out his frustration that I was there in a real passive aggressive way. He made two significant alterations to the house that were illegal (no permit and not even consulting code) and tasteless and not really needed. At the same time he ignored my requests for things that really needed to be done there. When I asserted that the quality of work needed to be better than what he was doing, he abandoned the project of a bathroom refinishing and let me do it myself. I had some fat and lazy roommates that trashed the place too, so as the year progressed, the reality was upon me that no one but me cared about that house. From landlord and tenants, the place was being sabotaged. I just lived—and thought I'd die there.

Musically, I was real frustrated. After almost a year of giving a good try at starting a band and providing space, instruments, and recording gear to the cause, the ever-changing cast of musicians that came by did not stick around. One guitarist, not really in the running for this band idea because he was too good, said that I had not really paid my dues and I wasn't ready to be some Frank Zappa or Mike Keneally or Ian Anderson. Even a decade later, the old Rhythmic Catharsis ghost visited me. Band leading was not my thing. I also had to face that all the year I bought and sold and traded in the wake of my grandmother's death was not really helping my creativity. The more elaborate two room studio arrangement made it next to impossible to do recording like I once did, but my heart was not in recording; it was in interacting with people, and that was crashing hard at times. (I had just enough glimpses of my ideas played by trios and a short lived quartet or two to be real excited.) It was a substitute for what I really wanted and needed. In July 2003 I packed my stuff up and left it in Hog Heaven Studio's original small room and tried to not enter the place. Certainly nothing got done.

During that death period of late July and August, I started watching movies with an intensity I'd never brought to that activity. For a long time, I'd barely watched movies. I had no real interest. I hated paying to go to theaters. I did not have a video rental card. Netflix was not even around. But something was calling me to watch movies like I was a madman. And these weren't just fluffy things to pass the time. No, I made a list of some dense and heavy shit to watch that maybe I'd heard about but never seen. Edgy, hard. Challenging. I needed an emotional jackhammering to crack into a place in me that needed to be let out to see the light of day again. I at least made some mental list and made my way through the following movies: The Deer HunterThe Last Temptation of ChristThreadsThe Day AfterSaving Private RyanSchindler's ListApocalypse Now. And probably more. It was hot and humid that season and for the first time ever, I had a TV and VCR set up in my room with the sole purpose of hitting myself so hard so that I might feel again. Watching gripping war movies or nuclear disaster films and other dystopic stuff takes you to a place that you don't naturally want to go to. The single most effective film that left an impression on me was The Last Temptation of Christ. When it first came out in 1989, my church youth group was taken to see it as a field trip. That is, everyone but me. My conservative family crew knew only enough about it to deny me the chance to see it with the group, and with two pastor figures who would be able to place it in a larger context. So that was on my list. When I watched it in 2003, I cried buckets because it was the first glimpse I got of Jesus as a man who understood the kind of internal torment and confusion that I knew. I could only wonder how I'd have turned out if I had a clue about that when I was 16, if I'd seen the movie then.

By far the biggest death of these years that end in "3" was what followed all that movie watching and studio closure. In 2008, on the fifth anniversary of the date when I bought a bottle of sleeping pills with the intent to down a bunch of them but ended up chickening out and spending a week and a half in a residential transitional home, I wrote a very detailed blog which I'll direct you to now. Back in the present moment, having skimmed that blog, I'm a bit surprised at how complete it was, even as it happened before I got into later men's work via the Center for Action and Contemplation, Richard Rohr, etc. The tenth anniversary of that date is coming up in a few weeks. If ever there was a time of rebirth into new life, it was during that period. It wasn't that everything was rosy after Halcyon; it wasn't. But periods like that reshuffle the pack and I emerged with new understanding that fueled me for the next leg of the journey.

2013

Seeing what a time it's been with those decades marked by 3's, this year was looking ominous. The fact it is also my 40th year also lent a bit of gravitas to it too for reasons that many already recognize from pop culture and its claims of 40 starting the over-the-hill era. Being the third year of my unemployed and sedentary life, I could certainly feel the shift in my physical being. Last year's departure from Jubilee Economics was not really as graceful as I'd envisioned. Looking for work and getting little or no response, or outright denied, certainly weighed on me. Losing Buber Dog really deflated me at just about the time I wanted to write about many things that might just end up as summaries in this post. Musically, things have generally been better than in years, since I am regularly playing cajon at the pub each week, and trying to write songs and collaborate with songwriters I meet in the San Diego Songwriters Meetup. Collectively, to some extent or another, those engagements have had me play most of my instruments (even appearing on fretless bass), making me thankful I did not do as I thought I'd do in 2003: sell all my stuff and get out of music.

The doom was on the horizon earlier on before I got my new job. Financially, over the years, Kelli and I have sort of been hanging by a thread as the prevailing trend has been for one of us to be working while the other is in a period of unemployment or school or something. Hardly in the 11.5 years we've been together has there been a time when both of us had jobs at the same time. The previous period that actually sustained us was in 2004-2005 when we both worked at senior centers, but were also living cheaper before the old man evicted us in mid 2005. All the time since, we've had a jumbled time of financial rises and falls with income from a mix of jobs, unemployment insurance, grants, stipends, found work, gear sales. We've lived on miracles. The new thing this time around is that she's been the full time, professionally credentialed earner and I've been unemployed. Last year's loss of my unemployment checks caused us a lot of rough times around rent time when she expected me to draw down savings and I thought it better to spend from income. In the end we did a mix of both, but I did hold off on spending savings on rent. The whole matter was real hard to cope with since there was no way to know when I could get a job. The search this time was real challenging since it drew on for so long and I was so hopeful that the time with Jubilee Economics would help me establish myself as capable in the Web field. I put out applications to places I hated myself for visiting. This time more than others, I was trying to apply to places where I felt I'd not sell myself out so grossly. A few things were food delivery jobs that threatened to take over life as I knew it. A few were name brand mega corporations that we love to hate. But the baffling ones were Costco, and some of the grocery stores that I thought would be a good fit: Trader Joe's, Sprouts, Jimbo's...all seeming the right size, close to home (all within a couple blocks of each other too), and dealing in food, which my resume tilts toward more and more now. 

Life got to feeling pretty pointless again with all that and with the fact that Kelli is pretty busy in her work and volunteer (national church level) life. Kelli and I paid a couple visits to a therapist and it was evident we'd need to keep going to address a host of things that have taken shape since we last went to a therapist in 2005 or so. A few months back I had tried to get a bit of solo therapy but realized that I'd be paying a lot of money just to tell the old stories again, and to not really be understood when I spoke of things that mean something to me, like how I choose to use a car or bike, or how to spend money or how I want to not have kids, etc.. The therapists have not one bit of control over the life I need to lead outside, and can't really make the real troublesome stuff go away (fixing families that don't think they're broken, global matters, etc.). What they'd tell me is to make better decisions: keep associated with good people and don't isolate, get exercise, eat better. The thing is, it helps if you have some money to do some things. Or the mental discipline to get into routines that are beneficial. I'm sure all that helps, but what had worked for me before during the Specialty Produce era was that I had a physically demanding job, biked to and from work, was in my church community as participant and leader, and ate better. But take away the job (for whatever reason) and the commute is gone, the better food is neither a work benefit (free produce) or something that is so easily afforded at the stores, and of course, the days are not filled with activity. Furthermore, moving to Escondido is still a thing that strains relationships with my life in San Diego. I barely get to church anymore and the distance and gas is a turn off to participating in non-worship activities unless I happen to have other reasons to be there. But gone are the days when it's a 15 minute bike ride for a meeting or a bible study. As an unemployed person, I had time but no money. Now I have money but the timing is awkward enough (I start work at 6 so the bedtime needs to be around 10) when factoring in the drive. And I still have not decided the round trip drive is something I want to do as often as something interesting comes up.

The Worst Laid Schemes of Mice and Men Often Go Awry

To be frank, this year was feeling mighty much like those earlier years. About all that saved me was the knowledge that those things were survived and something else lurked around whatever corner they turned out to be. Still, feeling as dreadful I did and feeling filled with futility as I was earlier in the spring is nothing enjoyable. Feeling cut off from people, even at home, is agonizing. Having become dependent on someone at the age of 38-39 is disheartening but can happen. Witnessing Buber's somewhat quick decline and seeing him transition into a lifeless husk of the beloved animal we knew was a totally new thing for me. I was real low this winter and spring. I just wanted out again.

One of the great things I've learned from the various teachers along the way in the last several years was that suicidal ideation is normal. Acting on it, not so. The soul does get weary and longs for a way out, for the drastic shift from this to that, from here to there. That much is unstoppable. But of course physical death isn't the answer that we're really looking for. That is more of a conditioned expectation that if we can't live life one way, then we must die. The spiritual traditions hedge against that by reminding us that the matter of change is something we must always cope with. Nothing dies without something being created anew. And nothing is created anew without something having died. It's not just spiritual fluff; it happens to the very matter of the Universe. The stars are born and ultimately die and are turned into something else. Having best learned from Christianity, this is the stuff of the death and resurrection. Neither can happen without the other. Something in my life has to die so something can be reborn. And then again. And again. The pattern is true as anything. But as you see from this glance back at some previous years, the lessons are slow to be learned.

In the month of May, I was able to do a number of days' work with a bandleader who has been working in town for a few decades. Funny, I had never met him even though some familiar faces have worked in his band over the years. He got me on some load ins and load outs, a couple operator gigs, and a little bit troubleshooting a church sound system. He paid me pretty well, but after months and months of no real income except for delivering jam, it was a princely sum! The fact most of that work was physical was handy since it helped prepare me for what was next.

It just so happened that after having sent in a third or fourth resume to the company I am now with, I got a call again like I had when I first got to Escondido in May 2012. This time I interviewed over the phone was a bit like the last time except there was a new position that seemed a better fit for me. Instead of moving beer, there was a kitchen commissary position that would let me deliver to the two restaurants that were being launched this summer. This was the beginning of seeing things anew once again. I was kind of incredulous at the prospect. My negative thoughts flooded in. But then I thought, Shit! I've been looking for almost two and a half years now and have sent my stuff in a few times to this place. Something can happen. I got an interview and prior to that, from emailed messages, found some info to do some research on LinkedIn. Found that the HR director used to work at a place I delivered to, as well as the kitchen manager, who also used to work at a kitchen I delivered to! When I got my interview, that small bit of info helped melt the ice early on. Even though I hate interviews and feel stuffy as fuck in that kind of clothing, it went well. My prospective manager recognized me from when I delivered to his old company. He asked me if I biked there. For him to say that was a trick of memory! I'd not talked to him since no later than the first week in January 2011, but he remembered I used to talk about biking and commuting. (Then later on he told me he hated his old company and had been stiffed for a couple tens of thousands of dollars.) The job offer came a couple weeks later when they decided to actually raise the wage based on my experience at Specialty. Nice. I could start in early June once the drug check and physical was done. And I did. Now it's about seven weeks I've been there.

So that was a rather big change from my earlier, worst laid plans to be depressed and shut down. Funny, I don't typically associate my full time work experiences with much positive, but it seems that the long gestation period between jobs (or even since wrapping up activity with Jubilee Economics) was helping me find a far better fit of a job. Finding that I'd already met the kitchen manager was a good start. I know from LinkedIn evidence he looked at my resume there a few times before I got the offer. And since. He just took me into his office the other day and said he wants me to be the lead driver there who sets the standard for two other guys and tends to driving/delivery related concerns. He said he'd back me up and get me whatever I need to do the job right. And get this... this is where it gets so amazing.

All the hang wringing about getting a job was agonizing until this one started to flow my way. Since September last year I have delivered jam for a tiny family operated business that is gaining currency in the area with their delicious homestyle jams. My work was to deliver the product to Whole Foods Markets in the greater LA area using their van. I'd go down to San Diego the day before to get the loaded van, then park at my house and leave at 4 am. I did a whirlwind trip up to Orange county once a month, and a two day trip to cover a number of more northerly destinations once a month. I did just three days' work for $375 cash and if nothing else, that was all I got for a wage that month. (They did have me do some other web work but much of that period was lean.) When I got to dancing with the new company, looking forward to a full time spot, I knew I'd need to jam on the jam. They recruited Tom, who they knew from their farmers market activity where he was selling cheeses in another stall. He rode along with me for a day after I was in negotiations and after my interview. Just as we got back to my house, I got a call that I'd be sent an offer letter. And so it was that my jam delivery days were done and Tom was in. Once I started, I was able to find that a second position was still open to do a part time version of what I'd be doing. The part timer would be the weekend relief for me (delivering to two spots in San Diego) and the other guy who does the local work. I texted Tom and said he should apply since he told me he'd been looking for something real for a year and more. I also mentioned to manager Larry and buyer Eric and one of the HR ladies that he was looking and would send in a resume. It took a month or so to get things together but he's actually starting tomorrow and I get to train him. Again! (I think the folks back at the jam company were a little puzzled when they heard from the same recruiter asking about the guy they just brought on a few weeks before!)

This puts me in the really odd place of saying that one never really knows the trajectory of life and death and life again. Is there anything in my past that would suggest that I had what it took to get not one but two jobs at the same company in the space of a couple months? I'm laughing as I even write that!

Somehow, a bit of mercy landed upon me this summer. Given my tendencies, I could be rehashing all the old stuff at great length on this blog. Could be absorbed in what a bummer year this year needs to be to complete some pattern that exists only in my mind. Could have endless unemployed time to do all that. But no. It seems that won't be how this year, and especially this summer, plays out. Just when it looked like a death was on the horizon, a resurrection appears.

Sunday
Jun092013

What's on my Plate, You Ask?

I have to admit that sitting down to write in the blog entry window here is a rather foreign thing to me these days. The last few months have been some of the lightest months since I started blogging in 2002. I've certainly sat down to try a few things but usually have closed out before long, knowing the time suck that was sure to follow. Sorry to leave you all on the edge of your seats.

I've had some rough times until recently. Most of this year has been in the midst of depression and then grief at the loss of Buber the Dog. Times have been challenging during the entire period since I lost my unemployment benefits in August 2012, but every month made it harder with the pittance of an income I got from doing some deliveries from a local handcrafted jam company and a small bit of other audio/recording work. Rent time got to be rather hellish as me and the wifey navigated the waters of how much I could contribute and how much I'd use of my savings to pay for such an expense, and how long that would last and what might happen if I bled that dry. That, on top of a lot of feeling of disconnection from my San Diego life, was utter hell sometimes. Being in Escondido feels hot and suffocating in real terms but feeling that the life I knew was in another town kept me frustrated. The job search is never really worthy of much enthusiasm anyway, as one job application/callback/interview or another turned up nothing. My level of physical activity dropped significantly, feeling too numb to move sometimes (because of the pointlessness I felt), or the real heat of the day. Some weight gain, and a clearly less fit physical frame has been a clear sign of something not right.

Buber's death in March hurt too. The house fell silent and still. Kelli found herself racked with grief and guilt about being so busy in the time preceding his death. Little daily domestic patterns went away for good because of Buber. Larger ones, like walking him at night, were also our family time, and ever since then we've not been too regular in walking the neighborhood. It's not good for our health to ignore the walks, and the days that were already long and shapeless for that period became worse when Kelli and I were having tough times relating, with the walks being brushed aside altogether most nights. It's one of those things that gets us away from all the rest of life's distractions and lets us have our relationship time and perhaps some new input as we stroll. We're working on it.

During the months from October-May I had some opportunities while delivering jam to attempt to pay visits to family members in the greater LA area. That met with the usual rejections, even as I tried to keep on topic and not try to inflame anyone. Maybe even say some more compassionate things than I think they expect of me. In trying to wish my mom happy birthday, I ended up having a chance to meet up (a week or so later) with my nephew while returning from an LA route. It was the first time since 2001 that someone from that clan actually agreed to meet with me. I'm quite glad it happened and hope for some good things to happen as I slowly discover some of the cracks in the wall of a family system that has usually been an "all in or all out" thing for me. With some persistence, social media options, and some grace, I've found even a few friendly contacts that have not shut me out and that understand my struggle enough to be more open.

