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Entries in coming of age (12)

Saturday
Aug112012

I Wasn't Supposed to be at Work That Day +15

Put this under "it was a great thing at the time, but..."

Fifteen years ago today there was a damned interesting coincidence that for a few years to follow was something that perhaps stepped up my trust in the universe, God, or whathaveyou. It did defy logic, that's for sure and I held on to it like Gollum and his "my Precious." These days it's far less a thing, but I don't think I've ever told the tale. If you need to see it in context, you'd have to insert this tale into its rightful place, about five years before this TAPKAE blog really got started.

You people now have the benefit of reading a massive spoiler post I wrote a couple years ago about how the entire Shelby Duncan era came crashing to an end in one day. That letter was a hard one to write, and in some ways I wish I'd written it years before. There were plenty of times when a saner person than I could have seen the writing on the walls and just washed his hands of it. Where were those saner persons when I needed to be one of them?

But the stuff of the heart is messy business. The mind wants to map what the heart feels. Sometimes it works. Sometimes it is a miserable failure. With Shelby, for about 12 years, there was plenty of this going on. We were never an item, and of course, that persistent frustration, and the repeated attempts to change that, were the drama. There is no real kiss to tell about. Not even really a feel up. There is this imagination that things could be this way or that, but all that was elusive and as I've said before, all that was known well enough by 1991, just a couple years after we met.

A picture Shelby sent from Alaska in 1994. Before Skype, such an image sustained me, perhaps senselessly, until the next I'd see her. Unfortunately, the next I saw her crashed and burned for too many reasons.

1994: the Setup

But being the pup on a pantleg like I am, I was wayyyy too into trying to analyze things. But the time that seemed most final between us was during 1995 in the wake of a nine day trip up to Seattle, WA and then to Fairbanks, AK. It was something that put an end to a very long period of having not seen her in San Diego. Even with her being "just" a friend, it was a long time to go without in-person contact. I recall it being a year and a half prior to my trip. I booked the trip during a period of 1994 when I was just given an advance on my inheritance from my grandfather. I bought the ticket in September for about $900 and winced a bit at that but was glad to get on with the adventure of seeing her in two distant states, and for a week and a quarter. Such time was unheard of. The year 1994 was a good year. This seemed like a good thing. I was riding high.

But on August 13 of that year, things went changing. That's the day I met Robin at a Slaves by Trade band party and of course, the fact she lived in town and was "available" meant that we dove headlong into the stuff of relationship in a way that could never be accomplished with Shelby. But you see... after months of anticipatory talk, the plane ticket to see Shelby was bought in the first several weeks of this new relationship when we weren't yet bonded to the point where it seemed a conflict. So after those few weeks, the reality was that while I had my feet on the ground with one girl, I was heading off to see another for a week and more, and more so, it was to be in the weeks after Christmas and over New Year's. Yep. Alaska in the dead of winter! Robin might have ribbed me some about seeing another girl for that time and under such conditions as those (where who in their right mind would leave the house anyway?) It wasn't a big conflict or anything; I think I knew it was literally better to have the um, bird in the hand, rather than the two in the bush.

The thing is, I'm rather convinced Robin willingly played unprotected roulette with our intimacy. Chalk it up to all sorts of potential psychological reasons about unfulfilled this or that, but that is how it seems. I gather it was some need to escape a family situation, but just three months and five days after we met (November 18th), she asked me to marry her and for a few days, I was in that mood of going with it, but I cooled my heels and realized that at 21 and with her as my first sexual partner, I was not ready to even pretend. So five days later (November 23rd, the day before Thanksgiving), after a lot of that agonizing soul searching that goes on at times like that, I bowed out but said I'd still be interested in things as they had been for those first three months, but no marriage plans, or even an engagement. That was just too much.

The vitriolic letter my mom wrote to put me in my place in 1995, referencing the Thanksgiving snafu. Thanks for the compassion, mom.The vitriolic letter my mom wrote to put me in my place in 1995, referencing the Thanksgiving snafu. Thanks for the compassion, mom.

(It seems that was one of the more troublemaking decisions I ever made. On the heels of that declaration, I had to notify my mom that we were not coming to the first Thanksgiving dinner that we would have had in all the years since 1986. And since I had taken ill and was really in a mess, neither would I. Unfortunately, that firm decision was made on Thanksgiving morning, after she already started in on making a feast for the day. For four people. And two of us pulled out. She could still make a vitriolic statement about that even today if you were to ask her. She later decided to deduct $50 of payment from a $300 "loan" I made her in August of that year during one of the best periods I ever had in her company, just around the time I met Robin. But she decided to make that point months and months later in 1995, well after she had stated she'd pay me back. I've since come to find that my mom does that with other family members and with larger numbers. I digress.)

A couple weeks after that troubled Thanksgiving week, Robin and I engaged in one of those regrettable unprotected encounters that goes on to write a whole new history for people. Another roulette time that sometimes I've wondered about. Was it an intentional thing to be so risky just weeks after that big rejection of the proposal? Was it a trap? It's speculation, but plausible stuff. People do that. I'm as guilty as her, but at the age of 20, while young ladies can override knowledge of facts and figures and consequences with foolishness, ultimately, it was a decision of hers to participate (unprotected) in the whole thing.

If all that weren't enough, the presence of my odd friend Matt Zuniga was an odd thing to estimate once I got a girlfriend. The way he talks is suitable for the locker room or to accompany our midnight drum jams in industrial parks, but he was always inclined to be a tad more raunchy than I would like, particularly around Robin. Sometimes she played back with some equally suggestive talk. There were some times in the week before I left for my trip when I swear our relationship was on the rocks because of this. Since Robin didn't drive at that time, Matt drove me to the airport and Robin was along to see me off. After the weeks of them doing all sorts of flirtatious talk that I ordinarily don't engage in, my trip to the airport was littered with more such talk, and in light of all the innuendo, who knew what was really meant about Matt offering to "take Robin home." I flew out of town wondering how those two would conduct themselves while I was gone. There were later times when I was present in the room and when I got some idea of how things could have gone. But this is a family show...

Letter to my old man, chewing him out for charging me rent because I put a lock on my door to keep him from snooping.Letter to my old man, chewing him out for charging me rent because I put a lock on my door to keep him from snooping.

In addition, only two days before I left I was told by my old man that I might need to move my stuff out of the house so he could rent the place in January. Excuse me? He told me that just before Christmas. I left on December 26th and would be gone through the 4th of the new year. He offered to move my stuff for me. That was grossly offensive considering that much of that year was troubled by his intrusions upon my room, causing me to make the decision to put a lock on the door. That subsequently became his permission to start charging me $100 rent: all because he could not leave my stuff alone.

Shelby in Alaska in the dead of winter, holding her catA rare picture of Shelby, taken while I was at her place in Fairbanks, AK

The Alaska Ice at New Years

I'll have to cut this part shorter than it deserves because this post is really about Shelby and the August 11, 1997 event, but suffice to say, the trip was a troubled one though not for the reasons I suspected. Because it was bound to be awkward under the conditions of just seeing Shelby, or seeing her after a long time, I was there with a case of nerves that was just dismal. Being in strange new places (in the winter, there is just a few hours of daylight that looks about as bright as at 8 am here) was even more to dislocate me. And then the fear that Robin was late during the time I was gone added more anxiety. Calls back to her got me a "don't worry, it's fine" message that I distrusted as the time passed. I was really a troubled dude that week and a half and didn't make a good impression.

1995-1996: the Blackout

Coming home, the first order of business was to get Robin to Planned Parenthood on January 5th to see what fate awaited us. I think she was plenty surprised herself that she was pregnant and at five weeks already. Five weeks, eh? I know what night that was. Just days after that nullified engagement. Hmmm. She scheduled an appointment for a termination to be done the following week on January 12th. I paid my half of the $260 and took her there and did all the stuff that seemed right at the time. After that experience she was on the pill and at least there was a safety net that wasn't there before. People have already chewed me out for this whole episode, so refrain, okay?

Meanwhile, it took a few weeks before I wrote to Shelby to tell her how life was upon my return. First off, everything going on with Robin demanded attention, and really, I knew that the trip had not gone well and I was not sure discussing it would have helped much. But I got a letter off to her anyway. I suppose that at the age of 21 I did not have the tact she would have prefered me to have. Apparently I came off as crass to her (which was not hard to do; she was a harsh judge of things) when I wrote to tell her "the problem was solved." Fair enough. I didn't hear from Shelby until December, just before Christmas! And when I did, she chewed me out for being so crass and that while I was in Alaska I was "a pill" and condescending to her friends. Probably, given the weight of circumstances then. She apparently just forgot about writing to me for the better part of a year. But then something about Christmas (not even her holiday, as she professed to be agnostic) warmed her enough to send that lashing letter. She didn't even mind that there was an abortion involved. I hoped not. She was a flaming liberal pro-choice person according to her other rants. But she insisted I was too devoid of emotion or compassion to put it the way I did. And then nearly a year went by. I got that card just in time to "enjoy" my holidays. 

That was the end, for all I knew. I don't even recall if I wrote back. But I did not hear from her again. Now I can tell you the story I set out to tell.

My business card with full address to my apartment with my gear and all. That was dumb.My business card from 1997-1998.

