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Wednesday
Feb012012

Neil Peart Drives Me Nuts Sometimes

He was godlike to the drummers, particularly of the age close to 16-20. Maybe not so much now, but when I was passing through that age range in the early 90s, Neil Peart, drummer for Rush, was a god among men. Or at least a man among boys. Or a boy among girls. Or something like that. Worshiping at the altar of Neil Peart was a musician's rite of passage (or a drummer's rite of passage anyway). You were no one at high school if you played the drums but had not somehow tackled YYZ, La Villa Strangiato, 2112, Tom Sawyer, and others of their hit songs. By the time I was listening, all that was deemed "classic rock" but Neil's name still loomed large and I still had to be initated in the cult of Peart. 

1990-91?When I was just getting caught up in the cult of Peart-son-ality, I had three posters on my wall, all featuring Neil's kits from a few tours in the mid 80s. My friend Shelby used to give me absolute hell about that. She was listening to the Beatles, to Michelle Shocked, to other, more minimal and less pretentious stuff. So she was unsparing in her mockery! I laugh now, but it was a bit of a test hearing that from her since not too long before, she seemed to be the one who let me be me when no one else did. Years later, when she wanted to get a good jab in, she could just mention Neil Peart and the posters. With friends like that...

Neil is a consumate practitioner of every damned thing he does. Drumming? He's stupendously meticulous in his preparation and execution. Prose writing? He's extremely well read and is able to subtly amuse with wit and an erudite tone that isn't afraid to quote old cartoons if needed. Lyric writing? He's masterfully keen at turning big concepts into concise and vivid mini-movies or documentaries or epics. More recently I've read his stuff that suggests his passion for motorcycling has also been one of impeccable preparation and presence, and even he astounded himself at his newfound love of cooking. All well and fine. He meets every challenge with conviction. 

About a decade and a half ago, his life got turned upside down when his only daughter was killed in a car wreck at the age of 19, and his wife died of cancer less than a year later. Whoever this could happen to surely knows the feeling of woe and every conflicting feeling under the sun. No one deserves such a thing, and hardly anyone could know what to do in the face of a dual tragedy like that. For Neil, he basically did a Forrest Gump-by-BMW motorcycle tour of all of North America. He rode 55,000 miles to do all he could do to process the grief. He was ready to quit Rush, the only band he was ever really known for. About a decade ago I read his autobiographical account of that era, Ghost Rider. I liked it—in part.

What irks me is his dogged and just about childish athiestic/secular humanist streak. It made sense in the old days when the band was needing to pump up on Ayn Rand and other free-mind kinds of lit and philosophy, just so they could soldier on against some fierce rejections. It helped them bond and create their world, their thing to look after. Okay, that shit works when you're less than 30. Now he's 60 and there's still some jabs in his writings that just seem juvenile now. Sometimes I think he seems like a real uptight character, at least visually speaking. Maybe it's the stick up his ass when it comes to this topic. It's as if he's promised himself he's not going to breathe until God is ushered out of his life.

In the realm of male sprituality where I find myself able to interpret and learn from and integrate the harsh and painful things in life, there is plenty of language of descent, into helplessness, into darkness. It isn't so that one stays there; it's so one owns it as part of a complete life and its power to shape a man for better or for worse. In this world of looking at male spirituality there is more talk about archetypes and mythology that help narrate the path in life. Even something as venerable and great as Christianity still has the archetypes as its basis, and the story of all the biblical figures draw on those archetypes to greater or lesser extent. The story about Jesus has a good deal of that, and the story (mythology) narrates how one must live a human life. It's a great story. Not the only one out there, but a great one that obviously has some power, else who would now be living within it, calling themselves a Christian?

Neil loves to avoid goopy sentimentality. The first thing that even resembled a love song within Rush's canon was done in 1991, a good decade and a half after he joined. And it wasn't even mushy. A bit mystical, maybe. It still smacked of an incredulity about such ideas as fate and coincidence. On the next album in 1993 he tried a bit more, but again it was at arm's length. While he seems to be able to quote just about anything that has ever been written, he's rather hard on the "Judeo-Christian sky god" (something he said in a recent post on his site). That's a rather narrow understanding of God, even for practicing Jews and Christians. The whole "old man in the sky" thing is not really language that holds too well these days. Theology is far more advanced than that. I would think he's maybe read something along those lines. Whatever God image he was raised with in the 50s surely has been supplanted since then.

But the hitch here is that Neil, while being a bit cagey about his private life (he did write the song Limelight, after all—a song about the boundaries the band needed to erect to stay sane after they finally hit the big time), has been increasingly open. It's been refreshing for the most part to see the humanity of this man who was known for his machine-perfect and quite powerful drumming style and his keen lyrics that could take on any of a number of topics. He has lived an interesting life, not just because he's a famous rock star, but because he's well traveled, super literate, has had some utterly tragic times, and perhaps best of all, has been renewed with a remarriage, a new passion for playing drums, a new baby, learning to cook, even more extensive travels up and down and across all the backroads of North America and beyond, and all that. He won't say it, but that's death and resurrection there. That's being swallowed by the great fish, kept in darkness for some time, and being coughed up on a different shore with renewed purpose. Whether he wants to admit it or not, but that is quite what the Christian path is. But moreso, the Christian path is the human path. Jesus just happened to be the first teacher in the tradition. 

Neil himself makes nods to spiritual language. It isn't fluffy language. But it shows he's not treating these parts of his life as pedestrian events. But he goes out of his way to not let them be described in terms that smack of traditional expressions of the spiritual paths known to the Western world. I sort of just want to smack him some for just being so damned difficult. But at the same time, I wish I could head out for a ride with him too. Never mind the drums or the band or the lyrics. I'd like the chance to trade stories about family loss. Or to bask in nature. Or to shoot the shit about why lower/appropriate technology is better. Maybe I could learn something about cooking from him. One of the biggest breakthroughs I've read of his was when he was processing why certain folks he knew (Alex in the band among them) would cook a huge meal for the band or family and friends. Careful Neil! —you used the "L word"! Love. He wrote about how it was just apparent that they felt (and he did too when he went along the same path) the love flowing when cooking for others, when supporting other humans at such a fundamental level. He wrote that the first times he had to cook was for his wife, when he was the caretaker in that time before she died. So much for Ayn Rand objectivism, eh? (Reading that charming, domestic story reminded me of a decade ago when Kelli's accident started to draw me in a similar direction of needing to take care of someone for the first time.)

But in more religious terms, that was God remolding him. Preparing him for another life that he neither wanted nor saw coming. It isn't that his wife deserved to die. No such thing. But another life awaited Neil, you might reason. One that perhaps was built on other things. One that might put the challenge to all the shit in his head, and that might drive him to a place of living from his heart. It happens in life. But as I read his post-crisis material, it's apparent he's reborn. He gushes about his new wife (as of 2000 or so), his baby daughter, his love for nature and travel, cooking, friends, and all this other stuff that shows a lot more passion and soul than anything prior to his "conversion." It's clear he's been remade into something that is more alive. Good for him. Now could he just shut up about some of the inane anti-religious type stuff? It's not like anyone's asking him to become a bible thumping Evangelical. Just fess up that you're living the life that the sages and prophets have talked about, eh Neil

In some ways, even without the overtly religious language, Neil's life has some of the makings of a great religious story of life, death, and resurrection into something greater than what came before. Read the Bible and there are plenty of stories of ordinary people who became extraordinary when their former "false" selves were taken down a notch, and they were refashioned into something else by something outside their own power and resources, outside of their own ability to self-design. It's in losing control that all the great stuff happens. And since people don't do that willingly, sometimes it seems the ante is upped and one's hands get pried off the controls. It never seems a good thing going in. It's mysterious. It comes in the form of painful disappointment, humiliation, and tragedy. In Richard Rohr's literature, you might read that about the age of 30 these types of things happen. It did for me. Or, it's like Parker Palmer's example where God is a quiet figure following you on the street, trying to get your attention by whispering your name, then tossing pebbles at you, then shouting, then throwing rocks, and then finally bludgeoning you if you don't turn around. Some people come willingly at the tug to a new life. Others not so willingly. What does it take to get one's attention? Job loss? Relationship failure? Death? 

It's not my place to say Neil deserved any of that because no one does. The problem, if there was any at all, isn't that he's a perfectionist. But maybe he's a perfectionist for reasons that don't really matter. Maybe there is a purpose for his perfectionism, and it is to serve others somehow, and more joyfully? Who knows? But one can never estimate what is ahead. One could only look back at these transforming experiences and reflect on what new insights turn up, and how one gets drawn deeper and deeper into life. The value of the spiritual mythologies and their associated archetypes is to help people know that their struggle is not theirs alone; that it's all been done, and the great teachers have mapped the way in broad terms. They've also shown how the universal pattern is death and rebirth into new life, and the wise human doesn't fight it, but lets that endless flow go to work in life. 

Anyway, it's good to read his post-tragedy stuff, and whatever he might say, it's filled with more spirit and life passion than I remember from before. More like he's in the drama rather than observing it.

Sunday
Jan152012

Get Thee to Church +10

I have to admit to feeling a bit overwhelmed as I embark upon some attempt to put down some thoughts on so many anniversary dates that are rolling around and evoking memories of 5-, 10-, and more such yearly intervals. One I'd be remiss to not reflect upon is my return to church life this time ten years ago. After a decade or so of nearly perfect non-attendance, all that reversed itself in the same weeks as it became apparent Kelli and I were finding ourselves a couple. It was a magical time, whether or not I believed in the magic in which I was immersed.

Continuing from the posts preceding this, after the New Year's events that brought Kelli and I into a relationship, it was barely a week into all that when I decided to head to church with her, and to show my face at a worship service for the first time since I don't know when. That is, if you exclude my quite regular attendance at Christmas, a service that I recall making an attempt to get to even during that otherwise distant period. Aside from that, for those years I just don't think I got to church except for attending my grandmother's memorial in June of 2001.

You see, for a long time I used to tell myself that there was no church but CCCPB, where I was essentially born and raised, and where I had some good experiences during my teen years. It would be wrong to characterize myself as a nice church boy, except maybe in my teen years, especially during a bright spell in 1988-1990. That my grandmother Virginia was a founding member might carry some weight, but I wasn't making such a claim because of that. I had a few other church experiences and never liked them much. I got in trouble or was just a distraction at other churches that the old man and Eda took me to in the late 70s/early 80s as Eda in particular was feeling a call in life to get some religion and therefore was experimenting with all sorts of stuff. CCCPB was at least a place I was linked to in a deep enough way to feel it was somewhat an extension of the family. Not so at a scattered bunch of other churches and services at whatever other congregations—Church of Christ, megachurch stuff, other things that now give me the creeps in their conservative and other aspects that can be offputting if you don't totally buy into it all. Usually, all the roads led back to CCCPB.

High School Era

In other journals I've told of my pastor Jerry Lawritson, who, even by the time I'd entered high school had turned my life around for the better. He and his associate pastor Judy Slaughter were my best advocates for me during my teens, particularly when I was there in church, affording them a chance to play such roles in my life. They both arrived on the scene in 1985-86 and so were among the first adults I trusted in those middle and high school years. My motives for getting to church were rather flimsy for a while. I was never a believer. While my grandmother Virginia was molding me to be pious, I never really subscribed to miracles and resurrection and all that. It was all fantasy stuff because, as these things go, it's not true until you live it. My cynical streak was already alive and well. For various reasons I went to church, but not to really get with God. Maybe I went to the summer vacation bible school for a week, but was fickle about going at other times. Maybe there was a special gathering, or maybe I just felt like going one week and not the other. I was a regular at summer picnics on the bay every Wednesday, but I tended to talk to adults and try to get into their world. I wasn't too deeply into my peer group; I didn't go to school with them for geographical reasons. Even at CCCPB I got into some trouble, being rather careless and a bit of a go-it-alone soul. But it was the church that persisted for me, and with Jerry and Judy's advocacy and their creation of cirriculum to support people of my age (most specifically the Shalom Group), I was shaped into something better than I started with. Despite her general agnostic and often antagonistic manner, I met Shelby Duncan in the midst of this period. I can't lie that in the very end of 1988 and for several weeks into 1989, my main motivation to get to church was to be around her. In those early days, seeing her on Christmas Day in 1988, or for a few weeks afterward was as much an encounter as I ever had with an angel, or as much as I knew about salvation. Of course, as loyal TAPKAE.com readers know, that all changed!

And then in August 1990, some young girl named Kelli came to the church with her mom Kay and started in on all sorts of church life like they had been there all along. Kelli was only 14 then but had an old soul to her, and even though she had been gone for seven years in Florida, she knew people at church from before that when she and mama Kay were there in Kelli's earliest years. Kay reported that she was my Sunday school teacher back then. I didn't remember such a thing, but they both joined in on the church life and since Kelli was not particularly part of the familiar faces in the youth group, I took to her a bit more, and with less prejudice. She had an outgoing manner about her, and was pretty intense for that age. And she was willing to talk to me after I professed a love for Jethro Tull—something so notable it was worthy of telling at our wedding as part of the back story. Our church musical cliques were pretty much divided along the lines of the two major radio stations playing classic cock rock or alternative rock. KGB played the former and 91X the latter. It seemed never the twain would meet. Most of the church kids were listening to 91X and could be found gathering around the Cure, Depeche Mode, Morrisey, et al. When Kelli arrived and was talking about Bob Dylan, CSNY, and other old acts, I felt safe to talk Tull with her. During our time in the Shalom Group (a covenantal, highly personal small group mostly comprised of high school age group with some adults including Jerry and Judy), Kelli and I got to know each other at some level. It paved the way for our later conversations outside of church during the dark and silent years during the 90s.

I had an intense spell of church life from late June 1989 and into early 1991. I took part in all the activities I could, given my school schedule and age. I was consulted during the summer of 1989 about what I thought could be done for those of us in high school. Those ideas helped shape the Shalom Group. I went to Jerry's class on Martin Buber and pretended to understand it. More than anything it was a chance to be among seemingly responsible adults who egged me on in positive ways. I was the first 16 year old deacon, probably because of some shared effort to help me move toward a place of responsibility and investment in the community. The Deacons there are the body that take responsibility for the spiritual care there, usually visiting people and making calls and otherwise supplying the spiritual needs of the congregation. I was honored and took on the role but left the board after about eight months when I returned to school for my senior year, but also as I was facing my first experience with depression and the confusion that goes with that. The Shalom Group was founded to aid in navigating the Scylla and Charibdys of that age, and in there I would have opened up in the way I thought I could, as did the others. Maybe I sold myself short, but compared to others' stories, I felt like I was living a tame life, so maybe I missed the chance to really let the group do its magic. My mounting depression during the summer of 1990 was something that went under-reported. So it was years later in 2003 when I smiled my way through painful weeks, trying to look the part of being well adjusted and happy while at church. Church is supposed to make people happy, isn't it?

In the earlier days, I never much liked being in church worship service. Being a teen, we had our Sunday school group prior to the service, so we were in the sanctuary with the rest of the folks. But we usually sat in our little row, together. I was sort of in the null space between two worlds for much of that time. I neither identified with my peers (I fancied them more hip than I) nor did I really understand the nature of the worship service. Jerry's sermons would challenge people three times my age and more, so I was doomed as a teen. What did I know about his favorite topics and personalities? I was far, far, from learning anything about (and certainly absorbing) Wiesel, Heschel, Tillich, Bonhoeffer, Buber, Einstein, and others who for him embodied the resisting power of the gospel in that century. All along, Jerry was pointing the way at a cross section of figures who brought a human image into the most inhumane circumstances of the 19th/20th centuries. His sermons were unabashedly challenging. Still are. I knew he was different. But I didn't appreciate that from his sermons, or his special event lectures he'd do once a year. I sort of tolerated being in worship but I loved being a student at his side. I'd be seen to lurk near him to sort of absorb whatever I could of what he said, or more selfishly, any praise he'd heap upon me. In some ways he was father like to me in ways my old man never could be, and as my 2003 experience at Halcyon showed, to accomplish that, he had to put my old man in his place directly sometimes. Jerry went to bat for me a lot of times. I never forgot that.

