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Entries in human being human (22)

Wednesday
Oct102007

Shoulda Been Born A Dog

buber on kelli's breast, oh so adoringI think maybe this was all a mistake.

I should have been born a dog.

Then I wouldn't have had to worry about certain things.

The dog only needs to learn a few things, then it is set for life. It does not have to perpetually be reeducated to advance with new job descriptions. A dog just has to be.

No one berates a dog for not going to college to get a degree. A dog is spared crushing student financial aid debt.

Any doggie debt is soon forgiven when he smiles and wags his tail and comes running to the door to greet his master. Forgiving debt among humans undermines the economy and makes people jealous of one another.

No one expects the dog to keep up with where the parents were at his age.

buber found in the county animal shelter, huddling next to the wire enclosure so someone can see how eager he is to be pettedA dog with a broken family somehow gets more love when people realize his fractured past.

A dog's leash does not function the same as the way humans are led around these days, thinking they are free to come and go. The leash at least keeps the dog near his keeper, who probably loves him more than anyone else would. Not really the same in human terms; the things that restrict our freedoms are not the things that keep us in close touch with what is best for us.

That said, who are we to lead dogs around on leashes?

People feed and house dogs without question, but humans create elaborate laws to justify why other humans must starve or remain homeless. We call it sound economic theory. We wage war to enforce these policies. We call it the facts of life. Anything else seems foreign or idealistic. We arrive at this conclusion with the same mind that blindly says the Bible is the literal word of God, and that every word within is true. Except maybe some of what Jesus said about feeding the poor and housing the strangers and orphans.

buber looking out the doorway into a blast of white lightDogs sense a world beyond the world humans understand. Every now and then, certain humans sense a world beyond what other humans understand. To humans, a curious dog is a novel conversation piece between dog owners who meet in passing. But a human that runs off the track and investigates other worlds must be kept in line, and talk about such a person is conducted in hushed tones as if he did something wrong. Maybe prescribed drugs, maybe full time work, maybe imprisonment will knock a sense of "reality" into such a person.

People will stroke a dog for hours out of pure love and affection, but can go to the office and function within a system that destroys lives in any of a number of ways.

If someone gets a dog to jump for a frisbee or play catch with a ball, it's good the for the dog to get exercise. But if humans make other humans "jump" or "catch" it is to belittle them and keep them somehow in an inferior position as a play toy. This second scenario is not conceived of in order to get fit and to bond; it is to degrade another human.

People will adopt stray dogs of uncertain origin but to adopt stray people from other nations is politically dangerous unless they are exploitable somehow, then the tune changes to justify doing so because its good for the economy. Likewise, adopting stray people from down the street is just weird unless it is holiday season, then everyone wants to do it for the news cameras.

Dogs do not understand capitalism and its motives. If they did, they might actually be mad because it is so contrary to everything they know. They really just would like to be fed and petted and let out for a shit.

Speaking of dog shit, it is unfortunate that dog shit laws do not particularly carry over to laws regulating humans. Dog shit, still an organic substance, is still mild compared to the stuff that is legal for humans to dump. But the national and global economy does not depend on dog shit as much as it depends on other waste-creating activity. Dogs shit because it is necessary. Industry takes a shit and walks off, considering cleanup to be an "externality" for which it is not responsible because it is not a profit making activity.

buber on the floor looking up with the look of expectancyDogs are considered marvelous for their diversity. People even rave about the diversity of the dog world. A black dog has as much chance to be petted and fed as a white dog.

If a dog could laugh, it would laugh at how humans are so vain. Every dog knows you just need to lick yourself to stay clean and attractive.

The dogs at the local humane society (a private affair) have spiffy little apartments which are cooler than most of the places I've ever lived. And newer. And people visit them because they are on a mission—looking for someone to love. The neighboring animal shelter (a public institution) isn't as posh, but the dogs there still have brighter days ahead in most cases. You won't see such eager faces or such nice spaces at the penitentiaries or SRO hotels that house unwanted humans who fell through the cracks of life.

Dogs don't have to worry about the end of the world. Maybe they think about the end of the day. The next meal is not far from their minds, but there is no dog heaven that isn't already being lived or not. Dog heaven probably exists around feeding time and extended petting time, not to mention off leash running time. Dog hell might be at bath time.

