Things I Learned from R. B.


Jonathots Daily Blog

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Episode 3

The next morning my phone rang at seven o’clock.

It was R. B.

With nearly a tear in his voice, he explained that he’d been up most of the night, worried about the money he would receive while traveling with the cast of the musical.

The producers had joined with me in giving to these student-actors, who would be performing the parts, thirty-five dollars a week plus all expenses. At the time, most traveling casts of this style were charging the participants for the privilege of traveling. But it felt right for us to offer the young humans a little money for their concerted efforts.

But R. B. was not satisfied with the base wage.

He explained his bills. Three times. He also shared that his father had taught him that being frugal and prudent with your money was the best way to stay happy, and free of both debt and interference from others.

He was about to tell me that he was going to bow out when some evil spirit of compromise jumped up in my soul and I said, “How about we give you seventy-five dollars a week? But please, don’t tell the other cast members.”

There were so many things wrong with that statement, I don’t know where to start. But whereas R. B. was worried about the money, I was concerned about filling all the cast slots, and was in no mood on this early morn to lose one of them.

He agreed—with just a hint of reluctance, to let me know that he was well worth the offer and more.

As I hung up the phone I thought, “Is this going to end up biting me in the ass?”

I knew it would.

But I thought some scrambled eggs and turkey sausage might sooth my nervous soul.

Things I Learned from R. B.


Jonathots Daily Blog

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Episode 2

There is definitely a reason that patrons of literature over the centuries have sincerely warned those who put pen to paper (or in our time, fingers to keys) that it is never wise to write something in the first person. Just too many I’s for the “eyes” which will read it.

Yes, it’s safer to let your tale be told by a he, a she, a they or even an it.

Then, if your character ends up being a scoundrel—even temporarily—you don’t have to personally wear the orange D on your chest—for Dumbass.

But when I talk to you about R. B., I must speak in the first person. These are lessons I had to learn which you perhaps already knew, or will decide to ignore.

I will simply have to own the good with the bad, the silly with the serious and the righteous with the sinister.

Let me begin by saying that I wrote a musical. Fifteen songs plus little interludes sprinkled among them which I referred to as “widgets.”

I was very proud.

Actually, most of the musical was written in less than three months—with a song or two trailing off to coincide with the calendar year.

I got my band together and we recorded the music on a reel-to-reel tape system, overdubbed through a cassette machine, until we had something that sounded like an entire cast performing the tunes.

I had no idea what I was going to do with this collection of lyrics, notes and melodies.

I played it for an old buddy of mine in Columbus, Ohio, who immediately fell in love with the whole idea surrounding the project—so much so that he decided to make it his pet purpose. Before I knew it, he went out and secured fifteen people to invest in this endeavor, giving us a whopping ten thousand dollars to do something with what we had.

I was young. I probably should have taken it slow. But honestly, those two words—“young and slow”—rarely appear together in Earth’s environment.

Therefore I went into a professional studio and hired musicians to record the soundtrack and decided to put together a cast of nine characters for a twenty-five-city tour of the United States of America. This would be a daunting task for someone who knew what he was doing, let alone for a sheep in the woods, unfamiliar with the ravenous wolves.

My first step was to hold auditions.

I thought people would flock to have an opportunity to travel for two months across the great American plain—to sing, dance and act in front of audiences in hometown theaters from Pennsylvania to Texas.

I was wrong.

About twenty-five people signed up for the audition, and they all came with three questions:

  1. What am I going to make?
  2. How much does it pay?
  3. What will be my remuneration?

On the night of the audition, they all came in having much less talent than ego. Also, they were more greedy than giving and critical than appreciative.

Chief among them was a fellow named R. B. He was a sweet enough guy, but his New England upbringing had led him to believe that he was one of the Sons of the American Revolution.

He had exacting demands:

He didn’t want to audition the way everyone else did. He wanted to set up his guitar amp and sing his own songs instead take a crack at mine.

