On March 1, 2013, I launched my private foundation, Secret Singer-Songwriter Society (S4). Today, all ten songs—or better put, all ten amazing songs by ten amazing international singer-songwriters—are now online and available to listen to and download for as little as a buck and a quarter. The proceeds from the S4/Umoja Centre Project go towards promoting education and community development programs at the Umoja Centre in Arusha in northern Tanzania. Run by Australian Caroline Goody, the Umoja Centre provides education, training and empowerment to disadvantaged youths who want to return to school or enter into the workforce.
In April, the second phase of the 11-month fundraising campaign will kick in when I present the ten visual images created by ten artists who have each interpreted one of the ten songs in their own unique and colorful style. The images will be used on a variety of textile and paper merchandise such as t-shirts, limited edition posters, greeting cards, scarves and calendars, just to name a few.
Finally, On April first, a second initiative will get underway with the digital release of the first of ten songs for the S4/City Shine Project, in support of small, European-based foundation who work providing educational resources for young people in the Soweto slums of Nairobi, Kenya.
Please take a few moments and stop by the S4 website and just listen to what I’ve been up to.
If I’ve learned anything about going to a hair salon, it’s this: a hair stylist will look at the hair you have when you first arrive at the salon and base the first impression of how your hair looks at that moment in order to make an almost instantaneous decision of how they are going to cut and style your hair.
I’ve tested this theory many times and it holds true more often than not. I walk into a salon with my hair parted on the left and I walk out an hour later with my hair parted on the left; I walk in with my hair slicked back and, that’s right, it’s slicked back when I leave; and if it’s a tossed and tousled look that walks in, lo and behold I’ll be coming home with a gelled, hairsprayed, mussed up coif.
Cutting my hair is a challenge, even for the most skilled and experienced stylist. The major complication of cutting my hair is the fact that I have no less than six of the most unmanageable cowlicks (a world record perhaps!) and that my hair grows in two different directions on the two opposite sides of my head. Basically what we’re talking about is every hairstylist’s nightmare—cut it too short and the cowlicks stand up like Alfalfa from the Our Gang comedies, leave it too long and it becomes an unruly, chaotic pelt of bushy, wavy filamentous biomaterial that even Dippity-do couldn’t tame.
So when I walked into Headz For Hair in The Hague, a fairly nondescript hair salon that reminded me of a slightly more grown up version of the barber shops of my youth, I was greeted by a waifish blond wearing a metal-spiked leather jacket over a well-worn Roxy Music t-shirt with the double-headed Polish eagle crest on it, who asked if she could help me. I told her I wanted a haircut and asked what they charged and if they could take me without an appointment. Pascalle, as she was called, checked the appointment book and told me a men’s cut would cost 34 euros and that they could take me now if I wanted, which I did.
Pascalle took my jacket, offered me a drink (which I politely refused) and directed me to sit in a chair beneath a wash basin where she washed my hair with a chocolatey smelling shampoo, rinsed and dried it and escorted me to the middle of three barber chairs in the salon. When I asked who’d be cutting my hair, she smiled and said, “I will be!” as she proceeded to cover me with a black cutting cape and rubber neck collar.
Then the dreaded question arose: “So, how would you like it cut?”
This has been the 64,000 dollar question for nearly all of my adult life. And the answer? “How about like George Clooney. Or Johnny Depp.” Or, “here, I’ve got this photo I cut out of GQ and I want you to make me look like him.”
But I’ve never been able to get the haircut of my dreams, and I’ve come to realize it’s not because of my hair, it’s because of who’s wearing my hair. Me. It’s about something much more complex than unruly cowlicks or the direction in which ones hair grows. It’s more than mere indecision or trying to be trendy or even trying to preserve youth. The dilemma is quite simple once it can be carefully interpreted. A haircut is based on the individual, but what if the individual—let’s just say for argument’s sake—has more than one personality? Now I don’t mean the Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde kind of personality, I mean, take me for example: Three days a week I’m a stay at home father, caring for two toddlers, and sometimes, when my teenage children are around, my parenting duties double, so it’s quite common for me to be unshaven, uncombed and wearing my favorite sweatpants and red Crocs. Two days a week I teach professional English at a school for hotel and restaurant management where I am expected to show up for work kempt and professionally dressed. Finally, my artistic inclinations are equally as contrasting—writer, stand-up comedian, singer-songwriter—each alter ego possessing a unique persona requiring that certain look, that distinctive flair, dress sense and hairstyle.
