Monday, August 10, 2009

Sometimes You See Stuff

As I said last week, I believe that hearing The Voice, or experiencing a sudden flash of insight or intuition is a fairly common experience. Most everyone can tell the story of a hunch, a feeling, an impulse that led to some great opportunity or other. An odd thing about the experience is that you can only see it in retrospect. And if you try to anticipate the encounter- catch a glimpse of the wheels of fate in action, it becomes invisible.

So when I got out of the hospital, and wrote the narrative of my adventure in the cardiac ward I made a point of noting that I had not experienced any sort of luminous moment, no angelic visitors, no sudden spiritual awakening, or anything like that. It was sort of disappointing.

It just took time to digest the experience. Throughout the whole episode, from the moment I collapsed in the emergency room to the time they released me, a little over forty eight hours later, I had an odd, and almost annoying sort of tic running like a soundtrack through my thoughts: "I wonder who made that machine? Who drew the plans for this room? Someone sat at a drafting table, or a CAD screen, and created the layout for those circuit boards. Someone planned out the wiring and installed those electrical fixtures. Someone laid the tile, hauled the concrete, broke the earth to lay the foundation of this place. This hospital where these people are saving my life. The tens of thousands of businesses that create the tools that enable them to do so..." and on, and on. If I saw a picture on the wall I was reminded that someone painted it; someone made the frame...
And the vision expanded until I saw that the entire miracle that is Western Civilization is the compounded effort of countless ordinary people getting up and going to ordinary jobs. It is the will of God that life should flourish. Holy is the work done toward that end. And who can deny that life flourishes in this place? For all its microcosmic faults, the overwhelming balance is abundant Good. We here are so richly blessed.

Now as I look back on it I have to laugh at myself a little. I had The Voice shouting in my ear while I was busy listening for the voice. I was so busy watching for angels that I didn't see the vision. At least not until some days later. Not until the shock of the whole event had begun to wear off. The immediate details of the tests, the procedures, the pain, all faded pretty quickly. But the memory of that odd mental chatter, and the vision it pointed to, remained clear.


Thursday, August 6, 2009

A Decision on the Hill.

This has become another odd exercise, writing these musings on work. Almost everything I've written down in the last few posts has been biographical stuff I have covered before in one context or another. And much of the stuff yet to come will have been covered before as well. But there is a point to all this, beyond my vain rehashing of stuff that's already well and vainly hashed. If I go slowly enough I may just figure out what that point is before I finish.

Writing is work. So is drawing, painting, sculpture, music. Blogging too, come to think of it. Exercise is certainly work, and all the really fun things in life: games, sports, hobbies, require huge investments of effort. So not only is work, work; play is work too. Everyone would love to have play for a job, but, of course, once play becomes a job it is no longer play. Just like slack time. Unless slack is framed by a routine of productive work, it is meaningless.

By the summer of '06, the routine, productive, or not, was an eight mile loop that I'd walk every day through the steep narrow roads in the nearby hills. The route took me past the elementary school by my house, and one afternoon I paused there and just looked at the plant. It was built over fifty years ago. The low slung modern buildings are settled under the shade of huge ash trees. It looks as much like a park, as it does a school. I thought back, not on the teaching career, but to the days when I worked the night shift. What a mellow routine it had been. (Mellow was a highly prized commodity in the seventies) I thought about working at this, or a similar small facility, taking care of the place. It wouldn't be a bad gig at all, I thought. And I could see doing that again...

So I started thinking of just saying screw it with this 'retirement' business, and going back to work. But as I understood it, if I went back to work I'd risk losing the retirement income. That was a tough call. I wrestled with the decision all that summer. I was trudging up the steepest hill on the eight mile loop, sweating hard, and pushing the pace, and my head was swimming with 'what do you really want to do?', when the answer just burst out of me, and I said to myself something like, "I don't care, dammit. I want to go back to work."

And just at that moment- right on cue.



Wednesday, August 5, 2009


Work is what we do and who we are. Notice that we say, "Mr. Smith is an accountant, a salesman, a manager." Not, "Mr. Smith is a father, a golfer, a jazz lover who works as an accountant, a salesman, etc". Like it or not, when you take a job it becomes part of who you are. Same when you lose one.
And although I left the teaching job in'97, I worked on the stones without taking a break until '03. I couldn't stand the thought of not being on project. Some time before the passion for artwork kicked the bucket, I got my first computer, and got on line. The goofy snapshot that headed Monday's post turned into the "Doesn't Play Well" project that took another couple of years to finish. But the story was a project, not a job. And when it was finished in'05, I didn't have anything to follow it up with.

