Tuesday Tuneup 98

Q. What’s happening now?

A. Self-doubt.

Q. Isn’t that a good thing?

A. What do you mean?

Q. Well, why should you have any faith in yourself?

A. Why should I not?

Q. Are you not completely flawed far beyond your capacity even to know it?

A. That’s what the Bible says, yes.  But still, I think in practical reality, it somehow doesn’t help for me to grasp how completely incapable I am.

Q. But isn’t God fully capable?

A. Well sure He is.  But so what?   God’s not going to come down and tie my shoe for me.  There are some things a person just has to do for themselves.

Q. How many times has God come down and helped you find a missing item?

A. Many times.  Sometimes I just shout out: “Where’s my glasses?” Then I find myself looking straight at them.   But He still won’t help me tie my shoe.

Q. Are you having a problem tying your shoes?

A. Not anymore.  Not since I’m no longer being ridiculed about the way I tie them.

Q. Who used to ridicule you?

A. Oh, the kids on the playground.

Q. Wasn’t that a long time ago?

A. Yeah, but it stuck with me.

Q. So what did the kids say when they ridiculed you?

A. Apparently, I’m throwing some kind of extra movement into the tying of the shoe that doesn’t need to be there.  They laughed because I don’t tie my shoes the right way.   I only tie them my way.

Q. But your way still works, doesn’t it?

A. More-or-less.  I do notice I have to bend down and retie them a lot.

Q. And what else do you notice?

A. Sometimes I forget to tie them entirely.  I just go about walking with them untied.

Q. Then what happens?

A. Depends on whether I’m alone or with another person.  If I’m alone, I just wait until there’s a logical place to tie my shoe without having to bend down all the way to the ground.  Like, you know, a fire hydrant.  Then I tie my shoe using the hydrant.

Q. What if there’s another person with you?

A. Usually, they notice that my shoe isn’t tied, and they tell me to tie my shoe.

Q. What do you do then?

A. Well, I certainly don’t tie it just because they told me to!   I usually respond with an expletive, adding that I’ll tie my shoe when I’m good and ready.   

Q. Do you have issues with authority?

A. I have issues with people issuing direct imperatives, yes.   Especially if they are not an authority, but an equal.

Q. Are authorities not equals?

A. I suppose they are.  They just don’t act like it.

Q. So you dislike not being treated as an equal?

A.  Dislike doesn’t say it.  I despise it.  We’re all equals and no one has the right to treat someone as a subordinate.  Unless, of course, you’re in the military or some other form of hierarchical structure to which you’ve signed on.  And in such a case, you asked for it.

Q. You did?  What if you got drafted?

A. Good point.   I’d have escaped to Canada, myself.

Q. Might you still?

A. Might I still what?

Q. Escape to Canada?

A. At this point, that would hardly be an escape.  More like a practical maneuver.  But I doubt they’d let me in.  I think I have to marry someone there, or something like that.

Q. Would you like to marry someone from Canada?

A. Sounds pretty romantic, but probably unlikely.    

Q. What about a marriage of convenience?

A. I wouldn’t know anything about those.  I’ve only been in a marriage of inconvenience.

Q. What was inconvenient about it?

A. Uh — conflict of lifestyles.   But aren’t we getting off the subject?

Q. What was the subject?

A. Something about equality and authority.

Q. Ah yes, how could I forget?

A. I have no idea.

Q. So — as I was saying, do you dislike being treated as an unequal?

A. Of course!  Who likes to be treated with condescension?  

Q. Why is this on your mind?

A. Something disturbing that happened a few days ago.   An unpleasant interaction with an old friend of mine.

Q. Who did not treat you as an equal?

A. Well – triggered the memory thereof.  The memory of —  almost never being regarded as an equal.  A time in my life when I just accepted the uneasy fact that most people looked down on me, as though I were despicable.

Q. Why would you have been despicable?

A. Uh — homeless — and homeless in the Big City.   It’s cold enough in the Big City to begin with.  When you become homeless, you find out just how cold it can be.

