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Entries in grief (13)

Tuesday
Nov222011

Pre-Thanksgiving Party

I'm pretty tired right now. I spent all day prepping for Thanksgiving dinner. And then serving it. And then enjoying the company. And then kissing my sweet wife after all the commotion settled down. And then doing the dishes after she went to bed, no doubt exhausted from a day of her full time job, a two hour conference call for UCC related matters, and then straight into our gathering. Now, after 1:30 in the morning, the time seems right to reflect

Why was my Thanksgiving dinner on Monday? We're going out to Death Valley once again for the weekend, with a prelude of a day spent driving in Sequoia forest which I think is something we've never done before, but for a cursory pass through the valley where CA-178 cuts along the Kern River, again, done last year. The dinner is also put on for the benefit (mostly) of the Young Adults group at church, timed to try to get people together before scattering for the "real" holiday.

1999

All day long the thought was with me how big a day this was in my life. It was nearly unimaginable in 1999 and some years before that. That year on Thanksgiving, while everyone else was having their family gatherings, I was not. I was in the midst of a dark spell in life, taking consolation—like Silas Marner who counted his gold daily because it was his whole life—in studio recording. Though on that day in 1999, there wasn't much consolation because I was throwing drumsticks at the sheetrock after so many frustrated attempts to play drums to a first draft of Zehdihm's Flight (a track that took two more drafts to get right, one featuring Mike Keneally on it). At the same time, my grandmother Virginia was taken next door to be with the large and warm family of evangelical Christians who took care of her so well. They were probably trying to "save" me so I was suspicious of all their conversations and gestures, but in retrospect, the daughter, Connie, was always good to me. She left me a plate of food to eat so I'd be a part of their dinner, even in my small way. I got to it about 10pm or so, long after the festivities came to a close. I really hated it all. I was so so lost.

In between that one holiday and Thanksgiving in 2000, I don't know how many times I was so depressed and contemplating suicide. It was kind of a dull ache like these things are; too painful to live, too frightening to die. Too strong a feeling of failure in life; too likely I could fail at suicide too. This was long before the current "FAIL!" meme, and for me, even before memes! I just felt that way, less as a recording artist, but certainly as a human being. Yeah, I don't really know how many times I just wished things were done. At least it wouldn't all hurt like it did. No one would miss me, would they?

2000

And by way of a string of transformative events and compulsions to try to make amends in life, the very next year was what to that point was perhaps the best, most rich feeling Thanksgiving. Which is interesting because it set the stage for years of challenges. It was, of course, in 2000 when I had just started a new period of relationship with my mom and her side of the family. But it had a cloud over it that fortunately did not show itself for a few days or weeks. Not only was my reunion on the exact day of my grandmother Sofia's memorial (mom's mom, memorial on Tuesday before the holiday), but that choice in my life—part of my dull ache being the brokenness I felt with regard to estrangement with so much family—was something that I paid for with more of the same, though met with transformed consciousness.

The story has been told here before. I love to tell it. So much drama, so much intrigue. It keeps the audience on the edge of their seats. But let's keep on the Thanksgiving memory from 2000.

Being raised apart from my mom, there has always been a feeling that I was never at home with her. Few are the times when I felt as deeply connected as my memory of T-giving 2000 suggests. During my visits as a young teen, her two bedroom apartment was filled with her, my younger brother and sister, our older sister and her two kids. Six people as a baseline population, and seven when I was there. More still if we got any guests. It was rather close, and with so many kids, the place was a perpetual mess. In 1994 it was a lot lighter, either that she had just Steve and Nikki and a nearly new condo in a gated community in Las Vegas (that she moved from weeks after I was there), or that when she did settle in Long Beach for a few years, it was in a large apartment with Nikki only. Steve was off in the Marines. By the time I got to her new house (that she owned) in Long Beach in 2000, it seemed she had something going, even though Steve and Nikki were again living there. Nikki with her daughter Katie. She was not quite four years old.

Katie was a cute kid. It might not seem much for me to say that now, but in 2000, when I was somehow seen through, reached through in some mysterious way, my heart gripped by the first girl of the new generation. Ask anyone (even now) and you'll probably not hear anything about me complimenting kids. I don't connect with kids. I don't want kids. But somehow, like God does with people like me, the unlikely, the impossible, the wrong is used in just such a way as to thwart expectations. Katie just went to my heart somehow. Oh, I had nephews but they were rough and tumble fellows, and one was already able to drink me under the table at the age of 16. But Katie...she was beautiful. Innocent. Not obviously damaged by the kinds of chaos I'd known to be the reality of life in that family. I'd barely met her two days before when I was up there at the memorial for my grandmother. Nikki and I had gone to her grandfolks' place in Huntington Beach, talking like we were in a desert oasis, taking in all the water we could, catching up on what life has been in the nearly six years since we saw each other last. She had Katie at the age of 19—in keeping with the generation gap that generally defines that family, and dare I say, a bit on the late side. She and Katie's dad were already a historical entity; I think that was the case before Katie was born. But she had some seemingly nice and decent grandparents, even if her dad was off in his own world. (I still say this is what you can expect of a pair of 19 year olds who otherwise aren't attached.)

At mom's house on Thanksgiving, it was festive with Mom, Steve, Nikki & Katie, Chris and her husband Gary and the three boys, and Uncle Steve and probably Aunt Lisa. And maybe more still since there are usually friends along. It was big. It was so anti-1999! It was lively and boisterous. I watched (of all flippin' things) a Disney movie with Katie in Nikki's room. (Later on, when I got to have my house to myself after Virginia left and then ultimately died, I painted the walls the same color as Nikki's room and used some of the same brushed metal touches as she had.) Katie and I took a walk around the block, and I was clear then that something was happening. The thawing of my heart had set in. 

There was something stunning about seeing Katie in the flesh and looking on the wall in mom's hallway where there hung a picture of herself at a little older than Katie's age, maybe four or five years old. They looked remarkably similar. My mom's picture was taken close to the time when her father killed himself. You gotta think that that was a major lifequake for her. Seeing this picture of mom from so far back, a rather solemn one at that, said that the hurt went back a long way. Looking over at Katie gave me cause to think more toward the future, to hope that maybe this time instead of the couple generations that preceded her (and a collective bunch of hardships including suicide, aggravated rape, molestation, divorces, custody battles, gang fights, unemployment, bankruptcy, and more), that maybe something different could happen. In some odd way, Katie gave me something to live for.

2001

And then the train went off the tracks a few weeks later. Nikki fell silent. A bit occupied. Closed off. And then began a spell of being about as cold as ice toward me. I still don't get it. With her being closed off, I've not seen Katie since 2001. And so sadly, the great patterns are there again, this time in an interesting reversal where they block me out after mom got blocked out by my old man long ago. (That they've adopted his technique does not seem to register.) Even by the early part of 2001, it was turning up this way. But nonetheless, I was thinking of Katie when I inquired about the plans for two pianos that Sofia left behind. I had hoped to buy one myself but also hoped the other might stay in the family just in case it could do some good, not to mention kids who get put on the piano early on seem to do well. Well, that all went down like pork chops at a bar mitzvah and contributed to more strife than it was worth.

