The Road to Audition

I thought that for a little change of pace I would talk about my 3 most unique, awkward and hilarious circumstances that I have ever encountered, while auditioning for various roles here in NYC. You see, my buddy Doc P has just begun his journey and initial foray into the publishing world and in many ways the experiences are simpatico.

 

My very first audition was an open call for some background roles in a major motion picture. Yes, they even audition for non-speaking parts where you’re barely, if at all visible. Basically, even if you were to book the part, it would be virtually impossible for family and friends to verify you were in fact, part of the picture. It’s often referred to as a ‘cattle call’ and everyone and their brother from all walks of life, show up for a chance at the big break. 

 

On this particular afternoon, the line was wrapped the entire length of 26th street and back around 7th avenue, almost to MSG. That’s almost 6 avenue blocks… It was late January and it was fucking cold. Meanwhile, I’m dressed to impress, not combat sub freezing temps.  No matter, I thought, this is my chance and I’m going to stick this out. 

 

It was one long day, but it was buoyed by two girls I befriended on the line and a few strategically placed Dunkin Donuts that served as our oasis on the frozen concrete. The hot coffee and the open bathrooms were a godsend. The banter with the girls and the delicious coffee helped me to forget the cold and the interminable wait and finally, after 5 long hours we reached the building where the auditions were taking place.  Almost inside we were rejuvenated and anxious to strut our stuff. The door pushed open and out walked one of the audition coordinators. “Sorry folks that’s all we can see today, thank you for your patience.” With that the door was pulled close and we were left wanting.

 

I have only gone on one musical theater audition since I’ve lived in NYC and this experience may be partially responsible. It may also be because of my lack of interest…

 

I answered an ad in Backstage Magazine for an Irish looking male, between 25-35 years of age and a tenor vocal range. At the time I was qualified right across the board, so I eagerly sent my headshot and resume and shortly after received a phone call to come audition. It was a period musical set in the 60’s about growing up in New York’s Hells Kitchen neighborhood. The audition was at the writer/director’s apt (I know what you might be thinking, but not that unusual here, as many people have studios in their apartments) and was to be the next day.

 

I arrived the next day and the concierge rang the apartment and I took the elevator up to the 7th floor. I proceeded to the appropriate number and was greeted at the door by a woman who cheerfully informed me, that her husband had just got out of the shower. He emerged from the bedroom, still wet and hastily dressed and it was readily apparent that he had forgotten about the audition. It was also apparent that this was a one bedroom apartment with no studio and I was wondering where the hell I was going to sing. 

 

The man’s wife politely excused herself and left the two of us to the audition. As I was surveying the room, it was becoming even less clear as to how this was going to go down. The mystery was solved when he asked me to help move the coffee table that was resting on a rug in front of his couch, rearrange a chair or two and slide over his rug. Once this was accomplished, he plopped down on the couch and the audition began. I was literally 5 feet in front of him, belting out Maria(from West Side Story), which I thought appropriate given the circumstances and decidedly uncomfortable. Sixteen bars later, I awaited his reaction.

Normally, you’re given 16 bars of a song to sing and after you’ve finished they say thanks(maybe) and you leave the room. No feedback whatsoever. You either get called back or you don’t. This situation was slightly more complicated and bizarre. I was sort of trapped and he felt compelled to review my performance, American Idol style. He went over several aspects of my voice, what he liked, what he really liked and a few things he thought I could work on. Also, he explained the part had been filled, but that I would make a good understudy. He then went on to say that he would work with me privately on the songs from the show…for a coaching fee. Well, I politely said I was short on funds, but I would think about it. We shook hands and I never saw him again.

 

 

Recently, I was at an audition for a deodorant spot that was to run on the internet. The premise was a guy and a girl on their first date talking about how their day was blah blah blah. The girl had already been cast and I was one of three callbacks waiting to read with the female lead.

 

Well, she never showed, so we had to improvise…we took turns playing the girl while the other would be Romeo, played the male’s part. Needless to say, I was a wee bit out of my comfort zone, but we each took the situation in stride and had as much fun with it as we could. The director and producer really appreciated our efforts and it led to a separate audition for me later on.

 

Unfortunately I didn’t end up getting the part, but these experiences have led to some funny stories and perhaps brought me one step closer to realizing my dream: acting opposite Jennifer Lawrence on day. Morning Jay part 2 perhaps…

 

I look forward to hearing Doc P’s stories and experiences, as he moves towards becoming a published author and garnering the representation he deserves.

 

And for all: Never give up on a dream just because of the time it will take to accomplish it. The time will pass anyway.

 

May the Th3rdforce be with you.

 

Part 2: Staying Together Is Even Harder To Do

 

After DC Space closed, the 930 Club became the center point for the music scene in Washington DC. The whole place was a ball of kinetic energy that night. We were all gathered for a Pixies show. Everyone was excited. Bodies cramming into bodies. The line was out the door. I couldn’t wait for the show to start.

The Pixies are a band very close to my heart. They are a weird, off tone, shrieking, intense, strange and catchy mess of a band.

Funny thing is, they didn’t even really play well live. Half the time they didn’t face the audience. But we didn’t care. We just wanted to hear the music, because that was what this band was all about.