I worked at delivering jam for three days a month since the very end of September. There were three routes and I was paid a flat rate per day. Taken in consideration of how I had to pick up the van in San Diego a day before the route left my house in Escondido at 4:15 am, it was really not a great paying gig. To do a day's work took two days over about 14 hours and it ended up being something like minimum wage. But it was cash only, took only a couple days a month, and they gave me a per diem allowance to get lunch. And some super tasty jam, too! The three routes each got their own Monday until the holiday season when it made sense to stock up in time for the holiday food-buying spree preceding Thanksgiving and then Christmas. We combined two routes into one two-day run. For two months I found a private house to stay at and then the rest were at hotels in the LA area so I could do a lot of stops and then go "home" for the night and start early the next day with just a couple remaining stops and maybe some last minute trips to stores closer to San Diego. All that enlarged time and awareness of the region gave me the chance to try to be in contact with family. There were more misses than hits but the meeting with my nephew did in fact make the whole time worthwhile. I suppose what I did not earn in money, there was a bonus in the freedom to route myself and try to touch the family with some detours through their neighborhoods old and new.

Musically, I've been going to the pub here in Escondido fairly consistently since July and have been playing cajon since October when Kelli bought me a cheap cajon to help me have a more appropriate instrument to bring to the traditional Irish sessions. I've fashioned a bit of a style using brushes and rod sticks. It works well for the Irish/Celtic/Bluegrass and Country that turns up there. In the absence of any other social connections up in Escondido, that session and some things in its orbit have been key to feeling like life has any pleasure at times. Sometimes I pick up a guitar there and hack my way through some of the tunes. I've been intrigued by mandolin and picked that up a time or two. One day, I hope I can get in on bass.

The San Diego Songwriters meetup group is something I've taken part in with about 2/3 consistency since February 2012 before we moved. I have been getting to some meetings, collaborated on a few songs (either as writer or as musical support/recording). The group participates in a local songwriting challenge and showcase called The Game. I have not yet finished my own songs for that but just a week ago I played five songs on cajon for other writers who wanted some extra power behind their tunes at the showcase event. Only two of them sent me material in advance, so I winged it (wung it?) on the others.

Musically, back home, I have my drums set up and sounding pretty good. I have a neighborhood that can't really complain about the noise because most of them are louder than me! So I have spent some time trying to reconnect with that instrument that used to mean the world to me but has for almost a decade been a foreigner to me. I also spend time with bass, trying to pick out parts to pop songs and exposing myself to unfamiliar tunes, hoping to test my ears. A year and a half ago I got a bass that I converted to fretless, so it's a challenge to put that on and try playing on it, especially "cold." Guitar time is mostly acoustic and used to either noodle or perhaps get some basis for songs down. The electric could be cranked up some too. I've done small bits of recording in order to work out some of the SD Songwriters songs, but recording is not my focus now. I did try making a new recording of the drums to my song Tired from 1999. I find I need to shed on drums to recover my sense of time and feel that I think I once had. Maybe I didn't. Frankly, I find the fretless bass or even the mandolin a more invigorating challenge!

But really, this era has been the most musically active since 2005 or maybe even 2003. And the most positive and collaborative since I am allowing myself to realize I don't really know much after all. I do and I don't. I have a broad understanding but not a very great ability. So it can be in service of some things, and not others.

And then, the big news, towering rather high over everything else because of course it means I'm in a new age of life here: I got a job finally. You read right. After about two years and a third, it came. The whack part of it is that it took a year to finally fall into place. See, I submitted a resume to a certain brewery up in Escondido last year in May once we decided to move. I got a call back and talked to the HR recruiter for a good 20 minutes. I suppose I didn't have a clear resume and it was hard to form the words in answer to a question that was fairly direct: "is truck driving what you really want to do?" I recalled thinking and saying that I'd like to drive to get in and maybe get into a subsequent position elsewhere in the company, maybe in the media area. I suppose that showed a bit of non-commitment so I got passed over. But I sent the resume in another couple times, most recently in April, with a reminder we'd talked before. This time I got the callback and talked again at some length. There was another position open. Still a driver, but not for the beer distribution. Instead, there was a new position at the commissary, supplying the original restaurant and two new ones about to open. I had no idea that the commissary existed but it sounded more suitable to me than lugging beer kegs.

I got an interview in the week of the call. I did some LinkedIn research on who I'd be meeting with. The HR person and the kitchen manager were both at companies I used to deliver to at Specialty Produce. I felt a bit more comfortable. When I met the kitchen manager, Larry, he recognized me and asked me if I rode in. That was interesting because I had not seen him in about two and a half years and I while recall talking to him, I don't recall details. But he remembered I was an agreeable chap when delivering to his catering kitchen, and that I rode a bike for commuting. This was going well. I got a chance to meet with him in private and we found ourselves laughing off the last jobs we had, and he thought well of me, with compliments and a vision that I could be more responsible than the younger guys he sees coming through. He then led me to the HR office and from outside the door I could hear some smiling voices. On the way out, HR asked who I'd like to have contacted as references. One was back at Specialty, and coincidentally, a part time figure at the last place Larry worked. And folks who own the jam company. May 10 was a good antidote for the depression.

It took nearly two weeks before I heard back but they called back and said they would expand the wage on offer to meet me halfway or better between their original estimate and my old wage. I was told it would take a couple weeks to start after their offer letter was approved, sent to me, returned, and then a physical completed. Just two days after the physical, I was in. As of this writing, I've just completed the first week. This is the first time I feel maybe my resume worked for me, as did social media and some connections and prior contacts in the industry.

After all that time of not having a job, the lack of structure and the lack of money kept me in a small world, sedentary, and pretty down. The matter of losing my pup companion, struggling to eke out any identity in relation to family, and having limited resources to keep connected to life in San Diego (30 miles away for most purposes), has all stacked up against me and sort of driven me a little neurotic. Having a job again gives a good chunk of structure to the day and weeks. There are some notable similarities to the last job at Specialty. I'm still in the restaurant industry, and even more so since I am working in a kitchen. There are some food benefits in addition to the coveted FT health benefits. The commute is very short and bikeable. The mission of the company is very compatible with personal values I hold, especially after being shaped by forces such as Jubilee Economics. My workdays start and stop at predictable enough times; I'm not "on the job" around the clock with mental energy going to endlessly creative pursuits (such as when doing all sorts of IT work as a volunteer, not knowing when to finish a project, if that is even possible). There is a pendulum swing for me, wavering between the poles of punch-the-clock labor jobs that can become soul sucking if it's not in some alignment with who I see myself as, and then the explosive periods of freelancing work, marked by creative and exploratory energy during periods of unemployment from the clock jobs. Right now, the security of a clock job is appealing. Within the new company, there is some latitude to be creative and integral, either within the job I have now, or elsewhere in the company.

The economics of time shifts when for once, hours away from work become more valuable. With all the hours available during unemployment, it's hard to get anything done. There's little incentive to hurry or be efficient. Even a year after moving to Escondido, we have not really nested in the house with pictures on the walls. Part of that is the heat encountered last summer when we moved in. And then for months we've worried we made a decision worthy of regret even though the landlord has been hands down the best we've had and has honored many requests. But now that Kelli's office is literally on the other side of the hill from here, just a mile away, and my job is just a couple miles out, there's no practical reason to entertain moving again. It just took a year before we could feel better about that.

Surely I'm feeling rosier than I have for a while but as I watch the news about economics, environment, and all the other things that seem to be hitting the red, I try not to delude myself that this is the start of my ride off into the sunset of consumer bliss and a happy home. It seems every day there are plenty of articles and posts about the open trap door swallowing the middle class. Even making what Kelli makes is not enough when you consider how much she pays in academic debt. Adding half as much again helps but it's not really enough to hold fast against inflation and not much to save. Fortunately, aside from her car loan and student loans, we are quite in control over any garden variety consumer debt.

Sure, my new wage just added half of Kelli's wage into our household purse. There are things that I have been saying I'd fix or upgrade when the money was right. Actually, having a job after all this time brings with it a kind of fearful suspicion that what follows is a consumer streak after a lot of deferrals. I'd like to not wait till my computer is so out of date as my old G4 before I replace it. I want to convert one of my bikes to a geared bike. I got my first smartphone this year but it's a glitchy refurb model gotten at a steep discount that makes an iPhone look pretty appealing. My truck's steering alignment is a bit out after a trip to Death Valley that involved some uncharacteristic off roading. Kelli and I want to finally rid ourselves of cookware with teflon. I have long wanted to get a new acoustic guitar that is actually chosen to suit me after using a second hand axe for 19 years. At this very time in 2005, I had an order for a custom electric guitar build that was cut short with the eviction news that came eight years ago this week. I still have fancy thoughts of getting such a guitar but have shelved it during the years when my music activity went dormant. I've wanted to get a keyboard instrument again, but the most useful one would be a MIDI controller to play the virtual instruments on my computer. But I'd savor having an acoustic piano again, a full circle move if it ever happens. Thoughts of taking music lessons are always near me; I'd like most to start with vocal and guitar lessons to open up my options for songwriting and performance. Depending on how I feel from doing some physical work again, I may decide to do the unthinkable and pay for a gym membership for the first time. Sustaining my presence on the web also takes some money, and I'd like to get a Soundcloud account that has capacity enough to present all my featured recordings, with the idea of remixing older ones now that I've finally recovered all my VS-880 era recordings as WAV files which can be worked with today.

And yes, those are just the things for myself. When I was at Specialty I also was able to give about 6% of my income to church. I felt like someone for once, being about 35 and able to do that. Losing my job a couple years ago began a long period of feeling that I had not contributed a fair share. That was heightened by moving out of town and being far less able to even participate and donate time. Now I'm cresting into my 40s and I feel I should support my church, or even the in-transition MALEs movement as they create an identity outside of Richard Rohr's Center for Action and Contemplation. Those are the two leading orgs I'd like to support because I've received a lot from each already, and there are certainly others that are worthy of some assistance.

According to those last two paragraphs, I've already spent my first year's wages!

Okay, so you can see that there is a lot of things of concern that I could easily have blogged about a little at a time. But since there are so many nebulous connections, it's hard to know where to start or stop. Such is the state of my mind and heart; so many options and demands to try to honor, the easier and perhaps more right response, is to brush it aside.

I've actually been thinking of retiring TAPKAE.com. I don't even know who reads it. I keep it for an online reference to things I want to share, but I doubt people actually come here because of anything I want to share. If anything, it's Googlebombed when people do some odd searches. It's not a resume/portfolio site. It's not really anything but my journal in words, sounds, and images. I have tried to use the new Squarespace (the service I use for this site) version 6 but have not found it ideal for all the kinds of content I have here. But even to sustain this version 5 is to pay a pretty chunk of money every year. I've wondered about my choice of content being so public, but the matter is, if I don't pay, it goes away. If I do pay, I want to keep it up and growing, but still have no real sense that anyone gives a shit. Staying on SS version 5 is clunky to say the least, and 6 is slick but lacks control. Part of me wants to just take it all down and make my blogs into PDFs for myself. I have no idea how to progress. Better to just brush it aside.

And that's what's on my plate these last months.

Sunday
May122013

My Irrational Mothers Day Heart

Everyone on Facebook is posting pix of their moms and showering them with all sorts of praise. I can't be so brief, soft, or fuzzy. I'm in a situation where it seems all there is to do is pathetically beg for my mom's attention, which of course is lame. Let's see how this one goes...

Being a mother's son is largely an abstraction for me. It's an idea more than a reality. I've never really lived with my mother though I've had three more concentrated spells of time when she's been in my life and I was "welcome" to be in the midst of the larger family clustered around her. Most of the time though, she was just not part of things. And even when she was, there would be maybe a lukewarm response to reconnecting. Following that, usually periods of increasing tension and finally some kind of a cold war leading to a prolonged period of silence of a number of years until something stirs in me, feeling the profound wrong-ness of it all to have gone on so long with no resolution or at least no functional communication. Forget about loving fondness or the idea of being any momma's boy. She's far too bitter and I have gone too long to know much about relating to her as mother.

Since 2011 I've been more insistent at trying to reach her or to find inroads into the family wherever I can. Social media has helped find the cracks in the wall where usually I had to face the fact that I did not have direct contact information with everyone constellated around her, and typically, if she was not having me, no one seemed to, making for pretty complete blackouts lasting years. Since 2011 in particular that has begun to shift. Those who will risk being in contact with me do run some risk of her wrath. That might just mean more strain or estrangement. Depending on the particulars of who lives at her house, it might earn a place at the curb, I suppose. (Though I don't think that has happened because of me so far but it's not inconceivable either.) So I applaud the individuals who have made the decision to be in touch, even if only by electronic means. That's a whole new thing.

With more insight from the complicit parties (lol), mother has become both more interesting and one dimensional at once. The newer input I have from a few different voices has indicated that she can be as petty and harsh as I've experienced. She's been caught in some rather stark contradictions and outright lies that seem to be resented widely. I've been assured that lending money to her when she's in distress is sure to cause more problems than it heals. All that. That's sort of the one dimensional side though. Knowing that her tendency that way was not customized for me has been liberating and has led me to wonder more about her than before.

I understand she's a hurt woman like any other. What I don't yet have much understanding of is how at least in my case, she allowed herself to give up the fight for a relationship with me even after the legal situation with my old man ceased to be valid. What I can't really understand is how when I do make the independent attempt to get to know her, humbled by my own nicks and bruises in life and wanting to connect, she can't go there. What kind of momentum keeps her judging me as if I was my old man? Or why in the world did she not even tell me my brother was sick and was about to die just over two years ago? (She had no intention to, since I found that out six months later just because I dared drop in on her house unannounced for the first time in nearly four years.)

I did talk to her last November, two days before Thanksgiving. Coincidentally that was an echo of the third big reunion in 2000, with a reunion just two days before that holiday. That day though was also her mother's memorial service. All these years later, stories are told of how that experience caused fractures for many. But last year, trying to talk to mom in what I hoped would be a heart to heart talk, even as a drop in once again, was kind of like playing racquetball against a mattress. No rebound, even as solid as my game was. Maybe it was because she had recently had a stroke or maybe it was that my sister was moving in to the house and it was a bit noisy and distracted, but she was just there. No real response to some of the most heartfelt stuff. Cold. When she did respond at all it tended to be a toned down bunch of her now-typical "just like your dad" talk. Even though I reported that he's hurt me and I've not talked to him for six years by then. She sat there unimpressed at all I had to say about how this estrangement is killing me. No attempt to reach out. No parting hug. Are you my mother?

After a terrible visit in March 1996—one which was intended to be a sit-down-and-talk-it-out-after-a-year-of-silence visit that ended up putting nearly five years of space between us till the November 2000 reunion—I drove home from mom's place in Long Beach. My girlfriend at the time, Robin, had been up in the apartment for a while during the conversation then left. It was tense enough for her to leave but after she did, it was pure firefight. Maybe an hour afterwards, I came down to the car, feeling banished and defeated to the core. It was Robin that had to remind me that a mom was supposed to love her kid unconditionally. I had to be reminded of it. Or maybe told so, since it seems it was so far from my mind at that point, or maybe it was never my experience in the first place.

Before I had left that day in November 2012, she threw me to the wolf. My younger sister has not spoken to me in nearly a perfect dozen years though she's been vitriolic in any online exchanges, where we've egged each other on. Mother dearest, not even interested enough to see this divide as something worthy of some attention, just let me have a go at talking to my sister. For my daring, I was ripped apart for talk I made 11 years ago about single parenthood, fatherless families, and the like—the observations I had made from my black sheep status outside the family unit, looking in. Completely unforgivable, it seems. She's fond of naming me—completely groundlessly except by association with a man who has done a bit of this stuff—as a child abuser, pedophile, stalker, and all that. No hyperbole out of my sister's mouth is worth calling to task, apparently. Nothing concerning me is worth mending. Not even suggesting we sit and hear each other out. (Okay, we're all big boys and girls now, but still, for all the talk about moms usually wanting family harmony, she surely didn't get that memo about helping to foster it when it's so evidently needed.) Thanks mom :-/

I try not to be so harsh in my assessment but mom has given hell to more than just this black sheep son. I'm not simply imagining that she is difficult and petty, which helps me step back and try to be compassionate. I tried to visit on her birthday last month, even to say the words to her face—an act which is a small bit of pay-it-forward garden tending, and that has not even happened since 2001! A text message thread the next day, had with my older sister and self-proclaimed protector of mom's virtue and sanity (ha!), said mom hid away when she saw it was me at the door. She just turned 69. She's not going to be around forever, and given her heart attack about 20 years ago, and a stroke last year, it's hard to tell if she's got more than a few years ahead. We're never going to be all loving and fond of each other, but with time ticking mercilessly, even knowing her just to learn things about her life or even mine is fast becoming a lost opportunity. Even my late brother James said the words in 2001: "we can't just keep letting five years go between visits..."

