On this day last year (2016), I had called the hospital to check up on my father. The RN station first patched me into the wrong room and I woke up a guy that was most DEFINITELY not Dad. Then, I called back and was told that he was transferred and was connected to the psyche ward… who THEN told me Dad was not there and transferred me to yet another RN station which hadn’t heard of him. After that, I just got in my car and drove like a bat out of hell to the hospital. It was 10 PM when I left my house.
Fortunately, Dad was in the same room right where I left him and was sleeping soundly. The RN saw me and gave me a report. He was fine. Stats were good. He was having a good night. I hanged out for about half an hour half-watching the TV before I decided that I should get out of downtown before the idiots start shooting into the air.
Though I was admittedly worried about him, I had no idea that was going to be the last New Year’s Eve I’d ever have with my father.
I’d love to be able to say “Thanks for good times, memories, and lessons, 2017!” but honestly, I’m not there yet. I might never get there.
Don’t get me wrong; some AMAZING things happened. My brother graduated from UD and was commissioned in the US Army two days after Dad left the world. Dad’s send-off was better than I could have imagined thanks to three faith communities and and army of family and friends, many of whom had never even got to meet him. One of my best friends got married and another had a baby. I got to help launch a church and help build a community with all sorts of awesome people who have done more than I could imagine. (They love Mom more than they love me, but I’m already used to that.) This Christmas season I got to perform with one of the most highly-regarded group of musicians in the area.
At the same time… I lost my father, my aunt, a cousin, and my cat. There have been the logistics and expenses of dealing with probate and everything spinning out from that. Friendships and relationships have been challenged and some have not been healed. I’m still struggling a bit with the whole “What’s next?” now that the caregiving thing has shifted.
And yeah… and I’m still periodically getting beat upside the head with the “Forty-year-old never-married/not-dating broke-@$$ failure-of-a-human-being with little or no social life who lives with and spends too much time with his mother” shit. YES. I’M AWARE. THANK YOU FOR REMINDING ME. Do I fit enough of the stereotype yet or should I get my comic book collection from my bedroom closet, scatter them all over the floor of my garage office, and take pictures?
(I almost did it, but most of them were bought in the 90’s during the comic book speculation bubble, so they really aren’t worth the paper they are printed on. None of the “Mint condition never opened” junk. I read those puppies!)
I don’t know about you, but I’m too wrapped-up in my own life to be concerned with someone else’s “personal failings.” I have my own which are far more than whatever I specified on social media or my blog. You tend to your splinter; I’ll tend to mine.
If you had an awesome 2017, I’m glad for you. I’m perfectly willing to celebrate with you (from the comfort and safety of my garage that I need to finish cleaning). If 2017 was a year of struggle and/or recovery, know that I am pulling and praying for you every step of the way. If 2017 was a year of pain and emotional hurt, then know that I am right there with you.
As far as 2017 goes, I’m just tired and ready for it to go. Bring on 2018.
Yes… I know. It’s the night before Thanksgiving. If I am going to write and publish anything on my website, it should really be about gratitude. Well… or the fact that the American Thanksgiving tradition ultimately glosses over betrayed hospitality, Western colonialism/entitlement/manifest destiny, the genocide of Indigenous Peoples, and racialized historical revisionism… Or I could write about my own family’s holiday practices. Actually, no I can’t. We’re boring. You’re better off going here.
No. Instead… I’m writing because I’m in a funk. Not just a light funk. A pretty major funk. Parliament Funkadelic level funk. Only without the actual band. Or the music. (Yes. I know that I’m from Dayton, Ohio and should really use our hometown legends aka the Ohio Players, but they really shouldn’t be pulled into my madness.)
To be clear, my “funk” has nothing to do whatsoever with the holiday season. This isn’t the “It’s too painful/mixed bag to be around family” bit. The “funk” didn’t hit overnight at the stroke of November. This is something that gradually onset.
I got sloppy about going to Crossfit. (Yes… I know I don’t look like it, but I had actually been doing Crossfit.) I completely gave up any attempt at eating anything remotely healthy. Even now, there is a half-eaten pecan pie from Costco staring at me. No, I didn’t eat the ENTIRE half. Yes, I know Thanksgiving isn’t until tomorrow. Still… It’s there. My practice time at the piano cycled downward. Just working on an arrangement is like pulling teeth. If you look at my social media channels, you probably think I do nothing but take Mom to lunch, buy her yarn, and take her to church. Well… I suppose that isn’t too far off. These days, simple things that should take a few minutes can take hours to get done. It’s not that they are extraordinarily difficult. “Throw away paper cluttering my desk.” Not difficult. The waste basket is within arm’s reach. Still not done.
The most constructive thing I’ve managed to accomplish is to sweep my office floor weekly. I’d show you a picture, but I really need to sweep it. Hmmmm… I guess that kind of negates the “Yeah, I did something!!!” line.
The only things I’ve done with any regularity have been for other folk and I’m even sliding on that one. Granted, most of my current non-productivity has to do with the upper respiratory infection I’ve had for the past week. I feel semi-human now, but I dread going to sleep because I’ll feel terrible waking up… especially when I’m going to begin the day by cooking Thanksgiving dinner.
(Yeah… So to my cousin who listed “Kareem is cooking dinner” in my thread of how to ruin Thanksgiving dinner in four words: Screw you, Asshole. You ain’t brought no mac-and-cheese to the crib.)
(Not that I want your lukewarm runny mac-and-cheese with the overdone pasta. I make some mean mac and cheese myself.)
(And you ain’t getting any of my turkey tetrazzini next week, Bitch.)
(But we still cool, a’ight? Nah… F*** that. I’m ebonically-impaired. It should be “We are still cool. All right?” And “crib” should be “house.” I’m not going to correct the non-word “ain’t” because it is an entrenched part of my hillbilly lexicon.)
(Yeah. I usually reserve the trash talk for my brothers and occasionally my Cousin Keith who is not the cousin who insulted my mad cooking skillz.)
(That “Z” makes me cutting edge, doesn’t it?)
(For the record, I have never actually partaken of my cousin’s mac-and-cheese, so it may actually be decent. It doesn’t change the fact HE AIN’T BROUGHT NONE OVER HERE!!!)
(Any. I meant “any.”)
