A. I stressed out at the church service, and my heart started beating out of my chest. They kept making me do things that are really really hard for me, but that are really easy for most people, and it stressed me out.
Q. What kinds of things?
A. Oh, uh – page turns. Fumbling with bulletin inserts. Trying to get to the right hymn in the right hymnal at the right time. And worst of all, we had to put these ornaments on a Christmas tree, and the hook of my ornament fell out.
Q. What happened then?
A. I went and showed the guy with the ornaments, assuming he would give me a new ornament with a more secure hook.
Q. What did he give you instead?
A. Another hook.
Q. And you weren’t able to put the new hook on the old ornament?
A. Well, I fumbled with it for long enough, and I know myself well enough, that I determined fairly quickly it would be impossible.
Q. And what did you do then?
A. I gave both ornament and unhooked hook to Amanda.
Q. Who is Amanda?
A. The person standing next to me. She’s a speech therapist and works at a hospital, so I figured I might luck out and she might understand why it is actually impossible for me to put a hook on an ornament. I mean, done deal. It’s a disease. It’s called ADHD / Dyslexia and High-Functioning Autism.
Q. What did you say to Amanda?
A. I told her it would be impossible for me to put the hook on the ornament in order to hang it on the tree.
Q. How did Amanda respond?
A. She nodded her head in compassionate understanding, then deftly placed the ornament on the tree in my stead.
Q. Were you thankful?
A. Uh — more relieved than anything else. But now that you mention it, gratitude is certainly an appropriate response. It’s rare that somebody believes me, in such situations.
Q. Then what did you do?
A. I sneaked out of the church, placing myself in the middle of a long line, so that no one would notice my swift departure.
Q. Why did you depart swiftly?
A. Because by that time, my heart was beating out of my chest, and I was having a major panic attack. I mean, it was like — I was under pressure, in a line, with people waiting on me – and everybody could see that I was fumbling with the logistics of trying to get the hook on the ornament and the ornament on the tree — it was like — Mainstream Stress – the kind of stuff that made me homeless in the first place back in 2004 —
A. Yeah. The kind of stress you get when you’re pressured to perform under time constraints, with people observing you, and people to answer to, under deadlines —
Q. What other kind of stress is there?
A. Street Stress. It’s a horse of a different color. It’s the kind where you’re not under time constraints, but at the same time, you never have time to check in with yourself and feel what your actual feelings are. You’re in a state of shock at all times, as though in a battle zone, ready for anything, at any time. No time to feel. Anything.
Q. Where are you now?
A. At the local cafe.
Q. Do you plan on returning to the church?
A. Yes. After I’m through getting my bearings. I can make it there for the Fellowship, where my mental health condition will not be so severely challenged.
Q. May I ask two more questions?
A. One will do. I’m running out of time.
Q. What does all this have to do with the birth of Jesus?
A. Don’t ask me, man.
Q. May I please ask the second question?
Q. Why was the church service being held on Tuesday?
Sun, 13 Oct 2019 8:17:54 PM -0700 From: Andy Pope To: Heart of the Arts Subject: An Open Letter to the Community
To Whom It May Concern:
I’m sensing from everybody’s non-response that everybody thinks I am making a mistake. If so, everybody is wrong.
Nobody but me is in my head and my body when the peak of unmanageable anxiety strikes. Why should I risk running out of the church screaming after throwing all my messed up attempts at organizing my work onto the floor? True, you guys are tolerant. True, my friend the church secretary was right when she said that very few people would have done what she did afterwards, which was to pick up everything and sort it back together after I threw an apparent tantrum. But nobody but me is inside my head and my body. Nobody but me knows that the “tantrum” is an effect of uncontrollable levels of anxiety that are solely produced by a failed attempt to manage vibrations from multiple human entities while trying to focus on the single task of vocal-directing for musical theatre as I always used to be able to do so prior to the Summer of 2017.
I know what you all are thinking. You’re thinking that Opportunity has knocked. You’re thinking that here’s a way for me to “give back” and make a contribution to the community. Well! I would make a much stronger contribution to the community if I sat here at home and finished the vocal score — which is nearly done, honestly, just a few glitches to correct — until it was in such a condition that somebody of the calibre of [Name Withheld] could interpret and direct it (if he wanted to) and somebody of the caliber of [Name Withheld] could actually play it. And they don’t have the problem dealing with the panoroma of discontinuous non-myopic autistic dyslexic blah blah blah that I do. I know everybody else is a nice person and tolerant and a good Christian but if so, why is everybody making me suffer?
