Gratitude List 973

1. Although I woke up after only three hours sleep at around 2:30am feeling horribly mentally unhealthy as well as morally and spiritually incompetent, enough positivity has been mustered up since then to renew my hope.

2. One of the (very minor) frustrations on my mind this morning was an inability to find my nail clipper, but at the moment in the morning when I remembered to pray for God’s help at the beginning of the day, I looked down onto the kitchen counter, and there it was sitting by the microwave.  I like it when this kind of thing happens.  It of course has nothing to do with resolving any of the more major frustrations, but it does sort of give one the impression that God’s got his back.

3. Nice email update from Erika this morning and was able to write a proper reply.  This also came one day after I was getting a nudge to email her, so that part’s also good.

4. Heard from Timbo upon my request, who used to be a peer counselor at the Recovery Center.  It was good to go over some of my current issues with him, so as to get a new and valuable perspective.

5. Sold another Exile CD.   Grateful to have made eight such sales in the past three days.  It’s a ray of hope at an otherwise very trying time.

6. I really like my church.  I was depressed yesterday morning, but the fellowship lifted me up.   Certain members of the church are beginning to approach me with homeless themes, and I get a sense of respect from them that I haven’t often found elsewhere, until very recently in life.

7. Although this is a very problematical time for me in terms of a personal family crisis, it’s having the effect of causing me to create about three times as many gratitude lists as usual.  They do help, along with other tools, to renew my hope in Christ and in the future of humanity on this planet.  

8. I’ve noticed that I forget about my problems when I work on the Eden in Babylon vocal score.  This is a good thing, because it gives me more motivation to get it done, and I really do need to have a draft of it ready by the 31st, in order to meet a certain deadline.

9. It’s always darkest before the dawn.

10. This too shall pass.  

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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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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.

About Brotherly Love

This post is intended to be a sequel to an earlier post.  However, I’ve tried to write it in such a way that if you don’t feel like going back and reading the earlier post, it will still make sense.

A while back, I wrote about how my father’s attitude toward me influenced my choice to pursue a career in the Performing Arts, against his wishes.  But I left out some information about the family dynamics involved.  Partly, I did this because the post would have been much too long.   But also I did not wish to implicate any of my living family members in any way, nor cause them to stumble along their paths.

brotherly love-2After reflection, I’ve decided to make an effort to express something of value that I don’t think would be negative information, should my brother chance to read this blog (which is, by the way, highly unlikely). Hopefully, this information, if it hasn’t crossed his mind already, will be as useful to him as the information in the previous post was to me.

I have already revealed how my father’s desire that I, the firstborn son, follow in his footsteps came into conflict with my natural genetic and God-given predisposition.  I simply was not inclined toward things like electronics, mechanics, and carpentry.  So my father was always disappointed in me, even though I showed strong skills in completely different areas.

My younger brother, however, turned out to be quite attracted to electronics and to scientific matters in general.  As a result, he spent much of his time alone with Dad, in Dad’s special radio room, learning such skills.  He wound up finishing high school in only three years, getting 800’s across the board on Math, Math Level Two, Chemisty, and Physics, being accepted to the technology school of his choice, graduating from college with a 4.0 GPA, getting a Ph.D. in Math from an even more prestigious University, and enjoying a successful career as an electrical engineer, chip designer, and Math research professor.  Needless to say, I am very proud of him.

However, the message that Dad gave me; specifically, that I “could not do anything right,” was painful enough, without it having to be combined with a second message, one that I did not relate in the earlier post.  That message was this:

“And I hate to break it to you, Andy,
but your brother?
There’s no reason to worry about him!

Now, what kind of message do you think my brother would have been receiving all of this time?  Granted, I wasn’t there when he and Dad spent so much alone together.  I was alone in my bedroom, playing the Wurlitzer spinet piano that they had moved there for my convenience.  But it only stands to reason that the message would have been something like this:

“Son, you’re making me proud.
There’s no reason to worry about you!
Too bad Andy can’t do anything right.”

While the impact of my having received a message from a father at an early age that I was incapable of “doing anything right” was hard enough, I can only imagine what the impact of my father’s message to my brother might have been.  What would it be like to have grown up believing that there was no reason for anyone to worry about me?  Again, I can only imagine. 

My brother and I are now in our mid-sixties.  Without going into horrendous detail, I can guarantee you that there are plenty of reasons to be worried about him.   Though he did have a successful career, and I remain proud of him for that reason, he doesn’t seem to get any exercise, he was severely overweight last I saw him; and frankly, some of his personal habits and practices are troublesome.  It would not be very discreet of me to state what these habits are specifically.   Suffice it to say that they are the kinds of practices that people generally find to be problematical.  

So, while I am programmed from an early age to believe that there’s no reason to worry about my brother, that programming is in the process of being shattered — just as much as my age-old idea that I “can’t do anything right” is being shattered.  I also wonder if some of his troublesome behaviors and attitudes are a result of an age-old, unconscious idea that Dad planted in him; specifically, that there is no reason for him to worry about himself. 

