Meeting a Musician

I had the great privilege to sit and talk music with a friend and fellow musician. He’s a professional performing artist, with a big heart and an astute instinct for music.

We had planned a jam, but it turned into an impromptu guitar lesson since there was only one guitar between us. I played him a blues song I am working on. The way he critiqued the arrangement and my technique gave me a deep insight into his personality and philosophy on music.

He didn’t say it was shit. Even though it was really! He took my focus off the value judgment and helped me looked at the opportunities to improve my technique. He explained the difference between concert (standard) and open chord tuning. And then he showed me why. He tuned down to an open D chord and started to noodle.

It was a sublime, defining moment in my life. I saw the guitar in a completely new way. It was like a new universe opened up to me. No longer was the guitar a jail of chord changes. It was an open meadow of licks, riffs, and droning bass lines. I finally understood how the Delta blues masters were able to create so much with their guitars.

He made it feel like it was possible. It is common to be spoken to in a condescending manner, that you’ll never make it because you don’t have “it”. He did no such thing. He showed me the ropes, what I had to keep in mind, and what I had to work on.

One particular passing comment stuck with me: “It takes years to get to their level… or months if you work hard.” That second part he said with a glint in his eye and a knowing smirk. The comment lit a fire in my belly. I could be like Son House or Robert Johnson if I play and practice every day.

He gave me a place from which to start and something to practice. I had watched YouTube videos on the 12-bar blues, but this made more sense because he placed it with the context of songwriting. It wasn’t just another thing to practice because you’re supposed to. He broke down the 12-bar blues and helped me remember the positions by using the dots on the neck as a reference.

For years, blues guitar and songwriting has felt like some distant alchemy I’ll never figure out. I resigned to the fact that I’ll only write primitive arrangements and compensate with more emotion in my singing. Seems that that is changing now!

Dear Bella: 2019

My grandmother slept in Christ in the early hours of the morning on December 26th, 2006. I wasn’t with her during her final moments in the body. There was no goodbye and there was no time to transition from her with us to her not.


Her memory has faded over the last year. Once a regular patron in my dreams, I see her less often and think of her less.
Yet, she’s alive. And present. 

She’s present during certain meals. I can still taste the ghee, the garlic, see her wooden spatula move as I make scrambled eggs. I can hear her as I bite through potatoes baked under glistening chicken. People can live inside those kind of memories. I express this sentiments less, thinking that they have no purpose or meaning. But they do. They keep the person alive. They don’t allow the memories to fade. So, I’ll express these out loud next year.
Whenever I experienced biting loneliness or choking sadness, I used to dream of her. In the last three years, this has happened less and when it has, she appears as an image rather than a person. It’s almost like a figure in a diorama rather than a person. That sudden sinking feeling, followed by a flushing of cold water in my stomach, doesn’t happen anymore. She shows up and then disappears a few seconds later.


I still visit her apartment in my dreams. It has no furniture, no icons of the saints, and there are no lights except over the door into her bedroom. It is dark. The balcony door has been shuttered. It is a grotty, cold bedroom. In one dream, I ran back and forth between the bedroom and the kitchen, looking for her. In another, I tried crashing through the shuttered balcony door and I ended up being thrown off the curb by unknown hands. In another, I walked out from the bedroom into the dining room, finding myself in a makeshift morgue, covered in white marble with blue streaks. Then, I got locked out and found myself on another floor of an unknown building.


I was in Cairo in September and I didn’t visit her apartment. Last time I was there, I felt bigger than the bedroom. Everything seems dwarfed and cold. My memories of her and that place are enjoined to me, only as a child. So, I will return there during every visit and make new memories as an adult. I’ll sit on the bed and eat on the wooden table that was kept behind her bed. I’ll make new memories in the apartment, to chase away the cold dreams and nightmares.


I am growing up. I don’t need her, to keep me together in my thoughts and dreams as I used to. She was safety, comfort, and home. She was a secret stash of liquor in my dreams when I couldn’t handle waking life.
Recently, my mother gave me her engagement ring as an heirloom and I now wear it around my neck.
Pray for us, Bella.


The film I made about her last year: 

Let Offensive Films Live

Many of my Christian siblings are up in arms this week about The First Temptation of Christ, the satirical comedy on Netflix. I have seen the petition to have it removed, being circulated on social media. And I have seen many express their dissent by cancelling their accounts on the streaming platform. 