This tour was in support of their latest album, Trompe Le Monde. They had enjoyed tremendous accolades from music critics and college radio stations alike. After several release they were set to take over the world. What happened instead?

They broke up after this tour.  Black Francis sent a letter to the band saying, I quit and that was it.

At their best, the Pixies were credited by Nirvana front man, Kurt Cobain, as being the only band whose lyrics are worth reading and the band that taught Nirvana their signature style of soft and slow, loud and fast.

What happened after the big break up?

The lead singer Black Francis, changed his name to Frank Black and started touring on his own. He ended up playing local bars in the Phoenix area: http://th3rdforce.com/?p=446

Kim Deal formed her own band, The Breeders. Both artists had some commercial success, but it was short lived.

Unlike Kim, Black Francis continued to make music. Some albums were good, some just plain bad. He fell for the UFO album concept. Note to reader, if you are in a band and you think it’s a good idea to have a UFO theme thing, just listen to Frank Black’s The Cult Of Ray, or the People’s Key by Bright Eyes. It’s a death trap. Don’t do it.

Neither Black Francis, nor Kim had anything close to the success they shared as a band.

Why did they break up?

It was simple, Black Francis and Kim made no secret that they didn’t like each other. Even though Black Francis was the leader, and driving force behind the band, the fans fell in love with Kim. One of my favorite concert moments was at this show.

It was one of those perfect moments. The band had just finished playing a song. I know it’s hard to imagine in a concert, but after that song, there was one perfect moment of near silence. My friend Andrew, screamed as loud as he could, in a beatlesque parody: We Love You Kim. She heard it. The audience laughed and she said a very soft, thank you.

Judging from the lack of success Back Francis and Kim achieved after the breakup it has become obvious that part of their genius was the friction between warring factions. How many successful bands have broken up only to have their members swim in a sea of mediocrity until that inevitable “reunion tour,” takes place after the wounds have stopped hemorrhaging?

Look for these moments in your own life. Where is the friction paying off? None of us like these situations. But these situations just might prove to be the foundry for our best work. Creative tension brings out the best in us because it pushes well beyond our boundaries into territory we can’t navigate by ourselves.

Listen carefully to the music in your life. Take a moment and ask yourself,  what is it telling me?

Breaking Up Is Hard To Do

Safe bets rule most of our decisions in life. Safe bets are there specifically because it’s nice not to have to break ground each time we do something.

Earlier this summer my wife and kids packed up for their annual concert/festival tour. This trip is a yearly tradition for them. They get to travel for a few weeks.

This year they spent three days in Oregon listening to Yonder Mountain String band, the crowned king of the jam/new bluegrass movement. About 8,000 other revelers joined the fun.

I did not.

I was actually here, http://th3rdforce.com/?p=433, during all of that. On my own retreat, if you will.

Last Friday one of the key members of Yonder Mountain, Jeff Austin, was playing a very small local venue. My wife invited me to go. We had dinner and went to the show with some of her friends.

The band was very, very good. The band is actually a combination of a former member of Yonder Mountain String Band and Danny Barnes, from the Bad Livers, the king of progressive/experimental bluegrass.

Last time I saw the Bad Livers was at Bumbershoot in Seattle. Average attendance to Bumbershoot is around 100,000 people.

There was maximum, 80 people at the show Friday.

What compelled these people to leave their safe gigs? What made them leave a safe bet and wind up at a local pub on a rainy night in November?

 

I have to admit I was full of admiration looking up at these fine gentlemen. Although the band had only been playing a couple weeks together it was clear they were enjoying sharing the stage. And I’m a sucker for the upright Bass. Can’t get enough of it.

But then I started running numbers. It’s in no way possible to make a living playing for the few people gathered at the show. How do the numbers work? I felt a deep pang of worry for our balladeers.

This was entirely a project in its infancy. Sitting in on the show was literally having an eye on a newborn as it struggles to find its way in the world. I said a prayer for the lads as the show ended. Wishing them well on this venture.

Recently I took a big risk by going to a writer’s conference. I had never been to one before. I am quite comfortable in my Chinese Medicine world. I put on workshops. So to go, as a student, was a leap I was really worried about making.

Beginning as a newbie at 43 years of age, wasn’t what I had in mind. But to get that book of mine published, I would have to break new ground. And so I did. 

The workshops were great. Very fine, professional and enthusiastic teachers. I had a meeting with an agent. Totally blew it. Yep. Ever see Say Anything? That John Kusack movie. He has a habit, which reminds me of, well, me. When he gets nervous he starts talking continuously, making connections that don’t really fit and just not stopping for a while. So here I was, acting like a high school kid trying to pitch a book idea to an agent. Yeah, you know this book is about. . . .and I wove Dao De Ching hexagrams. . . Holy mountains in Korea. . ..  Ben Bulben in Irealand. . . Fugazi concerts, you bet. . . Do you get it?

What a mess?

Well, later on I had another meeting with an editor of a small press in Seattle. I bumbled my way through that one too. But you know what, something in the idea caught her attention. She asked to see the manuscript? Mine? You mean the one I wrote? 

