Thursday, July 30, 2009

Tinkerbell is Dead! Long Live Tinkerbell!

Unemployment stirs a strange desire in... well, I almost said "a man," but I guess I should stick to talking about myself.
Unemployment has stirred a strange desire in me. That is to say the desire to justify my existence to, at the very least, myself. If I were the universe, what would I think justifies a person's existence? Lucky for me, I am not the universe.

If you find yourself suddenly unemployed right now, be prepared for a long haul. That is my unsolicited advise to all of you. If they walk you into the HR guy's office and say "We want our business to be here twenty years from now so..." Get ready for several months. Come up with a Plan B right away.
I read a very well put headline on the NPR website recently. It said, "Revenue is up across the board while profits remain down. Wonder how that can be? Ask one of your unemployed friends!"

There have been many lessons for me. I think the major one is my need to keep working otherwise my life seems entirely worthless to me. I don't get to sit beside the lake and tan. I'm not wired for that. This makes me wonder if maybe I should have pursued a career as a pastor or an artist or something else where one never retires (or rather shouldn't.)
About a month ago I started writing a novel which is about a completely ridiculous topic (I'm reluctant to tell people about it because they will ridicule it and my courage will tremble) but which I think may change the world. It's a bildungsroman and manifesto which, if successful, ought to destroy reality. So look forward to that.
I am also gardening, working on losing weight, learning French, trying to do chores to help Laurie because she still works. I haven't been blogging often because the days are like watercolors in this chapter of my life. But I have been writing a lot and researching a lot for the project.
Of course, unemployment checks run out eventually and I have a very strong desire to work and to work hard. It amazes me that I am over three months into unemployment when any employer who would have me would have a highly competent, joyful and hard working employee. So, I am taking matters into my own hands and starting up a business which I also cannot talk about details quite yet. But everyone thinks it's a good idea and it looks to start making money almost immediately.
Because when I was laid off I remember thinking (maybe writing too, I don't remember) that severance pay at a lay off is a bit like giving someone a canteen of water and parachuting them into the middle of a desert blindfolded. There comes a time when you realize you have no idea if you're even going in the right direction, if there is civilization anywhere around or if you'll ever be found and rescued, so you need to start figuring out how to live in the desert.
When I was laid off, I knew it was bad, but didn't really understand what it really meant. It was like the moment when a doctor tells you the name of the horrible disease you now have and realizing you've never heard of it before.

It's also really weird that nothing bad has happened yet. We are really fine and have not struggled at all. I know that this is God's provision for us and it is also our financial wisdom and thrift (which is a form of God's provision for us.) I also know that I am not guaranteed that this will continue. Still, I sleep better now than I have at any point in my adult life.
I really hope this is not famous last words. I hope that I don't look back on this entry and think "what a fool! Had no idea how bad it was going to get." Which may be part of why I haven't been blogging my feelings on a regular basis. Also, not too sure how helpful this is to anyone but myself.

But I was talking about lessons. First, do things all day all the time. Make things always. This does not justify your existence in a cosmic sense, but it will make you feel better. Also, along those lines: wake up at a decent hour and get dressed even if you don't have to.
Second, worry does not equal care. And you can seek work diligently happily or you can do it in sheer terror. You're the one who has to live in that head.
Third, always have music playing whenever you can.
Fourth, but do use the time. Not only use it to create new opportunities, but do use your ability to go for walks in the middle of the day or to the library in the morning before all of the movies are picked over.
Fifth, do not complain about your circumstances and never never never presume to pass judgment on someone else's circumstances. You have no idea what you're talking about and you have no idea how bad it can get. Strive to grasp some idea of how good you have it. There's nothing more irresponsible and stupid than pessimism.

Also there is a sense in which a recession ends when everyone agrees that it has ended.


Part of my secret is that I didn't expect to live this long. But part of my secret is that I am exactly where I am supposed to be and I know it. God is fully aware of where I am and it is right.
To me, the past is dead and the future unborn.
The trick is to keep moving.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

another quick personal update

Last Thursday marked three months since my lay off. Laurie constantly tells me to stop paying attention to how much time has passed, but this one sticks in my mind. When I was in junior high or high school my father had a short "between jobs" period. The day I was laid off three months ago my father called me and said, "When I was unemployed it took me three months to find a new job and that was in a much better economy. So be prepared for it to take a lot longer."
So I noticed when the three month mark flew by.