During the course of 2001, things were passable, but by the end of the summer and around the holidays, things were getting worse. I expressed interest in coming to Thanksgiving dinner again if mom was going to do that. Nikki somehow laced into me about that one, saying I was inviting myself to dinner. Excuse me, is it wrong for a son to think he'd be at his mom's house for dinner on such a night? I did get to dinner there on Thanksgiving night but it was a far more reduced affair. Not festive at all. Heads down, it seemed. Coldness. I think it was Nikki, Steve, mom, and maybe Katie. Chris was out of the house at that time, embittered with mom and living at the house of her oldest sons' father's family in San Pedro (a Cuban family). After having dinner at mom's I drove down there and at least had a bit more fun, even among people I really didn't know. It was a little something to feel that the holiday was special, and worth the 110 mile drive up. But then barely three weeks later, the whole mom/Nikki thing crashed and burned in a miserable email flame war of name calling and accusations going both ways. I think it was the first real email flame war I was engaged in. Sad.

And, in a way, good. My response in mid-December was to call a friend of mine named Kelli Parrish. She and I could hang out, but I wanted to tell her about how things turned so disastrous as they did that week. And she was game for listening. Just about two weeks after that, we started our present relationship on the first of the year, 2002. In about a month, we're marking ten years together.

So here's where it gets interesting, and this is worth its own posting. I wrote earlier about my brother James passing away totally unbeknownst to me. A few days ago I got an email from his long time (common law) wife Trish. I had never ever spoken to her because they lived in Las Vegas and somehow despite some shared sense of loss from way back, we were never close. (Really, none of my brothers were in reach. I always had to go through Chris or mom.) Trish and I talked on the phone for an hour and more and have passed some emails. So far I've found her to be quite candid about things, and with a new take on my own family but also seen by an outsider who's also an insider. She hasn't spent much time with them, but over the 15 years with James, she's got perspective that I'd love to hear about. And pictures. She told me about the quite dreadful motorcycle accident he was in four years ago, being pretty traumatically injured, and then his fight with cancer and the stroke that finally got him. It sounded quite hard to take. I look forward to knowing more. James and his twin John have been rather mysterious figures for me. I've seen them both only a few times, at least consciously. I now have some contact info for my two surviving brothers.

And the thing to be found is just how much Chris' gatekeeper role is her own imagination, or if people are interested in being in touch with me, and being civil. A few posts back, I wrote a long letter to Chris, criticizing her for many things but one in particular is how she blocked several requests to get in touch with Trish, John, and others. But since Trish found me out on her own, that about undoes Chris's case, and exposes Chris for being the dysfunctional one she is. It's sad that she can't get past her own agenda even in the name of one brother trying to process the death of another.

Today

My family out there is a Humpty Dumpty affair, and that's an optimistic assessment. There's no getting it back into one piece. It never has been one piece. My own existence is as "one piece" as it gets. There are no real functioning day-to-day activities to take part in with any among them. My life is here. It's with Kelli. And church friends primarily, or others who can appreciate the journey I've lived. The three Thanksgiving holidays detailed above offer what a wild ride it has been. Still, those are some real formative times where I "suffered into truth" as Aeschylus says in The Oresteia. Those were the times that made me want something. The times that called me to life. And like coming into life the first time, it is simultaneously agonizing and beautiful.

Today, I cooked for my family, such as it is. The people who are willing to be in my movie, as I say it these days. Most of them were young adults from that group at MHUCC. One was from the old church at CCCPB. A coworker of Kelli's (and a seminarian/CPE buddy before that) was here with her partner. Lee and Juanita were here. It's right to say my mom gave me life, but she's not been too predictable in helping me to live, and to cherish life in the way that tonight's guests (and many others who could not make it) have done. A decade ago I was "inviting" myself to my mom's dinner. This time I was inviting my new family to my table, freely, lovingly, generously. I cooked a good portion of the meal and rather surprised myself at doing so—turkey; four types of potato dishes; vegan gravy; cookies, stuffing, cornbread, roasted veggies... a huge task that took me all day and part of last night. Peeling carrots and potatoes, cutting onions, dicing celery, basting a turkey—it was all a prayer. It was like that last year and the year before that when I did similar dinners (with Kelli's help) at our current house. It was like that as I gazed out the trailer's bay window while the wood stove raged, looking out over the windblown plains at Red Mesa in New Mexico, cooking for the guys most days I was there.

For me, it was like the Danish movie Babette's Feast where Babette, the exiled French master chef whose life was saved by a stodgy religious group on the Jute coast, pays back years and years of accomodation and a place to live in safety away from the war in her homeland. She won the lottery and after years making the worst food to the specs of her hosts, she asks to give a feast to coincide with the date of the deceased pastor's birthday. All her 10,000 francs went into the event, made in the same way as if she were at her old restaurant, with no cut corners, and best of all, the stodgy congregation thaws out over the sensuality of the meal's several courses and wines. It's a great movie about gratitude.

My guests though were not a stodgy bunch. It was all quite convivial. But my heart was still with the young man of a decade ago, at war with himself and others, only at the liminus (threshold zone) of starting to feel alive again, and then having that taken back for a year, and then meeting up with a splendid girl who dared to walk along the path for a decade now. Every reason to be thankful. I attached a bit of my own thoughts to Rev. Parrish Lucas' grace before dinner. I added that this moment is the culmination of so many things in this universe, this amazing place. With all the randomness, isn't it amazing that we're here, together, in this place, ready to eat this food, ready to be in community by a blend of grace and tenacity of will? How is that not a spiritual thing of the greatest magnitude? 

A bit over a decade ago when thoughts of suicide visited me periodically, such grand thoughts were not on my mind. I doubt the evangelical religion of Virginia's caretakers could get me there. Only the long twisted and bumpy road of disappointment did that. And, in the great paradoxical arena that is the spiritual life, I have to be thankful for the whole messy lot of it. A decade ago I could not have imagined it. Would not have imagined Kelli as my wife. Nor that I had a gay couple and a lesbian couple here. Nor that Lee Van Ham would be a father figure to me. Or that I'd have gone to and left my old church at PB, but would have one person who transcends that, working right beside me to get dinner ready, even though she only got invited a few hours before. Never really imagined that I'd be the facilitator of a young adults group, at church no less! Our guests were from a couple different circles of our lives. Intergenerational. Gay and straight. Married and unmarried. A motley crew that made my house as lively as the year I was at mom's place. I still lament that so many years have gone by with her and that family. Births and deaths and anniversaries clocking by. I don't want to be seen as excluding them, but after many years of trying, the evidence is that there is nothing I can do about it. So I put my peeler to the potato, the baster to the turkey, and carry on with my new family.

Wednesday
Oct122011

Bye Bye Black Sheep

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

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

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

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

Chris—

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday
Oct082010

Sloth and Comeuppance

Today would have been my grandmother's 101st birthday. Born in 1909 and ultimately checking out in the spring of 2001, her birthday in 2000—a decade ago—was the last one she celebrated. I wasn't there. I still have a feeling of regret for being distant even as I lived under the same roof. My only comfort is that she did have a family that took care of her and they made her life quite a bit better in the end. Just a month and a half after she turned 91, she had a fall and spent the night in the bathroom, crying for help all night and into the morning until her main caretaker, Connie, showed up around 11.