It’s because nobody understands the autism spectrum, you all think it’s a moral problem, and the notion that I personally do not have any God-given desire to interact, other than in a superficial way, with any other human being again -let alone two or three or more — is unfathomable to all you social animals. I’m an Autistic Artist and I Need My Space.
Now about the Summer of 2017. I was already speeding up the tempos before I lost the church job. But I could still VD – I just could. I remember one time taking over a Choir rehearsal and doing it. It was musical theatre style as per high school students as per my experience but the fact was I could do it. I tried the same thing last year, with my own music even, and I could NOT do it. It had to have been what happened throughout the summer of 2017 at the Friendship Apartments. It hasn’t happened since then — but it left its mark. PTSD is real. You guys have gotta grasp that I’m not just whining.
I failed to help my ex-wife, I failed to help my daughter, I failed at vocal-directing my own show last Summer, and I will fail at everything I set out to do henceforth if I don’t wholeheartedly go about doing the one thing I seem to be doing right, which is write.(Other than a play a piano, and that sure isn’t making the O.G. any money. Not in this neck, and not without a car, and I’ll be damned if I try to start driving again after 15 years. Can any of you even imagine it? I’d wipe out on the first day.)
To me this is a no-brainer. Now I’ve been trying to read Mortimer Adler and my reading of even the Prologue was hounded by these thoughts as-yet-unexpressed, so I have expressed them. Hopefully this has not been at the expense of the health of any of the recipients. Anyway this is easy reading and engaging compared to most Philosophy. I think his thought is very important. I wish my daughter would read it — but this is not about my daughter. It’s about my musical and the heart failure I will have if I re-enter the exact same stress that I couldn’t handle last Summer.
We don’t have a Stage Manager. We don’t truly have a Vocal Director who can handle this score. We don’t have a rehearsal accompanist. All we have is a playwright trying to do five people’s jobs. We don’t even have but four people committed in the cast! How can I pull this thing off with only Kelsey and the Three Girls? It is not possible. I will just be going through the same junk as last Summer.
I’ve already talked to Dave and the deal is off. This show will be produced when it’s good and ready and not a moment before. I am not Superman.
Yes, scoring a piano-vocal score will take forever. Maybe I can find a piano-playing music student with perfect pitch and send them the recordings. They’ll probably need to get paid. And that’s another story! But somebody has to sometime give the O.G. a break, I’m sixty-six, I’m retired, I want to write at home and live a quiet life. I didn’t write a musical so as to get all wrapped up in its production and have the same kind of nervous breakdown that caused me to become homeless in the first place in 2004. I do not need to become homeless again.
I wrote a musical so I could make a needed statement to America on an important issue using a medium with which I have a wealth of experience. My role should be restricted to an occasional show-up at a production staff meeting and a show-up on Opening Night with a date.
P.S. And this weird idea floating around town that I’m supposed to have a lady friend or some kind of wife or girlfriend has got to be the most preposterous proposal ever propounded. Talk about adding stress to stress! You guys act like I was born yesterday. Really!
Please donate to Eden in Babylon. A little bit goes a long, long way.
A. Well, if you must ask, I suppose there are a couple things.
Q. Like what?
A. We didn’t get a very good turnout at the second round of auditions last night.
Q. Why not?
A. Probably because we haven’t advertised very well. This all came up rather suddenly.
Q. What else is bugging you?
A. Well, my dyslexia is very inconvenient. I’m doing a very important task that involves two separate computers, and saving files in two separate ways on each computer. It’s sort of like dyslexia upon dyslexia. These kinds of tasks take me five times as long to accomplish as the normal human being even if only one dyslexic factor is involved. Now it’s taking twenty-five times as long. It can be discouraging. But you know what’s bugging me the most?
A. The fact that I even am expected to discuss what’s bugging me this morning, rather than what I’m really happy about.
Q. What are you really happy about?
A. My daughter!!
The Questioner is silent.
Please donate to Eden in Babylon. A little bit goes a long, long way.
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.
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. Yes. You are a feelingless generator of questions, whose function it is to churn out question after question, based on a logical follow-up to my responses, with little or no empathy for my emotional state. Moreover, your first two questions are the same every Tuesday. Therefore, my first answer is immaterial, since you will only ask me why I have summoned you, and it really does not matter what I’ve said.