So I looked at Pascalle in her black leather jacket and Roxy Music t-shirt, with her straight, long blond hair, pouty mouth and full lips, and I gazed around momentarily looking for some source of inspiration. “You know what,” I said. “I’m going to be fifty in just over a year’s time, and while I’d like to walk out of here looking as though I was twenty years younger and on my way to a solo performance at the Royal Albert Hall, the truth is that I just want to look like me, whoever it is you see in me and however your hands, scissors and creative notions wish to make me.”
With that, Pascalle reached for her electric clippers and inserted a number one guard over the blades and proceeded to completely shave the sides and back of my head nearly to the scalp, leaving little more than a shock of wavy brown hair set atop my skull that she ever so slightly puffed up and set with a palm full of molding wax.
I have to admit being a bit shocked at first, not thinking Pascalle would have the nerve to carve out such a radical design on my noggin, but I immediately understood the metamorphosis that had just taken place—my hair and I had finally become one, reunited after years of trying to figure out what each one had in mind, how one could cohabit with the other, share a peaceful, meaningful and fulfilling relationship while maintaining a semblance of unconventional originality and extraordinary sophistication (ehem, ehem).
I’ve been wearing my “Pascalle,” as I’ve named it, for just over a week now and I’ve had enough time to become familiar with its needs and peculiarities. I admit to spending more time in front of the mirror with this haircut than I have with any other in perhaps twenty years or more, but there’s something different I’ve observed in the mirror, a part of me I’ve long neglected and taken for granted, seen but not really appreciated for all its worth, and it’s much more than a haircut. It’s the lust for life that I’ve all but lost recently, lost because I’ve been out of touch with myself for so long, lost because I seem to have forgotten what it was in life that I aspired most to be. Or perhaps I haven’t forgotten at all and maybe that’s what lies at the root of my predicament—that I’ve never really aspired to be anything more than what I am today or who my hair declares me to be.
On February 22, 2011, inspired by a project started by Canadian writer and entrepreneur Samantha Reynolds in January of the same year, I began writing a single poem every single day of the week for just shy of a year. My Poem A Day Project was a challenging, fulfilling and enlightening endeavor that, during its 345 days, allowed me to explore in great depths the art of writing poetry as well as exploring the greater depths of my own existence, soul and sensibilities. When I began the poems I had no preconceptions about their subject matter or for how long I thought I’d be able to keep up my chops and write poems every day that I felt were worthy of asking others to read. After all, I’m a writer who likes to share, to contribute my thoughts and emotions to the collective human anthology of our common experience, to make my voice one that speaks for those voices who, for one reason or another, can not, or wish not to partake in the discourse that every living soul that has ever lived fostered through the mere occurrence of simply being.
To say that writing a poem a day was an easy task would be a lie. There were days when I felt uninspired and restless, others where I had purpose and clarity, and others still where my thoughts flowed as freely and effortlessly as a waterfall. But I also owe a great debt of gratitude to the dozen or so loyal readers who followed my poetic odyssey religiously day in and day out, and whose comments and support were the catalysts behind my will, passion and unwavering determination to create a work of literary substance that was equally as satisfying in producing as it was in sharing. And I can say in retrospect that it fulfilled both of those, for myself and, if I can be so brazen, those kind, patient and encouraging souls who so graciously and generously allowed me the privilege of sharing my work and a part of me with them.
On February 1, 2012, after nearly one year of writing a poem a day, I decided that I could no longer write with the same purpose and emotion that had taken me thus far on my journey. I also felt as though I was asking too much of my readers at times to endure the increasingly dark and personal nature of my writing. It was on that day that I discontinued the project. At least that’s what I thought and what I led others to believe.
But truth be told I wasn’t finished. I had, I thought, more to say, more to experience, and more to set free. So on the very next day, February 2, 2012, I continued my poem a day project, but archiving the poems in a secluded place on this very website, filed under an uncategorized folder with name of “Negative Capability” which was even further concealed by a large portrait of the English romantic poet John Keats (1795 – 1821), who used the term negative capability to discuss the state in which people are “capable of being in uncertainties, mysteries, doubts without any irritable reaching after fact and reason [being] content with half knowledge” where one trusts in the heart’s perceptions.
