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Sunday
Jun092013

What's on my Plate, You Ask?

I have to admit that sitting down to write in the blog entry window here is a rather foreign thing to me these days. The last few months have been some of the lightest months since I started blogging in 2002. I've certainly sat down to try a few things but usually have closed out before long, knowing the time suck that was sure to follow. Sorry to leave you all on the edge of your seats.

I've had some rough times until recently. Most of this year has been in the midst of depression and then grief at the loss of Buber the Dog. Times have been challenging during the entire period since I lost my unemployment benefits in August 2012, but every month made it harder with the pittance of an income I got from doing some deliveries from a local handcrafted jam company and a small bit of other audio/recording work. Rent time got to be rather hellish as me and the wifey navigated the waters of how much I could contribute and how much I'd use of my savings to pay for such an expense, and how long that would last and what might happen if I bled that dry. That, on top of a lot of feeling of disconnection from my San Diego life, was utter hell sometimes. Being in Escondido feels hot and suffocating in real terms but feeling that the life I knew was in another town kept me frustrated. The job search is never really worthy of much enthusiasm anyway, as one job application/callback/interview or another turned up nothing. My level of physical activity dropped significantly, feeling too numb to move sometimes (because of the pointlessness I felt), or the real heat of the day. Some weight gain, and a clearly less fit physical frame has been a clear sign of something not right.

Buber's death in March hurt too. The house fell silent and still. Kelli found herself racked with grief and guilt about being so busy in the time preceding his death. Little daily domestic patterns went away for good because of Buber. Larger ones, like walking him at night, were also our family time, and ever since then we've not been too regular in walking the neighborhood. It's not good for our health to ignore the walks, and the days that were already long and shapeless for that period became worse when Kelli and I were having tough times relating, with the walks being brushed aside altogether most nights. It's one of those things that gets us away from all the rest of life's distractions and lets us have our relationship time and perhaps some new input as we stroll. We're working on it.

During the months from October-May I had some opportunities while delivering jam to attempt to pay visits to family members in the greater LA area. That met with the usual rejections, even as I tried to keep on topic and not try to inflame anyone. Maybe even say some more compassionate things than I think they expect of me. In trying to wish my mom happy birthday, I ended up having a chance to meet up (a week or so later) with my nephew while returning from an LA route. It was the first time since 2001 that someone from that clan actually agreed to meet with me. I'm quite glad it happened and hope for some good things to happen as I slowly discover some of the cracks in the wall of a family system that has usually been an "all in or all out" thing for me. With some persistence, social media options, and some grace, I've found even a few friendly contacts that have not shut me out and that understand my struggle enough to be more open.

I worked at delivering jam for three days a month since the very end of September. There were three routes and I was paid a flat rate per day. Taken in consideration of how I had to pick up the van in San Diego a day before the route left my house in Escondido at 4:15 am, it was really not a great paying gig. To do a day's work took two days over about 14 hours and it ended up being something like minimum wage. But it was cash only, took only a couple days a month, and they gave me a per diem allowance to get lunch. And some super tasty jam, too! The three routes each got their own Monday until the holiday season when it made sense to stock up in time for the holiday food-buying spree preceding Thanksgiving and then Christmas. We combined two routes into one two-day run. For two months I found a private house to stay at and then the rest were at hotels in the LA area so I could do a lot of stops and then go "home" for the night and start early the next day with just a couple remaining stops and maybe some last minute trips to stores closer to San Diego. All that enlarged time and awareness of the region gave me the chance to try to be in contact with family. There were more misses than hits but the meeting with my nephew did in fact make the whole time worthwhile. I suppose what I did not earn in money, there was a bonus in the freedom to route myself and try to touch the family with some detours through their neighborhoods old and new.

Musically, I've been going to the pub here in Escondido fairly consistently since July and have been playing cajon since October when Kelli bought me a cheap cajon to help me have a more appropriate instrument to bring to the traditional Irish sessions. I've fashioned a bit of a style using brushes and rod sticks. It works well for the Irish/Celtic/Bluegrass and Country that turns up there. In the absence of any other social connections up in Escondido, that session and some things in its orbit have been key to feeling like life has any pleasure at times. Sometimes I pick up a guitar there and hack my way through some of the tunes. I've been intrigued by mandolin and picked that up a time or two. One day, I hope I can get in on bass.

The San Diego Songwriters meetup group is something I've taken part in with about 2/3 consistency since February 2012 before we moved. I have been getting to some meetings, collaborated on a few songs (either as writer or as musical support/recording). The group participates in a local songwriting challenge and showcase called The Game. I have not yet finished my own songs for that but just a week ago I played five songs on cajon for other writers who wanted some extra power behind their tunes at the showcase event. Only two of them sent me material in advance, so I winged it (wung it?) on the others.

Musically, back home, I have my drums set up and sounding pretty good. I have a neighborhood that can't really complain about the noise because most of them are louder than me! So I have spent some time trying to reconnect with that instrument that used to mean the world to me but has for almost a decade been a foreigner to me. I also spend time with bass, trying to pick out parts to pop songs and exposing myself to unfamiliar tunes, hoping to test my ears. A year and a half ago I got a bass that I converted to fretless, so it's a challenge to put that on and try playing on it, especially "cold." Guitar time is mostly acoustic and used to either noodle or perhaps get some basis for songs down. The electric could be cranked up some too. I've done small bits of recording in order to work out some of the SD Songwriters songs, but recording is not my focus now. I did try making a new recording of the drums to my song Tired from 1999. I find I need to shed on drums to recover my sense of time and feel that I think I once had. Maybe I didn't. Frankly, I find the fretless bass or even the mandolin a more invigorating challenge!

But really, this era has been the most musically active since 2005 or maybe even 2003. And the most positive and collaborative since I am allowing myself to realize I don't really know much after all. I do and I don't. I have a broad understanding but not a very great ability. So it can be in service of some things, and not others.

And then, the big news, towering rather high over everything else because of course it means I'm in a new age of life here: I got a job finally. You read right. After about two years and a third, it came. The whack part of it is that it took a year to finally fall into place. See, I submitted a resume to a certain brewery up in Escondido last year in May once we decided to move. I got a call back and talked to the HR recruiter for a good 20 minutes. I suppose I didn't have a clear resume and it was hard to form the words in answer to a question that was fairly direct: "is truck driving what you really want to do?" I recalled thinking and saying that I'd like to drive to get in and maybe get into a subsequent position elsewhere in the company, maybe in the media area. I suppose that showed a bit of non-commitment so I got passed over. But I sent the resume in another couple times, most recently in April, with a reminder we'd talked before. This time I got the callback and talked again at some length. There was another position open. Still a driver, but not for the beer distribution. Instead, there was a new position at the commissary, supplying the original restaurant and two new ones about to open. I had no idea that the commissary existed but it sounded more suitable to me than lugging beer kegs.

I got an interview in the week of the call. I did some LinkedIn research on who I'd be meeting with. The HR person and the kitchen manager were both at companies I used to deliver to at Specialty Produce. I felt a bit more comfortable. When I met the kitchen manager, Larry, he recognized me and asked me if I rode in. That was interesting because I had not seen him in about two and a half years and I while recall talking to him, I don't recall details. But he remembered I was an agreeable chap when delivering to his catering kitchen, and that I rode a bike for commuting. This was going well. I got a chance to meet with him in private and we found ourselves laughing off the last jobs we had, and he thought well of me, with compliments and a vision that I could be more responsible than the younger guys he sees coming through. He then led me to the HR office and from outside the door I could hear some smiling voices. On the way out, HR asked who I'd like to have contacted as references. One was back at Specialty, and coincidentally, a part time figure at the last place Larry worked. And folks who own the jam company. May 10 was a good antidote for the depression.

It took nearly two weeks before I heard back but they called back and said they would expand the wage on offer to meet me halfway or better between their original estimate and my old wage. I was told it would take a couple weeks to start after their offer letter was approved, sent to me, returned, and then a physical completed. Just two days after the physical, I was in. As of this writing, I've just completed the first week. This is the first time I feel maybe my resume worked for me, as did social media and some connections and prior contacts in the industry.

After all that time of not having a job, the lack of structure and the lack of money kept me in a small world, sedentary, and pretty down. The matter of losing my pup companion, struggling to eke out any identity in relation to family, and having limited resources to keep connected to life in San Diego (30 miles away for most purposes), has all stacked up against me and sort of driven me a little neurotic. Having a job again gives a good chunk of structure to the day and weeks. There are some notable similarities to the last job at Specialty. I'm still in the restaurant industry, and even more so since I am working in a kitchen. There are some food benefits in addition to the coveted FT health benefits. The commute is very short and bikeable. The mission of the company is very compatible with personal values I hold, especially after being shaped by forces such as Jubilee Economics. My workdays start and stop at predictable enough times; I'm not "on the job" around the clock with mental energy going to endlessly creative pursuits (such as when doing all sorts of IT work as a volunteer, not knowing when to finish a project, if that is even possible). There is a pendulum swing for me, wavering between the poles of punch-the-clock labor jobs that can become soul sucking if it's not in some alignment with who I see myself as, and then the explosive periods of freelancing work, marked by creative and exploratory energy during periods of unemployment from the clock jobs. Right now, the security of a clock job is appealing. Within the new company, there is some latitude to be creative and integral, either within the job I have now, or elsewhere in the company.

The economics of time shifts when for once, hours away from work become more valuable. With all the hours available during unemployment, it's hard to get anything done. There's little incentive to hurry or be efficient. Even a year after moving to Escondido, we have not really nested in the house with pictures on the walls. Part of that is the heat encountered last summer when we moved in. And then for months we've worried we made a decision worthy of regret even though the landlord has been hands down the best we've had and has honored many requests. But now that Kelli's office is literally on the other side of the hill from here, just a mile away, and my job is just a couple miles out, there's no practical reason to entertain moving again. It just took a year before we could feel better about that.

Surely I'm feeling rosier than I have for a while but as I watch the news about economics, environment, and all the other things that seem to be hitting the red, I try not to delude myself that this is the start of my ride off into the sunset of consumer bliss and a happy home. It seems every day there are plenty of articles and posts about the open trap door swallowing the middle class. Even making what Kelli makes is not enough when you consider how much she pays in academic debt. Adding half as much again helps but it's not really enough to hold fast against inflation and not much to save. Fortunately, aside from her car loan and student loans, we are quite in control over any garden variety consumer debt.

Sure, my new wage just added half of Kelli's wage into our household purse. There are things that I have been saying I'd fix or upgrade when the money was right. Actually, having a job after all this time brings with it a kind of fearful suspicion that what follows is a consumer streak after a lot of deferrals. I'd like to not wait till my computer is so out of date as my old G4 before I replace it. I want to convert one of my bikes to a geared bike. I got my first smartphone this year but it's a glitchy refurb model gotten at a steep discount that makes an iPhone look pretty appealing. My truck's steering alignment is a bit out after a trip to Death Valley that involved some uncharacteristic off roading. Kelli and I want to finally rid ourselves of cookware with teflon. I have long wanted to get a new acoustic guitar that is actually chosen to suit me after using a second hand axe for 19 years. At this very time in 2005, I had an order for a custom electric guitar build that was cut short with the eviction news that came eight years ago this week. I still have fancy thoughts of getting such a guitar but have shelved it during the years when my music activity went dormant. I've wanted to get a keyboard instrument again, but the most useful one would be a MIDI controller to play the virtual instruments on my computer. But I'd savor having an acoustic piano again, a full circle move if it ever happens. Thoughts of taking music lessons are always near me; I'd like most to start with vocal and guitar lessons to open up my options for songwriting and performance. Depending on how I feel from doing some physical work again, I may decide to do the unthinkable and pay for a gym membership for the first time. Sustaining my presence on the web also takes some money, and I'd like to get a Soundcloud account that has capacity enough to present all my featured recordings, with the idea of remixing older ones now that I've finally recovered all my VS-880 era recordings as WAV files which can be worked with today.

