Category Archives: Posts

Placebo is Still Magic

My hand writing used to be legible at Times New Roman 8 point font.

Yes, I saved a few pages and compared it.

For reference, the next time you open any word processing program, just change your favorite font, or specifically TNR, to 8 point.  (At any point in my life, and I’m neither proud nor comfortable with this fact, the quexclamation, “Isn’t that exhausting?!” would apply.)

My print, at a time in my life, was as legible as what you’re reading right now.  But, on an 8.5×11 piece of blank paper with approximately 1 cm margins around.  I believe my record (…yes, I counted words too…) was approximately 1,200 words on one side of a page.

I wrote out my papers…even in graduate school, which was 1996 – 1998.  At some point in that window, I purchased my first word-processing typewriter.  It allowed me to type out one line at a time, then hit enter, after which time the motor would take over.  It had correction tape, which usually worked but when it didn’t the situation was rage-facilitating…anyone who’s needed to deal with correction tape knows precisely about which I’m talking.  It also had a bare bones dictionary that was useless for the vocabulary of a speech/language pathologist.  Or most humans over the age of 3, for that matter.  It certainly saved me physical energy…but that wasn’t fully to my satisfaction.  So I still hand wrote most of what needed to be written.

I prefer having what I’m writing laid out fully in front of me.  This is why Microsoft Word was such an amazing thing…but a thing I only used in the computer labs at the University of Pittsburgh, because I couldn’t afford a computer or Microsoft Office.  So, it was Del Duca 8.0 font…through revisions and everything.  Then, after I’d completed the final draft, I would hand write it one more time…THEN travel to a computing lab and type the thing into Word.

You might now be thinking, “What the fuck was wrong with you?”

Or even, “Yeah, that seems about right.”

In any case, this was my life in the late 1990’s.

To this moment, I feel a sense of greater creativity when I hand write.  As if the physical labor inspires more and promotes a deeper dig to the places where word meets thought and emotion, thus communicating messages with greater clarity and depth.  Right now, I’m typing into my laptop from a note book in which the first draft of what you’re reading was written.  Fortunately, I can deal with subsequent drafts within Word because I can see everything as a whole even as I modify the bits and pieces.

When I hand write, I think a bit more about what I’m about to communicate so that I don’t need to redo, scratch that, try this, and whatnot. I usually get it right closer to the first time.

When I type, however, particularly if I have a load of things that desperately need to spill out as quickly as possible, I can dump everything and then move backwards to make sense of it all for you.  And future me.  (This is a critical point.  There are multiple times I read back through words I committed to paper quickly and cannot figure out what the hell I was getting at.  Also, it veers illegible because when I’m spilling a stream of consciousness I shift from printing to cursive.  And upon the read back, I generally curse cursive.)

But think about this.  Within 10 years of the final time I painstakingly printed a 5,000 word draft of a graduate paper, likely near 1999 (…party over, out of time…), technology had become so affordable, so compact, and so advanced that all of us could communicate on hand held devices with exceedingly greater computing power than even the most expensive PC available when Prince’s anthem became nostalgia.  Currently, I have a touch screen lap top that weighs about as much as a smallish hard cover book and takes up no more space than two Sports Illustrated magazines stacked on top of each other.

But paper and pen.  There’s something there, something nostalgic for certain…but also something magical.  It may well be the placebo effect of said nostalgia, but even the magic of placebo is still magic.

-G

My current situation. Under the table and dreaming and whatnot.

Black Card (Update)

I wrote what you’re about to read precisely one year ago.

I carry neither embarrassment nor regret regarding the story or my life.

However, I want to remain sensitive to my audience and respectful to all of the people who supported and raised me…and those who continue to support and raise me.  Yep, I’ve got lots of growing to do and I appreciate each of you who shake me awake a little more each day.

I don’t want my words, in any way, to disrespect the experiences of any individual Black reader or person of color.  I seek guidance at every step so that I can contribute to a better community and society.

So here is a piece of my story, a piece that helps explain my values and passions, and hopefully opens the door for further enlightenment and progress.

==========

I’m white…in case you didn’t know.

Several years ago, while teaching in Atlanta, my friend Jerald gave me a Black card.  No really, he created and then gave me a Black card.  It said, “I’m Black,” and had his signature.  Later that month, Jerald made keys for all of us to access a storage room at the school where we worked.  He put colored plastic rings around each key.  Andrea, another Black teacher, asked Jerald, “Which key is Del Duca’s?” Immediately, Jerald responded, “Del Duca Black.”  She smiled and nodded in agreement.  “Right.”

So how is it that this soon-to-be-forty-two-year-old white guy gets a Black card?

It all starts in 1946.

I know, the math doesn’t work, does it?  Thing is, this story only continues with me.  It started with my Mom.

She was born and raised smack dab in the middle of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and she was into black music from the get go.  She loved doo-wop, then she loved Motown, then she loved funk, rhythm & blues.  She saw Sly and the Family Stone; Earth, Wind, and Fire; and she even grooved to brother James Brown’s, “Black and Proud.”

My Mom was, and is, Catholic…more hip to the new-testament and social-justice Jesus, the rise of the non-violent civil rights struggle, and the spiritual liberalism of the Kennedy clan and Martin Luther King, Junior.

She cared about fairness, judged a man by the content of his character, and  was, by all accounts, pretty fly for a white girl.

On September 16th, 1974, she gave birth to me.

That’s where her story continues and mine begins.

If nature and nurture predict anything, you can see straight away how I earned that Black card.  Really, I didn’t earn it.  Mom did, and I was fortunate enough to inherit it, cherish it and come of age at a point where I could wear a term like “Wigger” as a badge of…if not honor or pride, then at least simple reality; and neither as a scarlet letter nor a threat of bodily harm.