(Wasn’t I talking about my “funk”?)
If I had to guess, my “funk” is more of an energy crash following my father’s passing. Call it the grieving process. Call it depression. I’m pretty sure I was already depressed to begin with, but even so… For a few months I think I was using everything I was doing to kind of mute the pain. Only… It doesn’t go away. It’s still there. And yeah, I have to deal with it, just like I have to deal with the fallout coming from it. I’m not saying I haven’t been dealing with it. Maybe it is the huge change I haven’t dealt with… or the reality that I really haven’t been “living” for some time.
I don’t know. Maybe I’m just tired of there being a two-thirds-eaten half-eaten pecan pie in the room and not being able to eat it.
Actually, I should really be making healthier food choices than pecan pie, especially given the lack of vanilla ice cream in the house. Whipped cream is okay, but that scoop is the stuff, especially when that pecan pie is warmed up just enough.
Actually, you don’t need my permission and you don’t even have to say good-bye before you go. In fact, it probably would be better if you didn’t say good-bye. It would spare us both the awkwardness of actually trying to work something out if that is what we are inclined to do. If you must say good-bye, then you have both my permission and my blessing. Sometimes, people are just better off if they are not in each others’ lives.
Once upon a time, I was in high school. Many of the people reading this will have attended with me, though I’m not entirely sure if they remember the incident I am about to recount. I had a bully. “Bully” is perhaps the wrong word for it. This guy was beyond that. Every single fucking school day, he would hound and harass me. Refer to me as nigger. Convey his views on white supremacy, particularly his heroes James Earl Ray, David Duke, and Nathan Bedford Forrest and regale me with refrains of “White Power” and whatever other sayings he pulled out of white supremacist ideology. It was constant and he’d get his friends in on it, some of whom I had known much longer than he did.
A couple of times, I had gone to the principal – one time with the asshole’s mucus still dripping down my shirt – and was accused of stirring up racist shit. Not a surprise, considering this guy read me the riot act on race the first day of school… the first day he even MET me.
LESSON ONE:In the eyes of many white people, hearing about racist acts was considered far more offensive than the actual racist act itself.
LESSON TWO: All too often, the response is denial it happened or even in light of proof – such as my snot-stained shirt – the denial that it was in fact racist.
Around this same time, it came to my attention that a faculty member at the same school was referring to me using certain language. To clear this up, this was not a teacher I had. AT most, we had seen each other in the library. She really didn’t even KNOW me and yet she was perfectly content to refer to me in the same terms as my bully right there in front of one of my best friends. After all, it was “private.” Like the principal who berated me in his office, this faculty member felt entitled to indulge in racist behavior, but did not want to be held accountable for it. My principal didn’t want anyone else to know what he said to me. This faculty member didn’t want ME to know what she said about me.
LESSON THREE: Many racists don’t want to be publicly known as racists.
That might be why Forrest’s buddies danced around in dirty white bed sheets while they were terrorizing and killing my people…
Unfortunately for her, I DO know and now that I have posted this, everyone else does. It’s okay. I’m not using any names. I’ll keep your secret. If someone else puts two and two together and figures out who you are, well that’s your problem. Guess you shouldn’t have been racist.
Then again, you were taking advantage of…
LESSON FOUR: For many white people, if they do not directly witness the racist incident, then it didn’t happen.
Oh… You know… I or countless other people of color are making it up. Oh… wait… No… WE MISUNDERSTOOD. Remember Lesson #3? They don’t want to be caught. The burden is then on people of color to prove their experiences and because so much of it happened behind closed doors – and often times in rooms in which we are not even allowed – the situation degenerates into their word versus ours. Under this circumstance, their world almost always wins out. Why? Remember Lesson #1?
Let’s rewind back to my “bully.” As I said before, he harassed me every day and usually got others in on the act. It was more than being insulted. Threats were made. I was scared I was going to get jumped. At the time of the spring musical, I carried an aluminum baseball bat inside my costume bag just on the outside chance I might get caught alone sometime after school. Remember Lesson #1? I essentially was cut off from reaching out for help. I was more likely to be punished for challenging it or confronting it than my “bully” was for visiting it upon me in the first place.
Here’s the rub: There were witnesses.
This happened often during lunch time right out in the open. Students, teachers… Even the goddamn principal. They saw. They knew. Some would tell me in private how shitty that was. Others would say “I’m sorry about it. I know ‘Bully’ and consider him a good friend. I’d rather not get involved. Good luck working that out.”
So… These people called themselves my friends, but yet they were perfectly okay with another “friend” racially harassing me and threatening my life.
LESSON FIVE: Some white people may “like me”, but couldn’t give two shits about my life.
These people were fine with my “friendship” as long as I don’t remind them that I actually have to deal with racism every single damn day. Their “feelings” trumped my right to exist.
Now, I’m getting to my favorite: “If you ignore it – or don’t react – it will just stop and go away.”
Remember Lesson #3?
Never mind that it has never worked that way in the entire history of the world. Ignoring it didn’t work during the Civil War. It didn’t work during the Civil Rights marches or any facet of life, for that matter.
If a man is abusing a woman or child, do you tell the victims “Ignore it and it will go away?”
If an intruder is breaking into your home, do you ignore it and hope it will go away?
If you chop off your finger while cutting vegetables, do you ignore it and hope it would go away? (Well… in that last case, I suppose the finger WOULD go away…)
So, why would you think racism and racial harassment would go away? What the argument really means is…
LESSON SIX: For some white people, a problem is only a problem when it affects them directly.
Remember Lessons 1-5? The people involved weren’t targeted and in many respects even benefited from the situation. Even now – over 25 years later – I am sitting on names. Why? This isn’t about getting back at them. This is about drawing a line in the sand.
I’ve had enough.
Last week, a pack of tiki-torch-carrying angry white guys from a number of white supremacist organizations descended on Charlottesville, Virginia.
I don’t give a flying fuck if they had a permit or had a stated reasoning of protecting a monument to Robert E. Lee. These are people steeped in white supremacist ideology who froth at the mouth doing naughty things to themselves while fantasizing about starting that “race war” they always wanted. These are people who count among their heroes men who have engaged in genocide of minorities. These are men who want the right to determine what I get to do with MY life or even whether or not I get to HAVE one. These are men who would love nothing more than to string me up from a tree and throw a barbecue beneath my bleeding, mutilated, corpse.
