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Entries in anniversaries (11)

Sunday
Jan152012

Get Thee to Church +10

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

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

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

High School Era

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

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

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

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

Cracks in the Wall: 1991-92

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

Time off for Bad Behavior

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

2001

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

Return of the Prodigal Son, Return of Wonder

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

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

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

Fitting in: 2002-2007

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

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

Bittersweet Realizations

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

After 2007

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

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

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

Thursday
Dec222011

Solstice Sweetheart Sunshine, or Kelli's Blue Light Special

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

The 2001 Paradigm Shift

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

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

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

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

The K-Mart Redemption

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Solstice Sunshine Sweetheart

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

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

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

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

Ubehebe Crater, Death Valley, November 2011

Wednesday
Oct122011

Bye Bye Black Sheep

It's my 38th birthday today. The blog post title, amusingly rendered in a Photoshopped birthday invitation to people, was indicative of a more powerful current in my life: that of finding identity even in the messy business that comes from being born to a rather dysfunctional set of people. A letter like this has been brewing for years. This is who I am as I make first steps into my 39th year: gaining clarity in how I can deal with family, and what I need from it (but know that I can't ever really expect it. Also, feeling the urge to move toward forgiveness while still holding people accountable. I am moving increasingly toward the needed letting go. I consider this part of the grief work. The title is in reference to my black sheep status, always being apart from a larger flock, relegated to another sector. But it also speaks of my own discarding of the boundaries that kept me there, and a kind of assertiveness and presence that has sort of been taking shape in the last several months within me. I am the dismissed black sheep of the family. But now I am dismissing that role itself with a new stance that is shaped by a deepening understanding of what Jesus' experience might teach about how to absorb pain, gracefully.

The following is addressed to my (half-) sister Christina Lyke, ten years my senior. It is perhaps the last thing I'll be saying to her for a few years, given the pattern of a really estranged relationship that is only punctuated every few years when I try to process the distance and the hurt with what I hope are a new set of tools and methods. It always turns out to be a one-sided effort that crashes and burns faster and faster each time.

On a drop in visit to my mom's house in Long Beach a few weeks ago I found out from Chris' son that our brother died—in March 2011! No one bothered to let me know. The longstanding estrangement is a hostile one, mainly from her side. I sent a handwritten card not to her, but to our mom (equally estranged), with a note of sympathy and an invitation to my birthday gathering this coming weekend. Mom didn't respond directly to that. Chris did the dirty work of replying via Facebook. This letter is part of a thread between she and I where I asked to be put in touch with either James' wife or his twin brother so that I might be able to do a bit of grief work. Chris has apparently appointed herself spokesperson for everyone and has been blocking any attempt to communicate with curt and increasingly testy responses. I asked her to let them speak in their own voices because I really don't believe her.

This is my most recent but likely last hurrah to say what's on my mind. I've tried to keep my tone level and genuine, but she finds me unbearable and the last I saw of her four years ago was a time when she put on a display of absolutely ridiculous show value, yelling and shouting and waving hands and all that—quite a song and dance, and not something that spoke of her being ten years older than me. It also happened to be the very same time when Kelli met that branch of my family for the first time ever (except some phone calls with Chris in 2003 when I was in Halcyon). Anyhow, I am feeling differently than I used to, and from a place of recognition that the pain is so great and has had such a distorting effect, I sort of want to try another tact. For all my words and feelings, the precedent suggests that this will be met with nothing but hostility. The letter starts in protest, responding to her total disregard that maybe I too need to process James' death. Just dismissed me and told me to get over it on my own.

Chris—

Mourning is a community activity, not an individual one. I also don't usually mess around with "chit chat" either. [She said she wasn't writing her responses to engage in chit chat, and that she would thank me to go away and not write more.] I take things more seriously than that. You don't have the right to unilaterally set the terms of relationship for everyone. Besides, why would you want to? It seems more than you even want to be part of. I think it would be better to have your cooperation. If not, then I know well enough what to expect. But the stonewall approach might just leave me looking for whatever holes in the fence I can find. And over time, I plan to find them. I think it is sad that this state of things seems preferable.

I just don't understand why you've taken the path you have, keeping me at a distance, even as I dared trust you to tell me the truth. I never doubted that what you said was true. I wish it wasn't so. I wish there was a way to make that point clear, and that I've had my own kinds of hurts that has kept me from even talking to my old man for the last five years—and unheard of time of silence. I wrote an open letter to him on Father's Day this year that might be as pointless as trying to convince you of anything at this point, but I have kept my distance but under certain conditions welcome a change in the course. [I get a feeling he is in his lonely room snickering at me still trying to clean up a mess that he helped create for me. It might be the gift that keeps on giving for him.]

Chris, I was willing to share your life and its hurts in whatever way I could. There isn't much else I could have given you. I wish you could see that for that decision, I took a bigger hit than I anticipated. I gambled for the sake of having a relationship with you because I did feel that there would be a chance at recovering something we both felt was lost, and that doing so was worth a risk to my precious stability. And then you shut me out rather inexplicably. I'm trying not to be bitter, but really, what you did was buck-passing the hurt; scapegoating. And yet, from the tone you've had for the times I've been in any contact with you (for several years now), it doesn't seem like you're feeling any less conflicted or hurt. [The explosive response to my presence alone at mom's in 11/07 was a clear confirmation of that. Her Facebook profile says she's training to be a drug and alchohol counselor. The thought of her in a healing role kind of scares me, really.] I don't think your strategy has worked for you.

I'd love for our old stuff to be turned into the basis for something constructive. I really don't like strife. It sucks way more energy than it returns. But your cooperation is a key part of that. At one time I thought you wanted me to be your understanding little brother. I still am—as much as I can be. But the trend is that you don't don't want that. What changed? Why? You might have set your feelings aside but I still hurt for you, and the hurt that I think everyone lives with but has brushed under the carpet. It's plain to see it is still at work, from the few bits of exchange that I have to judge by.

I don't mind physical distance and that we don't play a great day to day role in each other's lives. I just wish it didn't bring with it the harsh tones and curt responses. Even being civil and cooperative, keeping me in the loop about who's getting born [she mentioned that she had a grandchild on the way, due today, but neglected to say which of her sons was about to become papa] or who's dying...that's about all I feel I should ask. One day mom will be gone too. Will I read about that on MySpace or Facebook, or hear about it years later? Put yourself in my shoes for a moment.

