Full of Light

The eye is the lamp of the body. If your vision is clear, your whole body will be full of light. But if your vision is poor, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness!

No one can serve two masters: Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.

Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air: They do not sow or reap or gather into barns—and yet your Heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life?

And why do you worry about clothes? Consider how the lilies of the field grow: They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his glory was adorned like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the furnace, will He not much more clothe you, O you of little faith?

Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For without God, people strive after all these things, yet your Heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be added unto you.

— Matthew 6:22-33

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Gratitude List 1103

My gratitude list from Friday morning.   

1. Slept from about 7:30pm till 2am, about 6 1/2 hours.

2. I’m much better at hydrating than I used to be.  This one Smart water bottle that I keep refilling has become associated with wolfing it down and also leaving it in the same spot all the time, where I can find it.  I took my synthroid with a full glass of water easily this morning, once again.

3. Interesting chat with the guy on the graveyard shift.  He kept referring to everything in terms of “night” even though to me it was “morning.”  Guess they had a wild night over there, but I left thinking it’s kinda nice that I would even be considered acceptable to chit-chat with and share some laughs in that context, as opposed to the earlier, more prevalent experience of walking into a Mom & Pop on somebody’s graveyard shift and being eyed with suspicion.

4. Really good “Hi-Rev” coffee.

5. I had a good feeling about my daughter when I got off the phone with her on Wednesday.

6. People are hitting my “Interim” post.  I’m creating an Abstractions playlist on SoundCloud this morning, I can link to it and to the Exile playlist where those titles appear in the pitch.  That will enhance the ad – they’ll be able to hear samples of my piano, with one click.   Also had not been expecting $140 in Interim sales already.  So this has been a great project.

7. Really good talk with Danielle yesterday morning, catalyzing corresponding thoughts throughout the day.

8. Not sure if I mentioned, I finished Firefly Magic.  I’m jotting down notes for questions / issues to raise with author Lauren Sapala in a scheduled Hangouts video call.  This is a nice opportunity.

9. I’m thinking I can probably create a decent piano piece at the church this morning, which will also strengthen my trip.  I felt too out of practice yesterday, but today I might be loosened up.  Thankful for the church, and the opportunity to keep practicing on the Baldwin grand.*

10. Thankful for side projects while still largely stalled on my big project.  Also thankful for many minorly positive connections while out of touch with majorly positive connections.  There’s a new lilt in my stride, and a sense of upbeat, forward mobility.  God is Good.

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About That Insecure Creative

“A successful writer is one who finishes what they start while striving to improve their craft. It’s as simple as that. And the only one who can stop you from doing this is you.” – Hugh Howey*

If any of my more regular readers got the idea that perhaps I was obfuscating a hidden agenda behind the seemingly innocuous postings of three successive morning “gratitude lists,’ then I must concede.   That idea is sound.   While trying to hold everyone at bay by posting my gratitude lists, I have secretly been absorbed in the task of cleaning up both the lyrics and music to The Oracle Sequence at the end of Act One of Eden in Babylon.

This is something that I can and must do. When I wrote that sequence, though I was “on fire,” I was also quite hasty in places.  And I knew it at the time.   I knew it — but I buried it beneath the sense of fiery inspiration that I permitted to delude me.  I found thrilling the mere fact that I was finishing the Act at all.   Add to that the sense that I actually stood a chance of finishing it in a dynamic way — a way that would intrigue and delight the audience, and give them all something to talk about during intermission — and believe you me, I was overjoyed.  So overjoyed was I, that I readily overlooked the rough spots, vaguely expecting myself to patch them up later (that is, if I remembered to do so, or even decided to bother).

But then, after I had the great revelation reported earlier, I found I could no longer overlook these glaring errors.  It was time for me to perform the logical clean-up, and not to feel bad about myself in the process.   So I set about to do so.   But I kept getting snagged.   Snagged, for reasons that themselves seemed trivial, if not maddening.  Maddening, in the degree of power I rendered them, despite their insignificance. 

For example, I gave one verse of very quickly spewed, poorly written lyrics to three of my strongest supporting characters.  If those had been real life Actors, playing those characters, I’d feel as though I had dumped on them for assigning them those lousy parts.  All three of those characters, as later developed in my second complete draft are worth more to the world than the lousy lyrics I threw down on them. They’re my babies — I need to bless them with better lyrics.