Pizza and Beer... for Dolphins

Robin and I spent about two-thirds of 1996 in a slow breakup mode. Somewhere in the midst of that, on August 25th I got the pressure to leave my home of nearly 23 years (I moved nearly all I owned in two car/vanloads, done in a smash and grab motion that lasted about two hours on the following day) and after a few days or so at my grandmother's house, I took up residence in Robin's comparable childhood home in La Mesa. I was a two month guest more than anything and since that fall season of 1996 was filled with a bunch of stress and strife and life readjustment, that finally put the fire under me to seek out the kind of income that would actually let me get free of such drama. Feeling empowered by the newness of my truck, purchased on September 17th, I got a job at Pizza Hut in La Mesa, not even a mile from Robin's place. It was just about the beginning of October and by the end of the month, was moving into an apartment in Clairemont, now 12 miles away. The driving didn't hurt because with the tip money from being a pizza delivery guy, there was always cash in my pocket, and back then gas was about $1.25 a gallon anyway. But the time on the road might be a liability getting there at the wrong time of day when a lot of traffic out the eastbound 8 freeway would bunch up and make that a tedious drive.

Keneally's 1099 statement for me after the tour.Mike Keneally's 1099 statement for the tour

No worry though. Aside from Pizza Hut there was not much else to report to in life. I gave up working for Rockola once it was clear that Pizza Hut could more than pay for the $270 room I lived in and the few expenses I had. I had bought my truck outright in September so I never had a payment after the first two payments I made. The solitary room was indeed a new experience for me. Robin visited a couple times in November when it was a new thing, but for the most part, we were done. And then the big break happened. Mike Keneally called me to go on a tour as drum and bass assistant for his band Beer For Dolphins for five weeks, starting on November 18th, not quite three weeks after I got settled into the apartment and starting in just five days! Read bass player Bryan Beller's accounts in his blog from the period [Google listings show more of that.] In that period, I barely gave it a second thought. I told Pizza Hut I had to take several weeks off and if they could reserve my job, great, and if not, maybe I could work something out at the local Clairemont store. Essentially, I quit that lucrative position and went to work my dream gig for my favorite musician. It was a great injection of purpose and meaning for me after all the drama that the year had brought. Mike paid me out of his own pocket about $37 a day for 35 days—a flat $1325 when all was said and done. (The thing is, I had agreed to do the tour for even less than that but the situation on the ground was that I was co-opted by the Steve Vai crew to help out loading the truck upon which the BFD gear was riding piggyback, and Mike took that into consideration and paid a bit more than we agreed to initially.) That was no significant loss compared to what I was making, and being out of my usual, troubled space at home would do me good. It also helped put the distance between me and Robin that was necessary to envision a life not in that relationship. As it happened, we lasted about one week after I returned, then I broke up with her. I don't recall talking to her on the phone while I was gone, but maybe a couple times. I was glad to get free.

When I returned, I took about two weeks to regroup, did some local gigs including the incredibly arduous New Year's gig for Dr. Feelgood, where I had to break into my grandmother's house. (We had agreed I could store things, and over night if needed, so I could get some work from local musicians who had me move their gear and keep it at times.) In early January I was able to get a job at the Clairemont Pizza Hut and worked their until just after Super Bowl weekend in early February. Then I transferred back over to La Mesa because I found it more profitable.

So that sets the stage for the rest of this story. Now you know the oddness that is Shelby and the oddness that is her coming and going in my life. You've seen how I was involved with Robin and how that influenced Shelby to be even harder a person to deal with, cutting out of the scene for over two years. You see how I had this yo-yo relationship with La Mesa for a while thanks to Robin and Pizza Hut. So get this...

I Wasn't Supposed to be at Work That Day

My bedroom studio, a modest few tape decks, mixer, effects module, and some guitar around. I barely ever used the drums during the time I was at that apartment, except off site.My bedroom studio in mid 1997, shortly before I bought the VS-880, coincident with running into Shelby at the parking lot a couple days before.

Pizza Hut in La Mesa turned out to be a pretty lucrative job for me that year. I was newly free of my childhood home, newly free of a troubled relationship, and newly inspired by the Keneally tour (getting to watch Toss Panos play drums every night was just amazing, even when he was piss-assed drunk and angry). I spent my time working on my recordings in my little bedroom (they turned into Hog Heaven), and when I wasn't doing that, I went to work at Pizza Hut. I usually worked at Pizza Hut in the evenings and did about 30-35 hours there most weeks and probably brought in $1300, mostly in cash. I was living like a king, it seemed. I worked different days but probably had a few main days I could rely upon. I didn't do gigs unless they fit around Pizza Hut. For a while in the summer my roommate's friend and drummer in their band, let me record my drums at his house not far away. It was all very fluid.

So one Monday in August when I was not scheduled to work, I got a call asking me to come in to help relieve some shortage. I was asked to come in whenever I could. I cautioned that I lived 12 miles out and the rush hour would be slowing me down but I'd get in to help. That was good enough for them. They were desperate. I don't recall the specifics of whether I burned a path out there or whether I dilly-dallied or stopped to gas up but sometime in the five o'clock hour I arrived in the parking lot at 8000 La Mesa Boulevard where the Pizza Hut was. Maybe or maybe not did I stop to finish hearing what was on the radio. I wasn't being timed so I didn't hurry. Maybe or maybe not did I pay great attention to the many pedestrians moving in and out of the Vons store that my Pizza Hut was anchored to. Carefree. Today was bonus money, and just for a few hours. My calendar shows that it was 6-9:30 and that there were $29 in tips. Nice.

As I walked up to the store from about halfway down the parking lot, I heard my name called just about as I was to pass two women going by. Well holy hell! It was none other than Shelby! That warranted a double take. She was walking along with her mom. I don't recall if I knew that he mom lived there then or if that was news to me, but indeed she did live nearby on Mt. Helix, and Shelby was visiting from out of town. Only this time it was not from Alaska but a clear opposite part of the world—Louisiana. She was a student at LSU doing her Masters work, just about to start her last year there. We said a few small words and probably refreshed each other on phone numbers and gave a hug. She seemed happy to see me. And of course, having come to expect I might never talk to or see her again, I was excited to see her too.

She was visiting for one week. I just happened to be there on my day off. I was asked to come in whenever I could. I was in rush hour traffic for too long. I could have let one more traffic light or pedestrian slow me down. Or I could have been there one minute earlier or parked over one more stall. Immediately I set about the thoughts of what a remarkable meeting this was. You could imagine I could barely keep myself from bouncing off the walls. Yes, I remembered the troubled history. Yes I remembered the emotionally frustrating metaphorically slammed doors. I never lost that. But a day like this, after a year that was filled with its painful lows and empty accomplishments (working just for money never means anything to me, and aside from my recording, life was damned boring), it felt like I got part of myself back. It was a day to rejoice in, unambiguously. It was a gift from I don't know where. And it would be over three years before the tension mounted and broke again, in the form of that letter that I linked to above. For now, the order of the day was to be happy to have reconnected.

We talked on the phone that night. I don't know for how long or about what, but in those two years and nearly eight months since our last time being in the same place, it was probably quite a story. Three days later, on the 14th, we met at the La Mesa Barnes and Noble and got some lunch at Schlotzky's next door. It was a grand old time. I was over three years from spending a comparable day in La Mesa in late 2000, and one that instead of signalling the start of a great new period, signalled the end of the entire thing after 12 years. But that day at Barnes and Noble, it was electrifying again. It felt right. Some people do that to a person.

I've risked many detours to get to that story, a story that perhaps was far more magical when it happened than after I have parted ways with her, and after having told the Shelby story in many other ways here at this site. But let me just detour again to bracket this time in another way.

Hog Heaven Holiday Theme Music cover, a giant hog with some reindeer antlers upon its head, towing a sleighThe last "complete" feeling project that came out of Hog Heaven, December 2000. But HHS went on until mid 2005, usually with far less passion and conviction as during the three years when Shelby and the VS-880 were in some mysterious conspiracy.

Hog Heaven Halcyon Days, Shelby-powered

A parallel interest in the summer of 1997 was to upgrade my recording gear. I selected the Roland VS-880. I saved my cash during that summer and on August 13th, was prepared to buy the 880. Among the things that Shelby and I talked about was that new purchase. We were sitting there in La Mesa and that recorder was at that point just a new toy I had barely unpacked. Of course, that machine was the single best tool that helped me unlock a creativity that spanned for about three years and some change. It was the heart of Hog Heaven Studio, starting in mid 1998. I used it for everything there. The last project I did there (excluding smaller things that never really reached completion) was the Hog Heaven Holiday Theme Music disk I recorded in December 2000 in the two weeks or so prior to Christmas. It was the last explosive period of recording creativity that happened there before so many changes. It also happened to conclude within a day or two of the last day I saw Shelby, and the day that I finally put my long-bottled up thoughts onto paper and delivered them to her mom's house in La Mesa. You might say that the VS-880 era was Shelby-powered. When she was gone, that whole enterprise deflated in a huge way. Sure, there were other experiences and people involved, but that whole period was definitely fed by her as my muse. Especially the last year or so of it when Receiving was done.