Also, he was so nervous to audition in front of the rest of the contestants that he demanded a private room. He sang a hair off-key, breathless from nervous energy. Yet, he still had just enough of a voice to be considered.

I was young, too eager, and uncertain whether I would be able to fill all the positions from the handful of souls who came out for the trials.

I gave in too much to R. B.’s requests.

I just didn’t know if I would ever find other people to staff our show, so I was careful not to close a door to anyone. Through that experience, I learned that sometimes if you don’t close the door, all the flies come in.

Four days after the auditions, still having three spaces to fill, I hired R. B. to be in my musical and travel with the cast. I made the decision after about three hours of a back-and-forth conversation with myself that went like this:

“Sure, he doesn’t have…”

“But then again, maybe…”

I learned, from this first encounter with R. B., that when you base your future on maybe, you always end up with what will be—wishing for what could be.

Things I Learned from R. B.


Jonathots Daily Blog

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Episode 1

Flops, failures and flunk-outs.

I learned more from these than from any blessing that ever came my way.

I shall be candid and tell you that I’ve garnered practically nothing from success—except that it tends to make me over-rate my ability.

I knew a fellow.

We were acquainted with each other for twenty-seven years. Sometimes we were friends; other occasions, enemies. It was always spicy.

He died thirteen years ago.

Yesterday he came to my memory, and I realized that for all intents and purposes, nobody knows about R. B. I think even his family may have allowed his image to slip from their minds.

I learned a lot from him. (Mostly through those aforementioned flops, failures and flunk-outs.)

But there were times that were rich with emotion.

And all the encounters were chocked full of experience.

I’d like to take a while to tell you about that twenty-seven-year journey, one story at a time. They won’t be long—and I certainly hope, not tedious.

If they end up being boring, it’s only because I failed to tell them well.

But at the end of our journey—whenever that happens—I hope we will share the value of learning instead of just assuming.

For the sake of his privacy, we shall refer to him as R. B.

The first time I encountered him was right after I finished writing a musical…

Confessing… July 4th, 2015

Jonathots Daily Blog

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IX.

I confess so I can heal.

If I deny, I remain sick.

Mack was gay.

Actually, in 1980, such a term did not exist. The nicest word we had for people who pursued that lifestyle was “homosexual.”

Mack never told me he preferred men. I never asked him.

Mack was my friend but also my benefactor. He believed in my ability to be creative, and thought the things I came up with were worth promoting.

So when I wrote the musical, “Mountain,” Mack got right behind it, insisted we put together a cast to tour across the country, and on his own, raised $10,000 to fund it.

After the tour we parted our ways but not our affection.

A few months after we had finished our business, he called me and told me he had a lead on someone who wanted to sign my musical and publish it.

He only required one thing from me. The publishing company wanted a score of the music. In other words, they wanted all the music written down on staff paper in a fashion that could be read by musicians and performed.

It was at that point that I should have told Mack that even though I was able to compose music, I had no idea how to score it.

I didn’t. I didn’t tell him.

Oh, I had my reasons.

Since I had last seen Mack, I had moved away and was working in a terrible situation. One of my children had been hit and run by a car, and I was in the midst of moving to another community to acquire a new job.

It’s the classic situation–when we transform our circumstances into excuses, which we turn into reasons. But the reasons soon lose their power and have to be fortified by lies.

So at first I just cited my circumstances to Mack. He was understanding, but persistent. So I made promises.

But then when I failed to meet my deadlines, I had to move to excuses and then try to manipulate them into reasons, and ultimately ended up lying.

And of course, the greatest lie was when I sat down and tried to write the score of the music with my limited ability, and ended up with the manuscript equivalent of manure.

I sent it off anyway.

Mack trusted me, so he forwarded my work to the publisher, and ended up humiliated because the material made no sense whatsoever.

Mack forgave me–but we never did business together ever again.

I tried to justify it. I remembered the few occasions that I told him I didn’t know what I was doing instead of recalling how I insisted I would do it anyway.

I owe this fine person a huge apology.