And then, in a simultaneously serendipitous and ironic turn of events my biological father (…who by all accounts had been a full-blooded Sicilian-American racist raised by full-blooded Sicilian-American racists…) married a Black woman.  He moved in with Angie, his new wife, and her teenage children in the Alequippa projects where he became the only white resident.  Except when I visited, which doubled the Caucasian population.

My biological Father was immature, debilitated by whatever experiences he had in Vietnam and, previous to that, his upbringing in a dysfunctional immigrant home.  Ultimately he proved not a good, not even a decent father.  But Angie and her children?  They were wonderful.  They welcomed me.  The enveloped me in love and they protected me from my Dad, particularly when he was behaving irrationally or overwhelming me with his unresolved emotional baggage.  Which was often.

I loved Angie.  I loved my step-siblings.  I loved the Diana Ross, Michael Jackson, and Hall & Oates constantly blasting from someone’s room.

I ate government cheese, stood in line for free lunches, and frolicked in sprinklers, not pools.  I felt like a little part of something; gained confidence.  I projected my inclusion into Angie’s family onto the entire community…and there…was the mistake that would sink my titanic confidence.

It was Summer. 1983.

I’d eaten my subsidized snack, splashed in a stagnant puddle, and began the walk back to our apartment.

I noticed four kids, a bit older than me, climbing the steep, rocky hill that formed a natural amphitheater looking down on the front façade of Building C.  I was intrigued.  They hit a flat spot and they started singing, “Under the Boardwalk.”

This was it.

I tore up the hill…as fast a fat-ass preteen can.

Now sweaty, curly hair stuck to my glistening forehead, shorts riding up my now-chafed inner thighs, nearly out of breath, I reached the flat.  There, next to the bass, was a spot.  For me.  I hit my mark, and I joined in.

And the singing stopped.

Not me, though.

“Un-derrrr the boh-whoa-oard walk…”

(Now I realize the quintet has become a solo)

And one of the Faux-Drifters stepped back and shoved me with all of the anger and frustration he could muster.

They say a rolling stone gathers no moss.

A fat kid, however, gathers all kinds of shit along the way.

As I neared the bottom, their laughing ceased and the chorus resumed.

I stood.  Angry.  Embarrassed.  Sad.  And in unbelievable bodily pain.  I stared back up, and at a distance that now seemed impossibly far the quartet performed to an audience of anybody but me.

I limped back to the apartment, my spirit crushed…and Angie wiped me off and built me back up.  And Shawn, her son closest in age to me, told me to forget about all that mess.  He referred to me as brother.  And William, the eldest, who had Colecovision…let me play uninterrupted until the tears dried and I licked the salty remnants from my cheeks and lips, “Sarah Smile” drifting down the hall from my half-sister Tanya’s room.

(If you feel like leavin’, you know you can go…)

You see…that experience could have pushed me in any number of directions.  But I had my Mom.  And I had the love and protection of one Black family.

I came to love soul food.  I heard Newcleus’, “Jam On It” and was a certified hip-hop head until…well, until this very moment.  I absorbed the art…through music, literature, spoken words, and other media…of numerous Black luminaries.  I served as a Peace Corps volunteer in Kenya and I helped found a KIPP charter school in East Point, Georgia.  I hit emotional rock bottom there in Atlanta and was enveloped in the love of a Black man and his Baptist church.  In 2004, Jerald, and Neriah Baptist Church saved me, just like Angie and her clan did twenty years earlier.

I got my Black card from my brother, Jerald.

And although I no longer have the actual artifact, those words remain in my soul…I’m Black…with Jerald’s signature, the songs of Neriah and the embrace of Pastor Lindsay, and the words of Angie and her family etched lovingly upon my heart; all wrapped in a bow of unconditional love from my Mom.

So if you need me…

…on a blanket with my baby is where I’ll be.

-G

ALIfeRestoredErnieBarnes
“A Life Restored” (Ernie Barnes)

Everything I Write is Opinion

Everything I write is opinion.

Everything everyone writes is opinion.

Even facts are facts as I perceive and process them.

Otherwise…opinion.

[Example]

I’m looking out of a window of a Starbuck’s café, staring fairly intently at my white Toyota Camry Hybrid while not looking down at the screen or keys.  I can do that because I had several semesters of typing instruction in 9th grade.  I took the home keys fairly seriously.  No, that’s not true.  I took the grade assigned to my work in class seriously.  To be entirely honest, I needed to be perfect…or as close to perfect as I could get.  This is a fact for as long as I can remember.  I have, stuck into my high school senior year book as a dysfunctional-nostalgic (call it “dystalgic”) bookmark of sorts, the one report card I saved from my entire life.  On that report card, in the grid for third quarter marks, with just the word “Math” immediately to the left, is the only C I’ve ever earned in my life.

That…is the report card I saved.

Not the nearly 4.0 cumulative card for all of high school.

Not the nearly 4.0 cumulative card for all of my undergraduate work.

Not the perfect 4.0 cumulative card for my graduate degree.

Not those, but the singular C I received in 6th grade.  For the third quarter.  The cumulative math grade for that year was an A, because I made damn sure of it.

I’m not bragging.

I’m lamenting.

I spent so many years chasing perfection.

I allocated not one second to defining “perfection,” not even a single, fleeting thought as to why the number 100 mattered so much.

To this day I find myself massively concerned with what others think of me, with how I “stack up” against the opinions of the various communities in which I’ve been accepted, or at least tolerated.

I seek acceptance.  I need validation. Accolade is like a drug, a substance on which I rely, behaviorally and, when the psychology becomes immensely toxic, physically.  Indeed, I’ve made myself sick with anxiety, worry, panic, angst, and self-dissatisfaction.

It’s been here for as long as I can remember, yet I cannot remember why it’s there…and even THAT works into my tendency toward self-flagellation because I can’t make myself better fast enough or completely enough.  I can’t figure me out.  Can’t fix me.

