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Thursday
Dec222011

Solstice Sweetheart Sunshine, or Kelli's Blue Light Special

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

The 2001 Paradigm Shift

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

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

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

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

The K-Mart Redemption

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Solstice Sunshine Sweetheart

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

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

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

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

Ubehebe Crater, Death Valley, November 2011

Sunday
Aug282011

Sabbath Year Sweetheartery

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

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

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

You are domestically inclined and will be happily married.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday
Aug062011

Green Lights on Memory Lane: OTISAB

Yesterday someone created a Facebook group site that is named "You know you're from Clairemont if..." It was started in the morning. I heard about it at the late afternoon. There were already about 950 posts and reponses. I got away for a bit and came back around midnight when there were 1,700 posts! I could not even get to the bottom of the page to keep clicking on "more posts" because the stuff was flowing in so fast. 

It was fun naming a place or telling a short tale about places and seeing what people remember. There were quite a few I recognized from school, but since this was a general interest group, it attracted many more people of all ages, some being far more old school Clairemonsters than even me.

This morning, I see someone responded to my response about the Walker Scott store that sits where the Vons is now in an anchoring spot in Clairemont Square. The thread took a decided left turn when a guy I forgot about recalled my first barely-listenable attempt at a solo album in 1995:

btw- Ed, I loved your ED cassette I got from you when I rented your kit for a record I was making a Marty's House. Just wanted to give you props! Dig all those crazy edits you did! And ALL on TAPE!! 'Kurt Cobain' was sick but, very funny!! —Ronny Jones 

The tape he references is called One Twisted Individual, Separated At Birth (OTISAB—one that I don't yet have up here on TAPKAE.com). I'm sort of at a loss of how to describe it but it involved a lot of humor, sarcastic wit, tape tricks, layered drum rhythms, my first incorporation with any guitar or bass at all, and perhaps most definitively, I paid to have it digitally edited at Anza Studio, same as where Mike Keneally edited his work around that time, and I sought to have (perhaps needlessly so in places) to have the tracks collaged into a nearly gapless album. The song Ronny refers to, Kurt Cobain, is called "A Man and his Gun" and is a piano ditty about KC killing himself with excellent aim. (I was never into Nirvana and thought rather coldly that that was the best thing for him. I was far from appreciating the pathos of life.) 

The manner of assembling the tracks was interesting. It was almost as developed as I'd ever get with my cassette-plus-input bounce method that started with Rhythmic Catharsis a couple years before, and had just one more project that started off using it but ended up being done largely on four-track. OTISAB relied on that method exclusively, and I used several tape decks for various purposes, like one did a great job of giving me levels for capturing full drumset parts using a limiter; and other could do pitch control; another had the ability to add another mic into the mix; various of them let me shape the noise using Dolby. I had no mixer. All the recording was literally done by moving to or from the mic and playing dynamically. I had just a couple crappy Radio Shack vocal mics. It was only after OTISAB that I got into PZM types that were far better suited for drums and voice in particular. I recall that once I literally duct taped one of the crappy mics to the blue Strat's body (the guitar was on loan to me and it was already chipping paint) and made a cheap attempt at a pickup. Hey, it captured the open tuned strum on an otherwise unamplified solidbody electric guitar! The tape editing that Ronny refers to was not in actually cutting tape, but in a lot of starting and stopping bits and almost randomly recording over bits in subsequent passes and bounces that it sounds far more chaotic.

The recording session Ronny mentions is one for which they rented my new drums. It was about May 1995. I was approached by Marty Eldridge after seeing my little drum tech business card posters. I just got the kit in August of the previous year and had barely used it since Slaves By Trade broke up. This was the first time I was to let it out of my possession. I was rather intimidated but I knew that Marty was working as a pro and I could see he had a house full of his own gear. I had met him across the street when I worked at Subway in 1991 and a time or two while I did my short stint at Music Mart earlier in 1995. Aside from that, he was a new acquaintance. I took the drums over and was probably not aware that they'd come back tuned differently or a little beat on the heads. I was of the mind that they sounded quite good but was not used to tuning for different vibes, especially the "drop one lug" technique where you take an otherwise well tuned tom and take one lug screw out altogether for a detuning effect that some like. I saw that and got a bit panicked. Otherwise, they paid me my $300 for three weeks' use (oh, I was so cheap then!) and until mid July, that was it with Marty and Ronny. Marty kept me in mind and later turned out to be the one guy who actually did get me involved in being a working tech assistant in the music world. July 15, 1995 at the Sheraton Harbor Island. Clear as day... That led to Rockola which led to other local work and of course, the Keneally tour.

Funny, I was peddling my OTISAB cassettes to whoever might give me $5 for them, and some for free. Another notable holder of that tape is Keneally himself. For a while there, I was known as the guy who hates the blues, as one track was a rant on it, mocking a basic blues walking bass with my voice: "rahr, rahr, RAHR, rahr, RAHR, rahr, rahr, rahr!" Keneally and Joe Travers probably still remember that. Getting that tape into their hands (back when they both lived in Hollywood and needed something to listen to on the ride back) was a huge victory. So was having them quote it at the next show!

Thursday
Sep042008

Halcyon Days & Suburban Hero's Journey

I don't refer to myself as a "born again" Christian because that term has been appropriated by a sector of Christianity that I don't very much agree with. The basis for the term is based on the Gospel of John in chapter 3 when Jesus says that a person must be reborn in order to experience and enjoy God's realm. Conservative interpretation refers to this rebirth as being "born again" (NIV), but others (NRSV and the Scholar's Version, both of which I favor) says one must be "born from above" in the sense of a spiritual rebirth. Hence, the confusion within the text which has Jesus and Nicodemus talking past each other, as one talks of spiritual rebirth and the other tries to figure out how a man can be born again physically. Indeed it does seem preposterous that one could be physically reborn, but it makes lots of sense how a person can be spiritually reborn, to discover new avenues to God and the mysteries of life. Better still, it makes better sense to see that sort of experience not as a one-shot deal. Indeed, I have come to believe the great thing about Christianity is that one can continually die to the self and be reborn again and again. I think this makes far better sense, as it is a method or an evolution, not an event.

