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Entries in adjusting to reality (79)


Life At The Top + 20

scan of the original manuscript of Life at the Top.The original draft of Life At The TopIn a gesture perhaps only of significance to me, I have now posted to this site my original journal entry that set the pace for about ten years of handwritten entries, and now about ten years of electronic entries. The documentation is elsewhere on the site, and also on this post which features the entire text of the thing with just enough fixes for clarity. It also features several pictures and documents to help spice it up so you can see some of the characters involved. It is a long, 6,000 word entry that takes on a range of experiences during my high school time, with a particular emphasis on my senior year, which was perhaps as good as it got for me in my academic career.

At the time of its original writing, I was barely aware of my future. I had only a big plan to go to Europe a few weeks later with my old man. I was planning to go to Mesa College in the fall, which doesn't exactly show a total plan for a glorious future! It was sort of standard issue stuff. I never applied to any colleges as a senior. I had no big ambitions. I wanted to play my drums, listen to my music (it was on that same day after graduation when I bought my first Yes cassette, 90125). I was head over heels for Shelby, who is well discussed in the entry. (Told from the perspective my naive, wishful point of view that interestingly was already tempered with the kind of insight I needed to know all about how things would play out, and did!) I had no more than a few weeks' future, really.

On reading the giant entry now, several times over in the course of transcribing and editing, what strikes me is how many of my present concerns are somehow present in this document from 1991 that narrates experiences and impressions and hopes from the years leading up to it. As I seek the clues that lead me to understand really what my life's purpose is, evidence like this is revealing and compelling. Either it is stated that I am interested in X, Y, or Z, or sometimes the negative is true: the signs are that all along, I should not be engaged in X, Y, or Z.

One thing that stands out is how in the few months I worked at my first job, I worked on Sundays for a while. People don't think a lot about that anymore but at the time, I was cautioned from my conservative family folk that I shouldn't work on Sunday. You might say teenage rebellion would drive me to reject that. But what happened was that the hobby store (that I used to hang out at endlessly the year before) called me and asked me to work for a bit. They knew I loved the place (true a year before before I abandoned the hobby and got into drums) and would do it. Almost immediately I began to feel at a distance from my church community where I had been a part for nearly a solid year before. I had established the community relationships there, and traded it in for a minimum wage job that I worked at for just a few months, not even always on Sundays. Life At The Top, the journal, tells about that season of mid-1990 being one of depression, alienation, even suicidal ideation. After that, I had a hard time reestablishing a connection to the church, and began a long history of searching for ways to fill a void using work, consumption, and other means. Only later on in 2005 when I met Lee Van Ham did I start to understand the Sabbath idea of rest and renewal in a community setting. I've now been willing to stand up for keeping Sundays for that purpose, even at the cost of losing my jobs. I am not certain, but I think that was a contributing factor in losing my last job. I know such boundaries were clear causes for another dismissal.

Reading Life At The Top now just makes me want to cuddle my 17-year old self, and soothingly say, "forget Shelby." It is true. I knew the patterns by the time I graduated. She never wanted to be with me. But such was the power of desire. I basically went blind for another ten years, even as I knew what I needed to know by two and a half years into it all. But the initial revelation of the power of having a friend was real. I did feel heard. I did feel like someone cared enough. That is the legacy of Shelby, to help make the world safe enough to recognize that those things could happen in my life. But as I tried to hold that flame too close, I got burned, and kept trying over the years, till finally I was willing to grab it for all it was worth, get baptized by the fire, and released into a new form, no longer slave to the delusion that stayed with me for exactly twelve years and a week. But in 1991, I was building up in a huge way to win her over with ...something? There were enough optimism-producing moments to keep me strung along, but that was me interpreting things, not what she was sending.

In all fairness to her, I should point out that she was an early voice for the more liberal strands of thought I have aligned myself with. Politically, socially, environmentally, she was planting seeds of consciousness in my mind well before I knew what it meant. I sort of wish I had a chance to thank her for that, even as it was just distracting talk that always seemed to criticize my lifestyle (of blindness) back when it was happening. Her international and interstate travels and studies always made her interesting. I never felt interesting, I guess. She had conviction that I could not fathom. She also had an athiestic streak that always made me confused, especially in how we met at a church! But I guess that was just another way to learn things as an anthropologist would, hanging out with the savages, as it were. I do know she was always too much for me. I don't have a problem imagining how a girl of her intellect and enthusiasm for life would not be interested in an uptight guy like me who was only then starting to encounter a world outside of a conservative family life shaped by the military and Norman Rockwell. I only wish I had been able to not delude myself so much, and perhaps to let it go and find other girls to date who were emotionally available.