Dogs probably don't know hate though they do know fear. Conditioned aversion that is accompanied with barking might seem aggressive. They certainly don't live hateful lives. And they certainly don't wrap it up in religious piety or nationalistic fervor. Humans aren't content to just piss on someone else's property to claim it. We need to kill or exploit people in the other yards we visit.

buber lounging around on the couchA dog that sleeps any time of day is regarded as cute. A human who sits around is regarded as lazy, unproductive, worthless. A human who does in fact work hard might end his day being "tired as a dog" which is regarded as a good thing since it signifies a job well done, even though the dog didn't have to do all that work to justify sleeping throughout the day.

A dog is a simple creature who has no need for technology as a labor-saving device. He has no labor to save, and has nowhere to be except at the bowl at dinner time and at the fencepost at piss time, and at his master's knee or lap at all other times. Technology that would benefit a dog would be one that allows him to get into the food bucket when master is gone. But a cell phone, computer, and automobile he has no use for. And thus is spared the headaches and bills. This is why he is still able to love you at the end of a long day and you just think he's barking and needy.

Dogs do not "waste" time because they have no clocks to measure it. And who are we to say a dog's life is boring or could be improved if we could just bring him more technology to mess with?

Dogs are microchipped to possibly save their lives. People could be microchipped so that their lives could be stolen.

Dogs have their balls cut off to save the world from overdogulation. Hah. Like humanity is in a place to determine what is bad for the earth!

the sign from the animal shelter with the Martin Buber quote, and the cover of Martin Buber's I and Thou bookDogs may not know anything of philosophy but they have everything to teach us about it.

Friday
Aug102007

'Maters Matter!

a tabletop of tomatoes that were happy to jump off the plant and into my bowl today, just one day from being canned at work and feeling downHow nice it is to be greeted with this wonderful catch of the day...

Particularly on the day after I got fired from my job, ironically for doing my assigned work too well.

No shit. All these wonderful little tomatoes just about jumped off the plant and into my bowl at the new garden. It was existentially validating. Maybe I get shit at work for being not too this or too much that, but the tomatoes just are there, doing what they do, and they appreciate what little I have to offer them, then they are ready to eat, almost inexplicably. I actually had to thank them for helping me to get over the previous day's heartbreak. I'm not sure they help me pay my godawfully expensive rent, but they did make me feel like less of a discarded machine part than the day before. They were one of life's little miracles when I needed one.

This bunch of fruits are off the two plants we have—a Roma and a Big Boy variety. Each started slowly since we planted in April, but the plants got real hardy through the summer, sprawling out and reaching the fence and a few cages put up to meet their growing needs—all the while not showing any red fruit. Then leaves started dying off, making me think maybe I had messed this up too, but the fruits started showing up in force. Now we get this much every couple days. The jalapenos are turning up nicely too. I don't know why we got three plants of the stuff. Just one would keep us pretty set for a while.

Salsa anyone?

Monday
Jun112007

That Time Of Year Again

Well, it has been 16 years since I graduated high school. Each year, I invariably think a bit about how things have gone. This year, I thought of writing my reflection anew but instead I reread the posting from last year, and decided that maybe it does just fine to sum up what is on my mind even now, a year later. So why not go back in time and read it all from top to bottom?

Wednesday
Apr042007

Caleb

The world is torn apart. We need to connect. We need to be able to reach out and feel that there are people out there who care and love and feel like we do. We need to be able to feel that—regardless of what soil our feet are planted on—our hearts are in the same place. For the first time in the history, we have the tools to connect the entire world. The Internet may be a nifty place to buy your books online, but at its core, it is a way for ALL of us to connect to one another. Now, more than ever, we need to use any tools we have to heal our planet. Will it work? A better question is, "Will we try?"