It's pretty clear I overestimated what could be done within that relationship. After it crashed and burned she lambasted me for misrepresenting myself and the terms of our relationship. Yeah, maybe. I was scared to speak up until I was about to explode. And when I did, yes, it all did crash big. All these years later since early 2001, I've never once heard from her. She's a fickle person. And maybe that's not what I need in life. Other people of course have diverted my attention from the kinds of wishful thinking that I once indulged in. Kelli certainly is as present as Shelby was absent, and we live a life of availability to one another.

But something still amazes me. Over the years, I have Googled nearly everyone of interest in my life and Shelby is one who has such an amazingly low profile online. I did write to her a couple times, either to old addresses or once on Facebook, ten years after our blowout. Nearly all the other people I've contacted this way have responded to my thoughtful attempts at reconciliation and reconnection. Shelby is dogged in her avoidance of that. It's one of those things that, as it always has, will let my mind fill in the blanks. Be all that as it may, it doesn't change the story of times like the day when I wasn't supposed to be at work, came in "whenever," was stuck in rush hour traffic, waited for pedestrians, and then walked at whatever pace through the parking lot, and was nearly miraculously rewarded with a chance to rekindle a friendship that had brought me to both extremes of joy and pain prior to that as she often had some harsh criticism of the way I lived my life or how I naively expressed myself in situations that were like being under water, but that for a while—a day, a month, three years, kept feeding me somehow with the stuff of vitality and purpose in life. Even the rather disastrous collapse of all that can't take those experiences away.

Friday
Jul132012

Auf Wiedersehn, Deutschland +21

Since about 2009, I've written a lot about what happened "twenty years ago‚" maybe to preserve memory or to finally take advantage of the richness of expression that the web allows. Today I'd like to push past that some. I'd like to tell about an experience 21 years ago. I sort of dropped the ball last summer by not reporting on my first trip to Europe. I was busy and of course, a trip of that sort is too tall a tale to tell in one post, or even a few.

I can't think of a time when a male friend ever evoked this feeling in me upon parting ways. Had I ever cried at such a time? Oh, I recall the summer of 1985 when my 5th-6th grade school pal Michael Lane moved to Porterville, CA (a place I first drove to only last year on Thanksgiving Day) after we got free of Longfellow Elementary. I missed the toilet jokes and playing with Transformers and whatever else, even a fondness for Garfield the cat. I do remember moping around when Michael was gone. I was about to enter 7th grade, with the sense of unfamiliarity that that could bring, even as I anticipated many of my peers there would be people I already knew from my time at Hawthorne elementary from K-4.

The lineup shot of four of us goofing off the day before graduationThe day before graduation: Trudi (exchange student from Germany, my prom date and Shelby's friend at school); Shelby; Steve; and me.

1991 Personal Zeitgeist

Years later—this time in 1991 after the next six year block of institutional brainwashing—I stood at a train station in Munich, Germany and had several months' experience come to a rather emotional close. This time, just weeks after graduating from high school, the future did indeed seem wide open again, and maybe too wide. What would fill the gap? Who was I in this new context? Was this the end of things? I didn't have any idea about a life after high school. I was only focused enough to anticipate the summer ahead with an incredibly twitterpated crush on my non-girlfriend girl-friend Shelby Duncan. She was due to return from her trip to Russia one week after this day that I am about to recall for you. And my heart was about to explode out of my chest all that time she was gone. But all that, as all you TAPKAE.com readers no doubt already know, was a rather futile form of masochism that I subjected myself to for some years.

Steve at the last dinner before graduation and his departure from San Diego

As the saying goes, it's better to have a bird in hand than two in the bush. On this day 21 years ago, that was really the case, though agonizingly so. The Shelby thing was already in decline by the end of high school. Most of the script was written by about a year or so before when it was made "clear" to me that she'd never really be interested in me, at least that way. Things had evolved somewhat, but never enough to really turn things around. But that didn't stop me from going to Europe and etching the various bits of lovestruck grafitti into park benches, trees, and even Alpine snow banks. I didn't let that history dissuade me from my imagination-run-amok. With Shelby, I had two birds in the bush.

With my German friend Stephan (Steve) Rau, I sort of had my bird in hand. Only it wasn't a literal "in hand" because we were just good pals in that second semester of my senior year. We had met in the first days of that special year, placed as we were in the Government/Economics class taught by Harry Steinmetz, the man who I still hold up as the model teacher in a school setting. (His father, Harry Steinmetz, Sr., is in the history books and was clearly an influence on the man I studied under on three occasions in high school and years later at Mesa College.) In that class Steve and I were in contact and had gotten to find some common interests and could enjoy having some lunch together in the courtyard with some others. But it wasn't until January when we finally spent any time outside of school. There was something to that. He did live about six miles away, which, when you consider the geography of San Diego from my house to his host family's place, was a bit of a challenge on a bike. Eventually, the spirit of carpe diem seized me and we went out to see one of the laser light shows at the Fleet IMAX theater in Balboa Park. It's amazing how fast a semester goes, and there it was, gone. I started to feel a bit like I could be a better host to show him a bit of my town.

Like Father, Like Son. Sort of.

In another universe, and for many years prior to senior year, my old man had regaled me with tales of his first trip to Europe—when he was 17 and fresh out of high school in 1963. Back in my own life, I had taken two years of German language classes in 10th and 11th grade. A lot of my interest in language was sparked that summer of 1988 just before entering 10th grade. I excelled at German in the controlled conditions of the classroom, and knowing something of German (the mother tongue from which English arose) helped my English understanding. For those couple years, I read up or otherwise was intrigued by German culture and history. Because those years were still in the Cold War era, there was still an East and West Germany. The old man, reading properly that I was interested in this of my own accord, fed my enthusiasm with trips to one or two of the German theme villages in Southern California. And then it started... he started suggesting that I could go to Europe after I graduated high school. After all, I had the money now. And then when he realized Steve and I were getting to be buddies, he stepped it up. I wasn't that interested in going to Europe. I mean, that money was for something else. A car maybe? More cowbells to complete my drum kit?

I rejected it at first. Not because I didn't think it neat to have a new buddy. Not long after the laser show, we found ourselves doing some weekend trips to local sights (including one day trip including Shelby that lived on for years later), but one day in February I stayed over at his host family's place, watching Monty Python movies (Life of Bryan, Meaning of Life) and probably listening to a lot of music, and most importantly, having a talk that really set the tone for a quality of relationship that I think we both were stunned by. Some conversations just put new marker pins on the map of life. This was one of those. But it still didn't really make me wish to go to Europe that summer.

My bank book with the deposit record of checks from my mom up until the trip in 1991.My bank book with the record of deposits leading up to the trip.

By April, the flow of events had brought Steve and I into more regular time spent together and getting to know each other, and the nudging persisted until finally I bought the plane ticket and started to anticipate the trip. Back then it was a simple thing to anticipate, and of course as things developed with my new friendship, the emotional investment in it developed too. Oddly, it was not a "gift" from him to me. At least not out of his pocket. You see, this is where the family stuff has to sour the story. Long story short, that $3700 in the bank was "mine" in an account bearing my name but that was not able to be drawn from until my 18th birthday in October 1991. What didn't really become clear until many years later was exactly how crookedly how that money came to have my name on it.

The Trip

Finally, graduation time came and the glory days of senior year were turning into history. The time we had together in San Diego was winding down and then finally ran out. Steve's father Gerhard flew in to watch the graduation in person and to have dinner with us the night before. Shortly afterward they took off to do a couple weeks of touring in the Southwestern areas. My travel plans were to leave on June 27 and to return on July 13th. But the trip would be essentially two experiences: the tour with the old man and at the end of it all, the four days at Steve's place in Garching an der Alz, a town in the southeast of what was then West Germany. It is about 60 miles from Munich.

The trip with the old man was primarily a tour of parts of Switzerland, including a couple days in Geneva (my first jet lag), a couple in Zermatt at the base of the Matterhorn, and a few other places that echoed his 1963 trip. The tour took us through miniscule corners of Italy, France (in the shadow of Mont Blanc), and a short half day pass through Innsbruck, Austria. By those little detours can I say that I've been to those countries, but I can't really say I've seen France or Italy or even much of Austria. By far, the feature attraction for me was getting to Garching and seeing what Steve's world was like. Of course, my four days there would pale in comparison to his school year in San Diego. We'd do what we could. The old man, my driver and tour manager to that point, stayed one night in Garching (where he regaled everyone with his tales from his 1963 trip and another to Berlin in 1989-90 just as the Berlin Wall was coming down) then went out and amused himself for a few days and left me and Steve to our youthful pursuits. We'd rendezvous in Munich on the 12th and fly home early on the 13th.

Since Steve had not been seen there in about ten months, there was plenty of social life for him to get back into. Family to reconnect with and games to play. Friends to see, places to go. Errands to run in towns like Muhldorf, Altoetting, Neuotting, and Burghausen. It gave an easy opportunity to bring me along to some of it. I had my first 35mm camera with me but knew nothing about it. I wish I had because then I wouldn't have unintentionally rewound the film after every shot. I went to one photo developer in Garching and found to my horror that most of my pictures while there were wasted! In some cases, Steve and I drove back to locations and shot some more, and others were just lost. The journal I kept each day told something of the story but doesn't age well, being filled with so many of the little in jokes and comic references that were the currency of the banter between Steve and I at the time, but has since lost its charm for me, and is therefore hard to read without cringing.

