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Entries in kairos (14)

Friday
Dec212012

Hog Heaven Holiday Theme Music +12

Hog Heaven Holiday Theme Music? Tech Background

A long time in coming. That's what it has been for me to bring you this recording. Oh, it's not new. It's not even unheard. It's been here on this site for years, and each year in December I do something to share it around as a gift to people around me, either in person or online. 

What is new is that after a dozen years of kicking around with a rather boring mix and with the hasty cover art, this year I finally was able to address that and get it all remixed and fixed up with some snappier visuals. I owe a debt of gratitude to one Brian Caldwell, a figure I've met while in Escondido. For many months since I got here, I've jammed with he and Paul Castellanos at the Irish pub. I found that Brian owns two Roland VS-2480 recorders and after hearing of this, I talked some shop with him. I used to own a 2480 myself but found it really difficult to work with, especially after becoming very fluent on my VS-880. This Hog Heaven Holiday Theme Music project was done on the 880 in mid December of 2000, and has the distinction of being the last project that was done in a way that seemed album-like. It's only 15:35 long but it feels like an album, not just a one off track.

Recorded at the end of 2000, this was done fairly late in my 880 period. The 2480 came on the scene in late June 2001 and for all intents and purposes, buried the 880. It had the capability to bring 880 projects onto its hard drive, and while it was of nearly no use to me then, when Brian spoke of VS-2480s, my ears perked up. See, I have about 40 data CDs of 880 and some 2480 material. And since Roland machines have a proprietary audio encoding, my Mac can't even read the disks. So, for all these years I've hung on to the 880, expecting that if an opportunity like this were not to arise, I'd need to do a MIDI sync linking the iMac to the 880, and transfer tracks two or four at a time. It was pretty much a deal breaker to think of doing things that way. The good news is that with only eight tracks to mix with at once, anything that I mixed before with that many tracks was not that hard to recreate.

Brian lives just a couple miles away and let me come over to reacquaint myself with the 2480. I found it as difficult as before but the optimism was there that this time something might actually come of my time fiddling with it. My goal was first to grab the multitrack sources of this recording so I could give it a proper mix with richer effects and more clarity. I got pretty frustrated relearning the 2480 interface in just an hour but got my CDs with the WAV files I needed to get things into the iMac where I'd mix in Logic Pro. (He was nice enough to offer the use of the machine as I needed it. Then he let me borrow it. What a guy! That's giving me ideas to remix and finish such a thing as ReCyclED, toiled on for years and then sort of set aside when Receiving took center stage.)

The original recording was done in two main sessions, and each had eight tracks. When I got back home, I had 16 WAV files there, ready to... well, wait a minute! Actually, they could be mixed that way but you see, the initial recording process was really scattershot. I started off on what you now hear as the middle of the recording (track 5 if it were to be indexed). That started the entire project but there were five "songs" from that point to the end. Each had just a few tracks—never more than six at once—and when there were open spaces at the end of one "song" I'd use them to start a new idea. Maybe two tracks launched it, but as things ended on a previous "song" I'd have new track space to put in more ideas. The idea of sensible track layout (drums, bass, guitar, keys, fx) progressing from left to right was just not of any service here. Nope. If you looked at the tracks as lanes on a freeway, it would appear rather like the various color cars and trucks on such a road: at different places, sometimes traveling together, others out front, some longer or shorter, etc. In musical terms, it meant that in the lane of track 1, it might start as a tambourine and then become a keyboard, and then become a different keyboard later on. And tracks 2-8 would have equally odd instances of musical bits cutting in and out. The task was to get that into order so I could progress. This is just the preparatory work so the creative job of mixing can flow.

With those 16 audio files in one session at last, I cut all the separate regions (instrumental parts arrayed across the audio files) so they could be arranged next to each other with their "song" peers. I found there were 37 parts to work with. I got them grouped into the constituent "songs" and color coded the groups of tracks that were meant to perform together. Then, for the next song on the timeline, those tracks would receive like treatment. As the whole project progressed, a group of pink tracks ended and some green ones started, and then blue, and purple, and orange, etc.

Those 37 tracks gave way when I further divided a few that I missed, and when I deleted a couple instances and replayed just a few parts on drums and cymbals to improve feel and timing, and then added just a bit of cymbals for more texture. Other than that, the whole project was the same as before. What could be done now was to use ample plugins to do the detailed EQ and compression that I never could do, and to mix with far more variety in effects and also to do automation for tricky bits that I could never do with my fingers on just a few faders. I took the opportunity to time align a few things for improved feel. Things were done quite hastily in 2000. Because the parts were put down and then the mix happened no more than a week or two later, the idea of what the mix might sound like was not yet lost. But to recover such ideas a dozen years later? Um... better to just wipe the slate clean and put stuff into logical groups!

Mixing was a joy. One effect I found to be real useful and transformative was a subsonic bass treatment that does some amazing hocus pocus on drums and gives them a richer bottom end by synthesizing some lower octave information based on the extant material. It worked wonders on a relatively small headed tambourine that was played at real low level originally (and close to the mic for a natural bass boosting effect), but did not have the deep fundamental like the bass drum it emulated. This plugin took that calfskin headed tambourine and added some real balls to it, in effect turning it into a tribal bass drum sounding like it was being hit pretty hard. Further processing was done to separate the jingle from the drum part of the tambourine. Detailed filtering on cloned tracks let me cut the drum out of one track and the jingles out of the other, in effect creating two instruments from one instrument. I did that a couple places for the more rirualistic and festive sounding parts.

Creating some stereo spread without reverb was handy on some tracks, but since the aural model I had in mind when I worked in 2000 was that of the Paul Winter Consort playing their Solstice Live concerts in the Cathedral of St. John the Divine, I was cool with massive reverb. This is meant to be a powerful and atmospheric sounding recording, and so it gave itself to such processing. Some rich delays too.

With all the muckity muck of the 45 tracks that I mixed (the biggest project I ever mixed, but really only from 2-8 tracks at once), I was still keen to keep natural sounding dynamics intact. I mixed and remixed several times, reviewing in mono, small speakers, out of my room, and on headphones. I kept compression to a minimum on the whole mix, and used a bit of widening to make it even richer.

The art from 2000 was really basic and rushed. Remember, it was just to give away as a Christmas present. All I did then was to use a picture from a calendar I had a year before—one with a slightly iconic Ron Kimball portrait (porktrait?) of a giant hog towing a sleigh with a piglet at the helm. Then I used label maker tape to mark it up as from TAPKAE, and to call it Y2k Holiday Theme Music. The words "Hog! Hog! Hog!" were meant to be read as "Ho Ho Ho!" but I don't think anyone got it. It was innocent and cute but it was someone else's work and done stupidly cheap. So this time I put a bit more work into the design. I still used someone else's work but made it look a lot nicer. These days, since nothing is released on a CD-R anymore (at least not for free), a bit of humor got lost. Originally there was a CD with a paper label applied, with one side of the spindle hole showing "Side A" and the other, "Side B."

These days the prospect of creating some audio and turning it loose on the world is finally starting to appeal to me. In the old days I gave so much of it away anyway. With Soundcloud now proving to be a great sharing option, allowing ready downloads, links, and embedding, I have decided that I should properly post stuff with full tagging and notes, and set it out there. This tune is on YouTube as you see, and also on Soundcloud. While the mixes I've had around for years have been online, it's not much use to just have them hosted on my site. That's been kind of a shift of paradigm too. After blowing out the last of the copies of Receiving, I decided to get it on Soundcloud as a high quality download. Now this. I plan to work my way backward and remix things and get my more established stuff together that way.

Personal Background

A bigger story lurks behind the timing of both the original recording and this remix. Indulge me, and you might appreciate the layers of meaning to its creator.

In 2000, I was 27 and at that time of life when it was time to address the various broken relationships and other troubling aspects of life. Seeking to reconnect with my mom and the extended family constellated around her after the better part of six years estrangement (not even the first of its kind), I sought their numbers in phone books at 7/11 stores around their known neighborhoods. That turned up a successful connection and I went to a reunion two days before Thanksgiving that year. The occasion was not just to welcome me though. I was at least "second fiddle" that day; the larger cause was that my grandmother there had died the week before, literally the morning after I got a call back from my sister. I hadn't seen my grandmother in years.