Speaking of that, I noticed there is no mention of Kelli in Life At The Top. None in particular, but when I am talking about youth group, Adventure Class, Shalom Group, and some other church references happening after mid 1990, I am speaking too of my future bride. One great divine joke on me was that I tolerated the Shelby indignities for so long, feeling that a long history of friendship would pave the way for more. What I did not see coming up in the rear view mirror was that exactly that was happening with Kelli over a decade and more before we started "dating" in 2001-2! In fact, that is where the decade + of history went to add up to something, not with Shelby! She and I had a slow building relationship that involved our intimate moments along the way, that so far has turned into the much wanted, much needed relationship of stability that I had been pining for. I just didn't see it that way. It was a matter of not trying so desperately to manage the thing; Kelli and I were pretty casual friends but we shared deeply when we did meet up. Funny too that she was of a liberal mind, well experienced in life, and had a deep social, environmental, and political consciousness too. (Clearly she is not living as an athiest either.) But in 1991, who knew where the 14-year old Kelli and I were going?

Stephan and I are in occasional contact. Over the years, we have been in touch by letters or by phone, but I rather like the Skype option. He's in Germany mainly, working for a major tire company. After getting a degree in engineering and working for a manufacturer of convertible car tops, he now works as a traveling rep on an international scale, primarily in the Eurozone. It has been 19 years since I saw him on my second trip to Europe in 1992. I still feel there is a quality of friendship with him that is hard to attain with my stateside connections. In 1991, he was the first male with whom I had the kind of exchange that put Shelby on the map. But of course, since amorous love doesn't play a clouding role, we've had that kind of depth in conversation often enough, and while living for a lot of years thinking he had a better life than me (on account of being a university graduate with a "good job"), our more recent communications have leveled us back to two men who have had girl problems, job issues, regrets, and the like—bringing us full circle back to the original spark that brought us together as close friends in early 1991.

(My new look at Life At The Top revealed I downplayed Steve while masking some of the statements about Shelby that reflected my mixed mind about her. This year's transcription tried to reconcile that and other similar issues of self-censorship, aiming to recapture the spirit of the manuscript with a few fixes for clarity and style. But the heart is back!)

Jerry Lawritson, my pastor in LATT, is no longer my pastor. But I still regard him highly as a teacher, and perhaps the best one of them all, given the nature of his message and the period of time he has been around to offer it. In fact, for my Young Adults event last night, I was willing to go to bat for the Book of Revelation based on the materials he has provided over the years, but was nice enough to share with me this month, even four years after I left his church, and joined another. At least prior to that departure in 2007, he continued to be quite an advocate for me in my deepest life struggles. He was who I called when I knew it was madness to have a bottle of sleeping pills lined up like chorus girls on my desk. He helped make possible two years of therapy (don't tell anyone) following that. But for reasons not known to me, the setting of that church was not the right place for me to grow up and put to use the lessons I learned from him. The type of family situations I was in up to about 2007 was something that I knew he was unable to fully address. Eventually I felt that I had to move on. For a lot of years, he was father to me when it came to teaching lessons of wisdom and for hanging on to life. So it was heartbreaking when I had to admit that that era was over in 2007, a little shy of 20 years since that first epic conversation at the beach picnic in LATT. With one exception in 2008, we have not talked about things at that level since I left. And that one time in 2008 was an epic occassion that was unlike any other I've had with him. I sort of feel there was more authenticity in that exchange between two men who had to part ways than in the years of our pastor/young congregant relationship.

Judy Slaughter was in town for a couple years after LATT was written, but for some years was 30 miles away in Escondido as senior pastor of another church. That period was during my decade-long spell of not attending church, so I lost touch for a while. She's in Hawaii now. Was pastor there at a couple churches, but is now quite troubled by health issues and most of the time, I talk to her husband Jay, who speaks on her behalf. The times I've talked to her, or emailed her, have been nice in how she is always validating to me. She and Jerry were huge figures in keeping me on track during high school. The Shalom community, a side group of youth in the church around the early 90s, was a place where Kelli and I got to know each other, and it was all Jerry and Judy's initiative, with them taking me out to lunch sometimes to get my input on what might be needed in such a group.

