Gratitude List 1565

(1) Exercise is going well, especially now that I got my bicycle fixed. I can always do long rides on the days I don’t run. Even in the heat, they’re not burdensome, because the air creates a breeze as I ride. I’m also getting “addicted” to my 2 1/2 mile running course, and I’ve twice run it two days in a row now.

(2) I got a gig writing out piano parts for the songs of an old friend. He happened to call from Arizona, right on the evening when I realized the workshop would have to be truncated.

(3) Had the second day of cognitive processing therapy for PTSD. Although the course seems to have been designed with veterans of combat in mind, I can see a lot of parallels between street life and a life of active combat. The triggers are often very similar, and I believe this will be helpful.

(4) Been very absorbed the past few days getting tracks ready for Dave, the new sound designer. It’s been an interesting process which I’m for the most part enjoying. Looking forward to our session tomorrow night.

(5) No matter what happens with the workshop, I’m glad Keva is going to stick around the area and that she and will remain in touch. Great to have someone with so much potential, learning how to sing my songs.

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Tuesday Tuneup 111

Q. Where would you like to be?

A. In a place of greater satisfaction.

Q. Do you feel unsatisfied?

A. This morning I do, yes.

Q. Why?

A. I’m not sure.   It may just be a Tuesday morning mood.

Q. Without basis?

A. Not entirely.   I’m dissatisfied with certain aspects of the way things are going, invariably related to behavioral patterns of mine that need to change.

Q. Like what?

A. I seem to often make blanket decisions when I am dissatisfied.   And later, I am dissatisfied with those decisions.

Q. Like what?

A. A while back I decided to stop posting piano pieces on Fridays, at least for a while.   In my heart, I felt a huge desire not to post any further piano pieces at all, to be honest.   This is a “blanket” decision.  It’s black and white.   It goes against the gray areas that comprise reality.

Q. What else?

A. I recently decided to stop writing about homelessness.

Q. Why?

A. Because I was dissatisfied with it.

Q. Why?

A. It’s not objective.  It’s emotional.  It derives from subjective personal experience.   It relates more to my own personality than it does to any concrete statement about society.

Q. Are you sure about that?

A. Yes.

Q. But can’t you do anything to change this for the better?

A. I probably could.  I recall reading yesterday the last words of Romans 12:

“Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”

Q. How do these words apply to you?

A. I get overcome by “evil.”  I post piano youtubes and look at them in disgust.  For one thing, I never seem to be able to lose enough weight to look thin or healthy enough to satisfy me.  For another thing, I never seem to get it together to obtain new clothes or an interesting wardrobe.

Q. Why is this?

A. I think my priorities are screwed up.

Q. So you are dissatisfied with your priorities?

A. Yes.   They need to change.

Q. Let me see here.  If you don’t prioritize writing about homelessness, and you don’t prioritize playing the piano, what will you prioritize?

A. The answer is at the end of Matthew Six.   Surely you know this!

“But seek ye first the kingdom of God — and His righteousness — and the rest will be added unto thee.”

Q. Have you not been seeking first the kingdom of God?

A. Not always, and not lately.

Q. What have you been seeking first instead?

A. Isn’t it obvious?

Q. I don’t know – is it?

A. Obviously, my first order of business is to seek the production of my musical.   This is the real reason why I am tired of writing about homelessness, and tired of playing piano solos on my youtube channel.   They take so much energy, they take away from the energy I feel I need to put into my musical, in order to get it produced.

Q. But if you were to seek first the kingdom of God, what does that mean exactly?   What would it entail?

A. It means putting God first.   Serving others — not self.   Finding out what He wants me to do — and doing it.  Not just doing what *I* want to do, at the expense of helping others.

Q. But won’t your musical help others?

A. Not if it’s my first priority, it won’t.   I’ll become so obsessed with the musical, it will override all other concerns.   Not just the piano.   Not just the journalism.   But everything!   I will cease to eat.  I will disdain sleep.   My house will deteriorate into a filthy mess.  I won’t lay hands on a vaccum cleaner, for fear of taking precious time away from working on my musical.

Q. And then what?

A. Then something will go wrong.  Terribly wrong.   And I will be tempted to drown my sorrows.

Q. As in drink?

A. I do not drink.  There are other ways for one to drown one’s sorrows.   Unfortunately, these ways are illegal in the State of Idaho, though I notice they are legal in adjacent States.

Q. When was the last time you drowned your sorrows?

A. It was right after the close of the Pandemic Workshop.   I had thought we were ascending to higher heights.  I had thought everything was expanding.  And then — suddenly — everything collapsed.

Q. Are you to blame for this?

A. Not entirely.  But I do know that I failed to seek first the kingdom.   I was seeking first the expanding production of the musical.   And then, seemingly at that moment, it ceased to expand — but rather contracted.

Q. Have you learned from this?

A. Yes!  I am doing everything I can to make sure it doesn’t happen this summer.

Q. But you still feel that your priorities are screwed up?

A. Dude!   When was the last time I washed the dishes??

Q. What can you do about all this?

A. Just what the Bible says.  It must become more important for me to be of service to the people around me, than it is for me to produce my musical.

Q. How can you better be of service to the people around you?

A. What I have to give to them, to offer them, needs to become more important than what I think they should be offering me.

Q. Does this apply to any group of people in particular?

A. It applies to all people — of course.

Q. But aren’t you thinking about a specific group of people right now?

A. Of course I am.

Q. Then isn’t that a part of the problem?   Why should that single group of people be more important than any other group of people?

A. They shouldn’t be — it’s just that — they’re the people I am called to serve . . .

Q. Called to serve?

A. That’s an interesting expression.   Not sure why it came out of me.

Q. Are you beginning to rethink the situation?

A.  Somewhat, yes.

Q. How so?

A. It cannot be denied that the Lord does put certain people into our lives for certain reasons.   Undeniably, we are called to serve those people.   That’s what love is.

Q. Do you feel that you are unloving?

A. By nature, yes.  But I’m not so bad off that the situation cannot be remedied.

Q. So you have found the problem?

A. Yes.  I have found the problem, and the problem is me.

Q. Anything else I can do for you?

A. See me next week.   Let’s pursue this theme further.

The Questioner is silent.  

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Gratitude List 1556

1) Though we’re rapidly returning to real-life settings in these parts, I am thankful for the experience of Zoom and for the Zoom meetings I will continue to enjoy.  I imagine this would include my weekly Monday afternoon meeting with Kurt the linguistics expert.  Although it hasn’t happened yet, I always enjoy it, and usually learn new things.

(2) I’m thankful for all the professors I met in the two theology groups I discovered a while back.  On Thursday I met with Nick, a professor emeritus of philosophy who was the director of religious studies at the University here.  We had a wonderful conversation, in which he expressed his interest in my musical as well as theology.   I’m thankful he’d listened to Talking Shop Part Seven and Reaching for Your Hand, because he had useful observations as well as encouraging things to say.

(3) In the past year and a half, it seems that a niche has been prepared for me in the local journalism community.   I now count 22 columns I’ve had published in Spokane Faith and Values, where I’ve met numerous journalists with whom I am able to network.  Also thankful for all the local journalists I’ve met here in town, and at the University.

(4) Keva and I met again on Sunday.  We dd a new recording of “Reaching for Your Hand” in which we used two iPhones spaced strategically in different spots near singer and piano.   I’m in the process of mixing it down for my SoundCloud.   We also did a video of a song I wrote called “I Am the Blues.”  On examining her work closely, I told Keva she should feel free to interpret my songs as she chooses.  She does have that power, that gift.

(5) I’ve been meeting one to one with people who are interested in reinstating a musical workshop for the summer.  It won’t be the same exact team, but I am encouraged by the genuine interest and enthusiasm I am finding in those with whom I meet.  It’s been wonderful to have slowly realized in recent months that I am not the only person who enjoys working on my musical.   It’s been wonderful overall to have gradually discovered that I am no longer isolated, no longer alone.

“I realized if you can change a classroom, you can change a community, and if you change enough communities you can change the world.”
   — Erin Gruwell

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Authenticity and Community

To start off this Thursday’s post, I’m going to spin off of something I wrote last week:  

“What is being brought to light in the podcasts is how, when we were homeless, we were not in the position to be able to distinguish, among all the authority figures and “pseudo-authorities” in our midst, who were the ones who represented benign agencies whose role it was to assist us, and who were the ones who represented more-or-less adversarial institutions designed to investigate and incriminate us. All these “higher ups” were relegated into the box of our “observers from inside” – and thus it was difficult to distinguish them, one from another.

“In a corresponding way, it was difficult for those who lived indoors to discern from among those who were outside who was a legitimate candidate for genuine assistance, and who was of a criminal bent.   Those in the latter camp often feigned a need for assistance in order to gain benefits.  They were also often very good at it.  Whatever the case, I can assure you that I didn’t look much different than any other person on the streets — at least not at first glance.”

Having become homeless, I was dealing with this dynamic from the start.  Add to this the conditions under which the homelessness began; that is, that I had been subjected to a costly medical misdiagnosis that at first I embraced naively, only later to find myself headed for the streets.  The further I fell, the more it appeared that people in the medical profession were assuming authority over me.  This in fact was indicative of a greater phenomenon:  The further one descended down the socio-economic scale, the more people began to exert power and authority over that person.  The lower I got, the higher became the number of “pseudo-authorities.”  As more and more people seemed to grab power over me, I literally felt myself losing my last shreds of personal power–losing my value to society–as I became homeless.