Q. But you’re not homeless now, are you?

A. No I’m not.

Q. Why are you so hung up on the past?

A. That, sir, might be the most important question you have ever asked me.

The Questioner is silent.  

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Gratitude List 1645

(1) The other day when I was running, it crossed my mind how great it is for people to recognize the reason why I’m running — that is, for health and exercise.   In my previous life, up until a few short years ago, if someone saw me running, they generally assumed I was a criminal who had just committed a crime and was running from the law.

(2) Although I will admit to having been intimidated by the prowess of the highly skilled musicians in whose company I have suddenly found myself, I can truthfully say that I am much more enthused than intimidated at this stage.  I’m grateful for the great musicians who think well enough of my music to want to help me bring it to life.

(3) Grateful for my apartment.  I’ve lived here quietly for over three years now.  It’s a true place of shelter from the storm.   I’m grateful I’m not homeless anymore.  It took its toll, but it’s a relief not to be living in all that chaos.   Grateful for peace and quietude.  

(4) This may sound weird, but I’m grateful for the wake-ups that sometimes come my way.  There were a couple of them this past week.  They don’t feel good, but they are good — because they happen for a reason.   And once again, at the risk of sounding prejudicial or stigmatic, I am extremely grateful no longer to be living in California, and more than grateful to have discovered North Idaho.

(5) This Christmas Day was really the best one I’d had in years.  I think it’s because I lowered my expectations so completely, I didn’t even expect it to be a bad Christmas, let alone a good one.  The exchange of well wishes all throughout the day made Christmas what it ought to be — the hope of peace on earth and goodwill toward all.  

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Christmas Offerings from the Team

First I’d like you to hear a couple of the musicians I’m fortunate enough to have landed for our Eden in Babylon workshop.   That’s Liam Merchant on saxophone (he’s playing sax, flute, and keyboard synth in the EIB band).  Bobby Meador is the guitarist, as they do an intriguing version of “The House of the Rising Sun,” sung to the tune of “O Little Town of Bethlehem.” 

On a more traditional note, here are the Wendt Brothers — Cody, Ian, and Tyler — with their charming Christmas Special.   Numerous carols are here displayed, evoking the signature Wendt harmonies and piano stylistics.  In addition, Cody narrates the Christmas Special with accounts of how these carols came into being.   

May the warmth of the season embrace us all, and God bless us — every one.   

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Tuesday Tuneup 97

Q. What’s happening now?

A. Disruption.

Q. Disruption of what?

A. Of the natural flow of things.

Q. What is the natural flow of things?

A. Oh, it’s the flow of like, going to bed at around 9:30 at night, getting up at around 4:30 in the morning, having a cup of coffee, going for a run, eating breakfast, and — hey wait a minute!  Why do you ask?

Q. Why do you ask why I ask?

A. Because everybody has a natural flow of things, don’t they?

Q. I don’t know.  Do they?

A. Well maybe not.  But I do.  Or, at least I like to think I do.

Q. Well how has it been disrupted?

A. I think it has something to do with the arrival of the musicians.

Q. Musicians?

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A. Yeah – musicians.   They’re unlike the other people I’ve been working with.   I’m having a little bit of trouble switching gears — you know, changing hats.

Q. Why should you have to change hats at all?

A. Because the other people are not so much like musicians.   They may sing and even play music, but they’re — a different type of people.

Q. What type of people are they?

A. They’re musical theatre people.

Q. How are those types of people different than musicians?

A. I don’t know — they’re more like me, I think.   I don’t feel like I have to play a role.

Q. But isn’t theatre all about playing roles?

A. Sure it is.  But that doesn’t mean you have to play a role in order to play a role.   You can be yourself, and be authentic – and reserve the roles for the stage.