I haven’t heard back from her, yet. I feel like those musicians must have felt before their first show. Not knowing what would happen or where the project would go, they still picked up their instruments and played like tomorrow didn’t even begin to matter.

Can you hear that music in your own life? What new projects or risks are you involved in? What is out there that you are specifically not addressing?What projects are you ducking?

Go ahead, make a list you have time.

Next week we will examine this same phenomena from another perspective: the combustive force of creativity, or why being uncomfortable just might be what you need.

Photo credit: Gratefulweb.com

Fake it ‘Till You Make It

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Mastery is a concept best left to the masters. Know any of them? Me neither, really.

Sure once you go on the deep six holiday it’s easy to be seen as a master. But if you are among the living then this is not really an option.

So what do we do?

We have to have a wide net of experience and friends. These friends with different experiences will force you to stretch yourself by adopting some of their positions.

Now, when I met my wife, fake it till you make it was not an option. I was very serious, focused and driven like a jackhammer. I poured myself into three careers: newspapers, teaching and medicine before turning 30 years of age.

That’s a lot of ground to cover. I felt really good and confident about myself. I mean who else has done all of this?

All of this fell completely apart when I met my first patient.

I was sitting in my office with no patients. Finally, like lightning on Olympus, the phone rang. I let it ring three times, so as not to appear desperate, and a woman said:

Do you do house calls?

No.

Oh, well I am friends with your mother and I know this is the first day your clinic is open and you don’t have anyone on the schedule. With that in mind do you think you could come over?

Hmmm, I said, looking at my schedule. Here’s the deal, I will only come over after regular business hours are over.

She laughed, gave me her address and hung up the phone.

At about 5:30 pm I show up at her house. Her husband is noticeably distressed as he opens the door.

She’s in here, he says, moving quickly down the hall.

I’m noticing the deeper into the house, the darker it’s getting. By the time we end up at the room we are going to, it’s almost hard to see.

Wow, I think, serial killed on my first day at the job.

He opens the door very slowly and quietly. The gentleness of his actions completely at odds with his physique and demeanor.

I see a woman sitting up in her bed. She has an IV pick in one arm. She barely looks up as we come in. I take a seat by her bed.

So here’s the story. I’m, let’s call her Jen, by the way. And you see this IV, well it has antibiotics in it as well as fluids. They change them out. When it’s the antibiotic time, I can’t stop throwing up. In fact, they don’t know if the antibiotics will kill me or the infection in the plates of my skull. That’s what you are here for. Can you help me beat this infection?

Um, I gulped, well, I.

Ha ha. Just so you know I that I know, I am your first patient. I imagine that you have absolutely no idea what to do with me because the best clinics in the country do not either. So there!

Well, I. Uh. How about we work on the immune system?

Take your best shot doc. And it better be good.

That began my relationship with my, as she calls herself, “infamous first patient.”

After treatment I immediately went out and called my old clinic supervisor. He was in the clinic. I was in a state of shock.

Roger, how’s it going?

Great. Tell me how are you . . . Ok, what can I help you with?

I told him about the patient and her condition.

That’s really not all that difficult, he said, she’s in enough distress that almost anything you will do will help her.

That’s it? I said, choking on the phone.

Yeah, call me back and let me know how it’s going.

I came back the next day to Jen’s house.

So how are you doing?

Me? Oh, I’m the same.

The same? You still feel ill?

Yes.

Oh, should I leave?

Leave?

Yes, you said it didn’t help.

I said I feel the same now. After treatment last night I did feel better. You conclusion is wrong, she said laughing.

That was the first time it became apparent that graduating in no way made me master of anything. Not even close. In fact, as she gradually got better it became clear to me we were both benefiting from this relationship. She helped me refine my expectations and together, she got out of that room, beat that infection and moved on in her life.

She stops by every year and announces herself to the clinic.

Hi I’m Jen, Scott’s infamous first patient. He saved my life. Where is he? I want to talk to him.

If I’m in treatment, it doesn’t matter for how long, she waits until I get out of the room, gives me a big hug, pinches my cheek and then is gone for a year.

Where would I have been if I waited to master infections in the frontal plat of the human skull? Where would I have been if I failed to take that first step? You know where, back at that single room office waiting for the phone to ring.

Attention reader. I am now dismantling from your nervous system the need to be a master of anything before starting your next project.

What is out there just waiting for you to take it on? What do you have that is just a decision away?

Pop, the bubble bursts and it’s OK to fake it till you make it because in the end that’s all we are all doing anyway.

Happy Birthday

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We made it!

We are one year old this week. Thank you for your support, your comments and your time.

For this week’s post Bill and I thought we would put up some links to our favorite stories over the year.

It’s fun looking at the statistics to see what you, our audience, enjoyed. Sometimes the data matches up, other times, not so much. Our top viewed posts was: Taking A Vacation From Yourself, http://th3rdforce.com/?p=377.