Cracks in the Wall: 1991-92

In early 1991 though I was fading. I was quite enjoying my senior year at school. In fact, it was the only year I actually enjoyed. So I dared to live in that world instead of church. I was getting to know my German classmate Stephan Rau. Despite going to Madison, he lived some miles away, and so during that 1990-91 period, our best shot at spending time together outside of school was over the weekends. In early 1991, feeling a call to some new adventure and feeling like time was a-wastin', I opted for hanging out with him for much of the remainder of the school year. The resulting distance from church got a little testy for me. I started to see it more objectively after that intense year and a half period and got more touchy and contrarian at anything on the weeks I did visit, even when I didn't need to be. But after graduation Steve left and it was back to regular life during the summer. Upon my return to school, this time at Mesa College, I found myself relenting and falling back into church life somewhat. It never felt so important to me as it did in 11th grade but I soldiered on for a while. Eventually I let my work life at Subway get in the way. The late Saturday nights and the early Sunday mornings clashed long enough to break down whatever drive I did have to participate in church life. In March 1992, Judy had a party upon her departure to serve another church and after that, it was never the same and I didn't make it a priority to get to church. I do recall meeting with Jerry in the period surrounding the Subway crisis in the spring, seeking some counsel. Starting up a relationship with Melissa in the middle of that year, and getting to Europe for the summer was more stuff to keep me at a distance. Finally, I don't think I had anything going on at church after early 1993. But the future was laid out for me when, during the breakup phase with Melissa, I called upon Jerry for some perspective, and around the same time I was talking to Kelli like we were old friends even by then. Church life was done.

Time off for Bad Behavior

The intervening years were dotted with Kelli encounters that sometimes kept me in touch with what was going on. I was rather stunned to hear a couple of key families—Calabrese and Prince—had both divorced during the 90s. Both were key parts of what made church seem thriving for so long. Kids from each family were Kelli's best friends and our peers in Shalom. One friend got into some trouble with some cult. Daniel was selling drugs and eventually was murdered in 2001. (I had told Kelli about a chance run in with him as I was selling my CD in 1998. He paid me all I asked but I reported to her that he whipped out an astounding wad of cash to pay me my $10.) Kelli's tales were titillating. I must have told her about dark times, and she told me of hers too. Considering we weren't exactly first-call friends for daily life, we were ready to pick up and be quite available to each other after some prolonged spells. We worked on a recording in 1998-99. She was gone for a couple years to school in Oakland. I got way depressed a time or two because of girls or family life. Life happened. Even though she reported to me something about the dark side of church, I was intrigued but not dissuaded from eventually getting back there...someday.

2001

Then, as I've reported many times here, when she returned in 2001, we got closer during a period when life's challenge was mounting. Sister Chris reported molestation. Grandma Virginia died. Daniel's murder hit both Kelli and I but was particularly jarring for her; Daniel was like a brother to her in a lot of ways. September 11 happened and changed how I saw the world. I helped Kelli move house. Parties involved alcohol. Family disaster. Holidays. The pace was picking up and moving us closer together. Life's pathos was becoming more overwhelming for me, while after those couple college years at Mills, Kelli was also morphing too. Having attended Christmas service just a week before our big date on January 1, followed by a warm and inviting party afterward at Cheryl's house (one of the divorcees mentioned above), I felt like the church family was where I needed to be. (It didn't hurt to discover that the former organist, Connie, was mother of a drummer I had worked with during the dark years and had come to like: Cliff Almond.) You gotta understand that CCCPB, being a more liberal church, was a place that was inclined to like their wine. Kelli has held them to task on other occasions when that was inappropriate (around the kids at official engagements), but the adults? Oh, watch out! Anyhow, that party helped me feel comfortable again as I was reminded of a chemistry and conviviality that I was sorely lacking and was never able to find elsewhere. (As long as elsewhere was in my world of audio jobs and a social circle that basically had a 50% overlap with many of the people I worked around.) That there was some wine flowing wasn't cause for concern. It made the place more real. Being in Jerry's universe again held promise.

Return of the Prodigal Son, Return of Wonder

So just a couple weeks after that Christmas Eve party, I went to church with Kelli. I don't recall making any big pronouncement in advance, not even to Kelli. I was testing the waters. It was a sunny day. I was welcomed. People asked how I was. They missed me. In a lot of ways it seemed like I finally reached the oasis after years of going it alone in the desert. After five years of being without a partner, and perhaps nine or ten years of being out of church, that life was getting old. And then, almost at once, both of those were reversed in almost a single gesture. After family breakdown, death, and growing existential angst, it was time for answers to come from beyond my own mind. A year after Shelby was driven from the scene, I was feeling like if I went to church, I wouldn't need to hear her agnostic and doubting voice like I did back in the early days. Seeing a return to church as some admission it was time to grow up, I was beginning to entertain how I'd contribute in my way. Of course, it concerned how I might install a sound system. But that was far off. Reconnection was the order of the day. I also felt that maybe after some time I might finally understand something about Jerry's preaching!

In those early weeks and months, Kelli and I probably were fooling no one as we both arrived around the same time, and both with equally wet hair, but for a while we were not yet able to admit that we were a couple, if we knew it ourselves! Still, there was something so right feeling, so proper about how this was unfolding. I had a feeling that I was floating above life, as if in a dream. This went on for much of 2002, it seemed. It seemed too good to be true. Yet, it wasn't that we were all romantic, doing that dating stuff that you'd do if you had just met. We had already established a rootedness from all those years of church and friendship that followed. It was definitely fate-filled. It had some kind of pre-ordained feeling about it. Life was just developing organically, it seemed.

I went to church the next week. After that, we drove down to the tidepools in Point Loma. I'd never been there. This was all new to me. It was most likely January 13th—still very much a winter day, but it was a Santa Ana day here where it is warm, sunny, and clear as the desert air is basically swept backward over to the ocean. The sun was low in the clear sky (barring only the layer of smog that settles near sea level in a brown coat during a Santa Ana). The clouds were thin and wispy. The water was exciting as it crashed the cliffs at the boundary between the terrestrial world and the world of Neptune. There was a feeling of newness. It was like I had new eyes to see the world. And it was beautiful again. Kelli might be a pretty serious student or activist or now clergy person, but don't be fooled! She has a goofy, childlike streak in her too, and frankly it's infectious. She is in touch with a joy that I remembered was that of childhood. And it was already dawning on me in those first couple weeks that the part of me that had forgotten about that kind of wonder and joy was only in a freeze. It wasn't lost forever. It was ready to come back, and as we were looking at the tidepools, it was an apophatic spiritual experience to sense that I could reconnect with that part of me that seemed so lost. That realization stifled words and demanded my presence. Maybe this is why Kelli and I almost never trade letters to each other. I did try to write letter to Kelli in the early years. It was rarely doable in the same way that one can't catch lightning in a bottle. When people sort through all my stuff, don't look for letters addressed to Kelli. So far, there are hardly a few that exist.

Fitting in: 2002-2007

Returning to church that January was the start of a nearly unbroken period of church attendance for just over five years at CCCPB. Right away I realized it was not the same place. We weren't the kids anymore. Our peers were gone and visited only when in town. A couple key families were gone, or after divorces, there was just one partner still regularly attending. A few activities from the old days remained, but it was different as everyone was ten years older and for the most part, there weren't too many new faces. The congregation was smaller by a noticable number. Sure, it wasn't going to be the same. I did meet up with a couple folks who were new and found that it was easier to relate to them as a young adult rather than as a teen. A couple of them are still guests at our house today. For all the rest of the time I stayed there until five years ago, I felt that that dynamic was at work. I felt like I was somehow in my grandmother's shadow. Or that I'd always be the teen kid there. I did make effort to contribute my time primarily. The biggest time donation was recording the audio every week, starting around Thanksgiving 2002. It kept me coming all the time, and listening. And since I found that Jerry was far more understandable now that I was an adult who was hungry, hungry, and hungry again, it was never really work to get to church to hear him and record him. I rebuilt the church website twice (that was testy because the woman who did the work before had some big insecurity issues). I aided the sound system's design and installation, and ran it for six months before it and all the other "work" drove me nuts, as I was shifting into a place where I needed to establish personal relations at church, not be doing unpaid technical and media work. But for about four and a half of the five years I was there, it was a good place for me. I never seemed to connect with it like when I was a teen, but it did give Kelli a new family to interact with together. Of course, that was highlighted at our wedding, as we tied the knot, perhaps the first couple of our sort there.

I came back to church only willing to roll with the questions. I knew the world got to be far more challenging a place in September 2001. But my world was already overwhelming. It's not like I got there and ran up to the altar and prostrated myself. No. I'm not so expressive. But returning made the way safe to plug away at the big issues. It gave me a lens for seeing things anew. I was introduced to the people and the stories that spoke to my situation. Jerry was a personal hero a few times over, but particularly during my Halcyon stay and for a couple years following that when he directly helped me get to ongoing therapy. Such was his personal commitment. During that period, instead of working according to my faulty plan of suicide, where he would be the pastor to say a few words over me before a final rest, he was the pastor who presided at my wedding not quite a year after that, and who knew in a very real way what a victory that was. All the more victorious that I'd marry a nice church girl who he'd also participated in forming at so many levels, and who he has since seen to ordination at that same altar.

Bittersweet Realizations

I used to say that CCCPB was the only church for me. Not so. It might be more right to say that it was right for me to land back there. For years I avoided any church the best I could. Most of my encounters with church were doing sound for slick, high budget megachurches or other evangelical groups that rubbed me the wrong way with their theology and smarm (and still do). I was unable to understand religion. It was all jibberish. At least I didn't let those more conservative churches provide the interpretations about all this. I held out until I was able to return to CCCPB where I could finally learn at least the academic parts in a more responsible manner with interpreters that helped bring out the messages not of condemnation but of liberation. My church at CCCPB was a community—dysfunctional as Kelli reported, and more so as I spent my time there—but one that I could relate to. And one where at least a couple people were true allies. The theology is bold and daring. It's liberating. But it isn't a warm and fuzzy place. Unfortunately, while the congregation has a liberal theology that I totally dig for myriad reasons, there isn't a framework like the Shalom Group to connect people now. I've been gone for five years, and hearing directly from Jerry that such a group would not happen there in 2006 was a deal breaker. That's when it started to feel less a fit. It coincided with the matter of how to recognize my tech/media contributions, and when I got ideas from my newfound friendship with Lee Van Ham, but if I knew there was a community life, or a close encounter group like Shalom, I might have stuck it out longer. For me, that is more important than the details of any theology. Why Jerry was led to tell me there'd be no such group is still a tragic mystery to me. Okay, he knows people at another level. But he knew what it meant to have Shalom Group before. I felt let down. And since, I've seen all sorts of other inexplicable things as I watch from a distance but otherwise know what's going on through Kelli and others. It makes me sad. And sometimes I feel like I abandoned the ship. Maybe I should have been bailing some water too? I don't know. I know I made my contribution of time and felt at the end of it wasn't sure what was accomplished. These days I watch from afar and see how the things I used to contribute are all neglected at best (the audio system is woefully underused, and the recording archive is a shadow of what I kept) and reverted at worst. (The website is dismally bad now compared to what I left behind.) I've been back for some special services, usually related to Kelli preaching or during the period surrounding her ordination. I did get back to CCCPB for Christmas a few weeks ago. The sermon was good, as ever. But the congregation was thin and just a shadow of what it was before. Still, upon going outside for a candlelight singing of Silent Night in the chilly winter air, I did get a bit of emotion as that still to me is an essential part of Christmas, and was so during the dark years. I did get a feeling of it all being good at some level. All good maybe, but not all for me.

After 2007

These days my faith walk is mainly done in the context of Mission Hills UCC, but is shaped in a big way by two other major forces: Jubilee Economics and Richard Rohr's Center for Action and Contemplation. Taken together, they reflect a range of concerns both practical and abstract, with areas of individual work and community life; with a chance to examine a man's place in the cosmos and in the human economy on Earth, but even more so to realize the connection between them. Justice is a thread that runs through all this. I even get to do audio and web work for JEM since that part of me seems to be a persistent and vital part of what I bring to these things. As I think of that early time ten years ago, particularly at the tidepools, it makes sense that a moment like that was a very spiritual one, and one that now I have MHUCC, JEM, and CAC to help me interpret as such, and to see how such times are what life is really all about: seeing and feeling connection at a mystical level. And moreso, each in its own way helps cultivate the soil where such encounters might take place. I didn't sense a lot of that at CCCPB. At least not within official functions and even in worship. There is a lot of good information there, but as Richard Rohr cautions, good religion is about transformation. Still, I can't slight Jerry for introducing me to figures who I have not really even begun to appreciate at a deep level: Gandhi, Bonhoeffer, King; Tillich, Wiesel, Solzhenitsyn, and several others who in Jerry's telling have made real the honest human struggles in our age. It's not that Jerry didn't teach the Bible; he showed how wonder and grace is alive in the world, even in the gulags and the concentration camps—those being the examples of the radical resistance that show the true cost of discipleship for those who would be followers of truth. (I often think he was talking over the heads of the congregation.) 

CCCPB's weak point has been that there isn't a church structure to keep people connected at the level like I now find at MHUCC. In 2006, I desperately needed that. After almost a year out of church in 2007, I needed the community of a good church, just so I could be a human again. Not a favorite son of the congregation. Not a webmaster or audio man. Just a human who was grasping at some big questions of existence. Mission Hills slowly became that for me as I warmed to that congregation. I had to get over my old idea that there was no church for me but CCCPB. In one of those God upsets that life deals to a guy like me with a cocky attitude like that, I found that CCCPB was but a stepping stone to a far richer life in a church setting. When blood family and my first church family were all things I felt I had lost, Mission Hills started me on a road to seeing it another way. It isn't perfect but there are a great many layers to it that help keep things in perspective. I've gotten to know a range of people in different contexts. I've mostly stayed clear of technical involvements. I've concentrated on relationships, which for me is where it's at. In that regard I've been both giver and receiver, both as a pew sitter/small group participant and in some capacity of leadership on the Christian Education commission and as facilitator for the young adults group. While Kelli appears at young adults gatherings, and sometimes at worship and other occasions, she is still rooted to CCCPB and causes me to shake my head at her persistence there. It's family to her. I count Mission Hills as family for me now. Even a couple weeks ago Scott preached on the family of water being stronger than the family of blood. Kelli and I live a somewhat divided church life now. But for her to let me be at MHUCC with an all new setting has been good. I've had a chance to relate to church on my own terms for the first time ever. I'm not going because it's my family's church. And I'm not going because my wife is the pastor. I'm not going for the sake of momentum, or association, or even coercion. I rather like it that way. At MHUCC people are connected. There is information but there is transformation too. It just feels right. It feels right because I am free to go there and be authentic and present far more than I felt able at CCCPB. On days when I hurt, I can say so. On days when I am happy, I might be glowing and ready to just sit down with anyone and trade stories. This is all stuff I wasn't able to do easily at CCCPB. I wasn't that person there. Or I felt like I had to be the guy who finished the recording before talking to people. And then half of them had left. 

