About That Insecure Creative

“A successful writer is one who finishes what they start while striving to improve their craft. It’s as simple as that. And the only one who can stop you from doing this is you.” – Hugh Howey*

If any of my more regular readers got the idea that perhaps I was obfuscating a hidden agenda behind the seemingly innocuous postings of three successive morning “gratitude lists,’ then I must concede.   That idea is sound.   While trying to hold everyone at bay by posting my gratitude lists, I have secretly been absorbed in the task of cleaning up both the lyrics and music to The Oracle Sequence at the end of Act One of Eden in Babylon.

This is something that I can and must do. When I wrote that sequence, though I was “on fire,” I was also quite hasty in places.  And I knew it at the time.   I knew it — but I buried it beneath the sense of fiery inspiration that I permitted to delude me.  I found thrilling the mere fact that I was finishing the Act at all.   Add to that the sense that I actually stood a chance of finishing it in a dynamic way — a way that would intrigue and delight the audience, and give them all something to talk about during intermission — and believe you me, I was overjoyed.  So overjoyed was I, that I readily overlooked the rough spots, vaguely expecting myself to patch them up later (that is, if I remembered to do so, or even decided to bother).

But then, after I had the great revelation reported earlier, I found I could no longer overlook these glaring errors.  It was time for me to perform the logical clean-up, and not to feel bad about myself in the process.   So I set about to do so.   But I kept getting snagged.   Snagged, for reasons that themselves seemed trivial, if not maddening.  Maddening, in the degree of power I rendered them, despite their insignificance. 

For example, I gave one verse of very quickly spewed, poorly written lyrics to three of my strongest supporting characters.  If those had been real life Actors, playing those characters, I’d feel as though I had dumped on them for assigning them those lousy parts.  All three of those characters, as later developed in my second complete draft are worth more to the world than the lousy lyrics I threw down on them. They’re my babies — I need to bless them with better lyrics.

Sad-alone-cute-girl-playing-guitar-sunsetNot only that, but in my haste, I took no thought as to what keys all these different characters should be singing their bits in the Sequence.  Right after the verse I just mentioned, for example, the ingénue Taura begins to sing a solo to the main theme of the song “Oracle.”  All the lights should be lowered and all the previous frenetic conflict be dissolved, as she begins to sing this song of spiritual calling.   It needs to be her defining moment, where she sings to her guitar, as they all are gather in Nature, in the Outdoors, beneath the Stars.  This is only her second solo in the show — and it is the first one that features her voice en masse before the multitudes, rather than restricted in a romantic setting between her and Winston alone.  Obviously, this crucial performance of hers should feature her voice in its optimum range.  But alas, as I just now have confessed, I took no thought for such a practical matter, so infused was I with the creative fury at the time. 

As a result, Taura winds up having to sing this theme in the key of G, with notes much too high for the contralto whom I have intended her to be.  I cursed myself.  “What an oversight!”  I exclaimed.  Yet at the same time, I recall having furiously sped from one section in the sequence to another, overlooking every peccadillo in my path in the spirit of honoring the long-awaited arrival of the finishing of the first Act, which arrival now loomed imminently on the near horizon, a virtual, visible certainty of a happy event to come.

So I consoled myself with the memory of past faith.  I figured that if I had faith beforehand — way back when — even as I plowed over every glaring error in my path like a bulldozer — I could probably summon up that same faith, and use the present day as an occasion to atone fully for my earlier carelessness, and craft the End of Act One in a manner befitting a musical of this caliber.  

When I began to exercise this renewed faith, the landscape brightened considerably.  True, the lousy lyrics were the devil to replace.  Moreover, I had to change the key in that section, in order to create a key that could easily modulate into a better key to spotlight Taura’s voice during her solo.    But  then, with renewed faith, I realized that I need not be enamored to the music itself in the section where the lyrics fell short.  I now could write new music along with the new lyrics, and make that section more transitional, and less overt.  Ah!  It all began to come together, at last.

And it continues to come together.  What is the difference?  Only faith.  Only being open to new and better gifts from that great Beyond whence all ideas are formed.  And people may mock me and scoff, if indeed they pay any attention to me at all.  I hear their imagined voices already:

“Will you never stop messing with this thing?
It’s been years now, Andy!
Get off of it! Get real!”

It puts me on the defensive, to have to answer to such objections — real or imagined.  I want to say I’ll stop messing with it when somebody finally picks it up and decides to produce it — and not a minute before.  But that’s a line of malarkey – blatant baloney and balderdash.

I’ll stop messing with it when I’m finally tired of it, and when I finally abandon it.  That’s the naked truth, unveiled.  I pray this happens before someone picks it up, and not after.  If it doesn’t happen till after, I could be hell on any production staff unfortunate enough to have picked up my baby while still in the womb.  Let’s hope for an on-time delivery.  In my heart of hearts, I wouldn’t want it any other way.   

Please donate to Eden in Babylon.
Anything Helps – God Bless!

(* The Hugh Howey quote comes courtesy of  M. C. Tuggle — a blog well worth the read, by the way.)

Gratitude List 662

This is actually yesterday’s morning gratitude list.   I scribbled it out very quickly before church, and didn’t look at it again until just now.  As I saw and recollected what I wrote, it made me feel so grateful I just had to do something with it.  So I posted it here on WordPress, yet again.

