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Entries in adjusting to reality (79)

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.

Saturday
Dec032011

Jesus the Shape Shifter +20

This year of 2011 is drawing to a close and with it the +20 (years) aspect of it leading me to weigh what was going on twenty years ago. There are a few reasons 1991 is worthy of a look now twenty years on; it was the year of my high school graduation and then starting school at Mesa College after that; working at Subway where I met Matt Zuniga and where our status as exiled suburban drummers led me toward recording and all that; and a year where I traveled to Europe for the first time; and in some ways, some early brushes with a deeper level of life outside my comfort zone.

It was in the middle of the year of 1991 when I pretty much began my personal journal that now has gone on for two decades. The kinds of long form, introverted, and exploratory posts now on this site are not all so different than what I wrote in the early years (though they are far more legible and generally better composed). My friend Shelby, still causing me to spill pixels for as I process some of these earlier instances with a bit more perspective, was a huge figure that year, though never for the reasons I had hoped for. A completely mixed mind is sprawled out over various loose page journals from the second half of the year, and of course, she continued to shape things for years to come, until the crash.

One of the foundational experiences occurred on August 2nd. It was just a week or so after she got back from a trip to Russia that lasted a month. Her trip was quite a boldly timed thing, given the fact that the Soviet Union was only then in the process of becoming a historical nation. When we had this conversation on August 2, Gorbachev was weeks from losing his place as leader. When she was there, she saw the collapse as a citizen of the republic would have—empty store shelves, long lines for what could be had, and all that. For a 17 year old only nine days my junior, that was world wisdom that even this old man did not have. And, in America in the early 1990's, living as a suburbanite, even as a son of a working man, I only knew a baseline of what constituted comfort by the standard of about 98% of the world's population. But I didn't really know that. I didn't grasp it at any existential level. So Shelby was my rude awakening. She saw to it.

For the two weeks smack in the middle of her trip to Russia, I was in Europe. She saw the bread lines and empty shelves. I landed in Geneva and was met with absurdly common instances of Swiss watch shops, chocolatiers, charcutiers, and everything else that constitutes the enviable European good life in one of the most well-off nations on earth. About as much friction as I perceived there was some graffiti on the outside wall of one such shop. It read, "Yankee Go Home!" and was a kind reminder to my nation to not let let the fall of the Soviet Union become a power-trip, a stimulant. We had just "won" the war against Saddam Hussein in February after the six week campaign. I was in Geneva in June. If not for that bit of vandalism—totally out of place in Geneva, which has to be the cleanest and nicest urban space I've ever been in—then my trip would have been just a little bigger a deal than a trip to Disneyland. The places my old man/tour guide selected were pretty controlled sights to see—largely places that cater to tourism. For my time there, I spent all my time, heart aflutter for Shelby, thinking I'd be in a new golden era with Shelby once we came back. I got her a Swiss watch—rather dainty, comparatively speaking. She got me a Soviet one. It was big and manly with Cyrillic marks in red and black. Of course, not too long after, it broke and never worked again! 

But while our reunion in the late-middle part of July was met with my heart thumping out of my chest after not seeing or hearing from her for a month (and the hype associated with entering that period is a whole other story), she had just come home marked for life by her experience of seeing the dark side of the empire, getting to know real people. Maybe she's a bleeding heart liberal in a way that I can't relate to. Sometimes her rants did sour me, mainly because I was raised in a quite Republican/conservative setting and really had little idea what she was talking about. It was one of those rants that reshaped our history for years to come.

So on August 2, 1991, we went to breakfast. We scheduled it several days before. I was thinking we'd go to Denny's or something. That was breakfast at a restaurant, right? And maybe we'd go out at 10 am or something? Nah. She wanted to go out at 7 am! This was a jarring thing since I was getting to be later and later during that summer. But since I was so nuts for her, I was ready to do just about anything to get near her. She came over and picked me up. We had no idea where to go, but she said she'd like to go to Old Town. WTF? That's kind of far away, isn't it? There's nothing in Old Town but Mexican restaurants that cater to tourists. There's a Denny's just a few miles over in the other direction... Furthermore, she accosted my sensibilities by wanting to go to a Mexican restaurant for breakfast. Mega-WTF? Breakfast is eggs, bacon, pancakes! (The thing is, I was hyper sensitive to breakfast foods then. I tolerated cereal. Too many instances with "institutional" eggs that made me grimace. Cereal was breakfast for me.) I talked her out of that, so we went to downtown, some miles more. Didn't find anything appealing and agreeable. Her patience was thin and I was aware of that in a totally guilt-ridden, I ain't making no headway here kind of way.

We turned back to Old Town and the same Mexican restaurant we had just left. I felt like I was doomed in every way. I ordered something I thought would work out—a total gringo copout in the form of pancakes—and tried to eat some. All the pent up anticipation of seeing her again (I'd seen her a time or two since our return) and a wild case of nerves conspired to ruin this day, starting with the wrecking ball to my appetite! I took about three bites of these pancakes and pushed the plate aside. Then the browbeating came. I felt sicker than ever. 

Watching the news and seeing the state of the USSR at that time was one thing. It was safely at a distance. But sitting there with a friend who had actually seen past the Iron Curtain and was a new convert to what reality was, even in the lives our our arch-enemies, all that was mercilessly demolishing my ignorance. I don't know if she was rehearsing such a rant as I got that morning over pancakes, but she delivered it with passion, and I pretty much melted into my seat. I knew she was right. "Americans take everything for granted. I'm never again going to take anything for granted." I could tell I pissed her off. I made some vague offer to do something responsible if it made her think any better of me. I don't know if that was to take the food and donate it or to pay double or what, but it was what came to mind. 

I was well clammed up about this and a lot of other things in that great summer of transition. The thing is, a moment like this was golden, even as it was painful. But I'd have to wait nearly a decade before I actually got out what I had to say all those years before. It had nothing to do with Russia or food. I just wanted to be with her. She lit up my life. I could tell even the hard times were ones to learn from. But she never wanted the same and I never had the fortitude to get that message across without equivocation. When I did, it collapsed like a house of cards. But that is well discussed in the link above.

Skip ahead a couple months to the end of the year. I started working at Subway a few weeks later and by this time in December was about three months in and had progressed (by attrition) to be a "senior" employee, if not by age (18), then by the fact that I had outlasted the others and was now essentially the longest tenured closer, training other characters like Matt and Sarah. (You can read about my early Subway experiences here.) By the start of December, I was weary. I had already given Subway my nights and weekends. I noticed that working so late on Saturday was making it hard to be in church on Sunday, so I stopped going. In a time of transition out of high school and into my little experience with community college, I was rather foolish to isolate even more by dropping out of church. My social life, such as it was then, was largely shaped by returning to Subway on my days off so I could get dinner (which at that time was total culinary liberation compared to the garbage available at home). Or maybe I went in half an hour early and made my sandwich. By the time this journal of December 11/12 was written, I was newly faced with the reality of having turned my drums over to Matt just two weeks before. I was depressed. I think I got the flu. I was feeling pretty low.

Then I guess Jesus was out there to greet me on the way to work that day. He came in the form of a 40- or 50-something woman standing out near my Subway shop, but closer to the McDonald's driveway. As I biked in, I saw a sign that in 2011 would not shock me so much: "Homeless, Please Help, God Bless You" or something like that. I biked past her originally but as I was parking inside the Subway, I realized with a few minutes I had before shift-start, I could go out to offer help. I felt like maybe my own employee sandwich for the night would be the most reasonable thing to offer. So I walked back out and made an offer if she needed some food or to get out of the cold for a while. She did come in. I did get some food and drink for her. She said she was sleeping in a canyon with her husband. I don't know exactly what canyon, but that message was clear enough. Even in San Diego, a December night spent outside is no one's first choice.

My journal from that day recognized that this experience was the fruit of the seed planted by Shelby a few months before at that terribly uncomfortable breakfast. Okay, but I know that celebrating this is rather self serving. And I've perhaps done more in the time since, and without the kind of Shelby-is-watching self consciousness that accompanied this deed. But what surprised me about the original journal entry was what followed.

August 2 wasn't the day but December 11 was. [...] Christmas has come to mean less and less to me, especially after last year [a family Christmas blowout concerning a power struggle about which store to buy from, signalling decay in Lucas Land], as I usually can't stand the commercial shit out there, and there is little family unity. Sometimes, I feel better if I'm doing something for someone. But it's usually because I'm told to do something, not spontaneously, like today. Doing something like that seemed to be the only right thing to do that would make me feel a little better about this season that so often gets me down. I saw this opportunity and took it. Hell, my Christmas is made. I've got my CD player [a big thing that year that I know was bought a few days before], but not everyone is so lucky. Some people need to rely on donations such as the one I made today. Not because I was told to, but because I do feel a bit guilty about getting so much handed to me "on a silver platter," as it were. 1991: Ed's material year: bike; trip to Europe; CD player [CDs were a form of music playback device in the 1990s, LOL]; a job; way too much spending money; new cymbal [interestingly bought just an hour or so after the notorious August breakfast with Shelby]. And what did I pay for? Only a $100 cymbal! Everything else was given to me! It's about time I give back, or give away.

[Snip some musings on how I'd model my ideal self on some key people I respected then...]

I think the whole key to being such a person that I'd like to become is to take a walk in the other person's shoes, to live by the golden rule, and to do unto others as I would want them to do unto me. I was happy with myself.

