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Entries in human being human (22)

Sunday
Mar312013

Resurrection for All

Happy Easter. Or better said, Happy Resurrection Day. Today is a day of mystery. A day when we go slack-jawed at the amazing way life springs from death. It's not just a Christian phenomenon of course. It's the basis of the cosmos, the greatest recycling program ever. It's the pattern to which all things adhere. It's for everyone, all the time. But for a couple billion of us, we mark time every spring: the first Sunday after the first full moon after the spring equinox.

Whether Jesus himself actually was risen is always open to interpretation and even dismissal as an historical event. Okay, fine. But the pattern goes on for each of us if we call it this or call it that. The story we tell narrows that ever present reality down to one person and people who were utterly convinced that even a brutal and savage death wasn't the end of things. And then they were the people who went and shared the remarkable news. Somehow. Something happened. Even a couple thousand years later we're talking about it.

I don't actually concern myself with the historical veracity of the biblical accounts. That's a rather worthless pursuit when one has noticed and accepted the flow of death to life to death to life again over and over in the smaller ways. It's come to me in the form of dire family estrangements and the relations that emerged to support me; it's come to me as dental woes that made things look pretty gloomy and loaded me up with guilt and dread but that were transcended; it's come to me repeatedly as one identity dies and another rises eventually. I've watched it in my garden as the cycle keeps turning life into compost and compost into rich soil for more life.

If I had a wish for today it would be that people stop dismissing religion, spirituality, mythology, and the metaphysicality of existence. I know it's been grossly misused over the ages, but it has also been the only thing that has given us the sanity we need to respond to madness, abuse of power, injustice. You can't idolize a Martin Luther King Jr. or a Gandhi without respecting the roots of the spiritual consciousness that made them great. They're standing on the shoulders of the sages and prophets and saviors of old, and who themselves emerged in a period of madness and turmoil and change. If anything, we need more religion, not less. But we need better expressions of it, instead of what we have now: the stuff born of our lower consciousness and desires.

Joseph Campbell gave humanity a great gift with his work in mythology, showing how the great religions and psychology overlap so much as to often be telling the same story with the differences being largely in details. Along those lines, you can't be an atheist and escape the resurrection. You may not like the Christian language and symbols but the lived reality is probably already there. It's there whether any of us wants it or not. It just is. But does one connect with it with open eyes? Does one connect with it by associating with the larger story of one group or another?

We're in a shitstorm of an historical hour. We think we're at the top of things, the best things have ever been. Yet we think things will get better. But in which way? Complex civilizations always collapse, as Joseph Tainter says, but not into "primordial chaos." They simplify down to what can be sustained. Another takes its place. Cities are inherently unsustainable places to live. We don't like to accept the idea that the greatest things we make will eventually be lost. Yet we're not happy in our cities. We're cut off. We value stuff with no future. We're hurting. We're really more dead than we let on. And we're in denial. So what follows death? More life. Different life. Even better life.

The Great Pattern doesn't really care about the desires and designs of one human or a hundred or a million or a billion or more. The Great Pattern will make something of the whole mess just like some of us believe one man beaten to a pulp and left for a humiliating death was somehow made into something so extraordinary that words could not convey what happened next. We have to face that even our beloved technological, rational society has to come to some end, sometime. If we're true to ourselves, we need to admit that it's become our god to which we do more than tithe, do more than listen to the priests and oracles for guidance, even kill for—either for a loaf of bread or to launch wars and economic warfare on resource rich nations.

That god must die. Something else more wonderful and life-giving must replace it. If that god were the true god, we'd be doing okay just about now. We certainly made ourselves quite comfortable. But instead we have grown accustomed to the desperation, displacement, fear, violence, and other stuff that accompanies it though we haven't found any peace in the arrangement. It doesn't work. It's the way of death. How can we disparage Yahweh as being a twisted and angry figure prone to mood swings and violence while we throw fervent support behind the economic god and the political god that has literally brought the ecosystem to ruin for so many around the world? That god was man-made. We can even kill that god. That god has been given a chance and it's fucked everything up. Some gods are better not even being born, let alone resurrected.

Ultimately though, things will run their course and I expect a lot of what we see around us as our supposed god-given right to consume will be seen for what it is: an unparalleled effort to turn Creation into trash. I think it will be a bruising time as things are dismantled by natural forces and economic reversal. But something must emerge. It always does. A new type of human that doesn't have the luxury of destroying the earth while calling it progress? Stuff will grow back over time. Our mighty cities will fade and crumble like Angkor Wat or Rome. Creation will ultimately win back everything when humans prove unfit for the task of creating and maintaining places like we know as our megacities and suburbs. We'll have to face the music ultimately: what we call our mightiest accomplishments (at least in the material world) don't really have a future like we thought.

Humanity is in this giant death and resurrection together, but when done right helps us to adjust to reality that we cannot change. It transforms us, not the world. It teaches us to live within the what is. But also to be more human in doing so. We just can't control everything just like I couldn't control everything about my garden. But that's the good part! We've already tried our hand at controlling everything. We can't do it. Yet the wise ones of old knew that the world was good as it was. Genesis starts out with that first and foremost. Things were good just as they were created. Then we monkeyed with things and it took God a few attempts to knock some sense into us. Then we Christians understand there was the Jesus card that God played to get our attention again. "What if I appear like one of them?" Even that failed pretty badly because a righteous man was shown a very harsh exit from this stage. Then it was time for something even bolder...

"They just think they killed him. Just watch!"

So maybe it wasn't Jesus in the flesh. But it was, to those with the ability to understand it just enough, that nudge into another life, a bigger life even after the devastation of losing the one so dear. The one who was already attractive and intriguing but now became...bigger than life—and death—itself.

Death and resurrection is all around us. It is. It happens yearly, monthly, daily, hourly, by the minute. Are we attuned to it? Do we trust it enough to let it play out? Are we okay admitting that there are other people who experience it and it's not ours to control? Even though two billion people celebrate the resurrection, we certainly know there are folks who don't really get what it means. And certainly there have to be people outside the Christian realm who get it readily but don't identify with Jesus/Christ (sic). The message though is for everyone. Now more than ever, we really need a story that lets us know it's okay to die so that something better can emerge. With God's grace, anything might just happen.

Wednesday
Feb272013

The Beginnings of Things +20

This is the second entry in a single story that spans over 10,000 words. Be sure to read The Endings of Things preceeding this entry.

Life would have made a lot more sense to me at the age of 19 if I'd been initiated in the Christ mystery of death and rebirth prior to some real messy times around then and for years later. Having a touchstone would have been handy. Instead, the world seemed pretty malevolent for sustained periods of time, and part of the reason for hanging on to the Melissa relationship was because for a period, that was about the only thing that brought form and meaning from chaos. So the dissolution of that relation in the span of a week hit me hard to begin with. Because Melissa's mom Marie was nice enough to mediate the breakup experience and see that I had a softer landing, I began the very next day at a life without Melissa but with some optimism and newness of vision that things might turn out okay. I'd meet new people and interesting things would happen. In other words, what died could be resurrected into a new form with a bigger meaning to it.

Melissa and I broke up on February 22, a Monday. The next day I was back at school and found myself talking to two girls in my philosophy class at Mesa. That took the edge off some, even knowing that I'd not retreated. I can't recall anything happening after that but the experience was a lift just as it was. Hitting up Subway on the way back home I saw a girl I'd had my eyes on for a while, Abbey. She and another girl or two were easy on the eyes and since I'd been somewhat regular there, I already had a bit of a chatty way with them. I told her what had happened. I don't know if I expected this to go anywhere but I asked if we might be in touch and I left my number. I think she was seeing someone anyway. The damage was done the day before. At this moment, there wasn't much to lose.

The Pig Solution

Matt Zuniga and I had a particularly juvenile evening on the first Friday after the breakup. Usually we were content to go out and play drums in isolated and semi-secure parking garages, increasingly so in the middle of the night. The Friday night just before the ill-fated ASB ball that I was supposed to attend with Melissa, we were out until 3:30 in the morning playing at a new spot that had a janitorial storage locker that we found open. We relished in the raiding of such a place. There were boxes of 4' flourescent tube lighting. We heisted the entire collection. We also opened several cans of paint and poured them out over the street. It was raining pretty mightily that night so by the time we made a return visit some time later, there was hardly a sign of paint. On this first weekend after the breakup there was a bit of boy frustration to get out so we sort of rampaged at the mall, with Matt doing his trademark antisocial grunts, charicatures of old people, some well chosen ventriloquistic obscenities, and worse. We took the bulbs we'd collected the week before and took them to a spot on the edge of the suburban buildout, near a freeway, and cast the tubes majestically down to ... well, it was really kind of pointless since none of them exploded in the way we hoped. But then we were off and running, dropping in on an adult bookstore. Call it a pent up need to be a guy. Or a pig.

The Little Black Book Was Mauve

At home I dug into the contacts book a little harder than I had since the summer before. I probably called everyone to reconnect and maybe sob with (a number of whom were high school people I really had not connected with since that era a couple years before), but the most notable contact in there was one girl friend of mine that I'd known for a couple years since 1990. We used to go to church together when I was still doing that. I don't think I'd seen her in some time, except maybe at Christmas Eve service, if anything. She was just a bit younger than Melissa by a few months but was uncannily mature for her age, and was one of those passionate color-outside-of-the-lines beings who jolts you awake. It was something I needed. I called her and we went out for some fun and talk on Saturday, just less than a week after the breakup. She was ready to go. I never expected I'd marry her one day. Yep, in some odd way, it was kind of a first date for Kelli and me. And yet not. But that one day put her on the map as a trusted friend and confidante. And more than the compassionate ear she offered, the story ahead sets up a whole set of resonsances that radiated out for a long time and really has shaped most of the life I've lived in the 20 years since the Melissa breakup. Curl up with a blanket and a nice drink, once again...

The Shifting Sands of Confidence

I'd seen my grandmother every weekend for all the time I went out with Melissa since I was coming and going to pick up the car. I might have seen her more often if I had other reasons, like practicing piano or doing other errands and chores to earn the use of the car. But all during the Melissa era, the relationship that she and I had was not as close as when I had no girlfriend, and therefore, no secrets to keep about my emerging intimate life with a girl. That kind of talk of course is kind of awkward with people anyway, but since I already knew her to be rather conservative but not totally close minded, I did keep hushed and would limit the talk about Melissa to discussion of the places we went or other developments of a pretty benign nature. But in that breakup week, I did not seek counsel with her. I didn't even tell her. Even a week and more later, I hadn't told her. The mantle of trust in my emotional life was starting to be transferred away from her as I rather foolishly thought I'd go it alone or limit myself to some friends and peers, few of which had the depth of perspective I'd need while maneuvering the minefield of life. At about the same time, calling upon my pastor Jerry happened less and less. The departure of our associate pastor Judy in 1993 also eroded my relationship with the church and folks constellated around it. I became unchurched. The road to any real faith was now beginning because I had outgrown the version of religion that gives the answers and the storybook versions of how things went. (I hasten to add that my church was anything but shallow theologically. But youth materials are geared toward, well... youth, and that is just foundational. Life itself build faith.)

Kelli Parrish was one notable exception. For several years she and her sweet mother Kay were about the only connection to the church congregation that a few years before had been a huge part of my life. There wasn't too much else, but as I found, friendship with Kelli kept me abreast of developments—and disintegrations—within the church. She was my lifeline to the church and even to a bit of spirituality for years to come. She and Kay were always ready friends of mine, and even though time might pass in larger or smaller blocks, the same spirit was always there. But let's not get too far ahead. There's that one Saturday at the end of February 1993, to start with.

Moving Violations

Until I refreshed my memory with my journal from then, I'd forgotten the part about not having been to her new house prior to spending that Saturday night with her. She lived in a place that came to be known as the "Treehouse" —a spot on the edge of the Mission Hills community of San Diego, overlooking the airport. (It's actually just a mile or so from my church now. In fact, for a time, she went there as a pew sitter herself.) Her place was up an insanely steep hill that juts off another road that itself is barely wide enough to park one lane of cars and let two other cars pass. Her street name did not appear to be anything more than a nebulous driveway up a crazy hill. That's what it looked like once I even found the first street after getting turned around in the odd combinations of dead end streets, one way streets, and other navigational oddness that defines that area. Her directions sounded clear enough. But in the downpour, everything got way more difficult. It took me 45 minutes to do what should have taken 20.