1. Got caught up on my sleep — it’s only eight o’clock.
 
2. Walked six miles again yesterday, and got into a good fast clip in the last two miles.
 
3. It’s only 47F degrees now, and no colder.  I won’t dread walking to the church, but rather will enjoy the jaunt.
 
4. Just hopped out of a nice quick shower, am all dressed up and ready for church.  This wouldn’t have happened in Berkeley.  I remember one time having my cardboard laid out over dirt turned into mud by the rain outside of the Rubicon building, having to decide that a single sheet was better for shielding the rain than a warmer, heavier blanket, since the blanket caught all the moisture.  The sheet wasn’t bad until I was forced to shake it off, then walked to the Lutheran Church of the Cross in a shivering state to teach the Bible Study.  Life is much more conducive now.  
 
5. Moscow, Idaho.  I love this town more and more, the more I wake up to it.
 
6. Gorgeous, spectacular day yesterday at around noon when I was walking.  Had a nice talk with Alex on the phone, about Judah Loew ben Bezalel, the legendary Maharal of Prague, and other subjects.   
 
7. I really like the Writers I have met online on WordPress.  They are very supportive, as well as in most cases knowledgeable and talented.  It behooves me to read their work, most of which is available on the Kindle at a very low price, next month.
 
8. I’m feeling that early morning workaday mainstream buzz of high competent energy, the kind you feel when you look forward to being a part of the day ahead, a worker among workers, in America.  I feel this way even though it’s Sunday and all I’m doing is going to church and singing in the Choir.  But I also feel it a lot on the days when I volunteer now, and before Taize service.  Think how much more often I will feel this wonderful workaday feeling, when I actually have a job.
 
9. Listening to “Oracle” right now – Version 17-C on the new 15-system template designed specifically for the Eden in Babylon orchestral score.  Almost done with it.  Why has it been easier to take on the more elaborate, intensely involved project than the earlier project of far less size and substance?  It’s simple.  This larger project is much more enjoyable, despite its intimidating grandeur.
 
10. I get to have breakfast at the Courtyard Cafe before church this morning.  There are so many conveniences in my present life today for which to be grateful.  In Berkeley, I’d have been having to stand in line in Provo Park with two hundred other homeless people, some of whom were of very dubious character, in order to get breakfast on Sunday.  Fights would be breaking out, and all kinds of aggressive drug dealers would be roaming up and down the food line, issuing varying stages of irresistible offers and threats.  Life is better today than it’s ever been.  Glory to God on High.

Please donate to Eden in Babylon.
Anything Helps – God Bless!

 

Gratitude List 661

1. Slept well, from about 9 – 4:30, seven and a half hours or so.

2. Should have a good run this morning.

3. Did a six mile walk yesterday.

4. Got the check for the November article in Street Spirit.

5. Terry published “The Voices That Count” (changed the title to “The Class Gap”). This was the one I was hoping he would publish.

6. Got a really nice note from Sally, which I put up on my wall:

Hi dear Andy,
Enclosed is a check to pay you for your wonderful November article.
Thank you again for your deep concern for justice and compassion.
It’s awesome having you as a contributor to Street Spirit.
Love and blessings,
Sally

7. I keep noticing how many things are so much easier now that I live indoors, and especially inside this spacious apartment, replete with commodity and accoutrement. I can take my own shower, I never lose my glasses any more, and everything is just where I want it.

8. Just downed a first cup of coffee and am feeling rested and alert. Coffee tastes great this morning — I think I’m finally getting the hang of the coffee maker, and what exactly to do with the grounds.

9. If I get that city job, I can buy a new computer after the first two weeks paychecks. Then, even if they were to let go of me after two weeks or so, I would still have acquired a computer out of the deal. (Not that I’m only in it for the computer, mind you.)

10. I get to sing with the Choir tomorrow. We’re going to do “For the Beauty of the Earth.” Also, I’ve begun working on “Oracle” — that being the next logical song to do with the new 15-system template — and the computer hasn’t freaked out yet. I noticed that some of the lyrics, written hastily toward the End of Act One, are inconsistent with the (minor) characters as they had developed. But this is a good thing. I can work from there — backwards and forwards — and the character development will be stronger, less puzzling, and more engaging. Life is Good, and God is Love.

“Oracle”
from the new musical Eden in Babylon
Copyright © 2017 by Andrew Michael Pope

All Rights Reserved 

Please donate to Eden in Babylon.
Anything Helps – God Bless!

Gratitude List 658

1. Moscow, Idaho: Heart of the Arts.  I came back to the city I left when I was fifteen months old — after sixty-two years — knowing nothing about it, and I found out quickly that Moscow is the Heart of the Arts.  I was born here!   No wonder I turned out the way I did.  

2. Thanksgiving celebration last night when the Latah Recovery Center rented out the One World Cafe.   R.J. insisted that all the background music be my original music, so I made a playlist that was in the background the whole time, and sounded nice coming out of all those One World speakers.  Brandon was the OWC worker behind the counter and I got to see everybody from LRC, also Jim the Janitor.  Really nice time, made me very grateful for #1 above.

3. My apartment.

4. Talked with Holly.

5. A sympathetic friend is going to help me with a new computer.

6. There was a big turkey left over from last night, and it’s in my freezer now.

7. I get to have Thanksgiving dinner with my pastor and his family out at the farm.

8. A proverb this morning reminded me to make sure I remember to go pick up that city job application.  (It was Proverbs 22:13) –

9. Therapy was good yesterday with Dave; and though we still didn’t really get to the root of the recently returning problem, we came up with some ways I could avert it.  I later realized some things on my own at home last night about what probably causes it, so all that was good.  I’ll keep working on it.

10. Sally said the November check was mailed yesterday.  I still don’t know which pieces were published, since I sent him the entire Part Four of my book plus everything on this link.  But I guess I’ll find out.   Recognition results in relaxation, because it means there’s less to be impatient about, in life.   God is Good.  

Moscow-Idaho

Please donate to Eden in Babylon.
Anything Helps – God Bless!

