Hear my prayer, O LORD;
give ear to my pleas for mercy!
In your faithfulness answer me, in your righteousness!
Enter not into judgment with your servant,
for no one living is righteous before you.
For the enemy has pursued my soul;
he has crushed my life to the ground;
he has made me sit in darkness like those long dead.
Therefore my spirit faints within me;
my heart within me is appalled.
I remember the days of old;
I meditate on all that you have done;
I ponder the work of your hands.
I stretch out my hands to you;
my soul thirsts for you like a parched land.
Answer me quickly, O LORD!
My spirit fails!
Hide not your face from me,
lest I be like those who go down to the pit.
Let me hear in the morning of your steadfast love,
for in you I trust.
Make me know the way I should go,
for to you I lift up my soul.
Deliver me from my enemies, O LORD!
I have fled to you for refuge.
Teach me to do your will,
for you are my God!
Let your good Spirit lead me
on level ground!
For your name’s sake, O LORD, preserve my life!
In your righteousness bring my soul out of trouble!
And in your steadfast love you will cut off my enemies,
and you will destroy all the adversaries of my soul,
for I am your servant.
— Psalm 143
Q. Where are you coming from?
A. You heard me.
Q. As in Shakespeare?
A. Come on – you know what I mean. Personal drama.
Q. Is there a lot of drama in your life right now?
A. If there is, there shouldn’t be.
Q. Then how is it that you claim to be “coming from drama?”
A. Because that’s where I come from — by nature.
Q. You’re a dramatic person by nature?
A. A good friend of mine once told me that I treat life as though it’s a play I’m writing. A play in which I am the main character.
Q. So you are both Playwright and Protagonist?
A. Yes. In the Play of Life.
Q. Isn’t that a bit presumptuous of you? I mean, that you — an almost infinitesimal fraction of the world’s population — should be the playwright of the whole shebang?
A. Presumptuous in an understatement. Somewhere between grandiose and delusional come to mind.
Q. When did you first realize this?
A. The night before last.
Q. Seriously? Only that recently?
A. I believe it had been brewing for a long time. But finally yes, the night before last is when I connected all the dots. I’ve been treating people unrealistically for a long time. I’ve been treating them according to what purpose I think they’re supposed to fulfill in my life — rather than according to who they are.
Q. What happened the night before last?
A. I was walking and praying. Praying for a couple people whom I met recently, people with whom I tried to form friendships, and then I fouled up the friendships.
Q. How did you do that?
A. I did it because I couldn’t see who they truly were, or what their needs were. I could only see the role that I presumed they should be playing in my life.
Q. In the Play of Life — the play that you are always writing?
A. Yes! Now you understand.
Q. How did you feel when you realized how you had been treating them?
A. Horrible! I suddenly saw how selfishly I had taken advantage of them. And each of them had respected me — perhaps even admired me. They were younger, and they looked up to me. I should have provided a better example, a better role model. Instead, I used them — I tried to fashion them into these characters of my own creation. As though I were —
A. As though I were God.
Q. Was it really that bad? You didn’t abuse them physically, did you?
A. No . . .
Q. Did you call them names?
A. One of them, yes. When I was mad. I tried to apologize — but the apology couldn’t have taken away the hurt. And then I didn’t know what to do anymore, to be honest with you.
Q. What did you do?
A. I just started to be nice to them, whenever I happened to see them. Tried to start anew, I guess.
Q. What more can you do?
A. Not much, I suppose. Maybe time will take care of it all.
Q. What have you learned from all this?
A. Something I should have already known.
Q. What’s that?
A. That I’m a playwright. I was born to write plays. My brain thinks in characters and dialogue. I should write more of them. I should write a brand new play. If I write more plays, I will cease to act as though I am the Playwright of Life. And I will respect the One who truly is that Playwright. The One who created my character. The One who wrote the whole show — from the Beginning of Time.
The Questioner pauses.
Q. Is all the world a stage?
A. In God’s eyes, perhaps.
Q. And in your eyes?
A. All the world’s a page. I am but a writer who writes on it. Page after page I will turn, I will write. Until I’ve written what’s right for me to write.
A. I promise.
Q. But what about the people in your life?
A. It’s not my life. That’s the whole point. It’s just life. I didn’t create it. God did. I am only to participate in it, and appreciate it.
Q. But what about the people in your life?
A. They have their own lives.
A. Well – in a manner of speaking. I can only pray that they too will be able to get the most — out of Life.
The Questioner is silent
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Beyond neurosis, there lies reality.