Drinking age there is 16 so for this 17 year old, I wasn't out of the loop when it came time to hang out and shoot pool, or to go to dinner with Steve and his father and brother Christoph. Christoph himself was preparing to go to the US for an exchange year in Utah, so he was inquisitive about the USA. We all liked music and were talking about it and even took an hour or two and jammed some—Steve on piano, Christoph on sax, and me on whatever I could find. I think my drumset was a music stand and coffee can or something. (When in town, we hit music stores as often as possible. I was in search of Jethro Tull bootlegs.) Their place was a generously sized house on a lot that seemed chateau like, and that extended some way back into the woods and that had a river (the Alz) just down an embankment. There was farmland everwhere, broken up by the forests that had not yet been cleared. It was a bit tedious a landscape but beautiful nonetheless because it was still respected and towns were not the anchors of sprawl that we expect here.

It was hot, hot, hot, and on top of that, it was humid. Being so far inland was a new thing for me, and I guess I never expected Europe to be so hot. My journal reflects that we were just trying to stay cool and relaxed unless there was somewhere to go. We biked down to the river and hung out in the water, but it would be a year before I would enter that river in shorts. Nope, my years-long exclusive pants-wearing personal habit would not be broken at home. I had to go to Germany in 1992 to find the heat so miserable that I donned shorts for the first time in seven years, and was subjected to ridicule for it! Those hot times made for a nice outdoor grilling experience. The food was always good, and I was able perhaps for the first time to eat a diet of "real" food. You know, full power butter and cream; fresh fruit and old world cheeses, meats, breads, and other delicacies. And Nutella! I ate and ate and ate like there was no tomorrow because it was like it was the first time I was really eating. The beers and brats of course were delightful on those hot days. I'd barely had any beer before getting to Germany so I had little reference, but there I learned to enjoy a good Pilsner as part of a meal.

Trains

Four days isn't long to take in and try to wrap up a friendship that developed over nearly a year. The time in Germany was spent doing a lot of things that were new and exciting and didn't really leave us the chance to talk at length like we had in the states. Maybe we didn't need to. Or maybe it was too hard to face the facts. Who knew when or if we'd see each other again? Finally the day came when Steve and I were off to Munich on the train. It would be the last half day to spend together. He had to get back and I had to fly home the next morning. The powerful emotions of the day were hard to push away, and it was clear that July 12th was a day when we both fought back the salties. A day of quiet as the morning breakfast goes about in near silence except for the goodbyes and deep thanks I had to say to Gerhard and the brothers' grandfather Heinrich, a 90 year old gentleman who spoke little and with whom I could barely communicate except through gestures and smiles. Christoph must have been in school still or had other business so Steve and I had to brave it alone and make the most of a day that made us both sore. Maybe this was the end of this trip, but I was starting to feel drawn to the idea of coming over again next year.

The train ride was mostly silent and awkward. I think I dozed off and was found with a bit of that loose jaw drool starting when I jumped to and caught Steve snickering some. We got to Munich, a mighty city of stone and people, of art and commerce, of ideas and history. And of music stores. We hit one giant store in the Viktualienmarkt where I hunted for some more Tull and Fairport Convention. We had to rendezvous with the old man on arrival so I could offload my travel bags at his hotel room, but I seem to remember being alone with Steve after that, getting lunch, sitting at a cafe, and sort of trying not to lock eyes because, well, that would make us all sappy.

nasty letter from the old man in the early days of my 3rd period with mom. he likes to try to remind me of the good old days and things he did for me, including the first europe trip that she paid for only by his manipulations of the law.Enlarge to read the manipulative language my old man uses to justify some nasty behavior. He loves to cite this train station experience as his handiwork and successful parenting.

The big moment eventually came about mid afternoon. We three were at the train station, and for probably half an hour before the train left, there was hardly a word passing between Steve and me. Getting out onto the waiting area near the train stop pushed all the salt water in me to just behind my eyelids. The old man, no doubt beaming in pride at the results of this rather carefully orchestrated idea that spanned many years of planning and arm-twisting, waited at a bit of a distance. He saw it all. Steve and I finally had to do that last handshake, that last hug and a muttered message of my intent to try to come back the next year, and his final exit onto the train. That's when the flood of emotion washed over me. This clearly was no Michael Lane moving to Porterville. Porterville, even at 300 miles from home, felt close, as if a day trip would suffice to see a distant friend. Even without knowing the kinds of dirty tricks that resulted in the money for this trip, it seemed a huge task to raise new money for a second trip and to plan the trip for next year. I had no idea how that would go. With no job and only about half as much money, it was a dream.

The face of a friend in the window of a train car moving the other direction is indeed rather like the movies make it out to be. I was dazed. It was small comfort to be milling around in Munich with my old man for the rest of the day. I might as well jump on a plane and go home to my imaginary girlfriend Shelby and pretend this never happened. But that flight would come soon enough even though it would be an agonizing week of suspense and heart acrobatics for me while waiting for Shelby to come home to San Diego after her sojourn in Russia during the collapse of the Soviet Union. Sure, I had a little something to look forward to: I'd have school to go to in the fall, starting classes at Mesa College, but my heart was with Shelby and Steve. And, as said above, I realized Shelby was a long shot and that things could very well not work out no matter how far my heart would leap out of my chest. So that left me with that feeling surrounding the knowledge that really Steve was the biggest loss since he'd been the biggest gain up till now. I was anticipating the long distance phone bill and the awkwardly scheduled talks we'd have, spanning eight time zones. I was also anticipating passing music back and forth with (get this...) cassette tapes. Before leaving Munich, I'd bought a couple packages of tapes at what was then a very satisfactory exchange rate of 1.78DM : 1USD.

Afterward: Yeah, Whatever

It was hot that day. Humid, and the clouds were building for a storm. Me and the old man did some walking around town and took in some lunch and a tasty Lowenbrau on the Hofgarten, the giant area where the Oktoberfests are held in the Bavarian capitol. Eventually we had to settle in for the night. The day ahead was one of travel from early in the German morning into late in the San Diego evening. Because I was not part of the original reservation at his hotel, and because he's a wily fellow, the hotel staff did not recognize me yet seemed quite interested in my status there. Steve and I had gone in earlier to drop my bags and were looked past as "assistants." I got in at night okay.

Sometime in the middle of the night I was woken by the most insane thunderstorm I'd ever experienced. Outrageously loud and bright. It seemed like it was directly overhead. The dense layout of the old city, and the stone construction of the buildings all led to it being explosive sounding. It was nearly scary. It kept the trip from ending on anything like a normal note, if that was possible. I probably lost some sleep. The next morning, we had to escape the hotel. I grabbed my things and did a dash past the woman at the counter who shouted out at me, trying to get me to come back, or at least to find out what my room number was. We just raced past her and out to the train station, bound for the airport.

To be continued in 1992...

Monday
Jul092012

The Cover Letter I've Always Wanted to Write

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

The Making of a Know it All

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

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

The WWW as Liberal Studies

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

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

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

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

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

Life from Outside the Ivory Towers

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

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

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

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

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

The Hero's Call to Adventure, put on Hold

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

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

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

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

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

Kelli and I leaving the altarIt is accomplished!

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

Jubilee Economics Ministries

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

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

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

Pod-What???

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

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

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

Media Not Just About Me

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

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

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

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

Social Media Quicksand

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

Kyrptonite

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

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

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

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

Dumb Jobs that Take Over Your Life

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

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

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

Sabbath as Antidote to Jobs That Take Over Your Life

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

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

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

Practicing Bleeding on Craigslist

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

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

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

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

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

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

EONSNOW page in 2006EONSNOW homepage, 2006.

The Breadcrumbs of Vocational Discernment

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

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

We Don't Need No Education

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

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

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

Why Me, Why Now?

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

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

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

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

The Test Came Before the Lessons

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

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

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

Naming and Unmasking the Powers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Soul of Work

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

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

Just Send Money

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

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

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

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

Thursday
May032012

Rhythmic Catharsis +20

I knew it. I knew 1992 would be a year demanding a quasi-nostalgic look. It was the first full calendar year after high school so it was certainly going to be a time of change and new insight and adventure. I guess it was that, but the story I am about to tell isn't nearly so captivating. It's about aimless young men biding their time in suburbia with the help of a drumset.

18 year old Ed with drums on a new homemade rack system. The shells are mismatched because two were add ons from another kit.My kit in transition before the refinishing, but after the add on toms were brought in. May 1992.

Tales from recent months have chronicled the exile from home once my drums and love for pounding the skins proved to be unwelcome. Enough of that story has been told by now and you just need to skim back to about November 2011 to get on track with those stories. Today's is a related development because it started a new concept in my creative history. I don't want to oversell the idea, but it did make a break point where things went on in a new way and in such a way that shaped a lot of history to come.

Drum set at the bridge. Seems lonely but there's a road just beyond a chainlink fence that provides a boundary so stalkers won't get to us and leave us for dead.At our favorite bridge in Mission Valley, spring 1992.

When Matt and I were out in the parking lots, parking tunnels, and wherever else we could take the drums and do guerilla percussive pounding, we didn't really have any plan but to go blow off steam and have nothing but a few hours to waste in our time away from Subway. After the middle of April 1992, I was on permanent time off from the Subway where we met. All I had going then was a semester of school that was coming to its end, and little else but a raging anticipation of my trip to Germany coming up in July and August.