 

The Spool of the Spirit

Haughty eyes and a proud heart — the unplowed field of the wicked — produce sin.
— Proverbs 21:4

It’s been pretty crazy in my world the past few days.    I’m feeling like I owe my readers some kind of explanation.  And, at the same time, I’m feeling that my readers probably have no idea what I’m talking about.

Yesterday I freaked out totally over my aging computer’s refusal to cooperate with what I had judged to be an inspired fifteen-staff template for the accompaniment score to my new musical.  The very concept of this score is something that suddenly dawned on me in a flash, giving it the feel of revelation.  In an instant, a solution to two separate problems was revealed to me — both of them longstanding issues that had kept me at a disturbing standstill with regards to my major project.   For a long time, I had been stymied by a pair of dark realities, acting in concert, one with another.  That dastardly duo of dynamics would probably best be described as such:

(1) My inability to motivate myself to create, not only a gargantuan piano-vocal score (the p-v score to my last musical taking up 242 pages on a single 6.4mb pdf file), but even a much less tedious vocal score, which probably would have consumed 100 pages at the most.  

(2) My inability to create an attractive enough package, in terms of a listenable instrumental recording of my show tunes, to attract competent singers to work with me on a demo recording.

Because I saw myself become extremely frustrated over both these issues shortly after I finished the first draft of my musical on March 4th of this year, I did not want to repeat the experience after finishing a second, more polished draft only a couple of weeks ago.  I would not want the upcoming months to be like the months following the March 4th milestone.  Yet I felt the frustration start to churn inside my belly, causing brutal upset at a time when I had expected to remain inspired! And behind that frustration was confusion.

I was confused which way to turn.  It seemed on the one hand that, if only I had sufficient money, I could attract singers to my demo project, simply by letting them know I had the cash to pay them.  But I wasn’t coming up with such money, and I could not realistically expect to do so.  So I began to contemplate that my appeal would need to pique the interest of these as-yet-unknown singers, without my having money, solely on the basis of the quality of my work.  This of course is a much higher, if not loftier, artistic objective.  So I began to ponder how to pursue it.

Although I was not too astonished that I didn’t want to embark on another 250-page piano-vocal score, it somewhat disturbed me that I was equally unwilling to dive into a mere vocal score. even though this would be a much less arduous task.  At first, I attributed my resistance to sheer laziness.  This disturbed me.  No one likes to think of themselves as a lazy person, and I would hope that my prolific prodigy, at least with respect to my own Art, would already have been adequately proven by now.

I could feel the deep depression seeking to take root in my spirit.  It was an all too familiar, and quite unwelcome, almost terrifying sensation.

But then, at approximately three in the afternoon last Saturday, something wonderful happened.  As I played with the Finale music notation file of my song The Word from Beyond — the central song of the charismatic protagonist Winston Greene — I realized that I could solve both problems at once in a way that would not cost me any money at the start, and yet keep my enthusiasm for my work renewed.   This realization was based on the revelation that a piano-vocal score, much as it would seem a basic requirement to package the show, is simply irrelevant to the kind of show that Eden in Babylon is, in a modern, technology-driven era.

What, after all, would be the purpose of a piano-vocal score?  It would be for a rehearsal pianist to accompany the singers during rehearsals, and a conductor to conduct the orchestra during performances.  But does Eden in Babylon need a rehearsal accompanist?  No, it does not.   And does it need a live orchestra?   No — it doesn’t need that either.  So why bother?

Many shows are rehearsed these days using a rehearsal CD of an accompaniment similar to that which the singers will hear during the actual performance.  Also, many shows are produced using a recording of a live orchestra.  I’ve seen such shows at theatre companies such as the Utah Shakespeare Festival and the Pacific Conservatory of the Performing Arts.  The singers themselves provide the live element, and usually the audience cannot even tell that the orchestra is “on tape. “

In such performances, the role of the conductor has been altered from that of tradition.  The conductor now conducts the singers on stage, usually wearing a head-set, with which he or she merely listens to the orchestra on a recording.  

As I remembered this modern fact, I saw how it applied nicely to my own new musical, and how I could employ my expertise with Finale music notation software to inform a superior production.  For with Finale, I can replicate the sound of a pit orchestra, using the sounds of the Garritan Personal Orchestra that comes with the software.  With only a few more instruments to the template, and I would have my fifteen piece pit orchestra — without having to hire or pay a single musician.

So I set about to create the fifteen staff template described in the previous entry.   Unfortunately, however, the result of my inspired fury will live in the annals of infamy.

icarus fallingMy archaic computer simply could not handle the stress of the added instrumentation.  As it complained beyond repair, my sense of inspiration plummeted to new depths of despair.  I likened myself to Icarus, who dared fly ever higher and higher, and finally too close to the sun.  As a result, his wings were scorched, and he fell unsupported down to the Earth.  His highfalutin plans now “toast.” 

As my computer collapsed, so did I myself collapse in kind.  For what are our computers, really, but extensions of our own selves?  My self-collapse turned quickly into rage, as my class issues were aroused.   

“A rich man,” I thought, “could very easily replace his broken computer.  But me?  This could set me back for months!”  A bizarre combination of envy and indignation engulfed my spirit.

So I called a sympathetic friend from my church for emotional support.   The upshot was that the fellow gave me far more than mere consolation.  He actually wound up offering to help me with the purchase of a brand new computer!

What an unexpected relief!   For now, the bizarre boulevard on which broken dreams are strewn shall neither sport nor boast my own dreams so abruptly spawned.  For the spool of the Spirit on which such dreams are spun is a spectacle of wonder, cherished like a treasure buried deep within my core heart of hearts, in a place hitherto invisible to others, and now, in a way most mysterious, somehow becoming unearthed.  With the emergence of supportive friends in my life, the energy with which I go about constructing the Template of My Dreams need not be aborted or delayed.   I can move forward still, and mount the music of Eden in Babylon in a manner befitting the marvel that I have inwardly dreamed it to be.

