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Entries in depression (17)

Sunday
Jun092013

What's on my Plate, You Ask?

I have to admit that sitting down to write in the blog entry window here is a rather foreign thing to me these days. The last few months have been some of the lightest months since I started blogging in 2002. I've certainly sat down to try a few things but usually have closed out before long, knowing the time suck that was sure to follow. Sorry to leave you all on the edge of your seats.

I've had some rough times until recently. Most of this year has been in the midst of depression and then grief at the loss of Buber the Dog. Times have been challenging during the entire period since I lost my unemployment benefits in August 2012, but every month made it harder with the pittance of an income I got from doing some deliveries from a local handcrafted jam company and a small bit of other audio/recording work. Rent time got to be rather hellish as me and the wifey navigated the waters of how much I could contribute and how much I'd use of my savings to pay for such an expense, and how long that would last and what might happen if I bled that dry. That, on top of a lot of feeling of disconnection from my San Diego life, was utter hell sometimes. Being in Escondido feels hot and suffocating in real terms but feeling that the life I knew was in another town kept me frustrated. The job search is never really worthy of much enthusiasm anyway, as one job application/callback/interview or another turned up nothing. My level of physical activity dropped significantly, feeling too numb to move sometimes (because of the pointlessness I felt), or the real heat of the day. Some weight gain, and a clearly less fit physical frame has been a clear sign of something not right.

Buber's death in March hurt too. The house fell silent and still. Kelli found herself racked with grief and guilt about being so busy in the time preceding his death. Little daily domestic patterns went away for good because of Buber. Larger ones, like walking him at night, were also our family time, and ever since then we've not been too regular in walking the neighborhood. It's not good for our health to ignore the walks, and the days that were already long and shapeless for that period became worse when Kelli and I were having tough times relating, with the walks being brushed aside altogether most nights. It's one of those things that gets us away from all the rest of life's distractions and lets us have our relationship time and perhaps some new input as we stroll. We're working on it.

During the months from October-May I had some opportunities while delivering jam to attempt to pay visits to family members in the greater LA area. That met with the usual rejections, even as I tried to keep on topic and not try to inflame anyone. Maybe even say some more compassionate things than I think they expect of me. In trying to wish my mom happy birthday, I ended up having a chance to meet up (a week or so later) with my nephew while returning from an LA route. It was the first time since 2001 that someone from that clan actually agreed to meet with me. I'm quite glad it happened and hope for some good things to happen as I slowly discover some of the cracks in the wall of a family system that has usually been an "all in or all out" thing for me. With some persistence, social media options, and some grace, I've found even a few friendly contacts that have not shut me out and that understand my struggle enough to be more open.

I worked at delivering jam for three days a month since the very end of September. There were three routes and I was paid a flat rate per day. Taken in consideration of how I had to pick up the van in San Diego a day before the route left my house in Escondido at 4:15 am, it was really not a great paying gig. To do a day's work took two days over about 14 hours and it ended up being something like minimum wage. But it was cash only, took only a couple days a month, and they gave me a per diem allowance to get lunch. And some super tasty jam, too! The three routes each got their own Monday until the holiday season when it made sense to stock up in time for the holiday food-buying spree preceding Thanksgiving and then Christmas. We combined two routes into one two-day run. For two months I found a private house to stay at and then the rest were at hotels in the LA area so I could do a lot of stops and then go "home" for the night and start early the next day with just a couple remaining stops and maybe some last minute trips to stores closer to San Diego. All that enlarged time and awareness of the region gave me the chance to try to be in contact with family. There were more misses than hits but the meeting with my nephew did in fact make the whole time worthwhile. I suppose what I did not earn in money, there was a bonus in the freedom to route myself and try to touch the family with some detours through their neighborhoods old and new.

Musically, I've been going to the pub here in Escondido fairly consistently since July and have been playing cajon since October when Kelli bought me a cheap cajon to help me have a more appropriate instrument to bring to the traditional Irish sessions. I've fashioned a bit of a style using brushes and rod sticks. It works well for the Irish/Celtic/Bluegrass and Country that turns up there. In the absence of any other social connections up in Escondido, that session and some things in its orbit have been key to feeling like life has any pleasure at times. Sometimes I pick up a guitar there and hack my way through some of the tunes. I've been intrigued by mandolin and picked that up a time or two. One day, I hope I can get in on bass.

The San Diego Songwriters meetup group is something I've taken part in with about 2/3 consistency since February 2012 before we moved. I have been getting to some meetings, collaborated on a few songs (either as writer or as musical support/recording). The group participates in a local songwriting challenge and showcase called The Game. I have not yet finished my own songs for that but just a week ago I played five songs on cajon for other writers who wanted some extra power behind their tunes at the showcase event. Only two of them sent me material in advance, so I winged it (wung it?) on the others.

Musically, back home, I have my drums set up and sounding pretty good. I have a neighborhood that can't really complain about the noise because most of them are louder than me! So I have spent some time trying to reconnect with that instrument that used to mean the world to me but has for almost a decade been a foreigner to me. I also spend time with bass, trying to pick out parts to pop songs and exposing myself to unfamiliar tunes, hoping to test my ears. A year and a half ago I got a bass that I converted to fretless, so it's a challenge to put that on and try playing on it, especially "cold." Guitar time is mostly acoustic and used to either noodle or perhaps get some basis for songs down. The electric could be cranked up some too. I've done small bits of recording in order to work out some of the SD Songwriters songs, but recording is not my focus now. I did try making a new recording of the drums to my song Tired from 1999. I find I need to shed on drums to recover my sense of time and feel that I think I once had. Maybe I didn't. Frankly, I find the fretless bass or even the mandolin a more invigorating challenge!

But really, this era has been the most musically active since 2005 or maybe even 2003. And the most positive and collaborative since I am allowing myself to realize I don't really know much after all. I do and I don't. I have a broad understanding but not a very great ability. So it can be in service of some things, and not others.

And then, the big news, towering rather high over everything else because of course it means I'm in a new age of life here: I got a job finally. You read right. After about two years and a third, it came. The whack part of it is that it took a year to finally fall into place. See, I submitted a resume to a certain brewery up in Escondido last year in May once we decided to move. I got a call back and talked to the HR recruiter for a good 20 minutes. I suppose I didn't have a clear resume and it was hard to form the words in answer to a question that was fairly direct: "is truck driving what you really want to do?" I recalled thinking and saying that I'd like to drive to get in and maybe get into a subsequent position elsewhere in the company, maybe in the media area. I suppose that showed a bit of non-commitment so I got passed over. But I sent the resume in another couple times, most recently in April, with a reminder we'd talked before. This time I got the callback and talked again at some length. There was another position open. Still a driver, but not for the beer distribution. Instead, there was a new position at the commissary, supplying the original restaurant and two new ones about to open. I had no idea that the commissary existed but it sounded more suitable to me than lugging beer kegs.

I got an interview in the week of the call. I did some LinkedIn research on who I'd be meeting with. The HR person and the kitchen manager were both at companies I used to deliver to at Specialty Produce. I felt a bit more comfortable. When I met the kitchen manager, Larry, he recognized me and asked me if I rode in. That was interesting because I had not seen him in about two and a half years and I while recall talking to him, I don't recall details. But he remembered I was an agreeable chap when delivering to his catering kitchen, and that I rode a bike for commuting. This was going well. I got a chance to meet with him in private and we found ourselves laughing off the last jobs we had, and he thought well of me, with compliments and a vision that I could be more responsible than the younger guys he sees coming through. He then led me to the HR office and from outside the door I could hear some smiling voices. On the way out, HR asked who I'd like to have contacted as references. One was back at Specialty, and coincidentally, a part time figure at the last place Larry worked. And folks who own the jam company. May 10 was a good antidote for the depression.

It took nearly two weeks before I heard back but they called back and said they would expand the wage on offer to meet me halfway or better between their original estimate and my old wage. I was told it would take a couple weeks to start after their offer letter was approved, sent to me, returned, and then a physical completed. Just two days after the physical, I was in. As of this writing, I've just completed the first week. This is the first time I feel maybe my resume worked for me, as did social media and some connections and prior contacts in the industry.

After all that time of not having a job, the lack of structure and the lack of money kept me in a small world, sedentary, and pretty down. The matter of losing my pup companion, struggling to eke out any identity in relation to family, and having limited resources to keep connected to life in San Diego (30 miles away for most purposes), has all stacked up against me and sort of driven me a little neurotic. Having a job again gives a good chunk of structure to the day and weeks. There are some notable similarities to the last job at Specialty. I'm still in the restaurant industry, and even more so since I am working in a kitchen. There are some food benefits in addition to the coveted FT health benefits. The commute is very short and bikeable. The mission of the company is very compatible with personal values I hold, especially after being shaped by forces such as Jubilee Economics. My workdays start and stop at predictable enough times; I'm not "on the job" around the clock with mental energy going to endlessly creative pursuits (such as when doing all sorts of IT work as a volunteer, not knowing when to finish a project, if that is even possible). There is a pendulum swing for me, wavering between the poles of punch-the-clock labor jobs that can become soul sucking if it's not in some alignment with who I see myself as, and then the explosive periods of freelancing work, marked by creative and exploratory energy during periods of unemployment from the clock jobs. Right now, the security of a clock job is appealing. Within the new company, there is some latitude to be creative and integral, either within the job I have now, or elsewhere in the company.

The economics of time shifts when for once, hours away from work become more valuable. With all the hours available during unemployment, it's hard to get anything done. There's little incentive to hurry or be efficient. Even a year after moving to Escondido, we have not really nested in the house with pictures on the walls. Part of that is the heat encountered last summer when we moved in. And then for months we've worried we made a decision worthy of regret even though the landlord has been hands down the best we've had and has honored many requests. But now that Kelli's office is literally on the other side of the hill from here, just a mile away, and my job is just a couple miles out, there's no practical reason to entertain moving again. It just took a year before we could feel better about that.

Surely I'm feeling rosier than I have for a while but as I watch the news about economics, environment, and all the other things that seem to be hitting the red, I try not to delude myself that this is the start of my ride off into the sunset of consumer bliss and a happy home. It seems every day there are plenty of articles and posts about the open trap door swallowing the middle class. Even making what Kelli makes is not enough when you consider how much she pays in academic debt. Adding half as much again helps but it's not really enough to hold fast against inflation and not much to save. Fortunately, aside from her car loan and student loans, we are quite in control over any garden variety consumer debt.

Sure, my new wage just added half of Kelli's wage into our household purse. There are things that I have been saying I'd fix or upgrade when the money was right. Actually, having a job after all this time brings with it a kind of fearful suspicion that what follows is a consumer streak after a lot of deferrals. I'd like to not wait till my computer is so out of date as my old G4 before I replace it. I want to convert one of my bikes to a geared bike. I got my first smartphone this year but it's a glitchy refurb model gotten at a steep discount that makes an iPhone look pretty appealing. My truck's steering alignment is a bit out after a trip to Death Valley that involved some uncharacteristic off roading. Kelli and I want to finally rid ourselves of cookware with teflon. I have long wanted to get a new acoustic guitar that is actually chosen to suit me after using a second hand axe for 19 years. At this very time in 2005, I had an order for a custom electric guitar build that was cut short with the eviction news that came eight years ago this week. I still have fancy thoughts of getting such a guitar but have shelved it during the years when my music activity went dormant. I've wanted to get a keyboard instrument again, but the most useful one would be a MIDI controller to play the virtual instruments on my computer. But I'd savor having an acoustic piano again, a full circle move if it ever happens. Thoughts of taking music lessons are always near me; I'd like most to start with vocal and guitar lessons to open up my options for songwriting and performance. Depending on how I feel from doing some physical work again, I may decide to do the unthinkable and pay for a gym membership for the first time. Sustaining my presence on the web also takes some money, and I'd like to get a Soundcloud account that has capacity enough to present all my featured recordings, with the idea of remixing older ones now that I've finally recovered all my VS-880 era recordings as WAV files which can be worked with today.

And yes, those are just the things for myself. When I was at Specialty I also was able to give about 6% of my income to church. I felt like someone for once, being about 35 and able to do that. Losing my job a couple years ago began a long period of feeling that I had not contributed a fair share. That was heightened by moving out of town and being far less able to even participate and donate time. Now I'm cresting into my 40s and I feel I should support my church, or even the in-transition MALEs movement as they create an identity outside of Richard Rohr's Center for Action and Contemplation. Those are the two leading orgs I'd like to support because I've received a lot from each already, and there are certainly others that are worthy of some assistance.

According to those last two paragraphs, I've already spent my first year's wages!

Okay, so you can see that there is a lot of things of concern that I could easily have blogged about a little at a time. But since there are so many nebulous connections, it's hard to know where to start or stop. Such is the state of my mind and heart; so many options and demands to try to honor, the easier and perhaps more right response, is to brush it aside.

I've actually been thinking of retiring TAPKAE.com. I don't even know who reads it. I keep it for an online reference to things I want to share, but I doubt people actually come here because of anything I want to share. If anything, it's Googlebombed when people do some odd searches. It's not a resume/portfolio site. It's not really anything but my journal in words, sounds, and images. I have tried to use the new Squarespace (the service I use for this site) version 6 but have not found it ideal for all the kinds of content I have here. But even to sustain this version 5 is to pay a pretty chunk of money every year. I've wondered about my choice of content being so public, but the matter is, if I don't pay, it goes away. If I do pay, I want to keep it up and growing, but still have no real sense that anyone gives a shit. Staying on SS version 5 is clunky to say the least, and 6 is slick but lacks control. Part of me wants to just take it all down and make my blogs into PDFs for myself. I have no idea how to progress. Better to just brush it aside.

And that's what's on my plate these last months.