A mixed bag of degrees of consciousness. I originally titled this entry "Doing the right thing for the wrong reasons" but I was thinking of how Jesus appears to people at various stages in the evolution of our consciousness. Some people respond better to the coercive Jesus who is the law man, the enforcer, the one who shames you into right action, and maybe it takes hold. Others respond to invitation. Jesus enters the room and at some level, one can only respond in the best possible way with one's being and presence. In this story of mine, I was a bit more responsive to the latter, the woman with her sign was more motivating than being browbeaten with Shelby's guilt, even as right as she was.

I'm still a bit embarrassed to post this bit of naive and rather condescending self-reflection. Such is a mind in transition. But I was really surprised to be reminded of the fact that even in 1991, I was already moving along one side of the fork in the road with regard to holidays and commercialism. I can still sense the revulsion and disgust at watching how my family was grappling with missing Eda (for several years by then), aging (both grandparents less and less able to host much for the holidays), and the strife surrounding which bargain department store should be used to buy stuff for me (my old man, a staunch K-Mart man, bitterly opposed my grandmother's more lenient purchase of a gift certificate from Mervyn's. He knew that could only mean I'd go buy Levi 501s which he seemed to have made a personal crusade against for a few years prior). Christmas 1990 was a new low point where I was beginning to see behind the veil of false joy that the holidays typically wear in this culture. Even doing the bit that I did for the woman at Subway was an early way to grapple with finding some alternative, even if it was a mechanical and self conscious act for me. As my father Richard Rohr says, we have to act ourselves into new ways of thinking, not think ourselves into new ways of acting. Baby steps.

In those days though, my world was rather small, and I had not really left the figurative apron strings, expecting the care to flow toward me rather than the other way around, or ideally, in a circular fashion. That was rather distant still. One thing that Shelby's method did not really account for was that I was not ready to come out of a shell that I was raised within. Granted, she delivered a few critical blows to it. She had her iconoclastic tendencies and got to make some real black and white statements, even in those earlier years. I guess she did provide me with the "nag" in a nagging conscience about my place in this Earth-scheme. She did that in the same way as my step mom Eda gave me a steady dose of God-talk that I was not ready for, and then when I was, I still had to adapt her language and vision to suit my vision of the world. (Interestingly, the reopening of my in-person contact with Eda was just around the corner from this date in 1991. Only a month later I was I saw Eda on the down-low for the first time in years. That's next year's drama, folks!) 

A lot is made about Christmas being a time of giving. If you read your biblical stories without a contemporary American/consumerist mind, you don't really see it that way. (You could read Lee Van Ham's perspectives.) Christmas is a time for hope in the darkness, and the symbol of hope, the symbol that God really gives a shit about humanity is that a helpless baby bore the divine image. The baby Jesus is, as Richard Rohr says, a divine lure to a deeper humanity for all of us. The incarnational aspect of divinity merging with the stuff of the human being—the dust, as it were—is the miraculous message of Christmas. The scandal of the birth of Jesus was that God hid among us, among the most helpless and simplest of our kind, so that our hearts could be softened and our minds transformed. I'm probably not alone in being rather slow to get it. My journal reminded me that there were some awkward and clumsy steps along the way. Giving is important but it is not the real nature of Christmas. Giving flows from the transformation of one's mind and the softening of one's heart, and that doesn't happen with lightning bolt clarity at all times, if my slow progression is any indicator. But using the model of a divine lure, that isn't the point. The point is to keep moving in the right direction, as Christmas draws us toward Easter: the lure of divinity draws us to the cross of pain and heartache and the death of self and ego, but that paves the way for the next wave of life, and ultimately that patter is one of repetition.

Who knew how the cosmic tide was rising for me twenty years ago? I barely knew I'd get theological as this when I started this very entry! Shelby, the sometimes cantankerous bleeding heart liberal who usually identified as an athiest-agnostic (and who ironically I met in a church as she explored religion as an anthropologist or student of comparative religions would), and the poor woman begging on the corner at Subway both figured into effecting transformation in me. Seeing it now, both had the shape of Jesus, with different levels of my self being able to interpret it as such. All the years later when I was delivering veggies in the commercial food industry, the seeds that these two women planted in me all those years ago were grown up. Working in the food industry, I did see a huge amount of waste at the very same time I saw growing numbers of homeless people almost literally outside my warehouse doors. This time around, for the three years at that company, I was far better prepared to act. I suppose I was making good with Shelby after pushing my pancakes away.

This time around, having more organically absorbed a sense of the pathos of the world at international and domestic levels, but also the pathos within me, it was easier to respond not because of Shelby's looming presence over my shoulder, but because it was inside me. I don't know how much food I tried to divert from waste heaps by literally grabbing and going on my own parallel mission to serve. I only know there was more to grab and more people to serve and that I could never do it all. Some food (veggies, milk, bread) went to the couple social agencies I was connected to; some went from me to homeless at the street corner. What I could not give away that specifically, I literally just dropped anonymously in known hotspots where it would all take care of itself. With it came this surge of the divine spirit that comes with doing some of these counter-cultural things like doing both my boss' work and God's work on the very same trips. I don't know if the company ever knew of that, or if that was exactly what led to my dismissal, but for much of the time there, I was regarded by facts and figures alone to be one of the best drivers there in terms of actual "productivity." I just don't know if my little charitable operation was known of! Maybe it was. I did things of this sort even as I was training new hires, in part to shape their own consciousness of how our industry was so wasteful, and to set their minds thinking of how to do something useful however they could.

During that period, 2008-2010, I have to say that there were so many of these opportunities that I began to feel the presence of Jesus at each of these corners. Each became a sheep-and-goats moment for me, as my pastor preached on a couple weeks ago, instead of it being a matter of judgment, the sheep and goats story is one of a reality check we could always have in our mind. Are we attentive? Do we pay attention to the world around us? Do we know who is in need? The America I am in right now is a different place than I think it was in 1991. But I recognize the signs. It was almost that that woman at Subway was brought forward in time by a couple decades, a vision of 2011, a vision of what America's own collapse will be like. No wonder people turn away. I didn't want to see it. After that instance, I went back to sleep for I don't know how long. I hit snooze. Being reminded of this first instance though, it brings to mind a few other moments where I acted just as awkwardly in years to come. Jesus kept appearing and it took a good long time before I recognized him and was prepared to act. 

Sunday
Nov272011

Stop Playin' Those Damned Drums!

You know how people talk about the seeds of opportunity packed within a crisis? This is a little like that. But you have to get into my 18 year old's mind to really get this bit of historical narrative. I suppose the word "crisis" is a bit much to describe the upset but there was an interesting opportunity that lurked in the experience and that it's fair to say, changed my life.

The first pic of my return to drumming, fall 1989I started taking drum lessons in the fall of 1983, though only half-willingly. In early 1985 I got a new drum set which was a prize for that effort. And not very long later, I fell out of interest with it all and was off to something that would get me more chicks—building plastic models of cars first, and then developing one of my first acute obsessive fixations on US naval aircraft, with a specialty in jet fighter planes, and ultimately moving to some armor kits. The thing about girls really never crossed my mind, actually. So I indulged the plastic model thing for about four years from 1985-1989 when I rediscovered the drums. I went from a damned quiet hobby that involved some filing and sanding and air compressor work for airbrushing, to the most obscenely loud hobby a 15 year old can engage in! And there was no hiding it from my neighbor, an old timer named Ray Merritt.

Prom dayThe room I played in was immediately adjacent to the driveway he parked his Econoline van in. He sat in that van for hours and hours. It was his mobile clubhouse. I think he had it decked out in some carpeted interior too. A good thing, because back in his house, his ultra-conservative Jehovah's Witness wife Fern ruled the roost. He'd sit out there in the driveway, listening to his radio, having his can of Coors, and blissing out. Oh, he did other work too, around the yard and garage, but this van time is a point of concern to this story.

Since my old man fancied my drumming as nothing more than a hobby (and seemed determined to keep it that way by not lending support to amount to much), there was really never any talk to find an appropriate way to contain the high sound pressure levels of the drums. No talk about how to seriously build anything to do the job. Willy himself was able to bear with it as he did his work or watched TV (he was known for making a ruckus too with his metalworking tools—all the grinders, drills, welding and cutting equipment was his life and he found happiness in industrial work that was pretty loud). But in either of the bedrooms I kept the drums in, both right next to Ray's yard, the most I could do to dampen the sound was to stuff giant thick pads of foam into the window spaces (single pane, wrong stuff for isolation) and to wrap towels around the large louvered windows, and to drape several blankets and comforters over the window. But drums are so loud anyway that no house walls really do much.

Within the first year of my playing, my old man already got sued by an upstairs tenant we rented to, but that was pretty clearly the case of my experimenting one day by setting up in the garage. This guy was whining because he was kept awake in the middle of the day. The old man donated a pair of earplugs, which the tenant found not so funny, and then decided to sue. Ray Merritt himself periodically could be heard at the end of some big cadential cymbal crashes, hollering "Stop playing those DAMNED drums!" Combined, they were the voices that started to change my old man's mind about whether I could play at the house. In 1990, as a 16 year old without a car, I tried the option of taking my kit down to a paid rehearsal facility but that was way more effort than I wanted to engage in. It required paying for the privilege of getting my family to drive me several miles, moving my gear so I could play in an empty room for two hours. It was doomed to failure. I think I've written this story a time or two here...