There is not one time when I ever "knew" that such a transformation was clearly upon me. For years, I wanted nothing to do with religion, though it intrigued me, more in an anthropological way than anything. I didn't set foot in a church for ten years except on Christmas Eve and a few other times (my grandmother's memorial, etc.). My stepmom had long since turned to a brand of literalist-evangelicalism which was practiced in earnest, but was too small for me, and never really spoke to things I was experiencing. Still, it did remind me of the Christian promise that God loves every one of us, and that that love is there when you decide to accept and fall into it. Many years during that dark decade had conversations that inevitably meandered toward that type of talk, and of course, I wouldn't have it when I knew that my problems were too big for all that. It was a dark decade indeed, but she kept the candle in the window for me, so to speak. What prompted me to rejoin church life after that time was a great need to wrap the agonizing events of the period which preceded my return in some sort of context wider than the one I knew. Life got way bigger than I was able to handle. Back in 1999-2001 in particular, I was often plagued with suicidal thoughts which themselves were the low points in a great malaise that had gone on for years. And then there was 9/11, an event which seems to have marked any human being who has encountered it.

I got a respite from that malaise in 2002, in part because that is the first year when Kelli and I were together, but moreso because I basically went into overload and protective shutdown in the second half of 2001, and used consumerism as a drug to wish away the deaths of grandmothers, the agony of charges of never-before-discussed molestation in the family, the newfound wonders and pitfalls of computer use, the musical stagnation, unemployment, and new living situation with roommates thrust upon me by my old man who improperly inherited the house I was in—all of which defined that period. Much of 2002 was conducted in that numbed state. I spent 12-18 hours a day on the computer making havoc if left to my devices. I all but abandoned recording in a turn of events that would have been unthinkable a couple years earlier. I did manage to make some music, but most of that was agonizing too because of the personalities involved in group effort, or because of my ambivalence about the enormous sums of money I spent on tools that would never make better music than I would make if I actually had it in me. One huge irony wouldn’t let me sleep: I originally got swept up in all my computer interests in order to support my musical pursuits, not to bury them!

photo illustration of female biological symbol functioning as cross with crucified jesus-as-ed. the circle part of the symbol holds an upside down earth. the rest of the imagery is psychedelic in its coloringEd's World, 2003The year of 2003 was all that and more stress too. By the mid summer, I had closed my studio up in an attempt to determine if I was really done with music. I had come to loathe all I once loved in music and the gear used to play and record it. The situation with the house got very much worse as my old man did his illegal and tasteless work while treating me like a 12 year old meddling in his affairs. I had destructive roommates and little control over my living space because the "landlord" himself was destructive to that same space, albeit in a greater way. That summer, I once had some really harsh stuff said to me by an ex-girlfriend, a sister, and even my stepmom, with the collective force of it all crushing me while so many other things had already brought me down. During the hot and humid summer of 2003, I got over my years-long avoidance of movies and went straight for the movies that I thought would rattle me some—a couple on nuclear war, The Deer Hunter, Saving Private Ryan, Apocalypse Now, and some others that were just intense.

One film that began a recognizable shift in me was The Last Temptation of Christ. In 1989, I once was offered a chance to see it with my youth group but my family refused to sign the consent form in some misguided attempt to shelter me. (My family was pretty conservative, while the church was at that time quite liberal, something which gave my grandmother grief.) Anyhow, I finally got from LTOC a sense of a Jesus to whom I could relate. I remember feeling like I had lost a great deal by not having seen that movie years before. LTOC was one part of my method to jackhammer my way out of the shell where I found myself that summer of my 29th year. Even while it takes liberties with the story of Jesus, I found in it the Jesus who finally made sense to me—a human filled with uncertainty and longing to offload his accumulated burden of fears, sins and failings, wishing God would just not love him so much if it was going to hurt like this. Most of what I had heard about Jesus either did not make sense or was hokey, but I understood this Jesus. He was even my age!

I suppose the nearly 2000 years between he and I have changed the outward appearance of the path toward God but the mythical journey remains intact. Yeah, I didn't go to the desert to face my demons. But on this day in 2003, I took a big first step into my own spiritual wilderness. After work, I stopped off at Sav-On to get some sleeping pills so I could take a long nap. I wasn't into guns or knives or anything. That, I thought would be a little too crude, and knowing what a failure I was, I didn’t want to mess that up and have to deal with it later! A couple years before, I was entertaining stopping a car along Morena Boulevard, as I took a four mile walk from near Sea World to my house. But on this particular day, I was just going for a nap. Since I hadn't done any of this before, I got the biggest bottle of sleeping pills I could find, hoping it would do if I put the whole thing down in short order. I had the contents arrayed on my desk and was in a shattered state as I contemplated my next move. Kelli was bound to come by after work—in several hours, since this was maybe about 2 or 3 pm. She knew something was up with me. All the summer long, she was my confidante and more than a few times I was a total wreck before her. The hours between the end of my work shift and hers were achingly long. I had the words of my pastor in mind that day, words that intervened in this kind of thinking back in late 1992 when I was 18 and was having my first fanciful thoughts of what it might be like if I were to check out of this life.

I guess I chickened out. I called Jerry and sought his help to drive me to the hospital initially. He came over right away just like always said he would if any of us were ever in this place in our lives. I went to the ER not because I had actually done something, but because I was in need of intervention. Maybe the hospital was overkill but it seemed right as a first step. I guess they can't do much for a guy who has existentially rooted clinical depression—where do they put the band-aid? So they passed me off to a county mental health system crisis center called Isis House, and later to a slightly more convenient house in the same system called Halcyon. My pastor stayed with me at the hospital for the three hours till they decided what should be done with me. Kelli arrived too. But I was sent solo to Isis, riding in a chartered taxi which was only allowed to let me off at Isis in Imperial Beach. On the ride there, in a move quite uncharacteristic of my usual self, I remember muttering the Lord's Prayer over and over. I guess nothing else would have done better. Nothing else came to mind. I don't know what it achieved, but I guess it indicated that I really had to start turning to something outside myself. As much as ever, I had to admit I was at the bottom of things.

