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Entries in friends (23)

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...

Tuesday
Apr202010

Walter

Oh, man of mighty intellect
Oh, man with the brain
Oh, man with all the answers
Oh, man in silent pain

If you were only half the man you thought you were
With only half a brain
There’d still be plenty enough to go around
Then half as much again

But now we see you’ve gone away
By some oddly ordained plan
The hole that’s left’s an unholy one
Shaped wholly by one man

Sad the way this open mind
Somehow has failed to see
What life awaits just steps ahead
Life that won’t ever be…

Oh man with brains that go on for days
And laughter just the same
There’s more to life than intellect
But I’ve no chance now to explain

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
Mar072010

Take A Leek

ed and pepper sutton at MHUCC souper bowl sunday soup cookoff. they won the silver spoon award for the take a leek soupEd and Pepper Sutton, the chefsMy church had a soup cookoff today, the "Souper Bowl Sunday" event to raise money for one of the local charitable organizations we support. I submitted the following recipe after about a year of dabbling at home and it was adopted by the commission I am on, the Christian Education commission. A few of us in CE went to my jobsite and got some veggies and then headed back to church last night to make a few gallons of soup by hand. It was one of six entrants in the event. People voted by "cash in a basket" for whichever soup or presentation they liked, but really the winner was the group getting the donations. (We had a giant likeness of a rustic outhouse to play up the "take a leek" idea. Many groups sold their recipes for a buck each.) Nonetheless, our smoky Leek and Potato and Spinach soup came in second place and got the "Silver Spoon." The tortilla soup people won the golden spoon. It was a nice rainy day, perfect weather to drive a bunch of people to eat their share of gallons and gallons of soup! The tally I heard was $1,570—for soup! Whodathunkit?

Take A Leek soup

Vegetarian. Omnivore friendly if you use chicken broth or bacon. Home recipe yields about 3-4 quarts.

  • 2-3 Russet potatoes, thinly sliced
  • 3-4 leeks, cleaned, whites only
  • Your choice of 1 yellow onion, 1 bunch of green onions, or 2 shallots
  • 1 lb cleaned spinach
  • 1 can Cream of Mushroom soup (or Half and Half, cream cheese, etc.)
  • 1 quart broth
  • 1 head garlic, cloves peeled and minced
  • A few sprigs of fresh thyme and parsley, minced or left whole in a cheesecloth for easy removal
  • Salt and fresh ground black pepper
  • Dash of cayenne pepper
  • Olive oil
  • Butter

Optional:

  • For thinner texture add another quart of broth or more half and half. Thicker consistency makes more of a dip.
  • Bacon bits or ham if desired.
  • Experiment with herbs—dill, sage, etc.

Select leeks with lots of white, about 3"-4". Cut lengthwise into the core so you can peel apart and clean between the layers. Over a low flame, saute thinly sliced leeks, minced garlic and onions in butter and olive oil. Some browning adds additional character. Prepare potatoes by thinly slicing them and browning in a single layer in a wide oiled skillet over high flame. Combine leek/onion/garlic mix and potatoes into a large pot with broth. Add spinach and seasonings. Bring close to a boil then lower heat and let everything mingle for 30-45 minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat, add the cream soup (or other cream) and blend well using immersion blender. If using a regular blender, use a slotted ladle to remove most chunks, leaving some behind for texture. Recombine blended and unblended parts. Season to taste with pepper(s) and salt.

Yields about 2-3 quarts depending on how many broths or creams are used. Can be frozen. Serve with hearty, nutty bread or in a bread bowl. Yummy!

Friday
Dec252009

Use The Force, Luke

luke likes the bike i gave him. looking a lot more fit than when he started.Luke Williams on the nearly totally rebuilt bike I gave himBikes have played a more active role in this Christmas than they have since maybe 20 years ago or more. In another posting, you can read about my crazy zipping back and forth from one church to the other on Christmas Eve, all in the name of making my churchgoing a decidedly intentional thing. But that aint all...