I'm not saying this to distract from fault I have in things that have happened, but I'm sure most rational people would agree that those were some awkward moments that anyone could have had, decisions that were boneheaded but not malicious, and especially that the punishment of estrangement (if not outright hostility and vitriol) was doled out more generously than is warranted in such cases. A number of those missteps come from being a foreigner in their midst, and never having any one of them experience my life in San Diego. Something is profoundly wrong though. The rational mind says, "there's not much here to work with. Move on." You can bet plenty of people have told me that. Even some of my family "informants." The other mind, caught in a total tangle of hurts and contradictions is holding out for a diamond in this rough.

To the extent that I could say I feel like the son that would send flowers or post the warm fuzzy messages on Facebook, I could say that those sentiments amount to maybe a few occasions or periods that might condense down into maybe a week or two of lived experience. I could congratulate her hard work, or her almost incomprehensible role as mother to six kids (five in practical life since I was raised by my father and step mom before even she was gone by the time I turned 10). I suppose those props are due for mom. But I never lived it myself. I visited it. She did all that, apparently, because she couldn't make relationships work. Or because somehow she managed to become mother again and again by being with men who treated her like trash. I don't know how to come down about that. It's one of the enduring mysteries. The irony is, my old man was the only one who actually took an interest in his child. (Some of you can appreciate what a bind that puts me in, if you know the story about him!)

The fact is, I don't really know what to make of her motherhood or the patterns of motherhood in her side of the family. It seems like there was an element of chance and some lack of control about all of us being born. I don't think any of us got here because two people really loved each other. Sure, she made something of it but I really can't relate to it. The fact that she has done what she's done to provide for the others, and her almost militant attitude about not needing a man does not endear her to me. She's used the whole thing as a weapon. A wedge. What she has accomplished with the life she's led does not account for what has not happened were the opposite true, a scenario in which she might have some collaborative partner to demonstrate some kind of give-and-take and some kind of balance in life. My younger sister, last to be born and the one with essentially no knowledge of any father figure in life, not even a stepfather, is essentially a savage. (And that isn't just my own assessment.) She's got all the loathing and bitterness of mom, it seems, but with hardly a share of the lived experience and drama of her own. It seems she's inherited and absorbed stories from mom and our older sister and harbors as much resentment as it seems has accumulated prior to her being born.

This very line of confused thought and ambivalence gets me in hot water. I am said to be "judging" her (or my sisters) when I talk this way, or when I seek to be enlightened. Understood. But they have mostly kept me at a distance and so I am left with what evidence I have around me, comparing what I know about them with other observations. With new information, new understanding. Seeing how some of my friends and acquaintances have met their motherhood struggles has softened my heart toward my own mom. The thing is, the understanding I seek calls on higher levels of thought than may be possible with these folks. I'm probably going in circles hoping anyone could explain much beyond just what has happened. Good luck with more nuanced thought that touches on bigger themes in life. That's my lot as I try to deal with these relations. At times it's driven me to anger. Usually hurt and confusion. But always some kind of wonder at it all. It's the blueprint for the things I find myself concerned with in life. It does get abstract and nebulous, even as the people I am dealing with are not abstract. Nor are they really completely grounded. Odd.

Sky

One of the most interesting teachers I had on this matter presented herself to me as a reservation mutt dog named Sky at a sheep ranch in New Mexico in the spring of 2011. She had a litter of puppies that were born under the trailer where I was staying. She had to feed them. There were four giant dogs tasked with guarding the sheep but they seemed to be more keen on eating Sky's food on the porch, probably 100 yards from where they were supposed to be. She ate and drank voraciously. She was scrappy and would fend off those bumbling sheep dogs that kept cutting in on her food. She was small enough and wily enough to figure out a way into a trash enclosure to extract more food. She had the enclosure to herself while the sheep dogs lurked and watched. Somehow I felt the need to feed that dog. Keep feeding her. Don't question it. So I filled her bowl serial times if needed. I sort of served as the camp chef for a week and a half and fed her the scraps and broths. She ate it all. She'd drink a gallon of water at a time, it seemed. I never saw her pups but I didn't question her need. She was a newly relocated dog to that camp. A single mother. Helping the widow and the orphan and the stranger all in one relationship. It was a real spiritual lesson that softened my heart about my mom and helped me formulate a new resolve to visit my her that summer when an opportunity presented itself. Little did I know that by the time I had this experience in New Mexico that my brother had died days before.

While Sky did help me envision my mom's past in another way and to feel compassion for her in a way that had not registered before, the challenge remains of what to do with that insight, despite trying to pay visits to her house. So we're in limbo. If my older sister isn't exaggerating, and mom is really hiding from me, then it seems there isn't much to be done. Flowers, Facebook messages, and fuzzy things won't work. Those are just shallow things of the most superficial order. For Mothers Day all I can do to honor her is to hold up the story and ask if that's the way it's supposed to be. I've made my moves toward reconciliation and some attempt to get into some orderly relationship. I know she's hurt from many things but is that all there is to it? Will there be no growth from that? Call me pretentious but after losing one son to death you might think she'd reconsider what it means that I'm alive and trying to be in contact. After all, I was the one son lost to the law, but that's not relevant now and the door has been open to be in restored relationship for a long time now.

The heart is an irrational thing, isn't it?

Sunday
Mar312013

Resurrection for All

Happy Easter. Or better said, Happy Resurrection Day. Today is a day of mystery. A day when we go slack-jawed at the amazing way life springs from death. It's not just a Christian phenomenon of course. It's the basis of the cosmos, the greatest recycling program ever. It's the pattern to which all things adhere. It's for everyone, all the time. But for a couple billion of us, we mark time every spring: the first Sunday after the first full moon after the spring equinox.

Whether Jesus himself actually was risen is always open to interpretation and even dismissal as an historical event. Okay, fine. But the pattern goes on for each of us if we call it this or call it that. The story we tell narrows that ever present reality down to one person and people who were utterly convinced that even a brutal and savage death wasn't the end of things. And then they were the people who went and shared the remarkable news. Somehow. Something happened. Even a couple thousand years later we're talking about it.

I don't actually concern myself with the historical veracity of the biblical accounts. That's a rather worthless pursuit when one has noticed and accepted the flow of death to life to death to life again over and over in the smaller ways. It's come to me in the form of dire family estrangements and the relations that emerged to support me; it's come to me as dental woes that made things look pretty gloomy and loaded me up with guilt and dread but that were transcended; it's come to me repeatedly as one identity dies and another rises eventually. I've watched it in my garden as the cycle keeps turning life into compost and compost into rich soil for more life.

If I had a wish for today it would be that people stop dismissing religion, spirituality, mythology, and the metaphysicality of existence. I know it's been grossly misused over the ages, but it has also been the only thing that has given us the sanity we need to respond to madness, abuse of power, injustice. You can't idolize a Martin Luther King Jr. or a Gandhi without respecting the roots of the spiritual consciousness that made them great. They're standing on the shoulders of the sages and prophets and saviors of old, and who themselves emerged in a period of madness and turmoil and change. If anything, we need more religion, not less. But we need better expressions of it, instead of what we have now: the stuff born of our lower consciousness and desires.

Joseph Campbell gave humanity a great gift with his work in mythology, showing how the great religions and psychology overlap so much as to often be telling the same story with the differences being largely in details. Along those lines, you can't be an atheist and escape the resurrection. You may not like the Christian language and symbols but the lived reality is probably already there. It's there whether any of us wants it or not. It just is. But does one connect with it with open eyes? Does one connect with it by associating with the larger story of one group or another?

We're in a shitstorm of an historical hour. We think we're at the top of things, the best things have ever been. Yet we think things will get better. But in which way? Complex civilizations always collapse, as Joseph Tainter says, but not into "primordial chaos." They simplify down to what can be sustained. Another takes its place. Cities are inherently unsustainable places to live. We don't like to accept the idea that the greatest things we make will eventually be lost. Yet we're not happy in our cities. We're cut off. We value stuff with no future. We're hurting. We're really more dead than we let on. And we're in denial. So what follows death? More life. Different life. Even better life.

The Great Pattern doesn't really care about the desires and designs of one human or a hundred or a million or a billion or more. The Great Pattern will make something of the whole mess just like some of us believe one man beaten to a pulp and left for a humiliating death was somehow made into something so extraordinary that words could not convey what happened next. We have to face that even our beloved technological, rational society has to come to some end, sometime. If we're true to ourselves, we need to admit that it's become our god to which we do more than tithe, do more than listen to the priests and oracles for guidance, even kill for—either for a loaf of bread or to launch wars and economic warfare on resource rich nations.

That god must die. Something else more wonderful and life-giving must replace it. If that god were the true god, we'd be doing okay just about now. We certainly made ourselves quite comfortable. But instead we have grown accustomed to the desperation, displacement, fear, violence, and other stuff that accompanies it though we haven't found any peace in the arrangement. It doesn't work. It's the way of death. How can we disparage Yahweh as being a twisted and angry figure prone to mood swings and violence while we throw fervent support behind the economic god and the political god that has literally brought the ecosystem to ruin for so many around the world? That god was man-made. We can even kill that god. That god has been given a chance and it's fucked everything up. Some gods are better not even being born, let alone resurrected.

Ultimately though, things will run their course and I expect a lot of what we see around us as our supposed god-given right to consume will be seen for what it is: an unparalleled effort to turn Creation into trash. I think it will be a bruising time as things are dismantled by natural forces and economic reversal. But something must emerge. It always does. A new type of human that doesn't have the luxury of destroying the earth while calling it progress? Stuff will grow back over time. Our mighty cities will fade and crumble like Angkor Wat or Rome. Creation will ultimately win back everything when humans prove unfit for the task of creating and maintaining places like we know as our megacities and suburbs. We'll have to face the music ultimately: what we call our mightiest accomplishments (at least in the material world) don't really have a future like we thought.

Humanity is in this giant death and resurrection together, but when done right helps us to adjust to reality that we cannot change. It transforms us, not the world. It teaches us to live within the what is. But also to be more human in doing so. We just can't control everything just like I couldn't control everything about my garden. But that's the good part! We've already tried our hand at controlling everything. We can't do it. Yet the wise ones of old knew that the world was good as it was. Genesis starts out with that first and foremost. Things were good just as they were created. Then we monkeyed with things and it took God a few attempts to knock some sense into us. Then we Christians understand there was the Jesus card that God played to get our attention again. "What if I appear like one of them?" Even that failed pretty badly because a righteous man was shown a very harsh exit from this stage. Then it was time for something even bolder...

"They just think they killed him. Just watch!"

So maybe it wasn't Jesus in the flesh. But it was, to those with the ability to understand it just enough, that nudge into another life, a bigger life even after the devastation of losing the one so dear. The one who was already attractive and intriguing but now became...bigger than life—and death—itself.

Death and resurrection is all around us. It is. It happens yearly, monthly, daily, hourly, by the minute. Are we attuned to it? Do we trust it enough to let it play out? Are we okay admitting that there are other people who experience it and it's not ours to control? Even though two billion people celebrate the resurrection, we certainly know there are folks who don't really get what it means. And certainly there have to be people outside the Christian realm who get it readily but don't identify with Jesus/Christ (sic). The message though is for everyone. Now more than ever, we really need a story that lets us know it's okay to die so that something better can emerge. With God's grace, anything might just happen.

Wednesday
Feb272013

The Beginnings of Things +20

This is the second entry in a single story that spans over 10,000 words. Be sure to read The Endings of Things preceeding this entry.

Life would have made a lot more sense to me at the age of 19 if I'd been initiated in the Christ mystery of death and rebirth prior to some real messy times around then and for years later. Having a touchstone would have been handy. Instead, the world seemed pretty malevolent for sustained periods of time, and part of the reason for hanging on to the Melissa relationship was because for a period, that was about the only thing that brought form and meaning from chaos. So the dissolution of that relation in the span of a week hit me hard to begin with. Because Melissa's mom Marie was nice enough to mediate the breakup experience and see that I had a softer landing, I began the very next day at a life without Melissa but with some optimism and newness of vision that things might turn out okay. I'd meet new people and interesting things would happen. In other words, what died could be resurrected into a new form with a bigger meaning to it.

Melissa and I broke up on February 22, a Monday. The next day I was back at school and found myself talking to two girls in my philosophy class at Mesa. That took the edge off some, even knowing that I'd not retreated. I can't recall anything happening after that but the experience was a lift just as it was. Hitting up Subway on the way back home I saw a girl I'd had my eyes on for a while, Abbey. She and another girl or two were easy on the eyes and since I'd been somewhat regular there, I already had a bit of a chatty way with them. I told her what had happened. I don't know if I expected this to go anywhere but I asked if we might be in touch and I left my number. I think she was seeing someone anyway. The damage was done the day before. At this moment, there wasn't much to lose.

The Pig Solution

Matt Zuniga and I had a particularly juvenile evening on the first Friday after the breakup. Usually we were content to go out and play drums in isolated and semi-secure parking garages, increasingly so in the middle of the night. The Friday night just before the ill-fated ASB ball that I was supposed to attend with Melissa, we were out until 3:30 in the morning playing at a new spot that had a janitorial storage locker that we found open. We relished in the raiding of such a place. There were boxes of 4' flourescent tube lighting. We heisted the entire collection. We also opened several cans of paint and poured them out over the street. It was raining pretty mightily that night so by the time we made a return visit some time later, there was hardly a sign of paint. On this first weekend after the breakup there was a bit of boy frustration to get out so we sort of rampaged at the mall, with Matt doing his trademark antisocial grunts, charicatures of old people, some well chosen ventriloquistic obscenities, and worse. We took the bulbs we'd collected the week before and took them to a spot on the edge of the suburban buildout, near a freeway, and cast the tubes majestically down to ... well, it was really kind of pointless since none of them exploded in the way we hoped. But then we were off and running, dropping in on an adult bookstore. Call it a pent up need to be a guy. Or a pig.

The Little Black Book Was Mauve

At home I dug into the contacts book a little harder than I had since the summer before. I probably called everyone to reconnect and maybe sob with (a number of whom were high school people I really had not connected with since that era a couple years before), but the most notable contact in there was one girl friend of mine that I'd known for a couple years since 1990. We used to go to church together when I was still doing that. I don't think I'd seen her in some time, except maybe at Christmas Eve service, if anything. She was just a bit younger than Melissa by a few months but was uncannily mature for her age, and was one of those passionate color-outside-of-the-lines beings who jolts you awake. It was something I needed. I called her and we went out for some fun and talk on Saturday, just less than a week after the breakup. She was ready to go. I never expected I'd marry her one day. Yep, in some odd way, it was kind of a first date for Kelli and me. And yet not. But that one day put her on the map as a trusted friend and confidante. And more than the compassionate ear she offered, the story ahead sets up a whole set of resonsances that radiated out for a long time and really has shaped most of the life I've lived in the 20 years since the Melissa breakup. Curl up with a blanket and a nice drink, once again...

The Shifting Sands of Confidence

I'd seen my grandmother every weekend for all the time I went out with Melissa since I was coming and going to pick up the car. I might have seen her more often if I had other reasons, like practicing piano or doing other errands and chores to earn the use of the car. But all during the Melissa era, the relationship that she and I had was not as close as when I had no girlfriend, and therefore, no secrets to keep about my emerging intimate life with a girl. That kind of talk of course is kind of awkward with people anyway, but since I already knew her to be rather conservative but not totally close minded, I did keep hushed and would limit the talk about Melissa to discussion of the places we went or other developments of a pretty benign nature. But in that breakup week, I did not seek counsel with her. I didn't even tell her. Even a week and more later, I hadn't told her. The mantle of trust in my emotional life was starting to be transferred away from her as I rather foolishly thought I'd go it alone or limit myself to some friends and peers, few of which had the depth of perspective I'd need while maneuvering the minefield of life. At about the same time, calling upon my pastor Jerry happened less and less. The departure of our associate pastor Judy in 1993 also eroded my relationship with the church and folks constellated around it. I became unchurched. The road to any real faith was now beginning because I had outgrown the version of religion that gives the answers and the storybook versions of how things went. (I hasten to add that my church was anything but shallow theologically. But youth materials are geared toward, well... youth, and that is just foundational. Life itself build faith.)

