Tuesday Tuneup 32

Q. Where would you like to be?

A. Right where I am right now.

Q. Where’s that?

A. In a cozy cafe on Main Street, not very far from campus.

Q. What do you like about where you are now?

A. It brings out the best in me.

Q. And what, by the way, is the best in you?

A. The best in me is a part of me that seems most authentic, less contrived, and less compelled to veer from my designated course.

Q. And what is your designated course? 

A. I think you know.

Q. Do I?

A. Sure you do.  It’s all over this blog, isn’t it?

Q. Is it?

A. Yes, it is.

Q. Is that why you’re being evasive?

A. What do you mean?

Q. Well, isn’t it evasive of you not to provide me with a direct answer?

A. No – not evasive.  I’m just tired of it all.  Tired of always having to define myself.

Q. Is that tiredness a form of ennui?  Or perhaps burnout?

A. No, not really.  I’m not tired of the designated course at all.  I only tire of describing it.  

Q. Well then — if you don’t wish to describe the course itself, can you tell us what to veer from it looks like?

A. Certainly.  I veer from my course when I encounter a certain kind of compulsion.  

Q. What are you compelled to do?

A. I dare not say.

Q. But if you will neither describe the path nor its detours, how can we possibly learn anything about this disparity?

A. That’s a very logical question.  And I can’t say I didn’t anticipate it.   So I have prepared an illustrative reply.   May I proceed?

Q. Why not?

crossroadsA. Here in this small, close-knit, Art-positive community, there are two establishments in close proximity to each other on Main Street.  Like many of our residents, I have been known to frequent both.  Down the way from this cafe, there is a very different kind of place.  It is a much louder place – a looser place.  A place where just about anything could happen at any time.  

Q. A bar?

A. Not exactly.  No alcohol is served.  But the energy is a bit like a bar.  Logical social boundaries are often broken, and with great disregard for consequence.  

Q. Do you find this threatening?

A. Yes.  Threatening – and at the same time, compelling.

Q. What are you compelled to do there that you would not do elsewhere?

A. Lots of things.  Just about anything associated with a casual cultural standard.  Cussing, for example.  Or discussion of — you know, dirty things.

Q. Dirty?

A. You know what I mean.   Personal pollutants.  Those things that soil the soul.

Q. Why on earth would you want to pollute your person?  Or soil your soul?

A. Because to do so presents me with a consuming problem with which I am already quite familiar, and therefore comfortable.   Thus it provides an escape from a present-day problem that is unfamiliar, and thereby making me very, very uncomfortable.  To the point that I can’t even sleep at night.

Q. Didn’t you allude to this yesterday?

A. I did.  Point No. 5 on my gratitude list alludes to it.

Q.  So you wish to replace an uncomfortable problem with a comfortable one?

A. Exactly.  The comfort would ease the pain.

Q. Isn’t that dangerous?

A. Very much so.  That’s why I left the building.   I was not only compelled — to do something that I ought not to do — but sorely tempted.  The temptation came in the form of — a woman.  A beautiful woman.  Need I say more?

Q. Has enough been said?

A. Perhaps not.  Only the tip of the iceberg has been revealed.

Q. Where did you go when you left the building?

A. That you know.  I went down the way, to the cafe where I am now so content to sit.  

Q. And this cafe holds no compulsions to veer from your designated course?

A. Not in the least.   It rather fortifies my commitment to the course that has already been laid out for me.

Q. How so?

A. Here I have met the finest Artists.  The greatest musicians.   The most inspired social visionaries.   The most engaging speakers, and the most fascinating storytellers.  I am never compelled to veer when I sit here.  I am only compelled to expand upon that which I already have.

Q. Then why didn’t you just come to the cafe in the first place?  What compelled you to go to the other place down the block?

A. I don’t know.   I don’t want to be thought of as snooty or aloof.   

Q. What does it matter what they think?

A. It doesn’t.  I think I just learned that.   Well — I knew it — all along.  But I didn’t think I could practice it.  Now I do.  I was scared when I sensed where the woman was heading me.  And I fled.  After fleeing that iniquity, a sense of peace has come upon me.  The peace has come upon me — because the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. 