May 3, 1992

I don't suppose May 3rd was any different from what we did on other such occasions down in Mission Valley. Matt played his takes on whatever metal and hardcore stuff he could emulate and I did my usual takes on Rush or whatever else I was doing then. Matt was probably banging on whatever else I brought along, probably not much more than a cowbell or three, or he was thumping on parts of the kit while I played. He might have been honking the car horn too. And he was probably screaming some really odd shit. I have since parted with the recording from that day. But my calendar shows that it was on that day when the name "Rhythmic Catharsis" was first used. Before the advent of digital editing and multitrack recording that, taken together, can make projects go on for weeks, months, years, it was good enough to slap a cassette (it's a form of recording media, for you young'uns out there!, and not a very good one) into the recorder, set it up, and play back the recording. In those early days almost everything was a kick to listen back to—even randomly implemented double drumming and screaming and smacking of found items in an underground concrete cave under a freeway!

The pen and pencil drawn cover of the third DWA recording, featuring the screaming, pounding stick figures at their respective percussive stations.The cover of DWA's third tape, Rhythmic Catharsis.

Because of the new indignity of having been fired from Subway weeks earlier and having had a restraining order put on me and the looming appearance in court to make an already-doomed attempt at defending against it, I guess that day was channeling even more youthful energy and rage. Something sparked in me to call it rhythmic catharsis. Once a tape is recorded, that's the end of the deal, so to call it a project, I gathered a few other bits that had accumulated in the few outings prior to that, and I made a sleeve using a word processing typewriter to type titles and other notes on the card that served as the album cover. I then drew a couple stick figures with super exaggerated gestures at a drumset and stand with a few cowbells, each screaming out. And so it was, Rhythmic Catharsis.

The thing is, that was just the "album" title. I was still referring to us as the name we adopted a couple months before, Drummers With Attitudes (DWA). In the first of two instances of an album title becoming the identity of the performer(s), this launched us as Rhythmic Catharsis. (The other time was in 1996 when I launched The Artist Presently Known As Ed with a tape I released that summer and later adopted the moniker as my persona. Obviously, sixteen years later, it's done well for me.)

Meta-Catharsis

Rhythmic Catharsis, the third tape from DWA, was really no different from the ones before it or the one after it, which was probably worse, if that is possible! But the new name gave me a bit of an excuse to play around with new ideas that included words that made some crude attempt at direction and phrasing. The song genie was let out with the rather crude and cynical Roly Poly Porky Boys tribute to my ex-bosses and their family.

Matt at the drums inside the warehouse we pirated. It has a bunch of random construction junk in it. Matt inside the warehouse we pirated a couple times that month of June 1992.

At the same time in the late May, I launched into a project of taking my Pearl Export knockoff drum kit completely apart down to wood shells and refinishing the now seven-piece kit with new pearloid wrap (from the very same material as used to adorn classic kits in the 60s, provided by some old codger named A.F. Blaemire who once made kits for Hal Blaine and others). The bearing edges were manually filed to a sharper edge using primitive means and the interior of the shells were smoothed out with repeated applications of wood filler, primer, and gloss black paint until they projected like cannons. The whole kit was also augmented with a custom rack my old man made for me. It looked and felt like new. It was like a rocketship, and far beyond what most Pearl Export kits ever looked or sounded like. I was beaming.

The Rhythmic Catharsette

With a new name, a new drum kit, a new approach to thinking about what we were doing, and stupidly much time on my hands, and moreso, fighting back depression, the next new thing was going to happen just before I headed out to Germany in July. You wanna know where the origins of TAPKAE.com reside? This whole chatty approach to the minutiae of my career as an artist like person really owes itself to a two issue fanzine from 1992 called The Rhythmic Catharsette. (It was actually a bit more newsletter like, taking up four sides of 8.5 x 11.) In the Catharsette, I detailed all this stuff in sickening detail. Since I had been on the school newspaper for one year, I had just enough knowledge to lay out the three columns of typed and printed copy, leaving space for images, and doing a few other bits to pretend it was a newspaper. It even had a masthead drawn by Matt, in one of his unusually cooperative moments. Of course it was done his way, and indicated another set of figures, this time one was playing drums upon the other's head. In the Catharsette, a fun little playground for my imagination, I turned our jams out in parking lots, warehouses, and even a trip to the local canyon/nature preserve into our "gigs" or even our "tour" and wrote reviews of those dates. In one weekend, we did four such stops and recorded much of it. Other Catharsette features included a survey question and "fan mail," preceded by the terms for publication of such missives:

Rhythmic Catharsette welcomes your letters. Please keep them brief, legible, interesting enough to want to be read, and polite, addressing us as "Sirs." Letters may be edited, censored, or banned at our discretion and we reserve and observe no rights so take your own risks.

A piece of fictional fan mail came was borrowed in form and narrative from the comedian Yakov Smirnoff. The bit about the radio being destroyed has to do with Matt carelessly placing my boombox recorder upon the car before we left home one day to go jam somewhere:

Dear Sirs: God bless you for the beautiful radio I won at the homeless persons' bridge on your last tour date here. I am 43 years old, homelss for 3 years and it's nice to know that there are people like you who came about the homeless. Bless you for your kindness to some forgotten homeless people under a bridge. One of the men I live near is 73 years old and always had his own radio but never let me use it. The other day he radio dropped into the river and washed away. It was awful and he asked me if he could use mine, and I said eat shit and die.

We were sufficiently cocky like young men tend to be, at least for the sake of shameless self promotion in a rag that hardly anyone would see anyway:

Rhythmic Catharsis, Inc., originally Drummers With Attitudes. Now we're San Diego's newest, hottest, coolest, baddest, loudest drum duo. Reservations or not, we can turn your residential or commercial are into a sonic dumping ground in minutes! So give us a call and we'll be there. Or don't call us, and we'll be there anyway. Our Motto: "No Rights Reserved or Observed."

Our respective drumming influences were named in groups that were supposed to number ten:

Matthew's gods:

Stewart Copeland; Dave Lombardo; Pete Sandoval; Ian Paice; Lars Ulrich; Chuck Biscuits; Mick Harris; Bill Ward; Nicko McBrain; Neil Peart.

Ed gods:

Mike Bedard (I forgot this was here); Mark Brzezicki; Larry Mullen; Tim Alexander; Manu Katche; the drummers of Dire Straits (Pick Withers, Terry Williams; Jeff Porcaro; Manu Katche); Stewart Copeland; the drummers of Jethro Tull (Doane Perry, Barriemore Barlow; Gerry Conway, et. al.); Neil Peart; Neil Peart (sic).

(You might see the common denominator. Sometimes I wonder if Neil Peart was all that held me and Pig together. There hasn't been much between us since NP started to lose it.)

The subscription information informed the reader of the terms:

Subscription Information: $100 for four issues, or $75 for two issues. Please send your request for a subscription with check or cash and the following: An essay of 500 words or less why you wish to join our fan club and receive our fanzine. Or write an essay telling how you feel on the topic of writing essays for people who don't really care about reading them. Or maybe I'll just send the next copy to you. How would that be? Easier on me.

Ed and Matt crouched at the front of the drums, new and glimmering with their slick shell wrap and the stainless steel rack.Matt and me with the just-completed reconditioned kit, just outside the door of the same warehouse. I wonder if we had yet tried the door to find we could actually get in and set up out of the sun?

And that's what I have on the page that's available to me right now. Later on in 1992, I wrote and mailed another complete issue of the Catharsette, but not because of high demand. In the early summer 1993 I typed out most of a third issue but shelved it. This Rhythmic Catharsis thing ended up being the first "band" I was in. It was far from mutual, but it did give me the chance to think in terms of doing songs, recording them somehow and then publishing. In the second half of 1992, after I returned from Germany, I pushed it farther along into song territory with some songs that had a bit more staying power, including one written in Germany, Is God Trying to Make Me a Smoker? (this recording is from 1999 with Todd Larowe on guitar and me on everything else, but the drums and basic vocal are about the same as Matt and I would have done), even though things were still really juvenile, the charm of just jamming with no particular focus began to fade when it made better sense to show up with some lyrics and hope that chaos would self organize into something decent on tape.

I never liked punk music. Still don't. But you have to admit that Rhythmic Catharsis was punk in its own way. Matt was closer to that more rebellious strain of music than ever was. I was into progressive rock and things that I had discovered along the way: Dire Straits' laid back country/folk rock, Fairport Convention's folk rock; Sting's fusion of world music and pop. My ambitions were always to make more refined music than I ever saw in the punk world. I just didn't have the knowledge or the ear or much of anything else. Always wanting to play stuff like Jethro Tull or Rush, I talked my way out of a lot of potential band options at a young age. So I got Matt. We put that drumset to some use though and in a way had fun pretending. I did, anyway. It was always my project. Matt was sometimes more clear about it. He was sort of embarassed because of the words I put before him. He brought some things but they were... too punk or hardcore or something. So part of our "sound" was really Matt acting out in rebellion against ME! I swear he threw me a few bones but then pissed all over the rest of what I was trying to accomplish. We never played real gigs though I did actually book a couple. He flaked out.

