Tuesday Tuneup 47

Q. What’s really bugging you this morning?

A. The question is starting to bug me.

Q. Why?

A. Because it presupposes that there’s something bugging me.  But there isn’t.  I’m feeling really good this morning.

Q. Then why did you select the question?

A. Because I assumed there would always be something bugging me every morning.

Q. Why did you make that assumption?

A. Because there usually is.  Something bugging me.  Every morning.  

Q. But this morning there is not?

A. No.  Not really.

Q. Can’t you come up with something?

A. I suppose I could.  But what’s the point?   What’s the point of dredging negativity out of my subconscious, when in my conscious mind, I feel positive about life, myself, and the world?

Q. How can you possibly feel positive about the world?

A. What do you mean?

Q. Isn’t the world going to hell in a hand basket?

A. So what else is new?   The world’s been going to hell since time immemorial.  Since the Garden, to be theologically specific.   That doesn’t mean we still can’t find good things about it.

Q. What’s good about the world?

A. Beauty.   What does it say in the Desiderata?  “With all its sham, drudgery, and broken dreams, it is still a beautiful world.” 

Q. You believe this?

A. Yes!  What people seem to do is to focus on the negative.  Then their worlds become dismal, because they make no effort to see the positive.  But there’s always positive.  Positive abounds.  One only need tune into it.

Q. But isn’t that denial?  Like an ostrich?  Hiding your head in the sand?

A. It can be.  But it doesn’t need to be.  It’s only denial if you also deny that bad things are happening.

Q. And you don’t?

A. I try not to.  But at the same time, I don’t deny that good things are happening either.

Q. Why not?

A. Because I’m happier when I focus on the good things, despite the bad things.

Q. Would you say you are a happy person?

A. Pretty much, yes.  

Q. And you attribute this to your focus on the positive?

A. Largely, yes.   This is also biblical.   Look what St. Paul has to say about it, in his letter to the Philippians:

This week's Bible verse: Philippians 4:8 : Specificfeed

Q. So you try to focus on what’s true, noble, right, pure, lovely, and admirable?

A. Yes.  

Q. What’s lovely?  

A. I don’t know.  What is?

Q. What do you mean, what is?

A. I’d like to know what you think is lovely.

Q. Me?

A. Not you, silly.  My readers!   What do my readers think is “lovely?”  Tell me.

The Questioner is silent.

Gratitude List 1141

1. Slept from 7 till midnight, and midnight till 6am after being up for a while at midnight.  Feeling rested.  This is the second night in a row of good solid sleep.

2. I’m lucky to have the percussionist I have in Paul.  He’s intuitive too.  That song Rosy he had never played before, yet he picked up every nuance.  He’ll be good in the show.  Not to mention, he plays a number of other instruments that may come in handy.   They told me he was a “musical genius” — and much as I don’t like to throw that term around lightly, I believe they told me right.   

3. Though my computer crisis continues, I managed amid the melee to get all my important files and folders saved onto flash drive.

4. Dave okayed up to $200 for computer repair.  Unfortuately, all pertinent repair estimates have so far have exceeded $200.  But still it’s nice that he took my computer issues seriously enough to want to help.

5. It’s possible I might be able to borrow a decent Dell laptop from a cast member.

6. Looks like I have three excellent young singer-actors for the Three Girls now: Zyowelle, Koko, and Crispi.  

7. Walked over ten miles yesterday, and have walked four miles thus far today.   There’s something to be said for walking as a mode of transportation.  Time-consuming — but it does burn off calories.

8. The Open Mike last Friday was a high event.   There was warmth among all who participated and attended.  A true feeling of community in a city I’ve come to love.

9. Have received sponsorship on my project from the Latah Recovery Center, Family Promise, and First Presbyterian Church.  The President of the Board of Directors of Family Promise wrote this wonderful appraisal of my work:

Eden in Babylon urges us to consider the damage that is caused by homelessness and poverty in the midst of affluence. Andy Pope’s significant creative energy and life experience also offers a message of hope in this musical as his characters journey through the chaos that they experience on the streets.

While homeless people are relatively invisible in our community, it deeply wounds many of our neighbors who we do not know. Eden in Babylon is a call for us to care for our neighbors who are in need.

