A Threefold Cord

Two are better than one,
because they have a good return for their labor.
For if one falls down,
their companion can lift them up;
but pity the one who falls
without another to help them up!

Again, if two lie down together,
they will keep warm;
but how can one keep warm alone?
And though one may be overpowered,
two can resist.
Moreover, a cord of three strands
is not quickly broken.

–Ecclesiastes 4:9-12

All the Things I Am

I can explain everything.

Given the difficulty I have getting piano pieces to you guys consistently every Friday, I have decided that each time I go to the church with the Baldwin Grand, I will record three songs instead of just one. That way I’m less likely to slack, because I can just schedule them in advance.

I tried doing both “Desperado” and “All the Things You Are” yesterday.  This was the second time that I attempted to do it all by myself without enlisting the help of a second person to position the iPhone properly on the tripod.

The first time I succeeded, as is evidenced on my YouTube (though not on the version of “The Way We Were” on this blog, which leaves out the first minute or so that reveals me struggling and finally succeeding to get the iPhone onto the tripod.)

Yesterday I did not succeed, although I thought I had.  But when I looked at the video of “Desperado” the iPhone was bouncing up and down in such a way that was so horrible — I just couldn’t give it to you.   (That there was an internal piano teacher rapping me on the knuckles all the way through the performance didn’t help much either.)

As for “All the Things You Are,” I for some reason couldn’t remember two of the chord changes, even though I had just played the tune a week prior with our saxophonist, and played it night after night for nearly nine years during the 90’s at Gulliver’s Restaurant.   I tried it eight times, I believe, before admitting to my internal piano teacher that I would never remember the changes.   (The knuckle rap was less severe after the true confession.)

As far as ADHD, I flushed the new meds down the toilet on the 13th day, after having five bouts of sleep paralysis on Tuesday and Wednesday of this week.   Correlating that the last time I had sleep paralysis of that severity was the last time I took an ADHD medication, I am wondering whether people with sleep disorders should be on ADHD meds.   I’ll talk to the doctor about it.

Finally, since my ADHD is currently at the level where it probably took me four or five minutes to write this reasonably coherent blog post and it will probably take my four of five years to score a drum part using Finale notation software, I’m a bit discouraged about my position and potential in life in general at this time.

However, being as today is the Sabbath I will “keep it holy” by continuing to write the blog posts, essays, and religious news columns that my ADHD empowers me to do with facile — or perhaps this an autism spectrum issue — and cease to belabor the drum parts that my ADHD disables me from producing effectively.

Said ADHD does, by the way, enable me to play long improvisational passages on the piano with ease.  So I can assure you that I’ll get to the piano at some point between now and Thursday, and I hopefully give you “All the Things You Are” — since after all, I just told you All the Things I Am.

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No – NOT on Drugs . . .

One day I was sitting at my Spot on the corner of Shattuck & Allston in Berkeley, California, leaning my back against the red brick wall of the Downtown Berkeley BART station, as usual.   A young man approached, conversed with me casually for a few minutes, then asked me a question.

“You seem to be a pretty bright guy,” he began.  “What is it about being on drugs that makes a person not want to eat?”

“Do you mean, physiologically?” I asked.

“Yeah,” he said. “Do they do something to the body that takes away the appetite?”

“Why do you ask?”

“I just asked a homeless guy across the street if he wanted a sandwich, and he said no.”

Something didn’t seem quite right.  So I asked him: “Well, what drug do you think he was on?”

“I don’t know.  I don’t know much about drugs.”

“Did he seem intoxicated?” I asked.  “Or dopey?  Or more like, spun?  I mean, were his eyes darting around to and fro, back and forth?  Did he seem paranoid?”

“No, none of those things.”

“Then how do you know he was on drugs?”

“Well, he must have been on drugs.  Why else would he have turned down the sandwich?”

“Did it ever occur to you that he might not have been hungry?”

“Well, no I hadn’t thought of that.”

“How did he respond when you offered to give him a sandwich?”

“He just kinda smiled and said ‘No thank you.'”

