The Homeless Monologue

This is in response to a Quora question, to the effect of one’s wondering why so many homeless people seem to be talking to themselves quite a bit.  I didn’t contest this perception.  I did my best to explain the phenomenon, and also referenced another writer who had done the same.  

I appreciated the answer of Adora Myers because this is a side not often seen in the homeless equation.

It is true that a person suffering from paranoid schizophrenia will often believe that s(he) is talking with those who are not actually there. It is also true that many schizophrenics, as well as people suffering from severe PTSD and other mental illnesses, are too ill to effectively access treatment, or else they lack privilege which would render treatment more accessible to them. So they wind up on the streets, more-or-less by default. This is a very sad state of affairs.

invisibleHowever, it is also true that people who have become homeless in large urban areas, especially where there is a sizable concentration of other homeless people, will feign or play-act the known symptoms of these mental disorders in order to protect themselves by making themselves more frightening to would-be assailants and thieves.

I know this to be true, because I did it myself. When I was homeless, I walked around a city that contained over a thousand visible homeless people. As I did so, I composed music in my head. This meant playing drums on my pants legs, guitars and keyboards in the air, and singing tell-tale syllabic sounds such as “Bop Bop Bop” in a manner that conceivably could be construed to be obnoxious.  

People frequently told me to “shut the f—k up” but they also had a way of keeping a distance from me. So this “act” worked in my favor.

Incidentally, I would guess that only about 30% of onlookers realized that I was actually a serious musician in the process of composing music. The other 70% shrugged and said, if they knew me by name: “That’s just Andy. He’s one of the local wingnuts.” If they did not know me by name that was reduced to: “Wingnut.”

Of the 30% who perceived I was writing music, I would say that probably 20% of them appreciated what I was doing. The other 10% frequently showed up with smartphones facing me and grim expressions on their faces, giving me the distinct idea they were out to steal my stuff.

So much for life in the Big City. Glad to be indoors — and far away from all that particular noise.

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That’s His Whole Problem!

I’ve been under the weather lately, and I’ve taken to composing music to pass the time.  As I broke out my music notation software for the first time in quite a while, I noticed an assortment of unpleasant feelings associated with the task.   For some reason, I keep thinking that it is wrong for me to be writing music.

Wrong to write music?   Ah, but this makes no sense.   Where does that come from? Arguably, my father, though I’m sure the poor bloke was only trying to protect me from myself.   He would see the delirious obsession overtake me, quite like his own very similar obsession, and he feared for where it might lead. 

Wrong to write music – what do you make of it?   I can somewhat understand the inherent dangers in the “new toy effect” of this amazing music notation software — especially since I first acquired the new toy over ten years ago, and one would think its fascination would have faded by now.  Ah, but no – there is an almost addictive, compulsive quality to the way that I attack the Finale commands with such fervor, almost like playing a video game, or taking a ride in an amusement park.  Too much fun is involved, and escapism.  How can it possibly be good for me?

Escapism . . . I tend to escape the doldrums of life — by writing music.  In fact, I even escape the demands of the music world itself.  After all, I’m supposed to be finding other musicians to play my stuff, aren’t I?   Other musicians are supposed to play my notes; other singers are supposed to sing my words.  Instead, I belabor for hours over this feigned representation of my music, produced by the artificial, heartless software.  I pretend that there’s an improvised saxophone solo between Measures 33 and 48.  But let’s face it, every note of that “improvisation” has been painstakingly fabricated by the workings of my own tomfoolery, trying my best to mislead the listener into believing that there’s actually a sax being played there, rather than a sophisticated electronic fake.

Don’t I have more important things to do?  Aren’t I behind on my blogs?   I’m supposed to be writing about Homelessness, aren’t I?  What’s music got to do with that?

Well, that’s just it.  It’s got everything  to do with that.  And everything to do with this sense of wrongness that engulfs me whenever I try to write music these days.   It recalls a former time, not too long past, when the average person in my life believed that my relationship to Music was the biggest problem I had in life.

whole problem

It was widely thought, seemingly by everybody else but me, that it was a huge problem, this obsession I had with composing music.  It was a conspicuous problem — a visible problem, something that could not escape public notice.   In a way, it was like Homelessness itself.   There was no way I could hide my homelessness effectively from everybody in the city of Berkeley.   No matter how nice I tried to act, how good I tried to look, the cat was out of the bag.  Everybody knew I was homeless.   Everybody knew I was “just one of the local wing nuts.”   So my obsession with composing music, whether I used the software, or whether I only walked about town singing “bop bop bop” and playing drums on my pants legs, was all part of that huge visibility.   I couldn’t hide being homeless; and I couldn’t hide writing music.  So to my observers, they only seemed like two sides of the same coin.

“That’s his whole problem right there! Look at him writing music all day long, while he’s homeless.  No wonder he never gets off the streets!  How disgusting.”