Bruce Pitman, President
Family Promise Board of Directors   

I was just a hobo coming off of a Greyhound bus only three months shy of three years ago to this day. It amazes me how, in what seems like a very short time, an entire community of Artists and Activists has banded together in support of my project.  If I didn’t believe in God before all this happened to me, I do now.

10. God is Love.

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The Beautiful Gate

One afternoon Peter and John were going up to the temple at the hour of prayer, the ninth hour. And a man who was lame from birth was being carried to the temple gate called Beautiful, where he was put every day to beg from those entering the temple courts. When he saw Peter and John about to enter the temple, he asked them for money.

Peter looked directly at him, as did John. “Look at us!” said Peter. So the man gave them his attention, expecting to receive something from them. But Peter said, “Silver or gold I do not have, but what I have I give you: In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, get up and walk!”

Taking him by the right hand, Peter helped him up, and at once the man’s feet and ankles were strengthened. He sprang to his feet and began to walk. Then he went with them into the temple courts, walking and leaping and praising God.

When all the people saw him walking and praising God, they recognized him as the man who used to sit begging at the Beautiful Gate of the temple, and they were filled with wonder and amazement at what had happened to him.

— Acts 3:1-10

 

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Different Strokes

This is one of a series of pieces written on request of Alastair Boone, the editor-in-chief of the social justice newspaper, Street Spirit.  

Our society seems to be obsessed with putting people into boxes. Rather than take the time to actually get to know an individual for who they are uniquely, we like to make snap judgments about them according to their appearance. For example, if a man is seen flying a sign on a sidewalk, we think: “That guy’s a lazy bum.”

But what if that man is not a lazy bum? What if he’s someone who, for one reason or another, needs to fly a sign on that particular day, in order to raise money quickly for some certain necessity that he lacks? For all we know, he could be raising money for transportation to a distant town where someone has offered him a job. In that event, what would make him a “lazy bum?”

Pin by Margie Manifold on Science - Sociology & Cultural Practices
Erving Goffman

Sociologist Erving Goffman refers to this phenomenon as “social stigma.” He defines social stigma as the extreme disapproval of (or discontent with) a person or group on socially characteristic grounds that are perceived, and serve to distinguish them, from other members of a society.”

Many people are socially stigmatized in this fashion. A cop might be stigmatized, thought to be brutal or inhumane, only because some cops are inhumane. Naturally, those are the cops who attract the public eye. But we’ve all met good cops, haven’t we? When I was homeless, I encountered cops who treated me more humanely than some of the social workers whose job it was to help me.

Religious people are also often stigmatized. Some people think that just because I identify as a Christian, it means that I must be sexist, anti-gay, and a proselytizing Bible-thumper, ready to cram my theology down their throats. But anyone who actually takes the time to get to know me will readily tell you that I am none of those things.

In my personal experience, I have never been stigmatized more than when I was a homeless person. I was lumped into the same box as virtually every one of my fellow homeless people. And when solutions were offered to end my homelessness, I found that there was an alarming “one size fits all” approach. My personal story, if even listened to, was disregarded completely.

You’re homeless?” one would say. “Here’s what you do. I’ve got a lead on a live-in drug rehabilitation program.”

Now, there are a number of flaws with that kind of reasoning. First of all, it presupposes that homelessness and drug addiction are synonymous. This is folly. Many homeless people have never used illegal drugs at all. On the other hand, many people who live indoors are severely addicted to all kinds of drugs. They just don’t let anyone see it.

Secondly, suppose a person is a drug addict. Is a “live-in drug rehabilitation program” necessarily the solution for them? There are twelve-step programs, sober living environments, a program at Kaiser called LifeRing, and a program called Rational Recovery. Similarly, if one is homeless, one might be directed toward a board-and-care home, a live-in psychiatric facility, a halfway house, or transitional housing. And those options will work for many people.

I spoke with a formerly homeless woman who enrolled in transitional housing and spent seven months in a group facility, giving them a percentage of her disability check every month. At the end of the seven months, she had enough money to pay the first and last months rent and security deposit on a studio apartment. She seemed quite content with her situation the last time I saw her.

I myself received a call from someone at the Berkeley Food and Housing Administration shortly after I had left Berkeley for another State. It turned out that my name had come up on a list of senior housing options, and they were willing to offer me my own one-bedroom apartment near Lake Merritt. While that might sound wonderful, it would also have kept me in a part of the world where I had developed far more detrimental associations than beneficial ones. Although I was tempted to drop everything and move back to the East Bay for sentimental reasons, I knew deep down that it would be a backward move.