I don't know if this is intentional but when I am blocked out from even having civil discourse with the family, that is not just a matter of denying me (all of us really) a place at the dinner table or the photo albums, it also robs me in particular of a sense of history of who I am, be that the son of royalty or the son of saints or the son of thieves and murderers. It is a gross unfairness to take that much from me. I have a sketch of who is involved, but I don't know much when it comes to even tracing my own genealogy or the stories of who came from where and what they were like. Is that part of the strategy? Or just an unintended consequence of a hairtrigger avoidance of me? What this means is that as I am dealing with fragmentary memory of my own experience and an even more fragmentary second-hand memory, I could forget things or altogether choose to put my own story together. I could tell any story I want. I could make you a princess or a harlot according to how I feel. I could make it all up. But that is disingenuous. I would rather be reasonable, and to not place the blame out of unprocessed hurt, and not to inflate people larger than life. The real story is big enough, and tragic enough. I can tell it straight. But blocking me from having the facts does not do any good. I wish you'd not be so rigid about withholding the kinds of information that still instructs me on who I am, whether that is good, bad, or whatever.

In a similar way, I feel that it is wrong of you to play gatekeeper especially at this time, and to block the flow of legitimate emotional response to James' death. That is unfair of you.

I still love you Chris. I love you as a human being, and as a person with whom I know I share a troubled past at the hands of a troubled man. I have long said that I felt a closer bond with you than anyone else in mom's side of the family. It's a troubled bond, but those can be made into strong bonds under certain conditions. I don't love the strife. You're still a child of God the same as I am, or as even my old man is. [This one is pretty radical assertion for her. Be prepared to duck from whatever projectiles might come this way!] When you know that in your heart, when you know that to be true, I think something transformative will happen. People who know they are children of God and accept that message deep down inside don't have to play the games that divide people from one another. In a paradoxical way, in the way that spirituality is always paradoxical, I owe you a debt of gratitude for even your repeated rejection. It forced me into new areas of life that I probably never would have volunteered into. In the same way, I owe a similar debt of gratitude to my old man for a similar but unconventional way of teaching me. And mom too. And Nikki. (Don't you think it a bit odd that the bunch of you sit on the same bench in that regard?) That is the irony of the spiritual life—that all the hurts can instruct. I'm just glad I've had the right directors—pastors, spiritual directors, friends, therapists—who have generally moved me and my story toward something different than I was inclined.

But you didn't know that. You don't really know what my life has been for the last several years. You know only that I chime in once in a while, that I seem a speed bump on your path or a thorn in your roses. If that is all you hear from me, then I can understand. But that is not who I am the other times. Ask anyone. I explore life. I grapple with pain—mine, yours, my old man's, mom's, that of the world. I am creative and resourceful. I am a loving husband of seven years now. I do time consuming volunteer projects for non profit orgs. I have different and evolving roles at church, including facilitating a young adults group that in some ways is a surrogate for playing a responsible role in the lives of my nephews and nieces—something that I found myself willing to do a decade ago, but so far have been dismissed from.

I can't say to you that your perception of me is wrong. There are perfectly true things—even negative things—that you say that are true. But that is not the whole record. It is fragmentary at best. Incomplete. Outdated. The fact is, I am more than the little brother you lost some three and a half decades ago, or in the times since. When you want to pick up the phone and have a reasonable conversation, or when you want to come to my birthday, or to church on any Sunday, or to meet up on an unimportant Tuesday afternoon, then maybe there is a chance to integrate something new about me and the life I lead. There is plenty to find out. And that is just my side of things. Kelli has plenty of interesting stories too about her life. And you probably have too.

As I write, it is about ten minutes from the time when, 38 years ago, I was born. The stories I have received from you and mom and the twins about the old days have both broken my heart and led to my restoration in the ever-unfolding drama of my movie that is made in one conversation or letter or Facebook post at a time. I still have a flush of feeling when I consider that for a while you were acting as my caretaker while mom was at work, and that from that experience, you were linked to me in a profound way. You've said as much to me. You and the twins both told me of heartache from the separation and drama. I might never know your hurt at the level you do, and I might not even be able to articulate my own hurt that operates at a level I can't even tap into. In that, we are again brother and sister again, children of the same forces.

One thing you don't have control over is that I have the power to forgive you. I have the power to feel your hurt and not hold it against you. I have the power to receive even your rejection and to still see you as my sister, if not of the same mother, then of the same experience at the hands of a hurtful man. And if not that, then you're still my sister in God's grand family in which each of us is a beloved son or daughter. Neither you nor anyone else can shut me out of that.

It is now 4:25. My birthday all over again. Peace and love to you, my sister.

Friday
Jul152011

The Curator

a few of my plastic tubs with archival boxes, courtesy of the DHL company that  used to stock the office I worked at.I keep my junk rather well classified and orderlyThe long unemployed days need to be filled with something once the hard work of job searching is over. This has been one of the longest unemployed periods yet, now just passing six months. Lee Van Ham has been on vacation, so there has been a lull in work for JEM for a few weeks. Add to those the fact that my high school reunion happened a week ago and all this has conspired to drive me to the personal archive boxes in recent weeks and months to find stuff to scan and transcribe for this site.

I have three giant tubs from Ikea, and a few older tubs that have not yet been replaced. They all contain photo albums, boxes of stuff classified by year (since 1992, first full year after graduating and getting off the school year), or by school year (high school mainly), or by groups of school years (everything before high school). I have all six yearbooks from middle and high school. Also stashed in the tubs are various documents, calendars, tape archives, journals, and so on. Over the years I have tended to make things easy on myself, periodically pruning stuff that doesn't hold lasting value. A lot of it is sill there: the good, the bad, and the ugly.

There is stuff that makes me cringe now. I've transcribed a handful of journals from high school that are usually just horribly written, and the typewritten text is often no help because it was so bad due to these very documents being about as much practice as I ever got at a keyboard. My voice on these papers was trying to be funny, but it comes off as completely ridiculous and juvenile. I often carried on a conversation with my intended reader, and the amount of asides and parenthetical remarks just makes me cringe. Nonetheless, every now and then something worthwhile was written. Some of these things have been posted here already and dated so that they fall in actual chronological history according to their original dates of writing. Obviously, I was not blogging in 1989!