The more people assumed authority over me, the more I rebelled against them.  After all, they did not know me personally and made no effort to engage me meaningfully.  What authority qualified them to boss me around?  Why should this particular batch of emerging new people, eminently random in my span of life experience, be the ones to whom I hold myself accountable?   In the case of the medical professionals in particular, I not only ceased to hold myself accountable to them, but I went so far as to address them from an adversarial stance, sometimes even a hostile one.  For it was they who had, in my view, initiated my demise. 

Abuse of Authority

The absolute audacity!  The very sort of people whom I thought should be held accountable for my downfall were now in a position of supposed authority over me!  They lived indoors; they had jobs with responsibilities and tenure; they wore badges.  Mental health professionals did not differ much from security guards in their approach toward us, when we were homeless.   Nor did we ourselves hold any particularly greater degree of respect for them than we did for anyone else who wore a badge.  

While my previous relationship with my psychiatrist had ordinarily been pleasant as well as at least potentially helpful, my new position with respect to mental health professionals was clearly one of assumed subordination.  Earlier, when I lived indoors and paid into my Kaiser health-insurance, I was happy to discuss life with my psychiatrist and more than willing to take her suggestions, since I felt she and I were on an even playing field.   But now, mental health officials often showed up in cahoots with police officers and fire department personnel, in a scenario where the badges even of emergency medical technicians seemed no less intimidating than those of the chief executive officers of major corporate hospitals.  The idea that any of these detached pseudo-authorities should even care to get to know me personally, let alone that I should be expected to blindly obey their uninformed commands, was absurd.   There was no reasonable choice other than to rebel.  

It was with such biases weighing upon me that I found myself eager to give musical and dramatic form to my emerging worldview.   For one thing, the season of life was quite exciting.  I was meeting other men and women who had fallen into the same predicament, and their views coincided closely with my own.  In fact, our perceptions began to build and feed upon each other.  Before long, I found myself overtaken by an alternate view of reality.  It was as though I had become a member of an alternative society, formed by the interactions that entailed among myself and others, as we all set out to interpret what had befallen us in a way that made mutual sense.

It was in such an atmosphere that I naturally conceived of the musical that was to become Eden in Babylon.  I felt an eagerness to use my particular skills to hone a medium through which a picture of youth homelessness in urban America could be presented.   Naturally, the Kids in the story would hang together and be protective of one another, in an environment where they were constantly having orders barked at them by desensitized pseudo-officials.  In such a scenario, an idealistic protagonist who finds himself subjected to brutal torture on the part of the “powers that be” in a psychiatric facility seemed to fit right in.

A New Life

Fast forward about ten years, and we find the playwright in a quiet college town in North Idaho, having not only lived inside for almost five years now, but actually having become acclimated to an accepting community of artists and academicians.  In the process, I cannot help but have gradually embraced some of the details of functioning in a healthy indoor community that, when I was outside, I would have shunned as “mainstream.”  The same system of tacitly acknowledged social conventions that I disdained when I was outside now appears at worst to be a necessary evil, and at best a convenience designed to make life easier on myself and on the others with whom I come into contact.

In such a markedly different culture, the thought of finding a compatible doctor and therapist, and of exploring medications that might assist in adapting to the established social norms, does not seem very far-fetched at all.   There is at least a tangible ideal of connecting meaningfully with mental health professionals who may assist me along my path.  Before, it was like, “get him in, give him some meds, get him out of here.”  I’d be ejected from the system turnstile just in time to have all my new meds stolen out of my backpack in a food line.

But it is not only my position with respect to medical professionals that has changed.  If something unruly is taking place in the neighborhood, I am confident that I can call the local cops, give them my name, receive their assistance, and be regarded as a responsible citizen in the process.  This would not have been the case when I was homeless.  The menacing nature of all the “badges” has diminished since I’ve been back inside.  There appear to be fewer of them now, and the ones that there are no longer hover so high above me.  

Also significantly diminished is the sense of inexorable evil wrapped up in this entity we called the Mainstream.  No longer do I feel that there is this giant social ogre — the Mainstream — ready to expel me from all the blessings of indoor living if I don’t abide precisely by all its confusing restrictions and demands.   Because of this, I feel that the cry that was so often expressed by my homeless brothers and sisters has been heard in the affirmative.  “How can we get back inside without getting caught up again in the Mainstream?”  That was the perennial question.

Authenticity and Community 

The answer for me has been twofold.  I had to first agree with myself to be genuine and authentic in my approach toward others and toward life.  I had to be myself decidedly, and to believe in myself — otherwise I would construct from all my guise and façade the very Mainstream that I was trying to avoid.  Life would again become a game in which I had already proven myself a very poor player, and I would risk being cast outside once again.   

Secondly, I had to agree to give of myself to a community that I would serve and in which I would play a part.   Here in Moscow, I have found a supportive church group, I have volunteered at a recovery center where I have found an emotional support group, I have found artists and musicians committed to my work, and I participate in theology groups with professors from both of the nearby Universities.  This accountability – or connectivity – keeps me from the isolation that would occur if I were still setting myself as an entity separate from and almost opposed to the world — the natural iconoclasm that sets in when one becomes homeless.

Thus is found the construction of an authentic life within an authentic community.   This differs hugely from what I experienced for years before ever becoming homeless.  I remember on the Peninsula wondering if I had any friends among the many associates whom I classified as consisting of the “three C’s” — clients, colleagues, and co-workers.   Many of my associations were contractual, and more money was indeed made.  But few of my associations were truly meaningful.   In a sense, this experience of a threatening Mainstream that sought to devour my true identity was itself only a social construct, because it was composed of the consequences of my own hypocrisy.  All its many conventions and protocols were but a reflection of my own personal falsity.  

That ugly scepter need not return to rear its head, for it has been dissolved in the greater reality of authenticity and community.   And, as Kelsey Chapman pointed out in one of the podcasts, Eden in Babylon has evolved accordingly, in a way that parallels my own personal transformation.    According to Kelsey, earlier drafts evidenced a protagonist who himself stood separate from the culture with which he was concerned, and who felt a false sense of empowerment that he could fix the situation from a detached, single-handed position.  It’s possible I was a bit like that myself.  In any case, the new protagonist – the new Winston – is a person who, like his creator, now merges in an even way with his community. 

So the picture of the tortured Artist who ten years ago sat beneath a Starbucks awning in the dead of night while homeless, conceiving a scene in which his main character was subjected to torture in a psych ward, is no longer the prevailing picture.  The Artist is no longer tortured by same.

The workshop was more than a mere musical workshop, for it awakened the desire deeply driven into all of our Actors to display how each of their characters represented a greater principle at work in today’s society.  In that more holistic view, Eden in Babylon ceases to be a statement about the mental health industry or even about homelessness, for that matter.  It becomes a statement about classism — and how it fosters the abuse of authority and power — as seen through the eyes of those who lack power the most.   

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Gratitude List 1552

(1) I was grateful to see that the little Greek gyros place on Main Street has opened up for indoor seating now, as long as people wear their masks when not seated.   Nice to see things returning to a semblance of normalcy.

(2) In the past couple days I’ve been blessed to accomplish much more reading than usual, by way of research.  Among other things, I read all kinds of information related to the “social construction of reality,” culminating in this excellent 14-minute video.  All of this is turning out to be very useful in the blog sequel I’m slowly composing for Thursday.

(3) Gorgeous clear day today, having gotten up to 48F degrees already, though it was 26F when I first awoke in the morning.   Doppio at the cafe makes me want to walk vigorously, like I did yesterday, four miles.

(4) Grateful for this A&W being so close to my house, because it has really fast Wi-Fi and they don’t mind me sitting in here for a while.   Good coffee, too.   A nice place to take my new laptop after an afternoon nap.

(5) I’m really grateful for Kelsey, because she is such a grounding force in the project, both conceptually, and in terms of providing a bridge between me and the younger actors.  It’s been wonderful working with her on the deeper themes during these podcasts.  Grateful for Cody & Keva and the others who remain enthused.  Their spirit is helping to sustain a feeling that I’m not in this thing alone.

“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.”
   –Will Durant

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Gratitude List 1548

(1) A lady from my church came over two days in a row, helped me clean the house, and showed me how to fix the toilet too. I learned all kinds of things about housecleaning that my own mother never taught me. As a result, I’m enthused about maintaining a nicer, cleaner place.

(2) After wrangling over it for three days in a spirit of merciless self-criticism, I have completed the first draft of my fourth column for the five-week series on Spokane Faith and Values. I submitted it to Kurt, the retired linguistics professor (and the man with the beret whom you see in Microcosm.) His edits on my second column were very helpful, and I look forward to more of the same.

(3) Looks like I’m losing weight again.  Haven’t been running so much, but have been enjoying long brisk walks in the morning and at night.  I use them as a time for prayer and reflection.  They also help to deflect the fact that I’ve got a lot of food in my cupboard these days, and that I’ve a tendency to munch.  Grateful, however, not to be going without.

(4) Mixes are starting to come in from our studio session Sunday before last.   New versions of “Hunted,” “Oracle,” and “Turns Toward Dawn” are available.   The last of these three clips is by far the best, earning us a wonderful commendation from the head of the jazz department at the Conservatory.   

(5) Our church met indoors for the first time yesterday.   We still wore masks and social-distanced.  It was well-coordinated and well-attended, and it made me feel warm inside.   I keep getting a sense that something really positive is in the works.  I can’t quite put my finger on it — but that doesn’t mean it isn’t real.   

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Gratitude List 1655

(1) Just got the second dose of the Moderna vaccine, about two hours ago.   Fulfilled my civic duty, and we’ll see what happens.  No fluish symptoms as of yet.  Grateful for this leap onto what will hopefully be a new and better stage.   