Finally I arrived at the Treehouse, a 2.5 story duplex up that nasty hill. It was indeed a sight, the balcony having a nice view of the harbor and airport and a bit of downtown. It was a place I'd get to know in the coming years. Often I'd been made to feel quite welcome there. For this first visit, we made small talk and headed out in the Ford Escort, not really knowing where we'd go. It was odd. She wasn't my date. No, at that point and for years to come, Kelli was kind of like a kid sister to me, and a church sister at that. This wasn't a date, and it would be years before our first movement toward our present relationship was made, and years more before we embraced it and went full on. But she was sometimes loud and outrageous. Colorful. Opinionated. Bold. Free spirited. Interesting. Too much for me. And she had lived a life or two by the time this night happened. Everything she was stood in stark opposition to Melissa.

My journal mentioned going to a number of places but didn't name any. Those details are lost to history, but let's set one thing down right here. Melissa lived in a newer suburb than I did, about ten miles northeast of where I was. Mira Mesa was (and still is) a place that I tolerated. It's technically not all so different than Clairemont where I lived but it feels different, maybe a bit stuffier. Really it might just be that it is just newer and with different particulars of merchants and street names. Oh, and maybe the considerable population of Filipinos that earned it a nickname of Manila Mesa. A point to make is that almost the entire relationship with Melissa was conducted in the suburbs, whether it was at her house or mine, or the parks we frequented, or the malls. Kelli on the other hand was far more urban and bohemian. This one rampaging night on the town was all in San Diego's more seasoned, older, and eclectic neighborhoods, or in downtown, about ten miles south of where I lived. Oh, she'd lived in many places, and she herself was in Clairemont not too long before this. In fact, she used to be on my bike route home from school and I dropped in on her a few times there. But her spirit is far more urban and alive with the stuff of arts and poetry and music arising from underground and repressed populations. Kelli herself was culture shock to me. The things she continues to introduce me to today still has that effect!

But that night we serviced some more immediate needs. The evidence shows we ate ourselves silly on pizza and gyros sandwiches after hitting up a few places. We got downtown while it was storming rain. If I hadn't run enough stop signs and lights just finding her house, I certainly met my quota while we went around looking for things we had vague inclinations to find but seemingly couldn't. She had just finished a first day of driving instruction and here I was showing her all the ways to NOT operate on the road! It was hilarious. With the big news of the period being the Melissa story, I'm sure we covered that in enough detail. Eventually we escaped downtown and its inside-out network of one way streets and all those damned red lights. We stopped for some time at Old Town a few miles away, and parked at the lot at the Presidio. That's the part I remember best, even if now it's more an impression on my heart that this time together was really the time that put Kelli on the map for me as a person I could really open up to and trust, and that was also hungering for a similar connection. With Melissa, I always felt like it took a lot of prying and coaxing to get a substantial exchange that communicated life's deep truths. By comparison, this was cake.

I think that we both had stories about divorced parents that kept us going for a while, and the lives we've led in the shadow of those broken relations. Indeed. Is there any way we would have known that early trusting time, peppered with some of the hilarity we experienced while running red lights would have paved the way for us to be married? Nope. We were just really kicking off a friendship then, sitting in the car on the side of the hill overlooking town, with rain pouring down around midnight on a cold February night.

We hit up Gelato Vero, a coffee shop at India and Washington, essentially across the street from her house (as the crow flies) but some distance away if you actually use the road. It was 12:20 am by the time we got there. That was pretty astounding since the 16 year old I was out with two weeks before had to be home by 10 and I had to be on my way by 11. Gelato Vero makes some kick ass gelato Italian ice cream. If I had any that night, it was probably the first I ever had. Already, Kelli was leading me into new areas of life. We retired to the Treehouse and watched Saturday Night Live. I suppose I went home at 1 am. Or later. What a time.

Serendipty is Her Forte

I don't recall exactly what day this part happened but real shortly after the Monday of Doom on the 22nd I happened into Kelli at Mesa College at the music department. I had taken the Basic Musicianship class because she herself had taken it a semester or two before and that got my interest up. Recall she was 16 at that time, so she was at Mesa not as a full fledged post-high school graduate but instead taking college classes there because it was possible, but also because her alternative high school was just next door. That day at the music department, she was talking to some guy named Josh. She introduced me as a drummer. Josh was a guitarist who could barely contain himself at the prospect of getting a drummer to help he and his other guitar buddy in their progressive hard rock band Forte. (I don't recall any of the material but I think they were into Queensryche or something.) I said I'd be interested especially if he could give me some demo of their stuff first so I could prepare. I might have to cover my early 1993 music activities in another post, but suffice to say that in that first week after Melissa, the stuff of new adventure was already taking form. And Kelli was right there in the middle of it.

But the Forte thing was small potatoes compared to what happened next while under Kelli's influence. Just a flash in the pan. I was just barely kicking tires and running my hand over the vehicle that was going to take me for the ride of my life.

But it Does Mean Beans!

It was just under two weeks after the Weekend of Doom with Melissa and one week after the Moving Violations tour with Kelli when it became time to do something to fill the new weekend-long void. Kelli suggested I go to a coffee shop with her to see a band she and Kay liked. They love acoustic music, folk music, protest music. The part about "coffee shop" threw me. Being so sheltered and suburban as I was, I was barely aware of what she could be talking about if it wasn't one of those kinds of Denny's-like greasy spoon places from the Ike's 50s and LBJ's 60s. You know...the places with glass and rock walls and odd diamond shaped roof panels that look kind of Jetsonlike, a cocky waitress with overdone makeup, and truckers with buttcrack issues? Oh! No, that's not what Kelli was getting at? Since I didn't drink coffee then and only now have adopted enough tolerance for coffee that I drink it about two days a month to kick my ass into gear for early morning work route driving to LA, I was clueless about the fair trade selling, earthy and colorful, free-thought-inducing bohemian dens she had in mind. The only coffee I knew about was gross stuff my old man drank: that freeze dried crystal crap that Folger's sells. I never drank it except to taste it once and that broke me of the habit immediately. Coffee was an adult drink. What did Kelli want with the stuff? Man, I was in for something new. Coffee? Coffee shops? Music in a coffee shop? I guess you'd be more likely to find music there. I doubt I ever saw live music at one of the Jetson types of coffee shops. That's why I was not really on the ball with her pitch. But she had an idea that might improve my life so I went along.

On March 5th I accompanied Kelli and Kay to Beans, ironically located in the shadow of University Town(e) Center, a major mall that us suburban rats would like to be seen at, and indeed, where Melissa and I launched into our relationship in June '92. Beans was just down the hill in a smaller strip mall, tucked into a corner. It's proximity to UCSD would have clinched it a smart and progressive crowd—all of which would have pretty much scared me then. It was high ceilinged, colorfully painted and inviting as those places tend to be. Art was on the walls. Since the entire area surrounding UTC was rather new, Beans too was new, and perhaps newer than the rest of things. Beans was a place I'd just drive past. But it became the stage (literally) for a huge new act in my life. My notes only indicate that I went there a number of times during that month and into April, always on weekend nights. I don't have but a couple notes indicating exactly who played one night or the next. But the band Kelli wanted me to see was Rekless Abandon, a duo with an incredibly imaginitive and sensitive acoustic guitar player named Paul Abbott and an equally incredibly dynamic and emotive singer, Randi Driscoll. Because I was deep into my progressive rock music and was only distracted by Melissa's gravitation to sappy soft rock, Rekless Abandon was foreign to me. First off, where was the band? It's just a dude and a chick strumming and singing! The drummer in me was unimpressed. But all this got me out of the house. There were a couple other musicians I recall seeing there. At first I was more impressed with a fellow named Dominick Giovanellio, a solo guitarist/singer who had some songs that I recall were tinged with some humor and wit. Another night I might have seen—and sat in with on drums—the Ray Iverson Quartet, a traditional jazz combo that I really had no business sitting in with, but they were gracious enough to let me do it twice. There was a blues band that I saw a couple times. Or maybe that was just their name?

He Played with Frank Zappa

But by far there is more at stake by returning to Rekless Abandon. They had a tape that I eventually got, and then another once it came out later in the year. Kelli and Kay had seen Paul and Randi play several times and were on first name basis with them. They even had them play a house party at the Treehouse. I was along at Beans and got to meet Paul somewhat. Enough anyway that after I'd seen the following spectacle at least twice I had to ask Paul what the hell I just saw. The thing is, while I remember certain things and certain impressions, since I was not steeped in the history of Rekless Abandon and did not yet have an inkling of how the San Diego music scene was networked, even now I don't have all the facts about the story I am about to tell. Yet I am certain I have asked people who were there those nights and who made it happen. Here goes.

At the end of their set, Paul and Randi did a boisterous song with a fierce chorus that I'm pretty sure went "Freaks! Freaks! Mother Fuckers!" repeatedly. That was obviously a crowd favorite as it got patrons into singing it too. But the curious thing was that they invited a bespectacled, long black hair flowin', trenchcoat and purple knit cap wearin' (or was it the purple and green pork pie hat?) guy up to the stage to sing that refrain in full vigor. Was it random? Could I get called up if I shouted and waved most enthusiastically? Once I saw it in two performances I knew there was something. He wasn't just another guy in the crowd. At the set break, this trenchcoat dude garnered some adoration and attention, even at a rather isolated coffee shop. Who was he? I had to ask Paul.

"Oh, that's Mike. He's a friend of ours. He's played with Frank Zappa..."

That got my attention. Not even so much because I was a fan. I wasn't a fan, and even now I'd be slow to call myself a fan of Zappa. Back then I had not one Zappa recording, but this sped up the process so that I had one by about June. It turned out that I started tentatively picking up some Zappa from the used CD shops. During the summer I was crafting some drum/vocal ode to Zappa for Rhythmic Catharsis. In early November I went to a Terry Bozzio drum clinic. 1993 was the year of getting into Zappa. It proved to be an oddly fated year for that.

The stuff I was doing with Rhythmic Catharsis was intuitively attempting to appropriate the dirty humor part of what Zappa did but never in a million years could I ever compose anything even as musical as his farts! Later in the year I crossed paths with Mike again at another Rekless Abandon show at another coffee shop, Rumors in Ocean Beach. It seems Mike was there to watch but had somehow become their soundman for the night. I was there with some new bandmates from New Electron Symphony, and Ian, the NES bandleader who surely would enjoy Zappa but did not know Mike, was really bugged at the sound that night. By that time in late November 1993, I'd gathered enough knowledge to wonder about Zappa, his studio, and his methods. At break time, I went outside and listened in on some open conversation and then proceeded to put my foot in my mouth. I hereby met Mike Keneally.

How's that Foot Taste?

Almost verbatim from my journal from December 7, I wrote, picking up on Paul's first mentioning of Mike's claim to fame...

He looked a little young [for having played with FZ who was in his 50s. Mike was 31]. Well, about two weeks ago I saw Rekless Abandon at Rumors, only about a week before I played there with NES. I saw Paul's friend again and talked to him. Sure enough, he played with Zappa in the last touring band in 1988. Since then he has played with (and still does) Frank's sons Dweezil and Ahmet. If that's so he's also been playing in a band [Z] which as seen the likes of Chad Wackerman, Doane Perry, and several others. The best in the biz. And the album he played on is one which also has Sting guesting on it! He told me a little more about Frank's studio and his history with Frank's band, and his solo stuff. I asked if Frank was still active in music. He said no. Frank is very very sick.

Who would have known that Frank died a week later on December 4th?

Strangely, I turned on the news today at 4 pm, something I never do. As I watched, a clip came in just before the commercial: something about the "late Frank Zappa." The LATE Frank Zappa?

Man. I felt so bad for asking such trivial shit of Mike just a week before his hero and mentor died.

I don't think I saw Mike for some time, but I did later hear his name in September 1994 when I went to a digital studio to do finish work on the Slaves By Trade recording that was new then. Joe Statt, the engineer, said Mike Keneally had been there recently with a whole mess of DAT tapes that he composited into his new album, Boil That Dust Speck. That Keneally name kept coming up. Was there a message in it? I found out when I saw my first Mike Keneally show in December of 1994—a year after the foot-in-mouth incident. And that was like losing my virginity all over again. But better!

Now, Where Were We?

Okay, so you saw I started this entry on one topic and then hovered for a while on Kelli talk, and then got to Keneally. Exactly. When I think of how all this stuff unfolded from that breakup with my first girlfriend (who as I said in the previous entry was someone who had her eye on me for some time prior to our dating, and whose parents were friends with mine before I was born...the story goes backwards and forwards), my mind is always blown. But this whole post is also a very diffuse thank you to Kelli who of course is my dear wife now. But even that was years in the future and was dotted with many stops and starts along the way. But the grand point that I have to make is how she's been accomplice to reshaping my life at some interesting times when I've felt, well, dead in my soul, defeated, lost. Kelli has often been responsible for sparking a new me into existence, for a rebirth of my spirit. And that's the honest truth.

