Gratitude List 1180

1. Awoke refreshed at 4:40 am, my median wake-up time.   Grateful for my sleeping spot in my place of residence, and for the early morning hours.  It’s pleasant to see the sky grow light, and to hear the birds chirping outside my open window.

2. Grateful for this close-knit, creative community.   I read recently where this town was rated the best place to live in the entire State.

3. 48F degrees and perfect running weather.   Jeremiah said he would leave a pair of whole shoes for me at the church.   Grateful for the runners I’ve met recently – Jeremiah, Cody, Brandy — and the motivation I’ve received talking with them.  I remember if I wanted to run when I lived in Berkeley I had to always ask another homeless guy whom I trusted to watch my back pack and all my stuff while I ran.   It’s nice becoming a runner among runners again.

4. Nice cup of Instant that I made here at  home.

5. Heard from Lynne Fisher just now.  Grateful for our ongoing correspondence and friendship.

6. The cafe here in town where I get most of my work done.  It’s not only not problematical, like most cafes where I’ve attempted to hang out in the past, but the people who own and run the place, and the regular customers whom I’ve gotten to know, are genuinely very supportive of me and of each other.  I’m really grateful for that cafe, and for the round table where I sit.

7.  It’s great to have a new computer that is not interfering with my process or slowing down to a huge degree, like the old one was.  It’s also great to have a single computer with everything on it, and not to have to go back home to (say) burn a CD, for example. Thankful for there finally having been a solution to an aggravating computer issue that had hindered me for so long.

8. Everybody is on board my project, and rehearsals are going well.  It’s nice to be a worker among workers.

9.My church. Thankful for their letting us use the facilities for rehearsals, before we all move into the Kenworthy Theatre at the end of the summer.

10. God is Good. :)

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Gratitude List 1178

(1) Slept well and got up at the preferred time of around 4:40 in the morning, wide awake and ready to go.  I really prefer the waking hours to the sleeping ones — especially considering that throughout a large part of my life, I was in much more danger when I was sleeping than when I was awake.   

(2) Remembered to have a carefully measured cup of coffee ready to drink at home this morning, rather than have to hustle in order to obtain a cup of coffee.   Now that I have the privilege of making my own coffee in the morning, I better be keen to exercise that privilege.   Some of the maneuvers I’ve had to go through in my day to secure a morning cup of Joe have not been pleasant.   

(3) Nice talk with my friend Danielle early this morning.  I really enjoy the conversations we have when she’s driving to work in the morning on the East Coast, three hours different from me.   It’s one of the nicer perks of being an early riser.

(4) Ran two miles this morning, my first run for ten days.  Ran right past the old guy walking his dog who made fun of me last time.  Ran past him quickly without looking, and he didn’t say anything.  Eager to get in shape so that none of those scoffers will find a reason to poke fun at me.  Thankful I have two strong legs, a good set of lungs, and I can still run after all these years.   Let’s put it this way — these two miles had a much better effect on me than the first time I tried running a couple miles — back on April 9, 1976.

(5) Took a shower — and once again, that’s a privilege I ought not to neglect.   This here apartment is the first time since 2010 when taking a shower has actually been a private, personal practice not to be observed or interrupted by others.  Grateful for my own shower, and for early morning solitude.

(6) My first story for my new column Homeless No More has been published in this month’s Street Spirit.   Also my editor attended the INSP Summit for the first time, involving over 300 street papers.   

(7) Rehearsals for the concert reading of my musical about Youth Homelessness, entitled Eden in Babylon, have been going remarkably well.   Although it dismayed me that when I was homeless in Berkeley, there was nobody in the whole town who wanted to see my musical produced; it is wonderful to be noticing that there is nobody in the present town — where I am not homeless — who does not want to see my musical produced.

(8) Randomly did eight quick push-ups getting out of the shower.   Waited a while, then did 10 push-ups in the second set.  So I did 18 push-ups.   (Thought you should know.)

(9) Vital signs were surprisingly good at the doctor’s office the other day: blood pressure 110/70, heart rate 58.   Probably all the bicycling has helped recently.   Thankful for all the help in getting me a new bicycle seat, soon to replace the broken one.

(10) It’s 7:20 in the morning.  Soon I’ll be at the Courtyard, eating a full traditional breakfast for $3, plus free unlimited Starbucks coffee refills.   I somehow prefer this to the community breakfast where I was banned permanently for barking back at the security guard who kept barking orders at me before I could get a morning cup of coffee into my system.  (Guess it all boils down to how hard one has to work to obtain a cup of coffee in the morning.)  God is Good.    