(2) Walking into the cafe, signs of new beginnings are in the air.   People wearing masks appear to be smiling.  Customers are less isolated and more chatty.   Had a couple meaningful conversations with strangers — two ladies I’d not seen before — who gave two different accounts about reactions to their vaccinations.   Sat down in my favorite venue and composed this gratitude list.   God has been good to me today.

(3) Got a nice compliment on Bridging the Gap from a staff member of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival (AKA Ashland) — someone whom I haven’t talked to since 2004 (ironically, the year most referenced in the audio cast.)   After dispelling the immediate fantasies that Eden in Babylon might be produced at Ashland, I realized that two people who usually don’t comment have made appreciative remarks toward that single talk.   That means it’s probably useful, and I pinned it to my Twitter profile.   Glad I dug it up — hope it helps.   

(4) Because yesterday was Cooper’s last day, we recorded five of his songs back to back in the sanctuary.  Liam engineered the recordings and will have them ready, he says, by Thursday.   All were done with piano only, and most included five back-up singers from the team.    Though it’s difficult to lose Cooper, I’m grateful we used his last day wisely.   (Besides, you never know — he might come back someday.)

(5) Yes – definitely – new beginnings are in the air.   I can feel it.   It’s all around me.   It’s a beautiful day in the city of my birth.   I am somehow where I’m meant to be — where I belong — for now.  

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Gratitude List 1652

(1) Health and self-care have been distinctly better since having finally finished a very challenging and unanticipated task. Actually got eight hours sleep the night before last, and six hours last night. Starting to run again – did three miles in the snow with my NanoSpikes. Sat down to meditate thereafter, and though I slept through most of the twenty minutes, it still seemed beneficial.

(2) Finished the first column for the five-week series on Spokane Faith and Values. Completed a draft of the second column, which I’m about to edit and submit. Grateful for the opportunity.

(3) It was nice to hear my daughter introduce me to a friend of hers yesterday by saying: “This is my dad Andy.  He was on the streets for like thirteen years and now he’s a published journalist and widely respected, and they’re producing a musical he wrote about youth homelessness.”  (A bit hyperbolic on both ends, but still nice to hear.) Grateful for a daughter who is proud of me.

(4) Big night tonight, if Cooper doesn’t get snowed out on the mountainous 30 mile drive.  Five musicians and five singers are going to be gathering with sound engineer and all kinds of recording equipment, hopefully to record “Sirens of Hope” and “Turns Toward Dawn” before we lose Cooper to a lead in a TV series.   (Asking for prayer).  

(5) Observed a very restful Sabbath on Saturday, which no doubt contributed to the unprecedented eight hours of sleep.  One thing I did do was fix the ending to Desperado.  It was a labor of love as opposed to all the stressful stuff that constitutes “work” in our high-pressure, fast-paced society.  You might check it out — we all need to let Somebody love us — before it’s too late.

The moment one definitely commits oneself, then Providence moves too. Whatever you think you can do, or believe you can do, begin it. Action has magic, power and grace. — Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

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Tuesday Tuneup 100

Q. Where are you coming from?

A. What do you mean, where am I coming from?

Q. Just what I asked – where are you coming from?

A. Don’t you usually open with a different question?

Q. What do you mean?

A. Don’t you usually ask me: “what’s happening now?” on Tuesday mornings?

Q. Don’t you think it’s time we came up with a different opening question?

A. Come to think of it — now that you mention it – I was getting a little tired of that question.

Q. Why is that?

A. For one thing, I was running out of answers.   

Q. Do you like the new question?

A. Kinda.  I just think that if somebody’s passing by this morning, and they’ve never read one of my Tuesday Tuneups, they’re going to wonder what the heck we’re talking about.

Q. But can’t they just click on one of the three Tuesday Tuneups below and figure it out?

A. Sure — that is, if they care to.   Why should they not just surf off to some blog that makes more sense than this one?

Q. So what if they do?

A. What do you mean?

Q. Why should you care?

A. Good point.   It’s not as though I’m exactly into “collecting followers.”   WordPress tells me I’ve got almost 1000 by now, but I can guarantee you there are probably less than 100 who actually follow.  And I can only think of five or ten to whom this Tuneup will even be appreciable.   And even those people might be bored by now.

Q. Do you want to change the subject?

A. Kinda.

Q. What would you rather talk about?

A. Basically, I want to tell you where I’m coming from.  I never answered your first question in the first place.

Q. Well, where are you coming from?

A. Brain-dead. 

Q. Brain dead?

A. In a daze.

Q. Why’s that?

A. Oh – I busted my butt trying to get all this stuff done by last night.   By the time we had the first joint rehearsal of all the musicians and singers, the band had all their parts written in 4/4 swing and the singers were still working out of the book where the song was in 6/8.  This meant the measure numbers were different in both books.   It stretched the limits of my intellectual faculties trying to keep things moving.

Q. But wasn’t Cody in charge of the singers?

A. Cody was working with the singers in Room 33 using the Green Piano.  It’s a large room and the seven singers could social-distance there.  I was working with the band on the chancel in the sanctuary.  But since only three of the band members showed up, we decided to combine the two for the last half of rehearsal, because 7 + 3 = 10, which is the legal limit for a gathering under the city ordinance.

Q. And how did that go?

A. Well, outside of the conundrum I just tried to describe, it was wonderful.   With what Cody Wendt has done for our singers, combined with what the musicians from the School of Music are doing, I couldn’t be happier.   I hadn’t been sleeping well for stress of deadline and pressure..  But last night I conked out and slept the sweet sleep of the innocent.   Woke up a new man, although —

Q. Although brain-dead?

A. Not anymore!

Q. Why is that?

A. Good coffee.  And I’m going to put it to good use.

Q. How so?

A. You don’t know?  I gotta get those vocal parts into the right time signature!

Q. Aren’t you a bit imbalanced these days?

A. Well – duh!   That’s what happens when you have deadlines.   You let everything else go, you don’t clean the kitchen, you don’t clean the bathroom – you cram as if your life depending on it.

Q. And is this healthy?

A. Not at all.  It’s just modern life.

Q. What do you make of it?

A. In the ideal world, there would never be any deadlines, any pressures at all.  As I just told Lauren Sapala, I would work at my own pace, slowly and steadily, and not release my work until it was absolutely complete.

Q. Isn’t that called perfectionism?

A. Not in my book.  It only becomes perfectionism when you have to rush to meet a deadline.  So you turn in a half-done job, like I did last night, and when you whine about it, people call you a perfectionist.  If there were no deadlines, there would be no perfectionism.

Q. What would there be?

A. There would be a beautiful new world full of relaxed people who have time for each other and who don’t block other people out of their lives only because they have to meet a deadline.  We would all stop running The Marathon Race to Hell.  

The Questioner is silent.  

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Gratitude List 1648

(1) Really nice talk with my friend Danielle on the East Coast this morning over coffee.   Hadn’t talked with her for a while.  It was good to catch up, and it helped energize me to make the trek to the pharmacy and back in the cold.

(2) Was able to get my thyroid medication squared away at the new pharmacy near to the new doctor’s office, though it took three visits and an odd period of “without.”  More importantly, I really do like the new doctor, whom I saw for the third time on Thursday.

(3) Grateful for the unexpected three and a half hours of sleep that struck me as soon as I got home from the pharmacy.  Having conked out at high noon in my executive chair, and not awakening till 3:30 in the afternoon, I am now smelling the coffee.  I feel as though about five wayward parts of my brain have suddenly been reactivated.   I’m grateful for the restorative power of sleep.

(4) I must add that I’m grateful to have a place to sleep.   I flopped down onto the couch from the chair, right near the open window, jacket still on, and no heater running.  The cool air blessed me whilst I slept, and the sense of safety and comfort — no doubt magnified due to my experience of years of sleeping outdoors — was huge.

(5) When I mentioned this morning that the new musicians and I had settled on a weekly rehearsal time, Danielle commented how great it is: “It’s great that it’s no longer just you.  There are actually other people learning your material.”   This is coming from someone who knew me when it was “just me” — for years, it seemed.   Days may be dark, but one must remember where one has been, and take the compass thereof, and point it to the future — with strength and hope.

Please donate to Eden in Babylon.

Gratitude List 1630

(1) I’m feeling more peace about things than I’ve felt for a long time.

(2) I’ve been playing piano tunes lately from my set list at Gulliver’s of San Francisco, the gig I held throughout the 90’s. They seem to reflect a happy, more contented spirit than the earlier, more tumultuous, more boisterous stuff.

(3) Finally made it to Winko’s last night. Nice of Susan to give me a ride there and back. I had planned to buy $260 worth of groceries, eyeballed it at the store without a list, and came home with $261 and change. Pretty sure I’m good for the month.

(4) The team had a great meeting yesterday afternoon, in which our direction was clarified. We’re focusing on the Audio Show now, and I’m enjoying receiving lines that everyone records into their phones and mixing them at home using Audacity. Also, we’ve been getting more donations lately on the site here — some from entirely unexpected sources. It’s encouraging to see us all having a good time with the project, and it’s a good feeling to know that people are drawn toward it.

(5) I don’t know how to say this, so I’ll just say it. I’m thankful that I don’t live in California anymore. It can be a beautiful place, but it’s just so nice not to be struggling to survive in that chaotic, cut-throat culture. People up here are just nicer enough and I have just enough more breathing room, that I no longer feel incapable of doing the things I enjoy, for all the struggle I was having down there trying to “make it.” I’m thankful for my retirement income. I’m thankful that this month marks three years where I’ve paid rent on a place of my own, where I’ve lived in peace and quiet. I would have died in a gutter down there. I’m thankful for my life.

“Every great dream begins with a dreamer. Always remember, you have within you the strength, the patience, and the passion to reach for the stars to change the world.” 
-Harriet Tubman

Please donate to Eden in Babylon.