Despite the mixed emotional content of that day, I entered the holidays with a great deal of optimism. It was made all the more interesting because it was just then that I found my young niece Kaitlin to be a delightful inspiration. I had three other nephews from my older sister, but I'd never connected with them at any significant level. But with my niece, I got that feeling that I could be someone for her. This time, my resolve was there.

Back at home in San Diego, that spark continued when I went into the studio and spent about a week and a half leaping from one instrument to another and back again, having all sorts of ideas come to me, fortunately at a time when I had some cool keyboards and percussion toys on loan, and lots of time to indulge the muse's calling.

Yes, it's spontaneous and rather unfinished and gets from one idea to another without returning to any one theme, but the joy of recording it comes through clearly. I've always found it interesting to note that this project has a lot more melody and charm than anything I'd done thus far. It wasn't so dark, or so goofy. Maybe it reflects some of the consonance I felt for a few weeks at the end of 2000. The world was a safer place. A little girl melted my heart and made it safe to be vulnerable again. Who knows.

Now, in 2012, the sad fact is the family relations continue to be unbearable most of the time, not unlike the situation that launched this whole story. It has been an incredibly challenging part of life to deal with all this, trying to live with either their presence OR their absence. The prolonged estrangement periods take everyone out of the picture for the most part, and the short punctuations to that are usually heated and savage. I did get to see my niece briefly as I paid my mom a visit in November (half-coincidentally just a few days before Thanksgiving once again). Unlike the occasions 12 years ago, I left there realizing there would never be a relationship, and because of my sister's intransigence, all those years have passed and I've not ever been given a chance to be in any relationship with my niece. It's not that there is no hope, but essentially, the book has been written by now. (To further indicate the measure of dysfunction, no one actually told me my own half brother had died until I happened to drop in at mom's place over six months after the fact!)

So while the optimism of 2000 has had stumbling blocks put before it, and the recent remix project was laboring under the cloud of a new dose of defeat for my spirit, this year, rather than limiting the dedication to niece Kaitlin, this year's work is dedicated to the people who have sustained me on the outside of the rather disappointing family I was born to.

The solstice happens in the darkest time but signifies the coming of the light.

Santa and the Kingdom of Childhood: a Bit of a Troubled Place

A related project that uses a bit of the 2000 version of HHHTM is this short video that I put together this year. The reading is from a book called The Dance of Time by author Michael Judge. I loved the reading so much that in 2010, I decided to do a few takes. The whole thing is explained in more detail in another post. Shortly after getting that video posted, I got a call from my sister Nikki, chewing me out big time for posting pictures of her minor child (Katie's 15 now). Oh? Well, she's my niece too. She tried to tell me she wasn't so I dared her to prove it with DNA testing. And four of seven pictures are mine. She tried to tell me they weren't when I hold the negatives in my box just in the other room. She threatened legal/law enforcement action. I know what she means, but her fiat declaration that Katie is not my niece is kinda flimsy. I mean, at one point, I was welcomed into their house, took pictures of my family member, and a dozen years later I posted them online? If my sister is worried about all that kind of stuff, maybe she ought tell Katie she can't have a Facebook account, or she ought not post pictures herself where people like me (she calls me a "stalker," or "pedophile" or "child molester") might find them. I offered to take out the three pictures I didn't take myself.

So enjoy the show. Merry Christmas to all. Even those family members who like to pretend they're not.

Saturday
Aug112012

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

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

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

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

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

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

1994: the Setup

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Alaska Ice at New Years

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

1995-1996: the Blackout

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

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

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

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

Pizza and Beer... for Dolphins

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

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

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

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

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

I Wasn't Supposed to be at Work That Day

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hog Heaven Halcyon Days, Shelby-powered

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

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

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

Sunday
Jan012012

Kelli's Grand Entrance +10

kelli in high schoolKelli in high school

As I've written on this blog before there are many ways to count my time with Kelli. Sunday school as kids? Maybe. Youth group at church, starting in 1990? Good start that we can both agree on. But this day ten years ago is a pivotal one where we essentially crossed the Rubicon into our present relationship. Prior postings have detailed the scene that led us toward this. Kelli has always been a person that I trusted in with my inner life. That part always felt safe to let out, even as she has been my crying shoulder or my venting ear over the years, telling tales of lost love, lost relations, hurt and dysfunction of one sort or another. I can't say I've done so well for her, but there has usually been some flow between us in the conversations we've had as we figured out what it was to grow up in a screwed up culture with families that weren't what we thought we were entitled to, and to be linked up with partners that didn't work out for whatever reasons. Over eleven and a half years, we were friendly in this way, even though there were sometimes rather notable periods of silence or physical distance due to life happening. But when that broke, we'd be telling our stories to each other, catching up on all the vital turmoil, and rediscovering each other yet again.

But as 2001 closed, we got closer in all ways, even as we'd sort of dabbled in on a couple of occasions in the years prior. After the surreal December night that brought the Blue Light Special written about just a couple posts back, Kelli must have been warming to me even more than I was warming to her.

Out With The Old...

On the 31st of December, 2001 I was returning from a rave concert in Las Vegas where Phil Cole and I were supplying part of the audio system for a sports arena show. We were using a 24' truck that I got to drive most of the way home during the morning and early afternoon on New Year's Eve. Since the show went on till about 4 am, we didn't get out till about 7 am. I had gotten some rest earlier on and was back in the concert arena by about 4 am, but Phil was up all night or something. At any rate, we got back here in the early afternoon and my "proper" night's sleep was had from about 2-10 pm! I was two hours from having missed the NYE turnover. I got up and scrambled to get ready for... something. Anything? I had a vague idea that Kelli would be with her lush friend Amy, an effervescent Irish lass who could drink like a fish. I got the okay that they'd be at her place and I could come along. I had the hots for Amy, and maybe or maybe not I stood a chance with her? I wasn't sure, but I was willing to show up. At that point, after almost a perfect five years (just two days away) from my breakup with Robin (and minimal encounters since), I was quite lapping at the chance to be with a girl again. Of course, there was no real substance to any such encounter Amy, but at that time, that was the appeal. Still, I went to her place where Kelli was and that was good enough. At least New Years Eve would not be a total throwaway occasion. Something interesting might happen, right?

The hour or so we had before midnight was one of a bit of preparing and debating whether to hit the bar across the street (the Lancer), or to hit up another joint. So Amy, Kelli, me, and some guy who later turned out to be the reason I wasn't gonna be with Amy that night all got into the car and we zipped along Park Blvd. and El Cajon Blvd. looking for an appropriate place to slurp some booze for the night. That was kind of silly and after one or two stops and some amusing attempts to decide what to do, we ended up back at the Lancer, just across from Amy's place. Late. Yup, the ball dropped while we were in the car! Oh well. Finally it was easier to just embrace our place at the Lancer. There I did get to feeling a bit rosy with a few beers, and Amy was looking rather nice herself—to this other guy. As the beers were imbibed, he told me he was her ex, or in some uncertain state with her. Well, that was a bit of a bummer but I was content to still be rather flirtatious with Amy. It might have been a useless pursuit at that point but it was fun and maybe I'd never see her again anyway.

Around closing time we headed back to Amy's place and were joined by some other mysterious dude who walked in from down the street. Amy and her guy knew him but Kelli and I didn't. At first he seemed like a bit of an eccentric, bohemian kind of guy who added a bit of interest to the talk, and for a while we were all on the upstairs porch, carrying on. Then eventually Amy got tired and slipped to bed. Kelli slipped away too, not being a true party animal or anything. Or maybe she had another agenda. But however all that worked, what happened was that we three guys were left there on the porch, and the conversation turned to something about a black market in lampshades made of the skins of Holocaust Jews. I forget who was repulsed by it totally and who was offering that he'd buy one just to take it off the market. The other then said that was supporting it and was accusing the guy that his purchase would drive up demand and turn it into a desirable item. It got real circular and started to lose me. These guys obviously had enough history to allow this kind of conversation. Eventually Amy's dude called it a night and went to bed with Amy and I was left on the porch with the one guy, trying to figure out what in the world we might talk about next, considering it was 3 am on New Year's morning and I didn't know this guy at all, and we were at the house of a girl I'd like to get with, and she was laying with her ex in the other room.