The first evening at Isis was long with paperwork and entrance interviews. They gave me an upstairs room to myself that night. I slept like I hadn't in a long time due to the Trazidone they gave me which made me sleep like a baby all the way through the night. I awoke to the beautiful sun beaming into my east-facing room. It was all very surreal there and I guess on reflection that was the beginning of being born again into a new world. I had an endless loop of Radiohead's song Kid A playing in my head. It always sounded like a trip through the loony bin, and I sort of had to admit that I was there myself. The people were mostly younger than me, with various diagnoses of mental illness. I didn't feel that I was mentally ill; I felt like the world sucked and my life was chaotic and hopeless. I never heard voices or any of that. I just wanted out of a fucked up world. Fix the world, I thought, not me. (I still feel that way but now I act a bit differently.) The time at Isis was short, lasting just over a day. Kelli negotiated a transfer to Halcyon in El Cajon which was slightly more reasonable and close for her, since she was the only person who came daily for the 11 days I was gone. The day I spent at Isis was bright and sunny and had a splendid breeze from the ocean, but the whole experience was surreal as I talked to people who were far more messed up than me. There were two meetings with therapists and a group encounter type thing. In an effort to evoke a bit of normality—and echoing a splendid picnic meal we had a few weeks before—Kelli came and brought me a tasty turkey, bacon, and avocado sandwich from Henry's, and to this day, that gesture still stands as one of the great things she did to care for me. (The food at these houses was white trash picnic food, I swear.) It also got her brownie points toward getting married!

I moved over to Halcyon on the Saturday morning after this all started. I liked Halcyon much better. My fellow campers seemed a lot more normal, but I also rather hit a stride with one of the resident therapists named Billy B, who was probably younger than me but a genius about how to pull out some magnificently inspiring quote from religion, science, philosophy, and whatever else was applicable. He was also a guitarist. I think he heard me best while there. Halcyon and Isis were short term crisis houses, and the idea was to get people back into the game, ready to get back to family and work or school. A certain share of time was dedicated to one-on-one therapist visits, community therapy discussions and exercises (even a drum circle which I met with ambivalence due to having recently sworn off music), planning for how to return to life, and a rotating kitchen and cooking duty which functioned as a team exercise and demanded resourcefulness. The rest of the time was mostly time to mingle and reflect or have visitors. It was rather regimented. We had to make our beds and clean up. It was for me a direct injection of order into my chaotic life, and that I now recognize as one of the first orders of business in God's creation of the universe: get this place into order! I still look back on a few things that I learned help keep depression at bay, and most of it revolves around just tidying up some—the small stuff I do have control over. Another valuable thing to learn was not to isolate, and the days were structured as to not really leave time for that.

Some good support was forthcoming. Three different multi-instrumentalist friends named Doug all knew about this and called while I was there. My sister (who was nice to me then) called and talked to Kelli too. But by far, Kelli was the star of the show when it came to support. Kelli visited every day but once, even though it was rather far. I guess I scared the hell out of her with all this but she was loyal through it all. This was before she elected to go into ministry—a profession which too often witnesses this sort of drama and has to find a way to put meaning to it. Our pastor of many years came out a few times, and if there were things I hadn't told him before, this was when I finally did, and in some cases, it revealed a cesspool of guilt and fear and other emotional poison that had yet to find daylight. (These days, I understand those bits of release as the small dyings of an old self that lead to new life, unburdened by their weight. They were some of the baby steps that I had within my control, ego willing.)

One of the most valuable single things to emerge from this experience was the learning of a new language which helped clarify a fundamental difference between how I saw the world and how my old man saw it, and how we clashed. Somehow, despite not being specifically notified of my whereabouts, but knowing the outline of what was happening that week, he managed to find out where I was, and you can imagine I was not having it since he was a significant irritant in my oyster then. He found the place on his own—I saw him drive past as I was sitting on the front porch, and I just about flipped out, dashed inside and notified the staff that he had no business there, and that "I'm not here." He came in and saw me in the back area and demanded access. I relented only under the condition that either or both Kelli or our pastor was there. I don't remember if that all came together that day or a subsequent day, but eventually it did turn out to be a five way meeting with all of them and me and Billy the therapist. (Usually the facility didn't do such encounters, so I am thankful for their exception.)

My pastor was about the only person who could get my old man to listen. Being the same age, there was a bit of peer respect. But with respect to my old man who is not being a person interested in religion or psychology, it was a miracle for him to be there at all. Sitting in the same room with Billy and my pastor, he was a fish out of water. They were intellectual giants compared to him, but moreover, they were there to take my issue seriously and to extend a helping hand. The most important thing to be said that day was from my pastor who stared him right in the eyes and declared that something real was going on here in my life and that my old man would have to pay attention and take it seriously. That day, I came to understand how my old man was materialistic, only accepting the world if it could be empirically weighed and measured somehow. Emotional conflict such as I knew flew under his radar, but it was time to pay attention or else. I wasn't really let to speak much, but it was for the better, because all I was fit to say then would be destructive. This hour was to open my old man's eyes, if such a thing were possible. Later on, he and my pastor talked outside for some time. I began to have a tempered hope that maybe something would change, since perhaps there was only one person who could address both of us in a way that might communicate honestly and forcefully without triggering defenses. Sometime during the course of the ten days at Halcyon, me and the old man sat out and talked for a while, seemingly releasing a lot of pressure, and offering a bit more hope.