Sad-alone-cute-girl-playing-guitar-sunsetNot only that, but in my haste, I took no thought as to what keys all these different characters should be singing their bits in the Sequence.  Right after the verse I just mentioned, for example, the ingénue Taura begins to sing a solo to the main theme of the song “Oracle.”  All the lights should be lowered and all the previous frenetic conflict be dissolved, as she begins to sing this song of spiritual calling.   It needs to be her defining moment, where she sings to her guitar, as they all are gather in Nature, in the Outdoors, beneath the Stars.  This is only her second solo in the show — and it is the first one that features her voice en masse before the multitudes, rather than restricted in a romantic setting between her and Winston alone.  Obviously, this crucial performance of hers should feature her voice in its optimum range.  But alas, as I just now have confessed, I took no thought for such a practical matter, so infused was I with the creative fury at the time. 

As a result, Taura winds up having to sing this theme in the key of G, with notes much too high for the contralto whom I have intended her to be.  I cursed myself.  “What an oversight!”  I exclaimed.  Yet at the same time, I recall having furiously sped from one section in the sequence to another, overlooking every peccadillo in my path in the spirit of honoring the long-awaited arrival of the finishing of the first Act, which arrival now loomed imminently on the near horizon, a virtual, visible certainty of a happy event to come.

So I consoled myself with the memory of past faith.  I figured that if I had faith beforehand — way back when — even as I plowed over every glaring error in my path like a bulldozer — I could probably summon up that same faith, and use the present day as an occasion to atone fully for my earlier carelessness, and craft the End of Act One in a manner befitting a musical of this caliber.  

When I began to exercise this renewed faith, the landscape brightened considerably.  True, the lousy lyrics were the devil to replace.  Moreover, I had to change the key in that section, in order to create a key that could easily modulate into a better key to spotlight Taura’s voice during her solo.    But  then, with renewed faith, I realized that I need not be enamored to the music itself in the section where the lyrics fell short.  I now could write new music along with the new lyrics, and make that section more transitional, and less overt.  Ah!  It all began to come together, at last.

And it continues to come together.  What is the difference?  Only faith.  Only being open to new and better gifts from that great Beyond whence all ideas are formed.  And people may mock me and scoff, if indeed they pay any attention to me at all.  I hear their imagined voices already:

“Will you never stop messing with this thing?
It’s been years now, Andy!
Get off of it! Get real!”

It puts me on the defensive, to have to answer to such objections — real or imagined.  I want to say I’ll stop messing with it when somebody finally picks it up and decides to produce it — and not a minute before.  But that’s a line of malarkey – blatant baloney and balderdash.

I’ll stop messing with it when I’m finally tired of it, and when I finally abandon it.  That’s the naked truth, unveiled.  I pray this happens before someone picks it up, and not after.  If it doesn’t happen till after, I could be hell on any production staff unfortunate enough to have picked up my baby while still in the womb.  Let’s hope for an on-time delivery.  In my heart of hearts, I wouldn’t want it any other way.   

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Anything Helps – God Bless!

(* The Hugh Howey quote comes courtesy of  M. C. Tuggle — a blog well worth the read, by the way.)

The God Who Believes in Me

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

BROKE AND HOMELESS
OFTEN HUNGRY
PLEASE HELP IF YOU CAN

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

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

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

Please help raise public awareness as to the Homeless Phenomenon in America.
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Anything Helps — God Bless.

There is a God

The piano-vocal score to my song “The Very Same World” is finished now.  If anyone wants to take a look at it, you can click on the title below.   (It will lead to an 11-page pdf file.)

The Very Same World

from the new musical Eden in Babylon
Words and Music by Andy Pope
Copyright © 2017 by Andrew Michael Pope

I’d hoped to get three of these finished and then approach a certain professor from the nearby School of Music.  A number of people told me that he would be the logical person to talk to, if I wanted to find singers to help me out with my musical demo.   But a couple things arose to deter me, much as I so desperately desired to proceed unhindered.  First of all, I got behind schedule.  I had been hoping to have two of them done by Friday, and the third by next Friday.  Instead, I only have one of them done — and it’s already Monday.   Secondly, I was somewhat intimidated by the man’s awe-inspiring credentials.  This played into my natural shyness, and I began to doubt my fortitude.

But then, a mysterious turn of events took place.  As it happens, the professor is actually coming to meet me.  You see, the departing Minister of Music at my church has to leave during Holy Week due to the poor health of her husband.  It turns out that she knows this professor, and so she called him to take over our rehearsal on Wednesday night, as well as the Good Friday and Easter Sunday services.   So by this Wednesday, I will be following his conducting on the piano as I accompany our church choir.  Naturally, I used this as a deadline to finish the score to The Very Same World I printed it out today, and after I make minor corrections, I can simply show it to him.  So my shyness and timidity are no longer an issue.  

