Gratitude List 1423

(1) Thankful for the current mania, because I’m in good spirits and getting a lot accomplished.

(2) Thankful for the recent depression, because I got caught up on my sleep and gave my head a rest.

(3) Thankful that I am only mildly and not severely bipolar, because managing this disorder without medication has been both a challenge and a source of beauty in my life.

(4) When I contemplate how hugely I’ve been blessed, I almost feel guilty that I’m not doing my best to return the favor.  But it’s a good feeling, a quasi-guilt, kinda more like a heartfelt conviction than a self-abnegation.

(5) Am really enjoying Ashley’s book.  She writes very clearly and is obviously an expert on mental health conditions & the DSM-5.

(6) I’m being called upon by the people at the coffee house to subdue the erratic energies of the people from the recovery center next door, which I believe is impossible.  However, what I’m grateful for is that someone would consider me mature and responsible enough to be in such a mediating position.   Usually it’s my own energies that they want to subdue.

(7) I’m also being called upon to fill the shoes of my musician friend Paul, who passed away suddenly last month.   A number of the younger musicians and even their parents are turning to me, because Paul was such a great mentor.  While I don’t know that I can follow his act, it’s a good feeling to be thought of as someone who might.

(8) I’m starting to realize that all these things that I tend to perceive as “Mainstream Stress” — the kind of stress that broke me down in 2004 and landed me on the streets for 12 years — are better seen as marvelous opportunities for me to show my shine.

(9) “To whom much is given, much is expected.”

(10) I’m not too manic, I don’t think.  Tears are happening, and they are cleansing.  One day I believe God will wipe every tear from our eyes.   There’s a lot of good in this Universe — we just gotta find it and do something with it.  God is Good.

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Homeless in Mayfield: Part One

One of the great buried treasures I’ve been able to dig up since having lived indoors these past two and a half years is a folder full of pasted timeline posts preserved from a long-deleted Facebook.  All of them display the cavalier attitude of a homeless Artist given to brutal sarcasm as a coping mechanism.  

I just finished reading three consecutive entries about harsh treatment by the local officers of the peace, shortly after I had vacated the Berkeley homeless scene in favor of a low crime district in an all White, sheltered upper-crust community.  The name of the city is not actually Mayfield — but if you ever watched “Leave it to Beaver,” you’ll get my drift.

Well — I’ve humbled my head full of hubris just enough to figure out where the food is on Friday. As a result, I’ll be attending my first feed since having found myself home-free in this fine town of wealth and promise (whose name is being with-held until further notice.) It will be taking place at 6:30, and I’m looking forward to what fashion of food will be fed at the commons to the commoners.

Moreover, in the passage of time, I’ve realized that the tone of desperation in my universal Facebook appeal for “shelter with dignity” could conceivably have been off-putting. It’s well-known that I am not permitted into friends’ and family’s homes during the holiday season because I have a reputation of being “manic.” No one wants their walls bounced off by a belligerent birdbrain of such ill repute. And of course, the penalty for such a hyper-active mind is — you guessed it: homelessness.

AFree Homelessness Cliparts, Download Free Clip Art, Free Clip Art on Clipart Libraryll sarcasm aside, I recognize that in the absence of mariijuana, my overall energy level is off the charts. Therefore I amend my earlier proposal. Just kick down the good weed, guys. Who cares about “vibrancy?” It only got me to complete a rough draft of a long-desired libretto to a musical that, unlike the last two I wrote (and promptly shelved), I actually believe in for once. No doubt I should have stopped smoking pot — among other things — much earlier in life. My apologies for such reprobate tardiness.

Now – to figure out where and how to sleep tonight, being as a certain red-hot hot-shot hog of a cop saw fit to do a sweep of my only Spot thus far evoked, as he poked his blaring brights my way, thus scaring the daylights out of the would-be dirt-bag he had wished would have been me. 

So bright was that light at its closest, grossest height – that long into night I could still scarcely see. There but for God’s grace goes Me.

