Gratitude List 1793

(1) For the first time, I received a substantial donation to Eden in Babylon from a name I did not recognize. Maybe that’s a sign that things are looking up.

(2) This is the most consistent I’ve been with running since I moved to Idaho. I did 2 1/2 miles last night, 2 1/2 miles two nights before that, and 4 miles the previous morning. I’m sure I’ve lost significant weight, though have not yet been to a scale.

(3) Got another column published. I’m grateful to have been given the opportunity to express my thoughts as to how some aspects of Christendom in contemporary American culture are extremely off-base.

(4) Am officially signing a W-4 and beginning my new job at the United Church next Sunday. Yesterday was Cody’s last day. I provided special music, and we had a ceremony afterwards in which Cody’s five years as their pianist was honored. The anxious fire that incessantly burns within me was once again soothed by the spirit of love and peace that prevails over this most accepting church.

(5) Zazen committed to a month’s worth of vocal coaching and I have my first official private music student since moving to Idaho. It’s wonderful how many new possibilities have opened up in my retirement, to permit me to do the work that I most love.

Hard work is painful when life is devoid of purpose. But when you live for something greater than yourself and the gratification of your own ego, then hard work becomes a labor of love.
— Steve Pavlina

Please donate to Eden in Babylon.

Tuesday Tuneup 112

Q. Where would you like to be?

A. In a cooler place.

Q. What wouldn’t be cool about the nice mellow little artistic community in which you live?

A. Ha – you’d know if you lived here.  But I’m talking about wanting a cooler temperature, birdbrain.

Q. Grouchy, are we?

A. How would you like to be burning up in 107F degrees?

Q. Is that how hot it is?

A. Not sure.  Let me check.

(Pause)

A. Yep. 107 is what it says.

Q. Haven’t you lived in very high temps before?  Even higher than 107?

A. Yes on both — in California’s Central Valley.   In the San Joaquin Valley in particular, where once it hit 117.

Q. How did that feel?

A. Need I even answer?

Q. Do you think this has something to do with global warming?

A. Well, considering it usually doesn’t top 89 or 90, I would say that’s a strong possibility.

Q. How long will this heat wave go on?

A. Who can say?

Q. How do you feel about it?

A. Well, the heat itself doesn’t feel too bad.  It’s the fact that there’s no AC in my apartment, causing me to toss and turn all night.  I’m not getting the sleep I need, and my appetite is next to nothing. Sleep paralysis is aggravated, my nerves are on edge, and I’m movin’ kinda slow.

Q. Did that answer my question?

A. Repeat the question.

Q. How do you feel about it?  You know, feelings?

A. Well, first of all, I take issue with the current culture’s emphasis on feelings.  I could say that I’m a bit irritable from protracted lack of sleep.  I could say that I’m a bit on the angry side.  But of what value is it to indulge such feelings?   Are not feelings only a function of the natural?

Q. The natural?

A. Yes, the natural — as opposed to the spiritual.

Q. Are you dividing yourself into two?

A. Maybe not exactly a division.  More of a spectrum or continuum.

Q. What do you mean?

A. The first reaction to anything unpleasant is naturally an unpleasant reaction.  In the case just cited, irritability and anger are the initial responses.  These are what I call the natural responses.   Naturally, one is irritated and slightly peeved about the inconvenient increase in temperature.   But the spiritual person is committed to overcoming these natural reactions.  After all, what good do they do?

Q. Don’t they inform you of your feelings?  Isn’t that good?

A. Certainly it’s good to be aware of your feelings.  But it is even better to use that awareness in order to overcome them.   This is why Scripture says: “In your anger, do not sin.”  (Psalm 4:4, Ephesians 4:26).  It is natural to be angry.  It is sinful to use that anger in a way that is injurious to self or others.

Q. Do you mean that, as long as you don’t throw a temper tantrum or beat your head against a wall, it’s okay to be angry?

A. Something like that.

Q. But since the weather won’t change for a long time, won’t you be in a constant state of anger?

A. Perhaps.  But even that is not sinful, so long as I remain aware of it, and hold it in check.

Q. How is this any different than what your previous teacher said, before you became a Christian, when you were still a Buddhist?

A. Glad you asked.  It’s not essentially different.   Chogyam Trungpa said: “Emotions are neither to be suppressed nor indulged, but merely acknowledged.”

Q. And your pastor agrees with this?

A. I once heard the very same words come out of his mouth, almost verbatim.

Q. Was he also a Buddhist?

A. No.  He is merely a very meditative man.

Q. So you’re saying this is a universal truth that transcends religious differences?

A. I like to think so, yes.

Q. Then why didn’t you remain a Buddhist?

A. In a way, I still am.  You might call me a Buddheo-Christian.

Q. But what is the advantage of Christianity?

A. The emphasis in Buddhism is to meditate, gradually expanding consciousness, and finally reaching Enlightenment — sometimes called Awareness or Nirvana.  The emphasis in Christianity is in trying to do good things for others, serving others more than your own self, loving God, and loving your neighbor as yourself.   One could conceivably do this all one’s life without any particular expansion of consciousness or awareness.   Similarly, one could conceivably meditate all alone their entire life, reach the highest state of Awareness, and never help another soul.

