My Life

Transitions Part IV – Demons in My Head

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.

Mmmmmm… Pecan Pie a la mode

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:

ME.

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.

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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.

Better Together. We Are Mosaic.

TKP

7/18/17

Transitions Part III – Shattered Pieces Make Art

One day in a galaxy far far away in Ohio, two pastors at two different multi-campus Methodist 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.

We’ll see how it all goes.

TKP

7/13/17

Transitions Part II – Returning to Music Ministry

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.

A little bit of a Sanctus I wrote.

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.

TKP

7/4/17

Transitions Part I – My Heart Is Broken

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.

My father Calvin Joseph Powell, Jr. in his track coach gear.
My father Calvin Joseph Powell, Jr. in his track coach gear.

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.

See you later, Dad. I love you.

TKP

6/26/17

THANK YOU

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.

17 - 1
Dramatic much? Me? NEVER!

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.

That said:

  • 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.

THANK YOU.

TKP
3/13/17

President-Elect What’s-His-Name.

I went back and forth about posting this on my website. Politics tend to be a lightning rod, particularly if you happen to be Progressively-minded. Ultimately, I decided that this transcends the Liberal/Conservative divide.

No, I’m not particularly happy with the election results. I wasn’t particularly happy with the results in 2000 and 2004, either, however the election of 2016 has a new life altogether. This isn’t simply about a figure with political differences from me. This is about a man who has promised to institutionalize discriminatory policies targeting specific segments of the population, one of which I happen to belong. This is about a man who nodded and winked at white supremacist organizations and is even right now courting figures in the “Alt-right” movement for his cabinet. W-H-N is a man who is actively courting and giving a voice to groups who have ME in their crosshairs.

Yes, I know people EXACTLY like W-H-N. I’ve had people exactly like this man in positions of power OVER MY LIFE with no qualms whatsoever about stopping me and saying “I’m watching you, Boy. Don’t get out of line.” I’ve also had others say to me “Oh… I know so-and-so. He’d NEVER do that.” Like Hell he wouldn’t! 

W-H-N has been elected to the highest office in the land and given a rubber stamp in the form of both Houses of Congress. This is NOT about “how you felt under President Obama.” I voted against GWB twice and at most I expected (and got) his gross indifference to my concerns, which is pretty much what I expected out of Sen. Clinton or Gov. Mitt Romney or Sen. John McCain. That man I refer to as W-H-N made bigotry, discrimination, and racism a central component of his campaign. And I’m supposed to believe his administration won’t do the same?

It’s easy to say “This was about policy” when YOU aren’t the target of his “policies.” Chances are you won’t be randomly stopped and frisked by law enforcement. Chances are no one will question YOUR citizenship based on your name or skin tone. Chances are that no one will question YOUR loyalty to the country based on which church you go to or your last name. Chances are that no one is trying to find every which way to legally undo the marriage you fought years to have. Chances are that no one is going to force you to allow toxic substances to be piped right through your water supply. These are ALL policies that W-H-N pushed for as part of his campaign which are specifically aimed at minorities. This is NOT about “feelings” or “emotion.” This is about REALITY. A reality that millions of minority Americans are facing being perpetrated on them by the incoming presidential administration. This is a reality that 211 million Americans – who are NOT minorities – will likely NEVER experience.

It’s kind of hard for me to get upset about someone kneeling during a song or burning a piece of cloth when the country they represent makes it a national policy to treat ME as less than American. No doubt that I’ll hear “If you don’t like it, get the hell out.” How about this one? “If you don’t want it done to YOU, then don’t let anyone do it to OTHERS.”

W-H-N is our president-elect. Out of everyone in that clown car, THAT MAN is the one who was chosen. THAT MAN who wants to institutionalize discrimination against ME. THAT MAN who is engaging people who not that long ago murdered people like ME for sport without any consequences whatsoever. And W-H-N not only has raised their profile, but is putting them into positions of power.

