Take it to the Top

Q. Do you know who I am?

A. That depends.

Q. On what?

A. On what day it is and what mood I’m in.

Q. And what day is this?

A. It’s the Day of Reckoning.

Q. Day of Reckoning?

A. Well – perhaps not in the strictest sense.  That day is in God’s hands, not mine.  But in my own limited realm of self, I essentially have reached the place where something has got to happen, or else I just know  – from knowing myself — that I might implode.

Q. What would “imploding” entail?

A. I don’t know, man.  Some kind of total breakdown.  I’ll think of something.

Q. So you secretly *want* to implode?

A. Of course not!

Q. Then how can you avoid it?

A. That’s a good question.  I would say, by coming to terms with my issues of frustration.  Not so much anger issues — that would be true in a different sense, in a different context — but issues of frustration.   Frustration, and — confusion.

Q. Can you elaborate, please?

A. I will try.

Sad man silhouette worried on the beach

In certain sects of Buddhism, we are taught that frustration and confusion are the natural states operative in the human condition.  I resonate within this framework, to a degree.  I find that they work in concert with each other, within me.  My oft-expressed frustration with my professional and creative challenges seems to be proportional to the confusion I have as to how best to actualize my artistic goals.   Take this musical, for example, Eden in Babylon.

There are basically two ways I could go about this.  One way would be to complete my package, including a vocal score, demo of three songs with instrumentation and vocals, and complete libretto — or musical script — and submit the package to theatre companies interested in producing original musicals.  I have a few companies in mind, several of which include people with whom I’ve worked in the past, people who respect me enough that they will probably prioritize taking a look at my work.    This way of going about it would cost me considerably less money than the second way.

Q. What’s the second way?

A. I was just getting to that.  It involves coming up with a budget of about $50,000 and self-producing the show.

Q. Roughly speaking, how would that $50,000 be spent?

A. First off, I would find a theatre of sufficient size to accommodate a 27-member cast and small orchestra, as well as (perhaps more importantly) a moderately large audience.  Let’s say, about a 400-seat house.   Included in the budget would be the rental rates for a run of, say, twelve performances — ten evenings, and two matinees.  

Q. What next?

A. Hire the production staff.  I would need to pay a technical director, a stage manager, an ASM, a musical director, a rehearsal accompanist, perhaps a separate conductor and/or vocal director, a choreographer, a lighting designer, a set designer, a costumer, a props master, and a few other stage hands and gophers.  Oh – and a director.

Q. And then?

A. Auditions.  Although there would probably only be a mild stipend available for most of the Actors, the cast quality would be strengthened if we included at least three Equity Actors, hopefully reputable, popular Actors and Actresses.   In fact, I would even call people I know, people with whom I have worked in the past, to check their availability, if need be.

Q. So the Actors you have in mind would need to be available during the period when the theater has been rented?

A. Yes.  During the run.  I might even try to get the run to coincide with the prior availability of somebody whom I want very badly — for example, the main character, Winston Greene.   

Q. Any ideas who can do that?

A. The ideas are brewing, but not yet solidified.  We need a dynamic rock tenor capable of coming across like a 23-year old man.  And there are certain other requirements.   Could be a challenge.  But he’s out there somewhere.   

Q. What about the other main characters?

A. I have two people in mind for two of the supporting female roles, but nobody specifically lined up for the female lead, Taura.  Both the male and female leads will probably need to be AEA, along with the male antagonist: Benzo Diablo.

Q.Benzo Diablo?

A. It’s a play on words.  If you’ve ever taken a valium, you probably know what I mean.

Q. Now why would I ever do a thing like that?

A. I don’t know – that’s up to you.

Q. Well, this is mounting up monetarily.  But don’t you think $50,000 is a little steep?

A. Not at all.  We need props and set pieces.   I may need to hire a Master Carpenter.   Lights might be provided with the theatre itself, but there will also be technical effects.  It adds up.  I can do it on $50,000 — and do it well.

Q. What will be your own role in the production?

A. As the Author, it stands to reason I should be somewhat detached.   I would want my presence felt, but not in such a way as might interfere.  Moreover, I would like to come see the show, and not to have to be involved with performances. Perhaps I would be the Accompanist, Vocal Director (but not conductor) or even the Artistic Director.  Of the three, Vocal Director is my forte.   But any one of those positions would enable me to actually come and see the show on Opening Night, perhaps even with a date.