Q. Then why meditate at all?

A. Because meditation makes me a more effective Christian, if that’s the spirituality I choose to practice.

Q. Are you “picking and choosing?”

A. Not all.  I believe that Buddhists, Muslims, Hindi and all people, whether religious or not, are going to have to appear before the same Christ.  In that light, Christianity is not a religion — it’s a Reality.   All I am doing is acknowledging that there is value in other spiritual practices.

Q. What’s all this got to do with the weather?

A. The weather spaces me out and makes me go onto long tangents.  Since I’m a person who lifelong has been obsessed with religion and spirituality, my tangents are likely to be religious in nature.

Q. Have you been getting your work done today?

A. Why do you ask?

Q. Didn’t you say you were spaced out?

A. I am indeed.  It’s getting pretty difficult to function.

Q. What would be the next best move from here?

A. Sleep is most desirable.   It’s really been a pretty lousy day.

Q. See me next week?

A. Maybe.

The Questioner is silent.

Please donate to Eden in Babylon.

Gratitude List 1642

(1) Yesterday three new musicians joined the team.  Now we have all five members of the band that can accompany the whole show.  This will be better than the fully interactive accompaniment envisioned earlier.  Richard the bass player has been learning the music already, and practicing with me.  These three new players, all musicians he currently performs with in various bands, will fill out the sound we need.

(2) I’ve been absorbed in making sure that instrumental parts were handed out to the three new musicians who just joined up yesterday.  So I haven’t surfaced till now, but am very grateful to have finally gotten all this stuff done — having done nothing else all day long.  

(3) Beautiful snowy weather in which I don’t mind exercising, when the spirit is right.  Recently however I’ve found more reasons to stay inside than to venture outdoors.  Grateful for shelter from Winter weather.

(4) My recent article published in Faith and Values has been shared 193 times and viewed over a thousand times:

Capture

(5) Meeting with Tom and Vanessa tomorrow, who are playing the parts of the father and mother in the Audio Show.   Then I should be ready with the lines.  The whole project is expanding.   I’m pretty grateful.  

Please donate to Eden in Babylon.

Evolution of a Song: Part Two

In reference to Part One, I sent the post to my brother Steve.   I hadn’t heard from him for quite some time, and it was wonderful to receive this email in the morning:

Bro –

This is so nice and yes, it happened exactly as you
describe.

I’ve always said there are three phases in my musical
life (which is 99% of my life, or something):

Andy Pope
The Grateful Dead
Everything else.

Equally weighted –

And you can quote me on that.

S.

What a pleasant surprise to wake up and see my brother’s email!   But he did not say anything about the libretto.  This leads to a personal confession.

I have been terrible about devaluing the songs I wrote when I was younger.  At one point I wrote a song called “Apologies to Peter Pan.”  It was the year 1974, and I was 21 years old.   Well, I thought the music was okay, but I didn’t like the lyrics.   So, later on in life, in the year 2004 in fact, I stole my own song.

I stole the music of “Apologies to Peter Pan” in order to place that music in a show I was writing, while changing all the words and, in fact, the entire meaning of the song.  One person was honest enough to object.   He explained that the lyrics were not better than the lyrics of the original song (which I do remember, by the way, in full.)

That person was right.   But what he does not know, and what no one knew till now, is the reason why I would do these things:  low self esteem.  

I simply did not believe, at around 2004 or so, that I was capable of writing a brand new song.  I had been involved in the workaday world, zipping from gig to gig on the San Francisco Bay Area Peninsula –  hustling, teaching, doing my gigs, and not really writing much at all.   I viewed writing as something I did as a Kid.   As an adult, I worked.   I taught.  I played music.   I went to PTA meetings.   I taught Vacation Bible School.  But did I write any music?

No.  Not at all.   Why not?   I no longer believed that I could.  

So instead, I thought: “Well – when I was younger, I wrote all kinds of music.   I always remember the music, but not always the lyrics.  Why don’t I just take all the old music I wrote, rearrange it, and rewrite the words?

So I stole my own music, in this pathetic and cowardly fashion, until one night, there was a psychic change.

It was the year 2010.  I was renting a hotel room at a reduced rate, in exchange for working the front desk.   I had time on my hands, and I still made visits to my mentor, Stan Beckler.