And the near 50% of the US who voted for him? They’re perfectly okay with it. Why? They can pretend it is just about Obamacare, Business regulations, etc. Don’t get me wrong. Minorities have diverse positions on it, however one consideration goes beyond all of it… SURVIVAL. As long as White Supremacists are given a platform and the power to exercise it, my LIFE and my LIVELIHOOD – and that of many people I hold dear – are at stake. Don’t ask me to give a damn about your “feelings” if you don’t give a damn about my life.

TKP
11/11/16

Impositional Creative Paralysis

Note: I originally posted this blog entry seven years ago, on June 2, 2009 on my old blog. I placed it in “limbo” back when I rebooted my blog (the first time) a few years ago. That said… I think this is probably my favorite blog entry. I hope you enjoy it.

Impositional Creative Paralysis

There are times where being a musician is extremely aggravating. Artistic frustration with your craft can certainly be part of the picture, but I would say more of it has to do with external factors. Lack of respect, financial capital, personal egos, personal agendas, “dues-paying”, and interpersonal conflicts of various sorts are all about being in the arts. Racial and intraracial – that’s correct… within the race – bias and discrimination are also apart of that life. Hell, I can remember going on my first job interview out of grad school at an elementary school in Dayton and being asked – not a minute after mentioning my Masters degree from Indiana University School of Music and other qualifications – whether or not I could read music. I damn near blew my stack. However, I am not going to discuss that one now.

The topic of RMD #2 has more to do with what I’ll call “Impositional Creative Paralysis.” Nice little pretentious phrase, isn’t it? What does it mean?

“Creative paralysis” is exactly what it sounds like. You’re in a rut. You can’t get out of it. You can’t think. You can’t create. You can’t come up with something new. Drop it in a search engine and you’ll probably get a hundred or so listings of self-improvement websites.

So, how does the word “impositional” fit into it? Well, to be honest, I’m not sure that “impositional” is actually a word. If it is, though, it comes from the word “impose.” (If not, then my brother-in-law is going to have fun with this one…) “Impose”, of course, means to force onto someone else. So, I guess a more user-friendly way of describing it would be “the stifling of another’s artistic expression.”

What is the cause of “Impositional Creative Paralysis”? Easy. VAMPIRES!!! Energy vampires, in fact. People who lack imagination and therefore desire to pass that affliction onto you by bleeding every creative impulse from your body until you are a lifeless, energy-depleted, husk trapped in a self-induced adaptive catatonia. In a worst-case scenario, a victim spontaneously manifests a cocoon only to awaken soon after as yet another blindly roaming, comatose, vampire eager desiring nothing more than to perpetuate the same heinous process that was done to him on countless others. (Yes. I know. I’ve read too many comic books in my life time. By the way! Just 10 more days until Chris Claremont’s “X-Men Forever” comes out!!!) The field of music is rife with vampires or vampire-victims.

What are some examples of Impositional Creative Paralysis?

MIMICRY

The first one that comes to mind is this tendency for musicians of all stripes to perform something exactly the same way or in the same style as someone else and consider any deviation to be incorrect or somehow proof that the deviator does not know what he/she is doing. There was this one time at a funeral that I was accompanying a trumpet player to “Joyful, Joyful.” My friend is primarily into Gospel jazz, so I worked out a much slower rendition with some different chord changes. The idea was that he would play the melody and improvise over it. I’ll be damned if the church organist – who used to teach music at one of the local universities – didn’t hop on the organ after we started playing it, speed up the tempo, and play it straight using the chords out of the hymnal. I about wanted to hop up from the piano, rip a pipe off the wall, and cram it somewhere on his person where the sun didn’t shine. He then proceeded to give my friend – one of his former students – a lecture about how it was actually supposed to go. I seriously wanted to tell this guy, “Look. If I wanted to hear it as it was intended, I’d go listen to the original version… You know, the one which has an orchestra, choir, lyrics that aren’t indisputably Christian, and no fucking organ!

I’ve seen this thing at other times, in particular while working with musicals. I have had people tell me “That’s not how it goes” and get offended when I inform them “Well, I’m looking at the exact same score that the orchestra has and I can tell you that is INDEED how it goes.” See, what they really mean to tell me is that “So-and-so’s Broadway version that I listened to in order to learn my part/choreograph/make notes has a different arrangement than what you are doing.”

