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Entries in unplugged life (2)

Tuesday
Jul052011

Indomitable Nashville

Life goes on, with or without our "help." It goes on with or without our management. Life just knows how to carry on. It doesn't need us to dominate it, to subdue it, or to pretend we're anything important. Life is just programmed to keep going.

We started our garden as one of the first orders of business upon moving to Nashville St. in early 2007. It was the first major garden project we worked on for ourselves. (The one at the previous house the year before was really Phil and Nancy's initiative in our back yard.) In mid-March 2007, Kelli and I enlisted help from Tara and Kalyn, friends from church, to tear up and strip grass from the bedroom-sized plot that had been fallow for years. We had a truckload of nice wood shavings and other organic material, chicken shit, and worm casings that we mixed into the sandy loam. It was quite a day's work. That garden produced for us for three years. There were a number of spiritual lessons that emerged from working the soil, tending plants, and of course, reaping the returns.

The second year was the start of a period when I could go nuts with composting, especially since I was able to bring home so much veggie food from work. Some of the compost was accidentally scattered too early, so the second year started a period of volunteer veggies that turned up and were pretty hardy. The third year I started an open compost pile in the back quadrant of the yard, and fed it with leaves and a weekly-delivered bag of cuttings from Stingaree restaurant. One of the chefs lived a mile from me and dropped it over my fence!

But then we got into a few months of bad news about our landlord's losing the house due to their being on the take for all the time we were there. They didn't pay their mortgage apparently, so we started getting rumblings and then confirmation that there was supposed to be an auction. We could have ridden it out longer, but we stopped paying rent until they told us what was going on. It dissolved in a few days in October 2009, so we moved in a scramble, narrowly avoiding the cutoff named on a pay or quit notice. That is, Kelli and I moved. Suzanne was not so sure about the legality of things, or what the status was. And, as a person who does not find moving too fun or convenient (as a late-term grad student who has disabilities), she was inclined to ride out all she could. She did. It took about eight months before the bank firmly had the house and gave her a year's extension at the lease rate that she had prior to the end of the landlord's ownership. But, since she was only one third of the original $1,800 agreement, and they knew they were going down (and liked Suzanne well enough, more than they like Kelli and me), they wrote her a new lease for $600 for the whole place just before the bank got it. So she got to stay one more year at the place for $600 a month! A two bedroom house with a granny flat, yards, garage— $600! She made a killing on that. But that just came to an end. Suzanne herself had to move last month.

We're all quite friendly, house or no house. Suzanne enlisted Kelli or me to do occasional yard work, lawn mowing, trimming, and all. She sort of minded the garden in its first year after we left. It still had a few plants that soldiered on during 2010. We got over there often enough to see it, but it was getting grown over little by little. Earlier this year, I went to cut the lawn and was quite moved by the presence of the bell pepper plant fighting the good fight. The crop was not going to be any good, but it showed up anyway. There wasn't anything else showing at the time, so I mowed on over it all, after saying a few kind words to the plot, thanking it for producing against the odds, and giving me a lot of instruction over the years.

the peppers giving it a last go. photo taken from view point of the lawnmower operator. looks like a dire situation.

That was back in March, just before I headed off to New Mexico. More recently, the time came for us to gather our things that we had left for Suzanne to use, or that we had moved back over into the garage for basic storage. In the midst of our comings and goings, I spotted the chives and mint pictured below. Chives in blossom, rich with flavor. Mint, spreading as it does, underground, spreading roots and ready to pop up all over the place. It was the gift that kept on giving.

chives and their flowers rising up through the grass and weeds.

mint in vivid green color just a couple feet from the chives. it spreads all about the quadrant it was planted in.

It just heightened my awareness of something I already knew to be true: the garden wasn't my invention. It wasn't to glorify me in any way. I really know diddly squat about gardening. Maybe just enough to be dangerous. Gardening draws a person into a dance with mystery. There are things that one can bring to the table; conditions that can be put in place. But I can't make the seed grow. It doesn't need much from me. Even after mowing the plot a few times over during its fallow year and a half since we left, a couple plants soldier on, speaking life where others see failure, disappointment, neglect, and even abuse. The universe has a place for all that. Life has a place for all that. To drive by, you see a fallow plot that is rather unkempt and grown over with grass and weeds. Ah, but look closer.

Thursday
Feb182010

Unplugged Life

Most of you have no idea how many times I log in to write a new blog, then abandon the idea after a few distracted trips to other programs or other sites. I shut it down and try again maybe an hour later, maybe a day later, or a week later. I've been at this activity for nearly six years now. (I consider April of 2004 to be my official foray into actual blogging, otherwise my earlier web site entries functioned in about the same way for about two years before, albeit without server-side functionality.) I've processed a lot of thoughts and events here. I've spilled some beans here. I've toyed with a couple "voices" in my writing here. Sometimes writing has been a great relief to finally put something into words and therefore some clarity. Other times it seems like going through the motions.

My general trend for much of the last couple years in particular, but also since my Halcyon time in 2003, has been to push further back my computer related communications. I might need to clarify. Obviously the blog has almost entirely happened in that time, but as regards the various other sites and groups I might have once frequented or might hang out on if I was not even as steadfast as I am, I have limited myself a good deal. These days I have nothing to do with Facebook (started an account under a bogus name and found it impossible to locate friends with any efficiency so I dropped it and think I canceled my account), MySpace (have an account but my browser is old enough that I can't even log on or see other people's pages anymore), and I also don't Tweet (I find the idea of communicating in 140 characters to be preposterous.). I do a lot less of any digital anything now. Back when I was online and haunting music tech and artist newsgroups and forums, I was not really a great citizen and beside that, there is never any end to all that. One never wins any of the arguments before the Nazi word is thrown out, therefore ending whatever thread was going on. All that was a time-suck. In 2003 I knew I needed to drop all that. Blogging is at least for me my place to say whatever I like and not have to argue. And, believe it or not, I am writing far less on blog entries than I did for forums.