This year I bought two bikes. Both are single speeds, and now both are fixed gear only. I've made my peace with riding all over this town with just one gear so that rendered my older and much-rebuilt 21 speed bike nearly unused. That was the one that has at various times had its back wheel stolen and replaced, replaced again to put something better on once the replacement was found to be a disaster, and then more recently, to replace a stolen saddle and seat post and a rusted chain. That second wave of stolen parts was as a result of my attempt to be generous to someone at work who I guess hadn't a clue about keeping a bike secure. She at least paid me back so I got some replacement stuff on there, and all was good.

But remember that that bike was the one that not only replaced the stolen parts, but was also my project bike when I decided to start commuting last year. Most everything has been replaced on it: all the drivetrain including the rear wheel, derailers, chain, crankset, cassette, shifters; the stem and handlebars; seat posts (a total of four now—original with a faulty suspension spring, basic replacement, replacement with integrated saddle mount, and then the replacement for that one) saddles (four of those also—original, first replacement found to be too spongy, the stolen Selle, and a replacement); tires and tubes; rack. (I think that was all.) Basically the bike was made new by all that stuff being put together a year ago. I figure I must have spent $600 on rebuilding what was originally a $300 bike.

And which became sort of an unneeded item, and frankly, one which didn't fit well in the house. I rode it for one big ride up Soledad Mountain and found it was, despite the gears, heavier and harder to ride than my other bikes which have one gear each. For some general use it rode like a dream, but after such extensive single speed use, it was an odd one out. I weighed trying to sell it on Craigslist for some insulting price that would hardly recognize the extensive reconstruction, even if it resulted in a very nice running bike that runs quite smooth and solid now.

I had one person in mind that I was going to give it to, sensing that maybe he'd like it, but that idea died quickly. So I let it out to the girl from work, hoping she might buy it after such a period of getting to grow into it. After getting it back after the month was up, I hardly mentioned bikes to her again because I had that queasy feeling while buying more parts to a bike I thought I was done spending money on. By that time though I had another idea.

Luke, the pastoral intern at church, is doing roughly the same thing as Kelli once did while in that role a few years ago. He's taken part in the young adults group, and he expressed some interest in bikes once he saw me commuting around. I told him I'd let him use my bike if he wanted, once I got it back from Miss A. who apparently left it at the beach or something. It took a couple of weeks to really do the handover but when I brought it to church, Luke obligingly went to the bike shop with me and we got a lock and cable for him, some lights, and another church member, Marla, ever the bike-evangelist, got him a helmet. So there he was, all geared up for kicking around, biking in to church sometimes, or whatever. He was nice enough to send a card a few days later, thanking me for the gesture. I started to get this idea that maybe I found my lucky winner.

my card to accompany the bike upon gifting it to him. the most ridiculous image of Darth Vader's head upon a body of a man doing a pedaling motion with his hands. and a christmas tree.Hey, it was something I threw together in an hour or two. I couldn't resist the model of a man who always wore his helmet!

Christmas makes a good excuse to give a bike to someone. I have given bikes away to people before, but usually not the ones that I've essentially paid for a second and third time! But one of the lessons of the last few years has been to be generous from one's abundance, and right now, bikes are a bit overabundant here! I've had in mind to sell the thing. I could use the money, maybe to get Kelli a better bike so she might get into it. But I rather enjoy the idea of just giving it away, and practicing unattachment. So, I told just a few people about it then set about making a poster-card.

I printed the thing at a CVS and wrote a letter explaining the thing and thanking him for his service at the church. I tucked it into a normal envelope and gave it to him at the Christmas Eve service. Still haven't heard what followed, but I know his family is in town for the holiday. That ought to have been a surprise! It was the only present I gave anyone this year.

Saturday
Aug152009

Second Verse Not The Same As The First

There was no fanfare today when the 20th anniversary of the start of my drumming and musical life came and went in a pretty dreadful day of work, toothaches, and just doing life. The story of this day in 1989 probably isn't that big a deal to anyone but it was a turning point for me. Of course, loyal readers of this journal know that music has mostly fizzled out in the past few years as life just got too dense and challenging to invest the time. In some ways I am glad to be rid of it; the layers of negativity that it evokes for me are gone: the darkness and alienation of the Hog Heaven period; the endless consumer merry-go-round; the no-go band projects with the flaky personalities. But as much as that sucked there must be the opposite virtues and joys: the endless hours dedicated to creating something from nothing; the ability to evoke mood and color from several instruments and recording gear and force of will; the sheer bliss of laying on the studio floor and pumping the latest mix and giddily getting a wild shit-eating grin.

