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Entries in 2005 (116)
Well, I feel justified in proclaming loudly that the corporate mindset is shit. Let me tell you a tale of woe.
I started work at this AV Concepts place on August 8. I was hired to be a shop guy, doing check outs and check ins of gear, some troubleshooting and maintenance, and generally being part of the warehouse scene. I also am a driver, usually doing errands around town, or even up to LA, but also for gig delivery and pickup. I've driven on two occasions to the Bay Area, or just shy of there to Monterey and Half Moon Bay, in both instances being two- and three-day affairs. I've done full time work usually with the exceptions of certain days when they pared back my hours by four- or eight- hours, resulting in a few weeks of 32 hours. Some days I've done ten hours in the shop. My drive days to northern California were counted as 14- and 15- hour engagements.
Last week, I did three ten hour days, drove to North Hollywood and Huntington Beach, and back and forth across town. I coached a new guy. I busted ass on loading and unloading trucks during a very heavy week of work. I had a cold for three of the days and was feverish one of the days.
I get paid $11 an hour for this, $16.50 for time and a half, and $22 for the special days when I get past 12 hours. Coincidentally, the days when I have gotten 14 hours in, they have also warranted per diem pay of $47 per day on top of all the wage earnings. Those days, particularly when driving solo up the 101 highway, are days I don't mind turning out for work. But most days are not like that at all.
Truck loading. Unloading. Barcode entry on damn near every piece of gear and each roadcase. Fetching stuff all over the shop. Walking on concrete, standing for hours at a time with no real chance to sit. Solder cables sometimes. Bend. Squat. Lift. Push heavy shit. (I weighed a roadcase once and it was 1019 pounds with its contents of possibly 1000' of heavy gauge power and lighting cable—not typical, but even the 700 pound variety is not the same as sitting at a desk, and even lifting the 300 pound versions above chest height can be a bit much.) Listen to krunkity old geezers bark orders at people, and between themselves. Not a comfortable place with no ventilation. Get orders from all over. Go out for a drive and drop everything for now. Quality check components and diagnose damaged gear.
That's my job. I've passed a threshold of sorts where once I used to be totally worn out and sore at the end of the day. Better shoes helped a lot. But still, it's good for generating some tiredness. I try to preserve my sanity by retaining Sundays to myself so I can do any of my church related things, and spend time with Kelli. Given that Sunday does tend to have a few hours of church related responsibility, it's not really a day of leisure, so I asked that I be scheduled to work on as few Saturdays as possible. I had two further stipulations, and they were that I would not be asked to work OVERTIME on Tuesday and Thursday nights. So, no Sundays, minimal Saturdays, and no OT on two nights a week so I can go to counseling (I didn't specify counseling, but I did say that the times were locked in with wife and one other person, and have been for a long time). There have been times when I was asked to come in early, at 7, or 6, or once even at 5 am for a drive to Los Angeles. I did each of those. I've stayed late on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays. I've done a Saturday or two. I've even stayed a bit late on Tuesdays or Thursdays to show I'm a good sport. I've even taken my two- and three- day gigs out of town spanning from Wednesday through Thursday and Friday, cancelling counseling on Thursday on two consecutive weeks to do these trips because it all added up into such an irresistable deal financially, and they had the courtesy of asking me days in advance and not just assuming I'd do it.
One day back in October, about two months after I started, there was an instance when the salesman who secured a show account didn't stop to consider if I had any schedule constraints. Why would he? The company manual basically says that the company is going to run your life and that they will take priority over other work and obligations (I read this a little late). On this day, he came up to me and just started talking about gig details with me like I knew I was on the gig and had already been briefed. Well, I had not really done much in the way of gigging with this company as it was, so it was odd to have him talking about this. I wasn't even sure if he knew if I was the right guy. I asked him when this gig was, and he said it was going to be in the afternoon for set up, and would go till about 9 pm—on THURSDAY. So I told him that I couldn't do it, and hadn't he heard? I gave the warehouse manager my schedule, and he seemed okay with it. So salesman boy goes off and gets the head manager and expresses his shock that I can't do the gig, and why can't I? So the manager came over and asked me for some explanation. Within a few minutes, I was made to feel ridiculed when he looked at me and said I would not be as valuable an employee if they couldn't schedule me. The gig got handed down to one guy but he couldn't do it on short notice, then it got handed to the fellow who is audio supervisor, just above me. He got saddled with one boring ass gig and had the misfortune to have accidentally left the shop door unlocked when he returned at 10 pm, and he got written up for it. I didn't mean for that to happen to anyone. I just didn't want to bail out on my prior commitment on less than a day's notice.