Q. But isn’t all the world a stage?

A. Maybe.

Q. Don’t musicians also perform on stages?

A. Good point.  But musicians are different.   They have a different energy than theatre people.

Q. Why are you stigmatizing musicians?   Aren’t they all unique individuals?

A. Yeah – but they all got something in common.   Can’t quite put my finger on it.

Q. Are you saying you don’t feel comfortable among other musicians?

A. Not quite, no.   I guess you’re right.  I don’t.

Q. Why not?

A. Past experiences.

Q. What kinds of experiences?

A. Late nights.

Q. You don’t care for the night life?

A. Morning person.   Theatre gigs get me out at ten or eleven max.   Music gigs?  Party till the cows come home.  Groupies.   Partying.   Uh, er — drugs.

Q. You think your musicians are on drugs?

A. Not at all.  It’s just an association with past experience.   I haven’t played with other musicians in a really long time.  Not with a whole band of them anyway.

Q. Are you afraid of musicians?

A. Come to think of it, yes I am.   First rehearsal tomorrow afternoon, and yeah I’m a little on the nervous side.

Q. Why?

A. Intimidated.

Q. Why?

A. They’re — seasoned.  Disciplined.  Cultured.   And they have a strict code of conduct.   They’re impressive — and they have —

Q. What do they have?

A. They have —

Q. What do they have that you don’t have?

A. All right, I’ll come out with it.  They have training.  They have college degrees.   They went to jazz schools and conservatories.  They probably have biographies in Wikipedia.   They’re too —

Q. Too good for you?

A. Yeah kinda.  That’s it.   They’re too good for me.

Q. You do not deserve to play with good musicians?

A. Not really, no.   They’re out of my league, to be honest with you.

Q. Then why do they want to play music with you?

A. Uh –

Q. Are you paying these cats?

A. Uh, no  . . . not at the moment, if you know what I mean . . .

Q. So why do they want to play music with you?

A. I don’t know.

Q. If there’s no money in it, why are they bothering?

A. Um — good question.  I don’t have the answer.  Do you?

 The Questioner is silent.  

Gratitude List 1643

(1) A period of holiday-related depression appears to have subsided, and a healthy holiday spirit is upon me once more.

(2) I was distracted both by a personal dilemma and by the need to finish script revisions in order to better display why my protagonist would pose such a threat to the authorities as to motivate his attempted assassination.   I forgot to create my Monday morning gratitude list in the process, but I find something gentle and healing in expressing my gratitude at the end of the day.   Grateful to have resolved my dilemma — with the help of a friend and a counselor — and grateful to have finished the revisions, thus generating Draft 5-P and submitting it to the team.

(3) Just learned today that the church will be holding an outdoor service on the front lawn on Christmas Eve.   I invited everybody to come.  Usually the neighbors show up for the lawn services, and it promises to be a warm and peaceful gathering.

(4) Had a great Zoom meeting with Kurt Q. the recently retired linguistics professor.  He recommended a book called The Argument Culture: Moving from Debate to Dialogue by Deborah Tannen, and sent two of her essays.   Also recommended the work of Peter Elbow.  Kurt is great for intellectual stimulus, and we decided to meet every Monday now.  

(5) My daughter found a forgotten book of her poetry from the year 2011 and already has written a new song based on one of the poems.  It’s poignant.   Things have been rough, but we seem to have alighted upon a strong bond.     God is Good.  

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What Child Is This?

Here are the Wendt Brothers, Cody to the right and Ian to the left, who are portraying the characters Benzo and Timothy in our current workshop of my new musical Eden in Babylon.  This is their charming version of the old English carol, “What Child Is This?”  



Wendt Brothers Facebook Page

Wendt Brothers YouTube Channel 

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Gratitude List 1642

(1) Yesterday three new musicians joined the team.  Now we have all five members of the band that can accompany the whole show.  This will be better than the fully interactive accompaniment envisioned earlier.  Richard the bass player has been learning the music already, and practicing with me.  These three new players, all musicians he currently performs with in various bands, will fill out the sound we need.