The thing was, Kelli was asleep on the bed, and Amy and her guy were getting it on while on the floor right beneath her! And I was stuck with this strange dude and his odd talk. Kelli was asleep so there was really nothing to do but finally shake off this guy and head home at about 3:30 am. What a start to the year!

In With The New...

The next morning I woke up uncharacteristically early, around 10 am, and was prompted to pick up my guitar and plug into my smaller Mesa amp in my bedroom. Out of nowhere came the riff to what became Return To Zero, a rocking little number with shifting meters and a strange mode in a harmonic minor scale. As I was bracing for making music suitable for a trio or quartet, it was a pleasantly Tool or Led Zep influenced thing that excited me a great deal after having not made much music during 2001. Within some weeks, the trio of Dom Piscopo and Whit Harrington made the recording offered above. It was a great thing to start the year with. But it was to be quite upstaged by the history making day that followed.

Realizing the night before left some unfinished business, I called Kelli to see how things played out after I left. She was able to remember something about the lampshade talk but nothing much after that. She drove home in the morning but I think she had in mind that maybe I should have taken her home myself. Hmm, that was a new way to do things with her. We talked about getting together in the evening for a movie. After being cockblocked by Amy's man, and realizing Amy wasn't really anything I needed to pursue further, it started to make better sense to just forget it. The here and now was here and Kelli was timidly making her way over to me. So we got together for a movie, The Majestic with Jim Carey, and that's how we got our year off to a start. And, as things followed that night, the decade to come.

I know it sounds odd to tell this as though Kelli was second choice for me. It's just that for all the time prior to this date, I never thought of her seriously as partner material. In some ways that could be taken as a negative, but really, given our history, and certainly my own sense of readiness, and in some ways her own, it was safer for us to carry on as friends, initially linked up through church but more so away from there. For a lot of years, Kelli was a bit like a sister but obviously that simile runs into a dead end as our relationship got more physical. (But I think a discerning mind can figure out what I'm talking about.) In some ways, since Kelli had been my oasis and a person of refuge for me, I sort of shied away from the idea of ever pairing up with her. She seemed too important, and during a few years of some line-blurring encounters between friends and partners, I always had in my mind the question, 'where would I go and what would I do if things bombed out with Kelli?' Knowing myself, I was plenty aware that she'd be a better friend to keep than a lover to lose, so for some years, I was not keen on really going forward, even though back in 1998, none other than her own mom made some talk that maybe I should ask Kelli out, and that "she really liked" me. In 1998 that seemed a little forward and off-putting, even as it was a bit flattering. Finally, three years later, it was something that made better sense.

The five years between the end of Robin and the start of the Kelli era was, aside from being a pretty vast "dry spell," was filled with some awful times on the personal front. What I had to face was that things wouldn't have to be that way with Kelli, and that Kelli is far more mature than all that, and has demonstrated herself as someone I've trusted for a long time. And so the first of January, 2002 was the start of letting myself go with that, and Kelli having been ready to do so as well.

Friends With Benefits

Usually people use that term to say that they are blurring a line between their "platonic" friends and their sexualized relations. I never felt comfortable with that term, especially with Kelli, because it would suggest an agreement or a pattern that we never really kept. It would also suggest something that could be taken for granted. And that I didn't do. But having moved into a new type of relationship with Kelli in late 2001/early 2002, what unfolded from that was a bit unexpected.

Daniel and Kelli at her promDaniel and Kelli at her prom

I Married a Nice Church Girl

Only about a week or two after we kicked off this new thing at the start of the year, I found myself ready to return to church after something like a decade. I suppose it was prompted by the Christmas Eve gathering at a church member's house after worship that night; an event that made my old church scene safe for me again. It was a welcome relief from all the weight that the decade before had piled upon me, and that I had not really been able to offload. But it was more than that. In the post-9/11 world, and after Daniel's murder a month before that, and a year of family drama and death, I was beyond my means to process any of it without resorting to a larger paradigm of understanding. I was 28, and in the way that spiritual paradox works, the world was simultaneously falling apart and coming together for me.

Kelli had long been my lifeline to the church community that I left sometime during 1991-1992. She kept me informed on who was doing what, and in some cases it was alarming to hear who had divorced, or who had gotten swept up in some underworld stuff, or who was essentially something vastly different than I thought I knew. She had a mind for politics, theology, and spirituality that was intriguing and intimidating. I guess I was feeling ready to return after my own decade of wandering the strange avenues of life. Whatever thought system I had to that point was on the verge of collapse and it was clearly time to do something new. I recalled that Jerry, pastor and friend of some years prior to my departure, was able to talk big ideas that had some persuasive appeal to me now.

In one of the first two weeks we were together, I decided to get back to church after something like a decade. For some months though, we didn't carry on as a couple. At least not openly. But we didn't seem to have people fooled. By the time we did "come out" as a couple, people had already put two and two together. Oh, was it that we both appeared on the same days and with wet hair and within minutes of each other? The church community was different. Our peers were gone but that might have been okay since I was always a bit removed from them anyway, and typically favored the company and support of adults there. Their parents might have been divorced, or maybe not attending the same as before. I met some new faces and befriended them. Some of the old faces were there and friendly but somehow I didn't connect with them. But I was glad to be back in the fold. Jerry's sermons, things that I once could not understand, started to shine like beacons for me. There was some feeling of homecoming and wholeness. My name carried some cache there since Virginia Lucas, my grandmother, was among the founding members, and the last of that bunch to pass away less than a year before my return. In some ways, I guess I was trying to reclaim a small bit of family life by getting back to church. It was something with some anchoring potential, and I was feeling it was my time to particpate with some adult conviction.

Kelli at the tidepoolsKelli at the tidepools

But even more so, what I have to report on is how Kelli in this new role was cause for turning me toward life at a whole different level than ever. I remember that on the second week we went to church together, we went to the tidepools in Point Loma. It was mid January when the sun is low in the sky, and it's bright on the water and with the Santa Ana weather, it's rather warm and clear. I still have a memory of knowing life was going to be different with Kelli. As we were looking at the cliffs and the critters in the pools, a world of wonder opened up to me. The whole scene conspired to change me. Kelli's goofy and playful manner, childlike and wonder-filled, was available to me like water at a desert oasis. And I drank of it. The sense of togetherness I felt with her was rich. It wasn't that I just got a new girlfriend. In fact, I think I refrained from calling her that for many months. It was far more than that. It was like being connected to life again. It was the safe space that let me move away little by little from the jaded and overly cynical self I had come to embrace as if it was something worth claiming as myself. Something about her disarmed me and made me human again. What can one say? When the time comes to tell the short story about us, that is it.

Phil walks Kelli down the aisle, 2004Phil walks Kelli down the aisle, 2004. Despite a general loathing of patriarchal practice, Kelli by this point had lost her father and step father, and Phil has taken both of us in like family, particularly after his son Daniel was murdered in 2001.

