Tuesday, January 31, 2006

The Marlboro Man

After decades of clinical awareness, why some still glorify or miscomprehend combat is inconceivable. Check out this link for a very moving article about the price one man and his family is paying. Be sure to click on the story link above the photo.

That's all for today.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

A Day in the Life

I've been working on another post on the Torah and the Exodus and faith in general. My faith-moods swing so wildly. One week I feel sure (mostly) of my Christianity, another week I feel the opposite. Not necessarily for any significant reason, either. It can be as simple as reading one critic online who fell away from his faith (apart from any rational argument I find convincing). It can be me simply thinking (too much?) about question I don't have answers for. But this is one of those hard days.


I had a student go off in my am. lit. class Wed., at least I consider it going off. This guy wears an ascot tie with short sleeves and a sweater vest and brings printed copies of articles from critics he expects me to know. I do not mind if a student brings in outside information; but this is a survey with several dozen authors covered, this is a community college, and dammit I have five freaking classes only one of which is american lit. I'm not an americanist who lives in the library researching the latest jizz. In three years, I'll probably be teaching the british survey.

I don't know that this is the best way to handle these courses, but it's how my dept. handles them. And I work hard to do a good job every semester. This kid was stubborn and argumentative, trying, among other things, to argue that John Marcher in James' "The Beast in the Jungle" might be afraid of syphillis and that's why he can't draw close to May (and those of you who don't remember or haven't read the story will have to trust me; this is a reach). Fine.

But when he starts reading some critic from Northwestern out loud on the ambiguities in James...it's not THAT ambigous; a text can't say anything you want in my opinion regardless of what the reader response people say. Then he got snotty. So I finally said, "Are you trying to be an ass?" Someone else in the class answered, "yes," which was appreciated, but he did calm down after this.

There's something wrong with this guy, and I don't like whatever it is. If he wants to do graduate level work in James he should either be polite in class with his points and then turn in GRADUATE FREAKING LEVEL PAPERS...I will be happy to grade these as graduate papers if he wishes...or he should get accepted at a research university and wait for the day he actually gets to work with a Ph.D. In my dim view, critics, and theory, are overrated and not central to an intro course in literature.

There was more, but I covered enough.

This is under my skin in a big way: criticism, rejection even, the pain that comes from feeling inadequate in the classroom. I'm getting better about being on the spot. When I was driving back from snowboarding I was picking my nose in the car (hey, S and Mikey were asleep) and some board kids drove by with one making really exagerrating picking gestures. I smiled. He did it again because he didn't think I saw him. I still smiled. It was funny, not painful.

But in class, at work, it's different.

I am dressing up more at work, and this seems appropriate for my age.


La Paz. My skipper is going to La Paz this summer as I noted a few posts ago. I have to fly. I'm very scared. Especially because the only airline that goes into La Paz proper is Aero California, a Mexican airline. I'm sure their airlines and dated DC 9's are fine, but when I brought up pictures of the interior of the planes in flight (you can do this...it looks just like you're on the plane) to do exposure work from home...wow. My heart is still beating. I know that's how it works: face the fear in manageable increments, but while I have only mild fear of getting hit with a 30 knot chabusco or thunder squall on the sea of cortez (not on a 51 foot Beneteau baby, plus I trust my captain) I have uber fear of getting on the plane to get there. Well, of getting off the ground on the plane.

I need to talk to my skipper and see how he actually plans to get there; he could be flying into Cabo and getting a lift over (one whacky member of the crew, and most of them are characters worthy of fiction, is going to spend a month driving there and back) but however it happens, I really want to get on that plane. I'm afraid of Mexico as well as flying, so this is a good double slammy. For the ship, and the photos of the sea I've found on the web...these are truly exquisite. This is the kind of boat I would need years of experience to skipper in one of the most beautiful bodies of water in the world. I have to go. "It's the chance of a lifetime...he says it's the chance of a lifetime."


This about covers it. I read some of my post below, the Estella 4.0, and I was amazed how stark the prose is. Minimal. I write these so quickly, sweet thanks to all who read. What I lack in style I try to make up for in raw gut juice.

