“Blue” by Joni Mitchell in Delight in Disorder (the soundtrack)

In November of 1986, I began to process of leaving behind the pot and pills and Pabst that was keeping my peculiar brain chemistry from driving me crazy, but causing all kinds of other insanity. Coming clean caused me to sink into a pit of despair, expressed eloquently in Joni Mitchell‘s “Blue.”

Blue songs are like tattoos
You know I’ve been to sea before
Crown and anchor me
Or let me sail away
Hey Blue, here is a song for you
Ink on a pin
Underneath the skin
An empty space to fill in
Well there’re so many sinking now
You’ve got to keep thinking
You can make it thru these waves
Acid, booze, and ass
Needles, guns, and grass
Lots of laughs lots of laughs
Everybody’s saying that hell’s the hippest way to go
Well I don’t think so
But I’m gonna take a look around it though
Blue I love you

Blue here is a shell for you
Inside you’ll hear a sigh
A foggy lullaby
There is your song from me

© 1970; Joni Mitchell

(“Blue” is the fourth song in my autobiographical playlist Delight in Disorder (the soundtrack).

Delight in Disorder (the soundtrack): “Wonder” by Natalie Merchant

Not long ago, I was inspired to create a Spotify playlist to accompany the release of my spiritual memoir  Delight in Disorder.  I was initially led to search for songs with “crazy” in the title and came up with a playlist of 42 songs I titled “Crazy for You.” It is a fun collection I enjoy listening to.  But it doesn’t tell my story.

Today, as I was driving past the madness of Black Friday shopping, a number of songs started playing through my mind.  I eagerly drove home and gathered a collection of 21 songs I’ve titled “Delight in Disorder (the soundtrack).” From start to finish, the playlist tells the story of my life from my birth, through my childhood and school years, my troubled marriage and eventual separation and return to my childhood home.

While I enjoy quality instrumentation, it is through poetic lyrics that I find meaning in music. To share this passion, I’ve decided to feature the lyrics to this soundtrack for my life in a series of 21 posts, briefly reflecting on how the songs connect to my experience.

The first song is “Wonder” by Natalie Merchant.

Doctors have come from distant cities
Just to see me
Stand over my bed
Disbelieving what they’re seeing

They say I must be one of the wonders
Of god’s own creation
And as far as they can see they can offer
No explanation

Newspapers ask intimate questions
Want confessions
They reach into my head
To steal the glory of my story

They say I must be one of the wonders
Of god’s own creation
And as far as they can see they can offer
No explanation

O, I believe
Fate smiled and destiny
Laughed as she came to my cradle
Know this child will be able
Laughed as my body she lifted
Know this child will be gifted
With love, with patience and with faith
She’ll make her way

People see me
I’m a challenge to your balance
I’m over your heads
How I confound you and astound you
To know I must be one of the wonders
Of god’s own creation
And as far as you can see you can offer me
No explanation

O, I believe
Fate smiled and destiny
Laughed as she came to my cradle
Know this child will be able
Laughed as she came to my mother
Know this child will not suffer
Laughed as my body she lifted
Know this child will be gifted
With love, with patience and with faith
She’ll make her way

This wonderful song by the beautiful Ms. Merchant conveys both the theology and grandiosity that has marked my life since birth.  My delightful theology leads me to believe that I am one of God’s marvelous creations.  My disordered mind tells me I am perhaps more marvelous than most, that I have a special mission to fulfill beyond the run-of-the-mill labor of life.

This delight in disorder has been both a blessing and a bane in my existence.

When I was young, I could escape the fierce tension at home, satisfied with my own presence.  I would play for hours on an outdoor basketball court convinced there were hidden cameras filming me for a later documentary of a star-in-the-making.

Believing I had a calling led me to be the first in my family to obtain a master’s degree and launch a career in ministry. My disordered mind, however, led me to a psychiatric hospital where I believed it was the end of the world and I alone had the special mission of bringing the elect to safety.