Yes, I’m calling some asses out. Just because Jennifer Holliday can do those runs on that song doesn’t mean you can. Just because her version might have this big ol’ dramatic key change on this recording doesn’t mean that the version you receive from MTI has the same key change. Just because her version might have this extended section with the vamp doesn’t mean that the one you receive from MTI does. So, when you come up to me and tell me that I’m “doing it wrong” because it doesn’t match up with a recording you have, my eye is going to twitch.

The recording is nothing more than an interpretation. LEARN YOUR PART FROM THE FUCKING SCORE!!! Then instead of trying in vain to imitate Jennifer Holliday’s runs, develop or improvise some runs of your own. And for heaven’s sake, learn to tell the difference between a change in tempo and a change in texture. The only thing that pisses me off more than lazy singer/actors who use the recording as the bible are choreographers and so-called vocal directors who encourage and perpetuate this gross ignorance and expect the accompanist or orchestra director to make it happen. That’s why I usually handle both the vocal and the orchestral end of it, simply because it allows me to lay down the law. Don’t ever tell me “but the recording…” It could be the most awesome recording on the face of the earth. I don’t care. My answer is “fuck the recording.”

There have been many times I have wanted to beat my head against the piano or the desk simply to dull the pain of dealing with obstinate people who want everyone else around them to do it like this one person they like or think is awesome. There is nothing as deflating as the feeling that you are simply there as a substitute or a bench-warmer for someone else the bandleader likes better. No, I’m not Chick Corea, Ahmad Jamal, Laurence Hobgood, or any of the other pianists that I listen to. I do feel like I’m at a place where I can start playing around and it is developing. One thing I have been experimenting with is improvising solos across both hands rather than improvising with the right and comping with the left. Based on the reaction from one person in particular, you’d think that I had a stroke and forgot how to play piano altogether!

Like all the arts, music is creative. It doesn’t matter what type of music it is. You have to bring something to it. Classical, Jazz, R&B, Country, Gospel… it doesn’t matter. It’s all interactive. You aren’t engaging it at all of your attention is focused on playing it exactly as someone else would. Who says that “Kumbayah” can only be performed around a campfire with a guitar? Why can’t “Fly Me to the Moon” be sung with a salsa beat? Why can’t I play a solo piano version of “Smells Like Teen Spirit”? Yes, some things will miss. I could about guarantee “Toreador” would sound grotesque on a kazoo. I’m not saying that there aren’t standards, but when you constantly get caught up in virtual-fanatical mimicry, how are you ever going to get through that creative barrier? How are you going to find something new?

Impositional Creative Paralysis in the form of Mimicry is one of the reasons I refuse to ever perform “Ribbon in the Sky.” Stevie, I hate that tune, now. And if you ever get someone to read this to you, I consider you a bad person for writing it.

Does anyone out there have any other examples of “Impositional Creative Paralysis”? Or perhaps other artistic frustrations?

All the best,

T. Kareem Powell
6/02/09

The Artist’s Conundrum: The Value Of Your Work

The title says “The Artist’s Conundrum”, but there are definitely other fields that could probably identify with the topic. Teachers, nurses, administrative assistants, restaurant servers, and minimum wage workers (off the top of my head) have all had the value of their work questioned and dismissed. I am ashamed to admit that I once caught myself uttering discouraging words about – of all people – the person preparing my dinner. (We all have brief moments of idiocy.) The fact is that regardless of “status” in an organization, all of these roles are indeed important. Because I am writing this from my personal experience, I am going to discuss it from the standpoint of a musician.