I have had two places of my own since I left Berkeley. The first was reached by googling keywords such as “college town,” “small town,” “affordable rent.” Those and other keywords eventually pointed me toward a place of my liking. But if another homeless person were to start googling keywords, their keywords might not be something along the lines of “big city,” “multicultural,” “low unemployment rate.” One size does not fit all.

Until we, as a society, slow ourselves down enough, and open ourselves up enough, to listen to the plethora of unique stories that homeless people generally tell truthfully, we will not come close to solving the “homeless problem.” In my case, the first person to listen to my story was a retired music teacher. He knew I was truthful because he recognized a fellow music teacher when he saw one. For another person seeking to escape the throes of homelessness, the first person to listen to their story might be a construction worker or a restaurant owner.

So, while transitional housing programs and halfway houses have their place, a true solution to the homeless predicament will never be reached until we recognize that the homeless person is an individual, endowed with rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness no more and no less than anyone else on the planet. As long as the wall of division that separates a “person” from a “homeless person” still stands, no lasting solution will be attained. But once that wall is broken down, the solution will be plain to see.

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Tuesday Tuneup 46

Q. What’s really bugging you this morning?

A. Not much.  Not much at all.

Q. Anything bugging you just a little bit?

A. Well, if you must ask, I suppose there are a couple things.

Q. Like what?

A. We didn’t get a very good turnout at the second round of auditions last night.

Q. Why not?

A. Probably because we haven’t advertised very well.  This all came up rather suddenly.

Q. What else is bugging you?

A. Well, my dyslexia is very inconvenient.   I’m doing a very important task that involves two separate computers, and saving files in two separate ways on each computer.  It’s sort of like dyslexia upon dyslexia.  These kinds of tasks take me five times as long to accomplish as the normal human being even if only one dyslexic factor is involved.  Now it’s taking twenty-five times as long.  It can be discouraging.   But you know what’s bugging me the most?

Q. What?

A. The fact that I even am expected to discuss what’s bugging me this morning, rather than what I’m really happy about.

Q. What are you really happy about?

A. My daughter!!

The Questioner is silent.   

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Gratitude List 1138

This week’s gratitude list is fetched from Tuesday, six days ago, April 16th.

1. Finally waking up.

2. Slept a solid six hours from 11pm to 5am.

3. On #1, in this case, the doppio is what it took.  I must have slept very deeply, because I honestly wasn’t fully alert till 4 1/2 hours after awakening. This is a good thing — I’m likely to be energetic and focused throughout the day ahead.

4. Ran into Jim the Janitor who bought me breakfast, and had a wonderful conversation with him at the Courtyard.

5. Putting out fires already — the leading role issue, the audition form issue — but at least there are fires to be put out. For a long time, everything was a deluge, and nothing ever caught afire.

6. This is the perfect day for Proverbs 16. It’s my favorite chapter in all of the Proverbs of Solomon.  In fact, 16:1 has already bombarded me.

7. As of yesterday. I can see the light at the end of the current tunnel. I don’t feel “submerged” in the work anymore. I feel on top of it, like I can breathe again, and it’s all good.

8. It feels as sad as it does good, but a friend I made at the Center has told me that I am the only true friend that she has right now, and the only person in her life whom she feels she can completely trust.

9. Heard from Kent, and from Holly. Both sounded upbeat & positive. Just had a lengthy convo with Kent (post-doppio) and am happy for our longstanding, mostly mutually beneficial friendship.

10. All systems go. Excelsior.

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The Death of Death

I wasn’t sure what to offer you for Easter Sunday, when a story popped into my head.  It was something that happened way back in the 70’s, when I was hanging out in an all-night restaurant.

A man entered.  He seemed to have a mental health condition.  He took a napkin and a pen, and drew the famous equation:E Equals Mc Squared Calculator | Komseq
“You know what that means?” he asked, smiling.

I looked up from my seventh cup of coffee.   “Energy equals matter times the speed of light squared.”

“Ha!” he said.  “He knows!  But that’s only half of it.  It actually is about the Resurrection of Jesus Christ.”

“How do you figure that?” I asked.

“The only constant in the Universe, according to Einstein’s Special Theory of Relativity, is the speed of light.  The only constant in corporeal life is death.   The speed of light squared is the speed of light times the speed of light.  Death squared is death times death.  In multiplication, the word “of” is often used as a multiplier.   Therefore, we are dealing with the death of death.