This year, my birthday fell on a Wednesday. I worked overtime during one of the few extremely busy weeks they've had since I got there. My birthday was on a day when Kelli was at school, so we decided to have our event on the Saturday to follow. The company was also booked solid that day, and guys had to come in for that morning. I was asked if I could work, and I told them no, I got plans for my birthday, and since I worked overtime on the actual day, I was going to enjoy it with wife and friends on Saturday. The warehouse manager, who ordinarily does not rub me the wrong way because we respect each other gave me a little guilt trip about how I get to pick my hours but the others don't and how Saturday was one of the few killer days for everyone, and so forth. This was a clear crack in the wall.
So, the business of my cherrypicked schedule has been an issue for them. I've been persistent in defending it, and they don't like it. I've told them that my wife goes to school for three days a week, and the weekend is really the only time we get a relationship, because Monday and Tuesday are days when I work and she needs to spend all her time studying and writing. I've said I am the sole income earner, and that my life has been real tumultuous lately and that I need stability more than anything, and that my requests for time off are not frivolous. I wrote a letter to the ops manager who obviously had the biggest problem with this all, and told him this, and begged for his consideration that I wasn't trying to weasle out of anything, but that I need some balance and stability. I reminded him of the early morning call times and other overtime, and so forth.
My 90 day review was supposed to be on 11/8 and a day or two later, I inquired about it. Early on he almost assured me a raise of a dollar if I wasn't some sort of a fuckup, so, not feeling fuckupish, I didn't feel bad about asking for my review. He told me that he has been so busy with other things that no one has gotten a review in a while, and that he will get to them. He encouraged me to hold on because any pay raise would be retroactive to the date of the intended review. Well, if it was a month, I could see it. He told me the last part of December was slow, so I was sincerely hoping that I'd get a raise to help offset any loss of hours or days. On the day before Thanksgiving, we had a company "town hall meeting" with the owners, and during the open forum part, I inquired about the reviews and if they would be forthcoming. The ops manager took the opportunity to chastise me for sneaking that question in in front of his boss and all assembled. The way I see it is this: if I need money in December, a retroactive raise in March isn't going to help.
Sensing that I was getting on their bad side, I offered two things: one was to show some interest in getting a class B license so I could drive bigger trucks (and open up the door to non-shop days, overtime, per diem earning days, etc.), and the other was to take my schedule constraints off for a few weeks in December if doing so would help me retain 40 hours or something close to it for the slow season. No developments there.
On 12/8, I marked my 4th month there, and coincidentally, there was a meeting upstairs at 10:00 am to introduce the new health care plan the company was adopting. At 9:30 I was called into the office and our receptionist put a paper in front of me. It was the sort of page that would accompany my review. So my review was *only* a month late, and I started to fill it out. Then, the ops manager came by and just about snatched it out of my hand, and said he'd fill it in, and to come on into his office. Swift moving, he shut the door and had me sit down. He was barely seated before he let me know I didn't pass my 90 day review. Then he told me how my cherry picked schedule has cost him "thousands of dollars to work around" as he's needed to hire freelancers or other shop guys into overtime, or whatever. He told me that he was going to give me another 90 day probation but that I would be reduced to a "part time/temporary" position of less than 30 hours a week, which in this coming month or so, given next to no work to do, might mean that I get nothing for weeks at a time—effectively an invitation for me to leave. I reiterated my situation like I wrote in my letter. No flex. He didn't want to hear it. I felt the floor fall out from under me. He didn't even want to entertain talk of my rescinding my custom schedule and just being one of the boys who take it up the ass any time a gig comes up and needs to be worked (except for Sunday, which he agreed was discussed in our first meeting in July).
I just lost it in there. I teared up uncontrollably. This is exactly the shit I knew would come down since almost two months ago when all this shit started happening. There has been talk about my custom schedule being an issue, and sometimes it comes back to me from other employees, even if in jest. But here it was, early December before Christmas and a slow month that was already making me nervous. Only the first half was going to be bearable. Kelli and I have been thinking of moving from this apartment in February (requiring that I give notice here on the first of January—not likely now), and suddenly that idea was all but wiped out. I was heartbroken. I didn't even get wiggle room but to get him to give me the reduced hours. Apparently the money they paid to train me was better honored by keeping me.
So all this was done by 9:45 or so, and I was officially not invited to the health care meeting since I was not going to be eligible, having lost my full time status and all. Just before all this went down, one of the owners came by and offered us a bag of tangerines from his yard. When I spotted the handful of tangerines I took, I got this heartbroken fear that some citrus fruit (especially on this day when I had a wicked cold starting) was going to be about the best health care program I was going to get from this company. For lunch, everyone was enjoying pizza and salad that the company bought for the shop guys. I couldn't eat. All I could do is hide my head in shame for the utter despair I felt. Sick, tired, insulted. Fuck pizza. I went to my truck and slept for my lunch break. I couldn't even eat if I wanted to. I found a decent audience in the chance to at least vent to my audio department supervisor, who only learned of all this from another guy I ranted to who was on the shop floor when the others were in the health insurance meeting. Each at least gave me the chance to vent and flood out even with the tears.
