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Entries in vocation (29)

Tuesday
Mar062012

Getting in Tune with the Music

Ed mugging behind the StratocasterNovember 2000I suppose maybe I should have done it 17 years ago, but I waited until February 23rd. I mean, I started when I was just about to turn 21, and now I'm 38! But I didn't ever do it right. I just did it my way. And then things got distracted and even the attention I used to pay it was cut down noticeably. But something inside me keeps nagging for things to be reawakened, but this time it has to be done a different way. Of course, everything could have been different if last Friday happened anytime in the last 17 years. But it didn't happen that way. But it did happen.

I had my first proper guitar lesson.

You read right, folks. First paid guitar lesson ever. It wasn't for lack of opportunity; there are quite a number of teachers in this town, and there were several teachers among the various bands I used to work for. It wasn't that I didn't know anything about guitar, either, or about music. I did have a basic musicianship class (and a concurrent piano class) at Mesa College in 1993. So, by the time I picked up a guitar in late summer 1994, I was already introduced to chords and scales and intervals. My second instrument, the piano, made some sense to me since one key makes one sound. But after playing in bands that used guitars rather than keyboards, it began to be apparent guitar and bass would be more useful as auxiliary instruments to know. (I mean, I had a piano at home but I wasn't about to go to a rehearsal with it!) 

It just so happened that Bill Francis, the curious fellow who lived at our house in 1994 had two guitars and he wanted to shed one to make a few bucks. For me to say he lived "at" our house is more descriptive than to say he lived "in" our house. He was afforded a trailer or a shed to live in, courtesy of my old man, who was willing to help just enough to keep Bill from being totally homeless. Bill let me borrow one guitar—the Fender F-210 I still use today (about 25-30 years after its manufacture)—and that the old man subsequently bought for my birthday just a month or so later.

I had a chord book but had no idea what to do with it, really. It was more of a traditional jazz-blues kind of book from Mel Bay and I was kind of sour on it because I didn't hear the chords I saw in the rock bands I played in. I didn't really have vocabulary for it, but I was essentially missing the various power chords, partial barre chords with an A or E string left to drone, or certainly, open tunings or altered tunings. Not long after messing with all that, I sought some time with Jim Pupplo from Slaves By Trade. SBT was just in the process of breaking up, not by some big artistic differences, but that Jim was leaving to play with another band. As a parting gift, he showed me some power chords and other bits one day at his place. The thing is, I wasn't really sold on guitar as something to get passionately into. Chords never fell well under my fingers, and even to this day, I am slow to get certain forms, lest my fingers get into a tangle.

The battle-damaged F-210I never took a lesson since then. I've had a few more chord books and a couple books that, if actually used as intended, might have done me some good. Instead, I was keen on experimenting with sound. In early 1995, I was in an interesting spot to receive two guitars from a girlfriend who was keeping her convict friend's possessions. For a while, I had an acoustic guitar (don't remember if it was electro or not) and the very same Strat as I now play. (Sort of. Almost everything on it has been replaced and renewed over time.) I recall that quite early on in my guitar era, I took to using alternate tunings. I think the first ones must have been to tune to what would be a minor barre chord, or maybe a major if desired. One of my early tracks, Earl, was simply me strumming open chords at a couple positions as a drone effect. I was rather far from actually making music. Another odd tuning I used was EBEebe and perhaps a more extreme form, EEeebe. Somewhere there lurks a recording from mid 1995 using that tuning on the F-210, with an amazing stack of octaves and unisons but no real chords. It pretty much is a heavy attack minor key kind of theme that has an interesting buzz about it. That Fender acoustic could be called on to do some odd tunings. I've used it to play Robert Fripp's CGDAEG tuning, and even a variant of that, tuned a half step down! And of course I've done DADGAD and DADF#BD type things. It's versatile.

Some of that was to avoid having to learn real music on the guitar. Almost as soon as I picked up guitar, I found my two leading inspirations to diversify away from my drums-only identity. In December 1994 I saw Mike Keneally for the first time, and in the spring of the next year, the newly re-formed King Crimson threatened to explode my brain. There was nothing I could do to emulate Keneally's guitar or keyboard playing, but I could make jokey recordings with copious amounts of tape editing. And over in Crim-land, I could go for a highly processed tone, ambient effects, noise, and unusual tunings. It was fortuitous that just a month after seeing the Crimson King, I began working for Rockola. By the end of the summer, I was beginning to work for Bob Tedde. He let me borrow all sorts of things that made my experiments fruitful: pedals, 12 string Rickenbacker, effects boxes, Mustang bass (the short thing), and over time, various synths. Doug and Marty of the band also let me use bass and drums if I was responsible for getting them to the next gig. Various other guys I jammed with let me use instruments for various periods: 6 string bass (the one I played with an air compressor), electronic drum kit, and more. It was handy to have access to things, but because I wanted to record more than I wanted to practice, I set about my early practices that became my standard approach until maybe 2001: the recording was the artistic focal point for me and instruments were the brushes that let me paint the sound onto tape or disk. Learning musical vocabulary and repertoire was secondary, and often ignored.

Receiving coverI worked around cover bands playing a lot of classic rock, funk, disco, fusion, and even some blues and country. Some of what I missed in lessons was supplemented by watching bands so much of the time, and at least taking some stabs at things I saw over and over. But I never really learned songs or parts on guitar or bass in the way that I did on drums. Major disadvantage that I am now trying to put right. Receiving was recorded at the peak of my activity in the music/tech world, but you will barely hear anything directly attributable to my having watched so many bands play those styles named above. On Receiving, like all my recordings, there is really no knowledge of conventional harmony. I doubt there is even one tonic-dominant progression to be found. Or maybe only one! And yet, there is some adventure in the tension and release on certain tracks. It just isn't anything you'll find "in the book."

Over time, there were a few players that were on my scene for a few months or a year or so, and who graced me with better musicianship than I ever brought to things. In order, I'd name Michael Kropp (bass/guitar 1995), Tom Griesgraber (bass/guitar/Stick 1997-99), and Todd Larowe (guitar/bass/keys 1999-2002). Each of these guys gave me access to better playing on those instruments, but each also left me with something to think about as I watched their method or as they helped me unpack other things about music. My understanding was pretty decent, but my application of any of that to the instrument was always lacking. Knowing some things was half the battle, but I never won the other battle on any of the instruments I played: working the sticks and picks with any discipline. I've tended to regret that.

In the years since 2005, most bets have been off the table anyway, particularly with regard to space to set up and do thing as I used to. That was a bruising time that took a lot of wrestling. Despite selling off pieces that I sort of wish I had kept, I did retain enough to maintain a guitar/bass/drum/recording capability. And in the absence of actually playing much guitar or bass, I've been soaking up music just as a listener and allowing it to reach me in a way that I don't think it did when I was trying to create stuff myself. In the background I've been trying to push myself to develop some familiarity with pop music of various eras, either on bass or guitar, or just in trying to map out chords and get a feel for things at a new level. Part of the challenge has been to develop my ear and intuition on an instrument.

Church in the parkIn the fall I briefly played drums and a bit of bass for a budding worship band at church. I don't like the music and I didn't like the structure, but I gave it a shot for a while to at least put myself to some use. In all the years of doing church and playing music, I had never played for any liturgical purpose. The band leader was driven enough to buy a drum set and so I used that at rehearsals, making it quite easy to show up and play, only needing to add a few personal bits to the kit.

Fender bass wall with 5 string jazz bass and the bastard Fenderless fretless modJazz bass on the left; Fretless on rightIn October I bought my first instrument in years. It wasn't a huge step, but it warmed me up some. I found a rather used and very cheap ($100) Indonesian Squier P-Bass at a pawn shop, and as soon as I got it home, ripped the frets out in gleeful abandon, using toenail clippers! Then I took it to a luthier and paid 2.4 times as much ($240 more) to have the fingerboard properly finished with inlay lines and dots, and smoothed out. I was just aching to have a fretless again. It's no Warwick, but it soothes me to find my own notes again. Maybe it's part of my ear training method, but it's good to have a fretless bass once again.

Since the late summer, I've been joining in on a monthly acoustic/folk kind of meetup that lets me come in to learn some pretty basic songs on guitar. Again, not all of it strikes me as my kind of music, but since I did such a job of not learning the basics, now it's like I am building the foundation underneath the second floor! Just a couple days ago I went to the monthly meetup and the theme was "no guitars." I was able to come in with the fretless and hamfist my way through the tunes. It was quite a different group with no guitars. I think I was more able to participate on bass than on guitar.

Heartbreaker amp/cabinet looks pretty lean and sporty.I hope to make the Heartbreaker screamAll this has helped draw me back into spending time with music. Over the past few years, there have been a trickle of song fragments and chords that I have not finished. Part of the hold up is not really feeling I have a singing voice yet, but knowing that can be worked on. And I think maybe that should be made a co-incident priority with guitar related tutoring. I've mostly resisted the urge to set up a recording environment. It's hard, but I've sat many times in the past decade, staring at a rather complete recording rig, fully aware that I am more beholden to the gear than any stroke of brilliance and passion in my fingers. And that got old. I've stormed out of the studio plenty of times knowing that that approach was disingenuous, and that I should tap into whatever feeling lurks, and to work at developing some technical readiness to deliver the goods when the muse arrives. Eventually complicated recording setups can be put together, but for now, I need to trust that me and the guitar have something to say, and that has been the trouble. 

Another meetup group I just tried last week was a songwriters' meetup. I got a good feeling off of it, and since the people are dedicated to song craft, with a chance to be reviewed by others, and a feeling of collaboration, it might lead to other opportunities that get me out of my rut.

Unfortunately, the jobless situation means funds are a bit tight, but the choice to get music lessons is a worthy use of funds. I've been of the mind that the time has come to seek personal growth with some combination of music lessons, a gym membership, or with a shrink. I can't really afford all three. Two of them are things I've never done. One will just tell me to do the other two. In the few days between the first lesson and the songwriter meetup, I felt distinctly more alive—damn the therapists! I've been of the mind that it's time to make some more space for music, even if it comes at some cost to a life at, say, church. I've already cut back on that for various reasons. With the meetups and a new sense of empowerment, I might be able to meet some new people and do things that I've been setting aside and dreaming about.

