In Spirit and in Truth

There is something in the human spirit that makes people want to feel that they are moving forward in some way.   No one likes to feel as though they are stagnating.  We all want to feel as though we are somehow progressing.  When we feel that we are progressing, it seems that our lives have meaning.  When we feel that we are stagnating, it seems that life is meaningless.

Moreover, it seems that different people have different ideas regarding personal progress.  Some people view progress in terms of their monetary advancement; that is, their financial growth.  The more money they make, the better they feel about their progress in life.

Others view progress in terms of their spiritual growth.  Are they becoming better people in some way?   Are they more responsive to the needs of others?  More giving?  More honest?  Less self-serving?  More capable of standing tall in the face of adversity?  More courageous?  Wiser?  More patient?  Or, most of all, more loving?

The latter seems to me to be the higher view of personal progress in life.   But it eludes many people.  People become trapped in the worrisome cares of this world.  And many of those anxiety-ridden concerns are centered around the love of money.

Consider the words of Jesus:

“No one can serve two masters.
Either you will hate the one and love the other,
or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other.
You cannot serve both God and money.”
– Matthew 6:24

I’ve always wondered why the two poles chosen were those of God and money.  Why not God and sex?  God and drugs?   Or God and (heaven forbid) rock ‘n’ roll?

Having reflected quite a bit on this dynamic throughout the past two years, I believe I am beginning to understand.  To pursue financial gain as one’s top priority in life is energetically incompatible with the pursuit of personal, spiritual growth.  

God and moneyThis is not to say that a person whose primary focus is on making money cannot do good things with their money. But the good uses of one’s money can take place without there necessarily being any positive change in that person’s character.   A money-hungry person, after all, could conceivably find themselves at a loss for true friends, since people are naturally put off by the energy of greed.  That person might then reason that if they were to offer all kinds of goodies to a less privileged person whom they happen to like,  then that more impoverished person might cling to them as though a friend, and they would not be so lonely.

But money cannot buy friendship any more than it can buy true happiness.   The money-focused individual in this case is not really giving of his essence as a human being.  Rather, he is giving of his excess – and perhaps even getting a hefty tax write-off in the process.

It is also not the case that if one is primarily focused on spiritual growth, then prospects for financial betterment will elude them completely.  It only means that the spiritually-minded person does not base their self-worth on their net worth.  They do not identify themselves according to their financial stature, but rather according to the actualization of their true selves.

People like these feel no need to lavish pricey gifts upon others in order to secure the loyalty that only true friendship can secure.  Rather, they seek out like-minded people, people with whom they would naturally best relate, because they share similar values and interests.  As a Christian, I further believe that the Father of Life also seeks out such like-minded souls.  

But the hour is coming, and is now here,
when the true worshipers will worship the Father
in Spirit and in Truth,
for the Father is seeking such people to worship him.
 

God is Spirit,
and those who worship him must worship in Spirit and Truth.”
 

– John 4:23-24

It is a mistake to think that the presence of money will necessarily negate the possibility of true moral character.  Many wealthy people are legitimately concerned for the plight of those who are suffering.  But it is also a mistake to think that one’s primary aim ought to be the acquisition of great wealth, rationalizing that some of the money will be offered to tax-exempt charitable contributions.  My experience has been that the more I stay focused on the actualization of my true self — the person whom God desires me to be — then the more my needs are adequately met.

The more I love God, and the less I love money, the better off I am.  It is then that my words and my music best reflect my concern and my hope for humanity.  And while it may cost me some money to render these gifts, the ultimate value of this form of genuine self-expression is far beyond that which money can buy.

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Broken Bows

The wicked draw the sword
and bend the bow
to bring down the poor and needy,
to slay those whose ways are upright.
But their swords will pierce their own hearts,
and their bows will be broken.

Better the little that the righteous have
than the wealth of many wicked;
for the power of the wicked will be broken,
but the Lord upholds the righteous.

— Psalm 37:14-17

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Handling Homelessness

The question was posed on Quora as to whether one felt one could “handle” a week of homelessness.  Here’s my answer.   

Being as I handled about twelve years of it, you’d think my answer would be “yes.” But having lived indoors for almost two years now in very favorable situations (first alone, then with a congenial partner), I would have to say that I honestly don’t know.

I feel as though I’ve been pampered by all the convenient luxuries of indoor living. I’ve been spoiled for so long that I’ve gotten soft.  At this point, I can’t claim that I could go back and handle even a single day of homelessness — let alone an entire week, let alone twelve years.

You see, things are different for me now internally than they were in the days when I successfully “handled” being homeless. Back then, I handled homelessness on the basis of believing that there was no way out. For the first two or three years, I kept looking for a way out, and not finding it.

homeless for a weekThen one day I had a revelation. I realized that I needed to embrace homelessness completely and learn how to deal with it on its own terms. Those terms included a silent hustle for day-to-day survival that easily consumed more than forty hours each week — in other words, the time consumption of a full time job. So I gave myself to the homeless experience, and I prided myself on how well I was handling it. But I did so in the spirit of believing that I had no other choice.

Now, however, I know that I do have a choice. That’s why I said that things are different for me internally than they were back then.  Now that I know for sure that there is more for me in life than to remain homeless for the rest of my days, I honestly don’t know that I could ever tolerate being homeless again. I wouldn’t be able to just shrug my shoulders and resign myself to its misery, like I used to. I would know that there was a way out, and I would actively seek that way out from the get-go, possibly to the exclusion of being willing or able to tolerate the homeless experience at all.

And there is, by the way, a way out. I am living proof of this. The way out may differ from one person to the next, but I can tell you for sure that there is a way. As I’ve shared here before, I was absolutely certain that I was going to be homeless for the rest of my days, and that I would die a meaningless death in a city gutter. That this did not happen, and I instead am poised to write these words meaningfully today, is not only a miracle in my own life experience, but a sign of hope for anyone facing homelessness at any level, for any reason.

So, while my honest answer to this question would have to be, “I don’t know,” it does lead to an interesting theme. Life is meant to be lived, to be fully embraced and received for everything that it is and possibly can be. Too often we consider our days to be drudgery and tedium, a general drain on our psychic reserves. I was only able to handle homelessness by embracing it completely. To be honest with you, it’s the way that I handle my present life of highly favorable indoor living, conducive in every way to the ongoing production of my creative work.

My years of homelessness have changed me completely. To my own estimation, I am a much more principled, purpose-driven individual than I ever was before I first became homeless in the year 2004. One way that I have changed is that I no longer see life as an aimless, shiftless shuffle, the way it seemed for so many years before. Life is this amazing gift from unspeakable, invisible life-giving dimensions far beyond our capabilities of human comprehension. As such, all life, whether homeless or sheltered, or on the battlefields for that matter, calls out to be appreciated as the incredibly colorful and fascinating mystery that it is.

So I think that in general, we need to escape the mentality of life being drudgery, something we can at best hope to “handle” or “survive.” Even homelessness was no longer misery, once it had been embraced. My choice right now is to embrace indoor living, with all its unprecedented benefits. If that choice ever changes, given all I have just said, I’m sure you’ll be among the first to know.

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Tuesday Tuneup Eleven

Q. Do you know who I am?

A. Probably.

Q. So why have you summoned me?

A. Because I am annoyed.

Q. What about?

A. It has to do with the Prayer of St. Francis.

prayer of saint francis

Q. You find this prayer annoying?

A. Not at all, sir.  I only find it annoying that I seem so lame when it comes to applying it.

Q. How so?

A. Well, take the part where he prays “not so much to be understood as to understand.”  I feel so misunderstood, it’s very hard for me to get past this frustrating urge to explain myself all the time.  But it would be better for everybody if I would instead open up my eyes and see where others are coming from.

Q. So you are annoyed by this personal quirk of yours?

A. Extremely annoyed.  And even more so when I see the same trait in a very close family member.  In my flesh and blood, there appears to be remarkably similar DNA.

Q. Can you elaborate?

A. Of course!  This person reaches the place where whatever anyone else says to her is utterly unimportant.  The only things that seem important are what she says to us.

Q. And you see yourself in this unenviable trait?

A. I do.  It comes from a feeling of being misunderstood.

Q. So how can you and this dear family member begin to make yourself more understood?

A. By listening more.  By seeking to understand.  For you see, people don’t care about what may constant explanations say.  They only care about the fact that I’m explaining myself.  It gets tiresome.  It exhausts them.  They would rather see me become interested in them, not in proving myself to them.   If they see that I am interested in them, they will then therefore become interested in me.  Law of karma.  What goes around comes around.  You reap what you sow.  All that good stuff.

Q. How can you begin to change?

A. By listening to her.  By not letting myself become exasperated when she constantly tries to explain herself.  By looking at her — and seeing in this mirror the Echo of Myself — and realizing that I am not alone.

The Questioner is silent.

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Wisdom

Blessed are those who find wisdom,
those who gain understanding,
for she is more profitable than silver
and yields better returns than gold.

She is more precious than rubies;
nothing you desire can compare with her.
Long life is in her right hand;
in her left hand are riches and honor.

Her ways are pleasant ways,
and all her paths are peace.
She is a tree of life to those who take hold of her;
those who hold her fast will be blessed.

–Proverbs 3:13-18

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Tuesday Tuneup Nine

Q. Do you know who I am?

A. Yes.

Q. Why have you summoned me?

A. Because it’s Wednesday.

Q. Uh – isn’t the Tuesday Tuneup supposed to take place on Tuesday?   And haven’t we been here before?

A. You asked me two questions at once.

Q. What’s wrong with that?

A. And now there are three unanswered questions!   Really, sir, you overload me.  And I’m already overloaded.

Q. Why so overloaded?

A. Perhaps you haven’t heard. 

(Takes a deep breath.)

when_opportunity_knocksI’m engaged in this huge process of getting all these singers and musicians to learn my music, so as to record three songs from my musical Eden in Babylon and have the long-awaited demo recording finished by Sunday night.  It isn’t often that a decent sound engineer offers me free studio services and resources, and his availability will not last forever.   

Q. Do you mean to tell me that you are actually working to a deadline?

A. (sighs) Much as I despise the concept, ’tis true.  

Q. Now why do I find that so hard to believe?

A. Probably because I am noted for espousing wild philosophies I picked up after years of living on the streets.  I’ve even gone so far as to say that no human being should ever be required to show up a specific place at a specific time.

Q. But don’t you work better when you don’t have a deadline?

A. I do, yes.  Others do not.  But the point is that my own work as the composer-playwright of Eden in Babylon is already complete.  It’s only a matter of getting a finite number of people to respond accordingly.  It may well be that these people work well to deadlines.

Q. And when is this deadline?

A. Four days from today.

Q. Have you — er — succeeded in getting the money together to pay these singers and musicians?

A. Almost.  I am prepared to pay the remaining $150 out of pocket the at this stage.  But I would have to wait till the beginning of the month, which might inconvenience a couple of the singers who are strapped.  And of course, I am also strapped.  I have made myself strapped in order to succeed in this venture, as any other devoted Artist would do.

Q. Won’t you become even more strapped after contributing $150 from your fixed income?

A. Of course.  And I’d prefer the $150 come from somebody who can actually afford it.  Still, the joy of seeing this leg of the project finally coming together after all these years is certainly worth a lot more than $150 to me.

Q. But – but – won’t you starve?

A. I prefer the word “fast,” thank you.

Q. Are you not parsing words?

A. Not at all, sir.  When a starving artist decides to fast in order to produce a work of Art he believes in, it is no longer a matter of health.  It is a matter of Spirit.  For Art is a spiritual matter.  It is a matter of the Heart.

The Questioner is silent.

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Is Poverty a Choice?

I occasionally encounter the “poverty is a choice” mentality, but I can’t help but notice that those who say this often have never been poor and have no real idea what the details of poverty are like. There’s something a bit odious about a rich person trying to tell a person who has been poor and disadvantaged since birth that their poverty is a “choice.”

That said, I have chosen to remain poor at this time in my life, largely because I dislike the effects that having a lot of money has had on certain lifelong old friends of mine. I’ve watched them pursue money, property, and prestige — and I have not watched them become happy. Some of them are downright miserable.

I also dislike the effects that having had a lot of money has had on me. There have been times in my past when I had more money than I knew what to do with. I can sit here without money and dream about all the nice things I would do with a few thousand dollars, but the actual reality is that whenever I encounter money upwards of $5,000 or so, it has a tendency to vanish very rapidly. This leads to a lot of anxieties as to who my actual friends are on this planet. They sure do show up when I have money – whoever they are. I think I’ll remain poor, thank you.

As a poor person, I do not have to worry about who my real friends are. Nobody ever asks me for money, because I don’t have any. A rich person often wonders if somebody is actually his friend, or if they only want their money. I don’t have that worry. If somebody happens to like me, I know that it’s me they like – not my money.

wiser still though poorAs a poor person, I get to work on my inner spiritual issues around money without fear of spending a whole lot of it in the process. Nobody is advising me to go on an expensive retreat or pay for long-term psychotherapy, because both those options are financially out of the question. I find this refreshing, because an hour’s conversation with a caring friend usually works better than several sessions with a psychotherapist. Not to mention, the friend actually cares about me, whereas there’s a good chance the therapist mostly wants my money.  And of course, the friend probably won’t “charge” me anything more than the price of a cup of coffee.  

As a poor person, I actually enjoy running out of money on around the 10th of each month and challenging myself to live without money for the rest of the month. I have found that this is not at all an impossibility; and I believe that I have become a stronger person as a result of this challenge.

As a poor person, I have been able to sit down and write an entire musical — book, music & lyrics — about Homelessness in America. I wrote it from the heart, because I felt the themes I was putting into musical and dramatic form.  When I was a working composer, I wrote money for commission.  I felt forced to write songs, and the pressure of deadlines drastically reduced the authenticity of my work.   

My point? It has to do with integrity. As a poor person, I have developed integrity, and I am proud of the person I have become. When I had money, I had no integrity. I only had money.

When I say, for example. that I am looking for money to pay for singers, musicians, and studio costs to create a demo recording of a few songs from that musical, I mean what I say.  The money will not go into pocket, because I have trained myself to live on minimal means. This is a much happier choice than the earlier kind of choice I made, at a time when I had no inclination to detach myself from worldly concerns.  When I was well-off, my life was all about worldly stuff — passing stuff.  My life as a poor person is all about spiritual stuff — everlasting stuff. Does that make any sense to anyone?