Funny that, because I approach my entire calling as a speech/language therapist with counseling-inspired, individual-centered, relationship-based, culturally-informed values.  I’ve shed the medical model, which was trained vehemently into me, and now [try to] approach every human I serve as a perfectly valid and beautiful being.  My goal is not to repair but to support individuals in their pursuit of love, happiness, self-acceptance, independence, and success in whichever manners they decide.

But when I look in the mirror, so often I only see a broken human who needs to be fixed.  But I can’t fix me, and that makes me further disappointed.

It’s exhausting.

And, as I’ve learned from doctors and other healthcare professionals, it’s dangerous.  It might not kill me tomorrow, or ever…but the consistent intensity of the fight-or-flight nervous system is setting me up for a progressively worse quality of life moving forward.  Spiritually and emotionally, it ain’t so good either.

So, it’s important, perhaps critical, that I inhabit endeavors that help reduce anxiety while increasing my present focus and ability to experience the world with clarity, calm, understanding, and forgiveness.  To put it very simply…I must increase love and decrease that which is not love.

[end example]

Everything I just presented to you is the truth as I understand it.

Facts.

However, as the words tumble out of my brain, through my fingers, onto this page, influenced by my current sensory environment…needing to pee while seated in an air conditioned coffee shop with a lovely cup of single origin to my left and Van Morrison’s Astral Weeks in my ears but wanting to get these words out and not break the flow…they are immediately and indelibly rendered as fiction.  Based on a true story, for certain…but presented through the lens of my brain.

Opinion.

Everything.

My immediate reality is your third, perhaps second person experience.

Your immediate reality might align with my prediction of how you’ll process this, but likely not.

Each human brain perceives the world similarly, as we are all human, but not precisely so, since each human brain develops as a unique functional experimental case study.  I’d venture to write that each brain, at the micro level, functions quite differently.  Like a fingerprint, except with almost infinitely more complexity.

I appreciate that you’ve taken me in, allowed me to reside in your brain for a little while, and shared some of your being with me in return.  Consciousness is a tricky thing, as slippery as faith and malleable as belief.  But it’s what we have here, so let’s use it to increase love…and decrease that which is not love.

If we’re writing the stories of our individual and collective lives, might as well give them happy endings.

-G

It’s a gif. A wonderful gif.

You’ve Come for a Post…

…but today there is none.

Well, perhaps you might consider this that, as it has been posted and read.

But the truth of the words spilled here on your screen is I’m sharing them just before bed.

Inside I feel an obligation to provide a thing as promised, but additionally I realize that if I only do this for approval, validation, and ego, then what is it but lies.

And yet, here I am.  And here you are.

So yes, this is for me.

But also, it’s yours.

XOXO

-G

(source)

The Struggle is the Achievement

In my journey of providing children with positive behavior supports, a critical piece of any success I helped to achieve is the following insight…shared with me by my first true mentor in behavior management.

  1. You cannot make anybody do anything
  2. Nobody can make you feel anything.

These insights required years, nearly decades now to sink in to the point where I mostly understand them.  This is not to say that others need the time I needed.  No, I’m saying that I needed a REALLY long time to get a point where I’m calm and comfortable within my own skin.  So, it’s me.  Not you.

That first insight seems incompatible with the actual endeavor of behavior change…but in fact it’s the key.  Let me get specific.  In your mind, visualize a person with whom you have a particular challenge.  Got it?  Let’s call that person X.  You cannot make X do anything.   Now let me expand, you cannot make X do anything X doesn’t choose to do.  Let me flip the script, X cannot make YOU do anything you don’t choose to do.  I mean, amiright?!  (I’m right.)  So what can/should you do?  Well, you need to figure that out, but here’s a valid goal: set up your relationship, decisions, and behaviors to maximize the likelihood that X will make choices that fit within the social and community boundaries you’ve set in whatever milieu you need to interact with/around X.  (I know, it’s very wordy and specific, but it kind of needs to be.  Specific and measurable at least.)

Now, comes the second insight.  And it’s a tough one.  Nobody can make you feel anything.  Your feelings…are yours.  Mine…are mine.  Surely there are things that I can say and do that you don’t like or prefer, and perhaps I say or do things that push your emotional buttons.  But your feelings are yours.  We so often blame others for our feelings.  “You made me feel X.”  It’s simply not true.  Contemplate that for just a few minutes and I think you’ll see the stark truth embedded.

So, in approaching X…it’s really important to understand that you can’t make X do anything…AND…X doesn’t control your emotions.

The problem almost always is…X absolutely believes X can control your emotions, and to some extent (…perhaps as much as totally…) you’re giving X reactions that prove X right.  Think of it like a video game…except X’s controller isn’t connected to a Wii…it’s connected to you!  X knows X can manipulate your feelings, and so X does.

Here’s another problem…once you endeavor to force X to do things by threat, punishment, reward, or any other seemingly logical means, all bets are off.  Because X absolutely doesn’t want to be controlled. (Do you want to be controlled?)  X wants to control.  (Who doesn’t want control?)  X wants a state of homeostasis in which X can relax and exist without unwanted restrictions. (Sounds great, right?)

The challenge of behavior support, particularly when we meet a particularly bright, particularly manipulative, particularly troublesome, particularly confounding individual is that we have to take some time to think about our own biases, our own theories on development and human behavior, our own emotions and baggage.  Again, I’m not judging or pointing fingers…I’m simply sharing how I came to find peace and success building relationship with and providing service to the Xs in my life.

So what’s the moral here?

Always take a good, long, gentle but honest look in the mirror before you endeavor to influence another person.  That’s one.

Look before you leap.  That’s another.  A classic.

And, as is inherent in the actual insights listed above, accept that each human, including you, has moral, emotional, and behavioral agency.

I still struggle, daily, with all of this.

The struggle is the achievement.