Ever since I moved my site onto Squarespace in January, I've found it appealing to use the flexible Lego-like options for building a site rich with content of various types. I've been writing for the web since 2002, and with at least a decade of journals before that, I've been telling a story of my life and times for two decades now. (And more if you count those lame high school era things!) Now that Squarespace is so easy to configure for the range of content I have, it has been fun adding things up and seeing a larger period of my life in one frame, so to speak. I've been feeding the galleries with new travel pictures, have been adding the proto-TAPKAE journals, and have also uploaded many of my key recording projects. Because I like to chat about stuff, most of it is pretty well documented.

It also helps that I've emotionally come to grips with a lot more stuff that is referenced in the archival boxes, and that now I see it important to tell a more complete story, warts and all. The current TAPKAE.com gives me a chance to integrate things, and to tell a more unified story than I ever have. Being able to post images with captions, or blog posts with pictures, or all the linking opportunities back and forth has made me see things with an eye to dismantling prior compartments of life. It has been an exercise in reclaiming previously disowned parts of me. As time allows, there will be more of that.

The thing is, most of my life was lived in the pre-digital age. I have lots of photo albums and plenty of photos in boxes that still want to be seen, but jeeze, a scanner is a miserable thing to deal with, even with newer hardware. One document at a time, three pictures at a time? Recoloring and cropping? Saving and uploading? Commenting? It takes time, and it is far from my intention to ever get it all up. So for now, the most interesting things are going up. Maybe another wave will come, maybe when life's twists and turns bring a person to mind, and all of a sudden the heart gets pulled in the direction of telling stories related to them. Who knows?

Monday
Jul042011

The Unraveling +15

It was on this day in 1996 that my grandfather Norman died. I might be buttering things up to say that we were close or that he was the beloved patriarch, or any such stuff. For my grandmother, his partner of 61 years and more, I suppose she was relieved somehow. But really, that is speculation. Even on that side of his death, I guess there are vast areas about their lives I'll never know. I can't blame her, but I'd say it was more my grandmother's task to build me up according to a loftier vision of possibility than to revisit any of the hard times of her past, particularly when it comes to the intra-family dynamics. There is so much I just don't know about how people thought and felt. Or so it seems.

You can read other blogs of mine from this day in years past. I've been writing them for some years now. This year's angle seems to be a bit of surprise at the passing of time. Fifteen years now since Norman died, and in the clearness of hindsight (but it wasn't impossible to imagine prior to his death), the descent into family chaos began just about as fast. His death opened up the power vacuum into which my old man stepped. Or, that sounds rather polite and graceful. There was a kind of arm-twisting coerciveness to it. When Norman died, Viginia was quite well possessed of her facilities. She had no interest in really changing the plan, no matter how much her son wanted to push and prod into alternative living arrangements in the same house. As far as I remember, she regarded it as a nuisance to be dealt with.

Norman was buried with full military honors at Fort Rosecrans National Cemetary. I still drop in once in a while, particularly when guests are in town. If nothing else, he has the nicest real estate ever, overlooking the bay and Coronado and downtown. The day he was buried was a rainy one, which if I recall means that life is about to renew somehow. I don't know what time frame that is referring to, because so far there has been a lot of heartache. I don't rule out the long term, but we aren't there yet, and what I am certain of so far is that there has been a lot of pain and dissolution. 

The wild card that I doubt anyone saw in advance was the presence of Bill Francis. Bill was a 40ish guy who had fallen on hard times about three years before. On two occasions he had lived at my house, first in a trailer out back, and then in a shed. Both times lasted several months and were accompanied with some expectation of labor around the yard, or on projects headed by the old man. Being essentially homeless and without regular work, he was falling through the cracks of life, losing his health, relations, possessions, and all that. He had a general skill set that included a strength in construction (from years of building Houston, TX) and some automotive repair. He also braved any other work he was asked to do, sometimes foolishly. And more foolishly, he did stuff he had no business doing sometimes. He did tend to be a homeless pack rat kind of person, hanging on to anything that might constitute value for sale or projects he would possibly be engaged in. I found him to be a nice guy who befriended me at a time of transition into young adulthood—about 19-20 years old. He was like an uncle to me.

I never liked the way my old man treated him. The offer to stay in the trailer or shed upset me, particularly since we had a bedroom to spare. But I was always shown how dirty Bill was. (Really? He worked like mad at anything put in front of him, and had no access to our showers.) Or I suppose any of a number of arguments were made to keep Bill outside the house, even for social time. They were half justified, particularly later on when in the weeks following Norman's death, it had a vague ring of mutually agreeable value to have Bill Francis take a vacated room in the house with my grandmother, and to help her with meals, shopping, and house related tasks, and maybe construction on the patio enclosure.

I was his advocate. I got to know a generous side of Bill. He gave money that he barely had, often to help a friend of his who had a few kids and had it harder than he. So I vouched for him before my grandmother. He wasn't a bad guy, but he was definitely having hard times by 1996. Some stability would do him good, so it seemed. Anyhow, barely three weeks later, he was moving into the house. I recall that by the 19th, he was in, and maybe it was then that the following happened, and really started to accelerate the issues of adjustment for my grandmother.

I don't know who really suggested it or told me it needed doing, but one day Bill and I were cleaning out what used to be my grandfather's room (and which a couple years later was mine). I guess this was a dismal moment that never should have been. Bill and I worked our way through all sorts of stuff, some of which was clearly Norman's and some more clearly Virginia's. Stuff that got thrown out included both of their things, and because it was under the radar, it became an I-said, he-said kind of thing. That one day soon inflamed my grandmother in a huge way, and for the first time that I can recall, her wrath came down on me. It was quite unexpected and shocking. An extension of all that came when my old man began charging me with there being missing silver items. I positively had not seen such things and was completely unaware of their very existence. In fact, the accusation he made was the first I heard of such items. I think there is some other funny business going on. But the weight of having gotten my grandmother pissed at me, and then being accused of stealing silver was a clear break with the old days. 