Q. What does that got to do with anything?

A. I have an echo on this planet.  An echo in whom my voice resounds.  When my echo is dissonant — or suspended, or irresolute — often I am as well.   This is because the echo feels that her sound is that of an angel — yet in reality, the Angel has fallen. 

But now, you see,  I am consonant.  Released.  Resolved.   And the peace that transcends all human understanding now guards my heart and my mind — through the Spirit of the God of Love.   And if that incomprehensible peace has come upon me, then it can come upon my resounding echo.   And my Echo will be at Peace.

The Questioner is silent.  

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Gratitude List 960

(1) Somehow the house felt like a furnace this morning, and it sure felt good to get out of the house and get a blast of nice cold fresh Winter air.  Thank God for the open air.  Just because I have a decent place to live after living outdoors for all those years doesn’t mean I have to stay inside all the time.

(2) That said, I still thank God that for the past two years, I have lived indoors and have generally been getting a good night’s sleep.  I was practically sleeping with one eye open for the better part of twelve years down there.

(3) I was able to get my thyroid medication refilled today and also a scrip to address my bipolar affective condition.  This will be the first time I’ve addressed that condition through medication for approximately a year and a half.  Though I am leery of the medical-pharmaceutical paradigm in general, sometimes you just gotta take care of your head.  Life’s too short, if you know what I mean.   

(4) A meeting with an important person on Friday was auspicious.

(5) When I find myself losing sleep over the precarious position of a close family member, it helps to remember that I have also been in that same precarious position.  God helped me see my way free of the dangers of the time, and He will help her too.

(6) Nice talk with my good friend Nick last night, and another this morning.  He always has a way of helping me put things into perspective.

(7) An unexpected $75 donation took place over night, and should be able to help me defray certain upcoming medical costs.

(8) It is a beautiful, bright, brisk Winter day in the city of my birth.

(9) Returning to my birth city after 63 years was the most positive thing I could ever have done for myself.  I knew nothing at all about this town when I stepped off of that bus, let alone that I would have a new job and an apartment within days.   By now it almost appears as though this town was custom-designed for me since the day I was born.  Of all the positive possibilities that loom ahead of me, the most promising are those that are right here where I stand.

(10) In the words of Oscar Hammerstein II:

You’ve got to have a dream!
If you don’t have a dream,
How you gonna have a dream come true?

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The Homeless Christmas Day

This piece was originally posted on my Facebook timeline on December 23rd, 2015.  It has been edited for coherence, and for the relative removal of bitterness and rancor, being as the overall conditions of homelessness were, at the time, affecting both my brain and my heart.  “The Homeless Christmas Day” has been published in the December issue of Street Spirit.  

It looks as though we’re closing in on Christmas again, folks. That’s bad news in my book, and (I daresay) in the corporal book of homeless people everywhere. The good news is that I haven’t flipped out yet. Last year at this time I thought I would “err on the side of caution” and do everybody the favor of at least deactivating my Facebook for the holidays, so that people wouldn’t have to endure too many posts like this on my timeline. Meanwhile, I would be free of that awful combination of outrage and jealousy that so often overtook me when I had to see all the “likes” on all the cute family pictures, often with lavish gifts being opened beneath their highly decorated Christmas trees.

Last year my departure was quick and easy: “It’s that time, folks! See ya after the Super Bowl!” Probably the shortest Facebook timeline post of mine in history. Somehow it didn’t go over too well.

The year before that, I was spending Christmas Day stuck out in the rain, with services closed for those of my ilk, not to mention the usual five-in-the-morning “indoor resources” being closed (Starbucks, McDonald’s, etc.) After all, social workers need to celebrate Christmas too, and baristas need a day off as well. Of course, government buildings were closed, and it wasn’t possible to hide out in the library all day.  So I wandered around aimlessly in the rain, eventually realizing that the only other people doing so were about twenty-five other angry homeless people. Our natural exchanges of commisseration began to depress me.

homeless christmas“Well, I do have a laptop, and friends on the Internet,” I mused, as I crouched underneath the awning of the Starbucks at Oxford & University, copped their Wi-Fi connection, and began to plead my case to a number of old friends who no doubt saw the intrusion upon their warm family gatherings as a bit rude.