Q. Aren’t you dreaming?

A. I am indeed.  But what does the Bible say?

Q. I don’t know — what does it say?

A. It says:

And your young men will see visions, and your old men will dream dreams.
Joel 2:28

 

Q. Are you an old man, Andy?

A. Well, I sure ain’t gettin’ any younger.  I might be putting a little wear and tear on the old running shoes, but sometimes I feel like the only race I’m running is the race against against Alzheimer’s trying to get this show on the road.

Q. Do I detect a wee bit of impatience?

A. What you are detecting is Awareness of Mortality!

Q. And when you were younger?

A. I saw visions.   This is one of them.  My dream is for others to see it, too.

Q. But wouldn’t the first way be easier?

A. Not necessarily.   For one thing, it’s proven more difficult to get singers interested in helping me make a demo for a show that no one knows will ever be produced, than it naturally would be for one that had a definite production schedule.  In fact, with definite production dates, after holding auditions, I might not even bother with the demo.  Not to mention, there would be a lot of compromise in taking the less expensive route.  Compromise – and working intensively, sometimes intimately, with others.  Multiple conflicts of interest, and strange bedfellows abounding.

Q. But wouldn’t $50,000 be a considerable chunk of change?  I mean, how likely is it that you, Andy Pope, who has been homeless throughout most of the 21st Century, will actually come up with $50,000?

A. Oh, it’s very likely indeed.  For I have taken this matter to a spiritual level – not only to my pastor and close spiritual confidantes, but all the way to the Top!

Q. To the Top!?

A. You heard me.

Q. Really?  The Top?!?

A. Is there an echo in here?

Q. But aren’t you being a bit — grandiose?

A. Grand? Yes.  Grandiose?  Perhaps.   Delusional, however, as in “delusions of grandeur” — no way, buddy boy!  This type of grandeur is written in the Stars.

Q. You seem a shade more — confident than usual.   What about confusion?  What about — frustration?

A. Very good questions indeed.   These truths, my friend, are for me to know – and for you to find out.

TO BE CONTINUED

The Enemies of Art

Q. Do you know who I am?

A. To be perfectly honest, I’m not quite sure.

Q. Why do you say that?

A. Because I thought I knew who you were, but I thought wrong.

Q. Who did you think I was?

A. My superego.

Q. Your superego?  Why would you think such a thing?

A. Because you seem to represent my conscience, my higher faculties, always questioning everything, encouraging me to look before I leap — as opposed to my id, who has no conscience, questions nothing, and only seeks immediate gratification with no regard to consequence.

Q. And who are you?

A. I am my Ego.

Q. Why do I find this laughable?

A. Because I was wrong about you.  You have no conscience – no feelings.  You are merely a machine, generating inane questions from deep within the core of my confused and convoluted consciousness.  You are not my superego; you have nothing to do with morality or even with Sigmund Freud, for that matter.  You merely show up every now and then at times of particularly angst along my journey, and occasionally our dialogue is helpful to me.

Q. And this is why, on occasion, you summon me?

A. Yes.

Q. And this is a time of particular angst?

A. Yes.

Q. How so?  Haven’t things suddenly taken a turn for the better?

A. Yes and No.

Q. No?  In what way, “no?”

A. My external enemies having disappeared, my internal enemies have resurfaced.

Q. Can you say that again, please?

A. My external enemies having disappeared, my internal enemies have resurfaced.

Q. And who are your external enemies?

A. All those people who kept knocking on my door, trying to engage me in all kinds of nefarious activities at any time of the day or night, neighbors who were more nosy than neighborly — all of them.   Everybody who lived at Friendship Square.

Q.  Your neighbors were your enemies?

A. “Enemy” might be a strong word, but it sure felt that way.

Q. And you call yourself a Christian!?

A. That would depend upon your definition of the term, I suppose.  But yes, I do identify as a Christian, of a certain type.  So – what are you driving at?

Q. Doesn’t the Lord say: “Love thy neighbor?”

A. But that’s the whole problem!  I loved my neighbors so much I couldn’t get any work done!   Everybody wanted to talk to me, at all times – it was uncanny.   I had to escape – I had to get out of there — but now that those guys are all gone, and I’m alone, I’m faced with my internal enemies.  

