Things I Learned from R. B. (June 14th, 2020)

Jonathots Daily Blog

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Episode 19

It came in the mail.

I was very surprised.

I had never received anything postal from R. B., even though there were times we’d been separated for years. Not one letter or birthday card had ever come my way.

I didn’t expect it. He was a single guy, singularly focused on his own efforts.

So that’s why I was so bewildered by the arrival of this big, fat envelope. It was normal business-sized—but stuffed to the edges, nearly ready to burst its seal.

I opened it and pulled out what ended up being, after careful count, sixteen yellow legal-size pages, with R. B.’s scrawlings and notes.

At first, I could not identify what I was holding in my hands. Then I concluded that he had sent me a play, formatted in his own imagination.

It was entitled “The Reveal.”

A quick look-over told me there were three characters: Robbie, Papa and Len.

I found a quiet place, sat down and started to read. I don’t know whether I was preoccupied or tired, but I found it difficult to get through the entire piece. Finally, after two or three attempts throughout the evening, I finished it.

It was a rather simple story, about a young fellow who wanted to join the Boy Scouts. So he came to his father, who was a very austere man, and asked if it was okay. His brother, Len, came along, hoping that if Robbie was allowed to join, maybe he could be included.

The response from their Papa was very unusual. He began to pontificate about how difficult it was to be a young woodsman, and that if Robbie wanted to be a Scout, he would have to be tough.

At this point the piece took a bizarre turn. Papa asked Len, who was sitting and listening, to come over and punch Robbie in the stomach as hard as he could. Len was resistant and Robbie was startled. So when Robbie objected, his father scolded him on the dangers of disobedience—and how being a Boy Scout required him to always be prepared.

Even though Len did not want to punch Robbie in the stomach, at the father’s insistence, he did—once, twice—a total of four times. Robbie winced, buckled and finally cried out in pain, causing Papa to shake his head in disgust.

Then the patriarch asked Robbie to punch Len in the belly, but Robbie was unwilling to do it. Len seemed glad, but was concerned that if Robbie failed, there would be no Boy Scouts.

The father harangued them both, challenging their manhood in its boyhood form.

When I reached this point in the story, the writing stopped. Inserted were the words, “To be continued…”

Attached to the little play was a note:

“Jon, I know you put on plays for people. Would you help me put this one on?”

I had no idea what to think.

I was impressed that R. B. had found an envelope and managed to stuff the pages in. I didn’t want to say no. I also didn’t want to say yes—especially since R. B. had run out of money, was living on credit cards and certainly required a job.

The next morning the phone rang, and it was R. B. He wanted to know if I had received the package and what I thought about the play. I asked him what he wanted me to do with it.

R. B. matter-of-factly responded, “Produce it.”

My mind went haywire. I thought of a hundred things I needed to say to him about plays, productions, actors, theaters and advertising, but everything was so negative—and I just didn’t feel like throwing water on the only fire I had seen in him for months.

I agreed.

I agreed to do it.

I even agreed to fund it.

I told myself the only reason I would even consider being agreeable to it was that I knew it would never happen.

I did question why the play was incomplete. He said he would have the rest of it finished by the time it premiered.

I couldn’t help myself. I chuckled.

R. B. actually advertised for actors.

He held auditions. He picked two people to play the brothers, and he decided to play the papa himself.

He scheduled a table reading and brought about seven extra pages, continuing the story, though it was still not done. He made it through the table reading without directing the volunteer actors too much on what he expected them to do.

He even went out and found one of the old warehouses in Nashville which they had begun to transform into little theaters for productions just like “The Reveal.”

Matter of fact, R. B. got all the way to the fourth rehearsal. He hit two problems:

The actors had learned all he had written and needed more pages, which he was unable to supply.

But worse—the young man playing the part of Len started offering opinions on stage direction, and even some suggestions on the structure of the lines.

I was there, sitting in an advisory position (a name R. B. had come up with for my non-involvement involvement).

