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Entries in boundaries (13)

Monday
Jul092012

The Cover Letter I've Always Wanted to Write

My old man and I when I was about seven.Me and the old man, c. 1981

The Making of a Know it All

When I was young, maybe in about 1981 or so, my old man bought a book for me called "The Volume Library." I think it was a rare time when a traveling salesman got an audience at the doorstep of my house. The book was a enormous blue volume of something like 3000 pages and the name in gold text embossed on the cover and binding. For all I knew at the tender age of seven or eight, everything there was to know was in there. It had a good range of topics that were presented encyclopedia style but divided into major groups of topics. It had some cool clear pages with layered images where those would do good, like for anatomical modeling. I never finished reading it but there were some things that attracted a fascination that persisted even after the book faded from novelty status. There were things that I kept reading over and over, or pictures that drew me back.

I haven't seen the book in years, at least since 1996 when I left that house at 22 and in a panic had to leave a lot of stuff behind back at dear ol' dad's place.

The WWW as Liberal Studies

These days, the Web is the place where I direct my curiosity, and it is usually richly rewarded. Wikipedia is the most clear heir to The Volume Library, at least in terms of my ability to go to one place and get at least an introduction to a topic, that will launch me in myriad directions. These days, the world becomes a very big place with the use of hyperlinks drawing me every which way, something that the would leave The Volume Library green with envy. In a period during about 2007-2009, I was fond of hitting the random article button on Wikipedia and getting lost for a few hours, perhaps a few nights a week. While I had my favorite kinds of topics to pursue, the rolling dice method got me out of my comfort zone, and I hit enough articles that they couldn't ALL be the worst ones on Wikipedia. I even edited a few here and there.

The studio door at Hog Heaven in 2005, just hours before it was demolished. The Magnificent Meatsticks sticker remained but I had to take down the two Richard Meltzer San Diego Reader reviews that were hung below it.The studio door at Hog Heaven in 2005, just hours before it was demolished. The Magnificent Meatsticks sticker remained but I had to take down the two Richard Meltzer San Diego Reader reviews that were hung below it.

Aside from the insane options that the web offers me solely as a reader, of course the thing that sucks me in is that it is all a two-way street where not only am I consumer but I can be a producer too. And this year marks ten years that I've put my self into the web, making it a place that isn't just "out there" but "in here" too. I was 28 when I got my first website bearing my identity exclusively (this site), and it was a year and a half before that when I was dabbling in such things as mp3.com, the first place my music appeared digitally. (And, interestingly enough, my most throwaway "musical" effort, The Magnificent Meatsticks, was given a higher profile because of mp3.com and some bold move to curry favor with old school rock critic Richard Meltzer [song NSFW] who actually wrote a favorable review because it wasn't formulaic dinosaur rock.) A quarter of my life has been spent online now.

The Web has been a lot of things to me, but I'd be remiss if I were to not say that it really has been a major classroom for my liberal education. Granted, it's not accredited, but the explosion of available information at all levels, and all aspects of life, has been invaluable in a way that I doubt four years of education could touch. Facts and figures alone are valuable, but because the web is fed not by some gatekeeping body that determines what is real knowledge, and what is not, I can get a feel for what life is like at the granular level in someone's own life. The authenticity is unmatched. As you devoted TAPKAE.com readers no doubt see, I have thrown in my lot with that, and still there is plenty I withhold even after the 3000-, 5000- and more word entries here. There is plenty I don't have time to report on, lest I miss living a life in the first place.

A banner outside my old middle school. See my gallery A banner outside my old middle school. See my gallery "Afternoon In America" for the caption.

Life from Outside the Ivory Towers

I didn't go to college except for several semesters of mostly humanities/arts/GE classes at the local community college. The semesters themselves were usually scattered from one another. In the 1991-1993 period I went continuously but part time; in the return period from 2003 onward, there were four more semesters scattered across three years. In some ways, I feel like I've failed myself. In other ways, living itself is a classroom, and the Web has filled in some of the informational gaps. I have consoled myself with knowing there are autodidacts out there like Frank Zappa who have done just fine without going through the education mill. In Frank's unsparing words,

Drop out of school before your mind rots from exposure to our mediocre educational system. Forget about the Senior Prom and go to the library and educate yourself if you've got any guts. Some of you like Pep rallies and plastic robots who tell you what to read.

People in their educated ivory towers will sneer upon sentiments like that, but the view from the outside is just as valid as the view from the inside. When I was 19, 20 in 1993, the cracks in the wall were apparent to me: news reports time and time again were telling us college students were graduating and hoping to win coveted gigs at McDonald's. At the very same time, I was wrestling with an early incarnation of one of my periodic crises of meaning in life. I mean, around that time, I was wrapping up a fourth semester at Mesa College (taking piano and basic musicianship classes, the two classes remaining after I dropped the philosophy class early on), during which I barely spent time at my job at Jack In The Box, due to the crisis of e. coli tainted meat that winter of 1993. I had barely started the job in late December 1992 during my first period of depression and suicidal ideation, only to be laid off for a month or so when the contamination scare hit the news. After returning, I was feeling hopelessly unable to bear with such a job and gracefully bowed out after one troubled week. Ironic, considering it seemed to be what more and more college graduates were left with as a viable option. Oh well. Let them have that shit. My heart led me elsewhere.

I took what I thought would be a semester or maybe one year off from Mesa College and then found that ten years later, during another crisis in life, I'd start up again. But let me not get ahead of myself. I've got thousands of more words for you.

Me at my slick drumset, 1993, outside in a concrete parking lot at an office park.Quite possibly taken on the same day as I am narrating in this post. I only recall being to this place once.

The Hero's Call to Adventure, put on Hold

In 1993 there was no World Wide Web. Not for me at least. That was the domain of the geeks and engineers with pocket protectors in the world I just checked out of. It'd be another two years before I saw the first email address in print. That summer, I was out with Matt Zuniga, doing some drumming and screaming out in a parking garage in Kearny Mesa. It was a hot June day about a month after my semester ended. I just got a job at Subway, which for some reason, I felt far more at ease with than at Jack In The Box. I don't know why that is, but it was so, even after the drama at another store one year before. I was having the first itches to do something that felt self-determined. I didn't know what. I thought of geographic moves but I couldn't determine where I'd like to go. I thought of stepping up the kinds of things we did as Rhythmic Catharsis but was aware that Matt thought all we did was silly and just a way to blow off steam. I thought of a few things. But my kryptonite stopped me.

It's a cloud I live under. Fighting back the feelings of futility and the depression that usually accompanies it is hard, and is breaking through it harder still. The latter happens at times and sustains itself for a while. And then something changes and the parted waters of futility come crashing back at me, and I get swept up in it all for a while, then get somehow dropped on another shore in life. In more recent years, I've accepted that there are spiritual growth lessons involved in all this and usually see the sense to it in hindsight, particularly if I was able to extract a kernel of lesson material in the midst of the chaos.

I spent my early online years not adding much but noise and dissonance to the Web commons. If I could, I'd erase nearly everything from 2000-2003. Of course, Google has its mitts on it and all are free to read it if one knows all the aliases I used during those years. I am willing to own it. In 2004, realizing self-criticism was perhaps more called for than criticism of others in certain real and virtual social circles where I operated, I turned more inward and backed out of most of the online boards and social forums where I had earned a name as a troll — or worse. At the same time, emerging from the nearly deadly depression of 2003, the world was shown anew to me in such a way that enlarged me again, putting my problems in a larger context that had first been shocking and disorienting, but then later paved the way for further development.

Route 66 Gas stationOne of several shots I took during the EONSNOW era of 2005, showing "independent" gas stations that appeared where name brand locations were closing down. All the names had some kind of nostalgic quality to them, evoking the good old days of automotive freedom, etc.

When I heard about peak oil in 2004, it was still a pretty esoteric, out of the way means of understanding the world's dilemmas, and one that few gravitated toward. Less than the particulars of how much oil is or isn't available, the reading I did brought me to grips with the big questions of ultimate meaning in life, but first by mercilessly promising to remove the comfortable life I anticipated I'd lead as a citizen of the empire. It all appeared on my radar in the same season as I got married at the age of 30. In fact, on the altar that special day, I had in my mind that the future could not possibly be what everyone was telling me it would be. Peak oil, which I still believe to be a valid shaper of macroeconomic reality, is something that forced me to see myself differently, relative to the world. It was a good bit of humble pie to munch upon prior to wedding day. It disabused me of certain expectations from married life and got me on a firmer ground of reality. In that way, the debate of whether peak oil is real or not is immaterial to me.

Kelli and I leaving the altarIt is accomplished!

The year or so after the wedding was given to a lot of reading on the topic, several blogs that showed the emerging consciousness I was breaking into, and then for a while, doing some film showings to share what I had learned. A site I launched, EONSNOW.org (long since deleted), was an intersection of those interests with my ability to do websites. I was able to ape other people's words and sentiments, but the inner work was not done yet. I knew the topics well enough but they were in my head, and nowhere else. Eventually, in early 2006 I dropped out of all the EONSNOW stuff and found that another group was able to take me deeper into those concerns, and with a kind of language that took some learning but that did a better of job of showing how deeply rooted our modern dilemma is. I'm talking of course of Jubilee Economics Ministries, JEM.

Jubilee Economics Ministries

For a season in mid 2006 I met with Lee Van Ham of JEM and read a book he gave me, The Biblical Jubilee and the Struggle for Life. It was uncompromising in its assessment of how modern economics are rigged against the poor in the Southern Hemisphere, and those "developing" countries outside the Western world. And it was fiercely faithful to the prophetic tradition in the Bible, a tradition that is best epitomized by the life of Jesus. It wasn't just spiritual fluff and it wasn't capitalist propaganda either. It was written by Ross and Gloria Kinsler, lifelong missionaries who saw the reality in Latin America, and who have dedicated their lives to helping the folks in those countries by giving them the theological tools that are needed to resist the neoliberal economics juggernaut that has displaced so many people and upset traditional ways, all so the industrial world can make and sell more stuff. It was really a life changing book, and one in which I saw my own struggle with a landlord father who made decisions for my life that didn't include me. That year, the macro of the world's issues and the micro of my issues were found to be related and in some ways, overlapping significantly. As I've heard it said, "when the student is ready, the teacher will appear." EONSNOW was my own attempt to make sense of this new understanding of things but it was limited in depth and as those types of topics can be rather doom-laden, sometimes it left more shade than light. Masked knowledge does that. Then, feeling like I had little else to add to the discussion, I called Lee in early 2006.

Lee Van Ham unwittingly became a spiritual father figure to me that year and since. Being a retired pastor helped justify calling him that, but I never knew him as a pastor. I did know him as a person who offered a frank and transparent account of his own struggle with the big issues, and more than others who preceded him in my peak oil related wanderings, he was looking for some way to live hopefully in the face of what is a tremendous challenge: living with the realization that this way of life we live is unsustainable and one day not far from now, will be untenable and will ultimately fail. My peak oil explorations suggested that was not far off, and certainly my lifetime will be the transition period. Lee paved the way for me to understand the Bible in a whole new way, with an eye to the economic themes that permeate it. He's been a great interpreter in that way, and he always surprises me at how he can take familiar texts that made no sense, and turn them into something that explains not just the text, but how the world works. Pretty remarkable.

So of course I wanted to be near that. A few years later, upon encountering Fr. Richard Rohr's teachings about fathers and male spirituality, I had the language for how I saw Lee: he was the spiritual father that emerged when my old man's role in my life came to an end, and when he could not lead me where I needed to go, Lee happened onto the scene as if it were a shift change at Jack In The Box. For the years from about 2007-2009, I met with him periodically, emailed, and if there was a JEM event or course, I went. But it was a bit less than in 2006. In late 2009, once I moved to North Park, one mile from his office, I offered to volunteer at the office for four hours a month doing rather mundane stuff so that Lee might have more time to be the visionary at JEM, with a bit less of the boring office work. At least I'd be able to talk in person some and keep the JEM consciousness alive in my life. As we spent some hours together that December, we got to talking media options, and he again asked me if I had ideas for the JEM website.

Pod-What???