Harry Steinmetz was big in 12th grade but also on a couple other occassions: I had a public speaking class with him in 9th grade, and again, years later at Mesa College in 2003, I took another public speaking class with him at Mesa College just as I was in my suicidal crisis and subsequent return to life. Some of the things I spoke of in class were linked to that experience, and the experience of being reborn during that same semester. He egged me on, knowing that I wasn't just uttering the words off the page. A later experience, during 2005, I was flyering the school for my Peak Oil forum, and I came by his classroom, not even as a student. He called me up to the front to do an improptu speech and Q&A on peak oil and to make my pitch for coming to the event! He has always been a learned man who love to teach, and to help animate people with a spirit and vitality for their work. It isn't enough just to learn the topics. I occasionally run into in town and give him the latest news. He also is responsible for my preference for public radio listening. No one but him.

My step mom Eda is still around though we are in a period of estrangement. She just turned 89 last month. I feel mixed about keeping silent with her, but for a year or so in 2008, but I have been put off by her increasing intolerance and condescension about being married to a liberal woman who doesn't just stay home and serve me, or (and this is probably the kicker) that Kelli was on the path to be ordained as a full-fledged minister. Every meeting is likely to touch on some aspect of those related topics. For a woman who talks as much God as she does, you'd think that she'd see that God can call anyone to ministry. Or that the duties of married and work life can be balanced out so both parties are reasonably content. I know there is a paradigm gap between us; clearly she is of another age. But she is quite sharp of mind. She still is "there." Still, I do tend to identify her more strongly as my mom than I do with my own mother. There is both quantitative and qualitative support for this. In fact, in my senior yearbook memories (a block of text where we could put anything, often looking like txtmsgspeek) I did proclaim that "EDAISMYMUM."

Looking now at LATT, I was struck by my struggle to simultaneously branch out and sink roots. I did feel that I was coming to life and that must be what trees do: bigger top branches require deeper and wider roots. I was never on the cutting edge of anything, nor even a few steps back. Things like opening my mouth to risk an answer in class, or wearing one pink shirt, or playing drums in public for the first time were huge to me. I was grappling with being simultaneously drawn in by and repulsed by institutions. I wasn't a rebel or slacker at school, but I was also inclined to do "just well enough." I was immersed in my church because of the community there, then I got a job and all that inverted itself and I was later writing how I couldn't stand my experiences at church. My journalism class progress report essentially shows ambivalence about the kinds of authoritative bodies I was surrounded by. I was grappling with being taken into a system. Not so very different than what I grapple with now.

I detect a bit of a wannabe/patronizing tone in my narrative about tutoring math to three people who really were classmates of mine, not particularly friends of any deep nature. Tina Moraga did in fact go way back to the early days of elementary school, but I think by the time LATT was written, I had just gotten to know her a bit more. I don't recall knowing her well prior to that. So the tone was a bit inauthentic to my senses now. Interestingly, in 2003-05, I was delivering to an older man who lived across the street from her grandmother's and I got some occasional updates about Tina. I do recall having a talk with her a year or so after high school and she did tell me about some screwed up and manipulative marriage that was doomed. It did hurt to hear about all that. But I think the tone in LATT is a bit too eager to help. Too much inspirational speaker about it. But whatever works. We graduated. With the exception of occasions like a reunion next month, there is pretty much nothing of contact between me and my classmates.

Interesting that my senior year interests included being a teacher/mentor, and that I mentioned that history was important. The matter of interpersonal relations runs through the entire LATT journal too. And the fact that I was on the school paper, making my initial attempts at journalism was a kicker too. Isn't all that the basis for what I am doing now? It kind of warms my heart that somehow, I am still doing what I wanted. In fact, yesterday's Young Adults event was something that tied all that together in some way. I am older than most of the group so there is always a bit of a mentor/mentee kind of relationship hovering but not clearly defined; the matter of presenting the Book of Revelation as a document requiring historical understanding, and then following it with a movie (What a Way to Go: Life at the End of Empire) that is basically a 10,000 year history lesson of human endeavors sort of shows that history figures into my concerns now; the discussion turned to how people act in society, for good or for ill, true to themselves or not (and even facilitating the discussion to that point is an act of mentoring); and then of course, the kinds of material I write and present at my "classes" do have a teacher's or a journalist's heart about them. And to tie it all together, there is a Christian-rooted message behind it. I suppose by this analysis you could say that I either haven't developed, or I am doing what I have always thought I should be doing!