The next day, on Friday, I kept my distance and tried to do better, but was still over the top angry with this shitty return on my investment of time and labor. I tried once again to talk to the boss when he handed me my check, but he didn't go for it. I talked to my warehouse manager about it and he did indeed vouch for the fact that I was reliable when I was there, and that I was always there when I said I could be, and took on some extra jobs for the asking. He at least understood my situation. He told me he'd put in his two cents to try to salvage things.
So that is where I am at the moment. I don't know if they are just going to hang me out to dry or not. I will have to find some other work if I can't do my usual FT gig there. I don't make excuses why I can't do the full time stuff, and I take on overtime, both early and late, and I do other stuff. I just don't fellate the corporate cock at all hours of the day and night. My life is too important to hand it all over willingly. If other guys want to do things this way, fine. Some are starving and 24 and don't care. I played that game for years, and didn't like it, and would like to avoid it if I can. As far as I care, my time at counseling, church, and with my wife is what makes life worth living, not doing a fucking corporate gig that will throw me out as soon as they can't get their way. They pay a freelancer $300 or so a day to do a gig, but would pay me the same hourly wage if I am in the shop or on the gig. The gig just might take longer since it has to start and end at some point. Really, what I asked for was "no OVERTIME on Tuesday and Thursday unless it's critical or planned, and minimal Saturdays." There are guys in the shop who get to call some shots like 'never put me on show sites' or 'never call me in once I am gone for the day' or some things like that.
So tell me. Is this warranted? I don't think I am being unreasonable.
Today I woke up at 9:30. It was a rare day off from work. It was one of those days that, as a day off from work and one where I would lose a day's pay, I dread seeing on the schedule. I have more of these days to come in December since the company falls into the typical holiday slow period. I hope I don't have enough days off to cripple my income—that would be too many. But there might be a kicker of a week next week, with predicted overtime that might help bouy up the weaker time ahead by a small margin. Last night had a couple hours of OT dropped in at the last minute which made me feel a little better about today's "loss."
Almost as soon as I woke up, I got a call from Eric with whom I used to work in the sound biz. I approached him about doing a site survey at my church since there has been some interest in getting a proper PA system there. I had also booked another contractor for today but he couldn't make it. Eric told me he could meet as soon as I could. I got to the church an hour later, getting caught in some wicked traffic until I could take another route which was probably equally slow but less tedious. It used to take less than ten minutes to drive two miles. Now it takes 20 minutes to drive ten miles if everything is working my way. Today took 40 minutes. Eric and I did the site survey and were done in about 30 minutes. I didn't know Mike (the other contractor) wasn't able to make it, so I busied myself with breakfast and some reading on James Kunstler's book, The Long Emergency while I waited, supposedly until he called a while later to get directions.
Then I went to the church office at the beckoning of the secretary Beverly who was stumped about how to receive her e-mail (such people still exist, yes). So I did the usual battery of send/receive tests and concluded things were fine. What I didn't know is that somehow she didn't know about the "send and receive all" button, and was startled to learn that the inbox doesn't just magically update itself upon launch. Oh well, not everyone was born with a silicon chip in their mouth (they didn't exist when Bev was born). I hate Windows OS, being a Mac guy, but really, I learned Mac from making all sorts of mistakes, and since her email hadn't been checked since I gave her the church address a few months ago, all of a sudden there came a few dozen emails. So I showed her how it all worked, and after endearing myself to her for my troubleshooting effort, then some other "hurdles" of hers surfaced, and I helped her with those too.
Then I called to find out that Mike K. from Pro Sound would not be able to make it to the church, so it was time to get on with the next part of the day. After doing my trustee's job of being the technical go-between and getting bids for the PA system project, and offering expert advice on computers (both of which would fetch some handsome cash if I were billing), I then called Dee, the lady who writes the church Christmas play each year. Back in the day, I used to be one of the thespians. Now I provide expert audio editing and production services.
Dee needed a list of songs edited down in clever ways to enhance their play. So she came over here and spent a couple of hours as we took a variety of Christmas songs and diced them up to accomplish certain things that the script required. Some were simple fades, but some took some digital surgery. For a retired schoolteacher, digital audio editing is quite a new thing. For me, it's standard fare. She never realized how deep I was into all this. And today, I didn't even have the luxury of using ProTools. Nonetheless, Peak is capable if the imagination exists to use it that way. So I wrangled samples of Bing Crosby and the Chipmunks into form and she left. I spent another hour tidying it all up and cutting the CD.
Then it was time to clean up after my hard day at work. I had my solo counseling appointment at 7 pm. Today, it was said that I seemed in a far better mood than before, despite the range of thorny and complex things I often report on, and still reported on tonight, but with some levity. I left there feeling better that maybe things are better and that I can deal better with things. I've been going continuously for over two years since I was in the throes of clinical depression in summer of 2003. I am thinking of discontinuing for reasons that are primarily financial, but also it seems that it's time to take the training wheels off and see how things go when I soar without a net.