“Matter corresponds to the corporeal body.   So, matter, times the death of death, equals what?  Energy.  In other words, everlasting life.

“Are you a Christian?”

“No, I’m not,” I replied.

“You will be,” he said mysteriously, and walked out of the restaurant.

An interesting word of prophecy, as it were – for I eventually did become a Christian (though possibly not as a result of his bizarre analogy.)  I could tell you how I became a Christian, in the Spring of 1983, but that would be a theme for a much longer, larger post.

For today, I only want to say that I went running along a strange and merry trail, where no other runners were.   A lone rabbit eased up towards me, on the other side of the creek, and surpassed me at amazing velocity.

“Aha!” I proclaimed.  “There’s the Easter Bunny!”

He is risen! He is risen indeed.

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Auditions Tonight

Auditions for Eden in Babylon begin tonight at 7pm at the Lionel Hampton School of Music.   There will be further auditions Monday at 7pm, with callbacks Tuesday at 7pm, at Moscow First Presbyterian Church.

I have waited seven years for this moment.  If you know what it means (or even if you don’t), please feel free to comment with the words “Break a Leg.”

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Tuesday Tuneup 45

Oh well  —  I’ve dragged the ‘game’ out for long enough now to only make it boring if I don’t just up-and-choose a ‘winner.’   And the winner is Lynne Fisher, for the simple reason that her question arouses or incites the most interesting possibilities — that is, for me personally, since after all, I *am* the Answerer. 

So thank you to everybody who participated, which I believe is five of you, if I counted right.   You certainly have raised some very interesting questions!   And now, without further ado, I will do my best to answer the chosen one.

Q. What’s really bugging you this morning?

A. I have a die-hard internal conflict that needs to be resolved.

Q. What conflict is that?

A. It’s hard to describe.

Q. How do you know?

A. I already tried.  I called my best friend and tried it to describe it to her.  And not even she, in her ultra-high intelligence and exceedingly advanced listening skills, was able to understand it.

Q. Wow — maybe, try again?

A. Okay here goes.

The Answerer takes a breath.

A. For a guy who feels called to convey an important theme for humanity – you know, as an Artist, as a spiritual human being, as a Man   — I sure have a lot of lousy inner thoughts that seem to be — well, they’re below me.

Q. What kinds of thoughts?

A. Thoughts of randomly calling people who have disrespected me, and leaving nasty messages on their voicemails – like say, during the middle of the night, when I know they won’t answer, but will pick up the messages when they get to work in the morning.Th

Q. Do you . . . ever actually make any of these “random” phone calls?

A. No I do not.

Q. Then why do you still think of doing so?

A. That’s a good question.

Q. Well – thank you – but – why would you want to do something like that?   What purpose would it serve?

A. It would jar them.  It would jolt them out of their inane complacency.  It would shake them up, and get them to realize that they can’t quite get rid of me as easily as they thought they could! It would let them know that I’m still there with them — still hovering over them — ready to plague them, to torment them, for all the remaining days of their pitiful, hellbound lives — and even for an eternity in hell thereafter, if it were possible.

Q. And it is not possible?

A. No it is not.  For between the two of us there is a great gulf fixed — kinda like Jesus in Luke 16, the parable about the rich guy down in hell and the poor man up in heaven, and all that.

Q. So you will be in heaven?

A. Yes.

Q. And they will be in hell?

A. Well, I certainly hope not!  But if they are, there’s no way I can reach them any longer.

Q. And if they aren’t?

A. Then we’re all up in heaven, and it’s all good.  Join the party!

Q. Your theology amuses me.

A. Only questions, please.

Q. All right, then here’s a question for you.  Is it so important for you to shake these guys up, that you would risk your entire eternal security in heaven by heading down to hell with them, just to keep nagging at them?

A. Well, now that you put it that way — no, I don’t suppose so — no.

Q. Then why don’t you just give it up?   Can you really change these guys?

A. OMG you’re starting to sound like a pop psychologist!   But no, I cannot change them.

Q. So why don’t you just turn your attention to something more positive, useful, peaceful, beautiful —

A. Well, that’s what I do already!  I do it every damn morning, if you want the God-honest truth.

DEUS transforma! « Geração Eleita
“Deus Transformed” by Geração Eleita

Q. I’m not sure I do want the “God-honest truth,” but that’s just an agnostic aside. 

A. Understood.

Q. My question is why do you have to go through a process every single morning of overcoming all this insane hatred and vitriol, before you can get to the place where you’re bringing about peace and joy and love and kindness and all of the virtues you truly value?