There are numerous other facets to this, not the least of which has to do with our Myers-Briggs types.  My brother, like my best female friend, are both INTJ’s.  I will contend that the INTJ is the most self-confident of all the types.   I also tend to get along with INTJ’s better than with any of the other types — hence my best female friend.  But we INFJ’s can find ourselves riddled with self-doubt.  Does this not recall Dad’s treatment of both of us, at an early age?

While I am not, by nature, a worrier; I am, by choice, a believer. So rather than worry about my brother, I choose to pray for him instead.

You see, my brother and I love each other.  There is no doubt whatsoever about that.  And while I wouldn’t exactly want my brother to “worry” about his health, I do pray that he wll cease to overlook some of my quite natural concerns.   But then again, am I my brother’s keeper?

The answer to that would be another blog post, or even an entire book, in itself.

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Gratitude List 834

1. I really enjoy the early morning hours. I get most of my work done then, and it’s nice to see the sun come up and hear the birds chirp.

2. I was on the streets for a lot of years, and now I have a place to live. It’s been almost two years now that I’ve paid my rent on time every month, first at a studio room, and then at a one bedroom apartment.

3. Jan and I are here together in the apartment now, and we get along really well these days.

4. Although it is sad that things didn’t work out for my daughter Echo here, I somehow sense that her going back to California is what’s right for her.

5. I’ll be back at my shift at the Recovery Center this morning. I’ll also start going to church again regularly this Sunday. I won’t let recent events gyp me out of the benefits of my support groups here. I didn’t make the transition from street life to affirmative indoor living without help, and help is needed now more than ever.

6. This. It was a good use of a weekend, and now I’m moving forward. Better than wallowing, that’s for sure.

7. Perfect running weather.

8. Echo is a brilliant singer-songwriter, you know. She’s not just some slouch. I remember how, in times of trouble, my music saw me through.

9. On that note, it sure is nice to have been in Moscow these past two years, where not one person has ever told me that I thought “my music was more important than God” or any of that other rot. I’m thankful to be living in a supportive creative community full of like-minded Artists and Activists. Who would have thought, two or three years ago, that life could ever be so good?

10. Prayer works. It really does. The best person I can be for me and my family is the person whose energy brought them back to begin with. If people don’t believe the way I do, let them. The way that I believe is what has worked for me. I believe I will begin to believe this way again, and yet again and again.

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The Marathon Race to Hell

There are values within American culture that are often lined up side to side with positive moral values, but that contain no moral component whatsoever.  Among these values are what, for the sake of this essay, will be referred to as “industry” and “competence.”

erving goffman
Erving Goffman

Industry is what comes about when one is industrious; that is, when one works hard.  We all tend to admire people who are hard-working.  On the other hand, we are often disdainful of those who do not work, even labeling them “lazy” or “losers,” before we bother to sufficiently examine the facts.  A disabled person, for example, may actually be unable to perform work for reasons that are entirely physical or psychological in nature.  Yet we may write such a person off as  “freeloader” who feels that he or she is “entitled.”  This exemplifies what Erving Goffman calls social stigma — the instance in which a common preconception about a group as a whole spoils the perception of a person as an individual.

The idea that a person with a severe physical disability might think of themselves as “entitled” flies in the face of the facts.   Enormous tax breaks are granted to the super-rich.  But disabled people who make a modicum of $900/mo., while condemned by the wealthy for “not paying taxes,” barely have enough money to get by even without having to add taxation to their hardships.

hustlerOn the other hand, a person who works very hard will often be acclaimed for their industry.  The hard-working person might themselves look down upon those who seem unproductive, using words like “lazy” or “crazy” to explain their lack of tangible progress.  But does it ever occur to any of these people that, while hard work is certainly in line with the Puritan work ethic, it bears absolutely no relationship whatsoever to moral stature?

I was on the streets for many years.   I observed the hustlers and con artists in my midst.  Many of them would spend at least eight hours a day doing nothing but accosting one person after another, asking them “can you spare a dollar?” repeatedly.   At the end of their day, their dollars would be lined up.  Law of averages!  Now —  this may be morally reprehensible, but one cannot claim such work is easy.   Hustlers work hard at what they do.

The con artists operated in similarly high gear:

“Excuse me, my car just broke down and I need two dollars for the bus to get back to Daly City.  Oh thank you, sir!   Thank you.” (Brief pause.) “Excuse me, my car just broke down and I need two dollars for the bus to get back to Daly City.  Oh thank you, sir!   Thank you.” (Brief pause.) “Excuse me, my car just broke down and I . . .”

That’s only to cite the low end of the socio-economic spectrum.  On the high end, I know a guy who was making in excess of $150,000 a year prior to his retirement.  He wound up getting both a huge retirement and a rather hefty inheritance.  One would think he’d have relaxed after that, and spent some time with his family.  But what did he do instead?

