I Told Them I was Homeless

I told them I was homeless and they began to discuss my mental health. I told them I was homeless and they began to discuss my alcoholism. I told them I was homeless and they began to discuss my drug problem, asking me which of various drugs was my “drug of choice.” I told them I was homeless and they began to discuss how much of a loser I was, how lazy I am, and how I should “get off my ass.” I told them I was homeless and they told me where the facility was, where the institution was, which program to join, what kind of treatment to get, where the shelter was, where the board and care was, where the halfway house was, and where all the other criminals are. I told them I didn’t become homeless for any of those reasons. But by that time I realized they weren’t listening.

Andy Pope
August 9, 2016
Homeless Villa, USA

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Social Statement

Because I have been recently lamenting a tendency for some readers not to recognize that my posts are generally “social statements” rather than “requests for advice” (if you can possibly grasp that there could even be a relationship between the two), I am entitling this post “Social Statement,”  just in case there’s any doubt about where I’m coming from.  Granted, it’s a lousy title, but let’s begin.

I was blessed last night to spend the night at my pastor’s house on his farm, where I learned that he is also a farmer, and not only a pastor.  It was  great to be out in the beautiful country, away from the city, and away from Friendship Square, if only for a single night.  It was funny, too.

It was funny — because when he invited me to stay the night, my first thought was: “In all the years when I was homeless, when I lived on the streets, how many times did anyone ask me over to stay the night?”

zero

When I was homeless, and I asked somebody if I could stay the night at their house, what was their answer?

no-no

Herein lies the gist of a social statement.  It may not be headed in the exact direction you are suspecting.  My fellow homeless people and I naturally became more and more discouraged the more these statistics accumulated.  But we also naturally asked ourselves, “why” did close friends and family members categorically refuse to let us stay the night at their houses?  Even for one night?   In my case, even when I offered money to let them stay over one night and take a shower  –  or even just take the shower itself – they said “No.”  Why?

Eventually, we all concluded what I am about to describe.  They all knew that we were homeless.  They also knew that we had a number of other problems, but that none of those problems had ever made us homeless.  They had let us stay over when we were total slobs.  They had let me stay over when we were addicted to drugs.  Often, they themselves were addicted to drugs. They had let us stay over, whenever we were passing through, as long as we had not yet lost a place to live.   So why didn’t they let us stay over when we needed a place to stay?

The answer is simple.  All the problems that they had known about had never made us homeless.  Now we were homeless, and they did not know why.  Therefore we must have some problem that they did not know about, and that problem must have made us homeless.  Obviously, they thought, we had somehow screwed up our living situations in some way — otherwise, we wouldn’t have become homeless.  Since that had to be the case, would we not similarly screw up their living situations as well?  Sure we would.  

They were not concerned about our problems of which they were aware — they were concerned about our problems of which they were unaware.  Everyone has a little fear of the unknown, don’t they?  That fear prevented each and every one of them from ever letting us stay at their houses when we needed to.

You can’t imagine how difficult it was for me to call up a very close family member ten days after I had become homeless in 2004, and ask him if I could stay for a while in his spare room, and hear the word “No.”  When I asked him why, he said, “I don’t care to expand.”  Whenever I asked him over the years if he could elaborate, he said: “No.”

Why?  Because he himself did not know the reason.  He was not afraid of what he knew – he was afraid of what he didn’t know.  What he didn’t know was why I had wrecked up my living situation, and he didn’t want to take the risk of my wrecking up his as well.

The simple truth was that in the urban area where I had become homeless, the demand for living situations far exceeds the supply.  When I lost my last rental — for whatever reason — I could not readily get another one — for whatever reason.  I then fell down into the hole called Homelessness — a whole so deep I tried for twelve years to climb my way out of it.

0519d869c2f17b567099948384b9099bf8a86d-wmIf you can imagine the hurt and the pain I felt from hearing my own brother refuse to let me stay in the spare room at his house ten days after I had become homeless, try multiplying that level of pain by fifteen.  One by one, my closest friends and family members told me that I could not stay with them, nor even take a shower at their homes – not even in exchange for money.  So the discouragement that was strong enough, became fifteen times stronger.

Whatever enabled me to become encouraged again?  Encouraged as I still remain today, despite depression, despite mania, despite a medical condition, despite the loss of a job?

The amazing commonality that I shared with my homeless brothers and sisters on the streets of Berkeley, California, almost all of whom were enduring the same indignity as myself, affirmed our common dignity.  Our conversations, over a five year period, eventually lifted my spirit out of that hole, even though there did my body remain.

