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Entries in service (2)

Monday
May312004

True Love

Sometimes you just gotta do something that justifies your place here on the planet.

On Saturday, Kelli and I went to go see some old folks. Three of them were former clients of mine on the HDM route in Poway, and then there was a couple that were friends of Kelli's parents back in the day. We spent a good full afternoon running around and just visiting these people who had somehow endeared themselves to us. More and more, we like to hang out with older folks, and some of our clients are really sort of like grandfolks to us, but really, more like friends. It is sort of cute that both Kelli and I show up. On two different occasions, we have worked for the same company, first her position getting me the Poway gig, then my position getting her the La Jolla/Clairemont gig. So we make this little team which goes out and just on the spur of the moment, drops in on random clients, off hours. Some of them have been clients of both our separate programs, and once in a while it's good for a laugh when we both show up and only then does anyone realize how we all know each other.

Sometimes we take some of the food we are blessed enough to have from my job's occasional surplus, or any other source, and we go feed the random homeless person. No preaching, no bait and switch, just the deed. Sometimes we even give away our silverware in the process!

I suppose this brings me to the topic of Kelli. I usually don't talk about her on the web much. But, since we are getting married this summer, I suppose for those who don't know us too well, or only know me, the story sort of goes like this:

Kelli and I have gone to the same church for ages. My grandmother was a founder of our congregation. I was baptized there as a tot, and Kelli's mother was Sunday school teacher for the kids around my age, Kelli being about three years younger. So we go way back, but I really don't recall either of them when I was no older than age eight maybe. Kelli and her mom were gone for some years and then returned in 1990, when I can honestly say I remember her and remember finding we both had a musical kinship in certain classic rock artists. This was huge; I really didn't know anyone near my age that could be talked into liking Jethro Tull, so it was nice that she was free thinking enough, even at 14 to accept some comp tapes I made her. But I digress. Anyhow, 1990 is when we both were back in the church world, and that was a common thing for a couple of years, though I took off for about ten years. Kelli was, however, a person with whom I stayed in touch, and really was pretty much my lifeline to the church for that time. She was there in early 1993 when I needed a shoulder to cry on after my first girlfriend and I broke up. Or she and her mom hosted a party that my band played at on new year's eve 1994, or—  We had some experiences off and on as friends, spotted by her departures for colleges and other interstate trips.

In 1998-99, we did a CD together, of her poetry and my overly-heavy handed soundscapes. Then she was gone again for two years to Mills College in Oakland, returning in 2001. 2001 of course was a big year, and we got together a few times, then for the first time, she was here on my birthday, and the end of the year was what finally led us together, with some holiday minglings with her friend Amy. We started our current relationship on January 1, 2002 (easy to keep track of). At that time, we had known each other for more than 11 years, or maybe more than 25 if you want to look at it that way.

It was a good foundation for us. I had always entertained the notion that a relationship should be built on some history, or that the stronger ones as lovers would be founded on some history. So I went looking for all that with a few other people over the years, and all the while, Kelli and I were unpretensiously racking up the points, and all our times of meeting in Ocean Beach, or seeing a movie at the theater she worked at, or all the late night conversations and the occasional sleepover—those were the moments that slowly added up to our foundation. She had kept me abreast of the church happenings, and sort of always challenged me to get back into it. Well, the first week of 2002 was when it all made sense. The few weeks before had been sort of a family disaster for me, and as before, I wanted to talk to her. There was also the fact that 9/11 was recently seared into our memories, and there was plenty to talk about on that topic. We also had had a dear church family friend die in a foul drug related murder a month before that, so we really needed to be open to one another. In the same week as we started our current relationship, I went back to church, not because she wanted me to but because it made sense in the light of things then. And now. And I also knew there would be a good solid support for us there, even though we were coy about our relationship for months before we came out to most of the people. I know for me it was surreal—being with her seemed oddly right. It felt oddly proper. Even early on, I had this inkling that she was the one. That feeling grew as we let the word out at church in the first half of the year and the support was definitely demonstrated.

In the middle of 2002, Kelli got me what I thought was going to be a pickup job for two weeks for about $600. It was as mercenary as anything else I had done in music, but that soon changed. To start, the job began at 8 am in Poway, a half hour drive away. This quickly brought an end to my uber-bohemian life of going to bed at 6 am and sleeping until 1 pm. That short fill in job segued into the home delivered meals job that I stayed at for a year, which then led to the same type of job here. The first year of that job in Poway was one of modesty. I worked 12 hours a week there, for about 90 bucks a week. I had a few other irons in the fire, but some months that is all I made. Period. I sort of allowed it to happen. My consciousness began to change in the year after 9/11 and at that time, partially because the work I used to do was whittled down to nothing, but also because I wanted to let a lot of old ideas and practices die, I went ahead and accepted that low paying job as a certain life lesson.