-G

(source)

Insomnia & The Dream

There is not, for those of us who experience it, just one kind of insomnia.  There’s an insomnia, or several, for everyone.  For the anxiety-brained, the temperature-sensitive, the blood-sugar precarious, the increasingly incontinent and prostate-terrorized, nocturnal-feline harangued…I could go on, and likely you could add a category or two, but I’ve made my point.  Insomnia is a many headed hydra which can strike at any time, for any reason.

Last night, it was emotionally-charged, brain-cycling, worry-driven front-end insomnia.  You know the nights when you are exhausted…but you still lay awake for minutes or, in my case, hours batting away anxious thoughts and overwhelming emotions like mosquitoes on a sticky Summer night after a heavy rain.

But eventually…the night engulfed me, and as I drifted, perhaps never quite reaching the depths of nourishing sleep, I had the dream.

The dream.

You have your “the dream” and I have mine.

My “the dream” has not always been the same “the dream.”  Sometimes there are multiple “the dream” vignettes.  But usually, for me, I contend with one at a time.

It used to be plummeting.  Just…plummeting toward a head and neck injury.  Falling and falling and eventually landing crown first as my body jolted awake in a cold sweat.

I don’t have that “the dream” anymore.  No, there’s a new menace lurking in my unconscious neurology.

Last night it was lucid enough that I was able to remember details.  Here is what I wrote just after waking:

I’m in…I presume high school.  It’s always utterly…unfamiliar.  Lockers upon lockers, odd hallways, additions.  I can’t figure out either where the very important class where I need to be is -or- my locker.  I need the locker which has the text.  I need the text because there is an extensive reading that must be complete for said class.  At times, while searching out the impossible-to-find locker, I’m panicked.  At other times, I’m angry.  Eventually, when I realize there will be a lock on the door in which the book resides and that I do not remember the combination – I become reserved.  I seem calm on the outside.  I can even smile, chat, etc.  But forever and ever I walk through the high school maze, a sense of deep, deep dread constantly coursing through my gut.

The class…I’m later and later and later.  So I walk and search…slower and slower and slower.  Better to stall.  The lockers…as time expands, and time is expanding…slowing…they lose even familiarity.  Early in the dream, I can sense, at times, that I’m very close.  But further into the story, I encounter new lockers, red lockers, rusted lockers with lift handles, tall lockers without locks or mechanisms.  The scene changes seamlessly.  I don’t recognize differences until I’m staring at an unending line of options that are distinctly different than the unending line of options in which I’d just been wandering.  It’s like a practical joke.  And it’s not at all funny.

The lock…the fact is, although it’s clear I’ll never find the locker and I’ll never get the book and never will I enter that classroom, I don’t have even the phantom of recollection of the combination.

So why not just abandon ship?

Because in dreams, in low key nightmares, we are captive to our brains, which seem to be captive to emotions, which seem to be captive to our brains, because in dreams, in low key nightmares, we are captive to our brains, which seem to be captive to emotions, and eventually, either the dream fades as deeper sleep engulfs me (…which was not the case last night…) or I awaken (…as I did today…) and the dream can be remembered.  Recorded.

And the emotions linger.  Ominous dread in which I might drown.  I know it was a dream, but I’m skeptical.  I must have forgotten something.  That’s the only reason for the dream, right?  And I cycle for a few minutes here…until finally, homeostasis finds me and I can start the day.  Mostly calm.  Mostly.

I hate the dream…but I know it’s communicating something very important.

I’m listening.

-G

(source)

Exile On Elm Street

I recently engaged in a comment section dialogue with two of my most dedicated readers.  One is a beloved cousin, Mike.  The other, an anonymous contributor, known as “Ralph Wiggumn,” who I quite enjoy even though I don’t know (if I know) him.

You can go back to the Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Stream of Consciousness post to see the interaction if you’d like.

I blasted off the responses to each of these “constant readers,” then spent hours, likely lost sleep, thinking about my side of the interactions.

One thing became abundantly clear, before I open my mouth in a state of emotional arousal (…which is approximately always…), I should shut it approximately one second before I open it…and think.

Let the emotions settle.

THEN…speak (text, Tweet, Facebook rant, comment).

This morning, I sat with a journal and wrote the first thoughts that poured out of my fingers.  Here is what I wrote:

==========

Why must I, so often, shit on a person or piece of art to justify a connection with ANOTHER person or piece of art?

Why always the comparison?

The judgment and ranking.

Perhaps it is a human tendency…but there is also my drive to be right, to prove my intelligence, knowledge, and overall value as a human.  (i.e. my insecurities)

It’s not, often enough, enough to just be…to enjoy a piece of art, even analyze it, without then placing it on some self-created chart of: better/worse.

I recall a talk by Ram Dass in which he describes walking in the forest, seeing the vast diversity around him, then focusing on just trees.  So many different shapes, sizes, and idiosyncracies even within the same species in the same proximity.  We never look at one tree and think, “Eh…too fat,” and then another, “Such ugly bark patterning.”  No, we accept each tree as its natural self.

But with other people?  The precise opposite.  So often a judgment, a comparison, and finding a way to “win” some imagined competition.

Same with art.  Human created pieces that express the individual and, necessarily, the broader and universal species condition.

It’s all useless…and has a negative impact on health, happiness, and relationships.

========

After writing that, I geared-up and ran with The Rolling Stones, “Exile on Main Street.”  It blew me away.  And as I write this I’m listening to “Their Satanic Majesties Request.”  Aurally, it’s impressive and entirely far out.  Trippy.  Experimental.  I hear the seeds of, “Sympathy for the Devil,” that amazing use of the drum kit and percussion by Charlie Watts.  He has such a unique and unmistakable “voice” with his choices.  I can’t wait to fall in love with him just like I fell in love with Ringo after having given him zero respect or thought for decades.

My point?

If I’m losing sleep about this shit I’ve got bigger fish to fry than thoughts on Ringo and Charlie.  I envision Freddy Krueger coming to me on one of those restless nights when sleep eludes me initially and then I fall into cascading, almost psychedelic anxiety-driven dreams.  He raises the bladed glove, tips the fedora, smells my emotional state and turns around.  “Fuck that.  I don’t want that energy on my conscience.”