I’ve since been in touch with a Berkeley social worker.  I asked him how my best friend Lauren was doing, if she was still on the streets, and if her health was holding up.  I broke into tears when I learned that somebody had finally helped her with the initial deposit and last month’s rent, and she was now able to live on her disability in her own apartment somewhere in Southern California.  I have also heard similar stories, all across the board, of homeless people in my tribe pulling out of that gigantic hole, because our spirits had finally become encouraged by the hugeness of our common dignity, so much so that our bodies were soon to follow.

In Lauren’s case, it was her own brother who finally stepped up to the plate.  In my case, it was a retired music teacher who knew what I was made of, and fronted me a one-way to Idaho and enough money for the deposit on an apartment.  But the dramatic lift in spirits is common in all cases.  I went from being homeless on the streets of Berkeley, assuming I was to die a miserable, meaningless death on the streets, to having a job and an apartment in Moscow, Idaho, faster than the twinkle of an eye.

If that’s not an inspiration, I don’t know what it is.  But remember  – it is not just my inspiration; it is the inspiration of hundreds, maybe thousands, of some of the most inspired people on the face of this Earth.  That inspiration can make a difference.  Please,  let us make that difference — before it is too late.

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Anything Helps – God Bless!

More Culture Shock

I was going to remove the previous post because it was basically the “illustrated version” of a 27-paragraph Facebook timeline post, printing out to 13 pages (1 1/2 spaced) on a Word doc, and I didn’t expect anyone to bother to read a post that lengthy on either site.  The only reason I wrote it in the first place is because I was feeling depressed, and I was giving myself an online pep talk at the time.

However, four people read it on Facebook, and it looks as though three people read it here on WordPress, although I’m pretty sure at least one of them was a “likes collector” and did not actually read the post. 

It is both interesting and depressing that, of the four people who read it on Facebook, the two who decided to comment did exactly what I was hoping no one would do.  I even think that I pretty clearly suggested in the topic paragraph of the post that this was not what I wanted anyone to do.  I had said that my posts were in general “social statements” and not “requests for advice or assistance.”  So, when two people proceeded to give me advice in their comments, it made me think one and only one thing:

Can my writing possibly be that bad?

However, of the other two people who read it on Facebook, one of them gave it a “love” and the other one private-messaged me with the word “wow.”  (I wish she had put the “wow” on the post itself, but I suppose I can’t have everything.)  So I have to remember that it’s not always all about me.  People’s inability to understand the gist of my posts is not always related to my inability to write clearly.  Sometimes, for whatever reason, they just don’t understand.

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In any case, depression has been striking me much more frequently and much more easily ever since March 4th, which as you may recall is the day I finished the script to my musical Eden in Babylon.

Talk about your crash and burn.  It seemed as though I had reached a peak, after which I could only descend, when my desire had been to ascend further upward.  My doctor and my therapist both want me to try this new medication, and I’ve been feeling like telling them both to take all their damned psychiatric drugs and cram them up their you-know-whats.  The last one gave me acid reflux, for which they responded by wanting me to take yet another med, one to wipe out the awareness of the acid reflux.  Of course, I stopped taking the psychiatric med instead, and the acid reflux went away.

The psychiatric med had little or no effect on my mental health while adversely affecting my otherwise excellent physical health.  I just do not understand why a person would ever want to take a psychiatric drug unless they absolutely needed to. Psychiatric drugs lost me a $50,000 annual income, a car, and a house in the year 2004, only because I still believed anyone who wore a badge.

As far as my piano-vocal score, I made it about halfway through the Opening Number during the first week of my plan to work twenty hours a week on it and get it all done before October 1st.  Though the task was not as tedious as I’d expected, nor did it feel as much like drudgery as I’d anticipated, I still felt like I couldn’t rise to the occasion.  I was on my way down.  There was no stopping it.  I was living in a beautiful, idyllic city of my dreams between July 27 and March 4th.  Since that date, practically everything I have touched has turned to dirt, and the city of my dreams has become a ghost town.

This is neither a social statement, by the way, nor a request for advice or assistance.  I’ll be back with a social statement very shortly.

Culture Shock

I haven’t been active here lately because I’ve been trying to deal with complex issues related to my mental health and my Christian faith.  Much of this is explained in a 27-paragraph Facebook timeline post that prints out to 16 pages double-spaced.   It’s extremely lengthy and revealing, but if you want to read it, I will of course be highly gratified.  I’ll post again with a progress update once the smoke clears from this most recent explosion of nerves.  Take care in the meantime, and God bless you.

CULTURE SHOCK

Whenever I’ve had a Facebook in the past, there has usually been a much larger number of “friends” here, and I have created timeline posts of substantial length and content much more frequently. This wasn’t such a bad thing, because it provided a forum for the expression of some of my rather unusual personal views. However, it also got me into trouble. Not that I couldn’t handle the lively debate I had in fact been hoping to incite, but that sometimes I would be misconstrued in my core intentions. Sometimes, people would become concerned about me personally, when basically all I was trying to do was render a social statement based on my experience.