The conversation became heated. I wanted to interfere, but two parts of me refrained.

First was the promise I had made—to be solely an observer. And second—well, second was that I didn’t care enough to want to see the whole thing come to fruition.

But there, before my eyes, R. B. ran the gamut of his emotions.

First, he was calm.

Then he was offended.

Next, he was angry.

And at length, he was nasty.

The young man finally grew tired of spitting at the brick wall of R. B.’s resistance. He walked out. This scared the other actor, who explained that he was not accustomed to such conversational brutality.

R. B. made fun of his weakness—and in doing so, caused the young gentleman to quit.

Remaining in the room were R. B. and myself.

He looked over at me for comfort, support and a bolstering “attaboy” for standing his ground.

I found a chip in a nearby floorboard and stared at it silently, waiting for the moment to pass. After a while, R. B. rose, apologized and left.

I never heard another word about the event or the play. I never knew how it ended. The subject was just dropped.

About four months later, when I worked up the nerve to ask him about the experience, he stared at me as if he didn’t even know what I was talking about.

I did not pursue it.

For some reason, this little manuscript was written but would never be produced.

The importance of it lay deep in the soul of R. B., who apparently was still trying to overcome his father…and that punch in the gut.

 

Reverend Meningsbee (Part 42) Rest Stop … February 19th, 2017

 Jonathots Daily Blog

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Reverend Meningsbee

2.3 miles east of Garsonville, on an old country road, was an abandoned roadside rest–long forgotten and unattended, with a broken picnic table, a dry pump and an eroded sign which had once explained the origins.

Over the past two months, every single week, Reverend Meningsbee made his way to that spot before attending church, to take ten or fifteen minutes, just to “get decent.”

Getting decent meant freeing himself of all the hardships, prejudice, bruised ego, disappointments and frustrations of the week, lest he arrive in front of the congregation and pour out his misgivings instead of sharing a parcel of hope.

It had been a strange week.

On top of languishing in memories of his beloved Doris, he also discovered that Jesse, Marty and Hector McDougal were moving from town. They had become the touchstone–the stopping off place–for all the publicity and turmoil that had risen up because of the little boy’s amazing healing.

The family had received notice from a mega church in Idaho which had been spreading its spiritual wings into making movies, and the three were invited to come and live free of charge for a year while the screenwriters, actors and production team shot a film entitled, “Hector’s Baptism.”

They were so excited.

They even had a copy of the screenplay, which Meningsbee perused, quickly realizing that the writers had taken some creative license.

Meningsbee felt sad.

He wasn’t sure it was the right thing for the family–but it’s hard to argue with a year’s worth of free room and board. So he kissed them all on the cheek, prayed for them and two days later they were gone.

That departure was followed by the information that Patrick Swanson, whose congregation had been involved in some sort of wife-swapping scandal, was also leaving and stopped off at Meningsbee’s house to say goodbye.

He and his wife were off to Utah, to a marriage clinic, to restore their vows and commitments.

Patrick had become a Mormon. He looked much different–fresh haircut, crisp white shirt and a sweater vest instead of jeans, shaggy locks and a t-shirt. He was, shall we say, very appropriate.

When Meningsbee reached to give him a hug, Patrick instead took his hand and offered a warning. “Beware the sins of the flesh, my friend. I think you teeter on too much secular input in your ministry, and therefore are robbing your congregation of the full impact of the whole Bible for the whole man.”

Meningsbee felt a flame of anger ignite in his gut but he realized that Patrick would soon be gone, and his advice with him.

Meningsbee was in the midst of these thoughts and many others when a car rolled up next to him.

It was Sammy Collins.

He got out of his car and tapped on the passenger window of Meningsbee’s vehicle, requesting permission to enter. Meningsbee popped his locks and Sammy scooted in, shut the door and took a deep breath.

“Let me get right to it. I’ve been doing a lot of praying. I know we haven’t always agreed, but I believe I’m supposed to come and be your assistant minister.”