The last decade has been quite a transformational one. I was just on the threshold of realizing things had to change back in 2002. At that time, I had no idea that Kelli felt called to ministry. I didn't know she'd go to seminary and get into ministry work, or that I'd read a few books of hers and develop my own parallel knowledge of some of the same things, or that I'd be swept up like I was. In some ways, early 2002 was a birthday. It wasn't just a 28th birthday. In some ways it was a rebirth day. And as you can see, it was just one of a chain of such times. I've had even more rebirthdays: emerging from Halcyon in September 2003 was one. Wedding day was another. Maybe even getting evicted was another, though it was agonizing and prolonged labor. And again I'd say that that devilish December 14, 2006 was one more still. They keep coming. The soul keeps having chances to be reinvented anew; to see the world with new lenses just like that day at the tidepools with Kelli. A decade ago I would have thought it jibberish if someone told me this story. How soon could my doubting Thomas side come up to challenge it all. Yet the cracks in that wall got bigger and bigger until the facade burst and collapsed with the help of a mix of personal and national tragedy, family loss, economic downturn, an old friend morphing into a bride, and the shimmering sun and waves at the tidepools that day. It isn't that God started working in my life that time ten years ago. I just was ready to admit that was the case all along. And that it was easier to fall into the river and go with it than to fight it. In actual water terms, I can't swim to save my life. Not so different in the God river, but then again, in the God river, one doesn't save one's own life.

Sunday
Jan152012

Drummers With Attitudes: the Second Exile +20

In recent months I've told the tale of meeting Matt Zuniga at Subway in late 1991 and finding he had an affinity for drums just as I was being pressured to not play my drums at the house any more. Meeting Matt was one of the oddest shapers of my destiny, for sure. I mean, at that point, I'd not played in any real bands, and the one stage performance on drums to date was with a one-off group from high school, playing Walk This Way. Until Matt and I met, all the rest of my drum activity was at home in my bedroom, where I guess I imagined myself seated at the throne behind Rush or Jethro Tull. Playing material from either band was a staple of my musical diet.

bedroom set up with the stuffy window dressing to try to dampen the soundBedroom set up, c. April 1992. You can see the blankets and towels that tried to reduce the sound to the outside, but it was more effective in making the place stuffy. This is more or less the kit we used, though the rack and the smallest toms were new then.

After the first exile in November, I moved my drums over to his studio apartment where he let me bike over and play, and I let him use my kit in our little exchange of conveniences. I used to impress Matt with my attempts at YYZ or La Villa Strangiato or Tom Sawyer. To egg me on, he'd always try to get me to try to play Natural Science, a driving and particularly challenging Rush track that featured all manner of meter changes. Tull material wasn't so interesting to him though when I let him listen to Stand Up, he liked the harder, more driving stuff that evoked anything close to Black Sabbath's riffing. (Apparently late 60s English minor key rock was acceptable to him, otherwise he was mainly into grindcore and other extreme metal that shocked the living hell out of me then. We really connected over Rush. I recall he'd play Grace Under Pressure and other Rush tapes on his car stereo, at earsplitting levels.) That little arrangement at his apartment came to an end just about this time in January, barely six weeks or so after it started. His studio was upon the garage at his grandmother's place in Clairemont. Being raised up and not very well primed for drum sound pressure levels, it radiated sound over the neighborhood even more than if it were at ground level. So this arrangement, barely negotiated between he and his grandmother, I'm sure, was doomed to fail since she got the brunt of it. I don't know what kind of discussion they had but he told me he couldn't host the drums anymore.

(As an aside, there was one weekend when my old man took his girlfriend on a weekend tour and I had Matt bring the drums back to my house where I could wail in the old fashioned way on familiar turf. Clandestine stuff of teenage rebellion, this!)

I'd used paid rehearsal rooms on a couple of occasions, mostly to know what they were and what to expect. There wasn't much to like about hauling in the drums to set up in a florescent-lit, smelly, carpeted room with other gear in the room, play solo for a couple hours, and then haul out on time, shedding maybe $10/hour to do it all. That was doomed too. Totally uninspiring. And, since I didn't have a car of my own, or even regular access to one, there was really no way I'd go for that. Matt had a car his dad gave him. It would fit the drums just fine. At that time, the kit was just a five piece anyway, so we somehow got an idea to pile things in and go scout out a place to play outside, or under a bridge like we'd heard of others doing. In fact, at that time, I knew of stories of a drummer who set up in Mission Valley but never actually saw anyone doing so for years to come. Armed with some vague idea of there being places remote enough within the city that we could do such a thing, we started locally.

First stop on the evening of the 15th was near the old Balboa Hospital which had closed up and was generally an empty space. We drove there, scouted it out, whacked a snare drum a couple times and decided it was way too close to houses considering the delightfully echoing and boomy space we were in. Onward.

I can't remember if we tried still other places but we did settle on one place that was far enough away from housing, and in a commercial zone, and also just in the shadow of the I-5 freeway. As we entered into Pacific Beach on Garnet, there was an empty driveway that services a self storage place. It was a dingy enough space to play drums at full volume without attracting attention for the most part. There was just the Gold's Gym parking lot, but since we were out there after 9 pm, there wasn't traffic in that lot, but traffic was zooming by on Garnet and Mission Bay Drive. There isn't much to remember about the night itself but for the breakthrough it provided me/us. In fact, a great deal of playing to come during 1992-1993 was to be done outside or in these odd places. This location in Pacific Beach was good for several afternoons or nights for about the next month. The background noise was a welcome mask. For a first place, it gave us a feeling of freedom that even a closed up house could not offer. Of course, it was insecure and in the open, exposed to sun and rain. One night I was down there solo, and since it was winter time, a great rainstorm came and did a number on my plans for the evening. I was out there with no shelter at all. I can't remember how it was worked out but my old man picked me up in his truck and got me home where I had to scramble to dry the drums before any water damage set in.

the drums partially set up at Volt. the escort car is behind the drums, showing our first 'tour bus'A standard day's setup, any time after about late June 1992. Here we're at Volt, a place with AC power and some shelter but not underground. It was an office building we could use over the weekend for a while.

That downpour set me looking for another place with some shelter about it. Apparently I had occasional access to one of my grandparents' cars and I went to my high school one Sunday in February and tried things out there, just between classrooms, and in about the most isolated spot I could find. Not so great. Less than a month into our little exiled drumming life, we happened upon a great remote spot in Mission Valley directly under the CA-163 freeway, right next to the river. That was a hoot. It was easy to see but fenced on that side, and on the entry side there was a rather serpentine path to our spot. Such a spot offered a massive sounding space where the drums sounded godlike, and it was sheltered from weather (a good thing; it rained some of the times we were there), and it also gave us a rather secure location where people could see us but only a couple were curious enough to bother tracking us down.

 drums at the bridge in Mission Valley.Mission Valley, March 8, 1992

It was in this one location, on March 8, 1992 when it's fair to say my real recording era started. Being winter, and often being at night, it made better sense to fight the cold by moving around more than sitting in the car. So we'd be out doing the oddest shit to stave off boredom as the other of us actually drummed. Maybe it was breaking glass. Maybe throwing stuff around. Maybe making faces at traffic. Whatever it was, it was rather dumb, but it's not like we had smart phones to make the time pass while the other was playing Rush or Napalm Death and Black Sabbath. Matt in particular liked to do some odd screaming and to do other shit to annoy me while I was perfecting my from-memory performances of my favorite Tull and Rush tracks. Sometimes he'd come over and double drum or do a randomly placed cymbal crash. The stupider and ruder, the better for his entertainment. Eventually, on that day in March we brought my boombox tape recorder and set to to capture whatever nonsense we were engaged in that day. (I caution you to not set out looking for it. It is pretty damned stupid shit.)

That tape amused me enough that I made a little sleeve for it with the liner notes to explain who played what, and on what track; where we recorded it; and to include some drum catalog clip art for the cover. I called it Stop Playing Those Damned Drums, Vol. 1, named in honor of the protestations my geezer neighbor Ray Merritt used to make while I played at home. We were billed as Drummers With Attitudes. Despite some earlier nonsense that was on tapes that I lovingly crafted into "albums," because this was done with Matt, the first of any "collaborator" who was around long enough to develop any ideas, it was the real start of my recording career. Yep. It was sort of punker than punk (though I was never using such language then, being proudly into prog rock, thankyouverymuch). No guitars or bass. Just drums and the stupidest vocals, and young men being even younger men!

Matt in San Clemente Canyon, June 1992, with the drums appearing in their new wrap, with the new rack that my old man made for us. On the black clamps for the upper toms, there are stickers that spell out D W A.Matt in San Clemente Canyon, June 1992, with the drums appearing in their new wrap, with the new rack that my old man made for us. On the black clamps for the upper toms, there are stickers that spell out D W A.

I'd be fooling you to say Matt was ever really into this. Amused, maybe. But never really a collaborator except in the fact that we'd want to go out and make noise. But what happened was that during 1992, the roles settled in where, over time, as I was intentionally writing stupid lyrics about people with mental and behavioral issues and other songs about farm animals, it tended to be that he "sang" and I drummed. The first "song" we did was an ode to and a trashing of our new Subway owner-operators, a Jewish couple and their kids who really had no interest in being a compliant Subway franchise, and where I was fired a month after they took over. Their acquisition of the store where Matt and I worked was just three days after that first Mission Valley recording was made, so for me, the DWA/Subway/songwriting thing are all of a set, and the flux of events very much shaped things to come as I had more time to play drums after getting fired, and more emotion about their legal action on me (restraining order on trumped up charges). Since I was paid up and ready to fly to Europe in a few months, I didn't worry myself about finding a job before I was to leave. Aside from my classes at school, it was just a matter of doing stupid shit with DWA and refinishing my drumset, which had grown a couple pieces along the way.

During the first half of 1992, I called our little "thing" Drummers With Attitudes. In my universe, the early days of DWA was just our thrashing out whatever drumming and oddness came to mind, and little else. The "song" era of what we were doing was worthy of a different name: Rhythmic Catharsis. I used that name in May 1992 for the final Drummers With Attitudes tape. It also had the image of the stickman drummers that for me was the image of RC. The tape sleeves and a damned goofy and self indulgent "fanzine" for our four "fans," the Rhythmic Catharsette, were far more premeditated and interesting than anything we did on drums! After six weeks in Europe though, the image, the lyrical ideas, the Catharsette, the whole thing had helped me see it more as if it was a band to actually cultivate with some effort. It was in the second half of 1992 when I made more conscious efforts to write lyrics that either of us would try to "sing," and by early 1993, it was basically that Matt vocalized and I hit things. I can't say Matt sang, because he didn't. He was into his extreme metal primarily, but he was also rather goofy too. He also had a sufficient disrespect for my stupid lyrics that he often took out his frustration about the words I handed him in the performance itself. He'd do the oddest stuff. Growls, shrieks, demonic laughing. Maybe he's no Mike Patton, but you might use him as a reference for the odd vocabulary of vocalizations that emanated from Matt's throat.

For a while there, the outdoors playing was what allowed me to keep playing drums on a semi-regular basis, several times a month. Eventually I did get use of the Escort and drove things most of the time, probably because the drum set had grown, and because the grandparents who had made the initial investment in my musical endeavors back in the mid 80s were now able to see this might be one way to pursue any of that. I kept the drums at home once again and it was Matt who joined in, carting things out to the car and then setting up out under whatever bridge or parking garage or warehouse park we could find. The matter of recording started to make more sense, otherwise we ran the risk of being quite aimless in doing all this. Recording kept us accountable to ourselves, and I had no way to know how far I'd take it. We used a boom box. Then another. Then a field recorder I got from Mesa College. It was the first steps on the recording technology treadmill. Hearing ourselves back gave us some idea of how to improve, and after Europe, we didn't really consider what we were doing just as a chance to play drums to the music of our favorite bands. It turned into much more than that.

But we're getting ahead of ourselves here. There is enough to tell many stories about what Matt and I were doing in those years. 

Here I'm emulating the Rhythmic Catharsis stick man logo

Saturday
Jan072012

The Return of Eda +20

My old man and my step mom Eda separated on July 19, 1983. That was the first I knew of anything wrong, and by that time it was so wrong she had already left the house, in favor of staying down the street at a friend's place until other plans could be made. By that time Eda had been in my life since sometime in 1974; most of my nearly ten years on this earth. I called her mom. Even when she left in 1983 I was just over three years away from meeting my own mom for what functionally was the first time in my life. The animosity was not directly between them. I don't know of any time when they actually met. But as the story has come down to me, Eda was feeling threatened by my old man. She isn't a person of deceit nor even of exaggeration and hyperbole, and when she tells me the story, I believe her. And I've heard it a few times and every time it's the same: a threat from my old man that he'd hit her in the mouth so hard that no dentist could fix the damage. As she tells the story, she would quote my grandmother Virginia, a dear friend, who used to tell her "God got [her] out of there just in time."

Eda was 22 years older than my old man. She could have been his own mom if we are to consider age and biology alone. By the time she and my old man got together (they had known of each other for some time before), he was 29 and she was already in her early 50s; she was a menopausal woman who posed no risk for him as he no doubt felt quite upset about the fact he had a child with the "wrong" woman—my mom. Eda was not about to get pregnant, and she liked riding BMW motorcycles. She didn't own property or much of anything. She was mature but still able to enjoy some fun at travel and recreation. And she took to me well enough. Sometime in those early years for me, not knowing any differently (at least consciously speaking), I began calling Eda "mommy." She didn't want to take that for granted. I was not her own. So she reported this development and the old man went with it.

It was all rather a workable arrangement for my old man. He was in and out of jobs in their early years, but he had a house (have you heard about his house, yet? LOL!) In some ways, having greased the appropriate palms in the legal system he had me, he had his BMW-enjoying partner, and he had his house. It must have seemed like a big time in the mid 70s when they got married (Halloween 1977). Just that year he got a real job at Solar Turbines where he worked for 16 years. That was the life I knew him to lead for a lot of years. That was normal to me.

Breakup

Their breakup was rather surprising for me, but it fell into the shadows and was very much something I was sheltered from. Since I was uncontestably under his custody, there was no custody battle this time around. I slept in my bed the same as always. Whatever legal machinations that took place were behind the curtain, I just knew she was gone, and in her place I was given a little white hamster that supposedly was found on the sidewalk near the house. I called him (sorry, this is a very young 1980s suburban child's consciousness speaking) Whitey. He was an albino with beaty red eyes. Somehow this new critter was supposed to be a distraction, and maybe he was. I think I've written that my earliest days in drumming came from lessons that would be just the thing to keep my mind on things other than family matters.

a pencil written letter to the divorce judge that didn't seem to grasp the matter of divorce. I was 10 year old then.A note to the divorce judge, 1984I don't recall much emotion or drama around that time, at least not at home. I wasn't really offered the latest news nor did I seem to go in search of it. It was pretty much a cut and dried thing. Eda was just gone and I suspect I was given enough cause to believe she had left us for no real clear reason. It is hard for me to tell now that in response to her leaving, I attached to my old man in a big way. I guess I couldn't be expected to do otherwise. If there was more to it, I never knew much, and there wasn't the kind of pain and the displays thereof that you might expect from a kid. But you gotta remember, I already knew the loss of one mom. Here went one more. I wonder if I was in some kind of shutdown mode? Was this becoming something I ought to get used to?

I do recall the kids at my new school in fifth grade, with their confidence-eroding taunts that my mom left me because of something I did. Harsh. I do recall some school drama associated with that, as I do recall being in some fights that year. I also had a very cool male teacher named Clayt Wright who used to intervene for me and put those kids in their places. He seemed to understand what was at work for me and he offered some male presence both stern and compassionate.