It was those very uncertainties and doubts which inspired me to continue writing until I found within myself the means to stop and to look at my work as a poet as something that I would like to put behind me, to say that my life as a poet could simply no longer sustain the deeper desires I held within the pit of my bosom to become a writer of greater breadth, substance and achievement. The final poem in this collection was written on April 23, 2012.
In a way, I am hoping that these will be the last poems I ever write, and that whatever paths my literary wanderings take me along will be replete with words and wonders and all the delights and dauntless valor that real writers are made of.
It is in Keats’ honor that I name this collection of poetry and to who I dedicate this work. And it is to my children to whom I leave these verses bearing witness to the love, fear, passion, curiosity and hope with which I have tried to live every day of my life.
Onwards and upwards!
I began the month of April revved up and committed to writing my first screenplay for this year’s Script Frenzy having decided to adapt my new novel, “A River Runs Wild” for the big screen. While never having written a screenplay, I felt that I got off to a good, albeit slow, start once I got the hang of the specialized format (completely different to writing plays, which I have been doing for more than 30 years!), and was able to focus on translating my story from paragraphs into dialogue and concrete actions. But the first five days brought little fruits as I was only able to manage writing a total of four pages (four pages per day is the recommended pace to end up with a 100-page screenplay at month’s end).
On day six, my older children arrived from Spain to spend their spring break here in The Netherlands with Wendy, the girls and me so it became even more challenging finding time to set aside for writing. Then on day eight, each and every one of my family members, myself included, came down with gastroenteritis which had us all bedridden, weak and unable to do much more than sip tea and wait patiently in line outside of the bathroom door.
On day ten, when I should have had penned more than 40 pages, I decided to give up on “A River Runs Wild” and start from scratch with a new screenplay. Well, not exactly new as it was the original idea I had wanted to write for Script Frenzy but changed my mind at the last minute. So on day 10 I began a completely new screenplay, whose working title was “Bella,” and was a suspense drama about a toddler kidnapped from a train when her father falls ill. I only managed to get five or six pages done on this when on day 15 I realized that any hopes I had for completing the screenplay by month’s end had all but evaporated, and rather than continuing knowing I probably wouldn’t finish on time, I made the decision to stop and withdraw from this years’s Script Frenzy.
But by no means does the story end there.
This experience, like all experiences, serves to teach many valuable lessons, both about creativity and life, and those lessons are that we can’t always have total control over either. But there’s another valuable lesson here and that is that failure is not a finite or permanent thing. Failure is just one step in the long process we undertake towards achieving success. Failure is the fertilizer that helps our endeavors to grow, and without failure there simply would be no success. My playwriting teacher at DePaul University, Ron Mark, taught me that. He used to tell us that it’s just as important to write the bad stuff—the shit, as he so eloquently put it—because that’s what fertilizes the good stuff that’s waiting for the ideal conditions before it sprouts up.
So while I’m pulling out of this year’s Script Frenzy, I refuse to look at it as a total failure. On the one hand I’ve discovered that I can indeed write a screenplay and have a couple of good ideas to pursue, and on the other, this failure is just one of many I’m certain to encounter on this new journey of screenwriting, and coupled with the scores of creative failures proudly displayed on my literary mantle-place, this one will be in good company.
And finally, as the dust of failure settles around me, I am pleased to say that I have begun two new writing projects, a short story that will be tilted “Shallow Water,” and a play called “Devoted,” that I will work diligently to complete in short order.
Onwards and upwards!
I’ve been battling beards since those first unruly whiskers budded out from beneath my nose and upon my chinny chin chin as I was doubly cursed with not only a course beard nearly impossible to shave with anything but a Black & Decker power saw, but skin as sensitive as a baby’s diaper-rashed tuchus.
I started shaving clandestinely at fourteen, locked in my parent’s bathroom with a can of Barbasol and my dad’s cool razor blade razor that as you twisted the base, the two top halves that protected the blade rose in tandem like the Michigan Avenue bridge. I also have many fond memories of the other two men in my life—my maternal grandfather and great-grandfather—who shaved with blades and an electric shaver respectively. Grandpa didn’t have much facial hair and his morning shave was over before it even began while my great-grandfather would spend a little more time in front of the mirror in our apartment’s only bathroom.