A. Because if it weren’t for all the hatred and vitriol, I would have no enemy to overcome, there would be no fight, the battle would be over, and I would accomplish nothing.  

Q. In other words, you need an enemy in order to win the war?

A. You got it.   This is war, man.   This is Art.   It’s the real thing.   I’m not just fooling around here.   This is serious business.   

Q. How long have you been fighting this war?

A. Goes back to early childhood.  Between five and seven, I think, when I found out about — about —

Q. About what?

A. Isn’t there somewhere else you have to be this morning?

Q. You tire of my questions?

A. Would Socrates have tired of a gadfly?  Of course not.  It’s just that we’re about up a whole new Pandora’s Box here, and I myself would frankly like to get a bite to eat before setting about the day . . . of creating . . . things that are beautiful . . . and peaceful . . . and harmonious . . .  pretty . . . artistic . . . aesthetic . . .

Q. Out with it!!  What was it that you learned when you were a child?!   What caused you to begin this lifelong war?

A. You know the answer to that.  And you also know who is the enemy.

The Questioner is silent.  

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Gratitude List 1137

1. Slept really well, from some unknown early time (like around 7pm) till 3:30am. I’m sure I got at least 8 hours of decent sleep, with dreams.

2. My apartment may be a mess, but at least it’s an apartment, and I’ve not lost it to homelessness.

3. Broke again on the 15th as usual, but that’s the price you have to pay for peace of mind in my world.   Not to mention, I’m in good company these days, along with 99% of the other people I know.

4. I’ve made it to 66 years of age without a serious physical ailment or injury.

5. I read this article (for whatever it’s worth) and noticed that reading seems to be “no problem” these days. Like with listening to the sermon yesterday, my head seems to be getting clear of all this extraneous “head-shit” that has always stood in the way of my reading & listening comprehension. This has to be due to the medication — though it’s not without its side effects.

6. I feel like I have a little more love in my heart than usual this morning.

7. Daily talks with with my daughter have been encouraging. Very encouraging, in fact!

8. Good talk with Danielle right now — lots of food for thought.

9. Heard from Rob E. that the Song Circle will be resuming this Thursday.   That could be a nice day, one day after the auditions.   Also, I get to meet with a theology professor to discuss Genesis Three and maybe clear some of the scarier air.   Good things are definitely coming my way.   

10. Well – I guess we’ll see what this all looks like later. And remember: God is in control.

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Bigger and Better than the Streets

I wrote this, like the one last Thursday, on request from Alastair Boone, the editor-in-chief of Street Spirit.  There might be a similar entry next Thursday.  

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. The only thing they didn’t do was to let me stay with them. Ironically, to have offered me housing, even temporarily, would probably have been the only thing that could have possibly helped me to get back on my feet. The depth of the gutter where the homeless are consigned to dwell is really that deep. For me, at the time, it seemed inescapable.

So I continued to live outdoors, where I found myself gathering with other homeless people at “feeds” and at places like the Multi-Agency Service Center (MASC) in Berkeley. Though I and my fellow homeless people had arrived at homelessness by a variety of different paths, we had one thing in common: we were homeless. To the social workers who tried to help us, there was no distinction between a man who had been an elementary school music teacher, and a man who had been brought up on the streets, taught by his parents to steal laptops from an early age. Graphic artist and con artist were one and the same. We were all in this boat together.

Related image

We were all homeless – and we indeed bonded together. After all, the laptop thief was my equal, no more or less endowed by the Creator with inalienable human rights like my own. But the only people who still saw me as a competent, employable human being were the ones who had known me prior to my “fall.” My fellow homeless people saw me as a homeless person — as one of them, an equal. Social workers and police officers saw me as a homeless person, though by and large they did not see me as equal, but as someone who was somehow below them in the hierarchy of human rights. My old friends and family members saw me as Andy, the guy they’d known and loved all their lives, whether homeless or not. Of course I needed their support!

