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Sunday
Jan152012

Get Thee to Church +10

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

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

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

High School Era

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

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

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

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

Cracks in the Wall: 1991-92

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

Time off for Bad Behavior

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

2001

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

Return of the Prodigal Son, Return of Wonder

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

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

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

Fitting in: 2002-2007

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

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

Bittersweet Realizations

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

After 2007

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

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

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

Sunday
Jun122011

Life At The Top + 20

scan of the original manuscript of Life at the Top.The original draft of Life At The TopIn a gesture perhaps only of significance to me, I have now posted to this site my original journal entry that set the pace for about ten years of handwritten entries, and now about ten years of electronic entries. The documentation is elsewhere on the site, and also on this post which features the entire text of the thing with just enough fixes for clarity. It also features several pictures and documents to help spice it up so you can see some of the characters involved. It is a long, 6,000 word entry that takes on a range of experiences during my high school time, with a particular emphasis on my senior year, which was perhaps as good as it got for me in my academic career.

At the time of its original writing, I was barely aware of my future. I had only a big plan to go to Europe a few weeks later with my old man. I was planning to go to Mesa College in the fall, which doesn't exactly show a total plan for a glorious future! It was sort of standard issue stuff. I never applied to any colleges as a senior. I had no big ambitions. I wanted to play my drums, listen to my music (it was on that same day after graduation when I bought my first Yes cassette, 90125). I was head over heels for Shelby, who is well discussed in the entry. (Told from the perspective my naive, wishful point of view that interestingly was already tempered with the kind of insight I needed to know all about how things would play out, and did!) I had no more than a few weeks' future, really.

On reading the giant entry now, several times over in the course of transcribing and editing, what strikes me is how many of my present concerns are somehow present in this document from 1991 that narrates experiences and impressions and hopes from the years leading up to it. As I seek the clues that lead me to understand really what my life's purpose is, evidence like this is revealing and compelling. Either it is stated that I am interested in X, Y, or Z, or sometimes the negative is true: the signs are that all along, I should not be engaged in X, Y, or Z.

One thing that stands out is how in the few months I worked at my first job, I worked on Sundays for a while. People don't think a lot about that anymore but at the time, I was cautioned from my conservative family folk that I shouldn't work on Sunday. You might say teenage rebellion would drive me to reject that. But what happened was that the hobby store (that I used to hang out at endlessly the year before) called me and asked me to work for a bit. They knew I loved the place (true a year before before I abandoned the hobby and got into drums) and would do it. Almost immediately I began to feel at a distance from my church community where I had been a part for nearly a solid year before. I had established the community relationships there, and traded it in for a minimum wage job that I worked at for just a few months, not even always on Sundays. Life At The Top, the journal, tells about that season of mid-1990 being one of depression, alienation, even suicidal ideation. After that, I had a hard time reestablishing a connection to the church, and began a long history of searching for ways to fill a void using work, consumption, and other means. Only later on in 2005 when I met Lee Van Ham did I start to understand the Sabbath idea of rest and renewal in a community setting. I've now been willing to stand up for keeping Sundays for that purpose, even at the cost of losing my jobs. I am not certain, but I think that was a contributing factor in losing my last job. I know such boundaries were clear causes for another dismissal.

Reading Life At The Top now just makes me want to cuddle my 17-year old self, and soothingly say, "forget Shelby." It is true. I knew the patterns by the time I graduated. She never wanted to be with me. But such was the power of desire. I basically went blind for another ten years, even as I knew what I needed to know by two and a half years into it all. But the initial revelation of the power of having a friend was real. I did feel heard. I did feel like someone cared enough. That is the legacy of Shelby, to help make the world safe enough to recognize that those things could happen in my life. But as I tried to hold that flame too close, I got burned, and kept trying over the years, till finally I was willing to grab it for all it was worth, get baptized by the fire, and released into a new form, no longer slave to the delusion that stayed with me for exactly twelve years and a week. But in 1991, I was building up in a huge way to win her over with ...something? There were enough optimism-producing moments to keep me strung along, but that was me interpreting things, not what she was sending.

