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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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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