Sunday
Jun122011

« Life At The Top + 20 »

scan of the original manuscript of Life at the Top.The original draft of Life At The TopIn a gesture perhaps only of significance to me, I have now posted to this site my original journal entry that set the pace for about ten years of handwritten entries, and now about ten years of electronic entries. The documentation is elsewhere on the site, and also on this post which features the entire text of the thing with just enough fixes for clarity. It also features several pictures and documents to help spice it up so you can see some of the characters involved. It is a long, 6,000 word entry that takes on a range of experiences during my high school time, with a particular emphasis on my senior year, which was perhaps as good as it got for me in my academic career.

At the time of its original writing, I was barely aware of my future. I had only a big plan to go to Europe a few weeks later with my old man. I was planning to go to Mesa College in the fall, which doesn't exactly show a total plan for a glorious future! It was sort of standard issue stuff. I never applied to any colleges as a senior. I had no big ambitions. I wanted to play my drums, listen to my music (it was on that same day after graduation when I bought my first Yes cassette, 90125). I was head over heels for Shelby, who is well discussed in the entry. (Told from the perspective my naive, wishful point of view that interestingly was already tempered with the kind of insight I needed to know all about how things would play out, and did!) I had no more than a few weeks' future, really.

On reading the giant entry now, several times over in the course of transcribing and editing, what strikes me is how many of my present concerns are somehow present in this document from 1991 that narrates experiences and impressions and hopes from the years leading up to it. As I seek the clues that lead me to understand really what my life's purpose is, evidence like this is revealing and compelling. Either it is stated that I am interested in X, Y, or Z, or sometimes the negative is true: the signs are that all along, I should not be engaged in X, Y, or Z.

One thing that stands out is how in the few months I worked at my first job, I worked on Sundays for a while. People don't think a lot about that anymore but at the time, I was cautioned from my conservative family folk that I shouldn't work on Sunday. You might say teenage rebellion would drive me to reject that. But what happened was that the hobby store (that I used to hang out at endlessly the year before) called me and asked me to work for a bit. They knew I loved the place (true a year before before I abandoned the hobby and got into drums) and would do it. Almost immediately I began to feel at a distance from my church community where I had been a part for nearly a solid year before. I had established the community relationships there, and traded it in for a minimum wage job that I worked at for just a few months, not even always on Sundays. Life At The Top, the journal, tells about that season of mid-1990 being one of depression, alienation, even suicidal ideation. After that, I had a hard time reestablishing a connection to the church, and began a long history of searching for ways to fill a void using work, consumption, and other means. Only later on in 2005 when I met Lee Van Ham did I start to understand the Sabbath idea of rest and renewal in a community setting. I've now been willing to stand up for keeping Sundays for that purpose, even at the cost of losing my jobs. I am not certain, but I think that was a contributing factor in losing my last job. I know such boundaries were clear causes for another dismissal.

Reading Life At The Top now just makes me want to cuddle my 17-year old self, and soothingly say, "forget Shelby." It is true. I knew the patterns by the time I graduated. She never wanted to be with me. But such was the power of desire. I basically went blind for another ten years, even as I knew what I needed to know by two and a half years into it all. But the initial revelation of the power of having a friend was real. I did feel heard. I did feel like someone cared enough. That is the legacy of Shelby, to help make the world safe enough to recognize that those things could happen in my life. But as I tried to hold that flame too close, I got burned, and kept trying over the years, till finally I was willing to grab it for all it was worth, get baptized by the fire, and released into a new form, no longer slave to the delusion that stayed with me for exactly twelve years and a week. But in 1991, I was building up in a huge way to win her over with ...something? There were enough optimism-producing moments to keep me strung along, but that was me interpreting things, not what she was sending.

In all fairness to her, I should point out that she was an early voice for the more liberal strands of thought I have aligned myself with. Politically, socially, environmentally, she was planting seeds of consciousness in my mind well before I knew what it meant. I sort of wish I had a chance to thank her for that, even as it was just distracting talk that always seemed to criticize my lifestyle (of blindness) back when it was happening. Her international and interstate travels and studies always made her interesting. I never felt interesting, I guess. She had conviction that I could not fathom. She also had an athiestic streak that always made me confused, especially in how we met at a church! But I guess that was just another way to learn things as an anthropologist would, hanging out with the savages, as it were. I do know she was always too much for me. I don't have a problem imagining how a girl of her intellect and enthusiasm for life would not be interested in an uptight guy like me who was only then starting to encounter a world outside of a conservative family life shaped by the military and Norman Rockwell. I only wish I had been able to not delude myself so much, and perhaps to let it go and find other girls to date who were emotionally available.