In all fairness to her, I should point out that she was an early voice for the more liberal strands of thought I have aligned myself with. Politically, socially, environmentally, she was planting seeds of consciousness in my mind well before I knew what it meant. I sort of wish I had a chance to thank her for that, even as it was just distracting talk that always seemed to criticize my lifestyle (of blindness) back when it was happening. Her international and interstate travels and studies always made her interesting. I never felt interesting, I guess. She had conviction that I could not fathom. She also had an athiestic streak that always made me confused, especially in how we met at a church! But I guess that was just another way to learn things as an anthropologist would, hanging out with the savages, as it were. I do know she was always too much for me. I don't have a problem imagining how a girl of her intellect and enthusiasm for life would not be interested in an uptight guy like me who was only then starting to encounter a world outside of a conservative family life shaped by the military and Norman Rockwell. I only wish I had been able to not delude myself so much, and perhaps to let it go and find other girls to date who were emotionally available.

Speaking of that, I noticed there is no mention of Kelli in Life At The Top. None in particular, but when I am talking about youth group, Adventure Class, Shalom Group, and some other church references happening after mid 1990, I am speaking too of my future bride. One great divine joke on me was that I tolerated the Shelby indignities for so long, feeling that a long history of friendship would pave the way for more. What I did not see coming up in the rear view mirror was that exactly that was happening with Kelli over a decade and more before we started "dating" in 2001-2! In fact, that is where the decade + of history went to add up to something, not with Shelby! She and I had a slow building relationship that involved our intimate moments along the way, that so far has turned into the much wanted, much needed relationship of stability that I had been pining for. I just didn't see it that way. It was a matter of not trying so desperately to manage the thing; Kelli and I were pretty casual friends but we shared deeply when we did meet up. Funny too that she was of a liberal mind, well experienced in life, and had a deep social, environmental, and political consciousness too. (Clearly she is not living as an athiest either.) But in 1991, who knew where the 14-year old Kelli and I were going?

Stephan and I are in occasional contact. Over the years, we have been in touch by letters or by phone, but I rather like the Skype option. He's in Germany mainly, working for a major tire company. After getting a degree in engineering and working for a manufacturer of convertible car tops, he now works as a traveling rep on an international scale, primarily in the Eurozone. It has been 19 years since I saw him on my second trip to Europe in 1992. I still feel there is a quality of friendship with him that is hard to attain with my stateside connections. In 1991, he was the first male with whom I had the kind of exchange that put Shelby on the map. But of course, since amorous love doesn't play a clouding role, we've had that kind of depth in conversation often enough, and while living for a lot of years thinking he had a better life than me (on account of being a university graduate with a "good job"), our more recent communications have leveled us back to two men who have had girl problems, job issues, regrets, and the like—bringing us full circle back to the original spark that brought us together as close friends in early 1991.

(My new look at Life At The Top revealed I downplayed Steve while masking some of the statements about Shelby that reflected my mixed mind about her. This year's transcription tried to reconcile that and other similar issues of self-censorship, aiming to recapture the spirit of the manuscript with a few fixes for clarity and style. But the heart is back!)

Jerry Lawritson, my pastor in LATT, is no longer my pastor. But I still regard him highly as a teacher, and perhaps the best one of them all, given the nature of his message and the period of time he has been around to offer it. In fact, for my Young Adults event last night, I was willing to go to bat for the Book of Revelation based on the materials he has provided over the years, but was nice enough to share with me this month, even four years after I left his church, and joined another. At least prior to that departure in 2007, he continued to be quite an advocate for me in my deepest life struggles. He was who I called when I knew it was madness to have a bottle of sleeping pills lined up like chorus girls on my desk. He helped make possible two years of therapy (don't tell anyone) following that. But for reasons not known to me, the setting of that church was not the right place for me to grow up and put to use the lessons I learned from him. The type of family situations I was in up to about 2007 was something that I knew he was unable to fully address. Eventually I felt that I had to move on. For a lot of years, he was father to me when it came to teaching lessons of wisdom and for hanging on to life. So it was heartbreaking when I had to admit that that era was over in 2007, a little shy of 20 years since that first epic conversation at the beach picnic in LATT. With one exception in 2008, we have not talked about things at that level since I left. And that one time in 2008 was an epic occassion that was unlike any other I've had with him. I sort of feel there was more authenticity in that exchange between two men who had to part ways than in the years of our pastor/young congregant relationship.

