Gratitude List 1550

(1) I’m grateful for the gift of writing.  It’s something I really enjoy doing, and people tell me I’m good at it.

(2) This church has been really nice letting me go in and play that great grand piano all the time.

(3) Grateful for the stimulus check because my new laptop will be arriving sometime this week.   This will be the first time I will have purchased a new laptop in about five years.

(4) Thinking about the workshop gives me more gratitude than sorrow.   There was something remarkable about the whole way it happened — how it provided an oasis in the desert of the pandemic.   It didn’t just help me and me alone.  It helped a whole group of people whom otherwise would probably have never come into contact.  It was one of the most exceptional experiences of my entire life.

(5) Though I’m grateful for what computers and devices can do for us, I’m even more grateful for the power of shutting the lid on the laptop.   Sometimes I shut that lid, and my anxiety level drops to almost zero.    Glad to get up and smell the roses.  Grateful for the gift of life.

“For everything there is a season, and a time for every purpose under heaven.”
    — Ecclesiastes 3:1 

The Fiercest Blaze of All

Set me as a seal over your heart,
as a seal upon your arm.
For love is as strong as death,
its jealousy as unrelenting as Sheol.
Its sparks are fiery flames,
the fiercest blaze of all.
Mighty waters cannot quench love;
rivers cannot sweep it away.
If a man were to give all the wealth of his house for love,
his offer would be utterly scorned.
— Song of Solomon 8:6-7

From the Outside Looking In

This, the final column in a five-week series, was first published on Spokane Faith and Values on Wednesday the 17th of this month.   Reprinting it here (with significant edits).   I hope you like my work.     

In keeping with the imbalance of all of these inequities, this is perhaps the most profound.

It was often assumed that people who lived inside had a lot to teach those of us who were outside.  It was rarely supposed that we who lived outside had a lot to teach people who never had done so. 

When you stop to think about it, this one isn’t even a logical assumption. If someone were to have seen me flying a sign in 2016, they would have seen somebody who had lived inside for the first 51 years of his life, and was largely outside for the next twelve. Naturally, I knew what it was like to live both inside and out.  But the person approaching me, having always lived indoors, lacked a good half of that knowledge base.

How the outsider is perceived

This led to a serious cognitive dissonance in how the outsider was to be perceived. On the one hand, they were in an ostensibly superior position; that is, a position from which one might feel qualified to render assistance. On the other hand, they were in what was actually a foreign position. No matter how much better one’s lot in life may seem, if the variables of that life were utterly foreign, then how can one presume to be of help?

“How could they possibly be telling us anything we don’t already know?” we would query amongst ourselves. “Or worse, how can they advise us on matters we do know something about, that they don’t?”

They should be listening to us!” we eventually concluded. It was such an inescapable conclusion that we marveled at those who would persist in its denial.

But persist they did. People would relentlessly assault us with bits and pieces of perfectly impertinent, irrelevant information. They would tell us where the feeds and services were, as if we did not already know. They would present us with fliers that any one of us could receive daily at the doors to any of those events. Even when I was busking, even with my own guitar, they would tell me what I should have been doing instead.

Granted, not all passersby were of this predilection. But the saturation was severe enough that those who were not really stood out. How great it felt when my friend Neil and I were busking, and someone simply put a $5 bill into the jar and shouted: “You guys sound great, keep it up!” At least our street craft was acknowledged for what it was meant to be — not for something else.

Given that the disparity in perception was so huge between those who observed us, and we who were being observed, how best could our own aggregate head-space be described?

While attitudes varied from one outdoor dweller to another, there was naturally a thread of common interest in the details of outdoor living that, for some reason, most of those who approached us from inside were not interested in.

Seeking Self-Protection

For one thing, talk of self-protection was very common. We all felt vulnerable — so much so that talk of vulnerability as it was experienced in the relative safety of indoor seclusion often seemed empty and meaningless. We were concerned with getting through the next night, with not being found by assailants in our sleep, with having the semblance of a visible weapon for self-defense, with having those nearby who could watch out for us.

In trying to get on in the wilds, I felt drawn toward guides from the past, bodies of knowledge I never thought I would ever revisit. The Boy Scout Handbook was one such book of knowledge.  Even knowing the right kinds of knots to use to secure my tent was a great bit of useful information, not to mention all kinds of things long forgotten: carving paths, leaving landmarks,  telling which way was North, starting campfires, and making them last.

