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Tuesday
Dec252012

Christmas Churchiness

I got to four church services for Christmas Eve. You might think that's a bit too much church. It keeps me out of the malls, where I don't want to be anyway. The two that anchor such an adventure are "my" church (MHUCC) and "Kelli's" church (CCCPB, where we met some 22 years ago but that I departed six years ago). That's the basic balance for us: we at least get to our own churches, different though they may be. Because my church has a 10 pm service, and it happens to be where Kelli interned years ago, it's in the clear for us to both go and be together, a bit like old times, but without some of the weighty complications I feel. And then, there are some other services that turn up and seem interesting enough to take in if we can.

I'm going to tell these stories out of order. For those keeping score, I went to the following services in this order:

  1. MHUCC, 2 pm
  2. CCCPB, 6 pm
  3. MCC, 7 pm, followed by dinner with friends from there
  4. MHUCC, 10 pm 

CCCPB

As some distance from the strains of CCCPB has mellowed me over time, I've gone a couple times to the Christmas service there too. CCCPB is much as I knew it from earlier times, even during my unchurched times. A small congregation meets in a building that is sparse in architectural ornamentation though is rather radical in its roof line and its 2/3 round floor plan. It has a basic holiday decoration scheme, but without it, the place is rather austere looking for the most part. Many faces remain, though there are giant holes in the population due to attrition and families breaking up and children leaving for school and careers. I still like the messages from the pulpit as much as when I spent four years there recording them all, but with such a history as I have there, it's hard to be really present there. I fidget. Kelli does the reading from Luke every year and is poised closer to the pulpit. I sit apart from her because I feel that it's so easy to be in an old role that just doesn't suit me now, and frankly, being seated next to my own wife triggers that. (Read on for how things go at MHUCC.) There's a tinge of guilt for coming and not being fully present. I don't like it. But I also don't go to church and let myself be inauthentic if I can help it. And CCCPB was a place where I eventually left in part because I knew it was going to be what it was going to be and I was changing. Since then I've been regaled with tales from a variety of sources, so while I am not a member there and rarely attend, I do have a small bit of information about what goes on there, and some things just baffle me. Other bits frustrate me. So it's hard for me to be there. But Christmas begs a different response, and for a successful home life, the concession must be made, especially when carpooling. That said, there are a couple people who I still like a great deal and am happy to connect with, even so briefly as my very occasional appearance there. I guess I need CCCPB to remind me that even a diminishing congregation meets faithfully. I just know it's not my community anymore.

MHUCC

MHUCC is notably larger but still feels like a family. The congregation is eclectic and growing. The programs are varied and meet people at various places in life. Liturgically, there is more to take in since our pastor came from a tradition that placed an emphasis on liturgical year cycles and other things that I would learn about when entering that congregation. It was all new to me, coming from a very lean and sparse life at CCCPB. So, MHUCC has the liturgical colors that change with the church year's progression, choir processing in their robes, and other such touches. The choir is about 24 folks and has a professional director and section leaders. The organ is a delight, and the harp adds a welcome texture. The room feels very large. It's not high church by any stretch but after my church formation at CCCPB, it seems that way. For the late Christmas service, this time the service was a Lessons and Carols service.

Two other services this Christmas Eve were in the mix for other reasons. One more, an earlier afternoon service at MHUCC, was small, intimate, and contemplative, and offered communion. It was held in a smaller chapel room suitable for a special service like that. Having been at a physical distance up in Escondido for half a year now, making a day of being in San Diego was like breathing fresh air and getting a warm hug, even on the rather cool and cloudy day. I've been too distant from church of late, so reconnecting was called for. This small service was contemplative and instead of a sermon, the nativity scene was used as a chance to get us to imagine which of those characters we identified with. Who were they? What would they be thinking as they were in that moment? What would we be thinking as we're in that moment?

MCC

The fourth service, a bonus for the day, was at the Metropolitan Community Church where a friend and colleague of Kelli's is on staff. MCC, largely populated by the LGBT community, is a refuge for folks who have perhaps not been welcome at so many other churches, and even among their own families. Because LGBT folk are exiled from all kinds of home lives in all kinds of traditional settings and from all kinds of geographic areas, it's really an eclectic mix of things that might pass for traditional, but instead of messages of making the world a narrower place, a smaller place, a more limited place, the message inherent in the MCC's very existence is one of celebration of the opposite of all that. It's kind of interesting because in some ways, it's like many other churches but without the implicit or explicit homophobia. Just because folks are gay doesn't mean they want to forsake the good things from the traditions they were to inherit, but from where their options for real inclusion were limited or shut off entirely. MCC is their new family where it's safe to be oneself. MCC is the home that has been created to bring the LGBT world back to the Christian fold. There are probably many who, were it not for MCC, would never set foot into another church. I've been there a few times and at least tonight, I found it to be the most surprising of the services. After this service, we went off with Ali and her partner and her daughter to a fun dinner at the greasy spoon diner we've gone to for a few Christmas Eves now, Rudford's. It was delightfully irreverent.

Back at my church, what's true at MCC regarding the LGBT community is largely true there as well, but having been there now for about five years, it's become familiar. MHUCC was a pretty traditional place tending toward liberal, but about a decade ago in particular, the church's embrace of the LGBT world was stepped up. And interestingly, the place has grown a lot because of it. Dropping in on the MCC reminded me of a dynamic I saw a few years back when I slowly and tentatively moved into the life at MHUCC—at the very same time as yet one more mom family meltdown was under way, and by then, a year and more had passed since the utterly miserable exchange with my old man (and a silence that stretches now to an unheard of six years). Add to that a feeling that my home church of CCCPB was not the place to stretch into the new person that needed to emerge from all that, and I realized there was something I had in common with the LGBT folk at MHUCC, broadly speaking. How many tales of exile from families-of-origin are there, with relations strained to the point of breaking only because some people have to answer the call to be themselves? How many exiles from the church communities that are found to be the old wineskins? Hard to say, but when my original tribes were found to be lacking and I needed something new, that's where I felt I came home to.

Church Hopping?

For some years now, since Kelli has been either in school or interning or since I dabbled in another transitional church for a bit in 2007-2008 (UCCLM), then joined MHUCC, Christmases have been diversified. A couple years in a row I did these Christmas Eve runs on my bike for the added sport of getting warmed up and feeling all invigorated upon walking in, sometimes to some really unfamiliar settings (the Greek church was the most unusual). Not too many folks know this but if you were to take my particular ethnic strands and send me to church along traditional faith trajectories, I might be equally at home in Protestant, Catholic, and even Orthodox settings, though of course, I have always identified closer to Protestant. But the tug for me, while never really having the success I could wish for with the family life, is to share in the lives of a few different families at Christmas, in part because those historical families of Christianity are within me at some level, but also that the world today requires a less insular Christianity.

At any rate, the matter of getting to many churches, or sampling the services even at my new home church, keeps things from becoming predictable. Too much church life is led by rote and inertia. If anything, church should be the irritant, not the pabulum. As it is, at MHUCC, I have a practice of trying to never sit in the same seat. Sometimes that applies not just to weekly services but to parts of a given service. There are times when I sit in three different places, moving during logical breaks in the liturgy: sit one place to start and then at the passing of the peace when everyone gets up and greets one another, land in another place, and then maybe before the sermon shift again to a third place. I just mix it up so I don't go and "do" church with my brain off. So it is, stepping it up on Christmas Eve, getting to a few locations and experiencing Christ's family in a way that a place like San Diego affords, with so many traditions found in one place.

Going to unfamiliar churches figures into making the Christmas story a bit more real and experiential. The Greek church in particular made me the stranger in the strange land, even a little bit like the holy family seeking a place at the inn. It's a good thing for this white male to remember that there is a lot of rejection that people face while trying to be in communion around Christ's table. Not being eligible for the eucharist in the Greek church was one reminder about rejection that I don't get in my usual life. (Had I been a baptized member of the Orthodox church, I could have taken the cup and bread, but a quick question about that after having walked into the church, knowing nothing about the liturgy, suggested I'd be okay. I guess my host thought I was already baptized. It seemed very insular and monocultural in there. So, as a result, I was in line and was questioned by the priest if I was baptized as Orthodox. No? Sorry, members only.) While the Greek church was unparalleled in its lush appearance and the layer upon layer of its ancient tradition, coming from my low church protestant background, particularly from a congregation that has a very progressive stance on inclusion, that was kind of a rejection that I am not used to. At MHUCC, it's taken for granted that if you came to that building and want to take communion, you're in, and who are we to put up a barrier? That to me mirrors the pronouncements and practices of Jesus, known for being exceedingly welcoming. Churches that don't roll that way just baffle and disappoint me.

The Christmas Burden, The Christmas Gift

Last night though, finally in the midst of that special night that causes an aching and yearning for peace and quiet both outside and inside, I was feeling a great need to soak it all up. The weight was upon me, feeling down from a half year in a new town, leaving JEM, struggling still with family matters and joblessness (except some pick up work) and tensions that those things inevitably bring to home life. Being a pretty committed non-commercial Christmas practitioner makes me kind of the odd man in the room in most rooms I might enter. People get the idea and maybe even savor it, but don't usually seem to expect someone to succeed at it. The personal layers of hungering for the Christmas message are overlaid with the dire situations the news brings us (or sometimes doesn't, but should). With an utterly senseless massacre—an act of domestic terrorism if ever there was one—too fresh in the mind, and with increasingly dire predictions regarding our environmental crisis being met with too weak a response by nearly everyone, my heart is heavy. With so much balkanization of American society into more and more insular and self-reinforcing tribes that are loathe to interact for the common good, my heart is heavy. For watching as Thanksgiving and other spiritually and even nationally vital holidays are so brazenly co-opted and turned into the playthings of industry and commercialism, my heart is heavy. It's a heavy time.

A heavy time indeed, and the whole world needs Christmas even more than many pious folk realize. Jesus didn't arrive on the scene for the benefit of Christians, right? Sure, he emerged from among Jews and operated in that world. But even he, in his words and especially in his deeds, served humanity and portrayed another way of being human. Best of all, it doesn't require membership or much other than to live from the place of compassion that all of us have but sometimes forget about. He didn't ask for people worship him as some deity. He wanted people to follow his way, not himself. To the extent that one follows him is to realize how he embodied the Way. And that his way was available to everyone, even to this day. No faith system really has the patent on humility, compassion, forgiveness and all that great stuff. They aren't qualities that expire. He just embodied those in such a way that it was hard to imagine he was made of the same stuff we were. So we grapple at best, and ignore him at worst. At our own peril, even.

Maybe Christmas causes eyes to glaze over and people to hear "yadda, yadda, yadda." That's a shame. That's not the Christmas I know, now having some great experiences taking in just what I have in my infinitesimally small sampling of Christian practices over only a decade. When I overcome even my own programming—that is, to venture farther afield in my church hopping, maybe to more ethnic churches, or economically disadvantaged communities, or other places where Christmas burns bright for "the least of these"—I have much more insight and awe coming. While I have my struggles with depression and all the ways I feel I don't fit the mold that produced so many around me, Christmas is one time when, theologically, I fit in just fine. Somewhere between the shepherds and the wise men, there I stand. For me, Christmas is indeed the promise that God bothered to look our way, even my way. God's very curiosity about how our lives go led to Christmas. What's it like to be one of them? I got this idea...

If I could give a Christmas present to the world, it would be that folks would awaken to what a radical thing Christmas really is. Forget the dumb pageants and the statues that freeze a moment in time that never happened unless you read the Bible poorly. Forget trying to medically figure out virgin birth. Forget arguments meant to save Jesus from pagan seasonal festivals. Or arguments that Christmas was just a Christian hijacking of those festivals. It goes without saying to forget the commercial extravaganza. It's so much more than all that. Those are the distractions, the frozen symbols, the weeds that choke the crops. The time is always when we need to be rocked by the idea that divinity has taken up residence in us, among us, and for us. And maybe in spite of us. It's really quite the proclamation, isn't it?

Getting to church a few times on one particular day of the year is a small thing to help reinforce that awareness, and to try to drink it down as if I were at an oasis.

Friday
Dec212012

Hog Heaven Holiday Theme Music +12

Hog Heaven Holiday Theme Music? Tech Background

A long time in coming. That's what it has been for me to bring you this recording. Oh, it's not new. It's not even unheard. It's been here on this site for years, and each year in December I do something to share it around as a gift to people around me, either in person or online. 

What is new is that after a dozen years of kicking around with a rather boring mix and with the hasty cover art, this year I finally was able to address that and get it all remixed and fixed up with some snappier visuals. I owe a debt of gratitude to one Brian Caldwell, a figure I've met while in Escondido. For many months since I got here, I've jammed with he and Paul Castellanos at the Irish pub. I found that Brian owns two Roland VS-2480 recorders and after hearing of this, I talked some shop with him. I used to own a 2480 myself but found it really difficult to work with, especially after becoming very fluent on my VS-880. This Hog Heaven Holiday Theme Music project was done on the 880 in mid December of 2000, and has the distinction of being the last project that was done in a way that seemed album-like. It's only 15:35 long but it feels like an album, not just a one off track.

Recorded at the end of 2000, this was done fairly late in my 880 period. The 2480 came on the scene in late June 2001 and for all intents and purposes, buried the 880. It had the capability to bring 880 projects onto its hard drive, and while it was of nearly no use to me then, when Brian spoke of VS-2480s, my ears perked up. See, I have about 40 data CDs of 880 and some 2480 material. And since Roland machines have a proprietary audio encoding, my Mac can't even read the disks. So, for all these years I've hung on to the 880, expecting that if an opportunity like this were not to arise, I'd need to do a MIDI sync linking the iMac to the 880, and transfer tracks two or four at a time. It was pretty much a deal breaker to think of doing things that way. The good news is that with only eight tracks to mix with at once, anything that I mixed before with that many tracks was not that hard to recreate.

Brian lives just a couple miles away and let me come over to reacquaint myself with the 2480. I found it as difficult as before but the optimism was there that this time something might actually come of my time fiddling with it. My goal was first to grab the multitrack sources of this recording so I could give it a proper mix with richer effects and more clarity. I got pretty frustrated relearning the 2480 interface in just an hour but got my CDs with the WAV files I needed to get things into the iMac where I'd mix in Logic Pro. (He was nice enough to offer the use of the machine as I needed it. Then he let me borrow it. What a guy! That's giving me ideas to remix and finish such a thing as ReCyclED, toiled on for years and then sort of set aside when Receiving took center stage.)

The original recording was done in two main sessions, and each had eight tracks. When I got back home, I had 16 WAV files there, ready to... well, wait a minute! Actually, they could be mixed that way but you see, the initial recording process was really scattershot. I started off on what you now hear as the middle of the recording (track 5 if it were to be indexed). That started the entire project but there were five "songs" from that point to the end. Each had just a few tracks—never more than six at once—and when there were open spaces at the end of one "song" I'd use them to start a new idea. Maybe two tracks launched it, but as things ended on a previous "song" I'd have new track space to put in more ideas. The idea of sensible track layout (drums, bass, guitar, keys, fx) progressing from left to right was just not of any service here. Nope. If you looked at the tracks as lanes on a freeway, it would appear rather like the various color cars and trucks on such a road: at different places, sometimes traveling together, others out front, some longer or shorter, etc. In musical terms, it meant that in the lane of track 1, it might start as a tambourine and then become a keyboard, and then become a different keyboard later on. And tracks 2-8 would have equally odd instances of musical bits cutting in and out. The task was to get that into order so I could progress. This is just the preparatory work so the creative job of mixing can flow.

With those 16 audio files in one session at last, I cut all the separate regions (instrumental parts arrayed across the audio files) so they could be arranged next to each other with their "song" peers. I found there were 37 parts to work with. I got them grouped into the constituent "songs" and color coded the groups of tracks that were meant to perform together. Then, for the next song on the timeline, those tracks would receive like treatment. As the whole project progressed, a group of pink tracks ended and some green ones started, and then blue, and purple, and orange, etc.