Judy Slaughter was in town for a couple years after LATT was written, but for some years was 30 miles away in Escondido as senior pastor of another church. That period was during my decade-long spell of not attending church, so I lost touch for a while. She's in Hawaii now. Was pastor there at a couple churches, but is now quite troubled by health issues and most of the time, I talk to her husband Jay, who speaks on her behalf. The times I've talked to her, or emailed her, have been nice in how she is always validating to me. She and Jerry were huge figures in keeping me on track during high school. The Shalom community, a side group of youth in the church around the early 90s, was a place where Kelli and I got to know each other, and it was all Jerry and Judy's initiative, with them taking me out to lunch sometimes to get my input on what might be needed in such a group.

Harry Steinmetz was big in 12th grade but also on a couple other occassions: I had a public speaking class with him in 9th grade, and again, years later at Mesa College in 2003, I took another public speaking class with him at Mesa College just as I was in my suicidal crisis and subsequent return to life. Some of the things I spoke of in class were linked to that experience, and the experience of being reborn during that same semester. He egged me on, knowing that I wasn't just uttering the words off the page. A later experience, during 2005, I was flyering the school for my Peak Oil forum, and I came by his classroom, not even as a student. He called me up to the front to do an improptu speech and Q&A on peak oil and to make my pitch for coming to the event! He has always been a learned man who love to teach, and to help animate people with a spirit and vitality for their work. It isn't enough just to learn the topics. I occasionally run into in town and give him the latest news. He also is responsible for my preference for public radio listening. No one but him.

My step mom Eda is still around though we are in a period of estrangement. She just turned 89 last month. I feel mixed about keeping silent with her, but for a year or so in 2008, but I have been put off by her increasing intolerance and condescension about being married to a liberal woman who doesn't just stay home and serve me, or (and this is probably the kicker) that Kelli was on the path to be ordained as a full-fledged minister. Every meeting is likely to touch on some aspect of those related topics. For a woman who talks as much God as she does, you'd think that she'd see that God can call anyone to ministry. Or that the duties of married and work life can be balanced out so both parties are reasonably content. I know there is a paradigm gap between us; clearly she is of another age. But she is quite sharp of mind. She still is "there." Still, I do tend to identify her more strongly as my mom than I do with my own mother. There is both quantitative and qualitative support for this. In fact, in my senior yearbook memories (a block of text where we could put anything, often looking like txtmsgspeek) I did proclaim that "EDAISMYMUM."

Looking now at LATT, I was struck by my struggle to simultaneously branch out and sink roots. I did feel that I was coming to life and that must be what trees do: bigger top branches require deeper and wider roots. I was never on the cutting edge of anything, nor even a few steps back. Things like opening my mouth to risk an answer in class, or wearing one pink shirt, or playing drums in public for the first time were huge to me. I was grappling with being simultaneously drawn in by and repulsed by institutions. I wasn't a rebel or slacker at school, but I was also inclined to do "just well enough." I was immersed in my church because of the community there, then I got a job and all that inverted itself and I was later writing how I couldn't stand my experiences at church. My journalism class progress report essentially shows ambivalence about the kinds of authoritative bodies I was surrounded by. I was grappling with being taken into a system. Not so very different than what I grapple with now.

I detect a bit of a wannabe/patronizing tone in my narrative about tutoring math to three people who really were classmates of mine, not particularly friends of any deep nature. Tina Moraga did in fact go way back to the early days of elementary school, but I think by the time LATT was written, I had just gotten to know her a bit more. I don't recall knowing her well prior to that. So the tone was a bit inauthentic to my senses now. Interestingly, in 2003-05, I was delivering to an older man who lived across the street from her grandmother's and I got some occasional updates about Tina. I do recall having a talk with her a year or so after high school and she did tell me about some screwed up and manipulative marriage that was doomed. It did hurt to hear about all that. But I think the tone in LATT is a bit too eager to help. Too much inspirational speaker about it. But whatever works. We graduated. With the exception of occasions like a reunion next month, there is pretty much nothing of contact between me and my classmates.