Music for a while was my lens to see the world. Now I have other lenses to view things. But for a while, I guess I have to admit that my spirituality was music-based even though I had no way to articulate it as such. I mean, music is a way of understanding things at a deeper level. It is rooted to the mathematics of the universe itself. It is one aspect of our god-like power to create. It allows solo and group expression, akin to what I now understand as contemplation and action. The list goes on.

These days I don't really play anymore but find myself aching to do so. I hear music more fully than I had before, just as I listen to other people's music. That was one thing I never did before I picked up the sticks in 1989 and made a bunch of drum racket. It did happen parallel to my musicking but only in the years since about 2005 have I had more interest in enjoying music at a deeper level than when I made it myself. I anticipate that some day I will find a situation that will allow me the time to pick up a guitar and notebook and convey something real, and all the music that has seeped into me will somehow inform the resulting product. More than anything else I want to sing and write songs now, and leave behind the dissonant and dark stuff.

Not that there was anything so terribly wrong about that when that was what my soul had to say. It was ten years ago—halfway through this past 20 years in question—that the recordings that became my CD Receiving began to take shape. It is mind boggling that a decade has passed since then. It was a very fruitful year, 1999, but a very depressing one too. It was one of my darkest times. And much of what I did musically was dark. It was almost exactly then that I made some of the last recordings with any degree of humor at all. At the time I considered it to be musically growing up. The recordings that constitute Receiving in many cases came from pretty spontaneous moments that were sculpted into form. Some of my favorites were the ones that happened almost immediately. But equally so there are moments that are polished to a shine from long hours and even months of work. If nothing else, Receiving was a commitment to myself to record a CD's worth of stuff, and to press it to a commercial-ready product. I was aware that I was raising the bar for myself, and wasn't sure what would happen next.

Sometimes I think my life depended on this stuff to keep me busy, else I was ruminating on "stopping" cars or trains with my bare hands. Along the way in that period of 1999-2000 I was awake to do audio tech work, a few studio projects for others or my own music. I ate pretty badly. I was going to bed at dawn and getting up at 1 pm or later. I had very little social life. My imaginary relationship with Shelby was in full swing with what must have been mad sublimation of my creative passion—unable to act out with her, all my effort went to studio production while she was in Africa for a couple years. (I've written before that my most fervent and productive studio recording era was bracketed by her reappearance in my life just days before I got my VS-880 recorder in August 1997, and which ended almost to the day in December 2000 when our 12-year "friendship" totally unraveled in one day when she came back from Africa and I had just finished a holiday recording for my niece—on my VS-880, and the last thing of any real substance I did with that machine!) It almost seems that without Shelby, the whole enterprise fell apart, even though I maintained things for a while later with a bigger and better studio, other players, and more time, there was something missing. Maybe she was my muse after all, warped as that seems now.

I keep thinking that for all that musical period, the will to do it all was coming from outside me. Maybe it was the gear and all the promises that were made about how great it would make things. Maybe it was trying to please the people I worked around. Or maybe I was trying to live Mike Keneally's life. Whatever it was, now I get this feeling the stuff wasn't coming from within. The last few years—and the musical silence that buffers my earlier period from whatever may come—are letting me start to find my own reasons for playing, so that I might have a chance to sing my own song.