It's always hard being diplomatic in those circumstances. I had sort of avoided talking about it thus far because I knew that it was done by Kyle, a volunteer, in earnest, but that Kyle was not really a web guy. And since everyone is a volunteer, I just accepted it was what it was, and maybe that's all they wanted it to be. The ante was upped however in early 2010 because a disappointing rejection letter arrived that announced that there'd be no funding for a DVD project that Lee was interested in putting together. Amid a flurry of brainstormed options, I suggested this thing called podcasting. I knew enough to describe it, but that was all. It seemed Lee had ever unfolding ideas that grew and grew and took explanation. He was a pastor, someone who did a lot of public speaking for inspiration and persuasion. Podcasting was something that I, as an erstwhile studio operator, was able to make happen so that his distinct voice and passion would register as it was meant to be heard. I didn't know about the web part of podcasting aside from a basic test I had done a few years before, but that would follow. We could come up with a plan for delivering sustained content, right?

Lee had never heard of it. When I tell the story, I usually mention that he said something like "pod-WHAT?" It's not much of an exaggeration. I explained it would take a commitment because of the episodic nature of the format. We drafted a list of how we might fill 15 or so episodes and decided there would be stuff to talk about for a while to come.

Lee and Kyle, being older fellows in their 60s then (and Lee in his early 70s now), were not natively immersed in this kind of stuff, so I found myself having to translate a language I was barely able to learn as I went. I think I confused them both more than I should have. As I produced a demo of the show, it became apparent that the web structure that JEM would need was far beyond the plain HTML site Kyle had curated for some years. So I got drawn into that. I first tried to get the XML feed happening there then thought it easier to redo the entire site in Wordpress. I started the transfer and then heard about Squarespace. And, since the idea was for me to turn it back over to them, it made more sense. Squarespace's interface is simpler and the site maintenance was taken care of since it is a paid service. I was burning out on Wordpress for my own site and welcomed the simple approach of Squarespace, knowing the guys would prefer such a straightforward platform. When the podcast had three episodes recorded and edited, I finally got the feed to be accepted at iTunes on the first try using the default Squarespace feed, and was relieved in a huge way. Previous submissions using a small XML authoring program were not accepted at iTunes even after five tries. So about two years ago now, we were all babes in the woods. Lee and I did podcasts together for four real episodes, and then detoured for a one off video episode giving a progress report on the new web developments. Then we got into interviewing guests. As of this writing, we're 27 episodes strong.

Media Not Just About Me

That same summer, I was fresh out of my male initiation experience in Arizona and at that life changing week, I found myself talking to another Lee, closer to my age, who was a great conversation partner in my struggle with digital media and the techno-treadmill. At the time, I had barely started the podcasts and sort of saw that I'd be drawn in to more digital life after letting my digital publishing interests fade for a few years. In the mean time, browsers were decaying, and I was enjoying nearly a year of being the facilitator of the young adults group at church. I was often heard to celebrate the in-person nature of that group, and was dismissive of social media. I was reporting all this to Lee the younger in the desert, and since then I've never talked to him again by any means. I guess he was meant to be one of those pivot people that you meet once and have your life changed, and that's all there is to it.

What emerged was a feeling that my new online work would be for others. It felt like a logical stage, building upon the stages that came before: self-interested young musician with a CD to sell; disruptive troll; reborn student of life and world issues but with a preachy tone; blogger who faded from all that into a period of self-reflection and some discernment; and then it seemed it was time to take all those experiences and insights back to the web. This time, the purpose would be to build community around a big idea — one that isn't even mine. In some ways, doing the JEM site work and the podcasting is not too different than what I did for my church in Pacific Beach; there too I recorded the messages of a pastor who had very keen world-aware insights, and then used a website to publish the audio. Without the XML feed, it was what I've come to call "proto podcasting" — delivering the same kind of content but without the subscription model.

Screen shot of a recording within Logic ProApple's Logic Pro where I did a lot of podcast episodes.

Doing the work far exceeded the four hours a month I anticipated giving to JEM. In some ways that was cheap of me anyway, considering the gift of life-changing, paradigm-shifting knowledge they had already opened up for me. So I accepted that my time was to be given freely to do what I could to multiply the effort and amplify the message. And then of course, to be doing so many things meant that for the first time in a few years, I was doing web publishing again, at a more elevated profile than before, and that would be resume fodder. Squarespace paved the way for me to be more creative with the visual aspects than I had been for years. It also gave me a platform where I could not break too much of the site at once. But by far the biggest new thing was all the social media options.

Social Media Quicksand

Now, THAT is the time suck. Editing a podcast episode takes too long and my method might be a bit heavy handed, but it comes to an end and the show gets released on time every month. Social media of course knows and respects no boundaries, it seems. And I didn't know anything about it all. I grudgingly entered Facebook for the second time in July 2010 so I could help launch JEM's page. I got on Twitter too. I had no idea about best practices or any of that. Even after so many years of using a blog for these long journals, I didn't really know how to use the format for actually moving messages. Somehow, early on I got onto a different track and only when I started to help JEM did I realize how far my approach diverged from what would be beneficial for a nonprofit org. The social media layer too was something that I feel I entered into without a clue, and sometimes, like today, feel that I still have no clue, if I am to gauge by the interaction I get on pages I manage. (I know there's probably some Human Resources person reading this bit of self-sabotage as they try to disqualify me, ready to toss my resume in the e-trash. Do it if you must. I'm self-sabotaging for a purpose anyway. I'm weeding you out just like you weed me out. I'm preemptively slamming the doors shut that I have no business walking through in the first place. More later.)

Kyrptonite

Here's where the kryptonite comes in again. I have done so many hours of volunteer work and reached into so many aspects of webmastering I never thought I'd encounter. But when it comes time to look for a job, a real job, and one that perhaps would let me finally put to use this kind of interest and that would help develop it, I freeze. I totally freeze in my tracks. When I read an ad on Craigslist and some nameless place wants a "designer" or "coder" I immediately know I am neither. In some ways I am more than both, and in others, less than either. Ditto for "social media expert" or "SEO expert." I've done ALL those things to some degree but not well. Having departed the world of Wordpress for the most part, I've gotten a bit far from that platform which by all appearances, was kind of a step backward away from the most commercially viable web platform out there. I just know that when I used it (and I did for about four years), I was scared out of doing my own web work, not knowing my way around editing the templates, or feeling hopelessly lost in database related work, updates, and actually losing data. In some ways, it was easier to justify driving trucks for a living. When looking for work now, like I have for the last year and one half (as of this week), I can't square with the lists of requests for this skill or that. I hate selling myself, so I sell myself short. Maybe. I've learned a lot of things on my own, but it's not been prep for any job, even the few internships that I've applied to — situations where I'd work for too cheap so I can prove myself worthy of MAYBE working for cheap. It seems like people have to be formed nearly completely for a fucking internship. How the hell?

I hate resumes with a passion. I have several. I've tried chronological resumes. I've tried functional resumes. I've tried the cute online resumes where I plug in my credentials and it looks like a hip designer did it (and yes, I realize that doesn't reflect well on my own skills in the field). But if I am to be somewhat complete, it gets weird and confusing for HR people, I guess. Maybe they work from some formula that doesn't let them parse how a guy with audio/staging experience, senior social service experience, web and audio production experience, and non profit experience could possibly get a job at their place, even if it was straight down the line what they're asking for. I am torn. I can't tell if I'm completely free or boxed in. And I guess if I don't know after all these years, no one else will, either.

What I really need is for my work with JEM and its related entities to pay somehow. It's hard to swing it though; JEM operates on a budget less than $10,000 a year anyway, and everyone is a volunteer. If anything, I'm holding on to a vague idea that someone will take notice of the stuff I've done and somehow change the picture. It's probably a lost cause hoping for that. If anything, the numbers have seen a downward trend during the recessionary years, just like other major orgs have seen. JEM lives according to the graceful delivery of Manna from Heaven each year. So the next hope is that someone who sees what I do will have some paying opportunities on other projects. But it's hard to justify that since I know that all the stuff I have done with JEM is more of a meandering, creative process that has taken hundreds or thousands of hours, and that even when reduced to 10% of that would be more than most people want to pay to get a site launched at so many dollars per hour. Since I never "designed" the JEM web presence as it appears now, it's hard to put a price tag on it when talking to people about their prospective projects. Not being a very good salesperson, and not being a good business person, I have a history of being rather trampled in the projects I've taken on. I hate to admit it, Ms. HR Manager, but I sort of suck at that. 

my name is on the in/out board at work. Big whooptie fucking doo!My name on the sign at AE Scantech while I was the shipping manager.

Dumb Jobs that Take Over Your Life

And that's why I keep looking at "dumb" jobs like driving. Ones that start at one time and end at another and have a record of paying the bills for six, twelve, or even eighteen months at a time. Within a few hours or days of my toil, I get paid. Fair enough. It is a safe feeling after having done always-on-call freelance audio work that paid erratically, or after trying my hand in 2002-2003 at studio recording or web work, none of which ever paid off much more than guitar strings or drum heads! To find a job where I punch the clock is both a breath of fresh air and a kick in the balls. I say that because the kick in the balls part of it means that to hold those jobs, my soul is sucked from me, my generative capacity to be creative put in jeopardy, and my energy usually sapped. During the period at AE Scantech, it was coincident with my breaking up with my church. In the six months or so that I worked there, I did little else at home but for gardening and web surfing. I was out of church all but the first few weeks there and for a couple months afterward. And with that, a lot of social life was lost. AV Concepts before it was dismal, being loaded up with the drama and pain surrounding the forced move from my home, and the fact they laid me off after their scheduling needs clashed with my need to get my head straight in the wake of eviction. The eviction stress on Kelli and I was great, and then she started school about the same time, on a commuting basis that took her away for three days/two nights every week.

Ten potato bags broke open this day in the big truck. What hell.While I could demonstrate mastery over the roads and destinations, it's harder to master a wet potato bag that opens up and dumps its load all over the truck and ground. Ten such bags are harder still to master.

Specialty Produce was better because eventually I was able to strike a balance between the daily work and the spiritual-social life at church and elsewhere, but in the early days, I dreaded the prospect of their ability to command up to 16 hours of my day for about 27 days a month. Somehow, every day after the fourth day there (in January 2008 when I called in sick with a wicked flu and was nearly fired for it) was a miracle. And that it lasted for one week short of three years was stupendously miraculous. And when they did let me go, it was probably again for the matter of scheduling and my need for boundaries so this work doesn't totally suck the life out of me.

Sabbath as Antidote to Jobs That Take Over Your Life

You see, a major lesson that Lee taught me by the words of the Kinslers and by his own example was that of Sabbath. The short form of the lesson is that Sabbath is a resistive measure against endless work, a hedge against being subsumed in the system. Yet for someone like me who tends to dive fairly deeply into things I enjoy for prolonged spells, it's hard to set up the boundaries. It was like that with building plastic models as a teen. Same for drumming which replaced it in high school. And more so when out of school and left to explore music more fully for some years at Hog Heaven. And now it seems that there's been two years or more of going full-tilt at web work, even for the organization that preaches the message of resisting the demands of the work world, the needs of the Market.

Meanwhile, the opposite is true in the "real" work life. I have to have my boundaries so I don't get drawn into the undertow. And I suppose it has cost me a few jobs now. It isn't coincidental those jobs come to an end. I am not putting all my energy into them. At least, not my soul's energy. I shouldn't be there, and after a while that becomes apparent. A favorite book of mine, Parker Palmer's Let Your Life Speak, has gotten a few readings in recent years, and there I learned that I have to admit the failure of these jobs to "stick" reflects the honest fact that I don't belong there, and that while there are lessons offered in each experience, they are all pointers toward something else, even if the process is a subtractive one marked by failure, discontent, hurt, and all that. As Palmer says from his Quaker upbringing and their keen sense of vocational discernment, "way opens and way closes."

These days, my days are spent with a lot of work that would be handsomely rewarded if I were on some company roster somewhere. It's impossible to say where things start and end because really my mind is one scattered mess with my computer screen indicating graphically a fraction of what's on my mind. I'm rather at wit's end now. Sitting down at TAPKAE.com and writing out several thousand words that no one actually reads is somehow my reward for all this. Don't ask. It's about the only thing that seems to get done in a contiguous block most of the time I sit down to do it. But all the rest of the time, I am nearly lost in browser tabs; email windows for my own stuff, JEM's, and sometimes other accounts; maybe recording/editing a podcast episode; tutoring Lee or Gerald (a newcomer to JEM's media world) via chat or Skype, or hammering out long emails or Google Docs in the same manner; maybe trying to take in a podcast or some iTunes music; often trying to keep up with social media stuff, including a number of RSS feeds that help confuse or deliver me to new prospects; and then there's certainly doing JEM web stuff like proofreading and cleaning pasted-in entries of the digital junk that accompanies that process. Oh, and a periodic revamp of the entire site to help integrate things I've learned along the way and want to implement. They're cool enough to let me play with it that way. They realize it's for the good.