I can easily extract the vocal score from the much larger score that I’ve already endeavored to build.  It will be nothing compared to the larger edifice in which it rests.  If people chide me for going about this the “hard way,” they know nothing of labors of love.  Yes, it will be a lot more work — but it will be a work of wonder that I attack with passion, not a work of drudgery that I avoid with dread.

I can also again rejoice in the miracle that is Moscow, Idaho in my life.  Back in Berkeley, people would understandably look at me and shrug, thinking: 

“Andy sure has a problem!  How can we help him to solve it?” 

They would shake their heads at a loss, and I would shake mine with them.  But here it is a completely new and refreshing dynamic: 

“Andy’s got something to offer! How can we help him to offer it?”

If you can feel the force of such a huge dynamic difference, then you can feel the fact of a former futility transformed to new promise, and purpose, and joy.   I wouldn’t trade my life today for my life of many sorrows past, for all the riches flaunted by every wealthy fool on Earth.    

Please donate to Eden in Babylon.
Anything Helps – God Bless!

 

The Template of My Dreams

There is a lot of pent up frustration inside me right now.  My computer pretty much crashed earlier, and I lost it emotionally. I’d just gotten geared up to use a new template I’d created for the instrumental accompaniment score to this most recent release of Eden in Babylon obviously the winner in my book. With added instruments from the original score, it amounts to two drum sets (midi trap and electronic GPO kit), Fender jazz fretted bass, clean Gibson electric rhythm guitar, distortion Ibanez electric lead guitar, solo viola, string section, Steinway grand piano, Hautwerp all stops organ, tenor sax section, trombone section, trumpet section, harpsichord, and flute solo.

I was gleeful as I created a new sound for Winston’s central number, The Word from Beyond until all of a sudden BAM! I overloaded the system entirely and soon was faced with a total crash.

I was able to recover my file, and start over after I let the machine cool down a bit, but things were pretty dicey there for a while. The old 2011 Dell Latitude was distinctly complaining. I, meanwhile, freaked out, as I said. Screamed and yelled and cussed. I was pretty pissed.

While I was still angry, I called a friend at my church for emotional support.  After a lengthy conversation, he agreed to help me with a new computer — although that was not the initial reason why I had called him.  He believes in me.  He feels that I truly need a new computer by now, and that my project is of value. I sent him my tune in its current condition. (I don’t dare add the singing to it — even my own measly voice — at this unstable, highly tenuous stage.)

So, when he asked what my requirements were, I decided to err on the side of caution.  I woudn’t want to get a computer with similar specs to the current one.  So I shot for bigger and better than that.  Boldly, as it were, I asked him to get me a Windows 10 machine with 6gb RAM and at least a dual core 2.7ghz processor, hopefully one with a wide screen.  I asked this huge boon of him in a spirit of necessity — because as far as further future Finale music scoring is concerned, this puppy is toast.

“The Word from Beyond”
from the new musical Eden in Babylon

Copyright © 2017 by Andrew Michael Pope.
All Rights Reserved.

Please donate to Eden in Babylon.
Anything Helps – God Bless!

 

Gratitude List 652

1. Went back to bed for four extra hours of sleep after first getting up at 4:30. This took away the raw feeling in my throat, as though I’d been about to come down with something. Also much improved my mood, and I don’t have to convince myself that I’m sufficiently rested.

2. Realized after #1 above that I don’t really *need* to always get up *quite* so early.

3. Thankful that the current freedom of schedule permits extra sleep – because in my case, at this stage, Sleep is a major healer.

4. Awoke to interesting email replies from Guy M. and Lynne Fisher, two very bright and vibrant people.

5. Embracing my Extrovert. Getting ready for a more public life.

6. Despite #5, I rejoice in that I neither need nor desire to leave the fort today, except to go running. Have actually been enjoying holding on to cash — (rather than enjoying spending it.)

7. Was alerted to a non-invitation-only Webinar this Monday at 1 pm, free and participatory, for the purpose of ending classism. It promises a positive approach, and is hosted by an expert on classism and an expert on sociocracy. (Contact me for info, if interested.)

8. During the extra four hours sleep, I had a continuous rush of symbolic dreams, all along the same theme, and all informative, and pertinent. It behooves me to be obedient in this matter.

9. Can’t believe what a better frame of mind I’m in after the much greater amount of sleep. It’s as though a part of my brain is functioning again that had earlier been disabled.

10. I gained a lot from a brief phone conversation with Howard before the Taize service yesterday, and also from a brief chat with Paul D. Also enjoyed a lengthy phone conversation with Holly. It’s nice to have supportive friends at this time. Thanks, guys! God is Love.

Another New Development

There’s been another new development — possibly even a breakthrough – insofar as my goal to produce the new musical Eden in Babylon is concerned.  

It looks like there’s a very strong chance that the University will permit the use of their Theater Arts students in a reading of the script, to be held at some point after the 14th of January.   

This came about when my assistant Danielle asked me if I had ever thought about simply walking into the Theater Arts Department with a hard copy of my script, and asking if they had any ideas as to how to expedite a work-in-progress production.  I had to tell her honestly that the thought had never crossed my mind.   For one thing, I really didn’t have a script with which I was completely comfortable until a little over a week ago.   Nor was  the first coil-bound copy of the script created until six days ago.   So it seemed like an idea whose time was ripe.

