Charmed on a Raw Night

Michael Stuart Kelly

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Charmed on a Raw Night

By Michael Stuart Kelly

I have had a series of down moments recently. I suppose all writers get to this point. You have a bunch of stuff that needs writing and you just can't get started. The problems of the world aren't so bad, really, and business looks pretty promising. I have much to be grateful for and I know I am doing the right things to get to the places I set for my journey.

Still, am I in the right world? I have lived for many years independently and now I have been staying for some time with my parents, who are elderly. They are extremely gracious and treat me very well, but there are limitations on my freedom that I give to them (gladly for now). But still, limitations are a cage. Tender loving bars, but still a cage.

There's Kat. We are in love about as much as you can be, but she's in one city and I'm in another. It isn't money either. It's another kind of limitation, some personal situations involving family that are being resolved. More bars on more cages.

Also, I just finished a stint of intellectual exchanges with some dismal people who have perfected the art of the double standard and hypocrisy to such a degree that I literally felt dirty for a couple of weeks after I stopped. Good Lord, how can people twist their minds around technicalities so much that they lose all sense of the ridiculous? (You all know who I mean, so I will not go into it. My point is not to argue these things right now, anyway, nor insult them. I merely wish to communicate my feeling of disgust, contempt and revulsion, then frank relief and some unpleasantly raw residues that don't want to go away – in essence, the negative impact on my spirit.)

I will be doing an article shortly on this just to get it over with. It needs to be done if my world in Objectivism is to mean anything at all to me and I will do it. But I haven't yet, so that annoying ugliness is still in the near future.

Added to this, I am involved in several exciting writing projects. I am writing an article for a very highbrow and demanding audience. I am doing a book and my aim is mainstream. A blast from the past brought with it a technical manual on a breathing method for musicians that I wrote a long time ago and taught very successfully for years – and I am very capable of redoing it on short order. Lastly, I have decided to deepen my writing education by analyzing a book on plots (and some others).

In short, I am facing a new professional world, with new challenges, new villains and new knowledge to gain. There are new wings to soar with, but so very, very much to do for each take-off.

This got me thinking about my past. I used to be a classical musician. My world literally consisted of orchestra rehearsals, about two hours of private trombone practice daily, and another three or four hours of composing, and then more time studying books on music and scores.

When I could manage, I would visit with like-minded people where our verbal battles were earth-shattering issues such as whether the cerebral interpretations of the conductor, Goerg Solti, were more correct than the emotional approach of Stokowski or Bernstein. These arguments would get brutal, but they were fought in a very civilized manner.

These kinds of people are disciplined and are extremely courteous. They drink alcohol and laugh, but everything is in small doses. They know fine foods. They constantly look for meaning in simple things. They are well read and well bred. There is always lots of music.

These people were my life for over a decade.

Then I freaked out. I reacted poorly to devastating heartache and threw it all to the wind. I got rid of my orchestra job, my family and even my sanity at times. All of a sudden, I was producing pop shows in fancy night clubs and got myself a Playboy Bunny to sport around. Oodles of money, booze, drugs, sex, bright lights, traveling and beautiful people. The hysteria level was high. It was loads of fun, too. One day merged into another in an out-of-focus blur. And it did not take too long to start going bad.

Before the inevitable meltdown happened, I started getting a feeling of not being in the right world. After all, the discipline of working with musicians who cannot read music is completely different than rehearsing an orchestra. You need to learn a new language just to talk to them, much less direct them. Also, it seemed like nobody read books, so they had no idea what I was talking about half the time. People knew the name, Beethoven, and were familiar with those of his tunes that made it into TV commercials, but forget about mentioning Mahler or Rachmaninoff. One guy even told me that their names sounded like brands of spaghetti sauce.

Nobody knew how to eat, either, but everybody knew reams of information about booze. There was lots of telephone time logged up talking about nothing at all hours. Loud yelling and low-life rudeness when people got mad, too. No simple put down would ever make anybody in that world red in the face. And then there were parties galore with nonstop cheap thrills. I lived in the middle of that. It felt like a whirlwind and I rarely got much rest.

One day, backstage in a Ziegfield Follies type musical where I was working, a feeling of not belonging – being completely in the wrong place – hit me real hard. My world was ending at that moment, anyway, because I was breaking up with Bunny. Then this thing came on. I looked around, looking for a way out. All I could see were ballerinas in full costume – dancers of jazz and Brazilian music. Red all over the place and large Ostrich feathers everywhere.

All of a sudden, I heard a woman's voice come out of nowhere, "Michael. How are you?" It was in English, but with an accent. I looked and looked but all I could see was a swirl of red and huge feathers on beautiful women. I didn't know any of them. Then everybody was gone. Just an empty corridor remained.