The fact is, I am vastly enjoying the various in person relationships I am having now. All my erstwhile use of forums and newsgroups and all that was just a stand-in for the relationships I wanted. I put a greater premium on doing in-person activities and just don't care that I am not on FaceBook, MySpace or Twitter. Kelli is a FaceBook user and that is more than enough for me, even to hear about it or to wait for her to put it away. I do quite like our in person time as it anchors us to something while many other parts of life whirl us around as if a tornado. I actually do dream of the day when I can separate from computers and phones, longing for an "Office Space Moment". I still rather like my music library and some things, but until all that fails me too, I can at least limit myself with that social media shit that just sucks time and isn't as vital for me as the real thing it would like me to think I am experiencing when I am not. There is just something refreshing about not mediating all one's relationships through electronics, in the same way as it is refreshing to have your daily personal exchanges not mediated through the world of commerce (tellers, customer service, etc. all playing like they're your friend when all there is is business to be done and the niceties are enough to make you not want to run out forever).

The thing is I have a lot going on. A lot of it is at church or through those relationships or similar ones. I work in a place where there isn't much of substantial talk but I've carved out a few small niches with a couple people. It is sufficiently unsatisfying (yes) that I still must try to relate to people on the outside. I keep meeting and developing relationships with more folks at church since the congregation is rather large. It is a perfect antidote to the commercial relationships that I don't like. I scarcely even call people, church or not. I hate phones. I carry my own (which barely seems to ring) and one for work (which gets email, calls and two way chatter). When done, I want out of all that. I am sick of little devices being my leashes, offering minor headaches of annoyance and the impossibility of actual communication. Bah!

I'm rather enjoying low-tech and old time methods to do things. Biking with a not-very-efficient-drivetrain has been an obvious one—riding a 100 year old piece of technology that is far more satisfying than the new shit, or cars, or whatever. I've found a bit of fellowship in the bike world, but found existing folks were were interested in biking but were waiting for someone to get them out finally. Cooking has been fun, having learned to make some soups and having developed my roasted tater technique in the last year or two, using all fresh ingredients that passed under my knife. Doing so is also a community building effort, whether for Kelli and me, or friends, or for potluck events. I've been dabbling with my music gear of late, and just feel funny when playing electric guitar since the sound emanates not from the box I have strapped on, but from a box across the room. (And when playing acoustic, I don't even have a great guitar, but the acoustic chamber does feel more vibrant and immediate than electric.) So, all this is of a whole. I am rather enjoying the limited approach.

Recently I had to reacquaint myself with my computer audio programs—ProTools LE, Peak. The idea of doing podcasting is exciting but I really have lost my patience for software, glitches, menus, settings, and all that. I like editing stuff and making things happen, but having been away from this stuff for a couple years since I pushed aside my musical life and also left the church where I recorded and edited each week's service, I have sort of forgotten a lot, at least regarding configuring things. It all seems foreign to me. We shall see how this podcasting stuff goes. There is stuff to learn, and part of my role is to help Lee understand his digital media options (he's almost 70 and too busy to learn all this stuff, see?). Odd, considering I barely know and don't care for the stuff myself. And, right now, even if I wanted to, my computer is sufficiently old that various media plugins are updated and leaving my machine behind. Now I am almost pressed into buying a new machine so I can do stuff I don't really want to do anyway.

The liturgical season of Lent is upon us. Traditionally it is a time to maybe give something up, but more so to consider one's spiritual path with honesty. And to me, the decision to play along with technology (or not) is a big part of my questioning. A book I read in 2006 has continued to be influential on me: Better Off by Eric Brende. He conducted a yearlong experiment on himself and his new wife. He lived in a community that was related to the Amish, and from that source and others like it, the litmus test question before me about technology is this: does a device encourage or inhibit community life? Does it feed individualism that takes people out of relationship? How much modern technology does one need to live a fulfilling life? What kind of technology helps one accomplish that? He came out understanding that one can do quite well with technology that would have been normal to 19th century folks, if not before, and that most of the stuff we distract ourselves with is way more than we need, and robbing us of a good deal of community life, self-reliance, exercise, connection with nature and so on. Another book, World Made By Hand by James Howard Kunstler, is a bit of fiction that in some oddly satisfying ways says about the same thing—the answer to no modern technology is in communal effort and cooperation. Any other way is death.

Where I come from, theologically, we might say hell is disconnection from God, from community. I've been there. Lots of people have been there. But with things the way they are now, relaxing the isolating grip that has been upon me thanks to endless technological options, I feel like I've been able to claw my way out of that pit. So many means of communication and mobility, still so much misery. So much alienation. Irony, much? The answer isn't in more technology. With realization like that, I sort of have to welcome my earlier notions of energy crisis because at this point, that is about the only thing that seems like it can break our addiction to this stuff. I realize hardly anyone is seriously on board with this idea, thus making my Lenten journey more or less a solitary one. Oh well, faith isn't knowing for certain. It is moving ahead into the cloud of unknowing and being confident things will come out okay.