Kelli Parrish was one notable exception. For several years she and her sweet mother Kay were about the only connection to the church congregation that a few years before had been a huge part of my life. There wasn't too much else, but as I found, friendship with Kelli kept me abreast of developments—and disintegrations—within the church. She was my lifeline to the church and even to a bit of spirituality for years to come. She and Kay were always ready friends of mine, and even though time might pass in larger or smaller blocks, the same spirit was always there. But let's not get too far ahead. There's that one Saturday at the end of February 1993, to start with.

Moving Violations

Until I refreshed my memory with my journal from then, I'd forgotten the part about not having been to her new house prior to spending that Saturday night with her. She lived in a place that came to be known as the "Treehouse" —a spot on the edge of the Mission Hills community of San Diego, overlooking the airport. (It's actually just a mile or so from my church now. In fact, for a time, she went there as a pew sitter herself.) Her place was up an insanely steep hill that juts off another road that itself is barely wide enough to park one lane of cars and let two other cars pass. Her street name did not appear to be anything more than a nebulous driveway up a crazy hill. That's what it looked like once I even found the first street after getting turned around in the odd combinations of dead end streets, one way streets, and other navigational oddness that defines that area. Her directions sounded clear enough. But in the downpour, everything got way more difficult. It took me 45 minutes to do what should have taken 20.

Finally I arrived at the Treehouse, a 2.5 story duplex up that nasty hill. It was indeed a sight, the balcony having a nice view of the harbor and airport and a bit of downtown. It was a place I'd get to know in the coming years. Often I'd been made to feel quite welcome there. For this first visit, we made small talk and headed out in the Ford Escort, not really knowing where we'd go. It was odd. She wasn't my date. No, at that point and for years to come, Kelli was kind of like a kid sister to me, and a church sister at that. This wasn't a date, and it would be years before our first movement toward our present relationship was made, and years more before we embraced it and went full on. But she was sometimes loud and outrageous. Colorful. Opinionated. Bold. Free spirited. Interesting. Too much for me. And she had lived a life or two by the time this night happened. Everything she was stood in stark opposition to Melissa.

My journal mentioned going to a number of places but didn't name any. Those details are lost to history, but let's set one thing down right here. Melissa lived in a newer suburb than I did, about ten miles northeast of where I was. Mira Mesa was (and still is) a place that I tolerated. It's technically not all so different than Clairemont where I lived but it feels different, maybe a bit stuffier. Really it might just be that it is just newer and with different particulars of merchants and street names. Oh, and maybe the considerable population of Filipinos that earned it a nickname of Manila Mesa. A point to make is that almost the entire relationship with Melissa was conducted in the suburbs, whether it was at her house or mine, or the parks we frequented, or the malls. Kelli on the other hand was far more urban and bohemian. This one rampaging night on the town was all in San Diego's more seasoned, older, and eclectic neighborhoods, or in downtown, about ten miles south of where I lived. Oh, she'd lived in many places, and she herself was in Clairemont not too long before this. In fact, she used to be on my bike route home from school and I dropped in on her a few times there. But her spirit is far more urban and alive with the stuff of arts and poetry and music arising from underground and repressed populations. Kelli herself was culture shock to me. The things she continues to introduce me to today still has that effect!

But that night we serviced some more immediate needs. The evidence shows we ate ourselves silly on pizza and gyros sandwiches after hitting up a few places. We got downtown while it was storming rain. If I hadn't run enough stop signs and lights just finding her house, I certainly met my quota while we went around looking for things we had vague inclinations to find but seemingly couldn't. She had just finished a first day of driving instruction and here I was showing her all the ways to NOT operate on the road! It was hilarious. With the big news of the period being the Melissa story, I'm sure we covered that in enough detail. Eventually we escaped downtown and its inside-out network of one way streets and all those damned red lights. We stopped for some time at Old Town a few miles away, and parked at the lot at the Presidio. That's the part I remember best, even if now it's more an impression on my heart that this time together was really the time that put Kelli on the map for me as a person I could really open up to and trust, and that was also hungering for a similar connection. With Melissa, I always felt like it took a lot of prying and coaxing to get a substantial exchange that communicated life's deep truths. By comparison, this was cake.

I think that we both had stories about divorced parents that kept us going for a while, and the lives we've led in the shadow of those broken relations. Indeed. Is there any way we would have known that early trusting time, peppered with some of the hilarity we experienced while running red lights would have paved the way for us to be married? Nope. We were just really kicking off a friendship then, sitting in the car on the side of the hill overlooking town, with rain pouring down around midnight on a cold February night.

We hit up Gelato Vero, a coffee shop at India and Washington, essentially across the street from her house (as the crow flies) but some distance away if you actually use the road. It was 12:20 am by the time we got there. That was pretty astounding since the 16 year old I was out with two weeks before had to be home by 10 and I had to be on my way by 11. Gelato Vero makes some kick ass gelato Italian ice cream. If I had any that night, it was probably the first I ever had. Already, Kelli was leading me into new areas of life. We retired to the Treehouse and watched Saturday Night Live. I suppose I went home at 1 am. Or later. What a time.

Serendipty is Her Forte

I don't recall exactly what day this part happened but real shortly after the Monday of Doom on the 22nd I happened into Kelli at Mesa College at the music department. I had taken the Basic Musicianship class because she herself had taken it a semester or two before and that got my interest up. Recall she was 16 at that time, so she was at Mesa not as a full fledged post-high school graduate but instead taking college classes there because it was possible, but also because her alternative high school was just next door. That day at the music department, she was talking to some guy named Josh. She introduced me as a drummer. Josh was a guitarist who could barely contain himself at the prospect of getting a drummer to help he and his other guitar buddy in their progressive hard rock band Forte. (I don't recall any of the material but I think they were into Queensryche or something.) I said I'd be interested especially if he could give me some demo of their stuff first so I could prepare. I might have to cover my early 1993 music activities in another post, but suffice to say that in that first week after Melissa, the stuff of new adventure was already taking form. And Kelli was right there in the middle of it.

But the Forte thing was small potatoes compared to what happened next while under Kelli's influence. Just a flash in the pan. I was just barely kicking tires and running my hand over the vehicle that was going to take me for the ride of my life.

But it Does Mean Beans!

It was just under two weeks after the Weekend of Doom with Melissa and one week after the Moving Violations tour with Kelli when it became time to do something to fill the new weekend-long void. Kelli suggested I go to a coffee shop with her to see a band she and Kay liked. They love acoustic music, folk music, protest music. The part about "coffee shop" threw me. Being so sheltered and suburban as I was, I was barely aware of what she could be talking about if it wasn't one of those kinds of Denny's-like greasy spoon places from the Ike's 50s and LBJ's 60s. You know...the places with glass and rock walls and odd diamond shaped roof panels that look kind of Jetsonlike, a cocky waitress with overdone makeup, and truckers with buttcrack issues? Oh! No, that's not what Kelli was getting at? Since I didn't drink coffee then and only now have adopted enough tolerance for coffee that I drink it about two days a month to kick my ass into gear for early morning work route driving to LA, I was clueless about the fair trade selling, earthy and colorful, free-thought-inducing bohemian dens she had in mind. The only coffee I knew about was gross stuff my old man drank: that freeze dried crystal crap that Folger's sells. I never drank it except to taste it once and that broke me of the habit immediately. Coffee was an adult drink. What did Kelli want with the stuff? Man, I was in for something new. Coffee? Coffee shops? Music in a coffee shop? I guess you'd be more likely to find music there. I doubt I ever saw live music at one of the Jetson types of coffee shops. That's why I was not really on the ball with her pitch. But she had an idea that might improve my life so I went along.

On March 5th I accompanied Kelli and Kay to Beans, ironically located in the shadow of University Town(e) Center, a major mall that us suburban rats would like to be seen at, and indeed, where Melissa and I launched into our relationship in June '92. Beans was just down the hill in a smaller strip mall, tucked into a corner. It's proximity to UCSD would have clinched it a smart and progressive crowd—all of which would have pretty much scared me then. It was high ceilinged, colorfully painted and inviting as those places tend to be. Art was on the walls. Since the entire area surrounding UTC was rather new, Beans too was new, and perhaps newer than the rest of things. Beans was a place I'd just drive past. But it became the stage (literally) for a huge new act in my life. My notes only indicate that I went there a number of times during that month and into April, always on weekend nights. I don't have but a couple notes indicating exactly who played one night or the next. But the band Kelli wanted me to see was Rekless Abandon, a duo with an incredibly imaginitive and sensitive acoustic guitar player named Paul Abbott and an equally incredibly dynamic and emotive singer, Randi Driscoll. Because I was deep into my progressive rock music and was only distracted by Melissa's gravitation to sappy soft rock, Rekless Abandon was foreign to me. First off, where was the band? It's just a dude and a chick strumming and singing! The drummer in me was unimpressed. But all this got me out of the house. There were a couple other musicians I recall seeing there. At first I was more impressed with a fellow named Dominick Giovanellio, a solo guitarist/singer who had some songs that I recall were tinged with some humor and wit. Another night I might have seen—and sat in with on drums—the Ray Iverson Quartet, a traditional jazz combo that I really had no business sitting in with, but they were gracious enough to let me do it twice. There was a blues band that I saw a couple times. Or maybe that was just their name?

He Played with Frank Zappa

But by far there is more at stake by returning to Rekless Abandon. They had a tape that I eventually got, and then another once it came out later in the year. Kelli and Kay had seen Paul and Randi play several times and were on first name basis with them. They even had them play a house party at the Treehouse. I was along at Beans and got to meet Paul somewhat. Enough anyway that after I'd seen the following spectacle at least twice I had to ask Paul what the hell I just saw. The thing is, while I remember certain things and certain impressions, since I was not steeped in the history of Rekless Abandon and did not yet have an inkling of how the San Diego music scene was networked, even now I don't have all the facts about the story I am about to tell. Yet I am certain I have asked people who were there those nights and who made it happen. Here goes.

At the end of their set, Paul and Randi did a boisterous song with a fierce chorus that I'm pretty sure went "Freaks! Freaks! Mother Fuckers!" repeatedly. That was obviously a crowd favorite as it got patrons into singing it too. But the curious thing was that they invited a bespectacled, long black hair flowin', trenchcoat and purple knit cap wearin' (or was it the purple and green pork pie hat?) guy up to the stage to sing that refrain in full vigor. Was it random? Could I get called up if I shouted and waved most enthusiastically? Once I saw it in two performances I knew there was something. He wasn't just another guy in the crowd. At the set break, this trenchcoat dude garnered some adoration and attention, even at a rather isolated coffee shop. Who was he? I had to ask Paul.

"Oh, that's Mike. He's a friend of ours. He's played with Frank Zappa..."

That got my attention. Not even so much because I was a fan. I wasn't a fan, and even now I'd be slow to call myself a fan of Zappa. Back then I had not one Zappa recording, but this sped up the process so that I had one by about June. It turned out that I started tentatively picking up some Zappa from the used CD shops. During the summer I was crafting some drum/vocal ode to Zappa for Rhythmic Catharsis. In early November I went to a Terry Bozzio drum clinic. 1993 was the year of getting into Zappa. It proved to be an oddly fated year for that.

The stuff I was doing with Rhythmic Catharsis was intuitively attempting to appropriate the dirty humor part of what Zappa did but never in a million years could I ever compose anything even as musical as his farts! Later in the year I crossed paths with Mike again at another Rekless Abandon show at another coffee shop, Rumors in Ocean Beach. It seems Mike was there to watch but had somehow become their soundman for the night. I was there with some new bandmates from New Electron Symphony, and Ian, the NES bandleader who surely would enjoy Zappa but did not know Mike, was really bugged at the sound that night. By that time in late November 1993, I'd gathered enough knowledge to wonder about Zappa, his studio, and his methods. At break time, I went outside and listened in on some open conversation and then proceeded to put my foot in my mouth. I hereby met Mike Keneally.

How's that Foot Taste?

Almost verbatim from my journal from December 7, I wrote, picking up on Paul's first mentioning of Mike's claim to fame...

He looked a little young [for having played with FZ who was in his 50s. Mike was 31]. Well, about two weeks ago I saw Rekless Abandon at Rumors, only about a week before I played there with NES. I saw Paul's friend again and talked to him. Sure enough, he played with Zappa in the last touring band in 1988. Since then he has played with (and still does) Frank's sons Dweezil and Ahmet. If that's so he's also been playing in a band [Z] which as seen the likes of Chad Wackerman, Doane Perry, and several others. The best in the biz. And the album he played on is one which also has Sting guesting on it! He told me a little more about Frank's studio and his history with Frank's band, and his solo stuff. I asked if Frank was still active in music. He said no. Frank is very very sick.

Who would have known that Frank died a week later on December 4th?

Strangely, I turned on the news today at 4 pm, something I never do. As I watched, a clip came in just before the commercial: something about the "late Frank Zappa." The LATE Frank Zappa?

Man. I felt so bad for asking such trivial shit of Mike just a week before his hero and mentor died.

I don't think I saw Mike for some time, but I did later hear his name in September 1994 when I went to a digital studio to do finish work on the Slaves By Trade recording that was new then. Joe Statt, the engineer, said Mike Keneally had been there recently with a whole mess of DAT tapes that he composited into his new album, Boil That Dust Speck. That Keneally name kept coming up. Was there a message in it? I found out when I saw my first Mike Keneally show in December of 1994—a year after the foot-in-mouth incident. And that was like losing my virginity all over again. But better!

Now, Where Were We?

Okay, so you saw I started this entry on one topic and then hovered for a while on Kelli talk, and then got to Keneally. Exactly. When I think of how all this stuff unfolded from that breakup with my first girlfriend (who as I said in the previous entry was someone who had her eye on me for some time prior to our dating, and whose parents were friends with mine before I was born...the story goes backwards and forwards), my mind is always blown. But this whole post is also a very diffuse thank you to Kelli who of course is my dear wife now. But even that was years in the future and was dotted with many stops and starts along the way. But the grand point that I have to make is how she's been accomplice to reshaping my life at some interesting times when I've felt, well, dead in my soul, defeated, lost. Kelli has often been responsible for sparking a new me into existence, for a rebirth of my spirit. And that's the honest truth.

The story of Kelli in my life is in some ways parallel (up to a point) with Melissa. But then there was an incredible divergence. Analogous to the prenatal history of Melissa's folks being party buddies with mine is the fact that before Kelli was born, Kay was at the same church as the one my grandmother helped found. Kay was my Sunday School teacher for a while when I was about 5-8 and Kelli and I used to have some play experience together. In both cases I was about three years older and had childhood experiences with Kelli and Melissa, even a few miles apart in town, mostly around Clairemont for a while. Kelli moved to Florida. Melissa to Mira Mesa. Both arrived back on the scene for me within about six months during the summer leading to or within my senior year in high school. To be honest, I didn't imagine a relationship with either until somehow circumstances seemed right according to the great mysteries and machinations of the universe. Back then, while I had made myself comfortable with Melissa because she was present and willing to be in a relationship, but I was really holding out for Shelby for no particularly tangible reason. Interestingly, it took until that imaginary relationship collapsed in 2000 before the way was clear to be open to Kelli. 

And that's about where the similarities end. I'm certain I got the better partner in the end. But try telling that to the tortured 19 year old for whom the world seemed to come to an end until Kelli, still pretty young but already wise beyond her years, was just a friend who was willing to connect at a substantial level that I didn't feel was possible with other people in general but certainly with Melissa. It's kind of odd how one had shallow roots and the other deeper roots. Melissa always (even now, from what I can see when I do a quick web search) seemed to be into stuff I'd never be interested in. Kelli was like an oasis the way she kept the light on for me, a living connection to matters of faith and spirituality, allowing life to be complex and messy because she too knew that was a major pattern. In one way it was good that the whole Melissa chapter was done by the time I was 21 (we had a short fling the following year), and good also that Kelli finally made sense to me in time to turn 30 (28, really). The years in between had a considerable darkness lurking that really set me up to recognize what Kelli meant after so many years of church youth groups, casual friendship, collaborating on a CD, and a bit of pre-dating foolin' around. Ultimately, as the story goes elsewhere on this blog, the summer of 2001, with two tragedies hitting us (9/11 and the murder of one of our church buddies, Daniel, a month before), we found ourselves cashing in our relationship capital and recognizing we needed to be closer if the world around us was going to keep descending into utter madness. And then closer still. It's quite a story. But now you just read one big chunk that hitherto had barely been mentioned.