And yes, those are just the things for myself. When I was at Specialty I also was able to give about 6% of my income to church. I felt like someone for once, being about 35 and able to do that. Losing my job a couple years ago began a long period of feeling that I had not contributed a fair share. That was heightened by moving out of town and being far less able to even participate and donate time. Now I'm cresting into my 40s and I feel I should support my church, or even the in-transition MALEs movement as they create an identity outside of Richard Rohr's Center for Action and Contemplation. Those are the two leading orgs I'd like to support because I've received a lot from each already, and there are certainly others that are worthy of some assistance.

According to those last two paragraphs, I've already spent my first year's wages!

Okay, so you can see that there is a lot of things of concern that I could easily have blogged about a little at a time. But since there are so many nebulous connections, it's hard to know where to start or stop. Such is the state of my mind and heart; so many options and demands to try to honor, the easier and perhaps more right response, is to brush it aside.

I've actually been thinking of retiring TAPKAE.com. I don't even know who reads it. I keep it for an online reference to things I want to share, but I doubt people actually come here because of anything I want to share. If anything, it's Googlebombed when people do some odd searches. It's not a resume/portfolio site. It's not really anything but my journal in words, sounds, and images. I have tried to use the new Squarespace (the service I use for this site) version 6 but have not found it ideal for all the kinds of content I have here. But even to sustain this version 5 is to pay a pretty chunk of money every year. I've wondered about my choice of content being so public, but the matter is, if I don't pay, it goes away. If I do pay, I want to keep it up and growing, but still have no real sense that anyone gives a shit. Staying on SS version 5 is clunky to say the least, and 6 is slick but lacks control. Part of me wants to just take it all down and make my blogs into PDFs for myself. I have no idea how to progress. Better to just brush it aside.

And that's what's on my plate these last months.

Monday
Jul092012

The Cover Letter I've Always Wanted to Write

My old man and I when I was about seven.Me and the old man, c. 1981

The Making of a Know it All

When I was young, maybe in about 1981 or so, my old man bought a book for me called "The Volume Library." I think it was a rare time when a traveling salesman got an audience at the doorstep of my house. The book was a enormous blue volume of something like 3000 pages and the name in gold text embossed on the cover and binding. For all I knew at the tender age of seven or eight, everything there was to know was in there. It had a good range of topics that were presented encyclopedia style but divided into major groups of topics. It had some cool clear pages with layered images where those would do good, like for anatomical modeling. I never finished reading it but there were some things that attracted a fascination that persisted even after the book faded from novelty status. There were things that I kept reading over and over, or pictures that drew me back.

I haven't seen the book in years, at least since 1996 when I left that house at 22 and in a panic had to leave a lot of stuff behind back at dear ol' dad's place.

The WWW as Liberal Studies

These days, the Web is the place where I direct my curiosity, and it is usually richly rewarded. Wikipedia is the most clear heir to The Volume Library, at least in terms of my ability to go to one place and get at least an introduction to a topic, that will launch me in myriad directions. These days, the world becomes a very big place with the use of hyperlinks drawing me every which way, something that the would leave The Volume Library green with envy. In a period during about 2007-2009, I was fond of hitting the random article button on Wikipedia and getting lost for a few hours, perhaps a few nights a week. While I had my favorite kinds of topics to pursue, the rolling dice method got me out of my comfort zone, and I hit enough articles that they couldn't ALL be the worst ones on Wikipedia. I even edited a few here and there.

The studio door at Hog Heaven in 2005, just hours before it was demolished. The Magnificent Meatsticks sticker remained but I had to take down the two Richard Meltzer San Diego Reader reviews that were hung below it.The studio door at Hog Heaven in 2005, just hours before it was demolished. The Magnificent Meatsticks sticker remained but I had to take down the two Richard Meltzer San Diego Reader reviews that were hung below it.

Aside from the insane options that the web offers me solely as a reader, of course the thing that sucks me in is that it is all a two-way street where not only am I consumer but I can be a producer too. And this year marks ten years that I've put my self into the web, making it a place that isn't just "out there" but "in here" too. I was 28 when I got my first website bearing my identity exclusively (this site), and it was a year and a half before that when I was dabbling in such things as mp3.com, the first place my music appeared digitally. (And, interestingly enough, my most throwaway "musical" effort, The Magnificent Meatsticks, was given a higher profile because of mp3.com and some bold move to curry favor with old school rock critic Richard Meltzer [song NSFW] who actually wrote a favorable review because it wasn't formulaic dinosaur rock.) A quarter of my life has been spent online now.

The Web has been a lot of things to me, but I'd be remiss if I were to not say that it really has been a major classroom for my liberal education. Granted, it's not accredited, but the explosion of available information at all levels, and all aspects of life, has been invaluable in a way that I doubt four years of education could touch. Facts and figures alone are valuable, but because the web is fed not by some gatekeeping body that determines what is real knowledge, and what is not, I can get a feel for what life is like at the granular level in someone's own life. The authenticity is unmatched. As you devoted TAPKAE.com readers no doubt see, I have thrown in my lot with that, and still there is plenty I withhold even after the 3000-, 5000- and more word entries here. There is plenty I don't have time to report on, lest I miss living a life in the first place.

A banner outside my old middle school. See my gallery A banner outside my old middle school. See my gallery "Afternoon In America" for the caption.

Life from Outside the Ivory Towers

I didn't go to college except for several semesters of mostly humanities/arts/GE classes at the local community college. The semesters themselves were usually scattered from one another. In the 1991-1993 period I went continuously but part time; in the return period from 2003 onward, there were four more semesters scattered across three years. In some ways, I feel like I've failed myself. In other ways, living itself is a classroom, and the Web has filled in some of the informational gaps. I have consoled myself with knowing there are autodidacts out there like Frank Zappa who have done just fine without going through the education mill. In Frank's unsparing words,

Drop out of school before your mind rots from exposure to our mediocre educational system. Forget about the Senior Prom and go to the library and educate yourself if you've got any guts. Some of you like Pep rallies and plastic robots who tell you what to read.

People in their educated ivory towers will sneer upon sentiments like that, but the view from the outside is just as valid as the view from the inside. When I was 19, 20 in 1993, the cracks in the wall were apparent to me: news reports time and time again were telling us college students were graduating and hoping to win coveted gigs at McDonald's. At the very same time, I was wrestling with an early incarnation of one of my periodic crises of meaning in life. I mean, around that time, I was wrapping up a fourth semester at Mesa College (taking piano and basic musicianship classes, the two classes remaining after I dropped the philosophy class early on), during which I barely spent time at my job at Jack In The Box, due to the crisis of e. coli tainted meat that winter of 1993. I had barely started the job in late December 1992 during my first period of depression and suicidal ideation, only to be laid off for a month or so when the contamination scare hit the news. After returning, I was feeling hopelessly unable to bear with such a job and gracefully bowed out after one troubled week. Ironic, considering it seemed to be what more and more college graduates were left with as a viable option. Oh well. Let them have that shit. My heart led me elsewhere.

I took what I thought would be a semester or maybe one year off from Mesa College and then found that ten years later, during another crisis in life, I'd start up again. But let me not get ahead of myself. I've got thousands of more words for you.

Me at my slick drumset, 1993, outside in a concrete parking lot at an office park.Quite possibly taken on the same day as I am narrating in this post. I only recall being to this place once.

The Hero's Call to Adventure, put on Hold

In 1993 there was no World Wide Web. Not for me at least. That was the domain of the geeks and engineers with pocket protectors in the world I just checked out of. It'd be another two years before I saw the first email address in print. That summer, I was out with Matt Zuniga, doing some drumming and screaming out in a parking garage in Kearny Mesa. It was a hot June day about a month after my semester ended. I just got a job at Subway, which for some reason, I felt far more at ease with than at Jack In The Box. I don't know why that is, but it was so, even after the drama at another store one year before. I was having the first itches to do something that felt self-determined. I didn't know what. I thought of geographic moves but I couldn't determine where I'd like to go. I thought of stepping up the kinds of things we did as Rhythmic Catharsis but was aware that Matt thought all we did was silly and just a way to blow off steam. I thought of a few things. But my kryptonite stopped me.

It's a cloud I live under. Fighting back the feelings of futility and the depression that usually accompanies it is hard, and is breaking through it harder still. The latter happens at times and sustains itself for a while. And then something changes and the parted waters of futility come crashing back at me, and I get swept up in it all for a while, then get somehow dropped on another shore in life. In more recent years, I've accepted that there are spiritual growth lessons involved in all this and usually see the sense to it in hindsight, particularly if I was able to extract a kernel of lesson material in the midst of the chaos.

I spent my early online years not adding much but noise and dissonance to the Web commons. If I could, I'd erase nearly everything from 2000-2003. Of course, Google has its mitts on it and all are free to read it if one knows all the aliases I used during those years. I am willing to own it. In 2004, realizing self-criticism was perhaps more called for than criticism of others in certain real and virtual social circles where I operated, I turned more inward and backed out of most of the online boards and social forums where I had earned a name as a troll — or worse. At the same time, emerging from the nearly deadly depression of 2003, the world was shown anew to me in such a way that enlarged me again, putting my problems in a larger context that had first been shocking and disorienting, but then later paved the way for further development.

Route 66 Gas stationOne of several shots I took during the EONSNOW era of 2005, showing "independent" gas stations that appeared where name brand locations were closing down. All the names had some kind of nostalgic quality to them, evoking the good old days of automotive freedom, etc.

When I heard about peak oil in 2004, it was still a pretty esoteric, out of the way means of understanding the world's dilemmas, and one that few gravitated toward. Less than the particulars of how much oil is or isn't available, the reading I did brought me to grips with the big questions of ultimate meaning in life, but first by mercilessly promising to remove the comfortable life I anticipated I'd lead as a citizen of the empire. It all appeared on my radar in the same season as I got married at the age of 30. In fact, on the altar that special day, I had in my mind that the future could not possibly be what everyone was telling me it would be. Peak oil, which I still believe to be a valid shaper of macroeconomic reality, is something that forced me to see myself differently, relative to the world. It was a good bit of humble pie to munch upon prior to wedding day. It disabused me of certain expectations from married life and got me on a firmer ground of reality. In that way, the debate of whether peak oil is real or not is immaterial to me.

Kelli and I leaving the altarIt is accomplished!

The year or so after the wedding was given to a lot of reading on the topic, several blogs that showed the emerging consciousness I was breaking into, and then for a while, doing some film showings to share what I had learned. A site I launched, EONSNOW.org (long since deleted), was an intersection of those interests with my ability to do websites. I was able to ape other people's words and sentiments, but the inner work was not done yet. I knew the topics well enough but they were in my head, and nowhere else. Eventually, in early 2006 I dropped out of all the EONSNOW stuff and found that another group was able to take me deeper into those concerns, and with a kind of language that took some learning but that did a better of job of showing how deeply rooted our modern dilemma is. I'm talking of course of Jubilee Economics Ministries, JEM.

Jubilee Economics Ministries

For a season in mid 2006 I met with Lee Van Ham of JEM and read a book he gave me, The Biblical Jubilee and the Struggle for Life. It was uncompromising in its assessment of how modern economics are rigged against the poor in the Southern Hemisphere, and those "developing" countries outside the Western world. And it was fiercely faithful to the prophetic tradition in the Bible, a tradition that is best epitomized by the life of Jesus. It wasn't just spiritual fluff and it wasn't capitalist propaganda either. It was written by Ross and Gloria Kinsler, lifelong missionaries who saw the reality in Latin America, and who have dedicated their lives to helping the folks in those countries by giving them the theological tools that are needed to resist the neoliberal economics juggernaut that has displaced so many people and upset traditional ways, all so the industrial world can make and sell more stuff. It was really a life changing book, and one in which I saw my own struggle with a landlord father who made decisions for my life that didn't include me. That year, the macro of the world's issues and the micro of my issues were found to be related and in some ways, overlapping significantly. As I've heard it said, "when the student is ready, the teacher will appear." EONSNOW was my own attempt to make sense of this new understanding of things but it was limited in depth and as those types of topics can be rather doom-laden, sometimes it left more shade than light. Masked knowledge does that. Then, feeling like I had little else to add to the discussion, I called Lee in early 2006.