The question does arise. Why does any of this matter? It's the past! It is, and it is not. Even the original entry admits that looking at things like this is my way. As you'll see on TAPKAE.com since about 2009, there are a sprinking of posts that are of a "+20" nature. It is like Socrates said, "the unexamined life is not worth living." All I really have is my life and experiences and they are as important to me as anyone elses who has scaled the ladder of power, or who has a doctorate or who has won the olympics. And, in a way that is perhaps more recognizeably true in the twenty years since, it is a scattered bunch of things if I were to list them on paper. My resume reminds me of this, but what holds it together? It seems that no one but me puts in the time to figure out what the longer threads are and where they lead. I do get clues from people on the outside of my mind; people do recognize things, but it is not their job. The 17 year old me who wrote LATT was discovering how scattered pieces were, and looking for a pattern, maybe or maybe not knowing where to go (I think not so, at least consciously). Now, at 37, with 20 years fewer to live my life, the clues are rather interesting to trace. I did myself some good service by charting all that I have over twenty years. I still wish for more depth. Not always was I able to go past reciting the events and their times and places. But who was I inside? Learning anything about emotional vocabulary came much later. Spiritual vocabulary later still.

Leaving these kinds of journalistic breadcrumbs help me find my way home to who I am. I feel like I'd be lost without them.


Too Tull an Order for Me

Jethro Tull tix for me and my lady are nearly $98 after Ticketbastard added nearly $18 to the price that I was already teetering about, plus the drive to Escondido/Valley Center, which, with gas prices today actually means a bit more still. Don't get me wrong. I have loved Tull for 22 years (and they are the first band that I truly savored, and I even started playing drums because of them), but I just aint into shedding that much "hard earned" dough for a few hours of kicks. (I'd sort of like to get remixed and remastered albums, if anything.) The current band, according to YouTube vids I've seen over a few years, is a shadow of itself (keys and bass players seeming all the more like hired guns with nothing of the kind of personality of earlier guys), and Ian's voice is pretty bad now, even while his flute and guitar work have advanced.

Even getting an agreement from one of the band to meet and greet was nice but the expense for a band that really ought to play instrumentals now, or in "emerging markets," or should go out proudly on 43 years of laurels and not keep milking it. Kind of sad, really. Musically, they are still quite exciting when playing the bold stuff like Songs from the Wood, Heavy Horses, Black Sunday, Farm on the Freeway, but Ian really needs to call it a day with the voice. It is too identifiable an element of their sound, and it has been stressed since 1984. After a couple years' recovery time following his voice crisis that year, I liked his mellow voice on Crest of a Knave and one or two albums to follow, but since they tour all the time, no doubt that just makes it worse. I'd rather buy one good album every three years than see their tours at this price. But they don't really do albums anymore, it seems.

Yet, the three shows I have seen in the 90s have been quite enjoyable. The one to follow was perhaps a favorite concert experience of all...

In 1998, under the guise of working for Mike Keneally that day and borrowing one of the band's access passes, I got to meet the band (Martin Barre told me about Dave Mattacks of Fairport Convention getting the axe from that band when he did some silly and not-too-well-thought-out Hitler gesture at a show) and watch both MK's show and the Tull show from side stage at Humphreys. That must be my Tull peak experience. It was that day that Ian Anderson stood just feet in front of me in the wings, watching MK's blistering performance with his 5 piece band, playing the Cowlogy with its insane Zappa-like rhythmic unison ending that followed a curvy and dense vocal line. Ian had a wild grin on his face watching that, and later on got in touch with drummer Jason Harrison Smith and had him come to England to cut demos for Tull's next album (Dot Com) and Ian's solo album, SLOB. Only Jason had a sort of loose tongue that uttered something during the sessions that killed the deal just as he was getting some of the biggest chances in his career thus far. Like Ian needed Jason's creative input!


May Gray 

I find it is still hard to get back into a normal life in Sandy Eggo after time at Red Mesa. I miss the structural element of having a job, but seeing how I am trying to develop my digital media abilities in hopes of finding something that calls on more than my ability to pilot a vehicle or move boxes, I am having a harder time finding work than usual. I've had a couple interviews but really it was a step backward from my time delivering the taters and onions. Resumes sent to organizations looking for media people have gotten rejections at best, and ignorance at worst. Not working gives me time to dabble in a lot of things, and for better or for worse, I have pressed on into the world of social media options, and yep, that stuff takes time to work on. I still have my reservations about it all, though. A year ago I wanted nothing to do with it all. Now for the sake of helping JEM or Kelli with the new WomenWhoSpeakInChurch site and its Facebook version, and the stuff I do to keep amused (with Buber the Dog's FB site, and one other that shall go unnamed), I am pretty much trying my hand at the various ways these things can be made to work together.