—John Halcyon Styn, Hugnation.com

at lunch with caleb at 93 or so, with kelli and edCaleb Shikles had us to lunch and chatOne of the finest human beings I ever got the chance to know (even a bit of) died this week. Elroy "Caleb" Shikles was one of the most optimistic, energetic, inquisitive, and spiritually gifted men you could meet. He made everyone feel like a loved human being. He was a long time Baptist minister, but by the time I met him (probably when he was 93 or so), he had a soul that transcended all the spiritual divisions we make for ourselves. He was just an amazing human who loved all of life, spoke out for the great things, spoke against the things that bring pain and suffering. He had a brief but critical role working with Martin Luther King, Jr., opening the pulpit to King in his church in Colorado—only a generation removed from when his uncles had gone on lynching parties back in his home state of Missouri. Caleb had a website that his grandson created and maintained, and he used it the same way he lived his earthly life—to spread love and peace. He'd host a weekly online podcast/virtual gathering called "Hug Nation" where people would share their hugs—even if only for one's self—with others by video chat hookup. Caleb was not a member of our church, but each week, Kelli and I would see him walking up the rather steep hills that surround our church and separate the church from the retirement community where he lived. At the age of 94 or more, he was fit to hike that neighborhood, aided only with his ubiquitous walking stick. He came to our church because we have an adult forum that meets before the worship service, and this is where he regularly contributed most of the great wisdom I knew him to have. Name the topic and he had questions that probed deep, and an imagination that no matter how challenging the issue, humanity could work it out for the better. At his age, one might expect he could have been a knowitall with ideas set in stone, but he loved questions more than answers. Even after his many many years as a preacher, he still had to admit that with church membership declining overall, he could have spent his life "polishing the brass on a sinking ship." But this man was too great for any church. He preached with his every word, his every compliment and question, his every smile. At the retirement community he had, he extended his ministerial calling by having a small group of people who offered just to listen to the concerns of those who needed to talk.

For about two years I worked as a home delivered meals driver for local senior centers. I delivered to many older folks, many who were far younger than Caleb, even by 20 years his junior. I saw their homes, how they lived. I greeted some of them in their night robes or underwear. Some died during the course of my service. Some had distant families, or none at all. Some were cheerier than others, but some were morose. Caleb was not a client of mine since he lived in a full service community, but on a couple of occasions in the past year, he had me over to lunch. He was gregarious with everyone he met, even the busboys and servers. Every day he dressed up and looked dapper. He showed me his room, his "cocoon" as he called it, and it was bright and colorful. There were pictures of family and friends everywhere. There were cutouts from magazines and newspapers with articles or pictures that resonated in his mind. There were the letters and poems from various people. He even had a new computer and monitor, which he just marveled at because it helped him tap into even more interaction with people who were dear to him. His room was very much the room of a person who loved life, and planned to love it straight on out to the end. Even he was amazed at how long he had lived, and he thanked God for each new day which gave him a chance to keep doing all the great things he could. His calendar was full of lunch meetings, dinners, his webcast, and maybe even protest marches. Caleb was just so alive that he puts many who are just 1/3 his age to shame. As it was, he was nearly three times older than me, and all I could do is stand in awe of a guy who runs rings around me in so many ways. But he took it in stride and thanked the Lord by just keeping on keeping on.

Caleb Shikles renders the sentiment "only the good die young" utterly moot. What an amazing life, all 95 years of it.

Wednesday
Feb282007

Aqualung My Friend

Today the stock market took a dive in the worst fall it has taken since the day of September 11, 2001. This news doesn't look to be an isolated instance of the market's fickleness in the age of globalization. My anticipation is that this is only a taste of things, and that sooner or later things have to reset somehow, in a big way as the market hiccups and shudders in what James Kunstler calls the Long Emergency.

homeless man petitioning for cash or help from the side of the road near mission valley mall.Today was just another day of driving wastefully about the city and county as I deliver technical documents to architects and engineers who build places I deplore. While out and about, it is impossible to not see the growing number of panhandlers on the street corners and intersections. Maybe it is just that I do so much driving now that I see it this much, but I am certain this subculture has to be growing in population. Almost invariably, they are white people. A work buddy of mine said in December 2005 that they were all white, and since then, I have paid attention to the validity of that claim, and just by my observation, he was nearly 100% correct. I honestly believe that in the year and more that has passed since then, no more than two men in such situations were something other than white. He claimed that the latinos would not be seen doing such things if they could stand in a work line and get something of a day gig in construction or whatever they specialize in, for it would be an insult to their machismo breadwinner role to be seen begging. So far, my buddy's Wyoming-lensed observation has held out remarkably well.