Practicing Bleeding on Craigslist

And then I have to try to wedge in the legitmate job search, which to me is rather like practicing bleeding. To even fire up the Craigslist tab is a task I utterly dread. To decide to click on "nonprofit jobs" and search through things I am not qualified for because I have no degree, or that are just obviously insanely high turnover positions like political campaigning — it's depressing, though periodically something seems to fit. But really, do I want to do a part time, socially beneficial job helping seniors for $8 an hour for three hours a day every third day but split into two shifts from 7-8 in the morning and 4-6 at night?

Someone's work van stopped too close to the railroad tracks and the boom came down on it.This is the kind of absent mindedness that can plague a person in an unsatisfying work position. This is not me though.

The next category to be searched is usually "transportation" which is a tad more promising for actual living wage earning, but gets me downright depressed. I mean, really. I've done three jobs that were nearly exclusively defined by driving. I am good at it. I rank well. But let's face it... it is not anywhere near where my real interests or passions lead. I can do these things mechanically but not with any real feeling. I don't belong there. After a while, that becomes evident to all.

Next category, a step down from that, is "customer service" which usually cues me to get up and take a piss and stare at the mirror for a while in disgust of what I see. Who the fuck is it that is about to open up the ads and apply for some fucking barista job? Or for some other equally pointless job? It certainly isn't the Me I feel I am. Maybe some temporary inhabitant of my physical shell, but an alien to my soul. This character should be eradicated. Tarred and feathered, and chased out of town! What a disgrace. The movie Clerks is not just cinema for me.

Following that, I might start to check in the various Craigslist categories that might include web and media work. Believe it or not, this is what I am actually er, trained in, or have some experience in, and when the terms are favorable, actually enjoy. But because there is a gulf between the experience I have and the requirements they list, I cower. I run. It's time for another break, already. Time to get a drink. In Escondido, I hope for a beer to take the edge off. But fresh squeezed lemonade would help. Let me go pick some lemons. Oh...that reminds me, the dog shit needs to be picked up in the front yard. Let me think this out. How would my resume go? Should I write that email? Has Lee or Gerald responded in a state of greater confusion about the chat we had? Oy!!! Anything but looking at Craigslist will do for now. They want a UX/UI expert. They want Wordpress. They want SEO mastery. They want a portfolio. What am I to do? Prepare a resume for a place that I am clearly no fit for? Time to get back to doing what I at least pretend I do well. At least in JEM I'm a big fish and people seem to value it. It just doesn't pay. I don't like it much, but I like it more: picking up dog shit is somehow able to give me a sense of accomplishment.

Other Craigslist categories come to mind, and feeling like I need to relax and open up some, I look at others, including some of the off the wall stuff in the Gigs. I did find a one off audio editing job last week that I was extremely well qualified for, even though I had never done audio book editing. All those years cutting sermons and podcasts got me $212.50 for eight hours' work — $25 an hour which is adequate considering it's simple timeline bushwhacking with no real thought put into it. Woo Hoo! The mind has to wonder what that pay rate would have done for me during those church sermons and podcast programs which are edited even more completely. $212.50. But that's gone with two household bills. Back to that job I passed over in the Transport ads... but can I really see myself as a fucking tow truck driver?

EONSNOW page in 2006EONSNOW homepage, 2006.

The Breadcrumbs of Vocational Discernment

Today I was doing some of the routine chat talk with Lee and Gerald—guys I like and respect for their lifestyles and experience—and I was cracking as I was trying to negotiate redesigning the podcast's programming in the light of Gerald being a new creative partner in it all. But despite his background in public radio, church music and therefore church life, and PR and other things of interest, he still takes a lot of tutoring at new technologies and blogging. His message is impeccable and urgent and excites the part of me that set out to do EONSNOW in 2005, but his delivery will take some work in this new media world. But as I dive more and more into web stuff, I am confronted with a vast insecurity complex — kryptonite again. The more I read about best practices in podcasting, social media, blogging (all the stuff I like most about being online), the more I feel like I miss the mark, and that my own methods have perhaps worked against JEM more than for them. I could be woefully wrong, but that's the feeling. Even direct questions at Facebook do not elicit the answers or the participation. My pact with myself was that this new era of web involvement was to be for building web community has been met with a realization that I don't seem to accomplish that too well. JEM's ideas are not my own ideas. I see myself as a conduit through which Lee's or Gerald's ideas pass. That seemed like a better deal to make than in the days of EONSNOW when my ideas were naive and perhaps a bit vitriolic. In JEM, I do about the same thing as I set out to do with EONSNOW, except the ideas I move are those of others who have about twice as much life experience and authority as I have. And more education.

Magazine cover for school project. Dreadful.A mock magazine cover for an assignment in Quark. One of the insanely dumb things I did while at Art Institute of CA in 2001-2002. Totally worthless.

We Don't Need No Education

But I don't beat myself up about the education thing too much. I'm sure there are plenty of you HR people out there who are trashing my resume because it doesn't reflect my ability to put up with the rat race and hurdle jumping path of the education mills and their methods for teaching me next to worthless shit at considerable expense that will follow me for a decade to come. But let's remember, I didn't hear about peak oil at school. I didn't learn about the global economic picture's grave injustices from school. Nearly all my current web publishing knowledge did not come from a school (and the stuff that I did pay $6,600 for was essentially worthless even as it was flowing from the instructors' mouths). I did not learn how to befriend a homebound senior citizen at school. I did not learn how to podcast at school. I did not learn how to cook for my wife at school. I did not learn how to appreciate the Easter tree near Julian, CA in school. And I sure as fuck don't miss the debt that I would have racked up at school. I don't miss it in the same way that I don't miss ever making a car payment in my life.

The irony is, even to this day, I have a tenth grade worksheet that indicates I did learn about population dieoff back in the spring of 1989 at the education mill at 4899 Doliva Dr. in San Diego. But who was poised to tell me that it would apply not just to bacteria in petrie dishes and bunnies in Australia, and instead to all of humanity and the lifestyle I live? Okay, score one for the education mill, but it was up to me scouring the Web and serendipitously meeting wise people who could explain what it means when humanity finally ate all the sugar in the dish and is bound to dieoff because it's going to drown in its own shit. No class discussion on that one.

Sign for a thanksgiving day race to feed the hungry.A sign that I caption as "burning too many calories to help those who have too few," a form of misguided charity toward those with less.

Why Me, Why Now?

With an awareness like that, it's hard to wake up in the morning and go through the pretty mindless pursuits of going to work, or even looking for work. And it's a mind-scattering thing to have to play that game enough while getting some money from the state, all the while knowing that 99.99% of what I could locate in Craigslist is stuff that I am not called to do at any deep level. I might be an undereducated, polemic-writing, failure of a social media manager, but I wake up in the morning more enlightened than some who have dizzying amounts of education and a full alphabet following their given names. I wake up and often have the question on my mind, "why me? why now?" I live in the awareness that I am a part of the problem too, and that most days, I can't turn off the awareness that I am caught in a lie: either to be part of the system, or to pretend that I am not part of the system, but to work dilligently at exposing it. It's paralyzing, yes. It's a moral quandary deciding to use the tools of the empire to bring the empire to truth. Even Ted Kaczynski, the Unabomber, wrote in his manifesto, Industrial Society and its Future, that there is no good technology without a dark side. (I didn't learn that in school, see?) It's a tragic bind to realize the computer is both a major part of the problem and a vital part of some solution. Or to realize that rationalizing that is total bullshit too. When you wake up in the morning and know humanity is headed for a brick wall at full speed, it almost doesn't matter what you do, or how loud you wail in Cassandra's shrill tones.

A poster I made in 2004 with iconic image of Dubya saluting like a Nazi with a caption that declares dictatorships are good as long as he's the dictatorSome of Dubya's statements were unusually candid for those who operate the reins of power. In 2004 I thought it was a slam dunk that he'd be beaten. Shows what I know. But this and other posters contributed to the "war effort" against him.

When you are enlightened in such a way, you look at the world's issues with different eyes. There are more educated humans alive today, but less educated humanity. Do you suppose that there is a correlation between the sheer amount of university level education — unlocking the secrets of the world, the planet, the universe, even — and the problem all humanity is faced with today? Was there a time when humanity ever faced extinction, and the biosphere with it? Did such a time ever really happen before we got educated? Not only are the education mills rather dumb pursuits as Frank Zappa said, but it appears that they are outright dangerous, at least without the balancing effect of a deep spirituality that can reconnect what compartmentalized education breaks apart methodically.

Funny, the record shows that a young and cocky, uneducated but insightful wandering preacher 2000 years ago rocked the foundations of history and the course of the world. It wasn't because he was university educated. The irony was that by adopting the religion that bore his name as the state religion, the state ended up imploding upon itself. That fire was too hot to handle, even for the mightiest power the world had known to that point. And so it will be once more. And again. And then again after that. Score one for the uneducated masses who don't know enough to break the world.

The Test Came Before the Lessons

Did the 19 year old Jack In The Box worker bee have this insight in 1993? Not a chance. Did I know what I was hoping to accomplish when I decided my time at Mesa College was spinning my wheels for no discernable reason, and left for a year that became ten? Hell no. Did I know that the abortion my girlfriend had not too long after that fateful decision to leave school had would shape my geo-political perspective that says that having children in the Western/Industrialized world is contributing to the crisis? Of course not. Did I realize that heart-rending night when she and I were hours from breaking off an engagement to be married that I stepped off the bus going to a place I have no business arriving at? I was just working from the hunch in the pit of my stomach. Somehow, by evasive tactics, laziness, fear, loss, or other things, I've arrived where I am. But you see, where I am, what I know, and what I do is about as valid as anyone else's claims to same. Sure, my spell at reading endless Wikipedia entries during 2007-2008 is not a college degree, but it didn't do harm. It's not valid by one measure but is completely valid by another. Education comes in all forms, and I have Fr. Rohr to thank for that teaching, at least in that he was the first to make that thought stick. And, as a blurb on my site's sidebar now says, "we may misunderstand but we do not misexperience." Another tidbit that I'm pretty certain emerged from Rohr's teachings over these last three years was that "something isn't true until you yourself experience it." In September 2003 while I was in a residential therapy center for a week and a half getting my head straight after the single most devastating depression I have had (on the eve of turning 30, and just under one year before I got married), my experience was validated by a really cool therapist who walked me through all that. I still have the Oscar Wilde quote he wrote for me, "Life is the toughest teacher because it gives the test first and the lesson later."

A liberal education is given in all manner of class rooms, board rooms, chat rooms, and even bed rooms. But maybe one thing I look at differently is that eventually that kind of education puts the world back together into a whole, whereas the education mill likes to take things apart and to constantly divide reality. It's not to say that kind of education will permanently damage a person, but it will certainly take some para-scholastic experience to round out the person, and yes, it could easily delay the progress toward a rounded humanity. Life happens just as surely with someone who got their worthless piece of paper as it has to me, but sometimes the mind is shaped in such a way in the education mill that causes resistance to this other equally valid way of learning, or a sense of mistrust of it. And it isn't without consequence; life is not facts and figures alone, and the people who think that it is tend to also be ones motivated to move into positions of influence and power, who shape political, economic, and thought at the macro level.

When I work in the context of JEM, I am able to operate in a space where the large world issues and my own experiences are not dismissed, but looking at them with some responsible attitude is encouraged. I get to be creative and functional in a place where the incomplete and mixed up me is somehow an asset. Having the scattered experience and interests I have has served to make me more qualified in that setting, not less. It isn't that JEM is a pleasure dome I wish not to escape. I pull my hair out some days in the effort to pull rabbits out of hats there. But the work, while not always feeling like it's firing on all cylinders, does not feel pointless like delivering architectural plans a year after I was showing The End of Suburbia and shrieking like Cassandra about all that. I knew I sold myself out getting that job, but I needed something. At least after that job I waited out the temptation to take a job at a car dealership as a parts driver.

Naming and Unmasking the Powers

Indulge me a bit of Walter Wink-inspired thoughts on naming and unmasking the powers. And pardon me as I vent several years of frustration in the workplace. The Human Resources staff professional will be my pinata for the occasion.