Friday
Jul312009

Wisdom To Spare, Redux

Here we go again. Time to go to the oral surgeon's office to get my wisdom teeth pulled. Only this time, I actually DID get it done. The evidence:

four of my wisdom teeth on the gauze. it only took 13 years to get to this pointSo much wisdom, so little space in my head

The background:

It was in late September of last year when I thought I would be getting my wisdom teeth pulled—all of about 12 years after I was first told to do so. It was the very thought of that procedure that helped condition me to stay away from dentists for um, let's just say, years at a time. Finally, the whole thing caught up with me, and for the avid readers of TAPKAE.com, you know it was a hell of a summer in 2007 which led me to getting gum surgery and all that. The plan for gum surgery was partially derailed by high blood pressure. Not surprising considering the whole dental chair phobia runs deep in me, and that year was just devastating to me. But it got done—in 4 procedures, not two—and I lived. So last summer I finally was told to get the wisdom teeth out so that other problems would be headed off.

But, the blood pressure thing reared its ugly head again, and this time it was enough that the doc couldn't operate. (You can read last year's anticipatory blog entry here.) Last year it was high enough that the surgeon said it was not just because I was in his chair, and that I'd have to get it looked at just to be in general health. It was a huge letdown that the surgery didn't go forward but it helped shine a light on some systemic problems that needed fixing. The answer was to get to work on doctor's visits at an office I had only gone to once before, biking, diet changes and all that, various aspects of which I have written about. A while ago the doctor seemed to think that it would be okay to revisit the oral surgeon. So, since then there has been barely a pizza or two, barely a burger or two, no sodas, far less cheese. That tackles some of the worst offenders, and I have been keeping track of the BP daily in addition to taking the meds. The biking is obviously more blog worthy than that routine, so you see more news about that here.

Anticipation Part 2: The day before

I do know that the vigorous 10-20 mile bike rides help, but those aren't the usual rides I do. The busy days at work and the commutes keep general activity up, as does a dog walk most nights. I took a ten mile ride home tonight for my ostensibly three mile commute. But still, with regards to tomorrow (July 31), there is still anxiety about meeting my demons head on finally. My escort tomorrow is a woman from church named Marla who perhaps knows a trick or two about relaxation and stuff, being into fitness, Tai Chi and other such things. This time I think I will take my relaxant pill earlier than last year. (I couldn't help but wonder if I had indeed taken it too late to do any good. By the time I was rejected and out taking care of other business an hour later, it seemed to have me pretty knocked out.)

And then, the good part...

This day started off with me taking the pre op meds at the right time, two hours in advance. I prepared a veritable cocktail of prescription meds between the antibiotics, ibuprofen, sedative-relaxant, and my usual couple for BP and cholesterol. I cleaned a little house to help keep my mind on other things. Last night's BP reading was a bit high so I was bracing for last year all over again, but trying to remind myself of how different today is from last September. Marla picked me up on time and we got there just in time to sit but not dwell for long, then I was in.

The room was cold which usually I would like but today I took the blanket they offered. There was the dreaded BP moment to contend with but no one mentioned any numbers. At least I didn't have to do mental math to compare to last night or last year or any of that. They let it go for another test cycle a few minutes later and I guess it was in the clear, particularly after I said that this was 13 years in coming and I had to get this out of my way finally. So the IV started up and I heard them busying themselves as I kept my eyes closed to be in my own world. I brought my stuffed pig Luau (a pocket sized piggy) and me and Luau were listening to the music. I was counting time as if I was playing the stuff myself. The next I remember I was having my jaw prodded a bit with gauze being crammed in, revived, and whisked off to the post op recovery room being told not to fall asleep. Marla joined me and collected my gift bag of teeth, gauze, and other stuff. Then it was off to the car, a bit groggy like a night of boozing perhaps, but on foot.

The post op time was hardly touched by pain. The greater annoyance is the numb and rubbery lip and tongue that seemed worse a case than the gum surgeries in '07. But as I write this just after midnight, all that has subsided. I took two vicodin at once in the afternoon before the initial anesthetic wore off. I took the antibiotic drug a few times. But the best part was that I got to gorge myself on yogurt! I think I had five cups of frozen stuff which, being numb like I was, barely seemed frozen. I had a couple regular cups too. Later on, as in '07 I had some dinner of mac and cheese with the girls (while they ate the bowtie pasta and seafood mix, I went lowbrow, but nibbled on their mix too).

