Sorry about your mom. I hope it is not serious and that she gets well soon.
As to your questions: I became a reverend in the Universal Life Church on the anniversary of the Ruby Ridge incident and the Oklahoma City bombing. I figured the ultra-right had claimed too much for that date (April 19), and I needed to make a score for my side. The Universal Life Church is an internet operation out of California. It is, however, a real denomination that rubs a lot of people and institutions the wrong way, in particular for its states supreme courts lawsuits that have further defined First Amendment separations of church and state.
That said, I approach with a sense of humor. My friends find the reverend title, when I decide to use it, to be refreshing, since I am a Freethinker. I have done dozens of weddings and funerals, as well as the occasional hedon invocation before concerts and band appearances. I have had to listen to hurting people from time to time. I like it. It’s another opportunity to be a servant to walking around human beings—those members of a species I love so much.
I share a “ministry” with a good friend and compatriot, Rev. David DeChant, of Atlanta. Both of us proclaim a deep faith in the basic goodness of human beings and the natural world. Thinking for oneself, questioning the values of the culture and the basis of morality, and developing one’s own moral center are the most valuable, eternal, and authentic of all human values. We respect and applaud the good works and moral consistency of human beings, regardless of their affiliations. In the end, there are only two core human attributes—fairness and honesty. All sins, if you want to use that term, stem from dishonesty and unfairness. Every time we look in the mirror, we see what might, in some circles, be called the face of the divine.
Second, the pic on my Facebook profile is Yuri Alexeyevich Gagarin, the first person to travel to space. He fascinates me. He did everything he was going to do by the time he was 34. Besides flying to space, he was the lead on the design team that developed the Soyuz spacecraft, which is still in use some 40 years later. He died in a plane crash in 1968.
It sounds pretty nerdly. But I’m not a space nut or an airplane geek. Gagarin was a military man, and, frankly, I’d like to see all military stuff melted down and made into sculpture. But in some ways he was as in contact with the cosmos as Duke Ellington. He broke bonds with the earth and tried new things with a jokey sense of humor. Growing up as a peasant and traveling to space, he is probably more human than most of the rest of us.
Plus, my friend Jeff Ramsey looks almost exactly like Gagarin. Ramsey could be his twin.
Sydney is a great kid. She has grown up under difficult conditions–two houses, two parents that are completely different from one another (and never married), two stepparents. She has issues. But she is ambitious and has become quite an artist. She decided to leave Bishop Miege High School after her sophomore year. She was helped by her mom’s financial problems. In any case, she has gone to Paseo High School and will graduate in May. She applied to some prestigious art colleges and has decided to go to the Milwaukee Institute of Art and Design. I have counseled her about the debt she will hit the world with, only so she goes into this with open eyes. But I never discourage her from anything, as I was so often growing up. Her mom and I are not in a position to pay for such a school, and I wish we were.
I was going to say that I probably would have had the money for her had I been able to find a career and stick with it. But I couldn’t and it wasn’t me. I have no regrets about the path my working-and-academic life took. My shelf life at any job is about three years. I figure a job out after six months or so, and then sit rotting away until the low-level misery gets to be too much.
The exception was PitchWeekly, which was a dream until a big fat corporation bought the place. I’m just not a corporate guy and I didn’t want to write sensationalist journalism that winds up kicking ordinary people in the teeth more often than it uncovers government malfeasance or corporate greed. But with the Pitch I was making a living writing. I have always wanted to write, and it had taken a long damn time to get over a lifetime of being told I could never be a writer. As it is, I am a writer. And an author. I’m a decent one at that. I think talent might help. But hard work and persistence at writing have substituted well.
In 2003, I finally just quit working at desks for other people and headed out on my own, doing whatever: writing, house rehab, scaffold building, hard- and landscaping. I went back to school about year and half later to earn a Ph.D. in American History. I have written my dissertation and earned that degree. But it wasn’t all roses. After the coursework and comps, and just being inside for too long, I made my usual move to sate the brute laborer in me–I’d cared for the intellectual for far too long and had become uncomfortable again–and joined the ironworkers union. It’s the hardest work I’ve ever done. But it’s interesting as hell. I love the work and it seems to like me. Plus, there is something in walking around on beams stories off the ground.
I’m never going back to a regular job. I teach at Johnson County Community College during the school year. Summers I work as an ironworker and work for many companies. One year I got six W-2s. I will stick with this routine a while. Every school year, every summer is different. Each day brings something new. I come home nearly day absolutely spent. I have a good feeling. I like the feeling of putting in an honest day.
I’m glad to see you write so fondly of your family. I know Sully very little, but he seems just great. I have always enjoyed the very infrequent short conversations I’ve had with him over the years. Sitting down with him for a good half hour that one day at the coffee joint was a real pleasure. I have always thought your girls to be overly cute with their mom’s red hair and curious if skeptical looks.
In some ways, I can’t believe the time has passed so quickly that we, at middle age, can talk about our kids going to college. On the other hand, time passes so quickly that the only way to live is in the moment. Tough times or easy, I really like being a human being these days. All the stuff that comes with age is interesting. The way I see it, we only live this life once, and it is very, very short. Why feel miserable all the time?
Please say hello to the friends I mentioned in the previous note when you see them. I would very much like to hear about them and how they have fared all these years.