Proper

Another way that I felt reconnected to life was that along with Kelli came her mom Kay, and for the first ten months of 2002, her partner Rod. For Kelli and I there was none of the formality of taking me home to meet her family; her mom had already prodded us toward each other and was delighted at our joining forces. In that early part of 2002, Kay and Rod were living at a ranch up in Descanso, in a tiny, tiny cabin. (I mean, tiny). Kelli and I made a number of trips up to their place in those months, and our Friday night road trips there were great fun. There was a town hall movie showing in a funky wooden town hall that I fantasized about recording my new trio in; pizza at a funky place that served insanely oily pizza; a super intimate bit of storytelling and hot drinks in the cabin while the fire was lit in a defense against the winter mountain air; and a generally happy feeling of togetherness. Kelli unlocked a part of me that was looking for a chance to be set free. With her and her mom, that side has a chance to open up and breathe. The times early that year were exciting. This was before Kelli's car accident in March, and before Kay and Rod made their way east to Florida in a fateful trip that revealed his cancer, a trip that turned into one of their last adventures together before Rod died in October and left Kay a wreck. And, from Kelli's perspective, she lost her second father figure.

ed and kelli at home, 2003, kelli wrapped around ed's shoulders in the office room2002-2003

The benefits were greater than just having an old friend become my new girlfriend. Even though we ostensibly were "dating," I never really though of it that way. In so many regards, it never seemed that way. It was a holistic thing from the start. To the extent that one might use the D-word, it was approximately suitable in that it was over two years before we got engaged and before she moved in with me. But dating it was not. We already knew a lot about each other. I remember telling my roommate one night that Kelli was marriage material, and I think this was only a couple months in. Somehow I knew. I thought of it as feeling "proper." Even though it wasn't love at first sight, it was grounded in reality in a way that nothing else was, in a way that no one else ever approximated. It was as comfortable as an old coat. I can't say we've ever been a wine/roses/chocolates/love letters couple either; not to say none of that applies, but it just isn't what others make it out to be. What moves between us is far greater than all that. Those things seem like distractions that only point to and aspire to what we have. Some of those things I used to feel were needed if I were to get anywhere with one partner or the other; but with Kelli, it seems that we're tapped in at some other level. It might not come to anyone's surprise who reads this blog, but words flowed in letters to any of my prior interests, maybe because I was constructing the relationship in that form since in some ways the actual living relationship could not reach that far, at least at the ages involved. But with Kelli I have barely written anything. I feel I can't do so lest it seem hopelessly contrived and quite unnecessary. Things between us don't warrant it, and the lines of communication have generally been open enough to work for us in daily life. All the former investment of time and imagination spent writing in years past has generally been able to be channeled directly to the relationship itself.

ed on kelli's shoulder, all loving and velvety focused in 2004, not long before our wedding2004, not long before our wedding

It's hard to indicate how much the world changed in January 2002. It was a new year among new years. A life of hurt didn't go away, but it was met with its opposite. But what was turning out to be clear was that my first true partner was alongside me, and where it was safe to be myself at so many intersecting and sometimes conflicting places. Kelli's been versatile in so many ways when it comes to that. I could just call her my wife now but it's better to think of her as partner. In the early months of the Kelli era, I was not working that much, thanks to a bruising economic downturn in the wake of 9/11. But even some offers were not worth taking if I had already gotten a plan together with Kelli for a given evening. Or even with the band. I was tired of being a whore for the music industry that never really inspired greatness in me. Finally, Kelli's arrival on the scene gave me an out. All the years I was in the biz, I never had a relationship that sustained me like this. I was burnt on it, and it was so much more important to feed this part of my life. So I turned down gigs even though sometimes it was a bit troubling. But the feeling of assertiveness was a welcome change.

ed and kelli at mt. san jacinto forest with big look at each other. real cute.Mt. San Jacinto Park, 2011

Ten years is a big time when you look around you and see the wreckage I've seen. We've surpassed the durations of prior relationships of our own, and even those of our parents and their partners. But time alone doesn't mean much. Being rooted in deeper stuff does, and I think we both are equipped to wonder and marvel at what it means that we're together. One thing that has always accompanied this is a feeling that Kelli and I, as a unit, is a larger entity than either Kelli or me. Seeing things this way is liberating. The fact that she's into theology and spirituality like she is has made it safe to embrace the vocabulary from those disciplines and to get out of the smaller left brain way of seeing things. I've said it before: our head start of about eleven years was helpful but not even that is grounds for keeping us together. Both feeling battered and bruised by the level of hurt and dysfunction in family life and as citizens of the empire has left us wanting for more and wanting for better. We see each other as allies in the fight. That took some doing. That took some overcoming since both of us came from our respective places of a lot of broken trust. Our relationship isn't successful because we've been together for ten years. It's successful because each day we keep at it and are helped along by grace in equal or greater measure by a forgiving and loving presence in our lives that feeds our sense of wonder each day.

Thursday
Dec222011

Solstice Sweetheart Sunshine, or Kelli's Blue Light Special

Oh, I sort of feel that 2011 was more a task of historical recap rather than a telling of new developments. I can't help it; I've had more time than usual, and so many great upheavals and developments have cycled this year as anniversaries roll by. I've kept to the notable ones that have now clocked 5, 10, 15, 20, and even 25 years. But here is one more that is too important to ignore. If you have the stomach for the post just before this one, an epic tale of parental and familial disharmony, read that one then come back to this one. I'll wait. It's all part of the greatest story ever told, man...

The 2001 Paradigm Shift

The year 2001 started one way, and ended in a rather unpredictable way that nothing earlier in the year would have suggested. As the journal before this will tell you at great length, to start the year, I was allied with my mom and her family and was at odds with the old man down here. But then the epic email flame battle happened in mid December and pretty much put an end to mom relations for a few years to come—six years before I talked to her again, and about half that before having some talk and emails with Chris during 2003-4. During that time the relationship with my old man had become that of business primarily, as he now owned the house I was in and was okay with my staying there if I was sort of the eyes and ears on site, and if I paid my $150 rent upon the $1,000 I was to collect from renters. By the time Christmas rolled around, it had been an arrangement that was stable for six months, even after the epic drama at the start of the year surrounding my sister's tales of molestation. It was stable because it was essentially a unilateral arrangement. I never much liked having roommates in the house but found it okay for a while. Sure, I got cheap rent, but I also got repeated messages that the arrangement was a fragile one, and anything could change. For about a year and a half or more, it went on like this.

During 2001 I was at the Art Institute of California, learning some of the digital tools that enabled me to make a new leap in creative expression in a visual realm. Most of my projects were related to my desire to self-promote my musician identity, with my CD Receiving being a feature. But of course, I was finding other uses for tools like Photoshop.

By Christmas I was feeling a bit differently toward my old man. In the wake of the MomNikki email flame battle, the picture was very different. In fact, in some perverse way, my old man was indeed the one left standing after all the savage brutality wreaked upon my heart that year. It was a perverse twist of fate, and seeing how he still did provide me with a place to live after all of it, I guess my heart softened in those couple weeks at the end of the year. Wanting to honor that somehow (it was never my intent to alienate him by relating to my mom, but that was the only way it would work for him), I made a rather crude attempt to collage several pictures of he and I into an 8x11. Each drew on some of the more innocent-seeming times, and each was accompanied with the year. The idea was to kind of rebuild things some with a bit of nostalgia from simpler times.

I worked on that collage evidently in the couple days between the email flame war and the date I am chronicling now—December 22nd. I had my computer at home and with the help of several pictures I scanned at school, I got this thing presentable just in time for Christmas. But I needed a frame to call it finished.

The K-Mart Redemption

December 22nd was a Saturday that year. I headed out to the Mission Valley Ikea that evening around 8 pm, thinking there would be some frames worthy of the job. I couldn't find anything in the right size. Flustered, I went to the nearby Office Depot or Staples or something like that but couldn't find anything suitable there either. In the same lot, just as those places were closing, there was a K-Mart. I didn't really subscribe to the whole God program like I do now, but I realized the universe was playing a joke on me if I had to go in there.

You see, K-Mart was the scene of the crime for me when I was a student in middle and high school. It was the place where me and the old man faced off during back-to-school season. It was always tense. He never thought much of going anywhere else, and he would take me there, pick out a selection of lame garments he deemed acceptable, and would tell me to pick from that. I rebelled the best I could. I hated those experiences passionately. All that was loathsome between us was exemplified in those early experiences. In fact, that kind of method of his was essentially applied later on when he got ownership of Virginia's house, and the whole sickening refrain was enough to drive me mad. It's not an exaggeration to say that. What I thought was the stuff of my childhood revisited me even as I was about to turn 30 and beyond!

Anyhow, since K-Mart was open on that Saturday night, and it was right there in front of me, and that this occasion needn't be loaded up with that old anxiety, I went in and set about finding a frame to enclose a photo memoir of...the good old days with my dad! I marveled at how life unfolds with merciless irony.