So by the end of 1991—in fact, this very day twenty years ago now—I was already getting to be a percussive pariah in my own house. And what emerged was almost a Candid Camera style joke played upon me. But as I said above, the crisis of this 18 year old did give way to something that resonates even today in some ways. Enter Matt Zuniga and the unlikely start of my recording artist career. (I'm gonna borrow what I wrote for the Subway, Center of the Universe entry earlier this year. References to work relate to our job at Subway, about equidistant from our houses. I was hired in late August and he in late October.)

One afternoon, October 20th or so, I was at the shop eating my Spicy Italian and this spikey haired, tattooed, earring-, torn jeans-, and Doc Marten wearing guy came in and asked for Steve. He looked a bit older than me, closer to Steve's ripe age of 27. He was actually 20, and was looking for work. Maybe he already had filled out his application. A week later I saw him donning a red Subway shirt and training behind Darius, a huge black dude who looked intimidating but was a pretty cool figure. His name was Matt Zuniga. I didn't know it then but I had just met the guy who helped shape my next several years and who was an unwitting impetus that led to my "recording career." I never would have guessed that his rather grungy looking self and my rather uptight and nerdy self would have interacted. But we found ourselves in our own respective states of exile with regards to family and society, and found that drums led us to help each other out.

It was quite well timed that I would meet him at the end of October. We worked together a couple times and eventually the topic of drums came up. He said he liked drums. And that he didn't have a set. The situation was becoming that my house was drying up as a viable place to play. Having heard about this, Matt promptly said I could set up at his house, and that he could keep them set up, all no problem if I'd go for it and let him play the kid. I was intrigued but really cagey about it. Who was this guy? He dressed like a punk or something. He was kinda unreliable at work. I barely met him a few weeks ago! 

Matt brought the drums over to his studio apartment on the day before Thanksgiving [20 years ago today]. With a lot of concern of my own and some urging from the old man, I wrote up a contract with a detailed list of the equipment and the terms involved if I were to do this. Matt kind of laughed it off but went with my uptight contract idea. He signed it the day after Thanksgiving. While I might have been to his place a time or three before that, this clearly made me interested in getting over there more so I could get the use of my own stuff. His apartment was a rather mediocre place that tended toward mid 70s decor and was made darker still by his inclination to cover the windows with heavy curtains (or maybe that was just to help dampen the drums). The drum arrangement brought us together to kill time and talk music. I found he was into some really extreme music. Grindcore? WTF did I know about that? I was just in my big Tull and Rush period, and at least he gave Tull a try. (He favored the harder stuff from the earlier albums. Anything that smacked of gritty Black Sabbath minor chord stuff, basically.) What we did find was a pretty immediate affinity for Rush. Matt was open about his love of porn so it was almost no time before he and I were hanging out and he decided to put some on while having dinner after work (which would have been about midnight or so). Hanging out with Matt was for a long time akin to eating forbidden fruit. Even working late was odd, so going to his place at midnight and coming home at almost 3 am was truly a new adventure. 

Matt's offer, scary as it was at the time, was just the thing that let me get drums out of my house, but also with access that didn't involve paying for studio space. He did more or less respect my gear, cobbled together as it was. It was his personality that was most jarring. 

The bridge in Mission Valley where DWA was bornOur little arrangement at his grandmother's house worked out for about five weeks before she responded the same way as I was already accustomed to. After that we found ourselves exiled together and in our frustrations, we settled for anything that didn't require payment for studio time. We took our show on the road. And that's no exaggeration. Sometimes we actually did set up roadside. Or in parking lots. Or parking garages (our favorites). The fact that we both wanted to play led us to do some odd stuff as we waited for the other to finish playing for 15 minutes or so at a time. The places we targeted suggested many opportunities for mischief. The random screaming and glass breakage eventually got recorded one day early in 1992 and, even considering how juvenile it all was, it was a fun record of our Sunday's "playing" and blowing off steam. I jokingly called our little project "Drummers With Attitudes" (DWA—yeah, after NWA, the irony was quite intentional that some suburban white guys were so worked up!) I created the first of a series of recordings with Matt that went on for the next year and a half or so, and which got me conditioned to think in terms of recording, which influenced an interest in songwriting along the way.

Alright, crisis was bit strong a word, but when you're used to playing drums "in private" in your bedroom, the thought of not doing so did loom frightfully. And I guess the answers come in the oddest packages. Who knew that such a thing would ultimately lead me to all the things I've done since? Even my JEM podcast work now is pretty much an heir to all this. I still record things and still package and create the supporting notes and information. 

Additional notes on this period (for the gluttonous or masochistic among you) can be found with images in the Sundry Music gallery.

Thursday
Oct272011

The Show I Waited A Decade To See

In 1995-2000, Mike Keneally's music was not unlike the air I breathed. The hottest period was during late 1996 and then again during much of 1998, but for several years, my Keneally fascination was parallel and maybe even the spark for a creative spell of my own. In some ways, I feel that I patterned my own efforts on some vicarious fanboy imagination of some of the aspects of his life and career. It seems silly to say so, but that's pretty much what I decided was going on with me.

I came into Keneallydom by a few different doors during 1993/94. In some ways, that makes me rather old school Keneally (at least as far as his solo work is concerned). In some ways, I was a bit late. I never saw Drop Control, and he had started and ended his Frank Zappa career years before I arrived at a Boil That Dust Speck CD release party (or an early show following that album) in late 1994. But I go back some way, and over time, our paths have been intertwined at a few points. I've been a drooling fan boy listener. I've provided him studio space. I've worked on one of his tours. I've done other local work for him. I've been a rather savage critic of his product and lifestyle. I've gone into musical hiding for much of a decade now. Long story.

I used to get to most of the San Diego shows he put on, and when that wasn't enough, some LA/Hollywood/Orange County shows too, including most of the shows during the 1999 Baked Potato summer series. About 2002/3, I fell out of love and probably didn't see any shows till mid 2007 when I somehow got into the Birch Theater to see his trio with Doug Lunn and Marco Minnemann. I enjoyed that show and got a chance to talk to Mike and in a subsequent email, to apologize for some bad behavior. He's always been gracious to me. I wish things had never gotten that way. I was in a bad place of sorting out life in a big way, and somehow it seemed okay to trash him in public. It was sort of like a love gone bad for me. 

I check in on things now and then. See the stuff on his site, but never really bought anything. Odd, but you realize that I've paid to see probably no more than four shows in the years I've followed him. Either I've been part of the official crew, or have had a sustained "bro deal" in the aftermath of that work, or was somehow of some assistance, or just downright patient and persistent to get my "miracle" entry. But I can only think of a couple shows where I was a paying audience member. I've bought some albums, but others have been comped for being an assistant (or, like Nonkertompf, a credited recording location), or for swaps with fellow fans who wanted to trade to get some of my DAT recordings from some memorable shows. It may come as no coincidence, but while on tour, Toss called me "Eddie Freeloader" (named after a famous Miles Davis track, "Freddie Freeloader"). At that point, it was for other reasons than my paying or not at a box office or record store, but there it was, even in 1996!

My main beef that set off so many people was that I longed for a time when the MK band would play some of the composed stuff with some integrity: rehearsed and refined. This was coming after watching the band do more jam band sounding stuff that was neat at first but tired me out. I wanted the good stuff. Similar complaint about the album Dancing. I said it would be a kick ass 55 minute album so why did it have to be 80 minutes with what I called filler? Why not just release a steamroller of an album at about an hour? It certainly had that much material that kicked ass. I said he should have a producer with a more objective opinion. That got me in trouble. Sure, MK is good, but seriously...does every album have to be packed to the gills and turned into a double album, and then have another disk featuring alt mixes and stuff?

It has been over four years since I saw the band last. Time flies, I swear. Then this summer I found that he has a five piece band with two dedicated guitar players and MK on guitar and keys. One video was all it took for me to get that shit-eating grin from the old days. The song Kedgeree benefits greatly from a rich arrangement of sounds. When the band came to town during their west coast tour, I was sure to go, even though Todd Larowe was not able to go, and no one else seemed interested. I got to Winston's just in time to say hi to Mike (which he enhanced with a big bear hug), and a couple others, including Merrily, a quite devoted young lady who was around back in the Dancing days, once as a girlfriend of Brandon Arnieri's. (We had met some times around 2001-2002 when Brandon was playing guitar at Hog Heaven. Probably the last time I saw Merrily was at the end of 2002 when Brandon got to be incredibly difficult at one of our rehearsal/jams with Paul Horn. I wrote this post about that disaster of a session and my rather regrettable way of dealing with that fact.) Merrily pulled me out of the crowd and offered that she knew me. At this time, with her short blonde hair, I didn't recognize her till she named herself and then it was no matter recalling she had the long dark hair and had been to my 29th birthday party, a couple shows or parties, and other interactions back in the day.

For the duration of the show, I didn't really see anyone else that I knew, or that I felt close enough to want to talk to, but at the bar, I found that I took a liking to a Karl Strauss Red Trolley ale (even at $6/pint!). It was silky smooth and pleasant. The band went on and with that, the stress of the week before started to melt away. Merrily and I kept swapping comments as we sat at the bar and had our ears pressed back plenty even at that distance. From the start, the band sounded fuller and richer than I have heard except in the case of the 8-piece band or maybe the one-off sextet with Bob Tedde and Mark DeCerbo in 1998. Three guitars is truly an impressive thing for this music because so much of MK's sound is layered and harmonized. It's a no brainer that three guitars is what should be up there at all times.