Tuesday
Dec182012

On a String at the Bottom of the World +20 

My First Rebirth Day

December 18, 1992 was one of my birthdays. Or I guess we need to call it a rebirth day since it really has nothing to do with departing the body of another human being. Until a somewhat early breakfast that morning, there was a creeping depression upon me. It wasn't that depression was new. There had been some precedent, especially in the period since about two and a half years before. But at this time, it was a new thing that I began entering the dangerous thought space of suicidal ideation. Now, remember we're talking about 20 years ago when I was 19. The facts show a pretty ordinary list of happenings and life situations that are almost painfully ordinary on paper. But when one is experiencing the stuff of life that is unfamiliar, maybe without guides or a map, it can certainly be nerve racking and scary. So that period was a threshold time. The particulars are easy to name: I was going through my first couple years of community college courses with no idea what it was leading to; I was not employed and my last job went south so fast and furious it ended in a restraining order against me which was in full effect; I'd just returned from Europe in the late summer and felt rudderless because that also signified the last time I'd see my friend Steve (and so far that has been exactly the case, despite some occasional talk on the phone or Skype). The distance of dear friends and the pointlessness of schooling, and the oddness of my new "friend" Matt and our exiled drummer status all conspired. Matt, in the shadows of people who did seem to be true friends, was just too odd for the first year or so for me to feel we were friends. He was more someone to pass time with. Starting to get a bit of carnal knowledge of my first girlfriend certainly fired up feelings in this period about to be chronicled. But then finding that she was not the panacea I needed to mend all the other disruptions of life was cause for more despair.

Melissa, or, Don't Climb the Orange Tree Looking for Apples

Melissa was 16 and I turned 19 a couple months after we started going out. The fact that she was sort of a sometimes friend from childhood was always in my mind. Was this just a thing of convenience? She'd made overtures even a year or more before we got together, despite an almost insurmountable distance of .... nine miles! She came onto the scene as a girlfriend at the very end of June 1992, and with only two weeks before I went on my six-week trip to Germany, we spent an inordinate amount of time together. The events of the year or so prior led me to be really needy after so many alienating experiences. So when she came onto the scene and we had those misty eyed experiences, I was rearin' to go with it. Nevermind it was the sappiest puppy love fluff you ever saw. Dang. I was already 18! I needed something to happen. The emotional center of my trip to Germany was an odd thing, as I've written. Prior to starting with Melissa, I was singularly fixated on making the trip to make good on a promise to come back and spend a more proper period of time with my friend Steve there. But instead, once on the trip, the whole focus shifted in a big way: get back home to Melissa. I did not originally plan to be homesick. I planned to throw myself headlong into my experience in Germany. Coming back then was odd because I didn't really have a plan except to go to school and look for some work, and spend as much time exploring the world with Melissa as possible. The rest was a cloud of variables I had no comprehension of.

I came home in late August and started strong. I went to school and did pretty good work. Matt and I resumed getting out to parking garages to make drum mayhem on Sunday afternoons or at night. We even started to shift our approach to accommodate sheets of ill-executed lyrical material that at least gave us some structure and something to focus on, and then maybe laugh at upon playback of our recordings. I looked for jobs mostly because the expectation was to get some work, but I was quite distracted by Melissa and of course prioritized time with her. In nearly perfect clockwork motion, weekends from Friday afternoon till late evening on Sunday were given to her. That entailed my riding my bike three miles over to my grandparents's place to pick up the Ford, then to drive it up to Mira Mesa, nine miles from my house in the other direction. I got to keep the car at home for the weekend. But I'd go up there each weekend day—yep, three times. And each time would be filled with as much as we could wedge in, most of the time. And since I had the car, I sort of was the chauffeur for her and some friends. There were some instances of off days or other spontaneous occasions when I got up there midweek for a little mice-when-the-cats-away kind of play. I even biked up there once in the middle of the school week. So it went for a while during the fall after I returned in late August. On top of all that, there were letters and journals written to each other. The fluff factor was high. Because "these are the moments you hang on to forever," to this day I have a calendar marked with numbers reflecting how many hours we spent that day. And this went on the entire seven months and three weeks. From that, I could tell you now how many hours we spent together. Sick, eh? Teen love.

The irony is that Melissa was really kind of a closed up case who probably had ideas and words waiting to explode out of her but much of the time I found she was either in awe of my greatness (er... she wanted me that whole year before we got together, dig?) or too intimidated by her dad and other voices that encouraged her to shutup and be cute as a girl. So she liked to spend time but rarely could say what she needed to say. Some letters broke some ground but really it was quite stifled. Attempts to draw something more conversational from her were usually frustrating. She was at that point where her curiosity was leading her farther from her young girl moorings and she only had a cousin to talk to about what she should be doing with me. Her mom a bit, but obviously less so. The fact that her parents were friends of my old man (and her dad worked in the same factory as he) meant that we knew each other enough to have some history, but of course, the risk was ever that they'd talk. Her mom loved me and gave me some kind nudging in the right direction. Her dad was a no bullshit kind of guy who didn't mince his words much. Melissa obviously had to fear him. Lots of time was spent inviting her out of that fearful silence so we might have a more interesting relationship.

What all that meant was that the one person I was investing so much time into was coming to be found as kind of a dead end. She listened to me tell tales of frustration with distance and loss but she herself could not fill the gaps, even conversationally. Being only 16, her level of experience was even less than mine, so that further limited what we'd be able to cover. Her world was that of a sheltered girl's: a busy school band schedule with other extracirricular activites. Many weekends during that season she had to go to her marching band meets all over the county. I went along to many of them. It was very foreign to me but it kept us together on days otherwise occupied. Melissa was fond of fanciful, fluffy stuff and listening to all the sappy radio dedications at night on the soft rock station. She and I did our own dedications on the air, and I think that was a way for her to get something of her message across to me. But it was no less sappy, and while I played along, I always wished there to be more substance.

That Damned Television

She watched lots of TV and movies. (With that mindless habit, she set a precedent for my generally despising television, but particularly when it seems to be more important than whatever relationship I am in at the time. More outrageously for me is when the TV is on and it's not even really being watched. It's just overstimulating aural and visual noise. There are enough cases of that over the years.) The TV proved to be a major sticking point, in the way that it seemed we could never connect when it was on. And I needed connection. One journal entry recalls a sort of passive-aggressive game played with channel switching from her choice of Fox showing Married With Children and my preference for PBS. After that exchange I found it preferable to leap to and to do her family's dishes rather than be sidelined by TV. And dumb TV at that. I even went to talk to her mom in the other room...about math. As the fall season went on and I didn't find work within biking distance, and all those weekends felt like sugar highs and their resultant crashes when I could have used some protein to sustain me. My mood shifted downward. With the march of time I felt like we should be getting more physical if we weren't going to be having great and profound conversations. I was 19 after all. She was willing to tease me some but then retreated. She was 16 after all. So for all the time spent there, on one level or another did not meet my needs.

It seems that season of 1992 started to disabuse me of the lofty ideas I had of what a romantic life would bring. I mean, popular culture paints a pretty picture of it all, and while we had our fluffy expressions of fondness, at least doing it in a paint-by-numbers kind of way, I was finding that the kind of relationship I was longing for was not going to come from anyone three years my junior, particularly with her set of interests. I think it was the onset of this realization that started to take me downward more than I tended to. For all the time prior to Melissa, the imagination of some kind of love relationship was free to wander, unmoored to reality. The lofty visions of what might be possible with Shelby, for example—a smart, engaged and socially aware peer of mine (only nine days younger, even) —were met with a dawning reality that Melissa, the consumate couch potato and homebody with little girl dreams—would be only a way point on the road toward something deeper and more fulfilling. On the surface, frustration might have been because of the pent up 19 year old male energy to get laid and being "stuck" with a girl who wasn't going there yet and who could barely be persuaded to shut off the TV and be present in the relationship that she herself pined for, but who kept feeding a bit of carnal experience out then withdrawing. But seeing the journals now, it's quite evident that far bigger issues were trying to be met and enacted but with a partner who had utterly no ability to do so, if only because her life experience was as sheltered as mine, and a few years less, at that. The discord between us was barely understandable and I got to acting out some things that later on proved to be patterns that needed addressing, and some I'm ashamed to say, persist when I wish they wouldn't.

The Revolving Door of Friends

I never really bonded with anyone for the long term while taking classes at Mesa. Having no more than three classes at once kept the frequency and repetition of encountering people somewhat low. Since people there were no longer my peers from within a few miles of my house, there was little chance of crossing paths with these new classmates. In the same way, there was no history to draw upon. I liked school well enough but obviously I waited for it to be over with so I could get back to Melissa or to my silly songs and playing drums. I didn't retain much connection with anyone from high school either. But by the end of 1992, the social patterns were disrupted enough and that caused concern. It felt like someone else's life I was leading when confronted with my new options.

The life I'd grown to like included pursuing Shelby, despite her being so fickle and doing such a thing as returning a couple years' worth of letters to me in February 1992 for crossing her sense of moneylending decorum. Obviously, the pursuit of Shelby had to be put on hold while with Melissa. But that felt odd to me, and sometimes I resented that Shelby got a little too excited for me and Melissa hooking up, for that was to mean that she was demonstrating some relief that I'd not be able to pursue her. Shelby herself was in northern California by then and so the physical distance was then, as usual, a bar to doing much with Shelby anyway, even as friends.

Matt was a newcomer as of a year before and certainly a wildcard but shortly after my trip to Germany he had expressed some sentiment that we might be becoming friends—maybe because he was finding some home strife and he was eyeing the spare bedroom at my house just in case he needed an out. Since we didn't work together any longer, most of our time was spent somehow linked to Rhythmic Catharsis. We had one of those kinds of mutually abusive "friendships" but he weathered things better than I did, at least outwardly. I didn't always know what to make of it. Was it good natured ribbing that he was pulling on me, or worse? And some of the things he did to be antisocial... oy!

Returning from Germany was a troublesome thing because it closed up the in-person friendship with Steve. Once a fellow student (exchange) at my school, doing fun things and gettting to know each other on weekends for a semester, and chumming at school, that was now all over with, particularly after two trips to Europe. Who knew where the future would lead, but to this date, we've not seen each other in person since then. He is an intelligent, articulate, and balanced male peer of mine who also demonstrated perhaps the best openness of them all. (Funny, during the writing of this entry, Steve called me completely out of the blue. I can't recall talking to him for two years. He'll later make my point behind this entry.)

The Old Man

In scanning my journal from the period, I was rather surprised to have penned the following about my old man on October 5th, 1992:

I woke up. William gave me shit. Like usual. I asked him for an allowance for food. He gave me a lecture on getting a job. He just doesn't listen to me. Or if he does, it means so little. Or he reinterprets it to mean I'm stupid or whatever. After two or three tries, I just lost out on the allowance, and certain grocery items he doesn't like me to have. And I got the job lecture anyway. God, I hate it when he tells me that everything I know is wrong. I'm out of money [I find that a bit much, but Europe and months of unemployed time did wear things down] and all he's worried about is making a return in his motorcycle seat business [something he bought in early 1989 from his friend who made the company name, but that was never maintained enough to be more than an also-ran in the business]. Bullshit! He's got to pay himself off before he's going to help me. Maybe he'd rather not have my help. Does he deserve it? If he won't support me in something so simple as eating, should I help him? I'm almost getting to the point where I'd like to leave this ouse, perhaps in favor of my grandparents' house, where at least I'd be needed [ironic I'd say this since I used to be rather mercinary in helping them so I could borrow the car so regularly]. And it would almost be convenient. At any rate, I'm tired of being less than I am. Maybe I'm not much, but do I need to be told so? Can he encourage me rather than tell me I'm all wrong? And he also is trying to restrict me from using the car.

In 1992, I didn't yet know how some of those same things would play out over the years in ways that seem even more savage. At the time it was just maddening. Who was he to obstruct me in such ways? I watched him do a poor job of keeping a business even in his chosen field of interest. It was a precedent for watching the things he did as a landlord, driving me to more complete madness a decade later, while I indeed did live in my grandparents' house, having moved there and for some years feeling he held no sway over my housing. This habit he has of outright declaring things "wrong" to my face—stuff that interests me, that I enjoy—has been around for a long time and always came wrapped in a rather smug delivery style. And this talk about wishing he might just encourage me is nothing new, either. By the time I wrote this entry, the various ways he tried to get me to think of music as "just a hobby" and not as something worth my total devotion, were already well despised. Here I am these 20 years later and that damned voice still buzzes my ears like a fly I can't kill but that I keep swatting at. Sad as I know all you kind people would say it was, it's been the gift that kept on giving. And yet, for all his talk about education and "you can never learn too much," and other such talk and other admonitions to get a real job, he never saw fit to actually finance my schooling at a level beyond Mesa. These days, with such sickening comments to reflect on, it's easy to see how such crap kept things destabilized just enough. He could cast just enough doubt to weaken trust and thwart enthusiasm.

Drifting from the Woman who Loves Me

In another ripple, it was also becoming harder and harder to spend the time I spent with my grandmother, indulging in talk of life and relationships. With the unfolding events with Melissa especially, I found myself not able to let her in on the big news of my life. My grandmother, while as much of a confidant as I ever had, was 64 years older than I was. She was conservative but tolerant. It's hard to say what mind I had about reporting to her about Melissa. Maybe it was so simple as to expect that she knew what kinds of things would be entailed. Or maybe I realized well enough she might cast some disapproval upon the news of getting familiar with a girl so young. At any rate, this certainly began a period of increasing opacity. At that time, it might have been harmless, but in retrospect of course, that worked against us in later events. So I lost that vital connection with the one woman left in my family, and the one person who did not talk in doublespeak and sarcasm and did not rely on intimidation by a chosen word or look in the eye. I guess that's just the agony of growing up and getting oneself formed by the other things in the world. With the creeping depression, it would seem foolish to have not kept transparent and honest about how life was going. Major loss not welcoming input from her.