So there you are, Madam HR executive in a cute little suit and high heels, bespectacled in cute little fake horn rimmed glasses and sporting that little tiny pony tail or bun with highlighted streaks that you corporate types seem to wear, evaluating whether I am fit for your widget wrangling position on the shop floor. Totally unfit. I'm not what you're looking for. In fact, throw that resume out but be sure to recycle it. Oh? It hit the bin long before I finished that sentence? The email delete button is a wonderful thing? What power you hold with that button! Maybe there's a thousand of me sending resumes in and you're there not only canning me prematurely but also looking to see who among your employees are worthy of being fired because they are looking for other work, and they just happen to have sent their resume into your inbox, unwittingly signing their own pink slip, or at least inviting scrutiny about their loyalty. Is this what all that education has done for the world? Given you the ability to pan hundreds of people from livelihoods without even so much as a polite response or a chance at a human encounter? Given you a place of power to cut people out of jobs while you hang out with your iPhone wielding friends, sipping fucking martinis in the fucking Gaslamp Quarter, ranting about how miserable your life is? Maybe it's because your position is a worthless one to begin with, the kind of makework that makes some people look good while others are sent to the bin according to some formula? Some of you use too many words in your job listings and dismiss people like me before I get the courage up to even try to fill out a resume. Others lead me in with sparsely worded listings that say next to nothing about the job, the compensation, the location, and the industry. It's okay to waste MY time responding to an ad to ferret out that kind of information?

I've seen you in town. I've worked for you already if you've known it or not. I was the the pee-on who delivered architectural plans to the contractors that turned your home in Clairemont into a McMansion. Or that built your new place on the outskirts of Del Mar or in the fire-prone hinterregions of Poway. I'm the guy who delivered the plans for that building you work in. It's an ugly monstrosity of glass and steel that shows no humanity or grace, and no sense of caring about the world around it. Yep. I was part of that too.

Me onstage with classic rock cover band Rockola, for whom I worked for a few years. I was on stage playing a bit of bass as one of the stage gimmicks.Sometimes I got to do this little bit of bass playing on stage with Rockola at Blind Melons club. All the rest of the time, I was side stage and in danger of being trampled by drunken fucks.

I've seen you in town. I've done sound at your pathetic corporate parties where you dance mindlessly to the music that used to be vitally important, socially relevant PROTEST music a generation ago (even the DISCO music that you mock with bullshit costumes stood for someone's liberation a generation ago), and I've seen you all twirling about, drunk and too stupid to exit the clubs at 1:55 in the morning. Some of you probably tried to kiss me then too while I was putting the guitars away, and no one seemed to mind that they were encroaching on my workspace at the mixer, or at the side of the stage. You know...that stuff I did there was work too, and my attention was supposed to be paid toward the performance on STAGE, not to your little song and dance asking for the stupidest shit: Can you hold the sitar or bang on the bongos sitting side stage? No! Could I put some more guitar in the mix? No! You got ten bucks and you want the five piece band to play (and the crew to wait) an extra half hour? Fuck you! It's bad enough we get treated like the fucking Guatemalan maids at these same hotels — or even worse — with a tip like that. I just didn't have my own iPhone and Facebook in 1999 when the parties were getting outrageous in corporate America or else I'd have put up videos or audio myself to show what idiots you and your executive co-workers can be in those situations. Oh, it was all a party, and the money flowed like water toward those parties. I'd presume so because the machine was getting finely tuned by the late 1990s. Corporate profits up, no doubt because the HR department was honed to a fine edge, able to excise all the riff-raff and keen on making the few remaining people simultaneously run faster and harder while looking over their shoulder where the axe was waiting for them too. Then the recession hit and the party was over. Good riddance. But you got to keep your job.

I saw this guy repeatedly while delivering to Gordon Biersch in Mission Valley. Sometimes I had some food to give him. And he was one of the guys who was still among the living.

Oh, I've seen you in town. You're the people who bought the fancy foodie dishes made from the produce I delivered to 101 fancy restaurants, resorts, and hotels in town where I got to enter through the ass-end of the place with grime and food waste and even — wait for it — laborers! I'll bet there were some who struck a deal to work under the table because they were undocumented and you were in need of a bit of margin so you could afford that die-cut embossed menu for tonight's wine list. You're the people who shit $100 bills and throw out half-eaten plates of gourmet food because you can. I can't say for sure how many of those homeless people out there were your own handiwork, but they are certainly the handiwork of the system you belong to. Outside those same restaurants you can be seen making fools of yourself, probably drunk there too, and likely oblivious to the homeless folks that line the streets in the area, and that are expected to kindly step aside and relocate to the outer reaches of East Village so you can go out for a nice night on the town. Maybe one day you'll get to meet them. And I hope it's not just a field trip experience.

And some years ago, when you were a little less drunk at lunch time, and when I used to work at Subway, you were the one who thought I was no one because of the stupid green shirt and hat I wore. I didn't like you then either. It was a gut feeling then. I didn't have a blog to rant on then, but I did control what went into your sandwich. Other far less scrupulous (and possibly disgruntled) people than I now make those same sandwiches. And you don't know what is really in that Taco Bell "meat," do you?

The funny thing is, you get to enter "my office" and essentially set the agenda with some inane antics and plenty of condescension. You come on to MY stages, you eat the food I deliver, you boss me around in MY office at Subway, or Jack In The Fucking Box, or even for Pizza Slut or Dumb, I Know's Pizza. But is the same true for my ability to enter YOUR office and call the shots? Not with that electronic fence you have around it that barricades me at my own computer browser. Not with that veneer of coolly isolated professionalism in shades of corporate blue and gray. Not with the minimum wage earning security guard who thinks he's someone because of the badge and the key to the gated parking lots that surround your ivory towers and your dark satanic malls (sic). Do I get to come in and make a scene in your office? Dance on your desk, let my cock hang out, kiss you in my swirling and oblivious state of drunkenness? Hell no. My office is in the world. Your office is behind closed doors. I don't get to meet you to talk about getting a job. I don't get to have a human exchange to explain myself. You really don't care anyway. Or if you do at a personal level, it's not your job to act on that feeling, professionally. It's a one way thing that gives you HR people some upper hand. For a time, maybe.

Okay, enough snarkasm. Even HR professionals are people too. A bit unaware of how offensive and useless their professional role is, but they're people who have a home and kids to feed. I just hope they wake up and repent for taking those positions and for aiding a corrupt system to ever more corruption.

Still, I've been waiting for the collapse of the corporate model as we have come to know it because the corporate form as we know it has outlasted its usefulness and the antics needed to prop up its validity are increasingly implausible. It has already jumped the shark. No one really likes it anymore except those still enjoying the party, and that number is growing fewer and fewer as the system eats itself alive. No one really faithfully shows up to support it. And an economy based in mutual fear can't last. In JEM or out of it, I learned that it's a model that is doomed to consume itself because of its own success and gluttony. I'd like to sit by and watch, and maybe even give it a shove on its way out of town. It might run a little past the end of my lifetime, or it might finish itself off by the time I get my senior discount at restaurants. I don't know. But be ye warned: the economy is here to serve humanity, not the other way around. And the big structures ALWAYS fail in the end —empires, churches, monarchies, and soon, corporations. As Martin Luther King said, "the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice."

The Soul of Work

I could think of myself as too poorly educated to join into the workforce, but I happen to think of myself as too well educated to join in the workforce. Or, let's say, at least a certain kind of workforce. It isn't that manual labor is below me. In some ways, it's far more gratifying than neuroacrobatics. As I said, even picking up dog shit sometimes gives me a bit more of a sense of accomplishment than all sorts of pixel wrangling and syllable splicing and I really dig cooking for friends (a completely separate task from picking up dog shit). Both keep me feeling grounded. It's far more grounded and integrity-filled than a lot of marketing and media work I might persue if I was actually good at this stuff. It's not any of that. It's that when you see what these jobs lead to in a big picture, it's damn hard to want to put energy into it all. More than depression that just brings me down, it makes my heart ache that people still believe in some of these pursuits. I'd gladly work in a bakery for the right reasons rather than being some overeducated fuck doing some kind of smart person's work for the wrong reasons, in a position that might be responsible for digging humanity a bigger hole than the current one. The workplace does not really earn the respect and loyalty of working people now because everyone knows the axe is about to fall any minute. The whole thing is rigged to fail eventually because as one market after another is squeezed like a lemon, eventually everyone will realize they've been had. The funny thing is, it won't matter until the educated, degree holding mostly white people find themselves at the short end of the stick before things will change. It's the people inside the system who are the last to see it for what it is. The rest of us are waiting for it to fall apart and for there to be a time when the entry fee is bearable, and the show is good enough to stay and watch all the way through.

But what do I know? I'm just a college dropout with a chip on my shoulder, right? And you read this entire thing and say, 'is that all?' It's no more a waste of your time than it is for me to fill out those fucking online applications with the psychological profile questions that give me all the choices to answer that suit you but not me. I've applied for enough of those and being forced to answer a question using four disagreeable options is not my cup of tea. What is the point of asking me if I would handle working in a noisy, busy, chaotic, hellish workspace and expecting me to answer the A-D spectrum from "yes, I love this kind of thing and my life is incomplete without it" and "no, I can't hack it"? If I'm applying to your fucking job and I have entered the place as a customer, don't you think I know it's a hellhole of a place to work with asshole customers and round-the-clock noise? Is anyone really made to live under those conditions, or just desperate enough to accept them so they can afford not to sell their children to some rich and smart looking HR manager who has a nice job and can buy such unnecessary items as surplus offspring from poor people made poor by the swift strokes of the pens that other HR managers hold?

Just Send Money

It's not that my attitude is bad. It is realistic. Work is not valued like it should be. The fact is, I give more time and passion to JEM than I gave to any one of the jobs I've had and I don't really get paid but for some new software and a nice share of "attaboys." I can't even make a plausible argument that my state unemployment payment for $1,404 approximates the value I offer to JEM. The sad fact is, as one of my early web design mentors said, "the problem with nonprofits is that they're too nonprofitable." My favorite jobs and duties have been in the nonprofit realm, but never at the places that get the glory. And when you think about what a disgrace it is that JEM flies so far below the radar, that's heartbreaking. I mean, JEM, a tiny nonprofit with a handful of people who care, is not even a speck of dust in the desert. But we show up and soldier on with some vision of how to do economics differently than the system that is going down the toilet now and taking everything with it. You'd think that this world-saving heroic effort would pay better, even if I'm a bit lacking in the real ability to get participation and SEO rankings. Living with a divided mind and no particular income makes it hard to know what foot to put forward: do I totally immerse myself in learning the web tools and services and best practices? Or what?What part of the 40+ hours I put in each week is not valuable somehow so that even my own relatively slim expenses can be met and some left over to squirrel away for a global warming induced rainy day in the mid summer?

So I spend my days with my scattered mind, unsure whether I should either dive into or minimize my JEM work. All the other options seem empty, pointless, backwards. The math works out that if I were only to optimistically reproduce my state income, even 30 people sending in $50 a month would do that, though to take it seriously, I'd need more to accommodate the deductions that would be required. Are there not 30 people out there who think that there's some worth in moving a message like JEM's and who are able and willing to help me get by so I can better answer a call to do meaningful work? One day the state payments are gonna be done, and I'll get into the desperation mode again and take whatever dumb shit emerges. Or maybe there will be some freelance work. But what the fuck does it take to actually cover my ass while doing the thing that comes closest to calling upon my training, my interests, and my experience?

It's five o' clock in the morning. Let me go to be so I can get up at nine and get back to my work. This was all done on "my time." Good thing I set up PayPal for invoicing that editing gig. Now I can put a "donate" button on my site too! This post took me about eleven hours over two days to write and edit this. It's nearly double the length of my previously extravagantly long posts, but obviously it's not without a bit of thought and passion that took these 38 years to accumulate. What's that worth to anyone? Your call. Thanks for reading.

Then again, maybe I could get a job being a roving salesman, selling print copies of Wikipedia as I go?

Thursday
Feb182010

Unplugged Life

Most of you have no idea how many times I log in to write a new blog, then abandon the idea after a few distracted trips to other programs or other sites. I shut it down and try again maybe an hour later, maybe a day later, or a week later. I've been at this activity for nearly six years now. (I consider April of 2004 to be my official foray into actual blogging, otherwise my earlier web site entries functioned in about the same way for about two years before, albeit without server-side functionality.) I've processed a lot of thoughts and events here. I've spilled some beans here. I've toyed with a couple "voices" in my writing here. Sometimes writing has been a great relief to finally put something into words and therefore some clarity. Other times it seems like going through the motions.