No, that’s not really my point.

My point is…art is art.

We’ve created entire philosophies and fields of study dedicated to making hard science of artistic expression.  It’s all bullshit.  Art is expression.  Art is experience.  Art is emotion, relationship, communication without the unwieldy, typically woefully inadequate vehicles of conventional language transmission.  To make art is to rip open one’s chest and pour one’s soul back into the universe that is the selfsame soul.

Or it’s not.  WTF do I know?!

-G

How couldn’t I?

 

Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Stream of Consciousness

I listened to my first full Beatles’ album last year.

I’m 42.

I began at Abbey Road and Let It Be and moved backward, skipping over Yellow Submarine (…though “Hey Bulldog” is a badass tune…), eventually arriving at Please, Please, Me.  I spent as much time as my brain deemed necessary with each album on the way backwards.

I then listened all the way back up again.

I was absolutely hooked.

I listened with headphones, in my car, in front of the computer with those speakers and in my living room with that system.  I ran with them, I hiked with them, and I sat with them.

And very recently (…see Rolling Stone article…) Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band was re-released in “deluxe,” “super deluxe,” and “Jesus Christ you have that much money to waste super duper deluxxxe” boxes.  I decided to listen to the two discs included in the paupers’ deluxe version.

And I opened Microsoft Word.

And I wrote.

The first portion of this, just below, is my stream of consciousness as I listened through the remastered album.

The second, also a stream of consciousness, this time after having listened to new stereo mixes of Penny Lane and Strawberry Fields Forever. (BTW, I loved those so much that now I’m quite interested in the stereo remix of Sgt. Pepper’s.  That only comes with the third tier deluxxxe version.  So if you have that, lend it to me, will ya?!)

And third is a collection of thoughts after I listened to the various takes on the second disc as well as the 2017.

Okay, here goes.

==========

Part 1: I listen to Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band

Listening to Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band through high quality headphones is a unique trip.

Paul is hot and heavy in my right ear, panning center to left as the harmonies kick in, the applause whispers in the left then grows almost uncomfortably loud, panning and then splitting to stereo as Ringo’s simple, beautiful vocals smooth things out on, “With a Little Help From My Friends.”  But in my left ear.  All vocals in my left ear.  Bass, centered.  Percussion fully right.  It’s all disorienting, not fully enjoyable…but I’m sticking around.

Picture yourself in a boat on a river…with tangerine trees…and marmalade skies…

John scares me.  We know his violent past.  We know he’s moving in a direction toward Buddhist pacifism, seeking forgiveness and internal homeostasis.  We know he will die tragically.  But on this track…fuck…the menace is so present in his voice.

Picture yourself in a train in a station…with plasticine porters with looking glass ties…

If I weren’t in broad daylight right now, I’d be scared.  Like, watching, “The Shining” home alone in the dark with anxiety coursing through my blood scared.

Lucy fades out.

Ahh…those choppy guitar chords.  Getting Better…all the time.  Paul, always there to pat me on the head, rub my back, and let me know that the scary monster in the closet of John’s mind is nothing to worry about.  Nothing to worry about.  Got to admit…it’s getting better.  And everything is centered here.  Nobody creeping up on me from the left, or right, or behind.  The balance is calming, even with that high pitched guitar chop.  (There’s tension there, though, George.  Where’s that tension coming from?)  Oh right, and we end on that…immediately opposing Paul’s lyric.  That choppy, high-pitched, mildly dissonant, almost out of Psycho (…the shower scene…) syncopation.

Oh, Fixing a Hole.  Perhaps Getting Better was precisely that…the transition from John’s menace to Paul’s frivolity.  No, not really frivolous though, right?  Paul’s still a serious dude.  A romantic, though.  With a cheeky side.  John has no cheek.  He’s all brain and anger and struggle and…I really identify with John.  I hear Paul, and I love Paul, but I’m like, “Jesus, man!  How to you remain so damn happy all the time?!  Balanced.  Like shit doesn’t really matter.”

This song fades out too.  I don’t love the fade.

Oh, that harpsicord.  Yay!  Wednesday morning at five o’clock as the day begins.

Here Paul tells me, “Fuck you.  I’m deep.  There’s such depth here.  Such sadness.”  She’s leaving home is pure melancholy.  It’s like a thick wool blanket and I want to wrap myself in it…in all the tears and grief.  There’s no danger, though.  If John had written this, there would be danger.  Not a wool blanket but rather a spool of barbed wire.  But Paul?  Our baby’s gone.  There’s a tear in my eye.  How could she do this to me.  She….is leaving…home.  Christ, when he hits that note on, “Home,” I could just melt into so many years of tears.  What did we do that was wrong?  We didn’t know it was wrong.  Fun is the one thing that money can’t buy.  Something inside that was always denied for so many years.  Christ…this song is fucking beautiful.  Bye-Bye.

Mr. Kite.

This is John being frivolous.  It’s like a carnival in some episode of The Twilight Zone.  The camera spinning a lot, colors bursting, occasionally a brief scene of something quite horrible flashes by.  A face with no eyes, perhaps.  Blood pouring out of the elevators.  See?  John’s got me back at “The Shining.”  That waltz.  So creepy.  John is like Lemony Snicket.  A carnival barker to the freak show of all freak shows.  American Horror Story: Sgt. Pepper.  Run, little girl, if you can.

Oh.

The fucking sitar song.