I have many close friends who are unemployed right now and when we gather we all say the same thing. "What's the deal? Where'd the jobs go?"
The dissonance of being a hard worker who wants to work hard and who would be an asset to any company (if I do say so myself) scouring the employment world and finding nothing.

But there are irons in the fire and the tunnel seems to have a vague glow in the distance. I have a "taking work into my own hands" project that I'm working on that should be rolling before unemployment runs out and bring in more than I was making before (Lord willing.) I continue to apply for the few jobs that show up on the job boards/paper.
And I am writing. I am writing something completely mad which I can't talk about. First because I don't want to get discouraged and I have to admit that when I explain what I am writing to people it sounds profoundly stupid. Laurie and I are completely convinced it is actually sublime, delightful and possibly life changing. I kind of thrive on things like that.
In short, I have two important projects that I'm working on, neither of which I will give you any details on for a long time.

So, I thought I would do a quick update to say:
1) Laurie and I are fine. We're not even struggling. With her new job and my unemployment we are currently bringing in more than when I was working.
2) There's a lot of hope rattling around my noodle.

Friday, July 10, 2009

I'm Going Live Forever

"Big Brother isn't watching. He's singing and dancing. He's pulling rabbits out of a hat. Big Brother's busy holding your attention every moment you're awake. He's making sure you're always distracted. He's making sure you're fully absorbed.
He's making sure your imagination withers. Until it's as useful as your appendix. He's making sure your attention is always filled.
And this being fed, it's worse than being watched. With the world always filling you, no one has to worry about what's in your mind. With everyone's imaginations atrophied, no one will ever be a threat to the world." -Chuck Palahniuk

On my way home from the post office this morning in my 12 year old Ford Explorer with peeling paint, 3 months after my layoff and 2 days without shaving, I heard someone say something on my radio that I've heard many people say in the past 3 weeks, "Where were all of you people who now profess your love for Michael Jackson when he was alive?"

The answer is that they were outside of the locked, guarded gates of Neverland. The answer was that the very weird and confusing bits of personal news from the artist's life that filtered to their eyes and ears in the past 20 years has kind of tainted people's appreciation for the artist's work. Until he died. Now it is nice dance music. Now people feel okay appreciating the work again since there isn't some very disturbed, very sad and vaguely sinister artist behaving lawlessly, remorselessly somewhere. I come to bury Jackson, not to praise him. One would like to think that the evil men do dies with them, but turns out it really does live after them.
I never owned a Michael Jackson album and my connection is really just that I lived through the peak of his career and decline. His body of work has always struck me as meatless. Actually, that's a bit of a high horse statement on my part. In all honesty I should say it's not the kind of meatless music I tend to go for when I go for meatless music.
Laurie, however, was crazy about his music from back in the day, the pre-Thriller stuff, and Gina grew up when he was bigger than the Beatles. I am told she danced as a child to Man in the Mirror or some such thing. This is the only contact we will, could or ever will have with the man. Really, the artist could be a complete recluse and the only thing we know about them is the art that shows up with their name on it (Pynchon comes to mind as does Salinger.)

However, if one has a platform, ought not one use it? Even if one risks losing the platform, ought they not risk it for something they think worth risking it over?

I was dinking around the internet (you know how the internet can be) and ended up on a vaguely familiar video clip the other day. It was Sinead O'Connor's infamous performance of a a capella Bob Marley cover (with "racism" replaced with "child abuse")which culminates in her tearing up a picture of Pope John Paul II on SNL from the early 1990s (which, if you've never actually seen it, I highly encourage you to click this link and watch it.) I realized (I suspect with a large portion of the studio audience) that while I was struck by the courage and defiance she was showing, I had absolutely no idea what she was on about. So I looked it up!