The story of Kelli in my life is in some ways parallel (up to a point) with Melissa. But then there was an incredible divergence. Analogous to the prenatal history of Melissa's folks being party buddies with mine is the fact that before Kelli was born, Kay was at the same church as the one my grandmother helped found. Kay was my Sunday School teacher for a while when I was about 5-8 and Kelli and I used to have some play experience together. In both cases I was about three years older and had childhood experiences with Kelli and Melissa, even a few miles apart in town, mostly around Clairemont for a while. Kelli moved to Florida. Melissa to Mira Mesa. Both arrived back on the scene for me within about six months during the summer leading to or within my senior year in high school. To be honest, I didn't imagine a relationship with either until somehow circumstances seemed right according to the great mysteries and machinations of the universe. Back then, while I had made myself comfortable with Melissa because she was present and willing to be in a relationship, but I was really holding out for Shelby for no particularly tangible reason. Interestingly, it took until that imaginary relationship collapsed in 2000 before the way was clear to be open to Kelli. 

And that's about where the similarities end. I'm certain I got the better partner in the end. But try telling that to the tortured 19 year old for whom the world seemed to come to an end until Kelli, still pretty young but already wise beyond her years, was just a friend who was willing to connect at a substantial level that I didn't feel was possible with other people in general but certainly with Melissa. It's kind of odd how one had shallow roots and the other deeper roots. Melissa always (even now, from what I can see when I do a quick web search) seemed to be into stuff I'd never be interested in. Kelli was like an oasis the way she kept the light on for me, a living connection to matters of faith and spirituality, allowing life to be complex and messy because she too knew that was a major pattern. In one way it was good that the whole Melissa chapter was done by the time I was 21 (we had a short fling the following year), and good also that Kelli finally made sense to me in time to turn 30 (28, really). The years in between had a considerable darkness lurking that really set me up to recognize what Kelli meant after so many years of church youth groups, casual friendship, collaborating on a CD, and a bit of pre-dating foolin' around. Ultimately, as the story goes elsewhere on this blog, the summer of 2001, with two tragedies hitting us (9/11 and the murder of one of our church buddies, Daniel, a month before), we found ourselves cashing in our relationship capital and recognizing we needed to be closer if the world around us was going to keep descending into utter madness. And then closer still. It's quite a story. But now you just read one big chunk that hitherto had barely been mentioned.

And of course volumes could be written about how things worked out after I saw Keneally play in December 1994. The effect he had on my creativity was immense. Following leads opened up by interacting with him has taken me down many avenues. There are even a few interesting bits concerning how the Keneally and Kelli worlds have interacted. That is another entry altogether.

Taken together, it's all the story of my life. The greatest story ever told, man...

Friday
Feb222013

The Ending of Things +20

This is part one of a 10,000+ word story. Part two is the next entry called The Beginnings of Things.

Some months ago I wrote about my first relationship with Melissa. As much as the 19 year old me would like to report that we rode off into the sunset together, the reality was that the mismatch between her just being a 16 year old with those fluffy pink teenage visions of romance and my emerging troubled soul began to draw us apart. Oh, you can bet I stuck around the best I could for any further carnal experience that might come. And in perusing my journals from the period there was an interesting push and pull from one week to another that charted some "progress" and then regression from that. We never really closed the deal, and it was perhaps that see-sawing action that made me impatient and frustrated even as things unraveled for us as we closed in on eight months together.

Said another way, I was a 19 year old boy who wanted to get laid. And she wasn't giving in to it.

But she was sorting it out at her own pace, aided by her mom, auntie, and her one-year-her-senior cousin Chrissy. I did try to be patient because it seemed like it took so long before Melissa appeared on the scene in mid 1992. But it wasn't that we had just met like many other kids meet at school or just hanging out in some scene. No, we went back many years before. In fact, our parents used to be in some kind of scene before I was born. In some ways, Melissa was almost like a cousin to me because she appeared periodically when it was social time for the folks. Years after that when we started dating, she'd tell me she had her eye on me since she was eight years old! Our dads eventually both worked at the same company, one helping the other into the position. That bit about the old men knowing each other eventually proved unflattering to me when Mark, Melissa's dad, knew well enough what my old man was like and used it as a pretty harsh harpoon to jab me with when finally I crossed the line with Melissa in February 1993 during the eighth month we were together. We didn't quite make it a complete eight months though.

ASB? Ballsy!

The sharpest turn downward came when as the boyfriend, I was automatically assumed to be a date for the ASB ball at her school. I guess I still phrase it that way even all this time later because I have an instinctive reaction against doing stuff like that, and I guess the fact that this all happened means that events like that are marked forever. Given the background situation of being a rather manipulative punk wrapped in a cute loverboy, it was perfectly in character to say and do some of the dumb shit that brought a close to this relationship faster than the Harlem Shake spread on YouTube this month. Even I have to admit it took a lot of gall to pronounce to Melissa that I would go—but on my terms. (I guess there are folks who don't find that surprising even today.) Of course, that's not bound to endear me to the girl with whom I was seeking still-ungained carnal knowledge. And frankly, the week or so leading up to the ball was just one really rotten time, thanks to me.

The ball was held on a Saturday night, February 20. By then I'd been an ass the previous week at a pre-Ball casual dinner with a group of friends going together. (Or maybe it was just one more couple.) The day following that was Valentine's Day and my journal reports that was kind of a mixed day. I suppose now it should be evidently a "DUH!" that Valentine's Day was so strained since only the day before was so mishandled. As it turned out, that Valentine's Day was the last date and day of general good will toward each other. The following day, maybe attempting to make right or further complicate things (the two were hard to discern then), there was a kind of a comical episode when, while at her house, she was directed by her dad to go to the yard and pick up dog shit. The job shouldn't have lasted long. But it did. And then after some time, Mark and I heard the shower running and Melissa emerged freshly showered for, um, no apparent reason. Of course, it was perfectly apparent and she wasn't into the unintentionally mocking smirks that we both had on our faces. She took immediate offense and declared if I was gonna laugh then I could just kiss off and leave. Because things were so testy I retorted that might just be a good idea since I wasn't getting anything done there. I marched out and drove off in a huff. So that day, a rather random Monday at her house on President's Day with no school, was another that cost me some points. Okay, it wasn't my finest moment. It wasn't even my worst moment, either. That was yet to come.

By the end of the week, at the last minute I skipped out on the Ball after some hemming and hawing, even as late as Thursday when I finally said I wasn't going. She was able to get a date to go along at the last minute, but probably not so well dressed as I might have been. I seem to recall that the expense of the tux was something I decided not to incur, but also that the cancellation fee was rather notable and so the financial motive backfired for me, probably as justly as anyone could say. (Interestingly, now that I actually glanced at the correspondence from the period, it was mighty nice of Marie to actually refund the ticket price to the ASB Ball. I totally forgot about that. How totallyuncalled for that was, given my handling of the matter. I believe I had to eat it on the tux rental cancellation fee.)

The night of the ball, I was having second thoughts. After a real troubled week trying to talk on the phone and this particular day being quite silent because she was running around in last minute preparations, I drove up to her friend's place some mile away from her house, where they were gathering. I got there earlier than the others and must have caused some puzzlement for the hosting family when I appeared there, unshaven and without a tux. At first they didn't know I'd cancelled out. They seemed to be confused enough that a call was made to Mark, who directed them to have me leave right then. I sat in the car for a bit, hoping for any glimpse of Melissa in her dress. She didn't appear or was parked out of view. Not long later, her friend came out and saw me and reported to her dad that I was there. He came out and told me again to leave, and if I had a problem with that, Mark would entertain my complaint.

Rebel Without A Case

So I stormed out of there in the car, driving madly in a fit of rage as if I was in some teenage flick from the 80s. It must come naturally to a teenage boy to storm away in his car, even if it's not his own car and it's just a front wheel drive Ford Escort wagon. (But it was red so that makes it edgy and daring and James Dean-approved, doesn't it?) At that point, I was a raging, sobbing, mixed up dude. For the first time ever, I was confronted with the fact that my girlfriend was in the company of another dude. Okay, he was a pretty decent dude. But he was... not me. And to tell the truth, that wasn't anything I obsessed over. After such a passive time, Melissa was actually standing up for her own good. That throws dudes off.

Still, I was not ready to let go. After some settling down at the shopping center, I went to the park that adjoins her subdivision. It was cold as you'd expect in mid February. But somehow I sat there, trying to sort out the mess I made. I had a marker with me and upon the picnic table where I sat, I wrote some long, trite screed that strung together a range of cliches I was only then beginning to understand from the inside. I suppose it isn't so bad, but given my attachment to the events and the knowledge that some of these things have been cheapened by chain letters and other meme activity, I find it almost unbearably embarrassing to read now. I'll grant that there was a kid there that night trying to make sense of stuff and grabbing at any straw that might help build a house in which to hide my head. I guess I just gave myself the present of realization that you don't know what you have till you lose it. After having scrawled that, I copied it down for myself and not too long after that sent in a copy to the radio station that Melissa and I used to listen to for the dedications we used to pass back and forth to each other, usually for monthly anniversary dates. I gave it the title, "Inspirational Graffiti." It was read over the air in a slightly redacted version and for some years to follow I had a recording that I suppose is lost to time now.

Mother Marie Gives Comfort?

Later on once the dance party was definitely at the school, I drove around the block to her place and saw that mother Marie's van was not there. I sat it out and when she drove in, I went to the door and was welcomed in. I didn't know what to expect for an angry Mark. I got that much for certain. Her dad—who most certainly was pissed—unabashedly told me so, offering that "you have a lot of balls coming around here after what you did to my daughter, two of which you're about to be fed." (He had a workingman's approach to interpersonal relations and diplomacy, you see?) He continued to lecture me for a bit on the matter of playing head games and not respecting Melissa's feelings. It was during this talk when he produced a pound of kryptonite when he said I was just like my dad. Ouch. Take the balls first, dude!

My sack was left untouched for the evening, by both father and daughter. Mark did the heavy work and left Marie to do the more nuanced work. She and I spent about an hour and a half talking in the front room. Since we already had some rapport, I was able to settle down some and listen to her. I think she would like things to work out but she seemed to realize that Melissa was already moving on. Still the talk was good because instead of the lessons coming strictly from the angst and tension of the decaying relationship, at least part of the whole experience was enlightened by Marie's considered perspective. Of course, since she was Melissa's advocate, much of what she was about to say was going to sting in one way or another. One stark observation was that she said we didn't seem to have a relationship. This was new talk. It provoked a question in me that wondered what those last seven months and more amounted to. She said we'd not really know what we wanted in a relationship until we'd probably had a few different partners. This was pretty outlandish talk at that time. What about that puppy love, radio dedication fluff about staying together for ever and ever? Man... this was turning into a crazier weekend than when we started.

Needs Gone Unmet

Reading my journal written hours after that talk I'm pretty struck with the fact I put my finger on an issue that keeps recurring and showing its ugly head over and over: the lack of a cohesive family unit with some sense of rootedness and maybe traditions that anchor one in something larger than self. At the time I admitted there wasn't much of that fundamental relationship practice but tried to save face by saying I'd done okay. The more time passes now, the less I am sure of that, especially after all the drama of the last dozen years or so that this blog chronicles so well. But there it was, dated February 21, 1993, in my own hand.

Since the ache for a girlfriend was saved up until a few months prior to my 19th birthday, Melissa was the unwitting target for loads of expectations of what a relationship would be like. At 16, there's no way she could ever amount to what I had in my head. And as my adolescence gave way to young adulthood, the nearly three year gap in age put me into another life space by default. But the stuff I was grappling with was serious stuff and she had no way to deal with it. Even now I feel I load up too much on Kelli, but in our late 30s that can be processed a whole other way than twenty years ago. Heck, even 20 years ago, Kelli, a few months younger than Melissa, was better equipped to deal with life's heaviness. More later.