© A. Pope 2014

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Statement to the World

I’m finally going to try to adhere to my earlier stated concept.   I’m going to try to make sure that six posts of six different natures are each posted here at 7:30am PST, Monday thru Friday, with Saturday off.  

Why am I going to try and do this?  It’s not necessarily for the sake of creating a decent, appealing blog here.  That’s part of it.  But it’s a bit deeper than that.

People who have been diagnosed with mental health conditions are often regarded as unstable, incompetent, or insane.   It is generally held that we are flaky, unpredictable, and unreliable.  We can’t hold down jobs, and people can’t tell which way we’re going next, or where we are going to land — if we are going to land.   So, naturally, I would like to do my best to dispel that stigma.

So far, however, I can’t help but feel that all I am doing is proving them right.  My Tuesday Tuneup often shows up on Wednesday — if not Thursday, or even Monday.  There is no consistency whatsoever as to the times that any of the posts show up.   I don’t always take Saturdays off, and in fact the Friday piano video often gets postponed till Saturday or later.  Frequently, I disappear for a few days (while probably in a depressed funk), and then try to “make up for lost time” by, for example, posting the Wednesday speech, the Thursday “blog of substance,” and maybe even the Friday piano video all on the same day, which might even be Sunday.

The point is, no consistency.

How can I possibly dispel the notion that those of us who have diagnosed mental health conditions are unstable, inconsistent flakes if I don’t get it together and bring some order to the table?

Well, obviously, I can’t.   But that doesn’t mean I might not be — er – biting off more than I can chew.  Still, I’m going to give it the ol’ college try, one more time.   You will see this post tomorrow at 7:30am PST, rain or shine.   The mail must go through, and the show must go on.

idiotsavant-tshirt
Severe ADHD, Dyslexia, Bipolar One Hypomanic Disorder, PTSD & Blah Blah blah.

Sigh.

There’s even more to it than this.

People with mental health conditions are often very talented, vibrant people when given their chance to shine.   To meet me in real life, I might not be the most charismatic fellow on the face of the planet, but I do have some specific talents in certain key areas.  My writing isn’t all that bad, for one thing.  It’s good enough to have been published this past year, anyway, for the first time in my life.   You can’t say I’m a bad piano player, and I’m told I’m a pretty good speaker — although admittedly, it’s a lot easier to make a speech in my dining room using the voice recorder app on my lady friend’s smartphone than it would be to stand behind a podium and boldly address the multitudes.

However, somebody whom I respected once told me this:

“You act as though all these talents of yours make up for all your bad qualities.”

While that’s certainly debatable (if not hurtful), I can see where she was coming from.  The particular skills of expertise do not make up for bad qualities in other areas.  I’ve even said it myself, in so many words.   We live in a society that values competence, and devalues moral integrity.  And I hate to say it, but I’m pretty sure the person who said that to me felt that I was morally lax.

But there’s another facet to all of this.   While skillful expertise cannot compensate for moral turpitude, it can compensate for the lack of expertise in other areas.   I am horribly incompetent when it comes to most jobs, because my mind is largely incapable of panoramic focus.  I can only focus myopically.  If there is more than one thing I need to keep my mind on for any significant period of time, my mind will fail me.  I will screw up.  It will be noticeable and frustrating to my coworkers, and I like-as-not will be fired.

They call this Severe ADHD and Dyslexia.  Other aspects of my personality have been dubbed Bipolar One and Hypomanic.   Throw in a little PTSD, and the O.G.’s pretty much a mess.

Given all that, to cut to the quick, why should I not be focusing on the things that I can do?  I’ve spent most of my life trying to excel at things at which I suck, just because they happen to be the things that make money in this world.  But now I’m an Old Guy, and I’m on Social Security, and why not just take some time to show the world what I’m really made of?

In fact, if I don’t do so, I would feel like I’m shirking a calling of mine.   Yes, a calling – of which this post is a part.  