I found myself also referring to more mystical works that had influenced my youth. “The Castaneda Series” came to mind. Principles from The Yaqui Way of Knowledge that clearly pertained to outdoor living surfaced in my psyche.  There was the principle of finding my place–or “spot”–wherever I decided to stay and sit, and thus maximizing my energy there. There was also the principle of disrupting the routines of life. These are skills that, while they seemed inapplicable to the workaday mainstream, were very useful in the new life that where I had found myself.

It was not uncommon for us to marvel in how separate this new existence seemed from the world to which we’d been accustomed all our lives. Indeed, those who still inhabited the previous mode of existence appeared to be strangers, and alien to us, even though they had once been our kith and kin.

The perception that even friends and family should in this fashion seem suddenly alien, combined with that of an unusually strong bond we who were outside together all shared one with another, further served to illuminate just how much we all looked to be outsiders. Indeed, we were but “strangers and pilgrims on the Earth,” similar to the identification of the sojourners among our progenitors, those who in Hebrews 11:13 lived by faith.

Turning to Scripture

As a believer, I found myself taking to certain Scriptures that, while they had always seemed true to me in a way that transcended the tedium of regular workaday life, now they took on even stronger, more glaring meaning.

I heard people talk about how the people who were still inside were unaware of how there was no hope in the “mainstream” — that meaning the vast social entity from which we felt we had been expelled and flung full-force into this new realm of being. We knew there was no hope in the mainstream, and we were thankful for having been released from it. In my case, I likened it to the “world” as used in the Scripture, Romans 12:2: “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.”

When I was still in the mainstream, struggling to fit in and to function, I was unable to see how it failed to form a foundation from which a healthy spiritual life might spring. It was more accurately the case that it rather replicated the world system to which we are not to be conformed. And now that I was outside, I saw this clearly.

Not only this, but the Lord himself positioned himself as an outsider, much the same as we living outside now experienced ourselves to be.

“So Jesus also suffered outside the gate in order to sanctify the people through his own blood. Therefore let us go to him outside the camp and bear the reproach he endured. For here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come.” — Hebrews 13:12-14

So it was inevitable that we who believed and who were left outside discovered a deeper identification with our Lord and Master, at the same time as letting go of a much shallower identification with the world.

“Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.” — Philippians 2:5-7

Here was the sense in which our New Testament identification in Christ was made so much more accessible through the nature of the situation in which we all found ourselves, and its being opposed to the world.

“And Jesus said to him, ‘The foxes have holes, and the birds of the air nests; but the Son of Man has nowhere He might lay the head.’” — Luke 9:58

This became our experience.  It wasn’t just His being a model or example.  It was we ourselves living out His life in that manner through ourselves and our present-day experience.  We felt it night after night, day after day.

For we brought nothing into the world, so we cannot carry anything out of it. But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with these.” — 1 Timothy 6:7-8

It was interesting also in reading these time-honored words anew, how the author does not refer to “food and shelter.” We are to be content with “food and clothing.” Many people lived nomadically in those days, without shelter. Shelter is not a necessity in the sense that food is. This is one of the first things we learned, that we all came to accept, in order to cope with the radically different details of life outside.

“For we know that if the tent that is our earthly home is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.”  — 2 Corinthians 5:1

Our Reality

While earlier in life I could see in this Scripture a note of hope, I now was able to embrace it as a living reality. For these indoor dwellings with which we used to be content were not our true homes. Rather, our true home is in the indescribable realm of the heavens, of which we, being freed from our indoor dwelling places, were now granted an ephemeral glimpse.

So, with all this naturally going on in one’s mind, as one continues to face the wildly unpredictable vicissitudes of life outside, do you see how much of the narrative we were made privy to, on the part of whoever had always lived inside, seemed frivolous and trivial in comparison? So complete was our absorption in this new kind of life, it came to baffle us that others, ensnared in physical boxes much like those we had already shed, still thought them to be containers of life.

For us, they were not, and really never could be, quite again.  For it was so often thought that those who lived therein had something to teach us about life.  It was rarely if ever thought that for those of us who lived outside, our lives had just begun.   

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Gratitude List 1549

(1) Exercise appears to have been reinstated, with corresponding weight loss in the works.   I ran 2 1/2 miles three days ago, walked four miles briskly the day after, and eight whole miles yesterday – though it was only brisk throughout the first four miles thereof.   Though innervated today, I’m confident I’ll have a good run tomorrow morning.