Interesting that my senior year interests included being a teacher/mentor, and that I mentioned that history was important. The matter of interpersonal relations runs through the entire LATT journal too. And the fact that I was on the school paper, making my initial attempts at journalism was a kicker too. Isn't all that the basis for what I am doing now? It kind of warms my heart that somehow, I am still doing what I wanted. In fact, yesterday's Young Adults event was something that tied all that together in some way. I am older than most of the group so there is always a bit of a mentor/mentee kind of relationship hovering but not clearly defined; the matter of presenting the Book of Revelation as a document requiring historical understanding, and then following it with a movie (What a Way to Go: Life at the End of Empire) that is basically a 10,000 year history lesson of human endeavors sort of shows that history figures into my concerns now; the discussion turned to how people act in society, for good or for ill, true to themselves or not (and even facilitating the discussion to that point is an act of mentoring); and then of course, the kinds of material I write and present at my "classes" do have a teacher's or a journalist's heart about them. And to tie it all together, there is a Christian-rooted message behind it. I suppose by this analysis you could say that I either haven't developed, or I am doing what I have always thought I should be doing!

The question does arise. Why does any of this matter? It's the past! It is, and it is not. Even the original entry admits that looking at things like this is my way. As you'll see on TAPKAE.com since about 2009, there are a sprinking of posts that are of a "+20" nature. It is like Socrates said, "the unexamined life is not worth living." All I really have is my life and experiences and they are as important to me as anyone elses who has scaled the ladder of power, or who has a doctorate or who has won the olympics. And, in a way that is perhaps more recognizeably true in the twenty years since, it is a scattered bunch of things if I were to list them on paper. My resume reminds me of this, but what holds it together? It seems that no one but me puts in the time to figure out what the longer threads are and where they lead. I do get clues from people on the outside of my mind; people do recognize things, but it is not their job. The 17 year old me who wrote LATT was discovering how scattered pieces were, and looking for a pattern, maybe or maybe not knowing where to go (I think not so, at least consciously). Now, at 37, with 20 years fewer to live my life, the clues are rather interesting to trace. I did myself some good service by charting all that I have over twenty years. I still wish for more depth. Not always was I able to go past reciting the events and their times and places. But who was I inside? Learning anything about emotional vocabulary came much later. Spiritual vocabulary later still.

Leaving these kinds of journalistic breadcrumbs help me find my way home to who I am. I feel like I'd be lost without them.

Sunday
Jan022011

Flow

I can't see where the river came from
I can't see where it is flowing to
I am only in the flow
I only need to breathe
I only need to keep my head above the water

Saturday
Dec252010

What Does a Dog Want With Christmas?

What does a dog want with Christmas?
A fruitcake, an iPod, a new sweater, and more?
Does the tree make the day special,
Or does the blow up Santa in the yard hold a special place in his heart?
What benefit is it to go to church with the candles and poinsettias,
The hymns and carols, the readings and the pageants?

Is Christmas Day any different in a dog’s world?
Does the day change the fact he wants to be petted and fed?
When all the fluff is stripped away, does our canine friend
Wish for anything but what he always wants—
Our time and care, our presence and love
Our undivided attention, our cuddly communion

Sunday
Oct172010

Dukkha and the View from the Center

So far, since my birthday last Tuesday, I have been reading Gandhi's autobiography which he calls his Stories of Experiments with Truth; watched a bit of PBS and read a bit on Martin Luther King Jr.'s life and works; read up on Buddhism in Huston Smith's book, The World's Religions; had a beer and burger with a young fellow from work who perhaps sees the world vastly differently than I do (he's quite conservative and in the Marine Reserves but has dared to sit and talk with a guy of my interests) and watched the movie Platoon.

Kelli and I went together to church today. Usually we don't go to the same church anymore, so it is unusual when we do. Still, my ongoing "project" at church is to allow myself to be restless and to retain autonomy so I don't get entrenched into anything. I never sit in the same pew on consecutive weeks, and sometimes I actually sit in two or three places during the service itself, choosing to do so because it puts me in contact with more people, and keeps things from stagnating. Today I went a bit further and went to another isolated meeting room with a couch (and naturally lit space from skylights) and read The World's Religions which I have had in that room for months and periodically pick up and read. Today, I skipped out on worship to go read about the Four Noble Truths and the Eightfold Path. I've been enjoying getting to know bits about Buddhism in recent years, albeit at a snail's pace. It is quite refreshing to see the parallels with Jesus' story, his methods and lessons. In Smith's book, he likens Buddhism to a protestant version of Hinduism, eschewing the layers of formalized religious trappings and tradition that kept people from the vital lessons and transformation that sits at the core, the ones that are open to all peoples. In that, Buddhist spirituality is quite like the essential messages of Jesus, that all people can tap into the same well of truth, without the help or interference of a priestly class or other layers of religiosity that separate truth seeker from the truth. The message is, go inward and know for yourself, and then check that against the messages from everyone else with their clamoring and noise.