It wasn’t neurosis that made me come up with the ten disclaimers, essentially telling my followers they shouldn’t even bother listening to the song, and then posting the song the next morning anyway.
I wasn’t being bipolar when I was one way one day and one way the next. For beyond neurosis, beyond bipolarity, there lies this thing called reality.
And reality can sometimes be the last thing the Artist wants to face. In fact, maybe the fact that the Artist doesn’t like to face reality is the reason why the Artist became an Artist in the first place.
Maybe, at some long-forgotten age old time of childhood, a little boy learned something about reality that he just couldn’t handle.
Maybe his childhood was so idyllic, and he loved his parents so much, that he couldn’t handle finding out that there was this thing called “death” that would take away his father one day, and take away his mother, and eventually take away his own self.
Maybe that was so painful that for two whole years he looked around at all the people doing normal things, and thought painful thoughts of despair. “Why is that guy washing his car?” the child would ask himself. “Doesn’t he know he could die tomorrow? And what would a clean car be to him then?”
Maybe the child turned from about five to about seven, and suddenly realized he kinda knew how to do things like play Old MacDonald and Mary Had a Little Lamb on a piano, and write little children’s songs, and draw pretty pictures with colored pencils, and write little fairy tales and nursery rhymes, and sing silly songs long into the night, while pretending his fingernails were ice skates, his fingers the skaters, and the sheets of his bed the skating rink, where round and round the skaters would skate, and skate themselves out of their pain.
Maybe he figured that God’s creation was just too painful to face. So he created his own creations, and found pleasure in what he decided to create – a pleasure that cancelled out for a season, the pain of the creation that was God’s.
Whatever the case, it was not neurosis that issued the disclaimers, nor was it bipolar of me to be one guy one day, and another fellow the next. For on the third day, he rose, and he realized reality.
The reality he did not want to face.
The reality is that the song straight-up, flat-out sucks. And he knew it from the start. He wanted to be cute. He wanted to entertain. He wanted to fool people into thinking that he didn’t know the song would turn out as badly as the song in fact turned out. So he went for high drama, like the Actor that he can be, and played his show of neurosis to the hilt.
The truth is, he was never neurotic. The truth is that he knew all along the reality that he did not feel he could face. The reality is what it is.
The song sucks — and that’s reality.
But maybe the song needed to suck, because the Artist needed to face the music, and learn a needed lesson. Maybe the lesson he needed to learn is the reality all Artists must one day face.
For the creation of the Artist is by no means superior to the creation of the Reality. And that creation is not of the Artist. The creation of Reality belongs to God.
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A little bit goes a long, long way.
Lately there has been a gnawing sensation within me that a critical part of my story has been left out. I’ve been wanting to relate a certain turn of events that occurred in July 2016, after I had left Berkeley, but before I had moved up to Idaho. It may explain why it is that I am so passionate about what I am writing, and why I now know that my life has meaning.
To provide some background, I left Berkeley, California on the day that I received my monthly Social Security check for July. On that day, I bought a laptop. Knowing that four laptops had been stolen in a three year period in Berkeley, and that I was a known “mark” for the thugs and gang bangers who hung out by the local rapid transit station, my plan was to silently leave town before anyone caught wind of my acquisition.
The city where I landed on the San Francisco Bay Area Peninsula was a small town of about 25,000 composed almost entirely of upper-class Caucasians. I selected it because it was noted for a low crime rate and a peaceful aura. However, it wasn’t particularly friendly toward outdoor homeless types, and after the second time my sleep was interrupted by an officer of the law, I agreed to be transferred from my spot behind the local library to a shelter about twenty five miles South of there, in a more industrial neck of the woods.
At first, I was very impressed with the shelter. They had a number of programs designed to help homeless people get back on their feet and regain self-esteem. It was, however, assumed that I was an alcoholic or a drug addict, and daily twelve-step meetings were required. Still, I acquiesced. I think twelve-step meetings are great, in general. The only thing that bothered me was the assumption that I needed one.
About five days into my sojourn at the shelter, an unfortunate turn of events took place. In the Men’s Barracks, where I slept on a bunk in close proximity to about twenty-five other men, I caught a flu. I went to the hospital, where I was told I had “viral bronchitis” — which I’m pretty sure is just a fancy name for a high-follutin’ flu. I definitely do not have bronchitis in any other sense. In any case, I was given the usual stuff, and told to “rest in bed for ten days.”