As if to prove that any of us—certainly I—live in a state of partial awareness of how the universe works, and that our limited consciousness often is exposed, leaving us naked before reality so deep we'd drown if it was presented all at once, what should this little visit to K-Mart have to show me that evening? I no sooner walked in and approached the photo shop area at the front of the store that I turned a corner and saw a familiar figure: Kelli Parrish. Yep. The nice church girl that I'd known for over eleven years by then, most of which was time spent outside of church circles. My friend. My collaborator on a recording project. And, impossibly far from my mind that evening, my future wife. She was in there getting some pictures  of her mom developed just as I was running around trying to get the finishing element for the most exceptional Christmas present I'd given my dad in a long time! As she always does, she asked me how I was since we saw each other last, having some drinks on the 7th with a feisty girl friend of hers who set my heart aflutter right away. I asked her if she wanted to hang out and I could tell her how my few weeks had been.

We went to her place in City Heights not too far away. She was renting a big trailer on a property that had been sublet several ways. It was a funky place. Real tight but passable for her as a newly minted college graduate who was in transition. There I got to tell her about the MomNikki crash and burn of the week prior, and the great loss it seemed to be. In those post-9/11 days, work was rather depressed and scattered, and December, usually a boom time with corporate and social parties making up a nice fat month before the lean times of the winter to come, was rather light in that department. There was some work but it wasn't like I expected. So I had lots of time kill with ruminations and email flame battles! There was no life outside of that little bit of work, going to AIC classes most weekdays, and maybe some music activity. I was pretty much unaccountable to anyone or anything. But it was easy to find time to hang out with a dear friend near the holidays. Something told me that being around Kelli then might be uplifting, maybe even one of the very few bright spots in the midst of this drama.

I bought Kelli up to speed on things and somehow we got in touch with her friend Suzanne (yep, our roommate years later). We headed down to Suzanne's place near La Mesa and with her and her brother or cousin (I think), we went to Denny's across the street for some midnight munchies. It was a pleasant distraction, but when it was over, we went back to Kelli's trailer for more discussion about how things were going. Eventually it was time for her to hit the hay and in a way that sort of was a repeat of another instance some years before, she let me stay with her. We were both single and in our own ways yearning for some connection so that night was one that blurred the line between our days as friends from church and the relationship we have now. For me, it was almost exactly five years since Robin and I had been together, a couple years since the Sarah chapter was brought to a unilateral end, and of course since then the family thing was heaped on as an extra dose of heartache. Kelli was voicing frustrations with a guy she was peeling away from, and we both were lamenting the murderous loss of our church friend Daniel Calabrese—Phil's son. September 11 also refocused our thoughts to deeper currents in life. I think each of us trusted each other deeply as we stayed the night together for the first time in a few years.

The next morning, she went to church as she usually would. I didn't. I wasn't there yet, but a time like this was leading me to hunger for a deeper connection to life. Since it was just on the eve of Christmas Eve itself, I did feel compelled to go to the Christmas Eve service at church, much as I always had, but with new thoughts stirring in me, particularly as both Kelli and I went to an after-party at Cheryl's place, where for the first time in about a decade, I was in the company of people I knew I could trust. They were people who made my teenage years safer and more fulfilling, and it might be fair to say that the last time I felt any real safety in the world was in those years. Being there at the wine and cheese party felt like a homecoming to me. Even though Kelli and I had our night together, it was one of silence and trust, in a way that we knew things were okay, but that giving voice to anything would be superfluous. So as a result, we didn't talk about that night for a long time to come. Being among church folk at the party but Kelli and I did not yet identify as a couple that night (and even months later I was still pretending we weren't a couple while in church settings but apparently no one was fooled). But we were definitely in a new territory in life. If I had to characterize the feeling, it was like she was a sister that had brought me back to the fold. Yeah, that's about the way to convey our pre-2002 relationship either linked with or free of church life, with a few notable exceptions that must be maintained so the sister metaphor isn't distorted.

A week later, on New Year's Eve, we spent some time again at her Amy's place, or in her car, chasing around trying to find the right bar to celebrate at. Amy was cute and Irish and on the two occasions I met her, I was trying to pick up on her. Despite some closer encounters with Kelli, I have to say I was still not sure that we were "relationship" material. None of it was meant out of disrespect; I just didn't really see things working that way, or that knowing myself, I'd screw that up too, and then who would be my trusted female friend like she had been? The Amy thing was done before it started, really, since on that New Year's Eve, she was in the company of some boyfriend who wasn't there the first day we met, and, until it was clear they had gone to bed together after the NYE boozing, didn't appear to be with her. Meanwhile, Kelli had crashed on Amy's bed before Amy and her guy went to the floor and did their thing, leaving me and one other odd dude to sit on the porch and talk about all sorts of odd shit including the underground market for lampshades made out of Jewish concentration camp victims's skins! It was outrageous. What a way to start the new year! But I digress.

Solstice Sunshine Sweetheart

It was winter now. The solstice had just happened the day before. It wasn't until this year of 2011 when I saw the solstice as a larger player than could be recognized at that time. You see, the solstice is the liminal time when the sun is simultaneously proclaimed dead and yet is being reborn. The light is at its faintest as the days grow shorter and shorter, and yet the light starts on a rebound. In a real powerful way, now I look at that solstice moment of 2001 as not just a moment of cosmological turnaround that everyone in the northern hemisphere shares in, but seeing that Kelli and I have now been together for a decade, the evidence is that her presence signified the coming of the light, out of that dark space of diminishing light from the life I knew. I was 28 years old—just the age when life really gets in one's face and asks deeper questions and forces deeper insights. It is like 28 is itself a solstice. (Around that time I was prepared to honor the deep changes needed, but I was using a limited vocabulary from astrology, which I never embraced beyond this one instance. But the first language I had to explore these changes was the "Saturn Return" which aptly and compellingly described the matter then. These days I've found the Christian language of transformation and rebirth to do the trick in a less cheesy way.)

A decade with Kelli puts both of us in new territory. We've been together longer than our parents ever were with any of their partners. We have grandparents to look to for examples of relationships longer than this. Those relationships weren't without their troubles, but somehow there was something worth sustaining. Seeing things in this more cosmological framework places us into a drama far larger than that of our own, or that of our families of origin. Even once we were clear we were paired up, we were never into the storybook romance. We've always been rooted in deeper stuff. To some it might be rather shocking to learn we aren't the wine/roses/chocolate/love letters sort. There is some of that, but it is rather minimal. From early on, I guess I was fed up with the shallower expressions of love and was hungering for something far deeper. Apparently Kelli was too. And, as handy as it was to have known and trusted her with other news over the eleven years prior, I can't say that those years paved the way to a blissful marriage. We still had to learn the mechanical parts. We still had to work past old hangups and fears. We still had to work out how we'd be allies to get life done at so many levels: the daily stuff AND the longer terms stuff that keeps revealing itself in ever-unfolding layers of our being.

In one week, on January 1st, we will have been together as a couple for a decade. That date is one given to reflect a new stage in our physical relationship, but the origin date of our deeper connection is far more elusive. That goes back a lot of years before 2002; 2002 is when we essentially called off the search for other partners and sort of cashed in some of the emotional capital we'd built up with each other. For the sake of blogging though, this period of the last bit of 2001 and into 2002 is a rich time to explore how we transitioned.

But if you had asked me in my youth how I'd meet my partner and wife, I most certainly would not have said that I'd meet her at or that I'd have a turning point experience at K-Mart while trying to wax nostalgic about the glory days of relations with my old man! That, my friends, is a good God-joke. One time years later, I was recalling how all this went, and Kelli gleefully proclaimed I was her "blue light special!" Only true love can tolerate such bruising comments!