Distance from Church Life

Having been at some distance from church for about a year or more by the time this depressive episode was taking hold of me, I was at some loss, at least relative to the days when I used to be a regular participant. Work at Subway put the first crack in the wall when schedules overflowed on Saturday nights and kept me up way too late to get sleep and feel like getting to church on Sunday. And of course, if there were other things at church, scheduled later in the evenings on most any day, I passed that up for the newfound earning potential. It was a sad trade but certainly a needed misstep to ultimately shape the course of later, more redeeming events. Then, after Subway, it was just a period of drifting, and then Europe, and then Melissa. All that was the stuff of distraction from living among folks who at the time often demonstrated a lot more love and acceptance than the home life I knew. My journal tells me that in November I went to the first Shalom group meeting since January. That group was one I helped to found and for a while was the safe spot where those of us in high school tried to share and make sense of our evolving lives and struggles. (It was in that group where I got to know something of Kelli when she joined in 1990.) No doubt that staying away from that group helped isolate me, but since I was a graduate, I was nearly aging out of the group, and so it wasn't impossible to reason being gone. But in retrospect, I really could have used that setting to voice my increasing concerns.

Unmasking the Evidence of Despair

I was feeling pretty lost as the end of 1992 approached. My journal from November 26 that year was brief and to the point in one of the purest expressions probably found to that point. In giant scrawling, I wrote: "I hate this fucking life!!! and no one seems to understand it." And then, in my usual way, I went on for a few pages in some detail. (All were very original thoughts, I know. I suffered alone, yup.) Melissa and I had gone to the mountains one cold autumn day and I was feeling I should get out and just do some primal screaming. Maybe even she would like to do so herself. But at the stop we made, she retracted and we stayed in the car. The placid exterior that passed for my default identity was chipping and cracking. Melissa started to register some fear at what my various mood swings and talks were pointing to. The same journal from November 26 was grappling with what later was known as the shadow and feeling that the masks I'd worn for others must come off. Melissa would be one of the first to see the new, hurting, angry, confused me. It was the first real identity crisis. Not knowing who I was of course made it hard to articulate what I needed. It made it hard to see any role I might play as being worthwhile. Around this time, I had written a poem that bore the title of this blog post, trying, in fewer words than usual, to capture my feelings. The medium was only starting to become appealing to me. All of us who have passed that point can probably chuckle at how worked up one gets during those times. But at the time, those are the biggest questions. The darkest places. The mightiest challenges. In spiritual language now available to me, it's the agony of new birth into something else. Back then, maybe it would have done some good if someone stuck a copy of Catcher in the Rye before me.

Crisis of Faith

Perhaps the only safe harbor I had wasn't with family. It wasn't with a girlfriend. It wasn't in a work life. It wasn't even my "friends" such as they were then. It wasn't church, per se, but it did turn out that I'd need to call upon figures from church who had looked after me before and had a bigger picture for me to fit within. I did go to church with great regularity for the period of mid 1989 into early 1991. I say it was with "regularity" because it'd be misleading to say I went "religiously." That's because in the church setting where I went there was a very heady atmosphere that is still apparent these days, but more so then when certain figures were present and a certain dynamic formed around them. The effect was particularly notable because the pastor, Jerry Lawritson, has often been seen as intellectual in his liberal theology. At any rate, as a teen I barely understood a word he said but knew he had my back from some very key pastoral moments. He surely thought of the Shalom community in part because he saw need from some of us in high school who had deeper streams of concern than could be let to see the light of day in regular activities around church.

His associate pastor, Judy Slaughter, arrived on the scene at the same time in the mid 80s. She was a gregarious, attentive presence in my life. Early on she picked up on discord that I was far from being able to articulate and she let me tell it to her straight. Better still, she responded straight. Over time, the two of them operated in loving ways to nudge me along in a better direction as living in a home with just a dominating father and having recently met my mother for the first time, with the struggles that accompanied that reunion after the party favors were put away. They knew my dark side before I knew it and tried to hedge against it with only some help from my grandmother.

I was not really a believer even in the better times, and by this period, I made an early declaration that I was having a crisis of faith and starting to get nihilistic. I saw others' faith turning up good fruit, but I was not able to see it myself. Or maybe I was expecting the the apple while climbing the orange tree? Yet, in the same journal from late on Thanksgiving Day, I did express thankfulness for Melissa's family's taking me in (one time even letting me stay over when things got real hot and testy at home with the old man), and even her aunt's contribution of $10 when at the time I understood her to not really have a lot to give. (Years later, a picture emerged of her life then: living in a part of town known for being a meth alley, some notable dental issues, and then some talk from other sources, I came to think she might have been embedded in that scene. Hard to say for sure, but in my journal from December 14, 1992, she and I had talked about all sorts of things for hours and with regard to my jobless state, she offered help if it meant "lying, cheating, or stealing." Hmmm...) The last part of the paragraph ends with:

I'm not used to that generous behavior. They may not be saints but they all have warm hearts and take care of people when they can, even if they shouldn't. They treat me like one of their own. That's about all I have to be thankful for.

Even a few lines like that, following the lines above them, show what a confusing world it was then. Was that all I had to be thankful for? Was that not something pretty nice, for which I ought to give thanks? Such nuances were far from my mind then. Even now, I find myself in similar situations.

An interesting thing happens in my journals from time to time. I might write one of those despairing messages one time and then not write for a few days or weeks, maybe feeling I said all there was to say. And then the very next entry would start with some disclaimer kind of message announcing "what a difference a day makes." And then an entry would flow, celebrating all sorts of inversions and pleasant surprises and developments that somehow renewed me since the entry before. That has been the push and the pull of life for me for a long time. I suppose it's that way with everyone else. But I didn't really see it. It was just confusion. It took someone else to interpret such a thing in a way that I could digest.

Jerry and Judy to the Rescue

For the time I was involved extensively at church, I was a big participant in life there. In some ways, that might be far more evidence of meaningful belief than just intellectual assent to theological ideas. All that tended to be over my head, but I felt that in that community at that time, I was welcomed and offered an alternative path to get through the minefield of adolescence. Calling on that sense that there is some alternative to the world I knew, by the time December 18 rolled around and I was feeling at the end of my string at the bottom of the World, I called and asked if Jerry and Judy could give me some time to vent and seek some counsel. I met with Jerry for lunch on December 4th but don't have any record of what was taken from that meeting.

On December 7th, 1992, I got an hour to talk to Judy and I'm sure I spilled all the frustrations and internal mayhem before her. The journal says it was a day of some great relief, particularly since Judy was a real trusted person. Taking in all this mess I poured out, she used the word "depression" to sum it up. While I might have used the word before that, I suspect for me to have written it down, it would suggest that for a trusted adult to use it meant I felt validated, even if it was just in naming the beast. She had some things to offer as ways to meet it. Getting a job of any sort would help put the brakes on the emotional slide. It didn't have to be career stuff, just something to give shape to life, get some independence back, get out of the spiraling thoughts.

After being kind of a Subway snob and trying to get a job at any of the very few stores I could readily ride to from either school or home, but not being able to on account of being sort of blacklisted from the restraining order put on me by the Levys, I had to look at other options. In mid December, I paid a visit to the Jack In The Box on Genessee, perfectly between school and home. The Subway snob in me declared it unclean and beneath me, otherwise there was no reason not to have applied any time in the several months prior. Who knew that some clown would end up saving my life?

Let's not get ahead of the story here. This is pretty much why this entry was written, anyway. 

The record shows that December 15-16 reached a pretty low point where I was getting the first ideations of suicide. Apparently a friend of Melissa's had done the deed a week or so before and that sort of paved the way for me to ruminate and entertain such ideas myself. It was probably abusive but it was inevitable that I'd have to let Melissa in on this. This opened up a testy but revelatory conversation with her. In some ways, it might be seen as the first with that kind of honesty, forcing aside the puppy love which had become by then so nauseating to be surrounded with. She said she'd hate me if I went through with taking my life. That didn't register, especially since the six months before was all about loving me, blah, blah, blah. She couldn't really handle the talk and sort of froze up. I later heard she turned to some other dude, a mutual friend of her suicidal friend, for some ear time. For my part, I even found that a bit of a breakthrough with Matt took place when I let him in on what I was feeling and experiencing.

I at least had the sense to call Jerry and ask if we could get together with Judy. The next day, we did get together for breakfast at the Broken Yolk, a popular breakfast joint not far from the church. It was sort of like the paramedics arrived on the scene to defib and resuscitate me. These were two of the people for whom I had the most respect and trust. For them to take such an interest in my life has always registered in a big way with me. Both had recently been briefed on my increasingly confused and fragile state, and surely part of the morning was given to the latest news and confused perspective I bought that day.

Jerry in particular, being a pastor, knows the world hurts. He'd see it from working with his people for days after weeks after months after years. But his philosopical background and his interests in the massively disruptive 20th century and his "Jewish soul" no doubt give him profound insight into the kind of mental anguish that is the hallmark of our time. Since he realizes the world is plenty messed up, he doesn't need to be surprised to find it at the more granular level of the individual. I suspect to know the darkness like he seems to, he must surely have his own brushes with such existential despair. One can't just know what this is about having read it in books alone. Most of this I found out about him years later. At the time, I thought he just knew this because he was a pastor. Jerry got his place as pastor in no small part because he was asked why he should be the guy to pastor the church. He replied that he was a good listener. And so I could vouch for that, time and time again. A day like that Friday at the Broken Yolk is as important as it is not because anyone rolled up his or her sleeves and got to work under the hood of my life, but that he and Judy took the time to really listen and help me get things out of my head. But on a day like that, when the talk of suicidal ideation is more than garden variety downer talk, they needed to do more than listen.

Judy was always able to bring the down-to-earth, friendly, nearly motherly approach to her work. She had been ordained more recently while serving the church, and so people like me and our youth group were part of her educational and formational experiences as a professional. I probably gave her more than my share, but she was ever keen on helping any way she could and always was very appreciative of my trusting her to help.

The takeaway lessons that came from that day were perhaps few in number but great in import. All the things I said were validated and I felt heard. A great lesson from the day was one that I don't seem to have learned anywhere prior. Jerry said suicidal ideation is one thing, and perhaps far more common and normal than anyone lets on. He wanted me to know that to hurt is to be human, and to not wish that away. He cautioned that when that hurt is not accepted and aired is when things go tragically wrong. To hurt is human. It means one is alive and sensitive to the world. It's not a fault or a shortcoming. People who don't feel, don't hurt. But that's not the human lot. What he did want to clarify is that while the agony of existence is great, to snuff oneself is a selfish act, one that forfeits a hard won position of resistance against all that darkness that is already so prevalent and ready to move in on those who don't remain vigilant. It's as if to say "all hands are needed on deck for this life."

Another major lesson was just that if we take life as a book (where we simply can't skim ahead), we just don't know what the next page will bring. Or the next chapter. Well, hasn't that been the truth? Yeah, kid, what a difference a day makes. I left the breakfast with a renewed spirit, thanks to a steroidal dose of empathic listening, encouragement, advice, and a lot of love.

The Clown that Saved My Life

It wasn't merely abstract talk. The lesson of "what a difference a day makes" was about to be embodied in the day itself. Just the day before our breakfast meeting, I'd gone to Jack in the Box and after applying there got a callback with an interview offer for later on the 18th—hours after the breakfast wound up and left me with more determination to engage in life. I had thoughts about how the interview would go. Probably some question about why I wanted to be there, etc. What would I say? Since this was really the first job interview that seemed normal after the first two jobs I had, each with their own oddball ways of getting hired, how much of my life would need coverage? What if they found out I was depressed? Does that help or hinder? I'm sure when I got there it was far simpler than I would allow it to be in my head, and certain questions were to get certain answers and that's that. I got lucky. They had expressed at some point later on that they were looking for a friendly looking, white, native English speaker for their counter/register work. I got the job. What a difference a day makes.

So it wasn't the job that launched me on a glorious career in management at a major fast food company. Nope. I worked there for about a month, starting just the week following the booster breakfast. The five weeks that I did work there seemed rather lighter, like life was okay. Then the national e. coli scare happened and the company pared back their crews, and guys like me with no seniority were given several weeks off during the entire month of February. I would ride by to check in a couple times a week. And when I did get back, I was in there for a month or so and then with no real back up plan but feeling at some distance from the life I had when I started there, I turned in my notice sometime in April. Yeah, the job was not career stuff but it did do what I needed it to do: give me something to fill time, get some money for a while, start to see life differently. After a few weeks off, I happened upon another Subway that I could get to if I drove. I applied and got that job and it launched me into yet another major phase of life. But that's for another journal.

During that period of the layoff from Jack's, Melissa and I broke up and I was pretty torn up about that but not so much that I turned back to my despair before December 18. It was dark, but the lessons resonated in me: who knew what the next page brought?

As if to Prove the Point

This is a bit of a distraction from the core of the story about how fuggin' depressed I was at the end of 1992, but it makes a good point. Consider this. Just at the end of the year, in the last few days, I got a new boombox that featured a dual cassette player/recorder and a simple input for a microphone. In only a week, Matt and I went out to play some Rhythmic Catharsis songs out in our favorite parking garage. I took that boombox along and got a sound that surpassed what I ever had. And then most especially, the day after we did that, my life changed. It changed because for the first time, I was able to bounce the tape we made while adding new sounds of some additional percussion instruments and some voices. It wasn't what is properly known as overdubbing but it accomplished the layering of sound that gets you to the same place. That then was the bug that bit me, drawing me into the world of recording. For at least the next ten years from that point on, recording and creating music was a huge part of what I felt I was. The past ten years a bit less so but I still do it, and really, I have to say it was from that early time, just a couple weeks after I thought I was spent on life.

Keep turning the page. Keep turning those corners...

Sunday
Oct072012

Life in the Hidden Valley

Eventually, there would be a first time. It never happened in my younger years when these decisions were made for me and never during the years when I could have done so myself (and probably should have, if I were to have listened to my various adult and peer counsel). Most exceptionally, I never did it when it made the most sense and probably would have settled the domestic strife in 2005 associated with getting evicted at my intended long term home. (2005 would have been the chance to move to Kelli's seminary town, Claremont, CA but we stayed in San Diego and she commuted weekly for seven semesters.)

