Mr. Bojangles

I have had a lot of dreams come true this year.

This happened:

(Shout out to my brotha’ Haden)

This happened:

This happened:

Or it’s gonna happen… I guess it’s happening.

Indeed it has been a big year for us. I turned 21. We got married. We moved to New York. We’re going to be parents. It’s all happening at once. Tonight the next of my dreams comes true.

This will happen:

Photo Credit: Roberto Zava

What exactly is that? Why it’s Einstein on the Beach. And Chelsea and I will be at the Brooklyn Academy of Music tonight to witness it.

Einstein on the Beach is an opera by Robert Wilson and Philip Glass. It was an avant garde production originally performed in 1976 and it has been revived three times, this year partially in conjunction with Philip Glass’ 75th birthday. Wilson and Glass are artists known for breaking and recreating the rules and Einstein is broadly considered the most significant work of their careers. So to say that it is a non-traditional opera is an understatement. Instead of using a plot, the opera uses the set, music, and dancers to stage pictures of Albert Einstein’s life and work. You can read a great article with a bit of history on the play and the creators here.

I do not claim to understand the opera. I probably will not grasp most of the concepts or artistic innovations during the four-and-a-half hours with no intermission. But I will enjoy it. Why you may ask? Well I have to tell the whole story!

When I was in high school at the pinnacle of my listening-to-Christian-rock career, I discovered Edison Glass. Their guitar work struck me first and influenced me as a wee budding musician. I actually learned that a few members were ORU alumni, but more importantly that they took their name from Thomas Edison and Philip Glass, thus my introduction to Philip Glass. I used to work as a clerk for a newspaper which essentially entailed sitting for eight hours and surfing the internet. Inspired by Edison Glass’ inspiration, I spent lots of those long hours at the newspaper discovering Philip Glass.

Until college I didn’t really have formal music training. I learned more than most in your average guitar lessons, but it wasn’t until I got into my classes that I really began to grasp theory and music history. That is to say that when I heard Beethoven or Bach I wasn’t really interested. I only knew that they were great composers and I was suposed to appreciate them. Classical music didn’t really have any true aesthetic value to me. So when I was discovering Philip Glass all I knew about him was that he was a classical composer who influenced one of my favorite bands. When I thought of a classical composer I thought of (what I knew of) Bach, Mozart, or Beethoven.

Then I listened to Philip Glass. I believe the first piece by him that I ever listened to was “Trail 1, Mr. Bojangles,” a scene from Einstein. It was weird. Some percussion and a violin repeating the same pattern over and over again, while a male chorus repeated the same pattern over and over again, while a woman recited a seemingly random monologue about guns and trees and baggy pants. I had no idea what was going. But I thought it was cool. Just like Beethoven, I knew that this was a respected composer and I was to appreciate his work, what I didn’t understand I just passed off as being over my head. But there was something about “Mr. Bojangles” that was different from any other classical music I had heard. It was just interesting to me. I felt something attractive about the music even if it was the same pattern for 16 minutes.

Then I listened to the second movement of his Violin Concerto. It’s a slow movement and is very dramatic. The solo violin plays a wrenching and longing melody over a bed of oscillating strings. As the violin introduces new material the ensemble imitates the previous solos and it just builds and builds until your heart melts. And that is precisely what happened to my heart when I first heard it. I feel sappy talking about how much I love this piece but to that point I had never had an instrumental or classical piece of music make me feel that way. Most of all this was the first time I remember thinking, “This is classical music I like.” It wasn’t that I was supposed to respect his work or I had been told he was great composer or that someone had recommended him to me (even though all those things were true). The reason I love this piece is simply that when I heard it for the first time I felt it. I really can’t describe it. I just remember being moved by that piece and thinking, “If there is classical music like this in the world, I want to listen to it.”

I can’t fully articulate everything I believe an artist should be or do, but I believe that creating experiences like the kind I had with that violin concerto is essential. Philip Glass was one of the pioneering composers of the minimalist movement, which basically means that the great majority of his music is based on small ideas that are repeated a buncha’ buncha’ times with little changes every so often. It’s very minimalistic. Some consider Glass’ music to be nausea inducing, and it can get wearisome, but Glass has said that if you want to listen to something else then he gives you his permission and he won’t be offended.

As for me, I will always have a deep connection to Philip Glass’ music. I have intellectually analyzed his music and it is not the most brilliant or groundbreaking music ever written. But nothing will be as important to me as the transcendence that surpasses my intellect and hits my heart. I believe this is the stuff of which the world is made. Connection. Something Philip Glass created resounded in my being in a way that I couldn’t understand but could only experience.