I also need to realize that every time I’m tempted to pretend I’m something I’m not just so everyone in the room will feel that I am “hip” or part of “the gang in the know,” that I do much more damage than I ever thought possible.

The truth is, God has blessed me.

If I don’t think His blessing is enough, my exaggerations and lies will not make it any better.

 

Mountain Music

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Hurt, Heal, Praise … June 29, 2013

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dancersThe most difficult road to take to achieve humility is the highway of humiliation. Yet for some reason, it’s the most popular.

Many years ago, I wrote a musical called Mountain. Humbly I offer to you that the composition was really quite good. I had some friends in Columbus, Ohio, who let me use their studio very reasonably and we put together the music for the production. In the process of doing so, we stirred up a lot of interest in the community. So when it was announced that a two night premiere would be held,  tickets sold quickly and we realized we were going to have a hit.

Our job? To come up with a cast who could perform the piece and portray the material adequately. We selected our individual members but failed to consider that most of the young folk we had placed in the roles had grown up believing that dancing was “of the devil,” and the rest of them were just hellish dancers.

The musical required some choreography. Even though the music itself came off very well, and the acting was sufficient, the instructors we selected to teach our entourage how to do live stage movement were far too advanced and left our fledgling foot-flyers completely confounded.

So on opening night, the portion of the show that required choreography was an absolute disaster, leading one observer to refer to it as “collisionography.”

Unfortunately, the theater was nearly packed. I was embarrassed. I was humiliated. I was young, impetuous and unfortunately, too quick to want to give up.

But from somewhere down deep in the bottom of my socks, I found the faith to get up the next morning, realize we had another premiere to do, and instead of being angry or frustrated, took the cast and worked on simplifying the dance portion of the show.

We were all hurt.

Life is not a journey of avoiding hurt, but rather, a continual odyssey to be healed.

The only way my cast was going to be healed was by believing they could actually find something to do onstage that was within their grasp, and that they could have another opportunity to prove their ability.

The second night was fantastic–night and day difference. Unfortunately, the crowd had shrunk due to the bad reports about the faltering footwork. We didn’t care. We had been hurt the night before and it was time to heal. And heal we did.

Our confidence soared and we went out on a tour to twenty-five cities, getting better and better each night–because our healing turned into praise.

I will never forget that experience. It is a constant reminder that being hurt has absolutely zilch nobility or value unless you immediately set a process in motion to be healed. All healing is then confirmed by the presence of praise.

We have to learn this in our society:

  • Hurt people are determined to hurt. They don’t mean to–they just duplicate what’s inside themselves out to others.
  • Healed people seek healing.
  • And people of praise are always looking for reasons to praise.

So the next time you get in a  mood and think there’s nothing that’s any good anymore, take a moment and trace back in your life to find that unhealed hurt. You will be surprised at how much brighter the world looks when you have shed some light … on your own pain.

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 Jonathots, Jr.!

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7

Dump the Tub … September 8, 2012

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Everyone was so nervous.

We had come to Columbus, Ohio, from diverse points all over the eastern part of the United States to join in a rehearsal camp for a musical I had written, culminating in a twenty-five-city tour.

I was young–some people would say too young to be in charge of such an overwhelming undertaking–but I learned pretty early in my life that if you wait too long to accumulate the years, the years will keep you from accumulating success.

So I ventured. I was smart enough to know three things–a trio of needs necessary to maintain the integrity of such an endeavor:  the cast would need sleep, practice and lots to drink.

Now, this was before the day of bottled water, and also prior to the general public acceptance that something clear, colorless and drawn from the tap was actually a beverage. So I located two gigantic tubs. In one I made fruit punch and in the other, by the request of the cast, iced tea.

We finished our first session and everybody was thirsty, so they headed over to my display of beverage choices–and we immediately had a problem. Those who preferred fruit punch seemed quite happy–because if they thought it was too sweet, they just added some water. But those whose taste moved towards tea were disgruntled because some liked it sweet, some liked it lemony and there was even one guy who pouted a bit because we didn’t have limes.