My general trend for much of the last couple years in particular, but also since my Halcyon time in 2003, has been to push further back my computer related communications. I might need to clarify. Obviously the blog has almost entirely happened in that time, but as regards the various other sites and groups I might have once frequented or might hang out on if I was not even as steadfast as I am, I have limited myself a good deal. These days I have nothing to do with Facebook (started an account under a bogus name and found it impossible to locate friends with any efficiency so I dropped it and think I canceled my account), MySpace (have an account but my browser is old enough that I can't even log on or see other people's pages anymore), and I also don't Tweet (I find the idea of communicating in 140 characters to be preposterous.). I do a lot less of any digital anything now. Back when I was online and haunting music tech and artist newsgroups and forums, I was not really a great citizen and beside that, there is never any end to all that. One never wins any of the arguments before the Nazi word is thrown out, therefore ending whatever thread was going on. All that was a time-suck. In 2003 I knew I needed to drop all that. Blogging is at least for me my place to say whatever I like and not have to argue. And, believe it or not, I am writing far less on blog entries than I did for forums.

The fact is, I am vastly enjoying the various in person relationships I am having now. All my erstwhile use of forums and newsgroups and all that was just a stand-in for the relationships I wanted. I put a greater premium on doing in-person activities and just don't care that I am not on FaceBook, MySpace or Twitter. Kelli is a FaceBook user and that is more than enough for me, even to hear about it or to wait for her to put it away. I do quite like our in person time as it anchors us to something while many other parts of life whirl us around as if a tornado. I actually do dream of the day when I can separate from computers and phones, longing for an "Office Space Moment". I still rather like my music library and some things, but until all that fails me too, I can at least limit myself with that social media shit that just sucks time and isn't as vital for me as the real thing it would like me to think I am experiencing when I am not. There is just something refreshing about not mediating all one's relationships through electronics, in the same way as it is refreshing to have your daily personal exchanges not mediated through the world of commerce (tellers, customer service, etc. all playing like they're your friend when all there is is business to be done and the niceties are enough to make you not want to run out forever).

The thing is I have a lot going on. A lot of it is at church or through those relationships or similar ones. I work in a place where there isn't much of substantial talk but I've carved out a few small niches with a couple people. It is sufficiently unsatisfying (yes) that I still must try to relate to people on the outside. I keep meeting and developing relationships with more folks at church since the congregation is rather large. It is a perfect antidote to the commercial relationships that I don't like. I scarcely even call people, church or not. I hate phones. I carry my own (which barely seems to ring) and one for work (which gets email, calls and two way chatter). When done, I want out of all that. I am sick of little devices being my leashes, offering minor headaches of annoyance and the impossibility of actual communication. Bah!

I'm rather enjoying low-tech and old time methods to do things. Biking with a not-very-efficient-drivetrain has been an obvious one—riding a 100 year old piece of technology that is far more satisfying than the new shit, or cars, or whatever. I've found a bit of fellowship in the bike world, but found existing folks were were interested in biking but were waiting for someone to get them out finally. Cooking has been fun, having learned to make some soups and having developed my roasted tater technique in the last year or two, using all fresh ingredients that passed under my knife. Doing so is also a community building effort, whether for Kelli and me, or friends, or for potluck events. I've been dabbling with my music gear of late, and just feel funny when playing electric guitar since the sound emanates not from the box I have strapped on, but from a box across the room. (And when playing acoustic, I don't even have a great guitar, but the acoustic chamber does feel more vibrant and immediate than electric.) So, all this is of a whole. I am rather enjoying the limited approach.

Recently I had to reacquaint myself with my computer audio programs—ProTools LE, Peak. The idea of doing podcasting is exciting but I really have lost my patience for software, glitches, menus, settings, and all that. I like editing stuff and making things happen, but having been away from this stuff for a couple years since I pushed aside my musical life and also left the church where I recorded and edited each week's service, I have sort of forgotten a lot, at least regarding configuring things. It all seems foreign to me. We shall see how this podcasting stuff goes. There is stuff to learn, and part of my role is to help Lee understand his digital media options (he's almost 70 and too busy to learn all this stuff, see?). Odd, considering I barely know and don't care for the stuff myself. And, right now, even if I wanted to, my computer is sufficiently old that various media plugins are updated and leaving my machine behind. Now I am almost pressed into buying a new machine so I can do stuff I don't really want to do anyway.

The liturgical season of Lent is upon us. Traditionally it is a time to maybe give something up, but more so to consider one's spiritual path with honesty. And to me, the decision to play along with technology (or not) is a big part of my questioning. A book I read in 2006 has continued to be influential on me: Better Off by Eric Brende. He conducted a yearlong experiment on himself and his new wife. He lived in a community that was related to the Amish, and from that source and others like it, the litmus test question before me about technology is this: does a device encourage or inhibit community life? Does it feed individualism that takes people out of relationship? How much modern technology does one need to live a fulfilling life? What kind of technology helps one accomplish that? He came out understanding that one can do quite well with technology that would have been normal to 19th century folks, if not before, and that most of the stuff we distract ourselves with is way more than we need, and robbing us of a good deal of community life, self-reliance, exercise, connection with nature and so on. Another book, World Made By Hand by James Howard Kunstler, is a bit of fiction that in some oddly satisfying ways says about the same thing—the answer to no modern technology is in communal effort and cooperation. Any other way is death.

Where I come from, theologically, we might say hell is disconnection from God, from community. I've been there. Lots of people have been there. But with things the way they are now, relaxing the isolating grip that has been upon me thanks to endless technological options, I feel like I've been able to claw my way out of that pit. So many means of communication and mobility, still so much misery. So much alienation. Irony, much? The answer isn't in more technology. With realization like that, I sort of have to welcome my earlier notions of energy crisis because at this point, that is about the only thing that seems like it can break our addiction to this stuff. I realize hardly anyone is seriously on board with this idea, thus making my Lenten journey more or less a solitary one. Oh well, faith isn't knowing for certain. It is moving ahead into the cloud of unknowing and being confident things will come out okay.

Monday
Jun082009

Exile And Return

Exile and return is a major theme in the Bible, and therefore in the lives of Jews and Christians. There is of course the Exile ("big E") of being carried off to Babylon for a couple generations, watching Jerusalem being laid waste and the agony of not knowing how or even if it would be possible to worship Yahweh while displaced from his favored city on earth. But more broadly speaking, the Bible as a whole tells of exile and return, starting with Genesis and being sent from Eden—the primeval state of undivided wholeness—into the world where division is a central fact of life. It seems we thought we knew better than our creator. From wholeness to being fragmented, we are exiled and through the bible, God does all sorts of tricks to get us back into one piece. None of them work too well or has much promise until a genius moment of presenting Jesus to the world, a figure who subverts all our typical understandings of what is required to live a faithful life. By the end of the bible story, the early believers and writers concluded that Jesus was the cure for this division in our lives. He was, for them, the end of spiritual exile. If we haven't forgotten it, even today he is the end of our spiritual exiles, as individuals (ah, I hate to say it: your "personal lord and savior") and also as all of humanity (through his commandment to love one's neighbor like oneself), offering the example of what we need to function as the community God envisions for us—the Kingdom of God.

My recent experience of joining a church by conscious decision has raised some questions for me. It is the first time I joined a church by intent, and not just by being confirmed into my existing congregation—an experience which does not seem to register clearly with me as a definitive moment in my life. Part of the reason for joining my new congregation has been that unlike the old one, there is a structure in place for actually doing some spiritual discernment and development work in a group setting, among many other ways to live a satisfying community life. My experience initially was a bit timid, but I was interested in being open with people. I actually didn't have plans to join as a member; that sort of grew on me over the last nine months or so. Suffice to say, having a setting in which to explore themes of how I experience the divine moving in my life has been an agent that helped me feel that this congregation was right for me.

If I do get any revelations from God, then they surely come in the "still small voice" variety such as Elijah experienced in Kings. I have to admit to being sort of dense in that regard. But revelations aren't always presentations of things not yet known; often it just takes a new insight to put together the pieces of many things already well known. Some write this off as coincidence. I have to wonder how it all works. But I am gaining in trust that it does, and that it happens for reasons we learn only on reflection.

So what compelled me to dig out a box of my journals and letters from the summer and first year after graduating high school (1991-92)? Especially since all that sort of stuff (filed neatly in annual collections in a series of boxes) now is garage filler, and no longer within reach in my closet like it tended to be for years before I began to move house every few months. For a long time, I did too much of this digging and I forgot to live in the moment, by hanging onto a detailed memory of all sorts of stuff that perhaps expired in usefulness before it was even written down! Having not had that opportunity in most of the Kelli years (since 2002), now it seems safer to periodically have a look. I draw some interesting revelations from this material.

This week I revisited the 1991-92 box featuring absurd amounts of pining for Shelby Duncan, a certain girl who never reciprocated my feelings (and with whom I kept that that dance going for another eight years or so—don't ask); stories about my early outside drumming under bridges and at other places because my home neighbors hated the noise; the news of an ever-growing drumset, with a few drawings indicating the changes; a few other minor tales of girls who never ended up being more than a fantasy or peck on the cheek; a considerable cache of letters from my first girlfriend Melissa; subversive correspondence from my stepmom who exited the family in 1983 but who wrote to me on the sly for some years before our early 1992 reunion; my early experiences and embarrassing writings at Mesa college...

But even more ink was given to how ridiculously bored I was, and how busy I was at work at Subway, and how I was often desperately lonely—enough to make a social life by going to work on my off hours!

The time I am speaking of is now approximately smack dab in the middle of my life. I graduated at 17 and started Subway and classes at Mesa a few months later, and turned 18 shortly after that. Now I am twice that age, nearly 36. One thing that I have always been aware of is how I spent roughly the last two years of high school as a pretty regular and committed churchgoing guy. I did a lot of things there. In fact, I did everything I could do there. It was my community. I wasn't really so connected to my peers; I was always more into adult conversations and concerns. (I went to study Martin Buber at an evening meeting when I was 16.) It was a good time on the whole. That is, until years later when I began to see them too as a family riddled with their own dysfunctions. Anyhow, let me not spoil what was perhaps a lifesaver on a number of occasions. At that time, ignorance was bliss. I felt cared for there, and put a lot of time into it for a while.

When I got the job at Subway, I was put on the closing shift, a shift that got me out of work at nearly one in the morning. I worked alone past 10 pm. My school schedule could accommodate that; class started at noon. But church started for me at 9 am, so for at least the first two months or so while the newly opened store got its bearings, it was closing at midnight. Eventually it changed to 11 pm and provided a partner, and things went better. But by then I had already made the critical decision: something in my schedule had to give, and the choice I made was one of economic benefit over community. I basically sent myself into exile from my community, for want of the sort of independence that having a first job seems to offer.

The journals for those eight months of Subway—and several months that followed—reflect an honest attempt to play by the rules and do a good job. If ever I played the part of the company man, this was it. I was the more senior of the closers after just two months. I really didn't know how to handle the task of delegating responsibility, even though I knew all the jobs well enough. I really put myself into it. Eventually, I took a day shift and got a bit closer to my boss, a delightfully sarcastic and funny guy named Chuck. I was third place after him and the manager Steve. In some ways, Chuck began to like me more than Steve and his complacency. But Chuck had plans to offload the store only about eight months after he opened it. I was apprehensive whether my hard work would amount to anything since new owners meant that I'd probably be reduced in rank or let go. Long story short, it didn't do me any good at all. In fact, it was really just rejected by the new owners, and sent me into a whole mess of drama that terminated in a court restraining order against me! Anyhow, I had internalized the values of the marketplace, and was living that story.

Meanwhile, I was desperately disconnected when away from work. I had Matt Zuniga as a new "friend" but he was way too weird for me. But we shared my drums when we went and did our outside noisemaking and from that effort to kill time came all my interest in recording music and making tapes and later CD's. My best friend from high school, Stephan, was an exchange student who had since gone back to Germany. I had gone to Europe that summer of 1991, and toiled mightily at Subway solely to pay for another trip to Steve's house in 1992, to more properly close up our in-person friendship before who knows what would take over as "real life." Matt, by comparison, was no one. (Of course I feel differently now, but he was quite a character then, unlike any I had known.)

Oh, what misery it all consisted of.

In my journals I noticed scarcely a mention of church. That's because I essentially dropped out as much as I had been in for a couple years. I don't suppose it actually had to be that way. I just had no sense of balance. After Subway began closing earlier in the evening, I guess there was no actual reason for not being able to go to church on Sunday mornings, or to do other activities. But for whatever reason, I stayed away, somehow feeling that this new world of work and school was more important. But wow! All the journals were quite miserable. Maybe it would have been better to stick around at church, to retain that community life. What I didn't know then was that my time off would last for about ten years, until I was 28. This Subway experience was just the beginning of a long dark period.