In 2007, when I worked at Scantech, the always-rushed print house, the people were frantic. But there was one guy, a gay Mexican who practiced Buddhism after a spell of Hinduism and probably a background of Catholicism. This Juan Sandoval was the most balanced guy in the place, honest like Abe Lincoln, and in the midst of this swirling mess of activity, just-in-time delivery, and chaos, he would sometimes come into our driver office area for a pause. A number of times he would pontificate on meditation, relinquishing the need for perfection, and a number of other lessons that seem to be the only way he could be such a calm figure in that messy world. At lunch, he'd retire to the lawn outside by the road where we drivers came whipping in and out. He'd have his prayer stool which let him be bent of knee while seated upright. In the midst of the chaos of Kearny Mesa, there he was under the tree, contemplating. I found him the most appealing figure in my time there, as he lived and urged a quest for a richer life. I never heard his story in any depth but I can imagine the types of questions he had to sort out in the process of facing who he was in a culture that has a hard time with men who don't live out the machismo expected of them. The enthusiasm he had in his voice when talking about the practices and insights from Buddhist practice was clear.

In some ways, I have become Juan at my job now, though perhaps by a tedium that sets in when just talking shop finally exhausts a person. There is only so much talk one can make about potatoes, fussy chefs, or routes that are too overloaded or that don't have much at all. I got my mind on other things, and so I found I needed to just start conversations that incorporate that. For a while in the spring-summer, with some of the then-new guys and a few others I thought might participate, I just began to ask if they'd prefer to talk politics or religion. A few were ready to roll, so even as this shop is as busy if not more so than at Scantech, somehow tidbits of this kind of talk get tucked into short periods of passing, or waiting for dispatches, or loading trucks. Right now there are about four guys who seem to play along with this. Finally, this one fellow, Tom, asked to take it outside after work so we didn't have to hide from the cameras in the effort to complete a thought.

Some of this type of talk that I've been making came about when I got driver trainees and after we got the basics down. The fact is, I can teach the ins and outs of the job in no time, and it is nearly useless when one takes another job so I have been oddly persuaded to instruct along other lines. I've found the driving work, out and about in a city of diverse population and cultures, to be an eye opening course in humanitarian studies. I've said before that it is not uncommon to see homeless people congregating at the bases of the towers in town, the 5 star hotels and restaurants where businesspeople and politicians strike up deals that affect people they will never meet. If it is only an introduction, my time training guys includes a bit of that. Or now, back in the warehouse, that same kind of thing informs some of the things I say. Shit, we spend 40 hours at work every week. It needs to count for more than a paycheck. I like to report on some of the things that the routes have taught me about life and people.

Twenty years ago I first envisioned myself as a teacher of life. A pathetic idea then, but one that I am growing into, either in the context of the church young adults group, or this side project at work. One reason that the story of  Siddharta Gautama, the Buddha, resonates with me is the story of his youth and his awakening. I feel quite a kinship with the story, not just because of the overall narrative of being raised with a hyper-protective father assuring a prince's life if I remained blind to a life on the outside (and then discovering that life outside the castle walls involves the discontented and unsettled parts of life that is known as dukkha), but also that the age relationship between me and Siddharta is the same: asleep till 30, then taking till 35 to have learned the crucial lessons by spiritual inquiry of all sorts that would finally empower him to step back into the world with a message for others. And yet it all revolves around the inevitability of suffering/discontentedness and what to do in the face of it.

My own findings arise from all that you've read in this journal for the years since it has been going: the suburban life is a troubled one that I can't expect to last, and the lifestyle that accompanies it is one that needs to be kept in perspective and wherever possible, stepped away from. It was yesterday's dream. It was someone else's dream. These days, I don't see much in the general culture at large that reinforces a complete enough message like that. There are left leaning movements that try, and bravo for them. But they are not enough because they don't seem rooted in anything. On the right, there are idiotic movements back into the dark ages of John Birch conservatism, racist and classist policies, pushes against social programs meant to do people good. Neither is meeting anyone's needs. The center has become the place to be while the polar opposites are racing farther and farther apart, nearly converging on the other side of the circle in their loathing and hatred for one another, and in their uselessness.