Why my faith is under attack I don't know. My brother sent me the email of an NT professor who is willing to recommend reading. How cool is that? When I have time. For now, I'm reading Asimov's Foundation for my genius sci. fi. class (and oh they are all one would expect: one girl says her father took all his college notes in Tolkien's dwarf runes; another guy couldn't stop talking about Game of Thrones; these kids live these books like personal religions and I love it). Also reading Dune for the same class and Turn of the Screw for am. lit. I've read all these before, but reading a book and managing a discussion over 80 or even 150 minutes are two different things.

Here's to success in class, faith in Christ, and flying with mexicans.

Love and peace to all who watch and wait with me here.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Punch Drunk Love (Estella's Story, 4.0)

(Once again, dearest S, there is nothing here for us; I continue to work through my past to fully embrace my present; please pass by this post).

I have a little time on my hands the first week of the semester; S is working and Mikey is at school. The laundry just started and I want to lift (Mikey has a weight bench in his room now). I haven't had time to use my blog for much of anything the last few months. This is one of the stories I began earlier on the blog and want to finish.

Barber's Adagio for Strings is playing and will keep playing. The beauty of memory, all memory, the poem of consciousness...the power of human memory styles itself into healing narrative...

Part 3 of this story is here.

If my earlier posts on this relationship were dark, I'm afraid much greater darkness is coming.


I was hangin' by the phone, tired
Of sleepin' alone
Baby tell me where did I go wrong? When
Minutes seem like hours and
Days seem like weeks, how could
A year last so fucking long?
--Social Distortion--

After I read Estella's note, standing there in a tool belt full of tools I barely knew how to use, my fingertips cracked and sore from turning nuts with my fingers, my body and hair dirty as only someone who works around machinery all day can be, I knew my life had just changed. I underestimated the depth of the coming change, though.

I took the note off the mirror (in her oddly elegant, looping hand I would still recognize) and stumbled down the walkway to our neighbor friends Ken and Kari's apartment. They read it, and I what I most remember was their anger. Anger at E for leaving when both knew how I had stuck by her though difficult times. And looking back, that strikes me too. I was in an essentially sexless marriage. It was also significant for E that I felt too depressed to work in academia, in any kind of education or any job where I felt pressure after I finished my M.A., graduating first in English, a few months before. My latin prof. had found me a job teaching latin at a private school in the south bay, I think; looking back, what a wonderful thing he did, but even that felt like too much, the driving in traffic, building a curriculum. I had already bailed on any Ph.D. plans even though I was accepted at Claremont (I only applied locally so I could stay near my therapist, Robert). I was too seriously depressed for any serious responsibilty, for any real assessment. When E left me in November of 92 I was working for an industrial electrical company in bakeries; I was happy to be there at the time, but frankly, it was the worst job I've ever had. Of all of them. The worst. Rising at dawn to do work I wasn't good at and was too distressed to focus on in bakeries over 100 degrees with earplugs in because of the machine noise. It was from there I came home and found the note.

It's true, and fair to say, that I hadn't worked full time during the marriage except during the breaks; I was in graduate school. E worked at a bank and then went back to school and was substitute teaching at the time. I taught, made enough money to pay the rent (and nothing else) and put my energy into my academics. I believed I needed to do this to find a job as a professor at a university to some day support my family so my wife could stay home and raise our babies. Were we great with money, with our credit card balance? No. But once my depressions hit in 90 my compulsive need to shop greatly decreased. We did use some money she inherited to pay debts, but then again, we lived on more than 12 grand in student loans (I married with zero in loans) and I paid back every cent of that over the years.

But back to my narrative: I remember Ken and Kari crying with me as I sat there on the floor and sobbed, and before I left, Kari kissing me briefly but fully on the mouth with her own mouth wet from crying. It's odd that my sister in law did the same thing when she came to visit with her husband, E's brother, a few weeks later. When she left, she quickly kissed me on the mouth. Both those kisses, offered to me in my despair, were beautiful gifts given to a man who had not kissed or made love to his wife in months. Who in one sense had almost never made love to her. They were brief reminders that I was worth feminine love and damned appreciated at the time.