But were they helping me with the one thing I needed? That is, to “get inside?” No – they were not. They had their own concerns. Meanwhile, I watched while the sordid conditions of homelessness gradually transformed me from a naive, 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. They viewed my visible poverty as an unsightly blot on society, a piece of garbage to be swept off the streets, along with the rest of my fellow eyesores. Were it not for the bonding with my fellow homeless citizens, I’d have lost all shreds of human dignity.

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 — certainly less than most of my friends who still lived indoors. 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 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. They gave me some pills and told me to rest in bed for ten days. But I had no bed! 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.

Finally, 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/mo. – something that would easily have gone for $900/mo. 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 — and 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 still wishes I had made the decision earlier. It would have spared me the last three years of psychic hell, as the pain of my homelessness was doused with street drugs, and the combination threatened to plummet me toward an untimely death. But had I made the decision earlier, I would have abandoned the bulk of my support group. How thankful I am to have lost their support all the same! For at the moment when I finally decided to leave the Bay Area for a low rent district in a distant State, I had no one left to lose – and everything to gain.

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. It doesn’t matter whether we were music teachers or laptop thieves. 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.

 

Re: Tuesday Tuneup 45

I’m extending the game one more week, if anyone still wants to add their question.  If you don’t know what I’m talking about, read Re: Tuesday Tuneup 44.

Actually, I’d have started in with Tuesday Tuneup 45 all the same today, but I’m just way too busy.  I had to turn in all these stories for my new position as a regular columnist with Street Spirit, and then it turns out I’m the Casting Director for the Concert Reading, so I’ve been having to schedule auditions and early rehearsals, in light of our not yet having a Stage Manager.  

The sense of overload should subside before the week is out.  Then I’ll be sure to resume the tuneups Tuesday next.  

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Gratitude List 1133

This one’s from about 6:20 in the evening last night (Sunday).

1. Wiped out from only 3 1/2 hrs sleep and sleep paralysis Friday night, I crashed out at around 5pm and woke up at 1am, a good 8 hours sleep. Was still wiped out & depressed, bt slept from 4 till 7am, and the extra three hours slept off the depression.  

2. Going to church seemed a no-brainer after that, whereas earlier I was reluctant.

3. Can’t help but notice I’m focusing much better on the Confession and the Sermon than earlier, before the meds.

4. The words in the Confession spoke to my heart.

5. I also really enjoyed Julie’s Bible Project, and gained from it. (My only gripe there is something in my own personality. I know what I’m doing wrong, because a previous employer cued me in on it. But I still do it. Well, at least I’m aware of it, and will have
the opportunity to try and stop it next time.)

6. Finally got a decent draft of the newsletter and succeeded in sending it out to everybody. Copied it to Darrell, Shaun, Melissa, Norman, Kathy and Bruce, just so they’ll see what’s in it. It’s a little long, but seems fairly decent compared to previous drafts, in terms of being relaxed and not overly arrogant or self-promotional.

7. A talented musician by the name of Leslie reblogged my post of me and Paul playing my “I Am the Blues” number, and now all his fans are groovin on it. Texted the link to Paul and Jens, the blues guitarist-harmonicizer.

8. Although after one week of incubation, nothing on the Elegy emerged fruitful,
after only one more week, it’s amazing how much has illuminated. I’m on Measure
29 now, successfully correcting the wonky errors in the four-part harmony, and it’s
coming out whole. I betcha I can get all the way to the end, ere long.

9. Once again, the Round Table has proved the ideal site for musical composition
and arrangements.

10. God is in control.

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A Light for the Nations

Here is My Servant, whom I uphold,
My Chosen One, in whom My soul delights.
I will put My Spirit on Him,
and He will bring justice to the nations.
He will not cry out or raise His voice,
nor make His voice heard in the streets.
A bruised reed He will not break
and a smoldering wick He will not extinguish;
He will faithfully bring forth justice.

He will not grow weak or discouraged
until He has established justice on the earth.
In His law the islands will put their hope.”
Thus says God the LORD—
He who created the heavens
and stretched them out,
who spread out the earth and its offspring,
who gives breath to the people on it
and life to those who walk in it—
“I, the LORD, have called you
for a righteous purpose,
and I will take hold of your hand.
I will keep you and appoint you
to be a covenant for the people
and a light to the nations,
to open the eyes of the blind,
to bring prisoners out of the dungeon,
and those sitting in darkness
out from the prison house.”

