Gratitude List 1007

This one was from Saturday morning.  It looked interesting & unusual enough to be worth posting.  So I posted it.  

1. Slept about 5 hours, a little after 10 till around 3. Slept deeply.

2. At some point yesterday, I became really tired, in a good way. Tired of always feeling like I have to prove myself. It felt good not to need to prove anything to anyone.  It made me feel as though I was already all right.  

3. Apologized to a couple people I’d gotten upset with.  I don’t know that they were necessarily “in the wrong” but it still seemed right to apologize for my overreaction.

4. Felt better after I apologized, and like I could move forward now.

5. There’s a kind of hatred in me when I’m trying to prove myself to people, especially to people I knew from California, or to sheltered people of privilege, or both. Tired of hating on them, tired of returning stigma for stigma.  Tired of the whole thing. It felt so good to let go, when I did let go, and I knew I’d let go.

6. I didn’t have to prove myself anymore to this one guy I ran into the other night, somebody who intimidates me, because he has every positive quality that I lack.  So what?  He’s got his, and I’ve got mine.   The same God created us both.

7. Did all right at the Open Mike and may have made a new friend in this one lady Hanna — or at least a fan. Sang “The Word from Beyond” and it kinda seemed dumb that I’d ever felt I needed to change those lyrics, as though to prove myself, or prove that I’m not New Agey, or whatever it is that makes me weirder than most Christians.  It’s just a damn song in a show, that is to say, a show tune.  And I wrote it.  It speaks for itself.  Tired of proving myself.

8. Woke up and I was different. Tired of sending all these emails to everyone. I want to read, I want to run. Tired of talking all the time, I just want to listen.

9. It felt good to just notate the score last night and make progress and not have to prove that my work is good. My work just is good, it felt good just to do the work and not worry about what anybody thinks of it. If they didn’t think my music was good, they wouldn’t be trying to help me produce my musical.  It felt good just to relax about it all for once.

10. Met an interesting spiritual guy who knows Norman from Campus Christian Center, a Zen kinda dude named Seth. He gave me a ride home from the Open Mike. We probably disagree about prayer, but I didn’t feel like I had to win an argument or anything. Tired of proving myself.

Tired of having to prove myself to money-worshipping money-guzzlers.  Tired of feeling like I should have anything to prove to people of privilege who go around lecturing us poor people on how to live — as if they have any idea what it’s like to be poor, and as if I had any inkling I’d ever want to be rich and become like they are.

Tired of getting pissed off at privileged people’s put-downs and all their hypocritical kick-downs.  I’ll stay poor, I’ll stay starved, I’ll stay complaining to them all.  And the day when they realize I’m not complaining about my lot in life, but only complaining about them — will be one Great Day on the Planet.  Some of these kooks kick down a couple of bucks and expect you to kiss their butts for the rest of your days.  They kick down five, and you’re supposed to change your entire hard-earned value system.  Ten bucks and there goes your political philosophy. 

I’m just tired, I’m done. It feels good. I don’t care about money-lovers, the seeds they plant are rooted in evil.  They’ll get theirs. 

And I’ve got mine!!  I just want to die to self and live to Christ. From now on. Tired and done.

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The Responsibility of Those in Authority

The words of King Lemuel – an oracle his mother taught him.

What shall I say, O my son?
What, O son of my womb?
What, O son of my vows?
Do not spend your strength on women
or your vigor on those who ruin kings.
It is not for kings, O Lemuel,
it is not for kings to drink wine,
or for rulers to crave strong drink,
lest they drink and forget what is decreed,
and deprive all the oppressed of justice.
Give strong drink to one who is perishing,
and wine to the bitter in soul.
Let him drink and forget his poverty,
and remember his misery no more.
Open your mouth for those with no voice,
for the justice of all the dispossessed.
Open your mouth, judge righteously,
and defend the cause of the poor and needy.

–Proverbs 31:1-9

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Lillian

I found this story in a folder containing old timeline posts from around 2015, when I was still homeless.   I submitted it to Alastair Boone, the editor of Street Spirit, for consideration in the January issue.  I hope you gain from these words.   

To say that there are not criminals roaming the streets at all hours of the day and night would do a severe disservice to the truth. But to assume from that observation that every homeless person is a criminal seems a bit pejorative, if you ask me.

Of all the people whom I regularly see at events like the Sunday morning community breakfast, I’m trying to think of who do I know who has not been to jail. Well, let me see here — I haven’t been, and my best African American 50-something friend hasn’t been. That’s about all. Even my best female friend, whom I shall call Lillian, was recently in the Berkeley City Jail for four days.

Which is sick. The woman has had two serious strokes. As a result, she doesn’t speak normally. She has to speak at a louder volume than most, and it takes her a long time to find the words. During the period of time when she is looking to find words, her face makes unusual contortions. But I can guarantee you that her highly intelligent mind knows exactly what she is intending to say. Her neuro-physiological condition only makes her speaking very difficult and uncomfortable.

Homeless Bill of Rights - Building Opportunities for Self ...

This woman has never used drugs other than marijuana, nor does she drink alcohol. People think she is “retarded” because of her stroke. I have even heard people say: “She needs to get off the meth.” I know this person, and others who know her will affirm that she has never used methamphetamine. I am one of the few people who has bothered to get to know her well enough to realize that not only is she not “retarded” — she is actually quite brilliant.

So she’s sleeping in a parking lot on Bancroft, near Peet’s Coffee and Tea, where she meets her Payee in the morning. Three Berkeley City Police cars pull up, tell her she is charged with Trespassing, and hand-cuff her. She tries to explain, in her odd way of forming words: “I was only trying to sleep.” She is then charged with Resisting Arrest.

Two days ago, she comes to my Spot to say she had been in jail for four days. She’s laughing, because she thinks it’s hilarious that someone like her would be sent to jail for something she does every single night; that is to say, sleep. She couldn’t wait to tell me, because, as she says: “I knew you would be sensitive enough to be outraged on my behalf; and insensitive enough to think it was hilarious.”

People who are “retarded” do not come up with such statements. But it’s not hilarious, really. These idiot cops couldn’t tell the difference between a 50-something woman with a serious physical disability, and an irresponsible crook or drug addict invading U.C. campus property. That is just plain sick.

What is the world coming to? It’s getting to where, if you see someone approaching in a wheelchair with a missing leg, you don’t think: “Oh, that’s awful. I wonder how he lost his leg?” You either think: “There’s another hustler, and what does he want from me?” Or else you think: “Look at that screwed up degenerate scum bag.” I swear to God, on a stack of Holy Bibles — this is not the America that I was brought up in.

I am not even asking America to open up her eyes to the plight of her own people. Her eyes are well wide open enough. I ask America to open up her heart – because I am old enough to remember when America was a compassionate nation.

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Tuesday Tuneup 35

Q. Where would you like to be?

A. I would like to be with Jesus Christ, in the Day when there will be a New Heaven and a New Earth.  In that Day I will drink new wine — with Him.  For the form of old wine will have passed, and there will be no drunken stupor, but only the intoxication of the Spirit.  Among us will be many others of the Resurrection Family, as we revel in a realm of unimaginable beauty and glory.   A realm where everybody is equal, and where no one need be told to know the Lord. 

For we will all know Him — from the least to the very greatest.   There will be neither male nor female, neither Greek nor Jew, neither slave nor owner thereof.  For we will all have been loosed from the bonds of oppression, and liberated into the freedom of unhindered, unrestricted, unrestrained Flow of Life.   We will drink freely of the Water in the River of the Water of Life, and in that Baptismal Water, Christ will be born in the hearts of all who live forever in His Spirit.

And God Himself will be among us, and we will be His people, and He will be our God.  And in that Day we will need no lamp, nor light from the sun, for the Lord God will give us Light.   And God will wipe every tear from our eyes.

The Questioner is Silent.

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Gratitude List 1001

1. Despite being once again bent out of shape over family difficulties, I turned in my article for Street Spirit on time last night, and even think I did a good job.  

2. Once again, I had the experience of feeling hassled over personal issues when I was outside trying to work in a coffee shop last night, and then moments later, walking through my front door and immediately being overwhelmed with gratitude and a sense of the love of God.

3. Very much enjoyed playing piano for the two nursing homes yesterday afternoon.  It is a particular blessing to be playing a Wurlitzer spinet at Aspen, identical to the one I grew up with, on which I first learned how to play a piano.

4. Heard from my friend Guy, who is a pianist, a singer, and an Acting teacher.  He gave me a great compliment on Holiday, beginning with the word “Wow” and again affirmed for me that it’s hard to believe that this sound quality came from a smartphone only. 

5. Had a auspicious 10-minute scheduled phone call with my editor that may lead to more work writing articles for other newspapers where she has worked.

6. Though my ingrown or distrophic left toenail snapped open when I tried to put on a pair of socks last night, I’m lucky I had some benzocaine on hand so I could apply the local anesthetic and yank it off myself, thus saving an expensive trip to a doctor whom I probably wouldn’t trust with my toenail anyway.

7. Looking forward to Christmas Eve services at my church tonight.

8. Though I awakened at three in the morning once again troubled over a family member, the Gregorian chant I just put on is helping me realize that I really can get some needed sleep again, and that things will probably look brighter in the morning.

9. Nice to have a place of my own where my sleep is uninterrupted by external insanity and cruelty.

10. If celibacy was good enough for Jesus, St. Paul, and St. Francis, then it is certainly good enough for me.  Very very thankful at this moment to be alone with the God who has blessed my solitude by permitting me to accomplish a plethora of creative, meaningful work that no living situation in the past has fostered.  Thank God for the God of Peace.  

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Who Has Woe?

Who has woe? Who has sorrow?
Who has contentions? Who has complaints?
Who has needless wounds? Who has bloodshot eyes?
Those who linger over wine,
those who go to taste mixed drinks.
Do not gaze at wine while it is red,
when it sparkles in the cup
and goes down smoothly.
In the end it bites like a snake
and stings like a viper.
Your eyes will see strange things,
and your mind will utter perversities.
You will be like one sleeping on the high seas
or lying on the top of a mast:
“They struck me, but I feel no pain!
They beat me, but I did not know it!
When can I wake up
to search for another drink?”

–Proverbs 23:29-35

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Tuesday Tuneup 34

Q. Where would you like to be?

A. Good question.

Q. Is that all you’re going to say?

A. No.

Q. Then what else are you going to say?

A. I don’t know.

Q. Why don’t you know?

A. Because I’m not sure where I would like to be.

Q. Why not?

A. I’m not sure.  I just feel kinda drained.

Q. Why do you think that is?

A. Pushing myself too hard lately.

Q. How so?

A. I got triggered a few nights ago.   Stuff kept me up, couldn’t sleep.  And to tell the truth, I haven’t been sleeping well lately much at all.  When I lose sleep, I get overamped.  Nervous energy.  Nowadays, they say “manic” — but I don’t like to toss that word around idly.  Still, I’ve been sleeping less, eating less, working more, exercising more, overreacting to stuff — I don’t know.  It just burns me out.  The body/mind can only take so much of it, and I eventually crash.

Q. You say you’re burned out?

A. Yes. Burned out.

Q. Then why don’t you take a nap?   Do you have time?

Ahome sweet home. Yes, I have time.  And I ought to take a nap.  I really ought to.  It’s raining, I went to the grocery store, I brought the groceries in, my pastor was nice enough to give me a ride . . . and I’ve been so bummed about certain things lately, I’ve been escaping into all this work, as though to justify or vindicate myself — to make myself strong during a personal storm.

But you know what?  When I walked through that door with those groceries, and I heard the rain outside, something just came over me.  Like tears.  I actually have my own apartment.  I actually can buy groceries.  There’s actually somebody in my life who would drive me to the grocery story in the rain, who would wait for me in the car.

I am human now.  I am a human being.  I am not a piece of shit.  I never was a piece of shit.  I thought I was a piece of shit — because I had become homeless.  And because a lot of people think that homeless people are pieces of shit.   I believed it so much, I internalized it.   And then I felt I had to prove myself all the harder.

But I’m beginning to realize something.  I don’t have to prove myself at all.  I’m who I am.  I’m a human being.  I am loved.

So if I don’t know where I would like to be right now, then maybe I’m missing the point.  Why should I like to be anywhere else than in this nice quiet apartment, listening to the rain outside?  Three years ago that rain would be raining right on me.

Why should I be anything but thankful I was able to make my own sandwich and cook my own pasta?  What more do I need on a day like this?  It was hell down there.  And it’s heaven right now.   Does anybody have to prove themselves in heaven?  Why should I be anywhere other than where I am right now?  And why would I need anything other than this?

The Questioner is silent.

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Awake the Dawn

This offering is a spin-off on the large choral number entitled “Awake the Dawn” that is featured in my new musical Eden in Babylon.  Although it essentially captures the spirit of the piece, it also involves improvisations around other songs that I have written over the years.

“Awake the Dawn” is a biblical expression found in two of the Psalms of David.  It’s Sunday; it’s early in the morning — c’mon people!  Let’s all Awake the Dawn.

“Awake the Dawn” from Eden in Babylon.  Copyright © 2018 by Andrew M. Pope.

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Beyond Neurosis

Beyond neurosis, there lies reality.

It wasn’t neurosis that made me come up with the ten disclaimers, essentially telling my followers they shouldn’t even bother listening to the song, and then posting the song the next morning anyway.

I wasn’t being bipolar when I was one way one day and one way the next. For beyond neurosis, beyond bipolarity, there lies this thing called reality.

And reality can sometimes be the last thing the Artist wants to face. In fact, maybe the fact that the Artist doesn’t like to face reality is the reason why the Artist became an Artist in the first place.

Maybe, at some long-forgotten age old time of childhood, a little boy learned something about reality that he just couldn’t handle.

Maybe his childhood was so idyllic, and he loved his parents so much, that he couldn’t handle finding out that there was this thing called “death” that would take away his father one day, and take away his mother, and eventually take away his own self.

Maybe that was so painful that for two whole years he looked around at all the people doing normal things, and thought painful thoughts of despair. “Why is that guy washing his car?” the child would ask himself. “Doesn’t he know he could die tomorrow? And what would a clean car be to him then?”

Maybe the child turned from about five to about seven, and suddenly realized he kinda knew how to do things like play Old MacDonald and Mary Had a Little Lamb on a piano, and write little children’s songs, and draw pretty pictures with colored pencils, and write little fairy tales and nursery rhymes, and sing silly songs long into the night, while pretending his fingernails were ice skates, his fingers the skaters, and the sheets of his bed the skating rink, where round and round the skaters would skate, and skate themselves out of their pain.

Maybe he figured that God’s creation was just too painful to face. So he created his own creations, and found pleasure in what he decided to create – a pleasure that cancelled out for a season, the pain of the creation that was God’s.

Whatever the case, it was not neurosis that issued the disclaimers, nor was it bipolar of me to be one guy one day, and another fellow the next. For on the third day, he rose, and he realized reality.

The reality he did not want to face.

The reality is that the song straight-up, flat-out sucks. And he knew it from the start. He wanted to be cute. He wanted to entertain. He wanted to fool people into thinking that he didn’t know the song would turn out as badly as the song in fact turned out. So he went for high drama, like the Actor that he can be, and played his show of neurosis to the hilt.