Mostly Momless

What can be said is that Eda was gone physically from the middle of 1983 until January 6, 1992. But she wasn't totally gone from my life, thanks to a rather clandestine letter writing campaign of hers in the intervening years. I do recall some letters being handed to me from school administrators in the first couple years while I was at Longfellow elementary in 1983-85. I might have them still. I recall one Sunday in February 1986 when on one of our rather ordinary afternoons at Seaport Village on the harbor, I happened upon Eda and gleefully greeted her. It had been about two and a half years since I'd seen her. I did something maybe I shouldn't have and ran to announce her to my old man. I guess somehow I didn't realize what mixed feelings would be present. To me, it was just a matter of seeing my mom again. But the old man went over to her, banished me to one of the shops and gave her some kind of "get lost and don't talk to Ed anymore" kind of talk. After that, there were maybe two years before I got in touch with her nephew, Eddie. I always fancied him a cousin and he was happy to hear from me but somehow thought that I was tight with the old man. But I was trying to get in touch so I could do what felt I needed to do around that time of the end of the first big period of relations with my birth mother (the 1986-88 period). Reasserting that Eda was my mom was my effort to get back to "normal." Eddie somehow got me in touch with Eda once again, and during that time from about 1988-1991 my pastor Jerry allowed us to use his mailbox as a front. I have a lot of her letters from that era with the postmark and her address cut out, but they're clearly mailed to my pastor's address not too far from my own house.

Eda lived in the interior of Mexico for several years. In the time since her departure she had embraced a Baptist style fundamentalism and had lived with her son Rene in a town where she could do some ministering to alcoholics on the recovery path. When she was here during my childhood, she was not really religious but she was dabbling with more and more new age and alternative paths toward enlightenment. I'm sort of bummed she settled on what she settled on, but hey. All her letters were filled with love and a gushing heart for me. It wasn't hard for me to remember she loved me. There was a kind of warmth that emanated from her letters while she was gone and especially once I was essentially declaring relations with my own mom null and void. In fact, in my senior yearbook, I have a "senior memories" entry that openly declares (in limited characters like txt spk now) "EdaIsMyMum." Eda was indeed the one who should be there in my life. I even offered her an invitation to come to my graduation in 1991. She took it half seriously but decided it was not time yet. Not there. Not then. Not with so much chance to really mix up the event with drama. Okay.

Reunion

Easter sunday 2001 when I last saw Virginia alive. Eda and Rene were there though.Rene, Virginia, Eda, and me, Easter 2001, a week before Virginia diedI turned 18 some months after graduation and I was increasingly anxious for a chance to move beyond just writing to her. Being emancipated from my old man, at least legally speaking, I was chomping at the bit to see her again. I was still rather sure that he'd be opposed, so this was still an underground effort. My journal from February 6, 1992 indicates that I was bracing for a conflict should he find out that I'd been seeing Eda for a month up to that point.

Alright. Epiphany Day, 1992 was the day that finally brought us into the same room. Since my journals were being written and kept in the house where the old man might find them, I have to say I did myself a big disservice by being pretty vague and conciliatory. What I do recall is getting a call either at home or at my grandparents' place and being told to come down about a mile from their house to where Eda's friend Haydie lived. Haydie was a Cuban who I recalled from time before so it was like a reunion just seeing her and her daughter Amanda. I talked for a bit on the phone and then blew on down the hill on my bike to see Eda at long last. I got there in the late afternoon. It was darkening as I stayed there. We talked for some time, I guess. It was an odd experience though. Or as I said in my journal, which records the impressions I got from that first month back in contact:

Meeting with her was odd. Nine years changes us all, and somehow the change mystified me. Sometimes she was entertaining and told old stories that were still effective but other time she talks about which she is profoundly familiar but seems in a trance and glances around distractedly. I didn't speak much partly because she talked a lot, and partly because I had said so much through my letters, and she knew so much about so little that goes on in my life. She was well informed, but you aren't going to be because I'm not going any further. I don't know what direction I'll take with her from here.

Eda and me the saturday before the county was burned to the ground, 2003Eda and me the day before the 2003 wildfires in San Diego CountyThat is how it got back on track for us. In some ways, it was anticlimactic. That first week back in touch my calendar has coded marks that indicate five separate encounters. I guess that means she was staying at Haydie's place where it was rather easy to get to. I also have evidence I didn't even have to work those few weeks in early January, so I had the time to bike down and spend time, or however it went. Maybe we went out with my grandmother, or maybe Eda came up to see us at Quapaw. At any rate, that week ushered in a new era, and in some ways I got my mom back after all those years. In other ways I didn't really recognize her. All her God talk put me off a lot of the time. I'd just have to sort of zone out to get through it. But then sometimes she'd be telling earthy tales and we'd be laughing in hysterics, or wondering about life's mysteries and the weird winding paths we find ourselves on. More or less, this first week was the model for how our visits would unfold in most of the years to the present. Usually I would feel I could meet with her a handful of times each year, because each usually had this pattern and in some of the heavier years of other family drama, she'd indulge me my stories of angst which would often be met with God talk that I wasn't really interested in. After each meeting, she'd write a letter or send a card and some pictures that she invariably had taken; some posed too carefully and some rather embarrassingly candid after a meal at a restaurant. Conversations were meandering as she often made interjections and drew things in different directions or needed more backstory, etc. The times I introduced her to any girl friends (even a couple that weren't my dates, she sometimes made me rather embarrassed when she asked when we were getting married. Okay, typical mom stuff, but I was momless for a lot of years and so this was a bit stranger than if it had been an unbroken relationship.

Up Till Yesterday

This year, I have this Eda story to tell you, in addition to the story of another woman who changed the picture again for me ten years ago now: Kelli. (I just got done telling that one a few posts back.) It is interesting to note that each goes back a long way in my life. Each has been a beacon for me. These days though, Eda and I are rather unable to carry on a conversation for too long like we typically have over the years since 1992. It's been a little over two years since we were in the same place, and it has been testier. It used to be I just tolerated Eda's God talk. Heavenly Father this, God in Heaven that... But since about 2004-05, with our wedding and Kelli's professional advancement, it has gotten harder and harder to talk with Eda. Kelli and I are a bit unconventional you know. When Eda returned to the scene in 1992, she was nearly 70 years old. Now she's nearly 90. And as cousin Eddie has explained to me, she was really close to her mom, a Franco-American woman with a very Old World sensibility about roles for men and women. And if that wasn't enough, Eda has pretty much thoughtlessly adopted patriarchy's trophy bride: a narrow minded reading of Christianity. Having a wife that is educated like Kelli is a bit much; having her schooling come at the expense of "normal" marriage relations and family planning is a bit more concerning to her; being uppity enough to think that women belong in the pulpit? Now that's pushing it. But even since we met up last, Eda probably doesn't know that Kelli was ordained. It's all rather much for Eda.

Don't get me wrong. Eda is still sweet. But she doesn't have a critical mind for religion or politics and certainly Kelli and I have been keen on those things. Eda takes the right wing radio at its word. She laments the dire state of the national scene but doesn't see how her vote for a Republican ticket works to get us there and keep us there. She's into personal salvation and saving people in the standard conservative way; Kelli and I see that salvation is a social thing to work toward, working on the structural matters, and not just at the individual level. But this is all esoteric and nuanced beyond Eda's ability or willingness to grasp. And it isn't just her; the paradigm that is normal to Kelli and me is one that the more conservative churches really love to smear and disregard. But our background is firmly in the prophetic and social gospel tradition.

Similarly, in 2008 when all of California was in an uproar over Prop 8 and the "proper," so-called "biblical" family was a topic that seemed to be on everyone's lips, Eda chimed in thinking I'd be easy bait. She didn't realize I'd be on the "wrong" side of the issue. She rattled off her right wing anti-gay talking points that she adopted but that are really probably not her own. She quoted Genesis and the "Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve" bit. She did all that. I dared her to consider that I had heterosexual parents who couldn't make a marriage work and proceeded to make my life a battleground and left me on the field almost to die. I dared Eda to see that this silly notion of ideal and proper family is stupid and damaging. She hung up the phone after the discussion turned to matters of my reading the "wrong" Bible—anything but the King James Version. That day of her hanging up the phone put us in new territory altogether. I didn't talk to her for many months and even when I did come back around to tell her about how that made me feel, we ended up being at some odds. For a woman who can rattle off bible verses better than Kelli, she is like so many others: woefully unable to know what it all means. Sure, she might be able to recall Acts 2 verbatim, but she doesn't know what those words mean. And she doesn't know when her failure to know that does some hurt to someone sitting at the table with her. She can tell the story of the raging Spirit wind at Pentecost, but she isn't prepared to recognize that that raging, unbridled spirit of God might land upon her dinner guest, her son's wife, who has accepted a call to work for God and God's goals in the world. It's a shame. It's a waste of all that time reading the Bible if it doesn't open one's mind and heart. How can you read that book and come away with a smaller mind and heart? People do.

I am rather mixed of mind about how to go about talking to Eda. I did try to pay her a visit in the summer last year, to no avail. I didn't give her my present house address because I think she might have leaked the one prior to this. She tried to weasel out of coming to our wedding, and it took an emotional plea to get her to come. I have a hard time knowing if she's got my back anymore. She could say she has, but in another sentence she'd be denying Kelli's role as an ordained clergywoman. Or she'd be puzzling over our unconventional marriage roles. Who knows. I just don't feel as close to her as I once did. What I described in 1992 has become a pattern that makes it so that even when I do see her, it's for one day every several months. I have to get in the mood to do a day with Eda. It's all patterned on that kind of thing. At least until this matter with Kelli emerged a few years back. So now it's really nothing. I'm not happy with it. I'm not even happy without it.

I reviewed my last journal from when Eda and I talked in on the phone on September 27, 2009. It pretty much sums up how far things had come. Remember this is a year after the big phone hang up thing with talk about gay marriage and normal families. When this transpired, it was the final straw in the dying family chain of events after December 2006's epic time at the Calabrese Compound, and about a year later having things fall apart with mom once more. Seeing this unravel with Eda was crushing. At this point, essentially anyone once known as family to me was now such an overwhelming challenge to relate to, I had to tell myself they were all dead and gone.

Oh fuck this. I call to find out what this Willy card and email campaign is about and she tells me never to call again and that I am the one who needs help. Fuck that. I'm done with her now. She wants to talk about my not wanting to be a father because I am scared. I don't want to be a politician or a businessman or an astronaut and no one holds it against me. But as soon as I talk about not wanting to be a parent, people turn on me somehow. Call it freedom that the last of these crazy fucking people have fallen from my life.

Today

This came as a bit of a surprise to me, actually. While Kelli and I have periodically made talk about getting back in touch with Eda and chalking up her little -isms to the onset of confusion associated with her age, today was the first that we set a course for her place in La Mesa, took the dog (our other mission was a walk at the lake) and got out there to see her. Certainly on my mind was the 20 year date now upon us. She was still at the same complex but in a new apartment, now living with her son Rene and his partner Penny whom I'd never met. We spent a couple hours reconnecting after over two years. It comes back pretty naturally, but the obvious elephant in the room is the old man, so after we got through the pleasantries, we talked about him for a bit, and frankly why I've been out of that picture for five years. Apparently Eda and Co. have a bit more perspective on things from during those years, but my boundary still stands.

Time with Eda might not be all that much more. She's having problems at last with her hearing and sight, and worse, her ability to walk. As a person who never drove and always kept connected with people in person in the village a couple blocks away, that's going to be a game changer. But living with Rene and Penny will help smooth over the loss somewhat. After living alone for nearly 20 years, this is a new adventure. I want to make clear that I don't like estrangment. I don't like having to do all this divisive stuff. Eda in particular has been far better to me over the years than anyone else but maybe Virginia, and even that could be contested somewhat. So of course it was shocking to get to such a point as 2008-09. After years of her generally accepting my life and decisions but nudging a bit for the God program, those conversations were barbed and turned into black and white matters.

A mixed message I have always gotten from Eda is that she tells me not to live in the past. And yet, ever and always we've drawn a lot of material from it. Even today she had bought out a well kept photo album from my youth, and since she'd not need it anymore, with eyes clouding and all, she gave it to me. It is mostly redundant next to the other albums she made and that I've had all these years, but there were some things I'd not seen in ages. She and I had a overwhelmingly good past that was affected by other players. She and I never had drama to speak of until just a couple years ago, and that seems more like a matter related to my married life seeming quite at odds with the national right wing rhetoric than anything else. But that is the new reality. That is the present. That is what everyone says I should live in. The present includes that I am married to a "nice church girl" who happens to be qualified to preach in the pulpit. The present is that I've found my own way to relate to God and to understand Jesus and all that, but I don't obsess about it being my own salvation project. The present is that I don't want to have kids. It just happens to be the same as my past. But my conviction about it isn't the same as it once was. There are new ideas and insights grafted onto that.

Eda has always been a simple person, really. Advancing age is making her simpler still. I've had enough reunions with people not to think that one conversation puts it all right after some time away. And as she comes closer and closer to her own end, the conversations probably won't be so heavy as ones we've had. The irony is that the safe stuff to talk about is the good old days. The past. The old patterns. I might wonder aloud if she'd really want me to take her advice not to live in the past. Not doing the memory lane stuff would cut out a vast amount of conversational fodder. To discuss the present and who I am and what I stand for now would easily take us into past talk and controversial talk about my views on family, relationship, community, and more. Unless we agree only to talk about pink fluffy things, we're in a patterned relationship. I guess the irony is that in order to avoid our usual business, it helps to have Kelli in the room.

me and eda for the first time in two and a quarter years.

Tuesday
Jan032012

Blogging in 2012

I'm looking at my calendar of 2012 and anticipating that I could blog myself silly this year, if I were only to retrace my steps of either of the years of 2007, 2002, 1997, 1992, and perhaps even 1987. All those years of course are moving back in fives, and as I consider them, they all have some juicy stuff to ponder and to revisit here. Even taking just two of those years is enough to bite off and try to chew; the year 2002 is the opening year of life with Kelli, but 1992—20 years ago now—was filled with various coming-of-age moments that just beg for some consideration now. 

In 2011 I blogged a lot about stuff happening in 1991 and 2001, each of those being years with a lot of pivotal stuff happening. I realize I didn't even write about one major piece of that year: my trip to Europe. I've written around it in other posts, but just about the time I would have written something, or maybe even transcribed my journal of the trip, I was really intimidated at it. My writing from that period, and on that particular trip, was insanely immature and distracted and therefore nearly impossible to imagine presenting here. So it sat and other things got worked on. Scanning and presenting some long-hidden documents that help illustrate some of the stories is very time consuming, but it did enrich the entries in some places. Even scanning choice items is rather labor intensive and really kind of ridiculous considering no one reads this blog anyway, but I've longed for an online scrapbook and now have done a lot to get the whole story out the best I can, considering I don't live in a vacuum.

So what might you see this year as those key years' anniversaries pile up this year? It could all of this and more, or maybe just a few highlights. I just don't know how I'll feel as a date comes around and begs of me a bit of my time to mull over.

1987

  • A bit far back but I'd like to assess that year as a year when the first major period of relations with my mom and family there was finally sent its first shocks and the distance started for the first time. Things did carry on into 1988, but the first cracks in the wall for me came in 1987.
  • Getting orthodontic braces was linked to the mom story in a pivotal instance, but otherwise was cause for teen confusion and identity issues. A talk with my pastor one day before that started, and weeks before starting 9th grade is also a major thing that shaped me for years to come.