(2) I’ve been absorbed in making sure that instrumental parts were handed out to the three new musicians who just joined up yesterday.  So I haven’t surfaced till now, but am very grateful to have finally gotten all this stuff done — having done nothing else all day long.  

(3) Beautiful snowy weather in which I don’t mind exercising, when the spirit is right.  Recently however I’ve found more reasons to stay inside than to venture outdoors.  Grateful for shelter from Winter weather.

(4) My recent article published in Faith and Values has been shared 193 times and viewed over a thousand times:

Capture

(5) Meeting with Tom and Vanessa tomorrow, who are playing the parts of the father and mother in the Audio Show.   Then I should be ready with the lines.  The whole project is expanding.   I’m pretty grateful.  

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Health Before Wealth

At around eleven o’clock yesterday morning, numerous members of a right-wing group called “De-Mask Moscow” barged into the large TriState Outfitters sporting goods store in Moscow, Idaho, refusing to wear masks in compliance with store policy and the city-wide mandate.   Also included in the barrage were members of ChristChurch, a cultish megachurch here in town that gives a bad name to the Reformed Christian doctrine and I and others endeavor to embrace.

According to Doug Wilson, the pastor of the church, this stunt was carried out in order to “bless the business” that no doubt was “caught between the demands of the city government and the realities of keeping a business open.”

I have a few problems with this.   Apparently, Joe Power, the President of TriState Outfitters, did too.

“We were not asked,” wrote Power, “if we felt we were caught between the demands of the city government and the financial realities of keeping a business open.”

To the contrary, the employee-owned company had decided to put “health before wealth” this year.  “The risk to our employees’ health this year is far more important than putting a few extra dollars in the registers,” said Power.

As the anti-maskers insisted on remaining maskless, TriState responded by closing the store and demanding they leave the premises.  The police were called in case they did not comply.   Mask-wearing customers were allowed to complete their purchases, and a half hour later, once the anti-maskers had dispersed, the store was reopened.  However, doors were kept locked for several hours, and a number of employees stationed at the entrances made sure that no one would enter the premises without a mask.  

Apparently, this unfortunate event resulted from a memo that Wilson had sent first to his congregation and later forwarded to De-Mask Moscow.  “If you are out Christmas shopping today (without a mask),” wrote Wilson, “I would like to ask you to hit Tri-State between the hours of 11am and 1pm.”  (Note usage of the word “hit.”  Italics mine.)

Fortunately, the event was aborted shortly after eleven, before who knows how many unmasked citizens would have invaded the store property with a flagrant show of unwillingness to abide by the ordinance that our Mayor had established for the sake of the health of the community.

That this is microcosmic of a greater ill in our society is obvious.  It is not Christian love to flaunt one’s affection for “freedom” in such a way that it infringes upon the free rights of others.   Mask-wearing shoppers obeying store rules were inconvenienced, and the store itself probably lost thousands of dollars in the process.

The Apostle Paul makes it clear throughout his letters that we are to abide the laws of the land except in the event that these laws directly contradict the laws of God.

“Let every person be subject to the ruling authorities, for the powers that be are ordained by God.”  _ Romans 13:1

Now you tell me — does the simple act of wearing a mask violate a law of God?   If so, I would certainly like to see that law.  And if Jesus Christ made the supreme sacrifice of his entire life during hours of grueling torture suffering on a Cross — that we might have everlasting life —  why can some Christians not see that the simple sacrifice of complying with a city ordinance is trivial in comparison?

For Doug Wilson and his congregation to regard the lawfully rendered mask mandate as “demands of the city government” is to ignore the fact that this ordinance is being followed by the vast majority of the Moscow community who do not regard it as a “demand.”

This present day issue dividing maskers from anti-maskers has nothing to do with “left-wing government oppression.”  If you want to see government oppression coming from the Left, look at the likes of Joseph Stalin.  That we in America should feel so inordinately entitled that the simple concession to wear a mask is seen as a restriction of our freedoms is frankly ludicrous.   Moreover, if people believe that we all should be perfectly free, then why are they going about obstructing the freedoms of others?