At around the same time (and possibly related to all this), the pressure was mounting for me to leave my childhood home on Artesian St. I had friction about paying a nominal rent to my old man (one that was prompted when I put a proper lock on my bedroom door after he peeked in on me and my girlfriend Robin at 5 am one day in September 1994). At the time of this family disintegration and strife, I was working exclusively as an assistant to Rockola, and probably made just a couple hundred dollars a month, maybe $500 or so at best. To pay $100 was possible but painful because it changed the terms of the relationship into one where I paid for what I got for free for so many years. Finally, in August 1996, messages were being sent that I should be on my way. (I seem to remember being told my old man wanted to make room for some Russian woman he planned on marrying, and who was about to arrive any day now.)

I was in a bind. The pressure was on to get out of the house where I was living, but the welcome mat at my grandmother's was rolled up and taken away after the room cleaning debacle.  I went out and looked for apartments with Robin, but it was at the wrong time for us: we were in the midst of an eight month period that was a long, slow breakup. I, as always, had my fears about whether I'd make enough money to afford a shared apartment that went for a whopping $600! (Robin had just started at her illustrious career with Wal Mart that May.) Thinking back to a year before when her first attempt at moving out of home lasted just a month and a half, and our dissolving relationship, I retreated.

Bill apparently got pretty comfortable in the house though. His packrat side came out, as he brought in as much stuff as possible into the room he had, and overflow running into the pseudo-garage "storeroom" that once he was gone, became Hog Heaven Studio. He had auto parts, devices, files, boxes, tools, hardware, and so much shit that a couple years later it took my old man and me several truckloads to move out to a storage locker. But before it got so packed, it was looking like he was doing his role in the house for a while. He set out to get the patio cover done, but like these things tend to do, it took forever as he was getting distracted by other jobs that came up. Eventually, his time got spread too thin. Or he got sick. Or he didn't have materials. Or my old man interfered. Or— anything, really. 

But what really pushed my buttons and drove me to regret vouching for him was a couple of occasions that made me sense he was far too comfortable there. First was when I finally got the pressure and did my two hour move from home in two cars, the following weeks were times when I was in a kind of quasi-homeless state. I took everything over to my grandmother's house, having no other place to drop stuff. But since this was a month after the whole room cleaning incident, it was not a great welcome. She slapped conditions on me and my stuff, like it was just a temporary thing. I was not given a key, but since it was summer, I knew the windows were open. I was working for Rockola, typically not done and back home till about 2-3 in the morning. One night I got a ride back from one of their club gigs and climbed into the window after knocking on doors and windows to get Bill up. No answer. So I entered and got my night's rest. Sort of. The news got out that I broke in and I got flack for that from old man and grandmother alike, thanks to Bill's newly adopted informant role. 

One time, shortly after I left my house, I had to spend at least some time at grandmother's place. I had Bill start to work on my car, as it was in need of a timing job. I think it was on the same day as I came back from the Rockola gig and climbed into the window, my punishment was that my old man rolled my car off the ramps and into the street, and in the process, messed up any timing relationship within the engine. I was pretty much forced to tow it. Bill insisted that he get paid for his work. I told him to piss off. I got him into a cushy housing deal, and if he had to be paid, he'd get paid when the work was done, not before. All this was of no concern to my old man. He just left my car in the street. I had to have it towed to a more agreeable location outside Bob Tedde's house elsewhere in Clairemont, and then again to a shop. Then that shop charged me $300 for what became the final repair. Days later, I took it down to the Toyota dealership, and with $8000 check in hand, I bought my truck (which I still have). The trade in credit on the Ford was $150.

The other instance of Bill's not opening the house was rather later, on New Year's Eve when I was asked to carry and store band equipment for Dr. Feelgood. At the time I had an upstairs apartment with a not-too-safe situation for storage. I was also with the flu, feeling quite weak. I spent the evening at my apartment, sleeping. I had an agreement with my grandmother finally that let me use the storeroom space to keep things if needed to make money. But I had no key, so I had to knock and ring. I'd have expected Bill to answer. I rarely got much advance notice about when these things would happpen, so I basically needed to be able to act on the spot sometimes, like on NYE 1997. Dr. Feelgood asked me about storing things just as I got to the gig at 1:30 am. I had no easy way to do anything but show up and expect to store things at the house. Calling would be pretty distracting. So I appeared at the house at about 3 am, did the knocking and ringing for over half an hour. In the back of my truck, the gear was unprotected from the mounting drizzle which turned to rain. I had to have something happen. Bill did not answer, but I heard his stirrings. There was no shelter for gear so it was now make-or-break, and I still did not imagine lugging all that gear up the stairs to my apartment. I found the kitchen window was unlocked, so I finally climbed in, and just as soon as I did, Bill was right there, shouting at me. I was shattered. He went in to wake my grandmother (or to get her involved anyway—she was always up late), and got her all upset at the confusion. He dialed 911, but by the time he did that, I stormed out and raced to my apartment where I defied all logic and fought the flu, the rain, the stairs, and the rage against so many people who had turned on me, who I once called family or friends.

The first morning of the new year was started with a call from my old man telling me I had to get my stuff out of the house at Quapaw. For my little "stunt" of breaking in so that I might save other people's gear from the rain, and so that I might make a bit of money, I had this extra burden. So I had to go over and collect a lot of stuff, including two drum sets (one that sat in my closet and one in the living room—the latter always giving me a fear of theft) and who knows what else. It was hell. The rest of 1997 was more hell but it had lots to do with the shifting alliances of the four of us. Sometimes Bill and my grandmother were pitted against me and the old man. Sometimes me and g-ma against the old man. Sometimes Lucas vs. Francis. Cops were called. Adult protective services had g-ma as a case. One of Bill's friends sued the old man for moving a car that Bill was "repairing." The old man towed it off the driveway and down several blocks, provoking a lot of ire. All this was dismal and disorienting. Who knew who to trust?