Although I haven’t seen the film yet, it seems to be in the same spirit as Jesus Christ Superstar, Life of Brian, Dogma, and The Last Temptation of Christ

It won’t be the first. What does this mean? It means that there is an entire cinematic tradition of films mocking Christ or Christianity or the church. The tradition doesn’t seem like it will be upended any time soon. Christians haven’t stopped going to church because of them. Christ hasn’t appeared to avenge himself or punish anyone. And filmmakers haven’t stopped making them. But every now and then, some of us are riled up and feel the need to attack those who make these films.  

I don’t want these films to stop being made and screened. I want to allow them to exist and I won’t personally be boycotting them. My only reaction to this film, or any other, is that which I think is proportional to any work of art that I don’t enjoy or not; I just don’t watch it. And I allow it to live. 

The film is free speech. One definition of freedom of speech is the “right to express opinions without government restraint.” In these precarious times, I would add to that that it is also the right to express opinions without the restraint of others, even if it offends many. We don’t think we’re doing this when we react so strongly to opinions like the film in question, but that is essentially what we’re doing. By withdrawing our economic support for Netflix and boycotting the film, we are saying to ourselves and others, this opinion is so dangerous to me that I want it to be silenced and put to death immediately. It cannot exist anymore. It should not exist. I have decided that this opinion should not exist. All of this is happening because some are offended by this film. Then, what will you do when the next film that mocks Christ, is released? Will you do the same again? You will restrain another opinion just because you are offended by it? 

We seem to be prioritizing people being offended over opinions over art being voiced. The restraint by both government and society, whomever is holding economic or political power, is enough to make all ideas absolutely homogenous or totally forgettable. So, it’s better that we just let opinions exist. Why is it so scary to you that an opinion offends you? Let all opinions live and thrive, and then die when it’s their time to die. But we’re arresting the circle of life of opinions by killing it out with our outrage, our weapon of choice these days. You may then argue, well if I choose to boycott this film, it is also my freedom of speech. But it is surely not an opinion then. You are mobilizing your freedom of speech with action – in this case, outrage. You are not then expressing an opinion, you’re going into action. You are doing something, rather than just saying something. So, when you boycott this film, you are not expressing an opinion. You are just restraining another opinion. 

The film is a work of art. The subject of the work of the art doesn’t invalidate that and I think it’s incredibly dangerous to dismiss art because it offends and mocks, even the most sacred to many people. If we stop to restrain all works of art because they offend you, then soon all art may end up looking the same. 

So you may be thinking, well how about the Charlie Hebdo cartoons about the Prophet Mohammed? I maintain the same line about those, too. Those cartoons are works of art. I didn’t think they were particularly interesting or novel, but they are works of art nonetheless. And they need to be protected. It is important that they are protected because I would want the same standard upheld for me as an artist.  

I see myself as a full human being. I have consciousness and a mind. I have the ability to dream, imagine, day dream, and create. I believe that these faculties are part of me being human. As an Orthodox Christian, God has these in his image, I have received them from being in his likeness. He is the creator and I can be creative like him. I can create from what exists, He can create from void. Void here is absolute nothingness. The closest I can get to this is by writing because something I can’t access with my senses can be moulded into the words you’re seeing on the screen now. So, art seems to be in my very nature as a human being. 

I can create, in the loose sense I have just described, whatever I want. It can be tempered by my beliefs or sensibilities or convictions. But should I remove all of them, I can just bring forth something. Whether it will be effective or not, convincing or not, powerful or not, loved or decried, it’s art. Art will challenge, will make you uncomfortable, will question, will distort maim or mock because the function of art is to see, to first see and then capture it with the medium of choice. Telling someone that what they see offends you is like saying to them your eyes don’t work. No, their eyes work just fine, just like yours. But they see what you don’t see. 

Art should not be subject to your tastes. Art is not moral and should not be moral. The Chinese-Belgian philosopher Han Suyin says that moralists have no place in an art gallery. A few of us are morally outraged by this film and thus want it to be silenced. We seem to be content or indifferent about most other art, as long as it is inert or illustrative or simply aesthetically pleasing. Art can teach or illustrate or be pedagogical. But the art you will remember is the art that jarred you. For me, it’s Saturn Devouring His Son by Goya and Vampire by Munch. Art has to be free of sensibilities, morality, and good taste so that it can see. The minute it is hindered, it is no longer art and it is just a message. art can have a message, but it’s best when it’s just a captured feeling, a vision, a moment.  

So, The First Temptation of Christ is just an opinion, a work of art, and a moment. The creators of the film have created some art that you don’t seem to like or agree with. As artists, they are free to create the art they want. If this moment injures Christ so much, then Christ isn’t the all-powerful son of God, the second person of the Holy Trinity that I believe and hold he is. He is then a weak demigod who is perturbed by people. That doesn’t sound like him. 