He began to work even harder, accepting odd jobs and gigs in all kinds of places, boasting that he was making much more money after retirement than he was before.  But anyone close to him could tell that the main reason he was doing this was to get out of the house, since the idea of having to spend more time with his poor wife was of no appeal.  That, and the sheer force of workaholism, wherein his entire identity was wrapped up in how hard he worked, often at the expense of common courtesy to family and friends.

A hard-working woman in a similar bracket kicked her own mother out of the house at a time when she felt her aging, struggling mother was nothing but an invasion of her space.   Her mother was of course heartbroken and devastated.  But did her daughter bat an eye?  Not in the least.  She kept on chasing the bucks, oblivious to the moral depravity of her actions.

In neither of those cases could “industry” be logically equated with a high moral standard.  Yet our society, in so many ways beyond the mere monetary factor, routinely rewards industry and punishes what appears to be “laxity.”  But things are not always what they seem.  What may seem “sloth” to the hard-at-work is often nothing other than the lack of workaholism.  People become addicted to work.  As with any other addiction, this affects those close to them.

I’m all in favor of going out and getting a job, especially if one is prone to sitting on one’s rump doing nothing and getting nowhere in life.  But the way that we exalt the value of industry in our society is, to my view, missing the mark.  Many people work hard to feed their families, save up for hard times, and contribute to worthy causes.   But hard work in and of itself is not a moral value.   Criminals work hard, and hard-working people often become criminals in the process.

The same goes for the value known as competence.  I am a person who has been declared “legally incompetent” by the United States government.  I am not only seen to be incompetent, but — (try not to laugh) — legally incompetent.  The reason for this verdict is a combination of two mental health diagnoses, usually labeled “bipolar one hypomanic disorder,” and “severe adult attention deficit hyperactive disorder.”  In other words, I’m a space case.  No one wants to hire me, because I have a hard time concentrating on anything outside of my own head.

This is a legitimate mental health disability.  It rears its head every time I am required to focus on an external task that is time-dependent.  The greater the time pressure, the less likely I will turn the work on time.  It can be maddening.  Because of it, I have lost many jobs.  But is it a moral failing?   Not at all.  Not even the bosses who fired me saw it as anything other than a condition.  It’s not even a moral choice.   

Fortunately, there are a couple of things I do very well.  I am a decent piano player, and I also type very fast, in the area of 120 wpm.  If I’m writing an article like this, or a song, or a musical play, I am able to organize my thoughts with a fair degree of clarity.  But these are my thoughts — not the thoughts transmitted to me by an external employer.  It’s pretty easy for me to channel my own thinking in ways that are constructive, as long as I do it on my own time, and in my own space.  But try to get me to keep track of items in a workplace, or to function normally in the face of an pressing deadline, and you might not even think I’m the same guy.

Another thing I am incapable of doing is to juggle two or more tasks at once.  Everything I do well involves only one task, and to do it well, I need to be alone.  But I have met people who can multi-task effectively in the presence of multiple human influences.  These are the valuable workers of this world.  And yet, at least one of these highly competent people has left his poor, ailing wife alone at home all alone; and another one kicked her own mother out of her house.

Like industry, competence contains no moral component whatsoever.  Great thieves and even serial killers are competent.  So why do we place such a high value on competence and industry?  Why do we not place a similarly high value on unconditional, self-sacrificial love?

In my opinion, it all boils down to classism.  A competent person who works very hard naturally tends to make more money than one who is incompetent or who can’t seem to find work.  Water seeks its own level, and so someone making $150,000 or more usually finds themselves in the company of the upper class.  And there is where all the self-congratulating and mutual admiration reeks of what Jesus called the “deceitfulness of riches”.

In our society, if someone is steadily making more and more money, they often hear the words: “You must be doing something right!”  Then, convinced that they are indeed “doing something right,” they naturally make no effort to change their modus operandi, even if, in fact, they are doing something wrong.  Conversely, they may find themselves befuddled by the lack of productivity of some who are in the lower social classes, and shake their heads in incredulity.  “They’ve got it all wrong!” they are quick to declare, when in reality, in God’s eyes, many of those poor, self-sacrificing people are the ones who are doing things right.

If there is a God in heaven – which I fully believe there is — can you imagine the sorrow He feels when He looks down upon those whom His Providence has blessed, and beholds their utter refusal to return the blessing to those of their own families?   A mother brings a woman into the world, cares for her, nurtures her, packs her lunch, holds her hand on the way to school, tucks her into bed at night, and sends her proudly to the finest schools.   Why cannot that person take care of her mother in her old age?  Why can she not return the favor?

“Through sickness and through health, till death do us part,” is the wedding vow shared by a man and his bride.  Forty years down the road, where is the healthy, vigorous man when the bride is lonely and sick?   Where is the man who made her that promise?   Chasing the dollar, at world record pace, running on empty — to nowhere.   How I pity the one who runs after money!  Who will be there to cheer his victory, when he crosses the finish line of the Marathon Race to Hell?

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