Fast forward to 2005 when I was developing enough of a sense of self to take a stand when employers threw me shifts that would intrude upon my life. Essentially, my firing from AV Concepts was based on my sticking to my guns for my own good. (They didn't seem to mind the request for Sunday off, but they chafed at my retention of my weeknights off so I could go to therapy to get my life in order after that disastrous summer.) That was one step in redeeming my 1991 decision to wander from church. And, early last year when I got my current job, I was in a dreadful way when it looked like I'd have no control over the hours I work because it seemed that they could get me just about any time from 4 am till 8 pm, seven days a week except for three Sundays I negotiated to have off each month. I did the math of the total hours they could draw from in a month and just about went into shock at how much of my life could be tapped for commercial work. This was quite upsetting since in 2006 after AVC, I was quite into learning about sabbath economics, and one central idea is that work should have limitations put around it so it doesn't take a person over. And that is just what it seemed might happen. Over several months, I played company man enough to negotiate a fixed schedule that has at least fluctuated within reason, and not by shocking daily jumps of five hours forward or back. I've been able to have Sundays off since September, and it has been good.

Good because I have the feeling of returning now that there is a niche of time carved for this purpose. Strictly speaking it is not a return to my old church life because that is history to me now. The return to feeling part of a community is running strong in me now. Having the time to take part helps, but having the will to do so is more satisfying. I mean, at any point in the dark years of exile, I could have chosen to drop by at church at least sometimes. I didn't. Somehow, I am taking back the decision to let the Market inform my value system. In 1991, it was an innocent and curious youthful enough move to see what another world is like. I didn't realize my age would nearly double before I found it in me to take my place in the body of Christ, with the conviction that that was a better choice to make. Some people, I suppose, never come back. And I suppose some don't get as far away as I feel I did.

I don't suppose people think that having a "real" job is an experience of exile. Much of the time it is deemed the only socially responsible thing to do, and the wise person makes all the time for what work requires. But consider the compromises that often accompany commercial work. And consider how things are torn asunder now in the "job market." The facade of the Market-as-deity is crumbling now. Maybe the crumbling of that—expressed by increasing layoffs in most sectors—will call people out of exile. Maybe it will call them out or even force them out of the individualistic pursuits of material gain over whatever community or family life they had to leave behind to accomplish that. What, but for the collapse of an economic system that is constructed on division of labor and division of relations, could be better? It sort of strikes dead the notion of "what's good for the corporation is good for America." Little by little, news reports and other anecdotes are indicating a shift away from the predominant story of the Market-god (upheld as it were by our sacrifices to it, in the form of our working hours and consumption that follows—giving back in money what we did not give in labor), and toward the types of community solidarity and togetherness that has been brushed aside, but that is the only thing that will save us and bring us back home from exile.

The urban life is a disconnected life based on consumption more than generation, a proposition which is inherently unsustainable. Our dilemma is a new one mainly because of our flight from the land to the city. It is no surprise we find so much alienation if we are fundamentally detached from the basis for our lives. The urban existence is literally an uprooting from the soil, from the ground people have traditionally been tied to, and where—for generations at a stretch—networks of relations have been constructed out of necessity. Some might argue that we have to embrace the new reality of urbanization and get on with it. But that is the way of death. We don't have that luxury. Just because we have a brave new world doesn't mean it's not foolish new world. No less a figure than Jesus spoke about the deadly trends in this type of lifestyle: his good news, his gospel, was that there is a life of vibrancy for those who reject such things as the world has created. I don't say this to be a Luddite-traditionalist, but the path of higher technology and more urbanization is the way of death so far, and we don't have time to mess it up anymore. You might think of it as "old is the new new." The ancient wisdom had it as right as we need it to be today. There seems to be a reawakening to this, and manifestations of it are turning up in various community efforts—in small scale agriculture, church community, arts, even online where things like Wikipedia restore the notion of the commons, where the world is seen as a place to be shared because of our common lot. It is a rejection of much of the centralized power and top-down order imposed by political and corporate structures of our time. People may think our present world situation is better off religion-free, but as I think theologian John Cobb would say, this is a profoundly religious matter. What we need is to get rid of the bad religion and bad myths that will destroy us if we live by them. Maybe what we need is the "religionless Christianity" that Dietrich Bonhoeffer spoke of.

The story of exile from Eden is a story of being separated from that which gives eternal (wholeness of) life, and it seems that it tells a story that narrates the move from decentralized roaming peoples who had what they needed for the taking from the common pot, into the world of cities and their inherent structure based on hierarchy, classification and division, not to mention scarcity from the not-natural notion of private ownership. Sure, for a while we've dabbled in our human knowledge and our economic orgies that glorify individual pursuits, but all that has been exile for us. Notice if you will that that system isn't doing too well now! The story of Jesus, by contrast, is the story of reinstatement to our whole humanity; by again living the life undivided from God and the divine plenty. Jesus didn't speak in terms of the modern corporate world, or of Adam Smith's economic theories. He spoke to us in terms of nature and its indiscriminate providence. No wonder we can't find our way. We've declared war on nature, and by doing so, we've declared war on ourselves. So a return from exile is needed. Repentance. Metanoia.

I've seen my little part in it in my microcosmic version of that struggle, and have decided to turn toward what promises the life I left behind for a decade and more. I feel like I got part of myself back when I got happened into community again—even though it is really not the same bunch as before. We are, after all, relational beings who gain our identity from our relations to others. Little surprise then that for a decade there, I really didn't know who in the world I was because I was cut out of so many life-giving connections. The last few weeks have had a remarkable feeling that I am coming home.

Sunday
Dec282008

Jew Repellant

shrimp wrapped in prosciutto bacon, hardly kosherOne restaurant in town obviously isn't interested in attracting or retaining a Jewish clientele.

Shrimp wrapped in prosciutto bacon??? What is less kosher than that? I guess it could be worse if it was all served on the Sabbath and people were made to cook it themselves (work).

Tuesday
Jan082008

Daddy's Shoes

Once upon a time, they were the shoes of the mighty. They were the shoes of the man who could bend steel with his bare hands, or who could build things out of nothing but parts. They were the shoes that the boy could not hope to fill—or so it seemed. To put them on and walk around was comedy for adults, and recreation for him. It was absurd to behold a child in his father’s shoes. The small feet did not reach far enough in either dimension, and the idea that they ever would was folly, and a far off concern, if it were ever to be one. At that time, it was laughable that the little boy would fill those shoes, and so the adults gave themselves leave to do just that—laugh.

Some time later when the boy was more than a child and less than an adult the shoes were not as big as they once seemed, for the boy was not as small as he once was. His feet had grown like the rest of him, and he began to understand the world from his own experience. The shoes that seemed so big were smaller now, and the style was now understood to be a thing of yesterday. As a youth, there was no yesterday; there was only today and tomorrow but even tomorrow was not as important as the present. But as a teen, the passage of time began to complicate things. The experiences of today could be measured against those from yesterday. The childlike ways were slowly shunned and regarded with a sort of contempt that would have been unimaginable just years before. To be childlike was not funny anymore, but to that point, it was all the boy ever knew. Shoes that once represented unfettered delight and joy took on new meaning. They represented both a lost paradise and an unfulfilled goal that seemed to get further and further away because the adults, wanting to retain the earlier superior-inferior relationship, kept moving the goal posts. The shoes now represented uncertainty, and in a response to uncertainty, they elicited fear and insecurity. They were yesterday’s fashion, not suitable for today’s sensibilities. It was inevitable that they would wear out, someday.

Eventually, the shoes that once delighted the boy and then confused the young man were found to be not a device to bring simple fun or even as a way of understanding and measuring one experience against another. As an adult the shoes became seen as weapons which unambiguously were filled by the father and served as a protection upon those upon whom he trod. Only a slow realization taking years and years revealed this to the young man (now as old as his father was at the start of his life). The young man was conflicted at this business of seeing those shoes put to such use as to degrade people. This didn’t harmonize with what he had known before when it all seemed fun and games. But it was hard to ignore what he was seeing happen before his eyes. Who knows what used to happen when father put on his shoes and went out into the world? What did he do at work? What did he do among others in his various circles? What did it mean when father talked to mother like that? Those questions used to have no clear answers but the answers were coming into focus as the young man began to understand the world more from his own experience.

It isn’t something one hopes to see, nor is it something one can make sense of, seeing a hero in decline, but that is what was happening as time passed and the world of wonder and simple joy gave way to the rational complexity of adult life, rife with the drama of adults who seek to control others and wrap such behavior in layers of righteousness to cover up the hurts that are unbearable to deal with honestly. And so it was that daddy’s shoes became seen as the boots that walked over people. Maybe it was this way all along, but the ignorance was—as they say—bliss. If this was always the case, it undermined the whole thing; anything could be called into question now. Why did it seem the ground itself fell out from under this whole enterprise? What did it mean that the adults laughed at the awkwardness of the boy? Was that to be understood as another way of trodding upon another even while the boy—the lesser figure in this exchange—wore the literal shoes?

And why must shoes be used in this way? That is the question that began to form in the young man’s mind, and eventually he found the courage to ask it straight of his father. The answers were not satisfying, and added more confusion to the whole matter. In fact, they seemed disingenuous and spiteful. With each passing word, the man that once was a man of steel-shaping power seemed pitiful and small. Whatever heroic aspects he once had, he was losing with every explanation of how trampling upon people was a necessary and good thing. The shoes were getting old and worn out and most people would have thrown them away. Not only were they yesterday’s style, but they were outdated in their ability to perform the role they once had. They were ugly and seemed smaller now too—too small in fact for the younger man, but he was past trying to fit into them. They seemed like they could hardly carry a man safely to his destination. The fun and folly had gone out of them years ago. Now all that was left was a pitiful reminder of how one can stop growing and fall into spiritual entropy. What does it matter where the shoes have walked if they have walked over people for all the years of the young man’s life? How great is the man who can claim he climbed over people to make himself feel great? How can a hero be mighty by counting these as his victories? It is said you can’t judge a person until you walk a mile in his shoes. But over what ground does that mile span? Is that mile the trail of broken relationships that span a lifetime, until even the son himself was the most recent bump in the road on that lifelong march?

People have all sorts of ways of walking the road of life. There is the option of going barefoot and treading lightly upon the ground. Some know when it's time to let others help when the going gets rough. Some are content to tread upon others to get where they are going while others are would rather enjoy the company of others along the journey.

The young man isn’t so intent on filling daddy’s shoes anymore except maybe with lead blocks or concrete so that they can be thrown to the bottom of the sea where they can do no more harm. The fun went out of them long ago and they never were something to wear into public. There are too many other shoes that can be worn that are more comfortable, and not stained and worn from the emotional bloodshed resulting from the dubious walks these shoes have taken.

Monday
Jun112007

Go Is The New "Stop"

at an intersection with two bike cops on one corner, and a couple others across the street, setting up a new traffic camera for red light runners, the bmw driver decided to blow through the intersectionA favorite Jeff Buckley song features the line "worthless like cops at the scene of the crime" and that about sums it up just fine for this blog post. Today I was driving to work along Mt. Alifan St. that bottlenecks two lanes into one. A hotshot BMW driver decided to overtake me at the last minute just as the road narrowed and if it had been any later, there would have been an accident. That particular maneuver worked out well enough for him so I let it go. But, less than a mile away, just across the freeway bridge, there was a light turning red and he ran it, knowing full well that he could only do it after it changed red. He accelerated and shot through the intersection. Highly illegal. While I was stopped, I noticed there were cops stationed on each side of the street. Each was working to aim and focus a pair of cameras for the Big Brother photo enforcement system. Two cops, and this BMW guy blasted right between them, even as their work was to get the red light cameras dialed in! Shit, this was a ticket opportunity if ever I saw one! But noooooooooo.

A couple weeks ago near my job, one of the drivers relayed a story of a cop he saw who was in fact doing his job too well, maybe. After a couple days of manning his rolling stop speed trap a block or two from work (no doubt getting his quota from all the rolling stops at that intersection—$186 if I heard right), the cop must have gotten cocky or bored, or something. At one point just before my fellow driver saw the cop car, the cop apparently shot off like a rocket from his trap zone and in his haste, he smashed into an SUV driven by some young guys. No one was hurt, but the cop was cussing and spitting in self-disgust at his stupid move, and the SUV guys were out on the curb laughing it up. This no doubt must have made the cop a bit more mad than he already was. Not long after (and something I saw as I drove home a few minutes later than the guy who told me this), the sergeant pulled up to investigate the matter, and I'm sure there was only one way to settle this one. Desk duty for Officer Friendly.