If it does, I’m glad. At this point, I think it’s a lot more likely that 1,000 poor people will each kick down five bucks apiece for me to package this musical of mine, than it is that five rich people will each kick down a thousand bucks. When I talk to wealthy people about my ideas, I have to filter though all kinds of annoying perceptions that they think I’m some kind of a “con artist” or “scammer” or “hustler” trying to put one over on them somehow. When I talk with poor people about my ideas, they usually say: “Great idea, man! I hope that works out for you!” Which experience would you rather have? I think it’s a no-brainer, quite frankly.

Poverty in America is not, for most people, a choice. It is a condition. I myself have made the choice to remain poor, because I don’t care for the effects that money has had on myself and others. Therefore any money toward this project goes to my assistant Danielle — because I have a problem with money (obviously!) and she does not.

I will now cease these deliberations, lest I be construed for having a hidden agenda. My agenda is not hidden — it’s about as open as they come. Information on my project is on my home page, in case anyone’s interested in pursuing this theme a bit further.

I’m not a person who wants money or fame. Been there, done that, too old for all of that. I’m a person who wants to get an important message across about Classism in America. I placed my message in musical-dramatic form — because that’s where I’m strong.

Money is where I’m weak. So, while poverty may not be a choice in most parts of the world, it is my choice. Any other choice, in my 65 years of life experience, has led to disaster.

Thank you for hearing me out.

Note: this post was first submitted on the site Quora, which I am acknowledging in honor of their terms of service.  

 

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Tuesday Tuneup Eight

Q. Do you know who I am?

A. I really wish you would quit asking me that.

Q. Why did you summon me?

A. Because it’s Monday.

Q. Um – isn’t the Tuesday Tuneup supposed to take place on Tuesday?

A. Supposedly.  But with my track record, if I began writing on Tuesday, it probably wouldn’t happen till about Thursday, if at all.    And anyway, it will be Tuesday in about a half hour or so.

Q. Why are you up so late?

A. Sleeplessness.

Q. Why are you sleepless?

A. I don’t know.  Runs in the family.  My dad, my brother, we all have insomnia.

Q. But you don’t have insomnia every night, do you?

A. Not at all, sir.  On most nights, I sleep rather well.

Q. So why the sudden insomnia?

A. I don’t know.  Restless.  Stuff on my mind.

Q. Like what?

A. Wow – you sure do ask a lot of questions, don’t you?

Q. Isn’t that what I’m supposed to do?

A. Never mind.   What’s on my mind is, quite honestly, my own shortcomings.  My flaws, my faults, my mistakes.

Q. Is not to err human?

A. What?

Alexander_Pope_by_Michael_Dahl
Alexander Pope

Q. Is it not human to make mistakes?

A. I suppose so — at least according to the descendant of an ancestor of mine.  But I am not divine, and I just cannot forgive myself my mistakes.  There are too many of them.  They are too huge.   And try as I may, I never seem to make any progress toward correcting them.  

Q. Do they need to be corrected?

A. What do you mean, do they “need” to be corrected?   What kind of a question is that?  They’re mistakes!  If things are wrong, they must be made right.

Q. Why?

A. What do you mean, why?

Q. Why can’t you just let them be wrong?

A. You mean – not even try to correct the mistakes?

Q. That’s what I said, didn’t I?

A. Are you honestly trying to suggest that I make no effort to correct my mistakes?

Q. The mistakes are past, aren’t they?

A. They occurred in the past, yes.   I think the last one was about fifteen minutes ago, but it’s still past.

Q. Can you change the past?

A. No, I cannot.

Q. Then why are you trying to do so?

A. I don’t know, sir.  I honestly do not know.

The Questioner is silent.  

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Rat Race or Human Race?

Please say a prayer for me.   I may not have any money in life (or care) – but I have so much going on in so many areas right now, I sense the ugly scepter known as Mainstream Stress beginning to rear its head.   This is the form of stress known to give people heart disease, various cancers, and all the other ailments that I effectively avoided by dropping out of the so-called Mainstream in 2004.

The world, the schedules, the agendas, the being-in-a-specific-place-at-specific-time — these are all the things that I swore I would never buy into again.   But today they leap out at me — yea, they lunge.  Even in this small idyllic town that seemed the answer to all my prayers, there is no escape from the Mainstream. 

But all of its arbitrary hierarchical structures have nothing whatever to with the Natural Hierarchy of Nature.  And yet, it is that Natural Hierarchy that everybody seems to be desecrating.  Look at our mad rush, replete with road rage, as we become desperate to get to all these specific places right down to the very nanosecond.    What society would create an absurdity so monstrous as a Casio runner’s watch?    Why do we need to place pressure on the natural pace of our genetic dispositions that was naturally put in place by the Maker in the first place?  Genetically?  Naturally? 

hurryWhy on earth should any of us ever have to present our physical bodies, especially in this Internet age, at a specific place in geographical Earth-related space-time, when all of that hurrying is only destroying us all?  It robs us of our love for others.  It robs us of our love for life.

Arbitrary scheduling inflicted upon the human spirit by pseudo-authorities representing a random hierarchical structure runs in direct opposition to the Natural Order of Nature.  This cannot possibly be good for the Human Race or anybody in it.   It has created gridlock.  It has created road rage.  Is it really so important for me to get there at exactly 9:01.01.003 in the morning?  What about the other guy who needs to get there by 9:01.01.002 in the morning?   Am I any more important than he is just because he will get chewed out by his boss a thousandth of a second sooner than I will by mine?

Does the fact that his boss is a thousandths of single second more of a hard-ass than my boss make him my inferior?

Ever since I’ve had to “rush” again, I’ve become more absent-minded.  The greater the hurry, the greater the absent-mindedness, and the less likely it is that I show up on time.  I lose my keys, my wallet, my phone  – I lose everything.

There was a blissful long past day when I didn’t have any of those things to lose.  Am I losing something more critical to my humanity than my keys, my wallet, and my cell phone?

I really hope that the Day will come when none of us, for any reason, will ever have to show up at a specific place at a specific time again.   When we finally have enough faith, when we finally have enough love, we will finally trust that if the person is a few minutes late, then there was probably a good reason for it — and the rest of us will just have to learn to be patient.  But this rat race, even creeping in to the most distant, far-removed country college town I could find – is not for the Human Race.  It’s not even for rats – but that’s what we make of ourselves when we run around like we’re doing.

Now granted I may have a wee bit of a chip on my aging shoulder, do ya think?   A certain member of my extended family doesn’t seem to have any trouble doing three things at once and racing around the Big City in her fancy car and doing all the things I used to do before my breakdown in 2004.   So some people are obviously more in tune with this level of mass demoralization than others.   But that extended family member makes all her decisions based on fear — not on love, or faith, or God — and these are the sorts of people who “succeed” in this world. 

Me – I was never quite able to manage large super-schedules including five towns on Tuesdays even before I decided to convert all my personal shortcomings into a world vision for humanity. 

So it’s not as though don’t have a subjective ax to grind, but I’m telling you — all this scheduling that we inflict upon each other’s bodies has nothing to do with the schedule of the One who scheduled the whole show before time began.   So I shall divert the course of my will in deference to the One to Whom it is wise my will must yield.

In other words, in conclusion:

I’m too old for this shit. 

Where’s my quiet life?   It sure isn’t in my head.   My head moves me so fast from one thought to another anyway, without the entire culture giving me the message I’m supposed to be moving even faster.

I suppose this is a disease of some sort and there’s some pill I’m supposed to take for it.  But we can discuss that at some further future time, when none of us is in a hurry.  In the meantime, you all have a good day, and a good week ahead.  And please — don’t move too fast on my account.   Peace be to all, and Amen.

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Tuesday Tuneup Five

Q. Do you know who I am?

A. I have some pretty good ideas.  But I can’t say as I’ve figured it out completely, as of yet.

Q. So why have you summoned me?

A. Because it’s Tuesday.

Q. Um — isn’t it — Thursday?

A. Darn. Must have lost a couple days there. I know – it’s unlike me. I’ve just been very distracted of late.

Q. Distracted?   By what?

A. What do you think?   I’ve got my daughter coming up with her mother on Saturday, I’ve offered her Mom a place to stay here, my daughter’s going to get her own apartment and apply to the University here, I haven’t even seen my daughter since I left Berkeley almost two years ago, haven’t seen my ex in over fifteen years – that right there is enough to distract a guy.

Q. How did this family reunion, so to speak, come about so quickly?

A. I don’t remember.  I think it started when I began to want to help people to get out of the San Francisco Bay Area, especially if they were struggling or on the verge of homelessness, and basically nobody took me up on my offers until I made the right offer to the right person.

Q. Your ex?

A. Exactly.

Q. When was the last time you lived her with her?

A. If I counted right, I believe it was 29 years ago.

Q. Isn’t this a little bit unheard of?

A. It is indeed.  That’s what I like about it.  ;)

The Questioner is silent.

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Canticle of the Turning

This medley centers around an improvised bridge connecting the song “From a Distance” (Bette Midler) with an adaptation of the old English hornpipe, “Star of the County Down” AKA “Dives and Lazarus” AKA “Canticle of the Turning.” Moscow First Presbyterian Church April 4 2018: Andy Pope

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The Resurrection and the Life

Lazarus.jpg

This time-honored story, while not dealing directly with the Easter story, nevertheless reveals the realities of resurrection and of eternal life that have to do with the saving grace and power of Jesus Christ.  I hope you all have a blessed experience of God’s undying love on this day.

When Jesus arrived at Bethany, he was told that Lazarus had already been in his grave for four days. Bethany was only a few miles down the road from Jerusalem, and many of the people had come to console Martha and Mary in their loss. When Martha got word that Jesus was coming, she went to meet him. But Mary stayed in the house. Martha said to Jesus: “Lord, if only you had been here, my brother would not have died. But even now I know that God will give you whatever you ask.”

Jesus told her, “Your brother will rise again.”

“Yes,” Martha said, “he will rise when everyone else rises, at the last day.”

Jesus told her, “I am the Resurrection and the Life. Anyone who believes in Me will live, even after dying. Everyone who lives in Me and believes in me will never ever die. Do you believe this, Martha?”

“Yes, Lord,” she told him. “I have always believed you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one who has come into the world from God.” Then she returned to Mary. She called Mary aside from the mourners and told her, “The Teacher is here and wants to see you.” So Mary immediately went to him.

— John 11:17-29
New Living Translation

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Tuesday Tune-Up Two

Q.  Do you know who I am?

A.  Not exactly.  But I don’t think it’s relevant.

Q. So why have you summoned me?

A. Because it’s Tuesday.

Q. Tuesday?

A. You heard me.

Q. What have I got to do with Tuesday?

A. I don’t know.  It just kind of seemed like a good day to check in with you.

Q. You mean you’re going to see me every Tuesday?

A. Yes.

Q. Why?

A. Because it represents order.   Regularity.   Discipline.   Things that are sadly lacking in my chaotic life.

Q. Why is your life chaotic?

A. I think I’ve explained this already.   But I suppose it can bear review.   I made a drastic life change about a year and a half ago, in which the old standards and values began no longer to apply.  An effect of this shocking translation is that of chaos.

Q. But don’t you despise chaos?

A. I not only despise it — I am entirely threatened by it.   As a creative, I thrive on order.  There is no place for chaos in my ideal, beautiful world.

Q. Then what can be done to remove it?

meditation-key-loving-reaching-healthy-weightA. Meditation.

Q. Are you serious?

A. I am indeed.

Q. But isn’t meditation a device of the devil designed to make the mind open to demonic influences?

A. Oh, please.  I may be a Christian, but I’m not stupid.

Q. You aren’t?

A. I could conceivably be offended.  Of course I’m not stupid.  Only chaotic, convoluted, and confused.

Q. But how can meditation help you with this?  

A. I can’t tell you.  All I know is that the one time I dared to try it, the results were marvelous.

Q. How so?

A. I noticed all these bizarre thought patterns that had been holding me back.  And in noticing them, and accepting them, somehow they dissolved.

Q. Do you mean that when you were done meditating, you were no longer harangued by these processes?

A. Not for a while, I wasn’t.  A few of them later returned to me, along with some new ones.

Q. So what does this tell you?

A. That I should meditate every day.  It’s a place I need to revisit regularly, in order to get myself clear.

Q. So what’s stopping you?

A. What do you think?

The Questioner is silent.

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The God of Love

For many years, I taught private piano and voice lessons in a very wealthy area of California. Rarely did I find the parents involved meaningfully in the lives of their children.  They were too busy working their two high-paying jobs, as well as attending unnecessary high-brow social occasions to which the children, of course, were not invited. Most of the children were brought up by nannies because the parents did not have time to bring them up themselves.  In almost all cases, the nannies were from foreign countries and did not speak English.  The children did not speak the languages of their nannies, and no effort was made for either party to learn the language of the other.

The parents placed their children in numerous activities that they had the money to pay for, seemingly to take them of their backs.  The children, involved in ballet, lacrosse, musical theatre, volleyball, etc. often received only four or five hours of sleep each night.  Actual parental contact with their children was minimal.  In one case, the mother did not even know my name six months after I had been teaching her award-winning son how to sing, and had been showing up at their home on a weekly basis.

On the other side of the socio-economic spectrum, we find a similar disregard for the sanctity of family love.   Consider the preponderance of foster children, emancipated children, and homeless children. I have spoken with homeless teenagers who were so eager to emancipate at the age of fifteen, that their concept of living indoors had become associated exclusively with abuse, neglect, violence, violation, and bondage.  The speech I gave in the previous post deals with this phenomenon, which I have experienced first-hand. 

Because I met these remarkable young people at a very difficult time in my life, when I myself was homeless and struggling to survive outdoors, I was inspired to to write a musical about the effects of homelessness on the youth of today’s America.  I honestly never dreamed I would be ever be able to finish an entire musical – book, music & lyrics – at this time time in my life.  But I did, because I was exactly that motivated, and that inspired, by these Kids.  What was so inspiring was the immense love that these Kids held for one another – a form of love they had never found anywhere else.  In their unity, one to another, they developed ideals toward the kind of universal love that could well save the entire human race.