That night I went to a bible study (of singles, oddly) E and I had been attending. I was well on the outside of whatever faith I had already (I remember asking the leader, 'but do you really think Christianity is an intellectually defendable faith?'). Still, I looked up to Chris, the leader, and when I shared my note that night, still in my work clothes, and sobbed openly in front of twenty people I hardly knew, he commended me on my 'godly example,' letting my pain out in front of others. I was so upset I didn't feel I had a choice. A few days later when I heard from a friend who saw E or spoke with her, I don't remember which, that she was still committed to the relationship, I went on my knees in the kitchen, thinking of the scene from Swiss Family Robinson when the family kneels to thank God for its deliverance from the sea at the mother's insistence. I did that. I knelt and thanked God. Did I know God? Not the way I do now, but I prayed in thanksgiving none the less.

I saw E on the front steps of our church maybe three weeks later. I was trying to get a pastor or someone we both k new to talk with her, maybe talk with both of us, as she refused to have any contact with me. I believe that time on the steps was the last time I held her. I had bought a blue rain coat at REI and when we ran into each other by accident we both teared up; I cannot describe the reality of that emotion. She said she was glad to see that I was taking care of myself (I guess the new jacket); we hugged briefly and I remember looking into her friend L's face who was with her and seeing genuine tears.

("What God has joined together, let no man, let no man, let no man...")

I wanted her to come back unequivocally; I never felt good about the separation; I never fucking wanted it. When we did finally talk on the phone I was willing endure the separation if she needed it, but I said I also needed "a thread of kindness, some connection," meaning that if we just talked on the phone from time to time, maintained some line of frienship while we were apart, it would be much different for me than no conversation or contact at all. As time went on I found out that what she wanted was the latter.

In our first conversation on the phone after she left I do remember saying, "If you don't come back, I'll..." I didn't know what I'd do and had nothing in mind, but she responded cold as blood, "Don't threaten me," and I knew she enjoyed saying it. That moment fulfilled what she believed about me and what she was telling others about me. I didn't threaten her before, and at the time I just said, "okay," and meant it. She told me much later all she heard was my anger, but what I remember in those early phone calls was sobbing, begging her to come back, so hard my whole apartment building could hear me. This happened in Scooter's apt., actually, on his phone. From the day she left I couldn't sleep alone in our bed or even go into my house except when I had to. Scott opened his apt. to me and I slept on his floor in my sleeping bag for months before I moved across the way and got a roomate. A true brother, Scott. The love he is showing his adopted kids now? A love he once showed me. He and his roomate Don were completely supportive, and without them, I don't know; would I be alive? I don't know. I never quit.

I was still struggling with feelings of hurting myself most of the time, obsessions, but not random obesssions, lots of depression.

When I got laid off from my shitty electrical job about three months after she left (the large project for which I had been hired was finished; the boss was an asshole in my opinion) and asked through a friend if she could help me with what I still considered our rent I got a message back: E wants to have complete financial separation from you and you need to take care of the rent on your own. I didn't know at the time that this is illegal; in California estranged spouses must still help support the other spouse if support is necessary. E left me, incidentally, right after she got a long-term sub job and was able to support herself better. She was making more money now than either of us ever had. She bought a new Saturn. Her refusal to help pay the rent was a true emotional blow. I started temping in warehouses and in offices, stugggling amidst my very strong depression to get any work I could so I could freaking eat.

She showed up one day in those early weeks with a list of everything we had in our apartment. Each thing was marked with a little 'E' or a 'T.' Estella had decided which person would get which thing. She came in with more, she took more. She took the bed. I was fine with that. I hadn't been in it in weeks. When I think of who else that bed might have held later I am sick to my stomach. She left the fridge, the one other large purchase we had made together as a married couple. After she left I was unable to keep house at all. I hardly went in there except to shower, cry, and eat and dress, then back to Scott's. I was very upset during this little division ceremony (which was held in Scott's living room). Steve F. was there and may remember it better than me. What I do know is that a few weeks later I was coming home and saw two big guys I had never seen before taking the fridge out of our very messy apartment. I didn't say anything, being a nice guy; I imagine if I had they were ready to kick my ass. The next day I got a message from E saying that the fridge she had in her place 'didn't work out' so she took ours. That was very painful. What did she expect me to keep food in? What was I supposed to do? Why didn't she buy another one?

