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.

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