“Wonder” is ultimately a very hopeful song, as has been my life with God. With love, patience, and faith, we will make our way.

Madness in Media

I’m currently working on “The Study” chapter of my book Delight in Disorder: Meditations of a Bipolar Mind in which I will reflect on a few books that have had a significant impact on my understanding of my mental illness.  I also plan to include an “On the Shelves” section in which I list more resources (literature, visual art, movies, music) worth further exploration.

This is where I could use your help.  Below I’ve listed some of the resources I will either review or list.  I’d love to hear your experience with “media-depicted madness”.  Have any of these works touched you, or do you know of other works I might explore?

Books

The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath

An Unquiet Mind: A Memoir of Moods and Madness by Kay Redfield Jamison

Girl, Interrupted by Susanna Kaysen

Manic: A Memoir by Terri Cheney

Brilliant Madness: Living with Manic Depressive Illness  by Patty Duke

Madness: A Bipolar Life by Marya Hornbacher

Touched With Fire: Manic-Depressive Illness and the Artistic Temperament by Kay Redfield Jamison

Darkness is My Only Companion: A Christian Response to Mental Illness by Kathryn Greene-McCreight

Movies

One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest

The Dream Team

Benny & Joon

Shine

A Beautiful Mind

The Soloist

Music

Vincent (Starry Starry Night) – Don McLean

Visual Arts

“Scream”  – Edward Munch

“Vase with Twelve Sunflowers” – Vincent Van Gogh

“Spirit of the Dead Watching” – Paul Gaugin

 

What would you recommend?

 

(image above “Van Gogh’s Starry Starry Night” from Rae Leff in Art I love)

High Above a Stately River: A Presidential Arts and Fashion Review

I’m back from  Hanover College Presents: The President Honors the Arts and what a night it was!

The program began with a rousing spiritual – The Hanover College Chamber Singers singing “Praise His Holy Name!”  I closed my eyes and for a minute thought I was worshipping in a Spirit-filled African-American church, but then I opened my eyes and noticed colorful hair and black dresses  instead of colorful hats and black faces.  It didn’t mar my appreciation for their zest, however.

Next up was Autumn Barger, a soprano who sang “Una volta che Bastiano” from the opera Bastien und Bastienne.  She had a very strong and beautiful voice and sang with great confidence.  She’ll probably sing at the Met someday.  I’m not sure she’d make it at the Opry, though.

Chen Wang played a piano selection, “Dr. Gradus ad Parnassum” from Children’s Corner by Claude Debussy (which, I was surprised, was not pronounced like when you refer to Gary Busey in a colloquial way – “Hey it’s Gary – Da’ Busey”).  Wang was a masterful pianist.  Her hair was inexplicably red, but she could certainly tickle those ivories.

The final musician for the night was Ellen Morganett, playing “Andante” from Solo No. 1 by Georg Phillipp Telemann on the violin.  The violin is perhaps my favorite musical instrument (next to the pedal steel) and she certainly did it justice.  With a little practice, I think Ellen could make a fine fiddle player for John Prine (and I’d be willing to put in a good word for her).

Representing the Visual Arts was Kyle Hunteman who shared his senior thesis, “No Struggle, No Progress.”  He first did over a hundred line drawings (though he only showed one).  They were human figures wrestling which brought to mind some of DaVinci’s doodles.  Next, he talked about his own struggle with time (which he represented by, in limited time, creating a life-size torso, a self-image).  The Puritan in me appreciated that he only revealed his torso in his art work.  He could have used a haircut (but, after all, his hair wasn’t part of his sculpture).