I left there and took Dee her CD. She was delighted. It led to a conversation that took the next hour and a half or so. I've known Dee for years and years, but this was a totally unique conversation. It was real validating. There was a lot of peak oil talk because it's impossible to have anyone understand what makes me tick without encountering that topic. But it carried us through talk about music, my old recordings, and the one that Kelli and me did some years ago, and through literature and politics. It was great. It was, as Martin Buber would say, meeting. And, actually the Buberian reference is appropos to this talk with Dee at her house. It was in 1989, and again this summer when a small group of church folks did a detailed study of Buber's I and Thou, in which a central tenet of the book is that all real living is meeting.
Then I left and chased all over North Park for a grocery store that was open after 11. I got some stuff and ate a tasty salad and reflected on my day.
I didn't earn a damn cent today. In the morning, when I got the phone for Eric's call, I noticed that there was a call from work asking if I'd come in for three hours. I didn't reply. Nor did I reply to the call three hours later. I'm not boasting; I just decided my day was valuable to me in its own right, using the skills or talents I have to make myself useful to individuals and to my church community as a whole. On a day like today, I didn't complain for getting gypped of hours or pay. I didn't complain for what I didn't have. I only enjoyed what I did have, and shared it freely. I had a whole different experience even within that aspect of things—I've done lots of "free" work for people before, and some of that is what drove me to depression. I've done a lot of audio work and recording work for too little. Either it was on spec or an outright lie that I would be paid but wasn't. I've done years and years of work for peanuts. I often still feel that I have never really gotten my fair share in some deals. But today, I did a lot of things that if I billed as a professional, I could do pretty well. I used to pay out of my own pocket the cost of studio time to accomplish what I did for Dee today: I paid $200 for this same type of work back in 1994-1998! Who knows how much Bev would be in for if she really called a tech to fix her little email issue, but let's say that its at least $30 an hour. I'm already anticipating doing the church PA installation myself, probably as assistant to whoever we hire.
A day like today reminds me that money is not everything. In some ways, I wish I had gone to work, but really I wish that only because my wage would be handy when it comes time for bills this month. I have enough to get by, but I worry about it a lot because Kelli can't work, and any money she has to offer now is from financial aid loans. But today was so rich for me. So validating. I often feel that my contribution at work is so little valued, even at the wage I get. I feel often that I am very replaceable. But at my church, and with folks who stem from that central relationship, I am someone. Someone who can do something unique, or someone who sees the world in a different way that challenges them. Some days I use my computer chops, or today my musical ear and ability to edit like a composer. Two weeks ago it was my ox-like ability to move staggeringly heavy furniture on my own before anyone arrived to the work party. It's weird. I get paid to do that sort of thing but feel devalued. But if I do it for free without being asked, I feel like someone special.
If I had other ways of coping within the economic system of the present, I would just quit my job altogether. For now, it's time for bed. I get up at 6:45. It's 12:30 am.
I think it is time that MoveOn finally be the hero in the progressive movement that picks up the matter of Peak Oil and what its effects on our oil dependent society really will be, unflattering as they might be. Can we finally be straight with ourselves that our relationship to energy use is not unlike a heroin addict and his junk, and that we are doing ever more desperate things to stave off the obvious?
We need to break the addiction before it finally kills us.
What we've been seeing here in America is the desperate attempts to lie to ourselves despite so much evidence that the time has come to give it a rest. If you don't think our war and 9/11 are symptoms of all this, it's time to wake up. There has been plenty of pussyfooting around on blood-for-oil issue. Can we finally admit that Peak Oil is here whether we like it or not, and that the only way to move on is to be straight with ourselves? Peak Oil is not a partisan issue; it's just that the Dems and progressives are closer to confessing the truth than the other side, but still hold back.
There are a few congressmen who are quietly meeting to discuss this stuff. It's a start. But it's too little too late. Yesterday (Thanksgiving) brought one of the first dates offered as an oil peak date. This is real, folks. It is now. We need to stop the silly battles that the other side picks. Forget the guns, God, and gay battles. They are just distractions to keep you and me from being able to get Peak Oil on the table for discussion. It's the only topic that truly matters, and it's already at work in our world, and America has a lot to lose by not understanding it. The current administration doesn't want the cat out of the bag.
We need a leadership who can tell it to us straight, and who can lead Americans to a life with less overall consumption, while still retaining our political ideals we all cherish.
I began to record the services at my church three years ago. Jerry, our minister, has been with us nearly 20 years now, and he has been a great friend for most of that time, except for the times of course when I never showed my face around there for years at a time, but that was a reflection on me, not him. I began to do the recordings as a way to uphold my end of the deal, thinking upon reflection that his place in my life was tremendously influential on me, and to preserve his work would be a good and noble way to show that. Each week, I record the service and then take the CD home to edit out the sermons, which I keep an archive of for the whole church to use. I also put the audio up on the web. And in this case, the first recording I made there, on November 24, 2002, is on Thanksgiving, and coincidentally, exactly three years ago now. I loved this message right away, and periodically, I would revisit it. Finally, I decided to transcribe it. It might be a bit much to transcribe all the recordings, but this one I didn't want to miss.