Since Kelli's ordination I've been messing with video programs and it hasn't always been fun. The couple cameras that captured footage both had breaks in the program, both during the same song that Kay sang, but at different points. So neither camera got unbroken coverage. An audio CD did get a pretty good mix off the board. (I did all the audio at my old church.) Trying to settle on a strategy for making the experience available to those not there that day, and to make it concise enough to put on YouTube (in shorter bits) has been a challenge, and I found myself needing to push into a couple new programs to get stuff happening. The material will accumulate at the WomenWhoSpeakInChurch YouTube site.

Red Mesa has made worship in a church seem kind of bland and uninteresting on the whole. The times I have gotten to church since my return I have been as likely to sort of drift out to another room to sit and be alone, or to wander back in for the sermon. Or not. I resigned from the Christian Education commission, which I felt rather useless at. I found that the things I do in the context of the young adults bunch seems to sustain my interest more and feel more effective in real time. No procedural meetings. Just contact that gives me a chance to periodically assume my role of teacher, but otherwise as fellow student, and just trying to create community among people who, about two years ago, were strangers, or not even involved yet! So I feel that has been quite a success, and actually, the togetherness and level of participation of this group has been rather notable compared to other upstarts from the same period of about 2-3 years ago. We're planning our own end of the world party for June 11. I call it the Post Apocalyptic Regressive Communion. Maybe Kelli, now fully ordained, can bless the scavenged food elements of Tang! drink and perhaps nuclear-safe Twinkies or Wonder bread. Fun!

Maybe it is the May gray, but I do feel down. Not being active for work has left me to stay home a lot, and frankly, I put back the weight that I lost while in my bike riding heyday. And I feel it. I just don't feel that I want to ride anywhere anymore. I don't leave the house too much but to walk the dog, go to church, errands, and such. I know it is the stuff that leads to depression, but I am trying to stay productive with my digital projects which seem to blossom even as I get them done. Ongoing ones like podcasts take a few days to get right; Photo work to present my trips is an ongoing thing; I blog once in a while; learning video is a new trick; editing my whole site a few months ago was epic; getting Google Apps set up for two domains was a big deal, especially when it came to transfering three email accounts; and then there is the social media stuff. Once in a while, it's time to look at manuals or tutorials online. At any given time, I've go plenty on my plate of jobs to take on. And not working is an unmatched time to get that stuff done. I hope it pays off as I push toward positions that might be more able to call upon my actual interests and enthusiasm.



Six Years in the Making

You can call her "Rev." now.

Radiant Kelli holding her new ordination certificate at homeReverend Kelli Parrish Lucas, if you please...

the chalice and plate, closeup.The chalice and plate I got Kelli while on my trip to New Mexico. Made from solid stone.

We just got back from the festivities following Kelli's ordination today—long awaited, and taking just a bit over six years since she was accepted to seminary in April 2005. You can imagine this is a huge victory to claim. After our dinner, she was wiped out, so here I am, ever the journalist for the family...

Held at the church where we both were born into and where we have been baptized and married in, this is a particularly notable day in the history of CCCPB, as Kelli is the only of that congregation to have started so young and followed the long and winding path of faith and formation, all the way to this point.

In attendance were members of CCCPB, Mission Hills UCC (where she interned), other churches in the local UCC Association, friends from United Methodist, Disciples of Christ, Unitarian Universalist, and Presbyterian worlds. Friends from the world of chaplaincy, poetry, and plain ol' good friends were there to support her too. (A few of the ladies might not know it but they might be contributors to this very site, once the dust settles here!)

For the week, Kelli's mom Kay Taylor was in town, and brought her autoharp with her. She sang a heart melting rendition of God's Eye is on the Sparrow for the offertory in the ordination service. We just happened to have a mic on her too!

Concurrent with all this, we are starting the WomenWhoSpeakInChurch page on Facebook too. Over 100 images from the day's preparation, service, and celebration are now in an album on my Facebook page, or you can see the more focused collection within TAPKAE.com.

To save you a trip to YouTube, check these out: the "Sparrow" slideshow with mama Kay and the lighting of the Triune Candles with good friends Reverend Karen, Tara, and Delores.



I can't see where the river came from
I can't see where it is flowing to
I am only in the flow
I only need to breathe
I only need to keep my head above the water


Dukkha and the View from the Center

So far, since my birthday last Tuesday, I have been reading Gandhi's autobiography which he calls his Stories of Experiments with Truth; watched a bit of PBS and read a bit on Martin Luther King Jr.'s life and works; read up on Buddhism in Huston Smith's book, The World's Religions; had a beer and burger with a young fellow from work who perhaps sees the world vastly differently than I do (he's quite conservative and in the Marine Reserves but has dared to sit and talk with a guy of my interests) and watched the movie Platoon.