Next an award for the “2012-2013 Hanover College Medal for Excellence in the Arts” went to Nathan Montaya and Annette Vestuto.  Get this – they own a bookstore called “The Village Lights”.  Yes, there is still such a thing as a real, live, local bookstore.  Not only do they run the bookstore (which sounds like it has real books on real shelves, though I can’t verify this), they contribute much of their time, talent, and yes, money (after all, not every artist wants to starve) to artistic efforts at the college and in the Madison and Hanover communities.  Bravo, Nathan and Annette!  (Now can I hit you up to do a reading?)

Dan McCormick, representing the Creative Writing department, read some of his own poetry written in his time at Hanover.  (Full disclosure: Dan’s father – Joe – was my college roommate, so this may seem like a biased review.  But believe me, Joe wasn’t that good of a roommate.  Don’t get me wrong, he could put down beer with the best of them and he wasn’t quite as slovenly as I was.   But, well… he did this thing where he would “light his farts” and almost set the bed on fire several times.  You get the picture.)

So anyway, back to Dan.  For a young poet, Dan has a rare gift.  I wish I had a simple word or phrase to describe it (I may have to invent one after I renew my poetic license).  It is where he juxtaposes contrasting ideas in conjoined dual words.  Good haiku poets do it in three lines.  Dan does it with just two words – often at the end of his poems.  The effect is something almost magical – certainly therapeutic.  It is the aesthetic equivalent of doing “kegels” (for those of you pregnant women out there).  For men, there is no good way to understand it other than flexing your butt cheeks repeatedly, then relaxing them.  Then, imagine it being intensely pleasurable (which it may be for some, now that I think of it).  That’s Dan’s poetry.

As for his fashion, well, he may have to dress down to become a starving artist – but his haircut was the best of the evening.

Finally, the theater department (which I noticed they spelled “theatre” in the program – going all European on me).  First, I need to tell you my former classmate Jim Stark is now the theatre director there (and he introduced the short play).  Jim was by far the sharpest dressed on the stage this evening.  (As for his hair, well, there’s not much to comment on.)

The play was called “The Everything Store” (written by Kayla Snabl and directed by Branden Derk).  It was clever play about a store where you can buy a new suit of clothes for your “good judgment”, a European accent and demeanor for “the memory of your best friend”, and “fresh ambition” for a “relationship”.  It was ably performed by Joshua Anderson, Gracie Taylor and Shawn Franklin (each of whom had quite acceptable hair).

As I ducked out of the auditorium to use the bathroom, I thought of what a wonderful evening it had been.  Then, as old folks like me are prone to do, I began to reminisce.  When I was at Hanover in the early 1980s, there was a fair amount of creativity.  Certainly the theater (now called theatre) was top-notch.  The music could hold its own.  Creative writing, well, we were okay… I guess… if you like incessant existential angst spewed across endless pages of bound journals.

But now, it seems they’ve dipped into the fortune amassed by President Horner and are recruiting many world-class students who may well become tops in their fields.

I’m jealous.   But hey, now Hanover looks great on my resume.

High Above a Stately River: The President Honors the Arts at Hanover College

Nestled high above the Ohio River rests Hanover, the oldest private college in Indiana.  It is still a lively place, particularly for the arts.  Many theater students under the tutelage of Tom “Doc” Evans, Mark Fearnow, and now Jim Stark, have gone on to make pretty good careers in acting, directing, and the like.  (One of them is a certain former bartender from “Cheers” who now hypes hemp and was once nominated for an Academy award for playing a porn hustler.)

Tonight (April 13), beginning at 7:30 p.m., in Fitzgibbon Recital Hall, Lynn Center for Fine Arts there will be a special event.  The President Honors the Arts features performances and works from Hanover’s top students in music, theater, creative writing, art and art history.  The price is right – it is free and open to the public.

Performances include –

The Hanover College Chamber Singers doing Keith Hampton’s “Praise His Holy Name!”

Featured selections from violinist Ellen Morganett (Bloomington, Ind.), soprano Autumn Barger (Clarksville, Ind.) and pianist Chen Wang (Renshou, China).

