It Is What It Is

There was this sense, when I was homeless, that my personal achievements were not as important as the achievements of those who lived indoors.   On the other side of the coin, my misfortunes were not as worthy of sympathy as those of people who lived inside.  If I achieved something wonderful, it was dismissed as irrelevant.  If I suffered something horrible, it was shrugged off as unimportant.  Yet if the same wonderful thing had happened to someone who lived inside, people would have smiled and offered their congratulations.  And if the same horrible thing had happened to someone who lived indoors, they would have received due sympathy.

I’ll never forget how, when I was house-sitting for a friend of mine, I took a twenty-five mile bus trip to a homeless feed, and I left my wallet on the bus.  I was more than inconvenienced by this.  It threw me into a completely discouraged state.  The house-sitting had enabled me to replace my stolen photo I.D and a lost debit card, obtain a library card, and (last but not least) store needed cash in a single place.  In this case, the dollar I needed to get back to my friend’s place on the bus was a critical component of that cash.

Naively, I figured that that the social workers at the feed might have helped me with a dollar to get back to my friend’s house.  Instead, what followed was a demeaning event, in which one by one, every single person I asked for a dollar bill assumed I was a hustler working a sophisticated con.  Not one of them believed I had actually lost my wallet.  

When I told one of them how I had lost my wallet, my cards, and all my money, she replied by saying: 

“It is what it is.”

At that point, I finally exploded.  

“How would you like it if you had lost your keys, and couldn’t get into your car, and couldn’t get into your house, and were desperate for help and support, and somebody responded by saying: ‘It is what it is?'”

I guess I had raised my voice a little too loudly with that question, for it was then that the security guard approached me to inform me that I was no longer welcome at the feed.

A far worse assault is something I find myself reluctant to share, for fear I might relive the trauma.  It happened at about four in the morning, when I stopped to ask a buddy of mine for change to get onto the BART train from the Downtown Berkeley station.   While my friend and I were counting the change, I casually set my backpack down behind me.  My backpack, at the time, contained a Mac PowerBook, two years worth of CD’s of music I’d written, headphones, and various and sundry life-aids, survival devices, and creature comforts.  In other words, it contained everything I owned.

While I was not looking, a nearby kid poured lighter fluid all over my backpack and set it on fire.

My friends saw it first, and started to scream: “What the hell are you doing!?  This guy’s a friend of mine!”

But the kid, apparently having been up for five or six days on crystal methamphetamine, only laughed.  He thought it was funny and fun.

Badly shaken, I forgot all about my BART trip and began to seek the emotional support of friends.  First, I called my best female friend in Georgia.  When she heard what had happened, of course she gasped, and cried: “That’s horrible!”

But when I approached a certain fellowship in the vicinity, and I related the story to a member who was standing outside, she only said: 

“Aw, who cares?”

This triggered a chain reaction involving a number of the members dismissing my trauma as irrelevant.  The message I received was essentially: “Well, if you weren’t homeless, these kinds of things wouldn’t happen to you.”

I was upset enough that I later approached the president of the church council, only to hear:

“Well, how did you expect them to react?”

I wanted to tell him that I’d expected them to say something similar to what my friend in Georgia had said; i.e., “that’s horrible!”  I wanted to tell him that I had expected there to be some sympathy for the condition of a guy who had just watched all his possessions burnt down by arson before his eyes.  But instead, grasping the incredulity of the scenario, all I could say to the council president was: “That’s a good question.”

seeking_human_kindness-homeless-hub-york-uniA better question would have been: “Why didn’t they react with normal human sympathy for a person who had just been so violated and traumatized?

The answer is simple.  My friend in Georgia was treating me like a human being.  The people at the fellowship were treating me like a homeless person.   Apparently, in a lot of people’s minds, there’s a big difference.

This is to say nothing about the achievements I managed to accomplish when I was homeless.  When I lived outdoors in Berkeley between 2013 and 2016,  I composed all of the music on the Berkeley Page of this web site without the aid of a laptop or music notation software.  I walked about town like a madman, singing “bop bop bop” and playing drums on my pants legs.   And when I was able to get inside with a laptop in 2016, I scored and sequenced all of that music with Finale music notation software.

The total strangers in the cafe here in town where I scored all that music recognized it as an achievement.  But what kind of response did I get from the townspeople?

“Shut the f–k up, you wingnut!”

And from church people?


“So what?
You act as though your music is more important than your God.”

But do you know who did appreciate the songs I was writing?

The homeless people.  They clapped whenever I found a piano to play it on, or when a homeless friend and I sang harmonies, while he strummed on his guitar.

And you know why?

Because homeless people see each other as human beings.   People who live indoors, by and large, see homeless people as homeless people.

There’s a big difference, you see — and don’t you forget it.

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(Talks 2018) – Talk No. 5

In this talk, I try to show how the dynamics of outdoor living provoke the dehumanization of homeless people, consciously or unconsciously, by those who have always lived indoors, and how this phenomenon is a biproduct of a much larger spiritual malaise that, in one way or another, has affected us all.  