I never moved house to a location outside of San Diego. Until this year, about five months ago.

Now that I have, I'm deep in that worried spot, wondering if it was the right thing to do. The problem isn't so much how far I've moved, but more a matter perhaps of moving not far enough. Y'see, Escondido is just 30 miles from where I was earlier in the year. Same county. Only a half hour and I'm back in my default life in San Diego—all the social networks. Church life for both of us (at different but not distant churches). Job opportunities. Dental, medical, and even pet services that we have not yet decided to change to Escondido area ones. All that stuff was left to be conducted in our hometown while the primary benefit is that since Kelli is the bread (and butter, with her second job) winner, with her office located up here, it made sense finally to accommodate her, unlike in 2005 and the Claremont debacle.

Since 2002 or so, in the wake of 9/11, I've been more gasoline conscious. And of course in 2004-2005 I was particularly concerned with peak oil and the implications it would have in daily life. (My thoughts from that period in particular were the stuff that essentially launched this blog, and those two years have voluminous posts, many about the constellation of topics around peak oil.) Years later now, not so interested in the topic at that level, the fact is, I still make decisions with it in mind. No one really wanted to listen but I have kept watch and monitor my driving pretty strictly much of the time. And that means of course that to live 30 miles away from a life that used to wrap around me in about a four-mile radius demands some judicious planning. With gas prices now at the highest I've ever seen, a simple trip down there and back will cost about $10 or more.

Clearly, the move to be nearer to Kelli's work has been a success, and would be more so if her territory as hospice chaplain didn't drift a time or two since we got here. But barring that, it's still good that she doesn't have to plan to do a daily camping trip, carrying everything she'd need to spend a day in her car, out in the field or at the office. She barely gets to the office anymore, instead doing a lot of work in her room. Phone calls, charting, and other bits that she used to do at the office or in the field are now done before leaving for the day. Nice. It's good to see more of her. On the whole, she tends to get home earlier, but believe it or not, even the shorter distances are troubled with the fact that she has to use the CA-78, which gets to be a nightmare at rush hour. But mostly, the move was good. Her San Diego position is mostly a contingency-based, on call kind of position that only happens four days a month. Some days her job is to call in and wait for further word, and to get paid in the process. Nice. Others are the expected patient visits and pay handsomely. She'd like to quit the job but every couple weeks the paycheck is found to be useful for powering through credit card debt (both of us paid off now) and now a car loan and the ever-present and painful student loans at nearly a grand per month. Keeping a good connection with that second office might be handy if there is a time when she might apply for an internal transfer, and maybe drop the job up here.

As for my part, I get myself in knots about this. I've been trying to build a life up here. Job applications and resumes sent out to places within about a ten mile space. I've been giving more attention to my musical pursuits since departing my post at JEM in August (freeing up vast amounts of time). The city library is nearby so I've dropped in a couple times, even meeting up with their "Library You" program manager, talking about helping their effort to record local folks to help build up a local body of work with video and audio. A couple cash gigs have been gotten in the region (audio book editing, a website, housesitting), and other options might turn up some work: more audio book work, maybe a percussion gig, maybe live audio too. I got close to getting a cheesy gig driving premium cheese to Los Angeles area destinations but I think if I ever get to work for that place, it might be because I was overselling myself and I think the guy realized that it'd be a waste to have me on the road, and instead doing something more creative and supportive. I got a referral from a fellow at church who turned me on to a local jam company, which also needed an LA driver, so I am preparing to start with them next week. Tiny operation. More later...

I've gotten to the local pub and tried to absorb Irish music on guitar (not happening so far) and percussion (all that Jethro Tull and Fairport Convention is starting to pay off), and hope eventually to let that turn into new opportunities. I haven't biked much because for all the time so far, up until the last few days, it has been so damned hot and/or humid. I mostly stay home during the days unless there is reason to go somewhere, and I have to say that I've driven more than I'd like. At night, we're able to walk the dog into town if we want. The pub is just under a mile. I bike over with guitar and some small percussion and maybe Kelli comes by later with Buber Dog and we walk back after a beer. We walk to explore the hood and to get some basics done. It's neat having services nearby. An amazing old school donut shop is all too tempting. We're not totally central in town but it's not far out either. The city is a bit spread out, with newer areas being deployed farther out into the hinterlands. We're essentially in the barrio here, something I anticipated but did not realize would be so true. We're off the main drag in a way that is quiet as regards city traffic, but we're in a neighborhood that tends to be loud: radios, industrial traffic, dogs, chatter en Espanol.

All that noise on my street started a chain reaction that ended with my resignation from JEM, first finding it hard to produce a recording without noise, and without burning up in my office room with closed windows. The last episode I produced featured what amounted to an audio tour of the various noises, and narration of how that was already changing things. I didn't expect my whole volunteer position would be found to be so tenuous after that. Anyhow, during July and August it got very hard to justify the time spent doing that, particularly when I lost my unemployment benefits after a year and a half, and needed to spend more time patching up that damage. The handoff to the others was not without its problems, even as I was tutoring them. The fact is, I held the key to the JEM digital kingdom and it would be hard to hand it over in any way since no one else really had been so acquainted with it all.

The fact of JEM's podcasting and all my volunteer work with them seems to remain that it was successful while I was in the neighborhood near the office. Notice the bookended period: I moved to North Park in October 2009 and announced that I could do volunteer work starting in December. Then the opposite happened once I moved here: got here in May 2012 and was separating three months later after finding the geographic challenge was frustrating, holding so many conversations and tutorials over the web with people who really need to see stuff in person. Recording sessions could be done any of a number of ways but the best way would be up here where it was hot and miserable and it would be hard to get a guest to come up. It just all fell on its face. But for this telling, you need to know that seeing it all evaporate in a month or two was disorienting, especially as the season here was swelling in temperature, and there seemed to be no relief from the heat unless I drove to San Diego or hit the mall or library (the latter two not my usual choices).

The summer was a hell of a time in terms of heat (it would be hotter here by default but I'm convinced now we're getting some stranger weather from world level issues). But it was also a handwringer about the job situation, especially when, in August, that changed and my UI payments came to an end. Feeling that all my time at JEM was still a thing that didn't particularly qualify me to do other work I see listed, I was pretty crushed at the lack of responses to my more computer related queries. Yet I hated the idea of just driving trucks or doing warehouse work. My landlord was nice enough to smile upon my musical pursuits, even drums, but I kept that aside until about a month ago when I set up and wailed with real drumsticks (not whip sticks or rods) for the first time in years. The urge to make music has been growing in me, and something is demanding that attention of me, so I've been spending time each week on guitar, bass, songwriting, a bit of drums, or generally getting some musical knowledge and trying to (gasp!) learn some things I should have learned long ago. Getting to the pub has given me a real carefree opportunity to absorb some material and to meet folks.

But still, the feeling of incompleteness when I consider that there is a life I am missing down in my hometown... It seems Wednesday is a day to pile up several things in San Diego and go see some people. I don't get to church much anymore because for me it was not particularly about the Sunday worship but more about the things during the week, the things that form the community I enjoyed. Not being able to do that with a 15 minute bike ride, or to carpool with a fellow member has been isolating. Kelli and I might head down to San Diego on a Sunday morning, and maybe go to two churches. But since I don't like worship and feel like things are different, it's like going through the motions. Even while at church, I am not in church. I tend to wander off to another room, either to read or to seize the solitary time. That kind of thing was something that took hold especially after returning from my two great desert times in Arizona and New Mexico in 2010 and 2011, respectively. As many churches as there are in Escondido, none are of our denomination (I lie, one is but it's more independent and whacky), and the others nearby are far by my standard. It's easier to just keep getting to San Diego with Kelli, who doesn't want to leave her church. And that's the one I don't want to go to. It's odd. We even drove up to Murrieta to try a small UCC/DOC church there. I'm just not feelin' the church life now.

But the good news is that on the musical front, I've given more time to do some aspect of musical development most days. It's not as aggressive a schedule as I'd like to engage in but it's more than I've done in years. A few Craigslist ad responses have given me a couple more options to explore. I've been able to justify trips to San Diego that include a songwriter Meetup group that I've enjoyed several times this year. I've spent more time with guitar/bass/theory websites and just trying to develop my hands and ears to more quickly acquire new repertoire. It comes rather easier than it used to but man, it's an uphill battle. The big challenge for me, trying to pursue music now, is to realize I'm 39 and can't keep living with the echoes of all the negative voices, all the "reasonable" voices telling me about "music should just be a hobby" and other such limiting talk. It's taken a lot of wrestling to push past that and to start to develop again. I just know that a number of musical experiences in the last couple years have been nudging me in the direction of more music. And yes, I'm glad I still have enough tools to work with and can still jump to another instrument at a moment's notice. I'm looking forward to being able to play drums and hopefully return to recording sometime while I'm here. I'd like to get some work so I could afford lessons on one or two instruments.

I hate to say it but we already talk about whether we should leave this town. If we waited for our lease to expire, we'd go in May or June. Or I suppose we could pay absurd money to break contract. But as long as Kelli anchors it up here with her job, it's hard to justify leaving back to San Diego. For me, seeking a job as I am, I fear getting a job in San Diego. It could be pretty expensive just in commuting costs. There's no way in hell I could get a job that pays as well as hers so if I did get such a job, driving my truck, it would cost more in real terms and as a percentage of my wage to do such a thing as commuting from here to San Diego (central). We moved up here because we'd save five trips a week or more, about about $300 in gas per week. For me to take a job in San Diego while living in Escondido is not too different than Kelli taking a job in Escondido while living in San Diego. But that's not our concern yet. It's just a measure of how crazy things are.

Aside from the economics of it, of course we're feeling cut off from our people. And aside from that too, it's harder to ask people to come up here. All summer, with the heat raging like it has, we've not even entertained having the house warming party for the folks who helped us move up here. (A house cooling party would be better.) My cooking interests have all but dried up since getting here since the kitchen is hot by nature and of course ridiculous with any appliances on. The fans have run continuously until last week when it finally got to feeling like a comfortable day in my hometown. The bills, shared in part with a fellow in the flat behind us, are absurdly expensive in part because we're in a smaller city with a whole other utility scheme, and in part because our co-tenant has AC and we don't. We just got approval from our landlord to put in fans. He's pretty cool and tried earlier in the summer to get fans but it was too late to even find them. He's such a good landlord (unlike the various parties who have taken our money for the last five places we've been in) that we have mixed feelings about letting him accommodate us only to turn around and move before the summer kicks in, just one year after we got here.

All I know is that for the entire summer, I barely left the house on my own except to do job interviews, a few trips to San Diego, and some local spots in the evening. Or when Kelli was going down there, I'd just hitch a ride even if I didn't need to go for anything. Just getting out was good. Being with my wife is good. My room is relatively large and home to a lot of things for me but it's hot and miserable with just those two windows and a door. The patterns of a life lived without willy-nilly use of gasoline are a bit rough at times. I was depressed for much of the summer, particularly after leaving JEM and realizing that there was so much time to fill, either doing a lame job search, or feeling bad from being caught in a mind with many creative urges but a body that is well taxed by the summer heat and humidity, and a soul troubled by so many options. It all conspired to get not much done. The smallest things like doing dishes or laundry or putting things away was taxing. Venturing to the garage (out back in the alley behind the back house, and insanely fucking hot in there) during the day, or even the mailbox, required mental effort and usually didn't get done until evening. There are so many things to do that conflict and vie for my time that I can only go in circles some day. And frankly it's easier to get nothing done. Job search, musical practice, chores, process trip pictures for wall hangings and gifts, do some blogging, get to San Diego, spend time with Kelli, fight with printer, beat back the idiocy with communications companies. The list goes on.

So that's most of what you need to know about our lives in Escondido. After that, it's just details.

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?

Tuesday
Mar062012

Getting in Tune with the Music

Ed mugging behind the StratocasterNovember 2000I suppose maybe I should have done it 17 years ago, but I waited until February 23rd. I mean, I started when I was just about to turn 21, and now I'm 38! But I didn't ever do it right. I just did it my way. And then things got distracted and even the attention I used to pay it was cut down noticeably. But something inside me keeps nagging for things to be reawakened, but this time it has to be done a different way. Of course, everything could have been different if last Friday happened anytime in the last 17 years. But it didn't happen that way. But it did happen.

I had my first proper guitar lesson.

You read right, folks. First paid guitar lesson ever. It wasn't for lack of opportunity; there are quite a number of teachers in this town, and there were several teachers among the various bands I used to work for. It wasn't that I didn't know anything about guitar, either, or about music. I did have a basic musicianship class (and a concurrent piano class) at Mesa College in 1993. So, by the time I picked up a guitar in late summer 1994, I was already introduced to chords and scales and intervals. My second instrument, the piano, made some sense to me since one key makes one sound. But after playing in bands that used guitars rather than keyboards, it began to be apparent guitar and bass would be more useful as auxiliary instruments to know. (I mean, I had a piano at home but I wasn't about to go to a rehearsal with it!) 

It just so happened that Bill Francis, the curious fellow who lived at our house in 1994 had two guitars and he wanted to shed one to make a few bucks. For me to say he lived "at" our house is more descriptive than to say he lived "in" our house. He was afforded a trailer or a shed to live in, courtesy of my old man, who was willing to help just enough to keep Bill from being totally homeless. Bill let me borrow one guitar—the Fender F-210 I still use today (about 25-30 years after its manufacture)—and that the old man subsequently bought for my birthday just a month or so later.

I had a chord book but had no idea what to do with it, really. It was more of a traditional jazz-blues kind of book from Mel Bay and I was kind of sour on it because I didn't hear the chords I saw in the rock bands I played in. I didn't really have vocabulary for it, but I was essentially missing the various power chords, partial barre chords with an A or E string left to drone, or certainly, open tunings or altered tunings. Not long after messing with all that, I sought some time with Jim Pupplo from Slaves By Trade. SBT was just in the process of breaking up, not by some big artistic differences, but that Jim was leaving to play with another band. As a parting gift, he showed me some power chords and other bits one day at his place. The thing is, I wasn't really sold on guitar as something to get passionately into. Chords never fell well under my fingers, and even to this day, I am slow to get certain forms, lest my fingers get into a tangle.