This isn't breaking news to some of my confidantes from the last decade, but on that night, I was completely selfish and lapsed in my responsibility to another human being. I came home late that Sunday night after Thanksgiving, sometime in the wee hours around 2 am or so. I walked in and heard her occasional cries for assistance. I even looked in on her cracked doorway and walked away, maybe soured by the already-overwhelming smell of an old woman who soiled herself in the bathroom. Those days I went to bed at nearly dawn so it was probably hours I was fully conscious of her situation. I did nothing. I just was in my own selfish space. It was a complete moral failure on my part. I don't know for sure, but I do recall that my mind sometimes entertained that her final days could not be far off. Maybe I was under that impression on that night. I just don't know what I was thinking, if I was thinking at all.

To the extent that I was thinking, I can only say it was that I somehow knew that if anyone found her, it would be the beginning of a shift that no other measures could have brought about. She was stubbornly attached to living in that house (and of course so was I), but when her needs escalated to regular meals and other care that I never provided anyway (by arrangement essentially), she would still not want to leave. To have someone else find her in such a sad state would be the only thing that would sort of force the hand of fate, causing her to need to go to where she might be better taken care of. My lame part in it all went unquestioned, so I never really had to defend my actions because no one really knew I knew. After all, who is to say what time she fell versus what time I came home? Everyone knew I was out or otherwise occupied late. And I am not surprised if they also thought of me as selfish and distant.

It took me about three more years until I was finally able to speak of this night while I was in Halcyon House, in an environment that forced me to consider my life at a deep level. It had to finally be addressed while sitting with my pastor who made a few calls out there to see me. Not being from a denomination that emphasizes confession, I had heard him make some semi-ironic comments on "confession is good for the soul." Well, it certainly was in this case. Later, in the desert on my initiation rites, I ran down a huge list of things in my mind, this among them, and presented them to God to deal with. No bolts of lightning or flash floods to deal with me; just a message that it is okay to move on and to act more compassionately when the next moment presents itself.

My grandmother did indeed start a new life after that fall and inglorious night on the bathroom floor. She was at the hospital for a few weeks. She didn't have any real problems except for her age related ones. She didn't break anything. But they kept her for a while to make sure all was well. While visiting her there, she seemed a lot more chipper and chatty than at home. I was relieved in some way to see her getting a lot of care that perhaps would not have been the case otherwise. The last time I remember seeing her and my old man in the same room was in those weeks at the hospital. All was not really well, but some things were getting better.

In a sort of karmic way, my slothful moment that Sunday night was answered by what had to be a misspoken word on her part in the presence of my old man. G-ma was no doubt medicated and feelin' fine when she lapsed in her memory of what details to keep from whom, and those details included the newly revealed fact that I was in a new period of relationship with my mother. This was something I had revealed on the weekend before she fell, to her and my stepmom and stepsister only. I wasn't there to hear it, but this has to be how it played out. From that moment on, with this news in the wrong hands, my distanced participation in events was brought to an end with my old man getting the sensitive information that I had no intention of sharing directly. This led us to blowout arguments, mean spirited letters dropped on my truck window, and much angst in the immediate aftermath, and ultimately to the game playing with the house that fills this journal from 2004-2006.

Tonight my dear wife is agonizing over some stomach and intestinal woes with a dose of a fever to boot. It kept her from work for a day or two, from decent sleep and from eating. I've had to do the little things to take care of her—the trip to the store for the chicken soup and orange juice. It probably isn't anything major and won't be a defining instance in either of our lives, except maybe for me as I look at it as one more chance to settle up for that one night when I failed one of the great women in my life.

Thursday
Oct082009

A Life In 100 Years Or Less

I actually wrote this last year for the same occasion, but I'm not sure anything has changed and circumstances are such I don't think I shall try to top this. So here it is again.

One Hundred years ago my grandmother was born.
Of course she wasn't my grandmother then.
She was just one more new chance at getting things right in the world.
One more chance to solve the problem of war and economic inequality.
Perhaps racism would be erased and the human race would be won for good.
Maybe the rat race would be seen as the race not worth winning and not fit for human participation.
She might have witnessed the glorious second coming of Jesus a few times over (plenty of people predicted it).
But instead she witnessed grievous poverty while some got rich beyond all reason.
She witnessed the landing on the moon, but watched as the Kingdom of Heaven got further out of reach.
She watched as the stock market rose and rose to new heights, only to crash again—a rebuke to our materialism.
Her generation was among the last to know actual wealth.
It was on or in the ground. In the forests. In the community.
Her generation was among the last to know actual freedom.
Then came the car and the airplane, the credit card—the so-called liberators that inspired fanatic devotion.
To which my generation has become a slave.
Over which we now wage war and from which gangsters kill or enslave from on both sides of the law.
The surest preventative measure for that kind of lead and plastic poisoning is love.
But this is not what technology and markets and politics promises us—at least this is what they cannot deliver.
The century of technology and science has built us many things.
But it has not brought us happier families and better communities.
It has not made our water cleaner or our trees taller.
It has not answered our age old questions—at least the ones that matter.
It has not increased our capacity for love and mercy toward our neighbor.
It has brought us pain and grief from senseless death by the millions, and the promise of our final destruction.
What we have to look forward to is endless thwarted expectations.
The techno-messiah is a false messiah better called gadget-worship.
In her time it was the telephone or the phonograph, in ours it is the internet and the iPod.
The so-called greatest generation dropped the ball too.
Still they have much to teach us.
But my path is much like a mirror to theirs.
Their story is one of ascent while mine is one of descent.
The War to End All Wars and its sequel is still being fought somewhere in the world today.
Echoes of 1919, 1929, or 1939 ring loudly today while the echo of 1909 is for me to amplify.
The history books are chock full of conquest and vanity, inventors and geniuses.
We can measure the effect of this ruler or that; of depressions and wars; of laws and events on film.
But how do we measure the life of one woman during her 91 years when no one chronicled her history?
A mother and grandmother and a navy wife.
A patriot and a God-fearer.
An historian and a writer.
A teacher and an advocate.
A friend and a minister.
And so very much more.
The past century was the canvas upon which her life was painted.
But it was not her life.
She was not the inventions or the wars or the treaties which failed.
She was not the poverty or the racism which stifled human dignity.
She was not the television or Elvis' gyrating hips or Marilyn's upblown skirt.
She was not the cure for polio or the cause for AIDS.
She was not the frame 313 in the Zapruder film or the evacuation of Saigon.
She was not the Empire State Building or the Twin Towers.
She was not the convertible Cadillac on Route 66 or the oil shocks of the 70s.
And maybe for these reasons you will never read much about her.
The people who she touched don't write that sort of material.
Some of those to which she ministered are still in jail.
Others are dead.
Others are in their ivory towers or the jails of their own devising.
Some don't know what they had while others grieve their loss.
It's not that there aren't any new people who had her promise for a new beginning.
They're born every day in every nation in greater numbers than ever.
But none have been or will ever be like her.