He paused. Meningsbee was speechless.

Sammy jumped in. “Well, that’s it. What do you think?”

“How did you know I would be here?” asked Meningsbee.

“I followed you,” said Sammy with a smile. “You didn’t even know, did you?”

“Nope,” said Meningsbee quietly.

Sammy turned sideways in his seat, filled with energy. “So what do you think, Pastor? You sure could use the help.”

“You see, Sammy, the kind of help I need wouldn’t work because it’s inside me. I couldn’t get you in there. Or maybe I wouldn’t want you in there. Or maybe, it just seems to me, that if I needed an assistant minister, God would tell me before he told the assistant minister.”

“God works in mysterious ways,” said Sammy with a twinkle.

“Yeah, but usually not hyper-weird,” replied Meningsbee.

Sammy, undaunted by the rebuke and rejection, opened the car door and said, “Think it over. You’re never gonna find anyone quite like me.”

Meningsbee just nodded, holding his tongue over a variety of responses that immediatly popped into his brain.

Sammy jogged to his car, got in and took off. Meningsbee, fully disturbed and interrupted, decided to head off to church.

He wondered what he would find there. He had to admit to himself that his message last week about the rich young ruler and how the congregation needed to decide if they were going to keep the revival alive or go back to their old ways, was pretty strong. Matter of fact, he had even used the word “damn” right in the middle of the pews, flowers and pulpit furniture.

Arriving at the church, there was a hum in the room. No–a real hum. The organist was playing the prelude and the congregation, uncharacteristically, was humming along with the familiar tune.

There were two apple pies sitting on the fellowship table which were normally not present for coffee time.

Deacon Smitters shook Meningsbee’s hand and held it a little longer than normal.

The song service was more boisterous, the testimonies enlightened and the “amens” aplenty.

No one said a word about the previous week’s service nor whether they were offended, challenged or informed. They just did what people in Garsonville do. They took it all in, let it rattle around for a couple of days, and decided what their best path might be.

There’s a lot to be said for that.

 

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Ask Jonathots … January 14th, 2016

 Jonathots Daily Blog

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ask jonathots bigger

I’m fifteen years old and want to be an actress. I watched the Golden Globes and it looked like everyone was intoxicated. Some of my friends think that drinking is no big deal–after all, it’s not “doing drugs.” Their parents drink, after all. Their older brothers and sisters drink. Everyone drinks. What do you think about it?

I personally am not a big fan of camping.

Matter of fact, I only have one clear memory of going on such an excursion. What I do remember about the experience is that you do a lot of walking and while doing this peddling along, you are also carrying everything you need on your back, so that when you arrive at the campsite for the evening, you can open it up and have your “stuff” to make the journey tolerable.

You know what I discovered on the first night? Half of the things I brought were useless, making me tired carrying it around.

I found a nearby trash can and threw these items away, which someone had told me were necessary to have a woods event.

My second day was so much more pleasurable, and when I arrived for the evening’s rest, I had everything I needed–and if I didn’t, I was still happy that I had a lighter load.

  • Thus drinking.
  • Thus smoking.
  • Thus obesity.
  • Thus nervous energy.

Anything we decide to tuck into our lifestyle which we have to carry only makes the journey a bit more difficult, will slow our pace, and in the long run, when we arrive at our destination, will probably have to be abandoned in favor of more freedom.

I’ll tell you what I feel when I watch the Golden Globes and see people drinking. Since they are actors, directors and producers, I would like to follow the story line of their alcoholic curve. Are they really able to hold it to a couple of glasses of wine and an occasional beer, or does the liquor begin to control the dialogue, the circumstances, the party or even the friends?

I would say if you’re able to drink a glass of wine at a meal or have a beer with a bratwurst without feeling the need to carry alcohol into your life for inconvenient times, then you should be just fine. But to look at alcohol as a social statement, a way of relaxation, a means to unwind or a must so that you can garner the right people for your party, is to set yourself up for arriving at your goal toting a burden rather than a benefit.