The Ballad of Lester Hayton

These are the Wendt brothers, Cody and Ian, both of whom are now playing roles in my musical, Eden in Babylon. Cody wrote this song for a centennial memorial dedicated to Lester Hayton of Palouse, Washington, a city near me in the Palouse Region where I live. Hayton had served in France during World War I under the famous General John Pershing and went missing in action at the Battle of Chateau-Thierry. The ballad is moving and beautiful, and I am very lucky to have both of these musical brothers on my team.

Please donate to Eden in Babylon.

Gratitude List 1615

(1) Yesterday I finished making all the adjustments in my musical script that were deemed necessary after an intensive three week reading and critique.   Grateful for the current team, without whose insights I’d have never made it.

(2) At the end of the day, I submitted the show to some people who might have the power to produce it.  And then, right after I did, I felt a huge sense of peace.    I felt relieved, realizing that I don’t have to mess with that script anymore.  Now I can focus on the music, and on other things.  

(3) Got my iPhone working that my daughter helped me to obtain.   Nice to have a phone again, and I can see why people like this one better than the Androids.

(4) This may sound weird, but I want to say that I’m grateful to be an Introvert and also the kind of person who doesn’t really feel a need to be in a relationship or very dependent on human touch.   It’s true that I haven’t touched another human being for about six months or so.  But it’s also true that I wasn’t very attached to human touch to being with.   So I didn’t have much to lose.   

(5) About to embark on a long slow run.   Very grateful for this particular form of exercise.  I always feel kinda “cleansed” afterwards.  There’s something about running that’s like a sacrament.   I’m glad to have rediscovered it at this time in my life.  It really makes a difference – it really does.   

Please donate to Eden in Babylon.

Sheltering in Place: the Opposite of Living Outdoors

Below the image and link is an almost-verbatim transcript of my most recently published column in Street Spirit. There may or may not be one more column. Then for reasons largely related to the PTSD that I acquired while homeless, I have decided to bow out of this particular gig. Alastair Boone the editor-in-chief has been wonderful to work with, as was Terry Messman, the previous editor who first hired me.

A watercolor image of a house.

Click Here for Original Version

When I first heard the expression “sheltering in place,” an immediate thought came to mind. For a long time, during many years of homelessness, I lived in a place where there is no shelter. Now that sheltering in place is required, I am living a lifestyle that is the direct opposite of my previous manner of life. Once I recognized that polarity, it opened me up to a wealth of useful observations.

For one thing, I noticed that the way I had been living since moving indoors was in many ways not so much different than how I had lived when I was still homeless. Before the pandemic, I still found myself wandering from place to place throughout the day, looking for places to plug in my laptop. I still would spend two or three bucks at coffee shops and fast food joints, as though I had just managed to scrounge up that much money on the streets.

Moreover, even though I had lived indoors for almost four years, I was still feeling halfway uneasy in many of these establishments. In the same way as when I was homeless, I felt as though I wasn’t quite “supposed” to be there. But why? 

As I began to shelter in place, I realized that I had still been using the library, the McDonald’s, and even the hospital in such a way that suggested I had nowhere else to go. In any of these places, I would sit down, plug in my laptop, and hang out for hours on end. After all, I live near a hospital where they have free Starbucks coffee and unlimited refills. Seriously! You can even get a nice home-cooked breakfast for just under three bucks.

Since I did have a place to go—my own apartment—it seemed a bit odd that I wasn’t spending more time there. But after the shelter-in-place order, when I was no longer replicating my homeless life by wandering from spot to spot throughout the day, I found that I appreciated my apartment all the more. 

So I asked myself: “Why should I spend hours walking from one building in town to another? Why should I spend money in cyber cafes, when I have my own dwelling place now, with my own power outlets, and food in the cupboard? My rent money, like that of many, is over half of my monthly check. Why was I wasting the full benefits of my apartment by using it only as a crash pad?” 

It then dawned on me that this, too, had been carried over from my former homeless experience. When I was homeless, did I ever go back to my sleeping spot in the middle of the day and hang out there? Of course not! My sleeping space was tucked away where hopefully no one would find me during the night. It would have been pretty self-defeating to hang out there during the daytime, in broad daylight. 

But now that I had my own indoor place, what was the sense in continuing to avoid my own home during the daytime? There may have been a certain twisted sense in continuing to avoid washing the dishes and taking out the garbage, but other than that, it was sheer laziness that kept me from properly accessing and maintaining my own dwelling place, as well as a waste of rent money. 

As I have begun to spend more time inside my apartment, I have also become better at certain household tasks. I am no longer intimidated by the kitchen. I no longer limit the extent of my cooking potential to Kraft Macaroni & Cheese. I don’t fear the condition of the bathroom, and I broke out a vacuum cleaner for the first time in a good fifteen years. 

The things that make a home nice are also being illuminated. Paintings are hanging on the wall now, whereas before they were only leaning against it. All that is changing for the better— and I’m glad.  For where before there was no shelter, and all my deeds were out in the open, now there is only shelter — outside of daily exercise and the occasional errand — and virtually all my deeds are secluded.

With that revelation, finally, there is gratitude. Gratitude for the food stocked up in the cupboard, and for its being the food of my own choice—not food served or granted by those helping me, but food determined by my own agency and wherewithal. Gratitude that the condiments of hygiene may be found in my medicine cabinet; indeed, that I even have a medicine cabinet in which such things may be kept. The grounds for gratitude, for all the simple things in life I longed for in all those years of homelessness, are greatly increased — and illuminated — through the phenomenon of sheltering in place.

Homeless No More is a column that features the stories of people making the transition from homelessness to housing. Andy Pope is a free-lance writer who lives in the Pacific Northwest, and is the author of Eden in Babylon, a musical about youth homelessness in urban America.

Please donate to Eden in Babylon.

Evolution of a Song: Part Three

So I mentioned somewhere along the line — either in Part One or Part Two, I suppose – that I had decided to write an opera in the year 2009.

The opera I would call Eden in Babylon.   I only wrote the first Act, as it happened, before I burned out on the idea that Eden in Babylon was supposed to be an opera, and not just a regular old musical.

The first Eden in Babylon was quite different.   It had nothing to do with homelessness.   Instead of entering into homelessness after the first two scenes, the main character entered into a fantasy world of the imagination.   Really, only the title remains, as the show has changed its context so much.

In that realm of imagination lived a woman named Helzabel, who objected to all things beautiful.   She held Artists in particular disdain, since they often created the very beauty to which she objected.   The song she sang, Cloaks of Art, played with the biblical concept called “cloaks of maliciousness.”  (1 Peter 2:16 KJV.)

But now that Eden in Babylon had become a musical about homelessness, that fantastical realm where Helzabel dwelt was replaced by the realm of the streets.   And Helzabel became Molly Mortalis — suspicious not so much of Artists, but of people who had become homeless.   A similar character of a similar sentiment — in a wildly different world.

This called for wildly different lyrics.   And a major tune-up on the tune.   So without too much hemming or hawing. I came up with Midnight Screams.

I wonder how many people who read this will actually listen to Cloaks of Art and tell me how much, or how little, it resembles Midnight Screams?”  As for “Child of No Emotion,” the variant in Part One, I’m afraid you will never hear it.   That libretto, I fear, is gone.

But the music lives on.   These three abide — Book, Music, and Lyrics.  But the greatest of these is Music.

Please donate to Eden in Babylon.

 

Gratitude List 1563

(1) Even though I haven’t run for almost a week, I’m still losing weight.  Bike rides of up to ten miles, plus brisk walks of two to four miles, are helping.   I’m grateful for the new role of daily outdoor exercise, in providing a healthy change-up from sheltering in place.

(2) The interactive scoring of the third number of my musical is coming along.   Grateful for this new “solo project,” which appears to be ideal for working from home.   

(3)  Last Tuesday we held the first scene rehearsal on Zoom with the new people, Cody and Keva.   I was amazed at how well it went.   We’re also meeting at the church tomorrow to learn the singing, and there’s another scene rehearsal online on Thursday, hopefully with additional people to fill out the missing parts.   Despite the obvious obstacles, a momentum is taking place.   

(4) I really enjoyed the weekly book study on Zoom on Wednesday — we’re going through America’s Original Sin: Racism, White Privilege, and the Bridge to a New America by Jim Wallis.   This is an important and timely theme, one that ought not be shirked.   I’m honored to be able to participate in this study, and in the sharing of experiences with others.    

(5) This past Sabbath was in a way the most effective, in that I actually succeeded in resisting the temptation to work, all throughout the twenty-four hours.   As a result, all the work I’ve done since then seems somehow blessed, because I kept that day holy.  Somehow throughout Saturday I felt as though the Universe were expanding, and my own role expanding, as well.  It was as though, as soon as I stopped to listen, I could hear the Universe breathe.    

Nobody realizes that some people expend tremendous energy merely to be normal.”
    — Albert Camus 

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Gratitude List 1560

(1)  Grateful for a decent six hours of solid sleep after running in the evening last night.  Glad I’ve been sleeping reasonably well lately, in general.

(2)  Painlessly did the 2 1/2 mile course at around sunset yesterday.   I’m definitely both eating less and running more these days.   At this stage, that’s something to be grateful for.  

(3) Amazing that the two new singer-actors K. & C. have emerged, desiring to portray the male and female antagonists in a Scene Two audition preparation.   They’re even learning the song together.   (True that I had something to do with this happening — being as I was the one who asked them if they were interested.   But still, I find it wonderful that two very talented people like K. & C. would actually be interested.)   I’m feeling a lot of gratitude that almost everything that’s happened lately with respect to the musical has been really positive and encouraging.