The battle-damaged F-210I never took a lesson since then. I've had a few more chord books and a couple books that, if actually used as intended, might have done me some good. Instead, I was keen on experimenting with sound. In early 1995, I was in an interesting spot to receive two guitars from a girlfriend who was keeping her convict friend's possessions. For a while, I had an acoustic guitar (don't remember if it was electro or not) and the very same Strat as I now play. (Sort of. Almost everything on it has been replaced and renewed over time.) I recall that quite early on in my guitar era, I took to using alternate tunings. I think the first ones must have been to tune to what would be a minor barre chord, or maybe a major if desired. One of my early tracks, Earl, was simply me strumming open chords at a couple positions as a drone effect. I was rather far from actually making music. Another odd tuning I used was EBEebe and perhaps a more extreme form, EEeebe. Somewhere there lurks a recording from mid 1995 using that tuning on the F-210, with an amazing stack of octaves and unisons but no real chords. It pretty much is a heavy attack minor key kind of theme that has an interesting buzz about it. That Fender acoustic could be called on to do some odd tunings. I've used it to play Robert Fripp's CGDAEG tuning, and even a variant of that, tuned a half step down! And of course I've done DADGAD and DADF#BD type things. It's versatile.

Some of that was to avoid having to learn real music on the guitar. Almost as soon as I picked up guitar, I found my two leading inspirations to diversify away from my drums-only identity. In December 1994 I saw Mike Keneally for the first time, and in the spring of the next year, the newly re-formed King Crimson threatened to explode my brain. There was nothing I could do to emulate Keneally's guitar or keyboard playing, but I could make jokey recordings with copious amounts of tape editing. And over in Crim-land, I could go for a highly processed tone, ambient effects, noise, and unusual tunings. It was fortuitous that just a month after seeing the Crimson King, I began working for Rockola. By the end of the summer, I was beginning to work for Bob Tedde. He let me borrow all sorts of things that made my experiments fruitful: pedals, 12 string Rickenbacker, effects boxes, Mustang bass (the short thing), and over time, various synths. Doug and Marty of the band also let me use bass and drums if I was responsible for getting them to the next gig. Various other guys I jammed with let me use instruments for various periods: 6 string bass (the one I played with an air compressor), electronic drum kit, and more. It was handy to have access to things, but because I wanted to record more than I wanted to practice, I set about my early practices that became my standard approach until maybe 2001: the recording was the artistic focal point for me and instruments were the brushes that let me paint the sound onto tape or disk. Learning musical vocabulary and repertoire was secondary, and often ignored.

Receiving coverI worked around cover bands playing a lot of classic rock, funk, disco, fusion, and even some blues and country. Some of what I missed in lessons was supplemented by watching bands so much of the time, and at least taking some stabs at things I saw over and over. But I never really learned songs or parts on guitar or bass in the way that I did on drums. Major disadvantage that I am now trying to put right. Receiving was recorded at the peak of my activity in the music/tech world, but you will barely hear anything directly attributable to my having watched so many bands play those styles named above. On Receiving, like all my recordings, there is really no knowledge of conventional harmony. I doubt there is even one tonic-dominant progression to be found. Or maybe only one! And yet, there is some adventure in the tension and release on certain tracks. It just isn't anything you'll find "in the book."

Over time, there were a few players that were on my scene for a few months or a year or so, and who graced me with better musicianship than I ever brought to things. In order, I'd name Michael Kropp (bass/guitar 1995), Tom Griesgraber (bass/guitar/Stick 1997-99), and Todd Larowe (guitar/bass/keys 1999-2002). Each of these guys gave me access to better playing on those instruments, but each also left me with something to think about as I watched their method or as they helped me unpack other things about music. My understanding was pretty decent, but my application of any of that to the instrument was always lacking. Knowing some things was half the battle, but I never won the other battle on any of the instruments I played: working the sticks and picks with any discipline. I've tended to regret that.

In the years since 2005, most bets have been off the table anyway, particularly with regard to space to set up and do thing as I used to. That was a bruising time that took a lot of wrestling. Despite selling off pieces that I sort of wish I had kept, I did retain enough to maintain a guitar/bass/drum/recording capability. And in the absence of actually playing much guitar or bass, I've been soaking up music just as a listener and allowing it to reach me in a way that I don't think it did when I was trying to create stuff myself. In the background I've been trying to push myself to develop some familiarity with pop music of various eras, either on bass or guitar, or just in trying to map out chords and get a feel for things at a new level. Part of the challenge has been to develop my ear and intuition on an instrument.

Church in the parkIn the fall I briefly played drums and a bit of bass for a budding worship band at church. I don't like the music and I didn't like the structure, but I gave it a shot for a while to at least put myself to some use. In all the years of doing church and playing music, I had never played for any liturgical purpose. The band leader was driven enough to buy a drum set and so I used that at rehearsals, making it quite easy to show up and play, only needing to add a few personal bits to the kit.

Fender bass wall with 5 string jazz bass and the bastard Fenderless fretless modJazz bass on the left; Fretless on rightIn October I bought my first instrument in years. It wasn't a huge step, but it warmed me up some. I found a rather used and very cheap ($100) Indonesian Squier P-Bass at a pawn shop, and as soon as I got it home, ripped the frets out in gleeful abandon, using toenail clippers! Then I took it to a luthier and paid 2.4 times as much ($240 more) to have the fingerboard properly finished with inlay lines and dots, and smoothed out. I was just aching to have a fretless again. It's no Warwick, but it soothes me to find my own notes again. Maybe it's part of my ear training method, but it's good to have a fretless bass once again.

Since the late summer, I've been joining in on a monthly acoustic/folk kind of meetup that lets me come in to learn some pretty basic songs on guitar. Again, not all of it strikes me as my kind of music, but since I did such a job of not learning the basics, now it's like I am building the foundation underneath the second floor! Just a couple days ago I went to the monthly meetup and the theme was "no guitars." I was able to come in with the fretless and hamfist my way through the tunes. It was quite a different group with no guitars. I think I was more able to participate on bass than on guitar.

Heartbreaker amp/cabinet looks pretty lean and sporty.I hope to make the Heartbreaker screamAll this has helped draw me back into spending time with music. Over the past few years, there have been a trickle of song fragments and chords that I have not finished. Part of the hold up is not really feeling I have a singing voice yet, but knowing that can be worked on. And I think maybe that should be made a co-incident priority with guitar related tutoring. I've mostly resisted the urge to set up a recording environment. It's hard, but I've sat many times in the past decade, staring at a rather complete recording rig, fully aware that I am more beholden to the gear than any stroke of brilliance and passion in my fingers. And that got old. I've stormed out of the studio plenty of times knowing that that approach was disingenuous, and that I should tap into whatever feeling lurks, and to work at developing some technical readiness to deliver the goods when the muse arrives. Eventually complicated recording setups can be put together, but for now, I need to trust that me and the guitar have something to say, and that has been the trouble. 

Another meetup group I just tried last week was a songwriters' meetup. I got a good feeling off of it, and since the people are dedicated to song craft, with a chance to be reviewed by others, and a feeling of collaboration, it might lead to other opportunities that get me out of my rut.

Unfortunately, the jobless situation means funds are a bit tight, but the choice to get music lessons is a worthy use of funds. I've been of the mind that the time has come to seek personal growth with some combination of music lessons, a gym membership, or with a shrink. I can't really afford all three. Two of them are things I've never done. One will just tell me to do the other two. In the few days between the first lesson and the songwriter meetup, I felt distinctly more alive—damn the therapists! I've been of the mind that it's time to make some more space for music, even if it comes at some cost to a life at, say, church. I've already cut back on that for various reasons. With the meetups and a new sense of empowerment, I might be able to meet some new people and do things that I've been setting aside and dreaming about.

Tuesday
May172011

May Gray 

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

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

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

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

 

Thursday
Dec092010

Nik Kershaw at 10

big artist head shot of nik kershaw, one of my musical heroesNik KershawTime flies. Ten years and some weeks already since I was riding in the car one night with Mike Thaxton and then, unannounced, he put in a CD with a powerful backbeat and an undeniable synth hook and a blaring horn section where a guitar solo might have been. At the time, scarcely a few notes in, I thought it was Eric Clapton's 1986 song It's In The Way That You Use It. I commented that it was good to hear that Clapton song after all this time. I had to bite my tongue when Mike straightened me out and told me it was Nik Kershaw's song Wouldn't It Be Good. Just as well. It had been even more years since I heard that one too, and this was a joyous reunion. Mixing up the songs was not impossible; Clapton was in his horns-and-background-girl-singers, 80s rock mode when he did In The Way. Glitzy 80s soulful rock stuff. Having both songs before me right now, it makes sense to mistake Nik's song (done in 1984, Clapton's in 1986), at least sonically, and with just a few notes to judge by. But I could never get into Clapton like I did with Nik Kershaw.

I think Mike had prefaced that night with some notice that he wanted me to hear some Nik Kershaw because he thought there was some loose parallel to the sound and career of Kevin Gilbert. Invoking KG was a surefire way to get my attention because Thax himself had given me a load of KG over the year prior, and that was the single most valuable artist for me then. What is interesting is that while Mike gave me a lot of KG in a hurry, there was a lot less NK available, though he did provide me with a copy of 15 Minutes and a year or so later, with To Be Frank. But it all hung on that one playing of Wouldn't It Be Good, that one November night, probably after a Magnificent Meatsticks session. That song still has some sort of magnetic attraction for me. I guess Mike's selling of NK by referencing Gilbert was to highlight that both had an insanely quantized and clear electronic sound in the 1980s that gave way to more organic and gritty acoustic-classic rock sounding instrumentation, greasier vocals, and generally more raw sound in the 1990s and present. In both cases, that was an appealing shift, though more so in Kershaw's case, I enjoy quite a bit of the earlier stuff. Another appealing thing for me was that both had a strong self-produced sound with each playing a number of instruments and minding the production too. Each has a distinctive voice that is applied in interesting ways. Sounded like promising stuff, this Nik Kershaw.

If my recollection of things is right, I didn't know it at the time, but Nik Kershaw became like a trusted new friend to me that season. Having hardly any prior experience with his music except for a vague recollection from 1984 of seeing the video of Wouldn't It Be Good, I was ready for his music to hit me with full force, not being diluted by endless radio play or other overexposure. Just as well. His CD 15 Minutes, the first he did after many years off and gone from the limelight, was the first full disk I heard, and this during the first weeks of the new wave of family drama that began about this time in 2000. For a few months from the fall of 2000 through the winter of 2001, it seemed the only disks I had in my 5-disk changer was 15 Minutes, Radiohead's Kid A, Jeff Buckley's Grace, Mike Keneally's Dancing, and Kevin Gilbert's Shaming of the True. That was the soundtrack to a time of depression met with a hopeful reunion with one side of my family which in turn was a provocative move for the other side, all with the exhaustion of finishing my own CD not long before and wondering when that would be pressed. Having just turned 27 shortly before, I was in deep. Whoever this Nik Kershaw dude was, he gave me a total gift with 15 minutes. I can't listen to it now without evoking memories of a cold empty house where my grandmother had left by ambulance and which the newly deregulated ($200) energy bill came down heavily upon me; angry letters; a day in the therapist's office (my sister's therapist); the lonely, tear-filled, raging 90 minute ride home from Long Beach at one in the morning; the smashing of tables and chairs and the spray painted message upon the tabletop, put out by the street for all to see; the fading moments of my grandmother's life, she sadly having seen the genie in the bottle finally get uncorked, and her befuddled response and complete helplessness to do anything but listen to me until she was overwhelmed; the endless hours of mining her belongings left behind; the painting of the house to make it my own; the trips to the CB therapist; the signing up for school at AIC—All that life for four or five months was accompanied in part with one great album of songs from a guy who I had hardly heard of a few months before.

Mike Thaxton eventually got me a copy of To Be Frank, the follow up to 15 Minutes. This came to me at another time in life, about a year later, when a lot of that edgy drama had subsided into a livable life. Maybe it was that that led me to not savor this album the same way. The songs are just as good but they didn't hit me the same. There are some that I do totally love now, but on the whole, I don't have the same experience with that disk. The uncharted territory remained so for a few years to come: with the exception of Wouldn't It Be Good, I had not heard a note of his 1980s era stuff. That took a few years to get to. At that time there wasn't YouTube to help find stuff to listen to, nor was there iTunes Music Store, so I relied on some alternative means to collect even a partial bunch of his songs from that era.

Even now there is woefully little on iTunes America store, and the CDs are damned hard to track down for a decent price, but I've gathered much of the 80s stuff by one download or another. I don't have a favorite full album from the four that he made in the 80s, but I tend to favor The Riddle and Radio Musicola. My understanding and appreciation for Nik's 80s era stuff was helped along considerably by the analysis of Patrick Daily. More recently, I found out about another thoughtful but more fan-oriented take on NK's music which helped shed more understanding. (The Patrick Daily dissection did a lot to help me understand more about music, and he analyzes more artists in similar fashion on his website.) Dissections did not scare me away because I already had an emotional connection with the music and I always appreciate a deeper look at it or what motivates its creation. Not particularly being of age in the period when this 80s era stuff was coming out, Daily's study about gender roles and New Men was an interesting perspective. His observation that despite the synthesized gloss and glitter, Nik is essentially protesting the capitalist culture even as he embraces the trappings of same. All that has given me more to look at while listening. But dissection or none, I am usually enthralled by the interesting harmonic and melodic turns this music takes. With a mix of live drums played by some of the best in the biz, and sequenced drums playing some nearly impossible parts, and sometimes doubled up parts using acoustic and electronic parts, there is rhythmic excitement too. At times Nik's voice seems exactly like Stevie Wonder. An odd thing, considering Nik is a very white dude from Britain. But not surprising considering he would have had Stevie's music to digest all during his formative years before he even cut his first album. At times I hear a sophistication and production spit and polish that one regards Steely Dan as having, but without the pretense and snobbiness that seems to accompany SD. One song, Know How, is a bunch of clever but subtle word and rhythmic play, and has this enormously satisfying Weather Report style bridge.