The truth is, he was never neurotic. The truth is that he knew all along the reality that he did not feel he could face. The reality is what it is.

The song sucks — and that’s reality.

But maybe the song needed to suck, because the Artist needed to face the music, and learn a needed lesson. Maybe the lesson he needed to learn is the reality all Artists must one day face.

For the creation of the Artist is by no means superior to the creation of the Reality.  And that creation is not of the Artist.  The creation of Reality belongs to God.

Image result for creation of God the Artist

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More About Artistic Neurosis

Note: I wrote all this before I posted the messed up piano piece and then deleted it.  I’m not really all that neurotic, am I?  Seems to me the thing really did suck. 

For those of you have been expecting a Friday piano piece, I’m writing rather nervously to let you know that it’s happening and is being slowly uploaded as we speak.

That’s the good news.   As for the bad news, well — I don’t want to say the news is exactly bad, but I do have a couple handfuls of disclaimers to divulge.  

Ahem.

(1) The song I decided to play is the big opening choral number in the last scene of Act One of my recently completed musical, Eden in Babylon.   I must disclaim myself by admitting that I have never played this piece on the piano before.

(2) The number is about 8 minutes long in the real show, but since I had never played it before, I kept forgetting where I was going, and it wound up being 13 minutes long.

(3) My convoluted process of getting it off of my recording device (which on my present budget happens to double as a Galaxy J-3 Tracfone), is so arduous that I doubt the upload will be complete by the 7:30 am Friday deadline.   I will, however, get it to you tomorrow, as promised.

Image result for musical masterpiece clipart(4) Another reason why it was 13 minutes long is that at one point when I couldn’t figure out where I was supposed to go, I drifted into a song I wrote back in ’74, called “When Feelings are Few.”   Actually played almost the entire song before I found out a way to return to the originally intended theme.

(5) There is a mistake that I thought was so God-awful at the time, I couldn’t help but laugh quite distastefully at my own error.  Then, true to usual process, the only thing that makes it sound like a mistake was that the fact that I was laughing at it.

(6) I was in an ego-driven state of passionate pride at the time of my performance, which caused my body to contort in an unseemly fashion when I was really “getting into it.”

(7) I interrupted my performance between the 2nd and 3rd movements of the piece to let you all know verbally at least half of these disclaimers, not yet realizing I was destined to nervously announce them in advance by recklessly composing the spontaneous admission of artistic neurosis that you are now reading.  (And incidentally, probably wondering why you’re still reading it.)

(8) I then forgot entirely how the 3rd movement begins, until I remembered that it’s the song otherwise known as Daylight, which I then proceeded to play in the wrong key.   (And I never did get to the “B” part of the tune, because I kept searching for the right key in frustration.   “A” part wasn’t too bad, however.)

(9) Piece is disjointed and chaotic on the whole.   (But at least if felt good) . . .

(10) I had intended to play a light-hearted smooth jazz piece of about three and a half minutes long, but just before my fingers hit the keys I forgot which piece I had wanted to play.  

So, after a brief announcement, I quite impulsively endeavored to play Awake the Dawn on the piano, because that’s just kinda the way it rolled.  (The link is to a Finale-generated version using the Garritan Personal Orchestra, just in case anyone’s down to hear how it’s *really* supposed to sound before deciding whether or not to proceed to the impending 13-minute elaboration thereof.)

Whew! Glad I got all that out of my system.  Now I can relax.  :)

See y’all tomorrow!

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Tuesday Tuneup 33

Q. Where would you like to be?

A. In a place of peace.

Q. Are you at war?

A. Yes.

Q. With whom?

A. With my enemies, of course.

Q. And who are your enemies?

A. Good question.  I tend to think that there are two of them — two young rapscallions from the hood, deluded young gentlemen who are often ringing my doorbell at odd hours of the night, for lengthy periods of time, and only to request annoying favors of me.

Q. These two young rapscallions — are they truly your ememies?

A. Probably not.   My enemies are probably more internal than external.  

internal enemyQ. What do you mean by that?

A. Well you know, I have all these inner blocks or demons that try to prevent me from staying the course, from keeping to what I’m about, and all that.

Q. But if a guy rings your doorbell at three in the morning, and keeps ringing and knocking until you finally give up and go answer it, and you can’t get back to sleep, how is that your fault in any way?

A. You know something, you’re right.  Almost any O.G. would not be able to get to sleep after something like that!

Q. So why are you being such a pushover?

A. That’s the internal enemy I’m talking about.  I’m a pushover.  The Kid knows that once a month, I’m going to be available to walk down to the nearest ATM and get him money for his chewing tobacco.   So what I’ve got to do is just say NO and say it firmly.  

Q. Why haven’t you done this already?

A. He keeps catching me off guard.  Both of them do — the other one’s not so flagrantly nefarious – but he’s still got his angle.  And his angle involves me, because—

Q. Because?

A. Because I’m a pushover.  And worse yet, I just told the whole world about it.  Pretty soon, every rambunctious rapscallion in town will be knocking on my door.  On MY door!  On the lockable, locked door that I EARNED – after putting in twelve hard years on the streets, where there was no door to be locked, or even to offer the slightest separation from me and all the evils of the night.  What a fool I am to willfully descreate and violate the sanctity of my sanctuary!   Damn, I’m pissed.

Q. And now?

A. And now what?  I just have to make the internal change, and enforce it, and be firm about it.  It’s like — a life lesson.  It’s something I’m supposed to learn here, while I’m on this Earth, and take it to the next stage of experience, when I’m not.

Q. You think so?

A. Sounds good to me.   Not knowing how to stand up for myself and say NO to people landed me in a gutter for over ten years.  I daresay I shan’t make the same mistake twice.

The Questioner is Silent.

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Gratitude List 981

(1) I awoke at 7am and noticed immediately that I was no longer depressed or lonely, but was feeling like my usual, chipper self once again, thank God.  

(2) Thankful to feel like I am functioning more-or-less normally.  There is a great sense of promise and potential when one realizes that one is no longer saying and doing things that are inexplicably weird, totally bizarre, and distastefully out of character.

(3) Slept from about 5:30pm till only 1am, as I’d feared.  The good news is that I got back to sleep at around 4 and slept till 7, waking up refreshed.  Even better news is having a place to stay when I wake up at odd hours of the night.   For a lot of my life, I did not.

(4) Noticed and skimmed a nice email from my friend in Scotland across the waves.

(5) Starting my 3rd cup of free Pikes Peak coffee at the Courtyard Café.

(6) Scraped up an old laptop I can use outside of the house.  While it has many problems, thankfully music notation software is not one of them.   Observe:

(7) There may be a small paycheck in today’s mail.  Also, I can probably sell more Exile albums if I get back in the groove of it.

(8) I’m in a good mood this morning.   I no longer feel threatened by my own personality.  Stay this way for a while, and I will do great things.

(9) Lots of promise, lots of potential, comes of just one’s being oneself.

(10) His blessings are new every morning.  Great is His faithfulness.

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Gratitude List 973

1. Although I woke up after only three hours sleep at around 2:30am feeling horribly mentally unhealthy as well as morally and spiritually incompetent, enough positivity has been mustered up since then to renew my hope.

2. One of the (very minor) frustrations on my mind this morning was an inability to find my nail clipper, but at the moment in the morning when I remembered to pray for God’s help at the beginning of the day, I looked down onto the kitchen counter, and there it was sitting by the microwave.  I like it when this kind of thing happens.  It of course has nothing to do with resolving any of the more major frustrations, but it does sort of give one the impression that God’s got his back.

3. Nice email update from Erika this morning and was able to write a proper reply.  This also came one day after I was getting a nudge to email her, so that part’s also good.

4. Heard from Timbo upon my request, who used to be a peer counselor at the Recovery Center.  It was good to go over some of my current issues with him, so as to get a new and valuable perspective.

5. Sold another Exile CD.   Grateful to have made eight such sales in the past three days.  It’s a ray of hope at an otherwise very trying time.

6. I really like my church.  I was depressed yesterday morning, but the fellowship lifted me up.   Certain members of the church are beginning to approach me with homeless themes, and I get a sense of respect from them that I haven’t often found elsewhere, until very recently in life.

7. Although this is a very problematical time for me in terms of a personal family crisis, it’s having the effect of causing me to create about three times as many gratitude lists as usual.  They do help, along with other tools, to renew my hope in Christ and in the future of humanity on this planet.  

8. I’ve noticed that I forget about my problems when I work on the Eden in Babylon vocal score.  This is a good thing, because it gives me more motivation to get it done, and I really do need to have a draft of it ready by the 31st, in order to meet a certain deadline.

9. It’s always darkest before the dawn.

10. This too shall pass.  

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Tuesday Tuneup 32

Q. Where would you like to be?

A. Right where I am right now.

Q. Where’s that?

A. In a cozy cafe on Main Street, not very far from campus.

Q. What do you like about where you are now?

A. It brings out the best in me.

Q. And what, by the way, is the best in you?

A. The best in me is a part of me that seems most authentic, less contrived, and less compelled to veer from my designated course.

Q. And what is your designated course? 

A. I think you know.

Q. Do I?

A. Sure you do.  It’s all over this blog, isn’t it?

Q. Is it?

A. Yes, it is.

Q. Is that why you’re being evasive?

A. What do you mean?

Q. Well, isn’t it evasive of you not to provide me with a direct answer?

A. No – not evasive.  I’m just tired of it all.  Tired of always having to define myself.

Q. Is that tiredness a form of ennui?  Or perhaps burnout?

A. No, not really.  I’m not tired of the designated course at all.  I only tire of describing it.  

Q. Well then — if you don’t wish to describe the course itself, can you tell us what to veer from it looks like?

A. Certainly.  I veer from my course when I encounter a certain kind of compulsion.  

Q. What are you compelled to do?

A. I dare not say.

Q. But if you will neither describe the path nor its detours, how can we possibly learn anything about this disparity?

A. That’s a very logical question.  And I can’t say I didn’t anticipate it.   So I have prepared an illustrative reply.   May I proceed?

Q. Why not?

crossroadsA. Here in this small, close-knit, Art-positive community, there are two establishments in close proximity to each other on Main Street.  Like many of our residents, I have been known to frequent both.  Down the way from this cafe, there is a very different kind of place.  It is a much louder place – a looser place.  A place where just about anything could happen at any time.  

Q. A bar?

A. Not exactly.  No alcohol is served.  But the energy is a bit like a bar.  Logical social boundaries are often broken, and with great disregard for consequence.  

Q. Do you find this threatening?

A. Yes.  Threatening – and at the same time, compelling.

Q. What are you compelled to do there that you would not do elsewhere?

A. Lots of things.  Just about anything associated with a casual cultural standard.  Cussing, for example.  Or discussion of — you know, dirty things.

Q. Dirty?

A. You know what I mean.   Personal pollutants.  Those things that soil the soul.

Q. Why on earth would you want to pollute your person?  Or soil your soul?

A. Because to do so presents me with a consuming problem with which I am already quite familiar, and therefore comfortable.   Thus it provides an escape from a present-day problem that is unfamiliar, and thereby making me very, very uncomfortable.  To the point that I can’t even sleep at night.

Q. Didn’t you allude to this yesterday?

A. I did.  Point No. 5 on my gratitude list alludes to it.

Q.  So you wish to replace an uncomfortable problem with a comfortable one?

A. Exactly.  The comfort would ease the pain.

Q. Isn’t that dangerous?

A. Very much so.  That’s why I left the building.   I was not only compelled — to do something that I ought not to do — but sorely tempted.  The temptation came in the form of — a woman.  A beautiful woman.  Need I say more?

Q. Has enough been said?

A. Perhaps not.  Only the tip of the iceberg has been revealed.

Q. Where did you go when you left the building?

A. That you know.  I went down the way, to the cafe where I am now so content to sit.  

Q. And this cafe holds no compulsions to veer from your designated course?

A. Not in the least.   It rather fortifies my commitment to the course that has already been laid out for me.

Q. How so?

A. Here I have met the finest Artists.  The greatest musicians.   The most inspired social visionaries.   The most engaging speakers, and the most fascinating storytellers.  I am never compelled to veer when I sit here.  I am only compelled to expand upon that which I already have.

Q. Then why didn’t you just come to the cafe in the first place?  What compelled you to go to the other place down the block?

A. I don’t know.   I don’t want to be thought of as snooty or aloof.   

Q. What does it matter what they think?

A. It doesn’t.  I think I just learned that.   Well — I knew it — all along.  But I didn’t think I could practice it.  Now I do.  I was scared when I sensed where the woman was heading me.  And I fled.  After fleeing that iniquity, a sense of peace has come upon me.  The peace has come upon me — because the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. 

Q. What does that got to do with anything?

A. I have an echo on this planet.  An echo in whom my voice resounds.  When my echo is dissonant — or suspended, or irresolute — often I am as well.   This is because the echo feels that her sound is that of an angel — yet in reality, the Angel has fallen. 

But now, you see,  I am consonant.  Released.  Resolved.   And the peace that transcends all human understanding now guards my heart and my mind — through the Spirit of the God of Love.   And if that incomprehensible peace has come upon me, then it can come upon my resounding echo.   And my Echo will be at Peace.

The Questioner is silent.  

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Gratitude List 960

(1) Somehow the house felt like a furnace this morning, and it sure felt good to get out of the house and get a blast of nice cold fresh Winter air.  Thank God for the open air.  Just because I have a decent place to live after living outdoors for all those years doesn’t mean I have to stay inside all the time.

(2) That said, I still thank God that for the past two years, I have lived indoors and have generally been getting a good night’s sleep.  I was practically sleeping with one eye open for the better part of twelve years down there.

(3) I was able to get my thyroid medication refilled today and also a scrip to address my bipolar affective condition.  This will be the first time I’ve addressed that condition through medication for approximately a year and a half.  Though I am leery of the medical-pharmaceutical paradigm in general, sometimes you just gotta take care of your head.  Life’s too short, if you know what I mean.   

(4) A meeting with an important person on Friday was auspicious.

(5) When I find myself losing sleep over the precarious position of a close family member, it helps to remember that I have also been in that same precarious position.  God helped me see my way free of the dangers of the time, and He will help her too.

(6) Nice talk with my good friend Nick last night, and another this morning.  He always has a way of helping me put things into perspective.

(7) An unexpected $75 donation took place over night, and should be able to help me defray certain upcoming medical costs.

(8) It is a beautiful, bright, brisk Winter day in the city of my birth.

(9) Returning to my birth city after 63 years was the most positive thing I could ever have done for myself.  I knew nothing at all about this town when I stepped off of that bus, let alone that I would have a new job and an apartment within days.   By now it almost appears as though this town was custom-designed for me since the day I was born.  Of all the positive possibilities that loom ahead of me, the most promising are those that are right here where I stand.

(10) In the words of Oscar Hammerstein II:

You’ve got to have a dream!
If you don’t have a dream,
How you gonna have a dream come true?

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The Homeless Christmas Day

This piece was originally posted on my Facebook timeline on December 23rd, 2015.  It has been edited for coherence, and for the relative removal of bitterness and rancor, being as the overall conditions of homelessness were, at the time, affecting both my brain and my heart.  “The Homeless Christmas Day” has been published in the December issue of Street Spirit.  