(2) Working on the 5th and final column of my five-part series for Spokane Faith and Values.   This one should drive the point home.   I’m grateful for the opportunity to have aired this particular viewpoint, at this time.

(3) Beautiful weather we’ve been having lately, which made the walk up and down the hills circling campus very pleasant yesterday, as well as quite brisk on the uphill at the start.   Today’s a shade on the cloudy side, but I like it a lot.   Reminds me of San Francisco.

(4) We closed out our pandemic-based Eden in Babylon workshop yesterday, with tears of joy and thanksgiving on my part.  I’m deeply moved that these people seemed to show up out of nowhere — talented, dedicated singer/actors, who helped me more than they know.   We also recorded three more songs — “Midnight Screams,” “Daylight,” and “The Urban Elegy” — with piano, singing and professional sound design on the part of Liam Marchant.   The band will keep rehearsing every Monday indefinitely, but outside of further future podcasts that Kelsey Chapman and I are planning, the involvement of the singer/actors is formally complete.   The whole having been uniquely beautiful, I’m sure we’ll all stay in touch.

(5) I finished the new version of the script on March 12th, the first revision since December 21st, incorporating everything we learned in the workshop, and then some.   I’m standing on new ground spiritually, and thankful, and taking heed lest I fall.

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More about Science, Theology and the Wearing of Masks

Hey I should have my version of a famous Fats Waller tune as soon as I get my hands off the computer keyboard and onto the piano keyboard (give or take a few hours).  Let’s say we shoot for 2pm PST.  I’ve been busy and a bit batty up since three in the morning on a buzz.

Specifically, I’ve been obsessed with what I hope will be a final script revision based on all the things we learned during our workshop.   I’ve got a zoom meeting with Kelsey at 10 pm, so I’ve got about an hour and a half to clean up the embarrassing last scene.   (All seven scenes beforehand are pretty cool, however.)  

In the meantime, here’s another excerpt from the discussion we had a while back.   The man in the beret is the linguistics professor named Kurt, whom I often speak of very highly.   The fellow named Doug to whom he alludes is a local pastor of dubious persuasion.  Not sure how many cups of coffee I had before my own presentation (I only know how many I’ve had this morning.)

Anyway, hope you enjoy this.   It’s about four minutes long.   

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A Hand Up

The fourth column in my five-week series on homelessness was published yesterday on the religion-related site Spokane Faith and Values.  Below is a transcript of the piece.  

It was when Nadine Woodward was running for Mayor of Spokane that I first heard Tracy Simmons speak. When I heard Ms. Woodward’s campaign slogan, “a hand up, not a hand out,” I felt compelled to comment. A handout to the homeless, she claimed, has a way of “enabling them.”

“It does enable them,” I blurted out.

Suddenly, I felt as though everybody in the room was looking at me.

“I was homeless for years in the San Francisco Bay Area,” I explained. “All that a constant string of handouts did for me was to keep me homeless.

Now perhaps that sentiment is misleading. We all need to eat. Jesus fed the hungry without qualification. Does anyone say, “All Jesus did was give them a hand-out?” That’s usually not the way it’s framed.

On the other hand, for five years I watched as a plethora of self-care items was freely distributed to whoever figured out where to find them. There were socks on Mondays, a laundry room on Tuesdays, and razors on Wednesdays. There were 35 free meals a week in the city where I slept outdoors. Many people took continual advantage of these services.

In fact, it began to look as though the same people were showing up for all these events, year after year. There was a noticeable tribe in the making, whose members were a mixed bag.

First, there were those who were disabled, who showed up with caregivers–those for whom the community meal was a part of their planned itinerary. A second group was of a criminal bent, in and out of jail, and discussing their adventures openly. Still others had merely fallen upon hard times. But by and large, the bulk of those who frequented homeless services were clearly sane, competent, and able to work.

So why did they remain there?

For one thing, it isn’t easy for a person who lives outdoors to find a job. Homeless people are disadvantaged. I recall how one of my applications was rejected because I didn’t own a cell phone. Another time, I couldn’t afford the fingerprint check. There was a $35 fee, and I wasn’t able to come up with the money fast enough. It isn’t easy for a homeless person to impress a prospective employer.