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A little bit goes a long, long way.  

How I Got Inside

Attached is a verbatim transcript of the first story I had published in my new column in the new Street Spirit.  My column is called “Homeless No More,” and my story is entitled “How I Got Inside.”  This is based on a blog post called Bigger and Better than the Streets, also written on request of Alastair Boone, the new editor-in-chief of Street Spirit.    However, this version involves signature edits and additions.  As such, it stands on its own.

Note also the illustration provided.  The caption reads: “A drawing of Andy getting on a bus and leaving the Bay Area, soon to be housed elsewhere.”  Outside of being an outstanding illustration in its own rite, the work of one Inti Gonzalez, portions of it are charmingly telling.  Note how the homeless Andy is haggard, with a more unkempt beard, wearing a helmet, carrying a sack on a stick, eagerly boarding the bus for greener pastures.

And then, on his arrival!  Suddenly his beard is trim, his hair short and styled – he’s even wearing a Hawaiian shirt – as he bounds into his pristine new place of residence with a shit-eating grin on his face.  I see “white male privilege” reflected all over, which makes  sense in the context of my having moved to a largely all-White State.  But the white male couldn’t have felt too privileged a few weeks back, flying a sign on a Berkeley city sidewalk all those years.

In any event, here’s the text.  You can see for yourself what I wrote on the subject.

When I was homeless in the San Francisco Bay Area, I relied to a large degree on the moral support of lifelong friends and family who were not. For one reason or another, it was not feasible for any of them to let me stay in their homes for any substantial length of time. Still, they frequently provided me with encouragement, and on occasion sent me money. While I was often upset that nobody was “letting me in,” I nonetheless was dependent on their emotional and financial support in order to endure the ongoing conditions of homelessness.

One of the reasons why I delayed the decision to leave the Bay Area for so long was because I was attached to my support group. I felt that my old friends and family members were just about the only people who knew that I was a competent guy who had landed on the streets as the result of a costly medical misdiagnosis. They were the ones who knew that a mistreated health condition had led to a mental breakdown, as my inability to properly manage a health condition threw me into first-time homelessness at the age of 51. They were the ones who watched in horror, as one by one I lost all my accounts, and could no longer keep up with the high cost of living on the S.F. Bay Area Peninsula. But still, they believed in me, and they did what they could to help me get back on my feet. Of course I needed their support!

The only thing they didn’t do was to let me stay with them. Ironically, to have offered me housing, even temporarily, would have been the only thing that could possibly have helped me to get back on my feet.

But they could not do this. They had their own concerns. Meanwhile, I watched while the sordid conditions of homelessness gradually transformed me from a naïve, overweight singing teacher to a scrawny fraction of my former self. Gradually, I got to be half-crazed from protracted sleep deprivation. Often, I became fully crazed from feeling that I was treated like a sub-human mutant, rather than an equal. Passersby sneered at me in disgust.

In order to cope with this massive sense of ever-increasing dehumanization, I turned at first to marijuana, though I’d smoked no more than twice since the 80’s. Then, during the last three years of my homeless sojourn, I turned to a harder drug. I used speed to desensitize me from the cold—both the physical coldness of temperature, and the spiritual coldness of the condescending mockers in my midst. One by one, my old friends and family members, with rare exception, abandoned me. One of them recently told me: “We were all just waiting to read your obituary.”

Finally, in June of 2016, I picked up my social security check and walked out of the city of Berkeley without saying a word. “If the drugs won’t kill me,” I told myself, “the thugs who dispense them will.”

For a month I wandered the other side of the Bay in search of a permanent answer. But nothing seemed to work. In a shelter, I caught a flu, and was kicked out for that reason. The hospital wouldn’t let me in, because if they let me in, they’d have to let all of us in. I got kicked off of the all-night bus for fear of contaminating the other homeless people, who relied on the all-night bus as a shelter.

In desperation, I got down on my knees. I told the Universe that all I wanted was “a lock on a door, a window, and a power outlet.”

Then I took action. I began googling keywords until I found a place in the Pacific Northwest that rented for only $275/month—something that would easily have gone for $900/month in the Bay Area. It was a tiny room in a converted hotel—but it would do the job. I called an old associate, someone whom I’d worked with long ago when he was a music teacher at a middle school. Hearing my story, he agreed to front me $200 for a one-way Greyhound ticket to a new life. After that, I told my story to the prospective landlord, whom I called while still in San Francisco. To my amazement, he agreed to hold the place for me until I got there.