The artwork sprouted under the eve of the teaching job, and grew strong enough to sustain me for a few seasons. Sprouting under the eve of the artwork was a spiritual hunger that pulled me back to a very cool "footbally" kind of internet site. At first I went to the footbally place for politics in the wake of 9/11, and news about the jihad; soon it was less about the politics, and more about 'meeting' with some few of the people there who seemed to carry a peculiar set of religious convictions that just- pulled at me like a magnet. Something in their words carried fire. And got them all expelled from the footbally place. Some started their own blogs. The Coonosphere was born. (thanks, Queeg!)

In the mean time I had *how do you say?* an overabundance of slack. And I was face to face with the Ghost of No Occupation- the place where you dread the "What do you do?" question, because the answer is, "nothing", and the part of you that is measured by what you do remains vacant.
That's not to say that I spent all my time staring at the wall or even the internet. After all, there was still the household to maintain, my mother to take care of, and the myriad details of life that can fill the better part of any day. I spent much time walking in the hills, much time in prayer, and much time wrestling with The Religious Question. And the Question seemed to be, "What do you want of me, God? What is it that You would have me do?"
Some time early in '06 I was marching up the first steep hill on my daily eight mile walk, and I just got The Voice again. And before I go on here let me explain what I mean by, The Voice: Compelling flashes of intuition, maybe. Sometimes, an actual voice in my ear. Ricky Raccoon described moments of intense visual focus. Some may describe a nudge from a Guardian Angel. I believe that most people can describe several such incidents in their lives. Anyway- this time it was a- voice. I was marching up the hill and... "Do you want to carry the fire?" it said. I got kind of a gut drop, and stopped mid-step. Whatever this was it was Real, and it sounded suspiciously like it was asking for a commitment. I didn't know... "You can refuse." it said. That set off a real gut drop. Whatever this was, I did not want to refuse it...And I just said, "Yes. Yes I will."
And just at that moment-

Nothing in particular happened.


Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Worked Out

So anyway- yeah the breakdown and loss of the teaching job, and all that crap... I've written about it before here on the wfb.
But the topic is Work.
I wanted the legendary Job With Meaning. Make the world a better place. Feel secure that your keep has been earned. Teaching school seemed to meet all three requirements. And doing it in the inner city LA added the grit, and the drama. I liked doing it; I gave it my best effort, and for a while, I was very good at it.
Now. I could say the same thing, minus the part about inner city LA, about the night job cleaning up the local Jr. high. It met the requirements according to my own set of values.
But, of course, teaching pays better than cleaning up the classroom. And face it- you can sling all the happy talk you want about the value of 'good honest work' but there just ain't no prestige in answering the "What do you do?" question with saying you're a night janitor. Especially if it's an eligible woman doing the asking. Answering the question with, "inner city school teacher", well- that's a different matter. And it was a point of great pride with me to have earned the right to give that answer. I believed that I was doing good, and doing it well. Eh-maybe. I really don't know, now. But I believed it then.
It all crashed in June of '97. What started as the day from heck turned into a breakdown, and a two year nightmare that ended with my getting a disability 'retirement' from the state. So there went the job, and with it the title, modest as it was, and much of who I was, or thought I was.

And it was work that kept me going through the whole thang. Artwork, actually. For years I had used the drafting table as a source of escape from the stress of the day job. I channeled all the anger, frustration, and disappointment into graceful biomorphic graphics, and later, Celtic design. I have posted some of the work here on the wfb. With the loss of the job I turned my energy to stone carving. I carved every day. I treated it like a job. Show up early; get out the tools, and carve another chunk of alabaster into something new in the world. It got me through. I made some cool stuff, won some ribbons, and got invited to display at several fine venues. Even sold a couple. But did it have Meaning? Was I making the world a better place? Was I secure in knowing my keep had been earned? Not really. And, truth to tell, I was a fair to meddling fine amateur, but not big time material. And the artistic burn that had sustained me from the mid eighties onward just fizzled out cold in '03. I had been slowing down somewhat, even though I was about 2/3 through a very good piece. I just went out there one morning, looked at the rock, and it was like suddenly falling all the way out of love, and all the way down to indifference in the time it took to finish a cup of coffee.
It was like losing another job.