Kelli and I went together to church today. Usually we don't go to the same church anymore, so it is unusual when we do. Still, my ongoing "project" at church is to allow myself to be restless and to retain autonomy so I don't get entrenched into anything. I never sit in the same pew on consecutive weeks, and sometimes I actually sit in two or three places during the service itself, choosing to do so because it puts me in contact with more people, and keeps things from stagnating. Today I went a bit further and went to another isolated meeting room with a couch (and naturally lit space from skylights) and read The World's Religions which I have had in that room for months and periodically pick up and read. Today, I skipped out on worship to go read about the Four Noble Truths and the Eightfold Path. I've been enjoying getting to know bits about Buddhism in recent years, albeit at a snail's pace. It is quite refreshing to see the parallels with Jesus' story, his methods and lessons. In Smith's book, he likens Buddhism to a protestant version of Hinduism, eschewing the layers of formalized religious trappings and tradition that kept people from the vital lessons and transformation that sits at the core, the ones that are open to all peoples. In that, Buddhist spirituality is quite like the essential messages of Jesus, that all people can tap into the same well of truth, without the help or interference of a priestly class or other layers of religiosity that separate truth seeker from the truth. The message is, go inward and know for yourself, and then check that against the messages from everyone else with their clamoring and noise.

In 2007, when I worked at Scantech, the always-rushed print house, the people were frantic. But there was one guy, a gay Mexican who practiced Buddhism after a spell of Hinduism and probably a background of Catholicism. This Juan Sandoval was the most balanced guy in the place, honest like Abe Lincoln, and in the midst of this swirling mess of activity, just-in-time delivery, and chaos, he would sometimes come into our driver office area for a pause. A number of times he would pontificate on meditation, relinquishing the need for perfection, and a number of other lessons that seem to be the only way he could be such a calm figure in that messy world. At lunch, he'd retire to the lawn outside by the road where we drivers came whipping in and out. He'd have his prayer stool which let him be bent of knee while seated upright. In the midst of the chaos of Kearny Mesa, there he was under the tree, contemplating. I found him the most appealing figure in my time there, as he lived and urged a quest for a richer life. I never heard his story in any depth but I can imagine the types of questions he had to sort out in the process of facing who he was in a culture that has a hard time with men who don't live out the machismo expected of them. The enthusiasm he had in his voice when talking about the practices and insights from Buddhist practice was clear.

In some ways, I have become Juan at my job now, though perhaps by a tedium that sets in when just talking shop finally exhausts a person. There is only so much talk one can make about potatoes, fussy chefs, or routes that are too overloaded or that don't have much at all. I got my mind on other things, and so I found I needed to just start conversations that incorporate that. For a while in the spring-summer, with some of the then-new guys and a few others I thought might participate, I just began to ask if they'd prefer to talk politics or religion. A few were ready to roll, so even as this shop is as busy if not more so than at Scantech, somehow tidbits of this kind of talk get tucked into short periods of passing, or waiting for dispatches, or loading trucks. Right now there are about four guys who seem to play along with this. Finally, this one fellow, Tom, asked to take it outside after work so we didn't have to hide from the cameras in the effort to complete a thought.

Some of this type of talk that I've been making came about when I got driver trainees and after we got the basics down. The fact is, I can teach the ins and outs of the job in no time, and it is nearly useless when one takes another job so I have been oddly persuaded to instruct along other lines. I've found the driving work, out and about in a city of diverse population and cultures, to be an eye opening course in humanitarian studies. I've said before that it is not uncommon to see homeless people congregating at the bases of the towers in town, the 5 star hotels and restaurants where businesspeople and politicians strike up deals that affect people they will never meet. If it is only an introduction, my time training guys includes a bit of that. Or now, back in the warehouse, that same kind of thing informs some of the things I say. Shit, we spend 40 hours at work every week. It needs to count for more than a paycheck. I like to report on some of the things that the routes have taught me about life and people.