It is the season of Lent, which usually is the time when people of Christian faith reflect on the sacrifices required to honestly live the faith. As for me, I just feel very disconnected from all that this year because instead of the last week being one to pause and take stock of personal allegiances, it has been 100% "GO!" between my day job and doing some significant domestically demanding work as of late—namely moving house! (So far Kelli and I have made 22 truck and car trips to the new place in Bay Park.) So I have unwittingly and grudgingly taken on the mantle of the workaday schmoe who puts the blinders on and has to "look out for number one." I'm concerned about my job just because the place has fired three drivers in the four weeks I have been there. It doesn't seem to be a very stable place to try to remain, even though I am seemingly doing well and taking on a bit of dispatch duty as needed. It scares me that all my eggs are in that basket. I listen to NPR and public radio all day long, so today I was able to hear the market hemorrhage during the course of the day. And then I looked out to the street corners and saw the broken spirits of the ruthless market economy. I carry no money but for a few bucks each day. I have just my lunch with me. I am not driving to be charitable. But they are there asking for help, just as I sit in the car, stuck as it were, even in a device that usually is associated with ideas of freedom. So I have to meet eyes with these people, knowing full well that I could offer something, and probably would, but being a slave to peer pressure nonetheless, worrying either about how fragile my job is, or what the people in other cars will think, or that maybe the guy I give to is a professional panhandler who makes more than I do in any given day. So I go cynical and drum my fingers till the light changes, and that discomfort will pass until the next major intersection or the next time I pass by that same intersection.

It makes me feel like a great hypocrite and sorry excuse for a human being. But in my culture, what can I say? We are so conditioned to think that there is a scheme, even behind a guy who is panhandling. We are so conditioned to fear that he might do something irresponsible with "our" money. Or maybe it's that if you give to a guy once, and he is there the next day, do you give again? Or do you give to the guy on the other corner opposite where the first is standing?

I spent most of 2006 working on developing some spiritual sensitivity to the world around me, but this year is so different. Different work, different house, different everything it seems. I've been moving away from my church because of a political and time management problem that has not resolved. I have not been able to attend my (usually twice monthly) therapy sessions because my work schedule is what it is. So I feel oddly detached from something that enveloped me last year. Yet, I don't kid myself and think that I am on the right track. More and more the economic storm clouds are coming in, just as I have feared for a couple years now. I guess the panhandler guys on the streets are scary more than anything. They are scary because the look like me or some people I know. They are scary because they might have had what an earlier economy considered a "good job" in some manufacturing or something meaningful, but now they haven't. Then I consider what it means that my job is essentially disposable on the drop of a hat, and that as my costs rise, and as I age, and as the economic-social-political world is transformed into one with a dying middle class, I have a visceral fear that it is not impossible for things to fall that far, even for me.

Even still, for the guy that I don't give a buck to, or the guy I don't give some food to, I am the same privileged asshole in a car that avoids eye contact and is keen to get the hell out of that uncomfortable captive situation as soon as the light goes green. What difference does it make if I spent the last year trying to deepen my spiritual sense if in the most critical moment, I throw it all out as I "look out for number one"? I suppose for my lenten reflection, I have to write this to at least acknowledge that I know that I'm as hypocritical as any other most of the time, operating out of fear of something, and not knowing what button exactly I must push to activate that part of me that knows what is right and good, and to act on it. Empathy I have, but sympathy (the will to act on the empathic response) is still lacking.

Wednesday
Nov292006

Admission

I'm too sexy for my shirt.

But I shall retain it. It's brrr-cold tonight. Definitely not a good night to bike the neighborhood naked. At least not if I want to make a good showing for the ladies!

Tuesday
Jul042006

10 Years Later

My grandfather Norman died on this day ten years ago.

He wouldn't understand me today.

Same as before.

None of my family does.

Not much family left.

I'm free.