Ubehebe Crater, Death Valley, November 2011

Sunday
Aug282011

Sabbath Year Sweetheartery

As I set about writing this, I am exactly seven years from standing on the altar at my church, dressed in tux with my whole church family around, and one Kelli Parrish standing in front of me, appearing much the angel she is, but in a heightened, radiant way. As Eric Satie's Gymnopedies #1 played, the bridal party and then Kelli, escorted by Phil Calabrese as a stand in for her deceased father William (and even her deceased stepfather Rod), was about to do the unimaginable and marry a dude like me. Er, she was about to marry me!

At that time, I was just under a year from being in the worst existential suicide-ideational funk that I ever knew. At the start of September, I was at a residential therapy center for intervention into such a crisis. I was just weeks shy of my 30th birthday. Kelli was my most frequent, daily visitor in that terrible time of crisis and she was a key in the support system that brought me out of that place in my life. Then, not quite a year later, after months of solo and couples therapy to learn new ways to see life, new ways to relate to one another, we were moving along on what seemed like such a fateful obvious path. We got engaged about six months before, and that was so effortless it was almost that I took it for granted. Nothing else seemed to flow so easily but to be together then, and to keep on at it.

Just less than an hour ago I was rummaging through my 1992 box for other stuff to feed this site and happened into a fortune from a Chinese restaurant that I ate at nearly exactly 19 years ago (tomorrow). The occasion was the two month anniversary with Melissa, my first girlfriend that I paired up with in June. The hitch was that just two weeks after we started off, I was bound for Germany for nearly six weeks to see my friend Steve Rau, and to do a tour with him. It was all the world to me after the lonely and troubling year described in the previous post about Subway. Anyhow, just as soon as Melissa and I kicked off, I was gone and the duration of my trip was cause for a new kind of heartache and puppy love (mainly her situation... I was happy in Europe but excited to have a new life to return to). At the Chinese restaurant barely a week after my return, we were giddy to be back together. You can imagine the young person's fantasies that resulted with opening my cookie and it read:

You are domestically inclined and will be happily married.

It fed into Melissa's vision for fulfilling some years of anticipation. You see, Melissa was the daughter of a friend of my old man's from way back, so we were occasional playmates when we all lived in Clairemont (she's also about 2.5 years younger than me). But after some years they moved to a more distant suburb and the visitations fell off. Sometime in 1991 or so we were back in touch somehow. I think she called me. She was 15 and I was a senior in high school. I wasn't really too interested at the time. (I was saving myself for Shelby, you see.) But by mid 1992, I was ready to go for it and that summer was quite shaped by that new development. There was a feeling of fateful inevitablity in our being together. Something like a cheap Chinese fortune was enough to heighten that. But something about being poorly adjusted 19 year old doomed it and she broke up with me in early 1993, just under eight months after we started off. 

Our 7th anniversary trip to Mt. San Jacinto State ParkThe most memorable person I turned to for a shoulder to cry on or to try to make sense of the resulting mess of confused feelings was Kelli. I recall best a rainy night drive we took that led us to a long talk at Presidio Park near Old Town San Diego. At the time she was a friend from church, but I was at some distance from church life. We were part of the Shalom Community of teens while I was there, and that fostered a level of candor and trust and a real exchange of experience that obviously set the stage for Kelli and me when this Melissa meltdown left me a mess needing someone to talk to. Kelli always struck me as mature beyond her years. And though she was actually a bit younger than Melissa, she was insightful and able to be a great friend. Part of her hearing my heart was to get me involved in going with her mom to a coffee shop called Beans where I eventually heard Mike Keneally for the very first time. The rest is history.

Kelli too was a childhood pal from the world of church, but I don't really recall that clearly. I generally set the clock running from August 1990 when she and Kay appeared at the church, already well connected to people from before they left seven years prior. I found a kindred soul with her in part because I too felt kind of like an outsider and she was an unusual case of someone coming in from the outside of that somewhat insular community. She accepted my love for Jethro Tull's music. What more need I say? We were not great friends who hung out all the time, but she was one person that I had some ties to on the outside during the decade away from church, roughly from late 1991 through 2001. She was always authentic and present.

I've told the story a few times here. The point is that she's always been attentive and emotionally available as a friend. Over years we've been in touch with more depth than frequency. Over time she's raised my number with her integrity and commitment to things that her conscience leads her to believe or do. She's politically astute (something evident ages ago), theologically astute (something I was aware of but have obviously seen blossom since her seminary training), and compassionate. 

In movies and books and other stories, a man isn't a man until somehow he is reunited with either a woman, or some feminine aspect that was missing, the anima, which literally animates him. Until then, he is a shell of a person, but the anima, the side that is the repository of compassion, warmth, intuition, grace, and such characteristics, is what has to be there in order to counter and soften the opposite tendencies that take up residence in men, and if not, are often socialized into men with all kinds of messages that teach stiff upper lip, never let them see you cry kinds of messages. I have been reading George Elliot's book Silas Marner, where the point is made explicitly in Marner's disconnection and spiritual desolation being brought to an end by the mysterious appearance of Eppie as a young girl, and only from his commitment to take care of her as his own does he recover his full humanity and a place in the community which signifies his real security in the world.

Along those lines, in my world, Jesus is a hero because he has somehow incorporated that anima that almost certainly had to be in place before he could do the things he is recorded as having done. The deeds of compassion and of healing people (which I take to mean his ability to give them permission to be themselves and to return to society as fully dignified citizens) doesn't come out of a typical man's game. At the very least, he wasn't a typical man, else we'd have no reason to know his name now. We expect remarkable deeds from women, and so often they deliver those in unnoticed and unacknowledged ways. 

c. 2003Part of the task I've had before me was to open my eyes to that in my life with Kelli. During the time in the Halcyon house, she brought me a turkey/bacon/avocado sandwich from Henry's. Such a seemingly tiny deed, done so lovingly, has been one of the touchstone instances that has blossomed in our mythology as a couple. Being grounded in—of all things—the total delight in the layers of significance of one turkey sandwich means that we are pretty grounded in reality. When we make our cute talk about why we love each other, I am more likely to say it's because she delivered me a turkey sandwich on that day than because she delivered the moon and stars. I don't mean to be trite. That sandwich at that moment was not an insignificant moment in our history of trust, particularly as I was in a great sorting process to get closer to people I could trust and move away from ones that I couldn't.

As we stood on the altar seven years ago this afternoon, saying our vows (wedding audio page here), we had precisely two blood relatives in the audience—her mom and grandmother. All the other 100+ people were church and other friends. The lone exception was my stepmom Eda, who a couple weeks before was trying to weasel out of appearing until I pleaded that I expected no other family to appear. In some ways, Kelli and I faced a pretty big lack of support from family. My old man, more intent on playing property and family games, decided not to come and his absence was noted. These days he calls Kelli a housebreaker and he offers propaganda for some idealized relationship that fairly certainly never existed between us. He places the blame of our troubles at Kelli's feet. My mother (not Eda) has met Kelli precisely once about four years ago. I can't say that Kelli is replacement for all the estrangement, but her steadfast presence has been invaluable in setting a sight on a destination past all that and moving toward it.

As part of our therapy process in 2004-2005, one lesson that came to me most vitally was how we see ourselves as allies in it for the long haul. Faced with family decay (mine) and too many premature bodily deaths (her family), it all drives us closer. We were never a couple making sunshine promises. Always we were operating out of someplace where pathos—garden variety disappointment and sometimes outright tragedy—were the baseline shapers of our reality. In some ways, marriage is not just an act of love, it is an act of loving resistance on behalf of one another. To me, that is the durable stuff.

7th anniversary trip to Big Bear MountainWe're enjoying being married, and as the clock ticks by the months and years, we're seeing ourselves chronologically outlast the relationships we were raised around. In Greek, there are two senses of time worthy of discussion here. The first is chronos, the time we all measure with clocks and calendars. The other is kairos, a more elusive word denoting the inevitability of a moment. Some call it "God's time" and do so to indicate that something is happening that must happen because the time is ripe. Kelli and I have various dates to refer to when telling our backstory. We can name dates at points along the way, counting back to Sunday School as kids. We can now say that our marriage has gone on as long as that of my old man and Eda, or that we've been together longer than they were. That is interesting trivia for sure, but I like to deepen it with the idea that our relationship is rooted in kairos.