The classic example in my history would be the event of having three Oakland city cops knock on my door and haul me off to a loony bin over something I wrote on my timeline. To this day, I’m not even sure what I wrote, or how it was thus misconstrued. If I recall correctly, it had something to do with the ownership of a certain type of firearm, and how it related to 2nd Amendment rights. It was *not* along the lines of my being about to *use* a firearm on anybody. In fact, I have never owned a gun in my life. But this is the kind of thing that can happen here on Facebook. It was an unfortunate event, but like all unfortunate events, it did motivate me to think a few things through. I am always grateful that God gifted me with an unusually analytical mind, because the intellectual analysis of social details is invariably far more pleasant and productive than any mere depression in which I might otherwise engage. So – call that sublimation or what-have-you. I am an Artist and a Writer – or at least, I think like one. As such, any negative experience I have will immediately become source material for a future work of Art. That’s just the way I roll.

But many other things about my relationship to Facebook concern me. They seem symptomatic of a larger ill. I am never quite sure how much is *my* ill – my boundary issues, communication problems, impulse control issues, impatience, and so forth – and how much of it is due to the fact that the world is simply evil, and that Facebook instantiates the evil that is in the world already. If so, it’s a pretty huge, multi-billion dollar replica of that evil, and not just something to be trifled with. Whatever the case, Facebook is a lot more manageable if I keep it on the down low. But I will keep it. There are people in my life who will never answer my emails or even check their email. There are people in my life who won’t even call me on the phone or answer back if I call them. If I want to find these people, I know where to find them: Facebook. It’s a fact of modern life, just like the damned smartphone that so annoys me. The O.G. is just going to have to live with it.

rotary telephoneFor my part, I would rather we all still had rotary land line telephones that had only one function. Nowadays the smartphone has so many hundreds of functions, it frustrates me no end trying to keep track of them all. My sense of isolation from humanity is completely fed and fostered by modern-day technology. Am I the only person who has all these weird issues around Internet communications and social media? Maybe I’ve just never really bothered to explore it deeply enough to learn what’s truly useful and enjoyable about it all. But it just seems to me that all these different devices, and syncing them together, and two-step verification, and all that other rot is essentially a ploy on the part of the Powers That Be to rob us of our privacy and personal sovereignty, under the guise of increasing our security and convenience. Then again, I can never quite tell how much of this is *me* and how much is *it.* So I take the middle road, and have a smaller Facebook that I use much less frequently. Life is easier that way — for me.

Life is easier for me in a lot of ways, these days, than it has been for many years. This is why I am writing tonight. I haven’t created too many lengthy or meaningful timeline posts, and it’s about time I made a contribution. The lamentations that I have indulged regarding modern technology and the effects of classism on our culture were once those of an embittered old man who assumed he was on his way out. Despite my dreams, despite the worldview about which I am passionate, and despite my God-given talents, I was consigned to die a miserable, meaningless death on the streets, among others who were slowly doing the same. I would have died, as Cervantes wrote about the soldiers he saw dying in battle, not wondering why I was dying, but why I had lived. When I moved from Berkeley, California, to Moscow, Idaho, all of that changed. The sense of culture shock, though still quite shocking, was at the same time a true inspiration.

culture shockBut don’t get me wrong. I still believe what my unusual experiences have led me to believe. I still romance the year 1975, when we all had rotary land line telephones with only one function. But it was remarkable how many things that I loved about the seventies, that I thought had disappeared for good, were obviously still alive here in Moscow. So any despair I might have felt over the state of affairs here in America was instantly removed from my system of social perceptions. I almost feel guilty expressing optimism at this time in our history, but if you can get a grasp of the hugeness of the culture shock, and of its overall impact upon me, you will understand why. I simply did not know there were any places left in America where people still trust each other and believe in each other, where the average person has no reason to suspect that his neighbor will steal from him, and where it is ordinarily assumed that the person in his midst is a competent individual, capable of making rational choices and earning his own living. You have no idea how encouraged I have been to have made this discovery.