My disability landed me in a gutter for damn near twelve years, where none of these special gifts I have to offer were given the chance to shine.   While my ascent from that gutter to a decent apartment in another part of the world was rapid, sudden, unanticipated, and miraculous, that ascent would be meaningless if I didn’t do something with it.  For I am no less disabled, no less “incompetent,” than I was when I was sleeping under a bridge.   

The difference is not in my personality.  The difference is that I have been granted favorable circumstances in life, in such a form that the gifts with which I hope to bless you actually are given a chance to shine.

And that alone is the essence of my Statement to the World.  Not every homeless person is a worthless, low-life scum bag.  In fact, none of them are — because no person on Earth needs to be saddled with that tag.   Every person is redeemable and salvageable, for our Father in Heaven desires that none will be consigned to perdition, but that all will be preserved and saved.   So, if I don’t hide my light under a bushel, and I don’t let it shine before humanity, then people will not glorify the Maker of All Things — and yet, that’s what life’s all about.  (It’s also 2 Peter 3:9, Matthew 5:16, and Ecclesiastes 12:13 in a nutshell — and the reason I know this is because I just looked ’em up.)

So I’ll give it a go.   If you’re reading these words, it means it’s 7:30am PST or after.  If you’re not, you’re not.  Wish me luck.

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Gratitude List 824

(1) Grateful for my lady friend.  If it weren’t for her stabilizing influence, I would have never gotten it together to record the Eden in Babylon demo.   

(2) Grateful that, after all this time, the demo has actually been completed.  Can’t wait to hear the mix.

(3) Grateful that now that it’s over, I will finally have time to give quality time to my daughter.  

(4) Grateful that the money to pay for demo costs came together more-or-less miraculously right in the nick of time, and all of it came from anonymous donations to the pool.

(5) Relieved that I am no longer manic like I was during the 48 hour period of pretty much non-stop preparation for this project.

(6) Grateful that when I got home from the recording session last night, there was no part of me that felt a need to “keep working.”  Instead, my entire being wanted to enjoy my night with my lady friend, and look peacefully into her beautiful blue eyes.

(7) Although, when I was manic, I thought this project was the most important thing in the world, I am relieved and thankful that when I got home last night, I realized that it was no big deal.  

(8) Grateful both for all the years when I slaved away as a servant for the super-rich, and all the years of enduring indignity and dehumanization on the cold city streets.   I have experienced both extremes.  Most people are not fortunate enough to even have experienced one of them.

(9) Grateful that No. 8 above has done nothing but fuel my philosophical fire.

(10) Let the Philosopher now prevail over the Artist.  I’ve got a job to do on this Earth – and nothing can stop me now.

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The Revelation of Humanity

It was the year 2008 — the year in which I lost over half of my so-called “friends” and at least one close member of my extended family by sending a single three-sentence email that I guess they couldn’t handle.   The word “homelessness” might as well not have even existed in that email. 

The few friends who cared wrote back with advice that had to do with anything and everything other than the fact that for over four years now, it had been all I could do to keep a roof over my head.  One person even advised me to look at its contents when I was “sober” — as though assuming that a person had to be drunk in order to express that he could no longer handle the ongoing conditions of Homelessness.   I had written that somebody had to believe in me enough to let them stay at their house long enough so I could get back on my feet — or else, I would do something drastic.

I would take my own life.

Record gales were assaulting my entire body in Golden Gate Park.  Do I die of hypothermia tonight, or do I spare myself the trouble and do the deed of my own courage and power?   I had just heard yet another landlady claim that I had to leave my cottage because her daughter was separating from her husband and needed to move in. In California, they call this an “Owner Move In.”  It’s the easiest way to get rid of a renter whom you don’t happen to like.

I had been working as an accompanist for a Gilbert and Sullivan company, the Stanford Savoyard Players, at the time.  When I lost the cottage, the musical director kept paying for my motel rooms so I could finish the show.  This was more than gracious of him, but of course I could not expect such treatment to continue once the show was over.