Those 37 tracks gave way when I further divided a few that I missed, and when I deleted a couple instances and replayed just a few parts on drums and cymbals to improve feel and timing, and then added just a bit of cymbals for more texture. Other than that, the whole project was the same as before. What could be done now was to use ample plugins to do the detailed EQ and compression that I never could do, and to mix with far more variety in effects and also to do automation for tricky bits that I could never do with my fingers on just a few faders. I took the opportunity to time align a few things for improved feel. Things were done quite hastily in 2000. Because the parts were put down and then the mix happened no more than a week or two later, the idea of what the mix might sound like was not yet lost. But to recover such ideas a dozen years later? Um... better to just wipe the slate clean and put stuff into logical groups!

Mixing was a joy. One effect I found to be real useful and transformative was a subsonic bass treatment that does some amazing hocus pocus on drums and gives them a richer bottom end by synthesizing some lower octave information based on the extant material. It worked wonders on a relatively small headed tambourine that was played at real low level originally (and close to the mic for a natural bass boosting effect), but did not have the deep fundamental like the bass drum it emulated. This plugin took that calfskin headed tambourine and added some real balls to it, in effect turning it into a tribal bass drum sounding like it was being hit pretty hard. Further processing was done to separate the jingle from the drum part of the tambourine. Detailed filtering on cloned tracks let me cut the drum out of one track and the jingles out of the other, in effect creating two instruments from one instrument. I did that a couple places for the more rirualistic and festive sounding parts.

Creating some stereo spread without reverb was handy on some tracks, but since the aural model I had in mind when I worked in 2000 was that of the Paul Winter Consort playing their Solstice Live concerts in the Cathedral of St. John the Divine, I was cool with massive reverb. This is meant to be a powerful and atmospheric sounding recording, and so it gave itself to such processing. Some rich delays too.

With all the muckity muck of the 45 tracks that I mixed (the biggest project I ever mixed, but really only from 2-8 tracks at once), I was still keen to keep natural sounding dynamics intact. I mixed and remixed several times, reviewing in mono, small speakers, out of my room, and on headphones. I kept compression to a minimum on the whole mix, and used a bit of widening to make it even richer.

The art from 2000 was really basic and rushed. Remember, it was just to give away as a Christmas present. All I did then was to use a picture from a calendar I had a year before—one with a slightly iconic Ron Kimball portrait (porktrait?) of a giant hog towing a sleigh with a piglet at the helm. Then I used label maker tape to mark it up as from TAPKAE, and to call it Y2k Holiday Theme Music. The words "Hog! Hog! Hog!" were meant to be read as "Ho Ho Ho!" but I don't think anyone got it. It was innocent and cute but it was someone else's work and done stupidly cheap. So this time I put a bit more work into the design. I still used someone else's work but made it look a lot nicer. These days, since nothing is released on a CD-R anymore (at least not for free), a bit of humor got lost. Originally there was a CD with a paper label applied, with one side of the spindle hole showing "Side A" and the other, "Side B."

These days the prospect of creating some audio and turning it loose on the world is finally starting to appeal to me. In the old days I gave so much of it away anyway. With Soundcloud now proving to be a great sharing option, allowing ready downloads, links, and embedding, I have decided that I should properly post stuff with full tagging and notes, and set it out there. This tune is on YouTube as you see, and also on Soundcloud. While the mixes I've had around for years have been online, it's not much use to just have them hosted on my site. That's been kind of a shift of paradigm too. After blowing out the last of the copies of Receiving, I decided to get it on Soundcloud as a high quality download. Now this. I plan to work my way backward and remix things and get my more established stuff together that way.

Personal Background

A bigger story lurks behind the timing of both the original recording and this remix. Indulge me, and you might appreciate the layers of meaning to its creator.

In 2000, I was 27 and at that time of life when it was time to address the various broken relationships and other troubling aspects of life. Seeking to reconnect with my mom and the extended family constellated around her after the better part of six years estrangement (not even the first of its kind), I sought their numbers in phone books at 7/11 stores around their known neighborhoods. That turned up a successful connection and I went to a reunion two days before Thanksgiving that year. The occasion was not just to welcome me though. I was at least "second fiddle" that day; the larger cause was that my grandmother there had died the week before, literally the morning after I got a call back from my sister. I hadn't seen my grandmother in years.

Despite the mixed emotional content of that day, I entered the holidays with a great deal of optimism. It was made all the more interesting because it was just then that I found my young niece Kaitlin to be a delightful inspiration. I had three other nephews from my older sister, but I'd never connected with them at any significant level. But with my niece, I got that feeling that I could be someone for her. This time, my resolve was there.

Back at home in San Diego, that spark continued when I went into the studio and spent about a week and a half leaping from one instrument to another and back again, having all sorts of ideas come to me, fortunately at a time when I had some cool keyboards and percussion toys on loan, and lots of time to indulge the muse's calling.

Yes, it's spontaneous and rather unfinished and gets from one idea to another without returning to any one theme, but the joy of recording it comes through clearly. I've always found it interesting to note that this project has a lot more melody and charm than anything I'd done thus far. It wasn't so dark, or so goofy. Maybe it reflects some of the consonance I felt for a few weeks at the end of 2000. The world was a safer place. A little girl melted my heart and made it safe to be vulnerable again. Who knows.

Now, in 2012, the sad fact is the family relations continue to be unbearable most of the time, not unlike the situation that launched this whole story. It has been an incredibly challenging part of life to deal with all this, trying to live with either their presence OR their absence. The prolonged estrangement periods take everyone out of the picture for the most part, and the short punctuations to that are usually heated and savage. I did get to see my niece briefly as I paid my mom a visit in November (half-coincidentally just a few days before Thanksgiving once again). Unlike the occasions 12 years ago, I left there realizing there would never be a relationship, and because of my sister's intransigence, all those years have passed and I've not ever been given a chance to be in any relationship with my niece. It's not that there is no hope, but essentially, the book has been written by now. (To further indicate the measure of dysfunction, no one actually told me my own half brother had died until I happened to drop in at mom's place over six months after the fact!)

So while the optimism of 2000 has had stumbling blocks put before it, and the recent remix project was laboring under the cloud of a new dose of defeat for my spirit, this year, rather than limiting the dedication to niece Kaitlin, this year's work is dedicated to the people who have sustained me on the outside of the rather disappointing family I was born to.

The solstice happens in the darkest time but signifies the coming of the light.

Santa and the Kingdom of Childhood: a Bit of a Troubled Place

A related project that uses a bit of the 2000 version of HHHTM is this short video that I put together this year. The reading is from a book called The Dance of Time by author Michael Judge. I loved the reading so much that in 2010, I decided to do a few takes. The whole thing is explained in more detail in another post. Shortly after getting that video posted, I got a call from my sister Nikki, chewing me out big time for posting pictures of her minor child (Katie's 15 now). Oh? Well, she's my niece too. She tried to tell me she wasn't so I dared her to prove it with DNA testing. And four of seven pictures are mine. She tried to tell me they weren't when I hold the negatives in my box just in the other room. She threatened legal/law enforcement action. I know what she means, but her fiat declaration that Katie is not my niece is kinda flimsy. I mean, at one point, I was welcomed into their house, took pictures of my family member, and a dozen years later I posted them online? If my sister is worried about all that kind of stuff, maybe she ought tell Katie she can't have a Facebook account, or she ought not post pictures herself where people like me (she calls me a "stalker," or "pedophile" or "child molester") might find them. I offered to take out the three pictures I didn't take myself.

So enjoy the show. Merry Christmas to all. Even those family members who like to pretend they're not.

Tuesday
Dec182012

On a String at the Bottom of the World +20 

My First Rebirth Day

December 18, 1992 was one of my birthdays. Or I guess we need to call it a rebirth day since it really has nothing to do with departing the body of another human being. Until a somewhat early breakfast that morning, there was a creeping depression upon me. It wasn't that depression was new. There had been some precedent, especially in the period since about two and a half years before. But at this time, it was a new thing that I began entering the dangerous thought space of suicidal ideation. Now, remember we're talking about 20 years ago when I was 19. The facts show a pretty ordinary list of happenings and life situations that are almost painfully ordinary on paper. But when one is experiencing the stuff of life that is unfamiliar, maybe without guides or a map, it can certainly be nerve racking and scary. So that period was a threshold time. The particulars are easy to name: I was going through my first couple years of community college courses with no idea what it was leading to; I was not employed and my last job went south so fast and furious it ended in a restraining order against me which was in full effect; I'd just returned from Europe in the late summer and felt rudderless because that also signified the last time I'd see my friend Steve (and so far that has been exactly the case, despite some occasional talk on the phone or Skype). The distance of dear friends and the pointlessness of schooling, and the oddness of my new "friend" Matt and our exiled drummer status all conspired. Matt, in the shadows of people who did seem to be true friends, was just too odd for the first year or so for me to feel we were friends. He was more someone to pass time with. Starting to get a bit of carnal knowledge of my first girlfriend certainly fired up feelings in this period about to be chronicled. But then finding that she was not the panacea I needed to mend all the other disruptions of life was cause for more despair.

Melissa, or, Don't Climb the Orange Tree Looking for Apples

Melissa was 16 and I turned 19 a couple months after we started going out. The fact that she was sort of a sometimes friend from childhood was always in my mind. Was this just a thing of convenience? She'd made overtures even a year or more before we got together, despite an almost insurmountable distance of .... nine miles! She came onto the scene as a girlfriend at the very end of June 1992, and with only two weeks before I went on my six-week trip to Germany, we spent an inordinate amount of time together. The events of the year or so prior led me to be really needy after so many alienating experiences. So when she came onto the scene and we had those misty eyed experiences, I was rearin' to go with it. Nevermind it was the sappiest puppy love fluff you ever saw. Dang. I was already 18! I needed something to happen. The emotional center of my trip to Germany was an odd thing, as I've written. Prior to starting with Melissa, I was singularly fixated on making the trip to make good on a promise to come back and spend a more proper period of time with my friend Steve there. But instead, once on the trip, the whole focus shifted in a big way: get back home to Melissa. I did not originally plan to be homesick. I planned to throw myself headlong into my experience in Germany. Coming back then was odd because I didn't really have a plan except to go to school and look for some work, and spend as much time exploring the world with Melissa as possible. The rest was a cloud of variables I had no comprehension of.

I came home in late August and started strong. I went to school and did pretty good work. Matt and I resumed getting out to parking garages to make drum mayhem on Sunday afternoons or at night. We even started to shift our approach to accommodate sheets of ill-executed lyrical material that at least gave us some structure and something to focus on, and then maybe laugh at upon playback of our recordings. I looked for jobs mostly because the expectation was to get some work, but I was quite distracted by Melissa and of course prioritized time with her. In nearly perfect clockwork motion, weekends from Friday afternoon till late evening on Sunday were given to her. That entailed my riding my bike three miles over to my grandparents's place to pick up the Ford, then to drive it up to Mira Mesa, nine miles from my house in the other direction. I got to keep the car at home for the weekend. But I'd go up there each weekend day—yep, three times. And each time would be filled with as much as we could wedge in, most of the time. And since I had the car, I sort of was the chauffeur for her and some friends. There were some instances of off days or other spontaneous occasions when I got up there midweek for a little mice-when-the-cats-away kind of play. I even biked up there once in the middle of the school week. So it went for a while during the fall after I returned in late August. On top of all that, there were letters and journals written to each other. The fluff factor was high. Because "these are the moments you hang on to forever," to this day I have a calendar marked with numbers reflecting how many hours we spent that day. And this went on the entire seven months and three weeks. From that, I could tell you now how many hours we spent together. Sick, eh? Teen love.

The irony is that Melissa was really kind of a closed up case who probably had ideas and words waiting to explode out of her but much of the time I found she was either in awe of my greatness (er... she wanted me that whole year before we got together, dig?) or too intimidated by her dad and other voices that encouraged her to shutup and be cute as a girl. So she liked to spend time but rarely could say what she needed to say. Some letters broke some ground but really it was quite stifled. Attempts to draw something more conversational from her were usually frustrating. She was at that point where her curiosity was leading her farther from her young girl moorings and she only had a cousin to talk to about what she should be doing with me. Her mom a bit, but obviously less so. The fact that her parents were friends of my old man (and her dad worked in the same factory as he) meant that we knew each other enough to have some history, but of course, the risk was ever that they'd talk. Her mom loved me and gave me some kind nudging in the right direction. Her dad was a no bullshit kind of guy who didn't mince his words much. Melissa obviously had to fear him. Lots of time was spent inviting her out of that fearful silence so we might have a more interesting relationship.

What all that meant was that the one person I was investing so much time into was coming to be found as kind of a dead end. She listened to me tell tales of frustration with distance and loss but she herself could not fill the gaps, even conversationally. Being only 16, her level of experience was even less than mine, so that further limited what we'd be able to cover. Her world was that of a sheltered girl's: a busy school band schedule with other extracirricular activites. Many weekends during that season she had to go to her marching band meets all over the county. I went along to many of them. It was very foreign to me but it kept us together on days otherwise occupied. Melissa was fond of fanciful, fluffy stuff and listening to all the sappy radio dedications at night on the soft rock station. She and I did our own dedications on the air, and I think that was a way for her to get something of her message across to me. But it was no less sappy, and while I played along, I always wished there to be more substance.

That Damned Television

She watched lots of TV and movies. (With that mindless habit, she set a precedent for my generally despising television, but particularly when it seems to be more important than whatever relationship I am in at the time. More outrageously for me is when the TV is on and it's not even really being watched. It's just overstimulating aural and visual noise. There are enough cases of that over the years.) The TV proved to be a major sticking point, in the way that it seemed we could never connect when it was on. And I needed connection. One journal entry recalls a sort of passive-aggressive game played with channel switching from her choice of Fox showing Married With Children and my preference for PBS. After that exchange I found it preferable to leap to and to do her family's dishes rather than be sidelined by TV. And dumb TV at that. I even went to talk to her mom in the other room...about math. As the fall season went on and I didn't find work within biking distance, and all those weekends felt like sugar highs and their resultant crashes when I could have used some protein to sustain me. My mood shifted downward. With the march of time I felt like we should be getting more physical if we weren't going to be having great and profound conversations. I was 19 after all. She was willing to tease me some but then retreated. She was 16 after all. So for all the time spent there, on one level or another did not meet my needs.

It seems that season of 1992 started to disabuse me of the lofty ideas I had of what a romantic life would bring. I mean, popular culture paints a pretty picture of it all, and while we had our fluffy expressions of fondness, at least doing it in a paint-by-numbers kind of way, I was finding that the kind of relationship I was longing for was not going to come from anyone three years my junior, particularly with her set of interests. I think it was the onset of this realization that started to take me downward more than I tended to. For all the time prior to Melissa, the imagination of some kind of love relationship was free to wander, unmoored to reality. The lofty visions of what might be possible with Shelby, for example—a smart, engaged and socially aware peer of mine (only nine days younger, even) —were met with a dawning reality that Melissa, the consumate couch potato and homebody with little girl dreams—would be only a way point on the road toward something deeper and more fulfilling. On the surface, frustration might have been because of the pent up 19 year old male energy to get laid and being "stuck" with a girl who wasn't going there yet and who could barely be persuaded to shut off the TV and be present in the relationship that she herself pined for, but who kept feeding a bit of carnal experience out then withdrawing. But seeing the journals now, it's quite evident that far bigger issues were trying to be met and enacted but with a partner who had utterly no ability to do so, if only because her life experience was as sheltered as mine, and a few years less, at that. The discord between us was barely understandable and I got to acting out some things that later on proved to be patterns that needed addressing, and some I'm ashamed to say, persist when I wish they wouldn't.

The Revolving Door of Friends

I never really bonded with anyone for the long term while taking classes at Mesa. Having no more than three classes at once kept the frequency and repetition of encountering people somewhat low. Since people there were no longer my peers from within a few miles of my house, there was little chance of crossing paths with these new classmates. In the same way, there was no history to draw upon. I liked school well enough but obviously I waited for it to be over with so I could get back to Melissa or to my silly songs and playing drums. I didn't retain much connection with anyone from high school either. But by the end of 1992, the social patterns were disrupted enough and that caused concern. It felt like someone else's life I was leading when confronted with my new options.