Friday
May162008

Undignified Freedom

picture of truck mirror reflecting a homeless man walking away from trash cans where he got his mealsI think freedom is alive in America
It's just not where you would expect—
Entrepreneurs line the street corners
They keep their own hours
Taxation doesn't touch them
Then again, hardly anyone notices them
Except when a kind soul breaks free and gives a dollar
Stalling traffic in the process
I find more and more such entrepreneurs
In the rarified air of my ironic material ascension
My full time position of gainful employment
Sobering juxtaposition against daily news of upheaval and hard times

America's swelling economic class of poor can be found
Standing at the street corners or crouching in the doorways
They talk to people beyond our field of vision
(Possibly their only friend in Jesus, just out of sight for most of us)
The ever-present cardboard signs
"Homeless, disabled, anything helps"
Some are dejected while some retain humor
Their frankness a shock to most ears, it brings fear
A fear invoked by material loss and dissolution of dreams
We who drive by in our metal ivory towers
Air conditioning and music pumping behind tinted glass
The sequestering effect of the dream well dreamed
Worried sick with neuroses about
Petty shit only a bored materialistic people could think about
As if it mattered somehow
The tense glance and the undesire to meet eyes
The feeble reach for the coin tray as if out of guilt
Knowing Heaven's reality TV show has cameras trained on you
The giving out of fear to avoid fear
Sad flash knowing the party may soon end
Living paycheck to paycheck
The wobbly feeling mounts
The feeling mounts, fears of when we're all made equal
By the things we won't have anymore

And the next stoplight won't be any easier!

Who is our enemy and how can we love him?
Who is the dispossessed self-as-other whom we hate?
Our reflection in the empty gazes
The thinly veiled despair of cardboard signs
A world of possessions in a stolen? shopping cart
Why do we hate you, Failed America that just won't go away?
Does it hurt to know thyself this way?
If we throw off the slavery of debt and war
Would we recognize our freedom?
How many more street corners can we build
To give jobs to all the jobless?
How many more alcoves must be made
To give homes to the homeless?
How much more cardboard must be pressed
To help small businesses get off the ground
Off the ground of dirty streets and canyons?
Freedom to piss openly on the street
Conjures our righteous disgust and revulsion
While secretly our sad unspoken admission is that
They might be freer than we

The economic stimulus package entrenches many in voluntary slavery
Either by getting in or getting out
It is yours to choose just like paper or plastic
A false choice doomed to bind us to the sickening status quo
Yet freedom is just outside the door
On the corners and in the alleys
A little dingy, yes, but
There it is within reach if you had to take it
Or maybe captivity is more precious
The certainty of heat and light
The safety from the dark of night—
If not pulled, some are pushed

America, America, land of the free
I witness the slow shameful decline
Just as the torch is handed off to me
A new generation with the old hope dashed
By the freedom of some to take the freedom of others for the want of a buck
And the race to the top being run roughshod
Over true believers in the national mythology of upward mobility
An undignified freedom prevails in the land
Not like the days of ticker tape parades
When we beat back manifest evil
And sent the bad men running for cover
A slow shameful decline into poverty of the soul
A land that will sell its grandchildren
If a buck can be made this quarter

The condo-boom in the downtown
Is met in like fashion by the corner people
Whose numbers grow daily
Rooms, rooms everywhere and not a place to stay!
Conspicuous signs of wealth only mask the
Swelling poverty behind the glass and steel facades
It's the dilemma of our time
It's the shame of our age
Uniquely plagued with too much stuff
Too successful for our own good

The light can't turn green fast enough, can it?

Monday
Nov062006

No Prophet Is Welcome In His Hometown

Yeah, I know, it has been a month and more since I wrote last. It isn't for lack of things to write; it is for too much to write. And it isn't even that I am not writing. It is that I just can't really do all I've been writing AND blog too. It has been a busy month.

Each of my Bible classes at Mesa have me writing journals each week, so there has been a good ten or more of those between both classes since the last blog entry here. The New Testament class keeps to more academic pursuits—was Jesus this or that, and how would our image of Jesus look if we had only these books to work with, et cetera. The Old Testament class journals are more free association, and the teacher really gets a kick out of journals that take it up a notch past the assignment. One that I wrote was ostensibly a journal, but in typical TAPKAE blog form, was really a six page essay. It was on the matter of picking a law from Leviticus and evaluating its relevance today. I chose to write on the law that says we should not oppress the strangers in our midst, because we were once slaves in the land of Egypt. I used that as an entry into our disastrous and inhumane approach to the immigration "problem", and reminded the reader that Sodom and Gommorah were not destroyed for sexual licentiousness as much as for their harsh treatment of the strangers who entered their midst, and the fact that to neglect a stranger in that time and place was to break one of the most widely recognized social rules—to provide generous hospitality at all times to all comers. The correllary was that in doing so, one might entertain God's angels. So then I ask, what does it mean to our nation that we have turned our immigrants and strangers into scapegoats and the invisible working class that holds up layer upon layer of injustice?

That was one such journal.

But really, the real project going on here is far deeper for me. I've been making appeals to members of my church to think carefully about the likely prospect of a parking lot repave job and what it would mean for our church life. There is an old guard contingent there who are firm in their belief that the parking lot needs to be repaved so that we could have more members attracted to the place. I contend otherwise. I contend that we need to take the money and use it for more meaningful educational and ministerial things first and foremost. The money comes from a second cell phone tower transmitter contract we will be committing to this coming year. It is in the tens of thousands just in its initial payment. The parking lot would take about 2/3 of that in one fell swoop. Other capital improvements would take even more. Money for programs, scholarships, charity, and so forth would be culled from the scraps. I think this is a big mistake. So I've been e-vocal with various emails and stuff to paint another picture than the predominating one that assumes that capital improvements is the leading and best use of this money. I make this appeal at a time when it is becoming clearer and clearer that there is a huge demographic shift upon us. Many of the key players are older, many 65 and more, and some large share of leading players are about 80. There is a small group of us who are younger than about say, 50, and between 30 and 50 there are just a few of us. Needless to say, most of the trend is toward what works for the older set, and not so much that appeals to us young'uns. There has been a decline in activities over the last few years, and hardly anything to replace them, and it is getting lamentable for me and some others who have the same concerns.

Complicating that further is my quasi-staff position that I do make time for and wouldn't mind doing if I didn't feel the ever-present conflict between doing that out of real loyalty and rejecting "real" work that pays, but that I often don't want to do because most of it is degrading to me. My capacities at church have expanded to being the soundman, webmaster, and audio archivist. One of them I've had going for four years (audio recording and archiving). The web site was something that took two years to get started, and then two years or so I have had a creative involvement in it and ultimately most of this year I've had the full thing to myself after the other party who did it before couldn't hang. Then the sound business now is the newest. Basically, I work a part time job there with just those tasks. That doesn't even include the seat on the board of trustees, or other volunteer things that I do, and other activities that are just of interest. I proposed the idea of a paid position for my web and audio work, but that so far has gone down like pork chops at a bar mitzvah. Ironically, you see, the parking lot is more important than a guy who does all their electronic media work and has some ideas for church life renewal.

But going a bit deeper, it isn't just what it would seem. I have this other layer that not everyone can see or that not everyone else in my position would face.