Saturday
Mar032012

Accidental Growth Opportunity +10

Just over ten years ago Kelli and I started on the kind of relationship we have now. There was a quite generous post about that not long ago so I won't retrace those steps. But just ten years ago this day, something a lot less joyful happened that rewrote our histories in its own way. It's one of those things I can't say I'd do all over again (and Kelli sure as hell would not, and some years ago when I mentioned this realization, she bristled at the thought), but the lessons are such that maybe they were that important. Sometimes it takes some terrible news to make breakthroughs and to grow.

This was in that odd time when we sort of pretended to not be a couple even though we were joined at the pelvis. Were we a couple? Weren't we? I don't even know if we knew, so we refrained from openly saying so. At church, where we both had long histories already, and where we had met over eleven years before, we carried on like we weren't an item.

Kelli was living farther east than I was back in 2002, and it was clearly advantageous to stay at my house in Clairemont so we could get to church on Sundays. On this March 3rd, she and I came from our separate residences instead. She was coming from a funky trailer she lived in for several months not long after college graduation. From there, she'd be coming west on the I-8 and then north on the I-5. I was already at church. Worship started. I had only started back there just two months before and usually we sat together. More and more of the service was passing and Kelli wasn't there. This was years before we got cell phones. Where was she? This got uncomfortable. What's taking so long?

Then I saw her through the glass, making her way around the round balcony. She's hunched over, hobbling feebly and her face was wincing, obviously in great pain. She could barely open the door and make her way in to the couple pews, and fortunately, Deb, the pastor's wife, saw her and helped. But as soon as Kelli was in, she had to go out. She needed to get to the hospital. So much for church that day.

As this played out, I found out through her shaken voice that she and her Volkswagen Fox was rear-ended by some guy just one exit before she'd leave the I-5. Apparently there was some slowing and she slowed down some but was hit by an uninsured driver who didn't get the message, and was probably going over 50-55 on impact. She pulled aside and as she was trying to find herself again, refused an ambulance, thinking herself better than she turned out. Eventually she got to church after the accident scene sorted itself out. But then it was time to get up to Scripps in La Jolla. That's how the rest of our day went, until dark.

This was a heck of a way to start a relationship. We were friends, but this romantic stuff was new and still not really anything that had sunk in yet. I had no idea where this was going to lead, and of course, the natural response is to feel helpless in the face of it. Kelli had been in another car accident before, and her mom in two accidents that had been pretty damaging to her back, requiring surgery. Oh, no... not a "like mother, like daughter" thing?! (Unfortunately, a lot of my personal history from 2002 got wiped out due to early computer experiences while also losing touch with paper calendars, so I don't have the best record of what that time was like and what I might have been thinking.) I was aware that it was only a bit over a year away from the experience when I failed my grandmother when she fell and was on the floor overnight, sitting in her unfinished business in the bathroom for probably eight hours or more, all the while crying for help. That was on my mind as the thought occurred to me that Kelli would be needing me now. I was scared. Not just for the fear of what Kelli was experiencing, but also that I could be a pretty slothful fellow.

After finding that the X-rays miraculously indicated nothing broken, there was small comfort. But her muscles and tendons and nerves were rattled a great deal. There was no need for surgery or any casts, so later that day she was sent home with the usual treatments for pain: ice and vicodin or something like it. Everything was painful for her since her low back and hips were hurt the worst. I became her de facto caregiver. It wasn't because I was qualified. She stayed at my house a lot then. Her trailer was quite cramped and hard to turn around in, and the steps alone were an obstacle. Since the house had the bathroom and kitchen, it was harder to just use those facilities. Not too long after the accident, she moved out of there and into a house in Poway with our church friend Cindy (Phil's ex-wife). That afforded her a place just miles from work, some decent space, a flat floor plan, and a sympathetic housemate, even if it was 21 miles from me. I'm not sure I was a very generous boyfriend then, at least when it came to driving. I wasn't working much and she was, so more times than not, she drove to see me.

The ongoing need to care for her and be far more patient than I expected I'd need to be was able to draw something out of me that I don't think I'd called upon for years, if at all. She was still mobile, but short on energy and flexibility. And the more rest she could get, the better. I found myself getting us dinner more. To say that I was cooking is too lofty. We make our jokes about how "cooking" for me was preparing the DiGiorno frozen pizzas and opening a pre-made salad mix with a two liter of Coke. Sometimes we turned my big room into our cafe for two. There were some times that were really lovely, being brought down to a new reality as we were. It kind of put the brakes on some of our, um, youthful enthusiasm for each other. Or, at least, let's say it forced us to adapt some. For a while it slowed down some of our exterior activity, but eventually things came back into the schedule. I think it afforded us even more chance to address a deeper life than maybe we might have done if we had our full mobility and carefree attitudes.

As the years since have borne out, that one momentary lapse of alertness damaged Kelli in a way that had the effect of aging her probably 20-30 years. The shock to her skeleton and muscles was pretty great, and to this day she's got after effects. She was only 25 then, and in some ways, her body was put into the condition of someone twice that age. It isn't exactly hyperbole; she now goes to the YMCA pool and one class she takes is an arthritis class that is pretty gentle, and most of the folks are 50-80.

Not too long after the accident, we had to go to the insurance adjuster's office where the other party's company would interrogate Kelli and squeeze every tidbit of information in such a way as to minimize their guy's guilt. We momentarily got our hopes up that we might get a sympathetic ear when we got to the office on stormy day and found the adjuster was none other than Jennifer, the daughter of our former youth pastor! And, interestingly, Jennifer and I had our first car accident with each other back in 1990, just weeks after we both got our licenses at the age of 16! But, it was not meant to be. Jennifer had to recuse herself due to a conflict of interest, so we were fed to the sharks after all. At least the decision was made to total the car and help make the way clear to get a newer one, a Saturn—a car that turned out to be rather crappy as time passed.

The two realities that collided for me were that for exactly five years prior to our first "date" at the start of January, I had been with no partner and was rather depressed during much of that time. I felt like a lost soul. All the strife seemed to pile up during those years. Kelli's arrival on the scene was a slow development, but after January started off, it was a clearly different period we were in. We had just two months of "normal" early relationship excitement before this accident changed things. It isn't that I turned into any great, compassionate saintly guy after it, but this accident started that process. It hit close enough to home for me that I had to start to see things another way. She wasn't totally helpless, but she needed help. I didn't do a very good job of helping anyone before her. I'm not even sure I did a great job of helping Kelli, either, but this experience was the right one for the time. It came at the time when I was ready for change because doing things my way was not working out. Even in the first six months of our relationship, I realized there was something new afoot; I had told my young roommate Zach that I thought there was marriage potential with Kelli.

For all the time since that dubious day, I've sort of been haunted by Kelli's car "luck." It didn't exactly make me happy to hear that just a week ago she called me to say she had been rear ended. This time though it was a parking lot incident with a truck that backed into her trunk at almost no speed. Okay fine, but before she came home, I was getting worried. I hate to risk it, but with such a record of car accidents, I don't always like the idea of riding along. It used to be a greater cause for worry, unvoiced as it was. Some families just don't have good mojo, you know? I want to stay clear of all that.

Obviously one can't test this out scientifically. Would I have developed a compassion for Kelli just the same? No one's going back to test the theory. In the spiritual journey, all sorts of things take on meaning, even the sad moments and the tragic upsets. Who knows how things would play out if this hadn't happened? Would Kelli be willing to embrace her role as an advocate for people who have disabilities? Was her childhood struggle enough to lead her there? Even as late as about two years ago, she was only deciding to come out as a person who had both a birth disability and an acquired disability. Obviously one does not sign up for opportunities for growth like this, but one applies meaning to experiences and eventually the twisting path toward self shows some sign of making sense.

Tuesday
Jul262011

Letter to Katie

Katie,

This is your uncle Ed. I wrote a similar but far shorter letter to Cameron a couple years back. With the passing of a couple more years, I thought maybe I’d address the same general message to you but with another open approach. Now, I ordinarily don’t write young teen girls letters of this sort. But we are family and nothing can erase that. And I have to focus my thoughts quite carefully because I know that this will be scrutinized and criticized if it is read by anyone else. That is the pattern. I know it well. I have been on both sides of that kind of scrutiny. To avoid any such commentary that I have some agenda, I am posting this message to my website, where it can be seen publicly, and if need be, commented upon. I don’t have anything to hide here. I am going to reference earlier times but I plan to address you as an intelligent, articulate, compassionate young person moving toward adulthood.

I intend this for your eyes only, but I sort of anticipate that that won't be the case. I sincerely hope you’ll read it and try to understand where I’m coming from, and most of all to trust it comes from a genuine place in me, okay? Ultimately, this message is for you and you alone. If you do choose to show it to anyone, please do so after you have had a chance to understand what I am saying. That said, I guess I hope it will even reach you, and that I won’t be blocked on Facebook. Trust me, I hate doing things this way. But the message is more important than the family politics.

I only want to be clear with a central point that I don't know if I can make with others in the family. Trust me, I have tried to seek relationship with people that we both are related to. So far, it has not worked out. But I retain a glimmer of faith, even against the odds.

In 2000, at Thanksgiving time, I was reunited with the family for the third time. That is when I met you for first time. You were just shy of four years old then. I was at a time when I wanted to start a process of healing my life after plenty of hurt. When I first got in touch with your mom just a week before Thanksgiving, that was the first I heard of you. When I did meet you, and got to spend time with you on the big day, something in my chilled heart started to melt at the prospect of being an uncle to you, maybe in a way that I wasn’t able to be for Danny and Joey before you, or even Cameron. I saw new promise to be someone else, to think of someone else. I don’t know how that sounds to a person of your age, but at the age of 27, I was just beginning to think that it was my time to step into some new shoes for what was starting to seem a new period in life.