My anger was a big, big deal to E. Before she left I had put a punching bag up in our little parking garage (and underneath Rob and Katherine's place; they were very cool to let me pound on it). Pound on it I did. Twice a day to keep my self-destructive feelings at bay. I never went down there because I was feeling rage, I went down there because I was feeling like killing myself and this was one of only two things that helped then (the other being sobbing tears). Somehow, at some time and place, she went from loving me, or letting herself love me, to hating who I was, believing I was abusive, a sexual perpetrator even (and at this, even I have to smile; I've made love to three women in my life counting E and never been rough or forceful with any woman). Still, anger was a critical fear for her, and angry I surely was under all the depression. Some of it at her, I'm sure, for not being my lover. Robert had shown me how to let that destructive self-hate pain out by hitting inanimite things when I felt the need; it was better than imagining myself hanging in our closet with the tie she got me for Christmas. There were weeks and months when I was afraid to even go near our closet. But as I said before, I never touched her aggressively in my life, and while I can understand her terror better now, I wonder why our therapist didn't mediate this contrast better. Or perhaps E simply knew no other way to react.

For surely she was angry, angry in a way I did not understand at the time as I tried to peer at reality through the gray haze of self-blame. I know I said hurtful things to her during the marriage. When I told my mother on the phone a few days after Estella left that she was gone I was howling, "and she left me because of the poison you put in me." In part, true. But I was strangely unaware of the poison in E, and of what I now know to be the machinations of a third party I had trusted, truly, with my very life.

One thing I do believe, you can't leave a person and refuse to talk to him for months and still be 'working on the marriage.' You can't. I was right about the need for 'a thread of kindness.' Some conversation, mediated or not, is required. Our downstairs neighbor Angel, bless her, wrote E and told her the same thing. I don't know that anyone else did; Ken said as much I think and E quickly left. It's tough when you're trying to support both sides of a break up like this. Not that any of it would have changed E, though. The person she needed to tell her some contact with me was required if she wanted to have a marriage probably wasn't telling her that. He sure told me what to do though.

Months passed. E told me in a letter once that she wanted six months of separation and no contact. Okay. I counted out the days, friends. One the six month anniversary two of her friends called me and said they had to drop something by. They came to Scott's and handed me a manila envelope, then both ran down the stairs, which I thought very odd. That night one of them called me, and in a singsong child mind-fuck voice, told me they ran because, "we're afraid of you." Oh fuck me. Even then I thought that was ridiculous (one of the two I recently had contact with and she sincerely apologized; the apology was accepted).

Inside the envelope was paperwork; Estella had filed for a legal separation. Not a divorce, just a legal separation; I remember looking closely to see which box was checked. I think she said she had to protect herself from me financially. Balls. That paper carried a lot of weight for me. After that my HMO psychiatrist I saw once a month in a group we called Club Med said he wondered why I didn't get a girlfriend and begin having sex since I was legally separated (I found out much later E never filed the papers; just served them to me). I was very defensive to the idea of dating anyone else, of course.

More months rolled by and by now I had only a P.O. box I could write to (if that, I'm not sure when she got that). No phone. No address and no contact. I did write in the beginning, sent her a candle for her birthday in March (all I could afford) and an apology for everything I had ever done wrong. What she wanted, thought, or believed during that year away is still a mystery. I had one guy friend who said she was "just like a little kid, she acts just like a little kid right now." Could that be the result of poor therapy? Hmmm. A very disturbed young woman? Perhaps both. Whatever, she never once tried to contact me and even told me early on to stop calling and leaving messages on her friend's machine when I still knew where she was. The content of the messages? "I miss my wife." That's what I remember.

And so it went. She was still seeing Robert as far as I knew; I was certainly seeing him. After she left me I called him and left a very angry message saying if she didn't come back I wouldn't pay him a dime of the several thousand dollars I then owed him. That was inappropriate based on what I knew, though oddly prescient, but after that he told me, depressed and desperate as I was, that I had to pay him up front or I couldn't see him no matter what. I was temping week to week at the time and struggling with serious depression still. I remember him saying, "so I can still feel good about you as a person."