The reception I received at the Department office far exceeded my expectations.  The Media Relations Assistant turned out to be a wonderfully warm and supportive person.  During a very pleasant and informative chat of about a half hour or so, I was advised of the Department philosophy: 

“Plays are not meant to be read —
they are meant to be acted, directed,
and produced.”

So while they would not read my play further than a quick skim, I was assured that if I sent them a email letter of intent with script attached, my email would be forwarded to all undergraduate and graduate Acting students in an effort to encourage their involvement.

group-reading-2The MRA also told me that my having a large cast (27) would actually work to my advantage in this context, because students are typically much less intimidated with the larger-cast projects than if, say, it were a cast of two.  She said that they generally are enthused about the large group effort, and eager to participate, free of charge.

Because I had been expecting anything from a cold shoulder to a run–through-the-ringer, I found the brief encounter to be a catalyst to further inform my path.  It occurs to me that I might as well take the vocal score to the School of Music and ask the director of the jazz choir if there are any singing majors who would like to sing on a demo recording of the project.  it can’t hurt.  And who knows?  They might even work for free.

In general, I don’t feel the sense of postpartum that I felt last March after having given birth to such a huge baby.  At the same time, I know a few things about my bipolarity as it can manifest over the long-term.  If for no other reason than to stave off another period of deep depression and artistic frustration, I think it behooves me to optimize the current energy — and strike while the iron is hot.

Please donate to Eden in Babylon.
Anything Helps – God Bless!

 

 

“Get a Job!”

The spot where I used to sit on Shattuck Avenue in Berkeley was in close proximity to a pub where Cal students would often become intoxicated.  I usually left before this could happen, but occasionally a drunken fellow would emerge in the daytime.

One day I was sitting there quietly, lamenting as usual the fact that too many people were approaching me telling me where the organized meals were, where the shelters were, how to get government “crazy money,” and so forth.  It tended to depress me, because I obviously knew all that stuff already.  What I wanted was some cash and some food for my stomach, so I could smile at them before they moved on.

But then this drunken guy came out of the pub, even though it was only about two in the afternoon.  He was making loud abusive comments toward women, and generally seemed pretty disgusting.  Of course, I probably seemed pretty disgusting too — just the sight of me sitting there — even though I wasn’t saying anything.  (As you know, if you’ve been reading me, my whole gig was to never open my mouth, and simply sit there, holding up an informative sign.)

Eventually, the young man staggered his way toward me, and stopped in front of my sign, staring at it silently, as though dumbfounded.

sign

Lifting up his eyes after what seemed an eternity, he then began to stare directly at me for an even longer eternity. Finally, he spoke.

“Get a job, man!!  Get off your butt!   Get a hustle!!!” 

He then staggered off of my spot just as sure as he’d staggered onto it.  I watched him stagger away, and once he was out of sight, I turned my head and saw another young man.  This new fellow, obviously more sober, was laughing.  Whether he was laughing at me, at him, with me, or with him — I cannot say.   Whatever the case, he apparently found the situation amusing.

I decided to break my rule at that point.  (That is to say, I opened my mouth.)

“You know what?” I said.

“What?” he asked.

“He’s right.”

Please donate to Eden in Babylon.
Anything Helps – God Bless!

 

Somebody Gave Easily

Lately there has been a gnawing sensation within me that a critical part of my story has been left out. I’ve been wanting to relate a certain turn of events that occurred in July 2016, after I had left Berkeley, but before I had moved up to Idaho. It may explain why it is that I am so passionate about what I am writing, and why I now know that my life has meaning.

To provide some background, I left Berkeley, California on the day that I received my monthly Social Security check for July. On that day, I bought a laptop. Knowing that four laptops had been stolen in a three year period in Berkeley, and that I was a known “mark” for the thugs and gang bangers who hung out by the local rapid transit station, my plan was to silently leave town before anyone caught wind of my acquisition.

The city where I landed on the San Francisco Bay Area Peninsula was a small town of about 25,000 composed almost entirely of upper-class Caucasians. I selected it because it was noted for a low crime rate and a peaceful aura. However, it wasn’t particularly friendly toward outdoor homeless types, and after the second time my sleep was interrupted by an officer of the law, I agreed to be transferred from my spot behind the local library to a shelter about twenty five miles South of there, in a more industrial neck of the woods.

At first, I was very impressed with the shelter. They had a number of programs designed to help homeless people get back on their feet and regain self-esteem. It was, however, assumed that I was an alcoholic or a drug addict, and daily twelve-step meetings were required. Still, I acquiesced.  I think twelve-step meetings are great, in general.  The only thing that bothered me was the assumption that I needed one. 

About five days into my sojourn at the shelter, an unfortunate turn of events took place. In the Men’s Barracks, where I slept on a bunk in close proximity to about twenty-five other men, I caught a flu.  I went to the hospital, where I was told I had “viral bronchitis” — which I’m pretty sure is just a fancy name for a high-follutin’ flu.  I definitely do not have bronchitis in any other sense.  In any case, I was given the usual stuff, and told to “rest in bed for ten days.” 

But when I went back to the shelter, they told me that because I had a contagious disease, I could no longer stay at the shelter.  This disturbed me.   After all, I had obviously caught the flu at the shelter.   So I was not the only person there with a flu.  Half of the guys in the barracks were coughing, sneezing, and wheezing from all their cigarette smoke anyway.  Here I’m this guy with an unusually strong immune system, who had caught exactly two flus in the past fifteen years, works out, doesn’t smoke or drink — it very much upset me that I was being reprimanded for my honesty.

So I went back to the hospital and explained what happened, hoping they would let me in to recover.  But at the hospital, I was told that they couldn’t show any special preference for me, just because I was homeless.  