It goes back to the family for me. My grandmother died in 2001 and within the year to follow, I found I wanted to go back to church. I suppose a certain amount of it was to be in an environment that was familiar even as that whole year had been tumultuous for a number of reasons. She was a founder of this congregation, I was born into it with my folks getting married there, and my baptism, and over the years, various levels of involvement for me, peaking in high school, then ten years away, then in 2002, I started back when Kelli and I began dating. She too was about that deeply rooted to the place. It was fulfilling in more ways than one. I had familiarity there. But that was before I started developing my world view in recent years, and slowly letting it show more and more. I have a relationship to that church that is that of a kid; most everyone there are not just older, but they will always perceive of me as Virginia's grandson. And, I'm finding it hard to forge an identity that does not stem from that. It isn't that I think it is bad. It is just restricting. My grandmother has a great name there for all the best reasons. In my way, I am echoing her level of involvement, but my ideas are not what they recognize as something that would spring from her. Everyone knows I do the web and audio stuff, and they might be appreciative, but I've been vocal for a while that I do that with reservations, and that I'd rather see programs develop and have more interaction and fellowship, and with that as a base, more outward reaching ministry that we can do together.

The real nut for me to crack though is that the general idea of what constitutes a future plan for the church is quite similar to the sorts of things that my father has repeatedly said would make my old house more valuable. In both cases, the leading voice is that the church or the house is more valuable if the building is somehow improved. By contrast, my sense of value is floating more and more toward the intangible. To me, the value in the house or church is not the building, but in the people and relations within. And, after the most tortuous year of being kicked out of my house last year and being subjected to the tyranny of a man who thinks that the house is more important than the home, I am now having an echo of that in the church, where certain opinions are expressed that lead me to realize the same thing is at work. Never mind the programs, we have to make the building right, then people will flood to the place! I consider it a matter that is essentially reducible to "house" versus "home." In the case of my house and my father's ideas, I ask, why try to make the house more valuable by a garage addition or patio/jail cell if it infuriates the resident who happens to be your son? And, why does one need to raise the value if one has no plans to raise the rent or sell the place? In the case of church, there is one figure who is racing against the clock to do all these improvements to the facility with the idea that people will flood to the place if there is just a fresh parking lot, or new paint, or whatever. He is working like mad to leave his legacy before he is unable, but it places me in a weird place of having to stare the gift horse in the mouth. On one hand, he does do appreciable work like no one else does. But not all of it has to be done, and a lot of it is like polishing the brass on a sinking ship if we don't do the real work of renewing our membership and invigorating church life so that it is relevant to people who otherwise could do without it. The price of my father's determination was that our family fell apart for the last time it seems. His vision of value is to build property, and mine is to build relationship. At the church, the mission is to build value in property, but what of the interior life? This is what has me scared. The realization came to me recently that the church is the other home of my grandmother's and the last living tie to her that I stand to lose, if you discount that I have furniture and possessions of hers. In fact, this church I think was her home more than the house where I lived. So it is no surprise that I've made it mine, particularly in the days after my house being taken from me. The threat of a repeat of that whole loss is in my mind.

Being stuck as I am as a young person with admittedly radical ideas compared to the usual fare, I am grasping for something that I hope won't be as disappointing and hurtful as the episode surrounding my house last year. It doesn't need to get that far. But right now, despite some thanks and congratulations that come from audio and web work well done, for the most part, people don't really get me. I apparently am not doing something deemed worth paying for, but am also a little too much in my role as rabble rouser. I'm being drawn into the business end of things, and that has been valuable as a lesson, but drawn away from being as participatory as I'd like in what I think would really matter there. I'm being subsumed by the older set's values, while not really being one of them. I have been allowing myself to think that maybe it is time to move on. Kelli is at another church as an intern, and the offer has been extended to take part in things there, but I am pretty tied up at my church. She is there doing her thing as an intern to essentially escape the snares that I am facing here, namely, how does one grow up in their home church and break the old identity down and build a new one? Not easily. That's why she is at another church as a seminarian-intern. They do that intentionally so that the intern can start with a clean slate, no burdens of old relationships and familiarity issues. They don't just let her do work at our church as an intern. She has to start new relationships, establish new trust with people, and she gets a better deal; she comes in as an adult to serve them, not as a child who stumbles and falls before the congregation, who must now be seen as an equal-to-superior. But for me, I'm seeing it's hard to change that impression, even if people like me and express some appreciation for what I do.

Add to all that that my biblical classes at school have had a mostly deconstructive thing about them, and it has been quite a mixed experience being a person struggling to find a place in the greater world of the Church (large form, not just my congregation). While struggling with an identity issue at my church, I am also exposed to a lot of evidence that most of the Bible is not what I thought it was, for better or worse. I wouldn't say I am at a faith crisis; I knew it would be like this, but it is interesting being immersed in a range of relationships to this Judeo-Christian life. This has been a year of trying to learn about that and a host of other deeply felt issues. It's all a search. One thing that I take a mixed solace in is that my dilemma is not new. Jesus was never lauded in his hometown as much as he was outside and among other people. Maybe it isn't my place to convert my family, in both senses. It could very well be time to move on, painful as it is to entertain. Things I've learned and experienced are not for naught, but they might be of limited use here. Better to walk into another place with a more fully formed personality that is not with the inherent conflict of being the boy who grew up there but now wants to tell us how it's gonna be. All this talk though runs contrary to something I began to take seriously about 8 years ago, and that was to not just cave when the going gets rough. I don't want to think of this too as one of the disposable things chew up and leave behind. I hung on to my house as long as possible because I wanted the thread to go more than one generation. Ditto for trying to make a name at this church, even in the shadow of my grandmother. I know it doesn't equate to failure if I can't convince people to forgo the parking lot, any more than it equates to failure that my father schemes and manipulates to get a house he doesn't need and has it out for anyone who would challenge him. But I would sincerely like to hope that I'd be able to move on from church with less confusion than I have now.

Sunday
Apr232006

The Flower

virginia lucas, my grandmother in 2000 or so.G-ma Virginia Lucas, 1909-2001Maybe you've heard it said that only God can make a flower, and that nothing a human could do would create the beauty of a flower, no matter how we can mastermind the use of its component parts. We could carefully dissect it and try to reassemble it but it would not be the same. And especially so, we could not create such a thing of our own minds and hands.

I could never collect back the library she had. All the books are scattered, probably doing some great good somewhere else, but nonetheless irretrievable by me. I still have a few of her Bibles—I kept three of the nine she had when she died.

I could never collect back the assorted knickknacks she had collected from the various trips she took to the Holy Land, South Pacific, Alaska, Central America, and Europe. Similarly, all the little things that dotted her shelves, walls, and cabinets are mostly gone.

I could never take back all the musical and recording gear I bought in the summer after she died, using the inheritance she passed on to me. It's been sold in large part after the economic wipeout after 9/11, and sometimes to get yet other gear which I never used like I thought I would.

I can't even really live in the house we used to live in. That decision was made by someone else now.

