So Many People Know Precisely What They Are

So many people know precisely what they are.

Who they are.

I don’t.

I know the numerical demographic markers that apply to me given the myriad surveys I’ve completed in my life.  I know my age group, my income bracket, and I know that I’m “male” as well.  But the other stuff? I struggle.

Religion?  I don’t know.  Even my spiritual proclivities are tough to nab.  It’s an eclectic amalgamation of literature and people who say things that ring deeply true to me.  So…there is a very clear faith present.  I don’t need incontrovertible and observable data to prove everything I believe.  I know that there are things…most things, I think…that I will NEVER understand or even superficially grasp because they are simply outside of my ability to sense, perceive, and even conceive as a human with a human brain. So, “I don’t know” is the only thing that makes sense, but that gives me NOTHING to hold on to.

Race? I don’t know.  And yes, I know I’m “white,” and I indicate “white” whenever I’m asked, but I’m deeply skeptical of the entire social construct of race.  Actually, I disown it.  I know it seems pedantic, but I subscribe to the larger fact that humans are one race, and as we gained access to tools and language, growing our frontal lobe and corpus callosum and other brain structures that make us social, intelligent, seemingly civilized beings…we began demarcating based on superficial features and geographical origins.  And it seems to me we’ve done almost only horrible, unconscionable shit based upon the invented construct of races.  So, “human” is the only thing that makes sense, but that also leaves me dissatisfied.

Political affiliation?  None.  Really.  None.  I get so overwhelmed and feel utterly under-informed and inadequate when I hear a person tell me something like, “I’m a fiscal conservative in the vein of Reagan but a social libertarian,” or “I’m a Social Democrat with deep Christian values,” or whatever.  Hawk/Dove. Republican/Democrat. Pragmatist/Humanist. Conservative/Liberal/Neo-Liberal.  Socialist/Capitalist.  I’m a little of everything sometimes and a lot of some things most of the time and vice versa always.  So…independent is the only thing that makes sense, but wtf does that actually mean?!

Do you know what the flag atop the mile high pole of “independent, agnostic, human” shows?   A big, bold, black, teasing, taunting question mark in the middle of a same-colored field.  Every known visual wavelength absorbed and spat out opaque.  You can’t see it.  But you know it’s there.

A question.  (Sometimes it feels like an emphatically stated: Fuck you!)

If I can cut out all of the emotional overlay, all of the experiential bias layering, all of the limitations of this human body…what is the core temperamental value that guides everything for me?  We have to be able to boil it down to one thing, right?   I know, I know…I’m compartmentalizing and fragmenting the holistic Greg.  But even my stated angnosticism, the spirit of “I don’t know” to which I cling so desperately, is really a defense mechanism protecting my reflexive righteousness tendency.  Every time I claim, “agnostic,” I’m standing firmly, straining actually, on the neck of an inner voice that wants to scream, “Fuck you!  I know it all.  I know.  The truth.  All of it.  Not you.  ME!  I’m perfect or I’m nothing!!”   If I let off even an iota the voice inhabits my entire being and becomes me.

Okay.  Do me a favor.  Look back up at the title of this.  See that.  I wanted, badly, to write it as, “So many people claim to know what they are?”  Thus allowing me that mainline of pure, unadulterated, Walter White quality righteousness.

And I don’t want it.

(But sometimes, goddamit, I need it.  I needs my precious.)

So I let it up.  Intentionally.  Calmly.  Patiently.  Like Harvey Keitel’s Wolf from Pulp Fiction.  It can’t be healthy to hide and hate a part of myself.  I try to embrace it.  I write and podcast and make my entire brain public domain, thus tearing off the shroud and exhibiting my whole self.

Human.  Agnostic.  Independent.

Yet…utterly interdependent, faith-filled, and such a product of my upbringing, socio-economic status, racial birthright, gender, income bracket, and experience set that I’m literally every box the census records.

Maybe I do know precisely what I am, and I just don’t love it.