The thing is, I just don't know what I like about Nik's music. I know know that it speaks to me in its onion-like layers of meaning revealing themselves over time. There is no shortage of melodies that have sunk their hooks deep into me. This to me is the sign of good music, and even popular music can be good if it can keep peeling the layers away. I have to keep mining the recordings because Nik doesn't tour the States. There is a kind of longing that I have as this reality sinks in. Maybe that is part of what makes Kevin Gilbert and Jeff Buckley so appealing—the book is closed on those guys, and Nik and I are unlikely to cross paths unless I get to Blighty or Europe. I have never seen any of his 80s albums in the flesh; never read the liner notes or chewed on the lyrics like so many other albums I've held in hand. So I have to do what I can to forge an ongoing relationship with the material that I do have.

Thursday
Apr152010

Nineteen Ninety

Holy Hell. Twenty years ago I was 16 years old. What you are about to read is more than half a lifetime ago. Gasp! I'm not sure if any of it is worth recalling or reading but for those of you brave enough to soldier on, here goes another chapter in the rites of passage-plus-twenty series here on TAPKAE dot com. I guess it functions as a test of memory if nothing else!

I guess if I had to offer a synopsis of the year, I'd have to just use the words drums, Rush/Neil Peart, Shelby, driver's license/accident, depression, Hobby City, junior-senior year, church, and finally Kelli. I guess it was quite a year, but who would have guessed so at the time? At that time I was just an awkward teenager only barely dabbling with coming out of a shell and daring to do some new stuff or meeting new people. Much of the narrative is helped along by the presence of drums in my life; that was my budding interest then, sort of like bikes are now, and the catalyst for new social steps. I guess I have to tell a few stories about loud cylindrical shaped items and things that go thud and boom.

ed at the drums in 1989 on his 4 piece ringo kitMe with my first kit, late 1989I started the year wanting to get a "real" cowbell for my kit that, in August 1989, I had dusted off and set up again after about four or five years of not playing. After the basic Ringo type of kit, the cowbell seemed to be a pretty useful accessory. I actually had one of those souvenir cowbells that you can get in Switzerland but it was not intended for this kind of use and was promptly bent out of shape after a few weeks of playing. I'm not sure that was well received by my dad. So in January, after some time of anticipation, I talked my grandmother into taking me to Music Mart when it was down on Morena Blvd. by the San Diego river. (That proved to be a fateful trip; I met salesman Dave Flewelling there that day, and he figured into a mentor for a while, and later on still I worked as a tech and rented stuff to him from time to time. Then once he came and rebuilt the electrical in a room I was remodeling.) I got my "real" cowbell, one made for drum set use, and a mount and some other goodies, and was immediately trained to expect the "bro deal" at music stores. Weeks later, I sold that silver wrapped kit (a real generic Taiwanese Pearl style ripoff) and bought another kit that, in retrospect, was not really any better except that it was a five piece with a deeper steel snare and maybe had better hardware. I had lusted for this kit for months, and just about this time in 1990—March—I plunked down about $350 (I think) for it. I got it at New World Music and Sound, a music store just two blocks from my house that mainly dealt in high end electronic music gear, but stooped to sell a good range of acoustic kits too, including a bunch of Premier brand drums that set me keen on that brand, well in advance of my owning my present Premiers. (More significantly, this is where I discovered King Crimson a couple years later—a case of aural assault, but in a good way.)

I took this new kit and kept it in my room, one with single pane windows and louvered windows above. They were naturally loud in a room that was woefully unfit to contain them. The matter of volume got to be contentious pretty fast. My old man had an oft-repeated chorus of "the drums don't belong in the house." He was willing enough to put up with a couple hours a day of my jamming to the few artists I had recordings of in the first year of my drumming era: Tull, Def Leppard, Fairport Convention, Aerosmith, Rush. He was sort of okay with that, but the neighbor's patience was always wearing thin and I think he wore down the old man as often as he could. Another almost hilarious episode involved my setting up the drums in the garage once, just downstairs from the studio apartment that we rented out. The tenant that year was this uptight middle aged dude who didn't get humored by all this, even though I played in the middle of the day on the weekend or something. He complained to my old man, who in turn offered him a set of earplugs (this was one of the very few times my old man stood up for my interests in music). Tenant boy wasn't amused so he sued for some money, and I guess he left. This was the beginning of the end for my house-bound drumming days. After that it was never to be taken for granted, and usually when I did set up and play it was on the sly, or almost intentionally to mess with our neighbor.

All that year and for years to follow, the drumset was like an ever-unfinished sculpture. I fantasized about "finishing" it but that never happened until I sold it in 1997! I found that money flowed toward the kit, always messing with hardware options, cymbals, heads, pedals, etc. Oh, and more cowbells! (Cue the Christopher Walken SNL episode.) Here is where I must tell the story about getting a job.

The job called me out of the blue one day, but it was only because I had made my face known for a couple years before as a sycophantic kid who just had endless time to hang out on the weekends. So one day in April of 1990, Mark Bahlmann called me and offered me to work at the Command Post, one part of a larger hobby store called Hobby City. By that time, I had almost completely left the model building life that was my consuming interest until I got into drums in August 1989. But he knew I knew enough to come in and be helpful for something like $4.25 an hour, 15 hours a week or so. I had helped them move to that location in Kearney Mesa, working for free product. He called me on a Sunday and wanted to know if I could fill in that day. I had my reservations about working on Sundays, coming from a family setting that had never demonstrated that and actually urged me against it, and also regularly going to church of my own volition. Anyhow, the job was mine for the taking and I did weekends for a while till the summer came, then I did a few short hours till Jeff came in once his school hours were over. It was never as fun as when buddy Ross Shekelton worked at the old location in the glory days (when I spent literally nine hours a weekend across two days, and for eight months in a row! I was the guy who fetched lunch and stuff to be paid for in product.) In 1990 though I was paid each week, and it was so little that they could just pay me out of the register if I cashed my check there—about $85 or so. This was heady stuff. My first job.

The joke of all these things was this: there was a physical layout you need to envision to enjoy how I justified spending all my money on drum stuff that summer. The Command Post was on Convoy Ct. and is the northernmost point of my illustration. Music Mart had moved that summer up to Convoy St., just about a block south from Command Post. (That area of town was a form of heaven then, or would have been if I did both model building and drumming at once!) Then, there was a Union Bank (not my bank) that was immediately next to Music Mart, but just south of it. The three places form almost a straight line. I used to joke that I spent all my money at Music Mart on the way to the bank on payday, because the trip from work to bank was interrupted by the music store! Hah! I spent enough time at Music Mart that the whole Command Post experience of old reconstructed itself there: I got to know product, learned the craft, met the personalities, and ultimately got a job there some years later. (These days I tend to do the same thing at the bike shop—some things never change!)

Now, all this solo drumming stuff is just enough to annoy the neighbors, so sooner or later I needed to apply it. Just as if according to plan, there was a rock concert put on at the school, featuring five bands that played a range of styles: metal, reggae, prog, funk-fusion, Christian rock. The band that loaded up on prog stuff played a couple Rush songs that I was just then getting into. They were the most impressive to me in terms of sheer musicality, though my understanding of that was not great then, my understanding that Rush was an act to respect was firmly in mind. It turned out that one of the drummers in that show, Mike Bedard, became a friend later on and of course, played on recordings of mine. At the time he was playing in the band that did mostly Metallica covers, and I was not impressed at all. But the band that played the Rush covers—Tom Sawyer and 2112—left an impression on me and I went in search of Rush music finally, after a couple years of being urged along by Command Post big-brother-buddy Ross.

That show also influenced a couple other guys who sat in the same audience. Tomas Enriquez and Shawn Zizzo approached me later on about playing drums in their AC/DC and Zep influenced band they were starting. We did one Memorial Day weekend jam at my house, and because they weren't Jethro Tull, I wasn't interested! Having no bass was odd too, and so we shelved that idea for about a year till there was a talent show in our senior year. When we did play together finally, we played the Run DMC take on Walk This Way—on the same stage as this 1990 concert, this time able to have some senior class fun putting on a memorable show involving white boys emulating their black hip hop heroes. That experience was perhaps the high point of my high school experience.

It was about this time when I started recording my drumming for the sake of being able to review how I was progressing. I grabbed whatever tape deck was on hand and put it to use. I used to record aimless improvisations and my attempts at the songs I liked from the few artists I know of and was listening to then. More notably, I made little cassette cards with the essential information on these performances. I used a copy machine, clip art, and my typewriter to tease myself that this stuff was a proper recording. This is the start of my recording career, and the start of my graphic and layout interest. These days, after progressing through this cut/copy/paste paper work, and later on to digital covers for tapes and CDs, and ultimately for a glass mastered and commercial ready CD, it is charming to see how it was important for me not only record something but to explain it too in some text and graphic presentation.

rush album presto band portraitRush, taken from the Presto album cover, featuring Alex Lifeson and the hair that I decided I wanted but never had the time or talent to maintainThe drama and theater class teacher (Dennis Hollenbeck, who put the talent shows on) had a brother (Geoff), who was my English teacher one year. I dropped in on him periodically because I had a good rapport with him. Geoff somehow had a copy of Rush's new album (on vinyl!) Presto just sitting there at his classroom desk. He let me borrow it for a week or so, and I devoured it. It was several songs from that album that I was playing on the day when our studio apartment tenant got fussy. This one album launched me into getting into Rush that year, about as fast and furious as the year before when I bought nearly everything from Jethro Tull. (Somehow, I was in a mindset that once I started a band's catalog, I thought I had to finish it all.) About as fast as this was happening, I got some Neil Peart posters that Ludwig drums put out as promotional fodder. I was, as it seems to happen with drumming kids about this age, in my Neil Peart phase. The secret handshake in musical circles involved asking "can you play YYZ/Tom Sawyer/La Villa Strangiato?" The effect on drum tuning was that my snare was tight as could be, and my toms also were too high. I literally had, by the end of the year, built up my version of the cowbell tree that Peart had made famous. Seeing his enormous kit of course sent feelings of inferiority through me, and the answer was to gear up and buy more stuff!

ed playing borrowed bass guitar. not very well.Sort of playing a borrowed bass, but notice the Neil Peart posters that Shelby tormented me aboutThese days it is all good for a chuckle, but back then it was a voyage to manhood. A rite of passage. It was important shit, learning every one of Peart's licks and having too big a kit to wail on. But some saw through it. My odd friend at the time, Shelby, always into everything that is anti-prog—Beatles, folk-rock, punk, goth, whatever—visited my room just in the peak of this period, about May of that year, and she gave me nothing but hell about it for years to come. Years later when she wanted to put me down, she just had to remind me of the Neil Peart posters on my wall for about a year or two back in 1990-1992 or so. And those were—as much as ever—the glory days of our friendship. That semester, she used to come up to my area in Clairemont to take a night class while in high school. She got dropped off at my house and we walked a couple blocks to the school. That was about as much time as we routinely had to spend together, and a chunk of it always garnered some crap about the posters! Shit.

Despite this humiliation, I was determined to make moves on her in my naive and awkward way. I don't remember the full details of how all this went, but one thing was that I wrote a personal ad in the Reader. This was when you had to type 25 words or less on a card and mail it in the old fashioned way. It wasn't poetry or anything, but it took all this energy I had for her and put it somewhere, and committed to at least one statement. And it was promptly dismissed. All I needed to know about her was learned that spring of 1990 when such a great gesture was knocked down so swiftly. I guess I was too enamored with what had already passed into history between us to realize there was wayyyy too much difference between us. Later on she chewed me out for being condescending and for "misrepresenting the terms of our friendship." Hey. It's not like the whole Peart poster thing didn't smack of snark from her! It only took me another ten years to get her out of my system, by finally spelling out exactly what was on my mind all that time.

Okay, so 1990 was not the year for girls. Sort of. But explaining how it sort of was requires plenty of backstory. I'll get there. I promise.

The summer of 1989 was the first time when I actually found a great life in going to church and inhabiting the community there. All that was in full swing as we moved into 1990. I had done most everything that a 16 year old could do there, and was enjoying it greatly. In the early part of the year, I was nominated to the board of deacons, my age being quite distinctive for that board. The deacons were the more spiritually nurturing body and I know the folks who nudged me into that position wanted to cultivate that side of me, so giving me a place as a church officer was one way of doing that. The confidence of the congregation was nice, but really, by the late spring and early summer I was feeling spread too thin there, and so in September I resigned my post as deacon. I think that feeling coincided with getting my first job which I remember leading me to a divided mind about my priorities. I found myself in a blue mood that season, as I think I was going to church for the morning then heading to work for the afternoon. This was something I was warned of by my family. And in the recent years, I've dared to return to my roots in my conviction to not willingly work Sundays. But at that point, there was friction inside me as two very different worlds sought my attention. I ended up being led toward the commercial work more than the church life for many years. This one spell however was a teaser because my time at Command Post was only about four or five months, and it was over a week before I went back to school in the fall. That allowed me to return to a life around church activities, but by then, the cat was out of the bag in terms of my emotional life. Drumming was my main attraction, but unfortunately, that often had accompanying it a tendency toward retail-induced therapy, the short-lived thing that that is. I also realized that since this summer was the first to not be a supervised time during the days, I was left to my own devices at home for most of the days, not really sure what to do if I wasn't at work, hanging out at the music store, or actually playing drums. I found it to be a new thing, this feeling of isolation from folks.