Lee Van Ham unwittingly became a spiritual father figure to me that year and since. Being a retired pastor helped justify calling him that, but I never knew him as a pastor. I did know him as a person who offered a frank and transparent account of his own struggle with the big issues, and more than others who preceded him in my peak oil related wanderings, he was looking for some way to live hopefully in the face of what is a tremendous challenge: living with the realization that this way of life we live is unsustainable and one day not far from now, will be untenable and will ultimately fail. My peak oil explorations suggested that was not far off, and certainly my lifetime will be the transition period. Lee paved the way for me to understand the Bible in a whole new way, with an eye to the economic themes that permeate it. He's been a great interpreter in that way, and he always surprises me at how he can take familiar texts that made no sense, and turn them into something that explains not just the text, but how the world works. Pretty remarkable.

So of course I wanted to be near that. A few years later, upon encountering Fr. Richard Rohr's teachings about fathers and male spirituality, I had the language for how I saw Lee: he was the spiritual father that emerged when my old man's role in my life came to an end, and when he could not lead me where I needed to go, Lee happened onto the scene as if it were a shift change at Jack In The Box. For the years from about 2007-2009, I met with him periodically, emailed, and if there was a JEM event or course, I went. But it was a bit less than in 2006. In late 2009, once I moved to North Park, one mile from his office, I offered to volunteer at the office for four hours a month doing rather mundane stuff so that Lee might have more time to be the visionary at JEM, with a bit less of the boring office work. At least I'd be able to talk in person some and keep the JEM consciousness alive in my life. As we spent some hours together that December, we got to talking media options, and he again asked me if I had ideas for the JEM website.

Pod-What???

It's always hard being diplomatic in those circumstances. I had sort of avoided talking about it thus far because I knew that it was done by Kyle, a volunteer, in earnest, but that Kyle was not really a web guy. And since everyone is a volunteer, I just accepted it was what it was, and maybe that's all they wanted it to be. The ante was upped however in early 2010 because a disappointing rejection letter arrived that announced that there'd be no funding for a DVD project that Lee was interested in putting together. Amid a flurry of brainstormed options, I suggested this thing called podcasting. I knew enough to describe it, but that was all. It seemed Lee had ever unfolding ideas that grew and grew and took explanation. He was a pastor, someone who did a lot of public speaking for inspiration and persuasion. Podcasting was something that I, as an erstwhile studio operator, was able to make happen so that his distinct voice and passion would register as it was meant to be heard. I didn't know about the web part of podcasting aside from a basic test I had done a few years before, but that would follow. We could come up with a plan for delivering sustained content, right?

Lee had never heard of it. When I tell the story, I usually mention that he said something like "pod-WHAT?" It's not much of an exaggeration. I explained it would take a commitment because of the episodic nature of the format. We drafted a list of how we might fill 15 or so episodes and decided there would be stuff to talk about for a while to come.

Lee and Kyle, being older fellows in their 60s then (and Lee in his early 70s now), were not natively immersed in this kind of stuff, so I found myself having to translate a language I was barely able to learn as I went. I think I confused them both more than I should have. As I produced a demo of the show, it became apparent that the web structure that JEM would need was far beyond the plain HTML site Kyle had curated for some years. So I got drawn into that. I first tried to get the XML feed happening there then thought it easier to redo the entire site in Wordpress. I started the transfer and then heard about Squarespace. And, since the idea was for me to turn it back over to them, it made more sense. Squarespace's interface is simpler and the site maintenance was taken care of since it is a paid service. I was burning out on Wordpress for my own site and welcomed the simple approach of Squarespace, knowing the guys would prefer such a straightforward platform. When the podcast had three episodes recorded and edited, I finally got the feed to be accepted at iTunes on the first try using the default Squarespace feed, and was relieved in a huge way. Previous submissions using a small XML authoring program were not accepted at iTunes even after five tries. So about two years ago now, we were all babes in the woods. Lee and I did podcasts together for four real episodes, and then detoured for a one off video episode giving a progress report on the new web developments. Then we got into interviewing guests. As of this writing, we're 27 episodes strong.

Media Not Just About Me

That same summer, I was fresh out of my male initiation experience in Arizona and at that life changing week, I found myself talking to another Lee, closer to my age, who was a great conversation partner in my struggle with digital media and the techno-treadmill. At the time, I had barely started the podcasts and sort of saw that I'd be drawn in to more digital life after letting my digital publishing interests fade for a few years. In the mean time, browsers were decaying, and I was enjoying nearly a year of being the facilitator of the young adults group at church. I was often heard to celebrate the in-person nature of that group, and was dismissive of social media. I was reporting all this to Lee the younger in the desert, and since then I've never talked to him again by any means. I guess he was meant to be one of those pivot people that you meet once and have your life changed, and that's all there is to it.

What emerged was a feeling that my new online work would be for others. It felt like a logical stage, building upon the stages that came before: self-interested young musician with a CD to sell; disruptive troll; reborn student of life and world issues but with a preachy tone; blogger who faded from all that into a period of self-reflection and some discernment; and then it seemed it was time to take all those experiences and insights back to the web. This time, the purpose would be to build community around a big idea — one that isn't even mine. In some ways, doing the JEM site work and the podcasting is not too different than what I did for my church in Pacific Beach; there too I recorded the messages of a pastor who had very keen world-aware insights, and then used a website to publish the audio. Without the XML feed, it was what I've come to call "proto podcasting" — delivering the same kind of content but without the subscription model.

Screen shot of a recording within Logic ProApple's Logic Pro where I did a lot of podcast episodes.

Doing the work far exceeded the four hours a month I anticipated giving to JEM. In some ways that was cheap of me anyway, considering the gift of life-changing, paradigm-shifting knowledge they had already opened up for me. So I accepted that my time was to be given freely to do what I could to multiply the effort and amplify the message. And then of course, to be doing so many things meant that for the first time in a few years, I was doing web publishing again, at a more elevated profile than before, and that would be resume fodder. Squarespace paved the way for me to be more creative with the visual aspects than I had been for years. It also gave me a platform where I could not break too much of the site at once. But by far the biggest new thing was all the social media options.

Social Media Quicksand

Now, THAT is the time suck. Editing a podcast episode takes too long and my method might be a bit heavy handed, but it comes to an end and the show gets released on time every month. Social media of course knows and respects no boundaries, it seems. And I didn't know anything about it all. I grudgingly entered Facebook for the second time in July 2010 so I could help launch JEM's page. I got on Twitter too. I had no idea about best practices or any of that. Even after so many years of using a blog for these long journals, I didn't really know how to use the format for actually moving messages. Somehow, early on I got onto a different track and only when I started to help JEM did I realize how far my approach diverged from what would be beneficial for a nonprofit org. The social media layer too was something that I feel I entered into without a clue, and sometimes, like today, feel that I still have no clue, if I am to gauge by the interaction I get on pages I manage. (I know there's probably some Human Resources person reading this bit of self-sabotage as they try to disqualify me, ready to toss my resume in the e-trash. Do it if you must. I'm self-sabotaging for a purpose anyway. I'm weeding you out just like you weed me out. I'm preemptively slamming the doors shut that I have no business walking through in the first place. More later.)

Kyrptonite

Here's where the kryptonite comes in again. I have done so many hours of volunteer work and reached into so many aspects of webmastering I never thought I'd encounter. But when it comes time to look for a job, a real job, and one that perhaps would let me finally put to use this kind of interest and that would help develop it, I freeze. I totally freeze in my tracks. When I read an ad on Craigslist and some nameless place wants a "designer" or "coder" I immediately know I am neither. In some ways I am more than both, and in others, less than either. Ditto for "social media expert" or "SEO expert." I've done ALL those things to some degree but not well. Having departed the world of Wordpress for the most part, I've gotten a bit far from that platform which by all appearances, was kind of a step backward away from the most commercially viable web platform out there. I just know that when I used it (and I did for about four years), I was scared out of doing my own web work, not knowing my way around editing the templates, or feeling hopelessly lost in database related work, updates, and actually losing data. In some ways, it was easier to justify driving trucks for a living. When looking for work now, like I have for the last year and one half (as of this week), I can't square with the lists of requests for this skill or that. I hate selling myself, so I sell myself short. Maybe. I've learned a lot of things on my own, but it's not been prep for any job, even the few internships that I've applied to — situations where I'd work for too cheap so I can prove myself worthy of MAYBE working for cheap. It seems like people have to be formed nearly completely for a fucking internship. How the hell?

I hate resumes with a passion. I have several. I've tried chronological resumes. I've tried functional resumes. I've tried the cute online resumes where I plug in my credentials and it looks like a hip designer did it (and yes, I realize that doesn't reflect well on my own skills in the field). But if I am to be somewhat complete, it gets weird and confusing for HR people, I guess. Maybe they work from some formula that doesn't let them parse how a guy with audio/staging experience, senior social service experience, web and audio production experience, and non profit experience could possibly get a job at their place, even if it was straight down the line what they're asking for. I am torn. I can't tell if I'm completely free or boxed in. And I guess if I don't know after all these years, no one else will, either.

What I really need is for my work with JEM and its related entities to pay somehow. It's hard to swing it though; JEM operates on a budget less than $10,000 a year anyway, and everyone is a volunteer. If anything, I'm holding on to a vague idea that someone will take notice of the stuff I've done and somehow change the picture. It's probably a lost cause hoping for that. If anything, the numbers have seen a downward trend during the recessionary years, just like other major orgs have seen. JEM lives according to the graceful delivery of Manna from Heaven each year. So the next hope is that someone who sees what I do will have some paying opportunities on other projects. But it's hard to justify that since I know that all the stuff I have done with JEM is more of a meandering, creative process that has taken hundreds or thousands of hours, and that even when reduced to 10% of that would be more than most people want to pay to get a site launched at so many dollars per hour. Since I never "designed" the JEM web presence as it appears now, it's hard to put a price tag on it when talking to people about their prospective projects. Not being a very good salesperson, and not being a good business person, I have a history of being rather trampled in the projects I've taken on. I hate to admit it, Ms. HR Manager, but I sort of suck at that. 

my name is on the in/out board at work. Big whooptie fucking doo!My name on the sign at AE Scantech while I was the shipping manager.

Dumb Jobs that Take Over Your Life

And that's why I keep looking at "dumb" jobs like driving. Ones that start at one time and end at another and have a record of paying the bills for six, twelve, or even eighteen months at a time. Within a few hours or days of my toil, I get paid. Fair enough. It is a safe feeling after having done always-on-call freelance audio work that paid erratically, or after trying my hand in 2002-2003 at studio recording or web work, none of which ever paid off much more than guitar strings or drum heads! To find a job where I punch the clock is both a breath of fresh air and a kick in the balls. I say that because the kick in the balls part of it means that to hold those jobs, my soul is sucked from me, my generative capacity to be creative put in jeopardy, and my energy usually sapped. During the period at AE Scantech, it was coincident with my breaking up with my church. In the six months or so that I worked there, I did little else at home but for gardening and web surfing. I was out of church all but the first few weeks there and for a couple months afterward. And with that, a lot of social life was lost. AV Concepts before it was dismal, being loaded up with the drama and pain surrounding the forced move from my home, and the fact they laid me off after their scheduling needs clashed with my need to get my head straight in the wake of eviction. The eviction stress on Kelli and I was great, and then she started school about the same time, on a commuting basis that took her away for three days/two nights every week.

Ten potato bags broke open this day in the big truck. What hell.While I could demonstrate mastery over the roads and destinations, it's harder to master a wet potato bag that opens up and dumps its load all over the truck and ground. Ten such bags are harder still to master.

Specialty Produce was better because eventually I was able to strike a balance between the daily work and the spiritual-social life at church and elsewhere, but in the early days, I dreaded the prospect of their ability to command up to 16 hours of my day for about 27 days a month. Somehow, every day after the fourth day there (in January 2008 when I called in sick with a wicked flu and was nearly fired for it) was a miracle. And that it lasted for one week short of three years was stupendously miraculous. And when they did let me go, it was probably again for the matter of scheduling and my need for boundaries so this work doesn't totally suck the life out of me.