I had been in so many different programs, shelters, and board-and-care homes — in addition to all the rentals that somehow only led to irreconcilable conflicts, owner move-ins, and finally a crash landing back on the streets — I had stopped counting long ago.  None of those situations had ever put a single dent in the rock hard armor that is Homelessness.

In this case, I guess my $900 monthly disability money vis a vis my $550 rent was making the landlady nervous.    And though she knew I’d landed the Stanford gig after finishing my opera coach service at Peninsula Teen Opera, she still came up with the Owner Move In.  Last I checked, her daughter never even moved in.   Guess she didn’t like the way I looked. 

Sure, I remember pacing the floor in her living room, when I was supposed to be staying inside the college.  I remember her approaching me, asking: “How did I ever wind up with the likes of you?”

I remember the incredulity she expressed when she didn’t believe that all of my family members were refusing to let me stay with them.

“But why should they let me stay with them?”  I asked her.  “You won’t even let me stay with you, even though I’m paying rent.”

“You’ve got a point there,” she shrugged.   And of course, she still kicked me out on my ass.

coldest winter san francisco

So the show ended, and a couple days later I found myself completely lost in the kind of “summer” that Mark Twain claimed to be the “coldest winter he had ever spent.”    I crawled into the Simple Pleasures Cafe on Balboa, and after breaking my last five dollar bill, bought a minimum three dollar hour on their public computer.

It was then that, overwhelmed with despair, I emailed at least one hundred people at once with these words:

I am stuck in a T-shirt out in Golden Gate Park in the freezing cold wind, and I do not believe I can make it through night.  I am writing to let you all know that I can no longer handle the ongoing conditions of Homelessness.   Please, somebody let me stay over tonight, or show me where I can go, because at this time, I am prepared to take my own life, to avoid what I feel is coming.

And though I indeed lost at least a hundred formerly positive contacts with a single email, the revelation of humanity that poured forth from exactly three people whom I hardly knew was astonishing.

An Actress: Andy, I’ve been there.  Give me your number; I will do everything I can possibly do to help you.

A Bartender: Andy, I’m driving over from Lodi to get you.   Tell me where you are — my dad says you can stay at his house for a night or two.

A Poet: Andy, check your PayPal.  I just shot you eighty bucks.  Get yourself a hotel room, get inside for tonight, and take it from there.  Tomorrow is another day.

Of course, the final offer was of most immediate appeal.  I used my last two dollars to hop on a SamTrans bus and check into a cheap motel in Belmont for the night.

In the morning, I woke up, scratched my head, and scanned my options.  I knew that Greg the bartender was willing to come get me.  But it seemed as though something more important needed to happen first.  So, I walked up the hill to Sequoia Hospital, and told them everything I just told you. 

I explained how my job contracts had ended, and how it would be a bit of a lull before I could find another gig.  I expressed how I had thought that surely now, with both employment and a rental, I should have managed to get back on my feet.  Before, I explained, I either didn’t have a job or I didn’t have a place to live.  This time, I had managed to muster up both at once.   And yet still the Homelessness loomed larger than any of that. 

I told them how two nights prior, I had written to all of my family members to beseech them to let me stay at their homes for just a couple nights, and no one at all replied.  I told them I had been trying to deal with my mental health issues ever since a first-time manic episode in the year 2004 had lost me my job, my car, and my home.  I told them how every time I entered into some kind of program, something would happen, something having to do with my inability to get along with others in close quarters, and I would get kicked out.  Or else I would finish the program, and then what?   Where would I go?  All roads, I told them, led to Homelessness.

I told them I completely understood why people didn’t want to have me over, because I probably would’t want me over either.  But at the same time, I asked them, where is compassion?  Who has a heart?   Can’t somebody bend for a little while?  When is anybody going to realize that I’m not going to be able to solve any of my “boundary issues” or exacerbations of ADHD or bipolar disorder if I don’t find that somebody loves me enough to make a simple sacrifice – and yet, nobody will.