Q. Why have you summoned me?
A. Because I can’t read.
Q. You can’t?
A. Not very well.
Q. And how does this affect you?
A. It disturbs me a great deal. It also causes me to waste huge amounts of time.
Q. Doing what?
A. Trying to read. Staring at the pages, while my head is flying, off in space, not seeming to be able to alight upon a single word or phrase of meaning.
Q. Why do I find this hard to believe?
A. Probably for the same reason everyone else does.
Q. And what reason is that?
A. The reason that I seem to be educated, and reasonably articulate, and able to write fairly well.
Q. If you cannot read, then where did you pick up all these words you use?
A. Mostly from talking to a lot of smart people, and remembering their words. You see, I do have an unusually good long-term memory. I am only unable to focus in the short-term.
A. Well, hardly able. I suppose you have caught me in hyperbole. It’s not that I can’t read at all. I can read short articles, and emails on occasion, and unusually engaging works that don’t challenge my dyslexia.
Q. Then why did you say that you can’t read?
A. Because I can’t ever seem to finish an entire book. I’ve finished only one book in the past several years.
Q. What book is that?
A. The INFJ Writer: Cracking the Genius of the World’s Rarest Type by Lauren Sapala.
Q. What enabled you to finish that particular book, if no other?
A. A matter of threefold interest. There was not one, nor two, but three things about the book that intrigued me.
Q. Those being?
A. First, the MBTI. I myself am an INFJ, and I saw myself all over the book.
Q. And second?
A. Writing. Something I love to do. The book was about INFJ’s who are Writers.
Q. And third?
A. Recovery. The account of someone who had been deeply hurt, and who had escaped from that hurt by evoking a typical escape mechanism, and an addictive one at that. But most importantly, she recovered.
Q. Have you done so?
A. Recovered? Or escaped?
A. Recovered? Partly. Escaped? Totally.
A. All too often. In 1979 after a break-up with a finacee. In 1982 when I learned I was too sensitive for a highly competitive position in the music world. In the early 90’s, after a difficult divorce. And between the years 2013 and 2016, after being deeply hurt by a critique of my unfinished first draft to my musical Eden in Babylon, when I had turned to a friend for encouragement, and not only had received no encouragement, but the painful information that this man was not even a friend.
Q. How did you find out he was not your friend?
A. In the same way that I learned last night that another man was not my friend.
A. It is too painful to answer. But it might inform you what was on my mind when I tried this morning, unsuccessfully once again, to read.
The Questioner is silent.
Please donate to Eden in Babylon. Anything Helps – God Bless!
A. Because I thought I knew who you were, but I thought wrong.
Q. Who did you think I was?
A. My superego.
Q. Your superego? Why would you think such a thing?
A. Because you seem to represent my conscience, my higher faculties, always questioning everything, encouraging me to look before I leap — as opposed to my id, who has no conscience, questions nothing, and only seeks immediate gratification with no regard to consequence.
Q. And who are you?
A. I am my Ego.
Q. Why do I find this laughable?
A. Because I was wrong about you. You have no conscience – no feelings. You are merely a machine, generating inane questions from deep within the core of my confused and convoluted consciousness. You are not my superego; you have nothing to do with morality or even with Sigmund Freud, for that matter. You merely show up every now and then at times of particularly angst along my journey, and occasionally our dialogue is helpful to me.
Q. And this is why, on occasion, you summon me?
Q. And this is a time of particular angst?
Q. How so? Haven’t things suddenly taken a turn for the better?
A. Yes and No.
Q. No? In what way, “no?”
A. My external enemies having disappeared, my internal enemies have resurfaced.
Q. Can you say that again, please?
A. My external enemies having disappeared, my internal enemies have resurfaced.
Q. And who are your external enemies?
A. All those people who kept knocking on my door, trying to engage me in all kinds of nefarious activities at any time of the day or night, neighbors who were more nosy than neighborly — all of them. Everybody who lived at Friendship Square.
Q. Your neighbors were your enemies?
A. “Enemy” might be a strong word, but it sure felt that way.
Q. And you call yourself a Christian!?
A. That would depend upon your definition of the term, I suppose. But yes, I do identify as a Christian, of a certain type. So – what are you driving at?
Q. Doesn’t the Lord say: “Love thy neighbor?”
A. But that’s the whole problem! I loved my neighbors so much I couldn’t get any work done! Everybody wanted to talk to me, at all times – it was uncanny. I had to escape – I had to get out of there — but now that those guys are all gone, and I’m alone, I’m faced with my internal enemies.