How many people sitting at the Golden Globes have already been through rehab and countless attempts to stop drinking, or are short months away from a DUI which will place them in the public eye with a frown?

Alcohol is a substance. It warns us of its potency and danger by its flavor and after-effects. If you can incorporate that taste and responsibility in your life without losing control or feeling compelled to imbibe, then there’s absolutely nothing wrong with it.

But many have insisted they can, and crashed.

Yes, many have lost their way.

Keep this in mind.

Alcohol never helped anybody get to their dream. 

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Getting in Character… August 17th, 2015

 Jonathots Daily Blog

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choking

From Act II, Scene VII of As You Like It, Shakespeare asserts that “all the world is a stage and all the men and women, merely players.”

Don’t kill off the competition.

You will be tempted to do so. The world around you encourages deception–in a passionate way–to gain a footing to win the role. And in doing so, you may be taught to be a detractor of another person’s talent.

Most plays have two main roles, and a whole bunch of character opportunities. Maybe you envision yourself to be a “lead role” type of person. But the deck is stacked against you, because once someone has been given a lead role and they’ve been successful, making money for the corporation, they will be favored for the next lead role.

You may find yourself disgruntled, on the sidelines, badmouthing the stars and insisting that you could do just as well.

No one likes that person. That person is normally written into the script of life as a villain or a pathetic loser.

To avoid the anger which leads to rage and jealousy, causing us to assassinate the character of our fellow-travelers, it is very important to learn where to go to be both happy and productive.

It’s a simple, four-step process:

1. Find a hole.

Yes, there are many things that are left undone, partially because they’re not very glamorous, or they appear to be more difficult. Find one of these–not just “the road less traveled,” but the opportunity less pursued.

2. Fill the hole.

Take that talent you’ve been reserving for the spotlight and move it stage right or stage left, and allow your best performance to shine.

3. Invite friends.

That’s right. Include other people in what you’ve discovered. There is nothing more powerful than making an obscure idea popular, and then walking away from it, so that you can…

4. Find a new hole.

The minute you discover that what you have begun has gained traction, look ahead to what humankind needs and start moving towards it.

There is no such thing as being “ahead of your time.” If you’re not ahead of your time, you’re waiting in line. Actually, being ahead of your time is just having the intelligence to know what is needed, and beating others to the market.

You will have a tendency to be a killer if you don’t learn how to be a doer.

And to become a doer, your job is not to build a super-highway, but instead… find great joy in filling in the pot holes.

 

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WITHIN

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Getting in Character … June 29th, 2015

Jonathots Daily Blog

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Eating contest

From Act II: Scene VII of As You Like It, Shakespeare asserts that “all the world is a stage and all the men and women, merely players.”

It’s a common mistake.

Often in an attempt to seemingly simplify a job, we end up breaking it down into its external parts, while completely abandoning the passion that really makes it work.

The same is true for the actor.

When he or she first begins to view the world as a stage, many think the completion of the adventure settles in on three steps:

  1. Memorize your lines.
  2. Discover your entrance and exit.
  3. Learn where to stand.

The truth of the matter is, these three are merely the beginning, which often is abandoned to produce an adequate end.

That’s right. Memorizing your lines is not special, so it’s essential that once you retain them you forget that you ever had lines in the first place, but instead, realize that you are producing natural reactions to the unfolding plot.

As far as discovering an entrance and an exit, you will have to understand that this will expand as you gain further insight into the nature of the role you play in any given situation. It may require you to threaten an exit or instigate a surprise entrance.

And knowing where to stand makes you a fixture instead of part of the flow. Life rarely lets you perch, but instead, demands you keep moving in the right direction.

The missing ingredient for young thespians who are trying to get in character is, and always will be, passion. We’ve equated the word “passion” with romance, or sexuality, when actually it is the fuel of all human emotions, and propels us towards excitement.