As a freelance pianist and occasionally a musical director, I often have to negotiate for my services. Honestly, I hate that part. What it comes down to is 1.) I want to take home as much as I can and 2.) the client wants my services for as cheaply as possible. Sometimes, we’re in the same ballpark and come to a rather quick consensus. Other times – particularly when the “budget” is low – I must respectfully decline. (People, I promise you: Toni Braxton’s third ex-boyfriend’s sister’s mother-in-law’s cosmetologist’s cardiologist will not be scouting some fat bearded 38-year-old pianist playing at your office potluck for “exposure.”) Of course, there is also the game where the client calls to see what your rate is so he/she can then shop around for someone else to undercut you. Playing that game is a good way to ensure I never take your call again.

“Value” is a difficult thing to quantify, because it means different things to different people in different situations. There has been a lot of talk in the music industry about streaming rates and royalties paid to performing artists and songwriters. I have spoken in the past about Beats Music and its successor Apple Music not paying the artists for music streamed during their trial period. (Fortunately, Apple changed that practice after Taylor Swift complained.) As a musician, music is both my life and my livelihood. To Apple, music is an expense to sell electronics. That company couldn’t care less if the artists who create it can buy groceries.

Needless to say, I am not a fan of Apple.

valuework

There are many ways I could approach this subject. As a music teacher, I’ve argued with administrators who expected me to use a piano with multiple broken keys to teach a choir class. As a musician, I’ve listened to community theatres and churches declare their love and need for music, but object to giving musicians even a token payment (or honorarium) for their services. As a freelance musical director, I’ve talked on the phone with a pastor who tried to guilt/bully me into accepting a musical ministry position at a rate that wouldn’t cover the cost of rent. I’ve also dealt with more than a number of college music students who seem to believe pianists should be lining up for the chance to accompany them on recital. Every once in a while, I get a message from someone asking why I haven’t shipped him/her a CD… for “free”… at my expense.

I am not writing this post just to complain “YOU ALL DON’T VALUE ME!!!” The world doesn’t value itself, so why would I expect it to change its mind just for me? As I just said in the paragraph above this one, musicians oftentimes don’t even value each other. Here is a radical thought I want to throw out there: What are you paying for?

Are you looking for background music for your dinner? Okay… Why don’t you just pop a CD in the stereo and be done with it? Oh… you want someone that can take requests? Well, that’s a different conversation, right there. Oh, you want a band that can take requests? Well, assuming that you want them to sound decent, then they would probably have to transcribe, arrange, and practice it first. Or have already done so. Are you sure that $50 that you are offering every band member is going to cut it?

Are you looking for a pianist for your church service or are you looking for a choir director? That’s two different things and two different discussions. Is it a Catholic church? Do you want someone familiar with the order of service? Or is it an organist you need? I promise you that piano and organ are two different instruments. Not all pianists play organ. Do you need someone to lead your band? Oh… you have multiple choirs and musical ensembles? Do they have music arranged for them? Now… how experienced do you want this person? You want a music degree? Oh… you want a Masters degree? Does your budget reflect the qualifications and skills you need from your music director?

Here are some things I look at when I am mulling over a possible gig or position:

1.) What am I expected to do?

Playing “atmosphere” music, interacting with a crowd, accompanying a soloist, directing an ensemble, arranging for a band, and renting out a sound system are all different skills.

2.) How much preparation does it entail?

Are we talking 3-4 pieces or 3-4 sets? Does the soloist need to rehearse? Is there written sheet music or do I have to transcribe a recording? Am I arranging for a group? How difficult is the music involved? How many hours do I need to spend learning and preparing music?

3.) What’s the risk factor?

Am I accompanying an inexperienced soloist cold? Does the soloist need coaching? Do I need to have other music ready to go because of “unexpected delays”? Does the soloist know which key he/she is singing her selection?

4.) How convenient or inconvenient is it?

Is there a piano on site? Do I have to bring my electric piano? Do I have to bring my electric piano, lug it three blocks, and haul it up three flights of stairs? Is it outside and uncovered? Does the client expect me to bring a sound system? Do I have to set up three hours ahead of time and stay on site throughout the entire event? How far is it from my house? Do I have to dress up? What’s the weather forecast? What else am I doing that day? How does this affect my regular commitments? Does it end at 2 AM and involve a 5 hour drive home?

5.) What’s the payoff?