Sabbath as Antidote to Jobs That Take Over Your Life

You see, a major lesson that Lee taught me by the words of the Kinslers and by his own example was that of Sabbath. The short form of the lesson is that Sabbath is a resistive measure against endless work, a hedge against being subsumed in the system. Yet for someone like me who tends to dive fairly deeply into things I enjoy for prolonged spells, it's hard to set up the boundaries. It was like that with building plastic models as a teen. Same for drumming which replaced it in high school. And more so when out of school and left to explore music more fully for some years at Hog Heaven. And now it seems that there's been two years or more of going full-tilt at web work, even for the organization that preaches the message of resisting the demands of the work world, the needs of the Market.

Meanwhile, the opposite is true in the "real" work life. I have to have my boundaries so I don't get drawn into the undertow. And I suppose it has cost me a few jobs now. It isn't coincidental those jobs come to an end. I am not putting all my energy into them. At least, not my soul's energy. I shouldn't be there, and after a while that becomes apparent. A favorite book of mine, Parker Palmer's Let Your Life Speak, has gotten a few readings in recent years, and there I learned that I have to admit the failure of these jobs to "stick" reflects the honest fact that I don't belong there, and that while there are lessons offered in each experience, they are all pointers toward something else, even if the process is a subtractive one marked by failure, discontent, hurt, and all that. As Palmer says from his Quaker upbringing and their keen sense of vocational discernment, "way opens and way closes."

These days, my days are spent with a lot of work that would be handsomely rewarded if I were on some company roster somewhere. It's impossible to say where things start and end because really my mind is one scattered mess with my computer screen indicating graphically a fraction of what's on my mind. I'm rather at wit's end now. Sitting down at TAPKAE.com and writing out several thousand words that no one actually reads is somehow my reward for all this. Don't ask. It's about the only thing that seems to get done in a contiguous block most of the time I sit down to do it. But all the rest of the time, I am nearly lost in browser tabs; email windows for my own stuff, JEM's, and sometimes other accounts; maybe recording/editing a podcast episode; tutoring Lee or Gerald (a newcomer to JEM's media world) via chat or Skype, or hammering out long emails or Google Docs in the same manner; maybe trying to take in a podcast or some iTunes music; often trying to keep up with social media stuff, including a number of RSS feeds that help confuse or deliver me to new prospects; and then there's certainly doing JEM web stuff like proofreading and cleaning pasted-in entries of the digital junk that accompanies that process. Oh, and a periodic revamp of the entire site to help integrate things I've learned along the way and want to implement. They're cool enough to let me play with it that way. They realize it's for the good.

Practicing Bleeding on Craigslist

And then I have to try to wedge in the legitmate job search, which to me is rather like practicing bleeding. To even fire up the Craigslist tab is a task I utterly dread. To decide to click on "nonprofit jobs" and search through things I am not qualified for because I have no degree, or that are just obviously insanely high turnover positions like political campaigning — it's depressing, though periodically something seems to fit. But really, do I want to do a part time, socially beneficial job helping seniors for $8 an hour for three hours a day every third day but split into two shifts from 7-8 in the morning and 4-6 at night?

Someone's work van stopped too close to the railroad tracks and the boom came down on it.This is the kind of absent mindedness that can plague a person in an unsatisfying work position. This is not me though.

The next category to be searched is usually "transportation" which is a tad more promising for actual living wage earning, but gets me downright depressed. I mean, really. I've done three jobs that were nearly exclusively defined by driving. I am good at it. I rank well. But let's face it... it is not anywhere near where my real interests or passions lead. I can do these things mechanically but not with any real feeling. I don't belong there. After a while, that becomes evident to all.

Next category, a step down from that, is "customer service" which usually cues me to get up and take a piss and stare at the mirror for a while in disgust of what I see. Who the fuck is it that is about to open up the ads and apply for some fucking barista job? Or for some other equally pointless job? It certainly isn't the Me I feel I am. Maybe some temporary inhabitant of my physical shell, but an alien to my soul. This character should be eradicated. Tarred and feathered, and chased out of town! What a disgrace. The movie Clerks is not just cinema for me.

Following that, I might start to check in the various Craigslist categories that might include web and media work. Believe it or not, this is what I am actually er, trained in, or have some experience in, and when the terms are favorable, actually enjoy. But because there is a gulf between the experience I have and the requirements they list, I cower. I run. It's time for another break, already. Time to get a drink. In Escondido, I hope for a beer to take the edge off. But fresh squeezed lemonade would help. Let me go pick some lemons. Oh...that reminds me, the dog shit needs to be picked up in the front yard. Let me think this out. How would my resume go? Should I write that email? Has Lee or Gerald responded in a state of greater confusion about the chat we had? Oy!!! Anything but looking at Craigslist will do for now. They want a UX/UI expert. They want Wordpress. They want SEO mastery. They want a portfolio. What am I to do? Prepare a resume for a place that I am clearly no fit for? Time to get back to doing what I at least pretend I do well. At least in JEM I'm a big fish and people seem to value it. It just doesn't pay. I don't like it much, but I like it more: picking up dog shit is somehow able to give me a sense of accomplishment.

Other Craigslist categories come to mind, and feeling like I need to relax and open up some, I look at others, including some of the off the wall stuff in the Gigs. I did find a one off audio editing job last week that I was extremely well qualified for, even though I had never done audio book editing. All those years cutting sermons and podcasts got me $212.50 for eight hours' work — $25 an hour which is adequate considering it's simple timeline bushwhacking with no real thought put into it. Woo Hoo! The mind has to wonder what that pay rate would have done for me during those church sermons and podcast programs which are edited even more completely. $212.50. But that's gone with two household bills. Back to that job I passed over in the Transport ads... but can I really see myself as a fucking tow truck driver?

EONSNOW page in 2006EONSNOW homepage, 2006.

The Breadcrumbs of Vocational Discernment

Today I was doing some of the routine chat talk with Lee and Gerald—guys I like and respect for their lifestyles and experience—and I was cracking as I was trying to negotiate redesigning the podcast's programming in the light of Gerald being a new creative partner in it all. But despite his background in public radio, church music and therefore church life, and PR and other things of interest, he still takes a lot of tutoring at new technologies and blogging. His message is impeccable and urgent and excites the part of me that set out to do EONSNOW in 2005, but his delivery will take some work in this new media world. But as I dive more and more into web stuff, I am confronted with a vast insecurity complex — kryptonite again. The more I read about best practices in podcasting, social media, blogging (all the stuff I like most about being online), the more I feel like I miss the mark, and that my own methods have perhaps worked against JEM more than for them. I could be woefully wrong, but that's the feeling. Even direct questions at Facebook do not elicit the answers or the participation. My pact with myself was that this new era of web involvement was to be for building web community has been met with a realization that I don't seem to accomplish that too well. JEM's ideas are not my own ideas. I see myself as a conduit through which Lee's or Gerald's ideas pass. That seemed like a better deal to make than in the days of EONSNOW when my ideas were naive and perhaps a bit vitriolic. In JEM, I do about the same thing as I set out to do with EONSNOW, except the ideas I move are those of others who have about twice as much life experience and authority as I have. And more education.

Magazine cover for school project. Dreadful.A mock magazine cover for an assignment in Quark. One of the insanely dumb things I did while at Art Institute of CA in 2001-2002. Totally worthless.

We Don't Need No Education

But I don't beat myself up about the education thing too much. I'm sure there are plenty of you HR people out there who are trashing my resume because it doesn't reflect my ability to put up with the rat race and hurdle jumping path of the education mills and their methods for teaching me next to worthless shit at considerable expense that will follow me for a decade to come. But let's remember, I didn't hear about peak oil at school. I didn't learn about the global economic picture's grave injustices from school. Nearly all my current web publishing knowledge did not come from a school (and the stuff that I did pay $6,600 for was essentially worthless even as it was flowing from the instructors' mouths). I did not learn how to befriend a homebound senior citizen at school. I did not learn how to podcast at school. I did not learn how to cook for my wife at school. I did not learn how to appreciate the Easter tree near Julian, CA in school. And I sure as fuck don't miss the debt that I would have racked up at school. I don't miss it in the same way that I don't miss ever making a car payment in my life.

The irony is, even to this day, I have a tenth grade worksheet that indicates I did learn about population dieoff back in the spring of 1989 at the education mill at 4899 Doliva Dr. in San Diego. But who was poised to tell me that it would apply not just to bacteria in petrie dishes and bunnies in Australia, and instead to all of humanity and the lifestyle I live? Okay, score one for the education mill, but it was up to me scouring the Web and serendipitously meeting wise people who could explain what it means when humanity finally ate all the sugar in the dish and is bound to dieoff because it's going to drown in its own shit. No class discussion on that one.

Sign for a thanksgiving day race to feed the hungry.A sign that I caption as "burning too many calories to help those who have too few," a form of misguided charity toward those with less.

Why Me, Why Now?

With an awareness like that, it's hard to wake up in the morning and go through the pretty mindless pursuits of going to work, or even looking for work. And it's a mind-scattering thing to have to play that game enough while getting some money from the state, all the while knowing that 99.99% of what I could locate in Craigslist is stuff that I am not called to do at any deep level. I might be an undereducated, polemic-writing, failure of a social media manager, but I wake up in the morning more enlightened than some who have dizzying amounts of education and a full alphabet following their given names. I wake up and often have the question on my mind, "why me? why now?" I live in the awareness that I am a part of the problem too, and that most days, I can't turn off the awareness that I am caught in a lie: either to be part of the system, or to pretend that I am not part of the system, but to work dilligently at exposing it. It's paralyzing, yes. It's a moral quandary deciding to use the tools of the empire to bring the empire to truth. Even Ted Kaczynski, the Unabomber, wrote in his manifesto, Industrial Society and its Future, that there is no good technology without a dark side. (I didn't learn that in school, see?) It's a tragic bind to realize the computer is both a major part of the problem and a vital part of some solution. Or to realize that rationalizing that is total bullshit too. When you wake up in the morning and know humanity is headed for a brick wall at full speed, it almost doesn't matter what you do, or how loud you wail in Cassandra's shrill tones.

A poster I made in 2004 with iconic image of Dubya saluting like a Nazi with a caption that declares dictatorships are good as long as he's the dictatorSome of Dubya's statements were unusually candid for those who operate the reins of power. In 2004 I thought it was a slam dunk that he'd be beaten. Shows what I know. But this and other posters contributed to the "war effort" against him.

When you are enlightened in such a way, you look at the world's issues with different eyes. There are more educated humans alive today, but less educated humanity. Do you suppose that there is a correlation between the sheer amount of university level education — unlocking the secrets of the world, the planet, the universe, even — and the problem all humanity is faced with today? Was there a time when humanity ever faced extinction, and the biosphere with it? Did such a time ever really happen before we got educated? Not only are the education mills rather dumb pursuits as Frank Zappa said, but it appears that they are outright dangerous, at least without the balancing effect of a deep spirituality that can reconnect what compartmentalized education breaks apart methodically.

Funny, the record shows that a young and cocky, uneducated but insightful wandering preacher 2000 years ago rocked the foundations of history and the course of the world. It wasn't because he was university educated. The irony was that by adopting the religion that bore his name as the state religion, the state ended up imploding upon itself. That fire was too hot to handle, even for the mightiest power the world had known to that point. And so it will be once more. And again. And then again after that. Score one for the uneducated masses who don't know enough to break the world.

The Test Came Before the Lessons

Did the 19 year old Jack In The Box worker bee have this insight in 1993? Not a chance. Did I know what I was hoping to accomplish when I decided my time at Mesa College was spinning my wheels for no discernable reason, and left for a year that became ten? Hell no. Did I know that the abortion my girlfriend had not too long after that fateful decision to leave school had would shape my geo-political perspective that says that having children in the Western/Industrialized world is contributing to the crisis? Of course not. Did I realize that heart-rending night when she and I were hours from breaking off an engagement to be married that I stepped off the bus going to a place I have no business arriving at? I was just working from the hunch in the pit of my stomach. Somehow, by evasive tactics, laziness, fear, loss, or other things, I've arrived where I am. But you see, where I am, what I know, and what I do is about as valid as anyone else's claims to same. Sure, my spell at reading endless Wikipedia entries during 2007-2008 is not a college degree, but it didn't do harm. It's not valid by one measure but is completely valid by another. Education comes in all forms, and I have Fr. Rohr to thank for that teaching, at least in that he was the first to make that thought stick. And, as a blurb on my site's sidebar now says, "we may misunderstand but we do not misexperience." Another tidbit that I'm pretty certain emerged from Rohr's teachings over these last three years was that "something isn't true until you yourself experience it." In September 2003 while I was in a residential therapy center for a week and a half getting my head straight after the single most devastating depression I have had (on the eve of turning 30, and just under one year before I got married), my experience was validated by a really cool therapist who walked me through all that. I still have the Oscar Wilde quote he wrote for me, "Life is the toughest teacher because it gives the test first and the lesson later."