I hate the sitar song.  Sorry, people.  This song almost ruins the entire album for me.  There are songs like, “Norweigian Wood,” in which George doesn’t shoehorn the damn thing in.  Beautiful.  Here, it doesn’t work for me.  The tabla.  It’s boring.  Tabla isn’t supposed to be boring.  This is a man out of his element emulating Ravi Shankar, et al.  Emulating badly.  Within you without you.  Well, without this song…

Imagine if Strawberry Fields actually made its way onto this album and this song slunk off like an embarrassed teenager who knows he doesn’t really belong.**

**(I’m inserting myself here, today, on 6/7/17.  Not when I wrote this, which was back on 6/3/17.  There will be growth with Within You Without You.  I will spend more time with it.  Research it a bit.  No worries people, I’ve come almost fully around on this song, and I never would have anticipated that happening.  Okay, back to your regularly schedule program…)

64.

I love this tune.  A “granny song” as John called these pieces by Paul.  Hell, even Paul apparently referred to them as “fruity old songs.”  I love this.  Both of them hold the same opinion, but John cuts with menacing sarcasm; Paul infuses playful cheekiness.

It’s totally frivolous, though.  There’s that word again.  But it is.  It serves no purpose…but to bring me joy.  And what greater purpose is there on this earth than to bring joy to another and, in the process, oneself?  None, I’d argue.  The brass.  The bassline.  Just perfect.  Will you still need me?  Will you still feed me? (We shall scrimp and saaaaaaaaaave.)  I’m dancing.  In  coffee shop.  As I write and listen.  But I get John.  Paul with that stupid smile, the shaky head at the mic.  You know?  The Paul shaky head as he moves up to the mic?  That.  And Paul…and me sometimes…just wanting to slap the smile right away.

Lovely Rita.  Paul right in the middle of my head.  Bass and vocal percussion to the right.  Vocal percussion!  Chick-a-chick-a-chick-a.  I’d never noticed that before.  Drums on the left.  Now that saloon style piano solo.  And there’s the vocal percussion again.  Like a train on the tracks.  Oh…lots of vocal percussion at the end.  Shit, How’d I miss all of this?!  Who’s beat boxing here?**

**(Today, again.  It’s John.  Of course it’s John on the VP.  Also the comb-and-tissue-paper kazoo.  Because, of course they have one of those.)

Good Morning.

I’ve always thought, “Did they add these animal sounds as a direct call to the Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds?”

Oh shit, I love it when the straightforward feel changes.  It feels 4/4 but then Ringo throws in like…what is that?…6/8?  It gets so damn funky.  Odd.  Playful.  All Ringo.  Playing around with the feel.  Brilliant.

**(Apparently it’s even more complex, and differently complex, than I’m explaining above.)

But anyway, I always thought that about those animal sounds…thinking about all the stories I’ve heard and read re: Wilson loving Rubber Soul and then the Beatles loving Pet Sounds.

I don’t love the use of animal sounds in this.  I get it.  Just don’t like it.  It feels like George Martin is just showing off at this point.  What?  400 hours or so they spent on this record.

Oh fuck YES!

The Sgt. Pepper’s reprise.

Here is where I contend Ringo is the first hip-hop drummer.  This beat, the feel, is pure hip-hop.  The Beastie Boys actually sample it within Paul’s Boutique.  But this tune is Ringo’s boutique.  Now I’m all hyped up.

And what do they do?

Just slide the knife in…

…A Day in The Life.

Christ.

I heard the news today, oh boy.

This composition really is the perfect melding of John and Paul.  The feel is menacing.  Deep.  Gorgeous.  He didn’t notice that the lights had changed.  They’d seen his face before.  It’s like a glimpse of John with the anger completely washed out.  Still a crank.  Still a skeptic.  Still never quite happy.

And then…WOKE UP!  And we’re bouncing around the world with Paul.  Happy as a fucking clam, they say.  But his voice is so muted.  I never realized that.  John was crystal clear in his portion.  And Paul sounds like he’s singing through a thick wool collar.

And now…back to John’s piece, but with Paul’s energy.

I know, I’m completely leaving Ringo and George out.  One should not do this.  However, this composition is like Paul and John’s Frankenstein monster.  The seams nearly flawless, but obvious still.  And the orchestral chaos.

Final chord.

It rings out for like 30 seconds.  Like ripples in the water.**

**(45 seconds, actually.)

But wait, there’s now silence.

And here comes that fucking creepy ending.  Never goose me any other way…never goose me any other way…never goose me any other way.

(Is that what they’re saying?)

The song’s a fucking masterpiece among masterpieces.

So there it is…my thoughts moving through Sgt. Pepper’s, remastered.

Now, go listen…perhaps with new ears, new eyes, a different pair of glasses.  Have a drink or two.  And then write down what you feel, think.  I’m interested.

==========

Part 2:  I listen to Strawberry Fields Forever and Penny Lane

Okay, I’m going to dive in to the 2017 stereo mixes of Strawberry Fields and Penny Lane, both recorded in the Sgt. Pepper’s session.  Think about that?  These two songs could have, perhaps should have been on that record.  Anyway, I’m going to dive in to these mixes which are included on the bonus material of the updated Sgt. Pepper’s 50th anniversary deluxe edition.

Here goes…

Oh that mellotron.  Fuck me, right?

And John’s voice.  Ringo’s percussion immediately stands out more than I remember.  It’s all so much clearer.  It’s as if the original recording is coming through an aural fog.  This is truly cleaner.  All of the backwards percussion looping just pops.  It’s like a trippy hippie hip-hop tune. (Sorry about that alliteration, but not really sorry.) Anyway…this is the kind of shit modern hip-hop artists are doing.  Even the effects on John’s voice.  The sitar.  The horn hits.  Buh-dup!  Buh-dup!  Bah-Bah-Bah-Dahhhh!  Oh man, that reverse looping is absolutely amazing sounding.  It’s almost fresh.  This was recorded in 1967 and if you played this for a young person who had no idea, they’d believe you if you told them it’s new.  Here’s the fade in to the, “I buried Paul” bit.  Awesome.