It looks as though we’re closing in on Christmas again, folks. That’s bad news in my book, and (I daresay) in the corporal book of homeless people everywhere. The good news is that I haven’t flipped out yet. Last year at this time I thought I would “err on the side of caution” and do everybody the favor of at least deactivating my Facebook for the holidays, so that people wouldn’t have to endure too many posts like this on my timeline. Meanwhile, I would be free of that awful combination of outrage and jealousy that so often overtook me when I had to see all the “likes” on all the cute family pictures, often with lavish gifts being opened beneath their highly decorated Christmas trees.

Last year my departure was quick and easy: “It’s that time, folks! See ya after the Super Bowl!” Probably the shortest Facebook timeline post of mine in history. Somehow it didn’t go over too well.

The year before that, I was spending Christmas Day stuck out in the rain, with services closed for those of my ilk, not to mention the usual five-in-the-morning “indoor resources” being closed (Starbucks, McDonald’s, etc.) After all, social workers need to celebrate Christmas too, and baristas need a day off as well. Of course, government buildings were closed, and it wasn’t possible to hide out in the library all day.  So I wandered around aimlessly in the rain, eventually realizing that the only other people doing so were about twenty-five other angry homeless people. Our natural exchanges of commisseration began to depress me.

Describing my situation, I implored a number of people for a PayPal grant of $60 or so, hoping to be able to get out of the rain and set up shop in a cozy motel room somewhere. I figured, “Geeze, it’s Christmas! You’d think somebody wouldn’t mind giving the poor homeless bloke a well-deserved Christmas present.”

Of course, it was short notice. Quite to my hurt, I mistakenly banked on the combined compassion of the chosen few. But alas, the constant bombardment of pictures of old friends on Facebook basking in decadent bursts of Christmas Day galore – stockings, ornaments, grandchildren, the whole works — did nothing for me other than to arouse the ol’ Green Eyed Monster who forever grumbles dormant within me — perched, poised, and ready to pounce.

Well — pounce the Monster did indeed! The results were none too pretty. One of my friends was so aghast at my approach (which no doubt must have been rather ghastly), that his response was quite a shock. Rather than consider helping me out in any way, he sent a joint email to me and the closest member of my family he could think of. In the email, he recommended that I be “institutionalized” — evidently as a viable solution to this chronic homelessness business that obviously wasn’t being dealt with effectively.

Unbeknownst to him, that was my biggest fear. Not that I have any particular dread of the techno-torture of this Age. It’s just that they don’t let me plug in my laptop in those types of dives, because it can “conceivably be used as a weapon.” They do the same thing with my shoelaces, which makes jogging around the building a bit difficult. And of course they don’t let you out of the building so you can go on a run of decent length, if you happen to be (as I am) one of those. I remember once when I even alluded to the fact that I was training for a half-marathon, they wanted to put me on bipolar meds because I was exhibiting what they called “excessive goal orientation.”

In short, the instutitions, both short-term and long, are rather dreary places to be. Arguably, Christmas outside in the rain would be preferable.

As I read my friend’s well-meaning recommendations, all I could do was shake my head. “What we have here is a failure to communicate,” I mumbled, mulling over the text in amazement. Knowing I could never get my point across to my old friend through Internet typing alone, I implored him that I reply with an oral presentation to consist of approximately thirty minutes of persuasive speech.

It worked! Not only did I succeed in explaining the Facts of Homeless Life to the guy — but he actually poured accolades upon the technical and aesthetic details of my Spoken Word piece. Naturally, my attitude of disdain toward him was replaced with great approval. This fellow actually had an MFA in Voice and Speech, and here he was telling me that I was a good speaker? The same person whose opinion I had poo-pooed now expressed an opinion I found quite delightful. You see, I had enormous professional respect for this person, and I took his praise to heart. It was as though I had discovered a new hidden talent, hidden among all the other hidden ones — not that I’m about hiding any of my alleged strengths, but only that the society at large, in continuing to view me as a scum bag, essentially doesn’t see what I’ve got to offer even as I offer it. They see what they want to see.  It doesn’t matter how brightly the homeless person’s light may shine. Between that shining light and the eyes of the beholder there is a dark cloak that obscures the accuracy of their view.

And the name of the cloak is Stigma.

Ah, Stigma. Hast thou found me, O mine enemy? What are we to do with You? Should I make the same move as I made in 2014, in order to avoid yet another Facebook Christmas? It’s tempting, but something gives me pause. It’s already the 23rd, and like I said, I haven’t flipped out yet. So let’s push this puppy to the limits. Take ‘er to the max. Shoot for the moon! Let’s keep my Facebook active, and push the envelope just a wee bit further. Let’s all see for ourselves just what exactly happens on Christmas Day.

Come on, Christian America! What do ya think Christmas is all about? Why are we washing our hands like Pontius Pilate of the validity, the legitimacy, the dignity, and the humanity of an estimated 8% of our nation’s urban population? Even among those who are not homeless, statistics still reveal that one sixth of America struggles for hunger on a daily basis! Do you think Christmas will be any less of that struggle!?

Come on, people! Let us in! Stop looking at us as though we’re all a bunch of worthless druggies and boozers and losers and vandals and varmints and thieves! We take showers, we wash our clothing — it just takes us longer to do so because we have to wait in big lines at service centers to get into the shower, to access the washer, to get the toothpaste and toothbrush and razors and shampoo — while what do you do? You can do these things in a moment’s time, and you look at us patiently waiting at places like then Multi-Agency Service Center in Berkeley, California, and you frown and shake your heads and say: “Look at those lazy bums, sitting there doing nothing!”

Le us in for once! It’s Christmas, for Christ’s sake!! Let me show you I still know how to play the piano and crack my jokes and get you to holler and laugh and do requests! You think any of my gifts have changed just because I happen to sleep outdoors and you happen to sleep inside? I can give you the same Christmas gifts you used to enjoy so much back when you were glad to have me over for a dinner on the holidays! And those are only my gifts. We all have our gifts to give you! Isn’t Christmas about giving? Then let us give you our gifts — on Christmas Day. Let us in.

Tears of love will fall from my eyes when I am finally able to tell you that I love you in a manner that no email nor Skype call nor timeline post could ever touch. And great will be your reward in heaven. For the King whose birthday you claim to commemorate will reply: “Whatsoever you did for the least of my brethren, you did also for Me.” 

Andy Pope
Berkeley California
December 23, 2015

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Gratitude List 951

My gratitude list from Sunday morning.   

1. Only got 5 hrs sleep (from 9 to 2) but awoke feeling rested. Also, I felt like I was coming down with the flu when I went to bed, but feel fine after sleeping it off.

2. Coffee is actually the right strength this time. (It’s been weak lately).

3. I like my early morning space and solitude.

4. Just finished vocal-scoring No.6 (Awake the Dawn) with words thru measure 30 and w/out words to 55. It’s going way better than I thought it would.

5. An interesting synchronicity is making me feel like I’m on the right track. Same thing happened with Bubbles Taboo a long time ago, where 12 unplanned modulations on all kinds of divergent intervals somehow landed me back in the same key I’d started in, even though I didn’t plan it that way. This time, with “Awake the Dawn,” I had to change the key and some of the octaves to avoid having the singers span an impossible 3+ octave range, and also had to correct the two instances where a corny half step modulation ought to have been replaced by a modulation to a relative major; and once again, the combination of all that landed me somehow in the same key I started in. It’s like magic when that kind of thing happens, and it can be very encouraging.

6. J. says that E. got her medication now, which is a relief.

7. Nice conversation with Danielle last night. Interesting about Baby-Wise.

8. I’m really lucky I landed the church I’m at. It’s not just that they’re not “kicking me out.” I’m actually being given a chance to grow. It’s such a blessing, compared to anything I tried along these lines in the past.

9. Guess my PSA levels were okay, or the clinic would have called me by now.

10. God is Good.

Free “Exile” Playlist

I’ve been under the weather this week and have not practiced my piano piece at all.  I told people I would actually be singing tomorrow — but my voice is not in very good shape.  Still, I’m going to venture forth toward the church in a bit, where that nice Baldwin grand piano is, along with all the very nice people who don’t mind me playing on it from time to time.

So, I might pull through.  I just want to leave it up in the air.  In the meanwhile, anyone who wants my Exile album, or at least wants to listen to it to check it out, but who doesn’t want to shell out fifteen bucks for it, here it is online:

Also, in isolation this week, I have been pondering my life’s direction.  I’ve felt as though I’ve been in something of a lull ever since I finished the script and demo to my musical I’ve been working here and there, on my various projects as well as on the necessities of living.  But my heart, by and large, has not been in what I’m about.

I think this is because I am being cosmically nudged to get cracking on the Eden in Babylon vocal score. I finished the first five numbers a while back, but got sidetracked when I encountered a few setbacks earlier on.   I’ve dealt with the setbacks sufficiently that there’s no real remaining excuse for slacking.

So I’m going to prioritize scoring all the singing parts for Eden in Babylon, and it’s going to have to take priority over this blog.  I found earlier that I was spending too much time blogging, and not getting the vocal score done.  Life does present itself occasionally, and it will interfere with my creative flow.  But in the meantime, there’s no valid reason for not pressing onward with the goal.

So – I’ll try to have something posted tomorrow.  No promises, but you might as well check back in a day or so, and see if anything looks different.  After that, if you don’t hear from me a while, take it to be good news.  Only so many hours in the day, and occasionally one has to get on the ball.  

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Gratitude List 940

Again, my gratitude list from Friday.  

1. Slept real well from about 8:30 to 4:30, just about 8 hours. Probably back on schedule now.

2. Ran two miles yesterday afternoon.

3. Seeing Dr. Baldwin today for the first time at 11:30.

4. Really grateful for my apartment. It’s just what I need.

5. Grateful for the writers I’ve met on WordPress and Twitter who are so encouraging and understanding what I’m about.

6. Grateful for my church.

7. Happened upon this really interesting blog post from Lynne Fisher from over a year ago: The Demons on the Boat. Grateful that I was able to read it and be engaged, free of negative thoughts as to what a lousy reader I think I am. It’s those lifelong thoughts that seem to keep me from reading with comprehension, because they get in the way. Ridding myself of them, I find that reading isn’t that hard.

8. Also grateful for the delineation of Russ Harris she alluded to in that post. It’s a great way of framing it. Of course I should live more according to my values than my goals.

9. I’m grateful to have good friends, and good “guides” in my life today. I don’t think this was so much the case earlier. The people I hung out with more-or-less led me astray.

10. I’m in a good mood this morning, not mad or anything. That’s a blessing. Here’s to a good day. God is Good.

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Billy’s Blues

Earlier I wrote that I’d be posting a piano piece, and here it is.  It’s “Billy’s Blues” by Laura Nyro, an early influence of mine.  You might note that it becomes a bit ‘chaotic’ towards the middle there.  I kinda like it like that.

I’ll be at the piano bench again next Friday, this time doing my original “Bubbles Taboo” with singing. Yes, it has words. I think you’re gonna like them — so stay tuned.

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The Blog and the Blues

For those who have been anticipating a Friday piano offering, I want you all to know that I have not forgotten.  I wasn’t able to get to the church piano earlier than this morning.  So right now I’m in the process of uploading.  I should have the piece posted later on tonight.

Meanwhile, I’m trying to call attention to an earlier post of which I am proud.  I earlier received the following comment on A Homily for the Homeless at Heart from Lauren Sapala, a San Francisco-based writing coach who has authored several fine books, including Firefly Magic, The INFJ Writer, and Between the Shadow and Lo:

kudos.JPG

I found it interesting that I was about to trash the post before I received this comment.  Believe it or not, I had actually thought it was the worst piece I had ever written about homelessness in America! Thanks to Ms. Sapala, I had a change of heart.  I then edited it four times to polish it until I was able to feel proud of it.  As I started the fifth edit, my friend Danielle sent me an email reading: “Please don’t make many more changes.”

So I didn’t.   Here it is, in finished form:

A Homily for the Homeless at Heart

Hopefully this will give you something to chew on while you’re waiting for my somewhat chaotic version of “Billy’s Blues” by the late Laura Nyro.   I hope you enjoy both the blog and the blues.   

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Tuesday Tuneup 31

Q. Where would you like to be?

A. In a place of greater contentment.

Q. But aren’t you fairly content at this time in your life?

A. About some things, yes.   About other things, no.

Q. About what things are you not content?

A. Things having to do with the actualization of life-purpose.

Q. Are you implying that you won’t be content until your life-purpose is actualized?

A. Wow – that’s a really good question.  Do you think I am supposed to be content anyway, even before the life purpose is actualized?

Q. Well, what do you think?  

A.  I think that, while I’m definitely not content — in fact, I’m restless — I believe that my restlessness serves a purpose.  In other words, without being as restless as I am, I would probably become complacent, and sit on my rump, enjoying the tranquility of my peaceful abode, and not really accomplishing anything toward my life goals.

Q. But if you think your restlessness serves a purpose, why would you need to become more content?  

A. Maybe I need to be content with being restless.

Q. Are you certain about that?

A. Not quite, no.

Q. About what are you uncertain?

A. The energy of restlessness.  It doesn’t seem quite — quite — spiritual.  

Q. Why does everything need to be spiritual?

A. Man, you’re asking good questions this morning!   I’ve never really thought about it before.  I’ve just assumed that since I’m a spiritual person, things have to be spiritual.

Q. But what is it about restlessness that is not spiritual?

A. Well gosh, it’s not exactly meditative or contemplative.  It doesn’t bring inner peace.  Doesn’t have much to do with love of God or of neighbor.  Or even of self, for that matter.

restless spiritQ. When you are restless, do you feel that you hate yourself?

A. Yes!  That’s it, exactly.  I’m never good enough for myself.

Q. Why is this?

A. Probably because of Dad.  Nothing I did was ever good enough for him.

Q. But aren’t you a little old to be blaming it on your dad?

A. Yes, you’re right.  I am.

Q. What is it that you hate about yourself when you are restless?

A. Let me think.  

Q. Think?

A. Yes, think.  I think that — when I am restless, I am impatient.  I want it all done right now.  And that’s what I hate about myself — my impatience.  It’s not spiritual.

Q. Then why don’t you work on patience?

A. Because I associate patience with laziness.

Q. What do you mean?

A. When I become patient about my life goals, I lax up.  I figure it’s all in God’s hands, and I no longer aggressively pursue my options.

Q. Why do you have to be aggressive?

A. Because I’m lazy at heart, and aggression goes against my grain.  Aggression is what works, isn’t it?

Q. Is it?

A. Maybe not . . .

Q. How about, instead of pursuing your options aggressively, why not pursue them patiently?

A. You know what, Questioner?  You might be on to something!

Q. May I then therefore be excused?

A. Yes, you may.  See you next Tuesday.

The Questioner is silent.

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Gratitude List 933

My gratitude list from Saturday morning.  (Edited Nos. 9 & 10, in case you’re a person reading this who is on my “G-List.”)  Many blessings and peace to all.  

1. Solid sleep amid unusually vivid dreams, probably about 7 1/2 hours from around 930 to 530. How often did that happen when I was homeless? Glory to God, man.