1992

  • This one is pretty rich. It's the first full year after high school. Lots of emptiness and alienation as I tried to find out who I was after high school and in the midst of two major friends being out of my life. Even though Nirvana and Seattle was exploding musically, I was hunkering down into Genesis and Dire Straits, unable to really be part of my peer group at the same time as a whole new scene developed around me.
  • I reconnected with my step mom Eda after all the years since she left in mid 1983. We'd been writing for some years prior to our in-person reunion in January but this was the start of a new era, for better or for worse. In a lot of ways, the modifier word, "step-" is a lame thing to have to add to her title since in a lot of ways she did fill the role of mom better for me than my own mom has, even as she's been given her chances over the years.
  • Subway was my job and I was as close as I'd ever come to being a "company man." After a couple months of that, the store was sold to some really uptight New Yorkers who really spoiled things when they fired me and got legal on me.
  • Subway buddy Matt Zuniga and I were drummers on the run, or as we called ourselves for a few months, Drummers With Attitudes (original, eh?) and later on, Rhythmic Catharsis. DWA/RC was essentially my entry into being a "recording artist" and self publisher. In some ways, the drum-vocal-noise "music" was just secondary to the chance to do ridiculously antisocial and annoyingly self promotional nonsense. 
  • First girlfriend Melissa and the resulting carnal knowledge. And some insanely naive and embarrassing writings that accompanied that. 
  • I took my second trip to Germany during the summer and that was the fulfillment of a year's hopes and anticipation. Six weeks out of the nation on my own initiative was a huge step. Seeing my friend Stephan Rau in Germany was a vastly better closure to the time we enjoyed as friends in 1990-91 at school and for the few days I saw him in Germany just a month after graduation in 1991. 
  • Joblessness after the Subway era was frustrating to start with and was prolonged by the trip to Germany, and then prolonged more by starting another year at Mesa College while being rather distracted by my new girlfriend. Getting a job at Jack In The Box was hardly the answer to my prayers, but it sort of was.
  • Even my 16 year old girlfriend and her undying puppy love for me was no match for my first "adult" depressive episode that arose in the aftermath of my trip, knowing that what had held me together for a year—working like mad at Subway and putting up with the indignities there, and many indignities and frustrations that came from the general picture of being thrown into a new world that year. My first suicidal ideations came as a young 19 year old. Oddly, getting a job at Jack's helped me bail the water some at just the right moment. 
  • Chalk that up to one more great talk with my pastor Jerry and youth pastor Judy, who had both been instrumental in prior years.

1997

  • The year kicked off with a breakup from Robin after nearly two and a half years. It felt like freedom even though I was a wreck inside and didn't realize it.
  • Kind of related to that, I also made a decision to avoid television and have generally kept true to that ever since, at least as far as owning one, paying for service, or scheduling my life in accordance with TV schedules.
  • The first full year out of my childhood home. I lived for the first time with total strangers. That was something that was clear, but in some ways, seeing what happened in the year or so after my grandfather died led me to see a side of my family in a way that made them seem like total strangers.
  • Coming off the tour with Mike Keneally in late December 1996, I was energized to play music, record like mad, and to trust my creative instinct. I recorded Hog Heaven early on and then redid parts of it for my first CD release using my new VS-880 recorder, which really ushered in the glory days of my recording era.
  • The Shelby matter was brought back (after a two and a half year silence) by a total chance meeting that sometimes I wish never happened, but at the time was the stuff of miracle.
  • Laboring at Pizza Hut was the first lucrative job I had. It was able to give me some idea that I could live on my own (with roommates, really) but I knew I was kidding myself that I could do it for long. Another job was more absurdly mismatched. At 24, I was rather in need of direction and was years from such a thing.

2002

  • Kelli and I got together. Duh! After five years of the single life and all the strife that went into that, Kelli and I got together in a way that surpasses Lennon and McCartney, Abbott and Costello, Laurel and Hardy, Peas and Carrots, or even peanut butter and chocolate!
  • Graduated from Art Institute of California with almost no skills and even less confidence. And with a new debt burden that irritates the fuck out of me even today, even as I paid it off five years ago or more.
  • I faced weak work prospects for much of the year, but was able to find that the depressed state of things in the audio world gave me time to explore my new relationship as something that gave me life and opened my eyes to a dimension of wonder again in a way that nothing else had. 
  • Work did open up at a senior center where Kelli worked. Lame pay, but it was a great lesson in regaining some humanity and compassion that a lot of years had diminished. It was a very humble position but a transformative one where it's clear God went to work on me.
  • Musically I was able to return to my project of trying to play within a band context. There was some neat stuff happening that year even as it started to seem like it was not the same me at work in that music and studio environment, which had peaked and started into a decline just as the year started off.
  • I also was in the first year of using a computer of my own, and was experiencing the technical and relationship difficulties that went with that: in some cases, losing a lot of data and in other cases, creating cyber-carnage wherever I went, it seemed.
  • TAPKAE.com came online with its first full site dedicated mainly to my musical identity in support of Receiving. It was self indulgent but in a real self indulgent way. I say that knowing this present site is rather much about me, but does that with a different aim than I had in 2002.

2007

  • Another year, another crappy job to deal with. This time I was trying to hold the fort for as long as possible while Kelli was at school. For my trouble, I got about six and a half months' worth of value from that job.
  • We set up our first garden at our new place—the third place we lived in less than two years. The garden was good for soothing our souls and learning lessons that can't be taught any other way.
  • Buber the Dog! Buber too continues to be one my one of my sprititual teachers. 
  • A good thing he was because I made a move I never really thought I'd have to make. One I didn't want to make. I left my church, and in doing so, it felt like even another family member was taken from me. It took eight months before I went to church again, and then that was at another church that had a transitional role before I got into the one I am at now, but with new ideas of what I needed from church, and how I might situate myself in that world again, according to who I am, and not according to who my family member was, or even that my wife is a clergyperson.
  • Dental hell. All the years of avoidance came down on me finally as I had to meet the enemy. Scaling. Gum surgery. Bone reshaping. It wasn't fun. But it was sort of theologically provocative as I began to recognize the resurrection after the death. God can teach that in any old way. I learned it in part from having to sit in the dental chair with my heart beating out of my chest.

So you see? I could spend some time unpacking all that and more. I reckon it's not really productive to live in the past, but from where I am at, it is productive to remind me of what it has to teach me. And, since my art is essentially the life I lead, it helps to know what has worked or felt good versus what has not worked or that has left me at odds with myself. No one else seems to keep this documentary of who I am, what has happened to me, or what I think of it all. What I've enjoyed seeing in the last year since the new TAPKAE.com (Squarespace era) has exploded into a completeness never before seen at this domain, has been to gather the scattered pieces together and enjoy the mosaic of it all. Some is nice fabric; some is shattered glass; some is mangled metal or broken drumsticks or guitar strings. In some ways, I consider this the long form of my epitaph. Maybe one day someone will be tasked with reading all this and distilling one snappy line suitable for engraving into rock.

Sunday
Jan012012

Mileage for 2011

toyota odometer at 220,992 to start 2012

I didn't keep such a detailed monthly, quarterly, or even semi annual tally this year. It's a bit ridiculous, and I figured that I wasn't going to beat the 1,546 mile record from 2009. And I didn't beat last year's tally either. I wasn't really trying to. And there is also the matter of the two rather extensive trips I made during 2011. Having decided to do even the first one, I realized I was simply not in the running for much of any prize this year. The New Mexico journey was good for about 1,807 miles on its own. Death Valley with Kelli was a bit like the year prior but longer at 1,326 miles. Another smaller trip to Big Bear and Palm Springs didn't add too much at 507 miles, but was no help in reducing the overall count.

Total mileage says I backslid a good deal, but take away the major trips and once again I was pretty disciplined with my daily driving. So what was the mileage breakdown for 2011?

I started at 215,401 and ended at 220,992. That's 5,591 miles for the year. It's still rather reduced compared to if I had a commute. Take away the trips and their 3,640 miles and you have 1,951 miles of general use travel. Still pretty respectable.

Not working much of the year, I was doing a lot of computer based work from home. So in a lot of ways, I barely left the house. I didn't bike much since I was without a commute, and in some ways I was in retreat from certain social things or obligations at church for example. I got rather sedentary, and I'm not happy to report on that. I feel it. Other transportation was by carpooling with Kelli, or sometimes with someone from church or others already on their way to some shared experience. There is some walking, but that isn't so much in the name of getting things done but for local errands.

Now, the absurdity of Kelli's commute and general day's driving probably nullifies any gains I might have made. But she's the breadwinner now, so that's legit, and her work requires a great deal of criss-crossing the territory. Having two such jobs multiplies that somewhat. She's had a good year in the "opportunity" department, and two jobs is nothing to laugh at in this economy.

Sunday
Jan012012

Kelli's Grand Entrance +10

kelli in high schoolKelli in high school

As I've written on this blog before there are many ways to count my time with Kelli. Sunday school as kids? Maybe. Youth group at church, starting in 1990? Good start that we can both agree on. But this day ten years ago is a pivotal one where we essentially crossed the Rubicon into our present relationship. Prior postings have detailed the scene that led us toward this. Kelli has always been a person that I trusted in with my inner life. That part always felt safe to let out, even as she has been my crying shoulder or my venting ear over the years, telling tales of lost love, lost relations, hurt and dysfunction of one sort or another. I can't say I've done so well for her, but there has usually been some flow between us in the conversations we've had as we figured out what it was to grow up in a screwed up culture with families that weren't what we thought we were entitled to, and to be linked up with partners that didn't work out for whatever reasons. Over eleven and a half years, we were friendly in this way, even though there were sometimes rather notable periods of silence or physical distance due to life happening. But when that broke, we'd be telling our stories to each other, catching up on all the vital turmoil, and rediscovering each other yet again.

But as 2001 closed, we got closer in all ways, even as we'd sort of dabbled in on a couple of occasions in the years prior. After the surreal December night that brought the Blue Light Special written about just a couple posts back, Kelli must have been warming to me even more than I was warming to her.

Out With The Old...

On the 31st of December, 2001 I was returning from a rave concert in Las Vegas where Phil Cole and I were supplying part of the audio system for a sports arena show. We were using a 24' truck that I got to drive most of the way home during the morning and early afternoon on New Year's Eve. Since the show went on till about 4 am, we didn't get out till about 7 am. I had gotten some rest earlier on and was back in the concert arena by about 4 am, but Phil was up all night or something. At any rate, we got back here in the early afternoon and my "proper" night's sleep was had from about 2-10 pm! I was two hours from having missed the NYE turnover. I got up and scrambled to get ready for... something. Anything? I had a vague idea that Kelli would be with her lush friend Amy, an effervescent Irish lass who could drink like a fish. I got the okay that they'd be at her place and I could come along. I had the hots for Amy, and maybe or maybe not I stood a chance with her? I wasn't sure, but I was willing to show up. At that point, after almost a perfect five years (just two days away) from my breakup with Robin (and minimal encounters since), I was quite lapping at the chance to be with a girl again. Of course, there was no real substance to any such encounter Amy, but at that time, that was the appeal. Still, I went to her place where Kelli was and that was good enough. At least New Years Eve would not be a total throwaway occasion. Something interesting might happen, right?

The hour or so we had before midnight was one of a bit of preparing and debating whether to hit the bar across the street (the Lancer), or to hit up another joint. So Amy, Kelli, me, and some guy who later turned out to be the reason I wasn't gonna be with Amy that night all got into the car and we zipped along Park Blvd. and El Cajon Blvd. looking for an appropriate place to slurp some booze for the night. That was kind of silly and after one or two stops and some amusing attempts to decide what to do, we ended up back at the Lancer, just across from Amy's place. Late. Yup, the ball dropped while we were in the car! Oh well. Finally it was easier to just embrace our place at the Lancer. There I did get to feeling a bit rosy with a few beers, and Amy was looking rather nice herself—to this other guy. As the beers were imbibed, he told me he was her ex, or in some uncertain state with her. Well, that was a bit of a bummer but I was content to still be rather flirtatious with Amy. It might have been a useless pursuit at that point but it was fun and maybe I'd never see her again anyway.

Around closing time we headed back to Amy's place and were joined by some other mysterious dude who walked in from down the street. Amy and her guy knew him but Kelli and I didn't. At first he seemed like a bit of an eccentric, bohemian kind of guy who added a bit of interest to the talk, and for a while we were all on the upstairs porch, carrying on. Then eventually Amy got tired and slipped to bed. Kelli slipped away too, not being a true party animal or anything. Or maybe she had another agenda. But however all that worked, what happened was that we three guys were left there on the porch, and the conversation turned to something about a black market in lampshades made of the skins of Holocaust Jews. I forget who was repulsed by it totally and who was offering that he'd buy one just to take it off the market. The other then said that was supporting it and was accusing the guy that his purchase would drive up demand and turn it into a desirable item. It got real circular and started to lose me. These guys obviously had enough history to allow this kind of conversation. Eventually Amy's dude called it a night and went to bed with Amy and I was left on the porch with the one guy, trying to figure out what in the world we might talk about next, considering it was 3 am on New Year's morning and I didn't know this guy at all, and we were at the house of a girl I'd like to get with, and she was laying with her ex in the other room.

The thing was, Kelli was asleep on the bed, and Amy and her guy were getting it on while on the floor right beneath her! And I was stuck with this strange dude and his odd talk. Kelli was asleep so there was really nothing to do but finally shake off this guy and head home at about 3:30 am. What a start to the year!

In With The New...

The next morning I woke up uncharacteristically early, around 10 am, and was prompted to pick up my guitar and plug into my smaller Mesa amp in my bedroom. Out of nowhere came the riff to what became Return To Zero, a rocking little number with shifting meters and a strange mode in a harmonic minor scale. As I was bracing for making music suitable for a trio or quartet, it was a pleasantly Tool or Led Zep influenced thing that excited me a great deal after having not made much music during 2001. Within some weeks, the trio of Dom Piscopo and Whit Harrington made the recording offered above. It was a great thing to start the year with. But it was to be quite upstaged by the history making day that followed.

Realizing the night before left some unfinished business, I called Kelli to see how things played out after I left. She was able to remember something about the lampshade talk but nothing much after that. She drove home in the morning but I think she had in mind that maybe I should have taken her home myself. Hmm, that was a new way to do things with her. We talked about getting together in the evening for a movie. After being cockblocked by Amy's man, and realizing Amy wasn't really anything I needed to pursue further, it started to make better sense to just forget it. The here and now was here and Kelli was timidly making her way over to me. So we got together for a movie, The Majestic with Jim Carey, and that's how we got our year off to a start. And, as things followed that night, the decade to come.

I know it sounds odd to tell this as though Kelli was second choice for me. It's just that for all the time prior to this date, I never thought of her seriously as partner material. In some ways that could be taken as a negative, but really, given our history, and certainly my own sense of readiness, and in some ways her own, it was safer for us to carry on as friends, initially linked up through church but more so away from there. For a lot of years, Kelli was a bit like a sister but obviously that simile runs into a dead end as our relationship got more physical. (But I think a discerning mind can figure out what I'm talking about.) In some ways, since Kelli had been my oasis and a person of refuge for me, I sort of shied away from the idea of ever pairing up with her. She seemed too important, and during a few years of some line-blurring encounters between friends and partners, I always had in my mind the question, 'where would I go and what would I do if things bombed out with Kelli?' Knowing myself, I was plenty aware that she'd be a better friend to keep than a lover to lose, so for some years, I was not keen on really going forward, even though back in 1998, none other than her own mom made some talk that maybe I should ask Kelli out, and that "she really liked" me. In 1998 that seemed a little forward and off-putting, even as it was a bit flattering. Finally, three years later, it was something that made better sense.