And that’s a topic for another day.

Every day, really.


What’s STILL Going On?



I simply needed to allow those of you who follow along here to hear the rest of the conversation from the DelNorris three point series without much delay.

So, here it is.

And John Coltrane…because John Coltrane’s “My Favorite Things” is like my forever mood.  Overcast.  Cool.  But absolutely chilling within the chill.  Floating on the grey clouds and drinking in the aromas of Fall.


Hi Jason. You ARE going to hell, you know?

What’s Going On?

For those keeping track in the manner I began keeping track of the D2D Pod post Penelope, this would be Del Norris 3.3.

For those now utterly confused, welcome to my brain.

I’m sorry.

(Not as sorry as I am.)

Here are a few handy notes as you move through today’s podcast:

  1. Cochlea
  2. Miller Lite
  3. Under the Table and Dreaming
  4. Geoff is a Bahá’í
  5. 4 Non Blondes
  6. He-Man

Follow along, kiddies, it’s great fun.

We present to you, “What’s Going On?”


Here Is Always Here

Over the past several months, this has been my morning routine:

  1. Feed animals
  2. Make breakfast
  3. Prepare coffee
  4. Write morning papers

A barista who became an acquaintance who became a friend suggested this to me after I’d mentioned feeling exceptionally stuck, unable to tap into novel, interesting ideas or ways to creatively communicate otherwise mundane occurrences.  Morning papers, he called them.  “Yeah, man.  Just sit down and write whatever comes to your head for as long as you’re able.”  I’m paraphrasing, but not taking many liberties beyond my inability to remember his exact words.  If he comes off as anything but genuine and wise, blame me.  Anyway, I began writing morning papers.  Many of these morning papers became inspirations for expanded posts, but until now nothing had emerged untouched that I felt comfortable sharing.

Until now.

Here’s that passage, polished only for grammatical cohesion.  My post production?  Punctuation, spelling, abbreviations, sentence fragments, and carroted additions all snipped, snapped, and razzamatazzed to make it at least legible.  I’m not being facetious here.  No humble brag.  I don’t know why you’re here reading this and who the f*ck told me I should even lean in the direction of believing my cobbled drivel is worth anything but a shelf full of juvenile journals containing, at best, laughable philosophy.  I guess I did.  And maybe you.  Thank you, really.

Have at it:

Sitting here, attempting to write out my morning papers, the words that spill from my brain just minutes after waking, and the brain fills with distractions which I, meaning it, chases for a while.

Crazy that… the fact that the brain both fills with distractions and then chases them.  Or, quells them.  Or, does anything…rather, everything.  It’s all brain.  There’s no “I” separate from “my brain,” yet the struggle is absolutely real.  So how have I come to believe, as if faith, that there is some authentic cleaving and separateness of my brain, my emotions, my biology, then some constantly present I/me to whom I (ha!) refer as if it’s not the brain/emotions/biology?  It’s all one and the same.  But the thoughts…they do seem to run on auto pilot…and the emotions connected to them seem to be caused by them.

Another question…do thoughts cause emotions, or emotions cause thoughts?  Both? Perhaps something altogether different?!

But then, a portion of consciousness can recognize all of that and the functioning of the brain can be fairly easily altered back to present…to processing only that which is inputting right here.  Right now.

Perhaps it’s that simple.

Either I’m here.

Or I’m not here.

And if the goal is to align the brain with the body (which is always here) then I must only focus on here.

Mind goes there.

(Come back here.)

Emotions go there?




Of course, many would ask me, “But what of the soul?  What of God?”  Many would claim, “God is the difference.  The answer.”

And I ask, “What is God?”

Really.  Try to separate yourself from the religious texts you’ve integrated and ceremonies in which you’ve participated.  Try not to describe a Christian or Muslim or Jewish or Buddhist or Hindu or Norse or Pagan God, or gods.

Just.  What is God?

Think about it.


Because the answer?