It wasn't all rosy when Norman was alive, but there was not this kind of chaos. I am torn between knowing he was the stern patriarch who I never connected with, and who later on seemed pretty grounded and normal in comparison to what followed. So much of the story of TAPKAE.com revolves around the power vacuum that he left for his son to fill. Norman did see it coming though. His granting me over $10,000 in cash and about $5,000 in stock was an attempt to bypass that. I have drums and a truck to show for it now, and I have essentially paid my way through the Art Institute of CA on those funds. It is something, I guess. I'd still rather have had a property to live in, to shelter me and Kelli from the market swings. Or maybe more to have a family that didn't crumble so fast and furiously. But I guess that was not my package in life. 

Wednesday
May112011

Prom Night + 20

Twenty years ago tonight I stooped to the level of the common denominator in high school and attended my senior prom. I never understood the charm of it all. I wasn't all too particularly interested in going. I feared and indeed got rejection before acceptance. In the end it turned out well enough for what it was, but it was far from a dream night, blah blah blah.

I have been scanning some images in the recent past, anticipating telling the story of this and other events that were big to me then. Some people too needed to be illustrated. Here are some of the pix that I want to call attention to for this post, but their captions are like blog entries unto themselves, so go see the Skool Daze gallery and scroll down to the prom entries.

me standing at the open door of the camaro on prom day, all suited up in the tux and with my dorky glasses. ick.The Camaro

at trudi's place in pacific beach. host family was a navy family living in navy housing. trudi in a black dress that showed off her pleasantly rounded form nicely :-) I'm giving her the corsage of a couple red roses. Picking up Trudi Lepique

just a cute picture of me with a great grin on my face. cuter because I didn't have the ugly glasses on.I was cute then toome and trudi in a semi-posed shot at shelby's. one of the less self-conscious ones.Just forget the glasses, okay?

Wednesday
Dec192007

Love And Loss

While the dental drama has certainly been the commanding influence in my life as of late, I have cause to reflect on other things.

sarah on the couch at my old place where we used to hang out. radiant smile.Sarah, my muse from 1998-99I got lucky in a Google search, and turned up Sarah, a long lost friend from the glory days of when Hog Heaven Studio was just getting finished and beginning to be used. She was the not-quite-girlfriend/muse, and despite such mixed emotions, proved to be quite key in setting into motion a chain of events that carries on to this day. Once told not to contact her, I figured maybe eight years' passing would moderate that stance, and sure enough it did. My letter, one of a confessional and thankful sort that I find myself writing to people periodically, was met with great enthusiasm. It was far more than I had anticipated—by a long shot. In the week and a half since my dental surgery extravaganza began, we've been emailing a lot back and forth, totally catching up on some vital years since we both got married and watched life unfold from our respective positions in marriage. She had a couple kids, I got into gardening and mostly abandoned music, which would have been unimaginable in 1998. To have her back in the picture is like getting a part of me back. Recent years have had many attempts to connect with people, and some crash and burn miserably, but this went quite right. So right that the whole dental ordeal has had some of its ruminative energy taken from it, and I have felt really damned good on the whole. We met up for a couple hours and had more time talking face to face for the first time in over eight years. We apologized for whatever went wrong, and things seem hopeful and new.

A more dubious occasion for this writing is that for the first time ever, my father and I have completed one full year of not talking to one another. It was a year ago that he came to my house to give me shit for how I conducted myself in regards to the old house on Quapaw. It was then I let him have a piece of my mind in a way that I hardly ever have. The thing is, I don't think he can hear me at any volume level, because he seems not to know the language in which I speak. As it is, I am free of him. He thinks of himself as being betrayed by my calling the city to report his illegal construction on a house where I planned to live, and to protect. But he chooses to forget the endless string of smaller betrayals which he has committed against me, and it was some of those that I enumerated to him at high sound pressure levels in the street that night a year ago. Kelli bore witness to it; it had to be done so she and I could solidify our relationship, spared the delusional thinking that my father ever really had anything of my best interest in mind. He probably reads this blog, and a good thing too. His modus opperandi is to operate in secret. He likes people to not know of his exploits. I don't believe in that anymore, so I call him out. His manipulation and lies and secretive behavior won't find refuge with me. He sold the house I loved so he could make a stupendous amount of money at the peak of the market. It was his masterstroke thus far, and all it took was to wait for his parents to die then to get me out of there. (I don't think he planned on my living there when his parents died so he had to work things out for a while till he had good reason to get me out.)

This period of December has long associations with me, dating back to meeting someone in 1988 at a church Christmas play. Shelby totally ignited me for year and years. It's hard to believe it was 19 years ago now. And it is also hard to believe that it was seven years ago when it totally crashed and burned as much as it was beautiful and exciting back in 1988. Really, all I needed to know about that relationship was learned in maybe the first 2 years or so, but I foolishly persisted in hoping for a certain romantic development that would never happen. It didn't kill all my hope; it channeled it toward other relationships and activities. The sublimation surely fueled a lot of the Hog Heaven era creative activity from 1998-2000 when it finally seemed to fall apart, timed uncannily well with the end of this odd friendship. Nineteen years ago, the world was drastically transformed for the stodgy, conservative and geeky me. She seemed to be an authentic ear. But however it happened, by the time I found my voice to speak what was on my mind for all those years, it was time to turn that all upside down and basically throw it out. In the span of about a day, everything was over, except for a few burning embers via email in the months to come.

Sorry that it is 2/3 negative. But the excitement I felt this week for having a friend back is the best Christmas present anyone could have given me. Of all the times I Googled her name and other likely terms, this one worked out. I've seen how my family of origin has all collapsed around me. Well, they can have it their way. Maybe they all know something I don't know about me. But I can't figure out how. They don't write or call or email or visit. If so, it's mostly hostile and manipulative. So be it. But for me to get back a friend like this, it's like adding a member of my intentional family back into the fold. Nothing that she or I did ever was as twisted and as damaging as what my family has done to me, or even some of the things that happened in my 12 year old imaginary relationship with Miss 1988. I'm just slowly getting a list of sorts together—those who want to play a role in life, and those who don't. The latter is saddening in that many of them are people I actually share blood with. The former is an evolving thing that is sort of a slow snowball that gathers as it rolls.

It makes me want to say, RAH!