I delighted in air drumming. Merrily wasn't too bad herself, considering she's more of a guitarist if anything. It isn't quite like being at a Rush show where everyone drums in unison, but with MK's music being so rich in shifting meters and feels, it has its own kind of air drumming identity. Considering some of this material I have not heard in years, or certainly not on stage, it was like I had never left. I found the first beer was done in no time. Time for another, this time a Yellowtail. Some favorite songs played in a way that totally delivered the goods: Cause of Breakfast, Kedgeree, Tranquillado, Skunk, Own, Click. Some others that aren't quite faves but delighted in a big way with their powerful attack: Of Knife and Drum, Top of Stove Melting, Frozen Beef, Life's Too Small. Funny, with as much volume as there was, I didn't mind air drumming and giving it my best at belting out the words too. I recall getting some harmony part right enough that a guy sitting on the table some several feet away, looked back with an approving grin and brighter eyes, as if to say I nailed it. Time for a third beer, this time a return to the Red Trolley. Who knew that Eddie Freeloader would drop $18 on three beers after sinking $20 into admission???

It was a couple hours of pure living again. Not only had I not seen Keneally in a few years, the times when I am at live concerts now has dropped off in a huge way. I barely see anything if it isn't at church or related settings. So this had some visceral power for me. The beer didn't hurt. Finding one friendly face to talk to, not just as a fellow fan, but as someone who also had some knowledge of the conflicted state of things, and was willing to hear how I'd come around to seeing things another way. (We also talked Kevin Gilbert, which was good for the soul too. She sent me a couple KG albums I did not have, and has triggered a huge week of listening to his stuff.)

After the show, I got a chance to say hi to Joe Travers—drummer in the band, but also the main Zappa Vaultmeister, but even more so, the first Keneally bandmember I gave my tape One Twisted Individual to, back when it was new in 1995! (That was rather brazen but well received since it was also a gift upon a gift of racing back home to get my hi hat cymbals so Joe could play the show at the gallery that August 1995 day. Joe has always been a delight to chat with at shows since then.) I talked to Bryan Beller for a bit, and after several years, it was more graceful. We had our differences before, some related to the tour, and some for, well I really don't know why. But I told him that I really enjoyed the show in a way I hadn't in a decade or so. After scoping out the last of the people in the room, I walked Merrily to her car and traded some more stories about things that have gone down since we met up last. Then I walked clear the other direction for a few blocks and sat in my truck for a bit near the pier and the pounding surf at the end of Newport. With all the cops around, there was no sense in risking drawing attention, and beside, the night was one worth reflecting on before going home.

Saturday
Sep172011

140,165 Miles on the White Donkey

The White Donkey is always ready to rollThat's how many miles I've driven my Toyota truck since I bought it this day 15 years ago. Taken as a simple average, that's about 9,345 miles each year, but I think the devoted readers of TAPKAE.com know that the trend has generally been a downward one since about 2002. I have to say though that this year I am keeping only skeletal records for the year, and certainly my trip to New Mexico cast another 1,800 miles into the mix. Again though, disregarding that trip and the exceptional stuff, the daily discipline is still there. Even still, this year, even with those road trips, is only 3,547 so far. A bit more than recent years, but still pretty confined to about a third of the 15 year average.

I'm missing two hubcaps (as of this year, just before I left for New Mexico). The radio is a hit or miss thing, and even on hits it seems to distort at what to me is a listenable level, but gets worse above that. The headlights are rather dim from moisture inside the lamps. The back bumper is a bit warped from the time when a postal truck accidentally was let to roll down a slight incline and used my truck as a barrier. The bumper up front is dented from letting my old man talk me into pushing a car into his back yard. The right side door lock hasn't worked for a decade it seems. The back fender is dented some from an unfortunate early era (within the first year I got the truck) pizza delivery mishap. I haven't washed it but once in the last five years. The bench seat has been replaced with a reupholstered version. No one would confuse it for anything but a work truck.

I bought it in the midst of a disaster. My grandfather had squirreled away about $12,000 in stock for me when he died, and only a month and a half later when I was also squeezed out of my childhood home by the deeds and attitudes of an increasingly unbearable old man, I was also faced with needing to get my Ford Escort fixed. (I had shopped for a Totota truck two years before that when I was given a $10,000 gift/inheritance in 1994. Some of that went to the Premier drum kit I still have, some went to a trip to Alaska to see Shelby, and some was just squandered between jobs. But the stock was the last hurrah. The money that wasn't used to buy the truck was left alone for some time until I heard about Roth IRA and put it there in 2001—just months before 9/11 caused the economy to crash and my IRA to go with it. While watching that money plummet I was also racking up a student loan bill at AIC. Years later, I paid that off with the rebuilt stock money that I had since withdrawn from the IRA. Possibly foolish, but it got me out of debt which I regard as wise.) 

Digression aside, the truck was a crisis decision that worked out. I sold about $8,000 worth of the stuff and put in about a grand of my own money to but it outright. My girlfriend at the time even put in about $500 to buy the Lo-Jack system that mercifully never had to get used. (But I used to fret when it was a pretty new vehicle.) The Ford fetched me $150 of trade in value, in part because I did not prepare it in any way but also because it was nearing the end of the Ford lifetime, at 95,000+ miles. I had already replaced the head and done numerous other fixes with the "help" of just about anyone who I could afford or not. The last repair I had was to get the timing done by a real mechanic with a real shop, after having tried to let my grandmother's new housemate Bill Francis work on it, and during which my old man decided to terrorize me some by taking it off the working ramps and causing the system to get all out of sync. That last repair bill—about a week before I traded it away—was for $300. I only got half of that in trade! It was a basket case that I was glad to see go.

When I bought it, I had barely had much experience driving stick, so it was a bit of a learning curve at first. I did have a job the year before that had me drive a similar truck, but I was rather sloppy with it and sometimes abusive of it as I learned to drive it. When Robin and I left the dealership rather late that September 17th, 1996, I had sweaty palms from just closing the biggest purchase deal I have ever made (even to this day). We went to the ARCO at Genesee and Clairemont Mesa Blvd. to buy gas. The tank was pretty empty so I filled it up. Cost all of $14 and some change! (That seems so quaint now just like people and their $0.12/gallon tales from the 70s.) I was sort of living at Robin's in La Mesa. I was in an odd place. I was barely working for Rockola around then, just got ousted from home, was unwelcome at my grandmother's place, and on top of all that, Robin and I were in the middle of what I called an eight month breakup that lasted from about April till the end of that year. But I had a new-ish truck! 

I anticipated it would cost me less to operate since it probably wasn't going to be problematic. And it generally wasn't. I had bought it from the dealership that had used that very vehicle as its parts truck. That's how it got its 78k miles in just two years. That's about 39k each year! Far more than I use it, you see. What I did realize, given my situation, was that I needed to get some work that had some potential to change things some for me. I was feeling quite devastated in that state. Living at Robin's was testy, given our relationship that was in an off-on-off-on state for so long. It was at her parents' place anyway and that is awkward on any day of the week. Rockola (Bob, mainly) was washing hands of me, and even though there were a few things that turned up as other musicians in town discovered my availability, the need for my own apartment space was clear, and taking care of my new ride was key to enabling me to work as an assistant and cartage guy. But since music related work was not so empowering then, given the network I had, I turned to Pizza Hut and got that gig in La Mesa at the start of October. I was quite delighted the day I got the call while at Robin's place. It was the first time in a year or so since Advance Recording Products that I had a "real" job. All the time since I was just doing music tech work and getting paid what little I was worth then.

After about a month at Pizza Hut, I was looking in the San Diego Reader for apartments or rooms to rent. For the first time ever I was feeling empowered enough to do so. I looked at just one or two and ended up at a place in Clairemont (with my job now in La Mesa, about nine miles away), where I got one bedroom for $270 for the first year or so. I moved in on Halloween and was invited to some fun on the town with one of my new roommates, Art Pacheco, and his girlfriend. We went to the Red Fox Room in University Heights, and listened to some torch singer and watched freaks in their costumes. It was a plunge into a new world where the characters were unfamiliar. The lock on my door, flimsy as it was, was all that kept the world at bay but since we all paid our shares and were strangers, I do not know of any intrusions like I was getting familiar with at home. The bills were legit and shared. It was kind of scary, not least of which because I was in an apartment with people coming and going all the time in the area. I used to check on my truck a few times a day and night. 

Working at Pizza Hut did not require a new vehicle and in some ways I'm bummed that I used the new truck for that because within a year I got it dented upon one ill-considered backing up. But aside from that, I was able to drive it confidently and reliably report to work where I got what seemed like a king's ransom over well over a thousand dollars a month. That was epic. I used to dream fancifully of getting $800 from Rockola back in 1995. This led me to wonder why I bothered with them, but I did have an attitude that was rather self aware that I had no business doing this work if I was to ever seek happiness. 

Just about as quickly as my life seemed back on track, with new truck and new apartment, I was at Wal Mart one day. (November 13th, one of the extremely few dates I ever set foot in there and about one of three or four that I bought anything at a Wal Mart.) I was buying a new phone for my room when I got a page from an 818- area code. I had no idea who that was so I blew it off till I was rid of Matt and Robin for the day. When I got home, it was on the answering machine...a call from none other than Mike Keneally. The message he left offered me a crappy paying gig doing drum and bass tech and driving on his tour that was to begin soon. In FIVE days it would be starting. At that time, I was a drooling fanboy and almost took no time in saying yes. It meant that I basically would have to quit the Pizza Hut gig, park my truck somewhere (ended up at the old man's back yard under covering tarps), and to be gone from Robin for five weeks, which eventually turned out to be just what the doctor ordered to finally put the distance between us that we were not able to achieve. I basically dropped everything to work for about $37/day for each day gone. It wasn't much but for a few weeks' work, it was stable and no less than Pizza Hut. And it was gonna be fun like nothing else I had done for work!