Twenty years ago I first envisioned myself as a teacher of life. A pathetic idea then, but one that I am growing into, either in the context of the church young adults group, or this side project at work. One reason that the story of  Siddharta Gautama, the Buddha, resonates with me is the story of his youth and his awakening. I feel quite a kinship with the story, not just because of the overall narrative of being raised with a hyper-protective father assuring a prince's life if I remained blind to a life on the outside (and then discovering that life outside the castle walls involves the discontented and unsettled parts of life that is known as dukkha), but also that the age relationship between me and Siddharta is the same: asleep till 30, then taking till 35 to have learned the crucial lessons by spiritual inquiry of all sorts that would finally empower him to step back into the world with a message for others. And yet it all revolves around the inevitability of suffering/discontentedness and what to do in the face of it.

My own findings arise from all that you've read in this journal for the years since it has been going: the suburban life is a troubled one that I can't expect to last, and the lifestyle that accompanies it is one that needs to be kept in perspective and wherever possible, stepped away from. It was yesterday's dream. It was someone else's dream. These days, I don't see much in the general culture at large that reinforces a complete enough message like that. There are left leaning movements that try, and bravo for them. But they are not enough because they don't seem rooted in anything. On the right, there are idiotic movements back into the dark ages of John Birch conservatism, racist and classist policies, pushes against social programs meant to do people good. Neither is meeting anyone's needs. The center has become the place to be while the polar opposites are racing farther and farther apart, nearly converging on the other side of the circle in their loathing and hatred for one another, and in their uselessness.

Day after day, we face the incremental collapse of this nation. It doesn't look that way, but that is what is happening. This is why I turn to the ancient stuff—to look to something not so ephemeral as nation-states and economic philosophies tied to a certain historical period blessed by a party-inducing energy supply that is going to be a matter of history in my lifetime. How to live a human life in a time of disappointment, suffering and upsetting change, that is my lesson to teach anyone who might have ears. Buddha, Jesus, Gandhi, King are all excellent teachers because each stood before an imperfect world and pointed a way for others by getting to the radix, the root of things—the downward and inward journey that reveals enemies and things of hate inside, where all the work needs to be done anyway. They are teachers of relinquishment of the world's values. This is the only thing that will soften the blow that is hitting us in slow motion and that will continue for all my lifetime and for a while after that. It is wisdom that neither the left nor right seems to possess right now, blinded by wishful thinking for the good old days that really can't come back, nor would we be wise to wish for them to return. Being a voice of integration or reconciliation is always a dangerous thing; coaxing people out of their foxholes of political perspective is not easy. I guess my message is one of trying to disabuse people of the unreality of what we can expect from our political process while not questioning our own part in things—questioning how we contribute to the mess while pursuing what has come to be a normal life of rushing about in trivial pursuits of goods and power.

So I watched Platoon, a movie I saw when it came out and appreciated it because I was a young 13 year old who liked military movies and literature, and building models of military gear. I was so far from understanding the movie's treatment of the effects of war, and the internal fight to remain human in the face of it, not to be turned into a monster even in monstrous circumstances. Life may be suffering, but war is needless suffering (hasn't a century of war made that clear?). Racism is more of the same. Hate crimes more still. Economic violence at the hands of out-of-control banks is another form of violence causing still more suffering. Much as I'd like to anticipate otherwise, I soberly anticipate more of this for the rest of my life. So this week has been one short period of arming up with the great voices of how to face suffering and disappointment in a humane way and sharing what I find as I go.


Rohr On Identity

I get daily meditations from Richard Rohr. You should too. He's given me much to ponder.

Question of the Day: Who am I, really?

The male psyche is normally fragile and insecure because it is based on overwhelmingly external and transitory criteria, a game which almost all men eventually lose. The poor male has to look good and he has to defend the honor of his bank account, his family, his race, his country, but all in reference to himself! His question is not allowed to be 'Who am I, really?', but only 'How do I look?'

That is precisely the opposite path from any authentic spirituality. Thus it was males who alone needed "initiation" in most indigenous cultures, and it was males like Jesus and Francis, who walked in the exact opposite direction.


Father's Day Haiku

What do you give the
Man who has everything?
Candor must suffice


Six-Five Redux

ed's letter to the editor in the san diego union tribuneOn this day in 2005, I had two rather notable things happen to me in my oil-awareness pursuit that defined that period for me. On that day, I was told at church that my letter to the editor was published. I was delighted not just for that, but for the timeliness of it all. Later that same evening, I was about to do my first film showing of The End of Suburbia, and to hold a discussion on that topic. At that can be read about in that day's blog. Around that time, gasoline was maybe in the low $2 range, which had been around for about two years or more. At that time though, it seemed like no one thought that life would change much if gas got more expensive.