The life I'd grown to like included pursuing Shelby, despite her being so fickle and doing such a thing as returning a couple years' worth of letters to me in February 1992 for crossing her sense of moneylending decorum. Obviously, the pursuit of Shelby had to be put on hold while with Melissa. But that felt odd to me, and sometimes I resented that Shelby got a little too excited for me and Melissa hooking up, for that was to mean that she was demonstrating some relief that I'd not be able to pursue her. Shelby herself was in northern California by then and so the physical distance was then, as usual, a bar to doing much with Shelby anyway, even as friends.

Matt was a newcomer as of a year before and certainly a wildcard but shortly after my trip to Germany he had expressed some sentiment that we might be becoming friends—maybe because he was finding some home strife and he was eyeing the spare bedroom at my house just in case he needed an out. Since we didn't work together any longer, most of our time was spent somehow linked to Rhythmic Catharsis. We had one of those kinds of mutually abusive "friendships" but he weathered things better than I did, at least outwardly. I didn't always know what to make of it. Was it good natured ribbing that he was pulling on me, or worse? And some of the things he did to be antisocial... oy!

Returning from Germany was a troublesome thing because it closed up the in-person friendship with Steve. Once a fellow student (exchange) at my school, doing fun things and gettting to know each other on weekends for a semester, and chumming at school, that was now all over with, particularly after two trips to Europe. Who knew where the future would lead, but to this date, we've not seen each other in person since then. He is an intelligent, articulate, and balanced male peer of mine who also demonstrated perhaps the best openness of them all. (Funny, during the writing of this entry, Steve called me completely out of the blue. I can't recall talking to him for two years. He'll later make my point behind this entry.)

The Old Man

In scanning my journal from the period, I was rather surprised to have penned the following about my old man on October 5th, 1992:

I woke up. William gave me shit. Like usual. I asked him for an allowance for food. He gave me a lecture on getting a job. He just doesn't listen to me. Or if he does, it means so little. Or he reinterprets it to mean I'm stupid or whatever. After two or three tries, I just lost out on the allowance, and certain grocery items he doesn't like me to have. And I got the job lecture anyway. God, I hate it when he tells me that everything I know is wrong. I'm out of money [I find that a bit much, but Europe and months of unemployed time did wear things down] and all he's worried about is making a return in his motorcycle seat business [something he bought in early 1989 from his friend who made the company name, but that was never maintained enough to be more than an also-ran in the business]. Bullshit! He's got to pay himself off before he's going to help me. Maybe he'd rather not have my help. Does he deserve it? If he won't support me in something so simple as eating, should I help him? I'm almost getting to the point where I'd like to leave this ouse, perhaps in favor of my grandparents' house, where at least I'd be needed [ironic I'd say this since I used to be rather mercinary in helping them so I could borrow the car so regularly]. And it would almost be convenient. At any rate, I'm tired of being less than I am. Maybe I'm not much, but do I need to be told so? Can he encourage me rather than tell me I'm all wrong? And he also is trying to restrict me from using the car.

In 1992, I didn't yet know how some of those same things would play out over the years in ways that seem even more savage. At the time it was just maddening. Who was he to obstruct me in such ways? I watched him do a poor job of keeping a business even in his chosen field of interest. It was a precedent for watching the things he did as a landlord, driving me to more complete madness a decade later, while I indeed did live in my grandparents' house, having moved there and for some years feeling he held no sway over my housing. This habit he has of outright declaring things "wrong" to my face—stuff that interests me, that I enjoy—has been around for a long time and always came wrapped in a rather smug delivery style. And this talk about wishing he might just encourage me is nothing new, either. By the time I wrote this entry, the various ways he tried to get me to think of music as "just a hobby" and not as something worth my total devotion, were already well despised. Here I am these 20 years later and that damned voice still buzzes my ears like a fly I can't kill but that I keep swatting at. Sad as I know all you kind people would say it was, it's been the gift that kept on giving. And yet, for all his talk about education and "you can never learn too much," and other such talk and other admonitions to get a real job, he never saw fit to actually finance my schooling at a level beyond Mesa. These days, with such sickening comments to reflect on, it's easy to see how such crap kept things destabilized just enough. He could cast just enough doubt to weaken trust and thwart enthusiasm.

Drifting from the Woman who Loves Me

In another ripple, it was also becoming harder and harder to spend the time I spent with my grandmother, indulging in talk of life and relationships. With the unfolding events with Melissa especially, I found myself not able to let her in on the big news of my life. My grandmother, while as much of a confidant as I ever had, was 64 years older than I was. She was conservative but tolerant. It's hard to say what mind I had about reporting to her about Melissa. Maybe it was so simple as to expect that she knew what kinds of things would be entailed. Or maybe I realized well enough she might cast some disapproval upon the news of getting familiar with a girl so young. At any rate, this certainly began a period of increasing opacity. At that time, it might have been harmless, but in retrospect of course, that worked against us in later events. So I lost that vital connection with the one woman left in my family, and the one person who did not talk in doublespeak and sarcasm and did not rely on intimidation by a chosen word or look in the eye. I guess that's just the agony of growing up and getting oneself formed by the other things in the world. With the creeping depression, it would seem foolish to have not kept transparent and honest about how life was going. Major loss not welcoming input from her.

Distance from Church Life

Having been at some distance from church for about a year or more by the time this depressive episode was taking hold of me, I was at some loss, at least relative to the days when I used to be a regular participant. Work at Subway put the first crack in the wall when schedules overflowed on Saturday nights and kept me up way too late to get sleep and feel like getting to church on Sunday. And of course, if there were other things at church, scheduled later in the evenings on most any day, I passed that up for the newfound earning potential. It was a sad trade but certainly a needed misstep to ultimately shape the course of later, more redeeming events. Then, after Subway, it was just a period of drifting, and then Europe, and then Melissa. All that was the stuff of distraction from living among folks who at the time often demonstrated a lot more love and acceptance than the home life I knew. My journal tells me that in November I went to the first Shalom group meeting since January. That group was one I helped to found and for a while was the safe spot where those of us in high school tried to share and make sense of our evolving lives and struggles. (It was in that group where I got to know something of Kelli when she joined in 1990.) No doubt that staying away from that group helped isolate me, but since I was a graduate, I was nearly aging out of the group, and so it wasn't impossible to reason being gone. But in retrospect, I really could have used that setting to voice my increasing concerns.

Unmasking the Evidence of Despair

I was feeling pretty lost as the end of 1992 approached. My journal from November 26 that year was brief and to the point in one of the purest expressions probably found to that point. In giant scrawling, I wrote: "I hate this fucking life!!! and no one seems to understand it." And then, in my usual way, I went on for a few pages in some detail. (All were very original thoughts, I know. I suffered alone, yup.) Melissa and I had gone to the mountains one cold autumn day and I was feeling I should get out and just do some primal screaming. Maybe even she would like to do so herself. But at the stop we made, she retracted and we stayed in the car. The placid exterior that passed for my default identity was chipping and cracking. Melissa started to register some fear at what my various mood swings and talks were pointing to. The same journal from November 26 was grappling with what later was known as the shadow and feeling that the masks I'd worn for others must come off. Melissa would be one of the first to see the new, hurting, angry, confused me. It was the first real identity crisis. Not knowing who I was of course made it hard to articulate what I needed. It made it hard to see any role I might play as being worthwhile. Around this time, I had written a poem that bore the title of this blog post, trying, in fewer words than usual, to capture my feelings. The medium was only starting to become appealing to me. All of us who have passed that point can probably chuckle at how worked up one gets during those times. But at the time, those are the biggest questions. The darkest places. The mightiest challenges. In spiritual language now available to me, it's the agony of new birth into something else. Back then, maybe it would have done some good if someone stuck a copy of Catcher in the Rye before me.

Crisis of Faith

Perhaps the only safe harbor I had wasn't with family. It wasn't with a girlfriend. It wasn't in a work life. It wasn't even my "friends" such as they were then. It wasn't church, per se, but it did turn out that I'd need to call upon figures from church who had looked after me before and had a bigger picture for me to fit within. I did go to church with great regularity for the period of mid 1989 into early 1991. I say it was with "regularity" because it'd be misleading to say I went "religiously." That's because in the church setting where I went there was a very heady atmosphere that is still apparent these days, but more so then when certain figures were present and a certain dynamic formed around them. The effect was particularly notable because the pastor, Jerry Lawritson, has often been seen as intellectual in his liberal theology. At any rate, as a teen I barely understood a word he said but knew he had my back from some very key pastoral moments. He surely thought of the Shalom community in part because he saw need from some of us in high school who had deeper streams of concern than could be let to see the light of day in regular activities around church.

His associate pastor, Judy Slaughter, arrived on the scene at the same time in the mid 80s. She was a gregarious, attentive presence in my life. Early on she picked up on discord that I was far from being able to articulate and she let me tell it to her straight. Better still, she responded straight. Over time, the two of them operated in loving ways to nudge me along in a better direction as living in a home with just a dominating father and having recently met my mother for the first time, with the struggles that accompanied that reunion after the party favors were put away. They knew my dark side before I knew it and tried to hedge against it with only some help from my grandmother.

I was not really a believer even in the better times, and by this period, I made an early declaration that I was having a crisis of faith and starting to get nihilistic. I saw others' faith turning up good fruit, but I was not able to see it myself. Or maybe I was expecting the the apple while climbing the orange tree? Yet, in the same journal from late on Thanksgiving Day, I did express thankfulness for Melissa's family's taking me in (one time even letting me stay over when things got real hot and testy at home with the old man), and even her aunt's contribution of $10 when at the time I understood her to not really have a lot to give. (Years later, a picture emerged of her life then: living in a part of town known for being a meth alley, some notable dental issues, and then some talk from other sources, I came to think she might have been embedded in that scene. Hard to say for sure, but in my journal from December 14, 1992, she and I had talked about all sorts of things for hours and with regard to my jobless state, she offered help if it meant "lying, cheating, or stealing." Hmmm...) The last part of the paragraph ends with:

I'm not used to that generous behavior. They may not be saints but they all have warm hearts and take care of people when they can, even if they shouldn't. They treat me like one of their own. That's about all I have to be thankful for.

Even a few lines like that, following the lines above them, show what a confusing world it was then. Was that all I had to be thankful for? Was that not something pretty nice, for which I ought to give thanks? Such nuances were far from my mind then. Even now, I find myself in similar situations.

An interesting thing happens in my journals from time to time. I might write one of those despairing messages one time and then not write for a few days or weeks, maybe feeling I said all there was to say. And then the very next entry would start with some disclaimer kind of message announcing "what a difference a day makes." And then an entry would flow, celebrating all sorts of inversions and pleasant surprises and developments that somehow renewed me since the entry before. That has been the push and the pull of life for me for a long time. I suppose it's that way with everyone else. But I didn't really see it. It was just confusion. It took someone else to interpret such a thing in a way that I could digest.

Jerry and Judy to the Rescue

For the time I was involved extensively at church, I was a big participant in life there. In some ways, that might be far more evidence of meaningful belief than just intellectual assent to theological ideas. All that tended to be over my head, but I felt that in that community at that time, I was welcomed and offered an alternative path to get through the minefield of adolescence. Calling on that sense that there is some alternative to the world I knew, by the time December 18 rolled around and I was feeling at the end of my string at the bottom of the World, I called and asked if Jerry and Judy could give me some time to vent and seek some counsel. I met with Jerry for lunch on December 4th but don't have any record of what was taken from that meeting.

On December 7th, 1992, I got an hour to talk to Judy and I'm sure I spilled all the frustrations and internal mayhem before her. The journal says it was a day of some great relief, particularly since Judy was a real trusted person. Taking in all this mess I poured out, she used the word "depression" to sum it up. While I might have used the word before that, I suspect for me to have written it down, it would suggest that for a trusted adult to use it meant I felt validated, even if it was just in naming the beast. She had some things to offer as ways to meet it. Getting a job of any sort would help put the brakes on the emotional slide. It didn't have to be career stuff, just something to give shape to life, get some independence back, get out of the spiraling thoughts.

After being kind of a Subway snob and trying to get a job at any of the very few stores I could readily ride to from either school or home, but not being able to on account of being sort of blacklisted from the restraining order put on me by the Levys, I had to look at other options. In mid December, I paid a visit to the Jack In The Box on Genessee, perfectly between school and home. The Subway snob in me declared it unclean and beneath me, otherwise there was no reason not to have applied any time in the several months prior. Who knew that some clown would end up saving my life?

Let's not get ahead of the story here. This is pretty much why this entry was written, anyway. 

The record shows that December 15-16 reached a pretty low point where I was getting the first ideations of suicide. Apparently a friend of Melissa's had done the deed a week or so before and that sort of paved the way for me to ruminate and entertain such ideas myself. It was probably abusive but it was inevitable that I'd have to let Melissa in on this. This opened up a testy but revelatory conversation with her. In some ways, it might be seen as the first with that kind of honesty, forcing aside the puppy love which had become by then so nauseating to be surrounded with. She said she'd hate me if I went through with taking my life. That didn't register, especially since the six months before was all about loving me, blah, blah, blah. She couldn't really handle the talk and sort of froze up. I later heard she turned to some other dude, a mutual friend of her suicidal friend, for some ear time. For my part, I even found that a bit of a breakthrough with Matt took place when I let him in on what I was feeling and experiencing.

I at least had the sense to call Jerry and ask if we could get together with Judy. The next day, we did get together for breakfast at the Broken Yolk, a popular breakfast joint not far from the church. It was sort of like the paramedics arrived on the scene to defib and resuscitate me. These were two of the people for whom I had the most respect and trust. For them to take such an interest in my life has always registered in a big way with me. Both had recently been briefed on my increasingly confused and fragile state, and surely part of the morning was given to the latest news and confused perspective I bought that day.

Jerry in particular, being a pastor, knows the world hurts. He'd see it from working with his people for days after weeks after months after years. But his philosopical background and his interests in the massively disruptive 20th century and his "Jewish soul" no doubt give him profound insight into the kind of mental anguish that is the hallmark of our time. Since he realizes the world is plenty messed up, he doesn't need to be surprised to find it at the more granular level of the individual. I suspect to know the darkness like he seems to, he must surely have his own brushes with such existential despair. One can't just know what this is about having read it in books alone. Most of this I found out about him years later. At the time, I thought he just knew this because he was a pastor. Jerry got his place as pastor in no small part because he was asked why he should be the guy to pastor the church. He replied that he was a good listener. And so I could vouch for that, time and time again. A day like that Friday at the Broken Yolk is as important as it is not because anyone rolled up his or her sleeves and got to work under the hood of my life, but that he and Judy took the time to really listen and help me get things out of my head. But on a day like that, when the talk of suicidal ideation is more than garden variety downer talk, they needed to do more than listen.

Judy was always able to bring the down-to-earth, friendly, nearly motherly approach to her work. She had been ordained more recently while serving the church, and so people like me and our youth group were part of her educational and formational experiences as a professional. I probably gave her more than my share, but she was ever keen on helping any way she could and always was very appreciative of my trusting her to help.

The takeaway lessons that came from that day were perhaps few in number but great in import. All the things I said were validated and I felt heard. A great lesson from the day was one that I don't seem to have learned anywhere prior. Jerry said suicidal ideation is one thing, and perhaps far more common and normal than anyone lets on. He wanted me to know that to hurt is to be human, and to not wish that away. He cautioned that when that hurt is not accepted and aired is when things go tragically wrong. To hurt is human. It means one is alive and sensitive to the world. It's not a fault or a shortcoming. People who don't feel, don't hurt. But that's not the human lot. What he did want to clarify is that while the agony of existence is great, to snuff oneself is a selfish act, one that forfeits a hard won position of resistance against all that darkness that is already so prevalent and ready to move in on those who don't remain vigilant. It's as if to say "all hands are needed on deck for this life."

Another major lesson was just that if we take life as a book (where we simply can't skim ahead), we just don't know what the next page will bring. Or the next chapter. Well, hasn't that been the truth? Yeah, kid, what a difference a day makes. I left the breakfast with a renewed spirit, thanks to a steroidal dose of empathic listening, encouragement, advice, and a lot of love.