Homeless and Human 

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Tuesday Tuneup 22

Q. Do you know who I am?

A. I do.  You are the part of me who questions the logical validity of my inner workings, to the end that I might make more rational, better-informed decisions.

Q. Why have you summoned me?

A. Because I am contrite.

Q. You don’t say?

A. I do.  I am contrite, because I feel I have wronged you, and I owe you an amends.

Q. An amends?  Or an apology?

A. An amends, like I said.

Q. What is the difference?

A. An apology has less merit than an amends in terms of acknowledging the inner-connectivity of all beings, whether they exist within the consciousness of a single being, or whether they are attached to separate consciousnesses of multiple beings.

Q. Could you run that past me again, please?

A. I could, I suppose.  But I grow weary of words.

Q. You??

A. Yes, me.  Sadly, even I tire of them.

Q. Then why not cut to the quick?

A. How can I?house-divided

Q. Can’t you just — get to the point?  And make your amends?

A. I’ll try.

Pause.

A. I would like to mend fences.  For I have treated you harshly — as though you were an enemy.  I fought against you, as though I wished to remain separate from you.  But in so doing, I denied that you are but a part of me.   Why should I fight against myself?  A house divided cannot stand.

Q. Then what do you propose to do instead?

A. I propose that we be friends again.   Lovers, if you will.   Let us become one being — no longer divided into two.

Q. This is your way of making peace?

A. Yes.  And not only peace — but unity.   I propose you and I join forces within me.  Gradually together we will transform me from a confused, conflicted sort of fellow, to a fulfilled friend of humanity, moving forward according to a clear and distinct vision, and no longer wallowing in the past, as though at war with the present.

Q. Won’t this affect the nature of my questions?

A. It will indeed.

Q. How so?

A. Come back next Tuesday.   And we shall see.

The Questioner is silent.  

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Gratitude List 884

Here’s my second gratitude list from Saturday, after waking up from a morning nap.

1. I was tired and discouraged, then I remembered I could take a power nap at the church. Slept so heavily I didn’t know where I was when I woke, and was not nearly so discouraged on awakening, and no longer tired.

2. I prayed for the discouragement to be removed, and it was removed.

3. I prayed specifically for things to happen that would cancel out what happened to discourage me — and one of them has already happened.

shoelaces4. There was no way I could get the knot out of my left shoelace, which was a thin shoelace. Walking lacelessly toward the thrift shop was bringing back bad memories, and I really did not want to spend the $5 debit card limit just to get a 63 cent shoelace at the Salvation Army. Then, I found a dollar bill on the ground, so I didn’t have to. Also, the single shoelace they had (not the set) was a very thick 54″ shoelace, which was the perfect size. The prayer about the shoelace was answered, not fifteen minutes after I prayed it. Wow.

5. Also find it interesting synchronicity that I twice alluded to the “homeless shoelace problem” recently — in Talk 4 and in the Thursday post — and then, it happened. These things happen for a reason.

6. Heard an O.G. playing nice jazz standards and singing on a guitar outside the music store downtown. He told me the store had hired him, which was encouraging, since not everyone will hire an Old Guy. Exchanged contact info, felt warm inside. Loved his version of “Laura.”

7. Ran into Timbo at the café just before Writer’s Guild. Great guy, leaving for Michigan on Wednesday. He bought an “Abstractions” CD, which helps considerably.

8. Really great to reconnect with the people at the local Writer’s Guild.

9. Something tells me that the friendship between me & my daughter will be stronger than ever before.

10. God is Love.

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The Wilderness of the Sea

The oracle concerning the wilderness of the sea.
As whirlwinds in the Negeb sweep on,
    it comes from the desert,
    from a terrible land.
A stern vision is told to me;
    the plunderer plunders,
    and the destroyer destroys.
Go up, O Elam,
    lay siege, O Media;
all the sighing she has caused
    I bring to an end.
Therefore my loins are filled with anguish;
    pangs have seized me,
    like the pangs of a woman in travail;
I am bowed down so that I cannot hear,
    I am dismayed so that I cannot see,
My mind reels, horror has appalled me;
    the twilight I longed for
    has been turned for me into trembling.
They prepare the table,
    they spread the rugs,
    they eat, they drink.
Arise, O princes,
    oil the shield!
For thus the Lord said to me:
“Go, set a watchman,
    let him announce what he sees.
When he sees riders, horsemen in pairs,
    riders on asses, riders on camels,
let him listen diligently,
    very diligently.”
Then he who saw cried:
“Upon a watchtower I stand, O Lord,
    continually by day,
And at my post I am stationed
    whole nights.
And behold, here come riders,
    horsemen in pairs!”
And he answered,
    “Fallen, fallen is Babylon;
and all the images of her gods
    he has shattered to the ground.”

–Isaiah 21:1-9 RSV

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