This is not Christianity.  It is anarchy.  And this act of reactionary pseudo-Christian impudence has nothing to do with Jesus Christ — with His Spirit, His ministry, His teachings, His life, or His love.

Do I need to put a “thus saith the Lord” after this one?  Or is this message not obvious to anyone who truly endeavors to follow Christ?

Submitted to Spokane Faith and Values, December 11, 2020.

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Tuesday Tuneup 96

Q. What’s happening now?

A. Disorientation.

Q. How so?

A. Thrown off.

Q. Thrown off track?

A. Not sure I was ever on track to begin with.

Q. Well, what happened?

A. I walked into a building I seldom frequent, and I had a bad experience there.

Q. Why did you go there?

A. Because I had left my glasses there.

Q. Why had you gone there in the first place?

A. Because that’s where a guy was who could fix my iPhone for free. He fixed it, and I left hurriedly because I didn’t feel safe there.

Q. Why not?

A. Somebody who usually hugs me wanted to hug me, and she seemed not to accept my reasons for not wanting to touch her. It made me uneasy.

Q. What happened when you went back to get your glasses?

A. Another person wanted to hug me. When I explained my reasons, she asked if I was serious.

Q. What did you do then?

A. Realizing I had a mask and gloves on at the time, I gave up and hugged her.

Q. How did that feel?

A. Weird.

Q. Why?

A. I didn’t act according to principle. I caved in under social pressure.

Q. Does that happen often?

A. Not as often as it used to.

Q. Why not?

A. I don’t go out as much. I stay inside most of the time, and conduct most relationships on the Internet or on my phone.

Q. Doesn’t that deprive you of social contact?

A. Not really. I have social anxiety in public social situations. I am very comfortable with Zoom meetings and other forms of Internet interaction. My social anxiety is not aggravated that way.

Q. But you don’t stay in all the time, do you?

A. Not at all. I exercise vigorously outdoors, usually once a day. On Tuesdays and Thursdays up to ten of us meet in the sanctuary of a certain church and rehearse a couple musicals I’ve written, while social distancing.

Q. A couple musicals?

A. Yes. At first there was only one, then they became interested in another one. So we’ve got a lot of music to do, and we find this very rewarding.

Q. Don’t you want to hug each other? Isn’t that what musical theatre people do?

A. We want to, sure. But we don’t. We stand six to ten feet apart from each other, and obey the laws.

Q. The laws?

A. The laws. The mask mandate, and the governor’s rulings.

Q. But the people in that other building don’t obey the laws?

A. Many of them do. But enough of them don’t that it makes me uneasy.

Q. Have you always obeyed the laws?

A. No I have not.

Q. Do you always obey the laws nowadays?

A. Yes I do.

Q. Then why hang out with people who have no regard for the law?

A. That’s a very good question.

The Questioner is silent.

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Gratitude List 1641

(1) After nearly two weeks of enduring a totally erratic sleeping schedule, I believe I have finally returned to my preferred early-to-rise routine. Already, I am feeling calmer and more confident than I did throughout the week last week.

(2) This also blessed me to see an absolutely gorgeous sunrise, which unfortunately I failed to capture on camera. The sight of it reminded me of new beginnings, and hope for new blessings in the week to come.

(3) Someone left a workstation and an executive chair about a block down the road, with a sign that said “FREE.” As I paled at the task of dragging the items down to my apartment, a kind couple across the way asked if I needed help. The upshot is that I was finally able to replace my large collapsing table with a very nice black workstation, creating more space in the apartment and making me much more comfortable at my new desk.

(4) In the process of excitedly hurling the many items off the previous very messy table, I created such a horrific mess in the living room that I was finally motivated to perform a thorough tidying-up thereof. No doubt I will soon continue this happy trend with the kitchen and bathroom.