(4) I gotta say I’m grateful for Finale 26  music notation software and for the very sophisticated Audacity freeware that I use to edit sound files.   I’ve been refining the interactive tracks for the opening number and the second number, and moving on to the third.   I’m grateful to have such an interesting and meaningful project to be working on.

(5) In seven days, God willing, I will have lived in this city and spent every night indoors — usually all alone, usually in quietude, in a dwelling place of my own choosing — for four entire years.  Five years ago I’d have never dreamed it possible.  Oh, I dreamed it all right — but I never thought it would actually happen.  I and everyone else I knew assumed I would die a miserable death in a Bay Area gutter.   Instead, I am a healthy and happy man today.   I am very grateful that I am no longer homeless. 

Please donate to Eden in Babylon.

 

Gratitude List 1556

(1) This morning I ran 4 miles in 57F degrees along Paradise Path.  It was my first decent run in over a week, and it felt really good.   I feel kinda cleansed now, and grateful.      

(2) Enjoyed a second scheduled video chat with my friend Lynne Fisher this morning on WhatsApp.   Thankful for our friendship and for WhatsApp, which makes it seem as though my friend from across the ocean is right there sitting in front of me.   

(3) I keep adding to the arrangement I’ve been working on, and it’s getting closer to being finished.   It will be interesting how it sounds with the singing over it, once we reach that stage.  Thankful for Finale music notation software.  

(4) Rehearsal went well on Tuesday, and it looks as though we’ve another one scheduled for Wednesday.   Thankful that the church has been letting us meet once a week in small groups, observing social distancing.   Even more thankful that most of the progress on the project is being made by individuals sheltering at home.   

(5) I must say once again, I’m thankful for my apartment, that I have all to myself in solitude.  I got up at three in the morning and spent the quiet hours reading and writing as I pleased.   Then, when I came home from running, I downed a Gatorade and plopped down on the sofa exhausted.   Now I’m smelling the coffee.   Sheltering in place is a lot nicer than living in a place where there isn’t any shelter.   Believe me — I’ve done both.   

“Sir, my concern is not whether God is on our side; my greatest concern is to be on God’s side, for God is always right.”
   — Abraham Lincoln 

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Gratitude List 1552

(1) Nice to be inside, out of the rain.

(2) I’ve been realizing that I don’t have to believe all the things that people at my church believe, or swallow the pastor’s theology hook, line & sinker.   We can “agree to disagree” at this church, and this is beautiful.

(3) Ran three miles surprisingly well last night.   Being all off schedule, with many things weighing on me, it will be a beautiful night for a light jog once the rain lets up a little.   Glad to be living in a place where it’s safe to run at night.   

(4) Rehearsal went remarkably well on Tuesday — excitingly so.   I was so jazzed afterwards I dove into a full arrangement of my Opening Number and mapped out a plan to create a complete Piano-Conductor Score.   After that, I really will be done with this baby.   People will be able to do the show anywhere, without my even having to be on board.    Maybe I can even find a date for Opening Night.    Maybe I’ll win a Tony Award for Best Musical of the Year.   The sky’s the limit when you’re on a roll.

(5) I’ve been feeling more hope for the future lately, despite things having been rocky.   If we don’t drop the ball, we might even win in November.

“The fool speaks because he has to say something.   The wise man speaks because he has something to say.”
        —  Plato
 

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“Sirens of Hope” – Completed

In case anyone’s been wondering where I’ve been, I’ve been working on putting together the full accompaniment score to my musical, beginning with the opening number, “Sirens of Hope.” I posted a portion of it a week or so ago, and here it is, a finished product. The tenor line replicates the solos of Winston Greene, the main character, and the Three Girls who sing back-up are referenced in the siren-like string sounds throughout. Hope you like my work.

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Gratitude List 1546

1. My voice is coming back now after a treacherous bout of laryngitis.  I’m especially thankful for this, especially as I have to sing a solo on our interactive presentation of my song “Ode to the Universe” from my musical Eden in Babylon. 
 
2.  The thunderstorm two days ago was a deterrent to exercise, but a brisk five mile walk yesterday beat most of the heavy wind and rain.   Great five miles to Staples & back to get a mouse, stopping only at the café for doppio.  Winds are only 5mph in light rain and I’m about to go on a run in the sunset.   Thankful–and somewhat amazed–that I can still do it.
 
3. Grateful to have finally landed on a definite plan on the presentation.  All I gotta do is stay on the even keel, and it will show consistency to the Kids — and they’ll come through.   Bowen is confidently turning in a great part, Maria emailed me to get together to practice in real-time, and I just heard from Richard, who want to jam at my house later in the week.   It’s not as though the Kids are not into it.  I just somehow have to rise to the occasion in ways that have challenged my comfort zone.   I’m getting the hang of it now, though — I can tell.
 
4. There are a number of similar things that I’ve been doing differently since sheltering in place.  Allow me to enumerate:
 
(1) I’m reading a lot more, especially news articles and scientific or psychological articles.   Up to  15 or 20 per day, I who didn’t think he could read.
 
(2) I’m listening to the music of others, having finally tuned into Spotify for a free three-month Premium account.  It’s great to have music in the background, something that usually wouldn’t have crossed my mind.  (I’m planning to do the same thing with movies, like with Netflix maybe.  It never crosses my mind to watch movies either, but it would enhance the quality of life.)
 
(3) Purged and cleaned the Lenovo desktop, and now the desktop is organized for optimal use.
 
(4) There’s a variety of different kinds of foods in the cupboard and fridge.   This is similar to the variety of different kinds of music I’ve been listening to..
 
(5) I’ve been cleaning up my website, making everything simpler and easier to access, and less confusing.
 
(6) Rather than keep hiding the ASUS laptop with the broken screen, keyboard and touch pad in the dresser drawer, I now have it all set up in the bedroom with external keyboard, monitor, and new external mouse!   I even got a wireless mouse since I will never remove the ASUS from the house and can always keep the plug in the port.   So now I have two computers at home, one that I can carry with me outside, and one that stays.
 
(7) In order to make room for the ASUS, I finally removed the big bookshelf that was such an eyesore in the bedroom, and all its shelves.   It was right in front of a power outlet anyway, and that’s the logical place for the other computer.   I’ve got two other dressers and another set of shelves anyway.   Bedroom looks great now!  I even made the bed.  
(Anyone who knows me knows that ordinarily I would have never done any of those things, but would have continued to reduce the quality of my dwelling space to that of a largely unattended “crash pad.”  Sheltering in place has brought out the better part of me.)
 
5.  There’s is a light rain outside my window, I got my work cut out for me, I don’t have any interfering appetites, and I’m eager to run in the rain.   After that, I’ll come back into my house and feel grateful to be inside, and out of the rain.  Come to think of it, I can’t lose.
 
“No problem can be solved from the same level of consciousness that created it.”
      —  Albert Einstein

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Tuesday Tuneup 43

Q. Where would you like to be?

A. Done.

Q. Are you ever done?

A. Sure I am!  Why do you even ask such an insulting question?   I’m so tired of all these ridiculously uninformed assumptions that people make about Art and Artists, and the Arts, and all that.

Q. Art?  Artists?   The Arts?   What assumption are you talking about?

A. The assumption that just because I’m an Artist, then I therefore must be some kind of  incorrigible perfectionist who is never satisfied with his work.

Q. Why do you sound so defensive?

A. Because I’m frustrated.  I want to be done, I tell you!   Done!!

Q. Done with what?

A. With what do you think?   What is this entire blog about?  What am I always driving at?   I’ve been working on this big huge piece for — gosh, it seems like decades now.

Q. You mean your musical?

A. Is the sky blue?

Q. But weren’t you finished with that?   What happened on July 4, 2018?  On Independence Day?

A. On July 4, 2018, I finished the script.  It was actually the third draft.   And yes, I did feel liberated on Independence Day.  Liberated from the burden of having to keep hammering away at the script.  

Q. Are you suggesting that there is some other aspect to this musical that you have not yet finished?   The score, for example?

A. You’re getting warm.  It’s kinda like, I wrote most of the music “in my head” — I mean, occasionally tapping my fingers on my desktop as though it were a piano keyboard.  But mostly just trying to envision internally what it would actually sound like once I got around to writing out the parts.

Q. And you’ve not gotten around to writing out the parts yet?

A. Not exactly.  I figured I’d start with the Vocal Score.   Currently, there are 16 main numbers in the show.   I have thus far scored 13 of the 16 to my satisfaction.   The 14th has been scored, too – though not to my complete satisfaction.  Nos. 15 & 16 remain.

Q. Well then, doesn’t it seem that you’ve come a long way?

A. Not long enough!  Once the Vocal Score is scored, I need to write out instrumental parts.  The bass parts.  Guitar parts.   Keyboard-synthesizer.  And drums.   

Q. Won’t that be the fun part?

A. Maybe.  Not looking forward to writing out a whole piano score.  But I suppose it has to be done.

Q. What’s your timeline?

A. Interesting question.  I almost would decline to answer it.  Anyone who knows me knows that I abhor working for deadlines.  I often boldly claim that the only true deadline is death.   So what makes you think there’s a timeline?

Q. Well – you won’t live forever, will you?

A. Perhaps not.  But there’s something a bit insidious about your line of reasoning.  It seems like you’re fishing for something.   Come on, Questioner!  Out with it!

Q. Out with what?

A. The cat!  Let ‘er out of the bag!

Q. What cat?  What bag??

A. Never mind.  I’d rather do it myself.   As you are well aware, there are looming production possibilities not too far around the corner.  If even one of these possibilities comes to fruition, then there will need to be a full musical score.   People other than me will need to sing the parts.  People other than myself will need to play the instruments.   And at least one of these possibilities is looming for “mid-to-late Summer.”  We’re talking 2019!   I gotta get a move on.