Day after day, we face the incremental collapse of this nation. It doesn't look that way, but that is what is happening. This is why I turn to the ancient stuff—to look to something not so ephemeral as nation-states and economic philosophies tied to a certain historical period blessed by a party-inducing energy supply that is going to be a matter of history in my lifetime. How to live a human life in a time of disappointment, suffering and upsetting change, that is my lesson to teach anyone who might have ears. Buddha, Jesus, Gandhi, King are all excellent teachers because each stood before an imperfect world and pointed a way for others by getting to the radix, the root of things—the downward and inward journey that reveals enemies and things of hate inside, where all the work needs to be done anyway. They are teachers of relinquishment of the world's values. This is the only thing that will soften the blow that is hitting us in slow motion and that will continue for all my lifetime and for a while after that. It is wisdom that neither the left nor right seems to possess right now, blinded by wishful thinking for the good old days that really can't come back, nor would we be wise to wish for them to return. Being a voice of integration or reconciliation is always a dangerous thing; coaxing people out of their foxholes of political perspective is not easy. I guess my message is one of trying to disabuse people of the unreality of what we can expect from our political process while not questioning our own part in things—questioning how we contribute to the mess while pursuing what has come to be a normal life of rushing about in trivial pursuits of goods and power.

So I watched Platoon, a movie I saw when it came out and appreciated it because I was a young 13 year old who liked military movies and literature, and building models of military gear. I was so far from understanding the movie's treatment of the effects of war, and the internal fight to remain human in the face of it, not to be turned into a monster even in monstrous circumstances. Life may be suffering, but war is needless suffering (hasn't a century of war made that clear?). Racism is more of the same. Hate crimes more still. Economic violence at the hands of out-of-control banks is another form of violence causing still more suffering. Much as I'd like to anticipate otherwise, I soberly anticipate more of this for the rest of my life. So this week has been one short period of arming up with the great voices of how to face suffering and disappointment in a humane way and sharing what I find as I go.

Sunday
Aug222010

Receiving at Ten

It took a while but just now I opened the last box of 50 copies of my CD, Receiving. This means there are just 50 copies or so left after the initial run of 500. It is rather liberating to finally see most of it gone. For some years there were about 250 on my shelf, doing nothing but taking space. Last fall you might recall I just gave the things out completely willy-nilly, and that is no exaggeration. I probably gave out 200 copies that way, by just placing them on walls and public places along my routes for work. Gave some to work buddies too. Curiously, I gave next to none to church folks. Of course, back here at the site, I have created some extensive pages once again to help keep it alive even after the physical stock is gone, offering the full music content for download, and cover art to boot, and of course, my trademark chatty liner notes with more detail than anyone can take in.

The experience of Receiving is well documented here; of course the story shaped my interest in doing web publishing at all, and has shaped other aspects of life too. These days I am in a lot more balance with regards to what to publish. The early versions of TAPKAE.com were giant ads for Receiving. But now my web work has spread out more to include things for other parties, so I humbly return to letting Receiving have its space here, in the midst of other interests and perspectives, a fuller life.

As I write, it is almost exactly ten years since I recorded the last notes of Suburban Silhouette, the final track on the album and the last one recorded, just past a threshold of near burnout for me. But I am glad that tune descended upon me and demanded of me to finish it. I really like it, and it has been an indicator of a direction I might take to follow up. I've wrestled mightily with how to follow up after this CD. I've wrangled with technology, personalities, time allocation, instruments, self doubt. I always expected I would need to go easy on music making for six months or so afterwards, but damn, I never expected a decade to pass! All I can say is that when I do finally get around to more musicking, I will have a whole other experience to channel.

Friday
Dec252009

Use The Force, Luke

luke likes the bike i gave him. looking a lot more fit than when he started.Luke Williams on the nearly totally rebuilt bike I gave himBikes have played a more active role in this Christmas than they have since maybe 20 years ago or more. In another posting, you can read about my crazy zipping back and forth from one church to the other on Christmas Eve, all in the name of making my churchgoing a decidedly intentional thing. But that aint all...