Forty-eight hours later, I was sleeping in my new room. It had a window, two power outlets, and three locks on the door. Four days after that, I signed a one-year lease. Three weeks later, after years of being considered unemployable in the San Francisco Bay Area, I landed a part-time job as a piano player at a small-town church.

A part of me wishes I had made the decision earlier. It would have spared me the last three years of psychic hell. But had I made the decision earlier, I would have abandoned the bulk of my support group. For me, leaving my support system and moving out of town was what it took to lead me to housing. However, it is a common misconception that the homeless crisis would be solved if homeless people just picked themselves up and moved out of town. This is not always the case, nor is it always readily possible.

I was lucky to have found a sympathetic person who would front me the money for a one-way-ticket to another state and help me with an apartment deposit and a few other odds and ends. Not everybody can find such a benefactor. Also, we cannot deny the obvious fact that I am a white male brimming with the semblance of “white privilege”even while living on the street—if only for the ability to decide to move to a state largely composed of other white people. While I obviously did not possess a whole lot of privilege per se, I looked as though I could conceivably be, or become, a privileged person. Let’s face it: Had I been Black or Hispanic, to show up in a largely white neighborhood would not have worked to my advantage.

So in a way, I had it easy. At the same time, however, I believe that there is a way out for everyone. Though the sheltered world does not know it, homelessness is not the same thing as alcoholism, drug addiction, or incompetence. It’s not the kind of thing where one needs to “change their ways” in order to overcome it. In order to overcome homelessness, what one needs is dignity. We are all created equal; we are all endowed by our Creator with inalienable rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. We are all bigger and better than the streets.

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A little bit goes a long, long way.  

 

Pinnacle

If anyone has use for a CD in this day and age (and I’m almost sure there are those among us who do), my new Pinnacle CD is on sale for $10 on the local market and $15 if I have to mail it to you.

And just in case you don’t happen to have any particular use for a CD in your hyper-modern mode of existence, my music doesn’t cost a whole lot to access in general.  As a matter of fact, here it is.

pinnacle cover

One way or the other, your kind donation is always appreciated.   Here’s to the “Heart of the Arts.”

Please donate to Eden in Babylon.
A little bit goes a long, long way.  

Gratitude List 1174

(1)  Though I felt very lethargic this morning after oversleeping, I now feel more alive and energetic than I’ve been for several days.   Thankful for a good night’s sleep and for a quiet, secluded place where I can achieve it.

(2) Thankful for my bicycle.  On the brisk ride to the Courtyard, the air felt fresh and a tad moist as though I were swimming in it.

(3) Free Starbucks coffee at the Courtyard, second cup completely consumed.

(4) Made a new piano CD called Pinnacle.   (Link is to a SoundCloud playlist.)   I’ve got this idea I can sell them for $10 locally and $15 if I have to mail them to somebody.   In fact, if you want one, why not just donate anonymously on the link at the bottom and leave me your mailing info on my contact page Really, I’m pretty happy with it, and I’m thankful for the church that gave me a key to a building with a Baldwin grand piano.

(5) A third cup of coffee.  :)

(6)  Although arguably I did not change overnight on my 66th birthday, I rejoice in that according to the United States government, apparently I have changed for the better.  Apparently, I am no longer “disabled” but “retired” now.  The ironic upshot is that I now can work as much as I want without them chopping my disability check, because it is no longer a disability check, but a retirement check.  I may now joyfully join the ranks of all the other blokes who seem to work harder after they retire (no social statement intended.)

(7) Nice video chat with my daughter yesterday.  She appears to have a nice boyfriend now, which is a relief.   Had a nice chat with him about our parallel experiences with the Boy Scouts.  I saw an omelette he made her for “breakfast in bed.”  Obviously, he is quite the chef, and treats the lady kindly.

(8) Very thankful for the current close-knit creative, culturally conscious community tucked in between all those tall hills and at least one major mountain.   It’s a microcosm.  I love this place.

(9) Tuned into CityLab recently, and the wonderful work they’re doing to raise awareness as to how to make American cities more livable and sustainable for all.   Grateful for Alastair Boone, and for her strong encouragement toward my lending my voice through the medium of journalism.

(10) The first article for my new column Homeless No More was published a few days ago in the June issue of Street Spirit.   There isn’t a whole lot of money in this, but what’s money?   I’m just grateful I live indoors, and God has been very good to me.

Please donate to Eden in Babylon.
A little bit goes a long, long way.