This then begs two questions. Firstly, what kind of Christ do you believe in? Is he a weak, neurotic demigod, requiring of us tireless and continual defense or else he will visit us with his wrath? Or, is he the Christ that bore our afflictions and suffered, from the day he took flesh?  Christ is being tainted and affronted. But does he need our defense? Did he need it on earth? Does he need it now? The passion of christ on earth wasn’t just on the cross, it was from birth to death carrying all of our infirmities and withstanding all pain until the end. his suffering is over. he is not suffering now. His church is suffering and we are his body. You will argue that someone is attacking the head, so the body is hurting too. I could  concede that, but does that mean that we become like the world and simply fight back with outrage? Is that the only response we have in us these days?

We’re people of the Scriptures. So, let’s look in scripture, in the crucifixion narrative. Christ was mocked. Did he retaliate? 

I couldn’t find anything in the Acts of the Apostles, where the apostles retaliated with their money or outrage because Christ was mocked. There is this one verse though 17: 32, where some mocked the resurrection after Paul was preaching in Athens. What did Paul do? 

He left. He didn’t engage. He moved on.

I challenge you. Find a verse in the entire scriptures where God says, “Defend me [when they insult or mock or make caricatures of me].”

In closing, I won’t be supporting the ban of the film because it is an opinion, a work of art, and Christ will remain Lord and Saviour, no matter how many films are made about him. 

… Except When No One Did Co-opt International Men’s Day

I haven’t been at peace with what I wrote since two friends commented and explained what International Men’s Day was about.

I made a deal with myself yesterday that with whatever I wrote, I wouldn’t retract, delete, or edit it if there would be any kind of response. I would also not change the privacy settings of the post. I would take the flak for anything I wrote – even the flak from Scranton, the resident critic in my head. So, I kept my promise and didn’t do any of that.

Thank you for the gracious, positive, and calm responses to an assholic and arrogant piece. I appreciate and value them.

After reflecting on this last night and today, three uncomfortable points became clear to me.

I could have found out what the day was about after 1.5 seconds of a Google search.

There have been moments and times where some men shout louder than others, to complain about their perceived loss of power in a world that affords some of us all power. But yesterday was not one of those moments.

And finally, International Men’s Day was instituted for men like… me. I wrote last year before about my struggle about mental health, depression, and suicide. So, instead of using last night’s post to declare solidarity and talk about it from my experience, I used it to rant at an unspecified, non-existent “enemy”.

I messed up, I got it wrong, and there is no excuse.

If you’re a man who needed International Men’s Day yesterday, I hope you got to be a strong, resilient man who can talk about his struggles with people who understand and can hold space for you. If you’re the wife or partner to a man who needed it yesterday, God bless you for expressing your love for them.

A brief and final belated message about yesterday. Jay Z said that what you reveal, you heal. So, whatever struggle, pain, addiction, bondage, or darkness you carry, its power will be diminished if you just tell someone because its real size becomes apparent when it’s revealed. It’s not that behemoth you imagined; it’s just a dark turd that has been festering in a badly lit room, playing hand puppets against the walls.

Just tell someone, “I’m struggling. Would you listen?” Pick someone who cares and is good at listening. And then just let it out.

Then, you’ll be able to find some courage inside to get the help you need.

Happy Belated International Men’s Day. You’ll get through it because you’re not alone.

This was originally posted two days on my Facebook account and has been edited slightly.

A Rant about Co-opting International Men’s Day

I’ve been told that today is International Men’s Day. Remarks:

  1. Men don’t need International Men’s Day.
  2. How is it different from any other day?
  3. I hereby boycott this day and if you’re celebrating it today, you’re a very silly boy.

Please don’t celebrate this blatantly nonsensical and unnecessary day.

… unless you’re willing to try out the following suggestions.

A Proposed Way to Celebrate International Men’s Day

1) The next time a guy physically assaults or catcalls a woman, either in front of you or he tells you, don’t laugh. Don’t snigger. Don’t stay silent. Call him out. And suffer the social consequences.

2) The next time someone makes a rape joke online or in front of you, don’t laugh. Don’t tweet about it. Be silent and then call him out. And suffer the social consequences.

3) The next time you see a woman being verbally assaulted online by a guy, jump in and shut him up. Or at least call him out. And suffer the social consequences.

4) The next time someone makes blatant or veiled sexist jokes or comments about women, don’t join in the har-har. Be silent and then make a call whether you will call him out today or do it later. But do it someday. And suffer the social consequences.

This is only a start and this is by no means the only things men can do. But this is a start, an uncomfortable start, an unpopular start.