Rinses have now been pretty clear, numbness is mostly gone, only two vicodin have been used so far. While it isn't a pleasure cruise, it does not seem as dreaded as it was for all those years. Tomorrow I start on salt water rinses and the prescription stuff to keep clean, but so far it has been surprisingly bearable. I get a four day weekend to boot.

Sunday
May172009

It Is Accomplished!

kelli in cap and gown, just about ready to start the graduation ceremonyAt long last, Kelli got to don the cap and gown to receive her Master of Divinity degree from Claremont School of Theology. This isn't her ordination; that comes later, but this is a huge step toward her professional clergy life. There are still some other hurdles before she can be ordained. But just as surely, that day will come too, and not too long from now.

kelli receiving her diplomaAt long last, the moment that took seven semesters of academic toil, long weekly commutes, personal reflection and discernment, and even butting heads with institutional buffoons! At least the diploma is printed on nice paper and they got her name spelled right, which is more than can be said about the IRS and Social Security Administration.

kelli with diploma, processing back to her seatAnd the victory walk took less than a minute after all that!

kelli after the ceremony, holding her diploma finallyKelli Parrish Lucas M.Div., if you please—And she should be proud! From the start of her admissions work to the end, it was four years of toil.

kelli with the CST sign behind her, thumb over her shoulder looking like she's relieved to get the hell out of dodge.As if to say, "I finally got that $#!^ behind me!"

ed and kelli get a chance to have each other back nowI sort of get my wife back now. Except for the fact she is doing her chaplaincy residency (non-academic, at least not related to CST work) which seems to take as much time if not more. But she doesn't have to go away for a few days at a time now.

the rent a crowd for the day: friends from a couple churches, old and newKelli and her cheering section: Mama Kay from Florida; Sharon Peterson (my sponsor and "spiritual mother hen" at my new church); Kelli, the Divine Master; Phil Calabrese (friend and father-figure to us both); some dude with a barely-working camera; Amanda Kersey (friend of Kelli's, seminarian and chaplain, and fellow new member at my church); and Lindy Harshberger (friend from CCCPB and Habitat for Humanity volunteer).

Wednesday
Jun112008

Life At The Top, Redux

I still feel that my best reflection on the years since high school graduation was written in 2006. You can revisit that entry here. I haven't reread it though I checked last year, and even then I had to concede that there wasn't much I would need to do but refer to the 2006 entry for a great idea of what life has been for me since that pivotal point. The year of 2006 was 15 years on, and this year—17 years on—doesn't mean anything in its "17-ness" but it does invoke the thought that it was indeed half a lifetime ago when I donned cap and gown for a while and did the worthless tossing of the tassel from one side to the next, not to mention the actual tossing of the cap into the air for some unknown reason.

ed standing behind drum kit, dressed in tux, ready for prom nightBut one important thing did come out of that period. On the day after graduation from Madison, it was a "June gloom" Wednesday. It was odd to be at home on a day in the middle of a week. Wednesdays were school days, by Jove! It didn't yet feel like summer. It wasn't hot or cold, but it was too hot to do work and too cool to sit around. I biked over to The Wherehouse at Clairemont Square and bought a copy of Yes' 90125 on cassette (don't ask me why I didn't get it on CD). I might have played drums a bit. The day was sort of surreal. There was not a sense that it was the summer yet, as such a feeling doesn't sink in for a few days or weeks. But there was some current of sensation that I had crossed a new precipice. It was like putting on a piece of clothing which hasn't yet been broken in, but that had promise.

Aside from what was an otherwise mundane day after a week of finals, senior breakfast, rehearsal, yearbook signing, family dinner (and one with Steve Rau and his dad from Germany) and other senior class activities, I did do one thing that clearly was to leave a mark on how I did life from then on. On that June 12th, I had the house to myself until my old man came home from work in the afternoon. On a couple school years' past, I wrote some short reflection on what the year had been to me, but this year there seemed to be more to say than what one page would hold. I ended up penning the first of the sort of journals that initially filled notebooks and other media like this blog. Oh, the ink flowed that day. I wrote a huge, sprawling reflection on life, but mainly focusing on the high school experience that now finally had the cap put on it.