This year I bought two bikes. Both are single speeds, and now both are fixed gear only. I've made my peace with riding all over this town with just one gear so that rendered my older and much-rebuilt 21 speed bike nearly unused. That was the one that has at various times had its back wheel stolen and replaced, replaced again to put something better on once the replacement was found to be a disaster, and then more recently, to replace a stolen saddle and seat post and a rusted chain. That second wave of stolen parts was as a result of my attempt to be generous to someone at work who I guess hadn't a clue about keeping a bike secure. She at least paid me back so I got some replacement stuff on there, and all was good.

But remember that that bike was the one that not only replaced the stolen parts, but was also my project bike when I decided to start commuting last year. Most everything has been replaced on it: all the drivetrain including the rear wheel, derailers, chain, crankset, cassette, shifters; the stem and handlebars; seat posts (a total of four now—original with a faulty suspension spring, basic replacement, replacement with integrated saddle mount, and then the replacement for that one) saddles (four of those also—original, first replacement found to be too spongy, the stolen Selle, and a replacement); tires and tubes; rack. (I think that was all.) Basically the bike was made new by all that stuff being put together a year ago. I figure I must have spent $600 on rebuilding what was originally a $300 bike.

And which became sort of an unneeded item, and frankly, one which didn't fit well in the house. I rode it for one big ride up Soledad Mountain and found it was, despite the gears, heavier and harder to ride than my other bikes which have one gear each. For some general use it rode like a dream, but after such extensive single speed use, it was an odd one out. I weighed trying to sell it on Craigslist for some insulting price that would hardly recognize the extensive reconstruction, even if it resulted in a very nice running bike that runs quite smooth and solid now.

I had one person in mind that I was going to give it to, sensing that maybe he'd like it, but that idea died quickly. So I let it out to the girl from work, hoping she might buy it after such a period of getting to grow into it. After getting it back after the month was up, I hardly mentioned bikes to her again because I had that queasy feeling while buying more parts to a bike I thought I was done spending money on. By that time though I had another idea.

Luke, the pastoral intern at church, is doing roughly the same thing as Kelli once did while in that role a few years ago. He's taken part in the young adults group, and he expressed some interest in bikes once he saw me commuting around. I told him I'd let him use my bike if he wanted, once I got it back from Miss A. who apparently left it at the beach or something. It took a couple of weeks to really do the handover but when I brought it to church, Luke obligingly went to the bike shop with me and we got a lock and cable for him, some lights, and another church member, Marla, ever the bike-evangelist, got him a helmet. So there he was, all geared up for kicking around, biking in to church sometimes, or whatever. He was nice enough to send a card a few days later, thanking me for the gesture. I started to get this idea that maybe I found my lucky winner.

my card to accompany the bike upon gifting it to him. the most ridiculous image of Darth Vader's head upon a body of a man doing a pedaling motion with his hands. and a christmas tree.Hey, it was something I threw together in an hour or two. I couldn't resist the model of a man who always wore his helmet!

Christmas makes a good excuse to give a bike to someone. I have given bikes away to people before, but usually not the ones that I've essentially paid for a second and third time! But one of the lessons of the last few years has been to be generous from one's abundance, and right now, bikes are a bit overabundant here! I've had in mind to sell the thing. I could use the money, maybe to get Kelli a better bike so she might get into it. But I rather enjoy the idea of just giving it away, and practicing unattachment. So, I told just a few people about it then set about making a poster-card.

I printed the thing at a CVS and wrote a letter explaining the thing and thanking him for his service at the church. I tucked it into a normal envelope and gave it to him at the Christmas Eve service. Still haven't heard what followed, but I know his family is in town for the holiday. That ought to have been a surprise! It was the only present I gave anyone this year.

Friday
Oct232009

De-ceiving & Re-leasing

a box of receiving cds has 50 disks. and i had too many of these boxes for my sanity.Fifty to a box, I had about five boxes of Receiving in my closet for yearsFor some years and a few house moves, I have been quite unclear what to do with the five or six boxes of my CD Receiving which was completed back in 2001 after about a two year creative process. I ordered 500 originally and over several years parted with maybe half that many, keeping a pretty close tab on who had them. I kept an Excel spreadsheet file of who I gave them to, sold them to (and for how much), whether they went to industry contacts or coworkers or strangers and so forth. The actual pressing price essentially made each copy a $3 business card, plus the price of mastering which made it about a $4 item. This is to say nothing of the amount of studio gear I bought or of my time, nor of anyone else's who played on it or helped in various ways. For a while I nicknamed them "my $4 business cards." For the past few years, with all the moving house that has taken place, and the almost complete distance I have felt from music-making, they have pretty much taken up a small section of garage space, going unnoticed and generally doing nothing. I've felt for some time I needed to do something. I thought of auctioning them off on Ebay as a block, and if someone can pay themselves back and profit, then okay. Or I thought of cutting them loose on someone who might be more creative to sell them or do something with. But none of that was exciting enough.