kelli wrapped around ed's shoulders from behind in sweet loving embrace. awww.Kelli and me, circa 2003I was set to go home on the 15th, 11 days after the darkest day. The psychiatrist who oversaw the program there prescribed me a year of CBT—Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. At the time, it seemed like an amazing amount of talk, but it made sense. I think he prescribed Prozac too, or something like it. The followup would be through the County of San Diego, which was the body responsible for Isis and Halcyon and other centers around the county. Kelli set about finding me a therapist for the long haul, at the same place I had gone a couple years before. (The entire experience at Isis and Halcyon cost me $37, a sum so paltry it defies logic, but for which I am immensely grateful.) My pastor drove me home on an overcast Monday morning (9/15). It evoked a time back in early September 1989 when I came out of a youth group retreat which left me feeling whole and good, only to douse that soaring optimism with the first day of school on the following Monday. So of course I was apprehensive; sure things could be better in the controlled settings of the crisis houses, but what awaits back in my normal setting, at my desk? Among roommates? Dealing with the landlord? The home I returned to had two new roommates since I left. One was a joy to talk to and live with for many months to come, but the other moved in half a house worth of stuff and eventually caused a lot of grief between Kelli and me, and she left soon after she got there. Returning home was an uneasy time, since the house was such a symbol of what was wrong with life. A week after I got back, all the imagined progress with my old man evaporated when he provoked me with more of the status quo—he'd carry on with his building modifications anyway, no matter what I thought. This made me angry as hell and I smashed an unmounted window frame on the concrete slab of his patio project. There never was an improvement in his understanding, not even to this day. The house and all the related dynamics of family and control continued to shatter what relationship we had, culminating in his evicting us and selling it a couple years later. That experience just strengthened my resolve to make things work with Kelli above all and to separate the notion of what home is, versus what a house is. I didn't get the house I wanted to live at, but I got the home I needed when I decided most specifically in 2005 to unambiguously embrace my future with Kelli.

My prescribed year of solo therapy turned into two and into three or more eventually, to say nothing of periodic visits to the county psychiatrist to evaluate progress. During my early months out of Halcyon it was rough going with Kelli since it didn't make a lot of sense to her and the house thing was still a big issue, even though she did not live there, the roommate who moved out soon after she got there was seen as a threat, and Kelli felt slighted by that, and frankly, I guess I didn't do a good enough job of mitigating that. So in addition to the solo sessions, we began couples sessions and that went on for some years. I might say that that was one of the best decisions ever, and perhaps was more constructive than solo work because it dealt with a fuller picture of things—one which I had no control over. The types of things that emerged from that were just what needed attention and just what got attention in an environment where things could be worked with constructively. It required vulnerability to work, and even with a fresher mindset, it takes a lot to let the defenses drop enough to do some good. Eventually, we got engaged and married six months after that—our wedding held only a week shy of one year after this whole experience at Halcyon. Something was working.

So what does all this have to do with being born again, or born from above, or any of that? For me, it is just proof that even the New Jerusalem wasn't built in a day. Far from being an experience of blinding light or a great revelation, or any of that other miraculous stuff, it is really all a process of dying or resigning a bit more each day so that each day might bring something new. For me, the basis of that has come in my domestic life with Kelli. It is the first place where a lot of things get tried out, and where confidence is born so that other things might be taken on and changed. Kelli has been great in her capacity to open my eyes to a vast reality out there that otherwise was beyond me. She is as splendid a wife as anyone could ask for, but she has a wealth of intellect and experience which has had a huge effect on me. In a lot of great ways, she has unpacked the sheltered me of yesteryear by introducing me to a great many things which I was denied or ignored. Her seminary schooling had a completely unexpected effect on me, as I found myself ready to investigate and drawn to many things in the fields she has been studying. Combined with experience of some still topsy turvy years since Halcyon, it has been a great learning experience.

Joseph Campbell and his synthesis of religion, mythology and philosophy proved fascinating. He was the first who impressed upon me the idea of what the death and resurrection really meant in a mythical sense. I think from him I came to understand it not as some supernatural phenomenon, but as a natural growth occurrence in a life lived honestly before oneself. And it was this that Jesus wanted us to know was ours for the taking: you can die and be reborn if you let go of the old and welcome the new. The cross to bear is all the weight of life thus far, and it is only ever ours to carry, but if you live in honesty and take it on willingly, all the shortcomings (aka sins) matter not if you own them. The denial is what adds up and makes the heavy cross heavier. I suppose maybe some people are prepared to completely prostrate themselves and get it all out in one gesture, but I think many must work this way, moving more slowly and thoroughly to release oneself from bondage. One attributes it to God, but really, the business is done when one admits to oneself all the flaws and failings in kind with all the good that is within—that we are made of opposites and complementary aspects held in tension and that is the only way it could ever be, since humanity is not divinity. That isn't to say we are fallen; just that we can't be divine because that is God's domain, not ours. But such is our lot in life, so Jesus led the way to show how these opposing forces could coexist and motivate us past our selfish egos and on toward healing the world one relationship at a time. As Campbell reminds us, the Genesis story about eating of the Tree of Knowledge is about discovering duality: opposites that define our adult lives. The very things that make life complex, once we are forced to make a moral decision. The innocence lost is the simple wholeness we know before we must take that fork in the road. And the rest of life is spent trying to regain the wholeness somehow, often by stumbling, but also by grace. I think it takes both. As the last five years shows, I've had both.

Carl Jung said, "the task of a life is not to be good but to be real." He spoke of the shadow self, the dark side of one's personality that one must own in order to be whole. It is another way of looking at the things discussed above. All that has an important a role to play in development, and often in couples therapy, it was put before me, not to hurt (though it often did), but to enlighten. You can't be real if you don't face this undesirable aspect of your being, and accept it as part of the whole that is you. Many clamor to avoid this part of their being, and mask the gaping holes in their being with addictions of various sorts, abuse of power, scapegoating, etc. Carrying the cross of one's own devising is admission that even the dark areas of our being are valid and real. Fighting all this takes a lot of energy that just drains one from more productive pursuits. Fighting this also lays the groundwork for the various personality deficiencies that underpin some of the worst behavior in human history. Disowning this shadow side allows us to project it onto others where we can hate them and destroy them from afar, when what is really happening is we are hating and disowning ourselves but drawing so many others into the drama.