Still all coming from our brains.  We’ve each got one biocomputer with which to process the entire universe.  That’s the brain.









But rest assured, here is always…



Playing Without Charts

A former Catholic socialist-leaning Clinton-voting Pitt graduate and a reformed Catholic conservative-leaning Reaganite Penn State graduate walk into a basement with wine and whiskey, have a conversation about intelligent design, politics, philosophy, and faith, and come out on the other side with love.

That ain’t bad, huh?

The album Astral Weeks was reportedly recorded in an exceptionally short period of time and the musicians, for the most part, did not use lead sheets.  Van Morrison apparently sat in a booth by himself, the band left to improvise around him whims, words, and moods.  But it ends up something singularly wonderful.  It’s free flowing.  Sloppy at times.  Several of the songs need minutes to really find cohesion.  But the emotional core of this record is as cavernous as the universe, or a human soul, both of which may very well be one and the same.

My favorite conversations, the ones that resonate, provide me with insights and depth even as I’m laughing or frolicking about, making sense or talking nonsense, are the ones that flow like that recording session.



No structure.  Just two or more people in relationship, communicating honestly, attempting to work WITH the shared undercurrent rather than against it, recognizing that we’re not in control of anything but knowing that the thrill of human connection gives us access to whatever is.

I’m thrilled to present to you, “Playing Without Charts,” which might well be subtitled: Del Norris 3.2.



How many of us have them?


Ones we can depend on.


How many of us have them?


Before we go any further, let’s be…


Milford, Connecticut.

Winter, 1985.

My best friend from Pittsburgh, Jeff, sent me a cassette for Christmas.

Whodini.  Escape.

Released October 17th, 1984, just a month or so before I moved from Pittsburgh to Milford but right in the spot where I didn’t hear it because I was more focused on shifting states, schools, and friends mid-year.

Five Minutes of Funk.  Freaks Come Out at Night.  Big Mouth.  Escape.  Friends.  Out of Control.  We are Whodini.

“Jam On It” may have been the song that cracked open my brain and caused me to fall in love with rap, but “Escape” was the album that dropped me to my knee and engaged me to hip hop.  I wore that cassette out.  Literally.  It broke within a year, played, rewound, and fast forwarded countless times on a cheap stereo system.  You remember the ones, a huge lightweight plastic box made to look like the following components: Record player, radio, cassette deck.  Eventually an integrated CD player.  I’m getting ahead of myself, though.  Long ass thin wires leading to exceptionally large speakers that put out exceptionally small, distorted sound.  Unless you could afford a good one, like a Sony.  Which I couldn’t.


Shit. I couldn’t even afford this one. I think mine was from K-mart or some such nonsense.

Additionally, it wasn’t until 1985 that I saw the movies “Breakin’” and “Breakin’ 2: Electric Boogaloo,” both released the previous year.

I wanted, so badly, to be Turbo (Michael “Boogaloo Shrimp” Chambers), popping, locking, sliding, moonwalking before moonwalking was a thing.  Those smooth, seamless movements.  As you know, I was a chubby kid, so stunts, acrobatics, and athletic moves were never on the plate.  However, all of the smaller stuff, the smoother stuff?  I was totally hooked.  I practiced in front of a mirror and became…not horrible…at it.  Not great.  Not even good.  But…mediocre and competent for  chubby white kid with big glasses and discount sneakers.

And finally, from my small bedroom in Milford, late at night on Saturdays, if I nailed the fm antenna wire (…’member those?!…) in the perfect spot and if the clouds were aligned correctly, I would pick up a station from NYC that played only hip hop.  Later in life I’d seek out Rap City on BET, Yo MTV Raps, and any place, one, or thing that bumped hip hop.  But in my room, alone, seated on the edge of my bed ready to shift the nail and the wire if the signal fuzzed out, there I heard it.  And recorded it.  (Remember mix tapes?  Like for real mix tapes, recorded from the radio, praying that the DJ didn’t talk through the intro or the outro?)