The five years between the end of Robin and the start of the Kelli era was, aside from being a pretty vast "dry spell," was filled with some awful times on the personal front. What I had to face was that things wouldn't have to be that way with Kelli, and that Kelli is far more mature than all that, and has demonstrated herself as someone I've trusted for a long time. And so the first of January, 2002 was the start of letting myself go with that, and Kelli having been ready to do so as well.

Friends With Benefits

Usually people use that term to say that they are blurring a line between their "platonic" friends and their sexualized relations. I never felt comfortable with that term, especially with Kelli, because it would suggest an agreement or a pattern that we never really kept. It would also suggest something that could be taken for granted. And that I didn't do. But having moved into a new type of relationship with Kelli in late 2001/early 2002, what unfolded from that was a bit unexpected.

Daniel and Kelli at her promDaniel and Kelli at her prom

I Married a Nice Church Girl

Only about a week or two after we kicked off this new thing at the start of the year, I found myself ready to return to church after something like a decade. I suppose it was prompted by the Christmas Eve gathering at a church member's house after worship that night; an event that made my old church scene safe for me again. It was a welcome relief from all the weight that the decade before had piled upon me, and that I had not really been able to offload. But it was more than that. In the post-9/11 world, and after Daniel's murder a month before that, and a year of family drama and death, I was beyond my means to process any of it without resorting to a larger paradigm of understanding. I was 28, and in the way that spiritual paradox works, the world was simultaneously falling apart and coming together for me.

Kelli had long been my lifeline to the church community that I left sometime during 1991-1992. She kept me informed on who was doing what, and in some cases it was alarming to hear who had divorced, or who had gotten swept up in some underworld stuff, or who was essentially something vastly different than I thought I knew. She had a mind for politics, theology, and spirituality that was intriguing and intimidating. I guess I was feeling ready to return after my own decade of wandering the strange avenues of life. Whatever thought system I had to that point was on the verge of collapse and it was clearly time to do something new. I recalled that Jerry, pastor and friend of some years prior to my departure, was able to talk big ideas that had some persuasive appeal to me now.

In one of the first two weeks we were together, I decided to get back to church after something like a decade. For some months though, we didn't carry on as a couple. At least not openly. But we didn't seem to have people fooled. By the time we did "come out" as a couple, people had already put two and two together. Oh, was it that we both appeared on the same days and with wet hair and within minutes of each other? The church community was different. Our peers were gone but that might have been okay since I was always a bit removed from them anyway, and typically favored the company and support of adults there. Their parents might have been divorced, or maybe not attending the same as before. I met some new faces and befriended them. Some of the old faces were there and friendly but somehow I didn't connect with them. But I was glad to be back in the fold. Jerry's sermons, things that I once could not understand, started to shine like beacons for me. There was some feeling of homecoming and wholeness. My name carried some cache there since Virginia Lucas, my grandmother, was among the founding members, and the last of that bunch to pass away less than a year before my return. In some ways, I guess I was trying to reclaim a small bit of family life by getting back to church. It was something with some anchoring potential, and I was feeling it was my time to particpate with some adult conviction.

Kelli at the tidepoolsKelli at the tidepools

But even more so, what I have to report on is how Kelli in this new role was cause for turning me toward life at a whole different level than ever. I remember that on the second week we went to church together, we went to the tidepools in Point Loma. It was mid January when the sun is low in the sky, and it's bright on the water and with the Santa Ana weather, it's rather warm and clear. I still have a memory of knowing life was going to be different with Kelli. As we were looking at the cliffs and the critters in the pools, a world of wonder opened up to me. The whole scene conspired to change me. Kelli's goofy and playful manner, childlike and wonder-filled, was available to me like water at a desert oasis. And I drank of it. The sense of togetherness I felt with her was rich. It wasn't that I just got a new girlfriend. In fact, I think I refrained from calling her that for many months. It was far more than that. It was like being connected to life again. It was the safe space that let me move away little by little from the jaded and overly cynical self I had come to embrace as if it was something worth claiming as myself. Something about her disarmed me and made me human again. What can one say? When the time comes to tell the short story about us, that is it.

Phil walks Kelli down the aisle, 2004Phil walks Kelli down the aisle, 2004. Despite a general loathing of patriarchal practice, Kelli by this point had lost her father and step father, and Phil has taken both of us in like family, particularly after his son Daniel was murdered in 2001.

Proper

Another way that I felt reconnected to life was that along with Kelli came her mom Kay, and for the first ten months of 2002, her partner Rod. For Kelli and I there was none of the formality of taking me home to meet her family; her mom had already prodded us toward each other and was delighted at our joining forces. In that early part of 2002, Kay and Rod were living at a ranch up in Descanso, in a tiny, tiny cabin. (I mean, tiny). Kelli and I made a number of trips up to their place in those months, and our Friday night road trips there were great fun. There was a town hall movie showing in a funky wooden town hall that I fantasized about recording my new trio in; pizza at a funky place that served insanely oily pizza; a super intimate bit of storytelling and hot drinks in the cabin while the fire was lit in a defense against the winter mountain air; and a generally happy feeling of togetherness. Kelli unlocked a part of me that was looking for a chance to be set free. With her and her mom, that side has a chance to open up and breathe. The times early that year were exciting. This was before Kelli's car accident in March, and before Kay and Rod made their way east to Florida in a fateful trip that revealed his cancer, a trip that turned into one of their last adventures together before Rod died in October and left Kay a wreck. And, from Kelli's perspective, she lost her second father figure.

ed and kelli at home, 2003, kelli wrapped around ed's shoulders in the office room2002-2003

The benefits were greater than just having an old friend become my new girlfriend. Even though we ostensibly were "dating," I never really though of it that way. In so many regards, it never seemed that way. It was a holistic thing from the start. To the extent that one might use the D-word, it was approximately suitable in that it was over two years before we got engaged and before she moved in with me. But dating it was not. We already knew a lot about each other. I remember telling my roommate one night that Kelli was marriage material, and I think this was only a couple months in. Somehow I knew. I thought of it as feeling "proper." Even though it wasn't love at first sight, it was grounded in reality in a way that nothing else was, in a way that no one else ever approximated. It was as comfortable as an old coat. I can't say we've ever been a wine/roses/chocolates/love letters couple either; not to say none of that applies, but it just isn't what others make it out to be. What moves between us is far greater than all that. Those things seem like distractions that only point to and aspire to what we have. Some of those things I used to feel were needed if I were to get anywhere with one partner or the other; but with Kelli, it seems that we're tapped in at some other level. It might not come to anyone's surprise who reads this blog, but words flowed in letters to any of my prior interests, maybe because I was constructing the relationship in that form since in some ways the actual living relationship could not reach that far, at least at the ages involved. But with Kelli I have barely written anything. I feel I can't do so lest it seem hopelessly contrived and quite unnecessary. Things between us don't warrant it, and the lines of communication have generally been open enough to work for us in daily life. All the former investment of time and imagination spent writing in years past has generally been able to be channeled directly to the relationship itself.

ed on kelli's shoulder, all loving and velvety focused in 2004, not long before our wedding2004, not long before our wedding

It's hard to indicate how much the world changed in January 2002. It was a new year among new years. A life of hurt didn't go away, but it was met with its opposite. But what was turning out to be clear was that my first true partner was alongside me, and where it was safe to be myself at so many intersecting and sometimes conflicting places. Kelli's been versatile in so many ways when it comes to that. I could just call her my wife now but it's better to think of her as partner. In the early months of the Kelli era, I was not working that much, thanks to a bruising economic downturn in the wake of 9/11. But even some offers were not worth taking if I had already gotten a plan together with Kelli for a given evening. Or even with the band. I was tired of being a whore for the music industry that never really inspired greatness in me. Finally, Kelli's arrival on the scene gave me an out. All the years I was in the biz, I never had a relationship that sustained me like this. I was burnt on it, and it was so much more important to feed this part of my life. So I turned down gigs even though sometimes it was a bit troubling. But the feeling of assertiveness was a welcome change.

ed and kelli at mt. san jacinto forest with big look at each other. real cute.Mt. San Jacinto Park, 2011

Ten years is a big time when you look around you and see the wreckage I've seen. We've surpassed the durations of prior relationships of our own, and even those of our parents and their partners. But time alone doesn't mean much. Being rooted in deeper stuff does, and I think we both are equipped to wonder and marvel at what it means that we're together. One thing that has always accompanied this is a feeling that Kelli and I, as a unit, is a larger entity than either Kelli or me. Seeing things this way is liberating. The fact that she's into theology and spirituality like she is has made it safe to embrace the vocabulary from those disciplines and to get out of the smaller left brain way of seeing things. I've said it before: our head start of about eleven years was helpful but not even that is grounds for keeping us together. Both feeling battered and bruised by the level of hurt and dysfunction in family life and as citizens of the empire has left us wanting for more and wanting for better. We see each other as allies in the fight. That took some doing. That took some overcoming since both of us came from our respective places of a lot of broken trust. Our relationship isn't successful because we've been together for ten years. It's successful because each day we keep at it and are helped along by grace in equal or greater measure by a forgiving and loving presence in our lives that feeds our sense of wonder each day.

Sunday
Dec252011

The Face of Emmanuel

This was originally written as the December 24th entry on the site that Kelli and I keep, WomenWhoSpeakInChurch. WWSIC opened up to friends and fellow clergywomen for an Advent devotional series during this season, all the way out to Epiphany. I've been entering the posts as they roll in. Interestingly the 24th didn't have anything come in so I wrote this. Kelli's been really busy lately and didn't get to see it right away but she read it as one of the first things on Christmas morning. It's a more distilled form of what I wrote just prior to this entry. I think she liked it.

I think it's genius! This season is so rich in spiritual meaning that over the years it has become a fantastic tapestry made up of humanity's various threads of hunger for meaning and vitality in a confusing and harsh world. A bit narrower than that, I think it's genius how Christmas was paired up with a date that was already deemed of cosmological significance prior to Christianity's arrival. And a bit narrower still, I think it's wonderful how that ebb and flow of darkness and light has played out in my own life, and maybe it is time to marvel at my own awareness of it.

Let me just take this to a personal level here for a bit. Bear with me. I'm not a woman and I don't really speak in church. But I'm married to one wonderful woman who sometimes does speak in church, and who, ten years ago, became the return of light to my life, with a couple pivotal dates falling just about solstice time in 2001 and our subsequent embrace of our newfound relationship in 2002, even after we'd known each other for over a decade before that. I've spilled a lot of pixels on my blog about the details. For our purposes here, I just want to celebrate this in a place where I know it would be appreciated—both among people educated and attuned to the special nuances in this kind of story, and among friends of hers who know her personally.

The state of things a decade ago was one of massive dysfunction on the family front. In a lot of ways, the light had gone dim. That year we shared grief around the murder of an old friend, and September 11 was a crisis that forced everyone into mourning and (hopefully) deeper questioning. It did for us. The overlapping disasters that constituted the year 2001 drove me back to a life I was familiar with but that I had left for about a decade. Kelli was a lifeline to that world during that time. But in late 2001, I was beyond my own means to make sense of the world. Kelli and I grew closer and I began to attend church again where the deeper stuff of life was the lingua franca. What resulted was a decade of constant change, but now with a devoted partner with a vast depth of character and compassion. Kelli's presence did not stop the change or the turmoil, but she did make it safe to face it with new resolve.

This Christmas Eve, with the waiting and the hoping almost exploding in us after weeks of Advent's buildup, I recall that time one decade ago when the light was going out, out, out—until the glimmers led to flickers that led to an increasingly steady flame. Kelli embodies the solstice for me. Light will follow darkness. Or, using the language of Christianity, she's the face of Emmanuel for me. Her presence in my life is as clear a sign as I have that God has smiled on this speck of dust too, who a decade ago used to scoff at God-talk and such silly notions of the miraculous.

It has to be the stuff of miracle. Nothing I did earned this. Nothing I knew or believed mattered. This is grace, folks. At Christmas, the great gift is given indiscriminately to all by the shamelessly generous Giver, who doesn't really care what you were, what you used to believe or not believe, or how you used to think. Just like none of us can stop the solstice from happening, none of us can stop God's compassionate giving of the divine Self. And, I might say that Christianity's enhancement of an already-great festival written into the cosmos is that whereas the solstice is just an annual event in a given hemisphere, Christmas isn't limited that way. Every day is Christmas! Every day can be the day when the God-gift can be given and received. But for me, having such a great thing happen in my life at solstice time will always make this season special upon special.

Merry Christmas to my beautiful wife Kelli who has opened my eyes and softened my heart, and to all of you. Thanks for your submissions to this special series. It's not over yet, though! Read on through Epiphany, and then stay around to see what follows.

Thursday
Dec222011

Solstice Sweetheart Sunshine, or Kelli's Blue Light Special

Oh, I sort of feel that 2011 was more a task of historical recap rather than a telling of new developments. I can't help it; I've had more time than usual, and so many great upheavals and developments have cycled this year as anniversaries roll by. I've kept to the notable ones that have now clocked 5, 10, 15, 20, and even 25 years. But here is one more that is too important to ignore. If you have the stomach for the post just before this one, an epic tale of parental and familial disharmony, read that one then come back to this one. I'll wait. It's all part of the greatest story ever told, man...

The 2001 Paradigm Shift

The year 2001 started one way, and ended in a rather unpredictable way that nothing earlier in the year would have suggested. As the journal before this will tell you at great length, to start the year, I was allied with my mom and her family and was at odds with the old man down here. But then the epic email flame battle happened in mid December and pretty much put an end to mom relations for a few years to come—six years before I talked to her again, and about half that before having some talk and emails with Chris during 2003-4. During that time the relationship with my old man had become that of business primarily, as he now owned the house I was in and was okay with my staying there if I was sort of the eyes and ears on site, and if I paid my $150 rent upon the $1,000 I was to collect from renters. By the time Christmas rolled around, it had been an arrangement that was stable for six months, even after the epic drama at the start of the year surrounding my sister's tales of molestation. It was stable because it was essentially a unilateral arrangement. I never much liked having roommates in the house but found it okay for a while. Sure, I got cheap rent, but I also got repeated messages that the arrangement was a fragile one, and anything could change. For about a year and a half or more, it went on like this.

During 2001 I was at the Art Institute of California, learning some of the digital tools that enabled me to make a new leap in creative expression in a visual realm. Most of my projects were related to my desire to self-promote my musician identity, with my CD Receiving being a feature. But of course, I was finding other uses for tools like Photoshop.

By Christmas I was feeling a bit differently toward my old man. In the wake of the MomNikki email flame battle, the picture was very different. In fact, in some perverse way, my old man was indeed the one left standing after all the savage brutality wreaked upon my heart that year. It was a perverse twist of fate, and seeing how he still did provide me with a place to live after all of it, I guess my heart softened in those couple weeks at the end of the year. Wanting to honor that somehow (it was never my intent to alienate him by relating to my mom, but that was the only way it would work for him), I made a rather crude attempt to collage several pictures of he and I into an 8x11. Each drew on some of the more innocent-seeming times, and each was accompanied with the year. The idea was to kind of rebuild things some with a bit of nostalgia from simpler times.

I worked on that collage evidently in the couple days between the email flame war and the date I am chronicling now—December 22nd. I had my computer at home and with the help of several pictures I scanned at school, I got this thing presentable just in time for Christmas. But I needed a frame to call it finished.