Like their “good men” predecessors did.
Talk about “free speech” all you want, but I guarantee that if I organized an armed march in support of ISIS that I would be investigated by 20 law enforcement agencies, likely interrogated, and everyone would be cheering whatever would hypothetically happen to me.
Even worse, there are people – led by our so-called president – defending these assholes and drawing false equivalence to any counter-protest movement against them. No… These people threaten my life and those of many people I love. You don’t get to tell me I should just sit back and pretend they don’t exist. Especially if you aren’t in their cross-hairs. (Go back to Lesson #6.)
This “president” made cracking down on minorities the central pillar of his election platform and the past seven months have lived up to it. The change in immigration visas. The Department of Justice downplaying civil rights investigations and criminal justice reform. Ramping up enforcement of drug laws in the midst of the worst heroin epidemic while people rot away in prisons for selling MARIJUANA. The attack against transgender people in the military. The more aggressive disenfranchising of minority voters as an electoral strategy. ALL of this flying around…
…and the president is still nodding and winking at white supremacists and defends these “good people” with “WHAT ABOUT THE OTHER SIDE?!”
No, Dude. Don’t come at me with that. You know who these people are. You know what these people want. You know that you are encouraging their every move. You’re barely seven months in and you’re already in election 2020 mode. You want their votes because you know they’ll turn out.
And you have a Republican party too chicken-shit to stand up to you because they know you’ll probably sign off on everything they manage to get to you. Is what #45 is doing worth it?
“Racism” to you may be about your “feelings” and “emotions”, but it affects every single way I interact with society. I have to be mindful not to get too angry, less some trigger-happy guy gets “scared for his life” and shoots me dead. I have to evaluate every “Can I help you” when I walk into a store to figure if it means “Can I help you find anything?” or “I’m watching you to make sure you aren’t stealing anything” or “I consider you a threat and probably will be calling the police.” When I go to a house, I have to triple-check the address because just knocking on the wrong door can get me shot or the police called on me. Ohio is an open-carry state. Guess what would happen if I go walking down through my neighborhood openly carrying a legally-acquired firearm? Heck… even concealed carry…
There are thousands of these “unwritten rules” that most of my friends will never have to follow.
So… I said a lot here and I gave a number of my thoughts.
If you want to adhere to your “slavish” devotion to Confederate artifacts and monuments of men who got their asses whooped fighting to keep me and mine in chains, have at it… even though you’re wrong. Know that despite all the “Southern Pride” and “History preservation” you trumpet, you are sharing these symbols with White Supremacists. Don’t talk to me about “Southern Pride” if you are going to let them continue using them along Third Reich flags while chanting “Blood and Soil.”
If you want to trumpet the First Amendment of these white supremacists in one breath while berating anyone protesting against police brutality and institutional racism, have at it. From far away. From me. In fact, since you have declared it’s not a problem until it affects you, do me favor and prevent yourself from being a problem that affects me.
Doubly so if you’re frothing around the mouth about a woman wearing an abaya. Or someone speaking a foreign language conversation that doesn’t involve you.
Don’t pretend to be my friend if you don’t value my life or my humanity. Don’t pretend to be my friend if your sense of security is based on denying me mine. Don’t pretend to be my friend if you consider my civil rights a fair negotiating point, particularly if you aren’t prepared to make the same sacrifice.
Put simply… Do not pretend to be my friend.
If I hurt you, whoops. I wish hurt feelings were all I have to deal with.
I love you, but some of you, I need to love from far away.
For those of you who stay: Thank you.
Anyone else? I love you. Good-Bye. I extend all my blessings for a rich and fruitful life.
So… After five weeks of writing about various “transitions” – from my father’s passing to my various fears to now becoming old as **** – I can now say that I don’t have a clue what to write about. I’ve attempted several times to start a blog habit and just about every time, I’d go for a little bit and just stop. It’s generally the same reason: I have nothing to talk about.
Honestly, that probably applies even beyond this little piece of the digital real estate. I try to relate to people, but I am just not much of a conversationalist. Remember that nickname I gave myself when I ruined movie night? Cuz Bill Buzzkill. People could be having the most exciting/fascinating discussion ever and I have an uncanny talent for contributing the one thing guaranteed to kill it.
Take the song “Eleanor Rigby.” Everyone could be enraptured talking about its “mystery” origins, the depressing lyrics, the impact it had on the Beatles’ career, etc. While they are arguing whether John or Paul wrote more of it, I’ll be thinking “Dorian mode… but what about that C major chord? Ooooh… Five bar phrases in the verse! Well, it’s more of a 1-3-1 grouping of fragments pushed together.” Yeah… I know. No one cares. Yet, that’s what I think about. Well… That and the occasional notion that the song may actually be foretelling my future.
I’m joking. I think… If you haven’t figured out I have issues by now, you’re even more messed up than I am.
Whatever… I’m not a Beatles connoisseur anyway. I do like the song, though. Here’s a cover by The Jazz Crusaders.
One of the things I’ve learned about creativity is that the “awesome meaningful stuff” doesn’t just happen. Well… Maybe for some people it does, but for most people I know, there is a learning curve. You learn the basics. You chafe. You try to grow beyond it. You make a lot of crap. Some crap, you revisit and beat into submission. Maybe at some point along the way, you develop your voice and start to create something “less sucky.” You **** up a lot. That’s a part of the process. For anything.
Most importantly? You show up and you try.
In my case, there is a lot where I really need to “show up and try.” Actually doing something with my website is one of them. If I can’t do anything else, I will at least try to put one lousy post up every week. (Aw ****… That sentence sounds like kind of a commitment there. What am I thinking?!) Maybe there will be something meaningful in it… and maybe it will have absolutely no value to anyone whatsoever. I don’t know.
So… Can I actually in time consistently create or write something of value? Beats me. I’ve actually read quite a bit about personal branding, entrepreneurship, and story-telling. Don’t ask me to explain it because I haven’t been able to successfully implement anything that I’ve learned whatsoever. Maybe I’m being hard on myself, but I can’t honestly think of a single thing I know that anyone would really find any value in learning, much less explaining in long format.