“Well then, I would say, he simply wasn’t hungry.   That’s all there is to it.”

“Yeah, but you guys are here suffering all the time, having a hard time finding food.  Couldn’t he have just saved the sandwich for later?”

Teens Give Back - SA - Home

“I suppose he could have.  But around here a person who isn’t hungry usually says no, in the expectation that you’ll go give somebody else the sandwich — someone who actually is hungry.”

“That’s what I did.”

“Good for you.”

I remember looking away and smiling at passersby, in what was I suppose a none-too-subtle way of conveying that it might be a good place to end the conversation.

“But it’s been bugging me,” he went on.  “I felt like he wasn’t grateful.  He should have been thankful.  I mean, I was offering him food, wasn’t I?”

“Well, he smiled, didn’t he?   He had probably just eaten something.   But I’m interested in why you thought he was on drugs, when he didn’t particularly seem to be.”

“Aren’t homeless people on drugs?”

“Some,” I said slowly.  “Not all.”

“Yeah,” he nodded.  “You don’t seem to be on drugs.”

“But that guy didn’t seem like he was on drugs either, right?”

“That’s right.”

“So how do you know I’m not on drugs?

“Good point,” he replied.  “I guess I don’t.”

“Say, let me ask you something.  Do you think that if a person is homeless, it must be because they’re a drug addict?”

“Well, isn’t that true?”

“No, not really.  Homelessness and drug addiction are not synonymous, you know.   There are drug addicts who live in big mansions, and there are people experiencing homelessness who have never used drugs in their lives.”

At around that point, he took out a dollar bill and tossed it in my hat.

“Thank you,” he said.  “I think I just learned something.”

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Tuesday Tuneup 99

Q. What’s happening now?

A. Embarrassment.

Q. What are you embarrassed about?

A. I scored a song in the wrong time signature.

Q. What song?

A. A song from my show.   It’s called “The Word from Beyond” — but that’s beside the point.  Why do you ask?

Q. Because I suspected you were the composer, and if you were the composer, then how can the time signature be wrong?   Doesn’t the composer decide such things?

A. It was wrong, because the signature I chose made it hard for the musicians to read it.  A different signature would have made it much easier.

Q. And the song would sound the same way with either signature?

A. Yes.  But no other similar sounding piece would have been written in the signature I selected.

Q. Then why did you select that signature in the first place?

A. Because I simply did not know the correct signature.

Q. How did you find out?

A. From one of the other musicians.

Q. And then you became embarrassed?

A. A little bit.   I guess to be honest with you, I’m more informed than embarrassed.  And that’s a good thing.  I learned something.   Embarrassment is only a function of the Ego.   Information is a function of the Mind.  Mind over Ego – in all matters.

Q. May I quote you on that?

A. Spell my name right.

Q. Just in case there are any musicians reading, what was the signature you used to score the piece?

A. 6/8.

Q. What is the correct signature?

A. 4/4 swing.

Q. How did you find out?

A. One of the musicians told me.

Q. And you didn’t know?

A. Let’s put it this way.  It would have been my second choice.

Q. Why would it not have been your first choice?

A. I shot for the easier way of the two, because I was in a hurry.

Q. And in making it easier on yourself, you made it harder on the people you were working with?

A. Yes.  But this time I’l do things differently.   This time I’ll start early in the week — in fact, I’ll begin today — and I’ll block out my time – and do it slowly but surely, and get it turned in to the musicians by Thursday.

Q. Promise?

A. I promise.

Q. What if something comes up?

A. Well – Friday at the latest.

Q. Promise?

A. I’ll do my best.

The Questioner is silent.  

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Gratitude List 1649

(1) On the 10th day of my new ADHD medication, I have yet to discern an intended effect.   What I’m grateful for, however, is that I haven’t had any side effects either.

(2) A couple fine conversations with my pastor yesterday reminded me of what an extraordinarily gentle and centered fellow he is.  I would say, “Christ-centered.”  I’ve really never met anyone quite like him, and I am grateful for his influence on my life.