From my vantage point, I am at a point where I've learned some of the intellectual parts of this stuff, more like the vocabulary for being able to recognize this wisdom in many more places than I once could. And some of it I know experientially, but didn't have the means to identify it as such. I fancy the last five years as either one long passage on this born again journey, or an ever-unfolding series of rebirths as these nuggets present themselves to me in all the various ways they appear: conversations, movies and books, music, church relationships and worship, observing my dog and other "simple" things, and even in dentistry! It is hard to remember who I was in 2003 and before. I can remember a lot of actions and events, but sometimes, I am baffled at the logic behind my actions. While there never was a definitive hinge point where there was a distinctly old me and a new me, the time at Halcyon was perhaps the biggest single catalyst to move things in a new direction. While in the moment, it would seem to be a great weakness to fall that far, but time bends that idea into the realization that it might have been the greatest thing that happened, for that week or two took the spilled and scattered jigsaw pieces of my soul and put a few pieces into the right places where I could see there was a picture after all.

Monday
Nov052007

The Farm

A Piggy.

A Chickey.

A Mother Hen.

Off the Farm.

Free at last. Free at last.

Out of the skillet,

Into the frying pan.

Wednesday
Feb022005

Okua The Opportunistic Dog

I went out today on my bike to settle up first of the month issues, and look for some toy jobs. I was gone about two hours. I came home and found that the dog was gone, and I guess it had to be that my roommate left the gate ajar even for a few moments, and the dog took off. Since I was gone for two hours, I don't know what sort of head start she was able to get. I got back on the bike and pedaled around the usual areas she has been to, one of them being almost perfectly predictable. No luck. Came home to grab a bite to eat and while I was here, I got the call from her more legit owner Phil, who lives about a mile from here. He called to tell me he had a guest that found her way over there. So I went and picked her up at his house. She was out of breath. Must have made a good break for it when she got the chance. She jumps the fence in my back yard like nothing, but in the front where she spends her day time when no one is here, she hasn't been able to get out unless the gate is open. If I didn't hear from Phil, I would have expected to hear from his ex-wife Cindy, who also kept Okua for a while (Okua has had a few homes within their family, and we are the latest to take care of her), and who's phone number is still on the collar.

At least I know where to look for her next time. There's no place like home. There's no place like home. There's no place like home.

Tuesday
Sep282004

Domestic Bliss

Ah, there was a time in my life (mainly from mid 1995 till about early 2003) when my work consisted of doing gigs as a drum/guitar/keyboard tech, soundman or assistant, and some other assorted concert production jobs. For a year and a half or so I have been mostly out of that biz (and since 9/11, things have been slow anyway compared to the heyday in 1999 or so), but for extremely few gigs that aren't really big but have been paying well. I never really ate too well while doing that line of work. The schedules involved are not really even schedules. It's all madness, and usually it's fast food on the menu, and it's hard to ever get things to eat on any predictable basis. This sort of life is okay in your 20s.

But I am not in my 20s anymore. Usually I hated many aspects of the work I did, but primarily the pay sucked. When I got to going out with Kelli, I lost a lot of interest in doing that work (even as reduced as it was in early 2002) if it meant changing plans or getting last minute calls. I had done only that work for so long people knew I would take a half day notice to do a gig, or would take a gig out of town in Phoenix or Palm Springs that immediately lead to one in Downtown or whatever. I was a slut for that work. The nature of it demands that allegiance and flexibility. I never had any easy time getting any sort of a fixed schedule going for me while doing that work. I found it hard to ever work a day job or any sort of repeating task. Didn't go to school, didn't go to church, didn't do a lot of things. But I took almost every gig offered.

So now I have my day job, do my church time again after a long time away, have my lovely little wife with whom I like to spend time all the time, and even have some time to get counseling and even a dose of a social life (which primarily revolves around church-related folks or more often now, Kelli's friends). My life, once a mess of round-the-clock work and zipping around the county or even the entire region, has now settled to a reasonably consistent schedule. There are a few compromises, but in light of the things I now enjoy, they are worth the losses.

My favorite, and it was totally epitomized by what just happened tonight, is that Kelli is here now. Our dating era is over, she is just here. She makes things like home. And tonight, on a rare instance of doing a gig (drum kit rental only for Rockola—the band that got me into all this), Kelli was just so full of whatever it is that makes a guy love his wife. She and I showed the rooms tonight to some prospective tenants, then I had to leave to go get my drums back, which really was just about an hour long trip. But when I got back, she had this tasty chicken cordon bleu and some veggies all ready for me on a tray table in the living room. Literally, walk in, sit down and eat.

Or maybe it's just the calls while I am gone. We got cell phones this year. It was a good move. It's funny how the smallest stuff matters the most. Dinner, a call, a kiss, or just knowing that I don't have to lock up when I leave, and that the house is in good hands. Most of those years I was doing production were miserable years. I worked for shit pay too often, and really never liked my home life. All I did was go into my studio and make depressing music, or write letters to people who could give a shit about me. But not now. Now I have my sweet little wife who makes me want to come back and stop hanging out with flaky musicians and low paying gigs just to fill time and dull the grief.

She made a tasty hollandaise sauce for the first time out, also.

Saturday
Sep042004

What a Difference a Year Makes

A year ago today was the darkest day of them all for me. For all I cared, it was a good day for a little self-extermination, and on that day, I came closer to that than ever before. Life was miserable. I don't mean to say life was miserable in the way life is miserable in Iraq or Darfur, or even in places where Republicans hold office, but misery is relative. There is not just one brand of misery. Misery for me was mostly an absolutely draining hopelessness. It was an existential crisis for me. I'm one of those casualies of modern American life—really that the soullessness of everything has triumphed over the desire to be part of something bigger. It wasn't that I had no clothes or food, or shelter. No, that wasn't the problem. I felt like I was homeless. Not houseless. Homeless. I felt chronologically homeless, like there was no time that was a good time to be me. It was a big problem (to use a technical term). Dysfunctional families are not new or anything unique now, but there was great pain just in realizing that. I was using my shattered family life in the past and present as a weapon against any future I might have with Kelli. I felt like I came from nowhere, and only had nowhere to return to.