It was off to a bit of a pretentious but hopeful start in its title alone. I called it "Life at the Top" and following the date, I subtitled it, "the day after the end of my life." I guess that points to the great uncertainty of the future, which for me was not planned beyond a summer of drumming as much as I could, a trip to Europe, and mentally preparing to go to community college in August. Really. I had no great plans to go to the school of my choice and major in one thing or another. So at that point, it was as if I was living past the end of my life as I had known it, and really had no idea what came next, what would define life for me. The title spoke of an optimism that I felt, because I think the year before was the beginning of a sense that my life amounted to something, even in its struggles, and for that school year, I felt good somehow. So began the self-introspective journals, seeking some system to the random flux of things, personalities, lessons.

Life at the top for me then described that I had an academically successful year that also had a few extra experiences which made that year special. There was the well received talent show performance of Walk This Way; the April Fool's prank on Katrina; the Future Educator's club; the articles I wrote for the school paper; all the great times hanging out with Stephan Rau from Germany; holding my own against ace student Robert Asimovic in Government class; being a TA in a sophomore English class; "the" photo session before prom; the Ameri-Kraut outing to Balboa Park with Stephan, Shelby, Trudi (latter two from Mission Bay high, but Trudi was also from Germany, and my unenthusiastic prom date); and more. That was much of the stuff that defined that year alone, but there were other things that shaped me during the high school period.

I told how I was inspired by Rick Allen to play the drums. And in 11th grade, play the drums, I did! It became my all-consuming interest. By senior year, I was already known as a drummer, and certainly, the talent show helped bring that to the fore. I remember a community carnival held the weekend after the talent show and some girl came up and recognized me from the show and complimented it. So much for my face-in-the-crowd status of years before.

It was during that time when I defiantly got in touch with my step mom Eda who had by that time moved to Mexico and back. She was persona non grata around my house for years since her 1983 departure and 1984 divorce. It took some doing to get letters to and from her, but it worked out so that she was back in the picture (at least with letters) by the time I graduated. And that was good timing too, since she always seemed like mom to me, and by the time I graduated, I had already known a couple years of silence between my biological mother's family and me (the First Era, as it came to be known). So in this Life at the Top journal, I was commenting on how that renewal of relationship with Eda was for me.

I also devoted wayyyy too many words to the matter of Shelby, something I would continue to do for about another—ahem!—ten years! But at that time, I was filled with optimism for how things would play out with her. She was, rightly speaking, a person who really ignited something in me when I was ultra uptight and conservative and paved the way for me to peer a lot deeper into life, but even by the time of writing LatT, was witnessing the patterns that would play out for years to come, and many of the hurtful things that happened in those subsequent years had some sort of precedent that I chose to ignore. (The summer following this journal was utterly filled with journaling about the relationship that was all but destined to explode between us. My god, that was pathetic, but hey! One day I shall burn all that shit in effigy!) To be fair, there was a time when Shelby was everything good in life, but maybe I need to remind myself that most of that was really a far shorter period than I let on to, back in 1988-89. But not to rain on the parade of 1991, there was complete and unbridled optimism about her place in life. Still, sometimes the best-learned lessons are those that are learned with greatest difficulty so from today's vantage point, I still value it all somehow. It was, as I say, preparatory for all that really matters now (even if it took exactly 12 years to learn what I needed to learn before I graduated from that particular school of hard knocks).

I also reflected on how my high school experience was marked by academic improvement all the way through compared to my earlier school experience. I actually liked a lot of it. This is in contrast to a lot of people who hate school and want to do all they can to avoid it. But I never ditched classes or any of that. I wasn't an ace student, but I began with a 2.17 and graduated with a 3.33 which at least showed that I made a good effort. But in LatT, I reflected on a day shortly before ninth grade began a few summers before. It was the first of a series of transformative experiences linked to my church, and more specifically, my pastor Jerry. That one day in 1987 somehow lit a fire under me, and centered me for a good while to come, and somehow instead of ruining my high school experience with the usual teen angst, I did pretty well, and by graduation, I was pleasantly surprised at myself. There was a time in 11th grade when I was so into my church life that it was hard to decompress at the end of a weekend and to step into the shoes of a student. It was during that time when I took part in the church's book study on Martin Buber's book, I and Thou. I'm fairly certain I was the only one of my peers who did that.