2. Just received an insight about something I’ve been doing that’s been making it difficult to let go of the past. It’s a bit too personal for this list, but my gratitude is in the fact that, as I stop doing this thing that I’ve been doing, I will become less focused on the past, and more focused on the present, as a stepping stone to an even better future. It’s also not a hard thing to stop doing, especially given this new motivation and insight. So thanks be to God.

3. Got six bags worth of cleaning supplies, toiletries, food, and reading glasses at the Dollar Store for only $27 yesterday morning.

4. Completely washed the dirtiest dishes I’ve ever been known to accumulate by running hot water in the bathtub and washing them all there, with ease. Am also motivated to keep the dishes clean now; and, in fact, to clean up the house completely.

5. This is the first month when I got the idea to write down all my expenditures in a small notepad I keep in my coat pocket with a pen. Somehow, it’s hard to spend frivolously as I do this.

6. Switched to a local mobile phone provider, got a good plan, and will not have to change the number.

7. Arranged to meet with Shaun H. once a week, every Thursday at 8pm, and focus on practical things that will assist me in my recovery. I have a feeling it will work this time, that I will be accountable, and that I won’t flake.

8. Noted the synchronicity of my spending approximately an hour in the Dollar Store, and the lady from the church who gave me a ride down there while doing errands in the mall showed up back at the store at the exact moment when I was done at the checkstand. Things like that are somehow affirming of divine involvement.

9. Heard from Alastair, the editor of Street Spirit, with the information that she published Old Habits Die Hard in the November issue, and a request for an invoice.   Here’s a link to a pdf of the paper.  (I’m on p. 8).

November Street Spirit

10. I was doing some reading on the Christian concept of sanctification.  There’s a lot of Christian language in there that might be off-putting to unbelievers, but two things I get out of it that I think many can appreciate are these: (1) it’s okay to be an Introvert, and (2) it’s about being true to your own true self.  The world will always want to box us into one box or another.  God’s not like that, because God is not of the world.  He’s of eternity and truth, far beyond the things that will perish with the grave.  I’m grateful for the opportunity to be becoming who I am.  

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A Homily for the Homeless at Heart

It’s Sunday morning, and time for a sermon.  But far be it for me to preach.  These words may be read by anyone who happens upon this page.  But they are directed to those who are, or who have been, homeless — who know the fullness of what that word entails.  These words are meant primarily for those who, despite perhaps having escaped its horrors, have a place in their heart for the homeless, who revere Homelessness as a heavenly gift.  This homily is for the Homeless at Heart. 

This homily is for those who realize that here on this Earth, we have no true home that will not be outlasted.  Our home is in spiritual places, in the heavens, eternal.  In that sense, we are all in fact homeless.   In another sense, knowing what is everlasting, and distinguishing it from that which will vanish at the grave, we rejoice in being Homeless No More.

It’s been two years and three months now that I have been living indoors, in dignified dwelling spaces of my own design and desire.  I have either lived alone, in a studio room or this present one bedroom apartment; or I have lived in this apartment with a like-minded person; a significant other, if you will.   I have not had to “live” in shelters, rehabs, psychiatric facilities, or board and care homes.  Note the quotation marks around the word “live.”

Twenty-seven months have passed, and I have never failed to pay my rent on time.  For me, this is a milestone.  It negates and transcends every other concern that anyone could possibly have about my mode of existence.    Since people in general do not like to look at the ugliness of homelessness, the people who were in my life before all this happened have not wanted to look at the actual reality that was behind my sordid conditions.  So they looked at other things that they suspected might be at the heart of it all.  When they alighted upon something that satisfied their need to know why a man like me should ever have permitted himself to land in such miserable conditions, they contented themselves to wash their hands of my suffering, and of the suffering of those of my kind.  They were content to classify me as a lazy bum, a loser, a deadbeat, a drug addict, perhaps an alcoholic, or a nut case, a lunatic, a wannabe — or better yet, a has-been.  In so doing, they echoed the sentiments of the Pharisee who in the 18th chapter of the Gospel according to Luke, praised God that he was not like other, more miserable men.  They looked at me with condescension and scorn, saying:  “There but for the grace of God go I.”

Don’t get me wrong.  I fully understand why people would think I am insane.   People are often threatened by those whom they can’t quite classify or codify.   It doesn’t matter whether they lean to the Left, to the Right, or neither.   What matters is that, in some way or another, they are bound by what I call mainstream values — the very values condemned in the first two verses of the 12th chapter of the Epistle to the Romans.  Anybody locked into any kind of box is going to think I’m crazy.  They’ll also think that anyone like me is crazy.  Be that as it may.

It is remarkable how well I get along with formerly homeless people, even though their life practices and spiritualities may be far disparate from mine.   Their experiences and practices have led them to different conclusions than mine.  But we’ve all been through the same life-changing experience: the Experience of Homelessness.  This alone is such a powerful grounds for identification, it practically overwhelms all else.

I may not identify with New Age spirituality. I may not identify with the Ascension Movement. I don’t identify with NeoPaganism — not much anyway. There were those of us who, though Christian, identified as Castaneda Warriors in order to manage the conditions of homelessness with some semblance of thanksgiving and peace.  Some of us needed the Boy Scout Handbook to get by outdoors. Whatever we did, it was a concerted effort to make a valid life-practice out of abominable conditions — not the least of which was that while we struggled day after day to survive, people looked down upon us in scorn.

This commonality is so strong it overwhelms religous and philosophical differences. It overwhelms political differences. It consumes the entirety of Who We Are.  That I should emerge from such a life-changing experience and even pretend to go back to old ways of being that never worked for me is such an assault to my own inner integrity, it baffles me that I should even endeavor to keep up the pretense.

The milestone of having manifested a respectable place of dwelling, tailored and customized to meet the needs of my specific, individual personality is the greatest thing that I have achieved since having escaped twelve years of homelessness and borderline-homelesness in the San Francisco Bay Area.  It also paved the way for other milestones.  I successfully scored all the music I had written “in my head” while wandering the streets of Berkeley like a madman, playing drums on my pants legs, keyboards and guitars in the air, and singing “bop, bop, bop” to the ridicule of all passersby.  I doubt seriously that more than 10% of the people who saw me doing so were able to perceive that I was actually composing music, and not just being crazy.  When I got inside, I was able to score all this music with notation software on my laptop, and put it on the Berkeley Page of this site. 

After that, I was able to complete an entire musical — book, music and lyrics – about homelessness in America.   I also became a regular contributor to the Street Spirit newspaper, though I had no background in journalism, as well as a regular blogger for the Classism Exposed publication in Boston.  I joined a Writers Guild, and had a piece of mine published in an anthology.  I made five speeches on the Homeless Experience.  I created a youtube channel of my piano work, and three CD’s of my piano playing, two of which you may find on my SoundCloud.  And many other things did I do —  not that I wish to boast about these accomplishments, but only to illustrate two key points:

(1) That these things could only have been accomplished under the protective umbrella of the dignified, customized living situation that I had crafted, with God’s help, for the manifestation of my true and unique self.   

(2) That the motivation to accomplish these things is a direct result of the inspiration received during those twelve years of living outdoors.

So it’s not just the case that I couldn’t have done any of these things if I had remained homeless.  It’s also the case that I wouldn’t have done any of these things had I not have been homeless.  

And of all these things that I so pride myself in having been able to accomplish, I honestly feel that the finest thing of all is this recent piano album called Exile.   I pride myself on this album even more than I have prided myself on my finally having completed a full musical play that I had belabored in my mind so fruitlessly for more than five years.  Somehow, without words, without singing, without drums, bass, or other instruments, the music of Exile reflects the person whom my homeless experience has permitted me to become.  And it’s called Exile for a reason. 

Others who are or were homeless have heard these strains, and they hear in it the uniqueness and authenticity that marks the way of those who have embraced the fullness of outdoor living.  We are the unsheltered ones, the ones who have placed ourselves naked and vulnerable before all the vicissitudes of a totally predictable and often hostile Universe, with no box to hide in, whether that box be the physical box of an ill-fitting abode, or the spiritual box that binds our true selves, and prevents us from accessing Who We Are.

We are those who spent years in exile.  And now, we are in exile no more.  

Strange feelings overwhelm me as I listen to this music.  I hear myself playing as I have never played before.  People thought I was a good piano player before this huge life transformation took place, and informed the transformation of my Music and my Art.  And do you think that I was able to actually practice the piano in all the years when I was homeless?  Not at all.  Of course not!   If I wanted to play the piano in an empty church sanctuary, they would have been denied me access “for insurance reasons,” on the supposition that I was likely a thief or a vandal.   It took a dramatic resurrection from the gigantic grave of homelessness for me to get to the point where I am now trusted with the keys to a church building that includes a Baldwin grand piano.

How strange it feels to realize that the same people who offered adulation and praise for my music, before it became so authentic, will no longer hear one note of it, nor admit it into the realms of that which they are willing to appreciate as Art. But I hear my true heart in the notes that I have played.   And while I feel great satisfaction in what I have been able to produce, I also feel outrage that during all the years when I was homeless, people flat-out refused to recognize my musical gifts.   The only people who acknowledged my musical talent were other homeless people!

What is up with that?   People who lived indoors were so maddeningly focused on my various visible personal flaws and foibles, it awakened my indignation, and prompted me in protest to channel the composing of my music in the appearance of a maniac, visibly homeless, visibly composing music on the streets, and marveling in how many people saw me as a “nut case,” and how few even realized that I was writing these strains.

This has not happened here.  Everything I did when I was homeless was visible.  Everybody saw me do it.  But because of their preconceptions, what I was actually doing was invisible.  Nobody saw what I was really doing.  They only saw their stigma and prejudice, manifested according to their own inner lies.   So naturally, my insistence on pursuing my music in any form, let alone insisting that others pay attention to it, was off-putting. “First things first,” they chided, pointing their fingers, as they all adjured me to get out of homelessness first, and then perchance they would listen to my music.

But they didn’t!   I got out of homelessness, and they still would not listen to my music!  Instead, they continued to bombard me with mockery over whatever was wrong with me, despite the fact that the obvious point of their intial objections no longer existed. This proved that their condescending treatment of me was not sheerly on the basis of my having been homeless, but in a larger sense, a product of their own need to exercise one-upsmanship.  It’s really that simple. They didn’t treat me with normal human respect. I was always lower than them. Worse than them! Inferior to them! Why?

I’ll tell you why. It’s because these are the kinds of people who have no real sense of self, so they measure themselves against those to whom they can claim to be superior.  My being homeless made me an easy mark for finger-pointing, so they pointed their ever-pointing fingers at me.   Instead of having compassion, they looked down on me and judged me. Their condescending attitudes toward me made an already difficult life all the more difficult. If they did anything at all to help me, which was rarely, they then expected me to kiss their royal behinds as though I owed them, for the rest of their hellbound lives. All the while they never gave me what they owed me, which is what I was certainly trying to give them, what we all owe each other, which is love and respect. Isn’t it?

But how can you respect people who are treating you so disrespectfully? That’s the issue. And we might say, well this is my issue — my “stuff,” so to speak. But if that’s the case, does every person who has ever been homeless have the same exact, hidden, deep-seated psychological issue? Is that what made us homeless? Because we all happened to be these weird over-sensitive freaks who didn’t take very well to being treated with disrespect, and so our logical, mutual life-destination was Homelessness? That is, unless we all toughened up and acted like insensitive, inhuman, competitive assholes?

Yes, many of us were sensitive. Many of us did not have any feel for the play of the game; we did not relish the ruthlessness of the realm where we were expected to climb up the corporate latter and screw people left and right, while receiving raises and perks from our higher-ups for doing so, as they encouraged all of us who had succeeded in being so clever and cunning and callous and crafty to do the very same. These are the ones who are encouraged to “succeed” in our sick society.

I shudder to think about it, but it wasn’t much different in the realms of Education or of the Performing Arts, even though people in those spheres routinely express opposition to the competitive or capitalistic mores of the corporate world. They were just as damned cut-throat. That’s why at least one man I know in the Performing Arts has made it as far as he has — and I sincerely doubt he’s a happy man. His ways of achieving things, in order that he himself might “get his way,” are outright immoral and sometimes even unethical. He intimidates people into his getting what he wants. He’s good at it, and he does it craftily as well as, at times, blatantly.  He almost always gets away with it. Look where that man is now in Theatre Arts: reputable, respected, and feared. Well, I fear him not!

I fear him not.  Nor do I fear those like him.  For one thing, that miserable man, despite his ill-gotten notoriety, is not all that talented.  Had he been more talented, he would not have felt the need to gain fame and fortune through nefarious means.  He’d have felt that his talent alone would have sufficed to get him there.  And then — if he were like me (which he would not have been) — he would not have achieved notoriety, for he’d have discovered (like I did) that talent alone did not suffice.

Do you think I’m jealous? If I am, it’s to my fault. Why would I want to be jealous of the depressed, desperate kinds of people whom he exemplifies? What reason would I have to be envious of those who, having reaped what they have sown from a lifelong facile at getting their own ways, to the detriment of others in their paths, had brought them nationwide recognition and success, but not happiness?

I am reminded of another man I once knew who also enjoyed great worldly success, in the field of Education.  He resembled the other bloke in that he saw people as objects, but he went a step further in deciding that certain people (myself at one time included) were actually projects of his. Passive vehicles for his own self-expression, for him to paint and sculpt and mold, as though we were easels and statues and pieces of pottery, and he was the great cunning craftsman known as God.  All of this was done under the guise of “teaching,” and he did it very well.  But is it the role of an educator to seek out the gullible, and fashion them into facsimiles of one’s own godless self?  Did not the Pharisess whom Jesus decried in the 23rd chapter of the Gospel According to Matthew do the same?

Woe to you,
teachers of the law and Pharisees,
you hypocrites!
You travel over land and sea
to win a single convert,
and when you have succeeded,
you make them twice as fit for hell
as you are yourselves.

Both of these men would refer to God, to prayer, and in the most nauseous of hypocritical ways. Who the hell are they praying to anyway? They have no gods but their own bellies.

All of that competitive focus on achieving “success” in the sense that our society holds we be successful, is a total distraction from receiving the kind of success and satisfaction that can only come from desiring God. As I desire God, it is revealed to me that they are the ones who are really in need of enlightenment, salvation, and healing; because the realm they roam like lions that roar is the form of a former world that is passing. But the truth will endure forever.

It’s absurd for me to have even thought that, in getting inside finally, I could readily or easily return to old systems of values that not only were the very same systems that, when I tried unsuccessfully to adopt them in my pre-homeless past, only had the effect of leading me back into further and deeper Homelessness. It’s absurd that I thought that, just as soon as I finally got inside again, I could regain the friendship of friends who had not only failed me and betrayed me once I became homeless, but proved in so doing that they were never my true friends to begin with. It’s absurd that I should go back and try to engage in anything left over from my pre-homeless existence, if all those things did was join together with each other to form a bunch of things that, when working in concert, had the power to cast me out from society and put me on the streets.

After having learned how to be real in a world of fakery, it is absurd that I should do anything other than my best to be real. Learning to be real got me out of homelessness and into a dignified living situation that works for me, that represents and reflects the person whom I truly am. Busting my guts to try and be fake in a world of fakes not only failed all the fakes who had mastered such fakery, but also it failed myself. Why should I go back to being a fake after learning how to be real? Rather, I should work my butt off trying to maintain being real, in a world where my being real is what’s working.