(3) After a very sedentary month during which I gained a few pounds, I’ve finally started jogging and doing my push-ups again.   I feel better already.   Grateful for the blessing that regular exercise has been throughout my life.  Push-ups in particular are highly underrated.

(4) Being a person who has a hard time establishing a regular morning routine, I am grateful to have found a good start.  If I keep my smartphone turned to one of the Psalms, I begin reading the Psalm when I reach for the phone, first thing in the morning.   Then the words of life enter into me before anything else does.  (This morning it was Psalm 19).

(5) The Kids have outdone themselves.  As of last night, it has been decided that I no longer need to attend rehearsals.  They are perfectly capable of proceeding without me.   After all, they’re forty or fifty years younger than me, and not at all scatterbrained.  I’m grateful for the respect they all have for my work — and I’m very very grateful that they care.

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A Parallel and Opposing Culture

I’ve been thinking throughout my most recent sleepless night about why homeless rights activism isn’t really taking off. I’ve also been wondering why I have such a disturbing problem with identity politics. The two seem somehow related.

For identitarianism to make sense, we need to be dealing with actual identities.  Then we can discuss if people of that identity have been ignored, minimized, overlooked, marginalized or oppressed.  But first, it has to actually be a real identity.

In other words, if a person is Black, then to claim that identity makes sense.  It means something for them to say: “As a person of color, I ——.” If a person (usually a White person) then says: “I’m blind to color,” they may think they are expressing equality with the person of color, but what they are actually conveying is that they are indifferent to all the segregation, the systemic racism, the redlining, and all the things that a predominantly White culture has done to try to keep Black people “in their place.”

We could make similar statements with respect to women, in the manner that women have been subjugated and dehumanized in a patriarchal culture.   But we cannot make such statements about homeless people.  To do so would be as erroneous as to say “Blue Lives Matter” in reference to cops.

The woman was born female.   The Black person was born into that race.   It’s part of their birth identity, so to speak.  But the cop was not born a cop, and the homeless person was generally not born homeless.   When the cop is out of uniform, the cop is no longer “blue.”   And for the first 51 years of my life, when I lived indoors, and I had a job and a car,  an identity like “homeless” may have been hovering over the horizon, but I sure wasn’t looking in that direction.

So there was a little twelve year jaunt of mistaken identity?    Please — I’ve lived indoors for almost five years now.   I could once claim that I was a homeless person, but I can no longer make that claim.   I’ve almost forgotten that I ever could.  Women and people of color do not have that luxury.

But it’s deeper than that.  I’ve been reading statements that begin with the word “as.”   “As a woman of color (for example) —— .”  Those who speak such truths desire to speak them.   They desire to identify according to these natural identities.

The homeless person in general does not desire to make such statements, and often finds it maddening when it is suggested they do so.    I could have many times said: “As a homeless person, I find that ——-.”   But the occasions on which such statements would have been useful were far outweighed by the occasions when it was much more helpful to say:  “As a human being, I have basic needs, a few of which are not being met right now.  I also have rights that are equal to yours.   I call upon people not to see me as a “homeless person.”   Please see me as a person.   A person experiencing homelessness — but a person all the same.”

Such statements as I often made were not formed of shame or even of disgust with my condition.  They were made out of exasperation that people were dehumanizing us.  People talked loudly while were trying to sleep; they stepped over us as though we were things — not people, but rather inanimate objects in their way.   They spoke about us in third person with impunity when we sat right there before them, without directly speaking to us at all — even though we were right there.  They walked past us talking about gay rights and civil rights and equal rights — and who even thought to include us in those discussions?  Why did they care about all these other kinds of people’s rights, and not care about the rights of the people whom they so casually made privy to their conversations?   That is to say, the rights of homeless people?

Sometimes, while trying to sleep, we overheard every word.

We were by and large ignored, and when we weren’t, we were generally either judged harshly or else greeted with a feign of compassion that came across more like condescension than anything else.  People rarely asked our opinions on matters — for our opinions did not count.  We were often given all kinds of advice that didn’t apply to our situations at all.   It was assumed that we knew nothing about the “real world.”  People treated us as though we had always been that way, would always be that way, and — get this — should always be that way.