Q. Loneliness, perhaps?

A. Ha!  Loneliness is for lesser men.  I’m talking about the Enemies of Art.  They’re like these — inner demons.  They surface whenever I begin to immerse myself in projects about which I am passionate.  The more passionate I am about my project, the more they try to interfere.

Q. Can you give me an example?

A. Well, for that, we need to revisit the Professor.

professor
(So throw a pie in my face.  I couldn’t resist.)

There was a certain professor whose unfavorable reactions to my half-written rough draft of Eden in Babylon kept rushing through my head for three years every time I tried to sit down to work on the script.   Now that I have solitude again, and am away from all the “hard knocks,” so to speak, I’ve naturally taken up the script again, thinking quite innocently that now would be a perfect time to do a second draft, polish up a few rough spots, and so forth. 

So, I sat down the other night to embark upon a very simple scouring of the script in order to return four unnamed characters to the Kids Chorus Line, after I had irrationally removed them from the script at the last minute.  For you see, the Professor had warned me about having too large a cast size – and of course a large cast is a deterrent.  The first version he saw had a cast of 56, according to his count.  I myself was neither counting nor concerned, since at the time I was aiming to submit the show to a specific theatre in the Bay Area that was requesting submissions for “large cast traditional musicals with a full orchestration.”  But this is long past.

I proceeded to whittle down the cast, doubling parts when necessary, and actually feeling quite good about the whittled version.  But at the end, I made the serious mistake of significantly reducing the Kids Chorus Line while not significantly reducing the cast size!  So I sat down this past Saturday night to return the four unnamed Kids to the Chorus line, and thus enhance the experience musically, while only increasing cast size from 23 to 27.

I had presumed this would be a simple matter.  However, it involved a technical nightmare of placing an unformatted, unpaginated copy of a script next to a paginated copy, locating all the places where the Kids had once been involved, and making the appropriate adjustments.  This challenged my dyslexia.  Moreover, as I tired into the wee hours of the night, I became less and less focused, but more and more determined not to let go until I got the job done.   That was when the Professor surfaced.

I would see a line in the show that I thought was particularly exceptional, and I would suddenly remember his scathing critique of my earlier draft.  I would fly into a rage inside my head.  I would shout within myself: “How could he?!  How could he not see how good this is??   How inspired I was!!!  Did he even read the script??”

So, my old enemy, of associating the script revision with the unfavorable response of a previous presumptuous professor of the past, had returned.  And that’s only an example.

Q. A second example?

A. My other friend, seeming to have money, and not wanting to kick it down to help me pay the singers, but dismissing my request for assistance as evidence of a “mental health episode.”   He also appeared in my mind, and I also became enraged at the thought of his classist arrogance.   Rich people are often quick to blame the abject poverty of poor people on some kind of problem the poor person has, as though I’m supposed to spend the rest of my days solving whatever problem they think has resulted in my poverty, in order to become rich like they are, and similarly blame the suffering of those less cozy than they on some random peccadillo in their personality, thus silencing my conscience. 

Q. And just who are we calling “classist?”

A.  Look, buddy.   I had to spend years sleeping in a gutter getting the shit kicked out of me, while one by one, every so-called “friend” I knew from my previous life of opulence dismissed my legitimate need for shelter by telling me to see a psychiatrist.  And so what if I do have a psychological problem or two?   I’m in my damn sixties!   I’m practically fighting Alzheimer’s trying to get this show on the road!   What am I supposed to do?  Spend the rest of my days trying to solve some elusive problem of mine?   Or spend my days trying to figure out a way to use my God-given gifts for the good of humanity? You can’t shovel out the darkness!!  You can only turn on the Light!! 

So – obviously, don’t you think it makes a hell of a lot more sense for me to throw my energies into  looking for singers, musicians, a venue. a crew, a cast, a production staff, and $50,000, than to keep hammering away at trying to keep shit jobs that I always lose?   And wind up feeling demoralized?  And incompetent?   Sure I’m incompetent in every area of my lifelong failure — so why don’t we start focusing on the relatively few but valuable things that I can actually manage to occasionally do well?  I am not incompetent in the areas of my expertise — I know exactly what I am doing!   I am not crazy!  I am a very talented, but spaced out, absent-minded, but ingenious, agitated, but highly determined, totally stressed out man!