An e-friend of mine is from Louisiana (lives in Texas now), and is proud of being a Cajun. He still does things distinctly Cajun, with people from home. I'm sure there are quite a few other things that get rolled in, but he still has it in him. He knew some history of his people, no doubt passed on from grandparents and so forth. Last year, I was just totally pining for some sort of life that had what I perceived to be rich in that sort of way. He had some roots, and was proud of them, and practiced certain rituals that were part of that world.

Or maybe I thought of how maybe a huge Italian or Greek or Jewish family would have overlapping events that celebrate births, comings-of-age, birthdays and holidays, marriages, and even deaths—in a big way, and with a certain set of customs and ritual that went with it all. I wondered at how that all worked. It was anecdotal to me. It was something I could read about or see in a movie. I was on the outside looking in. My family never had any big celebrations. My family was never big. My mom's side of the family (including five siblings) came closer to that, but I was never raised with them. Over here, my family was never bigger than five people. There were gatherings, but they trickled off as the grandparents were less active, and my stepmom left, and so forth. By the time I was 20, almost all the memorable holidays and birthdays at home were already had. It wasn't that I didn't look forward to events, but they were always small at best, and usually without any particular ritual associated with it. It was always Americanized, which pretty much means, all that interesting stuff was cut out or replaced with off-the-shelf and canned stuff to take its place.

I also had myself worked up on a host of other issues, mostly related to the state of the world being a rather dismal place to live. I can still summon thoughts like these, complete with references, but the utter lack of hope has been sort of washed away from a year of trying to not get so personally wrapped up in this stuff. I still read a lot about the issue of global oil peaking and do think a little too much about it, but instead of using as an excuse to knock myself off, it is a chance to educate myself and mentally brace for things that just won't be the way I know them today.

There were a lot of things wrong, and a lot of it was just leading me to not wanting to move ahead, and I could come up with a million reasons to not go on. I also happened to have just started back to school the day before, and had a wicked case of performance anxiety as to whether I could do that right. And then there was the fact that around that time, Kelli and I were in a holding pattern and I was just too impatient and frazzled to be around. And throw in the fact that my home life left me feeling like shit, not knowing if the roommates were going to leave the place messed up or broken, or if my dad/landord was going to start cutting trees down without my knowledge or approval or building things I didn't want built. I felt like I was superfluous, even in my own house. I was also doing terrible in freelance work (music AND web), finding people were walking all over me. I'd do their work, and they would not pay me. The fact that I packed it in with music also made me feel like a dismal failure, and that the only thing I ever really loved was leaving me now. I felt artistically dead.

Clinical depression sucks.

It has been a year since then, and well, things are different, quite different. Some of that is from good luck, but a lot of it has come from making better decisions and really paying attention to stuff. I dumped two of the three classes I had that first semester back, and absolutely nailed the one class I had left, getting the best grade in my class, and something like 101/103 for all his students in three classes. I used a speech class as an excuse to write about things that mattered to me. The next semester I nailed too, in two classes. Stuff like that is good for the recovering ego. Then there has been a year of counseling, on my own, and a few months later, for Kelli and I in a second weekly meeting, and sometimes a group at the county MH office. My job now keeps me from needing to do freelance work just to get by, and not dealing with flakes is a good thing for my sanity. The work itself is meaningful to me, unlike anything else I've ever done. I don't do much music now, but instead of fighting it and feeling loss, loss, loss, it is something that I've trusted needs to happen, and it's time to do other things. I've also stopped hanging out online at forums which came to hate me. I've pretty much slashed a few people out of my life, and have tightened up with the ones that should be in my life.

And obviously, a year ago, I never thought I would be married. The business of totally diving into the relationship with Kelli has been good. A lot of the fears about the lack of family support have been melting away while with her, and particularly since the counseling has opened both of us up to more of that. We may have known each other for half our lifetimes, but that didn't mean we wouldn't have problems. We did, but we decided the reward was worth the effort. More and more, I just go with the fact that she is my family, and is also the ticket to a future family, another thing I wanted to deny myself last year, just because the past or present sucked. Frankly, I've found it nicer to be a homebody than to worry about flaky musicians or people who get free work. Some of her friends are just a lot nicer to be around, and frankly, I have some time to make up for when I wasn't as supportive as I should have been. But now we are trying to make our home, set up our own little rituals, and even though we both have parents that are distant or dead, we have been made like family at the homes of some long standing church friends. And the wedding was just a great time that was just so supportive and encouraging for both of us. People asked us why we didn't just elope. I think its because we wanted the ceremony, the ritual, and the chance to stand before a lot of people and sort of just bask in the glow of all that stuff that was a visible sign of hope and love. Kelli and I are also trying to do some decidedly old fashioned things that were just missing for us, and from many people's lives, I think. We actually try to sit down to dinner several times a week, and turn the TV and music off, block out as many distractions, and just try to be with each other. Or we have gotten into saying grace more. Not a big speech, but a word of thanks. And we've also had a semi-regular dinner night when we invite some friend or couple over from church, and just sink the roots down a little deeper with them. Or we go for walks or rides, and sometimes drop in on my clients to chat off hours on the weekend.

Its hard to be depressed for long when things like these are getting done.