The Clown that Saved My Life

It wasn't merely abstract talk. The lesson of "what a difference a day makes" was about to be embodied in the day itself. Just the day before our breakfast meeting, I'd gone to Jack in the Box and after applying there got a callback with an interview offer for later on the 18th—hours after the breakfast wound up and left me with more determination to engage in life. I had thoughts about how the interview would go. Probably some question about why I wanted to be there, etc. What would I say? Since this was really the first job interview that seemed normal after the first two jobs I had, each with their own oddball ways of getting hired, how much of my life would need coverage? What if they found out I was depressed? Does that help or hinder? I'm sure when I got there it was far simpler than I would allow it to be in my head, and certain questions were to get certain answers and that's that. I got lucky. They had expressed at some point later on that they were looking for a friendly looking, white, native English speaker for their counter/register work. I got the job. What a difference a day makes.

So it wasn't the job that launched me on a glorious career in management at a major fast food company. Nope. I worked there for about a month, starting just the week following the booster breakfast. The five weeks that I did work there seemed rather lighter, like life was okay. Then the national e. coli scare happened and the company pared back their crews, and guys like me with no seniority were given several weeks off during the entire month of February. I would ride by to check in a couple times a week. And when I did get back, I was in there for a month or so and then with no real back up plan but feeling at some distance from the life I had when I started there, I turned in my notice sometime in April. Yeah, the job was not career stuff but it did do what I needed it to do: give me something to fill time, get some money for a while, start to see life differently. After a few weeks off, I happened upon another Subway that I could get to if I drove. I applied and got that job and it launched me into yet another major phase of life. But that's for another journal.

During that period of the layoff from Jack's, Melissa and I broke up and I was pretty torn up about that but not so much that I turned back to my despair before December 18. It was dark, but the lessons resonated in me: who knew what the next page brought?

As if to Prove the Point

This is a bit of a distraction from the core of the story about how fuggin' depressed I was at the end of 1992, but it makes a good point. Consider this. Just at the end of the year, in the last few days, I got a new boombox that featured a dual cassette player/recorder and a simple input for a microphone. In only a week, Matt and I went out to play some Rhythmic Catharsis songs out in our favorite parking garage. I took that boombox along and got a sound that surpassed what I ever had. And then most especially, the day after we did that, my life changed. It changed because for the first time, I was able to bounce the tape we made while adding new sounds of some additional percussion instruments and some voices. It wasn't what is properly known as overdubbing but it accomplished the layering of sound that gets you to the same place. That then was the bug that bit me, drawing me into the world of recording. For at least the next ten years from that point on, recording and creating music was a huge part of what I felt I was. The past ten years a bit less so but I still do it, and really, I have to say it was from that early time, just a couple weeks after I thought I was spent on life.

Keep turning the page. Keep turning those corners...

Friday
Dec142012

Santa and the Kingdom of Childhood

Kaitlin

This is a presentation several years in the making even though it came together last night. The first four pictures are original shots of my niece Kaitlin, taken in 2000. I had met her just weeks before, only in the week of Thanksgiving. I was 27 and on the verge of wanting to grow up after years of hurt and alienation from many, including my mom's whole side of my family. That gap was bridged in time for the holidays that year. Kaitlin was not quite four years old then. By my readiness and her very presence, she stole my heart in the sort of I-Thou exchange that Martin Buber wrote about. She reached into me in an amazing way and inspired me to first make a 15 minute bit of music (Hog Heaven Holiday Theme Music) just in time for Christmas that year, and to give it to her and other folks as my present for the year—one I might add that could NOT be bought. Bitter and senseless family politics has kept us apart for all the time since just after that Christmas, though I saw her a few weeks ago (almost exactly 12 years from when we first met) and had a crashing feeling that the situation of estrangement would never change. It broke my heart. Her mom unleashed vitriolic words upon me after staying perfectly quiet for almost exactly those same 12 years. The only exception has been a few email and MySpace flame wars. Any hopes I might have had to be Katie's uncle are probably for naught. One can only imagine what Kaitlin has heard about me, all without knowing me but for those few weeks, lost to the mists of her young mind.

To be honest, I've been quite depressed in recent weeks, in part because of that, but in no small measure because of it either. This kind of thing is a dull ache most of the time and sometimes gets outsized and more painful than maybe I should let it. I've tried engagement and disengagement in order to cope. Neither particularly suits me. I just hurt.

The remaining photos in the slideshow are ones I've been able to collect from my sister's social media pages. I am pretty certain they are not used by permission. My tragic point, exactly. But while my sister has her fanciful notions of protecting her daughter from the Savage Sociopath from San Diego, she's using the same twisted logic that my old man used to keep me from my mom. Funny that she doesn't see it that way. Anyhow, these are pictures of my niece as much as they are pictures of her daughter. To date, even though the fiery words have flown and the icy wastelands have grown between us, there is really no substance to her decision to keep Katie from me. I mean, I'm not a pedophile. Not a rapist. Not a murderer. I haven't stolen anything. I haven't really held any financial power over anyone, despite some monetary issues that I've since learned were my mom's very style. There really isn't much to hate me for, though their typical approach to keeping a distance has done plenty to stall any chance of development and certainly any hope of healing. It's just that they don't care.

This little show is my act of defiance, just something to help keep a light of hope alive for me. None of what has happened since can take away that flicker of hope that came when I played with Katie for a few occasions that holiday season of 2000. I might say that in keeping with the theme of the reading in the video, Katie might just as well be said to be my first real Christmas gift as an adult. One I didn't even know I needed. That holiday was quite enjoyable, and since, while no other Christmas since has been spent with that family unit, Christmas has had its component of wonder and hope returned to me.

The Music

This music is just a short segment from the longer, freewheeling musical romp that perhaps was my nod to Mike Oldfield, Todd Rundgren, Mike Keneally, and maybe other solo artists who just love to get into the studio and make any music that comes to them. With one exception (a totally random instance of Kelli appearing at my place with a friend packing a Maltese bagpipe), every part of the recording was done on my own. For lack of a better title, and for the fact it's not strictly a bunch of Christmas tunes but rather is more a sonic tour through impressions of the season, it's called what it's called. This year I have returned to the source recording of the original project and brought it into my main recording program, Logic, a far more robust place to mix the recording that never got the mix it deserved in 2000 when it was rushed out the door in time for the holiday. So that will appear too, sounding better than ever, first a gift to family that didn't really care, and now to the world, and I bet it will unfold in ways I could never imagine. I'll probably post it next week, 12 years from its first release.

The Reading

On another track of life, a few years later in 2004, I got Michael Judge's book, The Dance of Time, a sweet little thing to feed a hunger for knowing what the world was like before our particular kind of timekeeping evolved. To read it, one must suspend the cold rational mind known for its "stinking thinking" and just fall into the premodern mind where time is measured according to the universe and the play of celestial bodies upon the Earth.  It's prose that reads poetically and a few times a year (but especially in the colder months) I am likely to pull it out and read it aloud to Kelli. In 2010 I found a page that I liked and paired it with the Holiday Theme Music. (The crazy thing is, I think I actually got the wrong segment of music!) I gave it a few reads and tried not to choke too much but you can hear the end did get a little hard to read. As it should.

Meeting my niece when I was 27 was the beginning of a thawing of my heart from the cold and broken thing it had become over those years of creeping skepticism and doubt about goodness and frankly, mystery. In so much mythology, the troubled male soul is mended by some kind of feminine presence. So it was for me. This humble little reading is just a thing to remind me of the good stuff, to not get jaded and cynical; to not be barricaded behind all the hurt and pain that accumulates too easily. The pictures I took of Kaitlin that first holiday season are significant of those first glimmers of light in the darkness for me.

Monday
Nov052012

Electile Dysfunction

Walking Buber the Dog tonight I was pondering my place within the nexus of the intersecting, competing, bewildering array of economic, political, and religious philosophies vying for my attention each day, but particularly on a day like tomorrow when every one of their voices reaches a fever pitch, screaming into my ear, tugging my heart, stabbing my back, and generally clamoring for my attention.

The irony of a Thanksgiving race for the hungry... Some have too few calories, others too many.A thought came over me, combining Einstein's insight with Jesus' commitment to those typically forgotten and trampled by social systems: the system that creates the "least of these" can't serve the needs of the least of these.

Sadly, it's not on our menu of options tomorrow, any way to stall and eventually starve the system that creates "the least of these." As it is, my horse isn't even in the race so again I'll vote for second best. To the polls I go, heavy of heart that I too am just an extra (actor) in the political theater, at least for that one day, in that one role, on that one stage.

This blog has been around since 2002 and my interest in writing on things political was rather hot in 2004-2005. I was fired up in that year since it was the first year after my rebirth of sorts, seeing the world with new eyes, making vital but naive statements. I was pretty devastated in the wake of that election. I was gladdened four years later, but a lot more sober and heavy hearted, knowing Barack Obama, an individual man of demonstrated principle, was bound for a situation that inherently demands compromise and outright deceit. How could a relatively wet-behind-the-ears non-insider turn the table on the system? It didn't make sense, but I had hoped his commanding presence would inspire people to act from better places in themselves. I'm sure it happened in pockets all over. His election brightened my mood for a while. But I did watch as step by step he had to admit the way to stay in the game is to play by the rules that have been written long ago and vetted over time. Sad. Very sad.

Papa John's next to a Curves for Women. It's kind of like the two party system but really, there is a symbiosis that is apparent if you have the eyes to see it.Papa John's next to a Curves for Women. It's kind of like the two party system but really, there is a symbiosis that is apparent if you have the eyes to see it.

I've said for years now that the new republic isn't what we want to believe it is. It's still representative, but less and less does the representation signify a relationship between the people and the elected. It's found in two other relationships: how we spend our money determines what companies or industries we support. And in turn, how their power is channeled through the officials we think we elect. Corporations or industrial-commercial blocs such as Pharma, Oil, Biotech, and Defense of course can shout louder than us when it comes to spending. But those are powerful because most of us tend to demand their products and services with some kind of allegiance or pathological dependency. True, you and I don't pay our money at a cash register to support the defense industry, but a time like September 11 does tend to trigger some feeling of acceptance or even outright welcome of things that "defend" our freedoms, even while the stiff taxation and government debt to fund that kind of standing military works counter to our best values, and even our beloved freedoms.

But more and more I realize there is less and less representation for what are emerging as my more beloved values and convictions. I have to admit, I doubt America could ever really be the stage where they are played out. To be honest, the closest representation of what sounds right to me is within countries that are often sneered at and derided for being "socialist." You know—the places where there is a reliable health program. Where cities are charming because of their respect for aesthetics and mixed income integration, and where other elements of the manmade landscape do not presume the automobile is the only means to transport oneself. Where the defense budget doesn't assume the world is out to grab your ill-gotten gains, and where the same budget doesn't guarantee taxation on your hard-won gains. Where the work week leaves time to be a citizen and community member, or just a family person with dignity and energy to engage in the real stuff of life.

The commute around Temecula, CA, about 70 miles from San Diego. Aint that the life?The commute around Temecula, CA, about 70 miles from San Diego. Aint that the life?

Yeah... I guess that's socialism. What misery it must be! Here we could work ourselves to death for no gain, get stranded in traffic, eating junk food, and then go to our pathetically alienating suburban dormitories and numb ourselves on TV "reality" shows that show people more pathetic than us—but who get a TV show on which to present their mock misery, in turn mocking our real miseries.

And as Richard Rohr says often, those who don't transform their hurt are certain to transmit it. There's no shortage of that going around. I'm quite frankly surprised there has not been an attempt on Barack Obama's life. With the insanity and vitriol that fills the air, the anger and scapegoating in a nation of over 300 million, it's frankly hard to believe that some bipolar, unemployed, domestic terrorist has not gone totally off the rails, or that his demise was not ordered as some kind of inside job. I guess I should be thankful. But one day at a time. We haven't re-elected him yet. I hate the thought of such a thing on a man so well meaning but under the sway of other forces beyond his control, but the cauldron is bubbling over and this is too obvious a contingency to ignore.

Sam and george, two penguins, have their usual blame game argument about global warming. They're standing in the desert where Antarctica used to be.

I've reduced my soapbox activity in the peak oil range of topics but I haven't discarded them. Facebook threads tend to be where I take up the topic, usually when people are caught in some back and forth about why the economy is stagnating. There are more voices recognizing peak oil/energy and asking the questions of what it means for daily life. But it's still kind of veiled. I see more mainstream talk but it's never really asking people to think of how to live another way. It's still up for debate and questioning, or presented as some novelty. But that Barack Obama has dropped the ball with the matter of global warming/climate change, there's not a lot of hope that he's going to be a voice to echo Jimmy Carter's "turn down your thermostats" message of restraint and true conservation. An article by Resilience asks why transportation in particular has not changed to electric because oil is so damned useful for other purposes that it's absurd to allow it to be burnt! Alas, we shall look to no elected "leadership" for a path out of the energy crisis since those characters have their fingers placed most deeply in their ears. I frankly have to admit—still—that we're pretty much going to smack the wall of all these limits to growth with as much force as we could muster. As long as the notion of a growing economy trumps all other concerns, we'll get nowhere beneficial. And in the end, the economy will be dead in the water too, having never made a plan to really rein it in to sustainable levels. What will be sustainable will be a return to gathering and recycling the artifacts that still have use. And digging through trash heaps. Even a hack like me was making the case for addressing this in 2004. It doesn't need to scare anyone in 2012.

Hey, I didn't want that for my future, either. But where is the clear voice of leadership with a soapbox high enough and a megaphone wide enough to really do the job of changing things? I doubt that is anything to look forward to. It will come through the cracks at the bottom. If the political system isn't already seen to be irrelevant now, I suppose the next four years—no luckier in producing a thriving economy or a return to middle class comfort, or no firm convictions of the financial vipers—will show that neither a two term Democratic president nor a Latter-Day Satan of a vulture capitalist Republican will produce the goods. The fact is, neither party is able to control the bus going off the cliff. But they can change the in-flight entertainment and assure us of air conditioning on the way.

Smug mug of Alan Greenspan with my sarcastic caption, don't worry Al, we didn't need that economy anyway

I can't just blame the two candidates. No one but a handful of concerned scientists, educators, and activists in various disciplines is really prepared to envision a post-growth world. Certainly we shan't look to our elected officials to tell the truth, else that's their own pink slip they're signing, and that's just not how it goes in politics. But we are at a world-level paradigm shifting moment if we are to take seriously the message of Richard Heinberg and his peers in the Post Carbon Institute. Or a bit less shocking than his talk about "peak everything" and "the end of growth," there's the folks at CASSE—the Center for the Advancement of Steady State Economics. These are just some of the voices that I read to get a less varnished perspective on the news, and to help understand the holes of logic that riddle the mainstream arguments.

After a couple years of working extensively with Jubilee Economics Ministries, and being rather involved in a progressive church, but more so after being initiated into the Christ mystery of life and death, the state of American politics has less and less sway for me. Even within those three shapers of my spirituality, there are some conflicting thoughts. As much as I like the progressive ideas that would emerge and be supported in and around my church community, there are blind spots that I don't like. JEM doesn't always make arguments that accept a post-collapse reality (instead there tends to be a more easygoing adoptions of a grassroots transition that would gain more cred as its virtues are discovered). But the deepest level of understanding, being initiated into the mystery that permeates all we know as mortals in a universe of constant change, says that while I can and must throw my lot in with all the other madness, the patterns of death and resurrection are larger and more immutable, and therefore, I can't control things, nor am I at any advantage to try.

jesus and god stickers all over a trash can in san diegoSeriously now? You love God so much you have to invest in bumper stickers in order to put them on your trash can? Is that the best American Christianity has to offer?