Speaking of that, I noticed there is no mention of Kelli in Life At The Top. None in particular, but when I am talking about youth group, Adventure Class, Shalom Group, and some other church references happening after mid 1990, I am speaking too of my future bride. One great divine joke on me was that I tolerated the Shelby indignities for so long, feeling that a long history of friendship would pave the way for more. What I did not see coming up in the rear view mirror was that exactly that was happening with Kelli over a decade and more before we started "dating" in 2001-2! In fact, that is where the decade + of history went to add up to something, not with Shelby! She and I had a slow building relationship that involved our intimate moments along the way, that so far has turned into the much wanted, much needed relationship of stability that I had been pining for. I just didn't see it that way. It was a matter of not trying so desperately to manage the thing; Kelli and I were pretty casual friends but we shared deeply when we did meet up. Funny too that she was of a liberal mind, well experienced in life, and had a deep social, environmental, and political consciousness too. (Clearly she is not living as an athiest either.) But in 1991, who knew where the 14-year old Kelli and I were going?

Stephan and I are in occasional contact. Over the years, we have been in touch by letters or by phone, but I rather like the Skype option. He's in Germany mainly, working for a major tire company. After getting a degree in engineering and working for a manufacturer of convertible car tops, he now works as a traveling rep on an international scale, primarily in the Eurozone. It has been 19 years since I saw him on my second trip to Europe in 1992. I still feel there is a quality of friendship with him that is hard to attain with my stateside connections. In 1991, he was the first male with whom I had the kind of exchange that put Shelby on the map. But of course, since amorous love doesn't play a clouding role, we've had that kind of depth in conversation often enough, and while living for a lot of years thinking he had a better life than me (on account of being a university graduate with a "good job"), our more recent communications have leveled us back to two men who have had girl problems, job issues, regrets, and the like—bringing us full circle back to the original spark that brought us together as close friends in early 1991.

(My new look at Life At The Top revealed I downplayed Steve while masking some of the statements about Shelby that reflected my mixed mind about her. This year's transcription tried to reconcile that and other similar issues of self-censorship, aiming to recapture the spirit of the manuscript with a few fixes for clarity and style. But the heart is back!)

Jerry Lawritson, my pastor in LATT, is no longer my pastor. But I still regard him highly as a teacher, and perhaps the best one of them all, given the nature of his message and the period of time he has been around to offer it. In fact, for my Young Adults event last night, I was willing to go to bat for the Book of Revelation based on the materials he has provided over the years, but was nice enough to share with me this month, even four years after I left his church, and joined another. At least prior to that departure in 2007, he continued to be quite an advocate for me in my deepest life struggles. He was who I called when I knew it was madness to have a bottle of sleeping pills lined up like chorus girls on my desk. He helped make possible two years of therapy (don't tell anyone) following that. But for reasons not known to me, the setting of that church was not the right place for me to grow up and put to use the lessons I learned from him. The type of family situations I was in up to about 2007 was something that I knew he was unable to fully address. Eventually I felt that I had to move on. For a lot of years, he was father to me when it came to teaching lessons of wisdom and for hanging on to life. So it was heartbreaking when I had to admit that that era was over in 2007, a little shy of 20 years since that first epic conversation at the beach picnic in LATT. With one exception in 2008, we have not talked about things at that level since I left. And that one time in 2008 was an epic occassion that was unlike any other I've had with him. I sort of feel there was more authenticity in that exchange between two men who had to part ways than in the years of our pastor/young congregant relationship.

Judy Slaughter was in town for a couple years after LATT was written, but for some years was 30 miles away in Escondido as senior pastor of another church. That period was during my decade-long spell of not attending church, so I lost touch for a while. She's in Hawaii now. Was pastor there at a couple churches, but is now quite troubled by health issues and most of the time, I talk to her husband Jay, who speaks on her behalf. The times I've talked to her, or emailed her, have been nice in how she is always validating to me. She and Jerry were huge figures in keeping me on track during high school. The Shalom community, a side group of youth in the church around the early 90s, was a place where Kelli and I got to know each other, and it was all Jerry and Judy's initiative, with them taking me out to lunch sometimes to get my input on what might be needed in such a group.

Harry Steinmetz was big in 12th grade but also on a couple other occassions: I had a public speaking class with him in 9th grade, and again, years later at Mesa College in 2003, I took another public speaking class with him at Mesa College just as I was in my suicidal crisis and subsequent return to life. Some of the things I spoke of in class were linked to that experience, and the experience of being reborn during that same semester. He egged me on, knowing that I wasn't just uttering the words off the page. A later experience, during 2005, I was flyering the school for my Peak Oil forum, and I came by his classroom, not even as a student. He called me up to the front to do an improptu speech and Q&A on peak oil and to make my pitch for coming to the event! He has always been a learned man who love to teach, and to help animate people with a spirit and vitality for their work. It isn't enough just to learn the topics. I occasionally run into in town and give him the latest news. He also is responsible for my preference for public radio listening. No one but him.