I can't hear her voice, despite the pages upon pages of writings of hers that I kept. In the years I lived at her house, I spent thousands of dollars on music and recording gear, and not one minute taking any of it into the room neighboring my studio and using it to record any of her stories, poems, or just a conversation. My gear and my studio time was more important than that somehow.

last easter for virginia before dying a week later. includes ed, eda, rene, and jessicaEaster Sunday 2001, the last day I saw G-ma alive. Surrounded by Rene (Eda's son), Jessica (caretaker's daughter); Eda (my step mom); and me.No, even if I had all the pieces of her life back here before me, I still could not conjure up my grandmother Virginia the way God presented her to me and the world. The first woman to lead me to God has been gone for five years today. I saw her on the floor of my neighbor's house where she spent the last several months of her life in their care. She was in peace. The room was brighter and breezier than any room at our house. The people she lived with were outspoken in their love for her, and she for them. They treated her far better than we did. My father and I were there within minutes after she died. This was the first we had seen of each other in three months after a huge blowout, and this was the first he had seen of his mother since maybe two months before that in what was a similar explosion of wills over her property and how she'd live after a fall and mild stroke. My father and I shared no words to amount to much as we both sat there and counted our respective losses and possibly contemplated how we'd wrangle with each other over the resulting property and money that would only really drive us to more madness and dysfunction. I guess we both were selfish in the wake of her death. He made it a quick task to come over and begin the chain of events which led to my expulsion from the house last summer. Within three days of her death, he came over and began to make the garage modifications like he had always said he would. His mother was not even in the ground and he was already riding roughshod over her wishes and mine, as if to cackle and laugh like a madman who can't be proven wrong.

For my part, I promptly spent the $26,000 which I got in the summer after her accounts were closed, and spent it on things I thought would maybe not make me happy, but at least be the tools of musical self expression. Now they pretty much disgust me, and are the monkeys on my back.

I never cried buckets for my grandmother. I think all that has been set aside for this time. For some, it would be an automatic reaction to do so. But not in my emotionally retarded "family" which consists of my father and me, if you can call that "family." He cried some on that day, but I don't know why. His few episodes of emotional rapture confound me. I guess I shall never really know what is in that man. He has ossified layers upon layers of emotion-restricting walls built up over him. I don't suppose I can ever say or do anything that would shatter all that defensive material. The sight of him sobbing on April 23 and the sight of him bringing power tools and lumber to the house on the 26th only causes me dissonance in my mind. I'm pretty convinced she was only a roadblock to his plans for expanding his materialistic ambitions. For years immemorial, he's told my grandparents about his plans for their house when they can't manage it anymore. And so it was that April 23, 2001 was the day when there was no further barrier to setting those plans in motion. As she laid on the floor that day, my grandmother's silence was an existential scream for me, as I sat hesitantly a few feet from my father, knowing full well this was not the time that would bring us healing, but the time that would finally remove the last person—except for me, maybe—that got in his way, and that I was no match for him. Who else but his own mother could speak with any authority to him, to tell him for the Nth time what is right, or that so-and-so is worthy of respect? To him, I'm the kid, the ignorant kid with everything to learn. He can't and won't listen to me in any way. And in many ways, he callously disregarded even what his own parents said to him about their own wishes.

But enough about him. You get the picture. For me, it was that my dear little house and studio were in peril, and ultimately succumbed to his domineering influence. And it was painful as I imagined, though I handled it differently than I imagined, primarily because I am married and couldn't be as careless as I once thought I would be when presented with such a thing. But it backfired on both sides—not only did my father "win" the house from his unfair game playing and manipulation, but I also managed to effectively lose my once-rabid interest in recording and composition, and fell into a materialistic malaise of endless gear purchases and sales and more purchases, none of which led me to better recordings of deeper ideas. Maybe it never was in me. Maybe my muse was gone. Maybe I just lost it. But blowing my inheritance was not the answer—that much has come into focus, and has been apparent for a while now. Yet, I can't take it all back and even get the $26k. This tape can't be played backwards. I can't put the flower back together, even if I had all the pieces. I guess it's this helplessness that is driving me to denounce my lesser self that is consumed in materialism. I could use a loving grandmother in my life now more than a studio full of gear. I could use someone in my life who can tell me the old stories and share the old wisdom. I could use someone in my life who could be one of God's representatives who leads me along a good path dotted with righteous actions. I could use someone who feeds my curiosity about the world.

Once upon a time, when I was learning piano (barely) back in 1993 or so, my grandmother heard me playing some exercise which I probably was just not getting. She asked me if I'd play by ear some real common and basic melodies that everyone knows at least how to hum. I could not even get some of the easiest stuff right by ear. In one of those sorts of moments which can be polarizing if taken the wrong way, she commented that maybe I just wasn't meant to be a musician. I rejected it for a while. Still, she gave me her piano later that summer after she broke her arm, and eventually allowed me to have my studio exactly opposite her bedroom wall. She didn't give up on me, but I also hid most of my recording work from her because she never would have gotten it. That is an easy estimation; she thought that Elvis was the end of music, so she never would have understood any of the stuff I did. On her side of the wall, she only heard and felt the bass notes—she never really knew in any detail what I was doing. I guess what I was doing was channeling the angst that accumulated as I sat by and watched my family fall apart. Preferring not to be hassled by either my materialistic and sarcastic father or my pious grandmother in a time when I needed to find my own way, I just sat by, accompanied by the often dark soundtracks I cooked up and committed to hard drives and tapes and disks.

In bouts of self-hatred, I often entertain the images of all my DAT tapes, CD recordings, and all my guitars, drums, and other gear all in a smashed up pile on the road out in front of my house, for all to see. In bouts of father-hatred, I envision the same thing, maybe to demonstrate in some way that I have some control over my materialism in some way that it seems he does not. Either way, whoever I profess to hate at these times, it never seems to be the greatest idea to smash all my stuff up and leave it in a heap in the street. But I don't know what to do with it. Selling it is humiliating (when you realize exactly how worthless it is and has devalued even if fairly new), but using it is maddening. I keep telling myself to try to use it for some more noble goal than to create dark soundtracks of a troubled soul. If it can record that, it can record a poet's exaltation and sense of justice, or an old person's stories, or anything else that people use this stuff for. I guess what I need to do is find things that need to be recorded, instead of forcing my will on these items when even my will is uncertain of what it wants.

So maybe I can't reconstruct the old flower and marvel at its beauty the same as if it were whole and right before me, but I've come to see how there is this new flower in my life now that brings some of the good old flower's qualities to life for me now, at a time when I seem to be better poised to appreciate them. Of course I'm talking about Kelli, who now inspires my sense of wonder in the world again, and who has a great moral compass, and who embodies some of the most timeless and desirable things that my grandmother had. Little by little, some of my own pieces come out of retreat as I stop denying myself the ability to live and love and relate to things of beauty, which of course was a hallmark of the time I spent holed up in my shack full of devices which I'd hoped would help me channel life, but don't seem to do that anymore, at least not like they used to. It's hard to want to retreat to such isolation now that I've decided that isn't where it's at anymore. It's as if I were living in a freezer for so long and have decided that I rather much like the warmth of the outside.

I like the flowers.

Wednesday
Oct122005

Happy Fuggin' Birthday

To "celebrate" my 32nd birthday today, I awoke bright and early at 6:45 and did my usual morning routine in the dark and total silence, as always. I eschew TV, radio, and other input in the morning because that short period before work is the only time I ever get in a day when I have that much control over what enters my brain. My dear wife gave me a cute stuffed piggy before she left at 4:45 am to go to school up in Claremont. She has been my main provider of stuffed piggies through the years, as well as other pork-a-phenalia.