The K-Mart Redemption

December 22nd was a Saturday that year. I headed out to the Mission Valley Ikea that evening around 8 pm, thinking there would be some frames worthy of the job. I couldn't find anything in the right size. Flustered, I went to the nearby Office Depot or Staples or something like that but couldn't find anything suitable there either. In the same lot, just as those places were closing, there was a K-Mart. I didn't really subscribe to the whole God program like I do now, but I realized the universe was playing a joke on me if I had to go in there.

You see, K-Mart was the scene of the crime for me when I was a student in middle and high school. It was the place where me and the old man faced off during back-to-school season. It was always tense. He never thought much of going anywhere else, and he would take me there, pick out a selection of lame garments he deemed acceptable, and would tell me to pick from that. I rebelled the best I could. I hated those experiences passionately. All that was loathsome between us was exemplified in those early experiences. In fact, that kind of method of his was essentially applied later on when he got ownership of Virginia's house, and the whole sickening refrain was enough to drive me mad. It's not an exaggeration to say that. What I thought was the stuff of my childhood revisited me even as I was about to turn 30 and beyond!

Anyhow, since K-Mart was open on that Saturday night, and it was right there in front of me, and that this occasion needn't be loaded up with that old anxiety, I went in and set about finding a frame to enclose a photo memoir of...the good old days with my dad! I marveled at how life unfolds with merciless irony.

As if to prove that any of us—certainly I—live in a state of partial awareness of how the universe works, and that our limited consciousness often is exposed, leaving us naked before reality so deep we'd drown if it was presented all at once, what should this little visit to K-Mart have to show me that evening? I no sooner walked in and approached the photo shop area at the front of the store that I turned a corner and saw a familiar figure: Kelli Parrish. Yep. The nice church girl that I'd known for over eleven years by then, most of which was time spent outside of church circles. My friend. My collaborator on a recording project. And, impossibly far from my mind that evening, my future wife. She was in there getting some pictures  of her mom developed just as I was running around trying to get the finishing element for the most exceptional Christmas present I'd given my dad in a long time! As she always does, she asked me how I was since we saw each other last, having some drinks on the 7th with a feisty girl friend of hers who set my heart aflutter right away. I asked her if she wanted to hang out and I could tell her how my few weeks had been.

We went to her place in City Heights not too far away. She was renting a big trailer on a property that had been sublet several ways. It was a funky place. Real tight but passable for her as a newly minted college graduate who was in transition. There I got to tell her about the MomNikki crash and burn of the week prior, and the great loss it seemed to be. In those post-9/11 days, work was rather depressed and scattered, and December, usually a boom time with corporate and social parties making up a nice fat month before the lean times of the winter to come, was rather light in that department. There was some work but it wasn't like I expected. So I had lots of time kill with ruminations and email flame battles! There was no life outside of that little bit of work, going to AIC classes most weekdays, and maybe some music activity. I was pretty much unaccountable to anyone or anything. But it was easy to find time to hang out with a dear friend near the holidays. Something told me that being around Kelli then might be uplifting, maybe even one of the very few bright spots in the midst of this drama.

I bought Kelli up to speed on things and somehow we got in touch with her friend Suzanne (yep, our roommate years later). We headed down to Suzanne's place near La Mesa and with her and her brother or cousin (I think), we went to Denny's across the street for some midnight munchies. It was a pleasant distraction, but when it was over, we went back to Kelli's trailer for more discussion about how things were going. Eventually it was time for her to hit the hay and in a way that sort of was a repeat of another instance some years before, she let me stay with her. We were both single and in our own ways yearning for some connection so that night was one that blurred the line between our days as friends from church and the relationship we have now. For me, it was almost exactly five years since Robin and I had been together, a couple years since the Sarah chapter was brought to a unilateral end, and of course since then the family thing was heaped on as an extra dose of heartache. Kelli was voicing frustrations with a guy she was peeling away from, and we both were lamenting the murderous loss of our church friend Daniel Calabrese—Phil's son. September 11 also refocused our thoughts to deeper currents in life. I think each of us trusted each other deeply as we stayed the night together for the first time in a few years.

The next morning, she went to church as she usually would. I didn't. I wasn't there yet, but a time like this was leading me to hunger for a deeper connection to life. Since it was just on the eve of Christmas Eve itself, I did feel compelled to go to the Christmas Eve service at church, much as I always had, but with new thoughts stirring in me, particularly as both Kelli and I went to an after-party at Cheryl's place, where for the first time in about a decade, I was in the company of people I knew I could trust. They were people who made my teenage years safer and more fulfilling, and it might be fair to say that the last time I felt any real safety in the world was in those years. Being there at the wine and cheese party felt like a homecoming to me. Even though Kelli and I had our night together, it was one of silence and trust, in a way that we knew things were okay, but that giving voice to anything would be superfluous. So as a result, we didn't talk about that night for a long time to come. Being among church folk at the party but Kelli and I did not yet identify as a couple that night (and even months later I was still pretending we weren't a couple while in church settings but apparently no one was fooled). But we were definitely in a new territory in life. If I had to characterize the feeling, it was like she was a sister that had brought me back to the fold. Yeah, that's about the way to convey our pre-2002 relationship either linked with or free of church life, with a few notable exceptions that must be maintained so the sister metaphor isn't distorted.

A week later, on New Year's Eve, we spent some time again at her Amy's place, or in her car, chasing around trying to find the right bar to celebrate at. Amy was cute and Irish and on the two occasions I met her, I was trying to pick up on her. Despite some closer encounters with Kelli, I have to say I was still not sure that we were "relationship" material. None of it was meant out of disrespect; I just didn't really see things working that way, or that knowing myself, I'd screw that up too, and then who would be my trusted female friend like she had been? The Amy thing was done before it started, really, since on that New Year's Eve, she was in the company of some boyfriend who wasn't there the first day we met, and, until it was clear they had gone to bed together after the NYE boozing, didn't appear to be with her. Meanwhile, Kelli had crashed on Amy's bed before Amy and her guy went to the floor and did their thing, leaving me and one other odd dude to sit on the porch and talk about all sorts of odd shit including the underground market for lampshades made out of Jewish concentration camp victims's skins! It was outrageous. What a way to start the new year! But I digress.

Solstice Sunshine Sweetheart

It was winter now. The solstice had just happened the day before. It wasn't until this year of 2011 when I saw the solstice as a larger player than could be recognized at that time. You see, the solstice is the liminal time when the sun is simultaneously proclaimed dead and yet is being reborn. The light is at its faintest as the days grow shorter and shorter, and yet the light starts on a rebound. In a real powerful way, now I look at that solstice moment of 2001 as not just a moment of cosmological turnaround that everyone in the northern hemisphere shares in, but seeing that Kelli and I have now been together for a decade, the evidence is that her presence signified the coming of the light, out of that dark space of diminishing light from the life I knew. I was 28 years old—just the age when life really gets in one's face and asks deeper questions and forces deeper insights. It is like 28 is itself a solstice. (Around that time I was prepared to honor the deep changes needed, but I was using a limited vocabulary from astrology, which I never embraced beyond this one instance. But the first language I had to explore these changes was the "Saturn Return" which aptly and compellingly described the matter then. These days I've found the Christian language of transformation and rebirth to do the trick in a less cheesy way.)

A decade with Kelli puts both of us in new territory. We've been together longer than our parents ever were with any of their partners. We have grandparents to look to for examples of relationships longer than this. Those relationships weren't without their troubles, but somehow there was something worth sustaining. Seeing things in this more cosmological framework places us into a drama far larger than that of our own, or that of our families of origin. Even once we were clear we were paired up, we were never into the storybook romance. We've always been rooted in deeper stuff. To some it might be rather shocking to learn we aren't the wine/roses/chocolate/love letters sort. There is some of that, but it is rather minimal. From early on, I guess I was fed up with the shallower expressions of love and was hungering for something far deeper. Apparently Kelli was too. And, as handy as it was to have known and trusted her with other news over the eleven years prior, I can't say that those years paved the way to a blissful marriage. We still had to learn the mechanical parts. We still had to work past old hangups and fears. We still had to work out how we'd be allies to get life done at so many levels: the daily stuff AND the longer terms stuff that keeps revealing itself in ever-unfolding layers of our being.

In one week, on January 1st, we will have been together as a couple for a decade. That date is one given to reflect a new stage in our physical relationship, but the origin date of our deeper connection is far more elusive. That goes back a lot of years before 2002; 2002 is when we essentially called off the search for other partners and sort of cashed in some of the emotional capital we'd built up with each other. For the sake of blogging though, this period of the last bit of 2001 and into 2002 is a rich time to explore how we transitioned.

But if you had asked me in my youth how I'd meet my partner and wife, I most certainly would not have said that I'd meet her at or that I'd have a turning point experience at K-Mart while trying to wax nostalgic about the glory days of relations with my old man! That, my friends, is a good God-joke. One time years later, I was recalling how all this went, and Kelli gleefully proclaimed I was her "blue light special!" Only true love can tolerate such bruising comments!

Ubehebe Crater, Death Valley, November 2011

Wednesday
Dec142011

Dysfunctional December

This December I have the rather weighty and somewhat ignominious matter of some gross family dysfunction to reflect upon. And you could say that for the past several years, that has been the case. All true. This year we get to the rather rounded and convenient numbers of five and ten. Much of this has already been written here. I guess what gnaws at me is that for all the time having passed, nothing has been resolved. I feel like I've used the time for learning, but I'm not sure the other parties have progressed.

I'm talking of course about two parents and two separate meltdown experiences: the first with Mommy Dearest during this very week in 2001, and with Father Knows Best on this very day in 2006. In mom's case, it hasn't been an unbroken period since that sad email flame battle (which was more the work of my sister Nikki). For about two months at the end of 2007 and a short few days into 2008, there was some attempt at connection but that bombed out again as mom and Nikki and Chris all aligned against me once again. In dear ol' dad's case, it has now been five years since direct communication has passed between us. Or, as I'll say later, two years since I've said anything in response.

To get this out here in front, I'm not really glad of this. I'm not even happy with my own handling of things. I'm complicit in it too. After being turned into their plaything in my adult years about a decade ago, even years after I was just their legal plaything as an infant and into my teens, the whole strain of things grinds one down and makes it hard to always work from any rational mind. My life story essentially is one of being broken by the interplay of these two characters, either directly or by proxy. I have been left to pick up the tab on their party together, and then some of the sequels to that. There are plenty of regrettable moments in the whole sad story.

In my defense though, you have to realize what kind of emotional stonewalling has been the tactic of the various characters involved. So far, my experience has been that neither side has been able to address things at the level I'd move to. In each case, there is a good does of shutdown that goes on; on my mom's side, it is accompanied with a smokescreen of vitriolic statements and open hostility; in my old man's case, it's more or less a blanking face and a physical departure from the tension and then his subsequent manipulations as he's often been responsible for the places I've lived in. In either case, I really feel that my message isn't being heard, no matter what volume or tone my voice, or no matter what choice of words. In desperation, I err on the side of more volume and more colorful words of the sort that can get a person fired from a job. I don't like it. I know when it happens that I'm consumed by the wrong stuff. But at moments like these monumental breakdowns with people I share fundamental relationships with, after trying anything else, it seems the only thing left to do. And then I shrink back into a fearful state of not knowing if I just wrecked things more. This thought is accompanied by a feeling of liberation, that I have no business aspiring to be a member of a club that so clearly throws up barriers to membership. Maybe then it makes sense to start to wash my hands of it all. Such has been the pattern when things have gone this way.

Mommy Dearest Meltdown

Telling this story is so difficult because of the way the elements are interlaced in a way that might inspire and even confound authors of soap operas! Certain themes are present and criss-cross in three dimensions of time, space, and emotion. In 2001, the meltdown was preceded by a Thanksgiving dinner that symbolized a huge shift from the year before. What happened a year before in 2000 was almost magical, even though there was a giant cloud over it that I was not aware of at the time. My grandmother (mom's mom Sofia) had died just the week before Thanksgiving in 2000, and my reunion with them all (I dub it "version 3") happened literally in the wake of that—or, specifically two days before when her memorial was held. It was the first I had seen of anyone among them since March 1996 (in the case of seeing mom, but that was explosive and terrible), and more completely, I might have to say that it had been since late 1994/early 1995 that things were normative between us. Thanksgiving 2000 was party like, with the entire gang, including my aunt Lisa and uncle Steve. I met niece Katie that week and fell in love. The coming year was the time when reality settled in as sister Chris made her allegations against my old man, crediting him with molestation and other abuses. That of course rocked my world but made me feel for her and that side of the family in a way that I'd never felt. So as the holidays approached in 2001, I naturally thought maybe it would be a bit like the year before. I was wrong in a big way.

What I didn't realize was how the matter of Sofia's estate was causing friction between mom and aunt Lisa. I still don't know the stories, but it seems to have been quite divisive even to this day. So back then, when I was putting my two cents in about wishing I could buy one of Sofia's two grand pianos, and hoping that maybe one would be kept around for the benefit of the family, especially young Katie or any other kids that might come along, I was sort of an extraneous voice in that matter. And, in my mom's usual way, she hung on to it for some time and didn't say anything. Some weeks before Thanksgiving 2001 I inquired if she was having dinner again and that I'd like to be there. (This was meant to address and correct a giant faux pas in 1994 when I skipped out on Thanksgiving dinner at just about the last minute just as I felt overwhelmed by the five day engagement to Robin, which I cancelled the day before.) I did end up getting to Thanksgiving dinner in 2001 but it was a quite subdued affair of mom, Nikki and Katie, Steve, and probably no one else. It was a head-down time. By that time, Nikki had not even bothered to talk to me since the end of 2000. Yep, most of the year that I was back in the picture, she had shut me out. I've never really understood it though maybe I could repeat a few things she's said. It just doesn't make sense. On the way home from that strained dinner, I visited Chris separately. She was back in San Pedro living with her sons' Cuban family. By comparison, visiting her that night was fun.

In the first half of December 2001, there started up an email thread with me and mom writing about some things. I was pressing on about the pianos, and asking if she would put me in touch with Lisa. I didn't know what to make of her reluctance to do so. I had come into an inheritance that summer and was semi-seriously thinking of buying one myself. (Of all the money spent on musical gear that summer and traded or sold off within a year or two later, I wish I had bought a piano instead.) Somehow, Nikki got involved in this email conversation, even as she was replying using mom's address, almost as if she was her secretary. The rather innocuous talk about pianos and my intent to be supportive of anyone's interest in music gave way to larger themes of alienation and the shape of family and reproductive decisions, having kids so young as she and mom and Chris all did. And for my trouble, Nikki saw fit to throw up in my face the matter of Robin's abortion—one thing that she seemed accepting of when I told her about it on the very first reunion night at Sofia's memorial a year before. She also decided to make declarations that I shouldn't invite myself to "other people's holiday dinners." Beg your pardon, Nikki? She's my mom too, and that's a family style holiday. Okay. All that went south fast! By just a few weeks after Thanksgiving, "version 3" was in the trash. My memory tells me it was December 16th. Done deal. It was one of the first email flame battles I had (the other was with Shelby earlier in the year), and it spared nothing in its incinerating blaze. It was a tragic lesson in how digital communication was sorely lacking.

I was quite devastated. My reason for getting in touch with that side of the family in 2000 was to help piece life back together after many years of depression and angst. Seeking reunion was one major proactive step toward getting my own life back into some shape. Seeing it crumble all over again was painful, especially after the molestation news caused a permanent upset in things down here in San Diego. The genie was out of the bottle with that one, and with that being the case, there wasn't even a "normal" life to return to in the world with which I was familiar. This was uncharted territory.

There is a bit of an exception to that, but it doesn't really change the game much.