Many who hear these words will echo the sentiments of the reality now being brought to light. For it is we who were forced by abominable life conditions to struggle day after day, enduring relentless persecutions and assaults against our persons and our dignity, and in many cases, our bodies as well as our minds, hearts, souls, and spirits, while we were already struggling with all our might to survive the indescribable conditions of continuous outdoor living, feeling trapped as though sub-human animals on the cold-hearted city streets.

It was more than many could bear. But not all. Let our voices be heard and understood. Were these words to be sent to homeless and formerly homeless people everywhere, many would lift their hearts and their voices in accord. Many did indeed falter, collapse, and eventually be put to death by the overall horror that is Homelessness. But many endured, survived, and prevailed – for the purpose that now unfolds.

Lift up your hearts, whoever you are who hears these words and understands them! We were spared the fate of the bulk of our fellows. We were not destined to die in vain, alone and friendless, without hope, without purpose.

Instead we were destined to rise above all that mire, put our lives back together, and emerge from the cages in which we were kept, on a mission to even the score. For where once we were submerged in the world as though destined to drown in the depths of dark water, we now have emerged with a story to tell, and our story is driven by fire. For once we were all but forgotten, and death was at every door. Once we were all of us homeless. Now, we are Homeless No More.

homeless make a difference

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Anything Helps – God Bless!

Exile

My third piano album, entitled Exile, is now available on CD for $15 USD, including shipping costs to your postal address. ($20 if overseas)

Image result for exile clipartThe album contains eleven clips from my youtube channel, performed in the past three months; that is to say, August, September, and October.   The sound quality is distinctly better, however, than on the youtubes.  I think you will enjoy it.

Unfortunately, I can’t post these clips on my bandcamp page, due to bandcamp restrictions.  (They only allow originals and songs that are public domain.  No covers.)   A CD is honestly the best way for me to manifest this music at this time.  I hope you have a player in your possession.

Here is a list of the songs you will find on the album (in this order):

  1. Chaos in Camelot — Frederick Loewe, Andy Pope
  2. Brian’s Song   —   Michel Legrand
  3. Killing Me Softly   —   Charles Fox
  4. Hermit   —   Andy Pope
  5. Circumstance   —   Edward Elgar, Stephen Schwartz, Andy Pope
  6. Bubbles Taboo   —   Andy Pope
  7. Berlin-Porter Medley   —   Irving Berlin, Cole Porter
  8. Look to the Rainbow   —   E.Y. Harburg
  9. Autumn Leaves   —   Joseph Kosma
  10. Summertime   —   George Gershwin
  11. The Host Awaits   —   Andy Pope
  12. Together in Turmoil   — Andy PopeGarry Bonner & Alan Gorden

If you wish to buy an album, please drop $15 into the pool by clicking on the word “donate” in this sentence, or at the bottom of the page.  Then, please leave me a postal mailing address on my contact page.   — unless, of course, you live within walking distance of my current abode.  (I walk fast, by the way.)

All proceeds will go toward the production of my musical Eden in Babylon.  I will resume posting piano pieces on this page next Friday.  Thank you all for your support.

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Every little bit helps!

 

About Brotherly Love

This post is intended to be a sequel to an earlier post.  However, I’ve tried to write it in such a way that if you don’t feel like going back and reading the earlier post, it will still make sense.

A while back, I wrote about how my father’s attitude toward me influenced my choice to pursue a career in the Performing Arts, against his wishes.  But I left out some information about the family dynamics involved.  Partly, I did this because the post would have been much too long.   But also I did not wish to implicate any of my living family members in any way, nor cause them to stumble along their paths.

brotherly love-2After reflection, I’ve decided to make an effort to express something of value that I don’t think would be negative information, should my brother chance to read this blog (which is, by the way, highly unlikely). Hopefully, this information, if it hasn’t crossed his mind already, will be as useful to him as the information in the previous post was to me.

I have already revealed how my father’s desire that I, the firstborn son, follow in his footsteps came into conflict with my natural genetic and God-given predisposition.  I simply was not inclined toward things like electronics, mechanics, and carpentry.  So my father was always disappointed in me, even though I showed strong skills in completely different areas.

My younger brother, however, turned out to be quite attracted to electronics and to scientific matters in general.  As a result, he spent much of his time alone with Dad, in Dad’s special radio room, learning such skills.  He wound up finishing high school in only three years, getting 800’s across the board on Math, Math Level Two, Chemisty, and Physics, being accepted to the technology school of his choice, graduating from college with a 4.0 GPA, getting a Ph.D. in Math from an even more prestigious University, and enjoying a successful career as an electrical engineer, chip designer, and Math research professor.  Needless to say, I am very proud of him.

However, the message that Dad gave me; specifically, that I “could not do anything right,” was painful enough, without it having to be combined with a second message, one that I did not relate in the earlier post.  That message was this:

“And I hate to break it to you, Andy,
but your brother?
There’s no reason to worry about him!

Now, what kind of message do you think my brother would have been receiving all of this time?  Granted, I wasn’t there when he and Dad spent so much alone together.  I was alone in my bedroom, playing the Wurlitzer spinet piano that they had moved there for my convenience.  But it only stands to reason that the message would have been something like this:

“Son, you’re making me proud.
There’s no reason to worry about you!
Too bad Andy can’t do anything right.”

While the impact of my having received a message from a father at an early age that I was incapable of “doing anything right” was hard enough, I can only imagine what the impact of my father’s message to my brother might have been.  What would it be like to have grown up believing that there was no reason for anyone to worry about me?  Again, I can only imagine. 

My brother and I are now in our mid-sixties.  Without going into horrendous detail, I can guarantee you that there are plenty of reasons to be worried about him.   Though he did have a successful career, and I remain proud of him for that reason, he doesn’t seem to get any exercise, he was severely overweight last I saw him; and frankly, some of his personal habits and practices are troublesome.  It would not be very discreet of me to state what these habits are specifically.   Suffice it to say that they are the kinds of practices that people generally find to be problematical.  

So, while I am programmed from an early age to believe that there’s no reason to worry about my brother, that programming is in the process of being shattered — just as much as my age-old idea that I “can’t do anything right” is being shattered.  I also wonder if some of his troublesome behaviors and attitudes are a result of an age-old, unconscious idea that Dad planted in him; specifically, that there is no reason for him to worry about himself. 

There are numerous other facets to this, not the least of which has to do with our Myers-Briggs types.  My brother, like my best female friend, are both INTJ’s.  I will contend that the INTJ is the most self-confident of all the types.   I also tend to get along with INTJ’s better than with any of the other types — hence my best female friend.  But we INFJ’s can find ourselves riddled with self-doubt.  Does this not recall Dad’s treatment of both of us, at an early age?

While I am not, by nature, a worrier; I am, by choice, a believer. So rather than worry about my brother, I choose to pray for him instead.

You see, my brother and I love each other.  There is no doubt whatsoever about that.  And while I wouldn’t exactly want my brother to “worry” about his health, I do pray that he wll cease to overlook some of my quite natural concerns.   But then again, am I my brother’s keeper?

The answer to that would be another blog post, or even an entire book, in itself.

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Anything Helps – God Bless!

Tuesday Tuneup Thirty

Q. Where would you like to be?

A.  In California.

california
California

Q. Why on earth would you ever want to be in a place like California?

A. I get tired of not being allowed to have a problem.

Q. What’s that supposed to mean?

A. My experience with the State of California, having lived in a number of different cities there, is that in California, I was permitted to have a problem.

Q. What do you mean, “permitted to have a problem?”

A. Down there it was okay for me to have a problem.

Q. And it’s not okay up here to have a problem?

A. Not really.  Nobody seems to have any problems up here.  Or, if they do, they certainly don’t show them.  Me?  I’ve got problems.  I’ve got issues.  And when they arise, they stick out like a sore thumb.

Q. So you’re saying you don’t feel like you fit in up here?

A. Not when I have this many problems, no.  Down in California, it seems like everybody’s got problems.  So I blend right in.

Q. But haven’t you solved a lot of your problems since you’ve been up here?

A. Some of them, yes.  I’m paying $450 for a one bedroom apartment that would have been $1800 down there, at least in the Bay Area.  I’m not on the streets anymore.  I’ve got a decent place to live, and privacy.   And being around happy people has boosted my morale.  Just today, the Personnel Director at my church said twice that he believes I was meant to be here.  That God had something to do with it.  And it was encouraging, but still — I kinda feel like I’m just about the unhappiest one in the bunch.

Q. Why do I find that hard to believe?

A. Probably because I have a reputation of being a happy-go-lucky guy who rises with the song of the lark and wants very little out of life except to write his writings, speak his speakings, and compose his composings in peace.

Q. And are you not precisely what your reputation suggests?

A. Usually I am.  But right now I’m not.   Not the past three months anyway.  Too many problems.

Q. Would going back to California solve these problems?

A. Of course not.  But it would put me in a place where everybody else had at least as many problems as I do.  I wouldn’t feel so alone.

Q. Could it possibly be that you are only having a bad day?

A. Maybe.  And just maybe it’s in a financial area.  Now I don’t personally mind being poor or encountering setbacks.  It’s a lot better to be poor, and to live inside and have food in the cupboard, than it is to be poor and have to live on the streets.  But what happens is that when setbacks are encountered, it aggravates my class issues.  

Q. Class issues?

A. Yes.  All the things that I get paid by people like Classism Exposed to write about.  And while these events may indeed bolster my writing eventually, I tend to have to wade through a wad of resentment against “rich people” in the meantime.

Q. You have resentment against rich people?

A. Well, I try not to.   And I eventually get over it.  But I gotta just tell you, some of these rich people — I don’t care about their money.  It’s the lectures.  They lecture me about things they’ve never been through and can’t possibly understand.  And they expect me to kiss their asses every time they do me the slightest favor, even though it’s totally no skin off their backs.  And they, they —

Q. They what, Andy?  And who are they?   Isn’t this supposed to be about you, and not about an abstract group of invisible “rich people” who are always lecturing you expecting you to kiss their asses?

A. Three questions at once?   Really, Questioner!  You seem almost as uptight as I am.

Q. Then why don’t we both slow down?

A. Sounds like a plan.   I’ll answer the first question.   They — whoever they are — expect me to be able to do the things that they can do.  This is because they, unlike me, either have either the money to do them, or the mental health to do them, or both.

Q. And who are they?

A. Just a bunch of phantoms from my past whom I never see anymore, never talk to, and yet still fly around like bats in my brain.

Q. Isn’t this supposed to be about you and not about them?

A. Yes, but I am just too upset right now.

Q. Why?

A. Financial.  It’s the end of the month.  I’m on a fixed income.   A couple unexpected charges came in, and it threw me into a state of insecurity.   When I was feeling kinda low about it, I made the mistake of mentioning it to somebody.  I went into some detail, and they only said: “that’s life!”  In California, they would have commiserated.   They would have all shared stories about similar insecurities, and how frustrated they all were.  And then, my depression would have been validated — not dismissed.

Q. But rather than seek validation for your depression, why not accept that this is a fact of life like the happy people do?

A. Well, that’s where my mental health comes in.  I’ve got some kind of problem that makes me over-react to stuff like this.  They say — bipolar.  I don’t know.  I get tired of it all.  Which is also a part of my mental health problem.

Q. Come on now — is it really your mental health?   Are you really that crazy?

A. No – I don’t like to think so anyway.  I mean, what are you driving at?

Q. Do you really want to sacrifice the things you do well in order to correct the things you do poorly?

A. Don’t make me laugh!  Have you listened to my piano playing lately?  There’s rage written all over it!  If I treated a human being the way I treat that piano, I’d be in jail for Assault and Battery.

Q. So these psych meds will make your music more placid?  Less threatening?

A. I wasn’t going to put it that way!

Q. Are you ready to play hard ball?

A. Probably not.   Do I have a choice in the matter?

Q. How many laptops were stolen from you in California during the last three years you lived there?

A. Five.  Four in Berkeley, and one in Oakland.

Q. How many laptops have been stolen from you in the past 2 1/2 years you have lived here?

A. Zero.

Q. How many cell phones and headphones were stolen from you in California?

A. Too many to count.

Beautiful Fall colors in Boise Idaho.  Beautiful Fall colors in Boise Idaho.
Idaho

Q. Has anything at all been stolen from you in Idaho?

A. No.  Not one thing.

Q. How many jobs did you get the last three years you were in California?

A. Zero.

Q. How many jobs have you had since you’ve been up here?

A. Two.

Q. When was the last time you signed a one year lease on an apartment in California?

A. Gosh, I don’t know.  Probably in the 70’s in college, when my dad cosigned.

Q. How many one year leases have you signed on apartments in Idaho?

A. Two.  Go on.

Q. How many people called you “crazy” when you were in California?

A. Just about everyone I know.  Close friends even.  I was like — a curiosity piece to them.  Always the odd man out, the weirdo.

Q. How many people have called you “crazy” in North Idaho?

A. Zero.  Go on.

Q. How many years were you out on the streets in California?

A. You know the answer to that.  Twelve years, barring scattered rentals here and there that never worked out.

Q. How many days have you spent on the streets since you’ve been in Idaho?

A. Zero.  Please continue.

Q. How many people whom you know from California think that you experienced a total psychic change on a 48-hour bus trip to Idaho?

A. Quite a few.  If one more Californian tells me that I “found God” on that bus trip, I think he’s going to find a right cross in his mug that came straight from the devil.  Go on.

Q. How many people in Idaho believe that you experienced a total psychic change on a 48 hour bus trip?

A. Zero.  Of course, they have no idea what I was like before the 48-hour bus trip.  But I can guarantee you that I did not change one bit during those 48 hours.

Q. How many drivers have flipped you off in Idaho?

A. Zero.

Q. How many grown men and women have you encountered in Idaho who blame all their problems on their parents?

A. Zero.

Q. Have you met anyone in Idaho who refuses to call their mother on Mother’s Day?

A. Not yet.  Go on.

Q. How many people accepted you for who you are in the State of California?

A. Not too many!  They were always trying to change me into something I was not.

Q. Are you accepted for who you are here in Idaho?

A. Totally.  Nobody tries to change anybody up here.  It’s refreshing.

Q. When your ex-wife came back to you after thirty years, what was the overall reaction among people whom you know here in Idaho?

A. People were thrilled!   They encouraged us.  They thought what we were doing was fantastic – we got nothing but positive from every single person here.

Q. And how did people in California react?

A. They thought I was crazy, as usual.  If they said anything at all, it was something along the lines of: “I’m gonna stay out of that one!”

Q. Are you ready for the Big One?

A. There’s a bigger one than that?  You gotta be kidding.

Q. How many people complimented you on your typing speed in California?

A. Not many.

Q. How many people in California told you that you were typing too loud?

A. Innumerable.  It happened three times a week.  Sometimes three times a day.

Q. How many people in Idaho have told you that you were typing too loud?

A. Zero.

Q. How many people have complimented you on your typing speed here in Idaho?

A. Shucks, I don’t know.  Twenty or thirty maybe.

Q. And what does all this say?

A. It says that, due to a variety of factors, some of them cultural, some of them socio-economic, people in Idaho seem to have a tendency to emphasize the positive.  People in California, unbeknownst to them, appear to have a tendency to emphasize the negative.