A liberal education is given in all manner of class rooms, board rooms, chat rooms, and even bed rooms. But maybe one thing I look at differently is that eventually that kind of education puts the world back together into a whole, whereas the education mill likes to take things apart and to constantly divide reality. It's not to say that kind of education will permanently damage a person, but it will certainly take some para-scholastic experience to round out the person, and yes, it could easily delay the progress toward a rounded humanity. Life happens just as surely with someone who got their worthless piece of paper as it has to me, but sometimes the mind is shaped in such a way in the education mill that causes resistance to this other equally valid way of learning, or a sense of mistrust of it. And it isn't without consequence; life is not facts and figures alone, and the people who think that it is tend to also be ones motivated to move into positions of influence and power, who shape political, economic, and thought at the macro level.

When I work in the context of JEM, I am able to operate in a space where the large world issues and my own experiences are not dismissed, but looking at them with some responsible attitude is encouraged. I get to be creative and functional in a place where the incomplete and mixed up me is somehow an asset. Having the scattered experience and interests I have has served to make me more qualified in that setting, not less. It isn't that JEM is a pleasure dome I wish not to escape. I pull my hair out some days in the effort to pull rabbits out of hats there. But the work, while not always feeling like it's firing on all cylinders, does not feel pointless like delivering architectural plans a year after I was showing The End of Suburbia and shrieking like Cassandra about all that. I knew I sold myself out getting that job, but I needed something. At least after that job I waited out the temptation to take a job at a car dealership as a parts driver.

Naming and Unmasking the Powers

Indulge me a bit of Walter Wink-inspired thoughts on naming and unmasking the powers. And pardon me as I vent several years of frustration in the workplace. The Human Resources staff professional will be my pinata for the occasion.

So there you are, Madam HR executive in a cute little suit and high heels, bespectacled in cute little fake horn rimmed glasses and sporting that little tiny pony tail or bun with highlighted streaks that you corporate types seem to wear, evaluating whether I am fit for your widget wrangling position on the shop floor. Totally unfit. I'm not what you're looking for. In fact, throw that resume out but be sure to recycle it. Oh? It hit the bin long before I finished that sentence? The email delete button is a wonderful thing? What power you hold with that button! Maybe there's a thousand of me sending resumes in and you're there not only canning me prematurely but also looking to see who among your employees are worthy of being fired because they are looking for other work, and they just happen to have sent their resume into your inbox, unwittingly signing their own pink slip, or at least inviting scrutiny about their loyalty. Is this what all that education has done for the world? Given you the ability to pan hundreds of people from livelihoods without even so much as a polite response or a chance at a human encounter? Given you a place of power to cut people out of jobs while you hang out with your iPhone wielding friends, sipping fucking martinis in the fucking Gaslamp Quarter, ranting about how miserable your life is? Maybe it's because your position is a worthless one to begin with, the kind of makework that makes some people look good while others are sent to the bin according to some formula? Some of you use too many words in your job listings and dismiss people like me before I get the courage up to even try to fill out a resume. Others lead me in with sparsely worded listings that say next to nothing about the job, the compensation, the location, and the industry. It's okay to waste MY time responding to an ad to ferret out that kind of information?

I've seen you in town. I've worked for you already if you've known it or not. I was the the pee-on who delivered architectural plans to the contractors that turned your home in Clairemont into a McMansion. Or that built your new place on the outskirts of Del Mar or in the fire-prone hinterregions of Poway. I'm the guy who delivered the plans for that building you work in. It's an ugly monstrosity of glass and steel that shows no humanity or grace, and no sense of caring about the world around it. Yep. I was part of that too.

Me onstage with classic rock cover band Rockola, for whom I worked for a few years. I was on stage playing a bit of bass as one of the stage gimmicks.Sometimes I got to do this little bit of bass playing on stage with Rockola at Blind Melons club. All the rest of the time, I was side stage and in danger of being trampled by drunken fucks.

I've seen you in town. I've done sound at your pathetic corporate parties where you dance mindlessly to the music that used to be vitally important, socially relevant PROTEST music a generation ago (even the DISCO music that you mock with bullshit costumes stood for someone's liberation a generation ago), and I've seen you all twirling about, drunk and too stupid to exit the clubs at 1:55 in the morning. Some of you probably tried to kiss me then too while I was putting the guitars away, and no one seemed to mind that they were encroaching on my workspace at the mixer, or at the side of the stage. You know...that stuff I did there was work too, and my attention was supposed to be paid toward the performance on STAGE, not to your little song and dance asking for the stupidest shit: Can you hold the sitar or bang on the bongos sitting side stage? No! Could I put some more guitar in the mix? No! You got ten bucks and you want the five piece band to play (and the crew to wait) an extra half hour? Fuck you! It's bad enough we get treated like the fucking Guatemalan maids at these same hotels — or even worse — with a tip like that. I just didn't have my own iPhone and Facebook in 1999 when the parties were getting outrageous in corporate America or else I'd have put up videos or audio myself to show what idiots you and your executive co-workers can be in those situations. Oh, it was all a party, and the money flowed like water toward those parties. I'd presume so because the machine was getting finely tuned by the late 1990s. Corporate profits up, no doubt because the HR department was honed to a fine edge, able to excise all the riff-raff and keen on making the few remaining people simultaneously run faster and harder while looking over their shoulder where the axe was waiting for them too. Then the recession hit and the party was over. Good riddance. But you got to keep your job.

I saw this guy repeatedly while delivering to Gordon Biersch in Mission Valley. Sometimes I had some food to give him. And he was one of the guys who was still among the living.

Oh, I've seen you in town. You're the people who bought the fancy foodie dishes made from the produce I delivered to 101 fancy restaurants, resorts, and hotels in town where I got to enter through the ass-end of the place with grime and food waste and even — wait for it — laborers! I'll bet there were some who struck a deal to work under the table because they were undocumented and you were in need of a bit of margin so you could afford that die-cut embossed menu for tonight's wine list. You're the people who shit $100 bills and throw out half-eaten plates of gourmet food because you can. I can't say for sure how many of those homeless people out there were your own handiwork, but they are certainly the handiwork of the system you belong to. Outside those same restaurants you can be seen making fools of yourself, probably drunk there too, and likely oblivious to the homeless folks that line the streets in the area, and that are expected to kindly step aside and relocate to the outer reaches of East Village so you can go out for a nice night on the town. Maybe one day you'll get to meet them. And I hope it's not just a field trip experience.

And some years ago, when you were a little less drunk at lunch time, and when I used to work at Subway, you were the one who thought I was no one because of the stupid green shirt and hat I wore. I didn't like you then either. It was a gut feeling then. I didn't have a blog to rant on then, but I did control what went into your sandwich. Other far less scrupulous (and possibly disgruntled) people than I now make those same sandwiches. And you don't know what is really in that Taco Bell "meat," do you?

The funny thing is, you get to enter "my office" and essentially set the agenda with some inane antics and plenty of condescension. You come on to MY stages, you eat the food I deliver, you boss me around in MY office at Subway, or Jack In The Fucking Box, or even for Pizza Slut or Dumb, I Know's Pizza. But is the same true for my ability to enter YOUR office and call the shots? Not with that electronic fence you have around it that barricades me at my own computer browser. Not with that veneer of coolly isolated professionalism in shades of corporate blue and gray. Not with the minimum wage earning security guard who thinks he's someone because of the badge and the key to the gated parking lots that surround your ivory towers and your dark satanic malls (sic). Do I get to come in and make a scene in your office? Dance on your desk, let my cock hang out, kiss you in my swirling and oblivious state of drunkenness? Hell no. My office is in the world. Your office is behind closed doors. I don't get to meet you to talk about getting a job. I don't get to have a human exchange to explain myself. You really don't care anyway. Or if you do at a personal level, it's not your job to act on that feeling, professionally. It's a one way thing that gives you HR people some upper hand. For a time, maybe.

Okay, enough snarkasm. Even HR professionals are people too. A bit unaware of how offensive and useless their professional role is, but they're people who have a home and kids to feed. I just hope they wake up and repent for taking those positions and for aiding a corrupt system to ever more corruption.

Still, I've been waiting for the collapse of the corporate model as we have come to know it because the corporate form as we know it has outlasted its usefulness and the antics needed to prop up its validity are increasingly implausible. It has already jumped the shark. No one really likes it anymore except those still enjoying the party, and that number is growing fewer and fewer as the system eats itself alive. No one really faithfully shows up to support it. And an economy based in mutual fear can't last. In JEM or out of it, I learned that it's a model that is doomed to consume itself because of its own success and gluttony. I'd like to sit by and watch, and maybe even give it a shove on its way out of town. It might run a little past the end of my lifetime, or it might finish itself off by the time I get my senior discount at restaurants. I don't know. But be ye warned: the economy is here to serve humanity, not the other way around. And the big structures ALWAYS fail in the end —empires, churches, monarchies, and soon, corporations. As Martin Luther King said, "the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice."

The Soul of Work

I could think of myself as too poorly educated to join into the workforce, but I happen to think of myself as too well educated to join in the workforce. Or, let's say, at least a certain kind of workforce. It isn't that manual labor is below me. In some ways, it's far more gratifying than neuroacrobatics. As I said, even picking up dog shit sometimes gives me a bit more of a sense of accomplishment than all sorts of pixel wrangling and syllable splicing and I really dig cooking for friends (a completely separate task from picking up dog shit). Both keep me feeling grounded. It's far more grounded and integrity-filled than a lot of marketing and media work I might persue if I was actually good at this stuff. It's not any of that. It's that when you see what these jobs lead to in a big picture, it's damn hard to want to put energy into it all. More than depression that just brings me down, it makes my heart ache that people still believe in some of these pursuits. I'd gladly work in a bakery for the right reasons rather than being some overeducated fuck doing some kind of smart person's work for the wrong reasons, in a position that might be responsible for digging humanity a bigger hole than the current one. The workplace does not really earn the respect and loyalty of working people now because everyone knows the axe is about to fall any minute. The whole thing is rigged to fail eventually because as one market after another is squeezed like a lemon, eventually everyone will realize they've been had. The funny thing is, it won't matter until the educated, degree holding mostly white people find themselves at the short end of the stick before things will change. It's the people inside the system who are the last to see it for what it is. The rest of us are waiting for it to fall apart and for there to be a time when the entry fee is bearable, and the show is good enough to stay and watch all the way through.

But what do I know? I'm just a college dropout with a chip on my shoulder, right? And you read this entire thing and say, 'is that all?' It's no more a waste of your time than it is for me to fill out those fucking online applications with the psychological profile questions that give me all the choices to answer that suit you but not me. I've applied for enough of those and being forced to answer a question using four disagreeable options is not my cup of tea. What is the point of asking me if I would handle working in a noisy, busy, chaotic, hellish workspace and expecting me to answer the A-D spectrum from "yes, I love this kind of thing and my life is incomplete without it" and "no, I can't hack it"? If I'm applying to your fucking job and I have entered the place as a customer, don't you think I know it's a hellhole of a place to work with asshole customers and round-the-clock noise? Is anyone really made to live under those conditions, or just desperate enough to accept them so they can afford not to sell their children to some rich and smart looking HR manager who has a nice job and can buy such unnecessary items as surplus offspring from poor people made poor by the swift strokes of the pens that other HR managers hold?