Why on earth should today’s young people have to leave their birth families in order to awaken to these first-time experiences of love?  Why have we permitted our sense of family and birth community to disintegrate to the extent that love cannot be provided first of all in the first places of our lives?  I have seen some of these Kids absolutely freak out at the idea of living indoors.  When a well-meaning social worker recommends an indoor living situation, it cannot help but remind them of the only indoor living situation they have ever known.  There, the ungodly treatment that they suffered at the hands of their so-called parents had scarred their capacity to live inside, rather than outside —  possibly for the rest of their lives.

America has simply forgotten how to love. We seem to have lost sight of a few very basic standards that will dramatically improve our national morale as soon as we choose to re-implement them. A chain is only as strong as the weakest link. A house divided cannot stand. The Good Shepherd does not go after the ninety-nine sheep who remain in the fold, He goes after the one who is lost.

chain weakest linkYet we split our houses in half at the drop of a dime.  We toss our aging “weak links” into poorly run, dehumanizing retirement homes.  We throw our “lost sheep” to the wolves so as not to have to cast our blinded eyes upon the sight of the pain in theirs. We have become a nation of self-serving pleasure-seekers, when we would profit immensely from redirecting our energies away from the pursuit of wasteful pleasures, and toward the love of our neighbors, of ourselves, and of the God of Love.  We have become, as predicted in 2 Timothy 3:4, “lovers of pleasure, rather than lovers of God.”  That we have not yet been completely consumed in the colossal consequences of our misdirected love is astonishing.   I think it’s high time we opened our eyes and realized what is going on in the shattering of the spiritual fabric of an entire generation.

It would not be a burdensome matter for us to cease burning bridges with such futilities as identity politics, liberal bashing, political correctness, White nationalism, and pointless flirtations and arguments on Facebook.  Why not become far less concerned with recreation, and far more concerned with creation itself?  Are we not all born with creative power to change, in the very likeness of the Creator who gave us all birth?  We have the power within us to create a new and better world for ourselves and for our children!   Why are we wasting our precious time doing anything else?

So – call me fanatical or reactionary or whatever you want to label this kind of thinking.  In my mind, of course, I am nothing of the kind.  This is neither a conservative statement nor a liberal statement.   It is a statement of hope.  I will confess that I hope not to have to express this position more than once.  But I express the reality of this hope as one who is old enough to remember when America was a compassionate nation.

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Spiritual Independence

This is one of nine speeches I made in the year 2013 concerning my experience with homelessness.  I created these speeches in a tiny spot that I rented for six months on the outskirts of Stockton, California.   Spiritual Independence was created on May 17, 2013, shortly before I returned to Berkeley to be homeless once again — by choice.

tent-secluded-night

Spiritual Independence

My views on the homeless phenomenon in America have changed and expanded quite a bit in the past five years since that speech was made.  I’m eager to begin a new Spoken Word project that I have outlined accordingly.  Assuming I can surmount the current technical hurdles toward this end, I will post a speech entitled “Homeless By Condition: Part One” on this blog one week from today.   Thank you for your ongoing interest in my work.

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Treasures in Heaven

In my blog, I often discuss how homeless people are stigmatized in our society.  I  have also identified myself as a Christian. But the identity of a Christian is spoiled by stigmatic perception every bit as much as the identity of a homeless person is thus spoiled.   Therefore, I think it’s about time I did my part to diffuse a few of these stereotypes.

I almost fear telling others I’m a Christian, because I am often assaulted immediately with accusations of being a sexist and a homophobe.   But what is more germane to the present-day purpose of this blog is how much classism seems to run rampant in American Christianity.  This is especially evident in what is often called the Prosperity Gospel.

The Prosperity Gospel, in short, is a particularly inviting deception that equates spiritual blessings with material success.  Of course it is entirely conceivable that once a person decides to live according to spiritual wisdom rather than careless foolishness, one might find oneself advancing in material gain.  If one, for example, has been blowing all of one’s money on drugs, hookers, and other forms of escape, one would naturally notice a pleasant increase in one’s financial status once such expenses have ceased.  The Proverbs of Solomon are all about that distinction.  However, we find such wisdom in many sources other than the Bible; and I for one would submit that most of the Proverbs are merely common sense.

Besides, it is also quite plausible that a person can be extremely happy living a minimalistic lifestyle with very few possessions at all.  In fact, in Matthew 19 and Mark 10, we read of a young man who had “great possessions” who walked away from Jesus in sorrow when advised that he should give up all he owned in order to inherit eternal life.  Does such denial of worldly goods equate spiritual blessing with prosperity?  Obviously, the opposite is the case.

treasuresConsider also these very famous Scriptures:  “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than it is for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 19:24)  “The love of money is the root of all evil.” (1 Timothy 6:10).  And without bothering to quote every word, passages such as James 5:1-11 and Luke 16:19-31 hurl severe warnings in the direction of the wealthy.  But where in the Bible are such warnings thrown in the direction of the poor?  Nowhere.

To the contrary, Luke 6:20 includes the words: “Blessed are you who are poor.”  Where in the Bible do we find the words, “blessed are you who are rich?”  Again, we find them nowhere.

A proponent of the Prosperity Gospel will almost always cite Jeremiah 29:11 from the New International Version of the Bible, as follows:

For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord,
“plans to prosper you and not to harm you,
plans to give you hope and a future.”
Jeremiah 29:11
N.I.V.

Although it is true that the word “prosper” figures in this translation, a quick scan of several other popular translations will reveal nothing of the kind. In the English Standard Version, for example, the phrase “plans to prosper you” reads “plans for welfare.” The same phrase in the time-honored King James reads “thoughts of peace.” So this single verse, taken completely out of context in a modern American translation, is hardly a valid rationale for a deception as extreme as the so-called Prosperity Gospel.

In the Bible, once again, where exactly are material acquisitions equated with the kind of provision that brings real fulfillment, inner peace, personal happiness, and eternal security?  Nowhere, really.  The only time when material gain is cited as a blessing from God is in a context where the greater blessing would be the evidence of God’s love; for example, the last chapter of the Book of Job.   And love, according to 1 Corinthians 13, abides forever.  Material blessings vanish at the grave.

In conclusion, I would contend that we who are spiritual ought to set our affections on the things that are above and beyond our material disposition (Colossians 3:2), rather than on the passing pleasures and comforts of this world.  The expression, “you can’t take it with you,” ought not to have been coined in vain.

“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth,
where moths and vermin destroy,
and where thieves break in and steal.
But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven,
where moths and vermin do not destroy,
and where thieves do not break in and steal.

For where your treasure is,
there your heart will be also.”
Matthew 6:19-21
N.I.V.

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For the Director of Music

Lord, you are the God who saves me;
day and night I cry out to you.
May my prayer come before you;
turn your ear to my cry.

I am overwhelmed with troubles
and my life draws near to death.
I am counted among those who go down to the pit;
I am like one without strength.
I am set apart with the dead,
like the slain who lie in the grave,
whom you remember no more,
who are cut off from your care.

You have put me in the lowest pit,
in the darkest depths.
Your wrath lies heavily on me;
you have overwhelmed me with all your waves.
You have taken from me my closest friends
and have made me repulsive to them.
I am confined and cannot escape;
my eyes are dim with grief.

I call to you, Lord, every day;
I spread out my hands to you.
Do you show your wonders to the dead?
Do their spirits rise up and praise you?
Is your love declared in the grave,
your faithfulness in Destruction?
Are your wonders known in the place of darkness,
or your righteous deeds in the land of oblivion?

But I cry to you for help, Lord;
in the morning my prayer comes before you.
Why, Lord, do you reject me
and hide your face from me?

From my youth I have suffered and been close to death;
I have borne your terrors and am in despair.
Your wrath has swept over me;
your terrors have destroyed me.
All day long they surround me like a flood;
they have completely engulfed me.
You have taken from me friend and neighbor—
darkness is my closest friend.

–Psalm 88

700 Days of Gratitude

You know you’re a Writer when you come back to edit your daily gratitude list.  This is List 700, by the way.

1. This morning I received the zany idea to compile all seven hundred of these lists into a single volume, do a bit of editing to protect the innocent, and publish it on Zulu or CreateSpace under the title: 700 Days of Gratitude.  Why not?

gratitude2. That said, these lists having long since drifted from their original purpose, I’ve created a new morning wake-up routine that reduces the role of the Gratitude List to five points sprawled with a pen onto paper at the end of each day, and five each morning, first thing upon arising.  Then I’ll take my thyroid medication, read something fun and light for fifteen minutes, read a spiritual book for fifteen minutes, and then make my coffee, and write in my journal.   In this manner, I won’t hit the Internet for 45 minutes – and believe me, I shall be enriched.

3. Walked four miles today at a brisk pace.   All set to go running tomorrow.

4. Grateful the Recovery Center was open, where I received encouraging peer support, and also was able to be of service to a recovering alcoholic, as well as two addicts passing through town.

5. Learned something important about myself last night, and use the pain of the experience to effect a positive life change.

6. Was granted a few scoops of coffee tonight at the Center, and it sits in my filter, even as we speak.  Tomorrow I’ll put on a pot while I read, and drink it once a large glass of water’s been downed, one half hour after awakening.   Can’t go wrong with that!

7. What a nice, secluded, quiet, neat, clean one-bedroom apartment I rent today!  The price can’t be beat, the neighbors are civil, and there isn’t a tweaker in sight.

8. Finally broke my block and hammered out a blog for my new writing gig – and I’m glad.  Though it was 1500 words (rough draft, stream of flow), and it’s supposed to be 600 words max, at least I got from A-Z.   Also:

9. I’ve got a professional editor now, a retired lady from my church whose second career was in writing and editing.   She’s smart as a whip, and extremely proficient, and I’m sure she can chop off those excess adjectives and superfluous phrases and cut that thing down to size.

10. This will be my last published Gratitude List, so I might as well speak my conclusive piece.  Gratitude Lists indeed have a way of improving my spirits, all the day long.   I feel good when I’m happy, and these lists have a way of making me happy.  But in the end, life isn’t about feeling good.  It’s about being good — and doing good.  It’s about cultivating wisdom, and nurturing compassion, and caring for those in need.   But most of all, it’s about caring for one’s own self; and showing in that manner of selfless self-love an example that shines before others, that they might see that our actions are worthy, and glorify our God from beyond and before us, the Giver of all good gifts.

The people who seek their own pleasure are the takers.  They eat better, and gluttonously so, and eventually become fat, and burst.  But the people who seek to do justly, and love mercy, and walk humbly with their God are the givers.  They sleep better, and rest comfortably within their own skin, and wind up feeling better — about themselves, about their purpose, and about humanity on the whole.   So I ask you: is it pleasure, or righteousness, that one ought to seek after first?  It profits little if one gains the whole world, to the loss of their God-given soul.

 

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The End of an Era

It has now been 92 hours since I made it impossible for me to log on to Facebook. How did I do this? It was simple.

I opened Notepad.  Then, I created a random password consisting of about thirty-five random characters in a row that I produced by closing my eyes and doing a big piano glissando up and down the computer keyboard.   I copied it, put it in the “change password” field on Facebook, and promptly deleted it from Notepad.  Then I logged off.

Since Facebook requires one to post their old password prior to creating a new one, and since I now have no idea what my old password is, I will simply never log on to Facebook again.

Why did I do this?   Let’s look at the hard facts.

(1) I just punched in facebook.com on my browser to see how many notifications I had received in the past 92 hours.  Interestingly, the number is 184.  That’s twice 92 – and I kid you not.  This means I was receiving one notification every half an hour.

Now, let’s say I would spend fifteen minutes addressing each notification.  (That, by the way, is a very conservative estimate, knowing me.)  15 times 184 amounts to 2,760.  2,760 minutes amounts to 46 hours.  In the 92 hour period of time, that means I would have spent half my time on Facebook, dealing with the notifications alone.  Can I afford to spend half my time on Facebook?   No, I cannot.

(2) I am a person who has been diagnosed with severe adult attention hyperactive deficit disorder, otherwise known as ADHD.  What this means, as far as Facebook is concerned, is that whatever stimulus is the strongest and most immediate will be the one that grabs my attention. 

One morning, for example, I logged onto Facebook in order to grab a video from my daughter’s video files to send to a friend of mine.  Before I could find the video, a friend of mine who was feeling depressed logged on, and I spent two hours in an effort to console him.  Point is, his depression struck me as being of more immediate importance than the elusive video my daughter had made, which was buried somewhere deep within her video files, and therefore less immediate.  Once my friend was comforted, no sooner did I begin once again to look for the video, when another friend of mine showed up,  wanting to discuss a subject about which I am passionate.  Her passion striking me as being of more immediate importance than my daughter’s video, I quite passionately discussed the important subject with her for another two hours. Then I had to go to work.  In the meantime, I forgot all about the video, which was the only reason I had logged onto Facebook in the first place.  Thus are the effects of Adult ADHD.

(3) As one who is Sicilian by genetic predisposition, I have a very difficult time letting go of the past.  It therefore stands to reason that if I want this situation to improve, I ought not to be hanging around too many people whom I knew in the past, and instead throw more of my focus on developing positive friendships in the present, that will lead me to a more positive future.   Moreover, reconciling with certain figures from the distant past has more than once proved to be disastrous.

And here’s where the story gets good:

(4) At one point in my life, I made a casual comment on my Facebook that was misinterpreted by a well-meaning Facebook friend.  All of a sudden, three cops came pounding on my door.  They handcuffed me, ransacked my hotel room for narcotics and firearms, (of which I had neither!) and hauled me off to an insane asylum.

I was released the next morning, but highly inconvenienced by the ordeal.  My blood pressure shot up sky high, and I had to sit on a gurney in an emergency room for about six and a half hours before it was low enough for me to be legally hauled away to the nearest local loony bin, twenty-five miles South of my hotel room.

There, I managed to convince the baffled psych techs that I was neither suicidal nor homicidal.  I was released in my T-shirt in freezing cold December weather, and I wandered around for three days until the debit card refund for my hotel room cleared to my account.  (Obviously, I lost the hotel room, where I had paid for a two week stay, because when the 9-1-1 team showed up to haul me off to the psychiatric pavilion, all of the tenants came out of their doors to see what all the ruckus was about; and due to the police involvement, the hotel manager did not want to rent to me any longer.  I also left most of my clothing in the room, along with some books.  The motel room owners claimed no responsibility for items life in the building.)