A. Ha! Loneliness is for lesser men. I’m talking about the Enemies of Art. They’re like these — inner demons. They surface whenever I begin to immerse myself in projects about which I am passionate. The more passionate I am about my project, the more they try to interfere.
Q. Can you give me an example?
A. Well, for that, we need to revisit the Professor.
There was a certain professor whose unfavorable reactions to my half-written rough draft of Eden in Babylonkept rushing through my head for three years every time I tried to sit down to work on the script. Now that I have solitude again, and am away from all the “hard knocks,” so to speak, I’ve naturally taken up the script again, thinking quite innocently that now would be a perfect time to do a second draft, polish up a few rough spots, and so forth.
So, I sat down the other night to embark upon a very simple scouring of the script in order to return four unnamed characters to the Kids Chorus Line, after I had irrationally removed them from the script at the last minute. For you see, the Professor had warned me about having too large a cast size – and of course a large cast is a deterrent. The first version he saw had a cast of 56, according to his count. I myself was neither counting nor concerned, since at the time I was aiming to submit the show to a specific theatre in the Bay Area that was requesting submissions for “large cast traditional musicals with a full orchestration.” But this is long past.
I proceeded to whittle down the cast, doubling parts when necessary, and actually feeling quite good about the whittled version. But at the end, I made the serious mistake of significantly reducing the Kids Chorus Line while not significantly reducing the cast size! So I sat down this past Saturday night to return the four unnamed Kids to the Chorus line, and thus enhance the experience musically, while only increasing cast size from 23 to 27.
I had presumed this would be a simple matter. However, it involved a technical nightmare of placing an unformatted, unpaginated copy of a script next to a paginated copy, locating all the places where the Kids had once been involved, and making the appropriate adjustments. This challenged my dyslexia. Moreover, as I tired into the wee hours of the night, I became less and less focused, but more and more determined not to let go until I got the job done. That was when the Professor surfaced.
I would see a line in the show that I thought was particularly exceptional, and I would suddenly remember his scathing critique of my earlier draft. I would fly into a rage inside my head. I would shout within myself: “How could he?! How could he not see how good this is?? How inspired I was!!! Did he even read the script??”
So, my old enemy, of associating the script revision with the unfavorable response of a previous presumptuous professor of the past, had returned. And that’s only an example.
Q. A second example?
A. My other friend, seeming to have money, and not wanting to kick it down to help me pay the singers, but dismissing my request for assistance as evidence of a “mental health episode.” He also appeared in my mind, and I also became enraged at the thought of his classist arrogance. Rich people are often quick to blame the abject poverty of poor people on some kind of problem the poor person has, as though I’m supposed to spend the rest of my days solving whatever problem they think has resulted in my poverty, in order to become rich like they are, and similarly blame the suffering of those less cozy than they on some random peccadillo in their personality, thus silencing my conscience.
Q. And just who are we calling “classist?”
A. Look, buddy. I had to spend years sleeping in a gutter getting the shit kicked out of me, while one by one, every so-called “friend” I knew from my previous life of opulence dismissed my legitimate need for shelter by telling me to see a psychiatrist. And so what if I do have a psychological problem or two? I’m in my damn sixties! I’m practically fighting Alzheimer’s trying to get this show on the road! What am I supposed to do? Spend the rest of my days trying to solve some elusive problem of mine? Or spend my days trying to figure out a way to use my God-given gifts for the good of humanity? You can’t shovel out the darkness!! You can only turn on the Light!!
So – obviously, don’t you think it makes a hell of a lot more sense for me to throw my energies into looking for singers, musicians, a venue. a crew, a cast, a production staff, and $50,000, than to keep hammering away at trying to keep shit jobs that I always lose? And wind up feeling demoralized? And incompetent? Sure I’m incompetent in every area of my lifelong failure — so why don’t we start focusing on the relatively few but valuable things that I can actually manage to occasionally do well? I am not incompetent in the areas of my expertise — I know exactly what I am doing! I am not crazy! I am a very talented, but spaced out, absent-minded, but ingenious, agitated, but highly determined, totally stressed out man!
Q.Fifty thousand dollars?
A. You heard me! But this pointless dialectic is nothing but drivel!! Let’s adjourn until tomorrow. Your incessant questioning of everything I do or say angers me. Goodbye.
The Questioner is silent.
A. And don’t you dare ask me if I am in “denial!” If I want to hear about denial, I’ll go to a frickin’ 12-Step meeting, for God’s sake!!