Q. Fifty thousand dollars?

A. You heard me!  But this pointless dialectic is nothing but drivel!!  Let’s adjourn until tomorrow.  Your incessant questioning of everything I do or say angers me.  Goodbye.

The Questioner is silent.

A. And don’t you dare ask me if I am in “denial!”  If I want to hear about denial, I’ll go to a frickin’ 12-Step meeting, for God’s sake!! 

The Questioner is still silent.  

A. And I am not lazy, either!!!

The Questioner, quite wisely, remains silent.

TO BE CONTINUED

Pick of the Litter

It was hot. I was tired. I had enough money for a candy bar, and I thought the sugar might help me for the long walk ahead. I bought a Butterfinger at the Touchless Car Wash.  I saw a step with a couple stairs about half a block away. Seemed to be a business, not a private residence. Didn’t look like they were open. It was Saturday. I sat down to eat the Butterfinger.

Suddenly, a hostile voice interrupted the pleasant onset of the desired sugar rush.  The ensuing dialogue was most unfortunate.

“I don’t mind you guys sitting here, but I sure hate the mess you always make!”

“Us guys? What guys? There are guys who sit here? I’ve never sat here before! What mess?  What the hell are you talking about?”

The man said nothing, but seemed to sneer at me before shutting the door between us.  Guess he was the business owner, or property owner, or what-have-you. Jesus! I had just sat down! I’d been walking all day! All I wanted to do was eat my damned Butterfinger, get an energy lift, and move on. Did the guy have to pop me over nothing?  

Not to mention, being identified as a member of some group of guys, rather than the individual whom I am, obviously pressed a pretty big button in the Berkeley Boy.   Seriously, it was all I could do to bite my livid lip. Fortunately, the grumpy grouch who so grossly growled at me had shut his door on my brewing belligerence. Best for both of us, I thought.

I got up to walk away, then noticed that the top my Butterfinger wrapper was lying on the sidewalk, about four feet from the stairs.  I must have dropped it there in my hot hungry haste.  Gee whiz.  Guess that was “the mess you guys always make.”

Next time, remind me to buy a Milky Way instead.  Darker wrapper, better blend.

litter

Anything Helps
God Bless

 

The Crying of the Muse

I thought about calling this post “I’ll Be Brief” in order to remind myself to do so.  Yesterday I set out to write a “brief” post, and yet somehow it consumed five hours of the early morning, and wound up becoming eleven paragraphs in length.

In all that verbosity, it seems I inadvertently obfuscated the information that I have moved.  Yes – I have finally left my 14-month tenure at the apartments euphemistically known as “Friendship Square.”  The good news is that I am no longer surrounded by felons, cons, tweakers, thieves, and hustlers.   The bad news is that it’s going to cost me an extra $175/mo.   But the good news is that it’s worth it.

In the confusion, I have been composing compulsively.   When I compose music, I am somehow completely focused.  I enjoy the process very much, even if the product is lacking.  When I write text, however, I am almost completely unfocused.  Yet, yet, yet — everybody seems to like my verbal writings, and almost nobody appreciates my musical writings.  It’s a sore spot for me.  I didn’t go to a Conservatory of Music in order to spend all my time writing about Homelessness.

Then again, what is it that made me homeless to begin with?  I mean — outside of socio-economic factors, what was it about me that caused me not only to become homeless, but actually to embrace Homelessness?  (That is, before I literally got the sense knocked into me.)

Quite simply, life was not rendering me enough space to focus on writing my music.  Ah – I remember it well – the last straw.   In April 2011, I was living in a small house with the landlord, his four year old boy, and another roommate.   I had been homeless before, off and on for seven years.   So I knew that I could generally handle it.   But could I handle the four year old boy bursting into my bedroom, right at the moment when I was making the final edits to The Crying of the Muse, shouting “Hiya!” and waving a large plastic spear over his head?

It seems the young fellow wanted to joust with me.   And don’t get me wrong – I would gladly have taken up my spear, and jousted with him at another time.  But he just happened to throw me off of my delicate musical balance at that moment — and enough was enough.  I needed space. 