There was a theme that is rooted in my neediness because of that lack of relationship I feel plagues me. Somehow I adopted a very materialistic value system about the time Melissa and I spent together. Each visit was counted and marked on my calendar. Even after we split up I somehow decided it was worth the exercise of adding it up. Worse, I thought she'd be interested and so I reported my findings. I think it was somewhere like 800 hours over about eight months. That kind of itemization of things was an odd thing meant I guess to do some good to remind me how many good times we had, but on the troubled days like in the last weeks, it ended up showing some shorter times and reflecting trouble more than joy. Because Melissa and I were already at odds about how she watched TV so much, and I felt like when I was at her place I should be worth the attention instead of the box of glass and plastic and wires. She lived ten miles away (a pretty big distance then), requiring the use of my grandfather's car, gotten by riding my bike three miles in the other direction on Fridays and then back after the weekend wrapped up on Sunday night. Doing that routine each weekend, trying to wedge as much time in with her as possible, I got protective of time together and sometimes declared time a waste if we weren't pretty much together. There were plenty of times when I had to take second place to her school marching band activities, but for the rest of the time, when, say, the TV was an issue, I got frustrated. (That too has kept on as an issue, even being the last straw that drove me out of Robin's place a few years later. I still am pretty adamant that most TV viewing is pretty dumb. But I go easier on people and their motivations for doing so. I swore off TV in 1997 and never turn one on for my own gratification. Never follow any shows, don't really worry about if I'll get the news.)

Trying to argue my point about time being a waste was not something Marie agreed with. She knew I'd been keen to not work weekends at my job at Jack In The Box so that I could be with Melissa. She thought that was misguided and that I should just work when I need to and let the relationship fall in around it. It's not that she didn't want me around, but she picked up on how the counting of time made me rather expectant of results that would not always follow. She encouraged me to just take the work and earn some money and enjoy the relationship more because of the scarcity instead of placing so many expectations on it. This was a strange, early lesson in the economics of time.

Marie and I talked for an hour and a half or so. It was kind of a bitter pill but since she was so momlike I could receive it better than if the same job was done by a friend who didn't have the longstanding relationship. She gave me a card to write some words of apology and pathetic appeals to call as soon as possible.

Marie had said Melissa was mad enough that I shouldn't expect to see her that weekend. That was scary because the week prior had been really testy trying to work things out at all over the phone. I dreaded another week passing if it was going to be like that. Rhythmic Catharsis buddy Matt lived within walking distance of Melissa's. I asked him to go over and see if he could persuade her to call me on Sunday. I called Melissa's cousin trying to accomplish the same. The day after the ball was an agonizing time, for sure. She did call by early afternoon but things weren't rosy yet. I told her about the picnic table, and suggested maybe she read it. I told her I wanted to not let all this go on for a week, so she agreed to meet the next day (Monday).

Jerry to the Rescue, Again

Needing some counsel, I decided to head down to church where that afternoon there was a meeting of the Shalom Group, a group that I helped to co-found in 1989, intended to help provide teenagers with a safe place to talk to a few trusted adults and peers. It was set aside even from the default youth group. It's interesting that I'd choose to go there that very day since I had largely been out of church life for some time by then, maybe even counting back to 1991. And certainly with such a regular schedule with Melissa, crafted to fill as much weekend time as possible, there was little time for stuff like church. These days I wish I had made more time for it; for balance; for some scheduled adult perspective before the shit hit the fan. As such, I made what I could of it and got down to church and found that the meeting was going to be sparsely attended. It got called off. As long as we were both there, I asked my pastor, Jerry, if I could have some time to talk. By that point, he already had a few years' track record of giving me some life changing perspective. Just two months before he was responsible for talking me off my ledge during my first period of suicidal ideation

We spent a good while talking outside the church building, even on a rather cool day in the winter and agreed to meet Wednesday. At that moment, it didn't seem like that would be two days too late. I can't complain though. Jerry's insight has always had a long shelf life. For that troubled Sunday, I took what I could from the exchange and went on my way. What followed doesn't exactly make sense and I'm not sure I did it right, but at the time, somehow, like these things go, it was all I could do to get out of my head for a bit.

Intermission: Wayne and Pops

I drove from the church in Pacific Beach, headed down to one of the shopping centers there and parked. Only this wasn't like the day before. I walked to the Presbyterian church across the street. I met a couple of homeless fellows. Wayne was 52, and his buddy Pops, 62. Both had been in construction and trades. If anything, I think Shelby had put me up to this, or something like it. Shelby, while sometimes fire and sometimes ice, was kind of a scout for my consciousness in the world. I think I'd heard enough tales from her and had a few conscience-tipped arrows shot into me over the few years we'd been friends by then to know that I needed to take myself from the center of the universe once in a while. So here I was. I talked to the guys for a while then offered to get them dinner (at Subway, the actual center of the universe back in that era of the early 90s). They counteroffered. The church was about to serve dinner coming up pretty soon. Their treat! Their "normal" was parking their carts in the church hall and making their way to the serving table. Of course I was the fish out of water here, dressed decently and looking pretty much ready to head to school or on a date. Sure, I felt a little weird and one comment from one of the servers sort of put me on the spot, though not in a bad way. I just stopped into to see how others live, I said.

These days, after encountering Jubilee Economics and related bodies that are sympathetic to those who don't have, or encourage those who do have to live more simply, I'm pretty surprised at how Wayne and Pops were some of the first encounters I had with that kind of worldview. They lived simply not of their own accord but it seems they had made their peace with the reality and knew how to live on about $5 a day that they could earn recycling. They were a bit less generous in their political positions, with Pops chafing at the gubmint's practice of giving out loans to foreigners to start businesses here. The whole experience put a face on homelessness that I would not have had. It was petty of me to say I had to go because it was cold, but they knew well enough what I was talking about after a couple hours of talk and dinner. On parting, I realized I had a pretty good blanket that might help them out and donated that. All in all the experience was something that I sometimes revisit. For that day, it did prove to be a worthwhile diversion from the woe-is-me party I threw myself. It sort of had the effect of making me more ready to hear the news about to come the next day.

I headed back to my grandparents' place and attempted to keep up with my piano class homework for a bit.

Somebody Has a Case of the Mondays

Monday deservedly is much maligned. But not every Monday is so heavy as this one was. I started it though with new resolve to work weekends if that was called for. Okay, it might mess with Melissa time but that was now something to put on the back burner. I drove to Mira Mesa where she lived and dropped in at the Subway that was one of the remaining stores belonging to Chuck Perrecone after he sold the one where I worked about a year before. He and I were on good terms so I paid him a visit and inquired about work opportunities. I'd already been at Jack In The Box but at the moment was about 2/3 of the way through an indefinite layoff from that job since the whole corporation was in major damage control mode following the e.coli outbreak in January. Not knowing when that would end, and having been given the freedom to live a life I didn't really want to live, I thought it was worth asking. Chuck didn't have anything but it was good to see him again.

I got to her house at 3 pm after she got home from school and collected herself. The terrible uncertainty of the day let me really only say that I'd like to leave here on better terms than last Monday (dogshit day). She didn't think that was possible. She retreated to another room. I had my sandwich with me and was munching away, finished, and joined her. She gave me two pieces of paper, each with a poem. One was from her. Another from her ASB ball friend. She sat down and looked away as I read them and began to start feeling the poison arrows working their magic. She'd made up her mind. We were done.

It was one of those times when you think you're in a bad dream. Can this be happening? I can't believe it's her doing this. It was surreal, for sure. It wasn't of much use to sit on the couch and ask her to sit next to me. Those days were history now even if that was just last week. Suggesting we go outside, she accepted but we just stood in the yard with that awkward inability to look into each others' eyes, and for the moments when we did, the flashes of pain and confusion just singed the soul. I couldn't believe she really called it herself. I mean, sure I'd pushed a lot of buttons, but after so long a time knowing how passive she tended to be, this was out of character, especially given all the fluffy talk of the early days, professing undying love forever. But of course, she had many people in her corner who helped her clarify what was going on. I think I entered the denial and bargaining phase in one swift movement, making some plea to try having a nice long talk to hash everything out and maybe involving a mediating party. She wasn't too worried about the dance debacle. That was past now. Then I started hearing a familiar phrase from two days before.

The echo of Marie's talk was ringing in Melissa's talk. The matter of being in a steady relationship that was too steady had to be dealt with. The litany of things that our time together was blocking from happening normatively was offered. Too little time with friends. Too little time keeping at piano practice. Faltering grades. Even the TV wasn't being watched as much as she would have. It seems like she'd been thinking about it for a while but was afraid of making waves. Finally the dance proved to be the breaking point. She did say she didn't want to come to the decision but felt she had to.

The attempts to win her back fell flat. Funny, it was really her who initiated the whole relationship by calling me sometime in early 1991 and telling me she'd rummaged through her folks' address book and found my number. She made attempts to pursue me for over a year before I finally awoke one day from a dream of her and resolved to call her and ask her out in late June 1992. Of course she jumped at the chance. Her outer appearance on that first day belied the inner cartwheels she reported once she got her senses back. And almost immediately, we were off and running. The excitement was paused by my already-planned trip to Germany, but she didn't let that stop her from writing inordinate amounts of mail while I was there. I wrote back, and upon return we basically started the relationship off at about our second month "together." While puppy love seemed foreign to me, I bought into it and by the end was perhaps more into it than she was, yet as I said, the mismatch between my growing existential issues and their ripples out into the rest of life and her feeling of overwhelm was starting to make things difficult. I always had a knack for trying to unpack matters of relationship and the inner life, and she was almost unable to access that for the whole time. It might have been too ambitious for our age. Or maybe she was living in fear of her dad. And some people just don't even go there. But at any rate, it was always my modus opperandi to egg her on to get out of that box. Then she did.

She went inside and retreated to her room to talk to her mom. I sat around for some ten minutes before I thought it time to leave. I wanted to ask for a few things. First, I just wanted to collect stuff that was mine that she'd not need anymore. Maybe a bit of clothing or stuff like that. The second was coming from still not wanting to let go. Could we go out to the car and do one more of those prolonged farewells that we always did? Coincidentally the car was parked in the same spot as the day we started off in June the year before. Third, I wanted to ask for a hug and a kiss.

I read the poems again, still kind of in shock. I didn't like them any better the second time. I wrote a note, operating out of a fierce denial and willful cluelessness about what her words meant that day. It read, "When you want me back, you know the number. I love you..." Then I posted it where she'd be sure to see it. On the TV. 

I made my way down to her bedroom where she and her mom were. They let me in. Once again, for an hour and a half, Marie helped us navigate the troubled waters. Since Marie was already so versed in Melissa's thoughts, most of the time it was Marie and I talking, with her interpreting for Melissa, probably too choked to speak. Yeah, the new era was upon us. We'd have to settle on being friends unless some great unknown hand of fate moved us close to one another at some indeterminate time. Basically, don't hold your breath, kid. I put in my two cents about how and why things played the way they did in the last week, but that was neither here nor there now. At least Marie was there to soften the blow and help make the whole thing a learning experience with a dose of tenderness, looking out for her daughter, yes, but also knowing I needed a softer landing too. I've always appreciated the way she handled things.

Freedom Isn't Free...of Hurt

So there it was. The end of that era. By then, it was about 5:30 and there was a weeknight curfew of 6 pm. Okay, I didn't have to wait that extra week or struggle to work things out over the phone. I was free. It's not what I had in mind.

We went back out to the front room. The late afternoon sun was low in the sky. Clouds were spotty but the sun that did peek through was golden and shimmering. It was cold outside. The emotional situation made it cold inside too. Looking at Melissa then, knowing that there was an invisbile boundary fence around her, was surreal. In some ways, she was now back to that girl who used to appear now and then at picnics and bay days or just hanging out at the house. But she couldn't be that. Even that girl had an eye trained on me and that didn't apply anymore. Okay, she wasn't a girlfriend now. Nor a cousin figure. I guess for a bit, with a new hands-off policy enacted but with some feeling of love for her, she was now almost sister like. (I don't want to make too much of that because in a little over a year, we had a little fling that blew that out of the water.) If I didn't know what to make of our new relationship then, I'd have the time to think about it. The seven months and 24 days were over. I did ask her for a big hug to send us off. She obliged. She even let me give a few pecks on the cheek and forehead. Even a moment of rubbing noses. A few more hugs and tears. Then off into that scary world of the unknown. It was 6 pm.

Things unraveled pretty fast but the roots of the matter went back for some time. She wrote a letter on February 15, one week and a day before this final Monday. It was a mix of calling me on things that she finally knew she'd have to put her foot down about, and a bunch of the familar puppy love statements. She mailed it on the 17th and I presume it arrived on the 18th—the day I gave my final no to the ASB Ball. The letter was gentle but firm. Confused but optimistic. She hadn't yet really closed the deal. She still fretted over things getting worse. It's interesting how those moments of confusion really snowball. I guess my Saturday night appearance pushed things over. But it was clear she was chafing at my Ed-isms like TV, doing stuff I wanted to do, etc.

And that's the tale about a girl three years my junior who I happened to know from childhood. Wait until the next installment when you can read about another girl three years my junior who I happened to know since childhood. Yup. Kelli. It's the greatest story ever told, man...