That next summer, after she had been gone about 10 months and I still was hearing nothing from her and had no way to get in touch with her I began working at Fuji as a temp doing data entry. There was a girl, crazy as green hay in summer, who had a boyfriend but also wanted my attention. She began flirting. It took a few days for me to even know what she was doing. She was young, beautiful in an animal way. Robert thought I should go out with her. He even said "before you rape a few women." Joking, but only partly; his point was that I had such a huge superego I needed to cut myself some slack. Her name was Penny. I told her at break one day, seperated from my wife, still working on that, had a little crush on her, my apologies. She was so impressed I could talk she asked me to go with her to Taco Bell the next day. We went. She told me then she had a boyfriend and how, basically, everyone in the warehouse thought she was a slut. We never had a real conversation again, and we certainly never did anything. Frankly, I wasn't ready and doubt I would have if she asked.

After about ten months, Robert still suggesting I date, I met a girl at church retreat whose real name I will not use. I'll call her Moll. She was truly disturbed and was the element, the phenomenon, which brought the beginning of the true end for E and I. But that story is for next time. This is enough for one sitting.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006


Yep. I not only rode the lift to the top of the mountain I boarded all the way down. And after only two days this season, and three days ever, I do a decent job getting down the mountain. The hardest thing is the leg work-out!

I have to get back to work, but for me, this was a huge accomplishment. Huge. A fear I've had for twenty or more years is gone. Gone.

Love to all.


Sunday, January 15, 2006

Ski Ya

I wrote a while back about how my fear of heights had kept me from learning to ski or snowboard. Considering I live, at most, 40 minutes from a major Tahoe resort this is kinda sad. I had a friend take me up maybe three weeks ago and show me some basics but I chickened out on taking the lift all the way to the top of the mountain.

Tomorrow my son's school is having a snow day and dammit, I'm going to the top if I have to put a bag on my head or close my eyes and chant all the way (someone let me know when to lift my board tip please).

This accomplishment, if I actually pull it off (and survive the trip back down the mountain!) will be a very big step for me.

Also, my skipper is planning a sailing trip for two weeks this July in the sea of cortez. Hitch: flying to La Paz. If you read you know I've never flown on a commercial plane in my life and it is my biggest phobia. My wife has already said she's going. One guy is going to drive: two weeks each way, he says. Two weeks driving down baha sounds hella more dangerous to me than the freaking three hour flight. Prayers are appreciated. As I said, this is my biggest phobia (besides, oh, impending knowledge of outright sudden death which is what I feel when I even think of flying) and much of my exposure work is leading directly to that first flight.

Will I get xanax or some other med for the first time up? Probably. What's wrong with that? I haven't had a med like that in twenty years.

My bro just called; great discussion about what's going on in the Edge of Faith blog. He is going to look for some scholarly books for me from this side of the fence.

It remains my belief that one chapter of John's gospel (which I see no reason to date late, even last among the four) contains more religous force than every thing I've read in the pagan canon or any other religious text.

Homer and Hesiod spiritual? Not really. Sophocles spiritual? Yes, sure; we live at the whim of the gods.

But not this:

When they found him on the other side of the lake, they asked him, "Rabbi, when did you get here?" Jesus answered, "I tell you the truth, you are looking for me, not because you saw miraculous signs but because you ate the loaves and had your fill. Do not work for food that spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. On him God the Father has placed his seal of approval."

Then they asked him, "What must we do to do the works God requires?"

Jesus answered, "The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent."

So they asked him, "What miraculous sign then will you give that we may see it and believe you? What will you do? Our forefathers ate the manna in the desert; as it is written: 'He gave them bread from heaven to eat.'"

Jesus said to them, "I tell you the truth, it is not Moses who has given you the bread from heaven, but it is my Father who gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world."

"Sir," they said, "from now on give us this bread."

Then Jesus declared, "I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will never go hungry, and he who believes in me will never be thirsty.

For me, the Voice retains its power. Do not look for miracles, do not listen to Moses. Find the Bread of Life, and eat.


Friday, January 13, 2006

Blogging Abroad

Hey gang,

I've been in a recent discussion with another blogger HERE on some pretty heavy issues. I'm not sure if Eddie is the blogger of residence, but the blog owner is struggling with (losing?) faith in Christ and Eddie, who I've exchanged a few comments with, seems to be beyond struggling and into disbelief. Eddie's read a bit and thinks, and we've been kicking back and forth a few things (always hard to do in the comment section of a blog).