Just Send Money

It's not that my attitude is bad. It is realistic. Work is not valued like it should be. The fact is, I give more time and passion to JEM than I gave to any one of the jobs I've had and I don't really get paid but for some new software and a nice share of "attaboys." I can't even make a plausible argument that my state unemployment payment for $1,404 approximates the value I offer to JEM. The sad fact is, as one of my early web design mentors said, "the problem with nonprofits is that they're too nonprofitable." My favorite jobs and duties have been in the nonprofit realm, but never at the places that get the glory. And when you think about what a disgrace it is that JEM flies so far below the radar, that's heartbreaking. I mean, JEM, a tiny nonprofit with a handful of people who care, is not even a speck of dust in the desert. But we show up and soldier on with some vision of how to do economics differently than the system that is going down the toilet now and taking everything with it. You'd think that this world-saving heroic effort would pay better, even if I'm a bit lacking in the real ability to get participation and SEO rankings. Living with a divided mind and no particular income makes it hard to know what foot to put forward: do I totally immerse myself in learning the web tools and services and best practices? Or what?What part of the 40+ hours I put in each week is not valuable somehow so that even my own relatively slim expenses can be met and some left over to squirrel away for a global warming induced rainy day in the mid summer?

So I spend my days with my scattered mind, unsure whether I should either dive into or minimize my JEM work. All the other options seem empty, pointless, backwards. The math works out that if I were only to optimistically reproduce my state income, even 30 people sending in $50 a month would do that, though to take it seriously, I'd need more to accommodate the deductions that would be required. Are there not 30 people out there who think that there's some worth in moving a message like JEM's and who are able and willing to help me get by so I can better answer a call to do meaningful work? One day the state payments are gonna be done, and I'll get into the desperation mode again and take whatever dumb shit emerges. Or maybe there will be some freelance work. But what the fuck does it take to actually cover my ass while doing the thing that comes closest to calling upon my training, my interests, and my experience?

It's five o' clock in the morning. Let me go to be so I can get up at nine and get back to my work. This was all done on "my time." Good thing I set up PayPal for invoicing that editing gig. Now I can put a "donate" button on my site too! This post took me about eleven hours over two days to write and edit this. It's nearly double the length of my previously extravagantly long posts, but obviously it's not without a bit of thought and passion that took these 38 years to accumulate. What's that worth to anyone? Your call. Thanks for reading.

Then again, maybe I could get a job being a roving salesman, selling print copies of Wikipedia as I go?

Tuesday
Apr242012

TAPKAE dot com at Ten

Ten years ago, sometime in the late winter/spring, the first complete incarnation of TAPKAE.com went up. Click the link there and you can see a fairly early version, courtesy of the Internet Wayback Machine. (Once at the view of the old TAPKAE.com you can click forward in time to see incremental captures of the site as it has evolved, though there are a few versions that don't appear.)

Picking a domain name was never a point of debate or hand-wringing. What else would have made sense for me in 2001-02 when I was thoroughly embracing my moniker, The Artist Presently Known As Ed? Of course, that is a bit of a drain on memory resources for people (and a bitch to type out), so the shorter form, TAPKAE, was a brilliant and available alternative in just six letters. In those days, the .com top level domain was still quite open, and even today, there aren't many TAPKAEs out there, at least in the English speaking world. Mike Thaxton ("Thax"), a major supporter of my movement into the web, reserved the domain name and got me a hosting plan (100 mb!) that lasted from mid 2001 until early 2004 when I really took the reins and tried new stuff.

I was drawn to all this web stuff because of the value it offered to a self produced recording artist such as I was then. As a guy who employed the studio space to capture various instruments and to record things from start to finish, the chance to craft a whole digital presence was alluring. The notion of standardizing what songs were presented in high quality audio was a major lure; this was the promise of not needing to have to dub a cassette or burn a CD and then shove it into a package. There was a cool distance from all that. Putting a bunch of material out for all to hear seemed a great equalizing device when talking up my tunes and asking people to hear them.

HTML Dark Ages

I went to the Art Institute of California during the year from April 2001—April 2002. TAPKAE.com was developed with the help of things I was learning there. It was actually my second HTML website, the first being a project that focused on the eccentric composer Erik Satie. TAPKAE.com was developed in nearly the same way with some additional bits: javascript menu, pop up windows for detailed pages, and a shopping cart system that cost me more than I ever made in sales. This TAPKAE 1.0 version was pretty complex for a first time out. Totally self indulgent. The menu structure was using drop menus with a couple levels to them. My bio was split over three pages—pretty crazy stuff, and it was only my music related profile. An attempt at an image gallery was arduous.

Without CSS, HTML had therefore not evolved into the rather lean language it is now. Without CSS, the thing was a bear to visually inspect and keep styled consistently. All those bolds? All those italics? One by one, page by page. Without the database-driven active pages we have now in most platforms, each page had to be copied to provide the basis for another, or I'd have to use a template (I never did). It was arduous trying to keep it all together. Deciding to change a header style would be an absurd amount of work, even in Dreamweaver—mainly because I didn't use the site caching for years to come.

In 2002, who really knew what social media was? Mp3.com was one site I used that was starting something a bit like Myspace became. Even the word blog seems to have not been on my ears then. Web 2.0? RSS? Podcast? The Cloud? Facebook? Wordpress? Stuff we take for granted now wasn't around then.

The first time I can think of when I knew I was looking at a blog was in late 2003 or early 2004. It provided me the clarity to know that the days of manually updating HTML and moving front page journal entries to "archive" pages was a hopelessly unnecessary act. Somehow I went in search of new hosting solutions and happened upon Startlogic, which I remained on from early 2004 until early 2011. And BAM! there was the B2 blogger platform ready to install. For a while in 2004-2006, the blog was a separate component that was not integrated into the site. And so it was that I had to essentially style the two separate entities so they looks enough alike.

But what the hell was this .php shit? And how in the world was I supposed to edit things when I could not see the whole page at once? Why were these blog sites so damned complex? I guess it took me a while to learn the part about how sites were leaving plain ol' HTML behind in favor of detailed and consistent styles with databases providing the content. My paltry education at Art Institute was made seemingly more so with the advent of all this new blogging technology. I was in over my head. But blogging was cool because it took care of the old entries.

The thing is, I came into this as a guy with some stories to tell, not as someone out to make money and to connect with other blogs. At various times, I disabled pingbacks, trackbacks, comments, and other things. I just wanted to put my stuff up, and all those extras just got in the way. Meanwhile, I heard about people blogging to make money. Journalists blogging to tell their version of the truth, sans editorial review. The rules had not solidified.

B2 & Wordpress: 2004-2010

After discovering B2, I tried out various other blogging platforms but remained on B2 for a while, and eventually in 2006 landed with Wordpress. And then I decided that Wordpress was mature enough in the late summer of 2006 that I found I could make my entire site within the Wordpress environment. But I always had my problems with Wordpress even though for a number of years it was the tidiest platform of all. While the Wordpress era was structurally more solid, the visual aspect was more limited since I didn't then know how to do a local testing server, so to change the graphic or other CSS related details, I painstakingly edited one thing at a time and resaved and uploaded. I got off Wordpress before I ever did a Dreamweaver local site to test and edit upon. The Wordpress years were a time when the major component was the blog itself, during a period of a lot of transformation.

In some way though, turning off all the social options at the blog gave me a needed period to let the TAPKAE online identity reform under new values. In the early days, I sabotaged things with certain newsgroups and music/recording related forums. The stuff is still out there for the looking, but there is now more stuff that bears my name and more of it is worthy material.

In 2010, after slipping away from publishing much to the web but for blog posts and pages, I found myself drawn toward helping Jubilee Economics Ministries, a small non profit that was in need of new methods to move their message. I had proposed podcasting, not even knowing much about the medium, and then to support that, I found it necessary to reacquaint myself with some things and to plunge into many others. What started as a podcast became a new website for JEM (using Squarespace, which I had just learned about as I was starting to actually learn Wordpress for JEM), and the typical social media accounts, and then organizational things like Google Apps and Mailchimp... It was all exasperating to me, and even more so to the others, who, being folks my parents' age, were blindsided by all the changeup, but grateful since they never would have unpacked it all.

Certainly I can't deny that several years of publishing to the web was handy, but as I have spent a couple years now with JEM and an ever-unfolding map of possibilities, I have read a lot of material about best practices for blogging, search engine optimization, social media, and all that. And sometimes it makes me feel pretty low. In some ways, I seem to have gotten it all wrong. I know that's a bit much to take on and that I'll never master the stuff.

The mind that generated this site probably does not connect with all but about four people out there in web land. My stats are shit at this site. Who but a few friends and curious onlookers are interested in this story? (Craig Z.?) Certainly this is just a labor of love, and a way to keep from seeing my own handwriting! My methods and approaches, a more-is-more kind of expression, is so counter to the prevailing winds of web publishing where blogging is supposed to be pithy and succinct. It's supposed to be nearly mathematically derived to squeeze every ounce of SEO value it can. No long paragraphs. Lists are always winners. Connect with readers and give them a reason to come back. Incentivize. Laser focus on a topic. In 2004, it was the wild west in blogging. I guess I wandered down one dirt road, maybe into a box canyon, while others built a freeway system.

The Squarespace Era: 2010-present

I pay for web hosting with Squarespace now that I moved this site over some months after finding I liked it for JEM. The rate was $240 for the first year, and thanks to a rate change, it's $180 now. It has allowed me a chance to be more visually creative than anything I did in the Wordpress years. I don't have to worry about that sick feeling associated with managing my own database at the MySql level. So I have been willing to pay for that. I've never run an ad here. This is just my channel to tell a story; a labor of love is all this is, a way to help untangle the spaghetti of life. Some people spend that kind of money on their booze or gambling in a few hours. Or in driving their car for fun. Or to go to Disneyland. None of that appeals to me. And, here, about a decade after my first foray into the web, the rate is perhaps twice what I used to pay, or less, but the potential to put up so much content makes all that a moot point.

I like that for once, I've managed to create an online album that reflects a mix of experiences, good and bad, and a mix of media to tell the story. Keeping busy with JEM such as I have, trying to find new things to move that message, I sometimes have to make a conscious effort to take some "me time" here at this site. Never mind there are just a few subscribers (thanks!). Never mind there are no casual users stumbling upon this site and bringing it to Facebook. Certainly there is more that I want to put up. More pictures, more scans, more audio. More video. There is only one of me though, and it happens that I allocate more time to JEM, sensing that promoting or even building this self-indulgent site is not as responsible a thing to do as developing the JEM platform. Last summer, I did plug in a good deal of content here that was never on any previous version of the site. Were it not for the bottleneck of the scanning process, I might have done more. The other bottleneck is that I am a loquacious, captioning freak, and it takes time to narrate things, particularly when a new photo gallery is put up! And since I got this site (and a new camera at about the same time), I've had a lot more photographic material to process. It's easy to get distracted.

Netizenship & Transparency

The web has changed a lot since 2002. I've changed a lot too. When I first got into it and didn't know about netiquette I went overboard and offended people, some of which were in-person relationships too. But overall, I've put that away and tried to become a better netizen. Blogging at least gives me the chance to soapbox in my own space rather than on other sites. And even that has sort of waned for me. The futility of trying to argue a point online is pretty clear. I feel this site got more interesting when I went inside and unpacked this person I've had to deal with all this time. Maybe no one else gives a shit. A few cheer on the sidelines, saying I'm doing something that takes guts. Others cringe. Others slip away nearly unnoticed. And then there are about seven billion others who don't even know this site is here. Sure, it might be a self-indulgent site, but it doesn't mean I am important. But who else will tell the story?

And that brings me to the matter of my approach to sharing information here. Presently I am looking for work, same as I've been doing for a year and more. (Unless I am applying to a web job that might call on certain aspects or technology or aesthetics that demonstrated at this site, I don't usually give away TAPKAE.com or social media links. I use a personal Gmail address.) I know no HR person is going to write me a courtesy note saying that they read a handful of posts on TAPKAE.com and decided to pass me over because they didn't think my family situation was going to lead me to be a good employee. Or that a post said I have struggled with depression. Or Wordpress. (There is some overlap at times.) The fact is, I don't really know how thoroughly I am disqualifying myself from jobs. And I sort of don't care. The places that won't have me won't have me. This site is a tool to help me feel that I know myself. And in the process, I might find that truck driving is not really my calling, and that while it could be an entry into an industry, I don't awaken each day, licking my lips at the prospect of piloting a few tons of steel down streets and alleys. Somewhere along the line, I embraced transparency in the hopes that it would win me more than it lost. Shutting doors to paths that I have no business on should be a better thing than not. I can say I've applied to jobs that I know I'm not interested in, and then it should be no surprise, website or not, that I don't get them.