I remember how depressed I would become whenever I encountered this objection.  Even at church, or at the recovery fellowship I attended, there was this idea that “music was more important to him than God.”  And it disturbed me.   I kept wanting to defend myself.  I honestly did not think it was true.  I just happened to be a deeply driven, tightly wound, highly charged composer, who just happened to keep getting all these musical ideas, that he felt a deep need to pursue.  What’s that got to do with God?  Other than that it was His gift?  How would eliminating this huge part of me possibly help me, either to figure out how not to be homeless anymore, or to be a better Christian, or achieve more sobriety, or recovery — why would eliminating music be so essential to my health and well-being?  Wasn’t Music what was keeping me halfway sane throughout all of this insanity?

I still feel the depression of all that.  I start to relive it, even now, while trying to write music again, after all this time.

But it wasn’t like that when I first got to Moscow, Idaho, almost two years ago to this day.  By that time, I had so much music accumulated in my mind, stuff that I had written without the software, that I’d kept track of in my head — I basically couldn’t wait to get it all notated, now that I finally had a computer, and a place to live.   

When I sat in a cafe writing music, I couldn’t help but notice that the reaction of passersby was much different than I’d become accustomed to.   Nobody scowled at me.  Nobody looked over and thought: “There’s his whole problem right there.”

Why not?  Because there was no huge visible problem that people were hung up on trying to determine the cause of.   There was not this thing called Homelessness hanging over me everywhere I went, seeming to demand an explanation.   

My friend Danielle put it nicely once, with this analogy.  “You see a fat guy eating a doughnut,” she said, “and everybody says: ‘that’s his whole problem right there.’   But you see a skinny guy eating a doughnut — the very same doughnut — and nobody squawks.”

“So what’s that got to do with me?” I asked, naturally.

“The fat guy has a visible problem.  He’s fat.  Everybody can see it.  So they look for the probable cause.  As soon as he sinks his teeth into that doughnut, they think they know the answer.  Genetics, upbringing, age, alcoholism — any other factor is thrown by the wayside.  That there doughnut is his whole problem.

“Same thing with you.  You’re homeless.  You’re conspicuous.  Everybody knows you’re homeless, and they wonder why.  As soon as they see you writing music — and all the time, by the way, you must admit it — any time of the day or night, anywhere, for hours on end — they say: ‘That’s it!   That’s his whole problem!’  Socio-economic factors, mental health, company downsizing, landlord owner move in evictions — none of those more disturbing, complex factors need come into play.”

“That is very disturbing,” I agreed.

“Quite so,” she nodded.  “But now?” Now you’re not homeless.  You don’t this big visible problem that everybody’s trying to figure.   Now you can write as much music as you want, and nobody’s going to fault you for it.”

Needless to say, I was quite relieved.   Now if only I could turn back the hands of time, and get them all to see that it was never my “problem” to begin with . . .

Or was it?

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Anything Helps – God Bless!

 

Gratitude List 673

1. I slept for nine hours, between about 9 pm and six in the morning.  It was just showing 5:59 am as I got up.  So I got more sleep than usual, and I feel very rested in comparison with days prior.
 
2. Sky’s about to almost get light already.  Yes – much more rested.
 
3. Second cup of unusually strong Folger’s coffee – the last in the batch, on yesterday’s filter (which was the last filter.)  
 
asus4. People like the youtube, and we might make another one this morning.
 
5. Taize was strong last night, and powerful.  
 
6. New computer is great so far, and fast.  Started up quickly from nothing this morning.  It shows the familiar Windows 10 prompts and snags, but not for periods of gross delay.  
 
7. People have been letting me play the piano lately, and it’s a good feeling.  It increases my sense of belonging in the community, especially when my playing is so genuinely appreciated.  
 
8. Choir was good last night, and Susan was very helpful in taking us through the two new pieces.  The “Midwinter” arrangement recalls Dvorak (New World Symphony, the “Going Home” theme), and is also reminiscent of Copeland in places.  It is also quite unlike my own, which is derived from Jane Siberry on her Sushan the Palace album.  I’ve noticed that everyone claims Gustav Holst as the composer of all these widely divergent themes, of which I’ve heard many more than just the two now cited. I can and will investigate.  This is an example of why Jim the Janitor believes that we none of us should ever be bored.  Always something to challenge the inquisitive nature, cf. Genesis Three.  
 
9. Nice lentil soup last night, and bread.
 
10. I have so much more energy this morning than usual.  I want to go out, but at 22F degrees and high humidity I wonder if I will need my spikes?  I can wait a while.  Making sure all my former folders and their files are fully loaded onto the new system is a home-bound task, involving both computers, patience, and presence.  I have my work cut out for me, and God is good.   

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.    

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Anything Helps – God Bless!

 

The Crying of the Muse

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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