She was on about the sexual abuse of children in the Roman Catholic Church, and how the allegations were being ignored because they were made by women and children. Which, in retrospect, seems rather astute and prescient on her part as the performance occurred in 1992. At the time people were very upset about it, as I remember, (I'm not sure if they all understood why they were upset aside from someone dragging emotional depth onto Saturday Night Live) and O'Connor's career took some rather dramatic turns. Today she has eschewed pop music, released a Reggae album and is about to release an album called "Theology." She is an ordained priest in the Independent Catholic Church and she says that her mission is to "rescue God from religion." That's another frustrating soundbite for me as depending on what the speaker means I might absolutely agree or disagree with them. Part of the game of being a "normal" or "unfamous person" is that I may die not knowing what she is talking about. I am out of the loop and only receive the information allowed me. There is no conversation, there is only a monologue. And so I have traded one mystery of what she's talking about for another.
The SNL clip reminded me of Marlon Brando's Oscar acceptance by proxy, Michael Moore's Oscar speech, Harvey Pekar's Letterman strike appearance, and that is just off the top of my head. I'm sure I could come up with many more. All of their careers shifted as well but mainly bounced back to their former state after a time. How is it that other pop stars like Bono and Sting can get all sanctimonious and get away with it? The cynic in my thinks it may have to do with them not being bald women.

I do not know these people and probably never will. They care about me, my life, and what I think of them or even are as aware of my existence about as much as the crystal formations in the Lechuguilla Cave care about me.
There is an admiration I have for those who see that they have a platform and risk losing the platform to speak out for truth, justice, peace, conservation, equality or good. The celebrity system is asinine. People who act in movies or make music or write books that get published are just people. They are not magical beings. They are just as human as a produce truck delivery driver, possibly with less talent. We don't have to take orders from them. Just like anyone, we can agree or disagree, regard or disregard them. Just because I like the song you made doesn't mean I want to know anything about your life (I was amazed at how much I knew about the life of Michael Jackson, having very little interest, and realizing I was aware of pretty much every major point of his public life) and I don't necessarily care what you think about things any more than you care what I think about things. Also, I don't hold you in higher esteem than anyone else. I doff my hat to no man.

Mainly because I don't wear hats.

Also please do bear in mind that I am not immune or outside of the paradigm I am describing. Intrepid readers have probably already noticed the long list of names I've dropped in this post. But I will do everything in my power not to bow at their altars.

If I had not put the quote and citation on the quote at the top of this post I would be passing it off as my original thought, which is stealing, dishonesty and plagiarism. By citing and quoting I am giving due credit. Names are useful. For example, I have enjoyed every piece of music I've ever heard by Tom Waits, so I can be fairly certain when I come again to a point in my life where I have money to throw at music, that I will enjoy any future music by Tom Waits. Also, as another example, I can point people at things that are wonderful (which I love to do.) I can tell you about Nicki Jaine, this wonderful dark cabaret performer whose albums you should all buy. But maybe we had better let it go at that.

In a perfect world, people use tools. In an imperfect world, people abuse tools. People worship false idols. My encouragement for you is to sanctify sanctify sanctify. Revere and bless. Seek to always follow the Shema "You shall love the Lord your God with all you heart and with all your soul and with all your might." And the other part of the Great Commandment "Love your neighbor as yourself." (hint: your neighbor is everyone else.)
As for life on an imperfect world, there are so many laws, customs, and cultural pressures to do such horrible, evil, greedy, wicked, inappropriate things. They smell like death and they are infernal. Keep your eye on your treasure and ignore the chaff, the blather, the noise and distractions. As Sinead would agree and as Ralph Waldo Emerson said, "Good men must not obey the laws too well." Celebrities are not to be obeyed.
Do the real work.

Fight the real enemy.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

a few scattered thoughts on the 4th

The Fourth of July used to be my favorite holiday. Not because I am especially patriotic but because it was a day when I could blow things up in front of my house without anyone calling the police. My crowd in OC knew that the party was at my house on the Fourth. I would have large fireworks displays where I would fashion effigies of celebrities, friends, ex-girlfriends, myself, politicians and so forth and then light them off or blow them up or set them ablaze.
Then I moved to Chico, became much more serious about my spiritual walk and, besides, it is illegal to light off fireworks here. My crowd in Chico knows that the party is at my brother's house where there is a barbeque and walking distance to the park where you can watch the fireworks from the fairgrounds. It is nice.