Our reflection this morning concerns the commandment to give thanks. If we look at biblical references to giving thanks, we find that they are many. To give thanks is one of the major commandments of the biblical witness. In the Hebrew bible, the act of giving thanks is primarily declared in the book of Psalms. This is where the greatest number of references occur. When we consider that the book of Psalms was the liturgy book, the songbook of ancient Israel, covering nearly a millennium of time, we see how central thanksgiving is to our faith. We begin to get a deeper appreciation for the central role of thanksgiving in the worship of God—the God of the Exodus, the creator and savior of the world. In the most famous of the Psalms, Psalm 100, the Psalm commands us. “Enter His gates with thanksgiving, give thanks to Him. Bless His name.” What does it mean? To enter God’s gates with thanksgiving. Of course it meant to enter the temple with thanksgiving. But there is a deeper meaning. Thanksgiving is an approach, an entry into the holy presence. A way of moving toward the divine countenance, a way of unlocking the gate of the Spirit. There is a negative corollary: do not give thanks and remain at a distance from the divine presence. Thanksgiving is the key that makes entry into the gate of the holy presence possible.
We do not always find reasons to give thanks. Often life seems too harsh, too absurd, too filled with conflict and destruction. How could we possibly give thanks in such a context? Many years ago now, a very sensitive person asked me, “how can I give thanks for bread and good food when so many are starving to death? Am I to be thankful that because of luck I am not one of them?” I suspect that all of us at one time or another have asked ourselves a similar question. Sensitivity to the suffering of others raises the question of the validity of thanksgiving, perhaps as nothing else does. Still we are commanded to enter His gates with thanksgiving. Why the commandment—and what we do with the seeming conflict—between it and the reality we often feel…is our task.
Insight into the answer of why we give thanks is to be offered us by our text for this morning. By remembering that according to all of the accounts, Jesus’ offering of thanks substantially took place at the meal he shared with his followers on the night on which he was betrayed, arrested, and delivered into the power of Rome to be killed. Thus, the time-honored name of the liturgy surrounding his meal is Eucharist, which is the Greek verb, “to give thanks.” So at the center of the passion story, or almost at the center of the passion narrative of Jesus is the commandment to give thanks. We may wonder how Jesus gave thanks, but that’s not the question. The question is why did he. And in answering why he did, we may come to a deeper understanding of why we must.
Jesus was of course following the Passover liturgy, commanding as it did, the giving of thanks. But there was more than that… there was a deeper root of giving thanks. We’re told Jesus was shocked and puzzled because only one out of ten lepers returned to give thanks. I think Jesus was shocked and puzzled not because he felt slighted but because such callousness amounts to a disregard for the miracle of being. The miracle of being. And the God who gives it. Fundamentally, thanksgiving arises from the deep appreciation that we do not create our own life—that all we have, we owe. It's not trite to say that there is no such thing as a self-made person. But many people act as though that were the literal truth. The next thought has to be ‘what happens when people behave as though we owe no one else or any other our being, our life, our breath?’ And the answer to that question is clear and precise. All of the violence and destruction and ruin that we know in history, and our own time give to us the insight that they rest on a fundamental false premise, and that is that we owe no one thanks for anything. We owe no one anything. We are the measure of all things. We can do as we wish, as power is the extension of our own ego that is not in debt to anyone or anything else.
All lip service to the contrary (such a predominant idea) and living action throughout history and our own time leads us of course, into the shadows, and thus we have to counteract it.
So we have to be clear. Does not an ethic of justice and love, compassion and care, rest on the living acknowledgement that what we have, we owe? Does not an ethic of justice and love, care and compassion rest on the reason for our giving thanks? Thanksgiving is a sacrifice. It’s the sacrifice of our own egotism, our own self-centeredness, in acknowledgement that we are surrounded by that which gives us life, and breath, and everything else. Life is gift granted to us for a season and a time. To fail to give thanks is worse than death. It is to be insensitive to the source and goal of our being, and those who have sustained us along our life’s way. And, as Elie Wiesel has written, “The opposite of life is not death. It is insensitivity.” Insensitivity to the mystery of our being, and the being of others inexorably leads to the violation of our own life, and the life of others. And so we remember, thanksgiving is a living memory of who we are, who we owe, and of the God who granted us the mystery of existence in the first place.
Paul of Tarsus commands, “in everything, give thanks.” Having tried to be sensitive to the reason for giving thanks, we come closer to an understanding of how we may give it. We may give thanks because it is owed and because it is a reminder to ourselves of who we really are. Paul commands, in everything give thanks, and that means that thanksgiving must also take on the contours of resistance. Resistance.
