Tuesday Tuneup 107

Q. Where would you like to be?

A. In a place of greater balance.

Q. Is there something about your present place that is particularly imbalanced?

A. Definitely.  In fact, almost everything about it seems imbalanced.

Q. However did it get this way?

A. Gradually, I think, over time.

Q. When did you first become aware of the imbalance?

A. Oh, I think I’ve always been aware of it.  It’s just that lately it’s seemed particularly noticeable.  It interferes with easy access to a manageable reality.

Q. Has reality been unmanageable lately?

A. Not entirely.  Elusive would be a better word.

Q. Reality eludes you?

A. Yes.

Q. Why is this?

A. Because day after day, I find myself to be overbalanced in the realm of the creative imagination, which by definition creates a world of its own – separate from and independent of reality.

Q. And you wish for a greater measure of reality in your daily balance?

A. Hmm – well, now that you put it that way, it doesn’t sound too desirable.

Q. But how long can you get around reality?

A. Oh, I don’t know.  Probably a while longer.

Q. Do you really think it wise to avoid reality completely?

A. Doesn’t sound quite wise, no.

Q. Then why don’t you just face reality?

A. Who’s to say what’s reality?

Q. I don’t know – who?

A. Beats me.  So how do I know it’s even reality that I’m avoiding?  What’s real to one person might be a dream to another.  A dream — or even a nightmare.

Q. Is it a nightmare to you?  Or only a dream?

A. Will I ever know?

Q. I don’t know — will you?

A. I don’t know.

The Questioner is silent. 

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Gratitude List 1556

1) Though we’re rapidly returning to real-life settings in these parts, I am thankful for the experience of Zoom and for the Zoom meetings I will continue to enjoy.  I imagine this would include my weekly Monday afternoon meeting with Kurt the linguistics expert.  Although it hasn’t happened yet, I always enjoy it, and usually learn new things.

(2) I’m thankful for all the professors I met in the two theology groups I discovered a while back.  On Thursday I met with Nick, a professor emeritus of philosophy who was the director of religious studies at the University here.  We had a wonderful conversation, in which he expressed his interest in my musical as well as theology.   I’m thankful he’d listened to Talking Shop Part Seven and Reaching for Your Hand, because he had useful observations as well as encouraging things to say.

(3) In the past year and a half, it seems that a niche has been prepared for me in the local journalism community.   I now count 22 columns I’ve had published in Spokane Faith and Values, where I’ve met numerous journalists with whom I am able to network.  Also thankful for all the local journalists I’ve met here in town, and at the University.

(4) Keva and I met again on Sunday.  We dd a new recording of “Reaching for Your Hand” in which we used two iPhones spaced strategically in different spots near singer and piano.   I’m in the process of mixing it down for my SoundCloud.   We also did a video of a song I wrote called “I Am the Blues.”  On examining her work closely, I told Keva she should feel free to interpret my songs as she chooses.  She does have that power, that gift.

(5) I’ve been meeting one to one with people who are interested in reinstating a musical workshop for the summer.  It won’t be the same exact team, but I am encouraged by the genuine interest and enthusiasm I am finding in those with whom I meet.  It’s been wonderful to have slowly realized in recent months that I am not the only person who enjoys working on my musical.   It’s been wonderful overall to have gradually discovered that I am no longer isolated, no longer alone.

“I realized if you can change a classroom, you can change a community, and if you change enough communities you can change the world.”
   — Erin Gruwell

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The Meaning Behind the Masks

This post was first published early today under the title “Finding Meaning in the Pandemic” on the religion-related news site, Spokane Faith and Values.   

When I was 14 years old, I made two very important discoveries.

First, I discovered the world was beautiful. Here I was in sunny Naples, Italy, waking up to the sights of Mt. Vesuvius and the Isle of Capri. Also notable were the young Italian women, whose beauty I was likewise now at an age to appreciate. I learned how to play the guitar in the summer of 1967, sitting on the balcony of the large villa that my military family was renting. With hormones pulsing in post-pubescent bliss, I played my first gig at the Allied Teen Club, hung out with groupies, and enjoyed my first kiss.

The second discovery I made was equally important. I learned that the world was horrible.

Every day I listened to the death count. The family television, continually blaring, reported just how many men had been killed daily in the unpopular Vietnam War. These were young men, only a few years older than myself. That could be me, before long.

On Italian television, I saw images of an America on fire. Protests were raging. Buildings were burning. There had been four major assassinations of powerful American figures in the past four years. The Cold War continually threatened to become hotter. The world, despite all the wonders of its beauty, was in reality a very precarious and volatile place.

Like many, I feared the worst. I feared that the end was just around the corner. If the world were not blown up in its entirety, I myself would probably be blown up in Vietnam. There seemed no way for beauty to prevail over ugliness, or for what was worthy to prevail over what was shameful.  We were all stuck on a violent planet composed of violent, greedy people.