My favorite posts of the year so far are:

  • Winter Meditations: http://th3rdforce.com/?p=106. This is the post that got me back into finishing my novel. It reminded me most of what I went to Korea for.
  • Thin As A Razor’s Edge: http://th3rdforce.com/?p=231. This post really is about my turning point as an adult. It was my time in the darkness and finally, the light.
  • O Captain, My Captain: http://th3rdforce.com/?p=231 This post is an homage to our first mentor, John Keane. It reminded me that the best teachers do not exist in the past, they are guiding us to a better future.
  • Cutting Through The Static: http://th3rdforce.com/?p=207 This post plays with the idea between being an observer and a participant. Also, it highlights the dangers of assumption. I learned all of this at Children’s hospital.

Here is Bill’s pick:

So what are some of your favorite posts? What would you like us to write about? Please leave your answers in the comments.

PS

Every day of your life is a post. What we read on that wall is what is left of us. These are the tales our friends and family will tell long after we gone. What did your story tell about you this year? You have 2.5 chapters left before this year is a wrap.

Riders Of The Storm

Surfer Free Photo

There is a ton of excitement in the tight knit surfing community here on the northeast coast, with a Category 4 hurricane forecast to track well east of the US. This will produce large swells and a relatively rare opportunity for local enthusiasts to enjoy some tasty surf. In fact, a very good friend of mine is postponing his annual sojourn to Costa Rica in order to capitalize on this occurrence.

Several weeks ago he took me out on my very first surfing lesson. I’ve never felt less of an athlete, as I did on this afternoon. The more I pushed to stand up the further away I got from accomplishing this goal. My body was a taut mass of aggravation and I was actually getting worse on each subsequent attempt. My buddy, who is a rather accomplished surfer patiently explained to me that I would need to relax and let the ocean do the work if I wanted to get to my feet. Finally, after what seemed an eternity, I was able to briefly get to my feet.

To say this was a humbling experience would be akin to saying that Stephen King has published a few works of fiction. We here at 3F often talk about getting out of our comfort zones and doing something that makes us uneasy and well, this delivered on both accounts. However, as embarrassed as I was by my physical ineptitude, I was equally struck by a great sense of peace and recognition once I was able to get past my frustration and finally stand. A oneness with my environment began to develop once my ego and vanity subsided. I stopped fighting the current and let it go to work for me.

Afterwards, we sat outside and enjoyed a few Southern Tier IPA’s. He told me about a book, that an old surfer dude had referred him to years ago. It is called, Cloud Hidden Whereabouts Unknown by Allen Watts. He told me that it was an absolute must read, so I at my first opportunity Amazoned it. Watts takes a fascinating look at his retreat into the mountains of California and his discovery and following the watercourse way of nature, known in Chinese as the Tao.

Alan Watts helped create the Zen boom in America and which has become a popular theme with people seeking harmony with nature. Watts discussion of Taoism is particularly interesting. The Tao signifies the energy of the universe as a way, current, force, course or flow  which is as at once intelligence and yet spontaneous, but you don’t worship or pray to the Tao, because it is your own true self, your very energy and patterning of your bones, muscles and nerves. Lao Tzu’s  first statement about it is that it cannot be defined, for the simple reason that you cannot make what is basically you and basically real an object of knowledge. You can’t stand aside from it and examine it as something out there. Although then that we cannot define it, we must not assume that it is something bleary like the blind energy of 19th century scientists.

From our own point of view our heads themselves are blind spots but were it otherwise we should be looking at only neurons and dendrites and would never see mountains that meet the ocean. Of course when neurons and dendrites are seen from the inside they become mountains that meet the ocean.

Now, even though the Tao can’t be pinned down, it has a characteristic atmosphere that can be sensed in the lifestyles in people such as these surfing ethusiasts. It’s an ability to flow with or following with the wind or in this case waves. The whole object is generating immense energy by going with your environment. By following the gravity of the water and making yourself one with it. By applying this principle we learn the senselessness of trying to force ourselves upstream. Flow with the waves, it’s another way of saying chill out…get rid of tension and rigidity, bend with the wind and you’ll still be around after the hurricane is gone and the fair weather returns. It’s like the principles of judo, which uses the power and force of your aggressor to defeat him. He makes the move, you simply channel him using his own force and momentum to easily cause him to sprawl in the dirt.,

This idea can be applied to our troubles, our worries, surfing and situations that at first seem threatening and impossible, but which can if we flow with the storm, be turned into our advantage. A person with this kind of attitude and philosophy cannot be defeated. Even after he fails to stand up after dozens of attempts. He knows that he is a part of everything else, the very energy of the universe and that he can best live and achieve whatever ends he decides upon by going with the current. With ease and serenity never with tension, never with force or strain.

May the Th3rdforce be with you.

Your Guide To Breaking Free

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The attachment to beliefs is

The greatest shackle.

To be free is

To know that

One does not know.

 

Hsin, Wu (2011-10-19). The Lost Writings of Wu Hsin: Pointers to Non-Duality in Five Volumes (Kindle Locations 101-104). . Kindle Edition.

 

Whenever I get the opportunity I ask the people at the apex, how is life for you? I don’t care if they are in business, parents, barbers, or monks. Those that are in that top percent have great stories to share.

This week I would like to explore meditation. Go over some preconceptions and see if we can’t shed a little reality onto the subject.

I asked a friend of mine who spent ten years in India meditating in isolation for six months and then teaching for six months, what were some memories that stuck out.