And about a week ago, after Officer Friendly got busted, at an intersection one block away, life goes on. While those of us who drive for a living need to mind our stops the best we can to avoid any trouble, we are that much more aware of the blatant instances of others who do such stuff. In the area around work, it is easy to see people do the "20 mph stop." All it takes is dumb luck to be the guy who barely rolls by and gets the ticket while the blatant instances escape somehow. Bad Cop, No Donut.

Tuesday
Jul042006

In(ter)dependence Day

In an urban society everything connects, each person's needs are fed by the skills of many others. Our lives are woven together in a fabric, but the connections that make society strong also make it vulnerable. —Threads, 1984

Last month I read Rabbi Michael Lerner's book, The Left Hand of God. His vision for America is that we should do better than we have been doing in the current milieu of greed, fear, and inequality. He has been adamant that the bottom line thinking we now share in is morally bankrupt and needs redress. Near the end of the book, he encourages us to examine our national mythology, and the holidays we celebrate. He offers that maybe Independence Day needs to be recast as Interdependence Day so that we begin to gather around the profound understanding that we are not islands, either apart from one another nor from other events in the world or in history itself.

Long before I started taking this stuff seriously, I posited that America's love affair with independence and individualism was going to get the better of us. About six years ago, when I wrote my song Suburban Silhouette, I noticed that our housing and land development "plan" was a manifestation of our love affair with independence and solitary living, but was also a major player in our social decay. Living outside of community is not a human way of life. We will realize this soon enough, as one of those painful lessons that history periodically teaches. Community living is not a hallmark of our current mode of living. Our lives today more resemble industrial artifacts, or maybe a live-by-numbers sort of existence. It's a lie that industry and advertising would like us to swallow that we are individuals if we buy this good or that, or patronize this service or that. We fabricate our "individuality" from an established and mostly widely available collection of pre-made artifacts that are for sale to those who can afford them. The self-made citizen is no more. However, that does not lead us to community, only undue dependence on a fuel-fed industrial process for delivering goods and services. Just because we are in a web of interdependence does not mean we live in community. Sorry, but a web of franchise fast food outlets and big box retailers and mortgage lenders and Amazon.com does not constitute an organic community of people who work to share in the profits of their own work and those of the people around them.

Living face-to-face communities are not founded by land speculators and developers. They are not founded by Wal Mart in Bentonville. They are not founded by Ray Kroc. They are not founded by Ford and GM. They are not created by transportation authorities. They are not the creation of oil companies. They are not created by abstract expressionist or postmodern artists. They are not founded by investors from overseas. They are not created by defense contractors or government agencies. They are not created by eBay. They are not created by philanthropic institutions. All these institutions may be able to create infrastructure and establish some sort of networking across hitherto unbreachable boundaries, but communities do not exist solely because of these institutions and their technologies or design cleverness.

I don't know what the prospects are for real human community in America. It has been killed in large part by greed. Greed has been a wolf in sheep's clothing. It has been smuggled into our land like a Trojan horse that was presented to us as a gift from industry and capitalist corporations. The old rhetoric of "what's good for corporations is good for America" is bankrupt. What is good for a corporation is good only for a corporation—to a point. It's bad for the nation, it's bad for the world, and ultimately, it's bad for the corporation in the long run. What will these hallowed corporations and industries have to provide us when the resource base is depleted? Or when we are all put out of work that would allow us to even buy things? Or when the population crashes due to overshoot/famine/disease/war?

A century of indulgence is a hard addiction to break. Addiction to leisure, individualism, and selfishness is not particularly a natural thing. Advertising-propaganda was designed to help deconstruct conventions of human life that leaned toward community welfare (not an entitlement program, you know). After all, a company with a good to sell can only sell so many of those widgets to a family if four or six people are using one widget. The way to sell a few more widgets is to condition people to own their own. What was once the "family TV" is now "one TV in each room and a DVD player in the Suburban." Same with cars themselves. By intentionally cultivating a culture that does not need to share, we not only lose the virtue of sharing, but we lose the benefits too. Sharing something like a TV, or a car, or other things that many people can use at once also kept people in proximity to each other which is conducive to talking and maintaining a life together. A TV show or movie, no matter how bad, is at least a shared experience to enter dialog that one hopes could lead to some understanding among the parties involved, and some exposures to other world views. With a shared car, people who need to cooperate to get places also need to cooperate more to be home together. More shared home time is the wellspring from which community comes in other areas of life. Relating to one's own kin is the cornerstone of society, and unfortunately, a lot of what passes for life now is geared toward diminishing or demolishing that web of relationships. We are at the third generation or so that is being raised in a world like this; those born today, the sons and daughters of people who themselves were born to the Baby Boomers who were the first generation born into a world of consumerism, are going to be that much more removed from the central familial relations that foster community. My dad's generation was the first to really grow up in a world of great material excess and unbridled consumptive habits and the distancing from community richness that seems to go hand in hand with that access to goods. I was born just as that way of life was coming of age, and it's all I have lived. People around my age who have children are giving another generation to this way of life. Who or what will keep a community ethic alive in their lives?

Nature just might be able to help, but it's the sort of help we wouldn't ask for. Eventually our energy-lavish consumption-based lifestyle will crumble a little at a time, and it will be helped along by irresponsible, self-interested politicians who believe that war and greater consumption (by those who still can do so) is the answer to our fading empire of consumption. Eventually, work and play will have to happen nearer to home. We might be confronted with the unthinkable of today: actually cooperating with people we've been told are our enemies—family, neighbors, people of color, poor people, and others. There will be holdouts of course. Some people in America just can't get out of their Antebellum mindset. But, I think for the majority of people, the trend will be clear. Either we inter-depend, or we die.

People aren't as scary up close as when they are wrapped in a ton-and-a-half of steel that goes 80 miles per hour. They're not as scary when they stand before you and aren't just objectified in the news or by other media. I keep saying it, but I don't have enemies in Iraq. Or in Afghanistan. The people I fear are not the poor people of the world outside of America who are lashing out against the injustice we bring. If anything, I am more scared of a nation of addicts in America who forgot how to share, who forgot how to be civil, who forgot how to be humble and generous, who forgot to appreciate beauty and natural complexity, who forgot how to live outside of technology. Maybe Roosevelt's statement about only having to fear is fear itself rings true. I fear Americans who fear loss. I'm more worried about people who will do anything to retain the last shards of entitlements long after they are clearly unsustainable. I fear Americans with what I call "cranial-rectal displacement disorder" (head-up-the-ass complex) in the face of global climate change, shifting alliances, fascism, and a host of other nightmares of our time. Instead of being on the same page with regards to key issues, the off-kilterness of society now will make it hard to get people to put down the pursuit of more material wealth and land and get on board with some real progress toward rebuilding shattered community life that has been replaced by computers and mass media which is essentially not able to connect with real people at the local level. There is no substitute for people in real contact.

Tuesday
May022006

Free At Last! Free At Last!

It finally came through loud and clear. I am now officially not working for AV Concepts. After a three and a half week mini-layoff—modeled no doubt on the six week version that spanned half of December and all of January—I am now free of the job I never wanted to accept, but sorta had to since nothing else came through in time for the move last summer. This time, I was not worked up over the loss. I had been gone for several weeks and had only done a single four hour shift one day and that was only to take a piss test and take the van for an oil change. No, this wasn't the crisis that December was. I was asked to come in to the shop to talk, but only found this out for sure that I was getting canned just as it was happening. I'd been waiting for something to come down regarding the damaged truck from early March. It's not that I didn't pass my piss test; it would be hard for me to fail it, being the square that I am who never even smoked a cigarette, let alone anything else. No, the expense in fixing the truck box was something like $4000, but they were looking to hang me anyway—December was all about the fact that I didn't let them boss my life around as well as they are accustomed, and that was brought up once again today, despite the fact that there was not one gig they offered that I turned down this time, the sum of which kept me working all of the 24 hours at one point or another. No, flexibility was not the issue, but to add it in there seemed to add some weight for what they wanted to accomplish. I guess I got too expensive for them. It's hard for me to lose any sleep over the whole issue. I mean, shit, I am moving in an ever more anti-corporate direction, and more so even now as I am aligning myself with a program that seeks to urge people away from the prevailing system, the corporate system. Oh, I can't tell you how it was conflicting to realize that my company was the cutting edge for a range of corporate giants—Yahoo, GSK, NIKE, Skechers, and so many others that just rub me the wrong way. Yup, I was living the Kafka life, working for the Man by day, and subverting him by night.

But in a really practical way, I am glad to separate from that place because it got to be a physical burden. I came home with more aches than any other job I ever had. Sometimes I apparently strained fingers and only found out the next morning when things just didn't work right. I really had my reservations about the physicality of the work. Pushing roadcases isn't the problem as much as loading trucks in different ways for every load. It could be harrowing at times. Add to that there was this one prick of a young punk there who loved to be sarcastic about my reservations. To which, I mutter something like, Hey, if you want to sling cases over your head and be dumb, that's your business. I can't get paid enough to want to let myself get hurt. Man, day after day, it was usually a fine way to wreck fingers and hands. But usually, just walking on the concrete all day hurt enough. Then, when I was a driver, things got easier except for the fact that I was not doing it all the time like when in the shop, so I sometimes fell out of fitness for it—slower responses, got sore easier, and I just had no real drive to do it as if I wanted to be there. It was clear that I was barely needed there for the last couple months.

I offered to get a class B license if that would help, but never got any clear answer. Then the truck incident happened. That was added to an earlier one that happened in the first week I came back in February when I damaged a rain gutter while backing up. Hey, I didn't ASK to be a truck driver. I was just fine as a shop guy. It seems to exemplify the logic of you get what you pay for. I was just a part timer who doesn't get taken for serious, isn't given any training in this sort of driving, and who also got the odd jobs not done by the main drivers.

Oh well, all that place really meant to me was a short lived way to get out of an awful bind last year when I needed something that paid reasonably well. I didn't want to reenter the field of event production, I didn't want to work around the clock, I didn't want to break my back moving heavy shit. I really was at odds with the place all the way. Given that my July 2005 film presentation featured the movie The Corporation, and that only a month later, I was working for AVC, you can see how I was biting my tongue the whole time. Oh, my interviews were an exercise in outright lying, but I don't care. It was hard to even be there nodding my head in agreement like I was going to be their best employee. It was hard to feign interest in the new gear they talked about. The audio gear wasn't even stuff I was used to. It took me six weeks from the time I applied to the time I set foot on the shop floor as an employee. Jeeze! I "connected" with only maybe three or four guys. The rest were either just "there" or people who irritated me. I was glad to get the driving jobs so I could get out and not sweat having the boom drop on me when the manager walked onto the floor. Many times he would do that and it drove me nuts. He was the total corporate stiff—out for his own ass. In the time I was in their employ, I see that several positions seem to have been slashed—an internal project manager, a site project manager, a salesman, and maybe others I don't know of. So it's no long stretch of the imagination why I got cut. If they don't have any compunction in slashing a $60,000 job or three, what is it to ditch me, who got a measly $11 an hour and tried to defend his time off? Yeah, this ops manager got his gig a few months before I got there. I see he has a shiny new Lexus, dresses in nice threads, and seems to have been able to keep his job well enough—made possible by being all decisive in that classic cutthroat corporate way—fire people so he may advance. I hear he is so bent on pinching pennies that he shuts off the Coke machine at night to save energy.

The great joke on AV Concepts, (and hardly a soul there would entertain the notion—the ones who did were pee-ons like me) is of peak oil reversing that company's fortune. Yup, more than once, I looked at that inventory, the one they so proudly pimp as "the best in the biz" and thought, totally fucking worthless in a few years! One by one, corporations across the country are going to fold up and won't be throwing hi-spectacle product launches for the media, or won't be holding super-classroom Powerpoint presentations for their expanding workforce. They won't be looking in San Diego for a production company if their gig is in San Francisco. Yup. Just wait. AVC is not looking at the growth they think they will achieve. I sat through the meeting last year just before Thanksgiving. The owners (private company) bought us Quizno's food. Forget the fucking turkey and stuffing and mash-taters, we get fast food and Cokes. Then we went upstairs and listened to corporate drivel for two hours about how the company is growing. Funny, I only see people getting fired.