But the years went by. The end did not come. When I was 18, I got a high number in the ’71 lottery, and was thus spared the draft. The 70’s went by, then the 80’s and 90’s. Here we are in the year 2021 already — and the world has not yet ended.

One might be tempted to become complacent, or even cavalier. Some already have:

“We’ve gotten through everything else so far, we’ll get through this too. Climate change? No worries!  It’s all under control.”

But in resorting to such a stance, one essentially defaults to a fallacy identified in Scripture:

“They will say, ‘Where is this ‘coming’ He promised?  Ever since our ancestors died, everything goes on as it has since the beginning of creation.’” — 2 Peter 3:4

To think that just because everything has always proceeded in a certain way, it therefore always will, is pretty faulty logic. Backing up a bit, to think that everything today actually is proceeding as it always has is pretty funky reasoning as well.

Limits of Denial

When I first discovered that the world was at once beautiful and horrible, I collapsed under the force of that disparity. What was I to believe? In which “world” would I live? The cognitive dissonance was overwhelming.

But as time went by, I noticed that I could choose to live almost exclusively in the “beautiful world.” By hurling myself full-force into my various endeavors, I was able to wipe the horrible stuff from my mind. This worked wonderfully, as long as the horrible stuff was not right outside my door.

In fact, it worked wonderfully throughout most of my life. As long as the bad stuff was only seen and heard from a distance and not directly experienced, I was able to construct a reality that overlooked the overall state of humanity.

While years of living on the streets put a significant dent in that illusion, the pandemic destroyed it completely. It was now impossible to ignore the critical state of the planet, because the most significant planetary story was no longer being presented strictly through the media, but in plain sight, everywhere I went.

The Masses Masked and Unmasked

Everywhere I saw people wearing masks. The sight of the masses in masks is not something from which one can easily hide. No matter what one believes about the value of mask-wearing, one cannot deny the unavoidable nature of the phenomenon. In seeing humanity in masks, we see a living symbol of a massive human wound.

That wound has been exacerbated and its healing delayed by the fact that many people have denied it. They see the wearing of the masks itself as the problem, and in so doing fail to acknowledge the much more serious problem that is the reason why people are wearing them. In seeing humanity half-masked and half unmasked, we see another living symbol: that of the war between human acceptance and human denial.

We have waged that war within and among ourselves since the beginning of time — since the Garden. But never in my lifetime have I seen it displayed as brazenly as it is today. The cultural division, once displayed mostly on social media via our personal devices, is now manifest in real life, right before our eyes.

It is one thing to block out information being received on the Internet. Accounts can be blocked, subscriptions terminated, devices disabled. It’s quite another thing to block out the obvious. Those who try are only trying to do what I and many others did for years. We succeeded in constructing our own little worlds and reveling in them, in order to sidestep the disturbances of the greater picture. But we can no longer do so. The pandemic has changed all that.

That insular cubicle in which I crafted my custom-made reality can no longer contain me. The cradle in which a sheltering parent nurtured me can no longer rock me.  I used to walk about Moscow, Idaho thinking: “This is such a nice town!  Look how everybody smiles!” Now, when I walk about my home community, I walk in the presence of the problems of the planet.

And you know what? This is a good thing. It’s no longer just my world. For better or worse, it’s our world — where each of us has a part to play. In the years to come, we may look back on this unique period of our history, when one way or another, our lives were determined by a deadly disease that had impacted the entire human race. When we do so, we may well see in hindsight how the pandemic provided a needed turning point in our shared life and our common culture.

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Tuesday Tuneup 106

Q. Where would you like to be?

A. What?

Q. I asked you: “Where would you like to be?”

A. Is that what you’re going to ask me this morning?

Q. Well, I just asked you it, didn’t I?

A. I imagine you did.

Q. Well, you gonna answer it?

A. I suppose so.

Q. What do you mean, suppose so?  

A. Just what I said, suppose so! 

Q. Well, what’s your answer?

A. I would like to be in a place where . . . hmm .  . . where I am free of fear, and where I am fully authentic.

Q. How are the two related?

A. They’re related because it’s fear that keeps me from being fully authentic.

Q. What are you afraid of?

A. I’m afraid that my real self will not be acceptable.

Q. Acceptable to whom?

A. To people whom I need.

Q. Do you really need these people?

A. Yes.   We all need people.   

Q. Are you afraid that if you show your true colors, you will lose them?

A. Yes.

Q. So what colors do you show them instead?

A. False colors, obviously.

Q. Can you give me an example?

A. Well, take the other night, when I was preparing the podcast for tomorrow.   As soon as the devices were rolling, and I knew I was being recorded, I became completely uptight.  I tried to compensate for my uptight state by putting on a stage voice.   At the time I thought it was the right thing to do — the professional thing to do.   But later, when I listened to the recording, I felt that I sounded forced and phony. 