Q. How possible is this possibility?

A. It’s a virtual certainty.  I’ve received a definite offer.  I just haven’t said YES yet.

Q. Why not?

A. Because there may be a greater offer pending, and if I said YES to the lesser offer, I might miss out.  I can’t have both.  

Q. Why not?

A. Time constraints.  It’s also looming for the summer, just with a different company, a different venue.   Can’t have both at once.   

Q. So you need to finish all the musical parts by Summer 2019?

A. That would stand to reason.

Q. You think you can make it?

A. Yes — as long as I get through this one very difficult hurdle.

Q. What hurdle is that?

A. Long story.

Q. Shoot.

The Answerer takes a deep breath.  

Yamaha C3X Grand Piano, Polished Ebony at Gear4music

A. Long, long ago, in the year 1974, I sat down at a piano at Struve-Titus Hall on the campus of the University of California at Davis.   Laboriously, in the spirit of Keith Emerson, I wrote a highly ELP-influenced piece entitled “Winston Greene.”

Q. Winston Greene?  Isn’t that the name of your protagonist?

A. It is indeed.  The main character in Eden in Babylon is a fellow who goes by the name of Winston Greene.

Q. So what is the connection between the song you wrote in 1974 and the character of this musical that you have written 45 years later?

A. My answer will only make sense if you happen to be an Artist of my type.

Q. Are there any Artists of your type?

A. That’s a good question.  I’m not sure I know the answer, to be honest with you.   What I have done — as an Artist —  just seems totally weird.  To even relate the information strikes me as some kind of confession.   I need for some kind of High Priest of the Arts to absolve me of my Artistic transgression.   

Q. How, then, can I be of help?

A. I’m not sure, Father Q.  Just hear me out.  And maybe go easy on the interrogation.  Just let me speak.   You will let me speak, won’t you?

Q. Why not?

A. Whew.   For a while there, I was afraid you were going to just keep interrupting me all the time.  Now I warn you, this story is long.

In 1974 I created a character in my head, and I called him Winston Greene.  I wrote a song about him, describing his departure from civilized society, his prodigality, and his failure to return to the normative world.  I even had him die in the song.  The song was very well-received.  So I played it at every opportunity, until I got tired of it.  

Q. Why did you get tired of it?

A. Because my style evolved past it.   My current style doesn’t resemble it much at all.   So I lost interest in it.  But — I did not lose interest in the character, the persona of Winston Greene.  I continued to toy with “Winston” – until gradually, it appeared I ought to make him the protagonist of a specific, larger work — albeit 45 years later.  But then, I must confess, I did a very strange thing.

Q. What was that?

A. I decided that the song, “Winston Greene,” needed to be worked into the show, with the lyrics adjusted accordingly, in order to serve as the penultimate number — Musical No. 15 – of the 16 numbers in the show.   I decided that in this case, the death of Winston Greene would only be  — a rumor.   He would actually reappear, in the flesh, almost as though there had been a resurrection.  And yet, the death itself would be a deception.   This was my way of exonerating myself for having — having — 

Q. Having what?  Having what??

A. Having killed Winston Greene.   Yes — I so identified with Winston, when I wrote the earlier piece back in ’74, I could not let him die within me, even after he had already died in the song.

Q. Is this why you let the song itself die?

A. Exactly!   But I only realized that just now, at this very moment! The song, “Winston Greene,” in which the man “Winston Greene” dies, is a song I need to kill –– in order that Winston Greene himself might live.   So he continued to live on in my heart, and the song that told of his death was banned from existence.  There would be no record of Winston having died.   

Q. Fascinating!  Is this why you wanted to change the lyrics?

A. Yes!  The lyrics would no longer relate to Winson’s alleged death, but to his endurance, his survival, and his will to live.

Q. Then isn’t your problem solved?

A. How do you figure that?

Q. Can’t you just use the same old music, but with the newer, happier lyrics?

A. I suppose I could.  If I want the penultimate number in my musical to sound like something  I wrote when I was 22 years old listening to Emerson, Lake & Palmer, and not like something I wrote when I wrote the rest of the score to Eden in Babylon, some forty years later.

ELP | thebestmusicyouhaveneverheard

Q. So you are planning to write a whole new song, at this late stage?   Won’t this mean rewriting the last Scene entirely?

A. Not entirely – but to a significant degree.  I read through the last Scene last night, and actually found that it flowed quite nicely — up until the point where the rogue song rears its ugly head.  But you see, I don’t have to write a new song.  Only new words.   I can use a song that I wrote during the same time period when I wrote the rest of the music to Eden in Babylon.  A song that I wrote that I have not yet written words for.  I only have music for it.   You may find that music — in raw form — right here.   

Q. Why do I feel like you’re leaving something out?

A. I don’t know.  

Q. Can you guess?

A. Sure, but it’s only a guess.  Knowing you, I doubt you have me figured for the kinda guy who would cast aside years of sentiment related to his mysterious ELP-inspired tune called “Winston Greene” and then ditch the whole prestigious product for a much more innocuous replacement that doesn’t reflect nearly the professional prowess of the previous project.  

Q. So what else is going on?  What is your underlying sorrow?   Why must you return this song, recently so rigorously resurrected, to its grisly, grimy grave?

A. You wax a bit too alliterate for my tastes.

Q. Illiterate?

A. Never mind.  I must return the song to the tomb from which, like Lazarus, it has been summoned by its Creator.  The reason for this is very emotional and deep.  And it will reveal my vulnerability, as well as a large part of my sorrow.

Q. Your sorrow?

A. Yes — my sorrow.  For I grieve the loss of old friends.  People who were meaningful to me.  Three in particular, though their names need not be mentioned.  Three men whom I loved, and who happened to love the song “Winston Greene.”

Q. These men have died?

A. Not that I’m aware of.  I suppose they still live. 

Q. Yet you have lost them in some way?

A. Yes.  They do not speak to me.  I have lost their friendship.  I mourn that loss.  And yet they are the only ones remaining who would have had any fond emotional or sentimental attachment to that particular piece of music.  In other words, I must confesss that I put the song in the show for them.   

Q. For them?  For these three men who no longer speak to you??

A. Sadly, I confess, it’s true.  I had this vision that if I used the song “Winston Greene” in a dramatic way toward the end the show, it would move them, and soften their hearts toward me, and I would regain their friendship at last.

Q. Let me get this straight.  You were willing to throw a lousy song that you wrote when you were 22 years old into your new musical only because it might win your three friends back?

A. I was.  I do confess it.

download (1)Q. WHAT KIND OF AN ARTIST ARE YOU?  THIS IS TOTALLY UNACCEPTABLE!!

A. I feel like you’re about to assign me three Hail Mary’s and an Act of Contrition.

Q. That aside, what do you think are the chances that any of these three guys will come and see your musical this summer?

A. Slim to none.   They want nothing to do with me, apparently.  Why should they want to see my musical?

Q. Sir!  Why even entertain the notion??   Are these three fellows that important to you?

A. This is where the sorrow comes in.  They obviously were, at one time.  But for the life of me, I can’t figure out why.  I mean, I’m sure they’re very fine fellows in their own rites, but why did I place such a high regard on their loyalty?

Q. Loyalty?

A. I did use that word, yes.

Q. You feel that they have betrayed you?

A. Not exactly.  But they’re not loyal to me anymore.  And all I want to regain is — their loyalty.   

Q. What is so important about loyalty?  I mean, in this context?   Aren’t there thousands of people from whom you will hopefully be gleaning box office receipts far more important than these three men whom you knew in the 70’s?   Why can’t you just forget about these guys?   

A. That is indeed the $64,000 question.   They’ve evidently forgotten about me.

Q. Have they?

A. Maybe not.

Q. But even if not, why is it so important to regain their friendship?

A. Well, it isn’t.  And that’s why I’m removing the number.  I’ve decided that now.  The other song is much more akin to the style of the present day.  And a composer whom I respect told me that it’s the best piece of mine whom he personally has heard.  So — once I get my lyrics together, I’m on my way.

Q. Why does something seem unfinished here?

A. Because, like I said at the beginning, I’m not done.  And I want to be done.  

Q. Why do I feel like I haven’t gotten the full story here?

A. Probably because I’m leaving something out.

Q. What could that possibly be?

A. What if — and this is a pretty big “if” — what if the music that I wrote in 1974 just happens to be better and more appropriate for the final Scene of the show than the music I wrote in 2016?   I mean, despite everything.   What if, painful though it might be, the right thing for me to do is to include this song anyway?   What if that choice is the right Artistic choice, irrespective of the sentiment, the glitter rock, the former fans, and the bygone era?   

Q. How can you know for sure?

A. I can’t.  That’s why I linked you to both songs.   The version of “Winston Greene” was done in 2010 using general midi software associated with my Finale notation program at the time.   It excels beyond the earlier, more primitive style — though perhaps not by much.   The version of “Sirens of Hope” was done using the Garritan Personal Orchestra in 2016, almost immediately after I got off the streets and was able to start sequencing my compositions again.  So – listen to them both.  You tell me which one you like better.

Q. Why should my opinion matter?

A. Why should mine matter more?

Q. Aren’t you the Artist?  The Creator, as it were?

A. I am.  But I can hardly be expected to be objective at this stage.

Q. Is something clouding your vision?

A. I’d say, so yes.

Q. What is it?  Why aren’t you seeing straight?

A. It’s hard to see clearly when there are so many tears in my eyes.

Q. Why are you crying, Andy?  Is it because of the loss of your friends?

A. They were never my true friends.  So there is no true loss.

Q. Then why are you in tears?   

A. Because Winston Greene might die.  It happens every time I get to this part in the show.  It happened when I wrote the first rough draft, and again when I wrote the second, and the third.   And now, writing out the Vocal Score, it’s happening even moreso.  Winston Greene cannot die.  Winston Greene must live.   