Let me be clear. There are books to read. There are lectures and sermons and advertisements that tell people what they can do to be better people who are better liked, more successful, richer, and all that. But none of that is what reached into my heart that cold gray November day. Spending a holiday with you did what nothing else did. We watched a movie. Played around. Went for a walk around the block. It wasn’t much at all. But it was something to start a long process of moving toward another kind of life that I needed to live. I don’t expect you to remember it. Your experience and mine were vastly different anyway. I am not even asking for another such experience, though I would welcome a chance to be in normal relations with you and the others. But again, this is about you and it is about me. What passed between you and me that day was just that you gave me a gift that was without foreknowledge, without discussion, without strings. It was only you being you, and me receiving that almost as if it were water after a long walk in the desert. Some call divine grace “unmerited favor.” It seems as good a way to describe my experience that weekend. At the time, I don’t know what qualified me to get that glimmer of optimism, meaning, hope. The fact is, nothing qualified me. Such is grace.

In this case, this wasn’t a matter of either of us living up to anything. Moments like these happen all the time but not everyone is ready to receive them, and if they are, it is still another stage to actually do something in response. For that moment, I was somehow open to it. For my part, I was struck with a new feeling that for once, life was not about me. I started finding my thoughts leading to what I could do for you and the others. For a while, I was advocating preserving a piano that Sofia (I hardly ever saw grandma’s name spelled out, maybe I got it wrong) had, just in case it might do you or anyone else some good.

A letter like this comes out of the blue. I know that. In other places and times, I’ve had similar letters come out of nowhere. It happens because life doesn’t fit into the containers people like to think it fits into. It is messy. Feelings are notoriously hard to settle down. The heart is an odd thing. It morphs, changes allegiances, develops. It is full of passion for some things and cold to others. My own mom might still tell stories about her driving past my house in San Diego, only to sob like all the painful separation stuff of old was happening at that moment. I never knew of these drive-bys until long after the fact. I think it is safe to say that there is too much pain for all involved. Not everything was painful though…

Your mom probably won’t tell you this but upon the few reunions we’ve had, she’s been quite excited to have me in the picture for a while. I have letters that clearly show this. Letters at the age of 8-9 that were covered with messages of love, hearts, and all that. A letter at the age of 16 suggested we go to her prom together (getting past the brother/sister thing on account of no one really knowing who I was). Some might think that odd. I did too, but was just happy to have my little sister back after some years of not being in each other’s lives. She’s a good person inside. I know it. I met that in her during less complicated times. I mean her no ill will. I never meant to hurt her, though apparently I have. I don’t know what, if anything, will put any of that straight. Less and less do I consider it my work to do. That’s God’s work, if it is going to happen at all. But again, I am addressing you now.

A fervent wish I have is that from your generation onward, things can be different. It was the wish I had after that Thanksgiving of 2000 started to sink in. It still is my wish. I still wish there was a simpler way (and frankly, less sneaky) to openly be in relationship. I don’t know if anyone else will listen or believe me when I do say that the distance I feel is terribly hard to cope with. You at least have a blank slate, and it is that clearer take on life I’d like to look at for a moment.

I know it’s a few years before you’re totally free to make decisions on your behalf. It’s too early to decide who to befriend without parental review and input, and at what price to other relationships in your life. I totally realize that my name is toxic in your setting—with others. But I don’t want for that to be your automatic and default position, and that is why I am writing this.

While in my high school years, I spent years writing in secret to my step mom Eda. We used my pastor’s house or the church as a go-between for the letters. It was because she was a vital person in my life up till about the age of 10 and took an interest in my well being. Once I turned 18 and she returned from Mexico, we reunited and have typically had an in-person relationship. She writes letters just the same as before, but above ground. Just to check in on me and the life I lead. It has been almost 20 years since we reunited in person.

In a similar way, I am daring to write to you for the same reasons. Of course I invite your response. I invite it this week. Next year. Or if it takes till you’re 18 and free to do as you please, then so be it. Maybe longer. The point is that no one around you is prepared to tell you who I am, or what my interests are. What they can tell you is their perspective on my actions from times that were inherently awkward times (reunited with long lost family, facing deaths of family members, new girlfriends, depression, and so on). I won’t say their understanding of things is wrong. It is just woefully incomplete. If you are a person who fancies herself free of mind and heart, the door is open to one day seek me out and find out for yourself. Same for Cameron and the others, if so inclined. Maybe right now doesn’t make any sense or will be outright forbidden. Maybe right now it isn’t welcome of me to make the offer. It’s on your time if you want to pick up the threads and make something of this.

I suppose I want to run down a few things you almost certainly don’t know about me or the world I live in.

First off, my name, Edward, from the Old English means “wealthy (Ed) guardian (ward).” The name “Lucas” fairly certainly is a nod to St. Luke, or more simply, the writer of the Gospel of Luke—quite an excellent book of the Bible, and coincidentally my favorite of the Gospels. Lucas has been shaped by Greek, Spanish, English, and other European cultures and appears in various spellings, but all nations having a traditional tie to Christianity, it most clearly is rooted in “St. Luke.” As far as the wealthy goes, I don’t feel I’ve ever been wealthy in monetary terms. I might have had some money courtesy of family members here (leaving me modest inheritances) but really, I am not rich by any stretch. I am actually not working now. I am a bit more irresponsible than it takes to get rich. But maybe the guardian part applies in some way. But not a guardian with a weapon, stationed outside some place of perceived importance. If anything, I am a guardian of a kind of consciousness, of feelings, of narratives/stories. Writing a letter like this is my guardianship of a kind of inner flame that I know I can’t let go out. This flame has the power to burn or the power to warm. I guess I doggedly believe I can keep at the right distance to remain warm, not flame broiled!

My dog, Buber, is named after a philosopher, Martin Buber, who perhaps is best known by his book I and Thou. I rather pretentiously read it when I was 11th grade but didn’t really get it until I reread it with almost the same group at the age of 31 when it was something that helped articulate a life I already led. The basics of I and Thou is that the purest relationship happens between two beings with no foresight, no planning, and often only a flash of awareness. You might consider it a shot of total divine grace when two beings meet at the level Martin Buber was talking about. My dog is a patient dog with big eyes and a look that just melts the heart. He likes sitting. He has an intense gaze that is spellbinding if you meet it unsuspecting. Animals have a lot to teach us about our inner lives.

My wife Kelli and I have been married for nearly seven years. We have dated since the start of 2002. We met as teens in church youth group in 1990—21 years ago next month. Going back a bit further, her mom says we were in the Sunday School together as kids and that she was my teacher. Even I don’t remember that, though there are pictures to prove it. Kelli and I were married in the same church we attended at various times in life. Once upon a time my own parents were married there and I was baptized there. I was the first 16 year old elected to the board of deacons there and had a lot of great times there when I was just a little older than you. Most recently, Kelli was ordained to the ministry (ceremony held at the same church) after years of slogging it out at school, internships, and all that professional preparation. Now she is Rev. Kelli, and I am perfectly proud of her. She works as a hospice chaplain, but is aiming to be a pastor at a church. But pastor or not, she has been my angel by my side for a lot of years, and is as clear a sign of divine grace as I know. Again, nothing I did qualified me for her sticking by me. Grace, my dear. Grace.

I have since left that church but Kelli retains her membership there. My new church since 2008 has been a great place to grow and contribute. I was on the board of Christian Education for a couple years. I facilitate a young adults group (20-35) and sometimes directly teach bits of it, incorporating bible study when useful, but whatever else is handy for the cause. Other things include house parties here and elsewhere. I participated in a spiritual development group for two years.

Realizing that church can be valuable but not the last word in pursuing spiritual development, last year I attended an intensive ritual week for male initiation. Held in an utterly amazing area in Arizona, the great patterns of life and death were essentially written onto my heart in an indelible way. I wholeheartedly recommend such a thing for my nephews and brothers in their formation as complete men. A related opportunity for being in nature and having an ear open for the divine calling came this year when I went to New Mexico to be on a sheep ranch for a couple weeks, among other places in the state that I was interested in, all of which helped reiterate some great lessons in life in an unforgettable way that can only be lived, not really discussed.

My father and I have not talked in close to five years. I know that he is quite the divisive figure at your households, but I too am hurt by him and find his methods quite unbearable and after a huge amount of hard times with him finally had to peel away to preserve myself and move on. I don’t know if anyone will ever hear that with the fullness of heart that I intend, but that is the case. It puts me and my sisters and mother a little closer together than I think they realize. Kelli and I keep our distance but do concern ourselves with his human wellbeing. I think of him as a hurt person who never learned to do anything with his pain. It clearly does a lot of damage—to others, and to himself.

When I am not sneaking messages to you or other family members via the social media sites, I do productive work for an organization dedicated to helping people practice better economic choices with peaceful sustainability in mind. I do all the web work, record and post the podcasts and periodically write material myself. Another site I am shepherding is one for Kelli and some clergywomen buddies to be a community and educational resource. My own site is intensely personal and has been getting a lot of input lately based on my personal archive which I guess I serve as the guardian for. It is from some of this material that my feeling stirred to write this letter.

One thing that I have to note is that in 1994 my mom wrote me a letter that suggested I go to school to learn journalism, or photojournalism. She thought my writing was good enough to suggest I follow it. That letter, in its simplicity, is one of the purest forms of encouragement from her that I have to point to. It does not contain any of the conflict of other notes or talks. I found it again recently (though I always knew about it), and realized that my work with websites (particularly my own) was my own way of following up on that lead. I still shoot pictures. I write better. I tell a story. Journalism is a form of guardianship, after all. It guards the truth as one knows it.

I do not have a degree but I have attended a number of classes. Most have been basic college things but things that I have a particular interest in: art, music, history, humanities, psychology. For the last several years, despite being interested in working on my degree, I decided it was a better plan to support Kelli through seminary, which took over three years, but her longer education plan has taken about six. I do lament not having the focus to finish a degree in a far more reasonable time, but I have always sought to learn somehow. These days I have been far more moved to work on the part of me that no school can educate: my soul. And in that, everything is my teacher. The success or failure of this letter has the power to teach me. So I can dare to do this.