As for the Facebook friend who made the dubious 9-1-1 call?   Long story short, I basically never heard from him again, except for a total of exactly two fairly unpleasant interactions in the following four years.  Must not have been much of a friend.  But he sure seemed like a friend for a while there, because he was the only one out of my some 300 odd Facebook friends who was concerned enough about my well-being to even consider making such a call.  And this leads to my 5th reason:

(5) These hundreds of people on your Facebook “friends” list are by and large not your friends.  You think they are your friends, because you befriended them when you were both in your teens or early twenties, and it was wonderful to reconnect with them.  Perhaps they are friends of friends of yours, or maybe even friends of people who are not your friends.   You know how to find out who your friends are on Facebook?  It’s easy, which leads to my sixth reason:

(6) I gave my phone number and email address to all of my Facebook friends some time prior to my abrupt departure.   Outside of the handful of people whom I already knew to be my true friends, you know how many of them actually called me?   Exactly three.  Thank you, Paul, Mari, and Holly.  Now I know who my friends are.  :)

(7) When I found myself arguing politics pointlessly with a total stranger in New York City who would not only never change his mind, but was probably drunk off his butt and had no idea what I was even talking about, enough was enough.

What all of this points to is:

(8) I have had five Facebooks in the past ten years.  Every one of them started out fine, then in some way imploded.  Every time I started a new one, I mistakenly thought I had overcome my dysfunctional obsessive-compulsive addictive relationship with Facebook.  I was wrong.

What did Albert Einstein have to say about the matter?

einstein insanity

Touché.

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What’s in a Name?

I hope you all have a very blessed and meaningful day today; and that whether or not you are a Christian, each of you will take a few moments to reflect upon the person and character of Jesus Christ.

No matter whether one believes that he was the Messiah, or a great prophet or teacher, or an incredible psychologist or magician, or the Son of God, or even God Himself, I think there can be no doubt (as Emmet Fox said) that Jesus Christ has had more impact on humanity than other single figure in the history of the world.

“Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
and gave him the name that is above every name.”
– Philippians 2:9

What’s in a name? A lot more than one might presume. The Greek word for name, onoma, is defined in the New American Standard New Testament Greek Lexicon as being “used for everything which the name covers, everything the thought or feeling of which is aroused in the mind by mentioning, hearing, remembering, the name, i.e., for one’s rank, authority, interest, pleasure, command, excellence, deeds, etc.”

whats in a nameApply all that to the name of Jesus Christ, as opposed to say, the name of Roy Moore (to cite a random example) and I’m sure it won’t take much more than a few minutes’ contemplation to discern that there’s a lot more to the Name of Jesus than meets the immediate eye.

Think about it! This is my gift to you, and your having pondered all this would be more than sufficient gift to me, on this blessed day.

Finally, I gave myself a number of gifts last night; and why don’t we all give ourselves some gifts today. Let’s gift ourselves with the things that will truly be live-giving in our spirits and cause us to reflect more life, love, joy, peace, and happiness to all those around us, and moreover, to our own selves.

And most of all, to the Name of God. 

God bless us, every one.

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“Get a Job!”

The spot where I used to sit on Shattuck Avenue in Berkeley was in close proximity to a pub where Cal students would often become intoxicated.  I usually left before this could happen, but occasionally a drunken fellow would emerge in the daytime.

One day I was sitting there quietly, lamenting as usual the fact that too many people were approaching me telling me where the organized meals were, where the shelters were, how to get government “crazy money,” and so forth.  It tended to depress me, because I obviously knew all that stuff already.  What I wanted was some cash and some food for my stomach, so I could smile at them before they moved on.

But then this drunken guy came out of the pub, even though it was only about two in the afternoon.  He was making loud abusive comments toward women, and generally seemed pretty disgusting.  Of course, I probably seemed pretty disgusting too — just the sight of me sitting there — even though I wasn’t saying anything.  (As you know, if you’ve been reading me, my whole gig was to never open my mouth, and simply sit there, holding up an informative sign.)

Eventually, the young man staggered his way toward me, and stopped in front of my sign, staring at it silently, as though dumbfounded.

sign

Lifting up his eyes after what seemed an eternity, he then began to stare directly at me for an even longer eternity. Finally, he spoke.

“Get a job, man!!  Get off your butt!   Get a hustle!!!” 

He then staggered off of my spot just as sure as he’d staggered onto it.  I watched him stagger away, and once he was out of sight, I turned my head and saw another young man.  This new fellow, obviously more sober, was laughing.  Whether he was laughing at me, at him, with me, or with him — I cannot say.   Whatever the case, he apparently found the situation amusing.

I decided to break my rule at that point.  (That is to say, I opened my mouth.)

“You know what?” I said.

“What?” he asked.

“He’s right.”

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The God Who Believes in Me

This undated piece was written in Berkeley in early 2016.  I hope it gives you a picture of what Homelessness was like — for me.  

It’s driving me nuts having to be outdoors while almost everybody I can halfway relate to in life is indoors. If I relate to the people who live outdoors, it is because we all live outdoors. We share the values and mores of outdoor living in common, even if we share nothing else. But ninety percent of the time – damn right we share nothing else.

Approximately three times a week, someone who lives outside, someone whom I’ve never seen before, emerges out of someplace where I’ve probably never been and threatens to knock the crap out of me.  Yet I am a man of peace.  I only want to make my music.  I want to sit down with my laptop, crank up my music notation software, and compose.  But if I even dare get my hands on a laptop at these days, I’m an easy mark for every living thing that hides behind a bush.  I’ve been hit on the head with guns down here. If I buy a laptop, they assume it’s for trade or sale.  If I’m not willing to sell it, they might just take it by force.  My musicianship means nothing to a predator.

Maybe five times a week, a person who lives inside (whom I’ve also never seen before) approaches me and asks: “Are you homeless?”   How I have come to hate that question!  I almost disdain telling the truth, because I am so tired of seeing so much blood come pouring out of their heart, you’d think they’d have expected me to slurp it up and drink it.  Then, as they begin to promote whatever form of “help” they think best suits me, I find that in order to gain access to their assistance, I will be required to change my taste in food, my outlook on life, my political philosophy, and sometimes even my religion.   I’m frickin’ sixty-three years old, for God’s sake!!  I worked all my life!!  And they’re asking me to change my faith?  Now, of all times?  My faith is exactly what has kept me alive throughout twelve years of indignity and insanity.  Why should I abandon that which has helped me the most, in order to risk being hurt more than helped by the benign but misinformed intentions of a total stranger?   

I know a very conservative homeless man who tells me he is expected to become a liberal because it is the liberals who are feeding him.  But I have also seen many who identify as liberals become homeless, only to find themselves expected to become conservatives because, in their case, it’s the conservative Christians who feed them.   Why is that, just because someone is down on their luck, they are expected to adopt the views of those who are not?  Everyone is entitled to their own perspective, and it angers me that I should be expected to adopt the perspective of another person only because that person happens to have a roof over their head and more money than I do.  Just because a person is in a higher socio-economic class doesn’t make them right.  All it means is that they are in a better position to take advantage of another person’s weakness.  And in my case, that weakness is H– H–H–  My God, I don’t even want to speak the word anymore! 

What word?  The H-Word!  Homeless!  The word that, in one way, nobody ever hears — and in another way, it’s the only word they hear. It’s maddening. It’s exasperating. It’s more than frustrating – it’s infuriating.

Then there are the those who are not strangers.   These are the ones to whom I once was close, perhaps even intimate — the well-meaning friends and family members who want to “help.”  Oh, they’ll help all right!  They’ll help in any way they can shy of actually putting a roof over my head.  They’re always looking for the problem that “caused” me to become homeless, as if solving whatever that elusive problem might be could possibly solve the much more enormous problem that is Homelessness Itself.  None of those band-aids can possibly heal the wound of Homelessness.   That wound is way too deep for that.

There’s this huge division between the people who live outdoors and those who live indoors. It’s almost as though we’re an entirely different species. I can’t seem to do anything to bridge the gap, nor can I seem to do anything to get myself back inside. I’ve tried everything. All the suggestions everybody gives – they only lead me back to Homelessness. They never hit the core issue at its heart. So I get into this space where I start thinking: “Well, screw it. What’s the use of even trying?”  

I shrug my shoulders.  I head back to my Spot, lean my back against the brick wall of the BART station at the corner of Shattuck & Allston, take off my hat, and hold up a sign that reads:

BROKE AND HOMELESS
OFTEN HUNGRY
PLEASE HELP IF YOU CAN

I silently watch them all go by.  I make eye contact.  I look as many of them in the eye as possible.  Then, slowly but surely, little bits of change find their way into my hat.  Then a couple of dollars here and there, every now and then a five, a ten if I’m lucky, perhaps even a twenty.  People ask if they can buy me a sandwich.  Some people sneer, but they’re easy to overlook.  By and by, I calm down.  I forget my frustrations, my angst.  I meditate.  I pray.  I look around me, and it is a beautiful day in the city that I love.

An hour goes by, and suddenly it doesn’t matter any longer what they all think.  No longer am I driven nuts.  Then another half hour or so goes by, and I remember something.  I remember who I am.  I know who I am.  I even like who I am.   So what’s that word I hear?  The H-Word?  Is that supposed to say something about me?  Ah but no – perhaps we have forgotten.  Nothing says anything about me but the Me who Knows Who Me Is.   I Am the One I Am.

Three hours go by.  I pick up my cash.  The sun is setting.   I weave my way off toward the spot where I sleep, where nobody knows where to find me.   I look to the stars, and say my prayers to the God who believes in Me.

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Psalm 143

Lord, hear my prayer,
    listen to my cry for mercy;
in your faithfulness and righteousness
    come to my relief.
Do not bring your servant into judgment,
    for no one living is righteous before you.
The enemy pursues me,
    he crushes me to the ground;
he makes me dwell in the darkness
    like those long dead.
So my spirit grows faint within me;
    my heart within me is dismayed.
I remember the days of long ago;
    I meditate on all your works
    and consider what your hands have done.
I spread out my hands to you;
    I thirst for you like a parched land.[a]

Answer me quickly, Lord;
    my spirit fails.
Do not hide your face from me
    or I will be like those who go down to the pit.
Let the morning bring me word of your unfailing love,
    for I have put my trust in you.
Show me the way I should go,
    for to you I entrust my life.
Rescue me from my enemies, Lord,
    for I hide myself in you.
Teach me to do your will,
    for you are my God;
may your good Spirit
    lead me on level ground.

For your name’s sake, Lord, preserve my life;
    in your righteousness, bring me out of trouble.
 In your unfailing love, silence my enemies;
    destroy all my foes,
    for I am your servant.

Psalm 143, NIV
A Psalm of David

 

Fifth Day of Composing

I’ve been composing a lot of music. I’m working on “Bone of My Bones” the way I actually have been hearing it in my head all this time, ever since doing a substandard sequencing of it some time ago, only motivated by wanting to “place” it within the Royal Rhapsody. This new version coincides with the email of July 12th of this year, which I sent jointly to Danielle, to my daughter, and to my pastor, when I received the musical information for the extended composition I’m now working on.

Although it is a bit embarrassing in restrospect to observe how I attributed every nuance of my new compositional focus to Direct Divine Design, there nonetheless is a nice balance in the way the varying themes blend into a whole.  I notice this as I work on the new composition, and it eases the sense of enormity which the project conveys, which can at times be intimidating, especially when one is overcome with sloth.  

Not so my present mode, as I actively pursue heated composition on Day Five.  Here is the extended creative information:

July 12, 2017

New / Old Music.

All these themes, as well as the various segues and transitions that tie them together, come from the “same place,” musically speaking, a place of perfect beauty and purity that I daresay is divine, both in origin and in nature.

1. The Main Theme – is essentially “Bone of My Bones” (first movement, Royal Rhapsody), but with a defining beat to it – unlike its manifestation in The Royal Rhapsody, and more like the way I played it on Neil’s guitar after I first wrote it, before the lady from the nearby house interrupted us to inform us that we should really not have been making music so close to a private residence.

The “defining beat” is able to identify nuances in the melodic/harmonic content of the piece and highlight them for the listener, whereas they would otherwise have been overlooked. For this purpose, the usage of “beat” is very definitive throughout the larger piece of which all these themes are a part. This also means that is *essential* to find the right percussive instrumentation for the project. If I’m at the stage where my own body comes closest, then I haven’t gotten very far. But the “electronic drums” used in the original Berkeley Project from which this type of music-making springs fall far short of the more divinely designated drumming that I’m sure is available if I truly seek that beat wholeheartedly.

The Main Theme will be stated three times, not in succession, but spread about throughout the piece. The first time would probably be at the very beginning – just as is the case in the original Royal Rhapsody. The second time will emerge from the Tertiary Theme which I will discuss a bit later. The third and final time will emerge from the Secondary Theme, which I will discuss right now.

2. The Secondary Theme is stated three times in succession, with different transitional music following each statement of the theme, before the final segue leads to the conclusive Main Theme, and not just to another restatement of the Secondary Theme.

To identify the Secondary Theme, it is the section of music that I originally had inserted within the “Stalk Section” found in the long version of “Bubbles Taboo,” before I left it out when I got up to Moscow and was able to sequence that version. It is a sad theme, though with an interesting lilt in this more lively, rhythmic version. Alao, to further identify it for the sake of nostalgia, the guitarist Niel Mortenson, and he alone, has heard this music emerge from my fingers.

About the transitional music following each statement of the Secondary Theme, the first transition is the shortest and the second transition is considerably longer. The first statement of the second transition leads to the third statement of the Secondary Theme. The second statement of the second transition is the third and final transition pertaining to the Secondary Theme, and leads to the third and conclusive statement of the Main Theme.

(I see that I am in danger of forgetting both the aforementioned transitions. That’s what I get for not singing them immediately into my Audacity sound editor that I have downloaded for Windows – a time-saving habit that I’ve never quit bothered to develop. But I’m trying not to kick myself too hard right now. Next time it’s quiet, and I’m at home at my desk, I’ll tune into the Secondary Theme as deeply as possible, and hope that the relevant transitions return to me. They always do, if I work at it.)