Q. Which do you prefer?

A. The positive, of course.

Q. Then why don’t you start emphasizing it?

A. That, sir, is the $64,000 question.

Q. May I be excused, then?

A. Not so fast, buddy.  You gotta feel my sarcasm first.  I’ve got issues.  And they’re a hell of a lot deeper than financial.  I’m as positive right now as I can possibly be, or as I even should be, in the eyes of an all-knowing God.

Q. Do tell – what are these deeper issues?

A. They’re none of your damned business.  Get outta here.

The Questioner is silent. 

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Gratitude List 928

(1) Managed to get some sleep last night.  Although I awoke after one hours sleep to a punk kid in the hood ringing my doorbell at 3:15 in the morning, at least I didn’t wake up to two rookie cops shining their flashlights directly in my eyes and telling me to “move on” on Christmas Day.

(2) Ran two miles yesterday and did 18 push-ups.   Easily, too.  I guess I still have it in me.  Most guys my age can’t run down the block.

(3) I can still kinda play the piano.  Some people even say I’m getting better at it.

(4) I’m in good health.  (Physically, that is.)

(5) I’m alive, and I believe I am going to heaven when I die; because although I have many sins, past present and future, I sincerely believe that Jesus died for them all.

(6) I like my church.  In fact, I love my church.  I even like the pastor.  I’ve never liked a pastor before.

peg(7) I’m not in California, where everybody treats me like I’m crazy.   Nobody up here treats me like I’m crazy, and I am so so glad.  They don’t treat me like I’m worthless.  Their smile toward me is genuine.  They don’t get into my shit, and I don’t get into theirs.  Nobody’s trying to change me.   Nobody’s trying to put one over on me.   Everybody accepts me for who I am.  The prayers of years have been answered.  I love North Idaho, and I super love this town.

(8) It’s always darkest before the dawn.  There will be a light at the end of this winding tunnel; and this too shall pass.

(9) I don’t like my personality very much, but at least I’m not a deceived Nazi Aryan white supremacist violent idiot.

(10) At least I have my space.   I’m an Artist.  I need my space.  I pray I put it to good use, after this.  For so many years, I did not have my space.  And people mocked me because of my devotion to my Art.  They kept trying to transform me into somebody I was not, and they laughed at me when I didn’t conform to the mode – as though I were a curiosity piece, a knick knack, an item of decor, placed on their dinner table for their entertainment.  I still remember the two of them, whom I thought were my friends, finding hilarity in the fact that I was having a first-time manic episode and losing my shirt.  But nobody treats me like that up here.  Nobody mocks me.  Nobody jeers at me.  Nobody scoffs, or sneers.    And I love it.    I hope I never again forget what I’m truly about.   God help me, if I ever again forget who I am.

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The Host Awaits

This piece, “The Host Awaits,” is from the musical I wrote between the years 2004 and 2008, entitled The Burden of Eden.  It is also known in certain circles as “Apologies to Peter Pan.”  You might note the Jule Styne references toward the end, if you’re hip.

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Old Habits Die Hard

Earlier this evening on Quora, somebody asked me if there were any particular habits left over from my homeless years that I was having a hard time shaking.  Being as I completely spaced out my Thursday blog on the homeless experience, I figured it was timely.  So I blasted out seven off the top of my head.   And believe me – it’s the tip of the iceberg.

(1) Until very recently, I had to imagine that I was still homeless every time I lay down to go to bed at night. Somehow, picturing one of the outdoor settings where I used to sleep, seeing the familiar sights in my mind, imaginging the sounds I would hear at that time, was soothing to me. (I’ve actually broken the habit, but it’s taken some work. For the past month or so, I’ve been able to get to sleep without having to imagine that I was still homeless.)

(2) Embarrassingly enough, I still haven’t bought a pair of undershorts, even though I’ve been living inside for almost two years ago. A lot of us men who were homeless discarded our underpants right off the bat, once we realized how impossible it was to keep buying them and/or keeping them clean.

(3) Equally embarrassing, I have a hard time changing into pajamas or anything “night-like” before I go to bed. Often I just sleep with my pants and socks on.

(4) Although I’d like to get back into the habit of showering daily like I used to, it just hasn’t happened. When I was homeless, weeks would go by without my hitting an actual shower. Now I have my own shower and tub, but I still only shower about once or twice a week. I still do a lot of rinse-offs in sinks like I used to have to do when I was homeless.

beanie(5) I almost never take my “security beanie” off of my head. In the summer, I have to wear a baseball cap. Even though I have a regular barber now who recently gave me a very decent haircut, I have a hard time taking off my beanie unless I’m in the shower. I even asked the pastor if it was okay to wear it in church.

(6) Having a hard time shaking the habit of cussing like a drunken sailor (at least at moments, when triggered by this-or-that). This is interesting, because I never used to cuss hardly at all before I put in twelve long years on the streets. And that bugger is not going away too easy.

(7) Suspicion of people in general, of their motives, was greatly increased when I was on the streets. Having a hard time shaking it, and regaining trust.

That’s enough for now.  As I said, there are many others.  And while some of these are pretty problematical, there has been a positive value to listing them like this. Maybe now I’ll see fit to do something about them!  I mean —  I do brush my teeth, you know, and shave, and wash my clothes, you know.  So I have gotten that far, but — what can I say?  Perhaps it’s time I raised the bar a little bit, don’t you think?

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Tuesday Tuneup 29

just-say-no-to-nike-v-1200x630Q. Where would you like to be?

A. In a place of greater fortitude.

Q. And what is fortitude?

A. Something like courage, but not quite.

Q. What’s the difference?

A. “Fortitude” implies more of a “just do it” approach.  That is, even if one lacks courage in general.  Just do it anyway, even when scared.  “Saying no” is a good example.  I need “fortitude” (not courage) to say “no.”  That’s what I think the difference is, anyway.

Q. Does this apply to something in your life today?

A. Lots of things.

Q. How so?

A. I burn out a lot.  If I don’t feel like doing something, I usually don’t do it.

Q. Then how does it ever get done?

A. Because I know that later on, I probably will feel like doing it.  So I wait till that happens, and in the meantime I do what I do feel like doing — knowing that I probably won’t feel like doing it later.

Q. Does that apply to everything?

A. No.  It doesn’t apply to things that I never feel like doing.

Q. What do you never feel like doing?

A. Washing the dishes.  I never feel like washing the dishes.

Q. And the dishes have piled up?

A. “Piled up” is an understatement.   

Q. How did you allow this to happen?

A. Well – it’s a bit on the personal side, but I guess the answer would be: “When have I not allowed it to happen?”  I’m just lousy at washing dishes.  They were clean for a while when there was someone here helping me with that kind of thing.  But that person isn’t here right now.  And anyway, dishes are just an example.

Q. What’s another example?

A. Saying “no” in general.  Keeping a couple people from knocking on my door at any hour.  And they don’t just knock.  They ring the bell.  Then they wait, and then ring it five times.  Then they wait, and start pounding on the door.  Then I finally realize it’s never going to end.  So I get up, even from being fast asleep, and explain that I’m sleeping and could they please come back another time.

Q. Where did you meet these guys?

A. At the Recovery Center.

Q. And you gave them your address?

A. Well yeah – we had the one guy over for dinner a couple times, when there was still two of us here.  It didn’t seem a big deal at the time.

Q. Then why does it seem a big deal now?

A. Other than that I’m being woke up in the middle of the night a lot?  That’s not a big deal?

Q. Isn’t there a bigger deal?

A. Well yeah – at the root of it, there is.  The bigger deal is I never just flat out tell these guys that I’d rather they don’t come over at all.  

Q. Why not?

A.  I don’t know.  I feel sorry for the one guy.  He’s been out in the cold a couple times.  Less sorry now, though, because I think he stole from me, and I heard he’s in jail right now.   Didn’t figure him for the “type,” but I noticed something was off last time.  Probably they switched his meds or something.   

Q. What about the other guy?

A.  I keep coming up with a use for him.  He’s a computer whiz, and he helped me get the right adapter so I could use my ThinkPad as a desktop now that it’s screen is cracked.

Q. Your laptop screen is cracked?

A. Yeah.  I had to plug it into an external monitor and start working from home.

Q. How did this happen?

A. I have no idea.  All I know is that it happens all too often.   And now I’m tempted to go over to the guy’s place with my old Dell, because I can’t get it to start up.  

Q.  But didn’t you start it up this morning?   Didn’t I read that on your gratitude list?

A. Yes, you did. But it only started up that one time.  Every other time I’ve tried it gets into a weird loop telling me it needs to restart, then I restart, and it tells me it needs to restart.  And so on.  

Q. Do you ever feel like you’re having more than your fair share of technical problems?

A. What do you mean?  New cell phone gets damaged due to water damage.  Second new cell phone gets cut off because they think I’m supposed to have the number of the old cell phone.  PayPal account gets locked for “suspicious activity” when I try to change my phone number.  Trying to send money from my PayPal somehow takes the money out of my bank account instead of my PayPal balance (Lord knows why) and now my bank account is overdrawn, plus I never succeeded in sending the money.   It’s still just sitting there in my PayPal account.  But when I try to transfer it to my bank I get a message telling me that they’re “not sure it’s me.”  I called them, and apparently when a person changes their phone number, it is regarded as “suspicious activity.”

Q. Anything else?

A. Thanks for asking.  So I wake up yesterday morning to a broken laptop screen.  And finally my back-up computer refuses to start up.  Well fine.  I’ll just work at home even though I’m totally paranoid these Kids are going to start pounding on the door any minute now.

A. Is that all?

Q. Probably not.  I mean — I’m an Artist.  I live for these moments of ecstasy I get when my work is going well.  I don’t know how to make money.  I don’t know how to deal with all this technical stuff.  They should only lay technical difficulties on people who can afford to deal with them.

Q. When did your life become so erratic?

A. One guess.

The Questioner is silent.

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Gratitude List 921

(1) Although it took 17 minutes to get from the point where I pressed the “start’ button on the old Dell Latitude to the point where I have successfully logged on and open my browser, at least it works.  (And at least I had 17 minutes to spare.)

spirit scinece quotes(2) Slept well and long.

(3) Continuing beautiful weather in this neck of the woods.   

(4) Considering the newly broken ThinkPad screen and other obstacles, I’m in a pretty good mood this morning.  I’m rested and looking forward to the new day.   

(5) Third cup of free coffee at the Courtyard is helping, as did the $3 traditional breakfast.

(6) Was able to get the right HDMI adapter from the Kid across the way in exchange for $5 for chewing tobacco.  So now I’m using the ThinkPad as a “desktop” with my flat panel, instead of the Asics, and it’s a much better display.  I also finally fixed the Zoho problem where they kept sending text verifications to the wrong phone number.  So I can get on Zoho Mail on all my computers now.  Sure is nice to have three computers (or portions thereof) to mess with, instead of only zero – like it was for so long earlier.

(7) Friday night I got the first donation on Eden in Babylon for almost five months.  This could be auspicious.  Also, someone mentioned they would mail me a donation, and I heard from Denise who says my check for Classism in Our Schools should be in the mail today.  A friend helped with food and such over the weekend, and it’s good to know that I have support.

(8) Denise also referred me to Spare Change, which I believe is a Boston newspaper akin to Street Spirit.  These small articles don’t pay much, but they’ll all add up if I can get more of them.  

(9) Had the great experience of meeting Rob Caisley, the playwriting teacher at U.I., when he sat next to me at the closing matinee of his new play, The Open Hand.  He agreed to meet with me in his office to discuss my musical Eden in Babylon.   I’m to email him and set up a time.

(10) Outside of present-day preoccupation with technical malaise, I’ve noticed lately that I’m not looking backwards so much these days as I am looking forwards.  Instead of thinking: “At least things are better now than they were three years ago,” I’m thinking: “If things are this much better now than they were three years ago, think how great they’re going to be three years from today!”  It makes a difference, believe me.  

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)

Statement of Artistic Neurosis

I’m sorry to have to do this to you guys, but if I don’t submit my statement of artistic neurosis very soon, the neurosis is likely to increase.

My neurosis is most manifested in two recent posts, one which I have deleted, and one which I am about to delete.   The one which I have deleted is Tuesday Tuneup 28.   I will probably compose a shorter and less wild tuneup soon, and post it in its place.   

Secondly, we have the issue of Brian’s Song.  This one I won’t delete until I’ve played it to my satisfaction.   Then I’ll replace it on the same link.  (By the way, since this will probably take me forever, you might as well continue to enjoy it, if you happened to like it the first time.)   To be honest, I was ready to delete it about twenty minutes after the first time I listened to it.  But then, when I went to remove the post, I found that three people had already commented on how much they liked it.  I couldn’t bare to delete it after that, because people had liked it, even though I had not.

There’s probably a psychological term for that form of people-pleasing.  In a lay person’s terms, I would say it relates to my having been brought up as an entertainer.  Please allow me to elaborate.

These days, we hear a lot about people who have been traumatized in early childhood, due to abuse or neglect on the part of parents or other older “role models” in their lives.  My childhood contained nothing of the sort.

Bob Hope
Bob Hope

When I was five years old, my family was calling me the “Bob Hope of the future” due to my propensity to entertain them with original jokes that seemed a bit out of character for a five year old.  

When I was eight years old, I basically kicked the school music teacher, Mrs. Bechmire, off of the piano bench and began to accompany the elementary school choir.

By the time I was about ten, it was not uncommon for news cameras to show up wherever I happened to be playing the piano, as people shouted out requests.

Play Hello Dolly!

I gladly indulged their requests, after which I would tell a few jokes, soak in the applause and the laughter, and go about my merry way.   While other children were being abused and neglected, I was being belauded and praised.   Only one person did not join in that praise: my dad.

While everyone was encouraging me to pursue a career in the Performing Arts, my dad (whom I idolized) was expressing extreme disappointment that his firstborn son was not following in his footsteps.

However, I could not follow in his footsteps, and for two very good reasons:

(1) I wasn’t genetically wired to be good at things like carpentry, electronics, and auto mechanics.   My DNA was heading me in a very different direction, at a very early age.

(2) Whenever he tried to teach me these things, I couldn’t focus or understand what he was saying.   Looking back, there are probably two reasons why this is true:

(a) I had severe, untreated ADHD.

(b) I was terrified of my father’s disappointment.   I wanted terribly to please him, and yet he was the one person whom I could not please.

So, while Dad tried to mold me into a junior form of his own self, I cowered in fear of the words that were soon to come:

“Andy, I’m afraid you can’t do anything right!”   

My father was a Jack of All Trades.   As such, he also happened to be a very fine piano player.  But for some reason, the piano was the one thing he did not try to teach me.  I watched him play piano after dinner between the ages of 5 and 7, and told him repeatedly:

“I see what you’re doing!  I’ve figured it all out!”

At that, Dad would chuckle.  “You can’t learn how to play a piano just by watching somebody play!”

But lo and behold, when I was seven years old, I stepped out of the bathtub one day (where I had been practicing “Old McDonald” and “Mary Had a Little Lamb” on my imaginary bathtub keyboard.)   Sitting down confidently at the piano, I played the two children’s songs on the piano, never having a played a piano before.  (With both hands, too!)  My mom just about dropped a plate of spaghetti on the floor, and rushed me to the nearest piano teacher.   

ragtime piano player
The Type of Piano Player that Dad Was

It was me against Dad from then on.   He tried to mold me into the type of piano player that he was.   But it didn’t work.  I became the type of piano player whom I am.   