So once you memorize your lines, discover your entrance or exit and learn where to stand, then the next thing you can do is forget it and set it to the side.

Instead, a hunger and a thirst must enter your soul for new commands:

1. Get hungry for your character.

  • Do I have limitations?
  • Is there a secret my character holds that needs to be revealed or healed?

2. Get thirsty to discover the elasticity of your character.

  • Limitations are always self-imposed. Lift them.

3. Keep looking for new angles.

  • Your character will never look stupid if he or she is willing to realize that everything written in stone crumbles.
  • There is much to learn, therefore there is much to seek.

If you lose your passion, you lose your character–so it’s more than memorizing lines, discovering your entrance and exit and learning where to stand.

Getting in character is walking away from the hard, fast rules … to find one’s true worth and ever-expanding mission.

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NEW BOOK RELEASE BY JONATHAN RICHARD CRING

WITHIN

A meeting place for folks who know they’re human

 $3.99 plus $2.00 S&H

 

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The Alphabet of Us: F is for Fret … January 12, 2015

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Building Block F bigger

All human beings possess a heart, soul, mind and strength. Nothing of any true significance can be achieved unless this is understood.

Fear tentatively creeps across the stage and cautiously introduces “fret”–then runs and hides. Fret takes over.

Fret has three modes of operation:

1. Hesitation. “I’m not sure.”

2. Procrastination. “Let’s wait a little while.”

3. Frustration. “What the hell is happening?”

Sometimes it’s difficult to remember that fear is what got our fretful show going. Matter of fact, it’s almost impossible to trace it back to a specific apprehension that triggers our nervous twitches and worrisome attitudes.

People spend millions of dollars in therapy attempting to find the lineage of their fret. Honestly, my dear friends, I think it’s time and money wasted.

Since fret has decided to be the front man for the “band of fear,” you might want to deal with the lead singer.

Therefore, the main reason we hesitate is because we either refuse to deal with what we have or we’re convinced it’s insufficient. Here’s a great piece of advice:

What you have you have. What I have, I have.

Waiting for a new shipment to reinforce our supply causes us to fret. We do much better when we assume that no more is coming and we make a plan to use what we have.

Likewise, we procrastinate because we are unsure that what we have can be turned into what we can do, and that it will have any impact in solving our situation. Can we simplify?

What we can do is what we can do, and if more is needed, there is nothing we can do.

And often, developing a sense of humor about our lack causes others, and even God, to want to step in and fill in the gap.

And finally, frustration is when we’re constantly obsessed with the finish line and have lost sight of the steps that get us there.

For if I find out what I have and what I can do, I have the great opportunity to celebrate what is at least a good start.

Fret is an exercise in vanity.

It is the notion that we have achieved some status of importance that should make us pressure-free.

But if we find out what we have, and we discover what we can actually do and we pronounce it to be a good start, then hesitation, procrastination and frustration will be dismissed from our cast and replaced with much better actors.

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Perform like you do while acting like you don’t … July 7, 2012

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She laughed at me.

She enjoyed doing that. Since I was only twenty-three years of age, I often made naive observations about life that caused her to chuckle vigorously, while maintaining a generous attitude. Of course, I was a boy from Central Ohio who had only recently moved to Music City U.S.A. and she was a well-seasoned veteran of the Nashville industry.

On this particular occasion, though, I produced a giggle-fest in her because in passing conversation, I informed her that I occasionally went to a nearby steakhouse situated in the proximity of Music Row because I’d heard that the restaurant was a frequent hangout of country music stars. It seemed right to me–because the wall of the establishment was completely covered with signed photographs from these luminaries. After she got done nearly choking on her laughter, she said, “Listen, Jonathan. If you were a country music star would you really want to go eat your lunch at a place where your ugly mug stared down at you the whole time? And why would you want to sip your coffee to the probing eyes of a whole room of strangers?”

It gave me pause for thought.