3. The Tertiary Theme can best be identified by its being the theme I first “heard” this morning. As a “brand new” theme, it is connected conceptually, but not historically, to the themes in the Berkeley Project. It is a much shorter theme, and the power of its three-time successive statement might be dismissed by the listener were it not for the glaring function of its transitions. The transitions actually expand upon the power of their predecessors, and fool the listener into believing they’re headed for their original usage to serve the Main Theme or the Secondary Theme, rather than back to the Tertiary Theme.

Although there are other themes, it gets tricky from here. The Secondary Theme is connected musically to “Bubbles Taboo” in a way that is telling, if awkward. Its original usage not only was conceived to be part of a lengthier rendition of “Bubbles Taboo” than the world will probably never hear, but the transitions it involves point to “Bubbles Taboo” in other ways as well. Right now, however, I’m having a hard time recollecting how one of the transitions, used to lead directly into one of the statements of the Main Theme, also leads very easily into the main defining theme of “Bubbles Taboo.” But let’s face it — who wouldn’t be having a hard time keeping track of all this by now? I believe the connection between the two uses of that particular transition will return to me, along with the defining musical content of the transition in question. But if it doesn’t? C’est la vie. God obviously has something better in mind.

4. Sirens of Hope – this will not necessarily be referred to as the Fourth Theme. What appears to happen. after an appropriate expression of transitional music seems to be putting a cap on the final statement of the Main Theme, is that the last measure or two of that transitional music happens to lead very nicely into the main theme of “Sirens of Hope” – yet stated this time without the fast, rhythmic quality that characterizes the way I had hastily sequenced it for the Berkeley Project, once I had arrived in Moscow and had proceeded to put some small measure of rational thought into how exactly I was to go about it, before impulsively plunging into the haphazard, misleading version I posted on the Berkeley Page, because I couldn’t wait, and couldn’t stop, and was just too excited, and too impatient, and all that.

I also don’t want to overemphasize the value of another body of transitional music that stems from the “A Part” or introductory section of the version of “Sirens of Hope” already sequenced. But it appears that when this body of music is taken much slower and much less rhythmically than I had presented it for the “Sirens” already sequenced, it has power both to attract the listener almost to a theme of its own, and also to take the statement of that theme directly back to the main theme of “Sirens of Hope” from which it stemmed.

In conclusion, I know that I will later feel I should have gathered my senses and sung into my Audacity program every theme or transition that I originally heard myself performing when I first woke up this morning and seemed not to be able to stop the singing, accompanied by the percussive use of my body, that apparently I was performing all throughout my sleep last night. (If you’re incredulous, just ask my next door neighbor.)

However, I also feel that the information provided in this file is sufficient to get me started on the project. At some point, the transitional themes will recur in full, if I go about this in a good heart – the way I went about when I was in Berkeley. I basically have to keep bearing in mind where this music is coming from – the place from which it comes is not merely Beauty of Meaning or Purpose or Truth – it s actually Perfection, and it cries out to be honored as such. Probably it cries out more loudly to perfectionists themselves — because we are the ones most likely to believe its call.

The difference, of course, between God’s Perfection and human perfectionism is that He doesn’t make mistakes. This is why He is completely to be trusted. There’s no danger in trusting Him, as there is with even the most trustworthy of mere mortals. So, I can take comfort in that His giving me this unexpected new musical direction so surprisingly this morning, was *not* a mistake of His. I may or may not be mistaken to prioritize so highly its production. The Jury is still out on that one. but the Judge is the one with the gavel.

All for now —

Andy

The problem has been that by the time I went back to these words approximately three weeks later, I had forgotten the “Tertiary Theme” entirely. You see, I had never bothered to write it down, and so eventually it escaped me. I then abandoned the project in disgust. But then, unexpectedly, the theme that I had not written down returned to me! This was approximately five days ago, and so I resumed work on the project immediately. I still haven’t written the theme down — but I’m convinced I won’t forget it, as I continue to work on other, less relevant, portions of the impending piece — such as this “Bone of My Bones” section.

This new composing persona also suggests the rebirth or resurrection of a former great Andy-image within the Moscow community. In this image, I am *seen* composing music with Finale at various hot spots around town. This is a bright contrast to the image of the Andy who is *seen* furiously typing on his externally extended keyboard, as he is doing now, when just minutes ago, he was *seen* pleasantly composing beautiful new music, as is his preferred persona. Conspicuously so, at that. Noticeably, visibly composing music — to the widespread admiration of all.

You see, when I am composing music with Finale, I use a lot of “drag & drop” features, mostly large silent swoops of the external mouse.  It’s a novel sight in comparison to the previous, furious fast-paced, prolonged spells of typing.  It’s a welcome sight, in the eyes of most of the community.  They are at once relieved of my typing, and introduced to the much more pleasant and intriguing world of music notation software, its usage made manifest among the multitudes that comprise Moscow, Idaho, where I most notably, noticeably do my work.  

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Jim the Janitor

Now Jim the Janitor may not the brightest fellow I’ve ever met.  Or maybe he’s bright in ways that many of us more academically inclined, educated sorts are not quite bright.  In any case, it’s not important whether he’s bright or not, really.

What is important is this.  I used to be very bothered by Jim the Janitor.   When I first moved to Friendship Square, it seemed he would not stop knocking on my door, often at odd hours.   But eventually, I began to notice that the Janitor had some very good qualities about him — qualities that I have lacked.

For one thing, I have never once seen him lose his temper, or break out of his even keel.  So I asked him one day how he manages this, especially knowing that he faces the same difficulties faced by myself and all other poor people in this society.

GodHe replied: “I always let it go.  I always give it to God.”

I marveled at this.  For I had noticed that whenever he tries to quote a Scripture, he often gets it wrong, sometimes attributes something to Paul that was actually written by James, or even quotes something from a book other than the Bible, seeming to think it is in the Bible.  But I ceased to correct him after a while, because I became more interested in what he was trying to get across, than in the authenticity of his sources.

So the other night, I was sitting in Greg’s apartment two doors down from me, having a casual conversation with Greg, and a not-so-casual conversation with Jim. (I have noticed that Jim never engages in casual conversation.  Everything he says has to be in some way spiritual, which annoys many people.)

Suddenly, Jim pointed his finger at me, and in a burst of enthusiasm, he initiated the following dialogue:

Jim: (excitedly) Andy!  I know what your entire problem is!!

Andy: (amused) You don’t say?  Do tell.

Jim: You’re a rich man!

Andy: (incredulously) Uh . . . rich man?   How so?

Jim: You know how God says that the camel can’t go through the eye of the needle that the rich man is trying to get through, or something like that?

Andy: (thumping his Bible) “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than it is for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of Heaven.”

Jim: Yeah, that’s the one.   This is why you’re having so much trouble getting into the Kingdom of Heaven.  You’re a rich man.

Andy: (trying not to laugh) But Jim, I am not a rich man in the least.  I am rather a very poor man, just like you, or Greg, or anybody else in the building.

Jim: No Andy, I’m telling you — you are a rich man.  You are rich,  because you are rich in knowledge, and talent, and experience, and credentials.  Your knowledge and your talents are what keeps you from seeing the kingdom of God.

Andy: Wow — this is reminding me of a Scripture, where Paul says: “Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up.”  Knowledge feeds the ego.  Love feeds the flock.  Is that what you mean?  That kind of thing?

(Jim pauses for a moment, as though he had to think it over.)

Jim: Yeah.  That kind of thing.

Andy: Well – um – thank you!   Nobody’s ever told me that before . . .

“For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth.  But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong;  God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God.”
–1 Corinthians 1:26-29

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Social Statement

Because I have been recently lamenting a tendency for some readers not to recognize that my posts are generally “social statements” rather than “requests for advice” (if you can possibly grasp that there could even be a relationship between the two), I am entitling this post “Social Statement,”  just in case there’s any doubt about where I’m coming from.  Granted, it’s a lousy title, but let’s begin.

I was blessed last night to spend the night at my pastor’s house on his farm, where I learned that he is also a farmer, and not only a pastor.  It was  great to be out in the beautiful country, away from the city, and away from Friendship Square, if only for a single night.  It was funny, too.

It was funny — because when he invited me to stay the night, my first thought was: “In all the years when I was homeless, when I lived on the streets, how many times did anyone ask me over to stay the night?”

zero

When I was homeless, and I asked somebody if I could stay the night at their house, what was their answer?

no-no

Herein lies the gist of a social statement.  It may not be headed in the exact direction you are suspecting.  My fellow homeless people and I naturally became more and more discouraged the more these statistics accumulated.  But we also naturally asked ourselves, “why” did close friends and family members categorically refuse to let us stay the night at their houses?  Even for one night?   In my case, even when I offered money to let them stay over one night and take a shower  –  or even just take the shower itself – they said “No.”  Why?

Eventually, we all concluded what I am about to describe.  They all knew that we were homeless.  They also knew that we had a number of other problems, but that none of those problems had ever made us homeless.  They had let us stay over when we were total slobs.  They had let me stay over when we were addicted to drugs.  Often, they themselves were addicted to drugs. They had let us stay over, whenever we were passing through, as long as we had not yet lost a place to live.   So why didn’t they let us stay over when we needed a place to stay?

The answer is simple.  All the problems that they had known about had never made us homeless.  Now we were homeless, and they did not know why.  Therefore we must have some problem that they did not know about, and that problem must have made us homeless.  Obviously, they thought, we had somehow screwed up our living situations in some way — otherwise, we wouldn’t have become homeless.  Since that had to be the case, would we not similarly screw up their living situations as well?  Sure we would.  

They were not concerned about our problems of which they were aware — they were concerned about our problems of which they were unaware.  Everyone has a little fear of the unknown, don’t they?  That fear prevented each and every one of them from ever letting us stay at their houses when we needed to.

You can’t imagine how difficult it was for me to call up a very close family member ten days after I had become homeless in 2004, and ask him if I could stay for a while in his spare room, and hear the word “No.”  When I asked him why, he said, “I don’t care to expand.”  Whenever I asked him over the years if he could elaborate, he said: “No.”

Why?  Because he himself did not know the reason.  He was not afraid of what he knew – he was afraid of what he didn’t know.  What he didn’t know was why I had wrecked up my living situation, and he didn’t want to take the risk of my wrecking up his as well.

The simple truth was that in the urban area where I had become homeless, the demand for living situations far exceeds the supply.  When I lost my last rental — for whatever reason — I could not readily get another one — for whatever reason.  I then fell down into the hole called Homelessness — a whole so deep I tried for twelve years to climb my way out of it.

0519d869c2f17b567099948384b9099bf8a86d-wmIf you can imagine the hurt and the pain I felt from hearing my own brother refuse to let me stay in the spare room at his house ten days after I had become homeless, try multiplying that level of pain by fifteen.  One by one, my closest friends and family members told me that I could not stay with them, nor even take a shower at their homes – not even in exchange for money.  So the discouragement that was strong enough, became fifteen times stronger.

Whatever enabled me to become encouraged again?  Encouraged as I still remain today, despite depression, despite mania, despite a medical condition, despite the loss of a job?

The amazing commonality that I shared with my homeless brothers and sisters on the streets of Berkeley, California, almost all of whom were enduring the same indignity as myself, affirmed our common dignity.  Our conversations, over a five year period, eventually lifted my spirit out of that hole, even though there did my body remain.

I’ve since been in touch with a Berkeley social worker.  I asked him how my best friend Lauren was doing, if she was still on the streets, and if her health was holding up.  I broke into tears when I learned that somebody had finally helped her with the initial deposit and last month’s rent, and she was now able to live on her disability in her own apartment somewhere in Southern California.  I have also heard similar stories, all across the board, of homeless people in my tribe pulling out of that gigantic hole, because our spirits had finally become encouraged by the hugeness of our common dignity, so much so that our bodies were soon to follow.

In Lauren’s case, it was her own brother who finally stepped up to the plate.  In my case, it was a retired music teacher who knew what I was made of, and fronted me a one-way to Idaho and enough money for the deposit on an apartment.  But the dramatic lift in spirits is common in all cases.  I went from being homeless on the streets of Berkeley, assuming I was to die a miserable, meaningless death on the streets, to having a job and an apartment in Moscow, Idaho, faster than the twinkle of an eye.

If that’s not an inspiration, I don’t know what it is.  But remember  – it is not just my inspiration; it is the inspiration of hundreds, maybe thousands, of some of the most inspired people on the face of this Earth.  That inspiration can make a difference.  Please,  let us make that difference — before it is too late.

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The Questioner

Q. Do you even have the slightest idea who I am?

A. I know exactly who you are.

Q. Then where were you last night when I needed you?

A. Too wiped out.

Q. You weren’t avoiding me, were you?

A. No – not really.  I just didn’t have much to say to you.

Q. Do you realize how small that makes me feel?

A. Vaguely.  But perhaps you’ve been a bit too big for your britches lately.

Q. What makes you say so?  Why would you even think such a horrid thought?

A. Well, it’s one thing for me to have finally summoned you as a last resort, when I was in a bind.  But you outlived your usefulness when you started becoming all codependent on me.

Q. Codependent?

A. You heard me!   My personal habits and manner of self-care are my own business.   All you codependents are alike.  Constantly harping on me to take care of myself, as though you practically owned my body.   I’m the one who lives in the damn thing! I’m the one who knows what it takes to function properly.  I’m the one who hasn’t had a serious disease in sixty-four years of living, while all around me all these sick people keep harping on how I “don’t take care of myself.” 

Q. Are you calling me “sick?”

A. Aw, you’re healthy enough in low doses, I suppose.

Q. Don’t you think you’re beginning to come across like Job in Chapter 33?   Exalting your own righteousness above that of the Holy Name of God??

A. Oh please.  The transparency with which you resort to throwing the Book at me is odious.

Q. How so?

A. You always pound the Scriptures at me in order to bring guilt upon my head, just at the moment when you figure nothing else would work but a religious guilt trip. 