So, in order to find the space I needed, I quite naturally headed to Berkeley, California, where I figured I would “blend” with approximately 1,000 other homeless blokes, and write my music invisibly, without such annoying intrusions.

It worked for a while, till the thrill was gone.   And Friendship Square worked for a while, too.   Here’s to a new and more productive chapter of my highly-driven, restless life.   I’ve gotten as far with my current compulsive composing as meets the eyes and ears below.  The eyes see a telling view of Friendship Square at night, illuminated as if with fireworks.   The ears will hear a fraction of the piece tentatively entitled the New Royal Rhapsody.   Please enjoy — if at all possible.  

Art is Hard Work.
They keep firing me because I’m absent-minded and too easily stressed.
Art will never fire me, nor will I quit Art.
Please pay me for it here.
Thank you.

 

A Meaningful Life

I just received a forward of a letter of appreciation that someone sent to Terry Messman, the publisher of Street Spirit, with regards to a previous article of mine he had published.   I deduced that it must have been the August article, based on the context:

Hi Terry,

I just wanted to say that I was really moved by a recent piece by Andy Pope (unsure of which volume, but it was from several months ago). His writing really helped me understand what it’s like to be in his shoes, day by day. I also felt incredibly sad reading it. I wish that I could offer someone like Andy a place to stay.

I’m also curious about your fundraiser, and if . . . .

Alison

Upon reading those words, I felt a poignant surge of pathos.   I did not need a place to stay at the time the article was published.  I wrote that piece in June of 2016.  It wasn’t published until August 2017 — long after I’d succeeded in getting myself indoors.  So it felt somehow wrong that someone should be thinking of offering me one.  

At the same time, however, this is the point of its having been published in the first place.   When I wrote it, I was fortunate enough to have gained a seat for me and my laptop in a Starbucks on a rainy Sunday morning.   I had been living outdoors for so many years that the idea of ever actually attaining to an indoor dwelling place again seemed inconceivable.  It was that sense of resignation to the complete unpredictability of the homeless condition that gave the piece its purpose.  It was written by a homeless person while homeless, and thus filtered out nothing of the very present feelings so painfully described therein.

This also served to remind me that my life has meaning.  I had always fancied myself something of a Writer, even as I wrote frivolous bagatelles to pass the time away while bored.  I wrote pieces of garbage that I knew to be garbage, only because my nervous need to engage myself in such intellectual thumb-twiddling was so pressing in my restless mind.  But now I have been granted this great gift of experience, and not only of experience itself, but of the subsequent freedom to actually sit down and write about it.  This is something I never dreamed I would gain.  I, like almost everyone else I knew, had consigned myself to die a miserable, meaningless death on the streets.

Not two years have passed since I penned those words sitting in that Starbucks, grimly watching the sun make an effort to reveal itself from amid an early morning cloudburst.   Thankful was I indeed, as I’d have been on any other rainy morning, to have gotten out of the homeless rain.  But at the same time, how completely cynical I was that after all those years, I would ever manage to get myself into a decent, dignified living situation again!

Kate in Cabin
A Decent, Dignified Living Situation — for Me.  

I had been so happy to have landed the simple hole-in-the-wall that I found at Friendship Square, almost an entire year went by before I could even grasp the concept that there might be a better place in store for me.   This adds to the pathos.  For so many years, I prayed specifically that I would one day be given “a lock on a door, a window, and a power outlet. ”   That  wish having been granted so dramatically, I sincerely felt like an ingrate when I began to look for a more suitable living situation.   After all, God had answered that prayer pretty much down to the letter.  I received exactly one window, two power outlets, and three locks on my door.   (God apparently knew which of the three priorities was most important to me!)

Eventually, however, it reached the unpleasant stage where not even three locks could do the trick.  I would surface from fitful sleep in the wee hours, only to hear the ribald congregating of drug-addicted young men out in the hallway.  Then, I would presume in my half-awake state that I still slept outdoors, and that these other fellows must have been outdoors, as well.

“Where am I? Who are these people?  Are they coming to steal my stuff?  Or did I steal their Spot by mistake?   Or are these the security guards, or maybe even the property owners?  Damn!  I better get out of here!”