Then I left at 7:40—again, as usual—and clocked in at 7:52. Worked all fucking day but for a brief bit of shuteye during lunch after I ate some tasty leftover lasagna from Sunday night's peak oil meeting with Graeme Elliott at the local Italian joint. Worked overtime as expected. Got off work at 6:08. The precise times actually allow for a bit of timeclock massaging, with the loophole plain as day and provided by the company. Were I to clock in a minute later and clock out a minute earlier, I would lose 30 minutes of overtime. But since this week was such a grind, they did anticipate it and pretty much expect us to work overtime. I told them earlier that there were two nights a week I couldn't do, and weekends. I have perfectly good reasons. But my birthday fell on Wednesday, which was not one of my exceptional nights, so I got to spend the extra hour and some change doing a last minute drive to the convention center during rush hour. Just as I was doing the last loading for the day, Kelli hit me with a barrage of phone calls and messages which I could not get as they came in. Some comments were made about my birthday being on the day. Our receptionist Shannon made it a point to wish me well on three occasions as she came into the shop, which is rather rare. She is rather like sunshine in that dismal cave of a shop.

Then after work, in my grubby T-shirt and jeans, I went to my birthday dinner at Costco where the polish dogs and pizza provide a filling, starchy dinner to get me by. My birthday cake was one of their berry sundaes. Yum.

Feet hurting, hair messed up, dirty, and sore all over, it was time to go home and clean up. The high point of the night, apart from hearing from Kelli a couple times was a repeat viewing of American Beauty which somehow quietly crept up to being one of my favorite movies of all time. One last talk with Kelli, this blog, and its off to bed I go, ready to start over tomorrow, except no stuffed piggy awaiting me on my desk. This weekend, I may have some sort of shindig with Kelli and whatever she might put together for the day. My last few birthdays have been far more notable with her in the picture, otherwise, today was sort of a reminder of what it was like for a number of years before she turned up.

Thirty two. Thirty fucking two. I never thought I would make it. If anyone asks, I would like Borders gift cards, and survival gear, and heirloom seeds for vegetables. Oh, and I'd like my old house back. I hate this apartment.

Monday
Jul182005

Whoa Nelly!

It has been quite a heavy few weeks—stressful in every way for Kelli and me. For this last weekend, the Kelli/Glenn/Ed contingent somehow managed to clean out the total abortion of a garage that is left here, prepared for a yard sale, put on a yard sale, cleaned up after the sale and distributed the many leftovers to church and Salvation Army. And, if that isn’t enough, we simultanously started to pack a couple of drive-off storage boxes with stuff that we don’t want to rush to carry around or want to store because downsizing from a four bedroom house to a smaller place is a trick. Kelli got an extremely nasty cough and has since passed it to me, which I feel I should attribute to the overwhelming amount of dust and gunk that has been disturbed. However, usually, after a few minutes of such dusty work, I usually get a nasty sneezing fit that goes on, which oddly was not present this time, despite half a week of such work, and keeping a fire going, as I heave outdated documents, wood scraps, utterly worthless clothing, and other stuff into the pyre. Kelli got a temp job in the couple days before we started this whole project, so she has been already taxed before she even starts doing the packing or moving. Her back pain has been an issue for her for three years now since her car accident, so she is always the first to wear out, but she has been a trooper. Glenn has a part time night gig at the local pizza shop, and he’s been here for a month now, and has made himself useful in so many ways. I had some real strong reservations about having him here while my domestic situation dissolved into anger and frustration with my old man’s choice to sell the place, and Kelli and I having some great issues about it all. But Glenn has lent a measure of stability, coupled with some breakthrough with my old man who opened up to me at least enough to make some clarity for what I must do in the near future.

Glenn and Kelli and me all end up on the porch each night, talking into the wee hours about all sorts of stuff. Kelli and I obviously have our moving to do, and her schooling to look forward to, and our job search, but Glenn has been going through the ringer himself as his wife seems to have decided she doesn’t need his presence in her life anymore, and used the ostensible three week period as a cover to inch him away while her mother was in town from Russia. So understandably, he’s out of his mind about all that, and the last month has been quite a time for all of us to sort out all sorts of things erupting against our wills. Somehow, he’s been totally gracious toward us, and perfectly respectful of our place and our lives. He’s been a great help around the house, not just as one more person to do the small work, but as a person to talk to about a huge range of topics. He also was a huge help in this moving project. Since about a week ago when his wife dropped the biggest bomb on him, we all have been contemplating getting a place together, and have spent some time looking for a place, but with all three of us being mostly unemployed, it's sort of a silly proposition when a landlord/manager takes a look at us.

Well, and there is a new development there too.

Today I went in for a second interview at AV Concepts where after three weeks of waiting, I finally got the job. This gig is substantial enough that it seems Kelli and I can remain in San Diego where all our church family and friends are. If she has her share of rent, we could pull off living in a cheap place that isn’t this house, and if Glenn is onboard too, we can bump up the rate and get a two bedroom or more. It was looking like Kelli and I would be moving to Claremont if we didn’t find work down here. The idea of having to be ripped out of San Diego is one thing, but the idea of being ripped from our community at church and as honorary members of some of the families was the part that I wasn’t looking forward to. It does appear that this will work now, and just in time—we have three weeks left here as of today, and I am scheduled to start at AVC on the first, and Kelli to start school about three weeks later. AV Concepts will be the first “real” job I have ever had in show production/audio/music. (Actually, they are more of video company than I realized.) In fact, it is sort of the first “real job” I have had in years, but as far as gainful employment, that could mean going back to mid-2001 before 9/11 which really slowed down my music/audio tech work and led me into the more modest and frankly satisfying home delivered meals jobs.

So, the tried and true adage still holds: crisis equals opportunity. I’m surprised I’ve been able to cope as well as I have, but in some regards, I have little or no choice, and finally, it seems that my cushy days are over, sad to say. In some ways, my marriage is just beginning now, this summer, even one year after the ceremony, because it is finally falling to Kelli and I to make things work without any family deals or whatever. When she is in school, she will be gone for three days and nights at a time, so I can use that time to either screw off, or part time some other work, and it seems like my Sundays will be free to keep doing church recordings and all. I’ve been more and more willing or able to let some of this stuff out into the universe. The universe will provide. It seems like it is doing so now.

Thursday
May122005

Hijacking Adagio

I just got the Leonard Slatkin recording of Samuel Barber's Adagio for Strings and some other tracks that I am not familiar with yet. This morning, I put it on and within a few notes of the Adagio, I actually teared up some. This stuff got all up inside me with no warning, despite having heard it a few times in my mp3 collection, whatever scattered versions I may have collected. I knew only a little about the Adagio, but the stuff that stuck for me was knowing that it was sort of the unofficial compostion of national mourning. It was the soundtrack to the funerals of Franklin Roosevelt and Jack Kennedy. Not a bad association to have, especially for Barber who wrote the thing when he was about 23 or so. Man, I remember what I did when I was 23 and it wasn't even worthy of the tape I recorded it to.

But this last week has been one of working hard on getting my peak oil presentation together, and making the website and some promo stuff for it. And whenever I am involved in reading about that stuff, sometimes it is very hard to do that and not hurt. I mean, who wants to envision a world in tatters, especially the sort that we have now, with all our needs met and all our desires ready to be fulfilled? Who wants to envision population crashes and sustained warfare against anyone who has something we haven't (and vice versa)? Who wants to think of getting our drinking water out of a river or lake into which a factory pumped effluent for 30 years? The images in my head about the overlapping and reinforcing clusterfucks that might lie ahead are disturbing.