It was assumed that I was completely incompetent.   “There there, Andy,” came the vibe from the well-meaning social worker.  “Good, Andy!  You’re doing fine Andy!  Are you hungry?   Here – have a bagel!  We know you’ll never be able to take care of yourself, but have no fear.  We’ll take care of you.   For the rest of your life, we will.”

Or, it was assumed that I was a “piece of shit.” This is the part that most bothered me.   I happen to think I’ve got a bit on the ball, and a lot to offer to the planet if I can ever connect the dots and get all the ducks in line.  The infuriating irony is that I went from being an award-winning educator, twice appearing in Who’s Who in America, to a “piece of shit” in a matter of months during a total breakdown.    And when exactly did I cross that line?   At what point did I cease to be the decent, respected musician and educator, and begin to be the “piece of shit?”

My personality had not changed along that seemingly downward path.  It might have become a bit deranged compared to its previous manifestation — but think about it.   Try sleeping on sidewalks and stairwells for months and eventually years on end, and see for yourself what it does to your head!   I’m surprised I’m alive.  I saw a lot of people die.  Good people — people who shouldn’t have died.   They died for lack of two bucks to get on an all night bus to sleep; they died of hypothermia in the freezing cold.  They were whacked in the middle of the night by crazies – one guy was beat over the head with baseball bats by frat boys — to his death.

But those people were not any innately less deserving or worthy than people who were fortunate enough to be living indoors.  They just lived in a wildly dangerous world — and they couldn’t get out of it.

I never thought I would get out of it.   All roads seemed to lead back to it.  So eventually I resigned myself to it.   Whatever it would take to get out of homelessness, I did not believe that I could ever achieve it.  

So we’ve established all this.  But what is really bothering me?   Well – it’s this:

Here I am, having sat myself down in a predominantly White, peaceful little hamlet in North Idaho.  The “Blue city in the Red State.”   Here I eventually found fulfilling companionship among a number of University professors, and am honored to attend the church that has the highest per capita number of University professors in the State.   My intellect has sharpened up a bit (gradually), and I find myself very thankful to be sleeping safe and sound (on most nights anyway).   People seem to like me.  I get along amiably with most.  And above all, I’m not a “homeless person” anymore.  Homelessness no longer needs to be the topic.   I’m a person!  Just like them — just like us.  People don’t view me from either a bleeding heart or a throne of judgment.   They say “excuse me” if they have to walk too close to me.   They extend their hands for handshakes.   They even ask me my name.   It matters what my name is. 

Finally, I’m an equal!

And as an equal, I start to learn a few things about my other equals.   Very intelligent people, very learned.   Most of them have never slept outdoors unless they like to go camping.  They certainly haven’t slept outdoors for years on end, as I did.   A lot of them seem sheltered — in more ways than one.  Yet they have strong ideals, and they care about others, about people different than themselves.  They value diversity.

But when will the homeless person be included in that diversity?

Had I been a Black man, I might have come up here and found after five years that there was considerable opportunity to embrace that identity.   But in no way am I embracing an identity that I simply don’t have.  In fact, I never had it.    Homelessness is not who I am.   Or is it?   

People who cared about social justice and racial inequality walked past us with an indifference that belied their ideals.   We saw them as hypocrites.    If they cared about all those other kinds of people whom they claimed to care about, then why were they treating us like dogshit?   Why were we not included in the realm of humanity that would be concerned with our equality?

It makes me wonder  —  if I were a homeless person in this neck of the woods, would I still be treated with the great equanimity that I have found here?   Would I still be Andy?   Or would I be — one of them?   Worthless — a piece of shit . . .

I like to think the former.  But how will I know?

There’s one way to find out.

We shall not go there.

Or shall we?

A Parallel and Opposing Culture

Maybe I need to listen to the words I spoke above – in the year 2013 — when I was still in the thick of it.   Maybe if I do, I might be comforted.   I might begin to believe again that maybe I can make a difference.    Maybe then, I can get some sleep.