There was this one dude (who I actually got along with best) who was 25 or so, and he hired on as an intern for something like minimum wage for a few weeks. Interestingly, it was the week I got laid off back in December. Hmm, could it be? I get laid off for the darkest winter months just as they find a guy who will bend over backwards to get his foot in the door and won't say no to any work? Mebbe. Consider: when I came back in February, he was working 6 and 7 day weeks. By then he'd gotten his raise to $9 an hour. I was working for $11 an hour. By any guage, he was getting gypped by $2 anyway, since it seems that $11 is the opening wage for us throwaway hands. I've heard it said a few times at this company, if you don't hire on at the wage you want, you better get used to it or get out. Later on, this guy and me got a chance to work together a few times and trade stories. Since I was out of the shop most of the time, I had not been up on all the gossip. But by the time he was due his review, he got nothing. No review. Sort of like me. Finally, I got a "90 day review" on day 120, only to get a layoff for my patience. I never got my review at the end of my extended probation, unless you consider today to be that review. It is, after all, the third month after I restarted back on the first of February. He got a review but it got him essentially nowhere. And the clincher? He wasn't the slacker that I seemed to be. He worked like mad. He learned how to do a lot of stuff. He was actually a good employee, but he seems to have gotten signed up at the real piss-on rate. Sad. I told him to know his limits and get out as soon as he could.

So farewell, AV Concepts, the stopgap job that placed me in contradiction with myself. It's not so much that I hate you. I just am sort of glad you're out of my life.

Sunday
Apr092006

Detox

I feel this pronounced need to get the 20th and 21st century out of my body, but particularly out of my soul.

Monday
Mar202006

Of Sublimation And Guilt

I have it again. That nagging feeling that materialism is keeping me from being something far greater than I feel I am now. I have been plagued by this off and on for about three years now in particular, and it usually comes in the form of a profound insecurity about whether or not I have any use for my musical gear anymore. Most of my time with this equipment has gone essentially useless and frustrating. I peaked in my materialism in 2001 when I inherited about $26,000 from my grandmother who had just died earlier in the year. I spent most all of that on new gear—primarily music and recording gear, but also my first computer and some of the things that accompany that. Most of this stuff has been sold off in a long and slow process of downsizing to get to what seemed to be a core of items that would allow me a wide range of options while not having the redundancy that I had in 2001. But now, the core itself seems to be a cancerous lump, and I am having more and more thoughts that it's just time to ditch most of it and get clarity. This would of course mean that I would essentially cease to be a musician, but most of the time now it is almost all frustration and self doubt when I try to do anything in music. All the little things I've tried, and all the big things I've tried have not really ignited a fire under me to work with the dedication to my recording and composing craft like before.

Last summer, when it was time for Kelli and I to move on from the house that I had hoped to live in for many years, I was confronted with all the gear I had, all the furniture, all the books and other household junk that accumulates when you don't have compelling reason to clear it out. Add to that all the similar stuff that Kelli has, and it was a total nightmare of trying to prioritize what to keep and what to toss. I'm sure we could have bailed on more. But specifically, the music stuff was like a dead limb for me—a vestige of some life I'd led four or five years before. It's not stuff that should just be thrown around willy nilly in a shed, or at a storage space. It's still useful in every way as if it was new. It still could be used as a great tool to provide diversion to my life, or to change the world. It's not junk in the least. But it's a lot of stuff to move around, all the while not knowing what to do with it. But the thought nags still! I could get rid of it but then would I soon realize what I had done, feel some loss, then mourn a decision which could not easily be reversed? If I hang on to these things, I have them. They are ready. They are within reach. They won't have to be bought. But if I ditch them, they will be gone and not available to me, and I'd have to spend money to get that sort of experience back, or borrow stuff.

And the greater thing than the fact that maybe I'd put myself out of a guitar or bass is that I am essentially not a musician who plays music solely for the fun of it. I don't know anyone else's songs, I barely know my own anymore. No, I have always used guitar and bass essentially as something to use to record things, sort of like a painter uses brushes or sponges to place paint on a canvas, and the recording for me is the art which sits on the canvas. So for me, or at least the me that I recognize, musical involvement is more than just strumming some Eagles songs on the couch. It's a far bigger thing. But it's a headache to move this stuff—now twice in the last several months, and likely again within the year since my current space is available for that period, with a general expectation that it will end when Adam returns from Brazil. It's a headache to move it all around, get it put together, make it work, relearn how to use things. I am growing ever shorter of patience with regards to gear, technology, material items. I find most of it just tormenting sometimes, quite like when I was seven and took my entire bike apart for fun but was ordered by my grandfather to put it back together, and I was just crushed because I knew I could never really do that.

Essentially, the lofty ideas I had in 2000-2001 about being a cottage industry of music production and promotion has just been a miserable failure, essentially because I gave up the devotion to music when I got on the computer and was sucked into that world of options. Now I swear it all drives me bonkers and furthermore, with my married life on a basically good track and being removed from some of the unnecessarily empty pursuits I ordinarily engaged in, it's just odd to choose to lock myself in the studio environment in hopes that somehow artistic greatness will flow from me. I do dabble on guitar, bass, and drums (all I have left for instruments—no keys or other things), and some of the things don't suck at all, but my ability to turn any of this into art is just lacking. It doesn't happen. My old reliance on "throw shit on the wall and work with the stuff that sticks" is fruitless. I'd prefer to totally erase all signs of an hour long jam if it means sifting for 10 hours to find the good stuff, yet I am not really in control of making good stuff at will. It's maddening. So I frequently storm out of the studio, frustrated, angry, and saddened, often with the idea that I will just turn back around and go to Craig's list and put up a hundred ads for all my shit.

I recently had an odd idea come to me regarding what would have been my muse back in my "main sequence" back in 1997-2000. An odd parallel hit me, and the question is more whether I am attributing too much to the coincidence, or not. Really, it revolves around this non-relationship with Shelby, a girl who I knew I would never ever really get with, but that for some reason, she was the target of my passion. She had primarily been out of town for most of the time I knew her, but I longed for the times she was in town. One time, there was a period of over two and a half years when we had no contact whatsoever. Then, in a total coincidence of me being called to work in La Mesa on a day off from the Pizza Hut, and only being asked to come in at will before rush hour, and making a 20 minute drive to do so, I happened into this Shelby in the lot right as I walked in. It was the first time I'd seen her in two years and eight months. We hugged and it was like angels singing on high for the rest of the day. We agreed to stay in touch again. It was on August 10th. Three days later, I was at a music shop where I bought my VS 880 recorder which was the hardy little machine which I used to record everything on for a few years, and historically now I see it was the best stuff overall.

Anyway, Shelby was on her way out of town soon after our meeting though maybe we met another time or two to reconnect. She was off to Louisiana where she was in school. This was after time in Alaska (where I had seen her last just after the start of 1995), and northern California, and before that back in San Diego, where we had originally met at my church in 1988. Since she was back in my life, I had this overwhelming desire to finally get with her, and was just nuts over trying to somehow get her to come around. I wrote long and charming but still tentative letters to her. I told her all sorts of things that I hoped would make her feel wanted. Blah, blah, blah. My other outlet was recording. If I wasn't somehow focused on this girl and our future relationship, most of my time was spent recording all sorts of things with my new toy. First it was at my apartment for about ten months, then finally at the old Hog Heaven studio at my grandmother's place. The spring of 1998 and the summer to follow was time when I was utterly beside myself with gaga for her. It also happened to be a very lucrative recording period. See, the big fuss was that she was coming to town, leaving Louisiana, and coming to stay at her mom's for a while, and maybe going into the Peace Corps. So of course, there I was licking my chops at the promise of a new period to work on this project with her. Blah, blah, blah.

The summer of '98 was incredible, not because anything actually did happen between us, but because I believed even to a fault that something would happen. She ended up going into the Peace Corps and going to the eastern part of Africa. This lasted for all of two years and more—basically the same period of our total silence, but this was not going to be a total blackout. I was like an eager teenager too choked up on the stagefright to actually say anything that would destroy our friendship, so I always tippytoed around my real feelings, though they had been batted down rather harshly back about eight or nine years before in the earlier days of our knowing each other. The reason I had to tippy toe is because I knew full well it would happen again. But I had hoped that maybe all those intervening years took some of the edges off.

After she left for the PC in September '98, I began a rather prolific two years of recording. I had the space, the gear, the time, and apparently the muse to do that. Oh, I was just head over heels about her, even though I realized that nothing would ever come of it. I continued my letter writing, each time trying to evoke something that would make her come home to me, blah, blah, blah. All through 1999 and 2000, I was recording my own stuff, and things for Loaf, Tamara, Mike Keneally, Mark Decerbo, and others. That little 880 got used like mad.

In the last half of 2000, right before this Shelby was to return to San Diego, giving me another giddy spell of anticipation, I had finished my CD Receiving. In the few days before she actually returned in December, I engaged in a mad flurry of recording activity while I spent about a week recording what turned out to be my Hog Heaven Holiday Theme Music CD which I originally made because of another girl who had entered my life: my four year old neice Kaitlin. Kaitlin and I met only before Thanksgiving when I launched another period of relationship with my mom and her family, most of our lives estranged from each other. Anyhow, I had recorded 15 minutes of music in about a week and was excited to have done it, despite being essentially creatively drained after mastering the Receiving CD in September and having worked on it for a year before that. I finished the Holiday CD on the 21st or so. Shelby returned on the 22nd.

To make my already long story shorter, let me say that our "relationship" that I had so patiently tried to cultivate came crashing down in a single day on the 22nd of December—the day she returned and when we met for lunch and some errands. Total wipeout. I knew my worst fears of it failing were coming true, but in my effort to salvage it one last time, I wrote a long letter with the exact feelings that I'd never revealed to her—good, bad, ugly. I told her of all the times I hung on to this relationship like there was nothing else in life. But I was ready to let it go. I delivered it by hand to her mom's mail box in La Mesa. After that, we barely exchanged a word. By that point, it was in the email realm and I don't think anything exists between us since March of 2001.

The odd thing that freaks me out is this. In the same way as the most prolific recording period of my life started in the very same week as she and I started a new chapter, I am just now catching on that it ended in a similar way, in reverse. I've said for some time that the Holiday CD was the last good thing I recorded that actually got finished. It's the last thing that was done in my usual production style, and to my usual standard. It was the last whole project that started and ended. It was the last one that was done exclusively on the 880, before I went in search of other possibilities with all the gear I bought in 2001.

I'd hate to give this broad more credit than she deserves, but the story has baffled me for a few days now. I already knew she had worked on my psychology for a long time—I already knew I was sublimating a feeling for her and turning it into musical art. I just had not really realized how the times were linked—the new recorder and her reappearance in my life triggered nearly two and a half years of mad recording, and both the recorder and the artistic streak came to an end essentially in the same week as this broad made her final exit from my life.

So now I wonder what my muse really is. Shelby isn't around to mess with my head and drive me to record, and nor should I want that. But what does drive me to record now? I've had some great emotional pain from moving house, or dealing with my psychotic old man. No real music to come of that. I spend my time entertaining notions of civilizational collapse and environmental destruction. No music to come of that. I love my wife, we do things together. No music to come of that. I am aligning myself more and more with the Christian model. No music to come of that. What gives? I find myself asking 'what button do I push to get something out of myself, musically? Who or what is my muse anymore? What the fuck is the hold up?'

If my muse is gone, and I don't get off just playing Eagles and Stones music on a guitar just to pass the time, I find myself wondering what in the world all this gear means to me any more? I have a nagging feeling that maybe $26,000 could have been placed elsewhere, or not spent at all. Who knows what killed my muse? Who can blame me if I find that I'd rather have dinner or a talk with my wife, and not isolate in my little box? Who can hold it against me that maybe I now have what I was so desperately pining for all those years? I don't know that anyone is holding a gun to my head expecting to hear my new music. I guess I just don't feel the need to do this, or to do it the old way. What I keep insisting would do me good would be to find a band and channel my energy that way, but it's hard—I've tried that too, on somewhat my own terms, but it's such a hassle to find people who can work together for more than a few weeks. Even Glenn is too busy working around the clock. I have a shifting schedule. It's hard to make the time for this if people are going to be let downs. That is why I worked solo for so long—to avoid being the victim of letdowns. I've asked Kelli to take part in recordings too—we did one in 1998/9, but to no avail.

So I don't know what to make of it. As gear is concerned, I get crazy messing with options. I get neurotic. As art, I generally have relied on lots of paintbrushes and other applicators to do my painting. As an investment, it's still useful if it's called upon. I got rid of most of the completely gimmicky stuff. My gear now should enable me to make a durable piece of music using the time honored guitar/bass/drum formula, if I can coax ideas from them. I'm just lost.