Katie, my niece, I only hope I can bend your ear toward me and whatever yet-unknown contributions I could make to your life. I know I can’t do it alone. Not by charm. Not by persuasion. Not by much of anything, really. I can really only play so that the ball gets to your court—all I can do it pitch to you. (I suppose I should use softball terms here!) I guess I only hope that you won’t shut me out. Not as an uncle, not as a man, not as a human. I’ve worked on the latter two: trying to learn something about being a man, and especially about being a human. The fact of the matter is that if I am to be an uncle, it will be possible by the interaction with you and your cousins.

I won’t kid you. I live a bit far away in San Diego. I’m not in the neighborhood but I’m still a couple hours away which does constitute a day trip. We don’t really have much in common in terms of interests. I clearly am at a disadvantage when it comes to knowing what you’ve been up to. It looks like you’re doing well in softball and dancing. Probably better than I did in drumming as a kid, and clearly better than I did in my short two game soccer career at the age of eight! Sports aren’t my thing. Looking at life is. Examining relationships, community, love, pain, and all that are what I do. Maybe I’ve been called to it. Maybe I’ve clamored for it. Maybe I’ve been thrust there against my own will. Every one of us eventually gets older and eventually wants to do our part to light the way for the next person who might come stumbling by in the dark of life.

I only want you to know that I write this from a place of vulnerability, and any future letters of this sort will come from that same place. I perfectly well know that rejection and indifference or outright hostility greet my attempts at relationship. I can only tell you this is quite saddening, and does none of us any good. But the thing is, none of us are qualified to be family. We just are family. I know it hasn’t worked out with everyone else. That is why I am turning to you, as one human, one individual to another, to weigh whether that is really the way to go. From my viewpoint, it is a failure. A sad failure. But I was 14 once and people promised me that every decision could be made for the better or for the worse. History between you and me is quite minimal. It could be considered flimsy, or wide open for development. I am just extending a hand, advocating for the latter option.

You can see that this is a big letter. I only write big letters to people I care about. The rest of the world has Twitter to say their small ideas in small ways. I use Twitter too, but never to say anything of lasting value. Since I have tended to move house in recent years, I offer my church as a permanent address where you can ultimately reach me if all else fails. I hope anyone will see that I am not trying to mask my message behind any layers. If people must write their comments of criticism or praise, I welcome them to write to my pastor, Rev. Scott Landis. The church has been there 100 years this fall. I expect they’ll be there when you write.

I just want you to know…

Love,

uncle ed

Wednesday
Aug252010

The Intersection

Devoted readers of this journal probably know that I really am not a big fan of technology, and that my general attitude toward it is that I like it enough if I can wrangle something creative out of it. Some will recall the old story about when I was a kid and managed to take my first bike apart as much as I could, only to be like a deer in the headlights when instructed to put it back together. That was perhaps the first instance showing my lack of aptitude for coping with material things and technology. That has been borne out many times since.

But this summer I got my newest computer—my third since about this time in 2001—and have plunged into new programs and even new roles as I embrace podcasting for Jubilee Economics Ministries, and have done an extensive site rebuild with them, bringing them into the social media age. All that, considering that up till earlier this year I knew quite little about those options. It has indeed been a change of attitude, particularly since I rode my old computer into the ground it seems, with it not powering on at all now, a scant week or two after I got this new iMac. I had really ambivalent feelings about computers and the digital life. But a funny thing happened this year when JEM needed to find a way to spread their word farther than they were able, I happened to be in the office and had at least some suggestions.

It does help having a new machine with programs that output contemporary files and media. I do like this thing, particularly since at least my old computer had the good sense to just die when its replacement came, helping make a decision for me. Kelli has taken the first machine I got in 2001 as a replacement for her own iBook that died in the spring of this year. She is bracing for a new Macbook or something. Along with this new machine I needed to get a new audio interface, and therefore more preamps that I don't particularly need, but it does make a nice lean recording environment. I got Logic Pro and Peak Pro. I am quite familiar with Peak from years of sermon editing, but Logic is a new kettle of fish that I hope to have some discipline to learn.

JEM is just one use for this stuff. Now that I understand podcasting and am quite well equipped to do so, I have been pitching ideas to people about shows that might be ready for the format. I proposed a 'cast for Kelli and her fellow female ministry buddies. It would be a potentially hilarious and yet very intense look at ministry from the perspective of women in pulpits and in chaplain positions. It would be called (rather irreverently so for the conservatives who like to cite one lame line in 1st Corinthians) "Women Who Speak In Church." There are a pool of potential participants from Kelli's circles.

Another would be a lesson type program with Dr. Phil Calabrese, who has much to teach about the contents and meaning of the Urantia Book. He, after 40 years of study and reflection on the book, is among the best people in the world to do a program to spread the word. He looks at it as a scientist-mathematician who wants to see if what was said in 1955 and before was predictive of what science is uncovering today about certain cosmological relationships, archaeological discoveries, etc. If Kelli takes part, she too can share from a perspective shaped by many years of reading the book, but also as a theologian and pastor.

Those are just a couple things. Notice I didn't really say that I was involved in any of it particularly, at least not as the centerpiece of things. One of the things that is emerging is a feeling that these skills and tools need to be put to some other use than self promotion. I've worked an awful lot on JEM stuff this year, and done a site rebuild and a half. (We were going to use Wordpress like this site does, but ended up finding a kickass plan on the Squarespace infrastructure, so we dragged all the WP stuff over after a fairly complete job on WP.) A lot of time, but on reflection, maybe too little still, considering they have been asking me to write for them, or for the Streetlight newspaper, for some years now. I don't know if writing is my place with JEM; I happened to be the guy who knew enough of this web stuff to take them someplace else when the time came. The whole website in its revamped form is actually going to change the way JEM operates and presents itself. This is suitable repayment for the influence that JEM has had in my life, helping me see the world in a vastly different way in the wake of so much personal upheaval. Recall that I met Lee of JEM just a couple weeks before I got evicted in 2005, as if to say that God had some other plan, and was introducing a whole new father figure that was going to point the way for the next stage in life, now that the old one had essentially passed on that responsibility. So, the countless hours of volunteer work don't seem like much.

Not all the media work is as volunteer though. I got a few bones this summer for crafting a single page site for the writer-blogger-podcaster-polemicist James Howard Kunstler. He has two books now that are novels about the post oil future. Both are supported by one-page sites that I designed. (See World Made By Hand and The Witch of Hebron, the sequel.) Working for JHK is interesting because he too was highly influential, even as far back as 1998 when I was given a copy of his book, The Geography of Nowhere, which was perhaps the first real dose of social consciousness that I embraced as my own. That book and its survey of the wasted landscapes of this nation did awaken the sort of consciousness of how my world operates, the sort of consciousness that was jolted again a few years later in 2004 when I saw Kunstler in the peak oil cautionary film, The End of Suburbia—a film which I was showing in 2005, just days after I met Lee (he attended, we later collaborated on a showing of The Corporation), and days before I got evicted from my suburban home.

When I met Lee, I thought I was starting a project called EONSNOW, and rather boldly asked him to support my project. Now that seems hopelessly preposterous, being a pretty untested entity myself, and he having years and years of pastoring experience, and life experience to excel mine by double. So now, years later, it is right for me to take my place in a support role to what he is doing, even as he has allowed me a great latitude to experiment and change the plan daily. But finally, he, with the message, and I with the means to get it outside of his office,  are on to something. We're quite excited.

One of the lessons in my mens' rites of passage was that "your life is not about you." If I were to set up two poles in my life, viz. my relationship to technology and media, those poles are that I used a lot of it to be pretty self-aggrandizing and me-centered in the earlier years, and the opposite was to shed as much of it as possible and find myself disregarding the media options that I used to use, sort of like a dry drunk. Either too much or too little—a dualistic mindset that is anathema to honest spiritual progress. Either of those poles was about me whether in indulgence or in denial. It is sort of like the story of the Buddha who experimented with hermitic self-denial for several years after living the lavish life that was his birthright as a son of a royal man. Ultimately, he found the third way between the poles and embraced that.  So it goes here, I hope. I am not a businessman who plans and executes the business of web work, but I am a creative person who wants to share time and enthusiasm. Right now the business of pushing potatoes during the day makes clear the way for pushing pixels by night on a volunteer basis. JEM is now presenting the type of content I wish I had the consciousness to articulate back in 2005 when I was doing the EONSNOW stuff. The intervening years have done much to re-focus on the outer realm, but only after a lot of inner realm work. Understanding that my life is not about me is one bit of humble pie that one eventually has to live with.

Technology, such as I have to deal with in this kind of work, is a blank slate. I've certainly abused web communications in the past, and been a bad netizen. (But that has largely faded except in the Google realm where everyone's misdeeds will be saved till the end of the age of electricity.) But on to other things. JEM has a coherent and holistic message that I believe in, so I decided to jump into that flow and do my part.

I've read Parker Palmer's book Let Your Life Speak a few times now. In it he talks about how he had to face what his Quaker tradition calls "way closing" many times—rejection, failure, disappointment—so that "way will open" into new opportunity, one step closer to knowing what one is really called to do. He gave an example of how he traced his path toward being an educator. It was a seemingly odd one until he figured out how components of past interests were leading him to what he loves to do now, and finds he has the inner light and energy to lead him to do. Telling about wanting to be a pilot or an ad exec, he found the aspects of those things that left clues that perhaps were not even considered as they were happening.

For me, I considered that my past history of building plastic models demonstrated that I liked to devote myself to projects that started and stopped and involved many stages to complete—assembly, fine tuning, painting, presenting. Or that later on I got into doing cassette recordings with home made tape box "art" (now that is stretching it) with liner notes that filled most of the available space. I did that for years, and that developed into CD projects using increasingly sophisticated technology, culminating in Receiving, which was an all-digital project that aspired to the same thing as in the early days: record it, make the cover that explains it all, and package it. Getting into the website was an extension of the liner notes where every damned detail could be explained. Podcasting now is an extension of that, integrating the web and audio interests as well as the knack for developing something from pieces to a finished product on display. Other interests of mine are looking at the dynamics of relationships at the personal level, or at the larger human level, social critique, bible study and interpretation, volunteering for socially useful causes (home delivered meals, church offices) and maybe more. So right now, it makes sense to be doing this work for JEM, even if it can only be done with technologically advanced toys and tools. It seems that right now this is what I need to do, seeing how it lies at the intersection of various interests and abilities.