What are my expenses for the gig? How many band members do I have to pay? How much does it cost to get there and get home? Is this a one-in-a-lifetime experience? Will I make a profit? How will taking this gig affect my ability to take other gigs down the road? Does the payoff match the preparation hours?

6.) How interesting is it?

Am I learning something new or gaining new experience? Is it something I might consider pursuing more of? Is it a direction I want to go creatively? Will it allow me to make new contacts and further existing relationships? Besides the money, what else am I getting from this gig?

7.) Why me? Why not someone else?

What can someone get from me that they might not get from someone else? How does this gig rely on my experience/background?

A friend of mine explained it like this: “You’re not only paying for time being spent in your service, but also time/money already spent learning and perfecting the craft.”

I’ll have a much easier time playing keys for a last-minute band gig with lead sheets than another pianist who can’t read a lick of music. No offense meant to my non-reading peers, but I’ve done the work. Chances are that Herbie Hancock will have an easier time than I would… but you probably can’t afford Herbie Hancock.

Experience and practice time are both factors. If I need someone with the level and skill of a concert violinist, should I expect to pay this professional the same rate as I would a musician who picked up the instrument for the first time last year? If a higher level of experience and musicianship is required, shouldn’t that be reflected in the pay as well?

Music is one of those fields that people feel passionate about. A lot of people feel passionate about it. When I was preparing my debut album, I was constantly barraged by stories – not from musicians, but rather those who “know” musicians and therefore feel entitled to relate their experience on their behalf. You know the stories: 12 hours in a practice room every day after their full-time job. Playing and performing strictly for the “love” of the art form. Sweating day and night as the unknown, under-appreciated musical genius looking for the “big break” when someone is going discover them and deliver them a record deal.

Yeah… You know. Pure unadulterated romanticized bullshit. Yes, I said it. Yes, I meant every word.

I’m not saying that all musicians do music solely for the money. My entire working life has been working as a musician. There are definitely more immediate and more “reliable” ways to earn an income. That said… Since when does being an artist obligate you to give your work/services away at your expense? There are people who love running mega corporations and cross-examining witnesses in court who still expect to be paid. And they should.

There are a lot of people who think they appreciate and love music so much and yet their actions and even their words don’t seem to reflect that same appreciation for the musicians who create it. Music and the arts especially seem to inspire idealistic “fluffy” comments from “connoisseurs” along the line of “Music is a gift (from God). It is a privilege/honor/blessing to be able to make it. You shouldn’t be doing it for the money, anyway…”

Just. Stop.

If you’ve ever said those words, quit pretending. You don’t love music. You love listening to it without paying for it. If you truly loved music, then you’d be passionate about making sure the artists who create it can make a living and – you know – create more of it. The vast majority of artists don’t have the record labels you cite to justify the increasing transfer of wealth created from the music business toward the tech companies. No, the major labels are not friends to independent artists, but anyone who says “You should be happy with the OPPORTUNITY… You are getting EXPOSURE!” is even worse. (Let’s not even get into the fact that the major labels are stockholders in the tech companies whose rates you are defending and typically do not share their dividends with their artists.)

Exposure and opportunity are nice, but that doesn’t pay for side musicians, sound engineers, instruments, or anything else it takes to create a recording or fashion a sustainable career in music. That doesn’t help an artist invest in himself or pay his car insurance.

The fact is that creating art is work. It is work that involves a lifetime of study, practice, refinement, and experimentation. Art is trial and error, oftentimes in front of a live audience who may not understand (or care for) what you are trying to do or the skill you are perfecting. Art is taking a vision and trying to make something concrete out of it that you hope will make some sort of emotional connection. Every minute of “play” you see involves hours of “not play” that led up to it. Like any field, you have to spend time figuring out what you are doing before you can say “Okay… Yeah. I get that.”

So… I throw my earlier question at you one more time: What are you paying for? I follow it up with: Do you really value it?

TKP
10/12/15

Impromptu Duet With Legend Ramsey Lewis

So… On Friday, October 2, 2015, I got to jam with one of my heroes: legendary pianist Ramsey Lewis.