This continued for a few nights. Finally the dancer introduced herself. "So you are my mysterious voice?" I asked. I looked at her. "How am I? Well, I'm always fine, but I'm much better now." All she did was smile. I expected a boisterous laugh thick with sexual insinuation to follow my lead, but there she stood looking at me. Just smiling.

That intrigued me, so we started meeting for coffee before showtime just to talk about nothing. And she always had that silent smile. It wasn't long before she invited me to her apartment. On the way there, I suddenly became weary. Dog tired in the soul. I saw more sex and booze and maybe drugs coming, but what the hell. That's what this new world was all about, smile or no smile.

When I arrived, there were two more dancers sitting around a table. Men. Gay men. Gay men dancers and my lady friend. It took a minute to register.

I was invited to sit and they continued talking about some cultural matter they had been discussing. Low intense voices discussing important things. That impressed me. Their manners were impeccable, too. My dancer offered me a special blend of fancy herb tea. Then they started asking me questions – intelligent questions about ideas and art. I saw that they looked at me and didn't see a piece of sexual meat or a brazen career opportunity. They saw a mind and they were intensely interested in what I said.

What an emotion!

I was literally astounded at the hunger inside myself. I was back in my old life, being clever and smart and learned. Laughing at subtleties instead of raunchy jokes. Drinking tea for God's sake. Not Jack Daniel's or beer. Or doing drugs. No loud music. No crowd noise. Just good people talking about good things. When it was over, we all left together since my lady dancer had an early call the next morning. A quick good night kiss and that was all. Responsibility instead of hysteria.

I felt like crying.

After I went home, I was so overwhelmed that I walked around in a daze for a day or so. I was a changed man. Life was understandable and I did have a past. It suddenly became not so hard to get over Bunny. She didn't belong in my world, anyway. I was in hers and I didn't fit.

So I started seeing my lady dancer and we became involved for awhile, but that's another story. We didn't last as a couple and I haven't seen her in years. Still, I believe our warmth for each other has endured. Frankly, I don't know if she ever understood the importance she had on steering me back to my own world.

And it's good to remember these things. I like visiting myself. What made me remember this was another similar event yesterday.

You see, the boundary of a new frontier like writing makes for a lot of excitement, but you can get smothered by not being able to catch your breath from all the newness. You look to the future and only see more change coming. No rest for the weary.

I have to learn everything. I can't use many of the skills I acquired in the past. They were for then. Thus, time has become very precious. There are too many things to learn all of a sudden. Some of them are downright hard and long and boring.

I have exciting tasks to do, too, but I have a lot of insecurities to battle. These insecurities come with the territory of branching off into new ground. I've been there before, so I know all about them. Still, it seems like uncertainty never gets any easier to handle. It's the same old story, it never changes, and it's complicated. Then weariness and irritation slowly start settling in.

While I was dealing with that, someone sent me some music right out of the blue. James Kilbourne sent me a CD of 24 songs by Mario Lanza.

Christ! I don't even listen to music anymore. I gave it up as a profession during a very painful time in my life. I shrugged. You don't love music like I did then stop without paying a high price. It gnaws at you. For instance, when I am in a restaurant and music is in the background, I have to make an enormous effort to concentrate on what other people are saying. I start listening to the music, the arrangement, the timbres, a nice sudden harmony, the rhythms, what the bass is doing, the vocal interpretation. I start getting a bit sad because it is not me doing those things, then I completely miss what other people are saying.

Well, here was a musical duty before me and not one I looked forward to. I really like James a lot and he was so nice to send me that damn CD. (Roger Bissell also sent me his CD, a wonderful record, by the way, but that is for another time.) I knew that I could not put off listening to that thing for too long, so I decided to bite the bullet.

Why on earth did it have to be Lanza, though? He's a hambone, for God's sake. He swoops notes and gets overly emotional. He strings out the high note too long. He plays around with tempo and rhythm. Like the critics say, he only sings the lollipops. No subtlety at all. I mean, Lanza's OK, but what a chore! There were 24 songs of that stuff to get through, and I had a whole bunch of other things that needed doing real bad.

Hell and damnation! I thought that I might as well get it over with, so I popped the CD in the computer and put on some headphones. I would at least listen to three or four songs, then maybe skip around a bit. That way I could write a somewhat honest thank-you to James. If it got too boring, I would pull up a document and try to make better use of the time.

The first song started with a long charming orchestral introduction heavy on major sixths and ninths in the important chords (which gives a very smooth luscious sound that I particularly like.) Then Lanza's operatic voice made its entrance.