I had to scrape for bills, or had to not spend like I used to, or not drive as much, or any of a lot of things. Between going to church, making myself useful and more enlightened about how life really works, and working for peanuts, I began to see things differently. The job itself became an agent of that change in me too. What I do, I decided, was important, and I began to find ways to understand its place in the world, and my place relative to that. It was modesty, no fooling. But since it was a food-related job, I did get some food from the service itself, or some other outlets related to it. In fact, when I worked there, I actually put on weight. Kelli and I got resourceful, and we both had more bread and sweets than we could handle, and many weeks, I got a lunch for each day worked, and a few beyond that sometimes. The only thing I lament is that the job was so far away from home for such a low paying job, and for, well, a person who was more and more aware of the cost of gas, not just in my world, but after 9/11, the entire world.

I got by. All that time was a time when I did something I don't think I ever had done. I actually appreciated what I had. That is sort of an archaic idea here in the USA, but for me, I went with it to see where it would lead. It's hard to think of my life as a hard one, but really, living on maybe $700 a month or less does actually have its hangups, when you are used to twice that and more. But, to make up my meager income, I found myself doing moving, painting, web work, music recording, renting my music room out, and a number of other jobs that sort of put me in touch with people on a different level. It had its drawbacks; depression advanced to a dangerous point in that same year as I worked at Poway. But depression and suicidal thoughts were just a platform from which to depart onto better things.

Kelli and I had been going out for nearly two years when I had my breakdown in September 2003. She never wandered from me. She was always there. It was sort of like the movies, but different. It was better. I know she didn't understand what all went into it, but she was as compassionate as could be, similar to the way I knew her to be before we became an item. We had our problems, and some stemming from her not understanding what made me depressed, so we started going to counseling to learn a thing or two about how to work past the misunderstanding that sometimes obscured our views of each other. Ironically, some of that came from our familiarity, something that presumed we knew each other, but something that came out entirely wrong sometimes. Our counseling has been an adventure, and we have a terrifically supportive counselor who might only be my age or a little more, but one who has all the insight it takes to wake us up to something we don't see, even from where we stand.

One of the things we are often reminded of is that we are there out of devotion. Even after some marathon two hour sessions, with the roof coming off sometimes, our counselor lets us off easy, and just won't let us go without a good send off, saying all the work is just a measure of how much we want this to work. And she's right. Growth doesn't come easy. I had wanted to ask Kelli to marry me in the first few months we were going out because I knew she was the sort of material that would make that possible, but counseling was what awakened things in me finally so that I could go on and ask. We had already known togetherness in a lot of ways, but this was the next step. And, when I think that Kelli and I are together in the church, or together in the sort of work we do in the community, or that we still go on to do some of the same stuff off the clock, on our own dime, I just feel that things are the way they should be. The last two semesters of school she has also taken a class or two for her own enrichment, but for me as a returning student and recovering depressive, it was so nice to know she was a student again, and we could have yet another dimension of common activity and understanding and support. And, we also like doing some really mundane things too. We both cook for each other, do laundry together, and now that we have matching computers and a pair of bikes, we do even more together.

She even listens to Jethro Tull with me. Now that is love.

Wednesday
May262004

Art Project

For my art class, I presented this huge matting board with three of my anti-war and anti-blood for oil posters, the letter to the army recruiter, and a bunch of artifacts of my grandfather’s—the flag from his memorial, seven spent bullet casings from the honor guard salute, pictures and stuff. It went over well. I had printed out the essay below for people to glue the elements together somewhat. My display was pretty huge. There were about two others that were this big. This caught some attention, and people I didn’t even know came up and complimented it. My essay attached to the display was as such:

My grandfather Norman was a chief on the USS Yorktown (CV-5) aircraft carrier when it was sunk in the battle of Midway in June 1942. He escaped to safety and was looked after in Hawaii in the immediate aftermath. He stayed in the Navy for 20 years and retired, ultimately settling in San Diego in 1952. The Navy made his life possible, being the ticket out of a farm in Ohio. Norman was a patriotic man. I’m sure before he went into the service he was proud, and he never stopped being proud of his service and of his country.