Even so, people in California warned me that I would find Idaho to be “backwards, bigoted, and behind the times.” Even as I gushed about how thrilled I was to have finally been able to pick myself up off the streets and craft the lifestyle I had been longing to know for years, many of my friends from California would only emphasize the negative. This could have been a reaction to the effusive and sometimes hyperbolic nature of my ravings. Or perhaps they were jealous that my life had suddenly become easier than theirs. Maybe they just wanted me to chill out, or calm down, or not to fly too high. What happened when Icarus flew too high? He crashed and burned. People who have known me for years know that I have this tendency, which in modern terminology is known as bipolar disorder. But there are other ways to frame the effects of this tendency rather than to treat it as a disease. I got a little bit hot under the collar when I was trying to express how wonderful life had suddenly become, and most of my friends in California were responding by telling me to go see a psychiatrist. Whatever the case, the inability of almost everyone I knew in the State of California to simply be happy for me, without inserting uninformed criticisms of the State of Idaho into their responses, angered me to the point where eventually, I decided to cut all contact with people from my previous existence. This was a rash and blanket, catch-all decision, which after a few weeks I recanted. But it kept me focused at a time when I was, in fact, beginning to “fly too high,” and I needed all the focus I could get.

So let’s take a step back and analyze the gist of their warning. Essentially, the warning states that Idaho, and every other State besides California (with the possible exception of Oregon and Washington) is “backwards, bigoted, and behind the times.” I hesitate to speak for “bigoted” because of the obvious fact that there is no distinct race in Idaho with a large enough population to comprise a target for bigotry, other than the White race. For bigotry and racial tension to be active in any environment, there would have to be at least two races of substantial population in that environment. However, I also want to say that I haven’t really met anyone here who expresses prejudicial or bigoted sentiments. I include this information partly because of something that Julian Hoover posted on a meme recently, regarding the Trump administration, and how racial tension and distrust have increased since his election. This may be true, but since I personally am emerging from a background of such *extreme* racial tension, it’s difficult for me to imagine how much worse it may have gotten since the election. After all, I’m not there anymore. I can only read about it in the papers. But when I was there, in the situation I was in, I was constantly being accused of being a racist by people who did not know me at all, who made this accusation on first sight, merely because my skin was White. Now in that dynamic, who exactly is the racist?

soical-stigmaThis is not mere prejudice. This is stigma. It is the event in which, as the sociologist Erving Goffman wrote in his work on the subject, “perception spoils identity.” I was being judged, not as an individual with his own unique identity, but as a member of a social faction that, in the perception of the person making the judgment, was composed completely of racists. It’s like assuming that the man begging for change on the sidewalk is a drug addict. Or that every drug addict is a thief. Neither of these things is true. In my opinion, the sooner we can all relax and see each other as the unique individuals whom we are, perfectly molded and crafted through our DNA by intentional divine design, at the hands of an invisible and ineffable Creator who knows exactly what He is doing, in a manner that we mere human beings cannot even conceive of, then the better off we will be. This is another reason why I was so overjoyed in coming to Moscow, Idaho. It was the first time in years that anybody was bothering to take me at face value for who I appeared to be, and not just lump me into some box. In the previous world, I kept feeling that the representatives of a political philosophy were trying very hard to put the round hole whom I am into the square box whom I am not. They almost succeeded, because their influence was so pervasive, I almost came to believe that they were right. Had I stayed in that environment much longer, I might have lost my identity completely.

Then, as far as “backwards” and “behind the times,” I think we need to take a look at this as well. For one thing, I have really come to question what is “progressive” about a society in which people have no good reason to trust their neighbors. Have we “progressed” to the point where there is so much theft in our worlds that we turn a blind eye to it, and much of it goes unreported? When I left my wallet at a Starbucks in Berkeley, it was gone fifteen minutes later. I had to replace all the cards, and of course I never got the cash back. When twice I left my wallet in the laundry room of my apartment building here, each time it was returned to me within three days by the janitors, once with $75 in cash in it. I also bought five cell phones during a five year period of time. With the exception of the one I sold when I was destitute, all four of them disappeared from my backpack overnight, whilst I slept. Finally, as most of you know, I had four laptops stolen from me in a three year period of time in Berkeley, and a fifth in Oakland, during that same period. Two of the Berkeley thefts were strong-armed robberies, meaning that I was pistol-whipped in the process. Outside of having to deal with the indignity and trauma thereof, I was extremely frustrated for the interruptions. I had work to do that was important to me, if to no one else, and I was tired of not being able to have a solid place where I could sit down, plug in my laptop, and resume my projects. Finally, I bought a laptop from Bill at the Used Computer Store on Shattuck Avenue, then quietly left Berkeley without saying a word. It has been over a year now. I still have that same laptop today. How long would that laptop have lasted me in Berkeley? Your guess ought to be as good as mine by this point, but I can guarantee you it would not have lasted an entire year.

get-a-jobWhen I lived in California, it was generally assumed that I was unemployable, due to an alleged mental health condition, the veracity of which dates back to January 1, 2007. On that day, I made the two biggest mistakes I have ever made in my entire life. Both mistakes were a direct result of my having bought into the lie that I was unemployable. The first mistake was that I placed myself on Social Security Disability Income at a time in my life when I was easily young enough to be working – and was, in fact (unbeknownst to them) still working. To what degree this was a “scam” of mine, I honestly cannot say. Most of us are glad to receive extra money, no matter where it comes from. But as I accepted the $875 monthly government crazy money that I had not earned, along with the $15,000 back payment that I did not deserve, I had to see the words LEGALLY INCOMPETENT placed in capital letters on a bizarre document informing me that I could not, and should not, ever work again. And, as I saw those words, I believed them. Why did I believe them? Well, that has to do with the second big mistake, which was even bigger, and which we need not discuss at this time. (You all know what it is anyway – or if you don’t, I’ll write a book about it and get back to you.)