Conning the Con: Old Man, 2006

In 2000, my old man found out that I was in a renewed period of relations with mom and her crew. I never intended to tell him, nor was it his business. But he did find out (almost certainly from Virginia while she was in the hospital) and made it his business, and his meddling set a feedback loop into action and his warnings to me to leave them alone went unheeded as I told mom and Chris about his notices, and they in turn moved closer to opening up the old dusty vault and then finally Chris delivered her old news about how she was abused by him. That day was momentous and wretched. I cursed the day I was born. The coming months were dismal. My grandmother Virginia died in April, and the house I was in became his. It was too valuable a tool for him to manipulate me with. He knew I wanted stability, but he knew that my "disobedience" (I was 27 at the time, and living at Virginia's house for nearly three years before she died. We had our own deal going) was going to cause problems, and I'm convinced he was perfectly okay with playing house games to keep me off balance following my pursuit of family completeness. Just a couple months after Virginia died, the house was dressed up in new carpet and a few other bits. I had already painted it on my own during the six months I had it to myself. But now he demanded I rent it out in part. I could stay but I had to be the resident manager on his behalf. Okay. I got to stay. I got to keep my studio space, which that summer grew to be as big as ever. I rented two rooms to younger guys.

By the end of 2001, things leveled out with him under those terms. Nothing more was said about family matters. It was strictly a business relationship that was useful enough to both of us. That basic arrangement went on until mid 2005. Lots has been written here about that. Suffice to say, at the end of the year in 2001, staying at my house was a comfort, even as it was terribly ironic that I no longer trusted my old man as far as I could throw him. 

But in 2006, the picture was quite different. The meltdown was epic. This was nearly a year and a half after the eviction, but I was still not content with his property grab. By this time, Kelli and I had moved twice and we were living about a mile from our old house, at the house of Mr. Calabrese, a church friend of Kelli's and mine. He had two houses next door to each other. The one we were in was usually rented to his son and Brazilian daughter-in-law but they were out of the country for one year. The old house on Quapaw was rented out to a couple and was partially open to Kelli and me for keeping some things as we would at a storage locker—one rare concession that was granted us. (One night Kelli was longing for a teddy bear that was in a box there. I drove over to the house in the middle of the night, and almost burglar like opened up our area and grabbed the bear and went back to Kelli with it as she slept. She was quite surprised at finding it next to her when she woke!) After having made so many keys during the rental years, I had a few left over even after I turned in a fistful of them upon my departure. My old man is a wily fellow, and I knew his tricks and decided to reserve a few for myself.

The rental arrangement with the couple came to an end in September 2006, and then it was to be empty. He had already ordered me to take my stuff out, and I'd collected the miscellaneous furniture and boxes earlier in the summer. The old man gave a date when the couple would be leaving, and said that if there was anything else I should want to get, we could go over there and get it. He was offering that he'd be there to let me in. But since I had the key, I went over the day before, just after the couple left, and grabbed all the stuff that prior verbal agreement or actual receipts said was mine to take:

  • Washer and dryer
  • Fireplace screen (a big beefy thing that the old man made some years before)
  • AC outlet cover plates, light switch plates (all stainless steel that I'd bought myself)
  • Small hardware I'd installed
  • Vertical blinds on four large windows (I'd bought them in the period before Virginia died)
  • Dining room and other light fixtures (also from before Virginia died)
  • And everything else I could lay hands on that wasn't something he bought or inherited—rather random junk

I needed little more than a piano dolly and a screwdriver and wrench to get it all. Then I took it to my new house and offloaded it into the back yard, behind a gate. Some went into the garage which was locked. I cleaned the place out of everything I could find. All that was left of what I put up or installed was the paint on the walls. 

He called me the next day to see when I'd like to come over and get things. I told him I already got the stuff the day before. He did a double take. I told him 'yeah, it's all okay. I got everything.' He drove over to Quapaw and had a look then came over to where I was at to confront me. He was rather stunned. I told him I had everything and that I'd take it all back and reinstall it if he wanted to include me in his little financial games which never seemed to include me or Kelli. The stuff was essentially useless to me, and barely worth selling or trading in most cases (the laundry machines being the most profitable at $225 for the both of them). I didn't really want the stuff at all, but I was tired of his total dominance in the matter, and felt that if he can inherit a place and move toward selling it, that I, as a seven year resident who was inclined to stay and do my share to the best of my ability, should be able to share in the profits.

That didn't register with him. It never does. It's all him or it's nothing. Somehow, I suppose that even after this little stunt I had enough keys to return again on November 29—two months later—and employed another bit of subversive "Occupation" (a word that now has currency in situations like this). This one was straight out of his own playbook, from the chapter on messing with locks: he used to take combination locks that had missing combinations or were left open and he'd drill them out enough to read the tumblers. Or he'd gut a padlock and use it for looks only or to work in some confounding way. This time it was my turn to con the con for once. I was able to get into the back of the house so I could unlock the front door. There, the steel screen door could be opened and its lock disassembled. I took it apart, gutted its interior, turned the barrel backward so it wouldn't open from the outside, and reassembled it with the thing in a locked position. While the lock was taken apart, I was able to remove the realtor's lock box and hid it elsewhere on the property. It was proto-Occupy! It was just an inconvenience measure made in protest.

And getting on to the pivotal stuff, just two weeks after the lock stunt, another drive by on December 14th revealed that the house was indeed up for sale, replete with the sign out front. Or maybe it had been that way but this one day inspired a streak of righteous indignation and a last ditch effort to get my voice heard. I availed myself of a Sharpie marker on hand and scrawled a protest message in "open letter" format—my own 95 Theses posted in public. Seeing that sign gave me a clear feeling that my ship was sinking, and it was all I could do to write an impassioned Occupy-style note on the realtor's sign. (I had had my biting words with the realtor himself earlier on, searing him for taking his profit off this dreadful family breakdown that accompanied this sale. Later on, I had the presence of mind to write a few haiku about it all.) 

The sign, written just before dusk on a day not long before the solstice, was left for all to see. I thought it might be a day before I heard about it. I had barely left for home over at the Calabrese Compound, sat down to dinner with Kelli, and then there was a knock at the door. It was the old man. Best I can tell, he must have been informed by a neighbor named Len, a guy about the old man's age, and who was just crotchety enough and buddy enough with my old man that he'd rat me out. (I know he called before about noise in the early days of my renting the place. Len also came by one day and in some conversation was going on about all sort of antisemitic talk about Jewish conspiracies and the New World Order. Quite a character. His wife was rather sweet by comparison.) At any rate, barely an hour passed until the old man was on my doorstep. It was a bit of a shock but I had to expect it. I didn't know it would be the defining moment that would put an unprecedented five years between us.

The Betrayal Ratio

I answered. He had the sign with him. I confirmed it was my work. In fact, I told him to come inside. I demanded it. I told him to "come in and sit the fuck down!" He refused and I reiterated that maybe he needed to come in and listen to me for a change. Not accepting my generous offer of hospitality, within moments he made his way out to the driveway and then to the front of the house, down a deep driveway. I let him have it. I'm pretty sure he was threatening me about the missing lock box and the earlier house cleanout. My notes say more about my giving him the third degree about betrayal. Somehow, he likes to claim that I betrayed him with my calling the city. It might be that way for him. But his more absurd claim is that he never betrayed his parents and their trust. And he also has made similarly absurd claims that the trust level was (or should be) 100%. Um, I'm afraid he's clueless as to how his own mother felt. But on this evening of December 14, 2006, that betrayal statement set me off in a huge way and I incinerated him as he tried to escape to his truck out on the street. I was literally screaming in such a way my throat hurt. It was epic. Kelli followed us outside and was watching from the driveway.

What the hell was there to carry on about at such outrageous and disruptive levels? He wanted to talk betrayal. He had one or two things that he could level against me: turning him in for illegal construction and perhaps relating to my mom against his wishes. (There might be something lost to memory but those are the ones I know he felt burnt by.) But what about the strand of betrayals he's spun all through my life? I had a nice long list that was fresh on my tongue at the time: 

  • Molested my sister which led to all sorts of unknown dysfunction that exploded years later
  • Cost me my relationship with my mom time and time again due to his various ways of manipulating her legally and financially
  • Threatening my step mom with violence enough that "no dentist could fix the damage" and causing her to flee for her safety
  • The totally uncalled for instance of throwing my childhood dog over the fence when she was in his way as he worked
  • Never really made a plan for me to get to college but always made talk that I "could never learn too much"
  • Never really showed me genuine support for playing music, and always commenting and acting in such a way that undermined my own ability to commit in a deep way
  • Using draconian disciplinary methods to try to make me a better student while I was trying to just be a kid who was dealing with the usual mess of new adolescent experiences, with the added load of 8th grade being the year I met my mom and her family and tried to adjust to that
  • Opened a locked door to spy on me and my new girlfriend Robin in the wee hours in September 1994—he didn't know we were fully awake and knew
  • Charging me rent to put a lock on the door in response to that violation—his messed up actions caused me to have to pay...him?
  • Telling me to leave home so he could have a Russian woman move in, and who never did
  • Eavesdropping on me from upon the roof as I talk to my girlfriend
  • Took my car off the work ramps while getting the timing done, causing me towing and repair fees at a commercial shop
  • Sided with Bill Francis (tenant/"helper" at Virginia's house after she was widowed) on New Year's Day 1997, essentially re-evicting me from a house he did not own months after the pressure to leave his house
  • Essentially ignoring my needs as a tenant at that same house when I was a paying and contributing resident, and always fast-tracking his own ideas of how to "raise the value of the house" which proved to be useless, illegal, tasteless, and offensive to me
  • Not attending my wedding, let alone supporting it in any way at all
  • Evicting Kelli and I early in our marriage so that he could make his point about my choice to rebuild a relationship with mom 

And that might just be a partial list. But the meat of it is there in a general chronological order. Over time, you might say he meddled in or totally wrecked my relationships with women time and time again. And not just girlfriends. He's cost me two mothers. He's said and done things that threatened to sabotage things with Kelli too, and seeing that coming, I was not about to stand for that. It was an intense 15 minutes if it was even that long. He made his way for his truck and drove off. Kelli and I regrouped. It was one of those sweaty palms, frantic and pacing times, not knowing what all that had unleashed except pure passion.

Epilogue

The following day, he sent me an email saying the realtor was planning to press charges for the matter of the missing lock box. I never responded. I think it was bluff-calling on his part, and I think that if the matter is to be settled, let the one who has the most to gain take a modest few dollars and pay for it out of his profits!

On December 18th, after a weekend of hand-wringing and discussion about the Thursday before, Kelli and I both resolved his presence was threatening enough to need to at least attempt limiting it. So we went to the family courthouse and applied for a restraining order which we did not get. But even the gesture of doing that was a huge step up in our young marriage of just two years and a few months. After the two years of couples' therapy where we had to repeatedly deal with a triangulated relationship with my old man and the house as the third party in our relationship, it was a breakthrough moment of clarity, that I'd look after Kelli's interests before my own, or before I let worries about what it took to protect the house sideline what I should be doing for Kelli. 

In the middle of 2007, I was left to find the house had been sold in April for $515,000. I found the listing online months after the fact. I was not even notified. It was far from the $569,000 I think he thought he'd get if he got prime market price. His dumb remodeling efforts cost him. I knew they weren't needed and would add nothing. He didn't listen to me. So he paid. And I am happy to assume that the state of the house was not even as nice as when I lived there, so I hope that cost some more. And why shouldn't it? It's a box of stucco, sheetrock, wood, and other bits. He inherited it and took everything for himself. I can't tell exactly how much he invested into it after he got it, but I reason that with new carpet a time or two, the material and labor in doing the remodel work (none of it good), and taxes, I can't even really get the number up to $20,000—his total investment into the structure and the taxes. I'm sure the city got him for something. Any way you cut it, $515,000 is far more than he deserved to collect, given his antics during the decade preceding the sale, and in some ways, throughout his whole relationship with his parents.

The time since that fiery night in December has been nearly silent. Most of the communication was aimed at me, but in a few cases channeled through Kelli, as he or maybe even a caretaker or some other party called or emailed one of us. There was one invitation in 2008 to sit and have some summer evening date with step mom Eda, her son Rene, and his new interest at the time—the guest list being what he would still like to remind me of as "the family" I knew. But in the same letter, the dripping condescension that suggests Kelli is the undermining element to our glorious family picture is unacceptable. Another letter was channeled to me through my former pastor, and it drips with more of that black and white thinking that glorifies the Lucas family mythology and degrades all else. He also made a drop of several of my old books at yet another house following the year at the Calabrese Compound. I got word that he needed hip replacement, and he sent an email, written in the third person, saying he would be in the hospital this date to that. I've stayed clear of responding. What I have to say gets said on this blog. I know he reads it, or used to read it. I can't tell if he's losing his mind, but he's certainly into some incredibly immature thinking with plenty of distortions and omissions. The couple things I've heard from him about any effort to change the course seem to sabotage that message. I don't see anything that indicates any real change of heart, contrition, or a new spirit of any mutuality. My Father's Day offer to reconnect still stands: a year or more of family therapy must guide it, and since he's enjoyed the windfall of cash, he can pay for it. I think he's too full of himself to do it. I'll gladly be proven wrong.

The carnage is pretty severe. Each parent is unable to relate to me. Each blames me for reminding them of the other. Each harbors so much anger about things far in the past. Neither seems to claim much responsibility for the shape of things. In some ways, they are perfectly created for each other. The thought amuses me. But I feel bad for them. They are literally pitiful. What a miserable life to lead! I don't hate them. I wish they'd get their shit together as people. It seems even their advancing age (both 67 now) hasn't really taken an edge off. For mom, she lost a son to the law in 1974 (me), and a son to death in 2011 (James), but she's locked into her story enough that even when I show my face, it is the safer thing to do to ignore me, even though I've heard stories about the huge hole in her heart after I was taken from her. For the old man, he still has the same house as he had in 1970. It's the same house he drove my mom out of; my step mom too; several tenants; and ultimately me. When's he going to see that has failed him? When's he going to find that no relationships equals a death? I think of them both as tragic figures unable to learn new ways to live.

For me, this all has been a great teaching/learning experience. Oh, a lot of it has been heart-rending stuff in the moment. Fortunately I've had a great many teachers and advocates and therapists who have helped channel me toward newer understandings. Fortunately I have Kelli. Kelli has been a total angel. She's been the best thing that has happened in my life. Ever. Make no mistakes about it. Don't any of you ever misquote or distort that. Kelli has been an agent of bringing balance into this picture where for a lot of years, there was none. (Soon I will tell the story about her arrival on the scene ten years ago now, my eyes for her being opened by the 2001 and 2006 story told here.)

Some of my teachers have been known to say, "God comes disguised as your life." One favorite scripture that I've had to mull over and take seriously is one where Jesus is alerted by a disciple that his mother and siblings are outside waiting for him. He replies (paraphrasing), 'who are my mother and my siblings? The ones that do the will of my Father are my family.' All this deconstruction has happened for a reason, to draw me out of a rather parochial picture of what family is and has driven me to actually reinvent what all that means and how I might function within a larger, more nebulous picture of family. Kelli is a key building block of that new paradigm. While we don't really talk much of having kids, we do realize that it is a noble goal to chart a course together that itself is an act of resistance to the kinds of things that dissolved parental relationships for both of us. And in another way, relationships forged within church or other spiritually situated settings also have a way of patching up the damage and building new relationships in ways that the old original ones only hinted at. I find myself often dripping in gratitude that my broken, dysfunctional clan of origin has given way to seeing many new members in a new, nebulous family of fathers, mothers, sisters and brothers, and others.