Saturday
Jan122013

Names Will Never Hurt Me...Sort Of

Oh, I think most people had someone taunt them as a young'un. The ones who didn't seem to have natural taunters at school probably had them at home and they just brought the gift to school to share with everyone else. I had mine. And with them came the much despised names and chants that rubbed it in.

In elementary school, most specifically through fourth grade, my much-maligned name was Eddie Spaghetti. The fuller taunt was "Eddie Spaghetti, your meatballs are ready." I hated that name—and that dish—for years to come. In the last two years of elementary school I went to a different school and got a chance at a clean slate with the names. I don't recall people ever automatically latched on to the Eddie Spaghetti taunt. I was relieved. One day on the bus, since I was one of the last stops, I reluctantly let the secret out on some kind of "you tell me yours, I'll tell you mine" dare. I don't recall if I regretted that but it did bring back some sour times.

In 1996, I had some fun with the various ways people had made fun at the expense of my good name Ed, in a snappy little one-two punk song bearing my name. By that point, other variations on Ed (McMahon, Gein, Wood, Scissorhands, Mister) had become known to me. Not all were taunts. But the song was a chance to finally own my dreaded past. Hah.

Meanwhile, years later I was told that Kelli never liked her name to be rhymed with "belly." Even I don't get to mess around like that.

Then, this week, the darndest thing happened.

We went to Costco some days before and when selecting some meat dish that we'd want to pick up, we bypassed the fish, the Italian sausage, and even the rotisserie chicken. I offered it had been a while since we had meatballs. So we got a bag of those.

On Thursday night we were both nursing colds and were hoping for a mellow night. I put the meatballs into the spaghetti sauce and set them on a slow simmer so everything would mingle for a while. Then Kelli came home and finished off her work. She started on the spaghetti. She's just a bit more practiced in getting the noodles right. I was off setting the table in the other room when I head a shout and maybe a naughty word that startled me. Kelli just scalded herself with the boiling water as she tried to drain the noodles. It splashed all over her... belly. Even as she walked out of the kitchen that first time, pulling up her shirt, the skin was lifted and curled back in an area of a few square inches. Red.

A quick Google check to see what we might do...

At the moment it didn't look too bad but I couldn't feel it of course. After some running around town to find an urgent care (that was actually open and took our insurance) and finally finding one back down in San Diego, we found it was a second degree burn. They got her some burn cream and a dressing and a prescription.

On the way home, after all that drama, as she got out of the passenger door and reached for its frame to shut it, she had the misfortune of gripping the thorn of a rosebush branch that reached over the fence. Nice.

Anyhow, that's the facts of Thursday.

But back to the childhood taunts. What a weird world it is when in one event, both our reviled names are brought to our minds. We sat there at dinner munching on the spaghetti. Kelli uttered "Eddie Spaghetti." To which I retorted, "Kelli belly." We had a laugh that defied the weight of the moment and probably made us cough up a lung in the process. Then it sprung to mind that this was even more cosmically ordained because there were meatballs involved and they were indeed ready!

Married life is indeed an interesting path to walk. The old hurts of life have the strangest ways of being processed. You just can't make this stuff up.

Monday
Jul092012

The Cover Letter I've Always Wanted to Write

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

The Making of a Know it All

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

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

The WWW as Liberal Studies

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

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

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

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

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

Life from Outside the Ivory Towers

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

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

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

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

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

The Hero's Call to Adventure, put on Hold

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

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

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

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

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

Kelli and I leaving the altarIt is accomplished!

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

Jubilee Economics Ministries

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

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

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

Pod-What???

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

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

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

Media Not Just About Me

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

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

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

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

Social Media Quicksand

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

Kyrptonite

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

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

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

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

Dumb Jobs that Take Over Your Life

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

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

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

Sabbath as Antidote to Jobs That Take Over Your Life

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

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

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

Practicing Bleeding on Craigslist

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

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

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

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

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

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

EONSNOW page in 2006EONSNOW homepage, 2006.

The Breadcrumbs of Vocational Discernment

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

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

We Don't Need No Education

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

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

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

Why Me, Why Now?

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

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

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

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

The Test Came Before the Lessons

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

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

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

Naming and Unmasking the Powers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Soul of Work

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

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

Just Send Money

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

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

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

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

Sunday
Jan152012

Get Thee to Church +10

I have to admit to feeling a bit overwhelmed as I embark upon some attempt to put down some thoughts on so many anniversary dates that are rolling around and evoking memories of 5-, 10-, and more such yearly intervals. One I'd be remiss to not reflect upon is my return to church life this time ten years ago. After a decade or so of nearly perfect non-attendance, all that reversed itself in the same weeks as it became apparent Kelli and I were finding ourselves a couple. It was a magical time, whether or not I believed in the magic in which I was immersed.

Continuing from the posts preceding this, after the New Year's events that brought Kelli and I into a relationship, it was barely a week into all that when I decided to head to church with her, and to show my face at a worship service for the first time since I don't know when. That is, if you exclude my quite regular attendance at Christmas, a service that I recall making an attempt to get to even during that otherwise distant period. Aside from that, for those years I just don't think I got to church except for attending my grandmother's memorial in June of 2001.

You see, for a long time I used to tell myself that there was no church but CCCPB, where I was essentially born and raised, and where I had some good experiences during my teen years. It would be wrong to characterize myself as a nice church boy, except maybe in my teen years, especially during a bright spell in 1988-1990. That my grandmother Virginia was a founding member might carry some weight, but I wasn't making such a claim because of that. I had a few other church experiences and never liked them much. I got in trouble or was just a distraction at other churches that the old man and Eda took me to in the late 70s/early 80s as Eda in particular was feeling a call in life to get some religion and therefore was experimenting with all sorts of stuff. CCCPB was at least a place I was linked to in a deep enough way to feel it was somewhat an extension of the family. Not so at a scattered bunch of other churches and services at whatever other congregations—Church of Christ, megachurch stuff, other things that now give me the creeps in their conservative and other aspects that can be offputting if you don't totally buy into it all. Usually, all the roads led back to CCCPB.

High School Era

In other journals I've told of my pastor Jerry Lawritson, who, even by the time I'd entered high school had turned my life around for the better. He and his associate pastor Judy Slaughter were my best advocates for me during my teens, particularly when I was there in church, affording them a chance to play such roles in my life. They both arrived on the scene in 1985-86 and so were among the first adults I trusted in those middle and high school years. My motives for getting to church were rather flimsy for a while. I was never a believer. While my grandmother Virginia was molding me to be pious, I never really subscribed to miracles and resurrection and all that. It was all fantasy stuff because, as these things go, it's not true until you live it. My cynical streak was already alive and well. For various reasons I went to church, but not to really get with God. Maybe I went to the summer vacation bible school for a week, but was fickle about going at other times. Maybe there was a special gathering, or maybe I just felt like going one week and not the other. I was a regular at summer picnics on the bay every Wednesday, but I tended to talk to adults and try to get into their world. I wasn't too deeply into my peer group; I didn't go to school with them for geographical reasons. Even at CCCPB I got into some trouble, being rather careless and a bit of a go-it-alone soul. But it was the church that persisted for me, and with Jerry and Judy's advocacy and their creation of cirriculum to support people of my age (most specifically the Shalom Group), I was shaped into something better than I started with. Despite her general agnostic and often antagonistic manner, I met Shelby Duncan in the midst of this period. I can't lie that in the very end of 1988 and for several weeks into 1989, my main motivation to get to church was to be around her. In those early days, seeing her on Christmas Day in 1988, or for a few weeks afterward was as much an encounter as I ever had with an angel, or as much as I knew about salvation. Of course, as loyal TAPKAE.com readers know, that all changed!

And then in August 1990, some young girl named Kelli came to the church with her mom Kay and started in on all sorts of church life like they had been there all along. Kelli was only 14 then but had an old soul to her, and even though she had been gone for seven years in Florida, she knew people at church from before that when she and mama Kay were there in Kelli's earliest years. Kay reported that she was my Sunday school teacher back then. I didn't remember such a thing, but they both joined in on the church life and since Kelli was not particularly part of the familiar faces in the youth group, I took to her a bit more, and with less prejudice. She had an outgoing manner about her, and was pretty intense for that age. And she was willing to talk to me after I professed a love for Jethro Tull—something so notable it was worthy of telling at our wedding as part of the back story. Our church musical cliques were pretty much divided along the lines of the two major radio stations playing classic cock rock or alternative rock. KGB played the former and 91X the latter. It seemed never the twain would meet. Most of the church kids were listening to 91X and could be found gathering around the Cure, Depeche Mode, Morrisey, et al. When Kelli arrived and was talking about Bob Dylan, CSNY, and other old acts, I felt safe to talk Tull with her. During our time in the Shalom Group (a covenantal, highly personal small group mostly comprised of high school age group with some adults including Jerry and Judy), Kelli and I got to know each other at some level. It paved the way for our later conversations outside of church during the dark and silent years during the 90s.

I had an intense spell of church life from late June 1989 and into early 1991. I took part in all the activities I could, given my school schedule and age. I was consulted during the summer of 1989 about what I thought could be done for those of us in high school. Those ideas helped shape the Shalom Group. I went to Jerry's class on Martin Buber and pretended to understand it. More than anything it was a chance to be among seemingly responsible adults who egged me on in positive ways. I was the first 16 year old deacon, probably because of some shared effort to help me move toward a place of responsibility and investment in the community. The Deacons there are the body that take responsibility for the spiritual care there, usually visiting people and making calls and otherwise supplying the spiritual needs of the congregation. I was honored and took on the role but left the board after about eight months when I returned to school for my senior year, but also as I was facing my first experience with depression and the confusion that goes with that. The Shalom Group was founded to aid in navigating the Scylla and Charibdys of that age, and in there I would have opened up in the way I thought I could, as did the others. Maybe I sold myself short, but compared to others' stories, I felt like I was living a tame life, so maybe I missed the chance to really let the group do its magic. My mounting depression during the summer of 1990 was something that went under-reported. So it was years later in 2003 when I smiled my way through painful weeks, trying to look the part of being well adjusted and happy while at church. Church is supposed to make people happy, isn't it?

In the earlier days, I never much liked being in church worship service. Being a teen, we had our Sunday school group prior to the service, so we were in the sanctuary with the rest of the folks. But we usually sat in our little row, together. I was sort of in the null space between two worlds for much of that time. I neither identified with my peers (I fancied them more hip than I) nor did I really understand the nature of the worship service. Jerry's sermons would challenge people three times my age and more, so I was doomed as a teen. What did I know about his favorite topics and personalities? I was far, far, from learning anything about (and certainly absorbing) Wiesel, Heschel, Tillich, Bonhoeffer, Buber, Einstein, and others who for him embodied the resisting power of the gospel in that century. All along, Jerry was pointing the way at a cross section of figures who brought a human image into the most inhumane circumstances of the 19th/20th centuries. His sermons were unabashedly challenging. Still are. I knew he was different. But I didn't appreciate that from his sermons, or his special event lectures he'd do once a year. I sort of tolerated being in worship but I loved being a student at his side. I'd be seen to lurk near him to sort of absorb whatever I could of what he said, or more selfishly, any praise he'd heap upon me. In some ways he was father like to me in ways my old man never could be, and as my 2003 experience at Halcyon showed, to accomplish that, he had to put my old man in his place directly sometimes. Jerry went to bat for me a lot of times. I never forgot that.

Cracks in the Wall: 1991-92

In early 1991 though I was fading. I was quite enjoying my senior year at school. In fact, it was the only year I actually enjoyed. So I dared to live in that world instead of church. I was getting to know my German classmate Stephan Rau. Despite going to Madison, he lived some miles away, and so during that 1990-91 period, our best shot at spending time together outside of school was over the weekends. In early 1991, feeling a call to some new adventure and feeling like time was a-wastin', I opted for hanging out with him for much of the remainder of the school year. The resulting distance from church got a little testy for me. I started to see it more objectively after that intense year and a half period and got more touchy and contrarian at anything on the weeks I did visit, even when I didn't need to be. But after graduation Steve left and it was back to regular life during the summer. Upon my return to school, this time at Mesa College, I found myself relenting and falling back into church life somewhat. It never felt so important to me as it did in 11th grade but I soldiered on for a while. Eventually I let my work life at Subway get in the way. The late Saturday nights and the early Sunday mornings clashed long enough to break down whatever drive I did have to participate in church life. In March 1992, Judy had a party upon her departure to serve another church and after that, it was never the same and I didn't make it a priority to get to church. I do recall meeting with Jerry in the period surrounding the Subway crisis in the spring, seeking some counsel. Starting up a relationship with Melissa in the middle of that year, and getting to Europe for the summer was more stuff to keep me at a distance. Finally, I don't think I had anything going on at church after early 1993. But the future was laid out for me when, during the breakup phase with Melissa, I called upon Jerry for some perspective, and around the same time I was talking to Kelli like we were old friends even by then. Church life was done.