After getting a wishy washy word that I could come back to Pizza Hut when I was done with the tour, I basically just got ready to go. Parked the truck under the tarps at the old man's back yard. That took some doing because one of his strategies in getting me to move originally involved game playing with ripping my keys off and holding them hostage. I have a hard time understanding his motives, but once in a while it makes sense to trust him more than the world around. 

Skipping ahead the better part of these 15 years, I reiterate one more time that this was a purchase well made. It's odd but it was only with my trip to Arizona early last year that I actually started driving it across country. No kidding. Prior to that trip, as far as I had ever driven it was on day trips that generally did not ever top 300-400 miles at a stretch, and even those were rather few and far between. Trips to the LA area, Palm Springs, El Centro and Salton Sea are about as far as I ever took the truck. Then last year I decided to drive to Arizona. And then to Death Valley. And to Joshua Tree. The thing runs great. So I went to New Mexico (after replacing the radiator though, and some other work), and then off to Big Bear. Now Kelli and I are cooking up other plans for more such travel. It's just a reliable little donkey I got here.

Sunday
Sep112011

Drumming, Strumming, and Humming

ed on drums with two members of the new MHUCC praise band, playing in the parkToday I was in a whole new situation in more ways than one, or maybe more ways than two or three. You see, while drumming isn't anything new to me, and I've done some public performance on drums, I have never performed publicly on bass except as a kind of joke (with Rockola and their stage gimmicks), and have never ever been part of a music making ensemble for church. And furthermore, I've never really played guitar in public to account for much, and even more so never tried to sing for any public outside of my 2006 voice class at Mesa. And still furthermore, until just a few weeks ago, it was almost impossible to have done much of anything in the aim of singing AND playing at once; my skills just did not go there.

And yet today all of that was put to some use.

ed on bass with members of the new praise band in the parkLoyal readers of this fine journal know the struggle I've had with music for the last decade. And it has been one decade and a bit more since the old Hog Heaven glory days. Over time it has been apparent that if I was going to keep doing anything in music the game would have to shift to another focus. Mainly, the focus would have to move from my solo-oriented musicking. (Which was originally considered a way to learn stuff that would eventually let me be more versatile in other musical situations beyond playing drums in grunge and classic rock bands that were in abundance here in SD in 1995.) I didn't know it would take so many years to even get where I am now. All the life that has been chronicled here had to happen. As my understanding shifted, it was clear I'd have to make music for different reasons. All the years of basically being a listener more than a player were times that I've had a chance to connect with music in a way that I perhaps haven't done prior to, say, 2003, but now with more experience and learning to bring to my role as a listener, hearing more of the life in the songs that I like, and connecting with it more readily. I've found myself shifting my listening focus from some of the instrumentally focused ears I had for drum parts (when I was just a a drummer), or instrumental parts (when I began to incorporate guitar, bass, and keys), or for a few years now I have been able to better hear and appreciate vocal music, or the vocals in the midst of a full mix. Having had just a bit of training at a basic level, that opened me up to imagining how it was done and allowing myself some leeway to explore my own voice some. But mainly to let the expressiveness hit me. Connecting with more singer-songwriter artists of various genres has helped me shift focus too.

Years ago when I went to church at CCCPB, I got into drumming at just about exactly the same time in 1989. My intentional church life and drumming go together as partners in the narrative in my life, but aside from one jokey cymbal crash for a church play in 1990, and aside from last year's picnic show playing blues and country and oldies with the Broken Strings, performing in the midst of several local UCC churches, I have never until today—that's about 22 years now—played in a worship setting, on any instrument. But today I was in a trio that played a number of musical pieces for an outdoor service, and for my part, I was on drums primarily, bass for one song, and came equipped to play guitar and to sing, but the set list got changed some on account of the synchronicity of the worship service falling on the 9/11 anniversary. But once we finished and were in picnic mode, I did actually take guitar to a circle of people and, in a kind of giddy way that once was on display when I did my first "performance" for my old man and grandfolks in August 1989, I was excited to try out some newfound musical ability.

The extra odd factor is that most of the drum and bass stuff I played was out of a songbook that the UCC has formed recently, based on praise music. And to be rather blunt, I never liked the stuff and have often been rather unsparing in mocking the stuff. Many reasons for this, but I could address that as muso-artist ("the stuff is just brainlessly simple choruses that ape pop song conventions"); or I could take it on as a sound engineer (bands of amateur and semipro players with a mixed bag of gear and an even more mixed bag of stage skills makes for a messy mix); or I could talk about the rather inane theological ideas that comprise the lyrics. I would make these arguments because I have always hungered for musical sophistication and complexity (whether that is of any use or not), or because I worked for The Rock Church for a year or more as audio tech who had to wire stages with unusual and shifting musician lineups, or because I came from a liberal theological tradition that can be a bit snobbish sounding at times but that does pursue unusual avenues of theological thought and inquiry. To me, praise music has never done it for me. It just smacks of the church appropriating the common culture to get the hook in the mouth of the vulnerable. To me, it's pretty smarmy stuff musically and theologically. It wasn't enough to just have a rock or pop band instrumentation; it had to have screens, Internet video feeds, and the whole song and dance. I used to mock it all by saying, "how in the world did Jesus ever get any attention without all this shit?" My coarse but effective guide is that the more a church is invested in a modern day pop gospel band and screens and other showy things, the less I expect to be interested. To me, the goal appears to out-produce the secular world. On stages, as an audio man accustomed to working on professional stages with professional bands who "play for the stage," it could be rather dreadful as less experienced players come in with bad mic technique and sub-par gear, and ask for things they have no idea about. In fact, after about a year or so of working for the Rock Church, that was one gig I told Mitch (my boss for those Rock shows) that I never wanted to do again. And for a few years, that worked out.

During my years of distance from music, repeatedly talking about wanting to play music in a collaborative effort and not with solo ambition, I have kept the musical flame alive only by basic life support means. Obviously I kept a share of gear that allows me to get back into my guitar, bass, drums, and recording ability. The keyboards are all gone though. (I find myself a vulture, circling over a piano shop that is going out of business soon, waiting for the fire sale on an upright, just so I could get back to where I was in early 1996!) Since no place I have lived since 2006 has given me a Hog Heaven style studio environment, I have never had all my gear at my disposal, with most being stacked and put away. The acoustic guitar generally was around, and sometimes I'd bring the bass out and with either I'd strum or thump along to music or download some chord sheets and try to throw myself into unfamiliar territory. Some I'd try to sing. I have a lyric folder that has some ideas that have a few chord changes, but as alluring as working toward being a singer-songwriter has been, not feeling the "voice" in me has left me rather disappointed. I have had musings that maybe I need to do a cover album of songs I've connected with—Nik Kershaw, Peter Gabriel, Kate Bush, David Sylvian, Mark Knopfler (all from England in the 80s, mainly!) Aside from the few shows with the Broken Strings in the years since early 2008, that was about all the music being made. Period.

the drums were Ringo-style with a 4 piece kit and two cymbals. Pretty lean stuff.Then about a month ago I heard of a woman at church, a new member whom I had not met, was interested in praise music. When I heard about this I was not yet thinking I'd be involved with it, and the news was from a friend who washed her hands of that kind of sound when exiting the Southern Baptist world (with an ex-husband who played such music too). But somehow a week or so later, the topic came up again and it was drawing me in at least as a chance to play music and learn some new stuff, clearly in a setting I had no expectation of ever joining in on. Today's date was given as the first performance date, so somehow I offered that I was interested and could be called on to play drums or maybe bass or vocal parts. With just a few weeks to go, that is just what happened. All of it. We started off two times at the church and then another three times here at the house. It was just three of us—she on guitar and voice, and another on piano and voice and a generally handy sense of musical director for it all. I started on bass the first night, then brought a "toy" kit of kick, snare, hat, and ride only, but when we got to my place, I had the range of things set up and ready. Even guitar. One night we had no keys so with just two of us, we strummed a bit and listened to music that might fill the bill or get us rolling anyway. Built some rapport. While I am far from a sight reader, it is getting easier to read lead sheets (chords/lyrics only) and to give it a go. I have found that if I start off attempting both an instrumental part and the vocal part at about the same time, I have better luck integrating the two and for the few songs that I've tried that way, I've done better at doing two parts.

None of the songs are blindingly difficult but I find that at last I have to work from some basic building blocks of songmaking in order to progress. Slowly I am reversing the longstanding relationship to musicking that defined my older days: I was a recording artist, not a musician. Recording was the finished canvas, instruments were the paintbrushes and other tools to achieve that end. That means that my attempt to always come up with new recorded sounds was more attractive than getting the fundamentals right, which is generally regarded as a no-no. Occasionally a song did turn up and maybe it was memorable (Tired, I Wanna Be Your Puppy, The Power of Disco Compels You) but really, songwriting was accidental more than anything. And none of my stuff has been played live because I fancied myself in the vein of Steely Dan, The Beatles, and others who really just wanted to make recordings and not face the pressure to perform their work.