Dealing with the rising cost of living as we all were down there, and working less and less the more I leaned on my government money, I eventually landed on the streets. There, I lived for years, desperately trying to find my Andy, and get my Andy back, while not one person validated for me the notion that maybe I could still work. Local agents of the Powers That Be incessantly kept trying to put me into some kind of institution, agency, program, shelter, halfway house, board and care home, or other such strictly structured residential environment. Only once did a stranger passing by me look down upon me, and shout: “GET A JOB!” You have no idea how good it felt to hear those words, when all around me, it was assumed that I was completely incompetent, if not gravely disabled, and in need of some sort of assisted living situation. Honestly, I still remember looking up silently at this total stranger, and hearing him shout: “GET A JOB, MAN! GET OFF YOUR BUTT! GET A HUSTLE!” All I could do, after hearing everybody else around me only tell me where the free food was and how to get a bed in a homeless shelter, was to look up at the guy, and silently think: “You know something? He’s right.”

But the pervasiveness of the identity-crushing, dehumanizing ideology that insidiously weaves its way into the hearts of every free speech advocate who dares take up residence in the city of Berkeley was overwhelming. I consistently thought that I was wrong, and that all of them were right. I couldn’t possibly be right, and the whole world wrong, could I? I must be wrong, I thought. So I permitted them to place me into all kinds of programs and facilities, only to my hurt. For whenever I did succumb, and try to take up residence in one of those God-awful situations, I only found myself surrounded by other people who were also thought to be completely unemployable, if not criminal, and I only drifted further away from my simple goal of regaining the Andy whom I had lost. I lost him when he was smothered in the maze and mire known as Stigma. I would last maybe five weeks at most before it finally dawned on me that I was happier pitching a tent in Tilden Park and quietly saying my evening prayers to the stars. In that solitude, there was a glimpse of the Andy whom I had lost, and even a hint of hope that I might regain him. But I honestly never dreamed I would truly get my Andy back, or even a part of him, until I moved to Moscow, Idaho. Here, after years of living on the streets, I had a job within three weeks after my arrival. Backwards? Behind the times? If this is “backwards,” then give me “backwards.” If this is “behind the times” — all I can say is: Bring It On!

The move I made was phenomenal, abrupt, swift and unforeseen. It seemed to everyone I knew that one day I was dying in a gutter, and the next day I had a job and an apartment in another State. Four days after I arrived here, I signed a one-year lease on an apartment. Would that ever happened down in California? Not on your life. There would have been a complex series of providing references from past landlords as well as personal references, not to mention a credit check and a criminal background check. In the process, some other applicant would have beat me out. But here, when my present landlord even hinted at querying about past landlords, I only had to tell him that they were all a bunch of lying crooks, and that if the tables were turned, I would never provide a reference for any of them. “You, on the other hand,” I smiled, “seem like a genuinely decent fellow.” That was all it took to get a one year lease on an apartment. He trusted me; I trusted him; we still both trust each other. In Berkeley, even after four months of renting a room in an old Victorian, there was never a moment when the landlord and I truly trusted each other.

And the cost of living? I was paying $900/mo. for a place just like this in Berkeley six years ago, only without an on-site laundry room. Here I pay only $285/mo. — with all utilities paid, and free wireless Internet. One might wonder, then, if the clientele consists of completely dubious characters. I can tell you for a fact that I am easily the most dubious character of them all – and that I truly try not to be. I have stolen from no one, nor would I. No one has stolen from me — nor would they. Nobody has assaulted me, or accused me of being a “racist” or threatened to knock the crap out of me, only because my skin is White. I still have the exact same laptop that I bought on the day I left Berkeley. In Berkeley, I had been frustrated that I couldn’t finish a large project – a full scale musical with a cast of 27 – throughout the whole five years since I had conceived of the idea. In Moscow, I sat down between Thanksgiving Day and March 4th of this year at the Moscow Bagel and Deli, and finished the entire thing, all 135 pages of it. I had been furious that I could not score any of the music I had been composing, a song cycle including 18 songs, and a certain instrumentation. I sat down in the One World Cafe in Moscow, Idaho, and I finished the whole damn thing, 400 pages of music, fully orchestrated. Given those personal successes, weighed against my background, one would think I would have no reason to complain about my life at all. And I basically don’t, except for one single horrible, inescapable truth:

I, Andy Pope, have not changed. Oh, I got my Andy back all right – and when I got him back, he was same arrogant, obstinate, stubborn, touchy, finicky, over-talkative, over-sensitive, boundary-breaking, foot-in-the-mouth son-of-a-gun that he always was and probably always will be. (Guess it’s the DNA I was gushing about, and maybe a little of that “divine design.”)

change-231x300I need to change. If I cannot change my heart, which is deceitful above all things, than I at least have to change my approach. Everything that happened before I left my church job on April 15th was stuff that could have easily happened down there, were it not for my circumstances. But I never changed inside of me. I didn’t even try to. I didn’t want to. All that happened was that I got to show my good side for a change, to myself, and to a bunch of other people whom one year ago, I never dreamed I’d have met. But that’s not enough in the long haul. The reasons why my job began to frustrate me were no different than they have ever been in the past, except for maybe that I’m older now, and my ability to roll with the punches of normal workaday stress is even more diminished. I’ve always been too sensitive. I’ve always been too absent-minded. I’ve always stressed out too easily over things that weren’t stressing the others out, leaving them wondering what the problem was. But to move from those relatively minor shortcomings to LEGALLY INCOMPETENT was a big mistake! All it did was to erode my confidence even further, in an atmosphere where everybody around me believed it, and I dared not think they all were wrong. Believing that lie has led me nowhere but to the unenviable position of unemployment in which I find myself tonight.

In the past three months, I have watched myself do everything I have ever done anywhere else in the world in order to shoot myself in the foot. I have committed the same sins I have committed at any other time in my past, whenever I have “crashed and burned,” and in so doing, inexplicably destroyed everything it had taken me months to build up. But what is different is the type of responses I’ve been getting from people in the community here. I have been stopped by cops three times over situations that, had I remained in California, nobody would have cared about. This is great. It means that I am getting wake-up calls for the very same things that would have been completely dismissed down in a State where the jails are too overcrowded for the cops to care. I have had a lady approach me to tell me that she saw a private message I sent to her son and had told him to delete me from his friends list. This is also great. Now I might start being a lot more careful about who I accept as a Facebook friend, and what I say in a private message. I have learned that personal emails I’d sent of a highly sensitive nature, erratic emails that I sent when I was in a volatile state, were shared by the recipient with her associates. This is even greater. Maybe now I will finally be able to address my perennial “email problem,” because in the past whenever I have sent such emails, everybody ignored them, and nobody even cared enough to call me on my stuff. But the most painful thing of all was the sudden rejection I received from a young friend whom I genuinely loved, when he inexplicably blocked me and made communication with him impossible, immediately after informing me that these emails, not intended for him in the first place, had been shared with him. But something stood out in all the mysterious things he was suddenly saying about me. It was his cryptic statement: “You only care about one thing.”

Of all the totally weird things that have happened to me in the past three months, things that would never have happened in California, that was the weirdest and by far the most hurtful. It has been almost impossible to find anything positive about somebody whom I loved absolutely refusing to talk to me, for reasons about which I can only speculate. But for anybody who knows me at all to declare that I “only care about one thing” is a total red flag. It’s a bigger wake-up than any of the other things that have thrown me off balance in the past three months, at a time when my main focus has been trying to regain my balance. The truth is that, in a sense, there actually is only One Thing that I care about. Any caring I might have for anything else stems from that One Thing. And yet, I am completely negligent in letting anyone know what that One Thing is. Most people don’t even want to hear about it, but the plain truth is this. If I don’t start being more vocal about my Christian faith, then the second of the two mistakes I made on January 1, 2007 will rear its head again, for the fifth time in the past three months. In that event, any words I may speak pertaining to the Person of Jesus Christ will be completely ineffective, if not ludicrous and disgusting. And as for Stigma, my avowed nemesis? I can only be grateful to have finally learned just how unscrupulous and indiscriminate my enemy can be. Stigma marches militantly through the narrow minds of the deluded and the depraved, like a ruthless crusader on a quest to rob each and every person on earth of their true and valid, God-given unique identities. If I thought Stigma was my mortal enemy in Berkeley, I had no idea how lethal it would be up here in Moscow. I will attack that monster with all my strength, before it kills me, and every word I write will in some way address its poisons, until I finally get my message across. As I said, every negative thing that happens in my life immediately becomes source material for my Art — and this one is just about as negative as they come.