My teacher, father Gustavo Gutierrez, from Lima, Peru, the so-called father of Latin American liberation theology, told us that at the root of all theologies of liberation is the heart and spirit of gratitude. Gratitude. Why? Because the powers of oppression, the powers of destruction and violence seek to destroy the reasons for thankfulness, thus casting people into despair, cynicism, nihilism, and the way to resist is again to give thanks. To remember all the reasons for giving thanks. And that’s why, often enough, in the heart of the poorest favilas in Latin America, the center of the community is a joyous thanksgiving. People who live on the edge of starvation, giving thanks as a way of resisting the condition that forced them into that situation in the first place.
The way to resist is to give thanks. Thanksgiving is an act of resistance because it consecrates the world where we are—delivering it into the presence of God, entering the gate of the Holy, recognizing the source and mystery of all being, beauty, justice, loving kindness. For all the reasons the powers of the shadows give to erase gratitude from our hearts, we are in the midst of them to give thanks as a testimony to their lie. Thus in everything, we are to give thanks.
Think if you will of the most simple and profound act: saying grace over bread. Saying grace over bread. A simple act recounted by us countless times in our lives. And we remind ourselves of the Hebrew blessing, as old as Judaism itself:
Blessed be thou O lord our God,
Master of the universe
Who brings us forth bread from the earth.
A simple “thank you.” It does not seem much. But it was said in Auschwitz and Treblinka. Even there. And we know from Alexander Solzenitzen that prayers of thanksgiving over a crust of bread were said countless times in the gulag of the Soviet Union. Prayers of thanksgiving as resistance. The consecrating of life and breath and the world itself in the face of all that seeks to destroy. And at our own tables too. Thanks over bread. The consecration of life. The wonder of being. The beauty and preciousness of love, friendship, and hope as resistance against all that seeks to take it away.
Thanksgiving is entry into God’s presence—the gate of the Holy. Gratitude is the key to God’s future opposed to the death we seek to sow in ours. How do we give thanks rests in why we give thanks. We give thanks to acknowledge the mystery and wonder of life. The mystery and wonder we did not and do not create and for which we owe everything. It is simple then to give thanks. It may be done at any time…surely, over a piece of bread, but also at any other time. We are to be a living thanksgiving, as seal and testimony that creation, life, breath, beauty, wonder do not belong to us except as a gift, and that therefore, we are not the lords of the earth, for the one lord of heaven and earth rests with us.
And so we say,
Blessed be thou O lord our God
Who has created us,
And enabled us to reach this season.
I sent the following to my email list after having a great turnout at my showing of the WalMart Movie by Robert Greenwald. The part of this message about Thanksgiving and peak oil falling on the same day, only to be followed by business-as-usual is especially bittersweet and poignant for me. I plan to have a great dinner with the closest thing to a functioning family that I have: Kelli and I are going to spend the holiday with some family friends who have adopted us and made our lives richer for the time we've been together. It is interactions like these that show me the promise of the community that I think is critical in the near future when a lot of promises and hearts are broken because of energy scarcity. We already see problems of large operations in entropy—the response to Katrina is one such instance that our government is unable to meet our needs, and should not be counted on. The only anything that will matter is our determination to cooperate and share what we have.
Some have rightly noted that most of what I present is not all cheery. It lacks the Hollywood ending. I leave the Hollywood endings to Hollywood. What we have before us in Peak Oil is a huge issue that no three living generations of humans ever had to cope with before. The implications reach across all sorts of human activity and our civilization itself. Huge question marks are popping up over all sorts of minds when the topic comes up: how does a global society that is addicted to cheap and abundant oil deal with the time when that is no longer possible? What is at risk when the very lifeblood of our elaborate systems of agriculture, transportation, economic growth, finance, and technological development is in peril of peaking and declining steadily (oil), or altogether crashing (gas)?
We got problems.
One thing I can't stress enough is that the range of things that I am talking about are not partisan issues. They are everyone's issues. There is some need to get partisan because we do have a lopsided "balance" of power in this nation, and these people are distracting us with petty nonsense that is worthless in the face of what our real enemy is: the end of the oil age, and the fact that it will up and smack us in the face with an utter lack of media attention. So, folks like me who find the time and will to give a damn are the ones who are saddled with the chore of spreading the word. I guess I am the liberal media.
People often ask what the solutions to these things are. The answer is simple: it's not simple. However, I do offer a few things like:
Take stock of your motivations for what you do. Don't take things for granted. Have you let the quasi-official state religion of consumerism get the better of you? Challenge yourself to break habits that keep you in debt, or that keep you from engaging in good relationships with family, friends, and community, or following your God. Why do you work 60 hours a week?