That seems like cosmologically isolationist hocus pocus but really... the systems that define my day and age are brittle. Politics as we know it is cracking. Economics as we know it is imploding. The environment itself is in jeopardy in a particular way that has never been seen before. The great philosophies that shaped the industrial era are themselves not able to explain or contain what is happening. Something profound is happening. As one might fly above the storm to see its eye and the territory it spans, we can't be within the storms of our time to get perspective on its might and ferocity. The systems and philosophies we've relied on are weakening and the water is cresting those levees. A larger view is needed. I've found that the pattern we are loathe to accept is that of death for the sake of rebirth. Is it any surprise there are so many apocalyptic scenarios out there? We fear the death because we don't see how this could be reborn. Sadly, a huge number of Christians, not strangers to some vivid images of death, are also missing the rebirth that awaits in the wake of whatever purging and cleansing has to happen as things radically deconstruct and are eventually sorted out and put back into some order according to new values.

If the Christian myth is that of death and rebirth, then that means those two components must be present and intrinsically bound. Hope is to be found in the very things we can't understand. And usually, we can't understand death. Faith is to be able to progress, even in the seeming darkness, with some assurance that things are as they should be, and our job is to move forward somehow. But you see, a faithless, death-phobic society will tell itself every lie and apply every blame if it means not facing what is right in front of it. Right in front of us.

Inauguration day 2009, my razor knife on the truck window, peeling up the anti-bush not my president sticker that had been there for yearsJanuary 20, 2009... but really, Obama soured me too.

So our elections are exercises in political theater, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing. I wish it wasn't so but as much as I liked Barack Obama in 2008, nudged along because he was a member of my denomination, and perhaps because we shared a bit of common faith territory, I have long questioned his walking away from his congregation and pastor for the sake of political expediency. And then after that, I have not heard him talk about the United Church of Christ, though to his credit he has spoken some words that I think compensate for that, couched in terms of a world-wise view that religion is vital to humanity, and a plurality is good and should be protected. But then he surrounds himself with Goldman Sachs people and doesn't push to prosecute the gross financial crimes that wrecked the nation. Y'see what I'm saying? I wish Obama would have accepted his special place as the first black president and seen that even one term put him on the map, but then he seemed like he had what it might have taken to do a real expose of what is going on. Sure, it's political suicide, but being as beloved as he was, it would be quite a deed to name and prosecute the misdeeds that put us where we are. He could have come out with a fully transparent explanation of peak oil and a vision for how to meet it with dignity and resolve in a way that echoed JFK and the moon mission. But I guess he wasn't prepared to fall on his sword. I guess I could hope he's able to man up in a second term.

Of course, Mitt Romney is dismally worse. His main ability is talking from two sides of his mouth at once. He's not even worth a mention, really. Pathetic beyond pathetic, he. Shoot me if he gets "elected."

For the first time, this year I decided to join the Green Party. I'm torn because of course I have to make that sickening decision to vote a real conviction or to settle for what might suck less than Mitt Con-me. Of course I barely know who "my" candidates are. Even now I can't recall their names. I'm sure even the Greens have their issues and blind spots that would turn my gut, but they are as close as anything to what I'd support.

Unfortunately, I'd like to find a party that reflects the kinds of values I have adopted under the influence of the lived teachings of Jesus. But it will never gain traction in this land. And the kingdom of God is never meant to be a matter of actual, dirt-under-the-nails activism and political life. It's meant to be more than that, at a deeper level. It's meant to be the thing that turns people's hearts into things of compassion and generosity and acceptance of contradiction and that is able to hold the tensions of existence. It's not a right. It's not a responsibility. It's not electable. It's there and ready to be turned on and is ready to be the shaper of lives in this nation or any. It's outside the systems of the world at large because it is latent within us. Even though I voted for Obama the first time, it was still up to me to volunteer at a social service kitchen serving meals to people with AIDS, or sneaking around at work grabbing food discards and distributing them to people in some need or position to do the same.

These days, I'm experiencing some reawakening of my musical interests that have gone dormant for a decade or so. I look forward to putting that to some use, either as a songwriter with themes that I've blogged on for all these years, or just playing and seeing the harmony erupt between players, or the joy that listening brings either in the contexts I've been involved in lately: the pub and a church.

In some ways, it doesn't really matter who wins the election. Or who steals it. Not to me. It's not that I won't erupt in righteous indignation if the wrong guy gets in (either by theft or the sad realization that idiocy and short sightedness in my country has tipped the balance), or if the right-enough guy does another of his appointments that is a handout to the party I tried to avoid electing. I'll keep harping somehow. But the bigger patterns are at work. The wheel is more than I can wrap my hands around and turn. I guess my options are to do my part in the band to serenade while the bus goes off the cliff, hoping to awaken something, or I could blog or write songs that live in the tradition of Pete Seeger, putting a spanner in the works of thought systems. Or I could keep inviting people to eat together, even if it means finding the discards—the stuff relegated to the death-bin—and doing my small bit to reinvent it as the stuff of life. I guess those are my options, whether or not I vote, whether or not my horse is in the race, or whether or not I vote for the lesser of two evils.

Tuesday
Oct302012

Leaving Tracks: the Advent of the VS-880 +15

This post isn't particularly tied to a single date or event, but rather a season of 1997 that turned out to really reinvent my life for some years to come. A few times in this journal there have been tales of my small but mighty VS-880 recorder and how the Hog Heaven Studio era played out. It's almost easy to forget a period that preceded that, but one that sowed the seeds of a rather hot and heavy period of recording.

pretending to pick my nose in a goofy shot of me up near my cassette deck mountain, 1995My mountain of cassette decks, numbering up to nine individual wells in three double and three single deck devices! 1995

You see, the VS-880 was my first digital recorder that promised me the aural riches of nondestructive, nonlinear editing. In 1997, when I got it, that seemed unimagineably mind blowing to me. These days we can't imagine doing anything on the computer without levels of undo and the ability to constantly move text, video, audio, and images around freely. Because I was a rather late bloomer when it came to digital life and computers, such options were far out for me. All my recording thus far had been on cassette tapes, mostly on the garden variety stereo-in-two directions type that anyone could record with gear from a home electronics shop, and then for a period of just under two years, I used a TASCAM 424 four track recorder. The VS-880 was a stratospheric leap from all that.

Enter the VS

I spent the spring and summer of 1997 watching my pizza delivery earnings pile up, and a relative windfall of $1400 when I sold my extensively reworked Pearl knockoff set. A lot of days were spent in the musical gear porn magazines MIX! and Electronic Musician, fantasizing about either a four track minidisk recorder or the more complex and robust VS-880, recording to an internal hard disk of (wait for it) a whopping 540 megabytes!  The thought of shelling out $1,800 made me dizzy but this promised to be worth it. The editing options offered the means to do things I had barely yet even thought of, but was bound to do eventually. At the time, I had modest expectations of being able to silence empty parts of tracks, collage things, and generally have more mix control over the eight tracks, which was a fantastic doubling of capability. Such a thing as the 64 virtual tracks led to fanciful thoughts unimaginable on tape where I'd been able to bounce two or three tracks to an open track, or if needed, bounce all four to another cassette and then if needed, back into the four track to add more tracks, and so on. Those days seemed numbered and fading into irrelevance. If there was to be bouncing, it would be in glistening, (nearly) lossless digital quality.

The machine, once I brought it home in mid August, was bewildering. Even with all the manual booklets, there were so many new terms that I did not know and some that I'd still not know even as I retired it four years later (maybe because I did not need MIDI or other synchronization features). I found the easiest way to start in with the new machine was to take my TASCAM and hook up the line outs to the corresponding four channels into the VS. That way, I was able to capture my current recordings and set about having something to work with while not exactly losing ground if nothing panned out for me. But that was of little concern for the most part, since I found myself doing this transfer on a lot of material in progress, and then really not looking back. The TASCAM's days were numbered. If anything, the only reason for using it was that it did something to the sound because of the noise reduction scheme. I can't say it was "the" analog sound but there is a character that I found pleasing for the time when both machines were in use, prior to Hog Heaven Studio's opening in summer of 1998.

ReCyclED

As it was, the project I set for myself was something that is still unfinished even these 15 years later, a thing called ReCyclED. ReCyclED was a recreational re-doing of a list of goofy and irreverent songs that I did with Matt Zuniga in the Rhythmic Catharsis days of 1992-1993, and intermittently since. After the dark and angst-ridden Hog Heaven from earlier in 1997, something downright stupid was in order, especially with the prospect of the TASCAM's four tracks letting me develop things a bit more than what Matt and I had the ability to do with drums, voice, and some percussive toys all captured to a couple cassettes and added mic inputs. I'd spent some time during the summer knocking out drum tracks, trying to recreate the old magic on my own, and when possible, adding guitar or bass-sounding low end with the help of a pitch shifter or a keyboard on loan, or maybe even a bass on loan for a short while. It was fun but the real fun started once the 880 came onto the scene. ReCyclED was the perfect project to put it to the test. And my apartment was a fine place to have some of the effects and editing features because I was on a rather austere noise diet at that apartment, with a stodgy and fussy family on one wall and a rather fussy roommate down the hall.

Drums in Exile, Redux

Not all the tracks could be done convincingly at home in that room. The entire founding story of Rhythmic Catharsis was one of being exiled from our suburban bedrooms into the underground or otherwise cavernous parking lots and garages in the commercial zones of town, playing drums and screaming on weekends and in the middle of the night, often as loud and indulgently as possible. Subtlety was not our thing. The godlike thunder of an untamed (unmuffled) acoustic drum set surrounded by concrete walls was our sonic calling card. It was a sound that is impossible to capture any other way, short of playing in an aircraft hangar. The nights spent outside doing this young men's ritual in the early 1990s were considered part fun and part therapy, hence the name we adopted as our moniker. There was something about the security of two sets of eyes out there during the middle of the night in places that were otherwise quiet and sometimes a bit creepy. I have done solo nights of this kind but I never liked to do so if I had to be extra vigilant about my surroundings. It wasn't too hard to imagine it being the perfect situation to be robbed of my stuff (my older drum set was sold in mid 1997, so I was now using my babies, my high end Premiers exclusively) by a few guys who could easily drive up with a truck while I was wailing away, unable to hear their approach, and years before I'd ever have a cell phone. So those nights were never so fun as when Matt and I were doing our duo stuff, even if he never really tried to do any of this with any true conviction.

The Road to Hog Heaven is not without Potholes

my drum set in a garage where I set up with my drums and recording gear to get some tracks for new materialDrums at Greg's place, with a bunch of percussion junk nearby, and the mixer rack off to my left

Art Pacheco, my roommate at the apartment, was a punk guitarist in a band called Frame 313 and his drummer Greg Benoit was nice enough to host my drums at his house not far away in Clairemont. (Coincidentally, it was right next door to a childhood foe of mine, Brad Tade, a tough Irish dude who once thought nothing of slogging me in the street on the way home from school and leaving me unconscious for several minutes. I later got an equally uneasy feeling around Brad when we both appeared at our 20th reunion last year. And also coincidentally, a neighbor about six houses up was recalled to be a drummer playing whatever garage rock his heart was set on back in 1983 while I was hot to trot for this cute girl named Christine Huggard who lived a few houses over. And now it was my turn, just down the road on the same cul-de-sac. I digress.) Greg let me in to play maybe a couple times per week for a few weeks that summer. I had my TASCAM there, fronted by my Mackie 1202 mixer, a few mics (a Radio Shack PZM for the kick, a cheap SM58 knockoff for the snare, and a couple authentic SM57s which I still use), my Alesis 3630 compressor, and a DigiTech Studio Quad multieffects processor. The rig was definitely on the low end but it did let me tailor my sound going in, and the degree of sonic precision available was high compared to the plain old cassette days with Matt Zuniga, even if there was no way to capture the godlike thunder of the drums in a concrete garage. At Greg's, I had the drums set up, miced, kick drum blanketed, mixer and small rack within reach, and I felt like a king.

I don't recall if I broke down the recording part of that each time, or if I just left it all up and ready, but eventually the Greg offer came to an end for some reason after a few weeks. Probably the usual noise complaints, or someone moving. Anyhow, all the gear eventually got absorbed back to my apartment, and with a few minor exceptions of my risking a very hushed drum recording in my room, or even taking the kit out to some parking garages and setting up my gear to play and record drums, I didn't really play drums again until the Hog Heaven days that kicked off in June 1998. I think I recall there being eight months or so that I didn't play drums. I just kept trying to use drum recordings in clever ways, using the delay hold function in the Studio Quad to appropriate up to 1.6 seconds of "loopable" drum material, or even playing in one noise or another and letting it build up. Of course, that was more desperate than just using jammed out recordings which were improvised with some feel for what I thought the lyrics required, and then using those two things as the basis for further work back home. As I was doing this, it was months before I even got the okay to start on Hog Heaven, and about four months more before it was ready to set up and use. Drumming was a luxury for that period. This in particular was a rich time for learning the VS-880 and messing with sounds.

Bad Cop, No Donut

One night in September 1997, about a month or so after I got the VS-880, I hauled the drums, mics, and small rack along with the new-and-still-largely unexplored VS out to one of the old garages where Matt and I often played during the second half of 1992. One song in particular, a tribal pounder called When The Elephants Fight, something that went back to the end of 1992 in its original form, was something there was no way to record except at full power. The vocal itself got into some loud, screamed passages. Since they were parts that were already more or less established from our earlier recordings, I set about recording each in a couple takes after getting a sound. (The early idea for ReCyclED was to do little more than current versions of old stuff, and maybe to spend six months on the project. All that went out the window when the digital options took over!) I thought that being out at this building in Kearny Mesa would be uneventful. It always had been. It had AC power, lighting in the garage, and enough cover to mask my location. What I didn't bargain for was that in the middle of the night on a Saturday, some clown would be upstairs at work. And that from his vantage point, he'd not hear the finer nuances of my vocal performance and my um, lyrical poeticism (ahem!). Instead, this joker called the cops and from nowhere came the cops in at least one car, maybe a second. They inquired of me about some complaints that I was screaming about raping children or something. I don't recall exactly what they said, but the caller just heard screaming and drums a-pounding and was scared and bothered. The thing is, it was more baffling to the cops because by that time the drums had been taken down and for no real reason but the messing with my new recorder and mics, I turned the overhead mics over to my open truck hood and I was recording the engine idling and revving up. This was just incongruous enough for the cops to wonder what the fuck was going on. I think I said I was just experimenting. From my upstairs apartment, I don't have any way to record my truck engine, et cetera. Dumb question, dumb answer. Of course, this was the end of the session for that night so I had to pack and go home. This might have been the end of the drumming for several months. Within a few months, the lyrics for Bad Cop No Donut took form, and in part chronicled the incident, and also another run in with the porcine patrol, the infamous Toss Panos/San Diego Streaker night from June, a few months earlier.

Bad Cop No Donut was one of the major productions done upon the VS-880, and was a project that had at least two primary versions with wholly different lineups and a lot of twiddling. It was emblematic of the VS era, but more so the digital era of always being able to dabble and fix and nip and tuck. A track like that was originally done around Bryan "Nucci" Cantrell's rather improvised drum part, done in a local rehearsal facility, and that I captured in stereo mix to DAT recorder in September 1997 with little more than a directive to play something disco like. So he delivered this loose and driving drum part that sounds exactly as it appears in the song. Then I took it home and eventually the song took some form as I added guitar parts, bass, even some keyboards, a lot of vocals, and then kept trying to find my balance. For the first time, I had to power to put too much in. The brilliance of the VS-880 for me was in those eight tracks there was enough space to get a lush mix and almost enough to get too much. A recording like Bad Cop No Donut, if spread out in full track count across a larger format tape (or moreso, across the nearly endless track capacity in computer based workstations), would have to reflect about six channels of Nucci's drums, my bass (with parts featuring a wah pedal), acoustic guitar, Todd Larowe's two rhythm guitars, and a few other guitar tracks for solos, effects like sirens, backwards stuff by Ron Sada, shredding and harmonized parts by Todd Larowe, and finally a shitload of my vocals—triple tracked lead for depth and fullness in the mix, quadruple tracked chorus backgrounds shouted repeatedly into one mic by Matt and I, and then some character voices too, done by Matt. If I had 24 tracks of 2" tape, I'd probably have filled it out. Instead, the arrangement cuts detailed parts in and out of tracks, bounces the more lush stuff to either a mono stem (all manner of guitar solo ideas cut a few bars at a time) a stereo mix of all vocals, and so on. The amount of stuff I wedged into the eight playback tracks makes me grin with marvel. Other similarly produced tracks done on the VS (and took a damned long time to record and re-record) include The Power of Disco (two very different versions exist and were done in this way, the first using a short segment of the Nucci track that ended up better serving Bad Cop), Zehdihm's Flight (with the Mike Keneally version ending up as a discard on account of tinny keyboard sounds that his one hour session did not allow us to work out), 8th Grade Report Card, Endless Cycle, Is God Trying to Make Me a Smoker?, etc.