One thing that probably won't change is that the audio engineer part of me will wrestle with how to deliver a stage performance using electric instruments and amplification while also being seated at a dynamic acoustic instrument that takes more effort to play quietly than loudly. So for me at the drums to not have monitors to hear the others even over my own sound is rather challenging. And I'm not playing with much intensity at this or the Broken Strings type gigs. I use rod sticks, whip sticks, and those types of implements. But then people out in the audience, or hypersensitive people who are worried about "too loud" will emerge for certain, asking for the sound to be turned down. To me, that essentially neuters the performance on drums, while everyone else more or less has a knob to reach for and can still play with the same feel and abandon without making as much sound. (And I doubt that anyone will offer an electronic drum kit anytime soon.) Without monitors and a tiny sound system as we had today, at best I was able to get one speaker to be stacked upon my bass rig which itself was next to the drums where it was sort of audible but still not loud. Later video clearly shows the system was too low. The vocals were impossible to hear, the keys barely audible against the drums. 

What I foresee is that beyond "just" being a musician in this setting, sooner or later I will need to speak up in favor of some sane audio practices first using the minimal gear available in effective ways, and possibly incorporating more. But then there is still the cultural momentum of the congregation. Some will not like praise music because it is unfamiliar. Some because it smacks of a rather conflicted mix of conservative theology and "liberal" liturgy. Some will hear it and think it is just too loud. Or whatever. But really, since praise music is essentially pop music, gospel, rock and other styles that are essentially of the contemporary era of music, electrified and amplified, to do it like it's meant to be done means there is stretching to be done. Or to do it with a bit of a more acoustic instrumentation might mean there would have to be people with those types of instrumentation. I'd love to hammer on a djembe drum for some things, but not for everything. I play kit. Kit is rather loud when played with conviction. Loud is often misunderstood and cautioned against. 

About five years ago the cracks were showing in the wall at my old church where I had spent an August week installing a system meant to improve the church life. But it was majorly misunderstood and no one knows it even today. No one knows what to do with it. It is severely overengineered for an attitude like the one that exists there. But what I have found needs to happen is before these kinds of major decisions are made that will affect so many, the church needs to have some kind of visioning committee to evaluate potential impact, and to have some idea of feasibility. Something like a sound system needs to be operated weekly. Who will do that? And who are the various subs? What will the system be called on to do on the off days? Who will coordinate what needs to happen technically with any changes in the liturgy, with different ensembles playing, or more mics for guest speakers or whatever? I basically left my last church under a lot of pressure that I was the only guy who knew how to operate the new system and the culture there was mostly ignorant of what I was talking about, and if not ignorant, all sorts of factors conspired to make my ideas impractical. But by then, I realized that I was not in worship anyway, I was an audio tech again, and this time one that did not get paid, but was also utterly alone and was not part of a larger team to make stuff work right.

I know none of that has to happen. My present church is rather larger and far more conscious about major decisions. I would love to just show up and play music. But it is hard to suffer for long with bad sound after being responsible for making pros sound good. I can flex with regard to theology in the songs, or to play unfamiliar instruments in the name of taking some musical risk and enjoying camraderie. But bad sound just irks. People recognize bad sound but can't always articulate what is wrong. People maybe even are forgiving to either the amateurs or the intermediates who show up and give it a good try for the sake of worship. But really, to do praise music right, it takes some commitment to a certain level of technical quality. And again, I get the feeling I might be the only one who can bring this up, and fear that it will be somewhat mixed in its reception. 

But for today, I was happy to play all the instruments I have (but for electric guitar), and to try my hand at some new musical material, and to cut loose some with people who knew me but perhaps were rather surpised to see me up there at all, perhaps having no knowledge that I played anything. I really fancy the idea of finally integrating the two big threads of my life somehow.

Sunday
Aug282011

Sabbath Year Sweetheartery

As I set about writing this, I am exactly seven years from standing on the altar at my church, dressed in tux with my whole church family around, and one Kelli Parrish standing in front of me, appearing much the angel she is, but in a heightened, radiant way. As Eric Satie's Gymnopedies #1 played, the bridal party and then Kelli, escorted by Phil Calabrese as a stand in for her deceased father William (and even her deceased stepfather Rod), was about to do the unimaginable and marry a dude like me. Er, she was about to marry me!

At that time, I was just under a year from being in the worst existential suicide-ideational funk that I ever knew. At the start of September, I was at a residential therapy center for intervention into such a crisis. I was just weeks shy of my 30th birthday. Kelli was my most frequent, daily visitor in that terrible time of crisis and she was a key in the support system that brought me out of that place in my life. Then, not quite a year later, after months of solo and couples therapy to learn new ways to see life, new ways to relate to one another, we were moving along on what seemed like such a fateful obvious path. We got engaged about six months before, and that was so effortless it was almost that I took it for granted. Nothing else seemed to flow so easily but to be together then, and to keep on at it.

Just less than an hour ago I was rummaging through my 1992 box for other stuff to feed this site and happened into a fortune from a Chinese restaurant that I ate at nearly exactly 19 years ago (tomorrow). The occasion was the two month anniversary with Melissa, my first girlfriend that I paired up with in June. The hitch was that just two weeks after we started off, I was bound for Germany for nearly six weeks to see my friend Steve Rau, and to do a tour with him. It was all the world to me after the lonely and troubling year described in the previous post about Subway. Anyhow, just as soon as Melissa and I kicked off, I was gone and the duration of my trip was cause for a new kind of heartache and puppy love (mainly her situation... I was happy in Europe but excited to have a new life to return to). At the Chinese restaurant barely a week after my return, we were giddy to be back together. You can imagine the young person's fantasies that resulted with opening my cookie and it read:

You are domestically inclined and will be happily married.

It fed into Melissa's vision for fulfilling some years of anticipation. You see, Melissa was the daughter of a friend of my old man's from way back, so we were occasional playmates when we all lived in Clairemont (she's also about 2.5 years younger than me). But after some years they moved to a more distant suburb and the visitations fell off. Sometime in 1991 or so we were back in touch somehow. I think she called me. She was 15 and I was a senior in high school. I wasn't really too interested at the time. (I was saving myself for Shelby, you see.) But by mid 1992, I was ready to go for it and that summer was quite shaped by that new development. There was a feeling of fateful inevitablity in our being together. Something like a cheap Chinese fortune was enough to heighten that. But something about being poorly adjusted 19 year old doomed it and she broke up with me in early 1993, just under eight months after we started off. 

Our 7th anniversary trip to Mt. San Jacinto State ParkThe most memorable person I turned to for a shoulder to cry on or to try to make sense of the resulting mess of confused feelings was Kelli. I recall best a rainy night drive we took that led us to a long talk at Presidio Park near Old Town San Diego. At the time she was a friend from church, but I was at some distance from church life. We were part of the Shalom Community of teens while I was there, and that fostered a level of candor and trust and a real exchange of experience that obviously set the stage for Kelli and me when this Melissa meltdown left me a mess needing someone to talk to. Kelli always struck me as mature beyond her years. And though she was actually a bit younger than Melissa, she was insightful and able to be a great friend. Part of her hearing my heart was to get me involved in going with her mom to a coffee shop called Beans where I eventually heard Mike Keneally for the very first time. The rest is history.

Kelli too was a childhood pal from the world of church, but I don't really recall that clearly. I generally set the clock running from August 1990 when she and Kay appeared at the church, already well connected to people from before they left seven years prior. I found a kindred soul with her in part because I too felt kind of like an outsider and she was an unusual case of someone coming in from the outside of that somewhat insular community. She accepted my love for Jethro Tull's music. What more need I say? We were not great friends who hung out all the time, but she was one person that I had some ties to on the outside during the decade away from church, roughly from late 1991 through 2001. She was always authentic and present.

I've told the story a few times here. The point is that she's always been attentive and emotionally available as a friend. Over years we've been in touch with more depth than frequency. Over time she's raised my number with her integrity and commitment to things that her conscience leads her to believe or do. She's politically astute (something evident ages ago), theologically astute (something I was aware of but have obviously seen blossom since her seminary training), and compassionate. 

In movies and books and other stories, a man isn't a man until somehow he is reunited with either a woman, or some feminine aspect that was missing, the anima, which literally animates him. Until then, he is a shell of a person, but the anima, the side that is the repository of compassion, warmth, intuition, grace, and such characteristics, is what has to be there in order to counter and soften the opposite tendencies that take up residence in men, and if not, are often socialized into men with all kinds of messages that teach stiff upper lip, never let them see you cry kinds of messages. I have been reading George Elliot's book Silas Marner, where the point is made explicitly in Marner's disconnection and spiritual desolation being brought to an end by the mysterious appearance of Eppie as a young girl, and only from his commitment to take care of her as his own does he recover his full humanity and a place in the community which signifies his real security in the world.

Along those lines, in my world, Jesus is a hero because he has somehow incorporated that anima that almost certainly had to be in place before he could do the things he is recorded as having done. The deeds of compassion and of healing people (which I take to mean his ability to give them permission to be themselves and to return to society as fully dignified citizens) doesn't come out of a typical man's game. At the very least, he wasn't a typical man, else we'd have no reason to know his name now. We expect remarkable deeds from women, and so often they deliver those in unnoticed and unacknowledged ways. 

c. 2003Part of the task I've had before me was to open my eyes to that in my life with Kelli. During the time in the Halcyon house, she brought me a turkey/bacon/avocado sandwich from Henry's. Such a seemingly tiny deed, done so lovingly, has been one of the touchstone instances that has blossomed in our mythology as a couple. Being grounded in—of all things—the total delight in the layers of significance of one turkey sandwich means that we are pretty grounded in reality. When we make our cute talk about why we love each other, I am more likely to say it's because she delivered me a turkey sandwich on that day than because she delivered the moon and stars. I don't mean to be trite. That sandwich at that moment was not an insignificant moment in our history of trust, particularly as I was in a great sorting process to get closer to people I could trust and move away from ones that I couldn't.