The Beastie Boys, “Hold it now, hit it.”

Slick Rick and Doug E. Fresh, “The Show” and “La-Di-Da-Di.”

Run DMC, LL Cool J, eventually Kool Mo Dee, BDP, Rakim, EPMD, Marly Marl, Special Ed.

And the early novelty stuff.

The Rappin’ Duke, The Fat Boys, DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince.

Native tongue?  Jungle Brothers, De La Soul, ATCQ, Monie Love, Queen Latifah, Black Sheep.

Poor Righteous Teachers, Das EFX, Busta Rhymes on the Arsenio Hall show with ATCQ for the first time…exploding out of his verses in “Scenario.”  Public EnemyNWAIce-T.

That additional stuff?  That’s what married me to hip hop.

There are 5 – 7 years of my life through which I listened to almost nothing but hip hop or anything hip hop adjacent.

The only distinct additions I can remember were INXS and Guns ‘n’ Roses, which sort of opened the doors to both hair metal and grunge…but that’s another conversation for another day.

How is it that hip hop, and in particular the grittier, more honest, afrocentric, gangsta ass, Black power inspired, and counter cultural endeavors within the culture spoke so deeply to me?

I honestly don’t know.

I don’t think we can predict which music will plant itself in our souls and grow, nor when it will happen, nor how it will morph, expand, contract, and change.

Black art and culture are not, for me, the fetishistic pursuit of a poor white kid seeking exotic novelty.  I’ve explored that possibility across my conscious life.

No.  But I’ve always felt connected.

It certainly relates to my early experience with a Black step-Mother and her family who protected me from my emotionally toxic and abusive biological father.  But that can’t explain everything.  I still grew up po’ white, among po’ white folks with po’ white folk values and perspectives.

But maybe it was enough.  Perhaps the combination of my personality, the social justice Jesus tendencies of my Mom, and that pivotal experience with Angie and her family in the projects of Alequippa, PA explains everything.

I don’t know.

But what I do know is…


Friends is a word we use everyday.
But most the time we use it in the wrong way.
Now you can look the word up, again and again,
but the dictionary doesn’t know the meaning of friends.
And if you ask me, you know, I couldn’t be much help,
because a friend is somebody you judge for yourself.
Some are okay and they treat you real cool.
But some mistake kindness for bein’ a fool.
We like to be with some because they’re funny.
Others come around when they need some money.
Some you grew up with around the way,
and you’re still real close to this very day.
Homeboys through the Summer, Winter, Spring and Fall.
And then there’s some we wish we never knew at all.
And this list goes on, again and again,
but these are the people that we call friends.

Of Coletrane and Cochleas

There are many things worth your time…I’d recommend this podcast as one of them.

Also, and I’m NOT attempting to draw, because there are not any parallels between what I’m laying down and what the following folks have established in this world…Andy Goldsworthy’s documentary, “Rivers and Tides.”  You can watch it free HERE.  If you have any interest in art and/or Ireland and/or Zen Buddhism and/or nature and/or simple human awesomeness, this documentary is for you.

Also, John Coletrane.  If you’re unfamiliar, start HERE.  This is one of my favorite pieces of music ever.  Or, if any of you are Coltrane fans, let me know where you would suggest a novice, or anyone, begin.

When you hear the word cochlea…drink.

Who knew the Driven2Drink podcast could provide the impetus for a fantastic drinking game?  Jason.  Why didn’t I think of this first?  Who cares right?  Cochlea.


Love yinz.

We present to you, “Of Coletrane and Cochleas.”  The music you’ll be hearing is a wonderful new artist, Lianne La Havas, beginning with “Unstoppable” and ending with “What You Don’t Know.”  Also, be sure to check out her Tiny Desk Concert, HERE.


Jam On It

I was 10 years old, likely in the Spring of 1985, when I became a hip hop head for life.

However, back in 1984, I got hooked when I heard that bass line for the first time:





I heard it on my K-mart boom box.