Trust your own abilities. A lot of consumerism comes as a result of people who have been trained to doubt themselves, which is just the sort of people who will have to shell out money for all sorts of goods and services that might be unnecessary. A lot of us like to "leave it to the experts" when we don't even need to. What you can't do yourself, maybe your friend can. And vice versa.
Ask yourself if there is any simpler solution to whatever problem you face. Or can you be any more resourceful than the last time you faced the same problem?
Value things that can’t be bought. One day not everything will be for sale. If we are looking to devices, knick-knacks and other junk for comfort, then someday when this system fails us, we are going to have a nightmarish depression that a world of psychiatrists can’t fix. Consumerism is not a substitute for the fundamental joy we should derive from real life, in all its complexity and beauty, and yes, tragedy. You’ve heard it before—you can’t take it with you. After a century of economic growth predicated on disposable everything, and predicated on insecurity, it is only up to us to decide to claim our lives back. We’re headed for a time when there will be a permanently declining amount of fortune. Either we can be invested in disposable artifacts of our present, or we can be invested in the community life that will do the work of sustaining us when everything else falls away around us.
There are no for-sure things to tell you. But my time researching all this for the past two years has led me to doubt most of what passes for the name-brand media, and to doubt rosy-sighted economists that tell us the future will be better when we just get this technology or break through the regulations that hold the market back. Nonsense. What we have is an overly complex civilization that is ready to fall from its own mass. Hurricanes can’t be dealt with by our inept government. Corruption is rampant, but is business as usual. Marketism is the official religion that keeps us scared—stop consuming and the economy will collapse. And of course, the hijacking of at least two of the world’s major religious faiths by radicals who can’t be called fundamentalists because they really don’t get what the fundamentals of their respective religions really are! What we have is a system that is already in the process of crumbling. It is usually a fate that any large system can look forward to. Would we not be fools to think that our turn would never come up?
I want to reiterate some things that were mentioned briefly at the meeting on 11/20.
Kenneth Deffeyes says that peak oil is due to take place on Thanksgiving 2005. The day after that is the day that Adbusters.org has dubbed “Buy Nothing Day” as a deliberate attempt to jam consumer culture on the highest of high holy days for the retail sector. Hmmm. You folks, and others like you might be the only ones who can appreciate this point in history. It is a microcosm of the world’s dilemma-at-large. One day we will have peak oil (whether or not it really is on Thanksgiving 2005), and the next day, people will continue on with life as usual because no one will have told them about the day before, and what it means. Life as usual of course means that people are spending themselves silly, flying in airplanes just to play the slots in Las Vegas, and generally living like there is no tomorrow. Well, I have news. There IS a tomorrow. But if we don’t stop this madness, it will be in the dark, in the cold, and we will all be watching as our precious world gets torn asunder under the stress of figuring out how to live differently, while still clinging for dear life to the old ways— easy motoring, something-for-nothing, and in a consensus trance that everything is goingalongjustfinethankyouverymuch. (I just ripped off Jim Kunstler in a big way.)
For Thanksgiving this week, promise me you will take a moment to understand where we are today. And where we look to be going. Imagine your Thanksgiving in the absence of cheap and abundant oil and gas:
How would you get your family together from across the continent?How would all that food get to your table?How would it be cooked?How would you be able to heat your home to a pleasant 70º F?How would your veggies be grown without the natural gas based fertilizers and the pesticides and herbicides that keep them looking like prize entries in the local fair?
Whether or not this Thanksgiving turns out to be the momentous point in human history when we have successfully used up the first half of our ancient sunlight endowment, it will probably be the last when we can operate in “business as usual” mode. But I hold that this is actually a good thing.
I wish you all a good holiday. I’m taking December off from annoying all you folks with such stuff, so stay tuned in 2006.
Today I attended a memorial for one of the old timers at my church. I didn't really know him well at all, but by the end of the service, I felt like I had, and felt that I had really missed a lot. It turns out the man was a pioneer in solar energy and research into alternative fuels, and a range of issues that just fascinate me in the present day. I've known him for years and years. His son and daughter and I were in Sunday school classes as kids, but they were something like six years older than me, give or take a few. I find that this man, Tommy, would have been just a huge figure to me, had I ever really gotten to know him. When I had my last big period in church, I was in my middle teens, and had no interest or awareness of any of the things I pursue for knowledge now, so when he was about 15 years younger and in his prime, I didn't know him either, except as one of the most reliable regulars in the congregation.
There were about 200 people at the memorial today. It was cloudy in the afternoon, but it was a humid overcast more than rain clouds. It's the sort of sky we usually get in mid August. The church was full. His son and daughter, hardly ever seen in the same place together because one is in the Bay Area, and the other has usually spent time in Asia or New Zealand, were there, and they sang two songs. The son played guitar and sang, and his sister sang along. I was choked just watching them. I can't imagine how in the world they could get up in front of all those people on an occasion like this and hold a tune without breaking down. He did great, but his sister caved at a few points, obviously overwhelmed. It was just amazing to watch. I could not have done that. As I watched them do their two songs (one was "I Can See Clearly", and the other was "Blue Skies (Nothing But Blue Skies")), I shit you not, the clouds pulled away and the afternoon sun came beaming into the room, low in the autumn sky. I don't know if anyone else noticed, but I was just amazed at how some of these things work out.