The country he supported then was different than it is now. The war he was in was different than the war we fight now. The war he fought in was the most brutal that humankind has ever known. There was nothing to be cheery about. There was however, a perception of who was definitely right, and who was definitely wrong. The Germans, Italians, and the Japanese were forces that needed to be stopped in that war. More specifically, let me say the underlying ideologies needed to be stopped. Anyhow, my impression of the national position on the war was that there was unity in purpose, because there was a clear enemy to face off against. Ah, the good old days. Now who knows the enemy we face? Is it the Taliban? Is it Iraq? Is it the Muslim world at large?

Or is it that which we never stop to think about—the reliance we have on resources to sustain our way of life? Our population is about 300 million in a world of over six billion. Yet our consumption of resources is outrageously out of proportion. Our tentacles reach all around the world, and seemingly any resources are ours if we can legislate, litigate, or now, launch a war to get what we want. Oil is obviously the hot topic now, but we use too much of almost any resource available. What we have is an unsustainable way of life. And worse.

We have gotten a long way from where we were when my grandfather was young. His farm life, something that his ancestors had lived, was modest but sustainable. People could go on living that life as long as history itself, just like they already had. The war in which he fought turned the world upside down, and left this country in a position of power, which went to its head, apparently. The postwar boom gave us the prototypes of much of what we see and experience as life today, from suburbs to fast food to automobiles for everyone. In good times, such as we experienced, no one thought the need to be sensible about consumption. As long as we ordered something and it came to us, this would be the case. Automatic this and a pre-made that made a lot of people happy, but over two generations has left a lot of us unable to imagine a world without all the accoutrements we know now. It has also led us to an unconscionable amount of hubris, which has provoked the ire of the people who need to give up their ways of life so that we may live ours.

poster with gas octane stickers indicating the effect of gas use: some soldiers lose an arm, a leg, or a life.September 11, Afghanistan, and Iraq didn’t just happen. They may or may not be related in the details, but are related in the big picture. Our national thirst for oil has led our government to act on our behalf, and as we all know now, sometimes rather foolishly. The capital the government has at its disposal is great, but the moral case for going to war is weak. Stripped of pretense, this war is being fought for oil. It is being fought so that some people (remember, only a 5% portion of the world’s population) can live large, at the expense and frustration of everyone not invited to that party. Blaming the government is fun, but remember, they are going to bat for us after all. Our reliance on oil is driving their foreign policy, and their foreign policy is having a disastrous effect. We have had many opportunities and developments that could reduce that dependence, but no one talks too loudly about actually just using less. That is a personal decision. It is a personal decision to carpool, ride a bike, take the bus, or walk. It is a personal decision to make fewer trips, or to buy fuel-efficient cars. It is a personal decision to (as that bumper sticker says) “live simply so that others may simply live.” The president may be dumb as a doorknob, but his industry is great because we have decided to use their product, and, as you can see, the oil men will literally go out of their way to supply us with their product.

This war in Iraq is utterly unconscionable. It is founded on bad evidence, conspiracy and greed. The democracy we supposedly were to bring is only to ensure a certain stability in the region so that we might be able to have freer access to the oil. Democracy, as an ideology, doesn’t take root in a country because it was delivered at the end of a gun barrel. It develops because the people choose it. There may be Iraqis who want democracy, but they want it on their terms, at the pace they can be comfortable with. Our war is not going to be an instrument of that. This is the first aggressive war we have fought, and this, on a sovereign nation that only tangentially had anything that might threaten us. Pearl Harbor was a threat. Saddam Hussein was not.

My grandfather fought on the side of a nation that believed in freedom, justice, and all that great stuff we read about in government class. He served proudly, the same as our men and women in uniform serve even today. But what are these new soldiers defending? If my grandfather’s generation fought to defend their farms and communities, what are we defending? If my grandfather’s generation fought to keep the world safe from aggressors, what do we defend, now that we are the aggressors? If my grandfather’s generation fought so that forces of good could unite against evil, then what does it say when the USA unilaterally acts without conscience against the more sober and considered judgment of the United Nations?

The United States, though never innocent of much, did have a reputation in the world for being the peacemaker or the fairer judge, based on our founding principles of equality and justice. Few nations in the world have what we have—respect for at least attempting to do the right thing. This war in Iraq was not the right thing. This has run up a karmic debt so high our grandchildren won’t be able to pay it off.

Norman died on July 4th, 1996 at the age of 83. It was an appropriate day for a man like him. Independence day. It was something he believed in, something he fought for, and something he ultimately gave us.

Please don’t squander the gift.