Stan Beckler

I had studied Music Theory and Composition with Stan at the U.O.P. Conservatory of Music in the 70’s.  I reconnected with him later in life, and began to pay him visits, during which my orchestrations were analyzed.   He was a wonderful man and a brilliant composer whom I admired very much.  Then in March of 2010, at the age of 86, Stan died.

That night, I couldn’t sleep.   Stan had always wanted me to write a string quartet.  But I never did.  He had also often suggested I remove the drum parts completely.   He appreciated and drew out the classical composer in me.   He’d have rather I had not gotten so heavy into the show tunes.   But he was never discouraging, always warm and wise.  It was hard to get Stan off my mind that night.  But I decided to try.

I opened the file of the piece I was writing.  It seemed that the song, “Child of No Emotion,” might make a better song with different words, to be called: “Cloaks of Art.”  As I began to arrange the music, I decided to begin with a string section.  And I tried not to think about this man whom I had loved, who had always been with me, and who now was gone.

Editing the arrangement, I would often stop and start the music over again.   My perfectionism was at a staggering peak.  I could not get it right, no matter what.  But I kept hammering away, till just before dawn.  And then — something happened.  Something entirely new, unexpected, unprecedented.

As I tried to keep stopping and starting the music, the STOP command ceased to function.  I wanted to stop the music.   But the music would not stop.

It kept playing, even after I repeatedly pressed the STOP key.   So I could no longer mess with it.  I was forced to listen to it all.   I listened to the strings, and then suddenly I realized:

This is the string quartet that Stan always wanted me to write.  And Stan is here right now.   He won’t let me keep messing with the music — because he wants to hear the whole thing!   His spirit is here, approving of me — telling me my work is complete.  I have finally satisfied my mentor.  I have written the String Quartet!

I fell down on my knees.  I thought about how when the prophet Elijah had died, Elisha was sorrowful.  And he asked God to give him a “double portion of Elijah’s spirit.”

I cried out: “Lord, give me a double portion of Stan Beckler’s spirit!”

And I don’t know how to explain it, but never again did I ever feel that I could not write music that was new and fresh.   As for “Cloaks of Art?”   The string quartet is not very long.   Twenty measures or so, before other instruments enter in, and it swells into a more symphonic sound.   But it satisfied Stan, and it marked the beginning of a new life of new music, new words.   I may not be an “entirely different composer.” But the song I sing in my heart today is an entirely different song.

Cloaks of Art

Please donate to Eden in Babylon.

 

Tuesday Tuneup 28

Q. Where would you like to be?

A. In a place of greater vigilance.

Q. What do you mean by that?

A. By vigilance?  You know what vigilance means – surveillance, watchfulness, attentiveness, alertness —

Q. But you mean something deeper than that, don’t you?

A. What makes you think so?

Q. Aren’t I the one who’s supposed to be asking the questions?

A. Okay, look.  I mean greater awareness.  More keen to what’s happening around me, and what possibly could happen.  More mindful of the conceivable consequences of my actions.  Vigilance.

Q. Why is this important to you?  

A. Because it’s the fourth of the five principles of the Practical Pentacle, and all of these principles are important to me: integrity, confidence, diligence, vigilance, and fortitude.

Q. Where did those words come from?

A.  I guess the short answer would be, “off the top of my head.”

Q. And the long answer?

A. You asked for it.  Around about 2012, I was in an environment where there were a lot of Pagans.  Or, I guess, Neopagans would be more accurate.  Some of them wore pentacles, and one of them told me that if I chose to employ a pentacle, I would not necessarily have to use the standard five points of “Earth, Air, Fire, Water, and Spirit” – but could pick any five principles I thought would work for me.   So I said: “I’ll use integrity, confidence, diligence, vigilance, and fortitude.”  

Q. Just like that?

A. Pretty much.  Not sure where they come from, to be honest with you, but it all seemed pretty positive.

Q. Then what did you do?

A. Naturally, I started looking online for a pentacle to purchase.

Q. You actually purchased a pentacle?

A. Actually, no.  I stopped short.

Q. Why?

A. Couldn’t find one off-hand that looked right.  And then, in the time it was taking to look, I began to have reservations.

Q. Like what?

A. Well, being as I was a piano player at a Christian church at the time, I thought it might be odd if I showed up wearing a Pagan pentacle.

Q. But how do you really feel about this oddity?

A. You know me.  I don’t think it should be odd.  So what if I’m wearing a necklace shaped like a five-sided star?   As a Christian, I’m free to where whatever I please, as long as it’s not overly revealing or provocative.

Q. But doesn’t the Pentacle connote an anti-Christian religion?

A. What makes you think Neopaganism is an anti-Christian religion?

Q. Aren’t I supposed to ask the questions?

A. Okay look.  Getting down to brass tacks, there is nothing wrong or immoral about wearing a five-sided star, and associating each side of the star with a positive spiritual principle.   Nothing evil in that.  But because, to some people, it would appear to be evil, I declined, for their sake.  The Scripture does say: “Abstain from all appearance of evil.”

