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Entries in forgiveness (5)

Saturday
Aug112012

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

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

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

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

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

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

1994: the Setup

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Alaska Ice at New Years

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

1995-1996: the Blackout

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

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

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

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

Pizza and Beer... for Dolphins

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

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

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

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

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

I Wasn't Supposed to be at Work That Day

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hog Heaven Halcyon Days, Shelby-powered

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

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

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

Wednesday
Oct122011

Bye Bye Black Sheep

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

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

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

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

Chris—

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday
Jul152011

The Curator

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday
Nov222007

Thanks

Thanks for Caleb and John.

Thanks for family of choice.

Thanks for Buber the Dog.

Thanks for a full plate whether I need it or not.

Thanks for the plants that grow in the back yard.

Thanks for the Toyota that still runs.

Thanks for the metanoia.

Thanks for the return of the swine.

Thanks for the fire crews who saved a city.

Thanks for those who don't give up.

Thanks for the flying colors.

Thanks for holy moments in unholy places.

Thanks for gay marriage, abortion, the homeless, and athiests.

Thanks for the story.

Thanks for the glass whether it is half or half.

Thanks for the house of mirrors.

Thanks for the empty nest.

Thanks for the market crash.

Thanks for the end of the world as we know it.

Thanks for El Cotixan and Satan's.

Thanks for opportunities to get it right.

Thanks for forgiveness when we get it wrong.

Thanks for the Sabbath.

Thanks for peak oil and global warming.

Thanks for heartbreak.

Thanks for loss.

Thanks for a role in the play.

Thanks for midnight.

Thanks for love.

Thanks for compost.

Thanks for the magician.

Thanks for mystery.

Thanks for wonder.

Thanks for a loving wife.

Monday
Aug282006

Being The Better Man

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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