When I say that I am not especially patriotic I want to take great pains to express that I love my country very much. I think it is beautiful, the earth is rich, the diversity and freedom make it one of the best countries in the world. I do not especially fear my government. I like a lot of what my country does. Of course, I dislike a lot of what my country does as well. Mainly I think that we have a decent political system, a completely screwed economic system, some people in power who want to do what they think is best from their reality tunnel and some people in power who abuse their position with great efficiency and some who do a little of both. I think we have an abominable television, film, celebrity, talk radio and advertising culture which we as a people have condoned. I think we have a wonderful public television and radio system. I think that our arts are on the level or exceeding the greatest cultures in history.
When I say that I am not especially patriotic I define that term as some weird, soppy, blind sentimentalist view of one's country. For example, in High School I remember refusing to say the Pledge of Allegiance. My social studies teacher thought I was doing that because the pledge mentioned God (and, as I remember, he did nothing to discourage me. God bless public schools.) But really it was because I did not pledge my allegiance to a flag. I'll pledge allegiance to God, love, compassion, art, truth, beauty, kindness, brotherhood, peace, and now I would even pledge allegiance to The United States of America. But not to a flag, I mean, come on, it's a piece of fabric. It is that sort of silly symbolism that keeps me from calling myself patriotic.

Many of you remember that I just did a long study on the Puritans. I came away from that class realizing that as far as history goes the Puritans get a really bum rap. Although there were some Puritans who did some very bad things and, yes, most of that group were the ones who came to America. The witch hunts were pretty stinking bad, but by today's standards it was really just a handful of people. What we did to the natives was about as wicked as humans get as was the slave trade. And the founding fathers were a few Age of Enlightenment terrorists in a large distant land, which was pretty much unused, save for taxing the occupants, until the anti-royalists were successful in their revolution - thanks mainly to the French (in one of the grander and more successful "giving of the bird" to England in France's history. France has a long and proud history of giving the bird to England.) And so began a long history of grand illusions of freedom and autonomy.

And when I think about these things at all I inevitably start listing things I like about America (Lincoln, hot dogs, Phish, jazz, our national parks, our postal service, This American Life, Kool-Aid, our libraries, our unemployment insurance, Whitman, Sylvia Plath, Allen Ginsberg, Mark Twain, Pete Seeger, Burning Man, freedom to speak and worship) and things I don't (exploitative business practices, HMOs, Nixon, Perez Hilton.)
Why am I writing about America this morning? Many people have written far better, more coherant thoughts on America. And really it is far too big for a blog post. I'm almost done and realizing I have said very little new or of value about my country.
I remember Garrison Keillor saying "I think the most UnAmerican thing you can say is 'You can't say that!'" Which really is a huge part of what I love about my country. I can worship as I see fit, talk to anyone about it or about anything else, post opinions to the world, embrace or protest anything, and I should hope that any effort to keep or expand those freedoms ought to be successful.

Last night Laurie and I watched a film called About Schmidt. I cried almost all the way through. It was a study on everything going wrong, mortality, lives which seem to lack meaning or seem not to do any good at all, loneliness even in the midst of large families, and losing one's working position and wondering if one was of any use to anyone anywhere at all ever. It is also a road trip film in a way. It stars Jack Nicholson. I've been thinking about how in 14 years I've gone from being able to identify with one Nicholson road trip film meant to show the pulse of America, Easy Rider, to entirely identifying with the dilemmas and sorrows of another, About Schmidt. Everything is so vast, distant, wrong and troubling. One seems so ill equipped and powerless. One seems to mess up so much, but also to be surrounded by such obviously more messed up people and circumstances that seem so obviously easy to fix. But then no one listens to one another and we all ought to love one another but we don't.

This year I am one of the victims of the Recession, fueled by greed and blood. Every day is a day off of work for me right now completely against my will. My desire is to have my shoulder to the wheel but they won't let me near the wheel right now. I feel so lost and useless so much of the time anymore.
But my gosh I love this horribly flawed nation we've created. My plan is to maybe go buy a book, go walk around the magnificent trees that Northern California is lousy with, go visit my family and friends, eat hot dogs, walk to watch fireworks. For one day I focus on an idea and a mass of land and wonder if it means anything at all.