Q. But can’t you see that I am only trying to help?

A. That’s what they all say.

Q. But what do you say?

A. I say that yes, I thank the Good Lord God for keeping me in decent health long enough to finally get a good crack at my life’s work on this planet.  But at the same time, I can’t deny that following some simple rules such as (1) not smoking cigarettes, and (2) getting sufficient, moderate physical exercise, have had at least something to do with it.   God didn’t waste his gift of good health on a guy who was going to sit on a bar stool all night long whining with a Camel non-filter hanging out of his mouth as though it were a blue tooth in his ear.

Q. How can you claim to have always made healthy choices?   Is not the very notion preposterous?

A. I never said I have always made healthy choices.  I am only saying I make a point of taking care of myself, whether anybody else thinks so or not, and when I fail or lapse, God has been merciful in letting me wake up in the morning without hangover.  Or similar such show of mercy. 

Q. Why is that you seem so damned smug today?

A. Because you and I are splittin’ up, baby!  I got to the point yesterday where I just did not need you or your flagrant codependent guilt trips, you flailing flimsy excuse for a superego, you!  I made a speech last night.  I’m going to edit it tonight to taste.  And I worked for three hours on my piano-vocal score, according to my schedule that I’m determined to keep up till the end of October.  I even enjoyed the work.  And I ran two miles!   And did fourteen push-ups!  When was the last time you ran two miles?  Not to mention, before you completely fade and fizzle into the oblivion where you and all your moralistic guilt trips belong, heed the wise words of Bertrand Russell, my agnostic hero.

Bertrand
Russell: “One should never worry about one’s health unless one is unhealthy.”

A. My agnostic hero chain-smoked till he was 80, became unhealthy, stopped smoking, and lived to be 97.   Are you going to live to be 97?

Q. Are you?

A. We shall see!

The Questioner has been silenced — for the time being . . .

 

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My Choice

I’ve never written a novel before.  All I’ve written so far are a number of plays, some of them musicals, numerous short stories that I lost in a storage unit (unless the English department at U.C.Davis happens to have kept a hold of them, which I doubt), thousands of blog posts and diary entries (for whatever that’s worth), the couple handfuls of poems posted on this web site, and zillions of songs, complete with lyrics everybody seems to rave about and music that nobody likes at all.   Oh – and I also wrote a couple “rock operas” when I was younger, two movements of a flute sonata, and scattered piano preludes.  No first symphony, as of yet.  Typical story of a lifelong burned out starving artist. 

That said, I read the first paragraph of my new novel to the other members of the Palouse Writers Guild this morning.  All of them agreed that if those were the first words that befell their eyes, they would keep on reading without hesitation.   One guy I showed it to later even said he’d probably buy the book right off the bat.   But the problem with all of that is, of course, that there’s no book to buy.  Will there ever be?  Am I capable of writing an entire novel, just because I happened to get off to a good start?

I’ve been advised to barrel out 10,000 words as rapidly as possible, just the way I churned out the first five pages.  But I don’t know that I can.  Or even want to.

nothing-in-the-world-is-worth-havingOr even should.  Since feeling the worst impacts of all the demons that have come storming down my stairwell ever since I finished the script to Eden in Babylon, I wonder what my next course really ought to be.  It is clear that for lack of a definite, disciplined project I have practically let myself be devoured by all the local wolves, and whatever strange poltergeists inhabit my creepy confines in the dead of night, full of trickery and tripe.  But should I really dive head-first into an entire novel, just to hide my head from all the hunger, the hysteria, and the hurt?

Why not just notate my piano-vocal score like a good little musical comedy composer?  It would seem the thing to do, if anyone other than myself is ever to attempt to play such bizarre tunes.

There’s also this third idea hovering over my head, haunting me.  It has to do with the themes that were left hanging when I suddenly dropped the Berkeley project some months ago and dove head-first into my musical script.   Not that this was a bad thing to do, for I did, after all, finish the script.  But as I took from the Berkeley music those songs that seemed most to fit the Eden in Babylon style — the showiest, the most “musical theatre” of them all — I find that what is left is an intriguing set of strains.  The remains seem much less show-tune, less schmaltzy, more seriously operatic in nature, and somewhat other-worldly.

But this causes me to recall the neuro-physiological conditions under which I placed myself in order to conceive of such music; specifically, highly altered states of consciousness.  Somehow I just “heard” the music in those unnatural states of mind.  It fascinated me so much that I promised myself I would orchestrate it all once I “came down” (and once I had regained access to a laptop and a regular power outlet in which to plug it).   So I did that until the thrill wore off.   Yet, on examining the music of Sirens of Hope, and of The Royal Rhapsody, I must admit that the thrill returns. 

So – if I went by what others think I should do, I’d have to say that the other Writers in the guild probably would like to see me follow through with the novel, especially seeing as I got off to such a surprisingly good start.  That would probably also be the easiest and most absorbing thing to do – at least, in terms of generating a very rough, rough draft.  Who wants me to write music?   A bunch of stoners in a flop house who won’t even listen to it anyway.  Nobody ever listens to my music.  It makes me feel like all the huge effort I put into writing it is all for nought.

Now, the arduous task of painstakingly notating my piano-vocal score is something I’ve been avoiding for a good month or more.  Obviously, it’s what I’m supposed to do.  Otherwise, I won’t be able to live with myself.  There it would be, even should I die before my time: a complete piano-vocal score that conceivably some conductor could pick up on, some group of singer-actors sing and act from, and some pianist, other than myself, actually play.  How gratifying.  Worth its weight in gold.

The first chapter of the novel looks good, but knowing me, it would degenerate into mindless pornography before Chapter Three.  I’ve made my choice.  And you know what?  I’ll start tomorrow.  Today’s the Lord’s day and I’ll do my best to rejoice in it — even if it means putting on my headphones and rocking out to the music that no one else will ever hear.

A Role Revised

For anyone who may have been following my recent journey, I must say that as I attended church for the first time today as a mere parishioner, and not a paid employee, I was blessed far beyond my expectations.

It was refreshing not to have to be worried about what was supposed to come next in the order of worship, but only to sit in the pews and soak it all in.  I found myself focusing on the language in the prayer of confession, the hymns, the sermon, and all other aspects of the service.   When I still had the job, all I could do was nervously worry about what was going to come next.   Would I wind up in the wrong key?  Would I play too fast, too slow, too loud, or too soft?   Was I about to be heavily criticized for my failings after it was all done?  Or, even if they were to compliment me, were they complimenting me for the wrong reasons?  In short:

Did I come across more like a musical theatre or pop-contemporary accompanist, or worse yet, a lounge lizard, in the sacred context?

lounge lizardMy God – my anxiety increases as I even indulge the memory.  Be that as it may.  The “good news” is that I was very blessed to be a simple participant.  I also was freed up to attend a book study before the service, where only six people were present.  Moreover, I can go to another book study on Wednesday evenings when the Choir would have rehearsed.

I’m a little concerned about the substantial decrease in my monthly cash flow — but not too much.  It seems to me that I was living high on the hog to begin with.   I’m used to living on almost nothing at all.  Suddenly having even a little money left over after paying the rent was almost too much for me.  Ah – but I hyperbolize.  As someone said this morning, there is probably a better job in store for me.   All I need do is look.

So, I just wanted to submit a brief blog to share the glad tidings.   I’ll now return to my Writer’s Guild meeting.  Ta ta for now.

Forward Motion

Things have actually progressed remarkably smoothly since my last update.  There has not been a moment throughout the past week when I have felt that “life” was getting in the way of my artistic progress.   To the contrary, I finished scoring all the parts for the other players tonight, and we’ve arranged a time and place to practice this Sunday for the upcoming show the following Saturday.   One more practice after that, and I think we’ll be in pretty good shape.

As I might have mentioned, I agreed to continue to accompany the Wednesday evening Taize services on a volunteer basis, while no longer being on salary at my church.  I understand that the woman who is replacing me for the next two months is very capable, and I’m looking forward to sitting in the pews on Sunday, soaking in the sermon and all aspects of the service, and no longer having to concern myself with the strange conflicts that would rear their heads whenever I tried to play piano or organ properly for the occasion.

It would seem that my background in Musical Theatre somehow interfered with my ability to grasp the worshipful context.  Although I identify as a Christian, it was unusually difficult for me to shake the idea that my playing was a “performance” rather than an “offering” or a “presentation” before God.  I would constantly refer to the chancel as the “stage,” to the prelude as an “overture,” and to the postlude as “exit music.”  I am certain that a period of observation, without mandatory participation, will help me to shed these conflicts.   It’s entirely possible that when the four months are over, and both of my replacements have served their terms, I might regain some kind of paid position with the music ministry.  But I’m neither banking on it, nor shunning the prospect.   To paraphrase John the Baptist: “God must increase, and I must decrease.”

Along with this transformation, my zeal for the production possibilities of my own musical has skyrocketed.  Of the five originals that we will be performing on Saturday the 6th, three of them will be from Eden in Babylon.   If you want to look at the lyrics I will be singing, here are the links thereof:

Heart Song

Ode to the Universe

The Very Same World

I’ve decided on four theatre companies where I have worked in the past, or where I know people with whom I’ve worked, where I will submit the musical immediately upon completing my demo.  Then I think I’ll relax and see what we can do about producing the show on a regional level here in the Palouse Empire, where I have chanced upon a community of like-minded Artists who believe in me.   I’ve been here only nine months as of yesterday, and I never cease to marvel at the miracle of it all.

I didn’t have to let an entire lifetime go by without seeing the city where I was born — where I had only lived for the first year of my life.   When I first saw this city, I saw that it seemed custom-designed for me — right to the point of their being a running shoe store conveniently placed on the lower floor of the very apartment building in which I live:

friendship square

There also turned out to be a Conservatory of Music that I didn’t even know about in this town, sponsoring an annual jazz festival.  Moreover, Idaho Repertory Theatre was founded in this city in the year I was born.  And when I went to see the house where I was born, the cross street as I approached said: “Home Street.”

Sure beats being hit on the head with guns by gangbangers and having four laptops full of costly music production software stolen in a three-year period of time! I still have the same laptop I had when I moved here — in fact, I even have a back-up, in case this one should fail me.  Once again — there is a God.

Resignation and Debut

On Monday I resigned my position as pianist and organist of a local Presbyterian church.  They haven’t found someone to replace me permanently yet, but they have two people who can cover the stretch of time between now and the end of summer.  I also told them I desired to remain a member of the church, but not an employee.  They then agreed that this is their desire, as well.

The main reason for my resignation was that the stress of the job reached the point of interfering completely with my day-to-day spirituality.  Being a church job, this is rather ironic.  But that’s why I decided to continue on with the church.  I found the church itself to be a great contributor to my spirituality – just not the job itself.

Here is the text of my letter of resignation, submitted by email to the entire congregation:

My physical health is good, and I am generally in good spirits, but there are some issues with my mental health that are hard to grasp and have me occasionally feeling very disoriented. These are aggravated by stress. I cannot explain why this is, but somehow the simple piano-organ position that I had expected to be very easy for me and full of joy has become associated with an unbearable level of anxiety that, when it reaches a peak, causes me to make irrational decisions that have enduring consequences. If you can fashion a prayer around these words, please deliver your words to the One who has power to heal.

Also, while I regret that I was too ill to fulfill the Holy Week services, Norman has advised me that they went very well with the substitute. I will not be in church this Sunday, but I hope that thereafter you will all accept me as a member in good standing of First Presbyterian Church but not a part of the music ministry. While I occasionally enjoy playing the piano and recognize it as a gift from God, I have decided that things like reading music, following conductors, turning pages, piano-conducting, etc. are basically in the category of health risks at this time. I will eventually find some kind of piano lounge where I can play at random while daydreaming, make a little more money, and live a bit more comfortably here. So I hope you all will take this in the spirit in which it is intended. First Presbyterian Church of Moscow is the greatest church that I have ever happened upon in all of my lifelong church-hopping, and I will hop no further, so help me, God.

Thank you all for showing me true Christian love. I need that more than I need a job, at this time.

Grace and Peace,

Andy

As a start to a new day-to-day foundation for spirituality, I picked up a hard copy of a book today called The Celebration of Discipline, by a theologian named Richard J. Foster.  I think that to become a little more routinized and regularized (but not “regulated,” mind you) might help with my musical work as well.  I agreed with Pastor Norman that I would still play the Wednesday evening Taize services on a volunteer basis.  Otherwise, I am mainly focused on putting my show together for my debut as a singer-songwriter in this area:

One World Cafe Downtown Moscow

Andy Pope and Friends, Saturday May 6, 7pm, One World Cafe, 533 S. Main Street Moscow Idaho. Be There.

Even the demo is on the back burner for now (although I have rounded up most of the singers).  Today I found all the band members for the show two weeks from tomorrow, so I’m diving wholeheartedly into creating a set list and writing out parts.  I’ve got an Ibenez custom hollow body, a Yamaha electronic keyboard, and a good percussionist on the Cajon who also plays fiddle and mandolin.  My bassist is from Lionel Hampton, and I’ll be using the house sound system for my singing.  If you’re for any reason in the neighborhood, feel free to cruise by.  I mean – don’t bust your back or break any laws, but you know where I’ll be.

Moment of Decision

I’m trying to relax my high goal here, but at the same time not be wasteful with the energy that I need to apply toward it.  I just now made the difficult decision that has been blocking my efforts ever since I finished Act Two, Scene Two in the musical play I am writing.  I have finally decided to reduce the size of the Chorus Line of Street Kids from 12 to 8, and eliminate the Chorus Line of Mainstream Citizens entirely.  I had previously decided to double parts in the two chorus lines due to having earlier been cautioned that my cast size was becoming too large.  The two chorus lines never appeared at the same time in the same place anyway, and there would be plenty of time for costume changes.  But still, the presence of the Mainstream Chorus Line is unwieldy and unnecessary. 

in-any-moment-ofAlthough I sort of knew this to be true, I was resisting making the right choice because it would involve going all the way back to the beginning of the libretto, yanking out unnecessary parts and, if need be, replacing them with parts that can be performed by existing players.  So now, I have to do that very thing.  Of course I am a bit daunted by the ardor of the task.  But it’s the right thing to do.   So I’ll do it.

This changes things.  I’m thinking that, because the eighth and final Scene still remains to be written, hopefully the task of sifting through the show from the very beginning up until the end of the seventh Scene will help clarify decisions I need to make in the last Scene that have still been vague in my mind.  In any case, it seems highly unlikely that I’ll be able to crank it all out in one sitting.  On the other hand, there’s a chance it will be out of the way by Wednesday night’s choir rehearsal.

