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Entries in rebirth (2)

Wednesday
Feb272013

The Beginnings of Things +20

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

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

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

The Pig Solution

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

The Little Black Book Was Mauve

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

The Shifting Sands of Confidence

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

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

Moving Violations

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

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

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

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

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

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

Serendipty is Her Forte

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

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

But it Does Mean Beans!

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

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

He Played with Frank Zappa

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

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

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

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

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

How's that Foot Taste?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Now, Where Were We?

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

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

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

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

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

Monday
Nov052012

Electile Dysfunction

Walking Buber the Dog tonight I was pondering my place within the nexus of the intersecting, competing, bewildering array of economic, political, and religious philosophies vying for my attention each day, but particularly on a day like tomorrow when every one of their voices reaches a fever pitch, screaming into my ear, tugging my heart, stabbing my back, and generally clamoring for my attention.

The irony of a Thanksgiving race for the hungry... Some have too few calories, others too many.A thought came over me, combining Einstein's insight with Jesus' commitment to those typically forgotten and trampled by social systems: the system that creates the "least of these" can't serve the needs of the least of these.

Sadly, it's not on our menu of options tomorrow, any way to stall and eventually starve the system that creates "the least of these." As it is, my horse isn't even in the race so again I'll vote for second best. To the polls I go, heavy of heart that I too am just an extra (actor) in the political theater, at least for that one day, in that one role, on that one stage.

This blog has been around since 2002 and my interest in writing on things political was rather hot in 2004-2005. I was fired up in that year since it was the first year after my rebirth of sorts, seeing the world with new eyes, making vital but naive statements. I was pretty devastated in the wake of that election. I was gladdened four years later, but a lot more sober and heavy hearted, knowing Barack Obama, an individual man of demonstrated principle, was bound for a situation that inherently demands compromise and outright deceit. How could a relatively wet-behind-the-ears non-insider turn the table on the system? It didn't make sense, but I had hoped his commanding presence would inspire people to act from better places in themselves. I'm sure it happened in pockets all over. His election brightened my mood for a while. But I did watch as step by step he had to admit the way to stay in the game is to play by the rules that have been written long ago and vetted over time. Sad. Very sad.

Papa John's next to a Curves for Women. It's kind of like the two party system but really, there is a symbiosis that is apparent if you have the eyes to see it.Papa John's next to a Curves for Women. It's kind of like the two party system but really, there is a symbiosis that is apparent if you have the eyes to see it.

I've said for years now that the new republic isn't what we want to believe it is. It's still representative, but less and less does the representation signify a relationship between the people and the elected. It's found in two other relationships: how we spend our money determines what companies or industries we support. And in turn, how their power is channeled through the officials we think we elect. Corporations or industrial-commercial blocs such as Pharma, Oil, Biotech, and Defense of course can shout louder than us when it comes to spending. But those are powerful because most of us tend to demand their products and services with some kind of allegiance or pathological dependency. True, you and I don't pay our money at a cash register to support the defense industry, but a time like September 11 does tend to trigger some feeling of acceptance or even outright welcome of things that "defend" our freedoms, even while the stiff taxation and government debt to fund that kind of standing military works counter to our best values, and even our beloved freedoms.

But more and more I realize there is less and less representation for what are emerging as my more beloved values and convictions. I have to admit, I doubt America could ever really be the stage where they are played out. To be honest, the closest representation of what sounds right to me is within countries that are often sneered at and derided for being "socialist." You know—the places where there is a reliable health program. Where cities are charming because of their respect for aesthetics and mixed income integration, and where other elements of the manmade landscape do not presume the automobile is the only means to transport oneself. Where the defense budget doesn't assume the world is out to grab your ill-gotten gains, and where the same budget doesn't guarantee taxation on your hard-won gains. Where the work week leaves time to be a citizen and community member, or just a family person with dignity and energy to engage in the real stuff of life.

The commute around Temecula, CA, about 70 miles from San Diego. Aint that the life?The commute around Temecula, CA, about 70 miles from San Diego. Aint that the life?

Yeah... I guess that's socialism. What misery it must be! Here we could work ourselves to death for no gain, get stranded in traffic, eating junk food, and then go to our pathetically alienating suburban dormitories and numb ourselves on TV "reality" shows that show people more pathetic than us—but who get a TV show on which to present their mock misery, in turn mocking our real miseries.