“I know you have the flu, Andy, but let’s face it.  Homeless people come in here trying to get an overnight stay all the time, for all kinds of reasons.  If I were to let you in, I’d have to let in the whole lot of you.   I’m sorry, Andy, but that’s just the way it is.”

A rush of numbing fright consumed me.  I suddenly realized that I was going to have to fend with this flu outdoors!  I’d seen homeless people die overnight after catching a flu!  I feared death – but I was too young to die — and generally a very healthy, fit human being.   But what could I do?

Throughout the next five days, my condition worsened.  I was sneezing, and often visibly perspiring.  The driver of the all-night bus stopped letting me inside the bus at night, because all the other homeless people who used the bus as a sleeping spot were complaining that I might be contagious.  I told him that viral bronchitis is only contagious in the first two to three days.  But this was to no avail.

Then one night, something came over me.   And this is why I now know that my life has meaning.   Shortly after midnight, on July 17, 2016, I was walking by the Sequoia Station in Redwood City, wondering where to sleep that night, sick with a flu, and angry.  Suddenly I dropped down on my knees and screamed at the top of my lungs:

God!!  If there is Anybody out there, I don’t care Who you are, or what your Name is, if you can feel me, where I’m coming from, please — I do not care about drug addiction or alcoholism, or mental illness, or being a lazy bum or a slacker or a slouch – I care about Homelessness!  Please put an END to twelve years of totally unpredictable, totally unreliable, ANYTHING CAN HAPPEN, ANYTIME ANYWHERE HOMELESSNESS!!! In the name of Jesus Christ I pray –
AMEN!!!!

Granted, it was an impulsive emotional outburst, and I’m sure any theologian worth their salt could easily chop holes in the wording.  But I felt an eerie sense of calm when I got back up to my feet. 

I looked around.  The night was still and quiet.  My spirit was overwhelmed with the clear feeling that Somebody had heard that prayer — and that Somebody would honor it.

A couple days later, as the symptoms of the flu subsided, I remembered an associate of mine, a now retired music teacher with whom I had worked when I was still a sheltered elementary school music teacher making a modest living on the Peninsula, before all this homelessness ensued.   He had earlier said that if I could choose a spot outside of the State of California where the rents would be cheaper and I could conceivably live off of my Social Security, he would spot me the one-way ticket.

The rest of my story I have told.  Here, there, and elsewhere.  Within forty-eight hours, I had rented a room at Friendship Square on a temporary basis.  Three days later I signed a one year lease on an apartment that would have rented for $900 in Berkeley, and was only $275 in Moscow, Idaho.  I alighted upon the city of my birth for the first time in sixty-three years — a city that I knew nothing about whatsoever, other than the fact that I was born here.   Three weeks later, I applied for a part time job and was hired — after years of being considered unemployable and mentally incapable of working in the State of California. 

I only later learned that Idaho Repertory Theatre was founded in this city on the year I was born, and that the Lionel Hampton School of Music sports a city-wide jazz festival every year here — in the town where I was born.  I only later walked through one of the city gates, and saw the city proudly proclaiming itself: “The Heart of the Arts.” 

I’m not going to ask you to believe in God, if you don’t already, after having read these words.  The word “God” after all, is only a word.  If you ask ten people the meaning of that Word, you are likely to get ten different answers.  I know what I believe, and you probably do too.

But I will ask you to believe that my life has meaning — and purpose.  If you can help me in any way to move that purpose forward, please do. I’ve been sleeping in gutters for almost half of my adult life.  That I did not die a meaningless death on the streets of Berkeley is an absolute miracle.   I have written a full-length musical about homelessness since I have been off the streets, in addition to numerous blogs, and five articles published in Street Spirit.   If you can help me in any way with the money I need to make a demo recording of three songs from my musical, please believe me:

giving-is-easy-620

That one has got to be true.  After all, Somebody gave pretty easily — once I finally, earnestly asked.

Please donate to Eden in Babylon.

Gratitude List 644

1. Ran in the new shoes for the first time yesterday.  They fit perfectly – best fit I’ve had in years.   Also I felt fine running even though I hadn’t run for about a month.   Did two miles (just checked the distance on MapMyRun) and felt good the whole way.

2. Showered right afterwards, felt good.  Sure is nice to be able to take a shower without having to wait in a line with fifty other guys, some of whom would no doubt be of dubious moral character.

3. Carnation Instant Breakfast, vanilla flavor.  Too good.   Also made my Folgers Classic at the right strength this morning.  When it runs out, I get to buy Kirkland Columbian, like they served at the North Berkeley Senior Center and the Hillcrest Lodge here in town, best coffee yet.

4. Got a really nice card from all the tellers at my bank, and the bank manager Tamara, thanking me for one year of loyalty.   That’s a first!!

5. My daughter called last night for the first time in a while and we talked at length.  She seemed good, and wants to call me every day now, for which I’m glad.

6. Nice chat with my lifelong friend Kent from Stockton yesterday morning.  He always sounds so positive these days, and his energy helps me to focus on the positive.

7. Really good work with R.J. yesterday at the Recovery Center, got me to thinking constructively about my codependency and other issues.

8. Also nice chatting with Susan B. at the church when she was practicing on the Marceua.  She taught Organ for 35 years at the University and is a very nice lady.  Turns out she made the switch from Piano to Organ as early as 11th grade, and that she (like me) learned Piano through the Schaum and Thompson courses, before piano pedagogy got hijacked by modern weirdos.  

9. I have 250 followers on Eden in Babylon now.  

10. Received the first knock on my door last night and learned two things: (1) I am totally not practiced at not answering the door, even when there’s a peephole and I can see that I don’t know the gents.  (2) I am totally not down for theological debate with Mormon missionaries at this time in my life.  Well, at least they weren’t tweakers waking me up at 3am to ask me for a cigarette lighter, and not believing me when I tell them that I don’t smoke.  Progress not Perfection – God is GOOD.