Monday
Oct082007

Gma

grandmother virginia lucas at age 90 in her favorite chair in the dining room by the giant windowToday is my late grandmother's birthday. Virginia would have been 98 today. Even her actual 91 years were a mighty feat of endurance through a century that so drastically reinvented the world and life in it. She saw many things come and go in that time. Some were regarded as great progress (she lauded science and inspired my curiosity about the lunar landings and so forth), and some were huge steps back (Elvis pretty much was the end of music for her). Some things never really wavered for her (she was always devoted to church life on the lay ministerial, social, and charitable levels). I know there were things that she was not willing to adapt to because they flew in the face of tradition. Our church was among those that began to use gender inclusive language, and she was not hip to that at all. 'Why can't they just let God be a HE like he has always been?' This trend really messed with her traditional Christmas favorites. I don't know if it is that she actively supported patriarchal systems, or only knew that the fight was so great as to not really feel it worth the effort to change things, certainly not in her late 70s or so.

Of all the things that came and went, I have a feeling though she would come unglued if she knew what happened to her family in the wake of her passing in early 2001. I think she saw visions of it before she died; she wanted it not to be this way. She had many reasons to think it would turn out bad. And it has. In some ways, while the worst of it happened after she died, even the five years before that saw a lot of division and fracturing in the wake of my grandfather's death in 1996. I think his death was like pulling the king pin out of a complex mechanism, and all the pieces fell away into a scattered heap. I know the ensuing drama between she and my father and I was something that never let her grieve her partner's loss—after over 61 years of marriage. We had the added complexity of a certain fellow named Bill Francis who was ostensibly going to help her out for room and board in return. And that was a colossal mistake that I unfortunately endorsed in the early days of the arrangement, based on what had been, to that point, a friendship. I later came to regret that, as it ended up having some wild unforeseen things happen. All of which, coupled with losing my grandfather, turned into a giant nightmare of a family meltdown.

My father made no secret about his ideas for how to commandeer their house after they were gone, and his influence was not wanted while only my grandmother remained. Yet, for a long time after that bitter summer of 1996, she and I were at odds too, which at the time was just the way things were, but on reflection, was a tragedy for me, and a great disservice to her. Not long after this Bill Francis guy was finally sent out of the house after a year and a half, I moved in, though I did not kid anyone that I would help out. I was very selfish then. I also worked a real erratic schedule in the music industry which really was not the sort that would let me be of service to someone who needed regular attention. (She did have regular care for about four years thanks to the neighbors and their extended family and church friends.) I paid bills or rent or both. But we did not have much of an emotional relationship. That had been pushed aside for years, and the woman I once went to with all my concerns just became a stodgy old roommate who passed judgment on my lifestyle and whom I avoided willfully. Really sad, and I may have to deal with that for years. There were a few instances of crossing that chasm, but they were exceptions and occurred nowhere near as often as when I was a kid and teen.

There were times when I overstepped my verbal rental agreement and got her irate at that, but I never had designs on her whole house. I just wanted my room and the studio space, and by sake of the reality of the situation, other space would be available because she could not possibly use it all. On the other hand, my father always had designs for how to make it into a split residence where she or he could live in half the place and rent out the other half. It became his project since he likes to tinker with stuff like that. But both his folks shrugged him off during their lives, and nothing really changed there. Until of course they were both gone and he would be free to do what he wanted. It happened that the peak of the housing market coincided with the few years after Virginia died. The part I don't think my father anticipated (in his earlier schemes) was that I would be living in the house when she died. I was there almost three years before she died, and continued for a few more after that under the new regime. He had always promised me that my studio would be subject to being dismantled on event of her death. That it lasted four more years was remarkable to me. He and I, after her death, had a huge blowout that ended up setting up the patterns of the next few years. The terms were agreed upon that he'd rent out a couple rooms that I would care for, and the rent rate would be just a little more than two rooms could fetch, therefore snookering me into that nominal rent that would still make me indebted to him. It served as an irritating reminder of what only five years before I had left when I stormed out of his house in two hours, taking everything that would fit into two cars.

Oh, the story is long and tedious. But suffice to say, he got ownership of it because Virginia was not able to alter her legal plans for the house before she died. She wanted me to have at least a share, and some near her said that she was talking about the entire place. She had asked me if I wanted it, and my answer deferred to her wisdom, but this conversation was had after she had a stroke and was not herself. It also happened shortly after my father realized a closet full of skeletons was about to be opened, and he was helpless to do anything about it, except to punish the curiosity that I had to relate to my mother and siblings. He had a nasty secret to keep regarding some sexual misconduct and a minor, and he knew that it would totally fuck everything up. And it did. In a preemptive strike against my curiosity, he assured me in a letter [image] that we would have hard times ahead if I followed this path of curiosity. And we did. Once he owned "my" house, he did as he wanted. His work was tasteless, inconsiderate of actual need, and illegal. I called him directly on the first two; the latter I turned over to the city because I knew there was no way to rein in his work but to call the city (who promised me anonymity but fucked up some administrative details that had exactly the opposite effect). At the end of a depressing summer of watching him enact all his lame work upon the place, I had it. I had it with life as well. So what if the city bust his balls? He had no respect for me, and I was checking out, for all I was concerned.

He never understood anything of my suicidal ideation. He never understood emotional pain moving a person to act like I was acting. Eventually, he figured out that I turned him in, and that began a process that led to my being evicted (along with Kelli and our roommate and dog). After we left, he rented the place for nine months or so, but about a year ago, it was emptied out for the last time, and I went and collected all my remaining items in a clean sweep—appliances, light fixtures, blinds, and stainless steel AC outlet cover plates! He was livid, and came to my current house to make some fuss about how I put this stuff before him, yadda yadda. Perhaps he got a clue how I felt? That property is more important than his one remaining family member?

It took me until June this year to see where it actually was leading to. I found out by a fucking Google search that my house was sold in April. At least it was far less than the nearly $560k he wanted. It looks like it went for $515k and even that is far too great a reward for his behavior from the last several years, particularly with me, but over a lifetime of manipulation and arrogance. He had no need to sell it. If all he wanted was money, he could have collected a rent check with me living there. He did that for a few years while I was there. But he had to jerk me around to make his point that I should not have contacted my mother. So he had to pull the house out from under me, undermining my stability that he and my grandfather had spent all my lifetime promising would be mine.