New Tools, New Technique

The VS-880, in addition to providing lots of new track space to work with and to build out fuller mixes with more details, included some new tools to mess with audio. The nonlinear editing was huge to me. I originally got into editing so I could cut out some parts that were inherited from the TASCAM tapes, with bits that I'd mix out on that machine, but could precisely and permanently cut out on the 880. The ability to do the copying and pasting meant that I could use any source and draw something from it. Collaging things became easy since things could slide this way or that on the timeline with some great precision. The ability to set auto punch locations or to just use a bunch of virtual tracks prior to compiling the best parts of various takes meant that my ability to fix parts was greatly improved. This was important since it was during the 880 era when I gleefully bought, borrowed, or perhaps stole (not really) all sorts of instruments and devices and tried to wrangle sounds out of all of it, not always succeeding early on. Some tracks, like The Power of Disco (Compels You) or Bad Cop or The End of the Road for Missy the Cow, featuring cameos from a number of players and singers, afforded me the great chance to get some interestingly rich tracks together and to keep finding people who might work better for the track. Disco and Bad Cop took about a year each to nail down.

It took a bit less time to finish the tracks but no less a challenge to artfully develop an approach I used a few times: playing drum parts to establish a loop section, and then playing some live parts into the track, sometimes days or weeks later, trying to get a matched sound and feel that didn't sound weak (because looping drums automatically sets up a rather fixed dynamic for the song, and playing live will then not seem so consistent in volume and tone, even if done on the same kit, etc.) The two tracks that show off the approach best are The Power of Quim and Up a Dog is a Toy Experience. In each, I built the tracks off of looped material, then found I needed more drum activity and feel, so I had to set about playing in appropriate parts for a few bars at a time, and working hard to keep it sounding like they were single performances. You'll notice that the um, lyrical material on each is a bit peculiar. On The Power of Quim, I harnessed the Matt-isms that accumulated in the fall of 1998 when he'd come by and talk the oddest shit, and I later took snippets of it and kept morphing the details of what he was saying. Up a Dog is a bunch of random nonsense that turned out to sing well but was otherwise meant to sort of mock the San Diego poetry scene that Kelli was a part of then, as I witnessed it during a period when we hung out years before we became an item. I wrote it so I might go up and deliver it as a reading if ever prodded. Later on it turned into the loose and funky track once Todd Larowe left his JC-120 amp at my place for long enough that I put it to some use. Once I got my Mesa Tremoverb, the tinny JC was on its way back to Todd and I never used another amp at my studio except for single songs using someone else's gear if they brought it at all, or if I were to store it as part of my cartage/tech work.

Tom Griesgraber cutting the solo for a track on ReceivingTom Griesgraber at Hog Heaven in 1999, recording 8th Grade Report Card

A track like Farm Animals, a wacky thing that was only ever a drum/vocal screamer kind of thing in the old days with Matt, was one of the earlier things I did on the 880. I'd not yet been introduced to the word but the idea was known from listening to Frank Zappa: xenochronous recording. That is, combining unrelated musical parts done on different recorders at different times and places to achieve another piece of music. I had some drum bits that I'd recorded one day at one of the parking garages and had imported to the 880. Then, one day in late November 1997 and in a totally separate recording, a nice lad who answered my ad for Chapman Stick player came down and played some odd stuff in the name of a soundcheck or just some noodling. I kept recording the stuff then asked him to do some overdubs. It was all odd stuff and had nothing in common with the drums. But after he left, somehow I combined the drums and the various Stick parts, did a bit of copy editing to extend things to suit my lyrics, and then used the 880's absurdly wacky vocal transformer at the same time as I cut the track, the effect being printed as I went. Later on, the Stick player—a guy named Tom Griesgraber—and having only been using it for four months, progressed to be one of the leading Stick players, and a major promoter of the instrument, not to mention a peer among the Peter Gabriel/King Crimson players, having done albums and performances with Jerry Marotta, California Guitar Trio, and others. Tom appears in a slightly more serious player's role on 8th Grade Report Card, and again in the goofiest role as the bass player on Missy The Cow. There are a couple other tracks from the era that no one will hear anytime soon.

After getting a feel for the 880, another idea dawned on me. Earlier in 1997 I'd released Hog Heaven, a four-track sourced cassette release with me on nearly all sounds done at my apartment (except for a few odd bits where I used parts of a jam done elsewhere and with other people and either edited it or immersed it in a sea of effects). In those days, I always used digital editing as a way to assemble the final running order and flow. It was influenced by Mike Keneally and Frank Zappa. The thing is, I didn't realize that they were more likely than I to compose their songs with that in mind. So I did my version of it, assembling things that didn't always flow so well, and with studio time at $60 per hour, I could not afford to experiment much. And then a thing like Hog Heaven, which was rich in sonic texture and atmosphere and sound design, lent itself to the process. I did pay one guy to do it but had a hard time liking the result. The recordings were odd enough that I didn't need to feel that I missed my mark with the final collage work. So what I did was to go back to the four track tapes, import them into the 880, where useful, separate the parts that might have been punched into empty spaces on tracks, and other things that would help me control the sound more. I had the eight tracks, more effects, more EQ control, and some ability to re-compose things a bit to help the transitions. I ended up remixing much of the material and then using the 880 to then redo the entire running order with the tracks flowing far more appealingly. I used the opportunity to ditch one track that was filler and to put two others in. Then, once I had the entire thing remixed and playing as an album playing back as desired, I then took it to a new place for mastering. While it's never possible to totally disguise the relatively novice gear and performances, it was by far a nicer thing to hear in the second incarnation. It was also the first project I did that was released as a CD-R product, with all product being recorded at home. The cover art unfortunately was a dismal thing that probably moved four steps back for every step forward in the recorded part. The best part of that fiasco was that on the day I was printing it at Kinko's, a cute girl walked up and asked about it. Her name was Sarah. Oh, but that is a few other blogs' material...

Digital Heaven before Hog Heaven

That period of about a year from the time I got the VS-880, and into the new space at Hog Heaven Studio was the beginning of the magical period. It had its problems though. You see, it was the first computer device I ever had. I had to get my lessons in digital housekeeping the hard way. Did I know what "disk initialize" meant? Did I care? Well, I learned it pretty well when three tracks went to digital heaven in the days or so after Tom Griesgraber recorded our first attempts at Missy the Cow (with his guitar synth playing drums, I think), The Power of Disco (then named according to what I'd called it in 1993, "Disco Fever"), and another song. Well, that hurt. But Tom came down another time and we set about work on new versions or just other things. The 880, loaded only with a 540 megabyte drive, was not too dangerous, but the sting was felt when I lost those tracks. Around that time, I paid a whopping $375 for a new drive that would fit in there and serve my needs to the tune of ... THREE gigabytes! I got a backup drive, a 1.5 GB cartridge SyJet or something. One went bad. Oh, goody. Then I bought another, put the defective one into its box, and took it back to the store for a refund. That worked for the duration of my 880 era work but now does not work, so things on it are essentially lost unless I track down another drive like it. Less lost are the more incremental and hopefully mix ready CD-R session backups that must be brought to the 880 for mixing, and then if I ever wanted to bring them to a contemporary machine, I can play it out two tracks at a time with a MIDI machine synch. If I pick my work carefully, I could see doing it that way, but it's woefully inefficient. That's what I've come to hate about Roland. That was especially so when I got the VS-2480 in 2001 and found all sorts of proprietary issues that led me to sell that and get out of Roland's VS series (except that I still have my 880 and find that my fingers still know where to go pretty intuitively even years later). Anyhow, the 880 was my foray into digital audio, for better or for worse. I loved it until I had some kind of digital issue. Every now and then I found there'd be some corrupted file playback until I optimized the drive (defrag). Funnily, it took getting into actual computer based recording before I realized how good I had it on the VS series, at least in regards to how files were handled. That is to say, I had little control because they were behind the scenes except when it came time to do backups of whole projects.

Modest little room adorned in some goofy pig paraphernalia given to me by folks. Not a lot of gear yet, but it was growing...Hog Heaven, early 1999, with the VS 880 situated dead center

My complaints were generally few. By having a front end that fed mostly complete sounds into the 880, I found that I could use the onboard processing for getting a mix, rather than doing all the heavy tone-shaping. My analog front end evolved to include a nice and smooth Allen and Heath mixer, several channels of DBX or Alesis compression, a Behringer unit that widened my stereo spread and offered that kind of sweetening. I also had some evolving mix of effects processors. I'd mix my sounds (drums for example) on the way into the 880 where I'd almost never record anything but stereo mixes. A bass needing a flanger would be recorded with the effect. A guitar with an echo or lush chorus would get that before being recorded. Upon mixdown, I'd add more effects for the gluing effect, maybe to add stereo effects where the tracked ones had to be in mono to use track space wisely. The returns on the effects could be EQed and dialed in with the stereo widening device. All the high end on reverb would be rolled off on the mixer so the effect was more natural. That would be rolled back into the 880's returns. Listen to a track like Endless Cycle or Threads or Pearls Before the Swine from Receiving, and hear what a rich lush sound I got from my 8-track recorder with gear that anyone could buy from Guitar Center.

The Hog Heaven Sound Rules

When I listened to local recordings from San Diego studios, the ones known for being demo dens and other knock-em-out rooms where garage and clubbing bands would record, my mixes always sounded more cutting, more open, less chunky. I don't know whether it's that I love a good drum sound that isn't damped down with tape and pillows. Or that I spent more time dialing in complementary bass/drum sounds, or that I used a range of instruments that a guitar-slinging alt-rock band won't use. But I was very proud of my sound, all the more remarkable considering the VS-880 was never housed in anything more robust than an apartment room or a converted garage. The fact that Mike Keneally himself released some recordings that were done at Hog Heaven delights me, even though none of that is what I would have delivered if I knew he was going to use them. What still amazes me even today is that on that modest machine, I produced recordings of a kind of depth and completeness that even three subsequent digital platforms (VS-2480, Pro Tools LE, Logic) have not prompted me to learn and develop so fully. Granted, there has been a lot of other issues involved, but it's amazing to listen to the things I did on that "limited" machine, and to know I made stuff that amused me, or recorded for others, even getting an international recording credit.

Man, what button do I press in Logic to have that happen again?

Tuesday
Oct162012

Happy Birthday to Nikki, Chris' Response

Today is my sister's birthday. I'm talking about my younger sister Nikki, who turns 35 today. Yesterday I paid her a visit since one of my stops was almost across the street from her place. No one was home. I left a solitary business card (the one I created for my work with Jubilee Economics), and on the back I scrawled the briefest of notes wishing her a happy birthday. Just about seven hours later or so, my other sister, Chris, ten years my senior, and self-appointed guardian of all things on that side of the family (she's just insistent on being stubbornly unwilling to communicate in a civil manner), wrote the following and I indulged her in what is about the only kind of chatter we engage in anymore. She doesn't seem to understand I've been in touch with other members of the family for just over a year now, and from their perspective, they never agreed to Chris making pronouncements that "no one" wants to talk to me. Chris got caught in a lie here. Watch as she squirms. I wish she'd just calm down and be someone to talk to like in the old days. Somewhere along the line she decided to offload her baggage on me and to scapegoat. And Nikki, never having lived a day in "my life" in San Diego, has hardly a genuine complaint of her own about me. I could only reason she's absorbed the toxicity around her over the years and internalized others' emotions. Anyhow, here's what transpired.

Nikki and Chris blissful without me wishing them happy birthdayNikki and Chris, c. 2011?

Christina Marshall: I dont know how you found out Nikki's address, but it was down right STALKER behavior. I did advise her to contact the authorities 7:22 PM

Me: I wished her a happy birthday. How are you? 7:22 PM

Christina Marshall: You found her address? Which was NEVER given to YOU!! Thats rather odd and creepy 7:24 PM

Me: It was given to me. 7:25 PM

Christina Marshall: Not by her! So whomever gave it to you has NO respect for privacy 7:27 PM

Me: I hope she has a good birthday. 35 if I did my math right? 7:28 PM

Christina Marshall: Your approach is so Bill Lucas. How fucking creepy is that!! WoW 7:37 PM

Me: Approach? You mean stopping to wish a family member a happy birthday? He doesn't do that. Not even for me, and I live in the same town. You think I can afford to drive to HB just to drop a card and get a hostile response from someone else? 7:39 PM

Christina Marshall: Wellll considering that "family" hasnt had contacted you?? Yes it is rather disturbing, to say the least 7:43 PM

Me: I don't know why you bother to concern yourself with this. I didn't address you in the least this morning. I bothered to think of you for your birthday and you wrote "thanks!" back to me. A simple thanks from Nikki would do fine. It is a civilized thing to do. 7:45 PM

Christina Marshall: Dont hold your breath on that! Shes too freaked out by this to even feel over joyed! Im involved because i was told of your stalker behavior 7:50 PM

Me: You're involved because you think you hold the keys to the whole family. You don't. You just enjoy the idea. But others (that you can find out from your own research) have shared info with me and have absolutely and directly refuted words that you've put into their mouths (regarding who doesn't want to be in touch with me). 7:52 PM

Christina Marshall: Hahaha! do you honestly reallly think that this family has you in interest? Think about it? No one is looking for YOU, right? My FAMILY does involve me 7:55 PM

Me: Someone from your branch of the family decided to wish me happy birthday. It was a nice gesture. Actually, two did. Doubly nice. 7:55 PM

Me: Your family involves you, but if you are lying about what they say or don't say, wish or don't wish, you're just lying. And someone you probably love has told me that your efforts to block me were not their ideas whatsoever. So maybe you're concerned but it's not your place to speak for others. 7:58 PM

Christina Marshall: Yeah okay. Goodie goodie 7:58 PM

Christina Marshall: Well that wouldnt be my immediate family! 8:00 PM

Me: It would appear you admit to being caught in a lie. If was planning on being a stalker, I don't suppose I'd hand over my business card with plenty of info. It's hardly sneaking around in the shadows that way. I don't really have anything to hide, see? 8:00 PM

Me: I'll leave it to you to figure out who may be nice enough to keep me in the loop. 8:01 PM

Christina Marshall: Well i know its not my mom, brothers or nikki. And especially my kids! 8:04 PM

Me: Tell me one thing. I was just surprised when you responded to my birthday wish with what sounded like some appreciation. Just wondering. 8:04 PM

Christina Marshall: I honestly do not believe you have contact within my "loop", considering it only consist of my mom, siblings, my kids and grandkids 8:12 PM

Me: Your mind might explode at things you don't know. Wouldn't it be better to relax and just be civil? It's a far nicer life being nice to people. Maybe you could write all your issues down for me on paper. Text is so... impersonal. I mean, you probably don't want me to call you or anything, do you? Even if I have your number now? 8:14 PM

Me: You actually have pretty good handwriting. Better than mine. I can't even read my shopping lists. 8:18 PM

Christina Marshall: LMAO! yeah my issues! Go enjoy your wife and life! Just remember this Ed, if anyone ever had true interests in you, dont you believe they would have contacted 8:21 PM

Me: It happened. Last year. Maybe one day I could tell you about it. It was pretty surprising to me too. We should have lunch sometime. It'd be good to catch up. 8:23 PM

Me: Okay. Gotta go walk the dog. Worked 14 hours today. Tired. Tell Nikki happy birthday, even if you have to not say it's from me. You two are difficult to love but I'll try anyway. Be good. 8:29 PM

Sunday
Oct072012

Life in the Hidden Valley

Eventually, there would be a first time. It never happened in my younger years when these decisions were made for me and never during the years when I could have done so myself (and probably should have, if I were to have listened to my various adult and peer counsel). Most exceptionally, I never did it when it made the most sense and probably would have settled the domestic strife in 2005 associated with getting evicted at my intended long term home. (2005 would have been the chance to move to Kelli's seminary town, Claremont, CA but we stayed in San Diego and she commuted weekly for seven semesters.)