The Questioner is silent.   

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A little bit goes a long, long way.

 

On Disorganization

Disorganization has been my mortal enemy lately.   So much so, that I often feel that if it weren’t for disorganization, I’d probably be able to get my musical produced.   Although we all have a tendency to be set back by forces beyond our control, it seems to me that disorganization is something that I can control.  It therefore leads me naturally to wonder why it is that I have become so disorganized.  I used to be one of the most organized people on the planet.

I used to be so punctual that people practically set their clocks according to the time that I was going to show up.  Once, back in around 2003 or so, my client told me they had almost called the cops out of concern for me — only because I was ten minutes late.  It was unlikely that I would have shown up later than a minute before the prescribed time.

I used to run my morning ritual like clockwork.   There were about five or ten actions that I performed religiously every single morning, in the same order every morning, without pausing.  Nowadays, the occasion of getting out the door in the morning is almost nothing but one giant pause.

“Where’s my shoes?”   
“What happened to my headphones?”   
“I could have sworn I had one last coffee filter!”

So how exactly did I become so scattered?   The answer could be given in less than four words – but here are the first four that come to mind:

TWELVE YEARS OF HOMELESSNESS!

homelessoffice
“Homeless Office”

When I was homeless, I had no problem finding my shoes because I slept in them.  Why, you may ask, did I sleep in them?   For at least two reasons.   First, at any time of the day or night, anybody could come out of anywhere and interrupt my sleep, sometimes with knife in hand.  I needed to be able to get up and run as fast as I could, as far as I could, calm my nerves, and find another place to sleep.

Secondly, if I took off my shoes and set them at my side, there would be a strong chance they wouldn’t be there in the morning.  They just might be the right size for another homeless guy whose shoes had been stolen as well.  Even if they weren’t the right size, they would still go for at least five bucks at the pawn shop.   And five bucks when you’re homeless and out in a thunderstorm can save a homeless person’s life.  That person can get on a warm bus and sleep all night, rather than die of hypothermia in the elements.

Headphones?   Do you think I would dare own a pair of headphones under such conditions?  Well yes, I often so dared, and I would have to buy a new pair before I knew it.   Why bother?   A pair of headphones equals a twenty dollar bag of dope in that realm, and I might even risk bodily harm if I tried to defend myself.

(The absurdity of there being any role for coffee filters in such a realm is too absurd to warrant an explanation.)

But the bright side of all this is a fact that not many people would even guess, had they not themselves been homeless over an extended period of time.   For that same homeless person who stole your twenty-five dollar SONY headphones will later drop a twenty dollar bill in your cup without saying a word.

Barring the sociopathic and criminal element — which does indeed exist but is far from the norm —  the homeless person doesn’t steal because he is a thief by nature.  He steals out of desperation, and feels pretty bad about it.   Even a young man who stole an entire laptop from me felt so bad about it, he ingratiated me with various gifts for two years, until I finally told him we were even.

So it’s not too much of a surprise I’m having a bit of difficulty getting organized, considering the level of “organization” I was dealing with for the better part of twelve years.  I’ve only lived indoors again for about a year and a half now, and old habits — or the lack thereof — die hard.

And if you want to find out what homelessness is really like, find out from someone who has been there.  Not for a week, or a month, or a season.   From someone who has been homeless for nearly half of his adult life — and who amazed everyone he knew by pulling out of it.

Find out from Eden in Babylon.   Please support this timely project, and please be “punctual” — while there still is time.

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

The Dialectic (Part Four)

This is it, guys.  It’s the final post in the four-part series known as “The Dialectic.”  It is what it is.  I’m moving on now.   I’ve done my part, as best I can.  The rest is up to God.  

Q. Do you know who I am?

A. At this point, you’ve basically been reduced to a literary device that makes it easier to get my point across.

Q. From superego to literary device in one blog alone?  I’m crushed.

A. Join the club.  I’ve been crushed for thirteen years.

Q. So what’s your point?

A. My point is that $50,000 is not a whole lot of money to somebody.   Maybe not you, and certainly not me — but somebody.  Maybe not one person.  Maybe a group of people.  Maybe someone wants to invest?  Fine.  We’ll start talking about a return.   Maybe someone’s a patron of the Arts, and would simply like to be a donor.  Or maybe somebody just likes me — believes in me — and would like to see me succeed.  One way or the other, the $50,000 is obtainable, as long as we draw the right people to the cause.

Q. And what is the cause?

A. The cause is to produce the musical Eden in Babylon, which deals with the effects of homelessness on the youth of today.  I have placed within this piece a persistent suggestion that the solution to homelessness lies in better communication between those who are sheltered and those who are not — between those who have not yet seen the streets, and those who are forced to live there.   I know it’s sounds like I’m dreaming, so let me ask you this: why not?  What do we have to lose?   It just might be that if we embrace our common humanity, whether we be rich or poor, sheltered or homeless, we will bridge the Class Gap while it still glares, before it tears us apart.

Q. Why Musical Theatre?  Why did you choose that genre?

A. Largely, because that’s where my proficiency lies.  But also, the classic view of the traditional musical is that it is intended to present life, not as it is, but as it ought to be.  Man of La Mancha.  Carousel.  Camelot.  See a show like that — a show like mine – and you don’t leave for home in despair.

Q. Well then surely there must be patrons of the Arts somewhere who will resonate with such a cause.  But who will be these people be?

A. Well, they certainly won’t be poor people.

Q. But isn’t Eden in Babylon an exposé on classism?

A. It is.  So what?

Q. Well, don’t you think that the people who might have the kind of money to back you are the very people whom you have often antagonized?

A. They are.  But fences can be mended.  In fact – they must be mended.  It’s what the play is all about.

Q. But won’t you run the risk of antagonizing them again?  Or antagonizing people like them?   The kinds of people who tend to piss you off?

A. There are always risks involved in an enterprise of this scope.  Take no risks, and you get nowhere.  Besides, they no longer piss me off.

Q. They don’t?

A. Not often.  Not for the reasons that earlier got my goat.  You see, I am not in the state of demoralization in which I often found myself when I was destitute and frustrated, earlier in life.  In those days, I actually lived in all the indignity and insanity displayed in this show.  Today, on the other hand, all of my personal needs are met.  I’m in a decent living situation, in a secluded setting, with solitude — the kind of environment a Writer dreams of attaining.   I enjoy a fixed income, payable rent, eatable food, and lots of nice running trails, where I work out, and work things out, and sometimes let off steam.  I’m in a good place in life today, on a day that — though beautiful — cannot promise to last forever.   Best to strike while the iron’s still hot.   

Q. But what about the way that the wealthy are portrayed in the story itself?  Are they not the antagonists?

A. Wherever did you get that idea?  None of the three main antagonists are wealthy.  Two of them are only what you might call “mainstream” – those who are hired to serve the needs of the wealthy, to promote their interests.  I used to do that myself back in the 90’s with in a studio apartment with a Toyota Corolla, driving from one large home to another, giving piano lessons to children, cracking jokes with the parents, and sitting behind a baby grand piano at night in a three piece suit at a five star restaurant.  Did that mean I was wealthy?  Heavens, no!  I made about $33,000 a year before taxes.  There’s a big difference between having money to hire, and being hired by those who have it.

Q. What about the third antagonist?  The really, really bad guy whose name is Johnny James?

A. You’ve got his number already, buddy boy.  J.J.’s a homeless drug dealer — my own antagonist, as it were, on the streets.

Q. So the wealthy side with the protagonist?  With Winston Greene?

A. They appear to oppose him, but at the same time, they love him.  They are only misguided as to how best he might be loved.  For they are those of his birth family, and his original community.  They have sheltered him his whole life long, in an effort to shield him from that which they fear.  Naturally he rebels, and in so doing, learns that what they thought was so fearful, need not be feared at all.

Q. And he succeeds in getting this revelation across to them?

A. In the end, he does.  And then, those whom they feared, they at last embrace.  Those from whom they hid their eyes, they now see with eyes opened wide with clear vision.  So they let them in, to share in their privilege, and never be homeless again.

Q. So there is a happy ending!

A. Of course.  Why would there not be?

Q. But don’t they sing an elegy to Winston Greene?  At a jailhouse memorial, in Act Two, Scene Two?

A. Let’s just say, as Mark Twain once put it, that the reports of his death have been greatly exaggerated.

Q. And what about that horribly demonic, death metal Opening, the song Intervention, which depicts psychiatric intervention followed by techno-torture, in the song The Age of Nevermore, in the terrifying second scene?

A. It has been adjusted accordingly.  In the Opening, it still depicts psychiatric intervention.  As the Finale, it now shows divine intervention.  

Q. A pleasant twist! How did you arrive at it?

A. In a flash, as though given by an Artist Greater Than Myself.

Q. An Artist Greater Than Yourself?

A. Yes.  For I have made a decision to turn my will and my life over to an Artist Greater Than Myself.  

Q. And this Greater Artist is — on your side?

A. God’s not on my side.  He’s on our side.   Together, we’re going to win.

Q. Andy, let me ask you one more question.

A. Be my guest.

Q. What will it take, besides money, to get this show off the ground?

A. Divine Intervention – and Love.

can-do

LET’S PUT AN END TO CLASSISM.
LET’S PUT AN END TO HOMELESSNESS.
LET’S ALL SPEAK THE TRUTH
IN LOVE

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

 

The Dialectic (Part Three)

I know I’ve delayed on posting the conclusive part of the Dialectic for a long time.  If you don’t know what I’m talking about, and you’re curious, you can flip back to Parts One & Two, respectively.  Still, I’ve got so much left to say, I’m going to have to split it further – into two or more parts.   I’ll do my best to have it ready very soon — hopefully by sometime tomorrow.   