And as Richard Rohr says often, those who don't transform their hurt are certain to transmit it. There's no shortage of that going around. I'm quite frankly surprised there has not been an attempt on Barack Obama's life. With the insanity and vitriol that fills the air, the anger and scapegoating in a nation of over 300 million, it's frankly hard to believe that some bipolar, unemployed, domestic terrorist has not gone totally off the rails, or that his demise was not ordered as some kind of inside job. I guess I should be thankful. But one day at a time. We haven't re-elected him yet. I hate the thought of such a thing on a man so well meaning but under the sway of other forces beyond his control, but the cauldron is bubbling over and this is too obvious a contingency to ignore.

Sam and george, two penguins, have their usual blame game argument about global warming. They're standing in the desert where Antarctica used to be.

I've reduced my soapbox activity in the peak oil range of topics but I haven't discarded them. Facebook threads tend to be where I take up the topic, usually when people are caught in some back and forth about why the economy is stagnating. There are more voices recognizing peak oil/energy and asking the questions of what it means for daily life. But it's still kind of veiled. I see more mainstream talk but it's never really asking people to think of how to live another way. It's still up for debate and questioning, or presented as some novelty. But that Barack Obama has dropped the ball with the matter of global warming/climate change, there's not a lot of hope that he's going to be a voice to echo Jimmy Carter's "turn down your thermostats" message of restraint and true conservation. An article by Resilience asks why transportation in particular has not changed to electric because oil is so damned useful for other purposes that it's absurd to allow it to be burnt! Alas, we shall look to no elected "leadership" for a path out of the energy crisis since those characters have their fingers placed most deeply in their ears. I frankly have to admit—still—that we're pretty much going to smack the wall of all these limits to growth with as much force as we could muster. As long as the notion of a growing economy trumps all other concerns, we'll get nowhere beneficial. And in the end, the economy will be dead in the water too, having never made a plan to really rein it in to sustainable levels. What will be sustainable will be a return to gathering and recycling the artifacts that still have use. And digging through trash heaps. Even a hack like me was making the case for addressing this in 2004. It doesn't need to scare anyone in 2012.

Hey, I didn't want that for my future, either. But where is the clear voice of leadership with a soapbox high enough and a megaphone wide enough to really do the job of changing things? I doubt that is anything to look forward to. It will come through the cracks at the bottom. If the political system isn't already seen to be irrelevant now, I suppose the next four years—no luckier in producing a thriving economy or a return to middle class comfort, or no firm convictions of the financial vipers—will show that neither a two term Democratic president nor a Latter-Day Satan of a vulture capitalist Republican will produce the goods. The fact is, neither party is able to control the bus going off the cliff. But they can change the in-flight entertainment and assure us of air conditioning on the way.

Smug mug of Alan Greenspan with my sarcastic caption, don't worry Al, we didn't need that economy anyway

I can't just blame the two candidates. No one but a handful of concerned scientists, educators, and activists in various disciplines is really prepared to envision a post-growth world. Certainly we shan't look to our elected officials to tell the truth, else that's their own pink slip they're signing, and that's just not how it goes in politics. But we are at a world-level paradigm shifting moment if we are to take seriously the message of Richard Heinberg and his peers in the Post Carbon Institute. Or a bit less shocking than his talk about "peak everything" and "the end of growth," there's the folks at CASSE—the Center for the Advancement of Steady State Economics. These are just some of the voices that I read to get a less varnished perspective on the news, and to help understand the holes of logic that riddle the mainstream arguments.

After a couple years of working extensively with Jubilee Economics Ministries, and being rather involved in a progressive church, but more so after being initiated into the Christ mystery of life and death, the state of American politics has less and less sway for me. Even within those three shapers of my spirituality, there are some conflicting thoughts. As much as I like the progressive ideas that would emerge and be supported in and around my church community, there are blind spots that I don't like. JEM doesn't always make arguments that accept a post-collapse reality (instead there tends to be a more easygoing adoptions of a grassroots transition that would gain more cred as its virtues are discovered). But the deepest level of understanding, being initiated into the mystery that permeates all we know as mortals in a universe of constant change, says that while I can and must throw my lot in with all the other madness, the patterns of death and resurrection are larger and more immutable, and therefore, I can't control things, nor am I at any advantage to try.

jesus and god stickers all over a trash can in san diegoSeriously now? You love God so much you have to invest in bumper stickers in order to put them on your trash can? Is that the best American Christianity has to offer?

That seems like cosmologically isolationist hocus pocus but really... the systems that define my day and age are brittle. Politics as we know it is cracking. Economics as we know it is imploding. The environment itself is in jeopardy in a particular way that has never been seen before. The great philosophies that shaped the industrial era are themselves not able to explain or contain what is happening. Something profound is happening. As one might fly above the storm to see its eye and the territory it spans, we can't be within the storms of our time to get perspective on its might and ferocity. The systems and philosophies we've relied on are weakening and the water is cresting those levees. A larger view is needed. I've found that the pattern we are loathe to accept is that of death for the sake of rebirth. Is it any surprise there are so many apocalyptic scenarios out there? We fear the death because we don't see how this could be reborn. Sadly, a huge number of Christians, not strangers to some vivid images of death, are also missing the rebirth that awaits in the wake of whatever purging and cleansing has to happen as things radically deconstruct and are eventually sorted out and put back into some order according to new values.