Please donate to Eden in Babylon.
Anything Helps – God Bless!

 

Gratitude List 642

This one’s from two mornings ago, but I just thought I’d post it today.   Further gratitude to follow. 

1. Got my dystrophic toenail removed yesterday. Within 48 hours I’ll be running in my new Mizuno running shoes (that I got for free – a gift, and not a ground score, either.)

2. Did the wash last night. Nice to have a decent, reasonably priced washer-dryer less than 25 feet away from me. Remembered to wash my beanie this time — nice to have a clean beanie wrapped around my ears in the Winter.

3. Planned out my meals for the rest of the month and bought $110 worth of groceries at Winko’s. Amazing some of the prices there – and now I’m all stocked up.

4. Nice to see all the people from my church standing by the doorway in the clinic when I stepped out from surgery. I’m grateful for my church — for the people there being so nice.

5. Though I freaked out last night, when I realized I had locked myself out of my bathroom, I was able to break in with the aid of an earpiece of an old pair of readers that I used as a wedge. Sure is nice to have my own bathroom, and clean towels now, too. This is the first time I’ve had a place with my own bathroom since 2010 — and it’s half of that rent, and in a much better location.

6. Kathleen W. from the church liked my writings in Street Spirit. She said they were “very insightful” (a nice compliment) and she forwarded them to her son in Seattle, who works with the homeless there.

7. Slept unusually well last night, for seven hours.

8. This is the first time I’ve had a place to live in as long as I can remember where I wasn’t all tripped out about my neighbors and/or roommates. It’s helping me to be as much of a homebody as I’ve always wanted to be, and I bet that the rent difference is easily made up for in the lack of coffee out and meals out. I don’t feel as much of a need to go out for stuff I can have at home. There’s nothing to *escape* from here. (Below freezing helps too.)

9. I’ve been starting to “hear music in my head” again, since I got this new apartment — for the first time since I left Berkeley.

10. Our house is a very very very fine house
with two cats in the yard
Life used to be so hard
Now everything is easy
’cause of You 

Please donate to Eden in Babylon.
Anything Helps – God Bless!

 

No Longer an Island

The Medieval poet-cleric John Donne is credited with having said a number of fairly amazing things.   But the one that’s always stuck in my mind is: “No man is an island unto himself.”  I realize that this is the case, at least metaphysically speaking.  But it sure feels like I’ve been an “island” — trying to get this project happening.  

john-donne-hires-cropped
John Donne

This is why I’m going to take the liberty at this time to express how grateful I am for the qualities of  practicality and common sense that characterize my new assistant, Danielle Stephens.   As has so often been the case in the past, Danielle seems to compliment my skill set by being strong in the areas where I am weak.   But what I’m really so grateful for is that I am no longer an “island unto myself.”  

On my end, you see, it’s simply necessary that any donations to my project not go to me personally, and that they do go to somebody like Danielle.  For one thing, I don’t have any common sense at all, as near as I can tell after almost sixty-five years of fumbling through this mysterious world of ours.  And probably the most practical thing I’ve ever done is to turn everything over to Danielle.

For another thing, it seems to make sense — even to me, who has no common sense — that my personal and business dealings ought to remain separate.   This is especially the case now that I’ve moved into a more expensive apartment.  Although I’ve figured out how to manage my monthly income in such a way as to make ends meet, I don’t even want to be tempted to take money from donations intended to further the project, and wind up spending it on personal needs.

This is where Danielle comes in.   Her particular strengths are, as I’ve said, complimentary to mine.  Consider, for example, what has happened in the past week alone.  During the past seven days, I have finished my 2nd draft of the Eden in Babylon script.  (This is why, by the way, you haven’t heard from me recently.  I’ve been obsessive about making certain adjustments that had gnawed at me during the six months or so when I basically didn’t look at the script.  It took me two months to complete the revision, and in the past seven days have been especially focused toward this end.)

So I got the idea that I probably ought to self-publish it through Lulu or CreateSpace, and also run off a hard copy of it to lug around with me and show people in “real life.”  I didn’t know how much any of this would cost.  But a few days ago, before I was even finished with the revision, I asked Danielle if she would send me forty dollars out of the donation fund, where she has been patiently holding the money.

Immediately, she advised me that there would be no reason to send me the money until I had actually finished the revision and knew exactly what I was going to do with it.  I thought about it for a moment or two; and realized that she is, of course, right.  What’s the point of having her hold the money, if she’s going to send it right back to me for no clear reason whatsoever?

This is where she and I differ – in a good way.  In my mind, there is usually no difference between the forty dollars that I will “probably” spend in a “pretty good way’ at some point further down the road.  In her mind, she needs to know the exact reason for the expenditure, needs to know that it’s justified, and probably even would like to see a receipt.  

So – now that I’m finally done with the script revision, I’m going to go over to Fed-Ex, run it off, put a nice cover on it, and send Danielle the receipt.  How can I go wrong?  I am no longer an island!

I also want to express my gratitude for the two small donations that were offered within the past week.  Without them, I really couldn’t have rationalized running off a personal hard copy of my work.  With them, I feel that I am getting myself something that I not only can use business-wise, but that I can keep for myself as my own — a symbol of all the hard work I have put into this creation.  

Without your donations, and the help of my assistant, not even that single gift would have been possible.  So once again — and you know who you are — thank you for being so supportive of Eden in Babylon.  We’ll get this show on the road yet.  