After informing me that I “only care about one thing,” the young man also very kindly suggested that I ought to save up my money and move back to Berkeley to be closer to my daughter. It was a nice sentiment, and I know that when he said that, he was remembering that I also care very deeply for my daughter. But I have to tell anyone who has bothered to read this whole thing that I am not about to go back to Berkeley. After all the things I just told you (and that’s just the tip of the iceberg) why would I? Sure, I miss my friends from California, people who have known me since the 70’s I so fondly revere, people with whom I hope to always retain contact. But that doesn’t mean I am going to move back to the dangerous, costly, life-threatening situation that I have just now attempted to describe. In California, generally speaking, if I had a problem, everybody ignored me. They decided that it was my stuff, and that I had to work it out on my own, or at best, at their most compassionate, they referred me to some agency that would help me deal with it, claiming that they did not have the personal expertise to address my issue. As near as I can see, if I have a problem here in Idaho, everybody rushes up at me and gets totally in my face about it. I would say that I honestly don’t know which is worse, but that would be total bullshit. It’s a lot better to feel cared about, even if the caring is misplaced or misguided, than to feel as though nobody cares about you at all. So once again, thank God I am in Moscow, Idaho. I was born here, and I will die here, so help me God.

The difference between Moscow and any other city where I have attempted to live is this. By and large, except for a few minor, regrettable events, you guys have not tried to put me in a box. All of you, Paul and Niko and anyone else with whom I’ve talked to any meaningful extent, have obviously accepted me for who I am. This may seem very normal and commonplace to you here in Moscow, but outside of a few close friendships, it’s not something that I have in my experience. Whenever I was asked to resign a job at a Christian church, it was with the strong inference that they did not believe I was a Christian. And yet, my friend Danielle with whom I would talk every day on the Internet, had no doubt that I am a Christian. And this woman is easily one of the strongest Christians I’ve ever met. So what’s up with that? If, in my earlier exuberance for my new life here, people couldn’t even tell that I’m a Christian, then that’s a pretty huge problem — and I will definitely make sure I do something about *that.* A large part of being a Christian is to identify as such, and to let people know about it. It’s a difficult thing to do in a world that has disdain for Christians, but it is a necessary thing. It lets people know where you stand, and it keeps you from falling into sinful practices that could easily ensnare you if you are leading people to believe that you’re all right with those practices. I have to remember that Jesus warned us all that the world would hate us because of our beliefs. He said that the day would come when those who killed us would earnestly believe that they were serving God in the process. But he also said that if they hate us, to remember that they hated Him, before they hated us. They hated Him enough to nail Him to a Cross and force Him to endure the mockeries of those who tortured Him to death, while He was in the process of performing the greatest act of self-sacrificial love that has ever been accomplished in the history of the world. Had He not done that, I for one would be burning in hell. If you don’t believe this, that is perfectly understandable. There was a time when I didn’t believe it either. But there came a time when I reflected, and I realized the truth in it, as well as the power. Maybe that time will one day come for you as well.

View from northeastWhen I left the church job that I had somehow managed to keep for nine months, despite my alleged incompetence, I was discouraged. But again, the discouragement was overpowered by the essential difference between Moscow, Idaho and any other city where I have attempted to live. I was not rejected for blowing my gig. I was not ostracized or abandoned or deserted at a trying time in my life. I did not leave a church – I only left a job. As far as my faith is concerned, Moscow First Presbyterian Church is my home. If I made a mistake in Berkeley, if I messed up somehow, I woke up in the presence of other people who had fallen into the same hole as myself, many of whom were making the same kinds of mistakes that I was making, and many of whom did not care. That kind of environment offered me no incentive to rectify my error. If I make a mistake in Moscow, I awaken to a beautiful city that has received me when I was at my best, and that has every reason to deserve my best. If, at some earlier time in my life, I could not tell how much of it was *me* and how much of it was *it,* then it might well have been because my self-esteem was so low, that I really could not tell how much of it actually *was* it, and how relatively little of it actually was “me.* Here, the disparity is much more glaring. I think I can honestly tell how much of it is me (a lot) and how much is *it* — (relatively little).

You see, I am a Christian. Part of being a Christian is to recognize that our true home is in heaven, and that we are all pilgrims and strangers on the earth. Our true body is a spiritual body, that we already have in heaven, and that will be made manifest instantly at the moment of our deaths, when we finally shed this fleshly body, which is only temporary. We are not human beings having a spiritual experience. We are spiritual beings having a human experience. I think this sentiment is prevalent among all the major religions, the perusal of which I also enjoy. But I remain a Christian, and Jesus Christ is central in my life — or if He’s not, He should be. But like Icarus, when I was flying higher than I’d ever flown in my life, I almost thought I had literally died and gone to heaven. But no way had I died and gone to heaven – I had only moved to Moscow. As a military brat and a lifelong wanderer, I have lived in so many different cities. They all have their different pros and cons. But as a Christian, I believe the words of Hebrews 13 and all the other Scriptures hat I clandestinely have referenced in this post: “We have no continuing city – but we seek one that is to come.”