Part of what made senior year good was that I was more social in the school setting. I spent time writing about that in LatT. I was not very much so in the years before. I was just a face in the crowd. My old man always hounded me to make the most of high school because as he'd say, they're the "best years of your life." Maybe it was for him. I don't think I could say it, but something was at work that made more of the last year at Madison. Steve Rau was not a sidekick of mine, but he did embolden me in the way that having "someone in your corner" can do. He was smart and likable. Maybe I rode his coattails, but something was at work within me, and he and I had a relationship on the outside of the school schedule, and even as I occasionally talk to him these days, there is a rapport that lets us be free to talk. Back then, we were seen a lot together. Later developments took me to his place on two consecutive trips to Germany, and that of course was an experience which was key to enlarging my world view. But at the time, we started off with laser light shows, movies, stock car racing, overnighters, local tourism, and a healthy dose of humor from KGB-FM before they totally sucked balls. My world of mid 1991 was well defined by Stephan and Shelby.

Ed holding snare drum in casual senior class posed pictureI had my own brand of teenage angst, but it wasn't acted out the same as many others. For that, I am grateful to my church which at the time had a thriving program that kept me feeling included in activities that were stimulating, socially and emotionally. But I did get to having depression in late 11th grade. It coincided with starting my first job—ironically at the place where I loved to hang out every weekend just a year before. I wrote about how the doldrums of the summer of 1990 were brought to an end when I finally let go and went to the photo session for my senior photo. By that time, the routines of church activity were time consuming, especially when coupled with school and my love for drums. I willfully ignored a first chance to get the senior class photo session done and put it off till the last chance was offered. I had some fun. The photographer made me feel at ease somehow, and that carried over into the final year, and in its way, was the kick in the ass that was needed to go to another level, the same as the 1987 conversation with Jerry had done a while before. The photo session included a few poses, and my prop of course was the wonderfully shiny chrome Premier snare drum that I bought a few weeks before. Unfortunately, the decision for the photo to be used in the annual was made by some faceless entity and the worst possible, ugliest, most conservative and stiff looking picture was picked for inclusion. Damn it. I should have done the first session in June!

I typed up the entire Life at the Top journal and made copies of it back in the day when I only had a word processing typewriter and had to go to copy machine at the post office or school or something. It was a gift I gave out to some significant people back then. I don't know if it was really life at the top, but that period had some worthwhile pointers to what was meaningful then and now is a tentatively useful yardstick of progress since. I think a lot of it is corny as hell now, but some of the players went on to play roles for years later, and some still do. Step mom Eda and I still are in contact, and we get together several times a year for long days of talk and lunch. Some of the time spent at the church leads directly to today; Jerry from church continued to be a great teacher for years and years. I still consider him the best teacher I ever had, even though I had to part with the church. Kelli was a girl who came to town from Florida with her mom, both seeming hippy-like in their wild colors and their talk about folk music and stuff. She and I took part in a lot of stuff back then, but I had no idea I'd end up marrying her! (Though she did let me talk fondly of Jethro Tull, and let me give her copies of my Tull recordings.) It is funny to reflect that part of what I told myself in order to endure the trials with Shelby was that it was important to build a history, and then that would sustain a relationship somehow. Of all the ink spilled to that end, the fact is that it was Kelli—with hardly a thing mentioned in journals for years and years to come—who ended up quietly being that friend and confidante that completely flew under my radar for just as many years as Shelby was in the picture. Now, that is pretty remarkable.