I never moved house to a location outside of San Diego. Until this year, about five months ago.

Now that I have, I'm deep in that worried spot, wondering if it was the right thing to do. The problem isn't so much how far I've moved, but more a matter perhaps of moving not far enough. Y'see, Escondido is just 30 miles from where I was earlier in the year. Same county. Only a half hour and I'm back in my default life in San Diego—all the social networks. Church life for both of us (at different but not distant churches). Job opportunities. Dental, medical, and even pet services that we have not yet decided to change to Escondido area ones. All that stuff was left to be conducted in our hometown while the primary benefit is that since Kelli is the bread (and butter, with her second job) winner, with her office located up here, it made sense finally to accommodate her, unlike in 2005 and the Claremont debacle.

Since 2002 or so, in the wake of 9/11, I've been more gasoline conscious. And of course in 2004-2005 I was particularly concerned with peak oil and the implications it would have in daily life. (My thoughts from that period in particular were the stuff that essentially launched this blog, and those two years have voluminous posts, many about the constellation of topics around peak oil.) Years later now, not so interested in the topic at that level, the fact is, I still make decisions with it in mind. No one really wanted to listen but I have kept watch and monitor my driving pretty strictly much of the time. And that means of course that to live 30 miles away from a life that used to wrap around me in about a four-mile radius demands some judicious planning. With gas prices now at the highest I've ever seen, a simple trip down there and back will cost about $10 or more.

Clearly, the move to be nearer to Kelli's work has been a success, and would be more so if her territory as hospice chaplain didn't drift a time or two since we got here. But barring that, it's still good that she doesn't have to plan to do a daily camping trip, carrying everything she'd need to spend a day in her car, out in the field or at the office. She barely gets to the office anymore, instead doing a lot of work in her room. Phone calls, charting, and other bits that she used to do at the office or in the field are now done before leaving for the day. Nice. It's good to see more of her. On the whole, she tends to get home earlier, but believe it or not, even the shorter distances are troubled with the fact that she has to use the CA-78, which gets to be a nightmare at rush hour. But mostly, the move was good. Her San Diego position is mostly a contingency-based, on call kind of position that only happens four days a month. Some days her job is to call in and wait for further word, and to get paid in the process. Nice. Others are the expected patient visits and pay handsomely. She'd like to quit the job but every couple weeks the paycheck is found to be useful for powering through credit card debt (both of us paid off now) and now a car loan and the ever-present and painful student loans at nearly a grand per month. Keeping a good connection with that second office might be handy if there is a time when she might apply for an internal transfer, and maybe drop the job up here.

As for my part, I get myself in knots about this. I've been trying to build a life up here. Job applications and resumes sent out to places within about a ten mile space. I've been giving more attention to my musical pursuits since departing my post at JEM in August (freeing up vast amounts of time). The city library is nearby so I've dropped in a couple times, even meeting up with their "Library You" program manager, talking about helping their effort to record local folks to help build up a local body of work with video and audio. A couple cash gigs have been gotten in the region (audio book editing, a website, housesitting), and other options might turn up some work: more audio book work, maybe a percussion gig, maybe live audio too. I got close to getting a cheesy gig driving premium cheese to Los Angeles area destinations but I think if I ever get to work for that place, it might be because I was overselling myself and I think the guy realized that it'd be a waste to have me on the road, and instead doing something more creative and supportive. I got a referral from a fellow at church who turned me on to a local jam company, which also needed an LA driver, so I am preparing to start with them next week. Tiny operation. More later...

I've gotten to the local pub and tried to absorb Irish music on guitar (not happening so far) and percussion (all that Jethro Tull and Fairport Convention is starting to pay off), and hope eventually to let that turn into new opportunities. I haven't biked much because for all the time so far, up until the last few days, it has been so damned hot and/or humid. I mostly stay home during the days unless there is reason to go somewhere, and I have to say that I've driven more than I'd like. At night, we're able to walk the dog into town if we want. The pub is just under a mile. I bike over with guitar and some small percussion and maybe Kelli comes by later with Buber Dog and we walk back after a beer. We walk to explore the hood and to get some basics done. It's neat having services nearby. An amazing old school donut shop is all too tempting. We're not totally central in town but it's not far out either. The city is a bit spread out, with newer areas being deployed farther out into the hinterlands. We're essentially in the barrio here, something I anticipated but did not realize would be so true. We're off the main drag in a way that is quiet as regards city traffic, but we're in a neighborhood that tends to be loud: radios, industrial traffic, dogs, chatter en Espanol.

All that noise on my street started a chain reaction that ended with my resignation from JEM, first finding it hard to produce a recording without noise, and without burning up in my office room with closed windows. The last episode I produced featured what amounted to an audio tour of the various noises, and narration of how that was already changing things. I didn't expect my whole volunteer position would be found to be so tenuous after that. Anyhow, during July and August it got very hard to justify the time spent doing that, particularly when I lost my unemployment benefits after a year and a half, and needed to spend more time patching up that damage. The handoff to the others was not without its problems, even as I was tutoring them. The fact is, I held the key to the JEM digital kingdom and it would be hard to hand it over in any way since no one else really had been so acquainted with it all.

The fact of JEM's podcasting and all my volunteer work with them seems to remain that it was successful while I was in the neighborhood near the office. Notice the bookended period: I moved to North Park in October 2009 and announced that I could do volunteer work starting in December. Then the opposite happened once I moved here: got here in May 2012 and was separating three months later after finding the geographic challenge was frustrating, holding so many conversations and tutorials over the web with people who really need to see stuff in person. Recording sessions could be done any of a number of ways but the best way would be up here where it was hot and miserable and it would be hard to get a guest to come up. It just all fell on its face. But for this telling, you need to know that seeing it all evaporate in a month or two was disorienting, especially as the season here was swelling in temperature, and there seemed to be no relief from the heat unless I drove to San Diego or hit the mall or library (the latter two not my usual choices).

The summer was a hell of a time in terms of heat (it would be hotter here by default but I'm convinced now we're getting some stranger weather from world level issues). But it was also a handwringer about the job situation, especially when, in August, that changed and my UI payments came to an end. Feeling that all my time at JEM was still a thing that didn't particularly qualify me to do other work I see listed, I was pretty crushed at the lack of responses to my more computer related queries. Yet I hated the idea of just driving trucks or doing warehouse work. My landlord was nice enough to smile upon my musical pursuits, even drums, but I kept that aside until about a month ago when I set up and wailed with real drumsticks (not whip sticks or rods) for the first time in years. The urge to make music has been growing in me, and something is demanding that attention of me, so I've been spending time each week on guitar, bass, songwriting, a bit of drums, or generally getting some musical knowledge and trying to (gasp!) learn some things I should have learned long ago. Getting to the pub has given me a real carefree opportunity to absorb some material and to meet folks.

But still, the feeling of incompleteness when I consider that there is a life I am missing down in my hometown... It seems Wednesday is a day to pile up several things in San Diego and go see some people. I don't get to church much anymore because for me it was not particularly about the Sunday worship but more about the things during the week, the things that form the community I enjoyed. Not being able to do that with a 15 minute bike ride, or to carpool with a fellow member has been isolating. Kelli and I might head down to San Diego on a Sunday morning, and maybe go to two churches. But since I don't like worship and feel like things are different, it's like going through the motions. Even while at church, I am not in church. I tend to wander off to another room, either to read or to seize the solitary time. That kind of thing was something that took hold especially after returning from my two great desert times in Arizona and New Mexico in 2010 and 2011, respectively. As many churches as there are in Escondido, none are of our denomination (I lie, one is but it's more independent and whacky), and the others nearby are far by my standard. It's easier to just keep getting to San Diego with Kelli, who doesn't want to leave her church. And that's the one I don't want to go to. It's odd. We even drove up to Murrieta to try a small UCC/DOC church there. I'm just not feelin' the church life now.

But the good news is that on the musical front, I've given more time to do some aspect of musical development most days. It's not as aggressive a schedule as I'd like to engage in but it's more than I've done in years. A few Craigslist ad responses have given me a couple more options to explore. I've been able to justify trips to San Diego that include a songwriter Meetup group that I've enjoyed several times this year. I've spent more time with guitar/bass/theory websites and just trying to develop my hands and ears to more quickly acquire new repertoire. It comes rather easier than it used to but man, it's an uphill battle. The big challenge for me, trying to pursue music now, is to realize I'm 39 and can't keep living with the echoes of all the negative voices, all the "reasonable" voices telling me about "music should just be a hobby" and other such limiting talk. It's taken a lot of wrestling to push past that and to start to develop again. I just know that a number of musical experiences in the last couple years have been nudging me in the direction of more music. And yes, I'm glad I still have enough tools to work with and can still jump to another instrument at a moment's notice. I'm looking forward to being able to play drums and hopefully return to recording sometime while I'm here. I'd like to get some work so I could afford lessons on one or two instruments.

I hate to say it but we already talk about whether we should leave this town. If we waited for our lease to expire, we'd go in May or June. Or I suppose we could pay absurd money to break contract. But as long as Kelli anchors it up here with her job, it's hard to justify leaving back to San Diego. For me, seeking a job as I am, I fear getting a job in San Diego. It could be pretty expensive just in commuting costs. There's no way in hell I could get a job that pays as well as hers so if I did get such a job, driving my truck, it would cost more in real terms and as a percentage of my wage to do such a thing as commuting from here to San Diego (central). We moved up here because we'd save five trips a week or more, about about $300 in gas per week. For me to take a job in San Diego while living in Escondido is not too different than Kelli taking a job in Escondido while living in San Diego. But that's not our concern yet. It's just a measure of how crazy things are.

Aside from the economics of it, of course we're feeling cut off from our people. And aside from that too, it's harder to ask people to come up here. All summer, with the heat raging like it has, we've not even entertained having the house warming party for the folks who helped us move up here. (A house cooling party would be better.) My cooking interests have all but dried up since getting here since the kitchen is hot by nature and of course ridiculous with any appliances on. The fans have run continuously until last week when it finally got to feeling like a comfortable day in my hometown. The bills, shared in part with a fellow in the flat behind us, are absurdly expensive in part because we're in a smaller city with a whole other utility scheme, and in part because our co-tenant has AC and we don't. We just got approval from our landlord to put in fans. He's pretty cool and tried earlier in the summer to get fans but it was too late to even find them. He's such a good landlord (unlike the various parties who have taken our money for the last five places we've been in) that we have mixed feelings about letting him accommodate us only to turn around and move before the summer kicks in, just one year after we got here.

All I know is that for the entire summer, I barely left the house on my own except to do job interviews, a few trips to San Diego, and some local spots in the evening. Or when Kelli was going down there, I'd just hitch a ride even if I didn't need to go for anything. Just getting out was good. Being with my wife is good. My room is relatively large and home to a lot of things for me but it's hot and miserable with just those two windows and a door. The patterns of a life lived without willy-nilly use of gasoline are a bit rough at times. I was depressed for much of the summer, particularly after leaving JEM and realizing that there was so much time to fill, either doing a lame job search, or feeling bad from being caught in a mind with many creative urges but a body that is well taxed by the summer heat and humidity, and a soul troubled by so many options. It all conspired to get not much done. The smallest things like doing dishes or laundry or putting things away was taxing. Venturing to the garage (out back in the alley behind the back house, and insanely fucking hot in there) during the day, or even the mailbox, required mental effort and usually didn't get done until evening. There are so many things to do that conflict and vie for my time that I can only go in circles some day. And frankly it's easier to get nothing done. Job search, musical practice, chores, process trip pictures for wall hangings and gifts, do some blogging, get to San Diego, spend time with Kelli, fight with printer, beat back the idiocy with communications companies. The list goes on.

So that's most of what you need to know about our lives in Escondido. After that, it's just details.

Tuesday
Sep112012

The 36 and a Half Dome Tour, Tuesday's Return

A funny thing happened this morning. The first plan to leave for home would be the obvious, which would be to plan to travel about seven hours on the route which brought us to Yosemite. Bo-ring!!! The Central Valley of California is a pretty damned boring place unless you're taking notes on things agriculture related, or counting gas stations and chain restaurants and maybe cracks in the concrete road surface. There's really nothing to see if you're not in the foothills of the Sierras. And by that I mean, there's nothing to see between there and San Diego! So we resolved to get up and take the Tioga road, out the northeast part of the park over to the town of Lee Vining on the shore of Mono Lake, and then to drive down the US-395 all the way to Victorville and then burn it home. To my knowledge, I'd never done the upper half of that, and there was a chunk of 395 that I hadn't done. There was a part between Lone Pine/Manzanar and the CA-178 that Kelli and I had done twice on our Death Valley trips. The second of which was done at night, but hey...

Thinking we'd maybe get up at 8 and make the drive, we didn't anticipate that I'd get up at about 4ish in the morning, walk out to the bathroom for a whizz, and then upon my return and attempt at sleep, realize that maybe we ought to just leave as early as we could, even if that meant that we just make a break for it now. Around 4:30 Kelli stirred. I made the suggestion we just wake up and get out. After some hemming and hawing, we did just that. With nothing but a couple lights to gather our stuff from the bear locker and the tent, we packed up and didn't mess around. Checked out and got on the road by about 5:40. It takes a good 15 minutes to just get out of the valley and to start making the climb out the western side.

The move was a good one. The distance was nominally more than the straight shot down to Fresno and through the valley, but from the get go, in the pre-dawn darkness, this felt mystical and fascinating. The canopy of trees in the valley made for some serious darkness. Typically not living in a place or time that knows real nature and the darkness of the forest, it's easy to see how old myths and stories could be launched, and how the forest commands a place of respect when it's that dark and mysterious.

We got out of the valley just as the day started to break. Winding around the western side of the park and up to the eastbound Tioga Pass road was indeed a thing of wonder. The altitude along that road gets up to 9500' and more. The surrounding low areas were covered in mist. It hadn't been too cold down in the valley, but we found that the car's thermometer read 42 degrees. I just happened to be wearing a T shirt, shorts, and sandals and it was when we got out to gas up and more so as we gained altitude that I noticed it was a wee bit chilly. It prompted me to put on a light coat. Since we hurried out of camp, Kelli didn't get her precious coffee, and even a couple hours later, I was only half way through hearing about it. At one point we turned into another camping area that purported to have a general store. The place was closed up tight but the detour off the main road brought us to a meadow where the icy mists were heavy and low to the ground and again, were one of those stupendously beautiful things to behold. At a few points, we saw deer, even multiples. A time or two, we turned a corner only to find one smack in the middle of the road, at once commanding our attention and reverence. Got a few pictures of the elusive creatures but none so well captured in the camera's eye as our own when all of a sudden there it was, before us.

One notable stop along the Tioga Road was Olmstead Point, a place where one sits at or above the level of Half Dome, now several miles down the valley but a fiercely amazing sight from the opposite side of what one sees while in the valley or at Glacier point. A quarter mile hike gets one to the best viewing location with no obstructions. There is a lot of pronounced glacial history on the rocks that make up the Olmstead lookout. Polished granite surfaces, randomly deposited boulders sitting upon larger boulders and rock formations... The view from the top of the Tenaya valley down into Yosemite valley was mighty. It has to be one of the most beautiful sights I've put eyes upon. We hiked out and got several pictures. All this before about 8:30 in the morning.

The entire road was amazing, and one lovely sight was Tenaya Lake that is just a bit east of Olmstead. We didn't have time to investigate but it was a treat for the eyes. Just a shimmering mountain lake that speaks of all things good and pure. Then onward down the road we got to Toulumne Meadows, also a lovely place that we only paid lip service to (except that here was where we found the coffee that would finally switch Kelli on for the day). I've only been to Yosemite a couple times, but I think that Toulumne Meadows was a place I'd been before. I had a vague memory of a daytrip up there while at one of the old man's motorcycle rally events in the 80s. I recall it being quite cold, even in May, and also high altitude (8600'). Seeing that there are just a few roads up in Yosemite, I guess this was the second time I was there.