My true home is not any of the cities or states I have been talking about. My true home is in heaven, where my place has been secured before the foundation of the world. I err when I empower Moscow to such a degree that its positive power becomes akin to that of God’s. I err when I think that Moscow will overpower or overwhelm me if I stay, and that I must then move — to where, exactly? Where else do I go? And when I go there, what will I find? I will only find the same arrogant, obstinate, stubborn, touchy, finicky, over-talkative, over-sensitive, boundary-breaking, foot-in-the-mouth son-of-a-gun that I always was and probably always will be. If I give this city so much power that I feel I must escape it, then I only rob power from the One who has all the power. So why should I empower any person in this city more than I empower God? I know these words may make no sense at all to anyone who is not a believer, but I write them in the hope that they make sense to somebody other than myself. It is God who effected the change that was “phenomenal, abrupt, swift and unforeseen.” I could not possibly have effected such an enormous transition on my own power, without invisible, superhuman, supernatural aid. It is He who snatched me up so suddenly out of all of that chaos, and plopped me down onto Friendship Square on July of 2016 — just the same way that He took me out of an untenable situation in Antioch, CA in September 1990, and I suddenly found myself in Burlingame CA in a three piece suit at a piano job that I was able to keep for nine more years. At no other times in my life has anything like that happened. I could not possibly have created all the sudden conditions that would enable such a dramatic shift of circumstance on my own. It is not a coincidence that I am here. If I were to move, I basically would be denying my faith in the very God in whom I try to put my trust — the very same God I initially thanked so much for putting me here – the God whom I need in order to live, without Whom I am nothing.

homeless-sign-3In the final analysis, God is the One Thing I ought to be caring about. Any caring I might have toward any other human being will then only result from the caring I have toward God. So, if I am to care about God, then I need to ask myself: has God told me to leave this city, just because times have gotten hard, and I am beginning to fall into old patterns that I had hoped to leave behind me for good? After blasting me with so huge a blessing as this, why would God be telling me to go anywhere else at all? You see, all my life I have moved around, first as a military dependent, then as an itinerant theatre person accepting jobs at different regional theatres, and finally as a confused, compulsive, chronic relocator who couldn’t seem to settle down for the life of him. So if I might have mouthed off lately about going back to Berkeley and sleeping on a stairwell while making meager bucks and an occasional slice of pizza flying a sign on a sidewalk, please know that any such sentiment stems from self-delusion and despair — not from any values I would truly wish to cultivate and embrace. I can only thank the Lord that all the insanity of that negativity has provided not only source material for my own Art, but for the ever-evolving, enduring work of Art that is continually being created by the most brilliant Artist of them all. Who am I to challenge the ultimate, perfected Artistry of the Divine?

Nothing in God’s Universe happens by accident. All things work out for good for those who love Him and are called according to His purpose. It is not a coincidence that my sister saw the piano on which I learned how to play being wheeled out of the van of a door-to-door piano salesman in Moscow, Idaho, in the year 1953 when I was in my mother’s womb. It is not a coincidence that Idaho Repertory Theatre was founded in Moscow, Idaho in 1953, the year I was born. It is not a coincidence that there is a school of Reformed Theology directly across the street from me, and that the name of that school is “New Saint Andrews College.” My friends have been calling me “Saint Andrew” ever since. It is not a coincidence to have gotten into long-distance running, and to find that there is a running shoe store on the very corner of the building where I live. It is not a coincidence to have found out from my sister, God rest her soul, where to find the house where I was born, and that in walking up to that house, the cross-street read “HOME STREET.” Most of all, it is not a coincidence that although I only lived here for the first year of my life, I came back in my 63rd year to see what this town was like, and I loved it so much, it almost seemed custom-designed for me. To leave this beautiful city, only because I began to have the same problems I have had in every other city, everywhere else I have tried to live, for the past 34 years of my life, would truly to be to kick a gift horse in the mouth, don’t you think? Far better it will be to remain here, and actually deal with those problems, rather than continue to escape from them.

II was born in Moscow, Idaho, and there’s a good chance I will die in Moscow Idaho. Now how beautiful of a creation is that? Glory, I say therefore: Glory! Glory to God on High! I thank God that if I seek love, I now know where love can be found. If I looked for love in the “wrong places,” I need do so no longer — because I know where the Right Place is. Glory to the One who loves the unlovable. Glory to the Name of God.

Andy Pope
Moscow, Idaho
July 20, 2017

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