It’s not just my website. I was actually doing pretty well with Twitter, but I got away from it. Even looking at it right now, I see my feed filled with “So-and-so Liked This” and sponsored ads and frankly it looks even more crowded than my Facebook feed.
I’ve got an artist page on Facebook that has now sat barren for probably about two years. I have no idea what to put on it. My album is six years old. (Yes, I know it is time to release more music, but that costs money.) My gigs are mostly private and have nothing to do with my original music. I actually love my church work, but I would not feel right at all about hocking it on my artist page. I’m actually beginning to wonder why I have one if I don’t gig out.
Hmmmmm… Maybe I should gig out…
I also have a LinkedIn profile. I don’t even know why. I actually browse LinkedIn from time to time and catch some articles, but in terms of my actually using it? At least with Facebook, I can just post and share stuff that strikes me. LinkedIn strikes me as being a bit more corporate-minded, which I am about as far from as possible. Am I supposed to share yet another “Research suggests music education improves learning in other subject areas so QUIT ******** CUTTING IT FROM YOUR SCHOOLS” article?
Guess I better start “showing up” there as well, eh? This showing up thing is getting out of control.
Today – July 25, 2017 – is the final day that I will be in my thirties. At 11:48 PM EDT, I will have completed 40 trips around that giant flaming ball of hydrogen gas. That is 480 months. Or 14,610 days. 350,640 hours. 21,038,400 minutes. 1,262,304,021 seconds.
Don’t give me that look. That’s not even the most useless piece of information I know.
According to Mom, her regular physician was out on vacation, so his partner was supposed to deliver me. Keep in mind that this was her fourth pregnancy, so she probably already knew how everything was supposed to go. The doctor insisted on using anesthesia for the delivery, which Mom was completely against after a bad reaction during my sister’s birth. There was an argument where he refused to deliver me without it and things left at a stalemate. (Apparently the dynamic between doctor and patient was WAY different in the 1970’s.) The anesthesiologist arrived to do his prep work only to find out Mom wasn’t having it. I guess I was in a rush to make it before midnight, so the nurse asked the old man if he’d like to deliver the baby. His answer? “I’d be delighted.”
That’s right. I was brought into this world by a drug-pusher.
Just kidding. I think. Maybe. I hope. (I preemptively apologize to any anesthesiologists, particularly since I will probably need your services some day.)
The anesthesiologist also told Mom there would be no charge for the delivery, because he would enjoy rubbing it in the doctor’s face. Word is that situation also led to the breakup of that medical partnership.
Yep. That’s right. I was barely born and I was already starting $#!+.
The “theme” for the past few posts has been about various “transitions” going on. I know the age “forty” is supposed to mark something, but I’ll be damned if I know what it is. My original plan – when I was about half my age – was to earn a PhD in music, land a tenure track position at some university, gig on the side, pay off my student loans, sock away a nest egg, start recording, retire early, and work on the projects that interest me most. (I was woefully naïve in the old days before the internet took off. You young-uns don’t know anything about that. Did I just use the word “young-un”?) I wanted to get married and have a large family much like the one I grew up in, with enough members to form our own baseball team. (Yeah… Don’t ask me how I thought I was going to accomplish all that stuff AND have seven kids.)
It didn’t happen. None of it happened. I could give any number of reasons why, though they all come back to choices I made. Do I regret them? Honestly… No. I regret the consequences, sure, but I don’t regret my decisions. I might have picked a few better options if I had to do it all over again, but most of them would probably be the same.
I love my family. Had I followed through with my original plan and been studying for my PhD when my brother died in the house fire in 2002, I would have dropped out and probably never gone back. If I had been elsewhere when my father’s health started declining, I’d have dropped everything and come back home. Don’t ask me how that would have played out if I were married with children or settled with a tenure track position. I don’t know. Don’t ask me how music would have turned out. Giving it up was never an option. I should know; people have been telling me to do exactly that since I was 16.
Don’t get me wrong. My decisions have come at a pretty hefty cost: financially… socially… professionally. Probably medically, too. I have endured hours of non-academic lectures from “well-meaning people” to the point where I don’t ever want to answer the question “What’s my day job?” If someone does not see the value in what you do, no answer will ever suffice. It doesn’t matter if you juggle three jobs and a contract gig and spend your “off” day shuttling your parents around. There were many times I didn’t even want to step out of my house specifically because I didn’t want to talk to anyone.
Social anxiety has always been there. The anti-social part developed over time.
As for what forty really means, I’m not even sure. Many of the things I planned to do when in my twenties don’t even interest me anymore. I’m also facing the reality that many of the dreams I have will remain dreams. Can I really call it a mid-life crisis if it has been brewing since I was 24? Sounds pretty much like “life” to me.
I could compile a list of all the various age-based fears, but there is little point; I’ve already been there. “Dying a laughing stock.” Meh… I’ve lived as one. It’s not that bad once you get used to it and recognize it for what it is. “Never accomplishing anything or making a name for myself.” I’m already a failure by most generally-accepted social standards, so this would make me an overachiever. “Being broke.” HAHAHAHAHAHAHHAHA!!!! “Dying alone and forgotten.” I’m petty. If you forget me, I will haunt your @$$.
“My time has come and gone.” Okay… I’ll admit that one is a real fear, even if I don’t believe it at all. (For the most part, fears aren’t rational.) It may not be too obvious given the tone of the rest of this entry, but I actually feel like the best has yet to come. Exactly what that is, I don’t know. There are projects I sidelined earlier this year that I’m looking forward to picking back up. There are new things I’m pretty excited to try and a few challenges I might take on just to see what happens. (Yeah… I do that sometimes. It either inspires or pisses off the people around me.)
As for what the next year or even the next few years will bring… Well… Your guess is as good as mine.
In case you haven’t gathered from the title of the last few posts, my life is in a period of transition. It doesn’t matter if I plop right down in the middle of the street; I can’t go back to how everything was six months ago. On January 18, my father was arguing with his chronically-unemployed son who had completely given up on music ministry. No, we weren’t arguing about my being chronically-unemployed. Given that day was a Wednesday, we were probably arguing because I couldn’t figure out what real food he wanted to eat.