And of course volumes could be written about how things worked out after I saw Keneally play in December 1994. The effect he had on my creativity was immense. Following leads opened up by interacting with him has taken me down many avenues. There are even a few interesting bits concerning how the Keneally and Kelli worlds have interacted. That is another entry altogether.

Taken together, it's all the story of my life. The greatest story ever told, man...

Friday
Feb222013

The Ending of Things +20

This is part one of a 10,000+ word story. Part two is the next entry called The Beginnings of Things.

Some months ago I wrote about my first relationship with Melissa. As much as the 19 year old me would like to report that we rode off into the sunset together, the reality was that the mismatch between her just being a 16 year old with those fluffy pink teenage visions of romance and my emerging troubled soul began to draw us apart. Oh, you can bet I stuck around the best I could for any further carnal experience that might come. And in perusing my journals from the period there was an interesting push and pull from one week to another that charted some "progress" and then regression from that. We never really closed the deal, and it was perhaps that see-sawing action that made me impatient and frustrated even as things unraveled for us as we closed in on eight months together.

Said another way, I was a 19 year old boy who wanted to get laid. And she wasn't giving in to it.

But she was sorting it out at her own pace, aided by her mom, auntie, and her one-year-her-senior cousin Chrissy. I did try to be patient because it seemed like it took so long before Melissa appeared on the scene in mid 1992. But it wasn't that we had just met like many other kids meet at school or just hanging out in some scene. No, we went back many years before. In fact, our parents used to be in some kind of scene before I was born. In some ways, Melissa was almost like a cousin to me because she appeared periodically when it was social time for the folks. Years after that when we started dating, she'd tell me she had her eye on me since she was eight years old! Our dads eventually both worked at the same company, one helping the other into the position. That bit about the old men knowing each other eventually proved unflattering to me when Mark, Melissa's dad, knew well enough what my old man was like and used it as a pretty harsh harpoon to jab me with when finally I crossed the line with Melissa in February 1993 during the eighth month we were together. We didn't quite make it a complete eight months though.

ASB? Ballsy!

The sharpest turn downward came when as the boyfriend, I was automatically assumed to be a date for the ASB ball at her school. I guess I still phrase it that way even all this time later because I have an instinctive reaction against doing stuff like that, and I guess the fact that this all happened means that events like that are marked forever. Given the background situation of being a rather manipulative punk wrapped in a cute loverboy, it was perfectly in character to say and do some of the dumb shit that brought a close to this relationship faster than the Harlem Shake spread on YouTube this month. Even I have to admit it took a lot of gall to pronounce to Melissa that I would go—but on my terms. (I guess there are folks who don't find that surprising even today.) Of course, that's not bound to endear me to the girl with whom I was seeking still-ungained carnal knowledge. And frankly, the week or so leading up to the ball was just one really rotten time, thanks to me.

The ball was held on a Saturday night, February 20. By then I'd been an ass the previous week at a pre-Ball casual dinner with a group of friends going together. (Or maybe it was just one more couple.) The day following that was Valentine's Day and my journal reports that was kind of a mixed day. I suppose now it should be evidently a "DUH!" that Valentine's Day was so strained since only the day before was so mishandled. As it turned out, that Valentine's Day was the last date and day of general good will toward each other. The following day, maybe attempting to make right or further complicate things (the two were hard to discern then), there was a kind of a comical episode when, while at her house, she was directed by her dad to go to the yard and pick up dog shit. The job shouldn't have lasted long. But it did. And then after some time, Mark and I heard the shower running and Melissa emerged freshly showered for, um, no apparent reason. Of course, it was perfectly apparent and she wasn't into the unintentionally mocking smirks that we both had on our faces. She took immediate offense and declared if I was gonna laugh then I could just kiss off and leave. Because things were so testy I retorted that might just be a good idea since I wasn't getting anything done there. I marched out and drove off in a huff. So that day, a rather random Monday at her house on President's Day with no school, was another that cost me some points. Okay, it wasn't my finest moment. It wasn't even my worst moment, either. That was yet to come.

By the end of the week, at the last minute I skipped out on the Ball after some hemming and hawing, even as late as Thursday when I finally said I wasn't going. She was able to get a date to go along at the last minute, but probably not so well dressed as I might have been. I seem to recall that the expense of the tux was something I decided not to incur, but also that the cancellation fee was rather notable and so the financial motive backfired for me, probably as justly as anyone could say. (Interestingly, now that I actually glanced at the correspondence from the period, it was mighty nice of Marie to actually refund the ticket price to the ASB Ball. I totally forgot about that. How totallyuncalled for that was, given my handling of the matter. I believe I had to eat it on the tux rental cancellation fee.)

The night of the ball, I was having second thoughts. After a real troubled week trying to talk on the phone and this particular day being quite silent because she was running around in last minute preparations, I drove up to her friend's place some mile away from her house, where they were gathering. I got there earlier than the others and must have caused some puzzlement for the hosting family when I appeared there, unshaven and without a tux. At first they didn't know I'd cancelled out. They seemed to be confused enough that a call was made to Mark, who directed them to have me leave right then. I sat in the car for a bit, hoping for any glimpse of Melissa in her dress. She didn't appear or was parked out of view. Not long later, her friend came out and saw me and reported to her dad that I was there. He came out and told me again to leave, and if I had a problem with that, Mark would entertain my complaint.

Rebel Without A Case

So I stormed out of there in the car, driving madly in a fit of rage as if I was in some teenage flick from the 80s. It must come naturally to a teenage boy to storm away in his car, even if it's not his own car and it's just a front wheel drive Ford Escort wagon. (But it was red so that makes it edgy and daring and James Dean-approved, doesn't it?) At that point, I was a raging, sobbing, mixed up dude. For the first time ever, I was confronted with the fact that my girlfriend was in the company of another dude. Okay, he was a pretty decent dude. But he was... not me. And to tell the truth, that wasn't anything I obsessed over. After such a passive time, Melissa was actually standing up for her own good. That throws dudes off.

Still, I was not ready to let go. After some settling down at the shopping center, I went to the park that adjoins her subdivision. It was cold as you'd expect in mid February. But somehow I sat there, trying to sort out the mess I made. I had a marker with me and upon the picnic table where I sat, I wrote some long, trite screed that strung together a range of cliches I was only then beginning to understand from the inside. I suppose it isn't so bad, but given my attachment to the events and the knowledge that some of these things have been cheapened by chain letters and other meme activity, I find it almost unbearably embarrassing to read now. I'll grant that there was a kid there that night trying to make sense of stuff and grabbing at any straw that might help build a house in which to hide my head. I guess I just gave myself the present of realization that you don't know what you have till you lose it. After having scrawled that, I copied it down for myself and not too long after that sent in a copy to the radio station that Melissa and I used to listen to for the dedications we used to pass back and forth to each other, usually for monthly anniversary dates. I gave it the title, "Inspirational Graffiti." It was read over the air in a slightly redacted version and for some years to follow I had a recording that I suppose is lost to time now.

Mother Marie Gives Comfort?

Later on once the dance party was definitely at the school, I drove around the block to her place and saw that mother Marie's van was not there. I sat it out and when she drove in, I went to the door and was welcomed in. I didn't know what to expect for an angry Mark. I got that much for certain. Her dad—who most certainly was pissed—unabashedly told me so, offering that "you have a lot of balls coming around here after what you did to my daughter, two of which you're about to be fed." (He had a workingman's approach to interpersonal relations and diplomacy, you see?) He continued to lecture me for a bit on the matter of playing head games and not respecting Melissa's feelings. It was during this talk when he produced a pound of kryptonite when he said I was just like my dad. Ouch. Take the balls first, dude!

My sack was left untouched for the evening, by both father and daughter. Mark did the heavy work and left Marie to do the more nuanced work. She and I spent about an hour and a half talking in the front room. Since we already had some rapport, I was able to settle down some and listen to her. I think she would like things to work out but she seemed to realize that Melissa was already moving on. Still the talk was good because instead of the lessons coming strictly from the angst and tension of the decaying relationship, at least part of the whole experience was enlightened by Marie's considered perspective. Of course, since she was Melissa's advocate, much of what she was about to say was going to sting in one way or another. One stark observation was that she said we didn't seem to have a relationship. This was new talk. It provoked a question in me that wondered what those last seven months and more amounted to. She said we'd not really know what we wanted in a relationship until we'd probably had a few different partners. This was pretty outlandish talk at that time. What about that puppy love, radio dedication fluff about staying together for ever and ever? Man... this was turning into a crazier weekend than when we started.

Needs Gone Unmet

Reading my journal written hours after that talk I'm pretty struck with the fact I put my finger on an issue that keeps recurring and showing its ugly head over and over: the lack of a cohesive family unit with some sense of rootedness and maybe traditions that anchor one in something larger than self. At the time I admitted there wasn't much of that fundamental relationship practice but tried to save face by saying I'd done okay. The more time passes now, the less I am sure of that, especially after all the drama of the last dozen years or so that this blog chronicles so well. But there it was, dated February 21, 1993, in my own hand.

Since the ache for a girlfriend was saved up until a few months prior to my 19th birthday, Melissa was the unwitting target for loads of expectations of what a relationship would be like. At 16, there's no way she could ever amount to what I had in my head. And as my adolescence gave way to young adulthood, the nearly three year gap in age put me into another life space by default. But the stuff I was grappling with was serious stuff and she had no way to deal with it. Even now I feel I load up too much on Kelli, but in our late 30s that can be processed a whole other way than twenty years ago. Heck, even 20 years ago, Kelli, a few months younger than Melissa, was better equipped to deal with life's heaviness. More later.

There was a theme that is rooted in my neediness because of that lack of relationship I feel plagues me. Somehow I adopted a very materialistic value system about the time Melissa and I spent together. Each visit was counted and marked on my calendar. Even after we split up I somehow decided it was worth the exercise of adding it up. Worse, I thought she'd be interested and so I reported my findings. I think it was somewhere like 800 hours over about eight months. That kind of itemization of things was an odd thing meant I guess to do some good to remind me how many good times we had, but on the troubled days like in the last weeks, it ended up showing some shorter times and reflecting trouble more than joy. Because Melissa and I were already at odds about how she watched TV so much, and I felt like when I was at her place I should be worth the attention instead of the box of glass and plastic and wires. She lived ten miles away (a pretty big distance then), requiring the use of my grandfather's car, gotten by riding my bike three miles in the other direction on Fridays and then back after the weekend wrapped up on Sunday night. Doing that routine each weekend, trying to wedge as much time in with her as possible, I got protective of time together and sometimes declared time a waste if we weren't pretty much together. There were plenty of times when I had to take second place to her school marching band activities, but for the rest of the time, when, say, the TV was an issue, I got frustrated. (That too has kept on as an issue, even being the last straw that drove me out of Robin's place a few years later. I still am pretty adamant that most TV viewing is pretty dumb. But I go easier on people and their motivations for doing so. I swore off TV in 1997 and never turn one on for my own gratification. Never follow any shows, don't really worry about if I'll get the news.)

Trying to argue my point about time being a waste was not something Marie agreed with. She knew I'd been keen to not work weekends at my job at Jack In The Box so that I could be with Melissa. She thought that was misguided and that I should just work when I need to and let the relationship fall in around it. It's not that she didn't want me around, but she picked up on how the counting of time made me rather expectant of results that would not always follow. She encouraged me to just take the work and earn some money and enjoy the relationship more because of the scarcity instead of placing so many expectations on it. This was a strange, early lesson in the economics of time.

Marie and I talked for an hour and a half or so. It was kind of a bitter pill but since she was so momlike I could receive it better than if the same job was done by a friend who didn't have the longstanding relationship. She gave me a card to write some words of apology and pathetic appeals to call as soon as possible.

Marie had said Melissa was mad enough that I shouldn't expect to see her that weekend. That was scary because the week prior had been really testy trying to work things out at all over the phone. I dreaded another week passing if it was going to be like that. Rhythmic Catharsis buddy Matt lived within walking distance of Melissa's. I asked him to go over and see if he could persuade her to call me on Sunday. I called Melissa's cousin trying to accomplish the same. The day after the ball was an agonizing time, for sure. She did call by early afternoon but things weren't rosy yet. I told her about the picnic table, and suggested maybe she read it. I told her I wanted to not let all this go on for a week, so she agreed to meet the next day (Monday).

Jerry to the Rescue, Again

Needing some counsel, I decided to head down to church where that afternoon there was a meeting of the Shalom Group, a group that I helped to co-found in 1989, intended to help provide teenagers with a safe place to talk to a few trusted adults and peers. It was set aside even from the default youth group. It's interesting that I'd choose to go there that very day since I had largely been out of church life for some time by then, maybe even counting back to 1991. And certainly with such a regular schedule with Melissa, crafted to fill as much weekend time as possible, there was little time for stuff like church. These days I wish I had made more time for it; for balance; for some scheduled adult perspective before the shit hit the fan. As such, I made what I could of it and got down to church and found that the meeting was going to be sparsely attended. It got called off. As long as we were both there, I asked my pastor, Jerry, if I could have some time to talk. By that point, he already had a few years' track record of giving me some life changing perspective. Just two months before he was responsible for talking me off my ledge during my first period of suicidal ideation

We spent a good while talking outside the church building, even on a rather cool day in the winter and agreed to meet Wednesday. At that moment, it didn't seem like that would be two days too late. I can't complain though. Jerry's insight has always had a long shelf life. For that troubled Sunday, I took what I could from the exchange and went on my way. What followed doesn't exactly make sense and I'm not sure I did it right, but at the time, somehow, like these things go, it was all I could do to get out of my head for a bit.

Intermission: Wayne and Pops

I drove from the church in Pacific Beach, headed down to one of the shopping centers there and parked. Only this wasn't like the day before. I walked to the Presbyterian church across the street. I met a couple of homeless fellows. Wayne was 52, and his buddy Pops, 62. Both had been in construction and trades. If anything, I think Shelby had put me up to this, or something like it. Shelby, while sometimes fire and sometimes ice, was kind of a scout for my consciousness in the world. I think I'd heard enough tales from her and had a few conscience-tipped arrows shot into me over the few years we'd been friends by then to know that I needed to take myself from the center of the universe once in a while. So here I was. I talked to the guys for a while then offered to get them dinner (at Subway, the actual center of the universe back in that era of the early 90s). They counteroffered. The church was about to serve dinner coming up pretty soon. Their treat! Their "normal" was parking their carts in the church hall and making their way to the serving table. Of course I was the fish out of water here, dressed decently and looking pretty much ready to head to school or on a date. Sure, I felt a little weird and one comment from one of the servers sort of put me on the spot, though not in a bad way. I just stopped into to see how others live, I said.

These days, after encountering Jubilee Economics and related bodies that are sympathetic to those who don't have, or encourage those who do have to live more simply, I'm pretty surprised at how Wayne and Pops were some of the first encounters I had with that kind of worldview. They lived simply not of their own accord but it seems they had made their peace with the reality and knew how to live on about $5 a day that they could earn recycling. They were a bit less generous in their political positions, with Pops chafing at the gubmint's practice of giving out loans to foreigners to start businesses here. The whole experience put a face on homelessness that I would not have had. It was petty of me to say I had to go because it was cold, but they knew well enough what I was talking about after a couple hours of talk and dinner. On parting, I realized I had a pretty good blanket that might help them out and donated that. All in all the experience was something that I sometimes revisit. For that day, it did prove to be a worthwhile diversion from the woe-is-me party I threw myself. It sort of had the effect of making me more ready to hear the news about to come the next day.

I headed back to my grandparents' place and attempted to keep up with my piano class homework for a bit.

Somebody Has a Case of the Mondays

Monday deservedly is much maligned. But not every Monday is so heavy as this one was. I started it though with new resolve to work weekends if that was called for. Okay, it might mess with Melissa time but that was now something to put on the back burner. I drove to Mira Mesa where she lived and dropped in at the Subway that was one of the remaining stores belonging to Chuck Perrecone after he sold the one where I worked about a year before. He and I were on good terms so I paid him a visit and inquired about work opportunities. I'd already been at Jack In The Box but at the moment was about 2/3 of the way through an indefinite layoff from that job since the whole corporation was in major damage control mode following the e.coli outbreak in January. Not knowing when that would end, and having been given the freedom to live a life I didn't really want to live, I thought it was worth asking. Chuck didn't have anything but it was good to see him again.