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.

Thursday
Apr152010

Nineteen Ninety

Holy Hell. Twenty years ago I was 16 years old. What you are about to read is more than half a lifetime ago. Gasp! I'm not sure if any of it is worth recalling or reading but for those of you brave enough to soldier on, here goes another chapter in the rites of passage-plus-twenty series here on TAPKAE dot com. I guess it functions as a test of memory if nothing else!

I guess if I had to offer a synopsis of the year, I'd have to just use the words drums, Rush/Neil Peart, Shelby, driver's license/accident, depression, Hobby City, junior-senior year, church, and finally Kelli. I guess it was quite a year, but who would have guessed so at the time? At that time I was just an awkward teenager only barely dabbling with coming out of a shell and daring to do some new stuff or meeting new people. Much of the narrative is helped along by the presence of drums in my life; that was my budding interest then, sort of like bikes are now, and the catalyst for new social steps. I guess I have to tell a few stories about loud cylindrical shaped items and things that go thud and boom.

ed at the drums in 1989 on his 4 piece ringo kitMe with my first kit, late 1989I started the year wanting to get a "real" cowbell for my kit that, in August 1989, I had dusted off and set up again after about four or five years of not playing. After the basic Ringo type of kit, the cowbell seemed to be a pretty useful accessory. I actually had one of those souvenir cowbells that you can get in Switzerland but it was not intended for this kind of use and was promptly bent out of shape after a few weeks of playing. I'm not sure that was well received by my dad. So in January, after some time of anticipation, I talked my grandmother into taking me to Music Mart when it was down on Morena Blvd. by the San Diego river. (That proved to be a fateful trip; I met salesman Dave Flewelling there that day, and he figured into a mentor for a while, and later on still I worked as a tech and rented stuff to him from time to time. Then once he came and rebuilt the electrical in a room I was remodeling.) I got my "real" cowbell, one made for drum set use, and a mount and some other goodies, and was immediately trained to expect the "bro deal" at music stores. Weeks later, I sold that silver wrapped kit (a real generic Taiwanese Pearl style ripoff) and bought another kit that, in retrospect, was not really any better except that it was a five piece with a deeper steel snare and maybe had better hardware. I had lusted for this kit for months, and just about this time in 1990—March—I plunked down about $350 (I think) for it. I got it at New World Music and Sound, a music store just two blocks from my house that mainly dealt in high end electronic music gear, but stooped to sell a good range of acoustic kits too, including a bunch of Premier brand drums that set me keen on that brand, well in advance of my owning my present Premiers. (More significantly, this is where I discovered King Crimson a couple years later—a case of aural assault, but in a good way.)

I took this new kit and kept it in my room, one with single pane windows and louvered windows above. They were naturally loud in a room that was woefully unfit to contain them. The matter of volume got to be contentious pretty fast. My old man had an oft-repeated chorus of "the drums don't belong in the house." He was willing enough to put up with a couple hours a day of my jamming to the few artists I had recordings of in the first year of my drumming era: Tull, Def Leppard, Fairport Convention, Aerosmith, Rush. He was sort of okay with that, but the neighbor's patience was always wearing thin and I think he wore down the old man as often as he could. Another almost hilarious episode involved my setting up the drums in the garage once, just downstairs from the studio apartment that we rented out. The tenant that year was this uptight middle aged dude who didn't get humored by all this, even though I played in the middle of the day on the weekend or something. He complained to my old man, who in turn offered him a set of earplugs (this was one of the very few times my old man stood up for my interests in music). Tenant boy wasn't amused so he sued for some money, and I guess he left. This was the beginning of the end for my house-bound drumming days. After that it was never to be taken for granted, and usually when I did set up and play it was on the sly, or almost intentionally to mess with our neighbor.

All that year and for years to follow, the drumset was like an ever-unfinished sculpture. I fantasized about "finishing" it but that never happened until I sold it in 1997! I found that money flowed toward the kit, always messing with hardware options, cymbals, heads, pedals, etc. Oh, and more cowbells! (Cue the Christopher Walken SNL episode.) Here is where I must tell the story about getting a job.

The job called me out of the blue one day, but it was only because I had made my face known for a couple years before as a sycophantic kid who just had endless time to hang out on the weekends. So one day in April of 1990, Mark Bahlmann called me and offered me to work at the Command Post, one part of a larger hobby store called Hobby City. By that time, I had almost completely left the model building life that was my consuming interest until I got into drums in August 1989. But he knew I knew enough to come in and be helpful for something like $4.25 an hour, 15 hours a week or so. I had helped them move to that location in Kearney Mesa, working for free product. He called me on a Sunday and wanted to know if I could fill in that day. I had my reservations about working on Sundays, coming from a family setting that had never demonstrated that and actually urged me against it, and also regularly going to church of my own volition. Anyhow, the job was mine for the taking and I did weekends for a while till the summer came, then I did a few short hours till Jeff came in once his school hours were over. It was never as fun as when buddy Ross Shekelton worked at the old location in the glory days (when I spent literally nine hours a weekend across two days, and for eight months in a row! I was the guy who fetched lunch and stuff to be paid for in product.) In 1990 though I was paid each week, and it was so little that they could just pay me out of the register if I cashed my check there—about $85 or so. This was heady stuff. My first job.

The joke of all these things was this: there was a physical layout you need to envision to enjoy how I justified spending all my money on drum stuff that summer. The Command Post was on Convoy Ct. and is the northernmost point of my illustration. Music Mart had moved that summer up to Convoy St., just about a block south from Command Post. (That area of town was a form of heaven then, or would have been if I did both model building and drumming at once!) Then, there was a Union Bank (not my bank) that was immediately next to Music Mart, but just south of it. The three places form almost a straight line. I used to joke that I spent all my money at Music Mart on the way to the bank on payday, because the trip from work to bank was interrupted by the music store! Hah! I spent enough time at Music Mart that the whole Command Post experience of old reconstructed itself there: I got to know product, learned the craft, met the personalities, and ultimately got a job there some years later. (These days I tend to do the same thing at the bike shop—some things never change!)

Now, all this solo drumming stuff is just enough to annoy the neighbors, so sooner or later I needed to apply it. Just as if according to plan, there was a rock concert put on at the school, featuring five bands that played a range of styles: metal, reggae, prog, funk-fusion, Christian rock. The band that loaded up on prog stuff played a couple Rush songs that I was just then getting into. They were the most impressive to me in terms of sheer musicality, though my understanding of that was not great then, my understanding that Rush was an act to respect was firmly in mind. It turned out that one of the drummers in that show, Mike Bedard, became a friend later on and of course, played on recordings of mine. At the time he was playing in the band that did mostly Metallica covers, and I was not impressed at all. But the band that played the Rush covers—Tom Sawyer and 2112—left an impression on me and I went in search of Rush music finally, after a couple years of being urged along by Command Post big-brother-buddy Ross.

That show also influenced a couple other guys who sat in the same audience. Tomas Enriquez and Shawn Zizzo approached me later on about playing drums in their AC/DC and Zep influenced band they were starting. We did one Memorial Day weekend jam at my house, and because they weren't Jethro Tull, I wasn't interested! Having no bass was odd too, and so we shelved that idea for about a year till there was a talent show in our senior year. When we did play together finally, we played the Run DMC take on Walk This Way—on the same stage as this 1990 concert, this time able to have some senior class fun putting on a memorable show involving white boys emulating their black hip hop heroes. That experience was perhaps the high point of my high school experience.

It was about this time when I started recording my drumming for the sake of being able to review how I was progressing. I grabbed whatever tape deck was on hand and put it to use. I used to record aimless improvisations and my attempts at the songs I liked from the few artists I know of and was listening to then. More notably, I made little cassette cards with the essential information on these performances. I used a copy machine, clip art, and my typewriter to tease myself that this stuff was a proper recording. This is the start of my recording career, and the start of my graphic and layout interest. These days, after progressing through this cut/copy/paste paper work, and later on to digital covers for tapes and CDs, and ultimately for a glass mastered and commercial ready CD, it is charming to see how it was important for me not only record something but to explain it too in some text and graphic presentation.

rush album presto band portraitRush, taken from the Presto album cover, featuring Alex Lifeson and the hair that I decided I wanted but never had the time or talent to maintainThe drama and theater class teacher (Dennis Hollenbeck, who put the talent shows on) had a brother (Geoff), who was my English teacher one year. I dropped in on him periodically because I had a good rapport with him. Geoff somehow had a copy of Rush's new album (on vinyl!) Presto just sitting there at his classroom desk. He let me borrow it for a week or so, and I devoured it. It was several songs from that album that I was playing on the day when our studio apartment tenant got fussy. This one album launched me into getting into Rush that year, about as fast and furious as the year before when I bought nearly everything from Jethro Tull. (Somehow, I was in a mindset that once I started a band's catalog, I thought I had to finish it all.) About as fast as this was happening, I got some Neil Peart posters that Ludwig drums put out as promotional fodder. I was, as it seems to happen with drumming kids about this age, in my Neil Peart phase. The secret handshake in musical circles involved asking "can you play YYZ/Tom Sawyer/La Villa Strangiato?" The effect on drum tuning was that my snare was tight as could be, and my toms also were too high. I literally had, by the end of the year, built up my version of the cowbell tree that Peart had made famous. Seeing his enormous kit of course sent feelings of inferiority through me, and the answer was to gear up and buy more stuff!

ed playing borrowed bass guitar. not very well.Sort of playing a borrowed bass, but notice the Neil Peart posters that Shelby tormented me aboutThese days it is all good for a chuckle, but back then it was a voyage to manhood. A rite of passage. It was important shit, learning every one of Peart's licks and having too big a kit to wail on. But some saw through it. My odd friend at the time, Shelby, always into everything that is anti-prog—Beatles, folk-rock, punk, goth, whatever—visited my room just in the peak of this period, about May of that year, and she gave me nothing but hell about it for years to come. Years later when she wanted to put me down, she just had to remind me of the Neil Peart posters on my wall for about a year or two back in 1990-1992 or so. And those were—as much as ever—the glory days of our friendship. That semester, she used to come up to my area in Clairemont to take a night class while in high school. She got dropped off at my house and we walked a couple blocks to the school. That was about as much time as we routinely had to spend together, and a chunk of it always garnered some crap about the posters! Shit.