If the Christian myth is that of death and rebirth, then that means those two components must be present and intrinsically bound. Hope is to be found in the very things we can't understand. And usually, we can't understand death. Faith is to be able to progress, even in the seeming darkness, with some assurance that things are as they should be, and our job is to move forward somehow. But you see, a faithless, death-phobic society will tell itself every lie and apply every blame if it means not facing what is right in front of it. Right in front of us.

Inauguration day 2009, my razor knife on the truck window, peeling up the anti-bush not my president sticker that had been there for yearsJanuary 20, 2009... but really, Obama soured me too.

So our elections are exercises in political theater, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing. I wish it wasn't so but as much as I liked Barack Obama in 2008, nudged along because he was a member of my denomination, and perhaps because we shared a bit of common faith territory, I have long questioned his walking away from his congregation and pastor for the sake of political expediency. And then after that, I have not heard him talk about the United Church of Christ, though to his credit he has spoken some words that I think compensate for that, couched in terms of a world-wise view that religion is vital to humanity, and a plurality is good and should be protected. But then he surrounds himself with Goldman Sachs people and doesn't push to prosecute the gross financial crimes that wrecked the nation. Y'see what I'm saying? I wish Obama would have accepted his special place as the first black president and seen that even one term put him on the map, but then he seemed like he had what it might have taken to do a real expose of what is going on. Sure, it's political suicide, but being as beloved as he was, it would be quite a deed to name and prosecute the misdeeds that put us where we are. He could have come out with a fully transparent explanation of peak oil and a vision for how to meet it with dignity and resolve in a way that echoed JFK and the moon mission. But I guess he wasn't prepared to fall on his sword. I guess I could hope he's able to man up in a second term.

Of course, Mitt Romney is dismally worse. His main ability is talking from two sides of his mouth at once. He's not even worth a mention, really. Pathetic beyond pathetic, he. Shoot me if he gets "elected."

For the first time, this year I decided to join the Green Party. I'm torn because of course I have to make that sickening decision to vote a real conviction or to settle for what might suck less than Mitt Con-me. Of course I barely know who "my" candidates are. Even now I can't recall their names. I'm sure even the Greens have their issues and blind spots that would turn my gut, but they are as close as anything to what I'd support.

Unfortunately, I'd like to find a party that reflects the kinds of values I have adopted under the influence of the lived teachings of Jesus. But it will never gain traction in this land. And the kingdom of God is never meant to be a matter of actual, dirt-under-the-nails activism and political life. It's meant to be more than that, at a deeper level. It's meant to be the thing that turns people's hearts into things of compassion and generosity and acceptance of contradiction and that is able to hold the tensions of existence. It's not a right. It's not a responsibility. It's not electable. It's there and ready to be turned on and is ready to be the shaper of lives in this nation or any. It's outside the systems of the world at large because it is latent within us. Even though I voted for Obama the first time, it was still up to me to volunteer at a social service kitchen serving meals to people with AIDS, or sneaking around at work grabbing food discards and distributing them to people in some need or position to do the same.

These days, I'm experiencing some reawakening of my musical interests that have gone dormant for a decade or so. I look forward to putting that to some use, either as a songwriter with themes that I've blogged on for all these years, or just playing and seeing the harmony erupt between players, or the joy that listening brings either in the contexts I've been involved in lately: the pub and a church.

In some ways, it doesn't really matter who wins the election. Or who steals it. Not to me. It's not that I won't erupt in righteous indignation if the wrong guy gets in (either by theft or the sad realization that idiocy and short sightedness in my country has tipped the balance), or if the right-enough guy does another of his appointments that is a handout to the party I tried to avoid electing. I'll keep harping somehow. But the bigger patterns are at work. The wheel is more than I can wrap my hands around and turn. I guess my options are to do my part in the band to serenade while the bus goes off the cliff, hoping to awaken something, or I could blog or write songs that live in the tradition of Pete Seeger, putting a spanner in the works of thought systems. Or I could keep inviting people to eat together, even if it means finding the discards—the stuff relegated to the death-bin—and doing my small bit to reinvent it as the stuff of life. I guess those are my options, whether or not I vote, whether or not my horse is in the race, or whether or not I vote for the lesser of two evils.