If you don’t know who he is, then we can’t be friends. Go to Google right now, read his Wikipedia page, find his website and read everything on that, and then go listen to his music and buy his music. Once you have corrected that gross deficiency, return here and plead for my forgiveness. Ramsey Lewis is one of the foremost pianists in the world, particularly in the realm of jazz. Off the top of my head, there are only 4-5 living pianists that can even approach his stature. (Herbie Hancock, Chick Corea, Ahmad Jamal, McCoy Tyner, Keith Jarrett… Yes. Off the top of my head.) This man is a giant. So, I went to the Meet and Greet at the Steinway Piano Gallery of Nashville on October 2 fully expecting to learn from one of the greatest musical minds… from the audience.

Mr. Lewis and his wife Jan were quietly talking with people when I arrived. Yes… I admit. I was too scared to talk to either one of them. As I said, this guy is one of my heroes. Eventually, the crowd made our way into the Recital Hall where he gave a small presentation. I staked my place out in the middle of the back row. I think he was overjoyed to see a 10 and a 12 year old sitting in the front row appropriately named MJ and Miles. (Boys, if I switched your two names, I apologize.) Though Mr. Lewis spoke to the entire audience, I think much of his presentation was directed toward the boys. He wanted to inspire them and everyone in the Recital Hall – including me – were eating every bit of it up. He emphasized the necessity of not only practicing but falling in love with practice. After he gave his presentation and played a little, he said “Well… I’ve played enough. Who’s going to play for me?” The obvious answer was the boys.

Instead, my name got called. I knew the second I heard it exactly who did it. When I visit Nashville, I frequently practice at the Steinway Piano Gallery and know the staff pretty well. When DC called my name again, I looked away, pretending that I was another member of the audience looking around for this “Kareem” person. Unfortunately, no one else was fooled and everyone – including Ramsey Lewis himself – was looking directly at me.

I was scared out of my mind. Here I was having been volunteered by my friend and all I could think of is “He just gave a speech on practice. I didn’t practice today. Yesterday, I was in the car all day driving. I really haven’t practiced as much as I should have lately. Oh yeah… and one of my heroes is going to hear me. I got up and was still pretty much shaking. BH got another piano bench and plopped it down next to the one Mr. Lewis was using and the man himself asks me “So… What are we playing?”

I stumbled crazily inside of my head trying to think of what to play when I blurted out “Stella by Starlight.” He started at the bottom doing chords/bass and I hit the top, playing the melody out and doing some improv. Sometime after the improv started, he told me to take the entire piano. I won’t lie… I’m weak at improv. I’m really weak on solo jazz piano. I hit that lower end of the piano and I don’t remember what I did, but I think I started doing a little interplay between the LH “bass” and the right hand. Thankfully, the man himself came back and started tearing up the top end of the piano and we somehow found a way to end it.

FREAKING AWESOME!!!! Yes. That’s how it feels to play a duet with a legend. Even though the duet was over, I was still scared out of my mind and practically running off the stage. I managed to fumble out “Thank you for the lesson” and went back to my seat. By then, MJ and Miles were ready to get up there and show Mr. Lewis what they had. He was all too glad to coach him. (You did awesome, boys!)

My friend BH managed to catch the last part of our duet on video. I hope you enjoy it! I’ve got a couple more days in Nashville before I head back to Ohio. For now…

I really need to practice. All the best!

-TKP
10/5/15

Excellence Oozing From My Pores

Note: This post was originally written before I decided to convert my entire website from Website Baker to WordPress. The old website had a picture from my pre-beard days, hence the opening paragraph.

Excellence Oozing From My Pores

So, if you have been following any of my various social media accounts, you have probably noticed something dangling from my face that isn’t on my main website. (If not, there’s a picture reference either to the left or directly above this post.) Okay… that “something” is actually an extraterrestrial alien creature with hundreds of thousands of probosces burrowing subcutaneously into my skull. The doctors have assured me that despite what friends and family believe, the creature is in fact benign and poses no danger whatsoever of attaching to my nervous system and taking control of my higher cerebral functions. Clearly, it is benevolent. I mean… It tastes everything I put into my mouth just to make sure that people out there aren’t trying to poison me. That’s love!