I figured he would talk about pristine mountains. Skies so blue, topaz seems pale. Snow-capped peaks and meetings with great masters.

Fleas in the beds, he yelled out. They were awful, what little sleep we got was disturbed by those damn things.

But what about the view?

View? I hate going outside. What’s the point?

So much for my mountain-ringed Shangri La. Well what else did you learn?

Being part of a monastery isn’t the quiet retreat you would imagine. It’s pretty fucking far from that.

In the beginning it was easy to do the meditation. I would sit alone in my room/cell and twice a day someone would bring food or if I wanted to I could also just go down to the “cafeteria” and eat with the others. So there were definitely two groups, those that enjoyed company and those that didn’t – how’s that for unity? 

I didn’t like eating with the others. It was too loud with all of them.

As in, they were talking? My mind went instinctively to the cafeteria in high school. I was picturing the monks at their tables: the  monk jocks, the cool monks, the nerds and the ones that made them all nervous.

No, there is a lot of turbulence within people who don’t sit or haven’t sat for long. It’s a feeling real as sunshine. I can sit with someone and gauge not only how long they have been sitting, but how effective it is for them. Or rather their technique. It comes off of them in waves.

So that’s pretty cool.

No, not really. It’s uncomfortable to be around someone who is uneasy within themselves. It bleeds over the entire environment.

So then the monastery really wasn’t a place of quite introspection?

Quiet? That’s a joke. Couldn’t stand all the noise.

So what about the actual practice? What were some things that were hard to explain and really made you wonder about the whole process? There must have been some insider stuff people don’t know about.

The demons. They were tough. There was one part of the monastery that was famous for possessions. You would go up there and pretty soon your body would be thrown around. People would get scratched, chocked. The whole works.

And what happened to you up there?

Just like everyone else. But you see I was different. I was a teacher. So my teacher called me in to his chamber and asked me what I thought was happening. I went through the usual: torment by ghosts, demons, ex-girlfriends? 

My teacher replied, who is there to be possessed? If this body is just a shell housing our spirit who or what is there to take it over?

Well that made me think for a long while. I knew what was happening was real. I just didn’t understand the why or what of what was happening.

It was explained to me that the body de-stresses, not only the mind. That’s the strange part, it’s the body that goes through the process too. Deep stress is held in the muscles and connective tissue. To meditate is to release that stress from the body. It can get pretty violent. You can end up jumping out of your seat!

That actually made a lot of sense to me. As a kid, when I could, finally, get to sleep I would often wake myself up jerking awake. I’ve seen my kids do the same thing falling asleep: a hand shoots out there, a leg kicks. Animals follow the same path as well. Dogs jerk their legs going to sleep as well.

My own patients do it with acupuncture. They talk about a whole, body-wide twitch that once it has gone off, they fall into a deep restful sleep.

I asked my friend about how many people made it past that last wing in the monastery? Not many did. The toughest thing about that wing is that you are facing yourself disguised as something external. Nobody tried to squash the talk about demons etc. It served as a means to weed out those that couldn’t or didn’t want to face themselves.

In my own practice of meditation I was following the path of the clear pool. I had read the point of meditation was to conquer our emotions. By watching them like clouds I was aiming to be free from the tyranny of the emotions.

What I became was rather, boring and highly erratic. By silencing my emotions I began to wither. When I ended up in the temples in Korea there was none of the new-age Americanized meditation blather. Monks had emotions, disputes and they helped solidify my practice in reality. I had had enough of the books.

When I feel something now I go with it. I don’t always have to believe I am right or correct. But I do have to own up to my feelings and express them in a constructive way. If I make a mistake and blow a fuse, I apologize and move forward.
That was the problem. I shackled myself to a belief which only made my emotional life much more volatile and not very comfortable for me and those around me.

So looking at your life. What beliefs do you have that no longer serve you?

Take some time on this one, it will save you decades.

Throw off the shackles.

They didn’t serve you back then, and they sure won’t serve you tomorrow.

A New Lens, A New Way

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Once in a while we have to stand outside our culture and look at the norms. We have to see from a new lens, the world in which we were not only created, but help perpetuate.

I had my chance to do this a few days after being released from a Korean Hospital.

My immune system had tanked. They released me after a comical and frightening English lesson slash diagnosis.

The two doctors were maybe in their mid-30’s if that. They nervously stood at the end of my hospital bed. As they went from foot to foot they gently brushed shoulders from time to time.

“You have rhinitis!” they looked at me, hoping I would understand. I did, nodding. It seemed to spur them on. Enthusiastically, they made the rest of the speech: “Also, sinusitis. Bronchitis. Dysentery and . . .”

Let me tell you, there are few things worse than being in this situation.

“Unknown infections.”

They sent me home with the same medication that didn’t work last time. They didn’t work this time.

Let’s hit the pause button for a moment.

How did I end up here? Sure I was in a foreign country, in a foreign land. I didn’t have the emotional support and cultural bedrock to stand tall. And. . . . . . . .

And, that’s not really true.