Both of us have known all sorts of disruption and upheaval domestically, she maybe more than I on a more consistent basis, and I've known periodic upsets that hit me hard. We've been raised in the most violent time in history and in a country and culture that is rooted in violence as our lifeblood. Ten years ago after 9/11 we found ourselves reeling at what it all meant. We found ourselves more closely affected by the murder of our friend Daniel (Phil's son and fellow Shalom Community member). We've watched as two sustained wars have been fought and essentially lost. We've watched as politics has become more and more savage. We've been forced to confront a future of more of that and less promise economically (at least according to the prevailing expections). We've been made aware that the life we were modeled was unsustainable and we'll have to be the generation at exactly that turning point in human history. We've watched as promises have been broken time and again in the name of profits, fame, and other distorting elements.

We've also watched as socially marginalized groups have found more dignity. We've seen dictatorships fall and democracy implemented in their stead. We've seen incredible creativity. We've seen the beginning of economic and grassroots political shifts that might do some good. We've served old people, kids, young adults, homeless, and terminally ill people. We've written and preached and published podcasts according to our prophetic vision for what is right and good—something that differs a bit but is ultimately shaped by our own initiating circumstances that on more reflection drive us to make countermovements toward more positive expressions. We've refrained from excess wherever we can see ourselves falling for it. We've resisted outside pressure from enemies "domestic and foreign" that has demonstrated a lot of ability to pull people apart.

Mt. San Jacinto state park, over the desert at 8500'All this is to say that Kelli and I aren't together just because we're old friends. Or that we're in total agreement. Or that we're perfect. As part of our vows, Jerry Lawritson reminded us that each of us is a gift to the other, but not solely for the other; that each of us are here to be blessings for people outside our relationship. The world clearly needs that, and almost inextricably we're led to those things by forces beyond our own reasoning and understanding. We're led out of ourselves while still being called to be ourselves, and our selves are shaped increasingly by the network of interactions that start with the other of us, but radiate outward to each other's network. This is kairos to me. Where chronos is imbued with a subtext of what, kairos has a subtext of why.

Kairos saturates my understanding of this marriage. It is loaded with grace that I never knew. It doesn't make sense to me how such an angel as Kelli fluttered into my life, but that is just the case. Even odder still is wondering how in the world that sustains itself! There was no clue of it as kids, and just a bit of promise as teens. There was more still as 20-somethings as we were just keeping in touch, and of course, in the post 9/11 world, it was almost an ordained thing that on reflection gets us a bit mystical minded. Each of us is here to look after at least one of God's other children, even if it means getting a turkey sandwich from Henry's is all that is called for at the moment.

Thinking back to this weekend in 1992, with the Chinese fortune cookie message, I sometimes think that any relationship could, with enough patience and work, be brought around and shaped into something. But that is not really practical, and really it seems that it is a vital part of things to not get it right early on. It seems to me that the lessons have to have their chance to play out over time, for the characters to be involved in some greater web than between two points alone. Who knew that I'd end up marrying a girl a few years my junior who used to be a playmate of mine when I was young? Who knew how the subsequent girl disappointments I faced would shape my readiness to link up with Kelli? Who knew that Kelli, operating in an alternate universe all those years, would be the one who tied up all the loose pieces of those relationships and added her own thing to it all, and that I'd finally be existentially ready to see it that way? Kairos. On a micro level between she and I, and on a macro level, on the world stage, it seems that it's God's time that set us up and sustains us in preparation for something that reveals itself a little at a time. No amount of puppy love with one girl or endless pining with another was going to achieve what has happened when I let down my guard and frankly, failed at everything else on the relationship front. 

...And so it looks from this vantage point of just seven years. We were well congratulated at church today upon announcing it but I was aware, particularly when greeted by the septuagenarians and octogenarians in the crowd that we have a long way to go. Or maybe better said, a long time to keep going at it. While there is a great deal of work and conscious effort involved, it is folly to self-congratulate when it is clear that this has been perhaps the most successful relationship of almost any sort, and it isn't anything that makes rational sense or that was earned in any way. In every way this has been a blessing to me. Sort of like Silas Marner made whole after spiritual desolation and alienation, being married to Kelli has been a homecoming—even surpassing whatever I might have thought home was in the first place.

Friday
Oct082010

Sloth and Comeuppance

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday
Sep062010

Sabbath Year

I cannot find a single example in male stories where a man comes to enlightenment by taking a course, studying philosophy, becoming ordained, joining a community, or going to school. Those are all quite fine things to do, but in themselves they do not transform us. In mythological traditions, the young man cannot reach enlightenment until he has sustained some wounds, experienced disappointments, and confronted baffling paradoxes. Like Odysseus, he will invariably find himself trapped between the rock Scylla and the whirlpool Charybdis. This is where wisdom happens.

The young man absolutely must struggle with darkness, failure, and grief. Physically, the darkness can be experienced as pain and handicap. Intellectually, the darkness is experienced by struggling with the riddles, dilemmas, and absurdities of life.  There is no linear, clear, or nonstop journey to the Light.  Like physical light itself, true light must both include and overcome the darkness (John 1:5), and this cannot merely be done in a person’s intellect or will. —Fr. Richard Rohr

It has been quite an experience in the spiritual journey this year, and continually seems to unfold in its layered meaning for me. And, with this first week in September, I am also marking another anniversary—the time I spent at Halcyon in 2003, the time when for all intents and purposes, the old me died and made way for something new. In some way, the Arizona experience just named and reinterpreted the life experience that I already had. It refocused it. The initiation was already a lived experience; the Arizona rites were recognition of that. But the Arizona experience has given me new ways to look at the familiar. Even at Halcyon, the main counselor who was working with me spoke of the word recognition as "re-cognizing" i.e., to re-know something, or to draw on knowledge that is somehow already planted within you but for it to come alive in a new way. Some call this revelation. The discovery of the true self is the re-knowing of what you were born with, the essence of who you were before society tampered with you and tried to make you be everything else God didn't intend. The journey to true self is marked with failures, humiliations, deaths of the ego, hurts, falls of all sorts. Indeed, the only way up is to recognize your down-ness. The entire biblical narrative from Genesis to Revelation is a story of wholeness, wholeness lost, wholeness regained. Spiritual journey, in still other words.

This year is a sabbath year for me. Seven years since I died. Seven years since I was given a new chance at life. Seven years since I was reborn to be in service not of my own desires, but the needs of others. Marriage, web work for JEM and others, favors, volunteer work, church offices, opening my house, potluck dinners, sharing life in all the ways I know. Those are some of the things that really were nearly impossible things for me to do prior to 2003 because that part of me had not been born yet. All those things listed speak of being tapped into a source that allows a kind of openness and generosity that just can't happen in the sort of person I was till that time in 2003. And now, in the sacred cycle of seven years, I feel something else is at work. Something that I am not really in control of. This must be what the Apostle Paul was referring to when he talked of being in Christ and Christ being in him/Me. Allowing one to be a conduit for God's agenda is preferable to fighting it. Lots of unhappiness from that path.

Some people love to use the terminology of "born again" and others hate to hear it. I am making my peace with it, but instead of letting it imply some physical rebirth, I prefer to visit upon other translational possibilities—that of being born of the Spirit, or being born from above (if the pre-scientific three layer universe cosmology doesn't hang you up).  Each is legitimate interpretation of the Greek. But I have had a more recent thought that describes things in a way I have not yet particularly heard. What if that new birth was to be born for the sake of others? As in, your first birth establishes you as a body, an organism that is born and takes its oxygen and releases its waste, but is not yet fully human? And that it takes being dunked into the deeper waters of God's reality to reemerge as a de-centered and re-centered human with a new mandate to not just consume but to supply life for others? Dietrich Bonhoeffer called Jesus "The Man for Others." Even the story of Pinocchio is a story about this: Pinocchio was just a piece of wood—animated, but wooden—before he did the deed of saving Gepetto from the whale by the final daring act of heroism that would kill a person. It was that deed that brought him into his full humanity. That is to say, you're nobody till you're for someone else. You're not animated with the spirit (anima=spirit, a feminine grammatical form) till you get out of yourself. You're not human till you are able to serve someone else's humanity. And usually you can't get to that point till you die to that false self of made up identities that society and ego like to dress you up in.