Describing my situation, I implored a number of people for a PayPal grant of $60 or so, hoping to be able to get out of the rain and set up shop in a cozy motel room somewhere. I figured, “Geeze, it’s Christmas! You’d think somebody wouldn’t mind giving the poor homeless bloke a well-deserved Christmas present.”

Of course, it was short notice. Quite to my hurt, I mistakenly banked on the combined compassion of the chosen few. But alas, the constant bombardment of pictures of old friends on Facebook basking in decadent bursts of Christmas Day galore – stockings, ornaments, grandchildren, the whole works — did nothing for me other than to arouse the ol’ Green Eyed Monster who forever grumbles dormant within me — perched, poised, and ready to pounce.

Well — pounce the Monster did indeed! The results were none too pretty. One of my friends was so aghast at my approach (which no doubt must have been rather ghastly), that his response was quite a shock. Rather than consider helping me out in any way, he sent a joint email to me and the closest member of my family he could think of. In the email, he recommended that I be “institutionalized” — evidently as a viable solution to this chronic homelessness business that obviously wasn’t being dealt with effectively.

psych ward stockingUnbeknownst to him, that was my biggest fear. Not that I have any particular dread of the techno-torture of this Age. It’s just that they don’t let me plug in my laptop in those types of dives, because it can “conceivably be used as a weapon.” They do the same thing with my shoelaces, which makes jogging around the building a bit difficult. And of course they don’t let you out of the building so you can go on a run of decent length, if you happen to be (as I am) one of those. I remember once when I even alluded to the fact that I was training for a half-marathon, they wanted to put me on bipolar meds because I was exhibiting what they called “excessive goal orientation.”

In short, the instutitions, both short-term and long, are rather dreary places to be. Arguably, Christmas outside in the rain would be preferable.

As I read my friend’s well-meaning recommendations, all I could do was shake my head. “What we have here is a failure to communicate,” I mumbled, mulling over the text in amazement. Knowing I could never get my point across to my old friend through Internet typing alone, I implored him that I reply with an oral presentation to consist of approximately thirty minutes of persuasive speech.

It worked! Not only did I succeed in explaining the Facts of Homeless Life to the guy — but he actually poured accolades upon the technical and aesthetic details of my Spoken Word piece. Naturally, my attitude of disdain toward him was replaced with great approval. This fellow actually had an MFA in Voice and Speech, and here he was telling me that I was a good speaker? The same person whose opinion I had poo-pooed now expressed an opinion I found quite delightful. You see, I had enormous professional respect for this person, and I took his praise to heart. It was as though I had discovered a new hidden talent, hidden among all the other hidden ones — not that I’m about hiding any of my alleged strengths, but only that the society at large, in continuing to view me as a scum bag, essentially doesn’t see what I’ve got to offer even as I offer it. They see what they want to see.  It doesn’t matter how brightly the homeless person’s light may shine. Between that shining light and the eyes of the beholder there is a dark cloak that obscures the accuracy of their view.

And the name of the cloak is Stigma.

Ah, Stigma. Hast thou found me, O mine enemy? What are we to do with You? Should I make the same move as I made in 2014, in order to avoid yet another Facebook Christmas? It’s tempting, but something gives me pause. It’s already the 23rd, and like I said, I haven’t flipped out yet. So let’s push this puppy to the limits. Take ‘er to the max. Shoot for the moon! Let’s keep my Facebook active, and push the envelope just a wee bit further. Let’s all see for ourselves just what exactly happens on Christmas Day.

Come on, Christian America! What do ya think Christmas is all about? Why are we washing our hands like Pontius Pilate of the validity, the legitimacy, the dignity, and the humanity of an estimated 8% of our nation’s urban population? Even among those who are not homeless, statistics still reveal that one sixth of America struggles for hunger on a daily basis! Do you think Christmas will be any less of that struggle!?

Come on, people! Let us in! Stop looking at us as though we’re all a bunch of worthless druggies and boozers and losers and vandals and varmints and thieves! We take showers, we wash our clothing — it just takes us longer to do so because we have to wait in big lines at service centers to get into the shower, to access the washer, to get the toothpaste and toothbrush and razors and shampoo — while what do you do? You can do these things in a moment’s time, and you look at us patiently waiting at places like then Multi-Agency Service Center in Berkeley, California, and you frown and shake your heads and say: “Look at those lazy bums, sitting there doing nothing!”