My buddy Fitzy was only two hours away. We talked weekly on the phone and visited at least twice a month. I was also surrounded by very kind people in my new home town. Sure my boss was an ass, but that’s bosses working foreign laborers- just like they do here in the United States, they get every ounce of work they can knowing there is another body ready to fill in the hole.

So what was it?

I think it was that my paradigm was broken. I was taught to react to illnesses (and pretty much everything) after the fact. I didn’t do anything until it was too late. By the time I was heading to the doctor’s office I was already defeated.

So by always reacting, I was always coming in the game late. I was always behind. Not very good odds and certainly it was no way to live a life.

When I looked at it, my reacting was not limited to just my health. It spread across all areas of my life.

Here are some sample questions that if you have asked yourself, you are in the same boat:

  • I don’t know why she broke up with me?
  • I don’t know why I got fired?
  • I don’t know why we lost the project?
  • I don’t know why this keeps on happening?

If you answered yes to any of the above questions, break it down. When did you check out and wait to see what happened? If you break the situation down and honestly can’t see what you missed then you have two options to wrestle with:

  1. You are in over your head. If this is true there is a very steep and painful learning curve.
  2. I think most of us will fall in to category 2. You are too close and have a blind side when it comes to the issue. If you have ever been in a relationship where all of your friends don’t like your significant other it’s because your friends can see that person for who they are, without the blind-sided optics of love skewing the view.

Take a stand back and tackle the problem again. Or better yet, ask for help figuring it out. I know you have a core of good friends who bring worth, experience and insight to the table.

That’s how I got out of the hospital and stayed out. I didn’t do it on my own. Not even close. I found a teacher who had enough skill as a doctor to help my physically and she had enough prowess as a healer to help quiet the unease of my mind.

A couple of days after getting released from the hospital I did get my chance to start doing things right. That chance was paid for with 48 hours of pain I can’t even begin to put to paper. I won’t be able to convey where I was and some things are not for public consumption.

The Chinese medicine doctor called me to her apartment and after passing some cultural literacy tests, deemed me worthy of help. She asked me, “do you have nough of this? The town thinks you are die. The town is worried you will die. If you want to do that you can’t do that here,” she said pointing to where I was sitting. I told her I was sick of feeling like I was. She replied, “I will treat you. But it is sure you can’t take care of yourself. You must eat every breakfast and dinner with my husband and I, then I will treat you. I don’t want to waste my time. So you have to learn to live. Deal?”

I took her hand and haven’t put it down since. So, dear reader, what will it take you to start responding to the problems in your life?

Lessons From The Mosh Pit

 

DC Space. Lights blinking on and off. Warm up band is already breaking eardrums. Bass drum kicking. Guitars chopping riffs like machine guns. A tidal wave of kids rocks the floor. We start bouncing into each other. Lights dim. It’s too warm. Adrenalin flooding through my legs, which are shaking out of beat with the music which with the lights, is now on and racing at full volume.

As the music hits and bodies roll it’s time to get moving. Letting the music fill me, I leave this earth for a while, a kinetic burst of energy streaking across the DC skyline.

From the outside it does seem like pandemonium. I mean seriously. The music is incredibly fast. But there is a logic in the flow. There are codes and meaning.

For example, the physical layout is not chaos. Bodies are actually sprawling around in two zones, two circles one larger surrounding a smaller core.

The larger circle starts at stage front and winds about the perimeter of the show. The inner circle starts just a few bodies back. It is the eye of this sonic storm. Unlike a hurricane though, it’s here that the action is the most intense.

That’s where we are. It’s a mosh pit. Bodies colliding into and off of each other driven by the maniacal drummer. Goaded on by the guitars and finally and absolutely whipped into an utter frenzy by the lead singer.

The band is called Fugazi and when they play a show, it’s going to get rough, wild above all else, real.

Here’s what I learned as a kid going to East Coast shows.