Wednesday is Free Pie Day at O’Charley’s. Dad didn’t say it, but he wasn’t interested in anything on the menu. He just wanted his free apple pie. I got pecan. Yes, I pronounced it “pee can.” I prefer it slightly warm with a scoop of vanilla ice cream. Hold up… Had to take a break while recalling the memory of that goodness. I may have to find a stock photo of pecan pie ala mode just to put in this blog entry.
Yes… I know. Pecan pie has nothing to do with what I’m talking about.
Anyway, as of today July 18, my father is probably arguing with Jesus himself. Well… To be fair, I argue with the Lord every day, so that probably doesn’t tell you anything. What I meant is that my father is – well – probably telling the heavenly choir that their rehearsals are drowning out the television. Back here on Earth, I have rejoined the ranks of the chronically-underemployed… in music ministry, even.
It’s okay. I told my employers during the interview that they were not allowed to fire me before Justice League Part One comes out. Hopefully, the success of Wonder Woman convinced the producers to get better writers. Seriously. Batman v. Superman was crap. Especially Jesse Eisenberg as Lex Luthor. Steaming crap.
Quips aside… Emotionally, I am pretty much all over the place and will be for some time as I adjust to whatever “normal” is anymore. Some transitions are positive and painless. Mine has not been.
Now that I have gone over how I got roped into teaming up with the super villain Vo-CAL-lo to assemble the worship team at Mosaic Church at The Greene, I may as well tell you what unnerves me most about doing it:
No, I’m not worried about my musical skills, knowledge, or even lack of knowledge in various areas. I’ve got credentials and experience going back more than 20 years. I feel extremely confident in what I do and I feel even more confident in my ability to learn what I don’t know how to do. (Except organ. **** that $#!+. Not interested. Get a real organist.) I’m not sweating anything that involves any function of the job.
No… What scares me the most about it is my personality.
I am really not a people person. It’s not that I hate people. I actually love people… when I don’t have to talk to them. Okay, I feel fine talking with people I generally know, but otherwise I am an extreme introvert with borderline anti-social tendencies. Actually having to conduct meaningful conversations with people I don’t know really wears me out. In fact, the more crowded that it gets and the closer it gets to me, the more likely I will be in proximity to a distraction or a possible escape route. It’s nothing personal; once I’m done, I’m done.
Trust me… Even when I’m not feeling the social anxiety raging, I can still be a pretty aggravating person. Any day I reach the end without embarrassing myself or angering someone – whether for real or solely inside my head – is a good day. “Colorful metaphors and interjections” are a firmly-entrenched part of my vocabulary that I sometimes struggle to confine to semi-appropriate situations. (I don’t think I’ve killed any fig trees lately.) I can play the piano beneath a prayer, but leading one? Nope. I’ll say grace and it will most likely be one sentence. Look… Pissing off people is bad enough, but the last thing I want to do is piss off people and God at the same time.
Then, there is the whole image thing. Yeah… Uh… Get better role models; I don’t have my $#!+ together in any area. Well… Okay… My beard is pretty rocking despite the Cleaving Cleric’s repeated attempts to chop it off.
Why are all of these things are running through my head now? Beats me. This isn’t the first time I’ve held a church position. In the ancient days when I started serving in the Archdiocese of Cincinnati – all of ten years ago… Yes, that is antiquity in digital terms – social media was beginning to take off, but had not yet become integrated into – well – everything. After I stepped away from my last regular position in 2011, I really gave little thought into returning to a regular position in a church. While I have changed a bit during my “sabbatical”, I have for the most part always been this nutso. If anything, I’ve just grown more comfortable with it.
Let me get this out of the way now. Politically, I tend to lean fairly progressive. Everyone who knows me is aware of this. While I may not discuss politics all the time, I am not going out of my way to hide my positions. Conformity in the name of acceptability is just an act of self-destruction.
Here’s the cheat sheet for anyone eventually planning to complain about my political positions to my employers:
Health care? Single-payer. Immigration? Interesting how people are only concerned about the dark ones. Same-sex marriage? I book for weddings. Religious freedom? Depends. Does everyone get it or is it a cover to deny civil rights and public accommodations to “different” people? Gun legislation? 20 babies were killed and nothing changed. The discussion is over. Black Lives Matter? Why the hell is this notion even controversial? The flag/national anthem/pledge of allegiance/patriotic symbols/rituals? Yeah… I’m really not interested in any b***s*** loyalty tests where someone else gets to decide how “American” I get to be. It’s like the “What if” game. You can never win. Anything else that you want to know, you can just assume that I will take varying degrees of liberal positions.
Have at it. Every once in a while, you’ll find out more on Facebook or Twitter.
People disagree with me on some or all of these things. Fine. Let’s disagree. We are allowed to be individuals. Many of those I consider my closest friends happily cancel my vote out every first Tuesday in November and I still love them. Except AJD. **** that dude. Just kidding. He only cancels my vote out about 25% of the time. I think. *eyes narrow*
What I do bring – aside from all that stuff on my curriculum vitae – is this mindset that as Jesus came to serve everybody (not just self-avowed Christians), those who follow Him are called to do the same. We cannot be everything to everybody, but we can meet them where they are – with love and without expectation or any “loyalty test.” Despite the potential landmines – and I’m probably the biggest one – I see an opportunity to help assemble and build something amazing that could do a lot of good in the area and serve a lot of people. The possibility to help create something meaningful and lasting is too good to pass up!
This is not to say that other more pertinent things don’t unnerve me. I promised something I’ve never actually done. Mistakes are going to be made while figuring this out and most likely at the time we are working to build traction. How do you incorporate multiple languages into worship with a primarily English-speaking congregation? Social media promotion – including on personal accounts – is an integral part of pushing our message out into the community. I want to share, but I don’t want that to be all I share. How do we manage this partnership between the two multi-site churches who planted us? And then, there is the band. Aaaaaahhhhh… the band. Still working on that one.
Well… There’s also the flexible time-commitment thing with no set hours or facility, but that is actually something I like even more as things kick into high gear. I’ve always done most of my musical prep work in my home office outside of “prime working hours.” There are a lot less distractions at night. If I haven’t learned anything else as a creative, it is that preserving mental space is extremely important.