The drums a year later with a square tubing rack that was better proportioned for the job. This was the aesthetic peak of this drum kit.About a year later in 1993 I shed the homemade rack and bought the far nicer Pearl Jeff Porcaro rack. The drumhead featured a hand painted logo upon it. We had arrived. We broke up two months later.

As he showed his true colors in 1993, I found myself drawn to more legit musicking and away from him. By the time the book closed on Rhythmic Catharsis in August 1993, I had developed a sense of being accountable to recordings and a process that went beyond just the one take stuff. It was crude, crude, crude both in technology and implementation, but it was a start. I found in the course of the year following RC's demise that I had no drum style that would apply to anything of a real musical context. All that time wailing was one way to make "music" when playing solo drums and aspiring to be both a progressive rock drummer (known for being more complex) and to also be the sole instrumentalist in a duo. It's hardly conducive to developing a musical ear and technique. So that was what I had to learn while in the subsequent groups in 1993-94. But that is all a story yet to be told here.

Some heirs to the Rhythmic Catharsis material are still around in my more elaborate recordings done in the late 90s, a tribute to that stuff and a chance to make better versions of things that I thought had some promise if Matt's distractions were gone, and if I had some more musical sense. Taken as a bunch, the recordings that constitute my unreleased-but-nearly complete project, ReCyclED, represent my first attempts at making music in the crudest possible fashion, but in their present form, a number of the old tracks were done with a rather delightful array of cameos from local players on the working circuit. It's an odd mashup but there are some witty tracks done in that fashion.

As much as I've had a music career, I have to own my humble roots with DWA/RC.

Back in 1992 at the kit in a parking lot of a place we played. In the midst of office buildings, light industry, etc.December 1992, about the time of the second Rhythmic Catharsette, and just before the first crude attempts at "multitrack" recording. It was actually sound+sound recording, but it was what really launched my musical approach as a recording artist.

Saturday
Mar032012

Accidental Growth Opportunity +10

Just over ten years ago Kelli and I started on the kind of relationship we have now. There was a quite generous post about that not long ago so I won't retrace those steps. But just ten years ago this day, something a lot less joyful happened that rewrote our histories in its own way. It's one of those things I can't say I'd do all over again (and Kelli sure as hell would not, and some years ago when I mentioned this realization, she bristled at the thought), but the lessons are such that maybe they were that important. Sometimes it takes some terrible news to make breakthroughs and to grow.

This was in that odd time when we sort of pretended to not be a couple even though we were joined at the pelvis. Were we a couple? Weren't we? I don't even know if we knew, so we refrained from openly saying so. At church, where we both had long histories already, and where we had met over eleven years before, we carried on like we weren't an item.

Kelli was living farther east than I was back in 2002, and it was clearly advantageous to stay at my house in Clairemont so we could get to church on Sundays. On this March 3rd, she and I came from our separate residences instead. She was coming from a funky trailer she lived in for several months not long after college graduation. From there, she'd be coming west on the I-8 and then north on the I-5. I was already at church. Worship started. I had only started back there just two months before and usually we sat together. More and more of the service was passing and Kelli wasn't there. This was years before we got cell phones. Where was she? This got uncomfortable. What's taking so long?

Then I saw her through the glass, making her way around the round balcony. She's hunched over, hobbling feebly and her face was wincing, obviously in great pain. She could barely open the door and make her way in to the couple pews, and fortunately, Deb, the pastor's wife, saw her and helped. But as soon as Kelli was in, she had to go out. She needed to get to the hospital. So much for church that day.

As this played out, I found out through her shaken voice that she and her Volkswagen Fox was rear-ended by some guy just one exit before she'd leave the I-5. Apparently there was some slowing and she slowed down some but was hit by an uninsured driver who didn't get the message, and was probably going over 50-55 on impact. She pulled aside and as she was trying to find herself again, refused an ambulance, thinking herself better than she turned out. Eventually she got to church after the accident scene sorted itself out. But then it was time to get up to Scripps in La Jolla. That's how the rest of our day went, until dark.

This was a heck of a way to start a relationship. We were friends, but this romantic stuff was new and still not really anything that had sunk in yet. I had no idea where this was going to lead, and of course, the natural response is to feel helpless in the face of it. Kelli had been in another car accident before, and her mom in two accidents that had been pretty damaging to her back, requiring surgery. Oh, no... not a "like mother, like daughter" thing?! (Unfortunately, a lot of my personal history from 2002 got wiped out due to early computer experiences while also losing touch with paper calendars, so I don't have the best record of what that time was like and what I might have been thinking.) I was aware that it was only a bit over a year away from the experience when I failed my grandmother when she fell and was on the floor overnight, sitting in her unfinished business in the bathroom for probably eight hours or more, all the while crying for help. That was on my mind as the thought occurred to me that Kelli would be needing me now. I was scared. Not just for the fear of what Kelli was experiencing, but also that I could be a pretty slothful fellow.

After finding that the X-rays miraculously indicated nothing broken, there was small comfort. But her muscles and tendons and nerves were rattled a great deal. There was no need for surgery or any casts, so later that day she was sent home with the usual treatments for pain: ice and vicodin or something like it. Everything was painful for her since her low back and hips were hurt the worst. I became her de facto caregiver. It wasn't because I was qualified. She stayed at my house a lot then. Her trailer was quite cramped and hard to turn around in, and the steps alone were an obstacle. Since the house had the bathroom and kitchen, it was harder to just use those facilities. Not too long after the accident, she moved out of there and into a house in Poway with our church friend Cindy (Phil's ex-wife). That afforded her a place just miles from work, some decent space, a flat floor plan, and a sympathetic housemate, even if it was 21 miles from me. I'm not sure I was a very generous boyfriend then, at least when it came to driving. I wasn't working much and she was, so more times than not, she drove to see me.

The ongoing need to care for her and be far more patient than I expected I'd need to be was able to draw something out of me that I don't think I'd called upon for years, if at all. She was still mobile, but short on energy and flexibility. And the more rest she could get, the better. I found myself getting us dinner more. To say that I was cooking is too lofty. We make our jokes about how "cooking" for me was preparing the DiGiorno frozen pizzas and opening a pre-made salad mix with a two liter of Coke. Sometimes we turned my big room into our cafe for two. There were some times that were really lovely, being brought down to a new reality as we were. It kind of put the brakes on some of our, um, youthful enthusiasm for each other. Or, at least, let's say it forced us to adapt some. For a while it slowed down some of our exterior activity, but eventually things came back into the schedule. I think it afforded us even more chance to address a deeper life than maybe we might have done if we had our full mobility and carefree attitudes.

As the years since have borne out, that one momentary lapse of alertness damaged Kelli in a way that had the effect of aging her probably 20-30 years. The shock to her skeleton and muscles was pretty great, and to this day she's got after effects. She was only 25 then, and in some ways, her body was put into the condition of someone twice that age. It isn't exactly hyperbole; she now goes to the YMCA pool and one class she takes is an arthritis class that is pretty gentle, and most of the folks are 50-80.

Not too long after the accident, we had to go to the insurance adjuster's office where the other party's company would interrogate Kelli and squeeze every tidbit of information in such a way as to minimize their guy's guilt. We momentarily got our hopes up that we might get a sympathetic ear when we got to the office on stormy day and found the adjuster was none other than Jennifer, the daughter of our former youth pastor! And, interestingly, Jennifer and I had our first car accident with each other back in 1990, just weeks after we both got our licenses at the age of 16! But, it was not meant to be. Jennifer had to recuse herself due to a conflict of interest, so we were fed to the sharks after all. At least the decision was made to total the car and help make the way clear to get a newer one, a Saturn—a car that turned out to be rather crappy as time passed.

The two realities that collided for me were that for exactly five years prior to our first "date" at the start of January, I had been with no partner and was rather depressed during much of that time. I felt like a lost soul. All the strife seemed to pile up during those years. Kelli's arrival on the scene was a slow development, but after January started off, it was a clearly different period we were in. We had just two months of "normal" early relationship excitement before this accident changed things. It isn't that I turned into any great, compassionate saintly guy after it, but this accident started that process. It hit close enough to home for me that I had to start to see things another way. She wasn't totally helpless, but she needed help. I didn't do a very good job of helping anyone before her. I'm not even sure I did a great job of helping Kelli, either, but this experience was the right one for the time. It came at the time when I was ready for change because doing things my way was not working out. Even in the first six months of our relationship, I realized there was something new afoot; I had told my young roommate Zach that I thought there was marriage potential with Kelli.

For all the time since that dubious day, I've sort of been haunted by Kelli's car "luck." It didn't exactly make me happy to hear that just a week ago she called me to say she had been rear ended. This time though it was a parking lot incident with a truck that backed into her trunk at almost no speed. Okay fine, but before she came home, I was getting worried. I hate to risk it, but with such a record of car accidents, I don't always like the idea of riding along. It used to be a greater cause for worry, unvoiced as it was. Some families just don't have good mojo, you know? I want to stay clear of all that.