Thursday
Sep022004

Empty Nest

It wasn't meant to be this way, but I'm sort of glad that it is. Me and the wifey have the house to ourselves, with no roommates at the moment. Usually we would have two others here. I've had two roommates more or less continuously since mid 2001, with a lot of turnover (eight people in three years, not counting Kelli moving in). The best roommate I ever had and the downright strangest one have both left now. One left on his own after a year, and the other was asked to leave, in part because he was clinically psycho. So, until Kelli and I get the place tidied up and advertised, we have it to ourselves. I was sort of looking forward to having steady roommates in a time of change, but no.

On the first night of our return to home (Sunday), psycho roommate John had a mad episode where he was absolutely raging at his demons who apparently were genetically modifying him, and usually though a homosexual rape procedure. John was just over the top that night. We are used to him shouting, but this was bring broadcast throughout the neighborhood at 10:30. I called 911, like I have done on two or three other occasions like this. Now, what a way to get your marriage off to a start! Kelli and I had spent Sunday unwrapping all our gifts and decided to put most of the worthwhile and unique stuff into my studio where it could be locked up, lest John choose to avail himself of it in the last few days of his stay. Those fears were unfounded however, because he got carried off by the cops, to the county mental hospital. The next I saw of him was yesterday when he officially was out of a rental agreement. Since he was gone and we were done with him, we called his boss and asked him to take his stuff to where John could get it. John ended up getting out of the ward and came and got stuff himself. Now all I have to do is do odd things like figure out how to hide various screw holes where he screwed my vinyl framed windows shut, and also screwed the door shut. He was an odd bird. He'd lock the door when he took a few steps to the bathroom, or stacked toolboxes and a table against the door after locking it. He ate only sealed food, favoring cans of diced tomatoes, beets, pork and beans, and a shitload of ramen noodles. (I'd noticed he would open the ramen and eat only the flavoring.) Then there was the fact that he would go into the bathroom for nearly an hour, run the shower, then would purge himself with some dreadful sounding vomiting. He always had vitamins and supplements. I guess you need that if you are gonna give back all the food you eat. He was obsessive about cleaning the kitchen sink, but often left the bathroom a mess, and his room is an interesting place where he had no furniture but for two pieces I lent him. He had no bed. He slept fully clothed with the lights on. That is assuming he actually slept. He flogged himself. He only read the Bible, no doubt favoring the book of Revelation (he also had a few study guides laying around). He likes Bush. He was an alarm installer. Hmm... fear of genetic modification, love of apocalyptic literature, and a fear of nearly everything, and a professional security installer. Sounds like a good time.

Anyway, I shall see no more of him. Kelli was understandably scared of him, but he really was pretty harmless. He was really in his own little hell, and took it out on himself.

And now, for the last few nights, conveniently at the very start of our marriage, Kelli and I have all the house to ourselves. It has been a long time since I haven't had to share the place. I lived here alone for six months back in 2000-2001 between the time my grandmother had to go to the hospital and when my old man took over.

There is something very peaceful about this now. The lack of interruption is just blissful. I've grown accustomed to people coming and going, but there is something really satisfying when you can just sit down to dinner with your partner and eat, or close all the blinds and just go at it wherever and whenever the mood strikes. Kelli and I do okay with the two rooms we have to ourselves, but it is nice to take a break from such limited quarters, even though it's not like she stands a chance to get any poetry done with the extra space, and I have all but given up on music, despite having the space available since day one.

The problem now is one that I already have had to deal with, but at a smaller scale. Kelli and I have enough stuff to fill this house, and we do just that. With the exception of the rental rooms, the whole place is filled with my furniture that I inherited or collected, and a bunch of knicknacks, and frankly, a lot of stuff. And now we have more and more stuff from all the wedding gifts. It's like we have been married for a few decades. So really, any prospective roommate doesn't need much but their own stuff to sleep on. I sort of wonder if having all this stuff affects the selection of roommates, eliminating the ones that see there is no place for their stuff, and leaving me with the dudes who are not really going to stay for a while because for the most part, all they have is a room full of stuff, and one room is the same as the next. And now I am afraid of people stealing stuff that will be more and more sentimental to Kelli and me. I could tolerate a little loss or breakage before, but now that will be a more frustrating thing should it happen. There was a roommate who left early last year who tried to make off with some of my stuff. Nothing precious, but I caught him and took my stuff back, and replaced it with a couple dirty and bug-covered bricks taken from a pile in my back yard. He never told me how that went down upon getting to his new place. I got him good, but it made me even more paranoid about sharing stuff, just as a bachelor.

Yesterday, I had dinner ready and waiting for Kelli to get home from a reading. It was my ever-improving chicken stir fry and rice. I totally nailed it. Had some wine at the ready, and when Kelli got home, we were at the table in just a few minutes, house totally silent, dark but for a bunch of candles scattered about, and the delicious scent of garlic and stir fry wafting about in the house. All we had to do was just enjoy being with each other, and we did. No distractions. Sweet. I plan to savor it while it lasts.

Friday
Aug132004

Is This Real?

Jeeze—two more weeks and I'm getting married. This isn't like the last time I was engaged (back in November 1994, for about four days). This one is real. In fact, with the exception of some heat-of-the-moment things that got said and retracted within a few hours or days, I have not flinched at this engagement. But an extra ten years or so will do a few things to make change in one's life. I remember the first time I was engaged was in a time when I literally did not know who I was or what I wanted. That is hardly the time to join in on a relationship. The age of 21 is not a good time for relationships, in my experience and observations. On it's own it is just too turbulent a time. For some, it is a crossroads of school, work, relationships, leaving the family, getting "legal," and starting to get some understanding of the world as more than a bunch of literary abstractions.