So back to grandmother. She perfectly well knew stuff like this would happen. Even my grandfather did. I think it is a dreadful shame how it all fell apart. Everything they worked for fell into my father's hands and has been sold off so as to benefit himself. I have furniture, a truck, some gear from various inherited money, some personal artifacts, and memories. But I have lots of pain as I realize that I never really grieved the loss of either of my grandparents. Both instances drove wedges between my father and me. There has never been any family effort to mourn properly, and now there is no family anyway. The extent of any ritualistic closing of their books of life was limited to their memorials; my grandfather's on Ft. Rosecrans National Cemetary with an 18 gun salute; and grandmother's being sort of a thrown-together affair at the church which both my father and I attended but did not have any hand in organizing. I did deliver an impromptu message of thanks that was phrased in such a way to irk my father and shake him up some in front of my grandmother's biggest fans. But that was all. After that, it was 'we now return to our regularly scheduled family meltdown.'

The only way I can emerge victorious from all this is that while the old man was able to wrangle the house and get it on the market and sell it for an unconscionable sum, I was the one who got the home. He got the stucco and wood; I got the home life which he abandoned years ago because his agenda was more important. Without the home life, a place is just a box devoid of meaning. I have no idea what he will do with $515k but he won't ever be able to piece together the family again, and it will be a long road to ever reminding me what I should remember him for other than systematically destroying my family from before I was born, and seeing to it that his agenda comes out ahead of anyone else's. At this point, from whatever scraps available to me, I try to put something back together. Kelli is an invaluable help in that regard. She is an ally in seeing that life does not devolve into an empty pursuit of materialism and power. We live modestly, but we are so in love in a way my father could only ever be jealous of, no matter how many houses he has ever held titles to at once, or how many wives and girlfriends he's screwed over.

As for Virginia, I know she'd be heartbroken to see this. This isn't what she toiled for. This isn't why she stayed married for 61 years. Not to see the family dissolve not in the midst of poverty and hardship, but at the peak of the market when the house was supposedly at its peak. All her traditional Christian upbringing and activism was not to lead to this—a house divided. No, I know in my heart she would never have signed her name to this. But I know she's out and about somehow, her spirit informing Kelli and me on how to be together, how to seek out divine guidance in bewildering times. She and my grandfather got married—an optimistic move—in 1935, in the thick of the Great Depression when cooperation was the ticket out of the hard life into something more bearable. My father happened into exactly the opposite. He came of age in the age of explosive materialism, hard men standing their ground on the world stage, and coincident with the rise of the party of greed (GOP, backwards). But I see it another way. After my father's generation has forgotten what a struggle is, and has reshaped the world in a way that trivializes the values that prior generations held, there will have to be a return to more durable values not based on exploiting each other, especially inside the family. I don't share a lot of the particular values that my grandmother held dear, though through Christianity, I know there is a wellspring there to draw from, and to formulate something based on what I now see is wrong. My father dropped the ball in this regard. He has nothing to teach me about family values because he has labored for years to undermine them to this day. The only family value he could reliably be counted to hold up is 'father knows best.' But even that is bullshit, because no father in his right mind wants the family to fall apart.

So, happy birthday, G-ma. The only present I have to give is for you to know that I want to pick up your thread and make something again, after some distractions kept me occupied. The house is gone, so we can't meet there. I did what I could. I know you understand and did what you could. But I kept the home, with your help. Some is in the garage, some in my heart, and some is between Kelli and I (and Buber, our pup who would have been a great buddy for you those last few years). Shalom.

Sunday
Sep172006

Money Well Spent

my little truck, since 1996. the thing just runs."Trucky"

It was ten years ago today I bought my 1994 Toyota truck. Money well spent, as far as I care. It had 78,768 miles on it when I bought it in 1996, and it was just two years old then. Right now, it's just shy of 200,000 miles and it runs pretty damned good. The dealership owned it before me and they used it as their parts delivery truck. It was in good shape because it was something they had to rely on too.

Usually I don't put a lot of stock in glorifying vehicles, but this has just been a good fit for me. All I know is that the thing just works. I give it some care and feeding, swap out a few parts now and then, and it comes up with the goods. I never adorned it with extra junk, almost always had the same shop work on it, and it just works. It runs rings around the Ford Escort I had—a car that I turned loose of when I got the truck, and one that was getting increasingly expensive to own because of all the trips it had to make to the shop, partially due to the car being shit on its own but complicated by the fact that I let too many people try to fix it, each making things worse. The truck has never let me down, never became a money-sink, and has always been ready to go. I've lost about one day's work because of it, which out of ten years is not much at all. I've delivered pizza, moved music and sound gear, moved house for many friends, moved trash, lumber, construction junk, tree stumps, sofas and furniture of all sorts, appliances. Lots of stuff.

The "gutless wonder" has just been the most satisfying purchase for me. I've watched my musical gear turn over many many times in the time since buying this truck. Whole studios have come and gone for the most part, and my simple, bare-bones truck just keeps on pleasing. No power locks or windows, no CD player, no special wheels or suspension, no Xtra cab or rear shell—just a little 4 cylinder workhorse that doesn't flinch. The only thing I do lament is not being able to carry more than one person as a passenger, unless it just gets real tight, and for only a few miles at a time.

For $9,300 it was money well spent.

Monday
Aug282006

Being The Better Man

It would have been unimaginable a year ago. Or ten years ago. At both those times, my world was torn asunder by my father ushering me out of a house he owned. Spaced by nearly exactly nine years, the experiences of moving from my childhood home in two hours and my adulthood home in two months were some of the most traumatic of all for me. In 1996 on his birthday on August 26, I found myself having to break into my own house of 23 years while he was at work, and to have to collect everything I could cram into two cars—two drumsets, mattress, books, personal records and recordings, CDs, clothing, and whatever else. That summer was basically the real beginning of the total collapse of my family. A year ago, when ushered from my dear house and studio, I was beside myself with rage at the injustice of it. But I had little choice, and after a while, it became clear that nothing would change any decision about booting me, and that my energy was better spent elsewhere.