As much as I am looking forward to Mosaic Church’s deluge of events leading up to our Launch Day on September 17, I cannot say that I am excited out of my mind. I want to be and maybe as the day draws closer, I will get there. The day I accepted the position, I drove my parents to Cracker Barrel for brunch with the Diabolical Dwarf. I didn’t even tell them what I was doing or that I applied until I handed the Renegade Rabble-Rouser the acceptance letter. Dad – being the engineer he was – fired off a barrage of questions about just the concept of launching a church in a movie theater. I’d never seen Dad take such an interest in any church position I’d taken.
Five days later, Dad’s hip broke. For the first two months as I was attending launch trainings and participating in church functions, I was also hitting the hospital twice (or more) a day and watching my father slip away. The last month of his life, I had to explain to doctors and nurses weekly that my father wanted to fight to the very end and if I could not do anything else for him, I would honor that. Today marks two and a half months since my father joined Jesus. When we launch in September, I’ll be wrestling with the notion that Dad would have come. (Of course, he would have been ticked at me, because I would have refused to let him have any popcorn. Popcorn is bad for diverticulitis.) I feel like he got cheated. I feel like I got cheated. There are people who never even got to meet him that got cheated.
Even with the swirling tempest of emotions around me, I recognize that this is where I need to be right now. Doing this. All of it. The fun stuff. The grunt work. The “Are you KIDDING me?” work. The whole bit. My whole life is in a bit of a transition right now, but this part is a positive by far.
One day in a galaxy far far away in Ohio, two pastors at two different multi-campusMethodist churches went for a car ride together. Yeah, they tell the story better than I ever could. Both of them had planted churches previously and I think wherever they were going had something to do with it. Something happened and they had the idea of their two different multi-campus Methodist churches planting a church together. Even worse, the lead pastors and the boards of both different multi-campus Methodist churches said “Okay.” Now they were committed to it. Sucks to be them, right?
As chance would have it, I am a member of one of these different multi-campus Methodist churches and had become friends with one of these trouble-making pastors. It’s totally my fault. Dude’s an Italian from New York. The last Italian I dealt with from New York – one of my father’s dearest friends – had a habit of hanging three-year-olds by their waistbands from a coat hook. I knew better. I figured since this pastor guy was maybe four feet tall, I was safe.
As we often do, we went to the movies. I don’t remember what movie it was, though I’m sure it had plenty of gratuitous violence. (Don’t give me that look. The Old Testament is far more graphic than anything we saw on the screen.) While we were waiting for the previews to begin, he turned to me and said “What would you think about having church in a movie theater?” Of course, I start thinking of things like set-up/tear down, where to put the band, and all these logistic-type things that I imagine would be a nightmare… but then start thinking about what it would be like to actually experience it. I’m not sure what my response was, but I’m pretty sure I was problem-solving out loud until the first explosion.
Yeah… Problem-solving in my head or out loud. That’s definitely a trait I picked up from Dad. I probably inherited his inability to shut up about it, too. Man, I miss him.
So… the next day, I go to serve at church behind the keyboard and see this:
That little ****** was trying to plant a seed in my head.
Despite the dedicated multi-ethnic/wide net/diverse vision these two instigators from different multi-campus Methodist churches were discussing, I hadn’t thought of anything beyond the logistics of putting it all together inside of a movie theater. I don’t know if it was morbid curiosity or the free meal, but I signed up to attend one of their information sessions. Okay… I admit that it was both. Actually, the restaurant was pretty good and right across the street from the movie theater. My stomach is rumbling just thinking about it right now.
I’m a fat guy; simple deduction says that I can be won over by appealing to my appetite with good food. Good food. Not the dollar menu. Yes, yes… I know I’m digressing again.
As the meeting unfolded and the Despicable Duo from different multi-campus Methodist churches elaborated on their plan and petitioned feedback, I pretty much sat back and just watched. First off, if you’ve been in the room with these two when they get started, the energy goes nuts even before they get excited. A church with a mission to reflect the cultural and demographic richness of the Kingdom of God is a compelling vision that only makes too much sense, especially in an area with one of the highest concentrations of immigrant families in the state. Right there in the meeting, the Sinister Sicilian turned to one of the attendees – an Egyptian who has been holding Bible studies in Arabic at his house – and told him straight out that they wanted him on board and that he was applying.
There was something about that moment. While I knew a number of people at the meeting, I hadn’t even met this guy the Terrible Two were taunting and yet some light went off in my head. I don’t know if that was when I realized how serious they were or what. At that point, I started entertaining ideas of what worship might be like. Prayers and music in foreign language with different instrumentation and feel… but balanced in such a way not to alienate the English speakers. Incorporating music and other art forms from the different ethnicities present. Perhaps an education component to explain to everyone where this comes from and what it means… and…
What the **** are you doing?! STOP!!!
If you read Part II, you know that I had already decided I was done with music ministry beyond playing the piano. Given my employment “stagnation”, the needs of my parents’ care, the possibility of burning out my references, and the experience of interviewing with a church that didn’t have the courtesy to follow up with a rejection, I believed I was professional poison.
Never mind that I am legitimately qualified. Overqualified, actually. (Yes, it’s arrogant and probably egotistical, but still true.) The church is a launch, which means no money. No infrastructure. Since it is being held in a movie theater, that also meant no building. No office. Nothing. Everything from the ground up. And oddly enough, I wasn’t thinking about any of that.
Nah… I was thinking that the Chillin’ Villain is a good friend and brother and I would be doing him a disservice by asking him to deal with me. Just because I’m going down doesn’t mean I have a desire to take everyone else for the ride.
So… There’s this classic meme that says “Controlling my tongue isn’t the problem. It’s my face that needs deliverance.” The Dastardly Dude noticed that after sitting through the session, I filled out absolutely none of the information cards. I was also pretty eager to get out of the restaurant, which isn’t completely out of character for me. (I’ve always been stressed around crowds.) Of course, he asked me what I thought, and my reaction was fairly cool and noncommittal.
The Evil Elf looked me in the eye and said “I know that look. You’ve been disturbed by the Holy Spirit.”
“I have no idea what you’re talking about.”
Whatever. Like you never lied to your pastor.
I came home, wrote a cover letter with my proposal for multi-ethnic worship, matched it with my background, filled out the paperwork, placed it in an envelope, and set it in my winter coat while I decided if I was really going to do this.