I got to her house at 3 pm after she got home from school and collected herself. The terrible uncertainty of the day let me really only say that I'd like to leave here on better terms than last Monday (dogshit day). She didn't think that was possible. She retreated to another room. I had my sandwich with me and was munching away, finished, and joined her. She gave me two pieces of paper, each with a poem. One was from her. Another from her ASB ball friend. She sat down and looked away as I read them and began to start feeling the poison arrows working their magic. She'd made up her mind. We were done.

It was one of those times when you think you're in a bad dream. Can this be happening? I can't believe it's her doing this. It was surreal, for sure. It wasn't of much use to sit on the couch and ask her to sit next to me. Those days were history now even if that was just last week. Suggesting we go outside, she accepted but we just stood in the yard with that awkward inability to look into each others' eyes, and for the moments when we did, the flashes of pain and confusion just singed the soul. I couldn't believe she really called it herself. I mean, sure I'd pushed a lot of buttons, but after so long a time knowing how passive she tended to be, this was out of character, especially given all the fluffy talk of the early days, professing undying love forever. But of course, she had many people in her corner who helped her clarify what was going on. I think I entered the denial and bargaining phase in one swift movement, making some plea to try having a nice long talk to hash everything out and maybe involving a mediating party. She wasn't too worried about the dance debacle. That was past now. Then I started hearing a familiar phrase from two days before.

The echo of Marie's talk was ringing in Melissa's talk. The matter of being in a steady relationship that was too steady had to be dealt with. The litany of things that our time together was blocking from happening normatively was offered. Too little time with friends. Too little time keeping at piano practice. Faltering grades. Even the TV wasn't being watched as much as she would have. It seems like she'd been thinking about it for a while but was afraid of making waves. Finally the dance proved to be the breaking point. She did say she didn't want to come to the decision but felt she had to.

The attempts to win her back fell flat. Funny, it was really her who initiated the whole relationship by calling me sometime in early 1991 and telling me she'd rummaged through her folks' address book and found my number. She made attempts to pursue me for over a year before I finally awoke one day from a dream of her and resolved to call her and ask her out in late June 1992. Of course she jumped at the chance. Her outer appearance on that first day belied the inner cartwheels she reported once she got her senses back. And almost immediately, we were off and running. The excitement was paused by my already-planned trip to Germany, but she didn't let that stop her from writing inordinate amounts of mail while I was there. I wrote back, and upon return we basically started the relationship off at about our second month "together." While puppy love seemed foreign to me, I bought into it and by the end was perhaps more into it than she was, yet as I said, the mismatch between my growing existential issues and their ripples out into the rest of life and her feeling of overwhelm was starting to make things difficult. I always had a knack for trying to unpack matters of relationship and the inner life, and she was almost unable to access that for the whole time. It might have been too ambitious for our age. Or maybe she was living in fear of her dad. And some people just don't even go there. But at any rate, it was always my modus opperandi to egg her on to get out of that box. Then she did.

She went inside and retreated to her room to talk to her mom. I sat around for some ten minutes before I thought it time to leave. I wanted to ask for a few things. First, I just wanted to collect stuff that was mine that she'd not need anymore. Maybe a bit of clothing or stuff like that. The second was coming from still not wanting to let go. Could we go out to the car and do one more of those prolonged farewells that we always did? Coincidentally the car was parked in the same spot as the day we started off in June the year before. Third, I wanted to ask for a hug and a kiss.

I read the poems again, still kind of in shock. I didn't like them any better the second time. I wrote a note, operating out of a fierce denial and willful cluelessness about what her words meant that day. It read, "When you want me back, you know the number. I love you..." Then I posted it where she'd be sure to see it. On the TV. 

I made my way down to her bedroom where she and her mom were. They let me in. Once again, for an hour and a half, Marie helped us navigate the troubled waters. Since Marie was already so versed in Melissa's thoughts, most of the time it was Marie and I talking, with her interpreting for Melissa, probably too choked to speak. Yeah, the new era was upon us. We'd have to settle on being friends unless some great unknown hand of fate moved us close to one another at some indeterminate time. Basically, don't hold your breath, kid. I put in my two cents about how and why things played the way they did in the last week, but that was neither here nor there now. At least Marie was there to soften the blow and help make the whole thing a learning experience with a dose of tenderness, looking out for her daughter, yes, but also knowing I needed a softer landing too. I've always appreciated the way she handled things.

Freedom Isn't Free...of Hurt

So there it was. The end of that era. By then, it was about 5:30 and there was a weeknight curfew of 6 pm. Okay, I didn't have to wait that extra week or struggle to work things out over the phone. I was free. It's not what I had in mind.

We went back out to the front room. The late afternoon sun was low in the sky. Clouds were spotty but the sun that did peek through was golden and shimmering. It was cold outside. The emotional situation made it cold inside too. Looking at Melissa then, knowing that there was an invisbile boundary fence around her, was surreal. In some ways, she was now back to that girl who used to appear now and then at picnics and bay days or just hanging out at the house. But she couldn't be that. Even that girl had an eye trained on me and that didn't apply anymore. Okay, she wasn't a girlfriend now. Nor a cousin figure. I guess for a bit, with a new hands-off policy enacted but with some feeling of love for her, she was now almost sister like. (I don't want to make too much of that because in a little over a year, we had a little fling that blew that out of the water.) If I didn't know what to make of our new relationship then, I'd have the time to think about it. The seven months and 24 days were over. I did ask her for a big hug to send us off. She obliged. She even let me give a few pecks on the cheek and forehead. Even a moment of rubbing noses. A few more hugs and tears. Then off into that scary world of the unknown. It was 6 pm.

Things unraveled pretty fast but the roots of the matter went back for some time. She wrote a letter on February 15, one week and a day before this final Monday. It was a mix of calling me on things that she finally knew she'd have to put her foot down about, and a bunch of the familar puppy love statements. She mailed it on the 17th and I presume it arrived on the 18th—the day I gave my final no to the ASB Ball. The letter was gentle but firm. Confused but optimistic. She hadn't yet really closed the deal. She still fretted over things getting worse. It's interesting how those moments of confusion really snowball. I guess my Saturday night appearance pushed things over. But it was clear she was chafing at my Ed-isms like TV, doing stuff I wanted to do, etc.

And that's the tale about a girl three years my junior who I happened to know from childhood. Wait until the next installment when you can read about another girl three years my junior who I happened to know since childhood. Yup. Kelli. It's the greatest story ever told, man...

Monday
Feb112013

Getting Smarter with Ting

A Subjective History of Telephony

  • It used to be so simple when I was a kid. There was this big avocado green pod on a hall table with a wheel with holes upon it. An attachment the size of a banana with two tangerines attached to the end of it was to be lifted and placed near the ear when it rang, or while using one's finger to move the dial with holes in it.
  • Some years later the big pod part was dispensed with and the banana with tangerines grew some buttons and flattened out some.
  • Then it turned into something more like a big bar of soap with more buttons. It lost the wires to the wall. That was cool.
  • Then it found a buddy that buzzed with a little number in a little window, telling you to pick up the giant bar of soap device and use it to call someone back.
  • Then the bar became smaller. Some folded. Some slid. Some unfurled flaps with more buttons and screens for talking and sending messages so short that one longed for the old days when a dime would buy three minutes. A lot could be said in three minutes that couldn't be said in just a few words on a screen!
  • Then it all became like NASA's mission control. That's where we're at now.

I'm a bit of a heel dragger when it comes to technology. That might actually make me surprisingly average but it rarely feels like it at the time. It took until 2001 before I got my first computer (I'm on my third now). It took until Kelli and I got engaged in early 2004 before I got us cell phones (by that time, all the work I did in the entertainment industry was behind me for the most part, and that would have been the time to use a cell phone. People kept reminding me so.) Only about a two years ago did I turn on text messaging. (Prior to that I derided it as a far too expensive thing since I did not have a plan nor did I want to pay for one. Finally we found some loopholes.) And now, God help us, we have smart phones. Finally? Already?

Ting

It's not really for the love of fumbling with devices in public. I assure you if it were not for the plan we have just taken on with a new provider, this news would break much later than this. Finally, after observing smart phone data plans for nearly two years, watching the name brand providers and a couple off brands, and yeah, sort of lusting after an iPhone, I happened on a company called Ting that offered the first really unique plan I'd seen so far. It's modularized and open ended. Use as much or as little as you need, and pay according to the increments you arrive at—indpendently measured among data usage, text usage, and voice. Need all voice? Can do. Lots of text, little voice, and modest data? Can do. Just use the stuff and pay according to the brackets you land in, each of the services cut into six brackets. It's not exactly a utility payment, down to the individual minutes and megabytes, but there's no overage, and no real need to feel a payment was given for services not used. How many times have Kelli and I used 350 anytime minutes and paid for 1000? We overpaid for underusing but one thing we NEVER did in nearly nine years with T-Mobster was go over the 1000 minute plan. Not even by a minute. Those rates were punishing. But then of course, we resented paying the same rate for our less chatty months. There was a company called Cingular (absorbed by ATT) that we once looked at years ago, long before the gnaw of smart phones upon our restraint.

Ting is owned by the same company as I've used for a couple years to manage my web domain names (and other sites I've worked on). Hover is a newer name for Tucows. So they didn't just turn up like mushrooms. And Hover has been enjoyable to call upon for help and transparent in their dealings. So I latched on to Ting and was talking them up long ago. Looking at their blog, Ting has been real helpful and reciprocal in helping people learn their model, and even how to do things that skirt their own plans. Compared to T-Mobster, they are fresh air.

Ting offers a referral program. Interested? You get $25 off your choice of phone or that much toward your first bill, and I get a bill credit. Nifty, eh? The link will recognize my name.

T-Mobster

With the old regime, we had some issues regarding two phones we got at the start of 2011 (and a replacement for one) that all went bad in the same way, rendering the things useless because their touch screens fell out of calibration at about four month intervals. It took some wrangling to get replacements for each of us. Kelli was pissed like crazy that they offered me one and not her, when she had the first and second ones go bad and all they did was shrug and tell her to go to Target and get a cheap no-contract phone and stick the SIM card in. Months after she did that, my own device acted up and that's when they crossed her. We finally found one dude who took the time and got two levels into the customer care phone queue and got some permission. But not before Kelli let fly with some choice pronouncements about perceived gender discrimination.

For a while around the months when we moved to Escondido and therefore were in proximity to old stores and new, we kept going in and getting repeated opinions on what could be done. There was enough difference to give us the clue that no one really cared. Or knew. So, getting wise, we began to come in to pay our bills (their website was a real hit-miss deal that kept kicking us off thanks to whatever browser plugins were used for certain modules) and first ask when our contract was over. We'd get different answers most times at different stores. Yep, repeatedly, we'd get to a few different stores and ask the same questions. 

When is our contract over?

When does the early termination fee start to decline and at what pace?

How come these phones require us to sign a two year contract but the devices themselves seem to last about a year or so? And why are we not readily entitled to a replacement if we're still paying for the phone through contract-rate fees?

We Need to Explore Our Options

Yeah. We had to let them have it. Each time, we were licking our chops at the prospect of finally jumping ship. Once we heard about Ting in early 2012, we were ready to go, and that was even before the second and third messed up phones. Could it be? A smartphone plan that didn't automatically cost the two of us over $110 for a shared plan? And no contract? And the ability to use or not use? Hell yeah!

We were tickled once by the prospect of getting our bill reduced by Kelli's two workplaces both having corporate deals for personal plans. T-Mobster did cut us in on that, and that's when we opted to add in the text messaging plan finally. I had also gotten us set up with Google Voice which extends the phone call and text options. Since I am so often at the computer and am not really a big phone call kinda guy, the calls I did make and take could be routed to the computer, through Google Chat. That saved us a lot of airtime and freed Kelli up to use her own phone in the field. (This was before both companies finally provided her with smart phones. Now she has three of the things here!) Because I ported my venerable cell phone number to Google Voice, I was free to change whatever phones it would point to. Kelli has not as of yet done that, so her venerable number is still the default for the phone, and she has a different Google Voice number that she barely uses. But we plan to change that soon so both our venerable numbers will go to GV first and then route to the otherwise anonymous numbers that the phones bear.

Winning the Lottery

 

 

Ting is a new company so they are trying out all sorts of ways to get their name out into the market. They have made some periodic buyout offers so people can get credits equivalent to whatever their early termination fees (ETF) amount to at the old service. Just last month the Ting blog posted there'd be another opening, and they'd cover up to $350/line. We just found ours were $100 a line. Almost worth paying. But I literally set a calendar alert to get me to the Ting site to sign up at 9:01pm (midnight, EST) on February 1 when the contest went live. A good thing too. I got accepted at 9:02. When we checked back at 10:15, the whole allotted $100,000 pool of money had been claimed. Our T-Mobster cycle ends on the 10th. We ordered the two phones (Samsung Transform Ultra) not really knowing much about Android or smartphones but feeling that the refurbished rate of $76 allowed us to get our feet wet in this brave new world. We ordered on Sunday night, the things shipped on Monday morning and when I awoke on Tuesday by around 10, the box was on my very desk. We activated in time to give T-Mobster the kiss off.

Now we get a final bill from the T-Mafia which we present to Ting, and they credit us the $200 to counter the sting of the ETF at T-Mob. It looks like they'll do the lottery again.

 

 

The March of Need

A couple things led me to be interested in a smartphone. One is that I tend to get jobs that are behind the wheel. I've skated by for a long time not really feeling the need. I know San Diego pretty well, but driving jobs aren't only about navigation. There's a bunch of other stuff that went on over at Specialty Produce where things could not be done so efficiently and quickly without the stuff. I never used a smart phone there but it was clear how much they make possible in an industry with goals that change by the season, month, week, day, hour, minute. More recently I've been driving for another vendor, now going to LA for a few routes a month. They are not corporate at all so there's no company phone coming my way. I don't know LA so well and with my position as more of a freelancer, I need to find some of my own answers while on the road. I've also taken to doing overnight trips to do two routes in one shot, but on consecutive days. So I'd be a bit disconnected without such a phone. 

The other reason I am interested in the smart phone is because of my web work. It's hard to think like a mobile device designer if you don't have a device to work with. And even that is but one opinion since there are so many competing designs. But getting to know how people are seeing sites is very instructive. Due to some proximity to do Kelli and her disabilities ministries work wrapping its tendrils around her, even to the point of her being on the website subcommittee, I'm finding those tendrils are reaching out toward me, just so she can do her work. And of particular concern to what her work is about is accessiblity. So I've been learning more about that. All told, the requirements for anyone doing web work these days is expanding in multiple directions.

As for Kelli's usage, her work is amply covered. Each job gave her a phone. But she can't just go modifying and updating it to her liking. So for her, the whole smartphone thing has been a mystery even as she's used two of them for a year or so. But when we do trips out of town, she's taken one and used it for navigation and some hints about local services. But otherwise, she considers it verboten. She's also finding herself doing more church conference work, flying across the nation as a board member and delegate. She's going to Korea this year for a World Council of Churches gathering. Before then there are a few national things to fly to. So she could use some more flexibility to stay in touch. It's a far cry from her letterpress bookmaking and word processor roots in the 90s.

Brave New World: A la Carte, Galore

It's not a mistake that I waited so long to get into this smart phone business. The rate plans always scared me off, but simply enough, there is so much more complexity to heap on. I have taken long enough to be able to use my computer without having major issues, and maybe without major confusion. But I've not wanted to jump onto the learning curve for smart phones. 

Given that I am less than a week in, there are plenty of workarounds and specs that I am trying to comprehend. The amount of options that the Android system introduces is one thing. Adding Ting's unique set of options in makes it more confusing. Adding Google Voice in makes some things real easy and others real odd. 

For example, I learned that Google Voice could be employed to send text messages not just through the Google Chat on the computer, but through the phone too. Doing it that way lets me bypass the SMS part of Ting's menu of options. Free texing? Fine with me. At the same time, placing a call using Google Voice does not bypass the airtime, and does not serve to reduce minutes even when on WiFi. Huh? Okay, I learned that's because GV is basically calling a local landline and that's forwarding to the destination. I learned of a workaround that lets me make calls using Groove IP, a Voice Over Internet (VoIP) app (like Skype) that piggybacks on the Google Voice connection to Google Chat, but only while on WiFi (at home, Starbucks, and anywhere else with an open connection, or a password-secured connection). The calls bypass Ting's accounting of minutes but are counted instead as data. It's an odd way to make a call! The accounting on that must get interesting. Will it be better to just use minutes or data? I can't tell.