My step mom Eda is still around though we are in a period of estrangement. She just turned 89 last month. I feel mixed about keeping silent with her, but for a year or so in 2008, but I have been put off by her increasing intolerance and condescension about being married to a liberal woman who doesn't just stay home and serve me, or (and this is probably the kicker) that Kelli was on the path to be ordained as a full-fledged minister. Every meeting is likely to touch on some aspect of those related topics. For a woman who talks as much God as she does, you'd think that she'd see that God can call anyone to ministry. Or that the duties of married and work life can be balanced out so both parties are reasonably content. I know there is a paradigm gap between us; clearly she is of another age. But she is quite sharp of mind. She still is "there." Still, I do tend to identify her more strongly as my mom than I do with my own mother. There is both quantitative and qualitative support for this. In fact, in my senior yearbook memories (a block of text where we could put anything, often looking like txtmsgspeek) I did proclaim that "EDAISMYMUM."

Looking now at LATT, I was struck by my struggle to simultaneously branch out and sink roots. I did feel that I was coming to life and that must be what trees do: bigger top branches require deeper and wider roots. I was never on the cutting edge of anything, nor even a few steps back. Things like opening my mouth to risk an answer in class, or wearing one pink shirt, or playing drums in public for the first time were huge to me. I was grappling with being simultaneously drawn in by and repulsed by institutions. I wasn't a rebel or slacker at school, but I was also inclined to do "just well enough." I was immersed in my church because of the community there, then I got a job and all that inverted itself and I was later writing how I couldn't stand my experiences at church. My journalism class progress report essentially shows ambivalence about the kinds of authoritative bodies I was surrounded by. I was grappling with being taken into a system. Not so very different than what I grapple with now.

I detect a bit of a wannabe/patronizing tone in my narrative about tutoring math to three people who really were classmates of mine, not particularly friends of any deep nature. Tina Moraga did in fact go way back to the early days of elementary school, but I think by the time LATT was written, I had just gotten to know her a bit more. I don't recall knowing her well prior to that. So the tone was a bit inauthentic to my senses now. Interestingly, in 2003-05, I was delivering to an older man who lived across the street from her grandmother's and I got some occasional updates about Tina. I do recall having a talk with her a year or so after high school and she did tell me about some screwed up and manipulative marriage that was doomed. It did hurt to hear about all that. But I think the tone in LATT is a bit too eager to help. Too much inspirational speaker about it. But whatever works. We graduated. With the exception of occasions like a reunion next month, there is pretty much nothing of contact between me and my classmates.

Interesting that my senior year interests included being a teacher/mentor, and that I mentioned that history was important. The matter of interpersonal relations runs through the entire LATT journal too. And the fact that I was on the school paper, making my initial attempts at journalism was a kicker too. Isn't all that the basis for what I am doing now? It kind of warms my heart that somehow, I am still doing what I wanted. In fact, yesterday's Young Adults event was something that tied all that together in some way. I am older than most of the group so there is always a bit of a mentor/mentee kind of relationship hovering but not clearly defined; the matter of presenting the Book of Revelation as a document requiring historical understanding, and then following it with a movie (What a Way to Go: Life at the End of Empire) that is basically a 10,000 year history lesson of human endeavors sort of shows that history figures into my concerns now; the discussion turned to how people act in society, for good or for ill, true to themselves or not (and even facilitating the discussion to that point is an act of mentoring); and then of course, the kinds of material I write and present at my "classes" do have a teacher's or a journalist's heart about them. And to tie it all together, there is a Christian-rooted message behind it. I suppose by this analysis you could say that I either haven't developed, or I am doing what I have always thought I should be doing!

The question does arise. Why does any of this matter? It's the past! It is, and it is not. Even the original entry admits that looking at things like this is my way. As you'll see on TAPKAE.com since about 2009, there are a sprinking of posts that are of a "+20" nature. It is like Socrates said, "the unexamined life is not worth living." All I really have is my life and experiences and they are as important to me as anyone elses who has scaled the ladder of power, or who has a doctorate or who has won the olympics. And, in a way that is perhaps more recognizeably true in the twenty years since, it is a scattered bunch of things if I were to list them on paper. My resume reminds me of this, but what holds it together? It seems that no one but me puts in the time to figure out what the longer threads are and where they lead. I do get clues from people on the outside of my mind; people do recognize things, but it is not their job. The 17 year old me who wrote LATT was discovering how scattered pieces were, and looking for a pattern, maybe or maybe not knowing where to go (I think not so, at least consciously). Now, at 37, with 20 years fewer to live my life, the clues are rather interesting to trace. I did myself some good service by charting all that I have over twenty years. I still wish for more depth. Not always was I able to go past reciting the events and their times and places. But who was I inside? Learning anything about emotional vocabulary came much later. Spiritual vocabulary later still.

Leaving these kinds of journalistic breadcrumbs help me find my way home to who I am. I feel like I'd be lost without them.

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