Updated: Jul 25, 2019




Urban dictionary defines the extensional crisis as "when and individual person starts to question their entire existence and questioning if being alive even has a point or if it's all pointless. It also is hard to get out of because when you are debating if reality has a purpose it gets in the way of everyday things, like Making Cereal or writing music."


Over the last the two years, I have been fortunate enough to attend several classical music festivals and composer's intensives. For those unfamiliar with classical music festivals such as Mostly Modern, Atlantic Music Festival, etc., these festivals should not be confused with Bonnaroo or Coachella. Musicians and composers attending these festivals have formal lessons, presentations, rehearsals, and a full day of activities such as lectures and workshops. Additionally, all evening musical concerts are in formal concerts halls fully equipped with working plumbing too!


It is fair to say that one attending a classical music festival will not be forced to a use a port-a-potty.


Yet even in such outstanding conditions, all composers have voiced and echoed what I'd thought was only my own inner anxiety and turmoil. Each composer I spoke with vocalized the extensional crisis they face on a continued basis. So much in fact, that it is to be expected, that the composer lives in a constant state of questioning their existence and if all the work done in isolation is worth it.


I will be honest. When I encountered my first extensional crisis I was in full blown music school. I felt the romanticism stripped off of my creative coating. In high school, which was heavenly, this feeling rarely visited me. How could it? I was surrounded by so many interesting and talented people that I never really felt the need to question the purpose of my life.


I never really felt cut off from the world in high school. My high school was based on the movie "Fame," we were surrounded by people who wanted to be there, pursuing a life in the arts. And also, I was not only surrounded by musicians. I interacted with visual artists, dancers, writers and actors. My personality and creativity flourished in this environment.


It was not until I attended a stand alone music school that I discovered the isolation and misery of music programs. The quiet and unspoken religion of music school resembled Catholic school without any of the possible excitement of rebellion. The elitism and the judgement combined with a total lack of real world experience did not jive well with my inner city Chicago education.


And it was here that the dark night of the soul occurred for almost four years.


The worse thing about this: I was not the only the person who struggled with this question yet most people fronted as if they had all the answers. This made me feel even more alone and damaged.


This is why I am so thankful that I attended these composer's intensives and festivals. It was there that others opened up about their lives and struggles. It was there composers came together and spoke about this on-going fear and dark night of the soul all of us faced back home.


Does any of this matter? Why I am doing this?


What I found out is all of us face the existential crisis everyday. Each step and each time we invest in music we are wrestling with doubts and anxieties chasing and attempting to interrupt us. There is a reason Charles Ives wrote a piece called "The Unanswered Question," after all.


The answer of the existential crisis is to endure it. To push past it. To take a break from it. To continue writing music at your own pace.


After years of fighting this battle, the dark night of the soul has finally shown me some stars, and has become more calm and quiet. Yes it does show up from time to time yet I don't live in total darkness anymore. I am starting to see in the dark, and listen to my own inner wisdom to light the way.


All I can say is that so far this part is working.










For over fifteen years I had an emotional relationship to the documentary film Streetwise. A 1983 Oscar nominated documentary by Mary Ellen Mark and Martin Bell, following several street children living in the streets of Seattle, Washington.

Streetwise became apart of my tribal language. Tiny, one of the main featured children, stood out to me as a charismatic and stylish personality. She just had so much personality, I had to know more about her. Yet, only pieces of short follow up articles about Tiny's life now existed. A completed kick-starter campaign for “Street: Revisited” documentary gave me hope of a follow up film. Yet years had passed since the kick-starter finished. I assumed the follow up project would just end up being an idea.

I can't remember exactly when I crossed paths with this film. Yet the subject of the beautiful loser and kids surviving always held my interest. Another Pacific Northwest film My Own Private Idaho, still resonates within me. If you have ever seen the film, a particular moment reminds of me Streetwise. The scene with all the rent boys talking about their experiences as the camera cuts to various other characters at the cafe.

However the most famous children of Pacific Northwest mythology, Laura Palmer resonates and reserves a quiet space within my psyche. I have not outgrown my connection to her and have not allowed any opinions or fandom interfere with that bridge. My dear friend growing up looked like Laura Palmer. Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me was our secret language. Through that film we were able to communicate a dark burden—one that still has not been spoken. Laura Palmer, Streetwise and Idaho, all become bits and pieces of my personal language shared with close confidants.

It is fair to say, Laura Palmer lead me to appreciate to Streetwise and Seattle. Twin Peaks represented a secret world—which I assumed I owned. I did not like to share or discuss the world of Twin Peaks with anyone besides those close to me. I felt my hair rise when I found out Twin Peaks was actually filmed in North Bend. See, I was from South Bend.

North Bend/South Bend.

Black Lodge. White Lodge.

A tugging feeling pulled me. I needed to go to Seattle and seek out these secrets—Laura, Streetwise. Tiny. I needed to pay my respects to these fragments of self.

I ended up in Seattle with luck and by random. The tribe I worked for sent me to Eastern Washington for a business related event. I drove all the way to Seattle once it ended—not realizing by the way Seattle was a four hour drive.