I had been biking around since a kid and this was the first year I was able to take driving lessons. That had a teasing effect because I had no car nor any plans to get one. All summer long as I was buying various stuff for my drum kit, I remember riding the rather risky road across Clairemont Mesa Blvd., crossing the freeway cloverleaf, all while carrying whatever I could while pedaling the bike—cymbal stands, cymbal set, who knows. I finally took my driving test and passed it on the third of July, after a rather dumb turn-on-red instance disqualified me from a first go around a week earlier. Then, just under one month later, I had the indignity of having an accident in my grandmother's sedan while on the way home from a church picnic. The other party, Jennifer, was another of my youth group—the daughter of our associate pastor and youth leader Judy! She and another member of our group were leaving from a picnic at Mission Bay, and driving to her house up on Mt. Soledad. I was in the lead and missed the left turn I meant to take. Thinking she was farther back than she was, I yanked a late left turn and she came around that same side and hit my car in the front fender area. It was odd explaining how the car behind me hit the front left of my car. Like me, Jennifer had just gotten her license just a couple weeks before. It made for an interesting tension that year, as my driving privilege was revoked as soon as I had earned it, and it was awkward between my family and Judy until all that got resolved.

To add to a complicated time, I discovered just a couple weeks after that that I had a cyst on my chest. It decided to make itself known while at a church lock-in event when we hosted a congregation from Arizona. It was supposed to be a good time but I just remember it being a downer as I had to wonder what that lump was, and avoid hitting it (a bit hard to do when you'd rather be all active and playful and stuff). It was something I had to live with. No doctor said it was cause for alarm until two years later when I finally had surgery to get it excised.

kelli in 1992 or soKelli, circa 1992But on to happier things. It was also this summer that perhaps the biggest thing happened, though it did not seem so at the time. It didn't even seem so ten years later. In the midst of all this church activity in our rather small church family, we had a couple new faces turn up one August day. Two people—a mother and daughter duo—by the name of Kay and Kelli turned up and before long announced they had been regulars there years ago. I didn't recognize them, but they seemed like nice people. They were likely to be found wearing flowing garb, colorful stuff. Denim or overalls, tee shirts with left-leaning political statements or tie dye, quilt skirts with interesting patchwork design. It was as if they emerged out of Northern California. Not quite. They said they came in from Florida after a seven year stay there. They were different enough from anyone at church. Kelli, only 14 at the time, was into classic rock and protest and folk music. I dared speak the name Jethro Tull and she didn't run the other direction or smile and ignore me. Kay promptly got into singing in church, accompanied by her autoharp or guitar, and she sounded like an angel. Kelli had an immediate rapport with certain of our youth group because she indeed knew a number of them from the days—seven years and more before—when she used to be there at the church all the same as them—and me, sort of.

The story goes that she used to bug me back in Sunday School. I guess I was about eight and she was five or so. That is, I did not attend too regularly, but apparently we were there as kids, and Kay was, at times, my Sunday School teacher. Even though I didn't really recognize these two, they joined into the current church life and I found myself befriending them. Little did I know that 14 years later, I'd marry Kelli after all that time, both in and out of church life, mostly spent as emotionally close friends, but usually at some physical distance. (But in that blue summer of 1990, nothing led me to think I would marry a nice church girl, and particularly not the one who later really went the "church girl" distance, right now as I write, awaiting her chance at ordination! No, in 1990, my heart was set on Shelby. Ah, youth.) As the years progressed, I moved house for Kelli many times, but the first of such instances was done that first year as they got established here in town. It was one way that we established a type of relationship that was rather unlike the more established families at church, folks who I didn't get to know in this way.

ed senior photos, posing like a cool artist with his chrome snare drumOne of the portraits from my senior year photo session

Alas, that summer had to come to an end. It was made a bit more bitter by the loss of the job at Command Post, a move which was really just a release of my services by Mark Bahlmann. Just as well, it came at a time when I needed to go back to school. Also happening just before school was the last attempt to get my senior photos done. I had a chance to do that in the early summer but bypassed it due to my downer mood, and never really wanting much of my school life but to do it and get through it. Finally, I did go for the photo session in the studio. I took my new Premier snare drum, decked out in its diamond chrome finish. That figured into at least one pose. Another was another casual pose still involving a drumming theme, and then there was the official yearbook pose. The photographer was really a hoot to pose for. She was drawing something out of me that had been dormant for months. I had fun. I was not into it going in, but by the end, I was ready to face that last year of school, refreshed somehow. It was my turn at being a senior. Eventually, I got the portraits back, and because I had waited till the last minute, other mysterious figures in the shadows got to pick my yearbook picture. Unfortunately, they selected the dorkiest one of the bunch. There were some that were without glasses, better hair, a nicely relaxed but mature look—but no!—they picked the one with bad droopy hair, glasses, and a half cracked grin. Ick. That is how I shall be remembered for all eternity!

One thing that was different was that after that summer of work, I had some money to buy my own clothing, instead of enduring the agonizing annual ritual of back-to-school shopping for school clothes. This was the first year I had this option, and while I didn't go out and buy all sorts of rebellious garb, I did at least have the dignity of getting stuff I liked well enough. It is hard to convey what horrible times I had (as I fought and usually lost the battle with my old man) every August until then, particularly in high school. I started my senior year feeling more relaxed.

daniel and kelli do prom, 1994 or so.Kelli with Daniel, our fallen friend, all of us members of the Shalom Community at our churchI seem to remember the emphasis shifting a bit away from the church life I led quite keenly for about a year, and more toward my life at school. I didn't leave church life but since senior year is a time filled with many distractions, I think I lost the focus on church life. I remember participating still in the youth group, specifically a subset of that group called the Shalom Community, where the high school age kids had a great open but confidential forum to address issues candidly and with some adult perspective. By the time I started school in 1990, the Shalom crowd was welcoming a second wave of members, but since our church was small, some of those were siblings of kids who started the Shalom group a year before, and so the dynamic was thrown off. I remember the second year was not as engaging as the first, in part for that reason. It is through this group that Kelli and I both saw the early glimpses of our inner lives, giving us the start to our (now nearly 20 year) relationship. At that time of course, nothing seemed exceptional or suggestive of a history such as we've now racked up. But that is essentially our humble beginning as friends, and the basis for what we have now.

Back in the school life, it is important to at least mention the early days of my friendship with Stephan Rau from Germany. He appeared in my government and economics class with Harry Steinmetz, a teacher I had once before for public speaking, and once a decade and more later for another public speaking class at Mesa College. Stephan was the token foreign exchange student that year. I suppose he and I sat pretty close to one another then, probably got situated in small groups for certain things, etc. I remember we used to get lunch together, among some other people that I can't remember now. Sometime early on we discovered a wacky news broadcast on KGB-FM that we both liked. That was one of the things that got us laughing together, and kept us in some humor for a time to come. But that first semester was not really the time when we really thought of each other as good friends—that will come later in the second semester, so stay tuned till early next year or so.

With the status of senior classman, I did get a small ego kick. Whether I sought it or not, I did notice that it came with a change in social acceptance. I actually enjoyed my senior year, and I wasn't one of those who badmouthed the whole experience from the start. I did get a bit of senioritis in the second semester (therefore not part of this chapter) but for the most part I didn't mind the experience because in general, I came to like school more as it went, rather than less. By the fall semester my depression had subsided in the face of back-to-normal activity in a school setting with people who generally afforded me more respect than I had come to expect to that point.

As for the rest of the school experience, it sort of has clouded over. The senior year experience did finally jostle me to open up from a pretty closed shell in years prior. I remember joining a club—the Future Educators club—and attending some meetings. I don't remember what all went on there but I still do fancy myself interested in education, but am woefully behind in getting any sort of credentials. I was on the school newspaper, the Talon, that year. I really was ho-hum on that for a while, and quite mediocre at it but it was a distinctly different class experience. Mostly I talked Rush and drums with a sycophantic underclassman named Derek Vigeant, who later got madly into Rush and then also seems to have since made some name for himself in the world of comic books. I remember letting him come over to play on my drums on occasion. In my British Lit class, I remember having this ability to totally sweet talk my way through things. I did do the work; but I was the darling of the teacher and the TA because I actually liked the subject, and used to bring in Fairport Convention music and compare that to the stuff I was learning in class. In Steinmetz's  government class I had a friendly rivalry with a certain Robert Asimovic, the likable guy who seemed to ace everything he did—academics, sports, drama, etc. To even hold my own against him was good for the ego. (I still run into him once in a while in town; he has managed restaurants around here, and last I saw of him he was managing one where I made deliveries. We've even met while getting haircuts.) I took a computer class that year—programming, I guess—I hated it more than I thought possible. I think that within the year I also engaged in my first computer chat from one machine to another while doing newspaper work. I totally didn't see the point but thought it was fun BSing with a buddy across the room. How things have changed. I guess a bit of that early newspaper experience helped form the basis for my web work. Interesting thought.

One night early in the first week of the school semester I didn't get to sleep before having a sustained vision of myself as a lecturer at a school assembly, possibly speaking to a bunch of kids from about fifth grade on up. I saw myself speaking about relationships, family, friends, peer pressure, and so on. It was some heartfelt inspirational stuff. (I'm sure it would be embarrassing now but it clearly demanded my attention that night.) I suppose having envisioned myself in that sort of role, I've acted out some of that in smaller venues and in various relationships since. There is still a lingering desire to be thought of as a teacher, but not one who "just" teaches a subject in school. So I suppose it was that sleepless night that drove me to go to see if I could connect with Charlotte Eastland, one of the elementary school teachers I liked and who was an advocate for me back when I was in third grade. I went over to the school after hours one day and found her (this was so far before the 9/11 paranoia about people walking on to school campuses). We struck up a conversation that lasted a couple hours. After talking for a while about all that had happened since third grade, she took me to a faculty room and dug out a yearbook from 1972-3. Part of what I had to report that day was that I had in those years finally "met my mom" a few years before in 1986. I'm not sure that I could have known this—only that she seemed to have some great understanding of me when she was my teacher—but she had once been teacher to siblings of mine, back in the early 70s. (I can't remember if it was sister Chris or twin brothers John and James but the twins seem to be the right age.) Yep, they were ten and eight years older than me, respectively, and plain as day there they were in that yearbook. They seemed like vastly different people in those pictures—ones I had never seen because of the politics in my family. Anyhow, Mrs. Eastland was finally able to come clean on this morsel of information that was probably squelched when I was a kid. It didn't magically transform things for me. By that point, I was already done with what became known as the "first period" of my relationship with my mom's family (the one started in summer 1986 and sputtering out by late 1988 after some difficulty and silence), and there was not yet any return on the horizon. Eventually of course, history played out so there have been four such periods. Mrs. Eastland's revelation did do something to set my mind thinking about larger life events, and for that, I am grateful. On a few occasions during my senior year, I dropped in and talked a bit, but also was given the chance to come in and volunteer in her class. I'd have to say she left me with more of an education than you might expect of a third grade teacher. I sort of hope I get to tell her sometime.

Now I am pushing the boundaries of my memory, trying to recall what made this year worth reporting on. This is the last of the calendar years before I began journaling and keeping a calendar. In 1991, on the occasion of graduating from high school, I began my journaling period that covered a pretty solid ten years. But in 1990, I guess I was only beginning to have the sorts of experiences that I deemed noteworthy. In 1990, who would have known where the blue mood was leading to, or that it presaged many depressive episodes to come? In 1990, who knew that some animated tie-dye wearing folksy chick from Florida would become my wife? In 1990, who knew that my first experiences working on Sunday would lead me to working with a non profit organization that places the Sabbath at the center of an alternative vision of the world and economics? And in 1990, who would have known that I might be the facilitator of a young adults group at church, where in some ways I do function as teacher, but more so from experience gleaned from the Shalom Community, try to take whatever insight about life and relationship and inner life, and put it to some use so that it isn't something that just keeps me wallowing in depression?

A few years ago Kelli gave me a book by Parker Palmer, Let Your Life Speak. It is a great book about allowing yourself to open to what your true vocation is, what you're meant to do in life. He points out that the clues are littered throughout life, and only after what seems like a scattered life does one have the chance to find out what all that builds to. Jobs, hobbies, other things like volunteer efforts and the roles we play in our lives all have some clues. Some things are very clearly not meant to stick but contain some aspect that has enduring significance, and when seen in the midst of other roles and interests, things come into some focus, suggesting further direction. My favorite chapter dealt with depression, and that it is a time like that when your real soul work has its chance to be done, that it is not an enemy trying to crush you but a friend pushing you back down to ground where it is safe to stand. Nineteen Ninety is a year when a lot of seeds were sown in my life, and, like in the case of the visits with Charlotte Eastland, other earlier seeds were watered. Even depression has its role to play; this was just the first of the times it took to my stage. We're entering the period of my examined life, the life outside Eden. This was a year when I tasted the fruit of the tree of knowledge. Some of it was sweet, some bitter, but all of it ushered in a new life that is unfolding still. What, twenty years later, does it say to me?

Sunday
Jun112006

If You Had Asked Me 15 Years Ago

ed in 1990 with his chrome premeier snare drum, posing for the senior portraitsPretty handsome if you excuse the glassesIf you had asked me 15 years ago what I would be doing in 15 years, I would not have answered that I would be helping to lay down organic soil, chicken manure, and worm castings in a backyard garden. Nor would I have said that I would be making dinner (tri-tip steak, "broccis with garlickys," and mash-taters) for my wife and friends. I wouldn't have thought that I'd be ignoring my precious drums in the garage. No, would not have said any of that. But really, back 15 years ago when I was standing out on the football stadium lawn at James Madison High School for the last official time, I didn't really know what I'd be doing at the end of the summer! It's been fifteen years now since I graduated. Damn. Tuesday, June 11, 1991 was a million years ago. It's hard to process it. There are the very tangible things I've done, and I don't know how much of it measures up against my peers, but then again, I hardly ever cared. Some of them probably wish they could live up to my experience.