The tea was a failure.

One of the young cast members stepped forward and made a suggestion. “So we don’t have to lose the tea, why don’t we just pour the tea into the fruit punch tub and mix them? Therefore we won’t lose our investment. It’s just like my mama says. You take the good with the bad and mix it all together and you get your life, so go out there and live it.”

Even though it sounds corny, the words were so inspiring in the moment that the cast burst into a cheer, and I believe one young lady from Birmingham, Alabama, sprouted a tear.

I saw no problem with it. After all, I was young and willing to try almost anything to move forward or keep peace. So we mingled the two containers, and at the next break, we ran headlong, at sixty miles an hour, into a wall of confusion.

It tasted terrible. The tea made the fruit punch flat and as one fellow said, the fruit punch made the tea taste “creepy.”

The producer of the show, in an attempt to save money, suggested that the cast endure this particular batch of distaste, and that next time we would get just fruit punch. Once again, being very young, I complied through one additional rehearsal session, which was unfortunately followed by a complaint convention. When everybody refused to drink the concoction and just sat there sweating, gasping for air, I walked over, grabbed the tub, went outside and dumped it.

Even greater cheers. Because contrary to what the cast member said, quoting his mother, life is really NOT about trying to stir together the good and the bad to come up with some unsatisfying concoction. It’s really about identifying what truly IS good, and as quickly as possible, abandoning the bad in favor of more pleasurable results.

I am often amused when people extol the virtue of patience. I know it seems noble to talk about it; I know we often feel grown-up when we consider pursuing it. But patience is something that makes you feel mature inside, as it completely rattles every other part of you. Patience is over-rated. I know there are those who will quote verses of scripture or bits of wisdom on the subject, but I must warn you–they are the same folks who will growl at you for using their parking space because they’re too busy to be nice, as they are trying to be patient … about something else.

Here is what I use as a determination of whether to continue to chase a dream or let it go and “dump the tub:”

1. Is it tasteful? Life should have flavor. If the choice you have made has created a blandness, a sense of repetition, or a feeling of meaningless activity, you might have just arrived for a visit with the Great Uncle in the family of Mediocrity. Life should have a zing to our palette and a sense of challenge.

2. Is it enlightening? What do I mean by “enlightening?”  Anything that includes as many people as possible instead of creating barriers, which human beings have great difficulty in overcoming, is born of the light of God instead of being snuffed out by the traditions and prejudices of men.

There are many thing I do not understand; there are things I do not agree with. I don’t care. What I’m looking for is a way to enlighten myself and the world around me towards God’s love and finding a way to create equality of appreciation for every human being.

3. And finally, is it productive? I remember when I was working at a college in Louisiana, they were planning an event. On the budget was the printing of five thousand flyers to hand out for advertising. I posed the question, “Do the flyers work? Has anyone ever come in because they saw a flyer?” The candid response from the room was no. So I asked them why they were still printing them. They immediately had two reasons: (a) “we always do: and (b) “we don’t want to hurt our printer’s feelings.”

You see, we cannot make decisions in our lives based on what we have always done or fear of hurting some proprietor’s feelings. Is it productive? Will it take us forward to our goals, or is it a repetition of a practice which has proven to be less than effective?

For verily I say unto you, a perfect example of an oxymoron is the phrase, “stagnation in progress.” If you’re willing to take a look at these three exercises, you can escape a treadmill of meaningless exertion, creating more sweat than muscle.

I dumped the tub. It changed the dynamic of our whole camp from a sluggish reluctance to a sense of anticipation that we were pursuing a better way instead of settling for fruity tea … with no punch. It takes a bit of courage. It takes a Godly impatience with unnecessary lack. And until our Father in heaven sees us desiring that His will be done on earth, He will not be impressed that we are patiently waiting for heaven.

Dump the tub. Start over again. It makes you feel smart.

It makes you feel like you have a life.

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