Nothing is stopping me from making a go at a commercial site, doing things by formula and metrics, and leaving out the personal stuff for the most part. I don't exactly feel I have anything to share that warrants that, but I would like to develop community around JEM and when possible, other orgs or groups that have shared interest. I may or may not ever get that right. It may or may not ever be my thing. Lurking at the edges is TAPKAE.com, where it's okay to get it wrong, to experiment, to be transparent and unpretentious.

Tuesday
Sep202011

More Chrome Than Detroit In The 50s

I love Google Chrome because it plays seamlessly with Google Apps for my site, WWSIC, and JEM. Problem is, until some digging, I could only have one of those accounts logged in at once and found that for different domains and their separate logins sometimes it was easier to just open up every browser I had (Firefox, Camino, Safari) but then each of those is different and doesn't run the Google Apps stuff in quite the same way if at all—particularly with regard to extensions and apps and other stuff that an all-Google space does.

I found a hack that allowed a second Chrome space but it was a bit unpredictable and trying to match its config (extensions, apps, bookmarks) was a drag. I tried a little program called Fluid that purported to give me single-app windows but that was absurdly complicated when faced with the range of things that I usually open in a dozen tabs within one domain. Sure, I got a football field of screen space and employ the Spaces feature pretty heavily, and I even have a little program called Moom which lets me do preset window layouts by grid shapes, but who needs one more app to jump to in the dock? Or ten more? Beside, Fluid did not have the extensions and behaved even more oddly than the first attempt at cloning Chrome.

Finally I stumbled into Chrome's permanent Beta brother-in-Chromium, Canary, and did about the same thing but with Canary as the second instance of Chrome. Now I find that Canary, always in development, is pushing into a multi user space feature, probably in prep for Chrome general release. I fire up as many users as I want, but have to configure each separately unless I open the hood and do the following.

And, rummaging in the back space in the Library folder in the Finder, I figured out how to make all the user folders based on the same settings as my primary browser just by copying and pasting the contents of a folder that I want to clone. So now I can have identical workspaces that can have each account open for business at once with the same extensions and other preferences ready to go. Right now, this is great for keeping a discreet user space for TAPKAE.com, WomenWhoSpeakInChurch and Jubilee-Economics.

Definitely badass. I deserve a raise for my work.

Saturday
Aug132011

TAPKAE.com at Ten

I registered the domain name TAPKAE.com on this day ten years ago. 

Maybe I need to give credit to where credit is due. Actually, Mike Thaxton signed me up for TAPKAE.com this day ten years ago, having the kind of enthusiasm and knowledge that finally got me into the digital realm. He started the project of digitizing my life in early 2000 actually. Early on he got me a Hotmail address: tapkae@hotmail.com. (It has lapsed for a few years but I was able to get it back recently just in case anyone sent anything to it.) Not long after that we got into mp3.com the first go around and got really ridiculous with that. I was exposed to Photoshop with Mike's help. He's credited on Receiving as doing some digital audio editing. He got me into Keneally's news group just about this time ten years ago right after I got the G4. Thax definitely paved the way for me to get into all things digital. Brandon helped too in how he shared his machine, letting me use it for hours after he went to bed as long as I promised to lock up on the way out at 5 am! But Thax made it compelling enough to finally want to use a computer.

Around the time of the late summer of 2001, I was wrapping up the CD, and even though the cover has always stuck in my craw as rather lame and removed from my original idea, I just wanted to get it done, since the music was basically in the can for one full year before I sent the materials off to Canada for pressing, and received them back in late October. Mike and I were hatching ways to promote it, and a website was already an unavoidable necessity.

Mike had come out of a hand coding background since editors like Dreamweaver were not yet proven and were rather much the joke to guys like him. So he had me submit text content and ideas for page flow. We never really got a functional site up and running, but he knew he had to get me online. I still have the files of the early sites, but they are rather lame looking by comparison to this brilliant incarnation you see here at the time of this posting (the desert road motif over dark wood, hosted on Squarespace). Mike was what we'd call now a developer, not a designer. I was neither, really. For some time, he scoffed at Dreamweaver, but maybe around 2004, he was using it more. He also was writing Flash scripts and got real work doing such things. I never learned hard core HTML work, but I can edit it. I positively hate Flash and have never done anything using that program that I remained proud of.

Mike got me my first hosting company then too. I think it was called MavWeb. It had a whopping 100mb of space to work with, so I put samples of my tunes up, and during the winter-spring of 2002 while I was Art Institute of CA, I made the first live draft of my site, all HTML and a borrowed javascript menu that was really picky to get right, but that contained my stuff nicely. It was the first of many boxy looking sites that I have to confess I rarely got away from. It was the basic site that served me for about two years until I made the first big jump out of the Thax setup into something new—hosted with Startlogic (lasted until early this year), including, B2 blogging, and started a rather restless attempt at designs variously using frames, iframes, minimal design, and a radically cut back amount of content as my life was in a period of reinvention. Then in 2006, I embraced Wordpress for a little more than four years, basing the entire site on WP's blog and fixed pages. The Wordpress years though were rather light on design adventure since I never really had an easy time understanding PHP and Dreamweaver had not yet embraced Wordpress theme editing like it does now in CS5.

I really have no idea on exactly how many versions of the site have been posted, but let's make a list for fun.

  • Thax attempt with the spin-the-arrow menu with goofy icons that roughly indicated where you'd go. I later learned that was called "mystery meat."
  • Another Thax idea with a blue field and white icons that amounted to more mystery meat. All the more so because one icon was a piggy.
  • Brief, late 2001/early 2002 shift to a promo site done in Dreamweaver. Deep red and black primarily with a blurb for Receiving.
  • A light blue site done for school that was about Erik Satie, showing a bit more graphic adventure, and the first of the basic, five page HTML sites I'd do more of.
  • TAPKAE.com's first "real" site, the parchment colored one with the purple ribbed tile pattern and always a shifting header image of me and some instrument, or my face or something abstract. Constantly evolving within that theme for about two years. Was quite large and unwieldy with lots of popup windows for song lyrics and individual pictures. Included a shopping cart for Receiving that I think cost me more to start up and maintain than I got in sales. Poo! My blog, such as it was, was a monthly entry on the front page that I manually copied and pasted to another page when the time came to update. Was intrigued by this thing called a blog that did that work automatically. Hmm?
  • The big jump to Startlogic and B2 Blogger in 2004 brought a dual identity for a while. A blog was distinctly different than an HTML site for me, so they were linked and attempts made at color coordinating but otherwise not related. I don't seem to have a record of what the 2004 site looked like early on.
  • Ditched the 2002-4 version and tried a far simpler olive colored, four page site based on frames, mainly for experimentation's sake but also because I was finding it time to reinvent myself, and the big self indulgent site was a dinosaur to me.
  • Late 2004 had an iframe site that was mainly black and white with a gray-blue content window and minimal content on about six pages. Was a nice idea but would have been nicer if all the content fit in the window and didn't scroll out of view.
  • Early 2005 I went to all black and gold text. It looked rather royal. Styled the blog and main site in similar fashion. Content slowly reappearing in a more concise form. Blogging outrageously much. You can still see that 2004-2005 are the biggest tags in my tag cloud even now!
  • Then I swung from black to white and stripped it bare again, this time to a quite narrow text area and just a few pages of pix and tunes and not much else. Most of my attention was on the blog and during the body of 2005, launching EONSNOW.org which itself was a rather charming piece of visual material, at least for me.
  • The narrow, white site lingered into 2006 and eventually provided the basis of the Wordpress site. I came at whatever version they had in summer 2006, and it was still in the dark ages, really. But it gave me fixed pages, so I got with it and put all my site into the Wordpress basket and therein ditched the parallel blog/HTML approach that had defined the last two years' presentation.
  • The Wordpress era lasted until early 2011, and didn't vary much from their default template which I did slowly adapt in what seemed to be an agonizingly painful way because I didn't know how to see the entire site at once in an editor. But I did figure out how to edit the masthead and text styling, and that was adequate since I was losing my patience for digital life and was just interested in writing. The site was essentially a white site with a very minimal blue and gray and black features with occasional exceptions of colorful material. I found that updating Wordpress and maintaining the database was an exercise in self torture and digital slaughter (or so it seemed). My host, Startlogic, was not accountable for Wordpress, and Wordpress community did not answer to me for the matters concerning Startlogic. So sometimes I felt really sick to my stomach. I don't know why WP can't just do one button backups instead of making people go to their MySql backend. I dreaded update time. I lost categories along the way, and did not get them back until I manually created them on Squarespace and visually inspected EVERY post—all 550 of them, tagging and categorizing them all one by one.
  • Then in January 2011, I got on Squarespace after a few months of managing JEM's site there. It's a paid service and one that lets me worry only about adding and editing content and less so about managing the database. I pay for that to be taken care of now! I have finally found a great platform that can take all the content I can throw at it and arrange it sensibly in galleries with a lightbox view, blog, social media and RSS feed widgets, HTML pages, and more. And the ability to spontaneously style it has freed me to experiment and backtrack, and to revamp the entire site a couple times as I sought a style that actually echoed my sensibility and experience in life. Also, since Squarespace could handle anything I can throw at it, I decided to plunge ahead with filling it up with previously unreleased writings that I mainly inserted into the appropriate space in the blog chronology. Pictures from childhood and from trips with Kelli, scans of documents, and whole CD projects that were otherwise languishing in my closet and archive bins have had their chance to be seen and heard. The ability to caption all those documents is rather like my earliest experiments with photo albums where I did essentially the same thing on paper which was inserted into plastic sleeves. This desert motif is made of original images from my desert travels to New Mexico and Death Valley. This theme is easily the most visually exciting of all that I have done, and the best one to get me out of the box that always seemed to define my layouts.

Over a decade I have loved and hated this site. When faced with frightening brushes with MySql database issues, I was ready to just delete it all and go off and cry a while before doing I don't know what with my fist or a blunt object. But somehow nearly ten years of writing has survived and this year I did a job of proofreading it at least to fix the woefully bad stuff and some punctuation that I never seemed to get right in the early days. I straightened out some lumpy knots in sentences and did the work of tagging and categorizing and adding pictures to add some extra depth to posts. The whole thing is meant to convey a story now, as I have also been honing my human side in parallel to the digital work, and since I am paying a pretty penny for hosting that lets me make a cool site, it makes sense to get something out of it, particularly since 2011 has been a very unemployed year. I really see TAPKAE.com now as a complete thing that puts in digital form a sampling of what my life has looked like across a wider swath of time and space. There are things up here that I have in some ways been of mixed mind about, but decided, rather like the Jews who compiled their bible, what we call the Old Testament, to leave in the thorny and complicated parts in the interest of completeness. I have made some changes, but not to redact the embarassing parts out of existence. A few dumb posts got dropped, but the ones that chart my thoughts and feelings, charitable and otherwise, are left standing.

In a lot of ways this site became something so vastly unlike anything I ever imagined. Nothing like Thax and I were dreaming up a decade ago. But the same is true of my own self.

 

Tuesday
May172011

May Gray 

I find it is still hard to get back into a normal life in Sandy Eggo after time at Red Mesa. I miss the structural element of having a job, but seeing how I am trying to develop my digital media abilities in hopes of finding something that calls on more than my ability to pilot a vehicle or move boxes, I am having a harder time finding work than usual. I've had a couple interviews but really it was a step backward from my time delivering the taters and onions. Resumes sent to organizations looking for media people have gotten rejections at best, and ignorance at worst. Not working gives me time to dabble in a lot of things, and for better or for worse, I have pressed on into the world of social media options, and yep, that stuff takes time to work on. I still have my reservations about it all, though. A year ago I wanted nothing to do with it all. Now for the sake of helping JEM or Kelli with the new WomenWhoSpeakInChurch site and its Facebook version, and the stuff I do to keep amused (with Buber the Dog's FB site, and one other that shall go unnamed), I am pretty much trying my hand at the various ways these things can be made to work together.