Q. Do you know who I am yet?

A. Ah, so the guessing game goes on!   In the previous post I figured you for some kind of interviewer.  In the post before that, you were more like my Inner Critic.

Q. Oh really?

A. Really.  It’s hard to say who you actually are.  You are who you want to be.  Ever-changing, elusive, deceptive.

Q. The Devil, perhaps?

A. I wouldn’t go so far as to say that.  A minor demon, maybe.

Q. I see.  Now what brings us here today?

A. I’m here to make my plea, to explain exactly what’s happening to those who may be confused, and state my case as to why the $50,000 in question will not be very hard to come up with.

Q. Go on.

A. First off, first and foremost, the money will not go to me.

Q. Why is that important?

A. Because rumor has it that I do not handle money very well.  This rumor, though it is disputable, can either be contested or acquiesced.

Q. What is your choice, between the two?

A. I acquiesce.  As you know, I have been poor throughout my entire life, save for a few rare occasions when my talent got the better of my alleged inability to handle my finances.  On one such occasion, I had $13,000, in addition to a market rate savings account and an IRA.  I was making more in those days than I knew what to do with.  

Q. And what did you do with that money?

A. Like I said, I didn’t know what to do with it.  So I spent it frantically, which the psychiatrists in my life at the time told me was a function of a first-time manic episode.

Q. But were you not 51 years old at the time?  Isn’t a first time manic episode supposed to take place when one is much younger?   

A. Theoretically, yes.  It even baffled my psychiatrists.   Then later on, I was told that it might have been an instance of a new diagnosis, called Bipolar Four, whereby the manic episode, involving the spending spree, is induced by a psychiatric medication.

Q. Fascinating.  So you feel the same psychiatrists who diagnosed you with the disorder provided the very medication that induced the disorder in the first place?

A. Exactly.  And in the process, I lost everything I had.  The $13,000. the savings, the IRA, a car, a house, and all my professional accounts.

Q. Why didn’t you sue?

A. Because I’m not the suing type.  I’ve experienced my fair share of resentments around it.  But in my heart of hearts, I’m the type who wants to move on and get the most out of life while I’m here.  Besides, once I did lose everything, and I found myself out on the streets, I had the bizarre and totally unexpected sense that I was happier than I was before.

Q. Happier?  On the streets?

A. Well – when we say the “streets,” we speak a bit euphemistically.  I lived outdoors.  Sometimes this involved camping out in nature.  At other times, I was on the fringes, the outskirts of an urban homeless community.   At times, I was flushed enough to get a hotel room, sometimes even for an extended stay.  Not to mention the series of temporary shared rentals, none of which really worked out.  Nor could they have been expected to.  For by that time, I was driven.  And my drive — the essence and the source of it — necessitated that I spend large amounts of time in solitude.  

solitudeQ. So you have two problems.  You cannot handle money, and you cannot co-inhabit with others.  

A. Not cannot.  Will not.   The essence of my drive is that I need all the psychic wherewithal I can get in order to focus on the manifestation of my calling.

Q. That sounds a bit New Agey.

A. You’re supposed to be asking questions.

Q. I’m letting my guard down.  Let’s go on.

A. I did my best to get along with my roommates, and to shy away from senseless quarrels over my inability to clean the microwave the way that Billy was taught to do so by his grandmother in Arkansas, so to speak.   But when you see a train coming, you gotta get off the tracks.  I would be so hassled in some of those situations, I couldn’t get anything done anymore.  At that point, I’d fly the coop.

Q. Where would you go?

A. To the nearest power outlet where I could plug in my laptop and not be bothered.

Q. And you didn’t mind this being an outdoor power outlet?

A. To be honest with you, not really.  My focus was so intent upon what I was seeking to create, I barely noticed my external environment at all.  Let’s put it this way – the external environment was irrelevant, as long as it did not interfere with my work.

Q. But what about when it rained?  

A. There were awnings.  A laptop has a battery.  I could usually get through the night.

Q. I begin to see where the rumor that you cannot handle your finances has come into being.  So – backing a bit, if you are not to receive the needed $50,000, then just who will?

A. Hopefully, Danielle.

Q. Danielle?

A. Danielle.  At least at first.  If the money were to arrive, say, tonight — by say, midnight PST, it will be 9 pm on the East Coast, Danielle will still be up (and in fact expecting my call), and whether she accepts my ultimate proposal or not, at least the money would temporarily be placed in the hands of someone who meets three needed criteria.

Q. And what are the three criteria?

A. Number One: Danielle can handle money.

Q. And Number Two?

A. Danielle can be trusted with money.

Q. What about Number Three?

(Pause for dramatic effect.)

A. Danielle can handle me.  

(Another poignant pause.)

A. I assure you, not many people meet all three of those particular prerequisites.  But Danielle may not be able to be the ultimate Business Manager on this project.  She’s extremely busy, she has to talk to her husband about it, and she doesn’t have specific experience in musical theatre.   But she can handle money and be fully trusted with it, and as my best female friend of many years, I’m sure she can handle me.

Q. But on something this huge, would you want your friend to have to be involved with you on a business basis?

A. Not really.  I don’t want to push her past her limits here.  Knowing her, she’d probably say “yes,” just out of wanting to help out a friend — and then she’d get overloaded, and I’d wind up feeling lousy.  But I just can’t think of anyone else off-hand whom *I* would trust to hang on to the money until the True Business Manager appears.  I’d lose sleep if it were anyone else.

Q. But why does there have to be a middle man?   Why does the money have to come so soon?   Why can’t we just wait until the True Business Manager emerges?

A. Ask a silly question, get a silly answer.

Q. What??

A. Obviously, I need to have capital on hand while in the process of trying to schmooze the best Theatre Artists I know to get on board with me on this damn thing.  And that includes the Business Manager, as well as the House Manager, Stage Manager, Director, on down.  I’ll probably be the Musical Director myself, and I certainly don’t need any money for it.  But decent Artists on a par with my specific level of expertise need to be paid.  If the money doesn’t exist, why should they be swayed?  

Q. Spoken like a man who can’t handle money!

A. My point exactly.   Not to mention, as Musical Director, I’ll have my hands full as it is.   I shouldn’t *have* to handle the money — like I’ve been saying.  But get the crux of this dilemma — it’s not enough for the money to simply exist.  It needs both to exist, and to be placed in solid hands for safekeeping.  My hands are anything but solid.  In fact, they’re fluid.

Q. Fluid?

A. All over the map.  Just like you, my friend.

(Pause.  The Questioner muses.)

A. Listen buddy boy.  We’re gonna get this show and the road, and soon.  

Q. How?

A. I’ll tell you how.  Be patient.  The O.G.’s gotta eat.

STAY TUNED.

Help End Classism in America.
Help End Homelessness in America.
United We Stand. Divided We Fall.
Let’s Get Eden in Babylon Happening.
NOW.

 

The Dialectic (Part One)

Q. Do you know who I am?

A. To be perfectly honest, I’m not quite sure.

Q. Why do you say that?

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?

A. Yes.

Q. And this is a time of particular angst?

A. Yes.

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.  

Q. Loneliness, perhaps?

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.

professor
(So throw a pie in my face.  I couldn’t resist.)

There was a certain professor whose unfavorable reactions to my half-written rough draft of Eden in Babylon kept 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!! 

The Questioner is still silent.  

A. And I am not lazy, either!!!

The Questioner, quite wisely, remains silent.

TO BE CONTINUED

Make Haste Slowly

Just a brief update to fill you in on my progress as to the new composing project I have undertaken.  (The gist of the project is described in this entry.)

I’ve succeeded in interweaving two of the pertinent themes in such a way as appears to hold promise.  Should you choose to indulge me, you might recognize a few of these strains from my Berkeley Page.  Hopefully, however, you’ll find that they are much evolved since you tuned in last.  In general, the piece is very very jazzy compared to any of its previous components.

I mentioned that this composing project is one of three current projects, along with the writings I’ve been producing for Street Spirit, and the demo and revision of my musical, Eden in Babylon.   As far as Street Spirit is concerned, I turned in four new pieces to the publisher, but have not yet heard back.  Of course, I don’t know if any will be accepted, but I got the feeling earlier we were headed toward a possible monthly thing.   He published the first of my articles in August, and three in September.  So of course, I’m hoping he will publish two or three this month.  The paper will be issued at around the 10th of this month.  So I’ll let you know by then.

On the demo, I found the two male singers I woulds need, in addition to myself.  So, in addition to Erika, the new Director of Music at my church, I only need one more female singer.  So it looks like things are slowly coming together in that area as well.  We’re shooting for the week before Thanksgiving vacation.

Make-haste-slowly.__quotes-by-Polish-Proverb-98The revision itself is another matter.  I lump it in with the demo as part of the same project, which is the ongoing thrust to move Eden in Babylon toward production.  When I rewrote the lyrics to Midnight Screams, I realized that I needed to make other subtle changes — in addition to some fairly major changes – at other spots in the recently completed script.  So I’m moving on that as well.  But in all these things, considering my sometime tendency to push myself a bit too hard, I am evoking the motto of the Emperor Augustus: “Make Haste Slowly.”

Earlier, it seemed I flew just a bit too close to the sun.  So, it seems prudent to take things a little slower —  but steady all the same.

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