Despite this humiliation, I was determined to make moves on her in my naive and awkward way. I don't remember the full details of how all this went, but one thing was that I wrote a personal ad in the Reader. This was when you had to type 25 words or less on a card and mail it in the old fashioned way. It wasn't poetry or anything, but it took all this energy I had for her and put it somewhere, and committed to at least one statement. And it was promptly dismissed. All I needed to know about her was learned that spring of 1990 when such a great gesture was knocked down so swiftly. I guess I was too enamored with what had already passed into history between us to realize there was wayyyy too much difference between us. Later on she chewed me out for being condescending and for "misrepresenting the terms of our friendship." Hey. It's not like the whole Peart poster thing didn't smack of snark from her! It only took me another ten years to get her out of my system, by finally spelling out exactly what was on my mind all that time.

Okay, so 1990 was not the year for girls. Sort of. But explaining how it sort of was requires plenty of backstory. I'll get there. I promise.

The summer of 1989 was the first time when I actually found a great life in going to church and inhabiting the community there. All that was in full swing as we moved into 1990. I had done most everything that a 16 year old could do there, and was enjoying it greatly. In the early part of the year, I was nominated to the board of deacons, my age being quite distinctive for that board. The deacons were the more spiritually nurturing body and I know the folks who nudged me into that position wanted to cultivate that side of me, so giving me a place as a church officer was one way of doing that. The confidence of the congregation was nice, but really, by the late spring and early summer I was feeling spread too thin there, and so in September I resigned my post as deacon. I think that feeling coincided with getting my first job which I remember leading me to a divided mind about my priorities. I found myself in a blue mood that season, as I think I was going to church for the morning then heading to work for the afternoon. This was something I was warned of by my family. And in the recent years, I've dared to return to my roots in my conviction to not willingly work Sundays. But at that point, there was friction inside me as two very different worlds sought my attention. I ended up being led toward the commercial work more than the church life for many years. This one spell however was a teaser because my time at Command Post was only about four or five months, and it was over a week before I went back to school in the fall. That allowed me to return to a life around church activities, but by then, the cat was out of the bag in terms of my emotional life. Drumming was my main attraction, but unfortunately, that often had accompanying it a tendency toward retail-induced therapy, the short-lived thing that that is. I also realized that since this summer was the first to not be a supervised time during the days, I was left to my own devices at home for most of the days, not really sure what to do if I wasn't at work, hanging out at the music store, or actually playing drums. I found it to be a new thing, this feeling of isolation from folks.

I had been biking around since a kid and this was the first year I was able to take driving lessons. That had a teasing effect because I had no car nor any plans to get one. All summer long as I was buying various stuff for my drum kit, I remember riding the rather risky road across Clairemont Mesa Blvd., crossing the freeway cloverleaf, all while carrying whatever I could while pedaling the bike—cymbal stands, cymbal set, who knows. I finally took my driving test and passed it on the third of July, after a rather dumb turn-on-red instance disqualified me from a first go around a week earlier. Then, just under one month later, I had the indignity of having an accident in my grandmother's sedan while on the way home from a church picnic. The other party, Jennifer, was another of my youth group—the daughter of our associate pastor and youth leader Judy! She and another member of our group were leaving from a picnic at Mission Bay, and driving to her house up on Mt. Soledad. I was in the lead and missed the left turn I meant to take. Thinking she was farther back than she was, I yanked a late left turn and she came around that same side and hit my car in the front fender area. It was odd explaining how the car behind me hit the front left of my car. Like me, Jennifer had just gotten her license just a couple weeks before. It made for an interesting tension that year, as my driving privilege was revoked as soon as I had earned it, and it was awkward between my family and Judy until all that got resolved.

To add to a complicated time, I discovered just a couple weeks after that that I had a cyst on my chest. It decided to make itself known while at a church lock-in event when we hosted a congregation from Arizona. It was supposed to be a good time but I just remember it being a downer as I had to wonder what that lump was, and avoid hitting it (a bit hard to do when you'd rather be all active and playful and stuff). It was something I had to live with. No doctor said it was cause for alarm until two years later when I finally had surgery to get it excised.

kelli in 1992 or soKelli, circa 1992But on to happier things. It was also this summer that perhaps the biggest thing happened, though it did not seem so at the time. It didn't even seem so ten years later. In the midst of all this church activity in our rather small church family, we had a couple new faces turn up one August day. Two people—a mother and daughter duo—by the name of Kay and Kelli turned up and before long announced they had been regulars there years ago. I didn't recognize them, but they seemed like nice people. They were likely to be found wearing flowing garb, colorful stuff. Denim or overalls, tee shirts with left-leaning political statements or tie dye, quilt skirts with interesting patchwork design. It was as if they emerged out of Northern California. Not quite. They said they came in from Florida after a seven year stay there. They were different enough from anyone at church. Kelli, only 14 at the time, was into classic rock and protest and folk music. I dared speak the name Jethro Tull and she didn't run the other direction or smile and ignore me. Kay promptly got into singing in church, accompanied by her autoharp or guitar, and she sounded like an angel. Kelli had an immediate rapport with certain of our youth group because she indeed knew a number of them from the days—seven years and more before—when she used to be there at the church all the same as them—and me, sort of.

The story goes that she used to bug me back in Sunday School. I guess I was about eight and she was five or so. That is, I did not attend too regularly, but apparently we were there as kids, and Kay was, at times, my Sunday School teacher. Even though I didn't really recognize these two, they joined into the current church life and I found myself befriending them. Little did I know that 14 years later, I'd marry Kelli after all that time, both in and out of church life, mostly spent as emotionally close friends, but usually at some physical distance. (But in that blue summer of 1990, nothing led me to think I would marry a nice church girl, and particularly not the one who later really went the "church girl" distance, right now as I write, awaiting her chance at ordination! No, in 1990, my heart was set on Shelby. Ah, youth.) As the years progressed, I moved house for Kelli many times, but the first of such instances was done that first year as they got established here in town. It was one way that we established a type of relationship that was rather unlike the more established families at church, folks who I didn't get to know in this way.

ed senior photos, posing like a cool artist with his chrome snare drumOne of the portraits from my senior year photo session

Alas, that summer had to come to an end. It was made a bit more bitter by the loss of the job at Command Post, a move which was really just a release of my services by Mark Bahlmann. Just as well, it came at a time when I needed to go back to school. Also happening just before school was the last attempt to get my senior photos done. I had a chance to do that in the early summer but bypassed it due to my downer mood, and never really wanting much of my school life but to do it and get through it. Finally, I did go for the photo session in the studio. I took my new Premier snare drum, decked out in its diamond chrome finish. That figured into at least one pose. Another was another casual pose still involving a drumming theme, and then there was the official yearbook pose. The photographer was really a hoot to pose for. She was drawing something out of me that had been dormant for months. I had fun. I was not into it going in, but by the end, I was ready to face that last year of school, refreshed somehow. It was my turn at being a senior. Eventually, I got the portraits back, and because I had waited till the last minute, other mysterious figures in the shadows got to pick my yearbook picture. Unfortunately, they selected the dorkiest one of the bunch. There were some that were without glasses, better hair, a nicely relaxed but mature look—but no!—they picked the one with bad droopy hair, glasses, and a half cracked grin. Ick. That is how I shall be remembered for all eternity!

One thing that was different was that after that summer of work, I had some money to buy my own clothing, instead of enduring the agonizing annual ritual of back-to-school shopping for school clothes. This was the first year I had this option, and while I didn't go out and buy all sorts of rebellious garb, I did at least have the dignity of getting stuff I liked well enough. It is hard to convey what horrible times I had (as I fought and usually lost the battle with my old man) every August until then, particularly in high school. I started my senior year feeling more relaxed.

daniel and kelli do prom, 1994 or so.Kelli with Daniel, our fallen friend, all of us members of the Shalom Community at our churchI seem to remember the emphasis shifting a bit away from the church life I led quite keenly for about a year, and more toward my life at school. I didn't leave church life but since senior year is a time filled with many distractions, I think I lost the focus on church life. I remember participating still in the youth group, specifically a subset of that group called the Shalom Community, where the high school age kids had a great open but confidential forum to address issues candidly and with some adult perspective. By the time I started school in 1990, the Shalom crowd was welcoming a second wave of members, but since our church was small, some of those were siblings of kids who started the Shalom group a year before, and so the dynamic was thrown off. I remember the second year was not as engaging as the first, in part for that reason. It is through this group that Kelli and I both saw the early glimpses of our inner lives, giving us the start to our (now nearly 20 year) relationship. At that time of course, nothing seemed exceptional or suggestive of a history such as we've now racked up. But that is essentially our humble beginning as friends, and the basis for what we have now.

Back in the school life, it is important to at least mention the early days of my friendship with Stephan Rau from Germany. He appeared in my government and economics class with Harry Steinmetz, a teacher I had once before for public speaking, and once a decade and more later for another public speaking class at Mesa College. Stephan was the token foreign exchange student that year. I suppose he and I sat pretty close to one another then, probably got situated in small groups for certain things, etc. I remember we used to get lunch together, among some other people that I can't remember now. Sometime early on we discovered a wacky news broadcast on KGB-FM that we both liked. That was one of the things that got us laughing together, and kept us in some humor for a time to come. But that first semester was not really the time when we really thought of each other as good friends—that will come later in the second semester, so stay tuned till early next year or so.