Donations Gratefully Accepted Here 

can-do

ANYTHING HELPS
GOD BLESS

                                                                                                      

 

The Voices That Count

In the sixties and early, pre-Watergate 70’s, we heard a lot about the Generation Gap.  It seemed that the schism between those who represented the Establishment, and those who had “dropped out” or represented what we called the counter culture, was much too wide for the sake of constructive communication.  Much tension occurred as a result, and it often morphed into violence.

That gap was called the Generation Gap because those who comprised the Establishment were substantially older than those of the emerging counter-culture.   But today, I find ourselves immersed in an even more serious gap than the age-based gap — a gap that is based on class.  

Speaking in general terms, it has not been uncommon for there to be a millionaire in office.  But a cabinet composed largely of billionaires?   That’s a new one on me, as of 2016.  And I’ve been watching this kind of stuff go down since the sixties – since before Watergate – since before the War on Drugs.   

And what about on the other side?   Poverty has abounded forever.  But for so many poor people to lack roofs over their heads?   For poverty to engulf the disabled and the developmentally challenged?  The Class Gap has never been so wide.

There has always been division – but not like this.   There has always been tension – but this is unprecedented.  And what about communication?  It’s almost impossible for those in the privileged classes to even understand what the impoverished are trying to say.  This creates frustration among the underprivileged, and frustration turns to anger, turns to outrage, turns to hate.  I see a lot of outright hatred emerging from those who struggle,  as they turn to those whose material and monetary wherewithal make them better equipped to help balance the scales, and receive only insensitivity and indifference in return.

I have lived almost sixty-five years, and I have watched this trend worsen.  We tend to frame our differences around race, gender, culture, ability, sexual orientation and age.  But seen through a lens less often considered, many of these differences really boil down to differences in socio-economic class.

I have worked for the wealthy, and I have generally found them to be very nice people: courteous, accommodating, and caring.   I have also been down and out, and have lived on the streets, where the tension is much more intrusive, and etiquette is held to be unnecessary — so much so that any use of it is often viewed to be hypocrisy.   On the other hand, the language that is commonly used for communication on the streets is often regarded as crass or even abusive among those for whom such communications are unnecessary.

A poor person who is broke, who finds five dollars on the street, will naturally see it as gift for which to be grateful.  But when I told a person who was wealthy that I had found five dollars, that person literally shouted: “Shut the f—k up!”   Once when I was renting a room from a very wealthy landlord, he came down and saw me counting the pennies on the table.  Scowling in disgust, he shouted: “Stop that!”  When I was in a similar position, and I asked a friend for five dollars, he replied: “Five dollars is not going to solve your problem, Andy.”  But five dollars could have kept me alive another day.

I saw five homeless people die overnight, having preexisting medical conditions, unable to withstand one more night in the cold.  Had any of them had but five dollars, they could have gotten inside a bus and slept throughout the night.   Granted, the problem of homelessness would not have been solved by five dollars.  But a far greater problem might have been solved — the problem known as death.  

This is why frustration mounts, for that same person was perfectly magnanimous toward me when he wasn’t hung up on needing to “solve my problem.”  Nor was I asking him to provide a solution, as though nothing but a detailed plan to get me off the streets would be satisfactory.  I was only requesting a small amount of money, fearing an overnight death in the cold, as I had seen my other friends die.  So naturally, it is easy to rage and roar at the rich in light of such a constant cold shoulder.  But to do so does little good for the cause, for some have done so with violence.   

I have written a musical that explores the effects of classism, social stigma, and homelessness on the youth of today’s America.  I conceived of this musical because I have been there.  The impoverished may not be able to afford tickets to this musical once it is finally produced.   But the impoverished, the homeless, and the underprivileged, are not the ones who need to see this production.  Those who need to see it — at least according to its author’s intent — are those who have never experienced the energy of the streets, nor of the outdoors, of Nature, and the terrifying adventures thereof.  I write from a position of one unsheltered, and I write to the sheltered – not to shatter their shelter, nor scatter the remains of their relics abroad to destruction, but to show them the shamelessness of those who are without, that they might be moved, and share of the shelter that is within.

The gap created by class distinctions and social stigma in America has always been wide.  Throughout history, it’s been very wide, and a very difficult one to bridge.  But it can be bridged — and it must be bridged — if America is to endure.   After all, a chain is only as strong as its weakest link.  But we do nothing to strengthen our weak links.  We throw our elders into poorly run board-and-care homes, rather than care for them ourselves.  And some of the shelters into which we throw our homeless are little more than glorified prisons.  Should we really be that quick to discard from our company those who have lost their homes?   

viktor frankl
Viktor Frankl

Many of us who have escaped the horrors of continuous homelessness seem driven, or even desperate, to convey a message that at first may appear to be unintelligible.  A similar dynamic took place, on a much more grotesque, grandiose scale, when those who survived the Nazi concentration camps emerged with a sudden upsurge of vigor.  Viktor Frankl reports that many such survivors entered immediately into massive consumerism, guzzling beer and gobbling down huge helpings of their favorite foods, of which they’d been deprived.  In Frankl’s case, he launched wholeheartedly into the book that became Man’s Search for Meaning.  They who have survived the conditions of homelessness often display a similar spike of renewed motivation, drive, and sense of purpose. 

The gush of enthusiasm with which we who have survived the conditions of homelessness often seek to reveal the hidden secrets of the Homeless Experience can be off-putting.  But the message itself is little more than a restatement of time-honored principles that have helped hold this nation together for over two hundred years.  I did not coin the phrase: “United We Stand; Divided We Fall.”  Still, because of the frustration we tend to express when we feel we are not being heard, and the violent, hostile nature of a conspicuous minority among those who seek to express it, they who have the power to do something about the matter quite naturally turn their ears to more appealing voices.  If only they knew that in so doing, they are shunning the voices that count.