Most of the last year has been either extremely troubled or just distant. This summer had that to stew over but also the mark of ten years since the first experience moving from a place I knew as home. Clearly, I am not the same person as in 1996, but last year opened that whole wound up again. I for one don't believe a harder life with less security while struggling to make ends meet makes for better character. I'm sure it can happen. I don't thrive under it. Last year right before I was evicted, I was working hard on my EONSNOW presentation, just starting to figure out how I could matter to the world by conveying something meaningful. Then in a day, most of that was put aside for a couple months. To me, my meaningful work was terribly disrupted, and I was pressed into doing meaningless work that proved to be just that when I held to the character and sense of self I had formed while doing my more meaningful work. As for my father, I just stayed clear of him as best I could, if that was all our relationship was to offer—division, and imbalance of wealth, no cooperation, etc.

Kelli and I are on both a shared quest and personal quests to make sense of the world. Her professional path toward being a minister has drawn me into wanting to know more about her field, so I'd read some things of hers, talk to her about her studies, and we'd both go to Bible study at our church, meet and talk with people who have interesting things to impart on the matter of religion, ethics, faith, justice, and all that stuff. For her, it is both a professional pursuit, but one that necessarily takes over the personal life too. For me, I found it important to learn some things to keep in touch with her, but also to find a way to relate to people in a deeper way. Some of my activism comes straight out of a worldview that can be framed with the biblical language and the related fields of philosophy and ethics.

It is easy to learn things by rote, or by just reducing things to an intellectual exercise. But it is another thing entirely to see if there is a way to actually employ things in real life situations, when they either matter or make one into a total hypocrite. Everyone can rattle off righteous sounding language, but its always harder to live it. In my pursuits, I've kept that in mind. Kelli, as a professional minister, must try to harmonize word and deed, else people won't take her for serious.

The hardest thing that is expected of Christians is to forgive—not to forget—just to forgive. To turn the other cheek. To absorb negative energy so that it is drained of its harmful effects, and to do so willingly and lovingly. It is hard because everything in the world expects us to do differently—to return a blow with an equal or greater blow. Not so, said the Master. In fact, not so, says most every respectable religious and ethical code out there. There is a distinction between being a doormat-victim, and being a person who retains dignity and self worth even in the most challenging conditions of humiliation, while not trying to return such ill will. I guess I always knew that my task was to try to be a Christian while still relating to my father who had done some real humiliating and hurtful things over the years. That to me is the challenge I face. I reckon I can't not deal with him, but do I have to be the doormat-victim or can I do better to hold my own? As a regular churchgoer now (and have been since Kelli and I paired up in early 2002), I run the risk of loading up on empty, self righteous rhetoric as I increasingly see myself as in a certain group. But I don't like the disasters that result from us/them thinking, so I wrestle with how to put a pretty amazingly noble teaching into some form in my life. Hence the many months that I had no contact with my father except to invite him to see Kelli do her first three sermons at church this summer.

Birthday. Second wedding anniversary. Anniversary of moving house, twice (once on his birthday), starting another semester of school for Kelli. There was a growing symbolism in it for me to use the end of August as a time to make something of my abstract idea to transcend years of hurt and see if something else could happen. So on the 25th, I dropped in on his house and we ended up talking for about two hours and managed to stay pretty civil. But more than that, he was surprised to see me, and somehow it seemed that we reached past the obvious dead ends of our usual house and finances discussions. We didn't even mention it at all, though we did have an odd discussion on energy and how to move forward from oil. There was no overt and dividing tension that I would ordinarily expect, and I'd say we met on more levels than we had in the last several years. I offered to have a dinner for his birthday, but had not talked to Kelli about it yet, though she knew I was going to make some offer. Rare is the time when I hug my father, but on this day, there was this powerfully present hug. It was the hug of the old days when things weren't so complicated. It was the hug of the guy I knew who could lift amazingly heavy things and deliver harsh blows to steel in his workshop. It was the hug of a man who I offered as my protection when confronted with the bullies of my youth: "my dad can beat your dad up!!!" But it was also the hug of a man who is physically smaller than me now, and whose age ratio to mine grows smaller all the time, and now it is less than 2:1.

Kelli didn't believe much of what I had to say about that experience, and we got rather, er, excited at the next part I introduced. For Kelli who had no way of relating to him except by seeing how he affected me, and some rather disappointing and hurtful things last summer that she took very personally, she was not inclined to let me get away with this new gimmick.

Following my compulsion to rise above a good decade and more of strife, and to symbolically put some of that to rest, I suggested that we invite him over to our place for dinner. The idea of course was that that was the turning of the other cheek. Once, storming out of a house he lived in or owned, hurt and rage filled, now the table is willingly turned so that he is our guest at our place on precisely the anniversary date of one of the lowest times of my life. I did even better—we could have just gone out to Chili's or Outback or something like that, but I spent the afternoon cooking up food all by meself. Some of it was from the back yard garden, making it even more of a close-to-home thing. He went out to La Mesa to pick up my step mom/his ex-wife Eda. Kelli and I had the dog, the garden, and Suzanne here to keep it grounded in this house, and we had my parents here on a day and weekend rife with symbolic associations. We actually had a good time on the whole. Kelli's impression of him was given a lot of new things to work with, none as hostile as she had come to expect. Our freewheeling conversation ranged a few topics, from Kelli's education to politics, the relative merits of digital or film photos, to the history of our church (which, you see my father was close to because his mother was a founder), and many other things. By the end of the evening, there was laughter and joking around, and cameras coming out to take some candids and some sort of posed shots. It was really a worthwhile time, and to me, put to rest a number of things about how to relate again after months. And then, on the Sunday following, Kelli and I went to his house and had some dessert upstairs at his patio deck on the back of his studio apartment at my childhood house. This was the first of its kind with the three of us since a year and more before, the same setting that Kelli came to despise. But it went off well, and for Kelli and me at least, some sighs of relief were had. I was joking about it with her that this semester she can tell everyone the exact opposite of what happened last year when she started at CST: this year we have a house, dog, garden, smooth running marriage, and even my dad has been all different!

I guess all I can do now is hope that the momentum keeps this going. If nothing else, there was this one weekend when I/we realized that this relationship could be different than 1996 or 2005 led me to believe. Maybe it has to do with the lack of entanglements now—no shared bickering over the house. I don't know. But this is not the time to analyze and dissect. I'm just content that for at least one major instance, I was able to transcend my usual nature, and things turned out the better for it.