Time off for Bad Behavior

The intervening years were dotted with Kelli encounters that sometimes kept me in touch with what was going on. I was rather stunned to hear a couple of key families—Calabrese and Prince—had both divorced during the 90s. Both were key parts of what made church seem thriving for so long. Kids from each family were Kelli's best friends and our peers in Shalom. One friend got into some trouble with some cult. Daniel was selling drugs and eventually was murdered in 2001. (I had told Kelli about a chance run in with him as I was selling my CD in 1998. He paid me all I asked but I reported to her that he whipped out an astounding wad of cash to pay me my $10.) Kelli's tales were titillating. I must have told her about dark times, and she told me of hers too. Considering we weren't exactly first-call friends for daily life, we were ready to pick up and be quite available to each other after some prolonged spells. We worked on a recording in 1998-99. She was gone for a couple years to school in Oakland. I got way depressed a time or two because of girls or family life. Life happened. Even though she reported to me something about the dark side of church, I was intrigued but not dissuaded from eventually getting back there...someday.

2001

Then, as I've reported many times here, when she returned in 2001, we got closer during a period when life's challenge was mounting. Sister Chris reported molestation. Grandma Virginia died. Daniel's murder hit both Kelli and I but was particularly jarring for her; Daniel was like a brother to her in a lot of ways. September 11 happened and changed how I saw the world. I helped Kelli move house. Parties involved alcohol. Family disaster. Holidays. The pace was picking up and moving us closer together. Life's pathos was becoming more overwhelming for me, while after those couple college years at Mills, Kelli was also morphing too. Having attended Christmas service just a week before our big date on January 1, followed by a warm and inviting party afterward at Cheryl's house (one of the divorcees mentioned above), I felt like the church family was where I needed to be. (It didn't hurt to discover that the former organist, Connie, was mother of a drummer I had worked with during the dark years and had come to like: Cliff Almond.) You gotta understand that CCCPB, being a more liberal church, was a place that was inclined to like their wine. Kelli has held them to task on other occasions when that was inappropriate (around the kids at official engagements), but the adults? Oh, watch out! Anyhow, that party helped me feel comfortable again as I was reminded of a chemistry and conviviality that I was sorely lacking and was never able to find elsewhere. (As long as elsewhere was in my world of audio jobs and a social circle that basically had a 50% overlap with many of the people I worked around.) That there was some wine flowing wasn't cause for concern. It made the place more real. Being in Jerry's universe again held promise.

Return of the Prodigal Son, Return of Wonder

So just a couple weeks after that Christmas Eve party, I went to church with Kelli. I don't recall making any big pronouncement in advance, not even to Kelli. I was testing the waters. It was a sunny day. I was welcomed. People asked how I was. They missed me. In a lot of ways it seemed like I finally reached the oasis after years of going it alone in the desert. After five years of being without a partner, and perhaps nine or ten years of being out of church, that life was getting old. And then, almost at once, both of those were reversed in almost a single gesture. After family breakdown, death, and growing existential angst, it was time for answers to come from beyond my own mind. A year after Shelby was driven from the scene, I was feeling like if I went to church, I wouldn't need to hear her agnostic and doubting voice like I did back in the early days. Seeing a return to church as some admission it was time to grow up, I was beginning to entertain how I'd contribute in my way. Of course, it concerned how I might install a sound system. But that was far off. Reconnection was the order of the day. I also felt that maybe after some time I might finally understand something about Jerry's preaching!

In those early weeks and months, Kelli and I probably were fooling no one as we both arrived around the same time, and both with equally wet hair, but for a while we were not yet able to admit that we were a couple, if we knew it ourselves! Still, there was something so right feeling, so proper about how this was unfolding. I had a feeling that I was floating above life, as if in a dream. This went on for much of 2002, it seemed. It seemed too good to be true. Yet, it wasn't that we were all romantic, doing that dating stuff that you'd do if you had just met. We had already established a rootedness from all those years of church and friendship that followed. It was definitely fate-filled. It had some kind of pre-ordained feeling about it. Life was just developing organically, it seemed.

I went to church the next week. After that, we drove down to the tidepools in Point Loma. I'd never been there. This was all new to me. It was most likely January 13th—still very much a winter day, but it was a Santa Ana day here where it is warm, sunny, and clear as the desert air is basically swept backward over to the ocean. The sun was low in the clear sky (barring only the layer of smog that settles near sea level in a brown coat during a Santa Ana). The clouds were thin and wispy. The water was exciting as it crashed the cliffs at the boundary between the terrestrial world and the world of Neptune. There was a feeling of newness. It was like I had new eyes to see the world. And it was beautiful again. Kelli might be a pretty serious student or activist or now clergy person, but don't be fooled! She has a goofy, childlike streak in her too, and frankly it's infectious. She is in touch with a joy that I remembered was that of childhood. And it was already dawning on me in those first couple weeks that the part of me that had forgotten about that kind of wonder and joy was only in a freeze. It wasn't lost forever. It was ready to come back, and as we were looking at the tidepools, it was an apophatic spiritual experience to sense that I could reconnect with that part of me that seemed so lost. That realization stifled words and demanded my presence. Maybe this is why Kelli and I almost never trade letters to each other. I did try to write letter to Kelli in the early years. It was rarely doable in the same way that one can't catch lightning in a bottle. When people sort through all my stuff, don't look for letters addressed to Kelli. So far, there are hardly a few that exist.

Fitting in: 2002-2007

Returning to church that January was the start of a nearly unbroken period of church attendance for just over five years at CCCPB. Right away I realized it was not the same place. We weren't the kids anymore. Our peers were gone and visited only when in town. A couple key families were gone, or after divorces, there was just one partner still regularly attending. A few activities from the old days remained, but it was different as everyone was ten years older and for the most part, there weren't too many new faces. The congregation was smaller by a noticable number. Sure, it wasn't going to be the same. I did meet up with a couple folks who were new and found that it was easier to relate to them as a young adult rather than as a teen. A couple of them are still guests at our house today. For all the rest of the time I stayed there until five years ago, I felt that that dynamic was at work. I felt like I was somehow in my grandmother's shadow. Or that I'd always be the teen kid there. I did make effort to contribute my time primarily. The biggest time donation was recording the audio every week, starting around Thanksgiving 2002. It kept me coming all the time, and listening. And since I found that Jerry was far more understandable now that I was an adult who was hungry, hungry, and hungry again, it was never really work to get to church to hear him and record him. I rebuilt the church website twice (that was testy because the woman who did the work before had some big insecurity issues). I aided the sound system's design and installation, and ran it for six months before it and all the other "work" drove me nuts, as I was shifting into a place where I needed to establish personal relations at church, not be doing unpaid technical and media work. But for about four and a half of the five years I was there, it was a good place for me. I never seemed to connect with it like when I was a teen, but it did give Kelli a new family to interact with together. Of course, that was highlighted at our wedding, as we tied the knot, perhaps the first couple of our sort there.

I came back to church only willing to roll with the questions. I knew the world got to be far more challenging a place in September 2001. But my world was already overwhelming. It's not like I got there and ran up to the altar and prostrated myself. No. I'm not so expressive. But returning made the way safe to plug away at the big issues. It gave me a lens for seeing things anew. I was introduced to the people and the stories that spoke to my situation. Jerry was a personal hero a few times over, but particularly during my Halcyon stay and for a couple years following that when he directly helped me get to ongoing therapy. Such was his personal commitment. During that period, instead of working according to my faulty plan of suicide, where he would be the pastor to say a few words over me before a final rest, he was the pastor who presided at my wedding not quite a year after that, and who knew in a very real way what a victory that was. All the more victorious that I'd marry a nice church girl who he'd also participated in forming at so many levels, and who he has since seen to ordination at that same altar.

Bittersweet Realizations

I used to say that CCCPB was the only church for me. Not so. It might be more right to say that it was right for me to land back there. For years I avoided any church the best I could. Most of my encounters with church were doing sound for slick, high budget megachurches or other evangelical groups that rubbed me the wrong way with their theology and smarm (and still do). I was unable to understand religion. It was all jibberish. At least I didn't let those more conservative churches provide the interpretations about all this. I held out until I was able to return to CCCPB where I could finally learn at least the academic parts in a more responsible manner with interpreters that helped bring out the messages not of condemnation but of liberation. My church at CCCPB was a community—dysfunctional as Kelli reported, and more so as I spent my time there—but one that I could relate to. And one where at least a couple people were true allies. The theology is bold and daring. It's liberating. But it isn't a warm and fuzzy place. Unfortunately, while the congregation has a liberal theology that I totally dig for myriad reasons, there isn't a framework like the Shalom Group to connect people now. I've been gone for five years, and hearing directly from Jerry that such a group would not happen there in 2006 was a deal breaker. That's when it started to feel less a fit. It coincided with the matter of how to recognize my tech/media contributions, and when I got ideas from my newfound friendship with Lee Van Ham, but if I knew there was a community life, or a close encounter group like Shalom, I might have stuck it out longer. For me, that is more important than the details of any theology. Why Jerry was led to tell me there'd be no such group is still a tragic mystery to me. Okay, he knows people at another level. But he knew what it meant to have Shalom Group before. I felt let down. And since, I've seen all sorts of other inexplicable things as I watch from a distance but otherwise know what's going on through Kelli and others. It makes me sad. And sometimes I feel like I abandoned the ship. Maybe I should have been bailing some water too? I don't know. I know I made my contribution of time and felt at the end of it wasn't sure what was accomplished. These days I watch from afar and see how the things I used to contribute are all neglected at best (the audio system is woefully underused, and the recording archive is a shadow of what I kept) and reverted at worst. (The website is dismally bad now compared to what I left behind.) I've been back for some special services, usually related to Kelli preaching or during the period surrounding her ordination. I did get back to CCCPB for Christmas a few weeks ago. The sermon was good, as ever. But the congregation was thin and just a shadow of what it was before. Still, upon going outside for a candlelight singing of Silent Night in the chilly winter air, I did get a bit of emotion as that still to me is an essential part of Christmas, and was so during the dark years. I did get a feeling of it all being good at some level. All good maybe, but not all for me.

After 2007

These days my faith walk is mainly done in the context of Mission Hills UCC, but is shaped in a big way by two other major forces: Jubilee Economics and Richard Rohr's Center for Action and Contemplation. Taken together, they reflect a range of concerns both practical and abstract, with areas of individual work and community life; with a chance to examine a man's place in the cosmos and in the human economy on Earth, but even more so to realize the connection between them. Justice is a thread that runs through all this. I even get to do audio and web work for JEM since that part of me seems to be a persistent and vital part of what I bring to these things. As I think of that early time ten years ago, particularly at the tidepools, it makes sense that a moment like that was a very spiritual one, and one that now I have MHUCC, JEM, and CAC to help me interpret as such, and to see how such times are what life is really all about: seeing and feeling connection at a mystical level. And moreso, each in its own way helps cultivate the soil where such encounters might take place. I didn't sense a lot of that at CCCPB. At least not within official functions and even in worship. There is a lot of good information there, but as Richard Rohr cautions, good religion is about transformation. Still, I can't slight Jerry for introducing me to figures who I have not really even begun to appreciate at a deep level: Gandhi, Bonhoeffer, King; Tillich, Wiesel, Solzhenitsyn, and several others who in Jerry's telling have made real the honest human struggles in our age. It's not that Jerry didn't teach the Bible; he showed how wonder and grace is alive in the world, even in the gulags and the concentration camps—those being the examples of the radical resistance that show the true cost of discipleship for those who would be followers of truth. (I often think he was talking over the heads of the congregation.) 