I remember being timidly excited about being engaged then, but it was something that had chosen me more than I had chosen it. If it had waited some years maybe I would have played on, but there was one night not but a few days before Thanksgiving when I realized I had no business getting into all this, because I was just at the start of my own journey. Earlier in the day, in an effort to find the "real" work my old man had been badgering me to find, I went to an orientation with the INS. Well, they had a tasty pay and benefits package, but I could in no way see myself doing that. I mean, I may as well have been a ditch digger, or an investment banker. Later on in the evening after going to that orientation, I had a long night of soul searching and a lot of sobbing. It was like putting the cart before the horse. All of a sudden, predicated on the notion of getting married (something I had announced to maybe five people), I would find myself looking in all the wrong places for what would only amount to an income, and not anything that I feel I would have done because I wanted to do it. I mean, I was only 21! All of a sudden that night I felt suffocated, and the next morning, I told her I could not go through with it all. It was only a five day old plan, so not much was invested. Lots was lost, I'm sure, but what is the sense in getting into a relationship when things are so iffy over on my end? I feel that I would have been a pretty incomplete person in a serious relationship had I gone on. And I felt that wouldn't be fair to either of us, especially since all this was a still-optional relationship.

No, she didn't like me for that. I suppose I shattered some dreams, and I wish I hadn't done that, but I was trying to be true to myself. I didn't declare that I wanted out of the entire relationship, only that I couldn't get married. I did have a feeling that I had not lived enough, and I suppose the next nine years or so (before I willingly got engaged) did bear that out. We stayed together a little over two years after the engagment was broken off, but were taken for a wild ride sometimes, due in part to the fact that the early twenties is an age that just is not the time to try to have a relationship, and here we were, spaced by about nine months (she was younger), and going through all these changes. It was the blind leading the deaf. We spent the last eight months of our relationship in a breakup mode when the confusion and distrust and all that stuff was prevalent. It was just a bad time to try to be serious about a relationship. We've since become more objective and friendly toward one another, but since early 1997 when it collapsed for the last time, our contact has been pretty limited but generally more civil. So it can happen that lovers can be friends, but it might take a while. I think it took three years and more before we started on ANY path toward picking up the pieces, and possibly another three before we got to a point where we felt it was safe to move on but stay in touch once in a while, sans excess baggage.

A primary difference between this relationship with Kelli and the one above is that the earlier one had no particular history to draw on, or any support system of friends and family to help us out. And help is something we needed desperately sometimes. We were not ready for that relationship at any time, but certainly at a time when I had no particular relationship with my old man but for being the target of his push to get me to get a job. As for her, she had an iffy relationship with her dad too, and while she could have drawn support from her mom, we just sort of shirked from asking, even when things were over our heads. It was naive to think that we could handle things on our own, but when you are at an age when you have to assert yourselves and get away from the tyrrany of parental guidance and all that heroic stuff, you do misguided things.

But, as for Kelli and I now, we feel a lot better about things and have generally been willing to find some support from friends or help in counseling. We've also known each other for a long time, and we've been generally supportive over the years. Kelli was the one who I talked to when my very first relationship caved in back in 1993. There have been other encounters of that sort where we have slowly built our history. By the time we started our current relationship at the start of 2002, we had a running head start by about eleven or twelve years. We knew a relationship outside of our romance so I think that is a key part of things. It was something I knew was important, especially as the previous relationship showed it would be, by the conspicuous ABSENCE of history between us. And, in the couple of additional "imaginary" relationships concurrent with or between all these "real" relationships, there was a conscious effort to build history so that we'd be on the right track when the time would come to be in a "real" relationship. But it was nonsense. In one instance, I spent twelve years building this history for an imaginary relationship (this is not the twelve years of Kelli) that I would never get to have. And there was a shorter version of that with yet another person; I got out of this imaginary relationship after about one year. The thing was, I wanted and needed history in a relationship, because I know the lack of that perspective was an issue in what might have been my committed relationship, yet I found in these two other relationships that this sort of history could just not be manufactured willfully. But there was Kelli, not a part of the failure of the lack of history, but also not someone with whom I tried to consciously build the history/foundation in order to "start" a "real" relationship.

But nonetheless, twelve years did indeed pass when we laid the groundwork for what would be our marriage plans. It just happened. It wasn't contrived or planned. It just turned out that after a dozen years of talking to each other from time to time, hanging out and shooting pool at a pub, doing a poetry/music CD together, or our earlier association from church (which still is our primary familial relationship), or from talking our way through the murder of a lifelong friend of ours, we just found that we had those common goals and beliefs that we needed to go to another level. I never really thought of Kelli as girlfriend material. I thought we were just too different. She was from a very liberal war and nuke protesting background, well educated at serious schools, loaded with conscience and motivation, all that. I was from a family of Republicans, a slacker and musical hack, I had a casual approach to school, favoring the school of hard knocks for about a decade there. We lived very separate lives which I never thought would turn into this. I mean, no, not until we began this relationship did I think we would play these new roles for each other. But when it did become manifest, I just knew it was right. In fact, this time around, I had to actually STALL myself from asking her to marry me—for TWO years! Such was the feeling that I had happened into the best thing I would get from life, at the time when I felt I could partake of it, cherish it, defend it. In fact, after we started up in early 2002, it took about two weeks or less to decide to return to the church after a full decade off. It was just a few months after 9/11, and a month more after our friend Daniel was killed. We had gotten together to make some sense of all this, and from those encounters, I just decided to get back in with a circle of people whom I trusted. Kelli was among them, and I knew that the time had come to sort of go home to all this that I once knew on a number of levels, but never on the gut level I now felt. For me, getting together with Kelli and returning to church was like returning to family—sort of a cheap version of the prodigal son.

So I don't know how things would have gone all those years back when I was first engaged, but based on the various failures and lessons learned in the years between Ms. W. and Kelli, I would suspect I was better off not dragging anyone else through it all. But then again, maybe having someone there would have changed things in ways that might have spared some of those bumps (or as I was told by the feller whom I wrote about in my earlier essay about the dying days of the single life, "marriage is salve for the soul"). I guess I'll never know. But at this time, all that matters is that I am resolutely determined to do this with the level of conviction I now feel I have—one that comes from inside me, and to be a better husband for Kelli than I was even as a boyfriend. It was a long series of events that led me here, and one I don't think will ever repeat itself, so with as clear a mind as I ever had, I go forth on this adventure.