But then, a few seconds would pass, and slowly the details of reality would sink in.  I was in no immediate danger.  The voices I heard, though they seemed intrusive, were actually separated from me by the three locks on my very own door.   And yet – why could I not sleep for the evidence of their presence?   Could I honestly be that traumatized?   Could I not separate the aggressive energy of my new neighbors from that of space invaders of times past?  My pastor literally had to persuade me that the little hole-in-the-wall was not the be-all-and-end-all to my life’s experience.   I did not need to live among practicing thieves and drug addicts if I did not want to.   

It was hard to leave Friendship Square without feeling like an ingrate.  But that is exactly what I have done.   It’s costing me a bit more money than I can comfortably squeeze out at the moment, but the trade-off is well worth it.  For the past two nights, I have slept soundly and peacefully in my new secluded apartment, far removed from the downtown denizens, and all the constant raucous activity that I so easily overlooked in my earlier elation over having landed any kind of indoor place of residence at all.  And you know what?  The moment I set my laptop down on that dining room table, I felt instantly more focused than I have felt for months.  Surely now I have everything I need!   I have my own bathtub even.  And a dishwasher.   A medicine cabinet in which to store hygienic needs.  My own bedroom.   A living room.   My daughter can even comfortably come visit me now.  Do I deserve this?  Honestly – it is almost too good to be true.

Well – I suppose whether I “deserve” it or not is immaterial.  At best, it would lead to pointless theological debate.   For me, the purpose of the gift is to put it to use.  I am going to set myself down in this seclusion, and write write Write Write WRITE —  because now I have something to write about.   And not only that – but a place to do it from.   So do me a favor.   Don’t ever let me forget how huge this is.   

On the streets, I would have died a meaningless death.  Here, far away from the streets — in distance, if not in memory — I have been granted a meaningful life.   

Please help raise awareness as to the Homeless Phenomenon in America.
Please donate to Eden in Babylon.
Every Little Bit Helps
God Bless!

Let Another Round Begin

I feel weird about this, but I’ve been composing at almost all times.  Earlier I posted this medley, and now I post the medley below.  As you can hear, the two medleys ought to be combined into yet a new meta-medley.   But I’ve not reached that stage yet, as all the parts are still quite incomplete.  I need to forge forward with this, or not at all.  At the same time, however, I can’t help but show you that there has been some progress.  Especially, I invite you to compare the present version with its past predecessor of a year or so back.  Whether you think the drastic change is an improvement or not, I can tell you for sure that what’s happening tonight is a lot closer to the intent of my musical heart.

Please donate to Eden in Babylon.
Any and All Contributions are Appreciated.

Published Again in Street Spirit

I just received this very pleasant email:

Hi Andy,

I published another of your really well-written reflections in the October issue of Street Spirit. I’m sending you the pdf version now, and I’ll send a link to the online edition in a few days when I post it.
 
Thanks so much for your insightful, thoughtful writing.
 
Best,
Terry
and now where
And Now Where?

I’ve uploaded the pdf on this link if you want to check it out.  I’m on p.3, the story entitled “I Remember Who I Am.”

He uses the illustration to the right, a lithograph by Rockwell Kent named “And Now Where?” in conjunction with my piece.  The piece itself is taken almost word for word from The God Who Believes in Me, earlier posted on this site.

The “Author’s Note” is taken from editor’s notes on that entry and also on the one entitled An Incredibly Empty Place.

In the past three months, since I have been fortunate enough to have had some of my short pieces published in Street Spirit, I have come to admire Terry Messman, the publisher, and Sally Hindman, the Berkeley activist and Quaker minister who connected me to this unique opportunity.  It’s interesting that I never knew either of them when I actually still lived in Berkeley.  Maybe I was too busy dealing with the extenuating circumstances described in these articles.  Rarely did I extend myself toward people with whom I might network, as though I had something distinctive to offer, and was interested in making a contribution to the community.

When I moved up here to Northern Idaho, all of that changed.  I told the personnel director at my church that if I had to summarize the difference between my life today and my life back then, I would say that previously the idea around me was that I had some kind of huge problem, and so how can we possibly help Andy solve his problem?  The idea in the here and now, on the other hand, is that Andy has something to offer.  How can we help him to offer it?

I would think anyone in their right mind would prefer the latter of the two scenarios.

Please donate to Eden in Babylon.
Any and All Contributions are Appreciated.