“Can I possibly be that bad of a piece of shit that nobody will let me stay with them?”  I asked them.  “I’ve let homeless guys stay at my place before.   I didn’t like having my space invaded either, but I had compassion.   Sure, Tony slept for twelve hours and left a mess in the kitchen.  So what?   Was I supposed to let him die out in Golden Gate Park on a night like this?  Why can’t they get that I won’t be able to solve any of these other problems of mine if I can’t first solve the much more enormous problem that is Homelessness? 

“And why, why, why doesn’t anybody love me anymore?” I cried.  “How can they keep saying they ‘love’ me, yet forbidding me to even so much as knock on their door, or to come over for Christmas dinner?  What is wrong with me?  Am I that horrible of a human being that, for all of my God-given gifts and musical abilities, I am supposed to die in a damn gutter?   Why can’t anybody give me a break?”

I shut my mouth and ceased my appeal.  I looked in their eyes, fully expecting them to say the usual:

I’m sorry, Andy.  We’re not a spa or a ski resort.  I know you want to get your meds fixed and find some help here, but we can’t just let every homeless person on earth over for a 72-hour stay.   We feel for you, but you will just have to receive help for your condition somewhere else.

Tears were flowing down my eyes.  I stayed silent and gazed at the three women in front of me, who in turn gazed at me. 

And I tell you — when those three social workers rushed up and hugged me, I remembered again the Revelation of Humanity — that inkling of hope, not just for me, but for the entire human race.   

I was not a piece of shit.

I was not “worthless homeless scum.”

I was not a “dirt bag.”

I was a human being who needed and deserved real help.  

Sure, I lost at least eighty professional contacts, maybe twenty people I had thought were my friends, and another person whom I very much love, with a single email.   But what I gained from this experience was far greater.

I thought I would end my meaningless, worthless life.  Instead, my life of worth and meaning had just begun.   

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Of Creation and Control

I’m writing on a text file in Open Office. I have the emerging text to The Oracle Sequence open on another file. I’m making a conscious point of avoiding the typical Internet venues on which I write. That means WordPress, DiaryLand, Facebook, Twitter, and all email-related interfaces, such as Zoho or G-Mail. I’m trying to break certain negative associations I have developed with all of those venues, for they seem to be thwarting my progress on this particularly pertinent portion of my project.  Never before have I felt such an enormity in the gap that separates the degree of my desire to progress with the degree of my actual progress, as pertains to a specific project or piece. I want nothing more than to begin making substantial progress on this project. I want the piece to “break.”

But let me explain what I mean by “break.” I use this expression a lot, but I don’t often take the time to clarify what I mean.

ionescoWhenever I am in the process of creating something substantial, my progress seems to proceed extremely slowly for the first several days, taxing my patience. But I endure, for the knowledge that at some point soon, the piece will “break.” When it breaks, it is as though floodgates have been opened. Where the rate of progress before was tortuously slow, all of a sudden I am progressing at a very rapid, steady pace. The process of producing the piece has begun to “flow.” With that sudden huge burst of energy comes a renewed confidence. I no longer brood with the sense that the inevitable break I await will be delayed interminably. Instead, I exult in the creative process.   Whereas, days or hours earlier — or even moments earlier — various aspects of the process seemed to pose nothing but horrific obstacles toward my progress, they now seem to work marvelously in my favor, as if by magic.  And before you can bat an eye, I feel that I am actually completing the piece in question.

You heard me: completing the piece.  The prospect of its elusive completion no longer buzzes about my brain like an annoying insect I can never manage to swat.  Completion occurs readily, rapidly, precisely — and in fact, numerous times

“What?” you may ask.  “How can completion occur numerous times?   You just got finished telling me that until this thing ‘broke,’ you couldn’t even complete it once.” 

That’s a very logical question, and please allow me to explain.  For you see, it seems I’ve substituted one problem for another one.

What happens after the piece “breaks” is that, in my greatly increased productivity, I get from A to Z so fast that my emotions can barely handle the sudden positive turn of events, and I decide that everybody needs to know about it.  So I gleefully send out a “completed” version of my piece to all my dearest friends and family members, hoping they will be as excited at the surprise “completion” as I am.  But then, little do they barely have the chance to open their email, when BAM!  I decide that the recently completed version wasn’t quite good enough; and so I send a second version of the piece; say, Version “1-B.” 