With the status of senior classman, I did get a small ego kick. Whether I sought it or not, I did notice that it came with a change in social acceptance. I actually enjoyed my senior year, and I wasn't one of those who badmouthed the whole experience from the start. I did get a bit of senioritis in the second semester (therefore not part of this chapter) but for the most part I didn't mind the experience because in general, I came to like school more as it went, rather than less. By the fall semester my depression had subsided in the face of back-to-normal activity in a school setting with people who generally afforded me more respect than I had come to expect to that point.

As for the rest of the school experience, it sort of has clouded over. The senior year experience did finally jostle me to open up from a pretty closed shell in years prior. I remember joining a club—the Future Educators club—and attending some meetings. I don't remember what all went on there but I still do fancy myself interested in education, but am woefully behind in getting any sort of credentials. I was on the school newspaper, the Talon, that year. I really was ho-hum on that for a while, and quite mediocre at it but it was a distinctly different class experience. Mostly I talked Rush and drums with a sycophantic underclassman named Derek Vigeant, who later got madly into Rush and then also seems to have since made some name for himself in the world of comic books. I remember letting him come over to play on my drums on occasion. In my British Lit class, I remember having this ability to totally sweet talk my way through things. I did do the work; but I was the darling of the teacher and the TA because I actually liked the subject, and used to bring in Fairport Convention music and compare that to the stuff I was learning in class. In Steinmetz's  government class I had a friendly rivalry with a certain Robert Asimovic, the likable guy who seemed to ace everything he did—academics, sports, drama, etc. To even hold my own against him was good for the ego. (I still run into him once in a while in town; he has managed restaurants around here, and last I saw of him he was managing one where I made deliveries. We've even met while getting haircuts.) I took a computer class that year—programming, I guess—I hated it more than I thought possible. I think that within the year I also engaged in my first computer chat from one machine to another while doing newspaper work. I totally didn't see the point but thought it was fun BSing with a buddy across the room. How things have changed. I guess a bit of that early newspaper experience helped form the basis for my web work. Interesting thought.

One night early in the first week of the school semester I didn't get to sleep before having a sustained vision of myself as a lecturer at a school assembly, possibly speaking to a bunch of kids from about fifth grade on up. I saw myself speaking about relationships, family, friends, peer pressure, and so on. It was some heartfelt inspirational stuff. (I'm sure it would be embarrassing now but it clearly demanded my attention that night.) I suppose having envisioned myself in that sort of role, I've acted out some of that in smaller venues and in various relationships since. There is still a lingering desire to be thought of as a teacher, but not one who "just" teaches a subject in school. So I suppose it was that sleepless night that drove me to go to see if I could connect with Charlotte Eastland, one of the elementary school teachers I liked and who was an advocate for me back when I was in third grade. I went over to the school after hours one day and found her (this was so far before the 9/11 paranoia about people walking on to school campuses). We struck up a conversation that lasted a couple hours. After talking for a while about all that had happened since third grade, she took me to a faculty room and dug out a yearbook from 1972-3. Part of what I had to report that day was that I had in those years finally "met my mom" a few years before in 1986. I'm not sure that I could have known this—only that she seemed to have some great understanding of me when she was my teacher—but she had once been teacher to siblings of mine, back in the early 70s. (I can't remember if it was sister Chris or twin brothers John and James but the twins seem to be the right age.) Yep, they were ten and eight years older than me, respectively, and plain as day there they were in that yearbook. They seemed like vastly different people in those pictures—ones I had never seen because of the politics in my family. Anyhow, Mrs. Eastland was finally able to come clean on this morsel of information that was probably squelched when I was a kid. It didn't magically transform things for me. By that point, I was already done with what became known as the "first period" of my relationship with my mom's family (the one started in summer 1986 and sputtering out by late 1988 after some difficulty and silence), and there was not yet any return on the horizon. Eventually of course, history played out so there have been four such periods. Mrs. Eastland's revelation did do something to set my mind thinking about larger life events, and for that, I am grateful. On a few occasions during my senior year, I dropped in and talked a bit, but also was given the chance to come in and volunteer in her class. I'd have to say she left me with more of an education than you might expect of a third grade teacher. I sort of hope I get to tell her sometime.

Now I am pushing the boundaries of my memory, trying to recall what made this year worth reporting on. This is the last of the calendar years before I began journaling and keeping a calendar. In 1991, on the occasion of graduating from high school, I began my journaling period that covered a pretty solid ten years. But in 1990, I guess I was only beginning to have the sorts of experiences that I deemed noteworthy. In 1990, who would have known where the blue mood was leading to, or that it presaged many depressive episodes to come? In 1990, who knew that some animated tie-dye wearing folksy chick from Florida would become my wife? In 1990, who knew that my first experiences working on Sunday would lead me to working with a non profit organization that places the Sabbath at the center of an alternative vision of the world and economics? And in 1990, who would have known that I might be the facilitator of a young adults group at church, where in some ways I do function as teacher, but more so from experience gleaned from the Shalom Community, try to take whatever insight about life and relationship and inner life, and put it to some use so that it isn't something that just keeps me wallowing in depression?

A few years ago Kelli gave me a book by Parker Palmer, Let Your Life Speak. It is a great book about allowing yourself to open to what your true vocation is, what you're meant to do in life. He points out that the clues are littered throughout life, and only after what seems like a scattered life does one have the chance to find out what all that builds to. Jobs, hobbies, other things like volunteer efforts and the roles we play in our lives all have some clues. Some things are very clearly not meant to stick but contain some aspect that has enduring significance, and when seen in the midst of other roles and interests, things come into some focus, suggesting further direction. My favorite chapter dealt with depression, and that it is a time like that when your real soul work has its chance to be done, that it is not an enemy trying to crush you but a friend pushing you back down to ground where it is safe to stand. Nineteen Ninety is a year when a lot of seeds were sown in my life, and, like in the case of the visits with Charlotte Eastland, other earlier seeds were watered. Even depression has its role to play; this was just the first of the times it took to my stage. We're entering the period of my examined life, the life outside Eden. This was a year when I tasted the fruit of the tree of knowledge. Some of it was sweet, some bitter, but all of it ushered in a new life that is unfolding still. What, twenty years later, does it say to me?

Sunday
Aug022009

Worship

Fixed gear first timer
As salaam alayka, friend
I'm headed to church!

The short form of my entry is in the haiku and its 17 syllables above. The longer form is as follows.

What a week it has been. I feel like new. I feel victorious. I put the dreaded wisdom tooth thing behind me after 13 years, and so far it hasn't really been an issue. I got a new bike which was meant to be a challenge to myself, improving upon the other new bike that itself was quite a challenge in its time. I love my new church and the life it is bringing to me, and also the life I am feeling I have to bring to it.

my new fixed gear torelli bike, a little laden with a rack and full size drop barsThe new bikeToday, less than a week after getting the fixed gear bike and still having a bit of anxiety about getting two flats in the first week, I decided to take it to church. Yeah, its gearing is rather harder to drive than the Specialized (70 versus 62 gear inches, respectively), but it just feels magnificent in its long circles. Graceful. Responsive. I've messed around on the local hills here both as sprint exercises and at whatever slow pace it takes, so I was emboldened a bit. But on this morning, I headed off to church at 8:30. It was cool outside. I wanted to get there before the sun broke through the marine moisture, and with time enough to mellow out before the book study group I participate in. I started at the bottom of the hill not knowing if I would end up walking half way from getting my heart pounding like a drum and knees bearing my 220 lbs.

As I started from the bottom I heard what sounded like a madman screaming nonsense from the hillside. Coming closer, away from traffic noise, I realized that it was actually a Muslim man at prayer, and he was giving it his all (and I felt a little embarrassed to have so misjudged his utterances). I barely saw him but his chants filled the air as I too got into a moment of Zen like concentration, focusing on my breath and the long cycle strokes that propelled me 70 inches each time around, up a hill that I had only done once before. However it worked out, I took just one breather break to listen to the man at prayer, then looked back and saw some mountain biker on the way up. So I started off again, slow at first, getting into the straps and clips a bit clumsily, but after a moment, I got a nice new bit of air and some scenery, and was able to actually gun it for a short way, even uphill. I passed a fellow on a ten speed and the mountain biker never caught up. Eventually the ten speed guy got past me, but we pedaled a few blocks at about the same pace. For a newbie on a fixed gear/road bike, I was feeling oddly empowered today, all the more when the dental surgery is taken into account. I really thought my weekend was going to be four days of vicodin and ice packs. What a pleasant surprise I had in my "disappointment."

I think I've written before that biking has added value to most of my trips now, particularly to church and things that branch off that. I just get to these things feeling alive now; empowered; vitalized. While it takes motion to accomplish, it is not just "going through the motions." People say they skip church because they don't get anything out of worship. Well, it isn't God worshiping us. It's for us to worship God. I guess if you don't feel that you have reason to do so, then there is little appeal. But right now, I feel empowered. I feel alive again. I feel like there is something to give back to God and my fellows. Like there is some energy to spare. I feel like the great narrative has had me spend various times in the desert (sorting out how to relate to church and finding myself in a new paradigm in 2006-2008), or in the tomb (the eviction), and now there is the part of me that needs to get back in the saddle (actually and figuratively) and give back. The dental thing was death to me, and taking that on like I have in the last two years has made way for resurrection as I understand it. Driving a car is death to me too, and the return to biking reminds me of a time when I actually enjoyed life more, sans automotive "help." Other aspects of my life, many well blogged about here, are also being met in similar fashion. I feel that somehow, grace has descended on me when I was certain I was not worthy of it. I feel that my present church is a gift, which is not how I felt about my old church. Christianity and its theme of renewal and transformation is not just stuff in a stodgy old book to me.