–Isaiah 42:1-7

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My Life Has Just Begun

I wrote this on request from Alastair Boone, the editor-in-chief of Street Spirit.  


Shortly after I first became homeless in 2004, I was the victim of a sexual assault in a motel room. I had made a mistake I learned never to make again. I opened the door when someone knocked.

As one who had been sheltered his entire life, I didn’t know at the age of fifty some things that are common sense to people who are in the practice of renting cheap motel rooms in “red light districts.” One of them is that when you happen to land such a room — the kind where the owner might squeeze you in without proper identification — you never answer a knock on the door if you know what’s good for you. In this case, a large African-American man forced his way in and overpowered me. (I think he was looking for somebody else. In any case, I would suffice.)

Without going into horrific detail, the nature of the assault was such that it gave me a condition called Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, otherwise known as PTSD. While I did my best to deal healthfully with this ongoing condition, I found that its symptoms never truly subsided, but only worsened throughout twelve long years on the streets.

Being pistol-whipped, being hit on the head with guns, and watching someone set all my possessions on fire before my eyes were only isolated incidents. As such, they barely made a dent in the overall state of shock in which I lived throughout most of those years. Sleep deprivation, malnutrition, and forced overexercise were alone enough to induce serious mental health disorientation, without having to lace them with cognitive dissonance. My psyche felt as though it had been split into two. Half of me still clung to the fading memories of a former humanity — a humanity I never questioned when I was a complacent, overweight music teacher, driving a Corolla, making $50,000 a year. The other half began to believe that I was truly the piece of dog poop I was often considered to be, as people stepped over and around me whilst I slept, as though afraid to get my scent on their shoes.

homeless-man-sleeping-step-homeless-man-sleeping-step-people-walk-past-martin-place-sydney-january-nn-108120289

One look at me in those days was usually enough to convince most people that my condition was hopeless. Of course, medical treatment was difficult to access on any kind of regular basis. Once I finally escaped all that wretched homelessness, one would think I’d have needed even more medical help. After all, how can someone make a successful transition back into mainstream society when one has deteriorated so grossly?

But the facts are that even people who live indoors will go nuts when deprived of regular rest, proper nutrition, and moderate exercise. To exercise in moderation was never an option for me. Skin and bones though I was, I was forced by the details of homeless life to walk over ten miles a day on most days. If for no other reason than to get from one needed resource to another, this was my daily requirement. And there were plenty of other reasons to be denied proper rest and be forced to keep moving. None of the spots where we sat or lay down were secure. Cops would wake us up in the middle of the night, and tell us to get up and “move on.” Once we had found somewhere else to crash, who was to say that another cop wouldn’t come again and do the same thing? Homeless people like to say that they sleep with one eye open. Anything can happen at any time.

Suppose that people living indoors were placed under the same sort of psychic fire. Suppose a group of homeowners were daily reminded that they were somehow “less than” the rest of the human race. Suppose they were treated like inanimate objects while there were sleeping in their own beds at home. Suppose people were walking over them and around them all night long, making as much noise as they wanted to make, disturbing their sleep. Of course they too would develop serious issues with sleep deprivation, and serious issues with self-esteem. I daresay many of them would wind up landing on the streets as well.

On the other hand, consider how one would respond, if one had been enduring such demeaning assaults on his health and well-being for years on end, and then suddenly found themselves in a living situation that was manageable, affordable, sustainable — and dignified. Well, if you can imagine that kind of a paradigm shift, it’s exactly what happened to me.

In the first week of having found palatable residence, far away from the demeaning indignities that had characterized my previous life, I wrote to a pastor of my acquaintance. I told her: “This is the first time in twelve years that I haven’t been in a state of shock.”

If that was my experience in the very first week, can you imagine what I feel like nearly three years later? For almost three years now, I’ve been getting REM sleep on a regular basis. I’ve even been dreaming. And that’s something that never happened when I was “sleeping with one eye open.”

Not only am I sleeping better; but also, I’ve been cooking my own food, taking showers in my own bathroom, and lacing up my shoes when I want to get moving — not when I’m told to “move on.” If I walk, if I run, I am the one who determines the pathways that I will traverse. I am the one who decides how many miles I need to put in each day. Many of the things I did when I was homeless were determined by conditions beyond my control. The contrast between the empowerment of my present day world and the powerlessness of my previous life is enough alone to lay waste to the remnants of a formerly traumatized existence.