The world of apps running in the background, and not being able to visually mind what goes on when I click off an app and into another... that has me puzzled. I know on the desktop, I can just see what's going on. I can get directly at the files I need. Don't need to worry about the meter ticking on data, or when it's time to use 3G or WiFi.

But all in all, once I learn the workarounds, the option is there at Ting to pay reasonably for usage. Their help and support pages are great because there the discussions are had about how to do all this stuff that you'd think they'd want to shut down. But because they are transparent and want to attract people who value that, they participate in the discussions about how to undercut their own plans! How cool is that?

Maybe Kelli and I will begin to intuit when the time is right to go ahead and use voice minutes (there are no night/weekend/same network freebies, so that's different), versus talking over the WiFi. It might be that if our talk had pushed us into a new "bucket," we'd have to pay the next incremented rate. Some of the jumps seem high—if you get caught at 110 minutes and are locked into pay for 500, sure. But that's sort of a license to just talk more, right on up to the 500 minutes, just to say you got your money's worth. If the minutes are counting close to the next level's threshold, then maybe jump over to a VoIP/WiFi trick like Groove IP and talk there for a while, especially if there's good clearance before that part of the package gets tipped over into the next bracket. It's a whole new thing.

The Fun Parts

I've been carrying a camera or a camera phone around since early 2005, so I've already been collecting things and later doing the rather boring task of copying files via USB to the computer, editing pictures in Photoshop, uploading to my site, and finally inserting pictures into my posts or at Facebook. It's pretty clumsy. There has been all sorts of blog material that got shelved because that process just didn't suit me every week I got something new to show. Of course all those snappy observations were perfect Facebook or Tumblr fodder before either of those platforms got dominant. Instagram and Pixlr-O-Matic and others make the sharing a tad more fun by not forcing me to think so much of the tech specs on the picture, and just to get the job done with some style. I look forward to that. Sharing them off to other desinations like Google Drive let me collect them with far less hassle than before.

Having a few musical/audio apps around helps. A guitar tuner I always have with me? Nice. Sound pressure level meter for some idea what my world is like? Handy. A pitch pipe to help me establish any chromatic tone? Yup. A generous and decent quality voice recorder that records to CD quality audio? Kick ass. (With a reservation being that the mic isn't going to be the best, but hey...)

And then there are the obvious benefits of having email along, and all the other cloud services.

But perhaps the greatest thing is having Wikipedia available to settle all those bar bets and needless arguments that people get into.

 

Sunday
Feb032013

Last Plane out of Rolandia

I'm never an early adopter of technology. I don't particularly like the treadmill of replacing the stuff as things are supplanted by the latest and greatest models, either. It's quite maddening. I don't like comparing tech specs too much. It's bewildering trying to figure out how two models are so alike but different enough to force a choice. I was late in the joining the computer revolution itself, electing to not buy in until August 2001. The one step along the way that I did take was in using the Roland VS-880 virtual studio recorder, which I bought home in August of 1997.

vs-880 recorder in its glorious simplicityVS-880

The 880 was a great platform for helping enable my increasing creativity as a musician and sound artist. The ability to non-destructively edit audio was a major draw for me. A reduced need to bounce multiple parts thanks to some extra tracks was handy too since all my recordings up to then had some kind of permanent artifacts of tracks getting merged down and losing the discreet parts, or taking a bit of a sonic hit as tape generations mounted. So many great things about the 880 fired me up. One thing I didn't particularly need to worry about then was how I'd interface with the world around me. It wasn't a real problem at the time because the idea of having a home studio was to be self-contained. And since the 880 era coincided with my collection of instruments and desire to explore with them, I really was pretty self contained. Sometimes I had sessions with other players but in large part, I just recorded things myself and had fun.

Roland uses an audio encoding format called RDAC which is their own deal. So if you're in the Roland Universe and using Roland gear, you're golden. But they don't make it too easy to interface with the outside world using WAV or AIFF or SD2 format. A later model called the VS-2480 answered demands that Roland get with the program and open a door to users who would be interfacing with the prevailing trends outside the Roland universe. To do 24 track recordings means that people are not exactly tinkering anymore. People set up to record that much are going to be working at another level. Roland was known for being slow about accommodating that.

2480: more is lessVS-2480: more is lessWhen I bought a VS-2480 in mid 2001, I stayed within the Roland family because I'd had such a good time using the 880 and at the time I still had no computer. The larger 2480, with 24 track capability, was enticing but arrived on the scene as my most prolific studio times were waning. It coincided with an attempt to record more live group playing at the studio, so the 16 inputs were handy to capture things in full multitrack glory. Those sessions never turned up anything of lasting value and I found that I had a habit of making a quick mix and burning it to CD and scrapping the source recording. Only a few tracks of any workable quality were done during the year or so that I had the 2480. My Stick-playing and Pro Tools evangelist buddy Tom Griesgraber swore I should just get into Pro Tools LE on the Mac and be done with the closed system that Roland offered. Finally, in the summer of 2002, I saw the light of that and sold the 2480 at some rather acute loss and did in fact get the PTLE 5 and start to learn how to use it.

If you wanted the fuller story, you'd have to read a whole mess of material from a forum site called VS Planet, where I trashed the 2480 more and more as time went on because I found that there was an elusive but very annoying preamp distortion issue. I didn't realize it but I seem to have been the one dude who found that issue and sent the entire 2480 user community on a crazy pursuit of that, with people working out fixes and other workarounds. It's officially recognized by Roland. I dunno if I was the only dude who was baffled by it or not, but eventually many others got drawn into it. In the process of bashing the 2480, a lot of people came to regard me as a troll. It's legendary.

When I got rid of the 2480, I was happy to do so and since I did not get rid of the 880, it seems never to have occurred to me to do the work of using the 2480 as the go-between device to move the 880 era recordings into WAV file format which could be used by computers/digital workstations. I did export a few tracks that originated on the 2480, and that was it. At the time though I knew I was not going to be so clever with recording as I had been on the 880. I felt there was a learning curve and that I'd be a while before any serious work would be done.

With the 2480 reviled and then sent away, the 880 was left to fend for itself. And the work of transfering things was regarded as not that important or maybe in a case by case basis, tracks might be bounced to WAV by a MIDI-synched bounce, two tracks at a time via a digital connection. That was all the plan there was for recovering things, sad to say.

CD stack with archived vs-880 sessionsThe data CD stack

Then, all that life stuff happened and the years kept blowing past and the CD spindles with VS-880 data archives were periodically found and put away, found and put away. The 880 and its CD unit still work. The SyQuest drive that also served as a backup/archive was found to not work—even a decade ago. In a related precedent from last year, Kelli finally bit the bullet and did her text transfer work that required a chain of old machines that once were used to do this tedious work and could finally be let go of. And so, taking stock of what I have, what would be recoverable, and goals to publish my music on more contemporary platforms like Soundcloud or YouTube, I have been thinking of what a preservation effort would be like. But one thing was missing until November: the 2480. It would be just one of two known (and somewhat efficient) ways to do the work. The other would be to have a Windows PC and a special program written by Roland VS users that would directly read the Roland archive CDs. Not knowing if that would be anything I'd actually ever do, the 2480 was the last opportunity to collect my old stuff and escape the Roland RDAC prison.

Last Plane Out of Rolandia

Recovering data CD material to 2480Recovering data CD material to 2480

In recent times since moving to Escondido, I met a guitarist named Brian Calwell who has been part of the Celtic jams I've gone to since the summer. At some point in November he mentioned he had two VS-2480s and that he'd cut his records on those, and recorded live shows with one. He also said he'd mostly moved on from them recently. I didn't ask right away but it was too good a situation to ignore. With the holidays coming up, I felt it would be a great time to remix the Hog Heaven Holiday Theme Music project. Brian let me come over to his place just a few miles away and spend some hours trying to extract the HHHTM material from the 880 data disks. That worked well and I did that project during December. While at his place I also was able to hear a couple other seemingly lost bits from the 2480 era and that fired me up. He was nice enough to offer the use of the machine, whenever

Just after Christmas, we were trying to work out a date for me to come do some transfer work and he just volunteered maybe I could just use it here for as long as I needed. BINGO! What a cool dude! So for the entire month of January, I had it and the CD writer on one side of my desk, and the 880, its CD writer, and the DAT machine on another side, and for a few weeks now I've plugged along at finally collecting all the recoverable material I can get from 880 data archive disks, DAT tape (not requiring the Roland units), and stacks of CDs. All that stuff is getting turned into WAV or AIFF files which I expect will be more durable since they are the working formats across PC and Mac these days. If nothing else, it will ensure that as much as I can make it so, everything will be in one format: uncompressed, non-proprietary 24 bit audio ready to be acted upon as needed, instead of scattered about on various formats.

DAT Hell

880 and DAT: the match made in Hog Heaven880 upon the DAT: the match made in Hog Heaven (studio)

The digital audio tape format plays two roles in this whole transfer scheme. The primary use for DAT is as a mixdown format, and I have about 30 tapes with various mixes and assorted scraps that maybe didn't warrant being kept in 880 format. DAT has been trumped by hard disk recording and CDs when it comes to a more playable 16 bit format. I have tried on a couple of occasions to play those tapes into the computer so I could have them to work with and be backed up before my machine totally ate the dust. The format now is largely regarded as dead. The last time I did a transfer, in 2010, I stopped the machine and made new files for each mix that played. That led me to some troubled DAT times where tape got munched or corrupted. So I put it down and hoped I'd find someone with a working DAT before more of my work was endangered. Some years later the situation has not changed for the better. I began to put in the lowest priority tapes and played them into the computer in real time with no stopping of the tape deck or the computer. I'll figure it out later. I kept spreadsheets of tracks and notes for things that took some more nuanced attention. Little by little this past month, I got those tapes played in.

880 archive on a DAT tape880 archive to DAT

There were just a couple other DATs that I had largely forgotten about. As I assessed where the 880 era material was scattered across formats, I found some DATs that were used as archive tapes, storing session data from the 880—mix parameters and all. Three tapes carried 880 copies of things that originated on 4 track cassette and that I thought it would be good to have in digital in case I ever decided to remix things or grab material to use elsewhere. Some of the ReCyclED stuff was on there, and a good thing too since there were a few core tracks that straddled that period of changeover from tape to hard disk. Importing those to 880 and then burning the archive disks got me to where all the other archive disks were—the point at which the 2480 would be able to import things, and in turn burn exported WAV files to CD.

880 capturing the DAT archive material.880 capturing the DAT archive material.

Lost? Yup. The flow on those DATs was like this:

4 track cassette source > transfer discreet tracks into 880 in 1997 > archive to DAT in 1997 (before the CD writer became available) > import to 880 in 2013 > burn to CD as workable format for 2480 > import to 2480 > export to WAV files on CD > import to Mac. Then the Mac of course will be able to use the material freely and will generate multiple backups.

Most of the transferring project started with 880 archive CDs done in 1998-2001. The DATs of course had that longer legacy. It was insane. The one DAT worked out that way. The other two? Well, they suffered from some unknown mix of garden variety DAT issues but somehow the 880 was not able to import them. That process was hit with various errors. I tried several times. Finally, knowing that those tapes were rather inconvenient copies of 4 track tapes (which still sit in a box here), I just destroyed them.

SyJet Crash and Burn

One last format was not so much an archive but a backup for works in progress. As it were, they seem to have last been used to backup the final mixes of Receiving from late 2000. The SyQuest SyJet was one of my first experiences with computer breakdown. It was a bit like a Zip drive but the disk was actually a removable hard disk instead of a floppy style in a plastic case. I had one go bad on me early on and the one I replaced it with (cunningly bought as an exchange with the old one put into the returned box, even months after it was bought) lasted long enough to do my best work, then it went on the fritz. Good thing I had left some notes on what was on them. After comparing that to other stuff I'd fetched on archive CDs and DATs, I gave myself licence to demolish the thing with a ball peen hammer. I kept the cartridges but the drive was toast. I found some online for $90 but that's not worth it if the evidence suggests I already have their contents.

Portastudio: the Final Frontier

I gave away my 4 track tape deck in 2005 when I was evicted and at the same time, music buddy Glenn Farrington was interested in recording something himself. I kept my tapes and to this day I have a good deal of stuff from about 1993-1997 on cassette in regular stereo and 4 track format. The problem is, these tapes rely on what might be an even deader format. I went to a pawn shop to inquire and we all had a chuckle about how they don't even see people bringing them in. I've seen a couple used ones online. But with all the magnetic, physical media, who knows what one might get. It could be money down the drain. But if I am ever to fetch my work from that period, that's the machine I need to get. Sure, I have mixes from that era, but the multitracks are here and ready if the machine appears. I doubt it's worth losing sleep about it.

One reason for holding on to some hope about it is that in 1996, when I did my original project bearing the name of The Artist Presently Known As Ed, I took it to a guy who did digital editing. He was a nice dude but somehow as we played my DATs into his system in real time, he did not pan them in full stereo glory. Somehow, we both totally missed the fact that the product I ended up paying for was summed to mono and when the CD he output was given to me, I found that it did not sound right. The problem really was that by the time I found that out, I had no recourse. I had him play the final product out BACK to the DAT tape I brought in with the mixes, and so my mixes were overwritten. So that project has never been heard in stereo since the day before I had it produced as an album. Recovering the source 4 track material would let me do that project some justice, not to mention I could use far less gimmicky EQ curves. I was young then...

Good Bye and/or Good Riddance

So there you have it. The task of trying to gather all my musical offspring back into one place after 17 years of changing formats. The Roland VS format is clever for capturing and doing some work but it's not too conversant. DAT is glitchy and is considered dead. Four track is more durable and resiliant but I don't have a machine. When this is really in the can, I can finally do as Kelli did a year or so ago, and get rid of some old stuff. DAT is off to eBay for some one else to worry about. The 880 and its CD writer are on the block. The SyJet already made it to the landfill by now. I reviewed material on my Sony Minidisc player and bounced just a couple things that didn't exist anywhere else. It's going to the thrift shop. The 2480 is going back to Brian. Now I will have a box of old cassettes to hopefully get to one day, but everything else is on the iMac and a few hard drives. I'll keep the DAT tape and CDs from the 880 for a while. The transfer process generated a considerable number of CDs with 24bit WAV files on them, so those constitute backups of session tracks, sometimes pared down to working tracks and other times littered with fragments. But it's all so much more available than ever.

WAV on CD finally. Now just to import it to the Mac.WAV on CD finally. Now just to import it to the Mac.

Where to From Here?

I can finally see a bird's eye view of my recordings, from all the solo work to stuff for Loaf, Mike Keneally, Tamara, Kelli and I, Magnificent Meatsticks, and a number of jams and short band projects. I have fanciful ideas of doing mashups of all sorts of things. Already I had thoughts stir in me that there has to be nearly an album's worth of ambient and sound collage material to release. I started all this in the hopes to remix as much of ReCyclED as I could, in some cases using material that, because of the limits of 8 tracks, had to be mixed out.

With a site like Soundcloud that makes it so easy to share and annotate recordings, it seems the time is right to get to the source audio, encode it robustly, tag it completely, and put it out there so people in Slovakia finally can discover the secret gems of the San Diego underground music scene in the late 90s. About my only reservation is that the track by track format doesn't let me publish things as I would on CD: tracks segued and overlapped or collaged into seamless running order. Physical media is dead for now, so it's sort of a thing to just face and roll with. In its place is the great possibility that stuff can be discovered and liked and shared without my micromanaging the transactions.

I am excited at the thought of seeing all my stuff presented well in one place. Because my recordings have been on so many formats, some in final mixes or in working mixes that just sort of ended up being the longstanding mix, there has never really been a consistent digital, web-ready approach. The mp3s on this site are more or less the same as they were as I added them over time, starting as early as 2000. They aren't tagged too well, and of course, hosting audio on a website like this is to be stuck in obscurity. So I have an idea that I should get a body of work together on Soundcloud, then rebuild this site again to feature players with my virtual albums. It might be a lot of work. I hope I can keep the focus because for so many years now I have really been shrugging off music creation and publishing as much as I was gung ho for it in the early days of my web design interests. It's about time the two finally meet and shake hands.