So that’s my story in a nutshell.  I couldn’t please my Dad, so I went out of my way to please everybody else.  And how better to please them — than to entertain them.  And if anybody can apprise me as to the proper psychological term for this kind of disorder or dynamic, please fill me in.   Only one caveat — anybody saying Narcissistic Personality Disorder may expect a pie in their face.

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Tuesday Tuneup 28

Q. Where would you like to be?

A. In a place of greater vigilance.

Q. What do you mean by that?

A. By vigilance?  You know what vigilance means – surveillance, watchfulness, attentiveness, alertness —

Q. But you mean something deeper than that, don’t you?

A. What makes you think so?

Q. Aren’t I the one who’s supposed to be asking the questions?

A. Okay, look.  I mean greater awareness.  More keen to what’s happening around me, and what possibly could happen.  More mindful of the conceivable consequences of my actions.  Vigilance.

Q. Why is this important to you?  

A. Because it’s the fourth of the five principles of the Practical Pentacle, and all of these principles are important to me: integrity, confidence, diligence, vigilance, and fortitude.

Q. Where did those words come from?

A.  I guess the short answer would be, “off the top of my head.”

Q. And the long answer?

A. You asked for it.  Around about 2012, I was in an environment where there were a lot of Pagans.  Or, I guess, Neopagans would be more accurate.  Some of them wore pentacles, and one of them told me that if I chose to employ a pentacle, I would not necessarily have to use the standard five points of “Earth, Air, Fire, Water, and Spirit” – but could pick any five principles I thought would work for me.   So I said: “I’ll use integrity, confidence, diligence, vigilance, and fortitude.”  

Q. Just like that?

A. Pretty much.  Not sure where they come from, to be honest with you, but it all seemed pretty positive.

Q. Then what did you do?

A. Naturally, I started looking online for a pentacle to purchase.

Q. You actually purchased a pentacle?

A. Actually, no.  I stopped short.

Q. Why?

A. Couldn’t find one off-hand that looked right.  And then, in the time it was taking to look, I began to have reservations.

Q. Like what?

A. Well, being as I was a piano player at a Christian church at the time, I thought it might be odd if I showed up wearing a Pagan pentacle.

Q. But how do you really feel about this oddity?

A. You know me.  I don’t think it should be odd.  So what if I’m wearing a necklace shaped like a five-sided star?   As a Christian, I’m free to where whatever I please, as long as it’s not overly revealing or provocative.

Q. But doesn’t the Pentacle connote an anti-Christian religion?

A. What makes you think Neopaganism is an anti-Christian religion?

Q. Aren’t I supposed to ask the questions?

A. Okay look.  Getting down to brass tacks, there is nothing wrong or immoral about wearing a five-sided star, and associating each side of the star with a positive spiritual principle.   Nothing evil in that.  But because, to some people, it would appear to be evil, I declined, for their sake.  The Scripture does say: “Abstain from all appearance of evil.”

Q. So you’re saying a Christian has to look good?

A. To a degree, yes.  Appearances are important.   They’re not all-important.  They’re certainly not more important than reality.  But certain kinds of appearances have a way of messing with people’s realities, and that just isn’t cool.

Q. So, in other words, you bailed out?

A. I suppose you could put it this way.   But Christianity does involve being concerned for others in our midst.

Q. And this is why you wimped out?

A. More-or-less.

Q. Well then, if you never bought the pentacle, and never actually wore the pentacle, how does the pentacle still figure into your trip?

A. It’s an internal pentacle.  I have it inside me.

Q. You do?

A. I do.  I believe that it was placed inside me as a device to assist me in getting something accomplished — something which I very much need to do.

Q. What is it that you need to do?

A. You already know that.  It’s all over this website.   Everybody knows what I’m trying to do.  I’m rather surprised you would even bother to ask.

Q. But how do these principles help?

A. It’s a matter of applying them, moment by moment, one at a time.

Q. Can you elaborate on that?

A. I’ll try.  Integrity is the first and most important.  Before I make a creative or professional decision, I need to run it past my integrity.  I need not prostitute myself.

Q. And then?

A. Confidence.   Faith, essentially, that I have what it takes to get it done.

Q. What next?

A. I already told you.  Diligence.  That means, work, discipline, sticking to it, keeping a schedule — all that stuff.   And then, vigilance.   Awareness of the greater picture.  Preparation for possible dangers and pitfalls.   Finally, fortitude.

Q. Meaning?

A.just do it Just do it.  

Q. Take the leap, eh?

A. That’s right. Take the plunge.

Q. But – but – the plunge to where?

A. We don’t know quite where.  That’s what makes it a plunge.

Q. But – for what reason?   Why bother with any of this?

A. Because I need to get something done.

Q. What do you need to get done?

A. You already know that.

Q. And you don’t?

A. No, sir.  I do, if anyone does.   But –

I tire of talking about it.  I burn myself out having to explain myself all the time, over and over.  It gets tedious.   And people are tired of hearing about it.   I get tired of telling people that it’s going to cost me $200 a night to rent out the theatre where I want to showcase my musical, and that I’m going to have to come up with $15/hr for each member of the technical staff they provide me.  I get tired of harping on the fact that I’m an impoverished old guy with a serious health condition who somehow managed to put together an entire musical — book, music & lyrics — about the Homeless Phenomenon in America.   I’ve been screaming “money talks, bullshit walks” for so long that I’m begining to sicken my own self.   

And that dollar figure you see when you click here?   That money went to pay for my critique and demo recording, a long time ago.  When was the last payment?  In May?  From February to May I managed to scrape up $950 – or Danielle did, bless her heart.   But do you realize it’s October already?   What’s happened between May and October?  Damn near nothing.   I need the bucks!   It’s maddening.  Sometimes I need to apply all five principles at once just to keep my head together . . .

Q. Andy, what is the bottom line?

A. Bucks.  I need the bucks – the bucks . . .

Q. Come on, Andy — is money really the bottom line?

Q. You know me.  Of course it’s not.   Homelessness is the bottom line.  It’s as low as it gets.   It’s the weakest link in the country right now — and we need to be about strengthening our weak links — or else the whole chain is going to break, and fast.

A. How do you know this?

Q.  Dude — you sit on a sidewalk for five years, watching the urban world buzz by at a lightning pace, on a marathon race to nowhere, and you have a lot of time to make observations and draw conclusions.   Believe me, I didn’t put this show together because I was talking out of my hat.  

Q. What do you need the most?

A. Fortitude.  I need for somebody to take some action here.   Take a risk.  Have courage.  Believe in me.  Just do it.   

Q. Just do — what?

A. What you’re thinking about right now — you who have so encouraged me by having read to the bottom of this whole long page.   Please — we don’t have all night.   Daylight’s burning.  We gotta get this show on the road.   Just do it!

Q. Just do – what, again?   

A. Do you honestly expect me to answer that?

Q. Aren’t I the one who’s supposed to be asking the questions?

A. You tell me.  

The Questioner is silent.  

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Gratitude List 914

(1) I remembered to take my big cup with me to the 24/7 corner store when I went there to get my coffee this morning.  This not only decreased the price, but greatly increased the amount of coffee I was able to fit in a single cup — since my “big cup” is actually a quart in size, hehe.  Nice to be starting off the day with a nice big cup of hot coffee.

(2) When I came in last night from the cold, how great it felt just to be inside and be warm!

(3) Got up a little earlier this morning and did the entire wash.  Felt so good to put nice warm clothes on.

(4) And I must say – my morning coffee options have been greatly enhanced since the days when, if I wanted a cup of coffee in the morning, I would have to — have to — have to . . .  arrgghh.   Let’s just not go there, okay?

(5) Moreover, in another minute or two, I’m going to take a shower.  Once again, this is the first time since 2010 when I haven’t had to hassle with other men just to get a shower in the morning.   It feels wonderful to have my own bathroom, and my own shower, once again.

(6) I can’t help but have noticed that I’m not as angry as I used to be, and that I’m also not as absent-minded as I used to be.  Not only have I noticed this myself, but others have commented on it as well.  This is a good thing, and a great relief.

(7) Got the Street Spirit check in Friday’s mail, along with a complimentary copy of the paper, including my article, “The H-Word” (heavily edited, but hey – they spelled my name right.)

(8) The weather, though cold, has been incredibly gorgeous lately, with brilliant sunsets and sunrises, during both of which all the runners are out, in rare form.  And I will soon be among them. :)

(9) This gratitude list seems to be working fairly well, even though it’s the first one I’ve made since last Monday.  I think I’ll start making them every day again, and see if my life improves as much as a lot of spiritual people say it will.

(10) Something uncomfortable happened at Mikey’s the other night when I was having dinner there; and I ran into two of the youngsters, good friends of each other, the one Italian guy who’s always smiling, and his friend the bass player.   I don’t want to detail the exact essence of the discomfort, but suffice it to say that the bass player was turning to me for support in a certain issue — as a young person will often turn to an older person whom they respect.  But instead of support, I smirked with cynicism – as an older person will sometimes do, forgetting who he’s talking to at the moment.

May I always remember that the youngsters look up to the older sorts, and if they see something in the older person that they think is admirable, they will turn to that person as a role model — especially if they are lacking other adult role models in their lives.  May I never forget this.  1 Cor 10:23, Ephesians 4:1, and a bunch of other Scriptures come to mind.  (To my mind, anyway) . . .

I may be too old to seek out an “older role model” — but consider that if Jesus rose from the dead, and is still alive, that Guy would be over 2000 years old by now.   Can you imagine all the insanity He’s seen go down, by now?   And while Christ may be intangible on the worldly plane, I can still read His words, and seek His Spirit where it may be found.  Not all of those words are lost on everyone.  May they not be lost on me.   

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Gratitude List 913

(1) Awoke with energy to the pitter-patter of an outdoor drizzle.  As I pulled the covers over my body, I pictured myself lying on three layers of cardboard outside of the East Bay Area Works facility, pulling a single sheet over myself, that being sufficient to separate my skin from the rain.  I’m grateful both for the memory and for the very different place where I woke up this morning.

(2) Took a 10-K walk and noticed that the tread on these Nikes that I got for only $5 at the Goodwill far exceeds the tread on the last two pairs of running shoes I had.

(3) There’s something of a positive community in this town.  It’s non-religious, it’s artistic in focus, and it seems to hub around a certain coffee house. It feels good to have been accepted within this loosely-knit — and yet close-knit — community of like-minded Artist types.

(4) Grateful to have been published for a third time on Classism Exposed.   It’s interesting the way she assigned me the story on Friday the 21st, I got the ideas and wrote the whole thing on Sunday the 23rd, turned it on on Monday the 24th (her having told me it was due on Tuesday the 25th), and then saw it published on Wednesday the 26th.  Felt like it was meant to be.

(3) I think my Autumn Leaves came out all right.  I laid heavy on the B-part and it was a bit rushed.  But all things considered, I think I made a statement.

(4) Personal reconstruction. Putting all my pieces back together after their having been smashed to smithereens.  This is a sacred and holy order of business — you have been warned.

(5) Something of a role or function in the world right now.   There’s no reason to feel I should only be getting published in Street Spirit and Classism Exposed.  One led to another, and the two can lead to a third.  I only need to be discerning and a bit more aggressive (as I was earlier on).

(6) Tuesday Tuneup 27 is getting record RT’s on Twitter (and RT’s upon RT’s).  I guess that’s what happens when you reference Christianity, Paganism, and Satanism in the hashtags.

(7) Ran into Erika at the Round Table the other day.  She was in town for a wedding – a total surprise.  She wanted to pray out loud, right then and there, and she did so, quite eloquently, even surrounded by students, professors, and cafe workers.  Something about the content of what she decided to pray, and its very genuine nature, was phenomenal.  I even have it written down, most of what I remember.  She also told me I was a “great composer” on her way out.

(8) Gentle rain this morning outside my lightly-cracked window.

(9) The Age of Nevermore.   Diligence.  Bridging the gap;  connecting the dots.  This is going to be a good week.  Things could be a lot worse.

(10) I’m very grateful that they’re not.

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Tuesday Tuneup 27

Q. Where would you like to be?

A. In a place of greater diligence.

Q. What do you need to be more diligent about?

A. To be honest with you, I’d rather talk about something else.

Q. Then why did you bring it up?

A. Because I had this plan for five of the Tuesday tuneups.  I started two Tuesdays ago, with integrity.  The plan was to cover Integrity, Confidence, Diligence, Vigilance, and Fortitude, in that order.  For these are the five points of the Practical Pentacle.

Q. Pentacle?

A. Yeah, I was hanging around with Pagans for a while.  One of them told me I could change the classic five points of the Pentacle (that is, Earth, Air, Fire, Water, and Spirit) to anything I wanted.   Thus five principles came to me in a flash, so I ran with it.

Q. Did you actually wear this pentacle?

A. Naw.  It wouldn’t have gone over too well in Christian circles. 

Q. Then what did you do with it?

A. I began to apply the principles to my work, of course.

Q. But why did you want to talk about all this, instead of about diligence?

A. Because I’m avoiding the subject, obviously.

Q. Does the subject of diligence threaten you?

A. Somewhat.

Q. Why would that be?

A. Because I haven’t been diligent in the areas that require it, but only in the areas that I enjoy.

Q. Can you clarify?

A. I’m fairly diligent about my Artistic endeavors.  Reasonably diligent about maintaining this blog.  Diligent about church attendance and that kind of thing.  But there’s one thing I haven’t been very diligent about at all.

Q. What’s that?

A. The Word.

Q. Who’s Word?

A. God’s Word.

Q. And how do you hear that Word?

A. You know the Scriptures.  “Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God.”

Q. You mean the Bible?

A. Yes.

Q. When did you give up your diligence as far as reading your Bible?

A. I think it was when I was hanging around with those Pagan guys.  Back around 2012.  Before that, the Bible was the only book I read for 22 years.

Q. The only book?

A. I take it back.  I also read the The Chronicles of Narnia.

Q. And no other books than those?

Thomas Merton 5
Thomas Merton

A. Not completely.  Bits and pieces of Thomas Merton, Paul Tournier, and Henri Nouwen.  I’m really not a very good reader, you know.   But I did read my Bible every day.   It was a King James that Jan had left with me.  I kept it around my apartment, and read bits and pieces of it till I found something worth meditating on.  Then I meditated on those bits and pieces till they made sense in my life.  And went about my day.  

Q. So you would like to be more diligent with this practice?

A. Yes.  But without the extremism of eliminating all other books.

Q. Why is this on your mind?

A. Because I strayed.   As we all do.  I veered from my right and proper path.  And I paid.  As we all do.   I paid the price.   It’s just not worth it to stray too far from the simplicity that there is in Christ.

Q. How far did you stray?

A. Far enough.   A lot farther than just hanging around with Pagans, I can tell you that much.

Q. Satanism?

A. Move on to the next question, please.

Q. What brought you back?

A. Pain.  Extreme pain.  Psychological torture.  Psychic assault.  Cosmic manipulation of intentions and events.   Twisting of my values, and forced switching of my allegiance.  Jousting with demonic spirits – on their own terms, in their own playing field.  Deliberate distortion of my discernment.  And many other such things you do not need to know — indescribable things, worse than those.  