I also just happened to  meet three decent singers who have expressed an interest in working with me on this project.  One of them, a mezzo-soprano whom I ran into at the local pub, looked over my score briefly, then said she would reply to my call if I “posted a notice.”  Being the new kid on the block here, I haven’t exactly found out where to post this notice.  She said it with such authority, I did not want to admit my naivete.   But then, I met two young men at a cafe who were working on theory assignments on music paper, so I invited them to come look at my score.  Turned out one of them was a baritone, and we exchanged contact information.  They also advised me that anyone can audit the Jazz Choir that meets in the afternoons throughout the week, and that I could pick up a bass part and sing with them.  I don’t have to be a University student to participate.  Finally, there’s this fellow Josh who works at the Bagel Shop downstairs from me, who has a degree in Acting and has sung professionally in musicals.  He seems eager to help me out with this as well.   So perhaps I already have two or three singers.  I only need two or three more.

All of this points to an eerie phenomenon that might best be explained once it’s understood that I have only lived in this particular city for eight months.  I came here from the San Francisco Bay Area, largely because the rising cost of living was getting to me on numerous levels.   Six years ago, I lived in a situation that was almost identical to my present digs, as far as basic specs were concerned, and it rented for $900/mo.  What do I pay here in Northern Idaho for the same set-up?   You guessed it.  $275/mo.   So I finally came up here on a lark, answering a Craigslist ad, looking for a mere hole-in-the-wall where I could plug in my laptop, unhassled by numerous disconcerting factors: high crime rate, distrust among neighbors, frequent homelessness, and so forth.

friendship squareI moved into small studio in an old-style apartment building, where there are business on the first floor, and residences on the higher floors.  What I did not expect was for there to be a running store in my very building.  Being a runner, this intrigued me.  I then noticed yoga centers and bike shops.  A health-and-wellness emphasis, I thought.  Very good.   I then learned about the School of Music, and that the State Repertory Theatre was founded here as well – in the year I was born, incidentally.  As you soon will find, that’s quite germane.

The second week I was here, I applied for a part-time church position, was hired, and still hold that job today.   Before I knew it, I was surrounded by Artists and Writers of all kinds.  And as for music?  I’m doing gigs all up and down the main drag.   And culture?  I heard more decent music my first five days in this small college community than I heard in Berkeley, California, in five years.

There is more to this story, so I might as well tell it.

Why did I choose Moscow, Idaho?   Out of all the small out-of-the-way villages where I could have sought affordable housing, why Moscow?   Because I was born here.  I lived here the first year of my life when my dad was teaching ROTC at the University.  Then his Navy career took us all over the country as well as to other parts of the world.  I didn’t want my whole life to go by without seeing what Moscow, Idaho was like.  When I came here, I was astounded.  This city seemed to be custom-designed for me.

BerkeleyIn the first four months I was here, I sequenced all the music I wrote internally after four of my laptops were successively stolen in Berkeley, and I could not afford to replace them.   In the next three months, I sat down and finished a draft of the musical I had been struggling, through adverse circumstances in California, for five years.  Now I’m working on the piano-vocal score to that musical.  I have the same laptop now that I bought shortly before I left Berkeley.   Had I stayed in Berkeley, I would never have been able to retain a laptop that long.  It would have been stolen by now.   In fact, considering the huge upsurge in violence that has taken place on the Berkeley streets since the election of our current clueless leader, I can’t help but wonder if I would even still be alive today, had I stayed in this unfavorable town. 

This is why my faith has increased as much as it has.   I was so angry and discouraged when I was homeless on the Berkeley streets, that I shouted out to God:

“WHY am I always forced to be hanging around thieves and hustlers and pimps and hookers and panhandlers and criminals and murderers?   WHY does nobody care about my Music or my Art?  WHY am I not hanging around Actors and Directors and Musicians and Writers and Artists??”

The question “Why?” is often moot.  But if the desperation in that oft-repeated query could be interpreted as an entreaty to an unseen God, then the proof of the answer to that twisted prayer is in the very experience I own today.  It happened in less than forty-eight hours.   I hopped on a Greyhound, alighted randomly upon this little town in Idaho, answered an ad for a studio, and three days later signed a one-year lease.   I’m where I am supposed to be.  There is a God.