  • Law 1: For every Action There Is an Equal and Opposite Reaction: Even though the action is intense if you take it personal and actually hit someone the show is over for you. So you had to keep you cool and more importantly spot the danger zone and keep out of them.
    • Proof: Fugazi were notorious for stopping shows. I was at the 9:30 Club in DC when things got a little too rough. Ian MacCaye, the lead singer, promptly stopped the show and began, yes, interrogating the meathead who was throwing punches. The band refused to play until that guy left. What was so memorable was Ian’s language, “I hope my comments are falling on deaf ears tonight folks because we have a concert to put on and when you throw punches at my friends then you, sir, are not our friend and we want you to leave.” It was hard to come back from that kind of pressure. In fact, I never saw anyone do it.
    • I was at a Frank Black (Pixies lead singer) show with my buddy Fitzy. He asked if we were going into the pit. I said, the last time I got in there some neanderthal hit me. Not three songs into the show someone grabs my shoulder. I turn around and bam. Right in the face. It doesn’t knock me down. In fact, for his size, he should have been able to take me off of my feet. I didn’t do anything but laugh at the absurdity of the moment. Before I can react, the pit takes him under. He disappears in a flurry of kicks. The music sounds good. I turn facing forward and let it take me on that wave.
    • From the man himself, Brian Fitzgerald: “It’s amazing the similarities rather than the differences between, say, a mosh pit in Tempe, Arizona and one in a GI bar in Seoul, South Korea.   A mix of different types of people–genders, yes, but ethnicities, too–who are there for a good time.  As a group they get so caught up in the music that the mosh is just a physical expression of that, at once jarring and aggressive but within weird group-imposed limits.  In other words, there’s a Code of the Pit.   I love that the group knows when the rules are somehow violated, and works together to eject the offender.  
    • Two vignetttes:   A big Native American getting pissed at you at the Frank Black concert and taking a cheap swing at you, knocking your glasses askew.  Before you or I can react, the group takes him out and he’s gone and ejected and likely bruised a bit.  
    • Another:  South Korea, a pit filled with expats and big G.I.s stripped to the waist–big dudes with shaved heads.  A little punky Korean chick goes down, hits the floor.   Next thing, she’s picked up, crowd-surfed somehow to the edges and gently deposited there, ready for more, while the action goes on.  
    • The Code is universal….and it’s about harmony and keeping the flow going.  Any interruption just ain’t kosher.   
  • Law #2: Music can change the world, beginning, yes, even with teenagers.
    • Proof: I woke up politically not by listening to politicians make false promises, but rather from a little band called the Clash. Nobody rocked political beats like the clash. My first introduction to this band was the album Rock the Casbah. Shortly thereafter I heard an album that changed my life, London Calling. To my 12 year old mind, this was not making any sense, but I wanted to figure it out and so I did;

 

“Spanish Bombs”

Spanish songs in Andalucia
The shooting sites in the days of ’39
Oh, please, leave the ventana open
Fredrico Lorca is dead and gone
Bullet holes in the cemetery walls
The black cars of the Guardia Civil
Spanish bombs on the Costa Rica
I’m flying in on a DC 10 tonight

Spanish bombs, yo te quiero infinito
yo te acuerda oh mi corazón
Spanish bombs, yo te quiero infinito
yo te acuerda oh mi corazón

Spanish weeks in my disco casino
The freedom fighters died upon the hill
They sang the red flag
They wore the black one
But after they died it was Mockingbird Hill
Back home the buses went up in flashes
The Irish tomb was drenched in blood
Spanish bombs shatter the hotels
My senorita’s rose was nipped in the bud

The hillsides ring with “Free the people”
Or can I hear the echo from the days of ’39?
With trenches full of poets
The ragged army, fixin’ bayonets to fight the other line
Spanish bombs rock the province
I’m hearing music from another time
Spanish bombs on the Costa Brava
I’m flying in on a DC 10 tonight

Spanish songs in Andalucia, Mandolina, oh mi corazon
Spanish songs in Granada, oh mi Corazon

 

  • Proof 2: In DC when we saw a problem, AIDS, Homelessness, we righted the wrong ourselves. We had benefit concerts and gave the money directly to those in need. We didn’t need a middle man taking their cut for the greater good. We were strictly DIY.
  • Law 3: Do not multi-task. I asked Bill Donnelly for some help on this post and he reminded me of two lessons.
    • The first, don’t bring a drink into the pit. It’s going to end up on your shirt first, on the ground next and probably at some point used as a projectile when someone steps on it and sends it flying. That’s a great lesson. Ever the mathematician, here’s his version of the equation: Low center of gravity and hips…hip check+drinkie=problem
  • Law 4: Size is deceptive. One of the funny things about moshing is pit physics. People with a smaller center of gravity tend to stay on their feet, using their hips to check the tall ones. It’s not what you have, but how you use it that counts in this world.
  • Law 5: When Moshing Choose Your Friend Wisely: I have never co-written a post before. Why did I need help with this one? Because moshing and going to concerts is something best not shared alone. We all have people in our life that bring us equal measures of joy, thrill and why not, our inner mosh pit.

So take a look around you. Who would have your back through the decades, through the changing sound of the world, through the heads, shoulder, knees and toes? If you see someone in your daily life who doesn’t fit that criteria. Do yourself the favor of upgrading. Chances are you may just find yourself needing someone if not deep in the pit, then many years after those days have passed. Someone to not only listen to music with, but someone to bump shoulders with when the kids are asleep and the only sound is the world you have both temporarily returned to, if only for a song. . .

Fire on the Plain

 

Most of the summer Winthrop, Washington was on fire. By July almost 250,000 acres had lit up the evening sky, covering much of the Methow Valley in smoke, dust, evacuations and homes burning to the ground. When the rains came in August, they were a reminder to be careful what we wish for: lightning sparked new fires and flash floods rolled unchecked over the charred earth, burying homes and adding to the chaos.

All residents suffered. None escaped the smoke or the power outages. Many residents lost their homes, cut adrift like the very flames that set them into motion. Some ended up staying with neighbors. Others packed up and left. Most found a way to get by.

Every Labor Day I take my daughters deep into the canyons near Winthrop for a camping trip. My wife stays home to get prepared for the upcoming school year. I get a few days a year alone with my girls. It’s one of my favorite things to do.

This year the campgrounds were closed until the day before we left. We woke up on the day feeling lucky that our biggest concern was where we would stay. We saw online that the annual rodeo was not only a go, they were asking people to please come because the town needed the business.