As of right now, my chinsulation is approximately two years, four months, and ten days old. We celebrated its second birthday on May 2, 2015 with a piano recital. Since then, I have actually trimmed it back about two inches. (Yeah… Spare me the shock, people. None of you even noticed when I did it!)

The response to the beard has been about as I expected. Some people shrug and go about their business. (A perfectly acceptable response.) Others have expressed their utter disgust and indignation and have never missed an opportunity to remind me of their displeasure. (I admit that it amuses me.) Then, of course, there are those people with similar afflictions to my own who greet me with a high five, a fist bump, and a shout at the top of their lungs: “YEAH! THAT’S WHAT I’M TALKING ABOUT, BROTHER!” I would be remiss not to acknowledge the disappointed observers lingering tearfully in the background who desire but are afraid to release the brilliance from within their skin. I would say that I feel their pain, but in reality, the majesty of my chinfro has long numbed me to such empathetic feelings.

I often get asked why I chose to let my beard grow out. Sure, I could pretend that this was a mystical spiritual journey in search of a masculinity that had been suppressed by society and that I was finally embracing myself as God had meant for me to be or invent something similarly sexy, but that would be a romanticized bold-faced lie. The stimulus behind it was actually financial… and possibly a little laziness on my part.

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Look at the lil’ baby beard…

In 2013, I got lazy with the razor and let it go for two weeks because I didn’t want to bother with it. Then, I went to go visit my sister in Nashville and accidentally forgot my razor altogether. I was too cheap to buy another one (and the blades), so I just let it keep going. As “luck” would have it when I got home, one of my brothers “borrowed” my last unused razor blade while I was away. Empty razor. So, I had to buy razor blades… which were over $20… knowing my brother would probably “borrow” a couple of them again. Fuck that. I needed to keep gas in my car, so Mr. Gillette took a back seat. Then, I decided that I kind of liked what was happening to my face. Next thing I knew, two more months had passed and I had no desire whatsoever to give Mr. Gillette any more of my money. By then, I set the scissors aside and just let the awesomeness ooze out from my chin.

I could sit here and go through all the various mistakes and things I learned while the chinfro took control, but that means little when I can just brush my hand across it and be soothed by its magical powers. If I had to do it all over again, I’d have never trimmed my mustache back about a year into it. (I didn’t like how it came out.) Since then, I’ve grown to love it even more and have no problem with the good-natured ribbing and the occasional “THAT’S GROSS” I still get. At this point, I already got my driver’s license renewed, which means that I’m committed to it at least until 2018. Given that I’m a fairly large (fat) Black man with an Arabic name who tends to put people off with my social ineptitude, I’d be an idiot not to look like my ID.

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The piano and I were fighting that day. It won.

While “laziness” may have been cited as a factor in deciding to grow the beard, the reality is that I have to maintain it just like the hair on top of my head. You wake up with “bedhead”? Well, I’ve got “bedhead” and “bedbeard.” If I took a picture of the drooly side, you’d have nightmares for weeks. I’m Black – I know… shocker – which means I can’t win for trying. If I wash it too often, it will get dry. If I don’t wash it enough, I’ll get dandruff on my chin. I have to watch out mundane things such as coat zippers and seatbelts. Ice cream, hamburgers, and potato cheese soup are also known as “beard conditioners” and require an eye to watch out for stray piece of onion. If I blow my nose, I always wonder if the tissue missed a clump of my mustache stuck together by mucus. Of course, I’ve also got one of those beards that over time likes to go separate ways in the middle. (I’ve made peace with that.) “Laziness” may have got it started, but keeping it is certainly more tedious than scraping my skin.

Just how far will I let it go? I don’t know. Whenever I get sick of it, if that ever happens. For now, though… Winter’s coming and I know my face is going to be just fine.

That said…

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PEACE OUT, DUDES!!!

TKP
9/12/15