Monday, August 3, 2009

Where This Stuff Started

Thank you Julie, Joan, Rick, and Robin for the notes. That made my day.
Like I said yesterday, the next few posts are going to be about work. That's nothing new here on the wfb; I write about work every now and again, and most of the stuff I'm going to talk about is stuff that has come up before. Work, for me for the last two and a half years has been substituting on call for the custodial/maintenance department of the local school district. Not exactly life in the fast lane. Nonetheless I like it well enough.
So much for the 'where I am'.

How I came to be here is another matter. I mean- this is how I started out almost forty years ago: pushing broom for a small town school district. Irony is- I recognized, in 1975, that I had every reason in the world to stay right where I was. Surfing was The Most Important Thing, and the job was tailor made for a surf bum. Fall, winter, and spring were on the swing shift, so I could surf every day if I felt like it. Summer was day shift at work, but the summer beaches were crowded, hot, and usually flat anyway. Besides- I actually enjoyed the work. Cleaning up the school was simple, but it was important that it be done, and done well. Administration was easy going, and most of the faculty was appreciative. Life rolled along on the rhythm of season and tide. I was having fun, and I knew it. Money? I had enough. That was enough.

Seeds of discontent sprout anyway. Girlfriend arrives on the scene. Late night beer and bedfest. Bye bye surf, and "By the way, why don't you get a better job?"
So I left the night job with the school system for a job in field service with the gas company. I hated the gas company for three years before I quit. I took a trip through Mexico, and came home wondering what to do. A couple months of salt water therapy later, I had my answer.
I wanted a job that mattered, not just an eight hour exchange of time for dollars. I wanted to do work that was more than just work. I wanted a job with meaning. [insert eye rolling emoticon]. I was on my way home from the beach, waiting to make a right turn. And I just got The Voice. Suddenly I had a picture of myself standing up in front of a high school class getting a bunch of first semester freshmen ready to gain the basic skills that will get them through the next four years and beyond...
So just after my thirtieth birthday I signed up for college. I wanted to teach English in high school.

And so I did. For ten years. Until the breakdown in '97.


Sunday, August 2, 2009

Getting Plugged Back In

It would just figure. For the last couple of weeks I've been impatient to end the internet fast, get back on line, get in touch with Rick, and Ben, and everyone, and most of all, try to spill some of this turbulence that has been churning up my small corner of the world. But now I'm on line, and the road between my head and the keyboard is crawling along like the freeway at five on Friday. I don't even know where to start, and I can't come to any conclusions while the wheels of all this stuff are still turning. July is over, but the maelstrom of events that began the month will still suck the life out of my brain for another week or so before the next set of challenges comes up to take its place. Vague enough? I hope so. I do not know where things will end up. And much depends. Much.

But I do know where the next few posts are going to end up. They're going to end up being about work: work through the lens of my own epiphany, the translation of The Voice into the hard currency of deeds performed at its prompting: the simple business of getting up and going in and putting out a day's worth- the gritty business of working a tough dirty job. And the bullshit.

There's always crap to put up with on a job. Any job. It gets under your nails and under your skin, and worms its way into your head where it crowds out your attention span, and spills over into every corner of your thoughts. Seeds of discontent sprout into silent soliloquies, and lectures. Righteous internal monologues grow like so many annoying goddamn weeds. Trivial matters morph into mental gadflies that sting you awake at twenty to three, and buzz around the gates of sleep until it's time to get up anyway... This is fly season, this summer in my head.

But if I want to make sense of anything, I have to go back to the start of the current situation, and sometimes it's a tricky business to know exactly where you are and just how you came to be there. Some situations in life arise from the cumulative result of all the decisions and events that preceded them. Others are visited upon us suddenly, with no precedent or preparation. Sometimes it's a combination of the two. Point is- I need to pick a point, and start from it. I'll do that in just a minute.

To my friends in the Coonosphere: I will be in touch. I have to catch up on The War, and the Froth; I'm hungry for haiku, and I'm lookin' forward to BS'n with Ben.