Penny Lane.  Paul’s voice.  It’s like a hot knife through butter. (“Buttuh, I tell ya.”)   The piano chords really pop here.  I just love the stereo.  Bassline is really driving the song.  The horn arrangement, wow.  I can barely contain my smile here.  Fuck it.  I’m smiling like I just won the lottery.  Hitting the 2 minute mark here.  The Barber shaves another customer.  (ou can hear the Liverpool there.  Sooooo much!  The vowel in “cuh” rhymes with “could” and not “cud.”  I love it.)  John’s high harmony.  Like a soprano descant.  So gorgeous.  Oh shit, that key change.  YASSS!  And here’s the harmony again.  Ringo ends it with a flourish on the high hat.  Perfection.  Fucking perfection.

==========

Part 3: I listen to the second disc of the deluxe edition and have some thoughts afterward.

Some thoughts after having listened to the minimally produced takes included on the second disc.  So what we’re getting access to here are various takes of the Sgt. Pepper’s session, including several first takes.  Like, Lucy In the Sky With Diamonds.  Take 1.  It’s access to the process.  The process of revolutionary genius.  And all the while Ringo is just holding that mother fucker down.  Because that’s what Ringo does.  He holds down the fort no matter what.  No matter what.

Perhaps I need to relax into Within You Without You and experience it for the piece of revolutionary aural novelty that it was in 1967.  It’s tough, though, as a 42 year old, who has heard classical Indian music played by virtuosos.  However, listening to take 1 on this deluxe edition…wow.  With the headphones in.  The sitar flourishes are beautiful.  The percussion is really quite good.  The whole piece has a lovely feel.  And I do like the melody.  Here’s what sucks, though.  Looking at the Wikipedia page at the Personnel section.  George is singing, playing tambura, sitar, and acoustic guitar.  Great, right.  Then, the western musicians are all credited.  All. By name. Then, we get a bullet point:

  • Uncredited Indian musicians – dilrubas, table, swarmandal, tambura

So once I settle and listen to the musicianship on take one, without the western artists…just these uncredited Indian musicians and presumably George doing something.  There’s not even much sitar going on here.  Is this just George with a little tambura action and an Indian ensemble?  I think.  And…entirely uncredited.  The height of cultural inclusion, or so you’d think, and then not even giving the musicians credit.  How much did they get paid, I wonder.  Shit, now this kind of ruins the song again, and certainly puts a dent in George and the Beatles for me.  But the tune is lovely…as a first take.  In India I bet.  Pre-production.  (Does anybody out there know the story?)

Okay…so, I listened to Sgt. Peppers an additional time beyond what I wrote above…but this time in my car and turned up loud rather through headphones.  And really, that’s the ticket.  When you plug one speaker in the right ear and one in the left, the whole experience is a bit jarring.  However, when you place yourself in the perfect spot between an array of speakers…well, THAT is what Martin intended me to hear, I think.  It all works.  The movements, the space, the aural experience is exquisite.  So that’s a recommendation I have.  (This is NOT true of the 2017 stereo updates of Penny Lane and Strawberry Fields Forever.  They sound amazing on headphones.)

Back to these early takes of the various songs.  It’s just amazing to hear them talk about things.  Work shit out.  Also, the fact that Ringo is simply always holding things down.  I know I said it before, but it’s true.  And there’s like zero production.  In these recordings I’m hearing the band, perhaps playing over previous tracks, perhaps never with all 5 men in the same room at the same time, but nonetheless it’s the instruments and the musicians with absolutely none of the production that Sgt. Pepper’s would ultimately have…and STILL, this shit is genius.  It’s so obvious how exceptionally talented they all are in any combination of together.  Amazing, really.

I mean, Good Morning Good Morning take 8.  Just John, Ringo, Paul, and George.  That’s all I’m hearing.  The song. It’s like The Beatles as a garage band.  In the garage.  And they would cause 100% of other garage bands to just hang it all up because they are THAT good.

Paul counting in Ringo on the Sgt. Pepper’s reprise.  Shit!  Again, this is a pure hip hop beat.  Pure. One two three four…and Paul hits a nice, “hey, hey” on the three-and and four-and.  So good.  You hear Paul telling Ringo, “No man, more on the bass drum.”  And then, “Yeah!” when he does it.  Immediately.  You hear George noodling around in there too…so maybe just John was missing here.  They’re a fucking killer power pop trio too.  Killer.

==========

Much love to you.  Thanks for hanging around.  If you’re here, then I can confidently tell you that you should spend some time with these two albums.  (If you have a paid streaming services like Apple Music or Google Play Music, they’re both available.)  Also, let me know what you think.  Shit, if you ever want to have a Beatles listening party, I’m all in.  I’ll bring booze.

-G

I Let Go

I often engage in conversations with friends and family whose political and social beliefs differ from mine.

The core divergence almost inevitably lands on personal responsibility vs. environmental impact arguments.

Politicized nature vs. nurture, I suppose.

The trees or the Forest.

Another analogy I like, but which I always need to explain so it’s ultimately sucky as a concise teaching tool, is looking out of a telescope the intended way (…or forest) vs. looking out of a telescope through the other side (…uh, trees).  Too much, right?  I know, but I like it.  So now I’ve delivered to you in a complex linguistic package because, dammit, that’s how I roll.

I’ve generally fallen on the side of arguing for nurture/environment/history/forest, particularly as it relates to the current state of historically oppressed, colonized, enslaved, or otherwise marginalized communities.  I realize that I’ve come a long way from where anyone might have predicted given my socioeconomic status at birth.  However, even then I tend to look toward critical human influencers/teachers/gurus in addition to systemic social safety nets and supports (i.e. welfare, food stamps, free lunch, no lead, free healthcare, federal post-secondary education grants, being born a straight white Christian male, and low interest loans with interest deferments) along the way rather than my pure self-determination.

Thus, this makes me more liberal and them more conservative.  I guess.  But nothing is ever that simple.

I’ve enumerated the salient conversational points from these recent interactions.