Le us in for once! It’s Christmas, for Christ’s sake!! Let me show you I still know how to play the piano and crack my jokes and get you to holler and laugh and do requests! You think any of my gifts have changed just because I happen to sleep outdoors and you happen to sleep inside? I can give you the same Christmas gifts you used to enjoy so much back when you were glad to have me over for a dinner on the holidays! And those are only my gifts. We all have our gifts to give you! Isn’t Christmas about giving? Then let us give you our gifts — on Christmas Day. Let us in.

Tears of love will fall from my eyes when I am finally able to tell you that I love you in a manner that no email nor Skype call nor timeline post could ever touch. And great will be your reward in heaven. For the King whose birthday you claim to commemorate will reply: “Whatsoever you did for the least of my brethren, you did also for Me.” 

Andy Pope
Berkeley California
December 23, 2015

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Gratitude List 951

My gratitude list from Sunday morning.   

1. Only got 5 hrs sleep (from 9 to 2) but awoke feeling rested. Also, I felt like I was coming down with the flu when I went to bed, but feel fine after sleeping it off.

2. Coffee is actually the right strength this time. (It’s been weak lately).

3. I like my early morning space and solitude.

4. Just finished vocal-scoring No.6 (Awake the Dawn) with words thru measure 30 and w/out words to 55. It’s going way better than I thought it would.

5. An interesting synchronicity is making me feel like I’m on the right track. Same thing happened with Bubbles Taboo a long time ago, where 12 unplanned modulations on all kinds of divergent intervals somehow landed me back in the same key I’d started in, even though I didn’t plan it that way. This time, with “Awake the Dawn,” I had to change the key and some of the octaves to avoid having the singers span an impossible 3+ octave range, and also had to correct the two instances where a corny half step modulation ought to have been replaced by a modulation to a relative major; and once again, the combination of all that landed me somehow in the same key I started in. It’s like magic when that kind of thing happens, and it can be very encouraging.

6. J. says that E. got her medication now, which is a relief.

7. Nice conversation with Danielle last night. Interesting about Baby-Wise.

8. I’m really lucky I landed the church I’m at. It’s not just that they’re not “kicking me out.” I’m actually being given a chance to grow. It’s such a blessing, compared to anything I tried along these lines in the past.

9. Guess my PSA levels were okay, or the clinic would have called me by now.

10. God is Good.

Free “Exile” Playlist

I’ve been under the weather this week and have not practiced my piano piece at all.  I told people I would actually be singing tomorrow — but my voice is not in very good shape.  Still, I’m going to venture forth toward the church in a bit, where that nice Baldwin grand piano is, along with all the very nice people who don’t mind me playing on it from time to time.

So, I might pull through.  I just want to leave it up in the air.  In the meanwhile, anyone who wants my Exile album, or at least wants to listen to it to check it out, but who doesn’t want to shell out fifteen bucks for it, here it is online:

Also, in isolation this week, I have been pondering my life’s direction.  I’ve felt as though I’ve been in something of a lull ever since I finished the script and demo to my musical I’ve been working here and there, on my various projects as well as on the necessities of living.  But my heart, by and large, has not been in what I’m about.

I think this is because I am being cosmically nudged to get cracking on the Eden in Babylon vocal score. I finished the first five numbers a while back, but got sidetracked when I encountered a few setbacks earlier on.   I’ve dealt with the setbacks sufficiently that there’s no real remaining excuse for slacking.

So I’m going to prioritize scoring all the singing parts for Eden in Babylon, and it’s going to have to take priority over this blog.  I found earlier that I was spending too much time blogging, and not getting the vocal score done.  Life does present itself occasionally, and it will interfere with my creative flow.  But in the meantime, there’s no valid reason for not pressing onward with the goal.

So – I’ll try to have something posted tomorrow.  No promises, but you might as well check back in a day or so, and see if anything looks different.  After that, if you don’t hear from me a while, take it to be good news.  Only so many hours in the day, and occasionally one has to get on the ball.  

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