(5) Tears of joy put me to peaceful sleep the night before last, after receiving the greatest show of respect I believe I have ever received from a group of people in my entire life. Somehow, a musical I’d almost forgotten I’d written came up during a meeting of my Eden in Babylon team. Noticing that the current team consists of four very fine male singer-actors and three equally talented female performers, I saw how the seven Artists corresponded almost magically to the four male characters and three female characters in The Burden of Eden.

It then was not long before the complete piano-vocal score to that show had been submitted to them, and my team was excitedly going about learning their songs. After years of having my work written off as that of a “crackpot,” I have finally found good people who believe in me. I’m crying now, just thinking about it. It’s almost too good to be true.

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Secrets

I don’t have a piano piece for you tonight, or any clips from our current workshop. However, a stroll down memory lane unearthed this studio recording of my song “Secrets” as performed by people involved in a workshop of my previous musical, The Burden of Eden, in June of 2006. You’ll have to click twice to get full credits from my SoundCloud.  But I will say that the 18 year old woman named Lauren Mack who sang this solo learned it in San Jose while listening to the musicians from Marin County playing it on an mp3.   She then arrived in Berkeley and recorded this fairly dazzling rendition in a single take.  

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Morning Cup of Crazy

In the year 2008, I was sitting at the breakfast table in the psychiatric facility of a certain hospital in California, when I noticed something disturbing. All of the other people had coffee — the kind with caffeine — but only I had decaf.

Naturally, I summoned a nearby psychiatric technician, and I asked him why I was given decaf, rather than regular coffee. I remember his name was Steve.

“Because you are bipolar,” said Steve, “a cup of coffee will hype you up, and put you at risk of having a manic episode.”

“But I drink coffee every morning, Steve,” I said calmly. “I find that my morning cup of coffee relaxes me, and helps me to focus.”

“If you were ADHD,” Steve continued, “your cup of coffee would relax you. But since you are bipolar, your cup of coffee hypes you up.”

“Well then, I must be ADHD, because my morning cup of coffee relaxes me. And really, Steve, don’t you think I know how my cup of coffee affects me? I mean, I’ve been having a cup of coffee every morning since I was 19 years old.”

“Andy,” frowned Steve, “I know that you sincerely want to be helped, but you seem to want to be helped on your own terms.”

At that, I could no longer suppress my outrage.

“My OWN terms?” I cried. “Me and a hundred million other Americans!?

(Granted, I was a bit agitated. But what do you expect? It was early in the morning before breakfast, and I hadn’t even had a cup of coffee yet.)

Long story short, my outcry attracted the attention of a number of other clinicians, and before I knew it, I was forcibly given a shot of concentrated Zyprexa on my tongue, before the words “I have the right to refuse any medications,” could emerge from my mouth.

What followed in the next few minutes is hazy in my memory. But evidently, I shortly later fell into a deep sleep. Either the next morning or the morning after, I awoke. A psych tech named Tim was standing next to me.

“Andy,” Tim said in a compassionate tone, “don’t make a big deal out of a cup of coffee here.”

I shot up from my bed. “WTF!!??”

Me being me, I made a totally big deal out of it! I went over people’s heads until I found the guy who was in charge of the place, who happened to be from Austria. Apparently, they do things a bit differently in Austria than they do in the San Francisco Bay Area. Or at least, he had a sense of right and wrong.

“That was horrible what they did to you!” he said. “And of course, you may have your morning cup of coffee from now on.”

Year 1 | Puss Bank School

I was considerably calmer each following morning, for obvious reasons. It also caused me to wonder if I had been misdagnosed. Later in Berkeley, a clinical psychologist and a psychiatrist both independently diagnosed me with ADHD, and both of them said I showed no symptoms of bipolar disorder.

Not to overemphasize demographics, but they do things differently in North Idaho, too. My present physician is considered to be an expert on mental health conditions. I saw him twice a couple weeks apart, and thought I was a little “manic” the second time I saw him. He reeled off five known symptoms of bipolar disorder and explained why I demonstrated none of them. Then he said, “If there were a line-up and I had to pick who was bipolar out of the line-up, I would not choose you.”