CCCPB's weak point has been that there isn't a church structure to keep people connected at the level like I now find at MHUCC. In 2006, I desperately needed that. After almost a year out of church in 2007, I needed the community of a good church, just so I could be a human again. Not a favorite son of the congregation. Not a webmaster or audio man. Just a human who was grasping at some big questions of existence. Mission Hills slowly became that for me as I warmed to that congregation. I had to get over my old idea that there was no church for me but CCCPB. In one of those God upsets that life deals to a guy like me with a cocky attitude like that, I found that CCCPB was but a stepping stone to a far richer life in a church setting. When blood family and my first church family were all things I felt I had lost, Mission Hills started me on a road to seeing it another way. It isn't perfect but there are a great many layers to it that help keep things in perspective. I've gotten to know a range of people in different contexts. I've mostly stayed clear of technical involvements. I've concentrated on relationships, which for me is where it's at. In that regard I've been both giver and receiver, both as a pew sitter/small group participant and in some capacity of leadership on the Christian Education commission and as facilitator for the young adults group. While Kelli appears at young adults gatherings, and sometimes at worship and other occasions, she is still rooted to CCCPB and causes me to shake my head at her persistence there. It's family to her. I count Mission Hills as family for me now. Even a couple weeks ago Scott preached on the family of water being stronger than the family of blood. Kelli and I live a somewhat divided church life now. But for her to let me be at MHUCC with an all new setting has been good. I've had a chance to relate to church on my own terms for the first time ever. I'm not going because it's my family's church. And I'm not going because my wife is the pastor. I'm not going for the sake of momentum, or association, or even coercion. I rather like it that way. At MHUCC people are connected. There is information but there is transformation too. It just feels right. It feels right because I am free to go there and be authentic and present far more than I felt able at CCCPB. On days when I hurt, I can say so. On days when I am happy, I might be glowing and ready to just sit down with anyone and trade stories. This is all stuff I wasn't able to do easily at CCCPB. I wasn't that person there. Or I felt like I had to be the guy who finished the recording before talking to people. And then half of them had left. 

The last decade has been quite a transformational one. I was just on the threshold of realizing things had to change back in 2002. At that time, I had no idea that Kelli felt called to ministry. I didn't know she'd go to seminary and get into ministry work, or that I'd read a few books of hers and develop my own parallel knowledge of some of the same things, or that I'd be swept up like I was. In some ways, early 2002 was a birthday. It wasn't just a 28th birthday. In some ways it was a rebirth day. And as you can see, it was just one of a chain of such times. I've had even more rebirthdays: emerging from Halcyon in September 2003 was one. Wedding day was another. Maybe even getting evicted was another, though it was agonizing and prolonged labor. And again I'd say that that devilish December 14, 2006 was one more still. They keep coming. The soul keeps having chances to be reinvented anew; to see the world with new lenses just like that day at the tidepools with Kelli. A decade ago I would have thought it jibberish if someone told me this story. How soon could my doubting Thomas side come up to challenge it all. Yet the cracks in that wall got bigger and bigger until the facade burst and collapsed with the help of a mix of personal and national tragedy, family loss, economic downturn, an old friend morphing into a bride, and the shimmering sun and waves at the tidepools that day. It isn't that God started working in my life that time ten years ago. I just was ready to admit that was the case all along. And that it was easier to fall into the river and go with it than to fight it. In actual water terms, I can't swim to save my life. Not so different in the God river, but then again, in the God river, one doesn't save one's own life.

Saturday
Dec032011

Jesus the Shape Shifter +20

This year of 2011 is drawing to a close and with it the +20 (years) aspect of it leading me to weigh what was going on twenty years ago. There are a few reasons 1991 is worthy of a look now twenty years on; it was the year of my high school graduation and then starting school at Mesa College after that; working at Subway where I met Matt Zuniga and where our status as exiled suburban drummers led me toward recording and all that; and a year where I traveled to Europe for the first time; and in some ways, some early brushes with a deeper level of life outside my comfort zone.

It was in the middle of the year of 1991 when I pretty much began my personal journal that now has gone on for two decades. The kinds of long form, introverted, and exploratory posts now on this site are not all so different than what I wrote in the early years (though they are far more legible and generally better composed). My friend Shelby, still causing me to spill pixels for as I process some of these earlier instances with a bit more perspective, was a huge figure that year, though never for the reasons I had hoped for. A completely mixed mind is sprawled out over various loose page journals from the second half of the year, and of course, she continued to shape things for years to come, until the crash.

One of the foundational experiences occurred on August 2nd. It was just a week or so after she got back from a trip to Russia that lasted a month. Her trip was quite a boldly timed thing, given the fact that the Soviet Union was only then in the process of becoming a historical nation. When we had this conversation on August 2, Gorbachev was weeks from losing his place as leader. When she was there, she saw the collapse as a citizen of the republic would have—empty store shelves, long lines for what could be had, and all that. For a 17 year old only nine days my junior, that was world wisdom that even this old man did not have. And, in America in the early 1990's, living as a suburbanite, even as a son of a working man, I only knew a baseline of what constituted comfort by the standard of about 98% of the world's population. But I didn't really know that. I didn't grasp it at any existential level. So Shelby was my rude awakening. She saw to it.

For the two weeks smack in the middle of her trip to Russia, I was in Europe. She saw the bread lines and empty shelves. I landed in Geneva and was met with absurdly common instances of Swiss watch shops, chocolatiers, charcutiers, and everything else that constitutes the enviable European good life in one of the most well-off nations on earth. About as much friction as I perceived there was some graffiti on the outside wall of one such shop. It read, "Yankee Go Home!" and was a kind reminder to my nation to not let let the fall of the Soviet Union become a power-trip, a stimulant. We had just "won" the war against Saddam Hussein in February after the six week campaign. I was in Geneva in June. If not for that bit of vandalism—totally out of place in Geneva, which has to be the cleanest and nicest urban space I've ever been in—then my trip would have been just a little bigger a deal than a trip to Disneyland. The places my old man/tour guide selected were pretty controlled sights to see—largely places that cater to tourism. For my time there, I spent all my time, heart aflutter for Shelby, thinking I'd be in a new golden era with Shelby once we came back. I got her a Swiss watch—rather dainty, comparatively speaking. She got me a Soviet one. It was big and manly with Cyrillic marks in red and black. Of course, not too long after, it broke and never worked again! 

But while our reunion in the late-middle part of July was met with my heart thumping out of my chest after not seeing or hearing from her for a month (and the hype associated with entering that period is a whole other story), she had just come home marked for life by her experience of seeing the dark side of the empire, getting to know real people. Maybe she's a bleeding heart liberal in a way that I can't relate to. Sometimes her rants did sour me, mainly because I was raised in a quite Republican/conservative setting and really had little idea what she was talking about. It was one of those rants that reshaped our history for years to come.

So on August 2, 1991, we went to breakfast. We scheduled it several days before. I was thinking we'd go to Denny's or something. That was breakfast at a restaurant, right? And maybe we'd go out at 10 am or something? Nah. She wanted to go out at 7 am! This was a jarring thing since I was getting to be later and later during that summer. But since I was so nuts for her, I was ready to do just about anything to get near her. She came over and picked me up. We had no idea where to go, but she said she'd like to go to Old Town. WTF? That's kind of far away, isn't it? There's nothing in Old Town but Mexican restaurants that cater to tourists. There's a Denny's just a few miles over in the other direction... Furthermore, she accosted my sensibilities by wanting to go to a Mexican restaurant for breakfast. Mega-WTF? Breakfast is eggs, bacon, pancakes! (The thing is, I was hyper sensitive to breakfast foods then. I tolerated cereal. Too many instances with "institutional" eggs that made me grimace. Cereal was breakfast for me.) I talked her out of that, so we went to downtown, some miles more. Didn't find anything appealing and agreeable. Her patience was thin and I was aware of that in a totally guilt-ridden, I ain't making no headway here kind of way.

We turned back to Old Town and the same Mexican restaurant we had just left. I felt like I was doomed in every way. I ordered something I thought would work out—a total gringo copout in the form of pancakes—and tried to eat some. All the pent up anticipation of seeing her again (I'd seen her a time or two since our return) and a wild case of nerves conspired to ruin this day, starting with the wrecking ball to my appetite! I took about three bites of these pancakes and pushed the plate aside. Then the browbeating came. I felt sicker than ever. 

Watching the news and seeing the state of the USSR at that time was one thing. It was safely at a distance. But sitting there with a friend who had actually seen past the Iron Curtain and was a new convert to what reality was, even in the lives our our arch-enemies, all that was mercilessly demolishing my ignorance. I don't know if she was rehearsing such a rant as I got that morning over pancakes, but she delivered it with passion, and I pretty much melted into my seat. I knew she was right. "Americans take everything for granted. I'm never again going to take anything for granted." I could tell I pissed her off. I made some vague offer to do something responsible if it made her think any better of me. I don't know if that was to take the food and donate it or to pay double or what, but it was what came to mind. 

I was well clammed up about this and a lot of other things in that great summer of transition. The thing is, a moment like this was golden, even as it was painful. But I'd have to wait nearly a decade before I actually got out what I had to say all those years before. It had nothing to do with Russia or food. I just wanted to be with her. She lit up my life. I could tell even the hard times were ones to learn from. But she never wanted the same and I never had the fortitude to get that message across without equivocation. When I did, it collapsed like a house of cards. But that is well discussed in the link above.

Skip ahead a couple months to the end of the year. I started working at Subway a few weeks later and by this time in December was about three months in and had progressed (by attrition) to be a "senior" employee, if not by age (18), then by the fact that I had outlasted the others and was now essentially the longest tenured closer, training other characters like Matt and Sarah. (You can read about my early Subway experiences here.) By the start of December, I was weary. I had already given Subway my nights and weekends. I noticed that working so late on Saturday was making it hard to be in church on Sunday, so I stopped going. In a time of transition out of high school and into my little experience with community college, I was rather foolish to isolate even more by dropping out of church. My social life, such as it was then, was largely shaped by returning to Subway on my days off so I could get dinner (which at that time was total culinary liberation compared to the garbage available at home). Or maybe I went in half an hour early and made my sandwich. By the time this journal of December 11/12 was written, I was newly faced with the reality of having turned my drums over to Matt just two weeks before. I was depressed. I think I got the flu. I was feeling pretty low.

Then I guess Jesus was out there to greet me on the way to work that day. He came in the form of a 40- or 50-something woman standing out near my Subway shop, but closer to the McDonald's driveway. As I biked in, I saw a sign that in 2011 would not shock me so much: "Homeless, Please Help, God Bless You" or something like that. I biked past her originally but as I was parking inside the Subway, I realized with a few minutes I had before shift-start, I could go out to offer help. I felt like maybe my own employee sandwich for the night would be the most reasonable thing to offer. So I walked back out and made an offer if she needed some food or to get out of the cold for a while. She did come in. I did get some food and drink for her. She said she was sleeping in a canyon with her husband. I don't know exactly what canyon, but that message was clear enough. Even in San Diego, a December night spent outside is no one's first choice.

My journal from that day recognized that this experience was the fruit of the seed planted by Shelby a few months before at that terribly uncomfortable breakfast. Okay, but I know that celebrating this is rather self serving. And I've perhaps done more in the time since, and without the kind of Shelby-is-watching self consciousness that accompanied this deed. But what surprised me about the original journal entry was what followed.

August 2 wasn't the day but December 11 was. [...] Christmas has come to mean less and less to me, especially after last year [a family Christmas blowout concerning a power struggle about which store to buy from, signalling decay in Lucas Land], as I usually can't stand the commercial shit out there, and there is little family unity. Sometimes, I feel better if I'm doing something for someone. But it's usually because I'm told to do something, not spontaneously, like today. Doing something like that seemed to be the only right thing to do that would make me feel a little better about this season that so often gets me down. I saw this opportunity and took it. Hell, my Christmas is made. I've got my CD player [a big thing that year that I know was bought a few days before], but not everyone is so lucky. Some people need to rely on donations such as the one I made today. Not because I was told to, but because I do feel a bit guilty about getting so much handed to me "on a silver platter," as it were. 1991: Ed's material year: bike; trip to Europe; CD player [CDs were a form of music playback device in the 1990s, LOL]; a job; way too much spending money; new cymbal [interestingly bought just an hour or so after the notorious August breakfast with Shelby]. And what did I pay for? Only a $100 cymbal! Everything else was given to me! It's about time I give back, or give away.

[Snip some musings on how I'd model my ideal self on some key people I respected then...]

I think the whole key to being such a person that I'd like to become is to take a walk in the other person's shoes, to live by the golden rule, and to do unto others as I would want them to do unto me. I was happy with myself.

A mixed bag of degrees of consciousness. I originally titled this entry "Doing the right thing for the wrong reasons" but I was thinking of how Jesus appears to people at various stages in the evolution of our consciousness. Some people respond better to the coercive Jesus who is the law man, the enforcer, the one who shames you into right action, and maybe it takes hold. Others respond to invitation. Jesus enters the room and at some level, one can only respond in the best possible way with one's being and presence. In this story of mine, I was a bit more responsive to the latter, the woman with her sign was more motivating than being browbeaten with Shelby's guilt, even as right as she was.