As we stood on the altar seven years ago this afternoon, saying our vows (wedding audio page here), we had precisely two blood relatives in the audience—her mom and grandmother. All the other 100+ people were church and other friends. The lone exception was my stepmom Eda, who a couple weeks before was trying to weasel out of appearing until I pleaded that I expected no other family to appear. In some ways, Kelli and I faced a pretty big lack of support from family. My old man, more intent on playing property and family games, decided not to come and his absence was noted. These days he calls Kelli a housebreaker and he offers propaganda for some idealized relationship that fairly certainly never existed between us. He places the blame of our troubles at Kelli's feet. My mother (not Eda) has met Kelli precisely once about four years ago. I can't say that Kelli is replacement for all the estrangement, but her steadfast presence has been invaluable in setting a sight on a destination past all that and moving toward it.

As part of our therapy process in 2004-2005, one lesson that came to me most vitally was how we see ourselves as allies in it for the long haul. Faced with family decay (mine) and too many premature bodily deaths (her family), it all drives us closer. We were never a couple making sunshine promises. Always we were operating out of someplace where pathos—garden variety disappointment and sometimes outright tragedy—were the baseline shapers of our reality. In some ways, marriage is not just an act of love, it is an act of loving resistance on behalf of one another. To me, that is the durable stuff.

7th anniversary trip to Big Bear MountainWe're enjoying being married, and as the clock ticks by the months and years, we're seeing ourselves chronologically outlast the relationships we were raised around. In Greek, there are two senses of time worthy of discussion here. The first is chronos, the time we all measure with clocks and calendars. The other is kairos, a more elusive word denoting the inevitability of a moment. Some call it "God's time" and do so to indicate that something is happening that must happen because the time is ripe. Kelli and I have various dates to refer to when telling our backstory. We can name dates at points along the way, counting back to Sunday School as kids. We can now say that our marriage has gone on as long as that of my old man and Eda, or that we've been together longer than they were. That is interesting trivia for sure, but I like to deepen it with the idea that our relationship is rooted in kairos.

Both of us have known all sorts of disruption and upheaval domestically, she maybe more than I on a more consistent basis, and I've known periodic upsets that hit me hard. We've been raised in the most violent time in history and in a country and culture that is rooted in violence as our lifeblood. Ten years ago after 9/11 we found ourselves reeling at what it all meant. We found ourselves more closely affected by the murder of our friend Daniel (Phil's son and fellow Shalom Community member). We've watched as two sustained wars have been fought and essentially lost. We've watched as politics has become more and more savage. We've been forced to confront a future of more of that and less promise economically (at least according to the prevailing expections). We've been made aware that the life we were modeled was unsustainable and we'll have to be the generation at exactly that turning point in human history. We've watched as promises have been broken time and again in the name of profits, fame, and other distorting elements.

We've also watched as socially marginalized groups have found more dignity. We've seen dictatorships fall and democracy implemented in their stead. We've seen incredible creativity. We've seen the beginning of economic and grassroots political shifts that might do some good. We've served old people, kids, young adults, homeless, and terminally ill people. We've written and preached and published podcasts according to our prophetic vision for what is right and good—something that differs a bit but is ultimately shaped by our own initiating circumstances that on more reflection drive us to make countermovements toward more positive expressions. We've refrained from excess wherever we can see ourselves falling for it. We've resisted outside pressure from enemies "domestic and foreign" that has demonstrated a lot of ability to pull people apart.

Mt. San Jacinto state park, over the desert at 8500'All this is to say that Kelli and I aren't together just because we're old friends. Or that we're in total agreement. Or that we're perfect. As part of our vows, Jerry Lawritson reminded us that each of us is a gift to the other, but not solely for the other; that each of us are here to be blessings for people outside our relationship. The world clearly needs that, and almost inextricably we're led to those things by forces beyond our own reasoning and understanding. We're led out of ourselves while still being called to be ourselves, and our selves are shaped increasingly by the network of interactions that start with the other of us, but radiate outward to each other's network. This is kairos to me. Where chronos is imbued with a subtext of what, kairos has a subtext of why.

Kairos saturates my understanding of this marriage. It is loaded with grace that I never knew. It doesn't make sense to me how such an angel as Kelli fluttered into my life, but that is just the case. Even odder still is wondering how in the world that sustains itself! There was no clue of it as kids, and just a bit of promise as teens. There was more still as 20-somethings as we were just keeping in touch, and of course, in the post 9/11 world, it was almost an ordained thing that on reflection gets us a bit mystical minded. Each of us is here to look after at least one of God's other children, even if it means getting a turkey sandwich from Henry's is all that is called for at the moment.

Thinking back to this weekend in 1992, with the Chinese fortune cookie message, I sometimes think that any relationship could, with enough patience and work, be brought around and shaped into something. But that is not really practical, and really it seems that it is a vital part of things to not get it right early on. It seems to me that the lessons have to have their chance to play out over time, for the characters to be involved in some greater web than between two points alone. Who knew that I'd end up marrying a girl a few years my junior who used to be a playmate of mine when I was young? Who knew how the subsequent girl disappointments I faced would shape my readiness to link up with Kelli? Who knew that Kelli, operating in an alternate universe all those years, would be the one who tied up all the loose pieces of those relationships and added her own thing to it all, and that I'd finally be existentially ready to see it that way? Kairos. On a micro level between she and I, and on a macro level, on the world stage, it seems that it's God's time that set us up and sustains us in preparation for something that reveals itself a little at a time. No amount of puppy love with one girl or endless pining with another was going to achieve what has happened when I let down my guard and frankly, failed at everything else on the relationship front. 

...And so it looks from this vantage point of just seven years. We were well congratulated at church today upon announcing it but I was aware, particularly when greeted by the septuagenarians and octogenarians in the crowd that we have a long way to go. Or maybe better said, a long time to keep going at it. While there is a great deal of work and conscious effort involved, it is folly to self-congratulate when it is clear that this has been perhaps the most successful relationship of almost any sort, and it isn't anything that makes rational sense or that was earned in any way. In every way this has been a blessing to me. Sort of like Silas Marner made whole after spiritual desolation and alienation, being married to Kelli has been a homecoming—even surpassing whatever I might have thought home was in the first place.

Wednesday
Aug102011

Independence Day Inheritance Iconoclasm

gramps in his chair, early 80s or so.My grandfather in his native habitat

My grandfather Norman died 15 years ago on Independence Day—it wasn't unknown to me at the time that a man who was always identified as a Navy Man and patriot died on the very day that the nation he so loved celebrates its birthday. Independence Day for him connotes all that but it was also was the day he was liberated from a body that was on a long slow decline. I think I have written about this here before. I don't have terribly much to add to that part of it. The new development is letting go of stuff that perhaps I clung to a bit much after both grandparents died, but most certainly after I lost the house in 2005 and the furniture and other items they used were still imbued with some sense of their presence. Today things have mellowed and it isn't so urgent to hang on like my life depended on this.

Astute readers of TAPKAE.com know that this year has been one to spill more beans and tell a fuller story of things. This chair episode has another dimension to it that I've discussed only in recent years with Kelli. I have to say that as the official family archivist and historian now, with everyone dead and gone, I can finally get on with saying things as clearly as I can, in a way to reflect my experience and that which I can put together from the scraps of memorabilia I have available to me. I am not in love with all the Lucas mythology, which like all families' mythology, glorifies the good stuff and minimizes the bad stuff. In some ways, TAPKAE.com is my exercise in iconoclasm. Not everyone gets a chance to do this. I don't feel there is much to lose, and any attempt to argue otherwise might be manipulation.

I have to remind everyone that I was given a pretty white-bread, sheltered idea of life in Clairemont, a giant suburb that I end up finding more and more of a dark side to (particularly since discovering the Facebook group). I don't know what all went into the founding of my family but I have my doubts that it was as wholesome as it was portrayed. My grandmother holds up to the most scrutiny but I suspect there are things she turned a blind eye to, and certainly behind-the-scenes kind of dealing between her son and her husband that suited them, and not all involved. These were salt of the earth people from the Midwest; only my old man and I were born in California. Virginia was a city girl, Norman was a farm boy who went to the Navy because it was more exciting than farm life. There was the death of their 12 year old son David and World War Two to shape their younger years. They did work hard. They did believe in goodness and the American Way. They went to church for better or for worse. They bought a house in the suburbs. Typical stuff, right?

My grandmother was always the one who kept the faith in as authentic a way as was demonstrated to me. My grandfather always was the one who was social and cordial at church but I don't have any great sense that he was a man of faith. He was definitely one of the tag-along husbands there. I think the Navy was his religion. My old man went to church intermittently in my youth, but more times than not, he kept away and later scoffed at church and religion. Needless, fruitless effort it might have seemed to him. I gather he was made to go to more church than he wanted to when younger and just abandoned it when given the chance. There were some times when he and stepmom Eda took me to church at the Community Congregational Church of Pacific Beach where my grandfolks were founding members from the late 50s, and of course where my life has had many a church experience in baptism, teen age years, wedding and periods of being a church officer and archivist. More typically though I went with my grandfolks as a young child, and sometimes more specifically with my grandmother, who probably took it upon herself to introduce me to church life, faith, spirituality with more urgency, knowing I was her last hope after her husband and son were drifting from such a tradition as she wanted to live out of.