So one day at lunchtime, she decided to take me over to a real eatery–where the people who were “in the know” went to acquire their noonday sustenance. It ended up being a little cafe stuck in the back of an old, nearly abandoned hotel that barely had enough room in it for fifteen tables. It wasn’t fancy and from looking at the menu, it appeared that the only items for consumption seemed to be various incarnations of chicken fried steak.

But the room was chock-full of country music stars, actors and well-known personalities of all sorts and sizes. Matter of fact, the first two people I saw as I walked in the door were Tennessee Ernie Ford and Andy Griffith. They were just sitting there, chompin’ away and smiling, almost like they were on the set in Mayberry. My dear lady who had brought me to this experience didn’t miss a beat, walking right over to Mr. Ford and Mr. Griffith, striking up a conversation and turning my way, a little perturbed that I hadn’t followed her and seemed to be stuck in cement somewhere near the door. She motioned for me to come over, and I timidly made my way to her side.

Andy Griffith, Tony Award-nominated and Emmy A...

Andy Griffith, Tony Award-nominated and Emmy Award-nominated American actor, producer, writer, director and Grammy Award-winning southern gospel singer. Image taken as President George W. Bush presents him the Presidential Medal of Freedom. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

She introduced me to Tennessee Ernie Ford and I stuck out my hand as a greeting. He looked down at his own paw and said, “I’d shake your hand, son, but mine’s covered with gravy.”

Apparently I was temporarily inspired with a burst of courage, so I responded, “That’s okay. It’ll give me a chance to taste the cuisine before I order.”

He thought this was hilarious. Andy Griffith even laughed. I was on a roll, so intelligently I excused myself and found a table.

While I waited for my benefactress to join me, I looked around the room. Famous people as far as you could see, which, since the room was less than two thousand square feet, wasn’t really that extensive.

I watched them. They all had one thing in common and many things different. They had all succeeded in finding something they could do that other people wanted to buy, which had surprisingly made them well-known. But other than that, they were just human beings acting out their own particular agenda. Some were nice; some were friendly; some were quiet. Others were boisterous and loud. Some treated the waitress with respect, others bellowed out their need for more catsup. There was nothing really different here in the realm of the human family–just people who got paid a whole lot more money to do what they did, while still being who they were.

My dear friend joined me and several other famous individuals came up to the table, including Mel Tillis, Waylon Jennings, Jessie Coulter, Hank Snow and Ray Stevens. Each one of them had a kind word for my lady producer, and turned to me and graciously informed me that I was in good hands.

After I had crunched down a particularly well-fried piece of simulated steak, I told my friend, “You know what I learned today?”

She shook her head, curious. I continued. “I learned that fame is just another cross to bear, that can either take you to glory or just leave you hanging in the air, dying a little bit as the whole world watches.”

She sat quietly and didn’t respond. After a few moments, she put down her fork and replied, “So what are you gonna do about it? I mean, if you ever get to a position where people know your name and think you hung the moon?”

I thought for a long moment, looked around the room at all the folks who had achieved success, and said, “I think the key is in performing like you do while acting like you don’t. I’ve got it figured this way–when the spotlight hits you in life, you should be ready to give your very best, without timidity, anguish or any intimidation at all. But when the spotlight turns off, you should leave the stage humble, not quite sure who that person was that performed all those antics, and walk out to be among your brothers and sisters believing that you’re blessed to have survived that scrutiny–and not quite sure how you’d ever be able to do it again. That’s the key. Because when you begin to believe that what you do makes you better than other people, you really lose the meaning of why you do it. The real reason for talent is to encourage somebody else to live on a little happier and find their own abilities.”

Tears filled her eyes. It was one of those sweet moments that demanded more than milk gravy. But we still made do.

I never forgot that day. Just because you’ve found something you can accomplish on a regular basis doesn’t make you special–unless it blesses other people. So when you’ve done your little tap dance, sit down, relax–and humbly join the human family.

   

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