Please check it out if you can. Funkiller, I know, has been down some of this road. If I have time, and this exchange really is very, very important to me even though schools starts Tuesday!, I'll do some writing on his points here where I have more space.

All is well, but I gotta run.


Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Back Home

Actually, I've been back for a few days but I've needed a vacation from everything, including my blog. I'm in one of those places where I'm not sure what to do with this thing. I need to update the look, start uploading photos, and tell the deeper pieces of my story. All this takes time, and I'm back to campus for meetings day after tomorrow.

I will say a few things, though.

The very best thing about my trip was seeing my brother and his wife and two adorable kids. They're 4 and 1 and beautiful beyond belief. I deeply enjoyed that time. S and I spent New Year's with some wine industry friends who import French wine and our group drank bottle after bottle of boutique Champagnes, culminating with the finest I've ever had (I admit I've never had the biggies, Dom, Dame, Cristal, but I hear those are grossly overrated; our friends don't even sell them). We had oyster shooters, all that. It was great, but it didn't come close to matching one quiet evening home (well, not totally quiet) with my brother and his family. Kudos to them on their patient parenting and lovely little people.


Reading Walter Bruggeman's Intro to the OT is like taking in breath after breath of clean fresh air. He moves quickly and doesn't always provide all the supporting details I'd like, but the book is just what I need right now. A rational, deeply Jewish, scholarly reading of the OT by a Christian who feels free to understand the books as individual units written in different times and places, driven by the need to shape the faith of a community, sometimes based on actual events and sometimes appropriating outside literature...I can't even begin to describe the book. I've leafed through many commentaries which were mostly heavily cited regurgitations of other scholars' views, continually interspersed by the need to cling to some rigid theological paradigm. Imagination, originality, open-minded honesty? Not there. Bruggeman is something else completely. I'm a novice to biblical studies and certainly to OT studies, but if you find yourself wrestling over the OT scripture, give WB a try. He's a good starting place for me.

I continue to wonder about a larger role in the church. I don't actually know if God 'calls' anyone, actively selects a person for ministry. It seems he'd call people to all kinds of ministries if this were the case. Maybe he does. But I'm cautiously and leisurely pondering the diaconate, even, yes, the Caltech seismic monitor just wobbled, the priesthood. For me it's simply looking at my personal traits and wondering where I'd fit best. If I were 30, or an untenured adjunct scraping by, I'd think (almost, you know me) God was sending me that direction. At 41 with a family and tenure...I'm very, very careful. I haven't even told my own priest or deacon ahout these ruminations. For me they're driven by Jesus' command to use our gifts, and to use them as if the eschaton is imminent (because you never know, it might be). Certainly my own death could come in the middle of this sentence.

Whew. Made it.

Also, what do I like to do? Read theology. Study scriptural scholarship. Talk about religion. More so, I envy those whose work takes them near people in the most critical moments of their lives. I don't know if I have what it takes to sit with a dying person and her family, to adminster unction and pray with the person as she passes, but I damned sure wish I had that, wonder if I have it somewhere in me. And of course, I can't help but want to preach, even the ten minute Episcopal homily. It's second nature for all who teach for a living to like to hear themselves talk, we get used to the narcissistic beauty of the captive audience, but I've always wanted to talk about the deeply important things, life-changing things. I haven't taught in a church (actually sunday school then) in, oh, 15 years. It feels like 500. I knew then I didn't have an authentic personal faith, or not much of one. Now I'm beginning to get a few things spinning.

And sometimes I wonder...how many more crappy papers do I have to read this week? This month? This year? They are legion in my job.

It will be a long path of discernment for me, one that may result in no changes at all, or some compromise, or the whole shebang. Of course my family has to be involved. To my own lame credit, I have at least mentioned this to my wife this week. So far she's been supportive; she knows, too, I'm not running off to seminary tomorrow.


Breaks are usually hard for me emotionally and this one has been a bit tough, though I had a great leg work out earlier today; still finished with two working sets of 225 and going deep. I wasn't hitting the gym the way I needed to all fall semester and it's good to be back; it's something I refuse to let slip this spring.

Be well all. I know this was just a quick update. I'm bothered more and more by the 286 look of my blog (remember the old processor; I almost said 8086 XT) and one of these days I'll get current. I know when I blog surf I look closer at blogs that look nice.

Peace and genuine love