Norman tended to drive his own car to and from church. Virginia stayed later and filled her roles at church and drove her own car too. Norman liked to head home for the game on the TV. He wasn't into sports as an athlete but he liked to watch whatever football or baseball game was on. I don't even remember him being a fan or going to many sporting events, if any. But it seemed that he was content doing that. After church grandma used to take me to Der Wienerschnitzel on Garnet Avenue for two corn dogs. We'd come back and eat and would always wash the dogs down with diet Pepsi from a glass bottle. Sometimes we'd sit on the patio out back. It was a nice little ritual that was in itself unmarred by consciousness of any concerns that I later bring to these kinds of memoirs. After lunch, about two in the afternoon, she'd retire to her room to take a nap. She closed her door. We might not see her for a couple of hours. It was just gramps and me until either my folks got me or the grandfolks took me home the few miles across Clairemont.

The details I am about to divulge take place when I was five years old, and therabouts. There were a few such instances but I don't recall them one from another. With such an empty and quiet house it doesn't take a lot of imagination as to what would happen next, though I do want to be clear and not to sensationalize it. To the extent that it is abusive, I recognize that, but I also have to contend that the stuff that left me in clear pain and anguish didn't stem from this. I suppose some depth psychologist could extract something from this, but I have to be clear that a lot more conscious pain has been generated at the decisions and policies that were my old man's. But in some ways, you can perhaps understand something else about where his mind was shaped.

Perhaps not surprisingly, I was invited or simply attracted to sit on the chair with Norman. He was my grandfather after all, and I was five years old. (He was about 66 at this point.) On some number of occasions he drew out his penis and invited and encouraged me to masturbate him until he ejaculated. Ostensibly it was an anatomy lesson scaled to a five year old. There was a kind of narrative, teaching tone to it all. In fact, this was when I learned the word penis in the first place. Of this I am clear beacuse it was such a novel word. (Of all the things to remember from youth!) Yes, it was one of those this will be our little secret, won't it? times that seems to be the code word in these situations. I was told not to tell anyone though I don't think I was threatened with reprisals. It was self evident that I'd not want to cross him. Certainly a mind of a child like that is just a sponge, and people who practice these things know that and leave the kid to be the one to sort out the conflicting messages later on. There was never penetration of any sort, so this was one of those transparent exchanges that leaves no marks for the family or friends or teachers to see. 

I suppose that while I don't look to this experience to mark the beginning of one pain or another, it does bespeak the pathos that lurked under all the wholesome stuff. In my Family gallery, I wrote the following as a caption to this letter:

Letter, 1/30/08
Another chickenshit letter delivered to me not by the mail man or any of that. After a year or more of silence between he and I, and particularly after a hot period at the end of 2007/early 2008, my father dropped this off at the church (where I had since departed a year before) and told my former pastor that it needed to get to me. So Jerry sent it to me. This is an excellent display of thought distortion. He loves his Manichean colors of black and white thinking. Here he wishes to make the point that my Lucas family taught me love, and that my mother taught me hate. And to pile ridiculous on top of ridiculous, he wants to make a point that my marriage now is founded on this glorious Lucas past. Ahem, that is the domain of much effort between Kelli and me, and a good load of grace! Almost everything I learned about marriage has been from admitting what a failure I can be and trying to repent of that at each turn. Only my grandparents at 61 years of marriage can be said to be a family influence upon me. My father seems to confuse my candor with hate. Calling a spade a spade is not calling it evil or hating it.

I might have to call this "fam-washing;" the thing he does when he wants to badmouth my mom's side of the family, and to clearly butter up his own. It is a way of carrying on like a five year old with a polar mind that something can only be black or white, or any other set of opposites. (It seems to get worse with age.) As I said, I have never told this story to anyone but Kelli (on July 26, 2008 while walking the dog that night). No one at church has heard it and neither has it been brought up at several years of therapy. No one but Kelli heard this before this journal was released. My old man might turn on the denial. But what can he deny? What does he know about it except the chance that he might have his own experience to add to it? His polar argument over the years is flimsy, and breaks under the weight of this kind of news. Sure, Norman and Virginia did show me a thing or two about love, mainly in their 61 years of marriage. (Though I don't kid myself, there has to be some shit that went on. My mom always used that as her ammunition to puncture my Lucas balloon. I've heard about adultery from her version of the story.) The propaganda will backfire for each as I eventually expose what the other has said, and occasionally add layers of my own experience and interpretation. Along those lines, the expose of my old man's antics with my older sister in 1973 makes more sense and maybe I'll investigate that more.

I feel like quoting some of King Crimson's song Epitaph. My understanding is that it is a swipe at organized religion and its mythology, but I think it can be seen as an iconoclastic jab at authority figures and institutions that shout their conflicting tales of who is right and wrong and who has the truth, but ultimately leave the mess for the individual to clean up with his or her life.

When every man is torn apart
With nightmares and with dreams
Will no one lay the laurel wreath
When silence drowns the screams
...
Confusion will be my epitaph
As I crawl a cracked and broken path
If we make it we can all sit back and laugh
But I fear tomorrow I'll be crying
...
Knowledge is a deadly friend
If no one sets the rules

the chair he had when he died, now 15 years later set on the street for giveawayThe chair itself is liberated on Independence Day, 2011

I told Kelli that one night that I didn't want to turn this into a major deal, but it has been a long guarded vault that has gone unopened. It won't do my grandfather harm anymore. My grandmother probably never knew about this but certainly had to cope with other antics. They're both gone. Part of my inheritance was material stuff that was useful and nice to keep while I could do so. That was pretty hard to think of getting rid of. But this has been in my mind, never too far from ready access, for years. It too is inheritance that only I got. Or maybe there was enough for everyone. Funny how that goes. I could have used a roof over my head. Instead I got this. Now I am giving it away, piece by piece.

Wednesday
Jun222011

The +20 Blues

All you loyal readers out there have seen the +20 posts around here that take a stroll down memory lane and look at my coming of age. I've felt that 1989 was when things started to matter in a way worth taking note of, so I have been doing a couple years of this now. But of course, we are at the 20th anniversary of graduating from high school, so that kind of makes 2011 notable.

In a few hours I plan to send off a check to the organizer of the reunion event. It is not an expensive affair. It's just being held at a sports bar (um, maybe I should stay home?) but all told, it's $50 for Kelli and me and that is pretty cheap kicks. I hear tell of a picnic on the following day.

One thing that I think people always ask themselves is if this reunion routine is worth anything. I went to my ten year, never expecting much, and not getting much in return. Some people hated high school. I got along better as it went grade to grade. I ended feeling quite okay about it. So I had few qualms about going to the reunion in 2001. I actually had a few nice things to say to some people who did encourage me to play music, even if it was typically yearbook fodder. I was uncynically willing to take that encouragement at face value.

Again, I have had scarcely any contact with anyone in the intervening ten years. Just a periodic chat relationship with the organizer, who was someone I ran into at Costco about a year before the last reunion. Aside from that, no sustained relationships except with Steve Rau, my German friend, and even he and I go long periods between calls. This time around though, there is Facebook and Skype and all that. I just spent nearly four hours on Skype a week ago, talking to the organizer, Candie, and Bryan, a fellow I had some friendly ties with back then. That was a whole new kind of time, talking to them! Shi-yat... when we were in school together, I recall my first encounter with a "chat room" in the library. One person at one computer could talk to another person at the neighboring computer by sending messages back and forth! I had little use for it then. I hated computers.

So how to make sense of it all? Talking by Skype to people I barely know, but having this uncanny ability to draw from some of the same experiences? A couple of us scanning our yearbooks, holding them up to the camera, and cutting up like old pals. So odd. Got some new Facebook friends too. (Also interesting is that by total surprise, I found a first grade picture of Shelby Duncan. It was something I had seen but not in ages, and I can't recall if it was through someone at Madison or from Shelby herself. Was an odd mixing of types.)

Now that I have done extensive work bringing my monster-journal Life At The Top into the digital realm, I recall that all the stories of any real substance and transformation pretty much have little to do with my fellow Warhawks (I called the mascot "Warthogs" then). Stories about church, wanting to be a teacher, Shelby, the most important parts of befriending Steve, and a few others are largely talking about stuff that happened outside the schoolyard walls. Some things are retold in LAAT that are school-related, but they tend to be less important in a larger sense. I noticed there was a lot of talk about when I felt recognized or when I somehow had my ego stroked. It is a fair thing to have one's ego develop as a young person, so I suppose that was what it was. I'd like if it didn't sound so self serving. Such was my aptitude for writing and reflecting. It was a personal journal, after all.

We'll see if things like the social media and Skype do anything to sustain things. Already, after a giddy day of being plunged into that stuff and looking sites over, I am of mixed mind about this. No doubt everyone has had their rocky 20 years, like me. What I do wonder is if, with all the distractions of life today, can people work their way backwards and slow down a bit to connect beyond the superficial stuff? Reading my LATT journal indicates that I was not into superficial relationships then. And I tended to think of a lot of school relationships as wanting for substance. I didn't feel too connected to people then. That is why Steve and Shelby were so huge then, and why I spilled so much ink to talk about it. I'd like to connect to people more now, especially after life kinds of dulls the edges between people, and eventually it would be nice to see more commonality than difference. No doubt the popular kids have taken their lumps too, and maybe there is something to talk about that runs below the surface. Here's hoping.