Life was meant to be experienced. People were meant to be experienced. Art was meant to be experienced. This is the Incarnation. God didn’t only tell us how to live or show us outwardly. He became us. Something entirely other from us shared with us in our experience and now we share in his experience everyday. He connected with us in every possible way. He just happens to be the source of all life and good in the universe. If you don’t believe that then you’ll have to wait for me to post about mewithoutYou.

I should explain that I am not advocating for neglecting our intellect, in fact I think our intellect should be a part of the experience, a tool that leads us to the experience. But it wasn’t knowledge that knocked Saul off his horse and it wasn’t theology alone that made Thomas Aquinas call his entire life’s work straw. Our intellect leads us to the experience and afterward it informs us. I now enjoy Philip Glass’ music more because I spent four years of college learning how to analyze music. I don’t think learning more can ever hurt anyone until it becomes the end rather than the means to the end.

That end, I believe, is knowing and experiencing God and his life as it is incarnate in all of creation. I believe that that life is everywhere and in everything. This life is what motivates people to do real things. It’s why people write symphonies and why people cry after those symphonies. It’s why people get married and have families. It’s why people sacrifice their entire life to fight for justice. And it’s why I’ll sit for almost five hours tonight and watch a group of dancers and musicians tell a story. It’s life and it’s happening.

Needless to say Philip Glass has had a huge impact on me. Tonight one of my dreams comes true as I get to experience one of his greatest and most influential works live and in person. Speaking of dreams coming true, I forgot to mention that earlier this week another one did so. It came in the form of homemade lasagna, made with homemade sauce and homemade pasta.

As Christians we believe that Jesus inaugurated the Kingdom of God here on Earth, yet it is still not completely here until his second coming. So we live in the here, but not yet. That lasagna was part of the here.

I love my wife.

Grace and peace,

Elliot & Chelsea


Sweet Home Briarwood

Elliot & I may be some of the world’s worst bloggers, since we’ve gone a month since our first update. Sorry about that. But we have lots of exciting news in exchange for the wait, so hopefully that makes up for it. First, after 1.5 months of staying in condos/hotels/friends’ living room floors, Elliot & I have officially been in our own apartment for a little over three weeks. I can’t even believe it’s been that long already! As everybody who’s ever moved probably knows, it’s easy to get caught up in all the details of what still needs to be done, so all the unpacking/settling in has made the time fly by pretty quickly, hence the failure to post. But that’s all behind us now, because here we are, postin’ it up from Briarwood, Queens. Briarwood is a tiny neighborhood that’s best-known as the former site of United Nations housing, as well as home of the Catholic high school responsible for educating New York’s current governor AND David Caruso from CSI: Miami(!!). Maybe one day we’ll run into him when he comes back to visit his alma mater. We can only hope.

Anyway, we’re doing a pretty good job making ourselves at home in between Elliot’s work schedule and my…not-having-anything-to-do-but-unpack-and-clean-for-three-weeks. We have no couch or dresser at the moment and we’re short at least one bookshelf, but our kitchen is totally well-stocked, our dining room chairs have been painted, and we were so, so blessed by all our family and friends when we got married that we’ve been able to get pretty much everything we’ve needed with gift cards. Seriously, without all the support of the people in our lives, we would be eating ramen and sleeping on the floor. We are really grateful.

And, of course, we don’t only spend our time unpacking or at Target. We make time to watch episodes of Lost on Netflix and cook very tasty dinners together a few nights a week, along with visiting churches, so we’re definitely taking time to enjoy each other’s company and develop some sort of routine together, which is good, since I start school on Thursday. It’s been a luxury to have so much time together, for sure (a two month honeymoon, some might say), but it’ll definitely be nice to have some new stuff added to the mix.

With all that said, we thought we’d give everybody a look at our new home, since some of you will hopefully come up for a visit or two it in the next year, eh?? To preface, our building, neighborhood, and apartment are not without quirks. An upstairs neighbor who regularly throws Indian food out the window and onto the space outside our apartment/our window sill? Yes, we have one of those. And neither one of us has ever lived somewhere with radiator heat, so we’re pretty curious to see what that’s like this winter, but it’s fun figuring all this stuff out with each other. Yay for adventure!

Anyway. On with the tour. Please excuse the maybe excessive detail. Since we can’t have all of you over to show you around and make dinner for you, this is what we do instead. Here’s the outside of our building:

Our street is really residential, which we like, because it keeps things pretty quiet. Our neighbors also seem to do an awesome job keeping their gardens well-planted, so we get to admire lots of nice yards on the walk to our plant-less apartment.