Obviously one can't test this out scientifically. Would I have developed a compassion for Kelli just the same? No one's going back to test the theory. In the spiritual journey, all sorts of things take on meaning, even the sad moments and the tragic upsets. Who knows how things would play out if this hadn't happened? Would Kelli be willing to embrace her role as an advocate for people who have disabilities? Was her childhood struggle enough to lead her there? Even as late as about two years ago, she was only deciding to come out as a person who had both a birth disability and an acquired disability. Obviously one does not sign up for opportunities for growth like this, but one applies meaning to experiences and eventually the twisting path toward self shows some sign of making sense.

Wednesday
Feb012012

Neil Peart Drives Me Nuts Sometimes

He was godlike to the drummers, particularly of the age close to 16-20. Maybe not so much now, but when I was passing through that age range in the early 90s, Neil Peart, drummer for Rush, was a god among men. Or at least a man among boys. Or a boy among girls. Or something like that. Worshiping at the altar of Neil Peart was a musician's rite of passage (or a drummer's rite of passage anyway). You were no one at high school if you played the drums but had not somehow tackled YYZ, La Villa Strangiato, 2112, Tom Sawyer, and others of their hit songs. By the time I was listening, all that was deemed "classic rock" but Neil's name still loomed large and I still had to be initated in the cult of Peart. 

1990-91?When I was just getting caught up in the cult of Peart-son-ality, I had three posters on my wall, all featuring Neil's kits from a few tours in the mid 80s. My friend Shelby used to give me absolute hell about that. She was listening to the Beatles, to Michelle Shocked, to other, more minimal and less pretentious stuff. So she was unsparing in her mockery! I laugh now, but it was a bit of a test hearing that from her since not too long before, she seemed to be the one who let me be me when no one else did. Years later, when she wanted to get a good jab in, she could just mention Neil Peart and the posters. With friends like that...

Neil is a consumate practitioner of every damned thing he does. Drumming? He's stupendously meticulous in his preparation and execution. Prose writing? He's extremely well read and is able to subtly amuse with wit and an erudite tone that isn't afraid to quote old cartoons if needed. Lyric writing? He's masterfully keen at turning big concepts into concise and vivid mini-movies or documentaries or epics. More recently I've read his stuff that suggests his passion for motorcycling has also been one of impeccable preparation and presence, and even he astounded himself at his newfound love of cooking. All well and fine. He meets every challenge with conviction. 

About a decade and a half ago, his life got turned upside down when his only daughter was killed in a car wreck at the age of 19, and his wife died of cancer less than a year later. Whoever this could happen to surely knows the feeling of woe and every conflicting feeling under the sun. No one deserves such a thing, and hardly anyone could know what to do in the face of a dual tragedy like that. For Neil, he basically did a Forrest Gump-by-BMW motorcycle tour of all of North America. He rode 55,000 miles to do all he could do to process the grief. He was ready to quit Rush, the only band he was ever really known for. About a decade ago I read his autobiographical account of that era, Ghost Rider. I liked it—in part.

What irks me is his dogged and just about childish athiestic/secular humanist streak. It made sense in the old days when the band was needing to pump up on Ayn Rand and other free-mind kinds of lit and philosophy, just so they could soldier on against some fierce rejections. It helped them bond and create their world, their thing to look after. Okay, that shit works when you're less than 30. Now he's 60 and there's still some jabs in his writings that just seem juvenile now. Sometimes I think he seems like a real uptight character, at least visually speaking. Maybe it's the stick up his ass when it comes to this topic. It's as if he's promised himself he's not going to breathe until God is ushered out of his life.

In the realm of male sprituality where I find myself able to interpret and learn from and integrate the harsh and painful things in life, there is plenty of language of descent, into helplessness, into darkness. It isn't so that one stays there; it's so one owns it as part of a complete life and its power to shape a man for better or for worse. In this world of looking at male spirituality there is more talk about archetypes and mythology that help narrate the path in life. Even something as venerable and great as Christianity still has the archetypes as its basis, and the story of all the biblical figures draw on those archetypes to greater or lesser extent. The story about Jesus has a good deal of that, and the story (mythology) narrates how one must live a human life. It's a great story. Not the only one out there, but a great one that obviously has some power, else who would now be living within it, calling themselves a Christian?

Neil loves to avoid goopy sentimentality. The first thing that even resembled a love song within Rush's canon was done in 1991, a good decade and a half after he joined. And it wasn't even mushy. A bit mystical, maybe. It still smacked of an incredulity about such ideas as fate and coincidence. On the next album in 1993 he tried a bit more, but again it was at arm's length. While he seems to be able to quote just about anything that has ever been written, he's rather hard on the "Judeo-Christian sky god" (something he said in a recent post on his site). That's a rather narrow understanding of God, even for practicing Jews and Christians. The whole "old man in the sky" thing is not really language that holds too well these days. Theology is far more advanced than that. I would think he's maybe read something along those lines. Whatever God image he was raised with in the 50s surely has been supplanted since then.

But the hitch here is that Neil, while being a bit cagey about his private life (he did write the song Limelight, after all—a song about the boundaries the band needed to erect to stay sane after they finally hit the big time), has been increasingly open. It's been refreshing for the most part to see the humanity of this man who was known for his machine-perfect and quite powerful drumming style and his keen lyrics that could take on any of a number of topics. He has lived an interesting life, not just because he's a famous rock star, but because he's well traveled, super literate, has had some utterly tragic times, and perhaps best of all, has been renewed with a remarriage, a new passion for playing drums, a new baby, learning to cook, even more extensive travels up and down and across all the backroads of North America and beyond, and all that. He won't say it, but that's death and resurrection there. That's being swallowed by the great fish, kept in darkness for some time, and being coughed up on a different shore with renewed purpose. Whether he wants to admit it or not, but that is quite what the Christian path is. But moreso, the Christian path is the human path. Jesus just happened to be the first teacher in the tradition. 

Neil himself makes nods to spiritual language. It isn't fluffy language. But it shows he's not treating these parts of his life as pedestrian events. But he goes out of his way to not let them be described in terms that smack of traditional expressions of the spiritual paths known to the Western world. I sort of just want to smack him some for just being so damned difficult. But at the same time, I wish I could head out for a ride with him too. Never mind the drums or the band or the lyrics. I'd like the chance to trade stories about family loss. Or to bask in nature. Or to shoot the shit about why lower/appropriate technology is better. Maybe I could learn something about cooking from him. One of the biggest breakthroughs I've read of his was when he was processing why certain folks he knew (Alex in the band among them) would cook a huge meal for the band or family and friends. Careful Neil! —you used the "L word"! Love. He wrote about how it was just apparent that they felt (and he did too when he went along the same path) the love flowing when cooking for others, when supporting other humans at such a fundamental level. He wrote that the first times he had to cook was for his wife, when he was the caretaker in that time before she died. So much for Ayn Rand objectivism, eh? (Reading that charming, domestic story reminded me of a decade ago when Kelli's accident started to draw me in a similar direction of needing to take care of someone for the first time.)

But in more religious terms, that was God remolding him. Preparing him for another life that he neither wanted nor saw coming. It isn't that his wife deserved to die. No such thing. But another life awaited Neil, you might reason. One that perhaps was built on other things. One that might put the challenge to all the shit in his head, and that might drive him to a place of living from his heart. It happens in life. But as I read his post-crisis material, it's apparent he's reborn. He gushes about his new wife (as of 2000 or so), his baby daughter, his love for nature and travel, cooking, friends, and all this other stuff that shows a lot more passion and soul than anything prior to his "conversion." It's clear he's been remade into something that is more alive. Good for him. Now could he just shut up about some of the inane anti-religious type stuff? It's not like anyone's asking him to become a bible thumping Evangelical. Just fess up that you're living the life that the sages and prophets have talked about, eh Neil

In some ways, even without the overtly religious language, Neil's life has some of the makings of a great religious story of life, death, and resurrection into something greater than what came before. Read the Bible and there are plenty of stories of ordinary people who became extraordinary when their former "false" selves were taken down a notch, and they were refashioned into something else by something outside their own power and resources, outside of their own ability to self-design. It's in losing control that all the great stuff happens. And since people don't do that willingly, sometimes it seems the ante is upped and one's hands get pried off the controls. It never seems a good thing going in. It's mysterious. It comes in the form of painful disappointment, humiliation, and tragedy. In Richard Rohr's literature, you might read that about the age of 30 these types of things happen. It did for me. Or, it's like Parker Palmer's example where God is a quiet figure following you on the street, trying to get your attention by whispering your name, then tossing pebbles at you, then shouting, then throwing rocks, and then finally bludgeoning you if you don't turn around. Some people come willingly at the tug to a new life. Others not so willingly. What does it take to get one's attention? Job loss? Relationship failure? Death? 

It's not my place to say Neil deserved any of that because no one does. The problem, if there was any at all, isn't that he's a perfectionist. But maybe he's a perfectionist for reasons that don't really matter. Maybe there is a purpose for his perfectionism, and it is to serve others somehow, and more joyfully? Who knows? But one can never estimate what is ahead. One could only look back at these transforming experiences and reflect on what new insights turn up, and how one gets drawn deeper and deeper into life. The value of the spiritual mythologies and their associated archetypes is to help people know that their struggle is not theirs alone; that it's all been done, and the great teachers have mapped the way in broad terms. They've also shown how the universal pattern is death and rebirth into new life, and the wise human doesn't fight it, but lets that endless flow go to work in life. 