Sunday
Jun112006

If You Had Asked Me 15 Years Ago

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday
Jun032006

Belated Memorial Day Missive

As a belated Memorial Day missive, indulge me. The words below are all mine, but were brought about by reading the words of Stan Goff, who to me is a great American, a man of integrity. Consider: his essay was published in late 2003, just about eight months into this war. Now that we have the Iraqi My Lai that was pretty much inevitable, Goff's early statement resounds prophetically—not just in his vision for what might happen in this terrible war, but the message to his audience—hang on to your humanity. I was inspired to write a little something to reflect on the topic of Memorial Day. I don't get rosy about it. I get riled up because to me it is disingenuous to forget what war really is, and to gloss over it. It is a sad way of answering problems. It is a way to get perfectly good people dead. It is a total squandering of life. And these days, sadly, a battlefield injury that once was fatal might be survived now, and the reduced-human (think of Joe Bonham in "Johnny Got His Gun") that survives the trauma should be a living reminder to us how horrible it is that war is allowed to serve as a part of the "civilized" world. The idea of a just war, or a "good war" of any sort is a lie. It was a lie when that reasoning was first devised, and it is more so now. So, no feel-good, nationalistic cheerleading drivel from me.

My pacifism is derived from my faith in Christ, who by my understanding, would be intolerant of any of this we now know. Based on his response to Roman empire, I extrapolate that the current worldwide empire, the United States, would be frowned upon in similar fashion, and devoted followers would be led to act in ways that don't play to that system's benefit if it comes at the expense of the marginalized and downtrodden. I see little or no attempt to seriously address the needs of the marginalized in this country (which is fast becoming everyone but for the wealthiest 10% of the nation). Ergo, I find my allegiance is not drawn toward Caesar George, but to the Christ. They are different, after all.

For what did he die, if not to convince us to live out better lives?

Goff doesn't mention peak oil (Google it!) here though he does call out this war as part of the task of securing energy resources from competitors—consistent with the goals of the Project for the New American Century, and sadly, it's consistent with the needs of the dominant culture, not just a handful of extremists who previously could not get an audience in Washington. The war seems to be solidly an act of imperial desperation which is fought to stave off oil and gas resource competition in the age of permanent decline and ultimate depletion, and to put on a show of force meant to dissuade other nations from abandoning the dollar as the world's reserve currency. A war of this sort is cowardly, not mighty. It is the act of a desperate nation on its way to the dustbin of history. Selling out its own people to conquer other lands is a sure failure, and many fallen empires can teach us this. Empires drain their homeland for the chance to subdue other nations. It's a shame that history has taken a back seat as a subject of study. Maybe it's time that we remember the fates of Rome, Britain, Spain, Germany, Japan, and the USSR. Imperial overreach and collapse. I don't suspect, given our current course in the world, that there will be many who shed tears for the USA when our time comes. And tangibly worse, there won't be a Marshall Plan for this nation when we finally lead the pack toward financial wipeout in part because of worldwide depletion of resources—a new thing in the history of the world. One of the problems of our go-it-alone approach to conducting our affairs is that when we are alone, we will be alone—a condition of our own devising.

The rhetoric is that this nation was founded as a Christian nation. Nonsense. It never was, and never will be. So let's stop worrying about it because it is just a smokescreen. However, right now, any true Christian and sober-thinking person of any persuasion among us needs to seriously question the fact that our national military budget is $450 BILLION dollars! (This, I hear, does not include the actual spending on the wars we fight.) I have to contend that spending that sort of money on tools of war and other related uses is completely at cross odds with anything Christian! The Christian thing to do, if there is any seriousness in the rhetoric, is to channel such money into our own people, institutions, and culture in ways that help us retain and delight in our humanity. Old Ike said, "Every gun that is made, every warship that is launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and not clothed." Dr. King said what we need isn't a Christian nation, but a just one.

Just remember, your name and mine are on all these things that are sowing destruction in Iraq, these things that supposedly are being used to win the hearts and minds of the countries we occupy. I contend we need to win the hearts and minds of Iraqis because the people in Washington and other positions of power have lost theirs entirely. But let that be them, not you and me.