Ah, the boom box.  It’s a piece of symmetrical engineering using only primary shapes that could easily serve as the emoji signifying the generation of people born in the mid-1970s who, like me, loved music and needed to have it loud and portable.  The classic matte silver tone with two large circles for speakers, black metal screen protecting those fragile speaker cones, symmetrically placed to the sides for a cassette shaped rectangle in the middle, radio dial at the top looking like an elementary school ruler, plastic pop up handle and non-swiveling (…that would come later…) telescopic antenna.

I heard it while on the Pittsburgh toilet in my Grandmother’s unfinished basement.

I should probably unpack that sentence for you.

Visit any house in Pittsburgh built during the steel era and, if the owners didn’t mess around with the underground, you’ll find an unfinished basement.  Floors painted grey and walls perhaps white, perhaps also grey, brick so rough you are destined to get regular brush burns on your arms or, if you’re particularly clumsy, cheeks.  Washer and dryer.  Or no dryer.  And, in either case, clotheslines strung across the low-ceilings (…always low ceilings.  It’s as if early Scotch-Irish Yinzers were hobbit-like in stature…), sure to nearly decapitate unsuspecting children and drunk husbands.  And somewhere in a corner, a toilet.  Just…there.  The porcelain throne, usually up on a tiny little concrete stage of sorts, toilet paper sitting atop the tank’s lid, entirely exposed.   And nearby?  A shower head…also just out in the open.  Why?  From what I understand, guys would come home from the mill “filthy dirty,” as my Grandmother would say, and would head straight into the basement, wash up (…a Pittsburgh term, more properly pronounced “warsh up”…), then head up for dinner.  My grandparents had a fancy Pittsburgh toilet.  They put a little money in it.  It had…actual walls around the toilet, and a sink and mirror.  Might have even been a medicine cabinet.  The shower was one of those enclosed metal boxes a few feet away.  And here the proverbial “shit, shave, and a shower” was born.

Visit any house in which I’ve spent considerable time and my ass has spent time on the most remote, least presentable seat.   I’ve always been a person who spent lots of time in and on the toilet.  Like, I have opinions on toilet seats.  (Oh, we all do, Greg.)  I don’t think you understand.   Or maybe you do.  I’ve heard it’s a dude thing…and in that way (…and not many others…) I am all dude.

These days reading and social media diving are my favorite privy past times.  In my early years, I’d grab the plunger, my boom box, tune in to B-94 (…think of whatever the big pop station was for you if you’re not a Pittsburgher…) and, well, Jam On It.

Oh yeah…that was the song.  It now strikes me that maybe you didn’t make the connection from the title, or the thumbnail, and most likely my interpretation of the bass line made little sense to you.  Go ahead back up, now that you know the song.  I did leave you a lot of clues, though.

Who cares? (Wikki-Wikki-Wikki-Wikki-Wikki-Wikki)

When Robert Crafton III dropped that bass line in my ear I was absolutely hooked.

After that point, I’d listen to the radio ONLY to hear that song.  I’d shift around stations until I heard it.  The Bruce Springsteen, Van Halen, Steve Miller, John Couger (…no Mellencamp yet…), Toto, Doobie Brothers, Foreigner, and .38 Special that had shaped my early 1980’s music sensibilities were all obliterated with Jam On It.

The song cracked my brain open.  I’d heard nothing like it to that point.  The drum machine, the keyboards, the rapping, the voice modulation, the Superman verse, background singers, the outro, and that unforgettable bass line.  All of it.  I mean, I’d heard and liked Blondie’s “Rapture” before this, but it didn’t blow my mind.

Newcleus did, like a nuclear bomb.



P.S. My goal is to continue exploring my experience with and exposure to music and, in particular, hip hop through the 1980’s and 1990’s.

Newcleus was first.

Who came next?

Come back next week…friends.