It would make sense why that was the end of the line for that day trip back then. I didn't realize that Toulumne was so close to the edge of the park and that the geography changed rather notably in just a few miles. After a last ascent through some lovely areas east of Toulumne, we saw the landscape changing to more jagged surfaces, fewer trees, and a range of other colors. In no time we were at the gate, exiting Yosemite at the Tioga Pass, 9,943' up. Not long after that we were on our way down the hill in a really big way. At one point before the major descent, a newly constructed bridge spans a relatively short distance just alongside the nearly perfectly vertical mountainside that was blasted away. I had never actually seen such a mountainside up close before. I went and got some pictures of the bored out holes where the dynamite was lodged in the rock, and then the rather artistic but stark fractured rock that radiates like abstract spokes from the blast hole. Some gawking at the valley below and a contemplation of the CalTrans plaque that explains the treachery of the entire Tioga Road and we had to see ourselves off.

The road was a glorious one, descending pretty quickly down to Lee Vining, the town that forms the junction point of the Tioga Road and US-395. It's also situated at Mono Lake. We stopped at the visitor center there and did a rather hurried run through the outdoor path. It would have been a mile or so down to the actual coastline to see the tufa formations. We were planning on taking in some extra sights on the way home so everything was going to have to be quick. The morning cool gave way to a rather hot sun at the lower elevation, in the high desert, still at some elevation even after coming down from nearly 10,000'. I had originally hoped to get to Mono Lake to spend a bit more time as a side trip during a full day in Yosemite. I was cautioned against it because of the 90 miles we just drove being something too nice to take in in a hurry. Okay, I see what was meant by that. And then of course, just turning around and doing it in reverse would be too tempting to stop for other pictures under different light. So this time Mono got short schrift in favor of a logical route. I can't quite tell if there was anything else I'd be interested in there, except to take it in the sublime beauty under different light, or to enjoy the funky little town of Lee Vining.

At least at the visitor center we were able to ask if there was any logic in trying to get down to the Devil's Postpile Monument, something that only appeared on the map as we did the early Tioga drive. It looked tempting but it was situated about 25 miles off 395 down some dead end mountain road. Was it worth a couple hours' detour? Uh... not this time, though we left that decision till we actually came up on the turnoff and then declined.

What started as a dark early morning drive from a warm valley into the high and nippy Sierra mountains, with clear skies, and then progressed to a very hot desert at the other side of the mountains became yet one more atmospheric adventure. As we drove south along 395 the clouds amassed at the mountain tops. And then lower elevations. The sky was simply astoundingly beautiful as we passed through the area around Mammoth. At points we got some heavy rain, but then drove out of it just as quickly. This was still part of the trip that neither of us had made before so the whole thing exploded in wonder for us. It would be a hundred miles or so before we got to familiar territory down at Lone Pine.

In the mean time, just making the pass through Bishop or racing past the sign to the White Mountains (where the ancient Bristlecone pine trees stand) caused us sparks of "oohs" and "ahhs" signifying that it might be a place to return to as we chip away at California's varied destinations and points in between. I have enjoyed the hamlets along the 395 in the Owens Valley; they seem like the places that time forgot. They have their mid 20th century charm about them, but are usually in some kind of decay, if not seemingly deserted. Oh, a place like Bishop was loaded up with a rather decent complement of the same names I'd see here but it wasn't as big a town and so it didn't feel oppressively ugly like I find things can get in the city. There's a more or less distinct "in" and "out" of the town—and not too far apart, either.

One rather tiny town, Independence, looked like someplace you'd expect from the movie Brokeback Mountain (situated in Montana). Small town in a big expanse of land and sky. Not a lot of activity, even on a Tuesday at two in the afternoon or so. We were pretty hungry by then and sought out someplace with about as much local color as possible. A place called Jenny's was a restaurant that used the old Freemason hall. If it weren't in eastern California, it could easily by in Iowa. I got a Rueben sandwich. I was actually surprised that the meat was, well, authentic. The fries too were actually made from potatoes too. Hmmm. You know how some of those off-main kinds of places can be, and of course, living in San Diego's foodiest neighborhood for a while started to spoil us. This food was actually worth eating. I mean, it ran rings around the utter garbage that was peddled in the Phoenix SkyHarbor airport Fox Sports Grill.

Next to the Masons' hall was the courthouse, a stately building with columns aspiring to architectural greatness in search of a city to wrap around it. Yes it was on the main drag through town, but there was so little else that commanded attention like that. At least not in a positive way. I strolled down the main road for a few blocks, camera in hand, and found a handful of things. The post office was one of those wimpy attempts at architecture from the mid 20th century. Just enough to get the job done. But it was white with red and blue bands that reinforce the national colors, particularly in a town called Independence. 

I think I was more interested in the derelict side of the town, as made evident by the Pines Cafe, Mair's Market (not sure if I got the name right), and the Foreign Legion hall. Boarded up. Painted over windows and signage. Rotten wood. Spider webs. Trash collecting in doorways. I didn't see any WalMarts, and the nearest one (or anything like it) could only be in Bishop. It's a sad thing to see such a place seemingly gutted of its modest vitality. To see the places boarded up, you can only imagine what the places were like before the mid 90s or when they served the hard working locals and the mountaineering adventurers and other folks who demonstrated the grit it took to live or sport in that landscape in the high desert or into the mountains.

Even smaller than Independence, or even than Lone Pine where we'd stayed before is a tiny place called Olancha. Even calling it a place is rather generous. It's one of those locations where you have to wonder if there is any there there. It's really just a little outcropping at the junction of 395 and CA-190, the gateway to Death Valley. Now there's a claim to fame! Olancha is a place that once served as a piss stop on a motorcycle trip my old man and I made in February 1988. It was on that trip that I had the distinct misfortune of forgetting to pack a toothbrush for the trip. By the end of the three day weekend, my mouth felt awful. I had braces during that period so there was probably even more funkiness going on than I care to remember. Anyhow, that brief piss break following the amazing road out of Death Valley (that 1988 trip being the first time I saw the 190's sights) has lodged itself in my mind. But even in the quarter century since that trek through the area, Olancha seemed even more dead. Maybe it's because the gas station has been closed and boarded up for seemingly most of that time. Still, I got out and took some pictures. Those post-oil kinds of relics just call for my attention.

But by far the tumultuous sky playing over the forested mountains was the thing to remember for this trip home. At various points along the way we got fierce rain for a few feet, and then none, and then some more. The clouds were very impressive as they masked the Sierra mountain tops. It had a very awe inspiring "biblical" kind of look and feel. Since this is just the late summer, it was still rather hot, and the clouds made it rather muggy, not cold and brisk.

Eventually, the Owens Valley gives way to landscape that just isn't as charming, down near the lower end of the Sierras, as one approaches Ridgecrest. We decided that for the adventure, we'd drive the whole length of the 395 down to Victorville where it joins the 15. The timing would be such that it would be the end of the scenic driving and then we'd hit the freeway not too far north of the Cajon Pass. To drive the freeway in the desert is efficient but misses a bunch of local flavor. The deserts are just filled with some of the oddest shit. Only in the past two years have Kelli and I unleashed a latent interest in exploring the state we've called home nearly all our lives (she lived in Florida for seven years and Vermont for a semester). The smaller roads that usually got ignored as seeming too insignificant might still be insignificant, but for once, our trips of late have tried to take in more of them. What have we been missing when we take the same old roads that seem uninteresting at 80 miles per hour? And why do smaller roads seem more interesting even if the speed limit is quite lower?

It is sad to say though that the places that look like smallish cities and towns on a map often turn out to be filled with the dreck we sought to escape. Places that seem off the beaten path are getting a bit harder to find. Show me to the place devoid of Loew's, WalMart, Home Depot, Carl's Jr.; even passing them on the freeway is a soul-sucking experience. Even as we had a pretty good distance of relatively empty desert to cross, when you can't go for even two hours' drive without seeing a piece of what writer and critic James Howard Kunstler calls "the Geography of Nowhere," it's hard not to feel like you've gone so far, only to be surrounded with the stuff you left. In Southern California, most specifically in the San Diego area, it's nearly necessary to get at least 130 miles away to get away from things. If San Diego was the static point in a compass' radial sweep around the region, it becomes evident that one must try to escape the gravitational pull of the oppressive ugliness of our manmade landscape.

And then, there are times when the sheer ugliness of the manmade landscape is part of the fun. The desert affords both the natural beauty and the obscenity of human ambition and wastefulness. With all that space and the fierce climate, there's little incentive to do things to keep things beautiful. No incentive to do much to create order. No incentive to even clean up or tear down old structures. And no real protection against vandals, looters, or others into making mischief. So the landscape is often littered not just with the kinds of junk you'd expect on a roadside: cans and bottles, fast food, occasional busted furniture. Nope, it's just home to old buildings that are caved in. Boarded up. Blown out from amateur explosives or meth production. Who knows. And then, you might have to admit that even the places that are still lived in are pretty much eyesores. 

When we passed through Adelanto, a town closing in on Victorville, we saw the imposing tail fins of commercial aircraft, but it didn't make sense why there'd be an airport out there. Was it military? A boneyard of old decommissioned craft? It turns out, it's neither. But that made it more interesting, if not a bit disturbing. It's a "logistics airport" —a term I'd never heard of. It turns out to be an ultracommercial hub of shipping activity in the age of globalized trade. It's got massive land to spread out upon yet is still fairly close to the greater Los Angeles area, and by extension the entire west coast.

After Victorville's merging of the 395 with the 15 freeway, it was literally and figuratively all downhill from there. Just about two hours more of burning down the 215 and 15 in the twilight and then the dark, and the trip was over. Living in Escondido now means that we're essentially 30 miles closer to any destination up that way. Hardly much to get excited about but a half hour's a half hour. We got back and chatted with Lois, our friend who was nice enough to come to the house and stay to keep Buber Dog company. And now, what do I do with another 700 pictures? Yikes. I still haven't done anything with all the other pictures of the other trips! 

Monday
Sep102012

The 36 and a Half Dome Tour, Monday

Our last full day in the park was to be an excellent day of sightseeing, more or less along one road to the absolutely stellar Glacier Point, a lookout over the valley some 3000 feet below. (It also happened to be Kelli's birthday.)

We hit the road about 9:15. The drive through the valley is lush and beautiful but it gets a bit repetitive since it is essentially a one way loop that one must go around to get anywhere. Even to get on the southbound CA-41 road toward the Glacier Point turnoff, half the loop must be driven, even swinging back around toward the campsite part way, and then peeling off in another direction. And then the 41 is a low speed road, mostly at about 35mph. Yesterday's drive to the Mariposa Grove took about an hour to get those same 35 miles. This turned out to be about the same, but with a left turn involved about half way to Mariposa Grove.

Considering the road was light of traffic and it was a Monday morning when we expected all the families with kids were gone, it seemed for a while that we might not have so many tourists. That was proven wrong at the first hiking stop we made—Sentinel Dome. Not being avid hikers, we didn't really plan to do much more than rubberneck, so we departed the car with too little water and without any real breakfast in us. The hike was about a mile out and supposedly terminated in a fantastic view but with no food either in us or on us, and just a bit of water, we backed out and made our way for the car, deciding to go only about 1/3 of the roundtrip distance.

We headed out on the last stretch of the road and came to the dead end loop at Glacier Point. Okay, if we hadn't found our tourists before, they were all here. Or enough of them were, anyway. It was noon and therefore rather hot too. Not my favorite mix. It's always these gorgeous places that attract the noisiest people, the kids, the swarms of either foreigners or worse, Americans. There are so many who want to get exactly the same photos at the same location, and with every permutation of their family or party in the frame. Okay, we're the same too, but we like to go and be reverent and we speak in modest tones that don't call attention and just fill the air with noise.

Being among the last days of summer proper, it was pretty hot by the time we were there. The concessions stand was pretty welcoming after we saw people milling around with ice cream bars in their mouths. We surely tracked that place down and had one before going into the scenic areas. The shaded area outside the store was welcome but taken mostly. Still, it was a nice respite from being in the sun before we went out and did our own gawking at the scenic points.

There are two parts of Glacier point, and both tell close to the same story, but one part, a bit south and east of the more commercial part, feels more like it's tied to earth. Both feature the most kick ass views of Half Dome from a level nearly equivalent to Half Dome's 8000' elevation. We were at about 7200' and while that doesn't seem like much, the fact that there is a valley floor that is as low as 3000' below is pretty damned remarkable. We're talking about a straight drop. Sick!

If I had a serious camera and was prepared to really make the best possible shots, these places would hold even more appeal. And of course, if there were either fewer tourists or at least the silent and reverent ones I wish for, then it would make the experience even nicer still if all there was to do was to sit and take it in. But as such they aren't and I haven't so I do the best I can with either my tripod, getting some pictures of Kelli and I together, or for this trip, the a new gadget was employed to get some shots. It's just the upper section of an old tripod I had from years back, shorn of legs, and amounting to an 18" extension of my arm with the camera at the end. It's good enough to get a solo snapshot or some shots of the two of us with the timer enabled. It also is a lot less to carry and of course requires nothing much in setup and positioning. It proved invaluable for shooting while driving down the road, helping to steady shots while going at any speed. Not to mention, when doing road shooting, two hands on the camera rig is a safer bet so nothing drops onto the road, never to be seen again.

Since this was our last full day in the park, we started on our way out of Glacier Point, stopping again at the concessions stand for another couple ice creams and a last look out over the amazing valley network carved by glaciers over eons of time.

On the road back we stopped at Bridalveil Falls for that relatively short hike under the forest canopy. While on that path toward the rather thin-flowing falls, we spotted a climber high up on the sheer cliff face. It was hard to tell if he was moving at all, even in the half hour we were there. Being as hot as it was, it baffled us how someone would want to be in such a spot, seemingly unable to do such a thing as change into or out of a shirt. Oh well, the world's big enough for people of all interests. We got to the uppermost part of the trail where the signs emphatically cautioned not to climb on the slick rocks in the area near the bottom of the falls. They cautioned that serious injury or death is a regular occurrence. The rocks were clearly tough to navigate, not just in their random placement and jagged edges, but in the fact that the smooth surfaces could cause a slip at any moment, even when they were dry. Still, even in our few minutes there, some dumbfuck was trying to impress his girlfriend and without even gaining on the falls, went and proved himself worthy of the Darwin Awards, slipping into a gap and giving himself a good knock, but not getting injured.

Then after Bridalveil came my favorite part of the trip. It was the quietest, most unassuming part. On driving back to the campsite, we stopped at the river like we had on our initial arrival a couple days before. This time it was pretty sparsely attended. By this point, it was time to put the camera down, not fret about getting the clothing a bit wet, and just going in and savoring the river's absolutely mellowing effect. After all the tourists at every other place—and even at this same place a few days earlier—this was what I felt I came for. It started off feeling cold. Even in the summer, it is still mountain runoff and pretty cold that close to the source, but after being immersed in it for a few minutes, it started to feel quite bearable. The afternoon sun was sinking behind trees, and then ultimately behind the towering El Capitan. There were just a few folks around, but all quiet and seemingly in tune with the splendor all around. The water was mostly shallow, but it was welcoming to come up most of the way up my legs, and to let the mountain's bounty flow around me. This was hands down my favorite part so far. I wish there was more than just about a half hour to enjoy it.

This being Kelli's birthday, we got back to the village with our wet feet and pants and got some groceries and a pizza that we took back to the campsite for our final night. We had to be sure to finish off the 1.5 liter bottle of wine before we left, and this was the fine excuse to do so. While at the campsite we found our night's neighbors were a couple of Swiss girls who were touring California and trying to sample a bunch of things in the west. They had some naive ideas of traveling Route 66, and that led to some correction that they'd need to cruise a couple thousand miles one way, and that only a few places could be reached in the few days they had left, and that plenty of the kitchy, nostalgic spots are dribbled all about but not all were that interesting. It got us into some talk about southwestern bucket list destinations. We pitched them Death Valley, having fallen in love with the place on our two trips there. Eventually we retreated to our respective dinners and later on Kelli and I went for our final showers before we would leave the campsite. We got some things packed up and decided to leave some for morning.