Prior to getting my Medicare and Medicaid with my retirement income, I was at the low income clinic where again I was disturbed that the bipolar diagnosis was on my chart, following me wherever I went. After much self-advocacy, which included accessing records from the psychologist and psychiatrist in Berkeley, the physician there diagnosed me with ADHD. I also took a test on my own — something I found on the Internet that seemed reasonable — that labeled me “Severe ADHD.” Then my physician gave me a test independently, yielding the same results.

I was put on the drug Straterra, and after three months of urinary retention and sleep paralysis, I stopped. I was able to urinate normally within two weeks after stopping, and the sleep paralysis stopped as well. I’ve not taken a psychiatric drug since then, although I’m certainly not opposed to the concept. I get tired of being a total space cadet. A little bit better focus, a little bit better reading comprehension, would be welcome. But you know, I also like my excellent physical health, and I don’t like it being messed with.

Maybe I’m proud. All I know is my morning cup of coffee relaxes me. Just ask my ex-wife.

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Tuesday Tuneup 95

Q. What’s happening now?

A. Insomnia.

Q. Are you trying to tell me you’ve been up all night?

A. Yes.

Q. But aren’t you an early riser?

A. I pride myself on it. But even early risers are prone to insomnia at times.

Q. At what kinds of times?

A. Oh, you know — times when there’s too much on the mind.

Q. But don’t you have a highly active mind?

A. I do. So what?

Q. Then how can you say that there’s too much on your mind?

A. Are you being a smart-ass?

Q. Why do you ask?

A. Because it’s obviously not the massive bulk of brain activity that has led to the insomnia, it’s the content of the activity — the kinds of things that I’m thinking about.

Q. What kinds of things?

A. Oh – human relationships. I botched up one of them totally, just a few days ago. Somebody who seemed to like me, too. But for all this guy liked me, I still couldn’t make it work.

Q. Well, do you like him?

A. Come to think of it, no I don’t. But that makes me feel guilty, because he likes me. Or — at least he did, before Monday.

Q. What happened Monday?

A. I asked him not to write to me again.

Q. Isn’t that unlike you?

A. Yes. I did it at a moment of exasperation.

Q. What were you exasperated over?

A. His apparent lack of empathy.

Q. But didn’t he like you?

A. Not the same thing as being able to empathize. Hustlers on the streets “liked” me because when I was an easy mark and a pushover. People sometimes like you because you’re supplying something they need. They like you because they succeed at using you. That’s a far cry from empathy.

Q. How do you know he lacked empathy?

A. He’d seen me more than once when I was — well, hurting. His responses were not those of one who could feel or even understand my pain.

Q. What were his responses like?

A. The same as always. He didn’t change at all, when I started to have a hard time. He still just kind of smiled and gave me unsolicited advice, as usual — even though I was shaking, and practically crying. And that’s not right. We’re supposed to flow with people’s ups and downs. Scripture says we’re supposed to “mourn with those who mourn and rejoice with those who rejoice.” My pastor does that really well, as a matter of fact. And he’s genuine. You can just tell that he feels your joy as well as your pain. Even if he hasn’t lived through the kinds of situations you have, he still identifies with — with — the human condition, in all its various shades and colors. He’s rare. But he’s a good example.

Q. Then why not talk with your pastor?

A. Oh, I did! Three times, actually. And he empathized all three times, even though he saw me in three different states of mind, messed up in different ways at different times over the same thing.

Q. What thing?

Pause.

A. That thing is myself. It’s not about that guy who lacked empathy. I could just as well say it was about anyone else on the planet. But it boils down to me. It’s me whom I’m messed up over.

Q. Have you ever tried loving yourself?

A. Oh, please.

Q. Why do you dismiss my question?

A. What in heaven’s name is “love?”

The Questioner is silent.

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