And of course, the Vile Cinephile wanted to indulge his movie addiction a couple days later. I rewrote the cover letter and said to myself that I’d decide after I watched the movie whether or not I would hand it to him. Not ten minutes after I got to his place and tried in vain to win over his puppy, he asked me what I knew about an applicant and I cut him off, told him I couldn’t hear anymore, and handed him the envelope.
Yes. That’s right. Call me Cuz Bill Buzzkill. I ruined movie night. Nah… We still ended up watching the movie, but it was delayed by an hour because I had just dragged a flatulent elephant into the Italian Rapscallion’s living room that he had to address. He was expecting me to join the launch team, not apply for one of the staff positions. Silly Billy from Sicily.
Nah… For real. He was surprised.
As the interview-to-hiring process unfolded over the next few weeks with the Snarlin Marlin and the Biking Viking, the discussion of their vision for the church evolved. Like the Terrifying Twins, I have a partner-in-crime with an incredible talent and vision. We’re in the midst of carrying off concerts that were scheduled months before anyone was even interviewed! (Yeah… The Scandalous Vandal did it. He calls it an act of faith; we call it crazy. Notice that those terms aren’t mutually exclusive.) IT’S CHAOS in the prelaunch stage and I wonder at times what the **** I was thinking by signing up for this.
It’s not perfect. I’m not perfect. The timing of everything is about as far from perfect as possible. I’ve got concerns I think about from time to time. That said… I feel like this is exactly where I need to be.
A broken piece that aspires to be used to create something beautiful.
In case you haven’t gathered, the “theme” for this set of posts has to do with recent changes in my life. Part I discussed the most significant and painful transition: the loss of my father. I had been reluctant to post it, but I felt like I needed to. It happened and likely nothing will affect me as much in the coming months as I mourn. I have to work on what is next and this is a part of the process.
So… I’m helping launch a church. In a movie theater. Yes, I know. “What the **** am I thinking?” I guess that’s what this particular post is about.
Just to be clear, this is not my first foray into the music ministry. Years earlier, I had served as a minister of music at two parishes in the Archdiocese of Cincinnati. The first one – St. Andrew Catholic Church – merged with three other African-American parishes to become the Church of the Resurrection. The second one – St. Anthony of Madisonville – I only stayed at for a year, when it became clear my parents’ medical conditions required more day to day care than I could manage while employed an hour away. We parted on great terms and I still substitute there from time to time.
When I started attending Ginghamsburg Church in Tipp City, I just showed up, shut up, played keyboards in the band, and left. Since I wasn’t an employee, I wasn’t responsible for anything. I didn’t have to attend meetings or make any decisions. I could choose whenever I wanted to serve. I was free to sub elsewhere if I felt like it. (I made far more money as a sub.) If Dad needed to go to the emergency room, I could drop everything and deal with it. It was a completely different relationship than I had with the Catholic churches, which suited me just fine at the time.
Then, I ****ed up everything by attending, getting baptized, and becoming a member. Yes, I’m apparently good at self-sabotage.
Then it gets worse.
From Christmas season 2015 through the start of Lent 2016, I substituted for the minister of music at the Church of the Resurrection. It was a two month period with choir folks I consider family in a capacity I was plenty comfortable in. After almost five years away from directing on a continual basis, I was back at it again with a little bit of a different approach. The light went off in my head. I actually missed doing this. The stay was temporary, but I knew that what I had been doing otherwise – just playing piano – had to change.
Easy to say, isn’t it?
I was a 38-year-old man who lived with his parents and hadn’t worked a regular job in five years. Sure, I had credentials, references, and always managed to keep busy, but did that really make me any more employable? Does anyone really want to hear about how I organized my schedule around doctors’ appointments, dialysis treatments, medications, and lunches/dinners? Does anyone care that something as simple as taking both my parents out to lunch meant walking my blind father to the car, loading my mother into the wheelchair, and pushing her to the car? And repeat the same thing into the restaurant, out of the restaurant, and back into the house? Or that my phone would have to be on at all times in case my father had a medical emergency because I was the one who knew his medications or what happened at doctor’s visits? Or that I would drop everything at any moment if Dad had to go to the emergency room? Or that I tried not to leave my parents alone for more than a couple hours because if Mom fell, Dad would not be able to pick her up off the floor? Or vice versa?
Maybe the whole thing was blown out of proportion inside of my head, but I felt like no matter what I did, I had the Mark of Cain. Hell… I still feel that way.
If anything else, though, I figured it was good practice to get into the habit of putting myself out there, even if I was considered bad news. Over the next few months, I would periodically apply to positions. Some of them had a ****ing ridiculous application process. I even had a couple of interviews. Most applications were never acknowledged. Only two churches bothered sending me a rejection letter and one of them was the church I was attending! (Thanks, RE! I did appreciate it.)
For real, Dudes. All it takes is an email. When the churches don’t even bother rejecting you properly after an actual interview, it says they did not respect you. After that, I decided the “experiment” was over and I was done with music ministry. Yes, I was that disgusted.
So, what changed?
I went to the movies. Seriously. I’ll explain it in more detail in Part III.
On February 27, 2002, I learned that one moment – no matter how fleeting – is all it takes to completely change your life. It had already been a rather shitty week. Just two days earlier, my 1994 Pontiac Grand Am had gone its last mile – while my Mom and I were on our way to work nonetheless – and I had it towed back home. As any self-respecting high school choir director would, I made my illegal copies in the teacher’s lounge and was passing my mother’s Spanish classroom when one of her students raced out into the hall and told me there was an emergency and I needed to go to the main office right away. All I could think was that if some student hurt Mom, I was going to be on Channel 7 that evening. No… It was even worse.
My neighbor was in the office with one of my brothers. For the second time in my life, there was a house fire. For the second time in my life, one of my brothers had passed away as a result of a house fire. Both brothers were extremely special-needs. They were twins. They died 22 years apart from the same cause. In my adult life, it was the single most devastating experience I had ever been through and completely reshaped how I viewed everything. I keep things, but I don’t have the attachment to them I used to; I’ve lost everything. Things don’t matter. People mattered. My brothers mattered.