But really, anyone can blame politicians. It comes easily, doesn't it? All of us need to reflect on what it is we contribute to this mess. Have we done well enough to contemplate our energy use and consumption of all things? Have we really, as individuals and institutions, made the best decisions? Do those decisions reach beyond what is good for this fiscal quarter? Do our "leaders" act on our behalf because they assume that most of us would be unable to change our ways of life after a lucrative century of being transformed from "citizen" to "consumer"? There is more to protest than war, and unfortunately, it does require examination of our own individual motives. What I believe must be protested is the lifestyle that drives us to that sorry end (war). If the American way of life has become one of ethical slovenliness, greed, empty hedonism and forgetting our humanity while making a profit, is that one worth fighting for, at great expense in every way? Is fighting the only way we can carry on this way of life? What happened to diplomacy? Why do the social services suffer here while we can somehow afford to destroy nations on the other side of the earth? (I've lost two social service jobs in the time since this war started—the only two jobs I ever loved because they were decidedly unproductive by nature—only of service to those in need.) The average American does not want this if it were presented plainly, but the average American also, for whatever reason, turns a blind eye and makes decisions out of fear of the loss of entitlements and status that once were luxuries to earlier generations in this same country. Can it be that our love of luxury is driving our "leadership" to acts of desperation so that we can continue this way of life? If it will benefit them for one more fiscal quarter or for a lifetime, I think so.

Do any of us really stop to understand the web of influence that connects our wallets to the war? And the same web which connects the war to homeless folks on our streets or the massive failure that led to the catastrophe of New Orleans? Do we understand how our daily choices in markets send the signals that ultimately drive immigrants across "our" borders and take "our" entitlements? I find our immigration "crisis" to be not unlike the war in Iraq, fought on our borders and in our cities. The similarity resides in how we strip others of their humanity, and how we do it at tremendous expense to our own people which in turn robs us of our humanity. What does it matter whether we lob rockets and mortars at these people or take away their hopes, or both? Either way, is this something we should be proud of and hold up as our great way of life? Is that the business we are in now? Stripping people of dignity? Community? Opportunity? Health? Wealth? Again, the money we put toward defending our nation from the displaced peasants of the Latin American nations is money that maybe we could use for more productive work so we could be the America I know we all wish we were.

The Iraq war and the immigration issue are tearing this nation asunder and both are tremendous distractions from what we really need to be paying attention to. Consider it a worldwide sleight of hand. Our national treasury is being drained of funds to fight non-enemies on your dime and mine while people who wipe their asses with $100 bills are making out like the bandits they are. The more distracted you and I are from understanding peak oil, global warming, media complacency, the real cause of 9/11, terrorism, cronyism, religious fundamentalism burying science, geopolitical strife, genetically modified food/organisms, the teetering dollar, displaced peasant farmers in the first-world-created "third world," pharmaceutical industry funny business, pillage of social programs, skyrocketing debt, and a host of other issues, the easier it is for them to carry on with this sort of stuff while flying under the radar. Distractions abound. Like Dorothy was told, "pay no attention to that man behind the curtain!" Don't blame David Copperfield if one day the Statue of Liberty disappears. You could figure that out by establishing who needs the copper, or who wants to steal liberty. And, the sad thing is, unlike a Copperfield television extravaganza, the real disappearance of the Statue of Liberty and all it stands for will not be televised. The less you and I know, the easier it is to pull it off. All that is required is some smoke and mirrors, and a sleight of hand.

Maybe men of war and outlandish profit need to be let down. Maybe we need to make them wrong about it all. Maybe our national actions, now predicated on the expectation that Americans are mindless consuming drones who gave up principled life for convenience and security, are predicated on a faulty premise that one day will hold no merit. The cost of their being right is too great. Maybe it is time that we all do assess our addictions to goods and services. Maybe it's time we assess our Frankenstein's Monster that we have created by habit formed one purchase at a time. One car trip at a time. One choice at a time. The empire they control was put together one purchase at a time. With concentrated will, it can be deconstructed the same way, or it can all run itself aground like most large man-made social experiments do after they exhaust their own lifeblood. A great man I know has repeatedly said, "a culture of success will collapse of its own weight." Forget about a top-down solution to problems of this sort. The "top" is the problem that got us here. Media, advertising, industry, politicians all want to help us forget how to live like humans. They need us to be at war with one another so they may thrive. But, to borrow Stan Goff's words, hold on to your humanity.

Sunday
Apr232006

The Flower

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I like the flowers.