The Sam Harris Problem…Resolved

I’m an only child who has been fortunate/blessed/karmically-enabled with a Dugger-sized family of non-blood brothers, and those of you who know what I’m talking about will get this immediately…blood isn’t always thicker than water.

Jim is my brother.

You’ve already met Brian, R.J., Mark, Guido, and Jason on this podcast.  Tony on Facebook if you hang out there.  They are my brothers.  You’ve not met Phillip.  He’s my brother, too.

But Jim…this one is for Jim.  I was a Resident Assistant in Lothrop Hall at the University of Pittsburgh.  Fall 1994 through Spring 1995.  Jim was a resident.  Jim and I were also members of the Heinz Chapel Choir.  Some of you are former members.  We made music…did we not?  Jim and I were also part of what I’d argue was the first contemporary a cappella group on the campus of the University of Pittsburgh.  Like, what kids know today from the Pitch Perfect movies or The Sing Off.  It was the winter of 1993.  Having rehearsed an Angeles arrangement of “Always Something There to Remind Me,” we, six people named “The Five Bucks,” prepared to perform at the Friday night improvs in the basement of the Cathedral of Learning.  We got bumped.  Indignant and boisterous, we six 5 Bucks exited the Cathedral, stood at the front entrance, and put on a performance for our friends and whoever was interested enough to freeze their collective asses off in the middle of a blustery Pittsburgh Winter.  (Here is a bit more of the history from the Pitt Pendulums’ website.  There you can follow the inception and progress of co-ed contemporary a cappella at Pitt.)

And through those experiences, along with a trip to Miami for the Super Bowl in 1995 (…I believe Jim’s Mom won one of those contests through a snack brand…enter a code, mail a thing, call a number, eat enough Doritos, you know…for an all expenses trip for two…), the highlight of which was stumbling upon a free Chuck Berry concert (…yes, you read that right…), Jim became my brother.

There are other brothers as well, and my hope is to introduce them to you.  For now, however, let’s finish this conversation with Jim.

We present to you, “The Sam Harris Problem…Resolved.”


When You’re Looking for God, All You See Is God

“Wherever you look you see what you’re looking for.  And when you’re looking for God, all you see is God.”

That’s Ram Dass.

Listening to the “Here and Now” podcast, which presents archived Ram Dass lectures and conversations, hearing him repeat this phrase while listening to a conversation recorded perhaps even before I was born, prompted me as follows:

The only place I need to be is where I am.

More often than not, that which I consume…consumes me.

So why not consume more God?

What is karma?

I’m on my trip.  That’s karma.

Everything I see in the mirror.  That’s karma.

Anything or anyone not me or mine is not my trip, not my mirror, not my karma.

You’re on your trip. That’s your karma.

Of course, paths cross, intersect, and at times consolidate to a stretch so narrow it seems like one path.

However, my trip remains mine…and your trip remains yours.

My thoughts, reactions, perceptions, experiences…my trip.

There is not a person who can modify my trip.  Only I can do that. (…and maybe not even…)

I constantly worry about the impact my behavior has on others…not necessarily for their sake…but because I need others to perceive and validate me as “good.”

All…my trip.


Ego-driven, anxiety-founded…and all I begin to see is “bad.”

Even as I interact with others, I’m reflecting…my trip.  Your “bad” in my eyes is simply my projection.

Karma is not retribution.
Karma is not a weapon.
Karma is only mine as I have only this body with which to perceive and interpret.

If I layer judgment on you…I am merely reflecting myself.

Also, actively seeking hate and jealousy and guilt.

“Wherever you look, you see what you’re looking for.  And when you’re looking for God, all you see is God.”

The only place you need to be is where you are.

No attachment.
No judgment.

The only necessary thing…is this thing.




Consistency is a fallacy.  Predictability is untenable.  The nature of the entire universe, of God, or whatever you choose to call Truth, is fluctuation.  Change.  Each moment dependent upon the last yet still fully independent, carrying us to the next moment.


There is only now.

It’s best to be there.


Baba Ram Dass