When I first started shaving, my grandfather bought me what was then the top of the line Norelco electric shaver, the kind with three floating heads. I used it for a few months and while it gave me a pretty good close shave on my cheeks, it ripped my chin and neck to shreds, leaving my skin badly burned and irritated. Since then I have gone back to try electric shavers at least a dozen times with as many different brands and models—from a ten dollar battery-operated job to a high end Braun that, had it not been for their 30-day money back trial, would have set me back a small fortune—all having the same result of being unable to manage my wiry beard.
My remedy throughout the years has been simply trying to avoid shaving every day, which I’ve surprisingly managed to have pulled off as my five o’clock shadow (two thirty shadow in my case) suits me fairly well in a way similar to Don Johnson’s or George Michael’s as opposed to a skid row bum’s (no offence to skid row bums). And when you’re self-employed, un-employed or a stay at home father (I’ve cornered the market on all three over the years) you can easily afford the luxury of simply not shaving. For days. Weeks even.
I’ve never been fond of facial hair, not mine or anyone else’s. I’ve admired a few beards over the years—actor Brad Pitt’s full face fuzz, major league pitcher Brian Wilson’s black foliage and the flowing beard of Matisyahu, the Orthodox Jewish-American reggae singer who I believe has just recently rid himself of his trademark Chassidic beard, mustache and side locks. And if it were an option to be permanently clean-shaven, I’d probably opt for it and dispose of every razor and shaving product that is crammed into my medicine cabinet.
I read once that many men who wear beards have deep-rooted psychological issues and that their beards serve as masks which they hide their emotional excesses behind. Perhaps that’s why there hasn’t been an American president since William Howard Taft sported his bushy handlebar mustache to wear facial hair in the White House. Some say it’s the reason that side burned mustachioed Jesse Jackson was unsuccessful in his bids for the U.S.’s top political office.
I can half subscribe to the idea of men wearing beards to hide behind—and for as many reasons as one can imagine—but then again there are as many reasons men wear beards in the first place as there are different types of beards, the chin to upper lip Van Dyke, circle beard or doorknocker as it’s sometimes called; the goatee, Garibaldi and Donegal, the Verdi and the nearly microscopic soul patch.
Beards can be as unique as the men who wear them, but if these hair masks do indeed conceal some deep, dark inner workings of a man’s psyche, can we, in turn, justify just a tad of mistrust in these relics of the Pleistocene Age. It also pays to point out that God, Jesus, Mohammed, even Satan himself, are often depicted wearing some form of facial hair or another.
Whether or not I’m trying to conceal any psychological traumas or emotional baggage, can’t hide the fact that I haven’t shaved my face since the final week of 2011, the day I told my children—half in jest—that I wouldn’t shave or cut my hair until I secured a book and or movie deal for my first novel that I had completed writing a few weeks earlier.
So here I am at the beginning of February with an unmanageable head of hair and a growing beard that is so spikey and sharp I’m convinced it could cut crystal or a tin can like a Ginsu knife. It’s not the first beard I’ve worn, but it’s nearing the longest my face has ever been fully covered in barb and it looks as though I might be in it for the long run. Or at least until I sign that big book deal.
Someone asked me what would happen if I didn’t get a book deal, if that would mean I would remain forevermore bushy faced and long-haired. In my eternal optimism I hadn’t really considered never shaving or cutting my hair again as an option, but the more I think about it, the more I like the idea of setting these seemingly impossible goals for myself with consequences that are as unusual as the idea of wearing facial hair in the first place. And while I imagine biology having a pretty good reason for men to sprout this gruff in the first place, to protect the face, ward off enemies, attract the opposite sex, I like to think that beards were invented so that baseball players—and would-be novelists—could wear their victory beards until they brought home their World Series rings or that fat six-figure advance from the publishing company. Either way, it looks like my victory beard’s going to be around for a while but I’m prepared to look at myself each morning in the mirror as long as the face I see behind the mask remains my own.
And so it comes to pass
that on a frosty winter’s
night my love for these
words cease to enlighten
me that I rest my quill in
it’s inkwell forevermore
And like the bent lily
knowing it will soon die
remains a thing of beauty
the words my heart utter
no longer have meaning
but will always persevere
awakening anew with the
warming thaw of spring
For poetry, like a flower,
meant to revive the spirit,
is only a transient affair
it is there to remind us of
the wonders and fragility
of a life that is at its very
best so little understood
In the end, I would rather
be remembered simply as
a mediocre novelist than
as a poet whose failures
and folly were exhumed
in every line he ever wrote.
For Samantha Reynolds
si finis bonus est, totum bonum erit