Here’s our front door, complete with the welcome mat given to us by some friendly, anonymous person in the building:

We’ve only met a few of our neighbors, but so far they seem like pretty nice people.

Here’s our little foyer area.

Notice Guard Duck, who made it safely all the way from Elliot’s room in Tulsa. Elliot really loves that ceramic duck. In fact, when he reminded me to mention Guard Duck right here, he actually said, “Let’s all just hug Guard Duck,” and picked him up to take a picture together. Good friends.

This is the dining…area? Hallway? Something.

Whatever it is, we’re so happy to have this little space in our apartment. Most places we’ve seen in the city have eat-in kitchens or combined dining/living rooms, so even though it’s a small area, we’re happy to be able to separate it a little bit from the other parts of the apartment. Of course, these chairs are not permanent. They’re stand-ins while I finish painting/covering the seats on the chairs that came with the table, and they’ve also taken the place of a couch for the time being (thanks for the chairs, Aunt Terri!!). We also have plans to refinish the table, but we’re trying to pace ourselves and not have too much unfinished furniture at a time.

The first room to be finished once we moved in was the kitchen:

We were very ready to be able to cook our own meals and buy groceries, so having a livable kitchen with everything we needed took precedence over everything else in the apartment (except a shower curtain). It’s small, but it has enough space for us, with the help of the big cabinet we found on Craigslist for $30. Heyo! It was a huge hassle to pick up and bring back to the apartment (I begged to just leave it on the sidewalk in Brooklyn) but it’s been so worth it to have all the extra space. Also, check out the Crock-Pot on the counter. BBQ pork sandwiches for dinner. Happy Labor Day!
Here’s our spacious but mostly empty living room:

The dining room chairs have made this their temporary home, along with our board game cabinet, this nice yellow chair we found, and a couple of boxes of decorative things and blankets that are begging for a couch to be draped over.

Here’s Elliot’s work area:

One day, we’ll have some shelves to put those speakers on instead of boxes. But they’ll work for now.

Next is our very short hallway:

Then on the left, we have the bathroom:

I have to say, I really love having a medicine cabinet. It’s maybe one of my favorite things; all the apartments here have them. I guess if your bathroom is big enough to put things in drawers, you don’t need one, but we have no bathroom drawers, so I personally think it is very cool.

On the right in the hallway is our bedroom:

I hope it isn’t the most depressing room you’ve ever seen. We’re just glad to have a bed that’s not on the floor. It’s also still too hot to sleep with a comforter or quilt when you don’t have air conditioning, so the bed looks a little sad at the moment. Still. It’ll come together sometime. Maybe next year we’ll invest in A/C so at least the bed can stay stylish year-round.

And at the end of the hallway is our nursery:

Hey! Yeah, that’s the even more exciting news we have for you (although it’s old news for some). Come January, that awesome handmade (but unassembled) crib in the corner will be home to a lil’ baby Butay!

We’re 20 weeks along as of yesterday, so we’re halfway to meeting this little guy or girl, and we’re way beyond excited! I’ve been able to feel it moving around a lot these days, and I’ve (finally!) started to get a little bit of a belly, so someday soon I’ll be able to give people glances on the subway when they announce that people should give their seats to elderly, disabled, and pregnant people, and maybe I won’t have to stand so much. Obviously, that’s not what I’m most excited about, but I’d say it’ll definitely be a perk.

So those are the main things going on for us right now. Having an apartment, starting school, working, and getting ready for a little pumpkin to join our family very soon. It might seem a little silly to some for us to share so many of these details on a blog, but we sort of figure that, in addition to keeping people up-to-date, it’s also a great way for us to keep track of everything that’s going on right now in our lives. Having so many things going on at once can sometimes keep us from being really focused and present in any of those things, so this is our attempt to keep track of what’s going on, what we’re learning, and what it’s all like, so we don’t get too distracted by everything to be grateful. It’ll be so fun to look back in a couple of years & remember what the very beginning was like for us, so hopefully we can keep this up a little more consistently now.

On that note, since everyone has the big details now, we hope nobody’s too disappointed if the blog starts to fill up a little more with the smaller things that go on in our lives or thoughts. We’re looking forward to all the work and learning this is bringing our way, so we’re happy to have everybody in our lives to share it with. Woowoo! Had to add that after all the seriousness.

We love you guys!
Elliot & Chelsea