Since Kelli's ordination I've been messing with video programs and it hasn't always been fun. The couple cameras that captured footage both had breaks in the program, both during the same song that Kay sang, but at different points. So neither camera got unbroken coverage. An audio CD did get a pretty good mix off the board. (I did all the audio at my old church.) Trying to settle on a strategy for making the experience available to those not there that day, and to make it concise enough to put on YouTube (in shorter bits) has been a challenge, and I found myself needing to push into a couple new programs to get stuff happening. The material will accumulate at the WomenWhoSpeakInChurch YouTube site.

Red Mesa has made worship in a church seem kind of bland and uninteresting on the whole. The times I have gotten to church since my return I have been as likely to sort of drift out to another room to sit and be alone, or to wander back in for the sermon. Or not. I resigned from the Christian Education commission, which I felt rather useless at. I found that the things I do in the context of the young adults bunch seems to sustain my interest more and feel more effective in real time. No procedural meetings. Just contact that gives me a chance to periodically assume my role of teacher, but otherwise as fellow student, and just trying to create community among people who, about two years ago, were strangers, or not even involved yet! So I feel that has been quite a success, and actually, the togetherness and level of participation of this group has been rather notable compared to other upstarts from the same period of about 2-3 years ago. We're planning our own end of the world party for June 11. I call it the Post Apocalyptic Regressive Communion. Maybe Kelli, now fully ordained, can bless the scavenged food elements of Tang! drink and perhaps nuclear-safe Twinkies or Wonder bread. Fun!

Maybe it is the May gray, but I do feel down. Not being active for work has left me to stay home a lot, and frankly, I put back the weight that I lost while in my bike riding heyday. And I feel it. I just don't feel that I want to ride anywhere anymore. I don't leave the house too much but to walk the dog, go to church, errands, and such. I know it is the stuff that leads to depression, but I am trying to stay productive with my digital projects which seem to blossom even as I get them done. Ongoing ones like podcasts take a few days to get right; Photo work to present my trips is an ongoing thing; I blog once in a while; learning video is a new trick; editing my whole site a few months ago was epic; getting Google Apps set up for two domains was a big deal, especially when it came to transfering three email accounts; and then there is the social media stuff. Once in a while, it's time to look at manuals or tutorials online. At any given time, I've go plenty on my plate of jobs to take on. And not working is an unmatched time to get that stuff done. I hope it pays off as I push toward positions that might be more able to call upon my actual interests and enthusiasm.

 

Friday
Feb042011

TAPKAE.com Mk lll

I have been in a feverish spell of working on this site this last month or so. The previous post was a good introduction to what is going on here. At the time of this writing I have manually combed all but two years' worth of my posts, with an overall tally of about 555 posts over nearly nine years. It has been almost round-the-clock work to copy and paste into a program called TextWrangler, and to eradicate all types of nasties that have been partly my "style" and partly the work of translations from one blog platform to another. It is mind boggling how many elipsis points I used all these years. Oy! Lots of replacing double line breaks with paragraph tags. Oh, what fun. Not!

Today I spent some time away from the database part of things, and styled the page all over again. I also finally pointed the domain to this content, now I am done with Startlogic and Wordpress and exclusively on Squarespace. Since Squarespace allows for us restless tinkerers to restlessly tinker, I fully expect things to change around, but I do enjoy the freedom to explore and swap things out in a way that I didn't really do with Wordpress. Part of what I want to do is make it a more visually rich place. I am tired of the white page I had for years, and finally have a system that makes it fun to experiment.

I still have to sit with the thought that maybe no one reads this or no one gives a damn. For a while there I was writing some real personal stuff and I actually changed the settings so the site wasn't searchable by robots. That was also a time that I found all my music grabbed by countless free podcasting music sites. At first it was quite shocking. Now, for whatever reason, I plan to open it up again to such readers so that it isn't a $240/year money sink with little chance of being encountered outside of my circle of buddies.The last year has been a time of reconsidering my life on the web, and for better or for worse, I dare put more of it up.

Friday
Jan212011

Off the Digital Deep End. Again.

On the 7th, I was dismissed from my job of nearly three years. This post is not about that. However, usually I have the feeling that doing full time work is a major distraction from what I feel I should be doing. While my last job did have some moments of revelation and at times I did feel that it was closer than other jobs had come.

Years ago when left to my devices, I recorded music and lost myself for hours, days, weeks, and months on projects. Not so now, for a range of reasons, but the imperative to tweak on the minutiae of one digital medium or another is upon me. 2011 is technically the anniversary year of my acquiring my domain at tapkae.com, and loosely speaking, the first appearance of any content here (dabblings by Mike Thaxton and me). 2002 was when the site got its first real complete incarnation, 2004 when I started using B2 blogger for my first proper blog platform, and 2006 when I hand copied most of the stuff over to Wordpress, which I have been using since. By the time you see this post, that will be a thing of history.

Earlier in the summer of 2010, Wordpress came out with version 3 and I liked it a lot better right away. But still it nagged at me that it was such a kit to assemble, and sometimes I just wasn't into that. The v3 was the thing that would have delighted me in 2005-6 when WP first came on the scene for me. But over the years, I have a number of dreadful nights wondering if I screwed something up in the database or lost years of work altogether. It seems that there should be some easy user interface to manage all that safely instead of having to actually go under the hood. Anyhow, the frustrations sometimes spoiled the fun. And that wasn't even the business of being creative yet. Most of my time using WP was in the period when Dreamweaver wasn't quite aware of WP, and was often playing catch up. So Dreamweaver was an editor for my content, but never the interface to manage the whole site, though once I upgraded computer, got a demo of the most recent DW version, got the new WP, it all seemed exciting to be able to edit the themes on my machine, and not live on the server. Sometimes that too was dreadful. As a result, my understanding of CSS is kind of weak, and often I am bewildered at how things relate from html to css, and how all that interacts with the database.

I heard about Squarespace just about the time I was trying to get the JEM site on to the v3 Wordpress. I looked into it and found it was just the thing for what JEM wanted. And when, after months of not being able to get our podcast listed at iTunes, and when the new Squarespace account came on and we got a nice functional site up and running, complete with iTunes approved podcast feed, I was excited.

Squarespace is an all in one host and CMS that does about the same stuff as I could do in Wordpress, but finally, the ability to edit the visual style and layout without guessing my way through CSS has made things far more fun and with a dose more individuality and a lot more ability to try things and not get burnt. Squarespace is generous with their specs, and caters to the folks who want a real system. They price themselves out of most hobbyists' range, and nearly out of mine since the decision to jump over to their service coincided with my job loss. But it had to be so; my old host, Startlogic, was set to renew in March, and I couldn't justify that since I'd be abandoning the WP platform that was the core of all my site activity. A Squarespace plan like I have is $240/year which is more than double what I have paid for the Startlogic plans (which climbed nearly imperceptibly over the nearly seven years I was there). Since Squarespace is like a Mac to the Wordpress/Startlogic PC, I reasonably expect that I won't be caught in the Bermuda Triangle of a host that doesn't support me when I am in over my head with Wordpress, and a version of Dreamweaver that couldn't edit a whole site at once, and all the other components that were bound together with gum and twine.

I still have things to figure out about how to fine tune CSS on the new Squarespace platform, but the business of having a full CMS to do galleries and a whole range of prescribed page types is quite exciting. On reflection, I found that most of the pages I had on the WP era site were essentially galleries that I had painstakingly edited in Dreamweaver and copied into Wordpress. All the notes and stuff got copied over here as captions—a job to be sure, but one that won't be prone to odd code wandering and shit not being spaced just so. Structuring the site is a joy too; all the sections are basically drag and drop items. Interestingly, WP has that in v3. But chasing down plugins and extensions for WP is not my cup of tea anymore. And by far, the major WP version upgrades were nightmare times.

So this 2011 version of tapkae.com is also a time when, perhaps with the help of my jobless state now, I can try to comb the site and clean it up. I have about 560 posts now from the earliest days of the first complete site in 2002. I have no idea how many text encoding problems I have from various content coming from a few blogging systems, Word documents, and who knows what. I have an eye to doing methodical work to strip all that stuff out and to standardize things that have annoyed me for years—automatically when possible, but almost certainly down in the trenches. Big project. And I guess I don't even know who sees this stuff anyway. You?

The one thing I had to contend with when getting Squarespace is that they don't do email hosting. So I found myself cozying up to Google for their free Google Apps package, the leading feature of which is the email hosting. I botched it the first time and had to drop it for a few days till their hold period expired. But it works great now. And it is free. But it took me into a few previously uncharted waters.

And if that isn't enough, I spent some good time finally putting some good effort into styling the JEM site. I wanted to get out of the box on at least one of these sites. I'm quite happy to have it where it is now. I am just completing the 10th podcast episode. We record them here in the living room and my office space. We have had a few guests on different shows. It keeps me at the business of recording something.

If that isn't enough, I was talking to still two more different non profit organizations about their web presence. Both want new stuff to happen. One is willing to throw some money at something, and the other is running close to the bone and wants to support their thrift store outlet so it can support them. Oddly enough, I find myself pitching Wordpress.com (the free version that WP hosts and manages) for the one with the thrift store. The first might entertain the Squarespace option, and I now know that I can get that happening pretty decently.

And still more! I've been nudging Kelli toward getting a site for her topics of concern in disability minstry, or her perspective on being a woman in ministry. To go with the latter for a moment, I pitched the idea to Kelli and a couple others of her friends who are in similar situations. The idea is to have a group blog called Women Who Speak In Church. Just tonight we signed on with the free Wordpress site. It would be excellent podcast material. The group of them have a great rapport as it is, and there are enough to support a group effort and keep something interesting coming at all times.

Another "we'll see" is that I have made rumblings about doing a site for my church, seeing how this is the 100th anniversary year and I know they have plans to address this. But this is one of those situations that one must walk on eggshells. I already have had one disastrous time making a church site and perhaps cutting in where I didn't belong.

Facebook is a love-hate thing for me. I just never know where to find stuff I already visited. I never know what sort of odd glitch it will throw me. It is from another planet. I hate it. But in order to administer JEM's FB page, I need to keep it on.

Oh... is that all? Good enough for now. Like in 2002, it is back to the computer for the 16-18 hour shifts. Well, maybe not, but it seems like it.

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.

Friday
Jul302010

Word-Pressed

I like Wordpress but it has been a rough thing to wrangle into shape, coming into it originally not knowing shit about PHP or MySql databases and all that goes into that area of web applications. I've come to appreciate Wordpress and it keeps getting better. Especially now that it is in version 3 and many administrative tasks are far easier. Their default theme is a lot nicer than the previous versions. Gone now is the stripped white page that I had been using for a few years. I changed the masthead once in a while, but since the entire background and masthead was of a single graphic that was sliced this way and that, I never really figured out how to do more than change the graphic and overall color. Crap. So I let things stagnate, and little by little I found myself appreciating the limitation of an all white page.

Things have changed and I like playing with the easy to change background color and tiling options for any image there; and the header can be changed on the fly. Cool. But better still is that there are a great many widgets that can be put in the side that I finally can install. Best of all, for some reason not clear to me, for all those years on earlier WP design, there was no home button! If you got away from the main blog home screen, you had to hack the address or hit the back button. WTF? Anyhow, the menu now is a joy to build and edit, allowing the main menu to point to static pages, blog entries, categories, or off-site destinations. The drag and drop feature is far nicer than the old way, which involved naming a page and establishing where it was in the hierarchy. Good luck if you have to change the page name—then it would be time to redo everything that calls that page. Ick.

I find myself in another period of learning about web design, a period such as visits me every now and then. Getting the new machine forces me to get new programs to do this stuff, or to seek out new solutions. The IT guy at work tipped me off to a CMS called Squarespace that I might like vastly more than Wordpress, especially if I decide to go for the all in one hosting/editing/design package they offer at a price that is a bit steeper than the actual cost of hosting tapkae.com but with a level of integration that seems to promise far less of a scattered interface in publishing my stuff—gone would be the myriad windows of WP, host server, database tables, Dreamweaver, and so on.

For now though, I shall tinker with WP and see what I can make it do.