Anyway, it's good to read his post-tragedy stuff, and whatever he might say, it's filled with more spirit and life passion than I remember from before. More like he's in the drama rather than observing it.

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.

Friday
Aug052011

Edumacation Aint What It Used-ta Was

I went to Mesa College the other day to get a report on what classes I need to be a transfer-ready student. My dreaded math and science classes are all that stand in my way. As if my four years and one semester of algebra was for naught (see my progress reports and other docs in Skool Daze gallery), I get to do algebra AGAIN if I am to get on with my studies. And this algebra class is just as a prerequisite for another class that might be more mercifully realized as statistics, which elicits a less dreaded response in me. I have two science classes to take, one of which needs to have a lab associated with it. 

Thanks to idiocy at every level of society, the financial picture is weaker than ever at the state level, so there are notices all over the campus and website that resources are strained. And for me, right now, I see that damn near every class I am looking for is closed or wait list only. I'm torn. I like the feeling of victoriously finishing a class, probably having learned something, and usually getting excellent grades too. But like in the fall of 2006, I am on unemployment again, and to go to school during the day is to forfeit that, which is risky because there are no prospects except shitty jobs that I'd prefer not to apply to, some paying less than the unemployment anyway! 

I could say that I feel trapped. But in more ways than just not having an education. There is that. Sometimes I guess there are opportunities that I'm missing. But remember, even in 1993 when I took a semester, a year, a decade off from school, there were plenty of stories about college grads who were still flipping burgers. It was hardly an incentive to rush through school. These days, the economy is in the shitter more than ever, and there is a dawning realization from the oh-so-well-educated classes that people are... generally overeducated for the work that needs doing. Duh! 

Our global irony is that all our problems can be laid at the feet of people with education and ambition. If that solved the problems of our human existence, I might wager that by sheer volume and weight, we have more well educated and ambitious people than ever. The factory-schools have pumped them out quite well. But then why are we at a global situation that fills some with dread? It wasn't the peasants and the meek that brought the atomic age, the computer, the transportation system, the genetically modified crop, or the financial rackets that wrecked the economy. It wasn't the peasants and meek who thought that stuff up and implemented it at market scale. We have more brain power than ever, but less soul to guide it! We can discern the comings and goings of things in the natural world, but we can't figure out how to live within it as if we are integral to it and it to us. What century before us honestly could worry that humankind could destroy not only the town/city/state/nation, but ultimately the biosphere too? It would be insanity. You don't need a fucking Ph.D. in anything to realize that, but now we have more and more people educated at levels that seem to elevate people off the ground of reality. All that was supposed to alleviate the trials of life, but education, when partnered to serve corporations and technology, is just part of the machine that is going to be our undoing.

I fancy myself more of a liberal arts learner, rooted in the model that learning is good. For the sake of learning itself, or for personal improvement to develop an open mind ready for civic and social engagement. I feel that I've pursued that despite being off the official academic coursework for more time than I have been on it. In that, I've come to regard all my life as my classroom, all my trials as my teachers and assigments. I do sometimes lament not having done things according to the typical post-high school plan, but then I also admit that while I might have done that, I was quite wet behind the ears in many other ways that took an educational path that schools don't/won't/can't provide. I recognized in 1993 that I could go through the school process, essentially spinning my wheels learning stuff without knowing really why I needed or wanted to know it. 

In the men's work that I do, everything is regarded as a teacher. It all belongs. That alone, learned in a new way at 36, was a huge thing to pick up, particularly at the level it hit me last year. I've even learned lessons from dogs that surpass the teachings of bosses and mentors and others. Tomatoes in August left an indelible mark on me that high school teachers wish they had the power to leave upon a person. A shoot of a tree branch sticking through a field of concrete says what pastors can't say so efficiently and eloquently.

More and more, the world is going to need people who forget all they learned so that they can learn what needs to be conveyed from the planet and its inhabitants for the genuine well being of all who make the daily spin on this planet which makes its yearly lap around the sun. It isn't that education itself is bad. It isn't. But what has to be cut off is the absence of reverence. I'm sort of conflating my former pastor's words with the Urantia Book, but the purposes of education and learning in the Western world have generally morphed from the Hebrews' desire to learn about and reverence God, to the Greek's desire to understand the beauty inherent in all things, including oneself. But both seemed content to enjoy the pursuit, the means, and not to seek to control the ends. We now seek knowledge to use, to manipulate, to control. Think about it: just about any breakthrough is not exciting in the pure joy of knowing something new. Almost immediately, minds are enlisted to figure out how to turn it into a patentable product, a process, or something of use to commerce or government, or worse still, combat. We figured out how the sun worked and made a miniature version with our atomic development. A new species is discovered and not long later, it is seen as the basis for a new drug or food additive. The best university minds aren't discoverers in the old medieval sense; they are the raw materials for industrial development. A Buddhist or Christian or Muslim mystic can study things at a level like a scientist, but their training also instructs them in reverence for what is witnessed, aka, to leave it alone and appreciate it as it is. The layers of wisdom wrapped around any observation-based knowledge says that it is not their place to go tampering. That is the domain of the divine. For a mystic, it would be enough to glimpse the divine, not to try to unpack it all and control it and make it do new tricks, guided by a pathetically limited consciousness.

Reading Richard Heinberg's book, The End of Growth, it is again on my mind that my lifetime will play out differently than any other as we face the consequences of an overeducated, overambitious society of people who have missed or discarded reverence as part of knowing things. A team of brilliant doctors and reattach and reconstruct body parts, but cannot make life meaningful. The dark side of their craft is that all their gizmos take industrial infrastructure that is now on unstable ground. Their educations are expensive, and the debt that allows it to happen is incompatible with a post-growth era. That alone will reduce many a college enrollment number, which of course will make it less possible for most people to pursue higher education that perpetuates the division of knowledge without a concomitant increase in wisdom. Maybe the days of heroic medical interventions are drifting away. I'd like to think that a quality of life we don't now enjoy is something to look forward to.

If anything, there needs to be a return to vocational occupations where people actually do the kinds of work that isn't offshorable and downsizeable. It seems backwards, and it is, but it was a stupid thing to abandon it in the rush to one side of the boat—higher education for all, whether it was a good idea or not, whether folks could afford it or not. A post-industrial future that has to face up to that very fact will not be able to send people learning stuff that is of no practical use. But I hope that in addition to whatever practical skills people have to learn as apprentices, there are opportunities to get a larger picture of life and how that serves people at a fundamental level. There really is only so much work that needs to go on for survival. It is rather attainable, and sustainable. Maybe once the obsession with growth is seen for the stupid and empty pursuit it is, people could reprioritize and place some value on the personal goals of spiritual and emotional improvement that the industrial age has failed to allow us to pursue. It hardly has to be structures. It just needs to be guided. One pretty much needs time to breathe and see a world at a human pace and a human scale again. 

Friday
May072004

TAPKAE.com Refocus

This site is being pared down to as little as possible for the time being. Right now, the only think I feel I have to offer in terms of content is my blog page. Anything else seems wrong to me. The old version of the site was way too self indulgent, and that is but one reason I buried it. It just doesn't speak to me any longer, or the way I want to present things.

The world is an interesting place. More and more I find I am awakening from a sleep. Sometimes it is terrible, sometimes it is joyous. The first two semesters of school after my ten year hiatus were important to me. Each was an important addition to my ability to communicate. Likewise, months of counseling sessions for myself and for my fiancee (two different sessions) have further added to my communication toolbox. The school assignments have had me approach things in a systematic and generally objective way, though there has been subjective wiggle room too. All my topics have been near and dear to me, ranging from depression to many of the socially conscious topics that turn up in my blogs. In fact, the blogs have actually been testing ground for some of the more recent papers I have done. On the counseling front, I have had to become more subjective, and frankly humble in learning to communicate with people around me, hopefully in constructive ways. In most cases, there is progress. One relationship in particular is sliding backwards at an alarming rate, and it is absolutely not because of me, even though I would be given credit. But we all know parents are fucked up, right?

Anyhow, things are just different. I want you to read my blog entries. Some are pathetically mundane, and some emerge from me almost without my knowing, and sometimes I just read it back and feel like a person I never knew I was or could be. More than the silly collages I make, or the dissonant music that has lost its luster for me, the word is the fundamental unit of communication, and for years, various people have told me to write because I emote in one way or another, or that I have a perspective, or whatever any given reader latched on to at the time. Ironically, some of those people aren't here to read it because that same use of language has liberated me from them.

The promise of any random person stumbling upon this material is a motivator. The Internet has been my home for a while now, closing in on three years. I once abused it, and abused people I met through it and really got in over my head. There are lots of reasons. But all the while, I wanted to be heard. Well, this is my little piece of Net heaven, and now I can say whatever I want, and anyone can read however much they can tolerate. Part of it is good just to get things out of my head, but I really do hope it has some impact for someone, even if I don't know who they are, or what happens. I guess it is just a leap of faith. What I do know is that I email people who have somehow enriched me while on the net, so they feel validated. The opportunity for direct and pure communication is unmatched by any other medium. It is an opportunity. There still will be gross misuses of the medium; but for those willing, it can be the light in the dark, when all else we read or watch can be disturbing or downright lies, and a million degrees in between.

Namaste.