A few weeks ago at my church, our minister Jerry Lawritson gave a very comprehensive lecture (sort of an extracirricular thing he offers once a year) on Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the German theologian who was willing to give up his right to consider himself a Christian once he committed himself to working with a conspiracy group with an aim to kill Adolf Hitler. Bonhoeffer was a model Christian, despite entering into a plot which was designed to fulfill what under normal conditions was definitely not a Christian act. But Hitler was not your normal man, and the WW2 years were not normal conditions. Anyhow, the lecture was really stirring on its own merits, but the music I was asked to play before hand (I am the dude who records various church events, and does other vaguely technical stuff) was Anton Bruckner's 7th Symphony in E, but only one part: the adagio. The notes that came with the lecture are as follows:

On April 30, 1945 as news of Hitler's death traveled across Berlin, even as the Russian army entered the heart of the city, Berlin radio played this very music by this same conductor [Wilhelm Furtwangler] to mourn the fuehrer. Bruckner would have been appalled. Incidentally, the last recording made by Herbert von Karajan was Bruckner's 7th as he conducted the Vienna Philharmonic. Karajan had been the darling of Field Marshall Hermann Goering and a member of the Nazi party. It was a fact he never recanted. The corruption of talented people and culture was a Nazi specialty. This music reminds us that the demonic often wears a nice face.

Indeed. What part of Hitler's contribution to history earned him the right to have beautiful music played at his funeral? You know, the Church even allowed him a "Christian" burial, and not a summary execution by the side of an open pit grave, which would be more fitting for a man of his station. How does this happen and not go unpunished?

By many accounts, FDR and JFK were good presidents. Good enough to have Barber's Adagio For Strings played at their funerals, anyhow. And a damned fine piece it is. In fact, it is one of the best things I have ever heard, anywhere, at any time. It is just passion put to music. It is not dissonant or upsetting. It is not happy and gay. It is not overly long or too short. It is not particularly virtuosic, but it is not without musical merit. It is just good human emotion conveyed through four types of string instruments. And as an elegy, it certainly makes sense. It does have that slow moving graceful sort of presentation about it.

When I think of it, the images come to mind: mostly the stark and disturbing images of the 20th century come to mind, but also the images that I see when I read about peak oil and the possible things to come along with that. It's a lot of sadness, disaster, doom, and pain. But more than that—it's mourning the loss of a whole chunk of humanity and its progress, as for the first time in centuries, I think we are about to take steps backwards, de-evolving. Being de-evolved is not as bad as going through the process of de-evolving. When I think of de-evolution, I see sights of people mourning the loss of the material items they surrounded themselves to keep themselves "happy." I could see them mourning the loss of the environment, and their latent shame and regret in handing over their God-given rights and freedoms to a government that promised doing so was for their best interest. I see people in America huddled around an oil barrel fire pit in downtown squares and industrial parks. People living in slums where they need to recycle scraps from the industrial age to survive. I see people making odd use of cars and appliances as they end up disintegrating into little more than parts and containers. I see people beaten down when they realize they had money but no wealth, and all the while with their own fervent support of the system. I see people wandering almost like zombies in search of food, and having to settle for some rather dire solutions to get by (robbery, assault on others, prostitution, etc.) I see young people born after the oil crash who still hear their parents and grandparents talking about planes, cars, rock concerts with lighting, NASCAR racing, and rockets going into space. The young people have no way to relate to all that and all they can do is express anger and hatred toward anyone who was to blame for ruining the world for them while still being regaled with stories about the "good old days." Some of these people might just want to kill old people for ruining the world for their own greedy pursuits, or maybe even total indifference toward the older folks, leaving them with little option but to curl up and die. I see a reversion to the days when women are little more than chattle, and are the subject of a lot of misdirected anger and aggression. I see illiteracy as a pretty widespread thing because even today, literacy is in a perilous spot. I see a broken education system that will never return to the good old days in the mid 20th century when education came within reach of more people than ever. I see people having to do a lot more physical work for no money but instead having to settle for the satisfaction of knowing that they are alive (if people still have the ability to consider that a good thing). I see people having to use family planning methods we consider barbaric (abortion, infanticide, selling children, whatever) only so that they can allow the already born to survive. I see the compassionate people having abortions to save people unneeded suffering at least while things sort themselves out. After all what sort of world will we turn over to the next two generations in particular? Toxic, dysfunctional, warring, colder, more disease-ridden, broken, corrupt. What will the next two generations think of you and I if we sit by and let history steamroll over us without raising a finger because it was more important to watch American Idol or The Nanny, or to go cruising the boulevard in search of easy pussy, or whatever garbage passes for culture and recreation now? How will we look our grandchildren in the eyes and not expect them to spit in our faces or to kill us in our sleep while we are diabetic, unfit old farts who only sit around and bemoan the loss of all our luxuries while they have to eat out of the trash and drink toxic stew?

Part of my response to the Barber Adagio this morning was a whole string of these images flooding my head, along with the realization that if Hitler (or anyone misguided enough to carry on his program after he died) could give himself a pat on the back with the Bruckner adagio, then some fuckhead such as Bush, Delay, Frist, or any of these other assholes could do the same. I mean, we are dealing with sick people. Absolutely pathetically and pathologically sick people. They are somehow under the impression that their shit doesn't stink, or that we have been lulled into complacency and olfactory fatigue so that we can't tell that it does, or blinded so that we can't even see they are shitting at all. Or maybe they are confident that since shitting did not appear in the Bible, it therefore did not exist, and that anyone who is convinced otherwise is a God hating athiest scientist or liberal. There are increasingly blurring lines between what Hitler was doing and what our present administration are doing. Piece by piece, they are hijacking this once great nation, a work of art in the pantheon of governmental systems. Hijacking. That is the word. It was not given to them, and even still we are not really turning it over willingly. They are playing peoples fears, the same as National Socialists did in the 20s and 30s in Germany. They are catering to people's existing insecurites and neurosis that they are somehow in danger of losing their dignity if they can't be in a position of sheer power and self delusion. They are driving it like they stole it, because steal it is just what they did. They have no plans for the future—a situation which made Bill Moyers ask, what business do these people with no vision for a future have governing this country? Indeed. Why are they holding the reins? We are governed essentially by nihilistic fascists. They have no desire to preserve the world, or to enhance cultural or scientific development except to further very narrow agendas. They have no interest in the future. They believe the world is so wretched and broken that it must all be flushed down the toilet.

They aren't speaking for me. And I would wager a guess they aren't speaking for you either. In fact, the nutcases who the Bush party can claim "voted" for this madness amounts to about one percent of the GLOBAL population, and only a little over 1/6th of the national population! So where is this mandate they supposedly have? Or have they just hijacked the place for their own business? When will they steal Barber's Adagio For Strings and defile that piece of humanistic greatness the same as the Nazis defiled Bruckner? After they remove a few more civil liberties, and convince people that science and secular humanism is what is bringing ruin upon our nation? Recently I read about a Baptist minister that excommunicated a church member who did not vote for Bush. WTF? Sorry, but some things just are not for sale, and some things are not for hijacking. Some things are too precious or sacred to let fall into the hands of bad men. In fact, I might venture to say the entire world is too precious and sacred to let fall to the hands of bad men.

Man, I am so glad I keep my TVMINDPOISONING to a minimum. It frees up a lot of mental space so I can get down and do some real thinking.