I pulled into North Bend, rainy and loud with mountains. I felt it. Fog and trees. I loved I did not have to wear sunscreen.

North Bend only had motels. Not even mid-average hotels such as Hampton Inn or even a Red Roof Inn existed. So checked into North Bend Motel, walking in I saw a framed picture of Laura Palmer.



Laura Palmer at North Bend Motel

The motel room was small and all outside bled into through the walls. It was cold and damp. The fake painting was nailed to the wall.

I went out for breakfast and read a newspaper. As I read I saw in bold:

TINY: Streetwise Revisited: The Life of Erin Blackwell

I shuddered. Now this was what was called synchronicity—as Dale Cooper put it. Happening for reason.

As part of the Seattle Film Festival, the film was screening at 10:00 am tomorrow.

I was on a mission. I found a library in a near by town, brought and printed my ticket.




I even found free parking outside of the theater—always a good omen.



Tiny and her horses. “The horse is my main best animal.” She says in Streetwise as a thirteen year old kid. And thirty years later, her Mom recites a story of how Erin at ten years old stole a horse a near by farm. She always wanted her own horse.

After the film screened, I took photos of Tiny, her kids and Martin Bell for her camera.




Tiny & me

I drove to Pike Place to find the bricks on the ground with Lulu and Dewayne's names.

I had been grossly naive to think that Streetwise had been adopted at Pike Place as a monument.



I found crowded lines for doughnuts and fish. Not a soul knew anything about the documentary Streetwise. After looking for a plague of names for a hour and seriously annoying well to do Sunday shoppers, I gave in and went to information.

While the information person did not know about Streetwise, he did help me find Lulu and Dewayne's plagues. Apparently, many people get their names on plaques on the floor. He got out a booklet and searched names. Dewayne and Lulu were placed near one another—this comforted me.



I ran over to the space outside of the craft doughnut stand. And there on the floor were these two plagues.

Seattle feels haunted. Maybe it is the fog and rain. I like that it is that way to me.

When I left North Bend, I felt that I had met pieces of Laura Palmer, she was all of these kids. All these things I will never completely know.

I like that it is haunted.







Additional note:

Tiny for marimba and bass clarinet



As Tiny stated her relationship with her horse. Tiny and her horses. “The horse is my main best animal.” She says in Streetwise as a thirteen year old kid. And thirty years later, her Mom recites a story of how Erin at ten years old stole a horse from a nearby farm.



She always wanted her own horse. This piece is a moment of time where Erin gets to be with her horse. Without a past, present or future, that is known to anyone of us, she gets to have a girlhood once again. This piece about Erin meeting her horse and riding, being lost in the connection to her girlhood dream, and being free any past, present and future. Additional note:

Revisiting girlhood is often something women are not encouraged to do. Yet, comic book conventions and toy trading remain popular for men. It is precious and important for women to revisit their girlhood, to check in and empathize with who we were before we were sexualized. Often the developmental change from girlhood to teenager is one that is violent, involved shame or trauma. Perhaps that is why this quiet and precious area of our lives maybe so hard to reach. However, it does exist within us and we all deserve to reconnect to those moments.

Last week I was lucky enough to attend the Orchestrating the 21st Century Symphony in Albany, N.Y. Upstate New York has remained a mystery to me. My only connection to Albany is attack ads during political season. You know “Tell Albany to Get to Work!” that kind of stuff. I pictured Albany as an large congressional board room with fat chubby older men eating sub sandwiches while pretending to sign important documents.

Yet, I was not to meant to be in Albany. My hotel and workshop actually took place in Troy, N.Y, which is across the river from Albany. My cab driver made it clear Troy “isn't Albany, people will get mad if you confuse the two.” Albany Symphony booked me and the eleven other composers an amazing hotel room. After I checked in, I wondered around. I noticed right way many abandoned building especially churches.

This building in particular caught my imagination. Stylistically I fell in love with it. I pictured several possible story lines: Twilight Zone episodes, ominous story-lines about men trapped in time, a very hip recording studio with a menacing curse.



Twilight Zone Abandoned Building

Or this abandoned Catholic Church. In person, the church is massive and stunning. I always become sad and shocked when a beautiful building is abandoned.





Curved architecture always wins me over:


Just one of many gorgeous buildings in Troy

Apparently Uncle Sam was a real person, who lived and died in Troy, N.Y. Thus beer, burgers and bowling alleys would be named Uncle Sam something or another:







Uncle Sam Lanes – just gorgeous and fun mid century bowling alley.







In addition to Uncle Sam tributes, Troy also loves stairs. So many in fact, Troy – should be renamed "Stair City" or get an elevator.


Look at all these stairs I had to climb twice a day:



The infamous stairs at EMPAC, climbed daily

I was climbing and complaining at the time this photo was taken


Other things I enjoyed in Troy:


This dumpster



An unemployed Dante now writes on dumpsters

The bar with live plants inside:



The Tiffany Church Glass


Composer David del Tredici speaks about his music at St. Paul Episcopal Church

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