Like I said, swooping galore. But it was not as hammy as I remembered Lanza from before. Surprisingly, it was somewhat pleasant. Nothing great, but not bad. Still, it could have been a lot worse. I decided to listen to the next track with a more open mind. I let my mind wander some. Gradually, without perceiving exactly when, I started becoming relaxed and I decided to forget the world for the moment. This guy was singing his butt off. I didn't care if it was a bit corny, the music was pretty and I felt good.

As one track led to another, I left all my worldly concerns behind. No more bickering with knuckleheads. No more insecurities about new projects. No more new things to learn. No more impatience. No more weariness. No more irritation.

I started feeling at home. I knew how to write and perform this stuff. I went to college to learn it. People paid me good money to do it for years. And this guy just wouldn't stop. God, what a nice voice! This dude showed up TO SING and to hell with the rest. Did that ever bring back some nice memories, too. So I started visiting myself in the company of a man who was singing his heart out about how glorious it was to be alive. He sang in a musical universe from my past. And he sang of feeling that comes from striving for the loveliest things life has to offer. As the last song ended, it struck me. I BELONGED IN THAT UNIVERSE. That was me.

Suddenly, I was in front of the dancer from my past, drinking herb tea and exchanging pleasantries with her and her friends. The irrational whirlwind raged outside, not where I was. Love became intensely important. Life was knowable, it was graceful and it was good. I let time linger as I savored the drift.

It had been far too long since I had been charmed in that manner.

All I could do was sit dazed in front of the computer for about an hour. Time passed, but I wasn't aware of it. I got up and got a drink of water. I think I started mumbling to myself, but I'm not sure.

Then I pulled up one of the things I was writing on the computer – the one that had caused me a lot of grief, the technical one for musicians that had brought on the writing block – and the ideas started pouring out of me.

Lanza did that? I don't know. I do know that I certainly am going to listen to more of him. He belongs in my world. His musical taste is excellent, too. It is not hammy at all. He is highly emotional without going to the point of exaggeration. I have no idea why I used to think that Lanza's style was crude and in poor taste – nor why I accepted it so easily. But that's not important.

What is important is that my soul was ragged and raw one evening, then it was unexpectedly touched – stroked – in a place I have kept all to myself. That place has been a private affair all my life. But, deep inside, where only I know, a red blur and large feathers flashed by, brushing me, getting my attention, soothing me. A voice called out, "Michael. Listen to this. You might like it."

I listened and I did like it. I was stunned. Simply stunned. This experience is too beautiful to keep hidden away. So there will be more. Thank you deeply, James Kilbourne. I owe you one.

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Michael this is wonderful. It is generous of you to put it out there like that and to share it.



(Note from Administrator: John Newnham asked to be removed from the member list before the forum was transferred to a new program, thus his member name was lost.)

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Michael, Once again I am absolutely charmed. The storytelling, emotional power and literary style make me so proud of you and happy to be your little muse. You have a rare gift, sweetheart, and I know you will soon find commercial success with your writing. It is powerfully moving and improving all the time. I hope your writer's block becomes a thing of the past.

It's amazing to watch all this unfold. You heard a piece of music that you weren't expecting to like, we talked and you shared your reflections of how the music took you back, you sang to me, and a few hours later you posted this magnificent article. It is like watching a great painting come to life. But it's so much more. It is you, in touch with yourself and sharing some universal values. You express yourself wonderfully.

Yes..... I gush. Profusely. I'm your number one fan. purrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr

I love you,


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I was stunned. Simply stunned.

And so am I Michael. What an amazing story. I've read enough of your stories now to know that you have a spirit that, no matter how uncertain life gets, will always pull you back up to the panoramic heights.

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The closet door opens, letting the light into the dark closet. You push the clothes back and forth looking for just the right article. Part of me is the small creature in the back of the closet dodging for the shadows.

Keep opening the closet door my friend.

Mike E.

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I'm a little late in thanking everybody for the kind comments. They are greatly appreciated. It is a fantastic thing to write a work and then know - KNOW - that you have touched the heart and mind of a reader, as your comments show.

The quality level of you guys is first-class - John, Rich, James (thanks again), Kitten (kiss), Jody, Mike (what an image!), Barbara (blush), and Ciro. You all have highly critical minds and strong independent characters. So all I can say is, "What a wonderful reward!"

Thank you all.


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You know what?: you've lived. You haven't just been passing through your life.

Eliot writes somewhere:

"We had the experience;

But we missed its meaning."

You notice the meaning. The thing I like best about the piece -- in addition to its tracking to a climax, as Barbara described -- is what it's tracking, your attentiveness to the details and nuances of the psychological process, and your comparison and contrast of the qualitative worlds of the different sorts of people.