Q. So you’re saying a Christian has to look good?

A. To a degree, yes.  Appearances are important.   They’re not all-important.  They’re certainly not more important than reality.  But certain kinds of appearances have a way of messing with people’s realities, and that just isn’t cool.

Q. So, in other words, you bailed out?

A. I suppose you could put it this way.   But Christianity does involve being concerned for others in our midst.

Q. And this is why you wimped out?

A. More-or-less.

Q. Well then, if you never bought the pentacle, and never actually wore the pentacle, how does the pentacle still figure into your trip?

A. It’s an internal pentacle.  I have it inside me.

Q. You do?

A. I do.  I believe that it was placed inside me as a device to assist me in getting something accomplished — something which I very much need to do.

Q. What is it that you need to do?

A. You already know that.  It’s all over this website.   Everybody knows what I’m trying to do.  I’m rather surprised you would even bother to ask.

Q. But how do these principles help?

A. It’s a matter of applying them, moment by moment, one at a time.

Q. Can you elaborate on that?

A. I’ll try.  Integrity is the first and most important.  Before I make a creative or professional decision, I need to run it past my integrity.  I need not prostitute myself.

Q. And then?

A. Confidence.   Faith, essentially, that I have what it takes to get it done.

Q. What next?

A. I already told you.  Diligence.  That means, work, discipline, sticking to it, keeping a schedule — all that stuff.   And then, vigilance.   Awareness of the greater picture.  Preparation for possible dangers and pitfalls.   Finally, fortitude.

Q. Meaning?

A.just do it Just do it.  

Q. Take the leap, eh?

A. That’s right. Take the plunge.

Q. But – but – the plunge to where?

A. We don’t know quite where.  That’s what makes it a plunge.

Q. But – for what reason?   Why bother with any of this?

A. Because I need to get something done.

Q. What do you need to get done?

A. You already know that.

Q. And you don’t?

A. No, sir.  I do, if anyone does.   But –

I tire of talking about it.  I burn myself out having to explain myself all the time, over and over.  It gets tedious.   And people are tired of hearing about it.   I get tired of telling people that it’s going to cost me $200 a night to rent out the theatre where I want to showcase my musical, and that I’m going to have to come up with $15/hr for each member of the technical staff they provide me.  I get tired of harping on the fact that I’m an impoverished old guy with a serious health condition who somehow managed to put together an entire musical — book, music & lyrics — about the Homeless Phenomenon in America.   I’ve been screaming “money talks, bullshit walks” for so long that I’m begining to sicken my own self.   

And that dollar figure you see when you click here?   That money went to pay for my critique and demo recording, a long time ago.  When was the last payment?  In May?  From February to May I managed to scrape up $950 – or Danielle did, bless her heart.   But do you realize it’s October already?   What’s happened between May and October?  Damn near nothing.   I need the bucks!   It’s maddening.  Sometimes I need to apply all five principles at once just to keep my head together . . .

Q. Andy, what is the bottom line?

A. Bucks.  I need the bucks – the bucks . . .

Q. Come on, Andy — is money really the bottom line?

Q. You know me.  Of course it’s not.   Homelessness is the bottom line.  It’s as low as it gets.   It’s the weakest link in the country right now — and we need to be about strengthening our weak links — or else the whole chain is going to break, and fast.

A. How do you know this?

Q.  Dude — you sit on a sidewalk for five years, watching the urban world buzz by at a lightning pace, on a marathon race to nowhere, and you have a lot of time to make observations and draw conclusions.   Believe me, I didn’t put this show together because I was talking out of my hat.  

Q. What do you need the most?

A. Fortitude.  I need for somebody to take some action here.   Take a risk.  Have courage.  Believe in me.  Just do it.   

Q. Just do — what?

A. What you’re thinking about right now — you who have so encouraged me by having read to the bottom of this whole long page.   Please — we don’t have all night.   Daylight’s burning.  We gotta get this show on the road.   Just do it!

Q. Just do – what, again?   

A. Do you honestly expect me to answer that?

Q. Aren’t I the one who’s supposed to be asking the questions?

A. You tell me.  

The Questioner is silent.  

Please donate to Eden in Babylon.
Anything Helps – God Bless!

 

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.

Please donate to Eden in Babylon.
Anything Helps – God Bless!

A Parallel and Opposing Culture

I’ll try to have a new speech posted by next Wednesday.  Here is more of what I had to say back in 2013 on the matter (the matter being the phenomenon of homelessness in modern-day America, and my own experiences therein.)

A Parallel and Opposing Culture

Please donate to Eden in Babylon.
Anything Helps – God Bless!