Listen to my Hog Heaven Holiday Theme Music from year 2000, done on the 880 in some haste, and remixed in Logic after being imported to the Mac via the chain of events chronicled here.

Saturday
Jan122013

Names Will Never Hurt Me...Sort Of

Oh, I think most people had someone taunt them as a young'un. The ones who didn't seem to have natural taunters at school probably had them at home and they just brought the gift to school to share with everyone else. I had mine. And with them came the much despised names and chants that rubbed it in.

In elementary school, most specifically through fourth grade, my much-maligned name was Eddie Spaghetti. The fuller taunt was "Eddie Spaghetti, your meatballs are ready." I hated that name—and that dish—for years to come. In the last two years of elementary school I went to a different school and got a chance at a clean slate with the names. I don't recall people ever automatically latched on to the Eddie Spaghetti taunt. I was relieved. One day on the bus, since I was one of the last stops, I reluctantly let the secret out on some kind of "you tell me yours, I'll tell you mine" dare. I don't recall if I regretted that but it did bring back some sour times.

In 1996, I had some fun with the various ways people had made fun at the expense of my good name Ed, in a snappy little one-two punk song bearing my name. By that point, other variations on Ed (McMahon, Gein, Wood, Scissorhands, Mister) had become known to me. Not all were taunts. But the song was a chance to finally own my dreaded past. Hah.

Meanwhile, years later I was told that Kelli never liked her name to be rhymed with "belly." Even I don't get to mess around like that.

Then, this week, the darndest thing happened.

We went to Costco some days before and when selecting some meat dish that we'd want to pick up, we bypassed the fish, the Italian sausage, and even the rotisserie chicken. I offered it had been a while since we had meatballs. So we got a bag of those.

On Thursday night we were both nursing colds and were hoping for a mellow night. I put the meatballs into the spaghetti sauce and set them on a slow simmer so everything would mingle for a while. Then Kelli came home and finished off her work. She started on the spaghetti. She's just a bit more practiced in getting the noodles right. I was off setting the table in the other room when I head a shout and maybe a naughty word that startled me. Kelli just scalded herself with the boiling water as she tried to drain the noodles. It splashed all over her... belly. Even as she walked out of the kitchen that first time, pulling up her shirt, the skin was lifted and curled back in an area of a few square inches. Red.

A quick Google check to see what we might do...

At the moment it didn't look too bad but I couldn't feel it of course. After some running around town to find an urgent care (that was actually open and took our insurance) and finally finding one back down in San Diego, we found it was a second degree burn. They got her some burn cream and a dressing and a prescription.

On the way home, after all that drama, as she got out of the passenger door and reached for its frame to shut it, she had the misfortune of gripping the thorn of a rosebush branch that reached over the fence. Nice.

Anyhow, that's the facts of Thursday.

But back to the childhood taunts. What a weird world it is when in one event, both our reviled names are brought to our minds. We sat there at dinner munching on the spaghetti. Kelli uttered "Eddie Spaghetti." To which I retorted, "Kelli belly." We had a laugh that defied the weight of the moment and probably made us cough up a lung in the process. Then it sprung to mind that this was even more cosmically ordained because there were meatballs involved and they were indeed ready!

Married life is indeed an interesting path to walk. The old hurts of life have the strangest ways of being processed. You just can't make this stuff up.

Friday
Jan042013

Recording Artist +20

A couple weeks ago I told the story about how a season of depression mounted during the later part of 1992. This isn't really about that, but I think that when you consider a theme that was written about in that post, that of "keep turning those pages" and "what a difference a day makes," it makes this story all the more important. In 1992 though, there wasn't a YouTube and a campaign pushing the (hopefully) lifesaving message of "it gets better," but that post went into some detail about some folks who cared for me and helped bring me back to the fold. A good thing, because a significant part of my identity was about to be formed, starting just a couple weeks after that great day when Jerry and Judy helped turn me around. Here goes.

The Maggybox

My first CD player boombox was all that Matt Zuniga and I used when we recorded the first several months of our irreverent and rude drum and vocal "performances" in parking garages, under bridges, and even outside in the wide open of a local canyon/nature preserve. We'd pack the drums up into one of our cars (it tended to be his) and would haul off and make some racket. One day Matt put the boombox upon his car and we drove off down the road. About a mile down the road at a stoplight some driver came up and gestured to us to pull over to the gas station lot. He got out and brought us one mangled Magnavox boombox that had fallen off the car top just a few blocks from my house. Oops.

my drums down under a freeway overpass in flood prone Mission Valley in San DiegoOur own version of drummers' bridge, not too far from the better known one at Qualcomm Way in Mission Valley. We only went here a few times but it happened to be the place we first recorded our nonsense.

We had just the one drumset to work with, so our excursions were either going to force us to trade off and have the other sit around and wait for a 20 minute turn to finish, and then go at it, and then turn it over to the other again. Maybe three rotations that way? But with Matt, things always got interesting. He quickly turned those outings into screamfests and the juvenile obscenities flew every direction. Over some months, that approach turned to more scripted material in the form of my primitive songs that started turning up in the second half of 1992. Those songs were far from Dylan material, and in some cases, even Leonard Cohen might be said to be a better singer (and both certainly in the lyrical department!) But it helped us pass the time, and it helped us not be discouraged by the increasingly hostile attitudes about drums in the house; attitudes that each of us ran into in late 1991/early 1992. You can read about all that in another post.

For me, finding myself kind of rudderless during that troubled year of 1992, the matter of going out and drumming was literally rhythmic catharsis. So Rhythmic Catharsis became our name in May of that year. By the fall season, after my return from a summer in Germany, that was one of the few things that really helped me feel alive. And even that was plagued with the frequently impossible attitudes that Matt put forth. But increasingly, to go out and take drums and a growing notebook of lyrics out to the parking garage became a haven for me. 

The pencil and ink hand drawn cover to the tape we made in April 1992, the first to use the name Rhythmic CatharsisThe Drummers With Attitudes (DWA) produced a recording called Rhythmic Catharsis. It proved to be a more apt name, so we went with that instead.

The thing is, to do that much shouting and wailing on the skins is a lot of energy that might at least be documented. So my habit became to record each of those parking garage jams. For a while, we used a boombox that Matt's girlfriend was nice enough to let us use, but it was really horrible sounding on tape. It could not handle the drum sound pressure levels and was terribly distorted. But it did the job. The crude job of placing that boombox was among my earlier attempts at setting up recording sessions. It was kind of a silly task but the art of recording was beginning to capture my interest. There wasn't much that could be done; the drums are thunderous, and even though Matt might often be doing some of the most possessed sounding wailing and screaming, he's still quieter. Get him too far from the drums and he's inaudible to the me (or vice versa: we slowly started to settle into the roles of him singing and me playing kit); get him too close and the recording with that boombox would be more horrendous than if there were 20' distance.

The Panasonic

That's a lot of setup to tell you that on December 29, 1992 I got a new boombox that sort of ended up changing my life. It was some Panasonic that my grandfather bought me. It was a rainy day. The most distinguishing feature is that it had a 1/8th inch microphone input that allowed me a bit of flexibility to position a mic. Granted, the mic I bought was a $20 piece of crap Sony that was sold from the same home electronics shop. But at the time, it was like I was recording at Abbey Road. Far smoother sounding. But the thing that really changed history was that that mic in conjunction with the dual cassette decks gave me a first chance at combining sound from one tape with input and capturing it on the other tape.

It's funny, those things enable or those moments when your creativity to explode. For me, it was a rather ordinary boombox with a mic input. Big deal, eh? I'm sure it was intended for people to record conversations and the sounds of their kids's birthday parties. I used it to record drums and voice, each typically putting out as much sound pressure as possible, most of the time. 

The jam days prior to getting that boombox were already hinting at a bigger sound than a typical drum kit and voice. It was beyond my ability to play and sing at once but there were times when we both did our respective shouts and interjections. It might be more my role to have tried to add some extra percussion toys to the mix while I was shouting. Matt didn't care about that much but did bang on some stuff now and then. I can't kid you; this was noisy and rather crappy, and girlfriends only pretended to like it. It was always more my thing than Matt's. That's because he was barely on board himself. My songs were often quite silly, and since he was a bit more savage than I was, he tended to cut down my efforts a lot. But somehow, I kept on because I could tell something was happening.

Matt at the drums on a sunny day in the Volt parking lot.Matt, fall 1992 at Volt

On this day 20 years ago, we went to a place called Volt in Kearny Mesa, a giant commercial-industrial district of San Diego. Volt was itself a temp hiring agency so it was rather still on weekends when we played there. It had enough of a covered garage to be suitable for any season, out of the sun and rain, and best of all, it had AC power. That often separated a good enough space from one I loved to get back to. By the end of 1992, it was standard practice to record things, and my book of lyrics grew a lot and we kept on making first stabs at many songs. So it was that on January 4th, 1993, I brought the usual stuff and this new boombox and its mic. Among the songs we recorded that day were relatively new songs called Disco Fever and When the Elephants Fight. I doubt we did anything differently but when I got those tapes home and my ears were rested for a day, I was tickled!

Okay, maybe it wasn't Abbey Road material but it sure seemed like a giant leap. It was on that day when I set about doing what I call "proto-overdubbing" using the tape+mic method. It immediately captured my fascination. Elephants benefitted from a couple passes of percussion and extra effect voices. Disco did too. It felt like a band now. What that enabled me to do was to go out and capture the heart of the performance—drums and voice, no additional percussion—and then to bring things home and have a chance at adding things with more forethought and a chance to execute things better. Even that cursory experiment at overdubbing on a couple songs led me to feel like I was walking on air. I carried the walkman around for everyone to hear it. (For you kiddies out there, the Walkman was the iPod's pappy. It's from the EIGHTIES. LOL!)

Matt doing some cheeky dance in one of the parking garages we set up at. 1994Matt, 1994

What a difference a day makes. Indeed. That experience nearly exactly bisected the DWA/Rhythmic Catharsis period. There was "before" and "after." Over the rest of 1993 (at least until RC dissolved in August), Matt and I kept at our weekend or overnight jams. New songs kept coming. It was interesting trying to keep finding ways to play a drumset in a way that gave different songs their own shape and flavor. A few did better than others. Some became favorites. Recordings got better as I learned to work the proximity to the mic back at home, to help lower the volume naturally so incoming parts would not totally bury the source parts. Knowing that each tape bounce would cause generational loss and a darkening of the tone, my overdubs were kept to a minimum if possible, and what I'd do to avoid too many such dubs, I'd set up a small percussion rig that suited a given song. Maybe it was a shaker in one hand, a tambourine in another, and even a kick drum pedal striking a cowbell or a stacked set of cymbals turned sideways as if it were the kick drum. All that approach got refined by the time we broke up. Not wanting to let some of our best takes go to waste, I finished off another album project—the seventh under our name of Rhythmic Catharsis, and our ninth overall—and then sort of adopted RC as my own project.

It's Not Quite the Grammys...

I recall in those days I met every musician who ever made a bad recording with a 4-track tape recorder. I though then that their mixes were out of whack, or the overall sound was muffled and dark. I kept that belief for a while—two years, even—until I eventually got a 4-track myself and pushed it harder. See, the thing about one mic capturing things like a drum set in a hard-surfaced parking garage is that the sound is so much more balanced and present that way. I got a sound from those places that dudes could not get in their bedrooms or carpeted garages and rehearsal spaces. The drums became one instrument instead of six. With one mic, the sound is all coming in at once, and the space makes them all sit in realistic proportion to one another. Bad 4-track mixes skew all that. And of course, the tapes have an odd noise reduction scheme that seems to take more than it gives. My little rig was essentially suited well enough to record my rather jazzy sounding but physically slamming drum sounds.

Me goofing off at home with a whole stack of cassette decks behind me.At the peak of my cassette recording method, I had four different dual well cassette decks and a single too. The Panasonic boombox that made history is the gray thing behind me, and its speakers a bit lower. The stereo recorder RC used sits atop.

A few months into 1993 I came upon a steal of a deal on a Sony field recorder that let me get somewhat better mics into it and to record our basic sessions in stereo. I didn't know much about actual stereo placement but the two mics were situated next to each other at no angle, and Matt was told to not get too far into "one ear" lest his voice go annoyingly off to one side. The resulting tapes did sound far bigger and sweeter. The subsequent overdub/layering went on with a mono mic, but the overall sound got bigger and richer since the big kit was captured in some kind of stereo in a giant, booming garage most of the time.

Now I can listen to those old tapes and hear what garbage it was, but that's because I know what 24bit, 44k audio is now. But back then, it was just a huge thing to hear things played back that way. I don't bother with trying to be an audiophile, but I do appreciate that the tools have gotten insanely good since then. After refining my 1993 approach for much of that year, and then taking about a year off during 1994 while doing other band projects, in the very end of 1994, that whole approach was revisited when Matt and I once again went out and killed some time one night in December. I used that basic approach to do about two and a half of my first solo projects before I got a 4-track portastudio myself. What's amazing is not that it sounds good. It doesn't hold up at all now. But it was enough to get me excited, and to hear the world in a new way. For a lot of years, recording was a huge piece of my identity. Even my moniker now, TAPKAE—The Artist Presently Known As Ed—arose from a recording heyday in 1996. And great stories of meeting musicians can be told only because I geeked my way around shows with a walkman or a minidisk player and asked people to hear what I had just done. Hog Heaven Studio was a complete indulgence of my recording urge.

ReCyclED, Remixed?

1997 studio including some basic mixer and outboard electronics, 4 track tape and no drums.1997 during the recording of the Hog Heaven project, and shortly before ReCyclED got under way.

These days, starting just last week, in fact, I have had the good fortune of acquiring a VS-2480 that is helping my collect and export data from my VS-880 recordings during the Hog Heaven Studio era. All those recordings done on Roland machines were fun and games during the period when Roland was all I used. But now on the computer, WAV files are the most common format. All the data disks I've had since 1998 or so (and some DAT tapes that served as data archives for the 880) are now finally getting their chance to be converted into contemporary format.

Hog Heaven Studio at its peak, insanely packed with drums, several guitars and bass, keys, amps and studio racks.Hog Heaven Studio at its peak, mid-2000. All that stuff is mine.

My target project is to finally remix a number of tracks that have been languishing in obscurity for over a decade now. They include a handful of the songs Matt and I used to play, albeit in radically different form for the most part. I labored mightily during 1997-1999 on the songs on ReCyclED and have mixes that have been pretty solid considering the limits of the technology (which was stupendously amazing compared to what Matt and I used). But now that all this stuff is mostly recoverable, I think I'll finally mix it in Logic and be done with it. It also comes at a time that marks 20 years since Rhythmic Catharsis' most prolific period.

There is also an attitudiinal shift about recordings and distribution. These days, with sites like Soundcloud and YouTube making sharing and discovering media so easy, I've been having a feeling brew inside me, saying, "get those damned tunes done, tagged right, and uploaded. ReCyclED is the standout for me, having toiled on it so long (it was first conceived as a six month project of quick 4-track recordings to enhance what Matt and I used to do, but it would be all solo). So much of my music has been given away now that I am online, but without a good platform like Soundcloud, stuff might never get heard. It's my aim to get this done finally.

Parallels and Perspective

For a number of reasons not entirely unlike the ones that depressed me in 1992 (as I wrote about in December), I was pretty down for a while there. It isn't that the situation has changed since a couple weeks ago. No, I'd still like to know a job and my family might have me, and all that. Instead, I feel a bit brighter because of the hours of recent transfer work. Seeing so much of my creative product in one compressed period of time has given me some sense of how big all this has been to me. Again, it's not all good, and some of it is total garbage, but the hope for capturing some transcendent moments on tape or hard drive is something that persisted. While remixing and assembling ReCyclED is a goal, the thought has occurred to me that if all my recordings (digital ones anyway) are in one format, all ready to be worked with on the same machine, the opportunity is there to assemble some interesting stuff that draws on smaller bits that otherwise might be overlooked. It's got my creative juices flowing again. Studio craft has always excited me, and now after a lot of years of doing it with machines that now seem clumsy, I'm jazzed with the opportunity to see it all as one well of material. Better still, there are new songs starting to happen here too, and they're coming to me on guitar and voice.

What a difference a day makes. Indeed. Again, thanks to Jerry and Judy for keeping me on track. If I were to have snuffed out in late 1992, what story would there be to tell about all this?