Well, that didn't last, did it? Maybe it took another few years but now it seems that you can't avoid the topics of gas and food costs on the rise and the sacrifices that result, going green, lowering emissions, carbon footprints, and all that. As I speak today, that gas price from 2005 has doubled again, and now it seems the panic is setting in, compounded with housing crashes, credit wipeouts and all that. People thought that The End of Suburbia was far fetched but now some of that has begun to happen just as the movie laid out. Talk now is that it is harder to afford to shift over to whatever new "solutions" there might be, because lots of money has evaporated. This too the movie warned of.

People still scoff at the idea of making any real change. But here are some things that I contend should be made. Some are meant to go in an act of voluntary "demand destruction" if we are to make any more measured change in our lifestyles. Others are meant to help fill voids that current methods will leave. Most call upon willful restraint, and not a new technological gizmo. These are also geared to allow individuals and families have a greater share of dignity while eliminating waste within commercial activity.

  • Eliminate such fuel wasting activities such as air shows, boat races, auto racing, military displays, mobile advertising, and other utterly worthless bullshit activities that are nothing but wasteful. One thing that sticks in my craw is seeing trucks driving around with only a billboard upon them. They carry nothing of worth, move no product, and tie up space in traffic, all while getting pathetic gas mileage. This is stupid and must stop. I've seen some now that have diorama type glass walls with elaborate displays within.
  • Turn off 80% or more suburban shopping center lighting meant to advertise places that are themselves closed for business overnight. To extend this, there should be a progressive pressure put on businesses to be open during daylight hours only, or limited night hours. People will no doubt bitch that our economy will be hurt by this. But that is what we face one way or another. The question is whether we will face it willingly or not.
  • Heavy rail should be implemented to remove trucks from the road along major corridors. Certainly more passenger rail should be called upon in like fashion. The airlines are hemorrhaging and it is their time to die, at least with regard to the widespread public consumer use. Not everyone can live like kings.
  • Civic zoning needs to be relaxed intentionally (or people will just ignore the law when desperation sets in), but urban agriculture needs a chance to thrive, even if it means allowing animals which enable people to live (I mean survive in some cases) without being slaves to jobs or even joblessness. Landscapes need to be made more edible—fruit trees, gardens, even herbal ground cover. Enough with the bullshit tropical yards and grass lawns. People talk about getting more local in their food choices, but there needs to be an alternative to the entire supermarket system, at least in part.

Those are but a few things that would transform things for the better, and don't require wishing upon a techno-messiah to save us from our sins and to wipe out our enemies. Yes, some do hearken back to another time, but what I think we need to face is that we have overshot our ability to have high technology work for us. We have also answered to the needs of the economy for long enough, and that will doom us at the rate at which we are going now. If the worst of the predictions of the global warming and peak oil theories were to come true, you can just forget about the economy as we know it. Survival will be the order of the day, and that won't allow most people to even think the way we think now. Forget the sarcasm and irony we know. Forget the abstractions which we distract ourselves with now.

In 2005, I was beginning to find my topic of concern, but really after months of that pursuit with four video showings and discussions, I had to deepen my quest for what the real problem is. I find it isn't the fuel we use. Or which type of engine we have. It isn't even the president we have. The real matter, in this nation in particular, is expectation versus reality. But even that reaches back to a larger human issue of insecurity that there is not enough to go around, and therefore, one must claim all one can before someone else does. Our national mythology is such that we confuse acquisition and consumption with our assured right to pursue happiness. But that is in direct conflict with most of the timeless religious wisdom, which says that the goal is not "out there" but "in here." I think maybe our society is breaking apart because that external thrill seeking activity is proving itself to be unrewarding and the whole thing is collapsing in on itself. It is rather like an addict that needs more and more of his drug of choice to get the same sensation as before. Well, it ultimately won't last that way for ever, and I think this is what peak oil has to show us. I contend that it is a necessary and good thing ultimately—the great disappointment that ultimately can bring us back to our senses somehow. People have been able to enjoy trashing the religious wisdom that encourages rejection of material distractions, as long as ever more material distractions were forthcoming and exciting. I don't think we have that option anymore. I think we need to find our answers deep within our humanity, and not within our economy or any other external structure. I think this is the key to a soft landing, as much as is possible given our lofty position now. Where else can we hear a message of relinquishment and self-moderation? Advertising doesn't offer that. Peer pressure doesn't suggest it much in most circles.


Time Flies

I was reminded how time flies when a coworker of mine, aged 23, asked what my high school graduating year was. Um, 1991. And then it hit me that that was 17 years ago, and I was 17 years old then. Damn. Half a lifetime ago now?