After that, I send Version 1-C, and then Versions 1-D thru F, and so on down the line.  People in my life are suddenly receiving so many versions of some new work of mine, they naturally have no idea when the bombardment will cease, and exactly which of the many versions, if any, they should bother with.  

correlationWhile this is happening, I vaguely sense that there is something wrong with my approach.  Oh, I understand exactly why this pattern has come into being.   The hugeness of the moment when the piece finally “breaks” is typically too much for me emotionally.  You see, I had been frustrated for days, perhaps weeks, all around a relatively insignificant creative project of mine; for example, this polishing of The Oracle Sequence that has come to receive such prominence in my head lately.  But once The Oracle Sequence “breaks,” then to whatever extent that I had earlier been impatient and frustrated, I will now have become just as excited, and in fact, full of glee.  Excited, exuberant, and gleeful.  I feel almost mischievous at that level of enthusiasm.  In that sudden, newfound elation, it will be extremely difficult for me not to burst forth with a constant, incessant gush, exulting in the experience of excitement that so elates me, and exuding that ecstasy upon the world.

But when I do this, I forget that the world is not necessarily predisposed to tuning into the value of my creation at that moment.  Moreover, the world does not necessarily care about my creation — at least not yet. If I want them to care in some future, positive scenario; then probably I shouldn’t be bombarding them prematurely as though to prove my prowess and prodigy in an a priori fashion. Wouldn’t it be better to hold back, until I really have a product worth releasing; and even then, to release it to the world with humility, and grace?

graham_wallasOf course it would be. I therefore must commit myself to terminate my earlier practice, difficult though that termination may be to effect emotionally.   I need to cease to involve all my close friends and family members in my process.   Henceforth I will not even go online, not even to WordPress, but do all my work in secret, offline, where nobody will see me, and where I will nor be tempted to share my work prematurely.  Far better will it be for me to regard this wonderful burst of creativity as a private matter, something that speaks for the ineffable unity of the Creative Mind.   In this way, it is akin to the moment of “illumination” delineated by Graham Wallas in his work on the four stages of the creative process.  According to this model, the previous period of frustration and confusion actually parallels an unconscious process of “incubation,” whereby the piece is quietly being constructed with great direction and progress in the unconscious mind.   The conscious mind remains unaware of this inner process, and in fact believes falsely that nothing is being accomplished at all.  According to that model, The Oracle Sequence is at this very moment being polished, refined, and completed — even as we speak — though in my limited awareness, I feel as though nothing is happening at all.

Obviously, this explanation is pleasant to the ears of the Artist.  But how valid is it, really?  There are other ways of framing this event of “breaking,” this sudden bursting of the floodgates, and the subsequent steady flow of unprecedented Artistic creation.   Some of those ways are not particularly favorable, however, or sympathetic with the Artist’s dilemma.  Take the view often espoused, for example, by those in the mental health profession.   These are those who contend that the Artist is only subject to his mental health disorder, since his pattern clearly manifests the mood swings of manic depression, nowadays known more commonly as Bipolar Disorder.   In this view, the Artist is unable to create while in the depressive phase, because his depression prevents him from doing so, on a basic neuro-physiological level.  When, in my case, I experience the event of the “breaking,” followed by a fast flow of creative prodigy, I am according to the psychiatrist merely in the “manic” phase of my “disorder.”