  1. I am a self-made man, personally responsible for all of my behaviors, successes and failures. Get out of my way and allow me to continue this journey of self-determined, dogged, eventual independence and realization.
  2. I am a man socially determined, born into a familial context and community that leverages permissions and constraints according to predetermined norms and rules and a socioeconomic milieu which, at least in part if not largely, determines my accessibility and exposure to experiences that determine my knowledge, passion, and drive toward independence and realization.
  3. I am a man made of the historical thread that led to the blip of occurrence I call “my life,” a flame passed from candle to candle across generations and millennia.
  4. I am a man bound by genetic and biological prescription.
  5. Everything is chance.
  6. All things are predetermined.
  7. There is an ultimate reality (i.e. God[s]) beyond my ability to perceive that is/are personal and directly impacting “my life.”
  8. There is an ultimate reality (i.e. god, tao [the way/truth], buddha-nature [impermanence]) beyond my ability to perceive that is impersonal and general, pervasive yet having no specific “care” for my comings, goings, and doings.
  9. There is no ultimate reality (e.g. atheism, nihlism) beyond what we can and have perceived.
  10. There are possibilities I am not considering here.
  11. Any or no combination of the above might be true.   It depends. (On?) I don’t know.

All of these assertions comprise things that one might think or believe and are not necessarily different constructs of reality or ultimate truth.  Furthermore, I’ve become attached to my “I think/believe…” constructs so fully that my brain interprets them as absolute truth and then I approach the world from a distorted, biased, narrow view.  And when I meet you, if your distorted, biased, narrow view generally aligns with mine, we become friends.  Otherwise, we become enemies.

But none of that helps.  And none of it IS TRUE.

I’m basing decisions, judgments, and behaviors purely on a fiction created in my head.

And so are you.

Because…if you’re reading this you’re human, and that’s what humans do.

So then, rereading the above list I ask myself, “What do you believe?”

It’s 11, and since it’s 11 that means I need to travel the earth with greater present-mindfulness, self-reflection, awareness, contemplation, openness, and optimistic skepticism.

Why optimistic?  Because it feels better.  Not necessarily right.  But better.

Ultimately, THIS is the conversation I want to be having with as many people as are willing to engage.  Furthermore, if I desire to have a more representative sample of “everyone,” then I must seek people who generally oppose the worldview (2+3+4+8+10) to which I’ve traditionally clung like a security blanket tied to the top of a hundred story building in gusting winds.

It’s time to let go.

What’s the worst that can happen?

I’m wrong.

You’re right.

We die not knowing in any case.

But right now, we’re all alive and those possibilities are perfectly acceptable.

So why do I continue to cling?

Because dying scares me.

Because being wrong scares me.

And because dying being wrong terrifies me.

That’s STILL no reason to cling.

So…I let go.

-G

Girl With a Balloon (Banksy)

Om Mani Padme Hum

In my head, I judge.

And I tease.

Often the thoughts are violent.

Why do I think these things? (It’s like a reflex, but not a reflex of self-preservation.  Rather the opposite, self-destruction.)

How do I stop? (At moments like this, the endeavor seems impossible.  It’s like stomping on roaches after the lights are turned on.  Like trapping greased chickens.  Like fast-forward whack-a-mole.)

You know how Donald Trump communicated, thinking back to his Stern appearances, the Rosie O’Donnell bullying, and up through his post-election rallies?

(Yes, that.  As I pass or look at nearly anyone.  On certain days, like today.  I identify with Trump much more than I prefer to admit, but admit it I must.)

I think the meanest, most misanthropic, antisocial shit.

(I don’t think you understand.  And no, I’m not going to share specific thoughts running through my brain.  I ask you to trust me on this point.)

I feel my body awash in whatever neuro-chemicals are released when one is in the midst of a loud, aggressive, hateful argument.  I feel as if I could easily lift more weight, jump further, sprint faster.  It’s almost dizzying on days like today.

Tiny things can cause me to fall to pieces.

Five or so years ago, in the midst of one of these periods of increased anger and toggle-switch temper, I found myself hanging clothes on one of those collapsible, accordion-like wooden racks.  A shirt caught the hook holding the thing up and it collapsed.

I don’t have a distinct memory of what happened immediately next, but somewhere in the vicinity of 1 minute later the entire rack was shrapnel, pieces lodged in the ceiling tiles, my arms bleeding from cuts, several substantial splinters poking out of my hands and forearms.

The closest literary analogy is Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.

The most accurate popular culture reference?  David Banner and The Hulk.

That was before Prozak.  Also before other spiritual, emotional, and medicinal endeavors I’ve illuminated ad nauseam in previous posts and podcasts.

And yet, here I am again.  Well, not…precisely THERE.  But much closer than I prefer.

I could stare out of the window and point fingers, but ultimately my behavior is fully my responsibility.  My solution is in the mirror.

The emotional clouds are dark and heavy, slow moving…and I want to sit with them.  Be with them.  Embrace them and get to know them.  There’s nothing more helpful than for me to stop.  And breath.  To enforce stillness and (as) dispassionate (as I can muster) mindfulness.

But wow, the relentless cyclical waves of judgment, anger, aggression, guilt, and shame are overwhelming.  I find myself sweating, jaw clenched; quick, arrhythmic respiration patterns which mildly emulates drowning and only amplify the tsunami analogy.

So I stop.

And I find a mantra.

“This is but a moment.”

And as I type I repeat it.

“Om Mani Padme Hum.”

My heart rate slows, facial muscles relax, and hot sweat evaporates.  Cools.

“In…two, three, four.  Out…two, three, four.”

Why do I judge?

So that I can learn how to forgive.

Why do I rage?

So that I can find peace.

All of the pain, jealousy, guilt, and anger carve dark caverns in my heart that will soon hold more understanding and provide room for further enlightenment, and homeostasis.  Balance.

All of it is necessary, because it’s all of me.

It’s up to me to cultivate and nourish that which allows me to grow and live a mindful, loving, truthful life.

Peace to you along your path.