Q. Can’t you just record it over again, and try to sound less affected this time?   And more like your real self?

A. Not possible.  There were two people involved in the podcast, and I would inconvenience them to ask them to meet a second time.

Q. Do you think the other person may also have been nervous?   Perhaps they too were not their true self?

A. Again, not possible.   As I listened to the recording, they seemed perfectly relaxed and at ease.  Totally natural — calm, rational, genuine — in fact, all the other participants have been little short of excellent — in all their spoken contributions.  It is only I who cannot measure up to the level of authenticity and integrity that I desire so strongly in myself and others.  I am the one who fails at his own endeavor . .  it is I who —

Q. May I interrupt?

A. Please do.

Q. How can you possibly believe that your perceptions are accurate?   

A. What do you mean?

Q. Is it logically possible that all these other people are performing perfectly, and you alone are in error?

A. I guess not.

Q. You guess not?

A. Okay – I know not.   But still it bugs me that I can’t find my authentic voice.

Q. Aren’t you confusing your inner voice with your speaking voice?

A. What’s the difference?

Q. Isn’t your speaking voice a mere anatomical apparatus?   Isn’t your Inner Voice the Voice of the Heart – the True Voice – from whence the True Self shines though?

A. But shouldn’t the speaking voice be a reflection of the Inner Voice?

Q. Does everybody have to be a good speaker?   What about somebody who can’t speak at all?   Does this deny them the right to access their own Inner Voice?  

A. Well, it shouldn’t. 

Q. Then why can’t you just let your speaking voice be?

A. Because it’s — lousy.

Q. Is everything about you lousy?

A. No.  I’m good at some things.   You know what they are.   

Q. Then why not focus on what you’re good at?

A. Are you saying, you don’t want me to make any more podcasts?

Q. Did I say that?

A. No.

Q. Do you think you should give up on the podcasts?

A. Well, no — because the information being exchanged is potentially very valuable — at least to certain sorts of people who are potentially very significant — and therefore the positive content of the podcasts outweighs the negative nature of my vocal delivery.

Q. So you’re going to keep up the Spoken Word projects, even though you don’t like the sound of your own voice?

A. I’m not sure.   It takes an awful long time to edit these things, though I do enjoy the process.

Q. So there are other variables to be considered?

A. Indeed there are.   

Q. Will you see me again next week?

A. Will you ask me a different question?

Q. Why should I?

A. Because this question didn’t lead to a conclusion.   I mean, there’s got to be a question that will get us where we need to go more quickly.   Don’t you think? 

The Questioner is silent.   

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Gratitude List 1555

(1) Though I’d felt tired and innervated for weeks, my energy level definitely increased throughout last week and on into the start of this week.  Walking into town, I easily turned left and scaled up a hill that often has intimidated me.  A roundabout route through campus was not only beautiful, but brisk.  Moreover, I notice I’m getting to bed early these days and waking up like clockwork at the same time every morning, very naturally.   Grateful for the gift of health.

(2) Wrote a column for the religious news site, first one since the five-week series.   Kurt had a chance to go through it with suggested edits, many of which I accepted, prior to turning it in yesterday.  (It’s about hidden meaning that may be found in the pandemic.)  Grateful for this writing gig, and for all the journalists I’ve met here who encourage me.

(3) Had a wonderful experience yesterday providing special music at the United Church, where Cody is the regular church pianist on staff.  He played the service with great sensitivity, and Pastor Jodie preached a provocative sermon.  I played my “very Irish” version of Be Thou My Vision, and it was a warm, spirited occasion.

(4) Keva’s delivery of Reaching for Your Hand is almost too good for me to listen to.  She was practically sight-reading off of a score on her smartphone — that’s how little we had practiced it – and yet she nailed it.  I knew she was good, but I didn’t know she was that good!   I gave her another song I wrote for female voice called “I Am the Blues” that we’re practicing to record on Sunday.

(5) Getting up at 4:30 every morning again has been good for my spiritual health.  My friend Danielle in Georgia leaves at 7:45 to drive to work, and so at 4:45am PST we often have a conversation.  Lately the conversations have been very encouraging, mostly about how to be forgiving, in an ongoing way, in human relationships, and how we can feel free to solve our problems knowing that we are forgiven, for we can see ourselves without shame.  It’s inspiring how both Danielle and I have been positively influenced by our respective churches over the past few years.    There is new life all around me, and I am grateful.

If you can’t fly then run, if you can’t run then walk, if you can’t walk then crawl, but whatever you do you have to keep moving forward.
   –Martin Luther King, Jr.  

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