And yet, I hear people of wealth and privilege crying out like helpless victims over “trauma” that isn’t one tenth the magnitude of what homeless people deal with routinely. Recently I heard someone complaining at a 12-Step meeting that they had spent $15,000 on blinds for their mansion, and that the blinds weren’t working right. Hello? Talk about your “luxury problem!” I would guess that the blinds would be to their satisfaction – after all, they are keeping the Light from shining in their blinded eyes.

To whatever extent my PTSD worsened over all that time on the streets, to that same extent has it been increasingly alleviated, the longer I live indoors. If I need a doctor, it won’t be for that. At the age of sixty-six, many of my peers are retiring from jobs that they probably hated. They act as though they don’t know what to do with themselves. They act as though they’re headed for the grave. After twelve years on the streets where hatred ruled, my life has just begun.

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I Am the Blues

I received this unexpected video gift in my inbox yesterday.   A guy named Paul Anders is playing the cajon while I’m doing a song I wrote called I Am the Blues on a Yamaha electronic piano.  The beginning was chopped off, but I’m posting it anyway, since it’s the first thing I’ve posted musically other than solo piano since having miraculously been resurrected from the Grave of Homelessness after twelve years of turning over in it.  

You can click on the song title above for the complete lyrics.  By the way, this is from last Friday’s Open Mike at the One World Cafe, and the person who videoed it was Brandy Sullivan, the co-owner of that venue.   

I’ll post another solo piano piece, as usual, on Friday.   In the meantime, I hope you enjoy this “snippet.”  :)

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Re: Tuesday Tuneup 44

A part of me was thrilled when I got more “likes” the day I posted Tuesday Tuneup 44 than any other day since I’ve been on WordPress.  But the greater part of me was disappointed, because hardly anybody was playing the game.

I thought about it, and I decided that in the Q & A where I described the game, I didn’t describe it very well.  I used too many words, and the essence of the game got lost.  So let me try again.

The game is to come up with a simple question that the Questioner in the Q & A can ask the Answerer repeatedly, and receive different answers every time it’s asked.

Sample questions would be:

Q. How are you feeling today?

Q. What’s on your mind?

Q. What are your plans for the weekend?

The answers to such questions will vary from one Tuesday to another.   This is the point of the Tuesday Tuneup.   If someone asked me “how are you feeling today?” I might say: “Great!”  Or I might say “Not so good.”  Then the Questioner might ask: “Why?” or “Why not?”  And we take it from there.

If you click on the three links to Tuesday Tuneups below this post, you’ll find examples.  All you gotta do is read them, and I’m sure you’ll see what the Tuesday Tuneup is all about.

I’ll decide which question I like the best, and then I’ll start using that question in my tuneups, at least for 22 more times.

Also, if you asked a question last week, please repeat it here — or even a different question, should you decide to change your mind.   We’re starting from scratch.

Get it?  Got it?  Good.

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Gratitude List 1125

My gratitude list from Sunday afternoon, after a nice long nap.

1. Napped for an hour and a half solidly between 1:30pm & 3pm.

2. Saw my Yamaha electronic piano first thing on awakening, and thought “it’s so nice to have this place of my own.”

3. Actually ate a banana this morning.

4. Am drinking orange juice now instead of coffee.

5. I’d been having a bit of difficulty getting along with this one person at the church, but after she came up and sat behind me in the pews and we started talking, I wound up sitting next to her.  Then I wondered why I had been having a hard time getting along with her.  It all seemed nice, normal, natural & no-big-deal.

6. Despite drowsiness, I got more out of the sermon than usual.  I think this new ADHD medication is helping me be a better listener.

7. Had a good talk with that one guy about that one thing that was bugging me.  He wasn’t passing judgment against me as a person; he was just a bit exasperated with the general situation in question.  Goes to show how we can’t always tell what someone’s thinking by a look on the face, and our own insecurities will often read too much into stuff.

8. Finished the second of the five new assignments with the paper.  I’m calling it “My Life Has Just Begun.”  Sent it to Alastair, telling her I’d rewrite the 1st one again, and call it “Bigger and Better than the Streets.” It feels good that the block has been removed and that I’m on a roll with the articles for the new column.

9. The more I think about it, the more the talk with my daughter last night was encouraging.

10. Really beautiful day today.  I think I’ll head down to the cafe and chillax.  Life is good.

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