I've recorded a few CDs. I've gotten married. I've been to Europe twice. I've traveled to Hawaii, Alaska, and toured the states for a few weeks at a time. I've been clinically depressed. I've been unemployed. I've worked too hard for one day, several days in a row. I've constructed fictitious relationships and watched them fall. I've owned two vehicles. I've lost grandparents. I've sort of lost parents too. I've gained a few parent figures in the process. I reconnected with my step mom. I've lusted for music and recording gear to fill massive voids in my life. I've patched up the voids in places and sold the gear. I've ignored the world. I've wanted to change the world. I've lived in six places now. I've had no love and then had conflicted love, then no love again, then great love. I've hated men and machines, and sometimes women too. I've kissed and made up. I've played drums under bridges and freeways, and in the middle of the night. I have no degree but I haven't let my lack of education get in the way of my intelligence which is at an all time high and climbing. I've killed my TV (maybe that's why I am smarter now?) I've killed a drum set. I have been on both sides of the law. I've worked shitty jobs for lots of money, but usually shitty jobs for not enough money. I've done great work that I demand to remain unpaid for. I've taken advantage of people. I've lied. I've stolen. I've used long words strung together in long paragraphs yet succeeded in saying nothing of use. I've bent notes. I've broken chords. I've raged. I've forgotten how to sign my name. I've been a trustee at my church. I've learned web design enough to hate it. I've had roommates enough to hate it. I've had more bass guitars than fingers on my hands. I've had a guitar I never paid for except to remodel it so extensively it's not the same as when I got it. I bought a green set of drums. I have lost some hearing because of it. I have used many different digital recording formats, being most productive and artistic on one of the most limited ones. I've smashed furniture. I've shoveled doggie lawn sausages. I've delivered pizza. I delivered tape stock. I've delivered meals for seniors. I've delivered impromptu speeches. I've moved furniture. I've lost my house. I've done almost three years of solo counseling, and that much couples' work too. I bought a suit for a gig and wore it about two times. I got fat. I've receded and gotten a little gray. I've never purchased a Grateful Dead record. I use soap instead. I've migrated politically from "yeah whatever" to something else that is hopefully more relevant. I smashed a cell phone on the street once. I've used porn. I've been "lucky" enough to be born in an age of madness-as-civilizational-progress. I've overseen the fall of Argentina. I've lost money in the stock market. I've endured one Bush presidency, and two Bush fascist regimes. I've smashed all my plastic models that once brought me great joy and adolescent fame. Drums and guitars are next. I've ridden my bike naked down the street. I've lost gigabytes after gigabytes of recording and computer data. I was briefly "father" for about five weeks but at least it was during the presidency of Bill Clinton. I have eaten a few cows worth of meat, but even more cows worth of cookies. I've worn both boxers and briefs, but not at the same time, and sometimes neither at the same time (!) I've thrown drumsticks at the wall in disgust and utter existential angst. I've smashed printers in disgust and existential angst. I hate Macromedia Flash. I have never smoked, but I do like my craft beers, or the old standby, Karl Strauss. I have mooched much alcohol in days of poverty. I have had "artistic differences" with heroes. I've bought some Jethro Tull, King Crimson, Rush, or Yes recordings three or more times. I've had long conversations. I've eaten sushi. I've worn the pants in the family (but prefer shorts if I must wear anything at all). I've lost friends to misplaced nationalistic comments which even I didn't really believe in. I've trolled on online forums. I've had under-the-gum deep scaling done and found it preferable to regular dentistry which still uses medieval tools of torture. I've worked on the sabbath. (But maybe it's okay since some weeks go by when I don't work at all.) I've lost God. I've found Kelli. (She led me back to the former.) I've smashed a bike onto the concrete. I've lived in sin. I once dressed as a woman to freak out my girlfriend at her high school band practice when I came to pick her up. You shoulda seen my tits! I ignored my grandmother when she fell. I've been greedy but never gambled. I've shaven my head a few times. I was reviewed in a couple music papers. I've pirated music and software and soft drinks. I've been a bad businessman. I've never recouped my investment on gear, and now just want to heave it off a cliff into the ocean but refrain because that might be environmentally unfriendly. I've had friends die of cancer and drug deal murders. I've had family members sacrifice me for monetary gain or write me off as dead. I've blown inheritances but did some better than others. I've listened to more than one side of some stories but will probably never "get it" because I was born a white Christian male in America, ca. late 20th century. Robert Fripp once tapped me on the shoulder and whispered sweet nothings in my ear. I've collected pigs. I've said really ignorant things about people who carry on like pigs. I've damaged vehicles due to carelessness. I've worked at Subway on two occasions, and have been robbed at gunpoint a few times. I took "a couple years off from school" that turned into ten years away. I've painted lots of rooms in my house, a few times. I did a telemarketing job for two days. I have cried. I have lost myself in utter joy. I get verklempt. I like movies about nuclear war. I love The Deer Hunter, Babe, American Beauty, To Kill a Mockingbird, Office Space, Forrest Gump, and Shawshank Redemption. I rip off Robert Fripp in an act called a "Frippoff." I don't believe in the virgin birth but I believe it was the most magnificent thing ever. I was investigated by police once for approximating the physical description of a streaker who shocked some womenfolk at my apartment complex. I've had food fights. I've watched more Rockola, Steve Vai, and top-40/dance band shows than is healthy. I've written songs about the meat processing industry, suburban failure, abortion, anachronistic disco lovers, and one about "when pigs spoke rhyme." I've moved house in two hours, under extreme stress. I've played guitar, drums, bass, keyboards, percussion, vocals, electronic gizmotchies of all sorts, and most of all, COWBELL! I've worked for charity. I've used eBay, but never bought anything off Amazon. I've stayed up all night. Or all day. Or all day and night. I've written page after page of tortured artist journals, and would like to burn them, but the EPA would get on my case for it. I've eaten many a burrito, sometimes two in one day. Burrito consumption might be rivaled by burger consumption. Now it's leveling off with broccoli consumption. I've taken the bus, bike, and have walked, but mostly I stay home now. I've worked for the man, but have also worked for the woman, and found that she wasn't much better. I walked off three jobs in eight months. I've smashed my finger in a car door. Then I painted my nails for the rest of the summer. I never drink coffee. I never use drugs. I've boycotted McDonalds since 1989, Wal Mart since 1996, and other places get my "treatment" too. I have consistently raised my GPA since starting high school. I watched Pink Floyd's The Wall just yesterday, for the first time.

I'm sure there is more, but I wouldn't want to bore you. Nor do I want to provoke the fascists. All this I've done since I graduated fifteen years ago. I don't know if I learned all this in high school. Some of it I did. Some I learned in kindergarten (like how to be mean to people, and to expect my way). I certainly didn't learn to eat my broccoli in kindergarten. A lot of this they don't teach in school. I won't badmouth the school experience like some, though I can understand the sentiments in things like The Wall. Oh, I've been damaged by the system too, but whenever I can, I stay clear of it. I'm finding my way out of debt (school debt—the consumer stuff was nuked earlier), and I am trying to stay minimally employed so I can retain the rightful use of my soul for more productive purposes. Maybe I relate to Forrest Gump because my life has sort of been like the feather on the breeze, but somehow, it's got some purpose. I've come to find the purpose of life is just to live it. Rises, falls—it's all part of the pageant. Pain is a reminder that I'm alive. It happens. Today, (chicken) shit happened. So did peeling potatoes and cooking my broccoli. So did missing my alarm before church. So did sitting at a boring ass church trustee meeting. But then so did talking to Tara at church for an hour in the parking lot. Arguments happen. But so does love, if you let it. I guess I fell out of love with forcing myself to be something I can't be. I think about it—the same question gets posed to me now as then when I graduated. So, what do you want to be when you grow up?

After I get done crossing off the list of things I've tried to do but never really did well—web designer, multi-instrumental musician/composer, pizza delivery man, sound man, sandwich jock, etc. —I sort of have to settle with my simple answer: "Me. I want to be me." They don't teach that in any classroom. Only facets of that can be learned.

My moniker is The Artist Presently Known As Ed. I've used it for ten years now, this summer. It came about while I was wearing my musician hat. I sort of kept it along while I turned to visual computer based art and websites. Now, it seems a little misplaced being that I don't really do much of either now, if at all. But life itself is art, and I gotta make my composition, my collage somehow. What else could I possibly be if not for me? I guess I could carry on being a Dilbert, but why? Why did I find my bliss in making 25 wheelbarrow trips of dirt from front yard to back yesterday when the day before I was ready to throw not one but two computers off the cliff? Is it any wonder? Some things draw the life out of a person. Some put it back in. Right now, situated where I am, how I am, I don't wonder about money and "stuff" except to wonder how I can finally get rid of my albatross. In fact, it's corrupting influence in my life is not welcome now. Been there, done that. Alienation. Not cool anymore. The world will not work that way any longer. That isn't to say it ever really did. But now that I have watched my family collapse in a fit of zero-sum greed and loathing, and all sorts of dysfunction, I want something different. If I don't do that, I may as well curl up and die. Been there, done that too.

Finding one's self is sort of like sculpting from rock. Somehow, Michaelangelo had to know or believe there was a David in the rock. Similarly, I guess I have to know there is an Ed in the rock which I was dealt, and piece by piece, chiselstroke by chiselstroke, I will find that Ed. I just hope that when I find that Ed, I don't find that that Ed is made of rock. If that was the case, I would really have found my father instead. And that would be unacceptable. But maybe that big rock contains an Ed with some soft nougaty core.

Sometimes I lament the lack of a degree because to the outside world, I have not played the game, but often I do allow myself to marvel at how I have dodged some of the terrors of my time—getting locked into an endless cycle of working to consume, working to be in debt, working to destroy one's life while calling it progress. I get drawn into it sometimes, but more times than not, I can cite my short term jobs and declare that most of them never really made me a career slave to the system. There are pitfalls for not playing the game, but because somehow I never bought into the whole bourgeois American Dream of house and cars, I don't need to push myself through all that shit. And it is shit, but not fertile shit. It's my hope that while some of my peers are clamoring to get ahead and using others as ladder rungs, but facing divorce and other life disasters, I might be quietly making my marriage better, and perhaps learning things I would never take the time to learn if all I had to do was work then take my work home with me. Marriage to me is the cornerstone of my world view now. It's not an adjunct that is added onto my career. It's the proving ground for bigger and better things. It's the place where growth can take place. It's the place where healing can take place. (Fixing dinner tonight for wife and friends and working on a shared garden is a far cry from Thanksgiving 1999 when me and my family met total collapse.)

So what do I want to be when I grow up? A human. A real life human with feelings, a conscience, and consciousness of things around me. In some ways, that makes me different. And that's not all so bad. I guess I want to be different like all the other different people out there. But I'm not so hip to being dysfunctional. That I could do without. Been there. Done that.

Thursday
Aug042005

Okua The Opportunistic Wolf Dog, Farewell

It finally got to the point in our moving when it was time for us to let Okua back to her family after having her for about 10 months. What a bummer. We looked for places where we could include her in our plans, but it's hard to find a place for a big dog. If we were able to, it was well past what we could afford. Aside from the hair and her love of rummaging through the trash when we were gone, she was the best and would go unnoticed in any house. She barely barked, she was very well house trained, never had fleas, or any of that stuff.

Now, she did take a liking to sausages, and had a greedy streak in her sometimes. On several occasions, she would help herself to the wonderful Italian sausages from Costco. She got more and more opportunistic as time went on. First, it would be swiping one off the plate. Then it was snagging them out of the Foreman grill. Then tugging the whole grill (turned backwards, shoved into the corner with other stuff around it) until it crashed to the floor and shattered all the plastic. Most recently, there was a situation when a plateful of sausages was hidden, covered, and set under a moderately high cabinet where she should not have been able to reach. She brought the whole mess crashing down. By the time I had arrived on the scene in about 10 seconds, she had eaten four of the eight sausages and was going for the rest. My ceramic plate exploded into even more pieces than the grill.

She loved to run away, usually by jumping the fence on the south side of the yard. Only that fence. She had it down pat. Sometimes she'd get let out under the pretense of having to wizz, and then would steal away at 3 am. More regularly, when I would come home from work or errands, and would check my email, she would make a dash for it. As summer approached, she was able to be left in the back yard to carry on like a queen, sitting in her favorite shade spot. Usually she wouldn't run away then, but sometimes she did. One day, I came home from work and she was gone, but at that point, the garage and front area was still intact and it was like a huge doghouse for her. My roommate evidently left the gate ajar and she took off. I had no idea where she would be so I just sat and waited. Finally, I got a call from Phil who gave her to us. He lives about a mile away. He called to tell me he had a guest who seemed lost... So I went on over and brought her back. She just wanted to say hi, and visit Alcott park right behind Phil's house, where everyone knew her name. Usually, I would find her a few blocks away, sniffing some trash or hunting some hapless rodent or bird. Sometimes, we'd get a call and find her over at the park near our house, where people would have her sitting there looking like one of the family.

Her more recent hobby has been to be the mouse police here. Our back yard has a partially terraced slope with lots of ivy on it where mice hide. Okua the wolf dog would act like a cat as she pounced on the little buggers. She would spend hours in her feline persona playing this little game. I don't know if she ever caught any but it kept her from jumping the fence and making one or both of us have to go ride around to find her.

Or she'd get stir crazy once we lost the garage and had to keep her indoors while we were gone, and sometimes while we were here if it seemed she run. She could tell time and when it was about 9 pm, she would come in and stand stubbornly in the doorway to my office and demand to be taken on her walk. She loved walks at night. We would take her without a leash so she could really run. Then we started to take bikes and would run her like mad till she was a panting fool ready to lay down for the night. We'd ride and run all through the neighborhood and wear her out. She can run like no one's business. Sometimes even on the bike, she was formidable and we had to race to keep up.

She liked to play with a rope bone we had. It was this huge yard-long thing with knots in it—the sort of thing you train a police dog with. All that is left of it now is a spun-out bunch of strands. She would tear into that like the savage beast she could be, but only for three minutes at a time, if that. Then she would set it down and walk off like it was yesterday's fad.

So for all the sausage swiping and running away of hers, today it was sort of lonely here without her. Aw, now I got myself all teared up wishing we got a house.