Q. And the Bible brings relief from all that pain?

A. Yes.  And remarkably so.  It already has, and in an incredibly short period of time.  Not so much the Bible, but the Word that is revealed in it.

Q. When did you lapse into all this rigid, right-wing fundamentalism?

A. Diligence, not rigidity.  And Left-Right is a crock of shit — a smokescreen set up by the Global Elite to obfuscate the real issues.  Also, it’s not fundamentalism to be Christ-centered and Bible-based, because the Revelation of Christ is found in the Bible, and it is there that he gives me His Word.

Q. He gives you His Word?

A. Yes.  He, unlike any other being I know, has always kept His Word.

Q. And you have not?

A. If I haven’t kept my word, it’s only because I haven’t kept His Word.

Q. What do you mean?

A. I mean that my life is no longer mine, but His.

The Questioner is silent.

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Gratitude List 911

1. I woke up on a comfortable couch this morning next to my computer and my desk. Guaging my overall condition at the moment – mental, physical, spiritual – I was genuinely grateful that I didn’t have to wake up where I would have woke up two or three years ago.

2. I seem to be in pretty good health, all things considered.

3. I’m not always grateful for what I have, but right now I am – and I am grateful for that fact.

4. It’s insane for me to ever want to go back and be homeless again. But something keeps drawing me there. What I’m grateful for right now is that something happened — I can’t tell you what it was — but it had the effect of reminding me just how lousy it is down there. It was a hard thing that happened (something involving a friendship that failed), but I am grateful that it happened, because it was the reminder that I needed.

5. Grateful for the sense that I have a future. I have not been totally destroyed, and there’s more for me to do on this earth – and possibly even afterwards. A lot of people who have been where I’ve been have been destroyed. So God is keeping me around for a reason. How can I not be grateful for that?

6. Just thought about my church right now. I really like my church. People are genuinely nice, and intelligent — and they mind their own business, too.

7. California and Idaho are a lot different. The people are different. We’re all human beings, of course, but what I mean is that the mores are different. The social customs and practices differ. It’s taking me a while to get used to it, and a lot of things have thrown me for a loop. But I just gotta say, me personally, the type of guy I am, I am very grateful to be in Idaho, and in this city.

9. My pastor, whose name is Norman. I’ve never had a pastor like him before. It’s hard to describe, and I hesitate to belaud the guy – but he acts like a *real* Christian – he doesn’t judge, he listens, his comments reflect wisdom and love, he goes out of his way to help people who are struggling – he’s not just a guy who knows what the Bible says and knows how to preach about it. He doesn’t boast, he doesn’t trip – he just does what a Christian is supposed to do, and keeps doing it. If every Christian were like Norman, I bet nobody in this country would hate Christians. So how can I not be grateful?

10. God is good. I am very grateful at this moment, just to be alive.

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Classism in the Schools

I wrote this essay on request from Denise Moorehead, the blog editor of Classism Exposed, where some of my other work is featured.  

Students begin to experience the effects of classism in our education system as early as kindergarten, or perhaps even nursery school.  Elementary school playgrounds reveal the effects of classism on a child’s education.

A child from an impoverished family will find that her parents cannot readily afford the latest toy or gadget that might be all the rage on the playground.   When all the other kids are excitedly exploring the newest electronic recreational device, the kid who is without feels excluded and somehow “less than” the others.   Sadly, that child cannot possibly grasp that this awful feeling of inferiority is caused by something called classism – an archaic system of values that favors the wealthy and punishes the poor.

EducationalInequalityposter-thumb.jpgWhen I found the kids in my 11th grade class making fun of me, I myself did not know that classism was the culprit.   My dad was a Navy man — an enlisted man who had just been stationed in a new town after a tour overseas.   Because my parents wanted to assure their children of a “high quality education,” they bought a modest house in the richest of four unified school districts in that city.   I remember that we barely made the border between that district and the next one down.

The kids at that school basically didn’t talk to me for about six months.   I was mocked and ridiculed for the way I dressed, the way I carried myself, and the way I talked.   Interestingly, all of that changed overnight when they happened to hear me play piano at a party.   Because of my piano playing, I suddenly became a popular man on campus — so popular, that I was advised to pretend I had been born in that community, since it didn’t look right for me to have that much on the ball socially, and yet have actually been born in a small “hick town” up in Northern Idaho.

For the next several years, my world was an environment where the indicators of privilege tipped people off as to who was “cool” and who was not, and appearances were more important than reality.   It was then that I learned how to schmooze with the jet-setters, and appear to be one of them, even though I was not.

Because of my musical aptitude, I was encouraged to apply to a Conservatory of Music at a nearby high-tuition private college.   Because my dad was going to school there on the G.I. bill at the time, and both of my parents had jobs at the University, I was eligible for a 90% tuition discount.   I received a very high score on the music placement test, and was accepted as a junior after having completed two years at another school.

Of course, I was overjoyed.  But when I got there, I found once again that I somehow didn’t fit in. It turned out that all of the other music students were from wealthy families who could afford the full tuition.  Moreover, most of them had done fairly poorly in high school, otherwise they’d have attended a lower tuition school such as a State college that would only accept students with higher GPA’s.  To top it all off, the professors seemed to take a special liking to me right off the bat, due to my musical prowess.

While it seemed that the faculty was oblivious to matters having anything to do with class, the student body was another story.  I was considered to be a “home town boy,” and the obvious fact that both my parents had low-level positions in the language lab and the library revealed that I was not exactly of the upper crust.  While I tried to “talk the talk and walk the walk,” the contrast between my background and that of the other students overwhelmed my effort to feign the social cues of privilege.  Discouraged and feeling alone, I dropped out of school after the first semester.

Although I never received a degree in Music, I was asked years later to work as an independent contractor for a public school that needed an accompanist.   The school was on the “other side of the tracks,” and the majority of students were Hispanic.   When asked about their professional aspirations, I could not help but notice that very few of the kids had any thoughts of ever “climbing up the ladder.”  Most seemed content to continue in agricultural or blue collar jobs, following their parents’ footsteps and guidelines.  

As I continued to take my skill set to schools of all kinds, I eventually received a high-paying job as a music teacher at a high tuition private elementary school.  There, by contrast, it was generally assumed that the kids would be pursuing leadership positions involving creative problem-solving and other specialized skills.  Why is it assumed that those of privilege are to become the leaders of tomorrow, while those who lack are supposed to be the flunkies?  Shouldn’t our nation’s leaders be comprised of those who have vision and fortitude, not of those who have wealth?

Classism is a venom that seeps through every crevice of what some still dare to call a Christian nation.  People of privilege are shown favoritism at every level — or if they’re not, those who are have to hear about it — as was the case when I was at the Conservatory.   On the other hand, poor people are made to feel that there is something wrong with them — like the child whose parents are too poor to afford to buy her the latest toy.  

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Tuesday Tuneup 26

Q. Where would you like to be?

A. In a place of greater confidence.

Q. In what areas do you lack confidence?

A. In many areas.  But only  one area is important to me at this time.

Q. What area is that?

A. It has to do with integrity, as we discussed last week.  I lack confidence that I will be able to act according to my integrity, and not according to hypocrisy.

Q. Why should you ever prefer hypocrisy over integrity?

A. I don’t, in my heart.  But at certain moments, I find myself choosing a hypocritical course of action, only because I lack confidence that I can find a way to act according to my integrity at that same moment.

Q. Can you provide an example of that?

A. Sure.   Say I’m at an idle moment.  I’m bored at that moment, and I don’t quite know what to do.  I see before me a certain door.  I am compelled to open the door, because on the other side will be people who will alleviate my boredom.  But the only way that these people have ever been known to alleviate my boredom is that they provide me with an audience for the Entertainer in me.  I will proceed to entertain them.  They will laugh when I say  funny things, and do comic imitations of people, and put on humorous expressions and mannerisms.  And then, I will be gratified.

Q. Who are these people?

A. That’s a good question.  They could be just about anybody, I suppose.  In this case, they were a number of people I saw sitting behind the back door of the Recovery Center where I have been volunteering, that back door being made of glass.

Q. Did you then go inside and entertain them, in order to alleviate your boredom?

A. No, I did not.  I turned and went next door, to a cafe where it was quiet, and I would find a way to alleviate my boredom, without having to entertain anyone.

Q. How did you manage that?

A. By doing what I am doing right now.  I am sitting down at a quiet table in a quiet cafe, among many quiet students studying, and professors preparing their lectures.  To entertain these people would be to interrupt their work, which would be quite rude.  So instead I logged on my laptop to do my own work, and therefore blend perfectly into the atmosphere.

Q. But aren’t you still being an Entertainer?

A. How so?

Q. You’re entertaining me, aren’t you?

A. It’s not my intention.

Q. What about your readers?  Aren’t they being entertained?

A. I hope not!

Q. And aren’t you still a hypocrite?

A. No!

Q. But what you’re doing right now – sitting in this academic cafe the way you are — isn’t this just as hypocritical as ever?

A. I think not!  I’m not hypocritical at all right now.

Q. You’re not?

A. No I’m not! I mean – what makes you think I am?

Q. Well, you’re not a student are you?

A. No – not in the strictest academic sense, as in pay tuition, take classes, and all that.

Q. And you’re not a professor, are you?

A. I am neither student nor professor, but that doesn’t mean I don’t have work to do on my laptop.

Q. But by trying to blend in with all the academics. aren’t you trying to pretend to be one of them?

A. I see your point, but no I’m not.  Plenty of people come in here to work on their laptops who are not students or professors.

Q. But still, you’re trying to look like a student or a professor — and isn’t this hypocrisy?

A. I don’t believe so, no.  Even if I’m not an official student, I sort of feel like one.  I’m always studying, doing research of various sorts.  Especially, I research classism, and inequality, and poverty culture, and homelessness.  This is who I am right now; it’s not hypocrisy.

Q. But haven’ you been an entertainer for most of your life?  How is it hypocritical to keep being who you are?

A. Because I don’t think the Entertainer is the real me.  The real me actually is more of scholar than an entertainer.  Besides, a spiritual scholar is one who is seeking the truth.   That describes me to a tee.  But an entertainer?  An entertainer tries to take people’s minds off of their troubles.  In a way, the Entertainer keeps people from looking for the truth.

Q. But haven’t been there entertainers who also were spiritual truth-seekers.  What about Dick Gregory?

2012 Summer TCA Tour - Day 1
Dick Gregory

A. What about him?

Q. Wasn’t he a comedian?

A. That he was.

Q. And didn’t he going on numerous hunger strikes, frequently fasting for forty days and forty nights for the sake of social justice?

A. That he did.  But he was different.  His comedy was about social and racial inequality.  Observe:

Good evening, ladies and gentlemen. I understand there are a good many Southerners in the room tonight. I know the South very well. I spent twenty years there one night.

Last time I was down South I walked into this restaurant and this white waitress came up to me and said, “We don’t serve colored people here.” I said, “That’s all right. I don’t eat colored people. Bring me a whole fried chicken.”

Then these three white boys came up to me and said, “Boy, we’re giving you fair warning. Anything you do to that chicken, we’re gonna do to you.” So I put down my knife and fork, I picked up that chicken and I kissed it. Then I said, “Line up, boys!”

Q. Well then why don’t you do like Gregory did?

A. What do you mean?

Q. Why not use your social activism in your comedy routine?

A. I sort of do that already.  Among friends, that is.  But what I’m trying to say is that, I am not a comedian at heart.  I’m not an Entertainer at heart?  I’m a spiritual man, and an Artist — a man of integrity, at heart.  The Entertainer is just a facade.  It’s just that I lack confidence I can ever shed that facade.

Q. Why bother?

A. What do you mean, why bother?

Q. Just what I said – why bother?  Isn’t the Entertainer a part of who you are?

A. Maybe.  This is all becoming very confusing.  And a wee bit annoying, I might add.

Q. But aren’t I just asking logical questions, spinning off the things you’re saying?

A. I suppose you are, but it’s still kind of irritating.

Q. Should we adjourn till later?

A. Probably.  I really do tire of this.

Q. Well, at least you’re not bored anymore, are you?

A. Get out of here!

The Questioner is silent.

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Gratitude List 910

1. Norman. Really grateful for my pastor and supportive friend.

2. My apartment. It’s in a nice secluded location; it’s quiet; the neighbors are quiet and unintrusive; it’s spacious and well-furnished; and it gives me personal space, privacy, and solitude — much appreciated at this time in my life.

3. A friend offered me $50 to help me through the rest of the month.

4. The haircut place, and Carmen being such a nice person and a good barber. Glad I got a decent haircut and beard trim yesterday.

5. The city in general. It’s a very positive and accepting community, and very supportive of the Arts.

6. My church. It really is a nice church. People are intelligent, and educated for the most part, and kind.

7. The One World Cafe. It’s really a nice place to work on my vocal score. A nice atmosphere with a nice staff and crew, and a pleasant group of regular customers, mostly students and professors from the University.

8. Danielle, who has been such a great and faithful friend over so many years.

9. The way that everybody here at the Recovery Center likes my music, and how they’re even going to pipe the piano pieces from my youtube channel over the speakers at the Fairgrounds when we have our picnic on Saturday. The way that this directly contrasts how everybody at the fellowship in the Bay Area kept telling me that my music was my biggest problem.

10. Nobody is mad at me these days. I’m not perceived to be in any way weird or different or wrong. It’s just such a great feeling. They kept telling me I was “crazy” for so long, it got to me. I’m not crazy; I’m just different. And that’s okay. Ir’s better to be me than whatever it is they all seemed to think I was supposed to be. And what’s great right now, is that whoever I am is all right. It’s so wonderful to be respected, to be treated with courtesy — as an equal, and not like some sort of lesser being, leper, or pariah.

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Hermit

I believe that we who write lyrics and music tend to remember the music we write better than we remember the lyrics.   At least, that is true of me, and especially if the song was written long ago, and then more-or-less abandoned.

The song that is featured today is something I wrote in April of 1976 in an effort to come out of a long period of isolation and creative famine.  I remember it took me a month to write the song.   This was also the first month of my now 42 years as a long-distance runner.  Writing this song was part of a complete lifestyle change.

Since it took me so long to squeeze it all out of me, I remembered the music very clearly, and continued to remember it over the years, even though I hardly ever played it.  But I forgot a lot of the lyrics, which I never sang.

At some point in the 42 years since I wrote the song “Hermit,” I forgot all about it.  But this past week, the song for some reason resurfaced in my consciousness.  This time, it had been so long, I didn’t even remember some of the music.   But as the week progressed, I remembered more and more of it; and I practiced it several times on the piano.

As for the lyrics?  Here are the ones I remember:

Shifting back and forth
Between one reckless thought and the next,
Trapped inside a rented room
Behind a world that’s too complex.

And later:

Your life is just a rented room!

Still later:

We all need our time to think –
But how much?  That’s all I ask!
You could spend a lifetime claiming you’re close to the cure,
But when life itself is such a task,
You’re never sure . . .
Never sure . .  .

Interesting.  I was 23 at the time.  I wonder why the song came back to me this week?  I hadn’t thought about it in years.  Here’s what it sounds like.

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