Wednesday
Dec192007

Love And Loss

While the dental drama has certainly been the commanding influence in my life as of late, I have cause to reflect on other things.

sarah on the couch at my old place where we used to hang out. radiant smile.Sarah, my muse from 1998-99I got lucky in a Google search, and turned up Sarah, a long lost friend from the glory days of when Hog Heaven Studio was just getting finished and beginning to be used. She was the not-quite-girlfriend/muse, and despite such mixed emotions, proved to be quite key in setting into motion a chain of events that carries on to this day. Once told not to contact her, I figured maybe eight years' passing would moderate that stance, and sure enough it did. My letter, one of a confessional and thankful sort that I find myself writing to people periodically, was met with great enthusiasm. It was far more than I had anticipated—by a long shot. In the week and a half since my dental surgery extravaganza began, we've been emailing a lot back and forth, totally catching up on some vital years since we both got married and watched life unfold from our respective positions in marriage. She had a couple kids, I got into gardening and mostly abandoned music, which would have been unimaginable in 1998. To have her back in the picture is like getting a part of me back. Recent years have had many attempts to connect with people, and some crash and burn miserably, but this went quite right. So right that the whole dental ordeal has had some of its ruminative energy taken from it, and I have felt really damned good on the whole. We met up for a couple hours and had more time talking face to face for the first time in over eight years. We apologized for whatever went wrong, and things seem hopeful and new.

A more dubious occasion for this writing is that for the first time ever, my father and I have completed one full year of not talking to one another. It was a year ago that he came to my house to give me shit for how I conducted myself in regards to the old house on Quapaw. It was then I let him have a piece of my mind in a way that I hardly ever have. The thing is, I don't think he can hear me at any volume level, because he seems not to know the language in which I speak. As it is, I am free of him. He thinks of himself as being betrayed by my calling the city to report his illegal construction on a house where I planned to live, and to protect. But he chooses to forget the endless string of smaller betrayals which he has committed against me, and it was some of those that I enumerated to him at high sound pressure levels in the street that night a year ago. Kelli bore witness to it; it had to be done so she and I could solidify our relationship, spared the delusional thinking that my father ever really had anything of my best interest in mind. He probably reads this blog, and a good thing too. His modus opperandi is to operate in secret. He likes people to not know of his exploits. I don't believe in that anymore, so I call him out. His manipulation and lies and secretive behavior won't find refuge with me. He sold the house I loved so he could make a stupendous amount of money at the peak of the market. It was his masterstroke thus far, and all it took was to wait for his parents to die then to get me out of there. (I don't think he planned on my living there when his parents died so he had to work things out for a while till he had good reason to get me out.)

This period of December has long associations with me, dating back to meeting someone in 1988 at a church Christmas play. Shelby totally ignited me for year and years. It's hard to believe it was 19 years ago now. And it is also hard to believe that it was seven years ago when it totally crashed and burned as much as it was beautiful and exciting back in 1988. Really, all I needed to know about that relationship was learned in maybe the first 2 years or so, but I foolishly persisted in hoping for a certain romantic development that would never happen. It didn't kill all my hope; it channeled it toward other relationships and activities. The sublimation surely fueled a lot of the Hog Heaven era creative activity from 1998-2000 when it finally seemed to fall apart, timed uncannily well with the end of this odd friendship. Nineteen years ago, the world was drastically transformed for the stodgy, conservative and geeky me. She seemed to be an authentic ear. But however it happened, by the time I found my voice to speak what was on my mind for all those years, it was time to turn that all upside down and basically throw it out. In the span of about a day, everything was over, except for a few burning embers via email in the months to come.

Sorry that it is 2/3 negative. But the excitement I felt this week for having a friend back is the best Christmas present anyone could have given me. Of all the times I Googled her name and other likely terms, this one worked out. I've seen how my family of origin has all collapsed around me. Well, they can have it their way. Maybe they all know something I don't know about me. But I can't figure out how. They don't write or call or email or visit. If so, it's mostly hostile and manipulative. So be it. But for me to get back a friend like this, it's like adding a member of my intentional family back into the fold. Nothing that she or I did ever was as twisted and as damaging as what my family has done to me, or even some of the things that happened in my 12 year old imaginary relationship with Miss 1988. I'm just slowly getting a list of sorts together—those who want to play a role in life, and those who don't. The latter is saddening in that many of them are people I actually share blood with. The former is an evolving thing that is sort of a slow snowball that gathers as it rolls.

It makes me want to say, RAH!