I've been oddly compelled to take the reins of a young adults group that was started last year but had flickering success. Trying a new approach, I think that it has been appealing to more people. I hope so. I have memories of disconnection so bad as to want to cut myself out of the fabric of life. So now I understand it is my role to play the counteractive role maybe to do someone else some good. So far it has been around a table for food or drinks, modeled on Jesus' table fellowship and its power to unite. However it works, I've somehow been animated to actually meet new people and make the invitation to join in on things. This is far from my old church experience where I was the dutiful technical assistant who had little community life because I did so much stuff. But that is not why I wanted to go to church (to recreate my work life in a new setting). Right now, things seem so much more on track as they are, where instead of doing technical and media tasks, I invite people to talk and to stay connected to each other and a better narrative than the working and consuming world offers. Instead of not being able to be taken seriously on topics dear to me (on account of being perceived as one of the kids still), I am invited to be on the Christian Education commission because I am understood to have these concerns. For myriad reasons, this is better.

I think it amazing that the Muslim man had conviction enough to go out and chant from a hillside in the misty morning air. That isn't quite my style. But, taking a cue from what I think I heard of Frederick Douglass to say: I used to pray to God [to be delivered from slavery], but none of the prayers worked until I prayed with my feet. I find my prayers sort of mesh with the biking experiences that challenge me (my knees bitch some but my heart is doing cartwheels). Somewhere I get the chutzpah to think I can do something I never did before, somewhere the means are found, and then somehow I have the sense to see what was done and be glad for it. And more so, to think that I could do it again next week—and better.

Thursday
Dec182008

It's The (Real) Economy, Stupid

It is cold, even inside where the heater is here but does not work. The lights are on for the holidays but the cheer has to wait still. It is me and the dog, both waiting in anticipation not for Santa—it is almost a week too early for that and he isn't really what defines Christmas around here anyway. No, we are awaiting the centerpiece of our home, Kelli, who is making her final drive down from her school now upon completing her final work in seminary. Buber may not believe in Santa, but when Kelli enters, he will be as joyous and bouncy as any kid who might watch the jolly man arrive in the middle of the night in this cold season. The poor pup doesn't know what to make of her coming and going each week, but every time she comes home he is beside himself with doggy glee. As for myself, it's like getting the living part of me back.

Three and a half years ago was a lifetime ago. A nightmare of a summer preceded her beginning of school, but I was glad that she was doing it, even if it was to mean a lot of solitary time for me. It is interesting; the summer of 2005 was a time when the world outside was doing rather well—housing prices were still high (though I contend value was low), and our life was in crisis. And now, all this time later, the world outside is in shambles and we're holding our own, even better than we thought possible. As soon as she is done with school, she gets a whopping couple of days to come down and then has before her a nine month internship at a hospital, as chaplain resident. With that comes a worthwhile stipend that puts us in a rather satisfactory position while I still sling taters and onions daily. It defies logic that we're doing this well, but for this, I thank whatever power runs the universe at our local level.

But I like to think of it this way. Kelli's work will feed the souls of people, giving the medical profession some balance as it is quite clear to that profession now that a doctor alone can't simply fix people if their whole being isn't tended to. So Kelli will learn to fill that part of the healing profession. I presently actually am a link in the chain that feeds people actual caloric sustenance and gives people a reason to gather around a table. So maybe it isn't so far fetched that we are in the place we are in today. I won't go so far to say that our particular positions are recession proof, but both are more essential to human life, and reside closer to the base of the economy than do say, a bunch of Wall St. financial wizard-grifters who are now seen to be frauds who deal in greed, hype, and fear.

We didn't just wander into these positions. Kelli's path is longer and perhaps more substantial but she realized before she went to seminary that she had been doing ministry in the secular world as an advocate for youth and seniors, educator in schools and churches, poet and speaker. What she needed was to turn those efforts into something that could bring those circles of her interests into focus, and to get a degree to legitimate what has long seemed a calling for her. My interests in social dynamics, history, psychology, deep economics and political science helped lead me to a family owned business that deals in the thing that unites all humanity at a deep level—we all gotta eat. Yeah, I am a driver, but each work situation can teach something and this one has many small lessons as I drive. The actual work has a certain few things to teach, but moving through town where I see some of the richest people and the poorest people in town is instructive in its own profound way. There is something profound about contemplating the differences—and similarities—between the rich people of Rancho Santa Fe and La Jolla, and the desperate people on street corners and doorways in Downtown.

In many ways Kelli and I have pursued our own types of education in these few years, with much more to do. What I cherish about all that is that we trade notes on our experiences and deepen our understanding of our own realities with what the other has to say. Reflecting on the economic crashes of late, it is sad that it will cause anguish for so many. But really, a deeper look at the world's economy shows how despicable and destructive it is. What needs to happen is for a more human sized economy to emerge, and one that is more holistic in its practices. But people fear the change, and the coming of the new. But at what real price, the success of capitalism as we know it? When all is said and done, people still need to eat, and people will need the patient pastor or chaplain to hear their hearts as a lot of pain gets expressed—the disappointments and grieving for loss of all sorts of things big and small. Having known some loss individually and together, I'd like to think either of us might have been prepared to speak meaningfully to another person, even if it was against our wills to ever have the words to do the job!

But in this season of Advent, I am just joyous for Kelli and me not just surviving her schooling, but really thriving in it. Her own schooling at seminary swept me up in all sorts of new understandings. I have said many times I am glad she wasn't just a business student, else how would one really have the chance to develop and look at the world a whole new way such as has been put before me? Some professions are rather stiff and boring, but I think we've both benefited from her seminary experience and its enlivening effect. For now though, I will be happy to just enjoy her being back safely in a few hours, and Buber the Dog will be happy to get petted all of her waking hours, at least until she is off to the hospital in another big adventure.

Monday
Sep172007

Funemployment

I hate to admit it but I have been gaining experience in this sort of thing. As far as I'm concerned, I should still be at Concepts, or even at Scantech. I just chafe at the business of giving that 110% when the new 110% is really 200%. If places want 200%, can't that just be made clear up front? It is awkward as hell explaining how I am not at these places anymore. (At Scantech, I have documented 30 instances of hirings and firings in the six months and a week that I was there. Add to that the fact that TWO floor managers demoted themselves to save their sanity and return to positions they could do more thoroughly. As far as Scantech goes, I think those numbers take a bit of the weight off my shoulders—if I ever have a chance to explain why I was dumped.) At both jobs I showed up and tried, and worked overtime when I could and tried to learn new stuff. Sure, each was "just a job" but my economic reality then made it so I had to go with it, so I did all I could and while I knew and sometimes got really depressed about how poor a fit they were for me, I prepared myself to do them with aplomb. Still, I accept that maybe there is some greater purpose in not "succeeding" at places I didn't really like anyway, so I have had that to think about. There are in fact many things I'd rather be doing than moving equipment and blueprints. Neither of those had the intrinsic rewards I sought, and seek increasingly now that I've had the chance to, um, keep looking for my new career.

This time I recreated my resume from scratch for the first time in years. I had been using an endlessly modified version that Kelli had once helped me set up a few years back. That one used the typical chronological presentation, but seeing how I've had so many different job roles—audio tech, recording engineer, driver, social service worker, sandwich artist, and more—it got unruly, and I had various resumes made to reflect all the different facets of my work history, but found that I would still have to craft one from parts of each to address certain submissions. So, finally I found out about the functional format and decided that that would be better in presenting my varied history, my accumulated skills, and to generally make me feel that I was more than a list of jobs which looked pretty scattered. Crafting the functional version gave me a chance to streamline things but also to finally envision how many types of things I have done, and to see the last 15 years in a new light. I guess there is a nuanced semantic distinction between "scattered" and "eclectic."

There have been a few ads that looked pretty good, and many that would just keep me where I was with Scantech or Concepts. I really wish I could just keep doing my old job at the senior center. That job was just so cool. I drove around a few hours a day, brought food to people, talked to them like friends, and got to listen to NPR all the way along my route. My day was short, my pay was adequate, they gave me some benefits, and the people at the center liked me. But that job and others like it are always in jeopardy of funding cuts. The commercial sector can pay better if it chooses to, and can be full time or overtime, and all that, but I don't really love it. So I hope something of socially redeeming value shows up, and perhaps leaves me feeling that even if it is for 20% less than a commercial job, it still has a meaningful reason for existing, and for me to participate in it. I do know however, that some jobs meet my criteria for meaning, and actually pay OK too. I do hunt for those too, though some of them are more high end and require degrees that I don't have. Still, I have a few practical skills and an ability to think outside the box, and so there has to be something.

In the mean time, I've had a chance to get some gardening done in preparation for the winter. I picked up my guitar, and Kelli's, and my other guitar, and my bass, and, well, I decided I had to play again after months and months of nothing musical, and years even of just playing to enjoy the sound, or to write some lyrics. I've had a chance to read some great things, and to relax a bit after seven months of steady work, more work on weekends, and moving house, and all that. I've had a chance to connect with friends again after a long while of separation. I saw Matt Zuniga for the first time in four and a half years. Kelli and I go walk the dog a mile and a half or two each night, and maybe a few pounds have been shed. With a life like that, who wants to work for the Man?

Friday
Aug102007

'Maters Matter!

a tabletop of tomatoes that were happy to jump off the plant and into my bowl today, just one day from being canned at work and feeling downHow nice it is to be greeted with this wonderful catch of the day...

Particularly on the day after I got fired from my job, ironically for doing my assigned work too well.

No shit. All these wonderful little tomatoes just about jumped off the plant and into my bowl at the new garden. It was existentially validating. Maybe I get shit at work for being not too this or too much that, but the tomatoes just are there, doing what they do, and they appreciate what little I have to offer them, then they are ready to eat, almost inexplicably. I actually had to thank them for helping me to get over the previous day's heartbreak. I'm not sure they help me pay my godawfully expensive rent, but they did make me feel like less of a discarded machine part than the day before. They were one of life's little miracles when I needed one.

This bunch of fruits are off the two plants we have—a Roma and a Big Boy variety. Each started slowly since we planted in April, but the plants got real hardy through the summer, sprawling out and reaching the fence and a few cages put up to meet their growing needs—all the while not showing any red fruit. Then leaves started dying off, making me think maybe I had messed this up too, but the fruits started showing up in force. Now we get this much every couple days. The jalapenos are turning up nicely too. I don't know why we got three plants of the stuff. Just one would keep us pretty set for a while.

Salsa anyone?