When I called the ranger station the lady on the phone said, “Yep, campgrounds are open. We are not advertising it though. If you build a fire, we’re handing out $100 tickets. You got it?”

Yes I got it.

When we arrive at our spot there are only a few campers here. Most of the sites are vacant. The people next to us light up a roaring fire as the evening overtook the canyon.

I walk over to them and say, “What’s up? I thought there was a fire ban?”

As I get closer I get a closer look at them. They are shot through. Wasted. Whatever you want to call it, not ready for me being a smart ass.

“We’re exempt,” she says.

I look at her, eyes blinking, smile fading.

“Damn fire took our home.”

Her husband nodding into the fire, not even looking up.

“And we were evacuated from our house,” says a man in his 60’s with a face that says 70. “It’s all burned to hell around it. It’s not what we call home. So we are out here and yes, this fire feels good.”

After that they just kind of stare into the fire.

I see all of their camping supplies laid out in moving boxes, over a dozen spread out like toys in my children’s room. Walking back to my camp I hear a beer crack. I am happy they have that, at least. I don’t hear them laugh tonight. They hardly talk. Only drink and stare into the fire.

The next night we drive into town. For the first time in over a decade we find parking downtown. No parking by the red barn and doing the walk of shame into town.

If you haven’t been to Winthrop, here’s the skinny. It’s literally about a block or two long. No traffic light. Just a 90-degree turn on Hwy 20. The town is dressed up in an old-west costume. Brewery, tourist shops, bookstore. . . that’s about it. People don’t come here for the town. They come here for the lack of a town and a landscape worthy of any artist’s eye.

Eating dinner Friday night we sit outside in the one upscale restaurant in town, Arrow Leaf Bistro. Nobody out there until the end of the evening. Two couples sporting “ranch” clothing and slivered hair sit behind us.

As my girls drift on and off the deck looking for snakes I can’t escape their conversation. I sat out on the deck to get away from people. Not to eavesdrop.

“Well you know we sold off some of our properties and rolled them into a bigger yacht,”

“Ha. That’s bad. Now you have a bigger hole in the water to dump money.”

The sound of wind in the trees. Always the river, in the background. A gentle reminder of the glaciers melting deep in the canyon of the Cascades.

I’m trying to drown them out, but they are too close. The backs of our chairs touching as they sat down.

“You hear about Tim? He’s sold it all off. Besides, their house, down to just a condo. He and Kim are going to go travel.”

“Wait. Sold it all off?”

“Hell that’s bad as being homeless when you are just down to a condo.”

They erupt into laughter. I’m swirling the wine in my glass, wishing there was more. But I’m driving precious cargo. More will come later.

My kids start screaming. Apparently they have found a snake and are chasing each other with it. I sip my wine.

The people behind me, well their food arrives and so does their complaining: It’s over cooked, yeah, do you think they even know what saaaalsa verd is? This is nothing like we get in LA. . .”

I finish that glass of wine. Say goodbye to Winthrop for the year and head back to our own campfire – the ban was lifted earlier in the day.

They are still talking trash about the food when the wind comes up and sends them scampering indoors, holding their wine glasses as if their life depended on it.

We count deer driving home. There’s an unusually large number in the field, more then 20 eating peacefully, watching the traffic with one eye, the looming darkness of the hills with the other. We get back to the campsite after dark. Besides the cracking of cans next door, there is no sound, but the wind and the always that water and my kids drifting off to sleep.

I light a fire. The evening rolls out under my feet. I feel the warmth of the fire on my knees. It feels good to sit there for hours. Time passes. It occurs to me looking up at the Milky Way deep in the night, that maybe we are all not so different.

We each suffer loss in our own worlds in our own unique way.

I think the issue is in scale. To the restaurant people, a meal (let me guarantee you it was nowhere near bad) and selling your possessions is a form of abuse. It sounds pathetic, but to them, make no mistake, it is a form of suffering.There is still a loss that takes place, perhaps the drama dresses up the boredom of a life without need for struggle.

To the people next door, they lost everything, or so they told me.

As for me and my camp? To quote Barton Fink, I am a tourist with a typewriter. Just along for the ride, but not really. By now, I’m participating in the dance.

Through the starlight I see them next door. Knees almost touching each other. Soft murmur of conversation, not punctuated by laughter. A sort of mournful discourse losing itself in the currents or air playing in darkness.

Hell, I think, taking a sip of Laphroig, maybe they are forgetting that which is closest?

I tilt my glass to the fire and say prayers for those I love who no longer have the opportunity to overcome such hardships. I say thanks for giving my oldest daughter and myself, back to my family.

In the stark outline of trees against an evening sky it’s obvious there are lines that divide.

If you are on this side you still have a chance to fight. You have it in you to rage against the tide. You have the responsibility to burn brighter than a firestorm in a dry summer.

Grab the ones you love, because nothing in the world replaces that kind of loss.

Let them know how you feel.

Let them know that the fires of this world can come and go as long as they are there with you, sitting by a river, listening to the wind crackle through the same burning wood that took your home.

Image from: http://northwestnaturalmoments.blogspot.com/2012/09/smoke-filled-sunset-from-four-fires.html