Numerous obstacles stand in the way of a homeless person arriving at an interview. They may not be able to shower in time, or obtain decent clothing. They may not be able to manage the public transit to get them there. Even if they succeed at showing up on time and looking sharp, the interviewer may notice that they lost a job three years ago, and haven’t landed one since.

Their credit score may not be pristine. Worse yet, their mailing address may only be a Post Office Box. Why are they not providing their home address? Could they possibly be homeless? How can a homeless person be trusted with a responsible position? Aren’t they all lazy, and perennially unemployed?

“On to the next applicant,” the interviewer frowns.

Ironically, the fallacy that all homeless people are lazy is often what prevents them from being hired. This leads to the sixth inequity that I have wanted to discuss:

It was often thought that because we were homeless, our lives were consigned to a countless string of handouts. It was seldom considered that our lives might be changed through a single hand-up instead.

Here’s How a Hand Up Works

Consider my own experience. Over a period of twelve years, how much money do you think went into feeding me and occasionally providing me with temporary lodging? Easily, thousands upon thousands of dollars, subsidized by the taxpayers of America.

How much money went into ending twelve years of homelessness in the Bay Area?

Exactly $600.

Seriously! That’s all it took. Once I was finally ready to get inside, I found someone who believed in me enough to front me $200 for a one way ticket to a brand new life. Shortly later, that person spotted me $200 for a deposit on my first place of residence. Granted, the place was an old, run-down hotel whose rooms had been converted to “apartments.” But it was still a roof over my head–with a decent mailing address, to boot.

On July 27, 2016, I arrived in the State of Idaho. On September 1st, I signed a one-year-lease. On September 6, I interviewed for a church job. Shortly later, I was hired. This was after years of being considered “unemployable” in California — only because I lived outdoors.

Over the next few weeks, I received four $50 loans from my benefactor. The money went to necessities such as clothing, toiletries, and a photo ID. He and I stayed in touch for a while, and then, by and by, parted ways.

Would it be too much to ask the privileged people of America to walk up and down the sidewalks, talk to the people who sit there daily, get to know them, and decide for themselves who would benefit from a $600 hand-up?

To be sure, many would decline. And even those who accepted would face a rather daunting task. It isn’t easy to discern who would put the hand-up to good use. It takes time to get to know people – and homeless people are no exception. The hand-up I’ve described did not take place in a single day.

But it did take place — and it did work. The role of a single benefactor cannot be discounted. But the main factor in my success was that I left all of my homeless stigma behind.

Think About It

I am not alone. There are millions of people scattered about the streets of North American cities. People who once were your next-door neighbors — who once looked very much like you. And now, due to the pandemic, a new upsurge in homelessness is on the rise. This consists largely of people who, just over a year ago, were working and faithfully keeping up on their rents and mortgages.

How logical is it to assume that all of them are “losers” and “lazy bums?”

How compassionate is it to turn a cold shoulder? To shrug and say: “There are services for people like you!”

How realistic is it to suppose that “services” will suffice to do what must be done?

How courageous is it to wash your hands of the matter, and refuse to associate with people who don’t look like me and you?

How open-minded is it to shun the homeless on the streets, and walk past them as though they were things — and not human beings?

The Answer Begins with You

I challenge anyone who has $600 to spare — and granted, that may not be many — to walk up and down the streets of Spokane and talk to homeless people, as you would talk to any other human being.

Talk about the ball game. Talk about the concert. Talk about your relationship hassles. Get to know these human beings who are no less human than you are. Find out their interests, their passions, their fields of expertise. Find out how much you have in common with these people who are just like you.

And if you have $6000 to spare, you know what to do. I guarantee you there are a lot more than ten people on those streets who don’t need to be there. If you have $60,000 to spare, you know where to spare it.

I’m not saying it will be easy. But the solution to the homeless problem in America does not lie in programs and institutions. It lies in removing the veil of stigma from the picture of the homeless individual.

Shelters and services may play a part, but they will never work effectively until this one thing has been secured. Just as I said in my very first column, we need to strengthen our weakest link. We need to see in every homeless person the book of humanity that we have judged by its cover. And our common humanity, one to another, must be revealed.

That book of humanity is a far more informative document than you might think. And that’s what my next column will be all about.