If you do any or all of the above, congratulations. You’re celebrating “International Men’s Day”. You know what it’s called? Basic human decency. It could be the tagline for this “day” – “International Men’s Day. Basic human decency!” If you suffer consequences because of any of this, congratulations. You’re celebrating “International Men’s Day”. If there is going to be a day in the year where men do things that other men find objectionable, and then they receive 𝑛𝑜 recognition for it, let it be this day.

Now, celebrate this “day” and don’t tell anyone, especially women, that you did any of the above. Just do it and shut up.

Otherwise, if you want to eat a steak and grab your dingus while you rail about how “women are taking over”, you are in fact truly, madly, deeply sick.

This was posted originally on my Facebook account three days ago.

Liking One Person and Liking Them Intensely

We’ve been on two dates. My feelings don’t correspond to where we are in the development of our contact. At this point, it’s a burgenoning contact, nothing more. But my feelings are intense.

She’s shorter than me, with stark blue eyes, straight black hair, a calm assurance to her voice, and pale skin. She’s soft-edged and kind, against a backdrop of strength, resilience, and integrity. She’s intelligent, political, and spiritual. And when she hugs me, the warmth emanating from her body throws me off. Her body seems to open up in a vulnerable, but sensual way, as if she is acquiescing to the embrace, in a moment of trust, knowing that she will pull away when she wants.

It’s also been a while since I’ve felt a bodily charge from a hug. I haven’t felt a woman’s body heat in a long time. Most hugs are side hugs or standard Stockholm shell hugs – where the form of a hug is present, but it’s about as personal as being ghosted.

I became emotional on the tunnelbana platform on the way home on Sunday. The overwhelming nature of intense feelings for one person stayed with me for a while. My heart and mind have already raced ahead and that’s alright. I woke up yesterday and today, missing her. Missing her, knowing that I will see her in a month, but feeling like a month is too long. My mind seems to be at the station after dating and before a more solid relationship – the spontaneity of wanting to see each other at a moment’s notice, wanting to share everything or anything that reminds you of her. It’s an intense place to be in when it’s this early in the process.

We kept on finding ways to connect, to share embarrassing secrets that weren’t intimate or private, activities and interests we shared. The hopeful in me sees in it more opportunities to do things and more opportunities to meet, while the rational in me tempers those expectations and looks at it as signs of a healthy friendship being forged over a quiet flame.

The twist is that I haven’t been on a third date in three years. The last same-city contact ended really after the first date, despite several futile attempts in extra-time. And it’s the first person this year, whom I like, that lives in the city and doesn’t require extensive planning to meet them.The last year’s attempts have been with unavailable women or women overseas. And the first date didn’t accelerate in any direction. It was just a first date. The simplicity and normalcy of the first date accelerated the intensity of the experience in me!

So here I am, looking forward to some time after Gregorian-calendar Christmas, for a third date with her, with the emotional intensity of 20 dates. And I just accept it. I have no idea if she feels or thinks the same way; I find it beneficial to maintain that given it’s this early.

I haven’t like one person and liked them only intensely in many years. I say it like that because it’s obviously earth-shattering that people like lots of people a lot and date them all. I was like that, too. And I took it even further. The experience of liking only one person intensely is a fearful one. How can one person make me feel this strongly? Old temptations have been coming up over the past few days, to decrease the fear of the intensity, but I haven’t given in. The intensity of liking one person is only intense for a little while, and then it just stays there in your stomach as knowledge, like a glowing ball. Then it doesn’t hurt or burden or bother you. It’s you carrying that person with you.

When my mind starts planning the future, I tell myself that it’s just been two dates. When my mind starts dissecting the two dates, looking for clues that she likes me she likes me not, I tell myself that it’s just been two dates. When my mind starts questioning the intensity and suggesting I weaken the intensity by throwing in another glowing ball, I say resolutely no.

I like her. I like her only. And I like her intensely.

Inside A Bitter Artist There May Be A Basic Person

It’s strange to be writing again. It’s strange to be doing anything creative again. It’s strange being a producer, rather than a consumer, a consumer of whatever is out there, whatever is interesting, funny, shocking, outrageous, rather than producing something with any of those qualities.

Producer versus consumer, creator versus commentator, maker versus aggregator, it seemed inconceivable to me over the years to have been the latter in these binaries. I am an artist! I am a creative! I live on a higher plane than others, I said to myself. I don’t have to show up when I consume. I don’t have to know the full story to be a commentator. I don’t have to develop my craft to be an aggregator. Basic powers of cognitive ability and pattern recognition (this makes me angry, this seems to be popular with others) is needed to be the latters.