There was another fellow from my church who is about my age (call him B) who had taken to helping Tommy get to doctors and other destinations. They got to find their unique relationship, and some of it was recalled before everyone today. Some months ago, I was offered that same spot to drive Tommy on errands, but was unable to do so reliably, mainly because I had just gotten laid off my job. Excuses, excuses, I know, but that was what it came down to then. As I listened to how things had blossomed for the two of them, I found myself puzzling over what would have come had I been doing those driving runs, meals, or whatever else made Tommy's last year what it was.
The vicarious living was just overwhelming for me. See, the day before, I got both an email and a call from my father who seems to place his property value above me somehow. We've been terribly divided over my house and studio for years. I was storing my music gear at his house (my childhood home) for a while during my move this summer, and however long he could accomodate it. His email and phone calls are always short, with no salutation, no signature, no sign of any grace or anything. Strictly business, and curt business at that. He wanted me to come over and move my stuff as soon as possible. It was time to rent his house out again. Well, the bedroom of stuff that I have is just a drag to move any more than necessary, and he was just being annoyingly pushy about getting it out, and the only option he could offer was to take it BACK to my old house, where the same scenario would repeat itself when he would ultimately sell or rent it out. So it was sort of a drag to have that presented to me, and only a couple people on a list of people who might be able to indulge my storage needs for this stuff, for indeterminate period. My old man and I got into yet another argument about property, money, future plans, and so forth. That is the extent of our relationship. I always come out the loser.
Watching the service today was hard for me. The current me has almost no way of imagining how I could ever play and sing a song for my father when that day comes. For one, I can't sing, so it will probably never happen that way anyway, but still—I can't imagine what it takes to do such a thing. Nearly every time I leave a meeting with my father, I want to spit or kill myself, not sing a song about how great a character he is. Granted, I don't think that singing a song means that nothing of this sort ever happened to this family, but I can only speak for myself. And, I could never guess what revelations will be made when it becomes my turn to grieve. But for now, it gives me nothing but existential grief to know that he is my only blood relative who I could hope to relate to (my mom's side, along with siblings, has always failed miserably), but can't ever seem to be taken for real. He speaks in cocky and condescending tones, always seems to belittle me, then has the gall to blame me for sabotaging our relationship because I called the city to bust his illegal and shoddy work on my house. I was just protecting my house, but it happened that the landlord was my father, and he was doing this utterly terrible work while I was getting deeper and deeper into a suicidal depression. He just never seemed to care.
For me and B at my church who got to know Tommy, we have somewhat reversed experiences. His father committed suicide early on. My mother was out of my life from earlier on. He never had a father. I only had a domineering father who sent wildly mixed messages about his hopes for me to succeed, while undercutting my real interests. I guess it was better for the other fellow to get a shot at knowing something of a father's love, and one who perhaps didn't sabotage the relationship all along with repeated messages of unworthiness. The other fellow got too little father and father figure. I got too much. Tommy's son at least had the benefit of his father's enthusiasm and support for what he wanted to do, including playing guitar. I can primarily recall when my father dismissed my music involvement as something that should never really amount to more than a hobby. He caved to his tenant when I played drums one day and the tenant sued for some totally frivolous reason. He agreed with the neighbor that drums don't belong in the house. But he never gave me a space to play that could accommodate drums. He obstructed efforts to get my studio built four years before I finally got it built, then when he did come around, he told me it would only be up till my grandmother died. I did get some more time than that, but he still got the upper hand and booted me out this year. And yesterday was just one more reminder of what it is to somehow play second fiddle to his property management persona. I often reason but reach no consensus with him that two houses in a two person family should not drive us to this madness. I leave angry. Every time.
I could sell my guitars, for all I care. I don't think I'll need them at this rate.
I seem to remember a year ago the feeling of having had a bad dream on November 2. It still feels that way, but I think the whole thing got worse. Most days, it makes me want to puke.
Against all reason and logic. Bush is still "president." Man, that wasn't supposed to happen.
I got a hard on for the bass line in Talk Talk's song "It's My Life." Oh, and I dig the song too. I've been on an 80s music kick for a while now, and discover a few more songs that I didn't even know I liked. I guess it took hearing the No Doubt version of the song to remind me about the song, but I can't get it out of my head now.
People knock the 80s pop music, but there was some neat stuff in there. There were a lot of boners too. Or stuff with ridiculous production above and beyond what was useful, but I think a lot of it is a lot more enjoyable to listen to and varied than a lot of what passes for popular music now. But I guess thats just me getting old.