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Talking Shop, Part Three

Here’s the sequel to Talking Shop, Part Two, in which the character known as Winston Greene is further explored.  This time we talk about how the misconception that a person of Winston’s considerable privilege ought to be a rescuer of those not so endowed is no longer applicable to the kind of person that Winston has become.   14 minutes w/intro & well worth a listen imo.   Some of it may be a bit esoteric — but you can always buzz me with any questions.   

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Tuesday Tuneup 105

Q. Where are you coming from?

A. Drama.

Q. Drama?

A. You heard me.

Q. As in Shakespeare?

A. Come on – you know what I mean.   Personal drama.

Q. Is there a lot of drama in your life right now?

A. If there is, there shouldn’t be.

Q. Then how is it that you claim to be “coming from drama?”

A. Because that’s where I come from — by nature.

Q. You’re a dramatic person by nature?

A. A good friend of mine once told me that I treat life as though it’s a play I’m writing.   A play in which I am the main character.

Q. So you are both Playwright and Protagonist?

A. Yes.  In the Play of Life.

Q. Isn’t that a bit presumptuous of you?   I mean, that you — an almost infinitesimal fraction of the world’s population — should be the playwright of the whole shebang?

A. Presumptuous in an understatement.   Somewhere between grandiose and delusional come to mind.

Q. When did you first realize this?

A.  The night before last.

Q.  Seriously?   Only that recently?   

A.  I believe it had been brewing for a long time.   But finally yes, the night before last is when I connected all the dots.   I’ve been treating people unrealistically for a long time.  I’ve been treating them according to what purpose I think they’re supposed to fulfill in my life — rather than according to who they are.

Q.  What happened the night before last?

A.  I was walking and praying.  Praying for a couple people whom I met recently, people with whom I tried to form friendships, and then I fouled up the friendships.  

Q. How did you do that?

A. I did it because I couldn’t see who they truly were, or what their needs were.  I could only see the role that I presumed they should be playing in my life.

Q. In the Play of Life — the play that you are always writing?

A. Yes!  Now you understand.  

Q. How did you feel when you realized how you had been treating them?

A. Horrible!  I suddenly saw how selfishly I had taken advantage of them.   And each of them had respected me — perhaps even admired me.   They were younger, and they looked up to me.  I should have provided a better example, a better role model.   Instead, I used them — I tried to fashion them into these characters of my own creation.  As though I were —

Q. God?

A. As though I were God.

Q. Was it really that bad?   You didn’t abuse them physically, did you?

A. No . . .

Q. Did you call them names?

A. One of them, yes.  When I was mad.   I tried to apologize — but the apology couldn’t have taken away the hurt.   And then I didn’t know what to do anymore, to be honest with you.

Q. What did you do?

A. I just started to be nice to them, whenever I happened to see them.   Tried to start anew, I guess.

Q. What more can you do?

A. Not much, I suppose.  Maybe time will take care of it all.

Q. What have you learned from all this?

A. Something I should have already known.

Q. What’s that?

A. That I’m a playwright.  I was born to write plays.   My brain thinks in characters and dialogue.  I should write more of them.  I should write a brand new play.   If I write more plays, I will cease to act as though I am the Playwright of Life.   And I will respect the One who truly is that Playwright.  The One who created my character.   The One who wrote the whole show — from the Beginning of Time.

The Questioner pauses.  

Q. Is all the world a stage?

A. In God’s eyes, perhaps.

Q. And in your eyes?

A. All the world’s a page.   I am but a writer who writes on it.   Page after page I will turn, I will write.  Until I’ve written what’s right for me to write.

Q. Promise?

A. I promise.   

Q. But what about the people in your life?

A. It’s not my life.   That’s the whole point.   It’s just life.   I didn’t create it.   God did.   I am only to participate in it, and appreciate it.

Q. But what about the people in your life?

A. They have their own lives.

Q. Really?

A. Well – in a manner of speaking.   I can only pray that they too will be able to get the most — out of Life.     

The Questioner is silent

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Gratitude List 1548

(1) A lady from my church came over two days in a row, helped me clean the house, and showed me how to fix the toilet too. I learned all kinds of things about housecleaning that my own mother never taught me. As a result, I’m enthused about maintaining a nicer, cleaner place.

(2) After wrangling over it for three days in a spirit of merciless self-criticism, I have completed the first draft of my fourth column for the five-week series on Spokane Faith and Values. I submitted it to Kurt, the retired linguistics professor (and the man with the beret whom you see in Microcosm.) His edits on my second column were very helpful, and I look forward to more of the same.