Seven years ago I was just about to turn 30, a time when the MROP school of thought considers a major time to ask the big questions of life and self and of God. Even Jesus seems to have moved into his public ministry around that age. So I was just on time. Depression and fear and emotional paralysis were all I knew then. The old me was expiring. The old me had to die. Hardly anyone equipped me for understanding this stuff in this spiritual journey kind of way. Even if they had, this mysterious and paradoxical stuff was not my cup of tea, so maybe I just glossed over it. But I have been able to better embrace that sort of mystery of my own being more since given a vocabulary to recognize my own experience, and to see how the Christian narrative is one that lays it out for us all, if only we stop with the easy interpretations of it, the cheap answers, the black and white answers. The story goes like this. God loves you and there is nothing you can do about it. Just go on in peace and accept the gift, and share likewise. BE Jesus in the narrative—the man who found true self and lived from that centered place, no matter if it took him to humiliation and death. The promise to us is the life after the death. Sorry if you miss the value of this talk—but I am here on the shoulders of that story, with my own twist on it.

Father Richard Rohr, founder of the rites that I completed, cautions that we can't stay on the cross all the time and we can't expect to live in the resurrection all the time. We can't always be dying and we can't always have the glory of newness and rebirth. It is more like the ebb and flow of the tide or of the waxing and waning of the moon—interestingly, both feminine images in popular thought. The coincidence of opposites are what make things what they are. It is written into the universe of creation, and unless we have egos the size of Jupiter, it is our reality too. We learned in the rites that our only rights are to love and forgive as Jesus did—our only rights are to share something from so deep within, to draw from the well that God alone keeps filled. And he did so right till the end, with the record showing a love so great that even as he was suspended on a cross, his concerns were directed to the good of others, even the ones that people called criminals and to the ones that people considered the law or legitimate authority of the temple or of the land but that were responsible for the whole scandal of his death. He exercised his one right to own his ability to forgive and love, all other claims to rights being abstractions at that moment. That is clearly not a person acting out of self interest.

I could say this week marks my seventh birthday. As I write, I am in the process of archiving old audio tapes by a guy who apparently shared my name and lived in the same houses as I did, at the same time. But who is that guy? I don't recognize him for much. I'm not even sure my dog would. Unless there was a common thread of enjoying bacon.

Sunday
Aug222010

Anniversaries

The month of August is rich with anniversaries for me. Happy and sad, the notable days seem to pile up in this month of the year. Here are the ones that matter most to me right now.

Buber the DogFirst, the 23rd marks three years since Buber the Dog came to join our home. He came to us as a pretty mature dog of about nine years old, and has since mellowed even more, probably just due to the advancing years. Never a digger or barker or chewer, he just is content to sleep or sit in my presence, and ever when Kelli comes home, he comes to life, doing his doggy dance, petitioning her for treats and love. He is totally in love with her. The scenes I'm privy to are beyond cute. He knows when walk time is, but we can't say the word, so we have moved from one code word to another, and he gets to understanding certain tones of voice if uttered at certain times of day. We usually go for walks after 9 pm, and that is the featured highlight of his day after a day of being indoors while we're both gone. So he gets as cute as can be, as excited as can be, when we sort of get the dishes cleaned, or leave the computer, or put on a shirt or coat at about that time. He doesn't pull like a tractor anymore, and he has mellowed a lot on walks, often seeming out of breath (he is pretty fat) in a noticeably shorter time. We usually walk him off leash to give him a bit more freedom. Kelli likes to take him to the dog parks and give him a good half hour of being a dog, but he usually likes to come sit by her, or other people, and ultimately wants to get back on the couch with her, reclined like a lover on her lap.

And speaking of Kelli, we have an anniversary this coming weekend, on the 28th. That particular one is the one I have to remember—this year, our sixth wedding anniversary—but this year, something even bigger looms, and that is that we've known each other for 20 years now.

Yes sir-eee. Twenty years. If I do my math correctly, she was 13 and I was 16 that summer when she came strolling into church with her mom and immediately seemed like part of the family there. That is because they actually were, but a part that I guess I had forgotten about, or never realized. They had been in Florida for about seven years prior to this, their return to San Diego. The story goes that her mom Kay was my Sunday School teacher when I was younger still, and that Kelli and I would have been perhaps in a different class then before they left for Florida. I just don't remember that part, so I pretty much start the clock from August 1990. And here we are, 20 years later.

She and Kay cut an interesting image then, at least compared to the people I knew and understood in that setting. Coming in with jeans and tie-dye, listening to and singing folk music, doing their clowning routine (for real, even if less so here in SD), and generally seeming like old friends I had never met, they were a blast of fresh air on that scene, just as I was reaching a point of feeling spread too thin in church life, from doing so many things there for a year straight. Kelli, a pretty thin, long haired, tie-dye and overalls wearing, classic rock listening and animated figure, was so different from the rest of our youth group pack, most of whom congregated around the new wave and alternative music from the period, or as it was, the "91X" music, after the FM station. Kelli was the first person to make it safe for me to profess my love for Jethro Tull, and the first to accept mix tapes and copied CDs. This was big stuff then.

Of course it's not like I had designs on her then. We were church kids, both born into that congregation, both in the youth group and its associated covenantal group, the Shalom Community. In that setting we got to know each other by the safe space it created. That clearly paved the way for that kind of exchange in future episodes. She was the one I went to talk to about my first breakup; we talked and met randomly during the years when I was away from church; we produced a CD of her spoken word and my sound design; she remained a go-to contact during rough times; she called me to vent when we heard of Daniel's murder (he was a member of the Shalom group); we spent the night together sometimes just as friends who liked to be in touch.

Ed and Kelli at the wedding, on the way out of the church.All that paved the way for what we have now. Still a lot of hard work came after we found ourselves in a relationship preceding our engagement and marriage. The 11-12 years before we got together in this relationship were helpful but not able to waive the work of figuring out how to be in this relationship, at this time. What they did do was to lay a foundation of trust and a sense that we had an ally. Now we've been married for six years and together for over eight and a half. That is quite something that I am proud of, though obviously I can't credit myself alone, nor even her. That takes grace too. We've done a share of work, but lots of people do that and still don't have the grace that somehow zippers up the two components into a whole. Something about our lifelong history (20 years, anyway), indicates that we're on a path, longer and more twisting, than just as two people who happen to share a house together. I keep feeling compelled, drawn, to her as someone who inspires a kind of life in me that otherwise would not be lived. I can't help but feel we need to walk this shared path together. Maybe that is why I never even really "asked the question" of her when we got engaged. I just felt like the old familiar coat that you'd reach for, when nothing else will do.

After a decade of no-go relationships with people I thought I wanted to be with, or bombed out relationships that did seem to show promise for a while, I was in a time to receive someone like Kelli about nine years ago. Not that that was all smooth; the early years took some work, but the compulsion was that it was worth it. I really savor this married life, for all the heartache that visited us at times, we still find in each other an ally for a larger journey. I don't think it trite to say that the presence of Kelli in my life makes clear the presence of God in my life too.

And of course, the presence of Buber in my life makes clear the presence of Dog in my life.

Saturday
Feb072009

Golden Jubilee

the rainbow following the rains one morning near mission bay in san diegoToday was exceptional in its post-storm way. There were a pair of rainbows that greeted me as I left Mission Valley and headed up Morena Blvd. toward one of the restaurants. The rainbows were quite sharply defined and this one was so clear you could almost tell exactly where it touched down. (You can see an echo of the main one off to the right, but that isn't even the second one I am talking of—it was quite a day for spotting these things.)

If there was a pot of gold at the end, I had to miss out on it. But the good news is that from this vantage point, optically speaking, it was coming down quite near a location where homeless men and day laborers gather to score some work or other handouts. They needed the gold more than me. I settled for the beauty of it all.

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.