I've long since disabused myself of the idea of getting paid back, and I am rather sick of the usual business of making apologies for it being an old piece of music I recorded when I was woefully depressed. So I needed another gimmick that would spare me all that awkwardness and speed the process up so that I could get rid of these things before I turn 40.

leaving my CD on the streets of san diego was a good releaseI just had to be rid of these, so any place was good enough, including the streets of SaThe idea was around some time ago, but I finally did it. Today I finally took a box of 50 with me to work and indiscriminately handed them out to a few coworkers, or kitchen staff I have gotten some rapport with and such, but more unusually I just left copies scattered about town on the streets: window ledges, transformer boxes, entryways, people's car door handles... I have about 200 more to go. It was quite a time leaving them like exposed easter eggs. A few elicited some giggles as I went. Call it performance art. I get the feeling people could like it more by the randomness of it all compared to whatever pathetic sales pitch I would make to guilt someone into receiving a copy.

Sunday
Sep272009

Pyrotherapy

You never know what sort of family relics you can get rid of till you try. All sorts of household junk, books, pictures, old furniture. Just heave it all in. With a family as dead as mine, no one is there to care anyway so it may as well all go in. It was such a good time I even tossed in some old master recordings of my own. It is so much easier and satisfying than hosting a yard sale. Most of it was junk anyway and not worth sitting around for a day, just to be talked down to pennies. Good riddance.

Monday
Aug172009

Into The Frying Pan

I must have been having too good a time after my wisdom teeth were pulled a few weeks back. There had to be a villain in there to put me right. I fully thought my weekend after the surgery was going to be one with much Vicodin and icepack action. But I was out and about on my bike, walking the dog, having lunch with church folks. A bit later on there was pain, and I was wondering if it was the dreaded dry socket, but a couple calls to the surgeon's office said it wasn't that. I had been told by my general dentist weeks before that the tooth that chipped off (neighbor to one of the wisdom molars) would probably need a root canal before it would be crowned properly. So he built up the surface with some anesthetic goop and some composite material in mid July.

Not really having any experience with extractions, I wasn't really sure what the pain would be like. Of course I am equally inexperienced (by some amazing grace considering my dental history) with a genuine tooth ache like I have had for the last week and a half. But, once I was sure that it was not extraction pain (because three of the four sites never hurt at all, really), I had to admit that it would be root canal time. That was made clear for me when Vicodin effectively did nothing, and the number of OTC pain pills almost numbered the hours of daylight.

The handwritten referral looked a bit hard to read. I waited the next week to see how the pain was. It ebbed and flowed, and for a day or two seemed gone on its own. But a couple nights now it was enough to keep me up. About a week ago I called the office that my dentist referred me to but got no response after leaving a message. I guess the practice changed hands or something because the referral and outgoing phone message had different names, and doing a web search was as confusing. Finally I just biked to the office this morning to get someone in person and to my good luck they saw me on the spot and did the whole thing in one visit.

I guess I didn't even know enough about root canal work to dread it. I certainly didn't have the years to build up a root canal phobia like I did with extractions and deep scaling. I was waiting for some agony but didn't experience it. I mean, I thought the whole thing was going to be torture, but I felt just a handful of stabs as the procedure got to its deepest points. More awkward was the business of having my jaw spread for an hour, but even that was more bearable by the jig they put in and the dental dam which kept my tongue from doing its usual job as jealous security dog, fending off all intruders. Two hundred bucks and a couple hours later, I was enjoying some delightful cold treats with joyous abandon, no longer sent into the fetal position from cold sensitivity that I have had since the gum surgery in late 2007, but more so since the back area of that tooth was exposed to the world a few weeks back. In a couple weeks I get the crown work under way. Let's hope there aren't any surprises along the way. Brave as I've become now that I am a revolving door guest at dentists and periodontists and such, I don't think the stuff becomes enjoyable. Except that of course, I am finally tacking my demons.