I told the people at work that my application for Minister of Music will be in by Thursday.  The present Music Minister does need to retire, and I’d like to rise to the higher calling if I can.  But I don’t want my absorption in this project to be a deterrent.  I want this draft to be done by the time of my interview.  If that’s putting too much pressure on myself, so be it.  All I can say is that working without any deadline whatsoever as of the past five years sure hasn’t gotten the job done.

An Odd Feeling

The odd feeling I described in the last paragraph of the previous post seems to be in the process of panning out into an approximate facsimile of the predicted reality. Specifically, that feeling was stated as thus:

I have this odd feeling that the next time I put pen to paper, I’m probably not going to stop until the long-awaited moment arrives when I write the words “The End” at the bottom of the document.

A bold claim, if there ever was one. However, what has been happening is much akin to my feeling, despite its alleged oddity. At a certain point yesterday, I began working on Act Two, Scene Two; and I found myself quite unable to stop until the inevitability of a certain annoying necessity known as “sleep” bid me do so. I saw once again the eeriness with which the time when I wrote the words “End of Act Two, Scene Two” at the bottom of p.116 coincided with the exact time of 1:45am. Strangely, I seem to be finishing up at the quarter of the hour, every time I do finish up. Not sure what it means (if anything) but it’s an interesting thing to behold.

So – what is being manifested is an approximate facsimile of the predicted reality. I had predicted I wouldn’t stop until I reached the end of the entire script. This proved to be a completely unrealistic prediction, though I must admit it spurred me on. Instead of finishing a complete draft, I still have one Scene to go. Not only that, but I went to bed disgruntled. There were still strange inconsistencies in the story line that were heading me toward the dreaded deus ex machina. I went to bed having no idea how to resolve them.

aha_titleThe good news is that, not a half hour into the morning, I had another luminous moment of “Aha!” Who would have thought it? I now sit cheerfully in the local cafe where the Writer’s Guild meets on Saturdays, awaiting the arrival of the other Writers, so that I might share my jubilation with those of like mind. In fact, I hope they may add fuel to the fire, that all remnants of a cheap “wrap-up ending” will on this day be discharged for good.

Besides, I promised the Minister of Music at my church I’d be done with this draft by tomorrow. She’s hoping to retire soon, in which case there’s a chance I might be called to assume some of her responsibilities. But I’m enough of an Artist to know that for me to presume to do so right now would be foolhardy, as long as this script still dangles. And I’m enough of a Christian to know that at a certain point, I’m going to have to sacrifice some of my current absorption in my Art to focus more fully on my devotion to Christ.

It’s a fine line.  One way or the other, I can honestly say that I’m almost done with the initial draft of Eden in Babylon.  It’s been a long time coming — and it won’t be long now.  When I do write the words “The End” at the bottom of the document, I can assure you — you’ll be the first to know.

 

A Long and Winding Tunnel

The other day, another blogger cautioned me not to let my blogging get in the way of my Art.  She’s got a point there.  I reflected on this, and I realized that there have been days when I’ve put more energy into describing my project than I have into the actual project itself.  For this reason, I have decided that my earlier decision to try to post “every other day” is unrealistic.  I’ll post when I have something to say.  We must, after all, remember the wise words of Plato:  plato1

The fool speaks because he has to say something.  The wise man speaks because he has something to say. 

That said, I do have a couple things to say this morning.  I may be getting way ahead of myself here, but I worry about my song Children of the Universe being taken out of context.  In the musical, the Street Kids are fed up, they’re out in the elements, they have an inkling that they’d rather be “safe” in jail, and they decide to vandalize the homes of the wealthy where their friend, Winston Greene, was born, so they can go join him in jail after his wealthy birth family put him there.  It’s a vengeful act, and not an uncommon sentiment among those who feel they’ve been screwed left and right by society.  This is how revolutions have been started throughout history.

But once again, I’m a spiritual person, and a morally minded person.  Do I  myself advocate violent uprising against the bourgeoisie?  Actually, no — I do not.  I am a man of peace.   But I am trying to make a point here.  The point I’m trying to make is that if we don’t get a handle on the effects of classism in America, it’s probably going to happen.  Many people in the impoverished classes are incredibly frustrated that wealthy people seem at times to view their poverty as a moral failing.  They would prefer that people in the privileged classes respect them enough to at least listen to their points of view, and consider that what they have to say might be valid.  I am far from wealthy myself, but when I was even more impoverished than I am today, I felt this frustration.  I was simply receiving too many lectures from people who thought they knew the answers for me, when in reality they knew nothing about the world of poverty, and I often felt that I had a lot of answers for them.  But in general, they wouldn’t listen — and this was a frustration.

This frustration was shared by almost everyone else I knew who was in a similarly impoverished position.  Apparently, it was also compounded by the tensions of urban living.  This is one reason why I finally made the decision to relocate in a rural area, which is just about the wisest move I’ve ever made in my life.  Since then, my wrathful resentment toward those who flaunt their opulence has been reduced to a relatively mild disdain.  (We don’t “do” upper crust in this neck of the woods.)   

In light of that personal transformation, I would hate to go down as one who advocated violent revolt against the establishment – or against anyone or anything, for that matter.  But I wouldn’t mind going down as one who issued a warning that it’s probably about to happen if we don’t shape up.

The second thing I wanted to mention is that I’ve been vigorously working on the second Scene in Act Two and am beginning to see the light at the end of this particularly long and winding tunnel.   I have this odd feeling that the next time I put pen to paper, I’m probably not going to stop until the long-awaited moment arrives when I write the words “The End” at the bottom of the document.  This time, unlike my earlier efforts at getting this show on the road, I can see the end from the beginning.   For that progress, I may thank my  Writer’s Guild , my pastor, my Minister of Music, my friends in my current community of Artists and musicians — and all of you.  Without the support of other writers and like-minded thinkers, I would never have been able to reach this stage  — in fact, I wouldn’t have come near it.  So – what I have to say in closing is:

thankyoured

The Second Act

I’m currently lodged within an out-of-the-way fast food joint on the edge of town with a Wireless connection and a very limited number of customers on site.   I figure I’m removed enough from my ordinary itinerary that I’m not likely to be disturbed as I try to sink my teeth into the Opening of Act Two.

I did write four pages Monday morning before my first meeting with the therapist to whom I have been assigned.  I had been struggling for about three days with exactly how to begin the second Act, prior to its opening number: Hunted.   During those three days, there was a sequence of illuminations, each one drawing me closer to the point where I could confidently put pen to page.   Then, when I wrote those pages, I was rolling.  They were almost right.  However, the first time that new characters needed to arrive, I got stuck again.  Something was wrong.

I retreated into incubation; and arguably, into depression.  I really wanted to be rolling — to be flowing.  I don’t enjoy these lulls.  But once again, during the lull, I gradually received a substantial illumination.  It is now clear to me that if I want to know what the entrance of the new characters is all about, I’m going to have to go back and rewrite the first four pages.   Those four pages in and of themselves seem very effective, but they are not sufficiently continuous with the end of Act One.  The continuity that I need in order to proceed must be evident at the very beginning of the Act — not midway through the first Scene.  

light-goes-onSo the light had gone on, and I could relax a bit.  Still, none of this is as important to me at this moment as the substance of this first meeting with my therapist.  I had been nervous prior to seeing him.   I’m not a person who very readily places his trust in psychologists or psychiatrists.  At times, they have even seemed to be the very enemies of Art in my highly defensive view.  But this time, I had too much to get off my chest — and too much at stake.  Moreover, the doctor who recently diagnosed me as “mildly bipolar” strongly encouraged me to seek therapy in order to supplement the low dose of the mood stabilizer that he had prescribed.  So I was eager to meet with Dave, the therapist — though admittedly very nervous.  

To my surprise, Dave made me feel quite comfortable the moment I walked through the door.  As it turns out, he is from a musical family.  He himself is musical, as are his parents and siblings, and his daughter is a high school music teacher.  More crucially, he thinks like an Artist.  So I could tell that, as I discussed the dilemma of the Writer’s Block that had paralyzed me for three years, and its lingering effects, I sensed that he identified. 

When I finished my explanation, he said something very profound, and I quote:

Wherever Art is involved, the ego of the Artist
is something that the Artist will seek to protect at all costs.

His insight was that, in the manner in which I could not “take or leave” the perplexing implications in the professor’s critique (see this post), I was protecting my ego for the sake of my Art.  The manner in which I protected my ego was, unfortunately, to pester the professor, badger him, and possibly be perceived as a threat to his own well-being as I persistently tried to persuade him to clarify his mysterious review before it drove me nuts.  All the while, I was blocked against further work on the project, because I couldn’t rectify my respect for his opinion with the fact that I was unable to understand it.

His theory is that the professor himself, also being an Artist, had to protect his own ego, for the sake of his own professionalism.  He had hoped I would “take it or leave it.”  Had I been more professional, I most certainly would have left it.  Unfortunately, due to my very low station in life at the time, being lucky enough to have secured a 30-day stay in a homeless shelter during the Winter, with no possessions to my name other than the laptop which was, in fact, a gift from the professor, I was unable to ascend to the level of professionalism the professor expected of me.  In my downtrodden state of being, I considered that script to be all I had going for me.  Since the professor was the only person in the business who was paying any attention to me, I placed an inordinate amount of hope in his estimate of my work.  Then, when he “panned” me, I felt attacked.  So I protected myself – by fighting back.   He then protected his own self – by withdrawing, and eventually removing me from all Internet interfaces.

This all seemed somehow perfectly understandable.  Dave was able to help me see a broader view, in which the professor and I were more alike than different.  Our artistic egos are strangely locking horns in an invisible dimension of the Arts.  Both egos desire the horns to be unlocked.  It only takes one entity to unlock both horns.  I only have the power over the horns of one of the entities.  It’s time I unlocked the horns of my ego – and my ego will be at peace.

horns Dave then asked how the script was coming along now.  Perking up, I was able to convey the happy news, how the block first began to break at a cathartic Thanksgiving dinner, where a kind family from my church permitted me to express my angst without judging me or writing me off as some kind of petty bastard, wallowing in the bitterness of a broken friendship.   I shared how, gradually, more and more people in my community have tuned into my project, and have shown a surprising amount of support for my work.  But most of all, I shared how I had proceeded much further into the script than ever before, more slowly and carefully, reaching the end of Act One even, and on into the second Act.   The 91 pages now are far more evolved than the earlier 56 pages of relative drivel I submitted in haste to the previous professor.   Nor am I at an impasse or any kind of roadblock, but plowing steadily forward to the end of Act Two.  My creative life has been transformed far and away for the better, since the darker days of dejection, despair, and dependency upon the approval of a single, detached individual.  As I approach the end of the Second Act, I need neither praise nor blame.  My approval resounds from within and without me.  My God has accepted my work.

Highs and Lows

A while back, in my post The Creative Process, I wrote these words:

There is a theory, most notably espoused by Graham Wallas, that once a creator is fully committed to their creation, the creative act continues constantly, even when nothing is being considered consciously.  This process of unconscious creation is known as incubation.  Then, in conjunction with a moment of illumination, the creative process is consciously resumed.   Arguably, this is what took place during the week when it seemed that nothing was accomplished.  Suddenly, much was accomplished on a single day.   Of course, there are other theories as to why this could have come about. 

At the risk of being stigmatized or stereotyped, I’m going to open up about one such theory.  It is said that some very creative people have Bipolar Disorder; and it is also quite possible that I might be one of those people.  If so, it is possible that, for me, the stage of “incubation” corresponds to the low end of the bipolar mood swing, commonly referred to as depression.  Then, the stage of “illumination,” – and all the satisfying work that follows – may correspond to the high end of the swing, commonly referred to as mania  I’ve noticed that ever since I’ve been writing this play, I’ve been cycling back and forth between these two stages — whatever they’re to be called – and that the cycling has been occurring like clockwork.

However, when I read the symptoms of the disorder, they seemed to me to be much more extreme in general than what I was experiencing.  It may surprise you, for example, that I wasn’t so concerned about the low end of the ebb.   Sure I was depressed when my sister died.  Of course I was depressed when, three days later, we in America elected a reckless and unscrupulous, inexperienced buffoon to be our chief political officer.   I was also more than a little depressed whenever I was first trying to break through my three-year Writer’s Block, and could not get my mind off how my failure to make progress with this piece seemed inextricably linked to a failed 45 year friendship.  But as far as depression that would be experienced as part of a cyclic mood swing — no, I did not experience depression at any level nearly commensurate with the awful accounts I read about.  If anything, I felt a bit annoyed that I seemed creatively dry, and I was eager for the situation to change. 

It was what happened when the situation changed that concerned me.  True, I would have incredibly satisfying bursts of long-winded creative accomplishment, such as the day when I wrote for sixteen hours.  It’s also true that I would sometimes enter into elation, and feel that I needed neither sleep nor food, on the premise that my soul was being fed.  While excessive goal orientation and loss of interest in food or sleep are both known symptoms of a bipolar “manic episode,” I still wasn’t concerned.  What concerned me was that I became so happy that I was finally getting into my script again, after an infuriating three year Writer’s Block, I could barely sleep at night for excitement.  All I could do was lay awake in bed at night fantasizing about who was going to be playing what part on Broadway, and what my acceptance speech would look like when I picked up my Tony Award.

So I went to the clinic and saw a doctor, who had me fill out a simple questionnaire.  He wound up diagnosing me as “mildly bipolar,” and put me on a low dosage of a bipolar medication.   This turn of events seemed reasonable to me.  My level of bipolarity, so to speak, is not so huge as to cause gross disruptions in my personal, social, and professional relationships.  However, it is pronounced enough to have caused me to become concerned and seek medical attention, before the situation should worsen.

It has now been ten days since I began taking the medication.   Although at first I didn’t enjoy its effects at all, I’ve begun to notice some things that I can’t help but interpret as positive.   Let me list a few:

  1. If a problem is solved during Writers Guild meetings as a result of intelligent feedback from the other Writers, I don’t become so excited about it that I can’t focus on applying the solution.
  2. I no longer lay awake in bed all night fantasizing about future successes, but rather wind down normally, do some light reading, and drift off into sleep.
  3. I’m more relaxed in my work situation, and less anxious about missing my cues.
  4. Probably most significantly, the amount of time spent in what I’ve been calling the “incubation” or “depressed” period is significantly reduced – at no expense whatsoever to the amount of time spent in the highly productive period.  The only difference is that I am now more inclined to stop the production, get some food or rest, and continue the high level of productivity the next day.