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Take Two

Just a brief note to whom it may concern. We did a second take of my song “Secrets” with better sound equipment. I went ahead and replaced it on the previous post. But this is all just a tease because we’re posting a video tomorrow at 6pm PST. It’s a work-in-progress and something of a sidetrack. But I’m fairly sure it will have progressed a bit further by then. Stay tuned.

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Gratitude List 1648

(1) Really nice talk with my friend Danielle on the East Coast this morning over coffee.   Hadn’t talked with her for a while.  It was good to catch up, and it helped energize me to make the trek to the pharmacy and back in the cold.

(2) Was able to get my thyroid medication squared away at the new pharmacy near to the new doctor’s office, though it took three visits and an odd period of “without.”  More importantly, I really do like the new doctor, whom I saw for the third time on Thursday.

(3) Grateful for the unexpected three and a half hours of sleep that struck me as soon as I got home from the pharmacy.  Having conked out at high noon in my executive chair, and not awakening till 3:30 in the afternoon, I am now smelling the coffee.  I feel as though about five wayward parts of my brain have suddenly been reactivated.   I’m grateful for the restorative power of sleep.

(4) I must add that I’m grateful to have a place to sleep.   I flopped down onto the couch from the chair, right near the open window, jacket still on, and no heater running.  The cool air blessed me whilst I slept, and the sense of safety and comfort — no doubt magnified due to my experience of years of sleeping outdoors — was huge.

(5) When I mentioned this morning that the new musicians and I had settled on a weekly rehearsal time, Danielle commented how great it is: “It’s great that it’s no longer just you.  There are actually other people learning your material.”   This is coming from someone who knew me when it was “just me” — for years, it seemed.   Days may be dark, but one must remember where one has been, and take the compass thereof, and point it to the future — with strength and hope.

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Gratitude List 1647

(1) First full band rehearsal tonight at 7pm.  We’re rehearsing the opening number “Sirens of Hope” and the ballad “Turns Toward Dawn.”  Everyone seems stoked, and I’m down.

(2) Still getting more exercise, mostly brisk walking of fairly long distances.  Still losing weight, still spending less time on the Internet and more time outdoors.   Cold weather hasn’t been too much of a deterrent, though it does help me not to overdo it.

(3) Grateful for the stimulus check, being as it has helped me to rationalize four Domino’s pizzas already, not to mention the nice meal from the Co-Op I’m about to indulge on the way out the door to rehearsal.

(4) Rehearsing the “Urban Elegy” yesterday, there were spots where we all came together so nicely, and with a nice kind of driving feel throughout.  It was such a great, unexpected experience we decided to do it a second time so Keva could record it.  And then, lo and behold, the second time was even better than the first.  (Eager to hear the recording, once it materializes.)

(5) I find myself looking forward to packing up my stuff and heading into town on a slow trek toward rehearsal.  I find myself grateful that I live in such a peaceful community.  For all the insanity going on in the world today, I’m grateful for the little pockets of sanity, wherever they can be found.  Grateful for the warm and very accepting community in which I live.

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Gratitude List 1646

(1) True to resolution, I’ve been exercising much more and spending much less time on the Internet.  Mostly I’ve been engaging in long brisk walks.  I’m losing weight and feeling a bit more heightened, spiritually speaking.

(2) Just dropped off my monthly rent check at the landlord’s office — a monthly ritual as of over three years now.

(3) Grateful for the $300 anonymous donation sent to Danielle’s pool, followed by the $600 relief check.

(4) I was granted an honorable mention among eight other journalists for having placed in the top ten of every category in the annual awards ceremony conducted by Spokane Faith and Values.  Also my column on the recent anti-maskers stunt placed No. 8 in the Top Ten opinion pieces of 2020.

(5) It was recently very freeing to make an unpopular decision for the benefit of the greater good.  It was liberating to release the unpopular information, with my reasons.  It had been such a burdensome thing, holding it all in.  I have faith we’ll move forward in liberation from here.

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