I am further told that during the depressive phase, the Artist may not even be aware that he is depressed.  This is due to the intensity of his Artistic focus, in which he is completely immersed —  even as he gets nothing accomplished at all.   His focus, after all, is on his Art — whether he is succeeding in manifesting that Creation or not.  So if he is not succeeding, he may well be depressed and in fact rather irritable.  But he does not know this, for his focus is not on his feelings — but on his Art. 

psychiatrist couchThe psychiatrist continues to advise him that the reason why nothing is getting done is on account of his depression.  The depression, claims the psychiatrist, has overwhelmed him, and rendered him inert and immobile with regards to his creative goals.  But the Artist doesn’t see it this way.  He argues that the converse is the case.  The only reason he may be depressed is because nothing is getting done.  And besides, the word “depression” doesn’t quite cut it.  “Annoyed,” perhaps.  “Annoyed, irritated, aggravated, frustrated, impatient, confused, bewildered, and generally out of sorts.   But depressed?   You gotta be kidding me!  Depression is for less inspired, less purpose-driven men than I.”  

At this, the psychiatrist typically only nods her head.  “Give it about a week, my boy, and you’ll be just fine.” 

Be this as it may.  We have the clinical, ultra-behavioristic approach of the detached, unfeeling psychiatrist, dismissing all the mysterious spectacles of Artistic angst with a cold, calculated DSM-V approach to life.   A bit more pleasing, we have the intriguing approach of Mr. Wallas and his followers, an approach that is definitely more Art-Positive than diagnostic in nature.  But neither of these perspectives really assists me in confronting the essential anxiety that I must endure in order to attain to a happier state of affairs.  The one way exalts Art above all, the other poo-poos and dismisses the Artistic character, even hinting at attributing the Artistic Focus to some form of mental illness.  Yet despite this glaring difference in the two perspectives, they both point to one very disturbing factor that they share in common.   In each case, the Artist is at the mercy of a psychic process that is largely beyond his conscious, creative control.  

What is needed, then, is greater control.   

As to just how this greater control is to be gained, please don’t think for one minute that I have not already pondered this question eternally.   There are in fact several text files on Open Office already, exploring this perennial question.  I even draw near to a solution or three, in places.   But let me take my leave at this juncture, and advise you of my findings when they are bit more conclusive.   It may well be that as I complete my analysis as to what it will take to complete my piece, the completion of the analysis may prove to be a more important creation than the completion of the piece itself.

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Another Scene Down

I’m not sure exactly how many hours I put into my writing today.   It seems I didn’t really get started till about one in the afternoon.   Let’s say there was an hour break for dinner and bathroom stops.   So I guess I wrote for eight hours.   All I know is that when I wrote the words “End of Act Two, Scene One” at the bottom of p.104, I looked down at the computer clock — and it read 10:00pm exactly.

I had a feeling today would be a good day.  I awoke in good spirits, feeling relaxed and relieved after having resolved a difficult situation at work.  I also knew I had the day off — and I knew what to do with it.   Most of the writing of the 17-page Scene consisted of refining the six pages leading up to the song called Hunted, finishing the lyrics to Hunted, writing all the dialogue between Hunted and the following song, writing a new monologue called the “Mainstream Monologue,” and finally finishing all the lyrics to the song Children of the Universe.   (If you happen to listen to the music of that song, you can easily discern how writing its lyrics was no small task.)

Obviously, I felt very pleased when I finished all that work.  But there’s something gnawing at me.

real-writerIf you’ve been reading me much at all lately, you’ll know that I’ve been contemplating the different stages of the creative process as well as the different spaces of Bipolar Disorder, and how they seem to coalesce in order to yield long periods of time when nothing gets done at all — at least not consciously — followed by long periods of time when all kinds of work is steadily produced.   Even though I only have two Scenes left to go, and I can actually even see the light at the end of the tunnel, I have this horrendous fear that the next period of depression – or incubation – is going to last even longer than the last one, which was damn near seven days. 

For the sake of balance, I want to stop writing now, and rest my weary head and bones.  But for the sake of getting the show finished, don’t you think it would be better if I forged forward, while I’m still on the roll?   I’d hate to plunge into another week or two of dry vacuous nothingness.

But no – I must seek a more healthy balance here.  I have tomorrow off as well, so I might as well get some rest, and have at it once again in the morning.   I’m starting to get the feeling that God is actually going to allow me, after all these years, to finish the damn thing.  I need to ride on that hope.   There’s no turning back by now.

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.