As to point #4 above, I’m in the process of getting the first Scene of Act two prepared, which will include the musical number I call Hunted.  I wrote this in 2012, when I first conceived of this musical, as described on this page.   I’m eager to finish the lyrics, and apply its dynamics to the current incarnation of Eden in Babylon.   In the meantime, I’ve linked to a instrumental recording of it below.  It is my hope, like that of any other Artist, that you will take a few minutes to enjoy and appreciate my work.

Hunted

from Eden in Babylon
Copyright © 2012, 2o17 by Andrew Michael Pope.
All Rights Reserved.

Done with Act One!

As I wrote the words “End of Act One” at the bottom of p.86, I looked at the computer clock.  It was 6:45am.

No – I did not stay up all night.  True, I got to work on time last night by the skin of my teeth.  A phone call to announce I’d been searching for my missing keys seemed appropriate.  Granted, the keys were only missing for about five seconds.  But at least I didn’t lie about it.

Four hours of work was fine.  I concentrated well on the job, when called for.  I was unusually silent during dinner hour — and I’m sure you all know why. 

As soon as I got home, I grabbed my laptop and headed to the Bagel Shop.  There I remained until the first rush of drunken students arrived.  I returned to my room, and wrote till midnight.  As the clock struck twelve, I gave up.  I had been belaboring the end of the Act for so long to no avail, I’m sure all the Muses were snoring in their sleep from boredom.  Soon, I was snoring too.

And it’s a good thing.  I got up at around 4am, took my thyroid medication, drank some water, did some reading, made some coffee, called a friend, and finally braved the unknown. 

Then, what didn’t happen last night happened this morning.  It was uncanny.  It’s a rare experience, and very difficult to describe.  The same experience occurred when I wrote the Siddhartha Monologue, and the lyrics to “Midnight Screams.”  The rush of creative fire ripped through my bloodstream.  It practically burned through my pores.  As I wrote the “oracle” that my protagonist, Winston Greene, is supposed to be “receiving” at the end of the Act, it was as though I myself were receiving it — from somewhere.   It couldn’t have happened last night, either.  Last night all I did was stare brain-dead at the page.  It must have happened when it was meant to happen; for this morning, I was on fire.

tom
Tom McKenzie

Honestly, I got so excited when the final verses of the song came about, I could barely focus to write.  Mercifully, I was able to contain myself just long enough to finish the Act.  At that, I heard the voice of my Theatre Arts mentor, the late Tom McKenzie, clearly saying what he no doubt would have said to me at that moment – God rest his soul.

“And now, it’s time for you to put it aside for a while.”

This calls for a glass of wine.

At the End of the Act

This will be very brief, since I have to be at Taize service at my church in 45 minutes, and I like to show up a half hour early to run through the music with the conductor. 

I didn’t write at all on Sunday, and in fact felt lethargic and innervated throughout the day.  Once errands and other life-related tasks were out of the way yesterday, I began writing with vigor, and stopped after finishing the first major confrontation between my protagonist and one of the two main male antagonists.

taize

Today, I am almost at the End of Act One, having completed 83 pages of text, which will extend to a greater number of pages once I fill in some song lyrics to the big showstopper at the end of the Act. 

In a way, I wish I didn’t have to go to work for the next four hours.  But in another way, it might be the best thing for me.  The Taize service, followed by a church dinner, and finally Choir rehearsal, will “get me out of my head” and give some of the quick decisions I have made in the past few hours a chance to ruminate.  I was hoping to get it all done before church tonight.  It’s a good thing I didn’t, because it would have been sub-par.   But it’s a good thing I rushed to a self-imposed quasi-deadline, because I got a lot done, despite myself.

I believe I will be finished with Act One later on tonight.   Doubtless, I will not let myself rest until I am. 

Day of Rest?

I don’t know what came over me yesterday.  I started writing at around eight in the morning, wrote steadily until it was time to attend the Writer’s Guild I joined, and wrote with vigor throughout the meeting, while getting sharing feedback with the other Writers.  Encouraged, I was in a state of great confidence and enthusiasm afterwards, and  I wound up writing up to the end of p.62 in my script. This was almost the end of Scene Four. But I stopped at around midnight, since I wasn’t quite sure how to wrap it up.  This was sixteen fairly solid hours of productive work.  I don’t know what to make of it.

Somehow, the first-time connection with other writers in my community gave me such a strong feeling of welcome and belonging, I cast all my doubts and my sense of obligation aside, and thoroughly enjoyed a slow, steady process of creating the best Scene Four I could ever hoped to have created — that is, up until the very end.

angel-at-restAfter church this morning, I took a much needed nap. Then I put on the coffee, and got at it again. I vaguely sensed it was somehow wrong not to take the day off, it being Sunday, and me being the type of person who concerns himself with honoring God on the Day of Rest. But I felt that the ending was brewing deep down in my unconscious mind, issuing a Commandment to do it justice that was equally as strong as the Fourth Commandment. So I decided to have a go at it — and I did not resist.

Then something came over me. It was a mysterious burst of passion, and it enabled me to finish the Scene. I looked at it — and I saw that it was good. As I did so, I looked at the clock. It was 6:00pm exactly. This reminded me of what happened at the moment when I finished the Siddhartha Monologue, and saw that it was 4:00am exactly. Something had come over me in that night as well — also a rare burst of mysterious passion.

When the Scene was done, the passion left me – suddenly and completely, leaving not a trace. The bells on the neighborhood church struck six. Somehow I knew that I was forgiven. The true Day of Rest had begun.

A Week Off?

I have a week off.  I don’t have the wherewithal to take a “vacation” — and this is a good thing.   I’m thinking that the time will better be spent mostly staying at home, not only working on my musical, but in personal solitude and reflection.  For although I have been happy to have broken the Writer’s Block that had hindered me for three years, there has been something unhealthy about the way I’ve been proceeding.  I think it’s time I take a deeper look at this.

For one thing, I’ve been assuming that outside of food, rest, work, and exercise, the writing of this libretto is the only thing I should be doing.  In the process, I’ve all but abandoned the scoring of music that I used to do religiously, six days a week, with my  music notation software.  This has thrown me off balance.  As I’ve mentioned numerous times in this blog, the process of composing, arranging, and sequencing music with this software is therapeutic for me.  If I make it a daily practice, there’s something about it that benefits me spiritually.

So, I turned my attention to a rearrangement of my piece, The Royal Rhapsody.   The first arrangement was too empty for me; the second too overwhelming with the string section.  I think this third take strikes a more pleasant balance.   It’s more listenable, in my opinion.


I’m hoping that, as I resume the practice of scoring music for two to three hours each day, the rest of my life, including my work on the musical script, will come to a better balance.  I think I’m off to a pretty good start.  I hope you will take a few minutes to listen to the piece posted above.  It was scored and sequenced entirely with Finale software.  I’m actually rather proud of it, and I hope you enjoy my work.

On Identifying with Darkness

On the script, there have been a few developments. I know if Jack is reading, he’ll be interested in these internal turns of event. My friend Danielle has strongly urged me to truck through the impasses even if what I am writing is lousy – and bless her heart, that does make sense. She’s a writer herself (a good one), and so she knows the basics of hammering out the “rough draft from the heart, final draft from the mind.” But in this case, I found that it absolutely is not working to do this, for rather unexpected reasons.

What happened when I tried was that I led the characters into this really weird place where I found myself actually identifying with their darker attributes.   Then, although arguably I might have been writing something that was artistically good, it wasn’t spiritually good, and I myself had to cease from the writing process, in order to cease from personal sin.   Also, it took the script into this very strange tangent where it really ought not to have tread.  When I looked at it the next morning, it looked as though it had awkwardly morphed into an entirely different show.

This has caused me to question the extent to which I dramatically feel the inner intentions and motivations of my characters. As a result, I have decided to cease writing whenever I encounter that energy. This is causing me to transform the nature of the protagonist-antagonist dynamics in my characters and their associated conflicts. I’m bearing in mind that their conflicts pertain largely to ideological differences in worldview. Ms. Mortalis (I’m starting to hate that name) is attuned toward detecting the criminal aspects of all people – that’s her nature. She’s a suspicious person. It doesn’t mean she herself is a criminal – she’s just tuned in that way. Winston is more of an idealist who tends to see social evils while overlooking personal evils, and who exults in drawing out the good in all people. This dynamic is what causes their intrigue pertaining to each other, and is at the thrust of all their interactions.

It’s weird to be writing a show that I didn’t finish three years ago, and to be painfully determined to finish it, as opposed to picking up an entirely new project, one that I might easily finish joyfully.  But I somehow feel a moral obligation to do so.  Also, I must admit that my new friend Mary has been more than encouraging. She’s a musical theater actress – and the choir director at my church – and I’ve noticed that she grasps the kinds of themes I’m trying to convey.  The last person who put any real effort into reading this piece was the professor I mentioned earlier.  It’s pretty obvious that either he didn’t grasp what I was trying to do; or if he did, it irked him on some strange personal level — otherwise, he would not have employed character assassination in his critique.  

So, on the up-and-up, it’s nice to have at least one person in my life who is willing to read what I’m writing, and whose comments are more attuned to what it is that I’m trying to accomplish.  Also, a handful of local theater people and a couple of journalists have tuned into it, which sort of increases my sense of mandate to get it into producible form.  I guess the next step would be, once this draft is finished, to organize a sit-down read-thru and just see how it reads. I do need to get a move on.

Danielle’s advice makes sense, but I also know that she is trying to protect me from experiencing further rage toward the professor, whose involvement in those whole thing is nil from his standpoint (of course) and ought to be nil from mine. But that’s my strange personal Cross, involving the sense of failed friendship and abandonment.  I literally have to force myself not to think about him as I write.  If I do so, I become too depressed, and I can’t go on.

But I will keep at it, unlike what I may have said earlier, when I was discouraged.

A Manifestation of the Divine

Because this blog is supposed to be about the creative process and how it fits into my spiritual perspective, I must report that I had another mysterious experience of affirmation and synchronicity that validated, for the time, my path.

As I probably have mentioned many times, I wrote a number of tunes “in my head” while I was walking about the notorious college community in which I once attempted to live.  I had no computer in those days, and I’ve never been very good at writing by hand.  So I kept track of all the different parts in my mind and resolved that when I was better off I would obtain a computer and notate the music using my Finale software.  One such song is Bubbles Taboo.

If you bothered to click on that link, you no doubt noticed that it led to a song of standard studio length, approximately three minutes long.  But it was supposed to involve both a lengthier introduction and a substantial instrumental break prior to the recapitulation of the main theme.  I just hadn’t gotten around to sequencing those sections at the time.

The instrumental break involved many modulations – so many that I had never even bothered to count them until tonight.  Their number is twelve.  Observe:

C  – G – F – C – Bb – F – G – A – G – D – G- C

See?  Twelve separate keys.  (Now some of those keys might be more majory than minorish, but since they’re all bluesy, I left out those details.  If you’re a musician, you probably understood that statement.  If you are not a musician, you probably aren’t reading this blog.)

Not only did I have no idea how many modulations were involved, but I also had no idea what key I was going to wind up in.  But look: I wound up in the same key – C – from which I started.   Now what are the chances of that?  Since there are twelve tones in the chromatic scale, the chances are one out of twelve.  In other words, the odds are eleven to one against it.

If you don’t believe me, check it out.   The break with the twelve modulations takes place between 3:50 and 5:00 on this 5:36 clip. 

“Bubbles Taboo”

Copyright © 2016 by Andrew Michael Pope.
All Rights Reserved.

See?  It lands on the same key it started on, the key of C, after all those modulations.  Ir could have landed on any other key – but it landed on C, against the odds.  But that’s not all.

What are the chances that the number of keys in the break would be the same number as the number of pitches in the scale; that is to say, the number twelve?  Or that the mystic-laden break would end at exactly 5:00, for that matter?  Quickly, things becomes astronomical.

Although there is a chance that it is all a coincidence, isn’t there a far greater chance that this was on some level the process of elegant unconscious creative incubation, or – better yet – a manifestation of divine principles?   I hold the latter to be self-evident.  Music, as I will attest to my dying day, is a Manifestation of the Divine.

The Love of God in Art

Recently, as I was trying to get a handle on the concept of the “love of money” being the “root of all evil,” I naturally turned to these Scriptures:

For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that. Those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs. – 1 Timothy 6:7-10

As I was pondering how common it is for people to be lured into money worship in our society, and to place the love of money before the love of God, it suddenly dawned on me that I know plenty of “starving Artists” who place the love of Art before the love of God, and even before the love of money — otherwise they wouldn’t be starving.  This bothered me for a bit.  Where in the Bible is this dynamic addressed?  On the one hand, it seems rather noble to let yourself starve for the sake of something you love.  On the other hand, one doesn’t generally accomplish great things on an empty stomach; and no having starved to death accomplishes anything at all. 

Then it dawned on me that the Bible does indeed address this dynamic.  For the Artist intent on creating some great work of Art is in essence no different  from an architect building a house, or a homemaker creating a home, or any other person trying to achieve the completion of a project through which one hopes to find fulfillment in life. 

By wisdom a house is built,
    and through understanding it is established;
 through knowledge its rooms are filled
    with rare and beautiful treasures. 

– Proverbs 24:3-4

There is a right way and a wrong way to go about anything.  The right way is the wise way; and it is not wise to prioritize the creation over the basic needs of the person attempting to create it.  In Art, this would be true of a piece of any content, whether its purpose is to glorify God or not.  If the Artist intends to glorify God, then it is also unwise to prioritize the creation over the Creator.

Unless the LORD builds the house, those who build it labor in vain. – Psalm 127:1

Whatever it is that I am personally trying to accomplish, I would be wise to hearken to the words of Jesus:

Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash. – Matthew 7:24-27

Why build my house on the shifting sand, only to watch it collapse come rainfall?  Far better to build my house on the Rock — and the Rock is Christ.