But when I went back to the shelter, they told me that because I had a contagious disease, I could no longer stay at the shelter. This disturbed me. After all, I had obviously caught the flu at the shelter. So I was not the only person there with a flu. Half of the guys in the barracks were coughing, sneezing, and wheezing from all their cigarette smoke anyway. Here I’m this guy with an unusually strong immune system, who had caught exactly two flus in the past fifteen years, works out, doesn’t smoke or drink — it very much upset me that I was being reprimanded for my honesty.
So I went back to the hospital and explained what happened, hoping they would let me in to recover. But at the hospital, I was told that they couldn’t show any special preference for me, just because I was homeless.
“I know you have the flu, Andy, but let’s face it. Homeless people come in here trying to get an overnight stay all the time, for all kinds of reasons. If I were to let you in, I’d have to let in the whole lot of you. I’m sorry, Andy, but that’s just the way it is.”
A rush of numbing fright consumed me. I suddenly realized that I was going to have to fend with this flu outdoors! I’d seen homeless people die overnight after catching a flu! I feared death – but I was too young to die — and generally a very healthy, fit human being. But what could I do?
Throughout the next five days, my condition worsened. I was sneezing, and often visibly perspiring. The driver of the all-night bus stopped letting me inside the bus at night, because all the other homeless people who used the bus as a sleeping spot were complaining that I might be contagious. I told him that viral bronchitis is only contagious in the first two to three days. But this was to no avail.
Then one night, something came over me. And this is why I now know that my life has meaning. Shortly after midnight, on July 17, 2016, I was walking by the Sequoia Station in Redwood City, wondering where to sleep that night, sick with a flu, and angry. Suddenly I dropped down on my knees and screamed at the top of my lungs:
God!! If there is Anybody out there, I don’t care Who you are, or what your Name is, if you can feel me, where I’m coming from, please — I do not care about drug addiction or alcoholism, or mental illness, or being a lazy bum or a slacker or a slouch – I care about Homelessness! Please put an END to twelve years of totally unpredictable, totally unreliable, ANYTHING CAN HAPPEN, ANYTIME ANYWHERE HOMELESSNESS!!! In the name of Jesus Christ I pray –
Granted, it was an impulsive emotional outburst, and I’m sure any theologian worth their salt could easily chop holes in the wording. But I felt an eerie sense of calm when I got back up to my feet.
I looked around. The night was still and quiet. My spirit was overwhelmed with the clear feeling that Somebody had heard that prayer — and that Somebody would honor it.
A couple days later, as the symptoms of the flu subsided, I remembered an associate of mine, a now retired music teacher with whom I had worked when I was still a sheltered elementary school music teacher making a modest living on the Peninsula, before all this homelessness ensued. He had earlier said that if I could choose a spot outside of the State of California where the rents would be cheaper and I could conceivably live off of my Social Security, he would spot me the one-way ticket.
The rest of my story I have told. Here, there, and elsewhere. Within forty-eight hours, I had rented a room at Friendship Square on a temporary basis. Three days later I signed a one year lease on an apartment that would have rented for $900 in Berkeley, and was only $275 in Moscow, Idaho. I alighted upon the city of my birth for the first time in sixty-three years — a city that I knew nothing about whatsoever, other than the fact that I was born here. Three weeks later, I applied for a part time job and was hired — after years of being considered unemployable and mentally incapable of working in the State of California.
I only later learned that Idaho Repertory Theatre was founded in this city on the year I was born, and that the Lionel Hampton School of Music sports a city-wide jazz festival every year here — in the town where I was born. I only later walked through one of the city gates, and saw the city proudly proclaiming itself: “The Heart of the Arts.”
I’m not going to ask you to believe in God, if you don’t already, after having read these words. The word “God” after all, is only a word. If you ask ten people the meaning of that Word, you are likely to get ten different answers. I know what I believe, and you probably do too.
But I will ask you to believe that my life has meaning — and purpose. If you can help me in any way to move that purpose forward, please do. I’ve been sleeping in gutters for almost half of my adult life. That I did not die a meaningless death on the streets of Berkeley is an absolute miracle. I have written a full-length musical about homelessness since I have been off the streets, in addition to numerous blogs, and five articles published in Street Spirit. If you can help me in any way with the money I need to make a demo recording of three songs from my musical, please believe me:
That one has got to be true. After all, Somebody gave pretty easily — once I finally, earnestly asked.
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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.)
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.
I 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.
In 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.