I'm still a bit embarrassed to post this bit of naive and rather condescending self-reflection. Such is a mind in transition. But I was really surprised to be reminded of the fact that even in 1991, I was already moving along one side of the fork in the road with regard to holidays and commercialism. I can still sense the revulsion and disgust at watching how my family was grappling with missing Eda (for several years by then), aging (both grandparents less and less able to host much for the holidays), and the strife surrounding which bargain department store should be used to buy stuff for me (my old man, a staunch K-Mart man, bitterly opposed my grandmother's more lenient purchase of a gift certificate from Mervyn's. He knew that could only mean I'd go buy Levi 501s which he seemed to have made a personal crusade against for a few years prior). Christmas 1990 was a new low point where I was beginning to see behind the veil of false joy that the holidays typically wear in this culture. Even doing the bit that I did for the woman at Subway was an early way to grapple with finding some alternative, even if it was a mechanical and self conscious act for me. As my father Richard Rohr says, we have to act ourselves into new ways of thinking, not think ourselves into new ways of acting. Baby steps.

In those days though, my world was rather small, and I had not really left the figurative apron strings, expecting the care to flow toward me rather than the other way around, or ideally, in a circular fashion. That was rather distant still. One thing that Shelby's method did not really account for was that I was not ready to come out of a shell that I was raised within. Granted, she delivered a few critical blows to it. She had her iconoclastic tendencies and got to make some real black and white statements, even in those earlier years. I guess she did provide me with the "nag" in a nagging conscience about my place in this Earth-scheme. She did that in the same way as my step mom Eda gave me a steady dose of God-talk that I was not ready for, and then when I was, I still had to adapt her language and vision to suit my vision of the world. (Interestingly, the reopening of my in-person contact with Eda was just around the corner from this date in 1991. Only a month later I was I saw Eda on the down-low for the first time in years. That's next year's drama, folks!) 

A lot is made about Christmas being a time of giving. If you read your biblical stories without a contemporary American/consumerist mind, you don't really see it that way. (You could read Lee Van Ham's perspectives.) Christmas is a time for hope in the darkness, and the symbol of hope, the symbol that God really gives a shit about humanity is that a helpless baby bore the divine image. The baby Jesus is, as Richard Rohr says, a divine lure to a deeper humanity for all of us. The incarnational aspect of divinity merging with the stuff of the human being—the dust, as it were—is the miraculous message of Christmas. The scandal of the birth of Jesus was that God hid among us, among the most helpless and simplest of our kind, so that our hearts could be softened and our minds transformed. I'm probably not alone in being rather slow to get it. My journal reminded me that there were some awkward and clumsy steps along the way. Giving is important but it is not the real nature of Christmas. Giving flows from the transformation of one's mind and the softening of one's heart, and that doesn't happen with lightning bolt clarity at all times, if my slow progression is any indicator. But using the model of a divine lure, that isn't the point. The point is to keep moving in the right direction, as Christmas draws us toward Easter: the lure of divinity draws us to the cross of pain and heartache and the death of self and ego, but that paves the way for the next wave of life, and ultimately that patter is one of repetition.

Who knew how the cosmic tide was rising for me twenty years ago? I barely knew I'd get theological as this when I started this very entry! Shelby, the sometimes cantankerous bleeding heart liberal who usually identified as an athiest-agnostic (and who ironically I met in a church as she explored religion as an anthropologist or student of comparative religions would), and the poor woman begging on the corner at Subway both figured into effecting transformation in me. Seeing it now, both had the shape of Jesus, with different levels of my self being able to interpret it as such. All the years later when I was delivering veggies in the commercial food industry, the seeds that these two women planted in me all those years ago were grown up. Working in the food industry, I did see a huge amount of waste at the very same time I saw growing numbers of homeless people almost literally outside my warehouse doors. This time around, for the three years at that company, I was far better prepared to act. I suppose I was making good with Shelby after pushing my pancakes away.

This time around, having more organically absorbed a sense of the pathos of the world at international and domestic levels, but also the pathos within me, it was easier to respond not because of Shelby's looming presence over my shoulder, but because it was inside me. I don't know how much food I tried to divert from waste heaps by literally grabbing and going on my own parallel mission to serve. I only know there was more to grab and more people to serve and that I could never do it all. Some food (veggies, milk, bread) went to the couple social agencies I was connected to; some went from me to homeless at the street corner. What I could not give away that specifically, I literally just dropped anonymously in known hotspots where it would all take care of itself. With it came this surge of the divine spirit that comes with doing some of these counter-cultural things like doing both my boss' work and God's work on the very same trips. I don't know if the company ever knew of that, or if that was exactly what led to my dismissal, but for much of the time there, I was regarded by facts and figures alone to be one of the best drivers there in terms of actual "productivity." I just don't know if my little charitable operation was known of! Maybe it was. I did things of this sort even as I was training new hires, in part to shape their own consciousness of how our industry was so wasteful, and to set their minds thinking of how to do something useful however they could.

During that period, 2008-2010, I have to say that there were so many of these opportunities that I began to feel the presence of Jesus at each of these corners. Each became a sheep-and-goats moment for me, as my pastor preached on a couple weeks ago, instead of it being a matter of judgment, the sheep and goats story is one of a reality check we could always have in our mind. Are we attentive? Do we pay attention to the world around us? Do we know who is in need? The America I am in right now is a different place than I think it was in 1991. But I recognize the signs. It was almost that that woman at Subway was brought forward in time by a couple decades, a vision of 2011, a vision of what America's own collapse will be like. No wonder people turn away. I didn't want to see it. After that instance, I went back to sleep for I don't know how long. I hit snooze. Being reminded of this first instance though, it brings to mind a few other moments where I acted just as awkwardly in years to come. Jesus kept appearing and it took a good long time before I recognized him and was prepared to act. 

Thursday
Mar032011

Red Mesa

All the talk about digital this and computer that does wear on me after a while. Last year was the beginning of a time when I got a chance to learn again to appreciate doing the digital stuff, but for a different reason than before. But it was also a year when I learned again to appreciate decidedly undigital life, and most notably, the natural world as I got to see it in my three trips to desert destinations.

For about the last year I have been feeling a call to go to New Mexico. With the notorious exception of parental custody battles and gameplaying as an infant, I have never been there to actually appreciate it. I find it intriguing from this vantage point. It is known as a spiritually rich place, with the confluence of the Native peoples and their thousands of years of history, intermingled with the early colonial influences. But to add to the complexity, set against the backdrop of all that spiritual-religious history and atmosphere, it is also the place where the most dubiously unholy deed was done: the testing of the first nuclear explosion. It makes for an interesting juxtaposition at the least.

The other calls to New Mexico have been in the form of spiritual tales or opportunities. In about a years' time, I heard about and then completed the Mens' Rites of Passage which is a program offered by the Center for Action and Contemplation, based in Albuquerque. My own rites were in Arizona, but that just whet my appetite. While there, the master teacher, Belden Lane, told his story about his CAC/MROP initiation at Ghost Ranch in NM, and also about his time at Christ in the Desert monastery where he set about finishing his book on The Solace of Fierce Landscapes. In this same year, Scott Landis preached about his three week experience at Christ in the Desert, in part to decompress from being ousted from the church he pastored (on account of his recent coming out). New Mexico, as a place of spiritual development opportunity, has been on my mind for a while.

This January I applied (a bit late, I found) to be an intern at the CAC for a ten week spell. That might have been a bit disruptive to home life, but would be a great time to work and learn, reflect on a day's experience, or a lifetime's. CAC always seems to have something interesting going on, and the next thing that came across my desk was something that one of my small group members at the rites had taken to doing on two occasions in the last season or two. That he is a Canadian and decided to haul off to New Mexico said something.

I read his essay in the midst of the website about CAC and their Red Mesa property. David always has a way with language, so his account of tending sheep was profoundly moving, particularly since we had the same initiating experience last spring. Tending sheep? Yes, it is out of character for me. I have barely ever seen sheep. The charm of this is to enter into a different life and a different space and see what it has to teach. It is hard to sum up what the Rites of Passage experience was, but it continues to unfold in meaning, as a touchstone for reference. I find CAC's programs to be attractive in their ability to teach at a real level. It isn't just retreats they offer. So at the end of the month, I will go to Red Mesa and spend a week doing whatever on the property with others who are interested in the CAC-offered Alternative Spring Break. Hey, being out of work has led to some neat developments.

Red Mesa is in the backwoods of New Mexico. I think I will drive the mountains on the norhteast side of Phoenix. I rather like the idea of maximizing the wilderness time on such a trip, so staying off the freeway might be nice, at least going one way. As close as I am coming to the Trinity testing site and the Very Large Array radio telescope site (the dishes that I once planned to use for my Receiving cover), I will be a week early for the ONE day that the site is open during the springtime. I have just put out feelers to see what can be done to tarry in New Mexico for a week to help bridge the decidedly low tech sheep week and the sites that indicate our highest technological aspirations. That should be interesting. In some ways, that would be a thing to ponder to help clarify my own relationship to technology and my longing to more completely live an uncomplicated, organic life.

Sunday
Feb272011

Sock Hopping And Tub Thumping

ed on drums with the broken strings at a church sock hop.

In all the hubbub of setting up and developing sites for Jubilee Economics Ministries or Women Who Speak In Church, and discussing sites with other non profits or small businesses or even talk about doing UCC work, I feel like ol' TAPKAE.com is left out in the cold a bit. It hasn't been far from sight, but with all the digital time spent doing other work, it is hard to come here and to let myself be creative. There is plenty of uploading to do since my hosing plan can store anything I throw at it. Uploading, captioning, blogging, and all that stuff takes some time. I just uploaded a few hundred pictures of our Death Valley trip from last November. I don't think I will caption each, and I will probably ditch a bunch of redundant ones for the sake of even a feeble attempt at brevity.

broken strings playing for the dancers.

Yesterday, I played drums with the Broken Strings at a sock hop dance put on by one of the local UCC churches. I get a kick from playing, even as unrehearsed as this was. It was fun for folks, and that's what counts. Just staying connected to music making is okay for me now. It isn't like this stuff pays the rent but on a good day, it might be just about enough to buy the new set of whip sticks I used for the gig, after the old set fell apart. Whip sticks are the only kind that I can use for this band, and even they elicit "too loud!" comments.

The nice thing about drumming is that it is not plugged in. Nothing to turn on or manage. The drumming world involves wood, steel, mylar, and bell bronze. It is the ultimate in tactile interaction. In other words, I get HIT stuff! For a while it is nice to just come off the grid to enjoy the simple pleasure of moving wood to ultimately move air. It just about doesn't matter to me that I don't know the music all so well. It comes reasonably easily once I get a taste of it. It is only oldies rock and roll, after all. It isn't stuff that I spent my time playing, but it is the stuff I learned first, even though I only knew beats according to certain dance names. It was stuff I was shown in 1984 that I didn't know I'd be playing in 2011!

One thing that is amusing to note was the cultural shift from when this music first made its appearance in the world. These days a sock hop dance event held at a church is a event made for family fun. Thinking back to my grandmother's amusing response to the whole Elvis/gyrating hip scandal—one of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse for her—it is a quaint idea tht rock and roll was once the disruptive noise that parents couldn't stand. Some might even think of it as the devil's music! LOL! My grandmother had a scowling, coughing disgust at the idea of Elvis. For her it marked the end of the civilized life. And now, congregational churches such as the one she once held membership in are hosting the very stuff. And all the people who were once the "rebellious" teenagers in 1958 were there, doing what they always did—dancing to Elvis with one Ed Lucas at the drums.

You can read about the Broken Strings from founder Rev. Curtis Clare. A photo gallery of my musical history is for viewing here.

Thursday
Nov222007

Thanks

Thanks for Caleb and John.

Thanks for family of choice.

Thanks for Buber the Dog.

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

Thanks for the plants that grow in the back yard.

Thanks for the Toyota that still runs.

Thanks for the metanoia.

Thanks for the return of the swine.

Thanks for the fire crews who saved a city.

Thanks for those who don't give up.

Thanks for the flying colors.

Thanks for holy moments in unholy places.

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

Thanks for the story.

Thanks for the glass whether it is half or half.

Thanks for the house of mirrors.

Thanks for the empty nest.

Thanks for the market crash.

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

Thanks for El Cotixan and Satan's.

Thanks for opportunities to get it right.

Thanks for forgiveness when we get it wrong.

Thanks for the Sabbath.

Thanks for peak oil and global warming.

Thanks for heartbreak.

Thanks for loss.

Thanks for a role in the play.

Thanks for midnight.

Thanks for love.

Thanks for compost.

Thanks for the magician.

Thanks for mystery.

Thanks for wonder.

Thanks for a loving wife.