On March 8, 2017, I didn’t realize it, but everything was starting to unravel again. My father’s knee gave out and he fell to the side, breaking his hip. His condition deteriorated during his stay at a rehab facility. Over the next two months, I watched my father decline. I cannot get into details, but it was a heart-wrenching experience. Thousands of emotions were – and still are – swirling around in my head, from sadness to helplessness to anger to just complete overwhelm. I was my father’s primary caregiver for over ten years – my entire 30’s – and I felt like I failed him when he needed me the most. My family and I spent a lot of time with him, trying to make sure he understood he was loved. I thanked him for everything he did for me, even when I didn’t earn or deserve it. I apologized for everything wrong I ever did or everything right I didn’t do. Even when he couldn’t talk back, I told him how his investments in me helped pave the way for everything I was able to do now.
Calvin Joseph Powell, Jr. earned his heavenly promotion on May 4, 2017. While we may have known it was coming, that didn’t make it any easier of an experience. Here it is almost two months later and I am still fighting back tears. There is this huge gaping hole where Dad should be. I have time during my day that I didn’t have before and admittedly, that is often the time where I struggle to keep things from eating me alive. It used to be that I didn’t have time to think. Now, it seems like all I can do is think. Maybe I’ll eventually get those thoughts into more of the positive variety, but for now, they seem to swirl everywhere.
There are a lot of things I’ll have to work out in the months ahead. Mom still needs assistance. The two of us are handling Dad’s estate, which is a more complicated process than I had thought. I’ve signed on to launch a church that officially opens in September. Decisions I made years ago when I became a caregiver are due to bite me in the ass any day now. (The government doesn’t care about my sob story; they want their money.) I’ve got the challenge of figuring out an income stream that helps me dig out of the hole, lets me take care of Mom during the day, and doesn’t require me to give up music. (Thinking I should revisit my business ideas. Wish me luck.) Perhaps the most difficult part is making my own physical health a priority. I’ve tried before – several times – but always sidelined when “real life” got too crazy. That’s not sustainable. There is no telling how long “real life” is going to last. Tomorrow is not promised.
Thank God that I have a family – both blood and otherwise – to support me during this time. My mother and siblings – even while navigating their own grief – have been a constant spring of inspiration and strength. My extended family is scattered all over the country and have still checked in on us. Three churches and countless friends came together to help us send off Dad in style. My friends alone… They’ve been better friends to me than I have been to them. No, I don’t deserve any of you, but my life is better because you are in it. Thank you.
As my mother often says, “We will survive.” I often answer. “Yes… because we don’t have a choice.”
The video above is my playing Margaret Bonds’ Troubled Water. Out of everything I learned on the piano over the last 35 years, this was by far Dad’s favorite piece. He asked me to play it at my brother’s funeral in 2002 so I thought it fitting I would play it at his memorial service.
For the past week and a half, I’ve felt a burning need to start blogging again.
Just to be clear, I’ve tried to blog before. Several times. I tend to run into the same problem each time. What am I going to talk about? Given that I have spent approximately 87.5% of my life doing music, it seems the answer should be obvious… but does anyone really care to know the difference between how G-sharp and A-flat are used in the key of C major? Maybe there are people who are genuinely interested in that subject, but I’ve generally felt my expertise is considered irrelevant. There are many times I feel like a dinosaur waiting for the comet to slam into the Gulf of Mexico. I can’t imagine anyone caring what I think about – well – anything.
Still, I’ve felt this drive to start writing again on an ongoing basis. Why? I don’t know. Maybe there is a part of me that thinks I might be starting to figure it all out. Again, I don’t know. Just over the past few days, I abandoned what I wrote several times because I wondered if I should commit to that subject. IS there ever really a good time? Yet, I feel a need to start right now. I already know I need to post Midday Mondays to Tuesday morning or I won’t post. Note that my concern is whether or not I do it, not if anyone will actually even read it.
All my “internal turmoil” aside – first world problems… go figure – I decided to forget establishing a theme, go with my gut, and just try to be genuine. If it comes out depressed, angry, or annoyingly happy, so be it. Maybe if I do it enough, I’ll actually think of something useful to say.
The past week and a half has been both exhausting and trying on a personal and emotional level. I’ve spent nights laying in bed with insomnia and days rambling from task to task and getting nothing done. What can I say? I’ve recognized for years that my situation is growing more unsustainable with every day it continues and yet the only “solutions” – for lack of a better word – involve abandonment of some sort. A wise man told me “The first step of getting out of a trap is recognizing that you are in a trap.” This trap is one of my own making and I have to cut off a leg with a butter knife to get out of it.
So… No doubt you are looking back at the title of this post and wondering how it reflects what I have written so far. Context, I suppose. There is something else beneath the surface, pushing up past all the exhaustion, anxiety, and complete lack of focus: Gratitude. If I had to deal with all of these feelings by myself, there is no way I could possibly take it. Even in the craziness, I feel blessed beyond measure.
To the churchgoers and worship team, who extended grace, acceptance, and patience and understanding my way after I left the Ash Wednesday worship celebration and completely forgot about the second one until the music pastor called me 10 miles down the interstate: THANK YOU.
To the pastoral duo who reached out, prayed for me, and demonstrated patience after I had 3rd/4th/5th thoughts, declined a position suddenly without explanation, and reversed my decision less than 24 hours later: THANK YOU.
To the friends who have tolerated and accepted my indecisiveness, lack of communication, and periodic bouts of self-isolation: THANK YOU.
To the family – both living with me and not – who have put up with my impatience, complaining, and irritability for my entire life: THANK YOU.
To the physicians, nurses, and medical personnel at two hospitals who diagnosed, operated on, and coordinated treatment for my father who is currently recovering from a broken hip and the resulting replacement of the right femoral neck: THANK YOU.
To the family and friends who prayed for and sent messages of encouragement to my ailing father – a man many of you have never even met: THANK YOU.
To the Mighty and Ever-Loving God I don’t trust enough or talk to enough that blessed my undeserving ass with an amazing family, friends, and community despite my many many many failings: THANK YOU.
If you think I’m overdoing it – TOUGH. I want to get the point across that I appreciate everything you have done, said, and thought: even those of you snickering as you encouraged my father to pick on me. You have been far more patient, understanding, and accepting than I have or I even deserve. I am thankful that all of you are in my life and have freely given of your love at a time I have needed it most.