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Michael, I often have not liked your writing in the past. Especially when you have tried to write on Solo on technical topics, philosophical debates in Objectivism, I have been unable to follow you.

But when you write about what you know best, your personal feelings and exultations and heartaches and experiences, your writing is clear as crystal. It is heartfelt, moving, emotional, personal...and authentic.

This was brilliant.

Everyone who has been exposed to Ayn Rand seems to think they can write like her, grand treatises in Objectivist philosophy. But, while bright, very few have that skill or have been doing that kind of thinking across their lifetime.

Don't try to be Aristotle; try to be John D. MacDonald. That you could be enormously successful at, and even get a wide popular audience...something no arcane Objectivist inside-baseball philosophizer can get.

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Phil writes:Michael, I often have not liked your writing in the past. Especially when you have tried to write on Solo on technical topics, philosophical debates in Objectivism, I have been unable to follow you.

Phil are you saying that you can write better than Michael?

Why don't you tell him that he is good, and that's all.

I hope you can follow what I wrote here. :D

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Well, sometimes it's an even more to be prized compliment when you are grudging in your compliments and don't like a lot of things ... and then tell somebody, this time you were brilliant or reached another level. As oppposed to if you like or praise everything they do without discrimination. (It's sort of like those public school self-esteem building exercises where everything the kids do is excellent.)

The point is objectivity requires you do both. You have to criticize and you have to praise (provided you give good reasons or have a basis in each case). Most people's work will be deserving of each at different times.

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Thank you. Yes, it has been a long haul. I am used to saying that if I died right now, I could not complain. Despite doing a lot of stupid stuff, I packed a lot of living in my years. I intend to write about all these things - but not as THE WISE ONE. Hell, I am still learning. There is so much to learn that I feel like I've only scratched the surface at times. But my life is all I've got, so I have to make do with that.

Barbara, your praise literally makes me blush. Thank you from the bottom of my heart.


Thank you so much for your appreciation. I'm glad I touched you.

I don't want to disappoint you, but I have never intended to be Ayn Rand, Aristotle or John D. MacDonald. I am simply Michael Stuart Kelly, no more and no less, and that's all I want to be. However, Rand and others are not the only ones who have thought. I have done a lot of thinking of my own over the course of my life - much of it based on Objectivist premises and most all of it lived intensely. I have much to shed light on because I actually lived what most others talk about, and I can report what worked and what didn't in my life.

Since I stayed out of the loop for over 30 years, I missed all the animosity and the grand leaps in the face of glory of so many trying to be the new Ayn Rand. I sometimes forget how common that phenomenon has become.

My nonfiction should be seen right now as attempts to come to grips with certain issues, not as attempts to teach others what I do not know (which is where I put the vast majority of the Objectivist nonfiction I have read on the forums). This implies a certain intellectual humility and innocence that I find woefully lacking in the Objectivist world. I also found out that not using the Objectivist jargon confuses many, yet I insist on keeping my language simple. (I tend to use it when I get aggressive with an Objectivist, but I am trying to curb that.)

There are so many, many guru wannabees out there. I am not one of them. Consider me more as a fellow traveler in life who is reporting on what he experiences and what he thinks. I have no need to save the world. I have a great need to make my little corner of it as honest and open to meaning (as Ellen stated) as I can.

So unfortunately, you will see some nonfiction crop up from time to time. Just skip it if it bores you or confuses you. I have to get it out, though. It is part of who I am.



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Phil, you wrote: "try to be John D. MacDonald." He's always been one of my favorite writers. For years, he was considered "merely" a writer of mysteries, but in fact he was one of the very best of modern writers -- and, finally, before his death, he began to be appreciated. I used to have every book he ever wrote.

McDonald could accomplish things in fiction that few writers can equal. I remember that in one of his novels, he introduced seven or eight -- I don't remember which -- characters in the first few pages. And as I read on, I never once had to look back to those pages to see who was who. That will give you an idea of how memorable his characters were.

And he introduced ideas in a similarly artful manner. It would be through the thinking or speaking of his characters only in relation to the problems they were facing; the ideas always seemed to arise perfectly naturally out of the events and dilemmas of the story.


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Barbara, I love John D. Macdonald. I discovered the Travis Mc Gee series and read each one right after college. I like Travis himself ... and even his struggles and doubts, because of the -way- he deals with them. And was pleased to discover that he has many other books. I agree that JDMD is much more than a mystery writer. His insight into people's psychologies, his acute observation of situations and the ways things happen in the world, his ability to trace out the detailed steps by which something complex gets done in the business world, etc. An enormously intelligent writer with a good heart.


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