“The Everything Store,” a short play by sophomore Kayla Snabl (Huntington, Ind.). Directed by junior Brandon Derk (Evansville, Ind.), the cast features junior Gracie Taylor (Middletown, Ohio), freshman Josh Anderson (Centerville, Ohio) and freshman Shawn Franklin (Louisville, Ky.).

Kyle Hunteman (North Vernon, Ind.) presenting his senior thesis, “No Struggle, No Progess.” Through sculptures and video, Hunteman’s work shows the evolution of the figure demonstrating the importance of struggle in striving toward improvement.

Senior poet Dan McCormick (Cincinnati, Ohio) will read selections from his poems “Kenilworth Castle,” “The Globe Theatre,” “The Queen’s Head,” “The Carousel” and “Spencer (Sons of Cain).”

McCormick has written some of his poetry into songs and performed them on two collections – Devotions and Benches Beat Fences.  For a review of his song “Sandy and Creole”, see – “An Angelic Call; A Luminescent Fall…”   It tells the story of two passionate young woman – one plaintive, one playful –

Sandy says that best friends will never grow apart,

and she makes faces at the clouds.

She cuts pretty pictures out of magazines,

and if it rains we watch T.V. without a sound.

 

Creole fills her pockets with cigarettes and pills,

curing boredom with anything she can.

She says, “You can find your answer in the melody.

Forget the rest—it all means nothin’, man!”

 

And Sandy says she’s gonna be a star.

She says, “I’ve got this debutante thing down.”

Creole says, “I don’t care if I don’t have any money.”

And she sobers up and drives back into town.

 

Sandy gives me chewing gum and giggles all the time,

and we lay in circles in the grass.

She says we’re perfect just the way we are,

and she wonders how we can make the summer last.

 

Creole pulls my jacket off and takes me by the arm,

and we dance like feathers in the air.

I can see her busted up and smiling,

tumbled over with blood in her hair.

 

And Sandy says, “Tell me all your dreams.

Can’t you hear that sweet angelic call?”

Creole says, “God is dead, so let’s get drunk instead,

and we’ll celebrate our luminescent fall.”

 

It should be quite a performance.  I’m certainly looking forward to it.  It’ll be the first time I’ve been back on campus since Al Gore invented the Internet.  I’ll let you know how it goes.

Eight Thrifty Writing Posts on WordPress Today

winter scene

The air is brisk outside.  Ice-encrusted snow continues to make walking hazardous.  It’s been a good day to stay inside.  Listening to George Jones.  Leaning back on this electric recliner.  Being grateful I’m not out filling pot holes or patrolling city streets.

Instead, I’m reading blog posts on writing to share with you.    Here are some good ones you might want to check out.

30 Stories, Day 6: The Door” (The Read Room) offers a review of E.B. White’s “The Door”… “a wonderfully nonsensical story by a renowned grammar nazi!”

7 Lessons Learned From Blogging Every Day of 2012” (Next Practices) reveals some insights gained from a discipline of daily writing.

Thank you, George Washington” (My Teaching Portfolio) shares a class writing assignment and gives an example of one wondrous result.

She Was a Few of His Favorite Things” (charlottesville winter) responds to a writing prompt by celebrating and bemoaning the unrequited love of artist and muse.

“… and our hearts forever” (mothering spirit)  pays tribute to an alma mater – Notre Dame – a place to grow in faith and love as a person and as a writer.

The black in my blood” (Writer Michael Burge) describes one man’s ambivalent journey from the country to the city (and back again).

A Christian Writer’s Confession” (John Erik Patterson) points to the temptation “just below the surface” to lead a wild and reckless life (for which many artists become known).

May All Your Dreams Come True, with No Expiration Date” (Kaye Munroe Writes, Too) details the hard work of one artist realizing her dream of publishing a book.

(image “Ottawa Ontario Canada March 2011” from dugspr — Home for Good, some rights reserved)