Credit: Tiberio Gracco

I have changed over the years, ever since the writing of the very first blog post on Blogger. (I’m sure you can find it here in the archives.) Back then, I was a tortured “artist” – being very tortured and producing very little art, except in short and intense spurts. Now, I am a “frustrated” “artist” – not frustrated and not making art. I have however identified too deeply with that frustration such that that frustration has become me. The frustration has solidified into bitterness. It could be possible to find an object of my bitterness, but that would be dishonest. There is no object of my bitterness or frustration, there is no deep existential unease, and I am at peace with myself. But it’s like the smell of shit in a clean bathroom. It stays for a while. And you can’t ignore it unless you’re lazy or delusional.

The truth is that I find it hard to read a book, to sit down and listen to a piece of music, without it intuitively being pushed to a background activity, while I pick up my phone to do something else. Even if it’s just to stare at the Home screen. I find it hard to watch TV. I find it hard to read a magazine or just sitting down with a musical instrument to jam a little bit. Writing is hard. Even journalling parts of ideas or random thoughts seems the last possible choice when I have some downtime because my hands instinctively go to my phone. I wake up and fall asleep to the sight of books, CDs, vinyls, and DVDS, sitting quietly while they gather dust. My apartment has become a museum to and for a person who doesn’t really exist anymore – or is a fugitive in a new, unexpected existence.

I am not even bitter like I used to be! I am growing in inner peace and serenity by the day. But it has come at the cost of long years of artistic malnourishment. Nobody can grow on occasional injections of essential vitamins and minerals. I just want to sit on TikTok or YouTube, or scroll through social media, or watch endless streams of videos on Facebook Watch. I have become that person I decried many years ago.

It feels like I am a basic person who has been hiding in a fossil. Maybe I was artistic before and the years in the fossil ate away at me.

Epilogue: The Woman From the Poem

I wrote last month about the woman from the poem. This is where I ended off:

We reconnected recently. She explained. I apologized. And I told her about the poem. And when I found it here on my Medium, I sent it to her.

I’m back on that stage, with one person in the audience. She’s still reading my performance.

And I’m waiting for her to walk out silently or talk to me after the show.

… and this is what happened. She responded. She loved the poem. We bonded over words and IMs. We shared music. We had pillow-talk, where I imagined her voice reading out her messages first thing in the morning. It escalated. Then, it ended. Because of her partner. Like last time, she disappeared.

I cried and grieved for days. And then it was over. Behind me.

Sharing a Poem with the Person You Wrote It For

Credit: PhotoAtelier (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/)

I wrote my poem Don’t Slay Me four years ago, in one sitting, with no editing or drafts.

Message me tonight
Tell me that you can’t do it
because I want to tell you
That there’s a riot going on in my heart

voices hoarse because of you
my heart sore because there’s no you
bringing peace to the disorder

I dream about moving hair away from your eyes
I want to look into them
and see where my place is in them

You told me to surrender
and I have
I have acquiesced to you, the impostor
You may come now into this old hardened castle
with rotten moats and dying doors

Don’t slay me unless you’re going to kiss me
Don’t end me unless you will fall into my arms to celebrate
Don’t smother me unless you will pour sex into my pores
Don’t bury me unless you carve your bed into my chest

I was in love with the woman for whom I wrote this poem, in a way that disarmed me and left me vulnerable, as if naked on stage and I had no plans to be on that stage.

There are a few strong strains of emotion in this poem that haven’t come up in my other work. The direct and open longing for someone, is not something I had expressed in a while. I thought that that type of quiet pleading was something I left behind with the adolescent poems from high school. But, this wasn’t adolescent. This was adult and this was direct, “don’t slay me/don’t end me/don’t bury me”.

Then, there is the direct mention of sex. I have a strained relationship with sex and sexuality. I talk about it in hushed tones and sing about it with bravado. That shows the tension, I suppose. But here, I say to her very openly, that sex is between us. Or, that’s what I want. Wanted. If anything, this poem is a step towards being sexual with someone else, to express a sexual desire.

Finally, there’s the call to action that perhaps is the product of the first two characteristics. Love me. Touch me. Be with me. Don’t slay me. Kiss me. Don’t kill me. That is intimacy and that is confidence, two things I haven’t allowed myself to have in relationships.

I met this woman, and our conversations developed into a thick cloud of desire and longing. We went on one date. And then it ended. She withdrew.

We reconnected recently. She explained. I apologized. And I told her about the poem. And when I found it here on my Medium, I sent it to her.

I’m back on that stage, with one person in the audience. She’s still reading my performance.

And I’m waiting for her to walk out silently or talk to me after the show.