(3) Looks like I’m losing weight again.  Haven’t been running so much, but have been enjoying long brisk walks in the morning and at night.  I use them as a time for prayer and reflection.  They also help to deflect the fact that I’ve got a lot of food in my cupboard these days, and that I’ve a tendency to munch.  Grateful, however, not to be going without.

(4) Mixes are starting to come in from our studio session Sunday before last.   New versions of “Hunted,” “Oracle,” and “Turns Toward Dawn” are available.   The last of these three clips is by far the best, earning us a wonderful commendation from the head of the jazz department at the Conservatory.   

(5) Our church met indoors for the first time yesterday.   We still wore masks and social-distanced.  It was well-coordinated and well-attended, and it made me feel warm inside.   I keep getting a sense that something really positive is in the works.  I can’t quite put my finger on it — but that doesn’t mean it isn’t real.   

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Microcosm

This is an excerpt from a Zoom meeting held among locals in the small college town where I live.  It was done about five months into the pandemic, but now might be a good time to share.   We were all realizing how the division in our town was microcosmic of the division in America today.   And we all expressed hope for unity.    

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Further Inequities

The third column in my five-week series on homelessness was published yesterday on the religion-related site Spokane Faith and Values.  Below is a transcript of the piece.  

Since this series began, I have been observing the nature of comments and reactions to my words.  As a result, it strikes me that a few things may need to be clarified.

When I use the word “we” in reference to my experience, I refer specifically to the Berkeley-based homeless community in which I participated between the years 2011 and 2016.  But I have also found that my statements generally hold true for those who have experienced long-term homelessness in other urban areas. 

Also, when I speak in past tense, I refer to specific events that took place throughout the entire 12-year period when I struggled with homelessness.  But again, I believe it stands to reason that the nature of such events is universal.

I am not here to discuss shelters and services. Such discussions can take place anywhere.  I am here to issue a call that we accept and respect those who continue to live outdoors — at a time when more and more people are beginning to do so. 

That said, I’m going to breeze through the next three inequities, to further fortify my statement.

There Are Other Topics of Conversation

If was often thought that homeless people should discuss only homelessness, at the expense of other topics.  It was seldom thought that homeless people, like all other people, should be permitted to discuss any topic they please.

A young person said to me once: “I would have no idea what to say to a homeless person.”

“That’s easy,” I replied.  “Talk to them about anything except homelessness.

You have no idea how refreshing it was when somebody approached me and began to discuss the ball game, the concert, or their most recent argument with their partner.  Conversations in which we were treated as human beings, not as homeless people, were a breath of fresh air. 

It was alarming how many people seemed to think that the only thing that should have been on our minds was our homelessness. Can you imagine if your new neighbor were Black or Hispanic, and the first thing you did was to approach them and discuss their ethnicity?  That’s the way it felt when people insisted on discussing our homelessness with us. 

So, if like my young friend, you are uncertain what to say in the presence of a person who is experiencing homelessness, consider my advice. Unless they bring it up first, talk about anything other than homelessness. Try it – you just might make their day. 

A Homeless Person Has a Need for Privacy

It was often thought that because one was homeless, one had sacrificed their “right to privacy.” It was seldom considered that homeless people need as much privacy as people who live behind closed doors.  

While it is debatable that our right to privacy is guaranteed in the 4th Amendment, I will assert that the 4th Amendment ought to apply equally to homeless citizens as well as to those who live indoors. The problem with a homeless person’s “right to privacy” stems from the fact that, living outdoors, most of the time there simply isn’t any. 

Yet homeless people need to relieve themselves, just like any other kind of person. But indoor bathrooms are often inaccessible. I remember walking the streets of Berkeley for an hour and a half once, trying to find a public bathroom that wasn’t locked. When I finally sneaked behind a bush to do the job, can you imagine how it felt to be viewed with suspicion?

Of course I was viewed with suspicion! Why does somebody sneak behind a bush? Doesn’t everybody have a bathroom? Surely the homeless person was bugging out to “do some drugs.” If a homeless person sneaks into an alleyway, that person probably needs to urinate. But how often is this the public perception? People are more likely to think that the homeless person is sneaking off to “do a drug deal.” And then, once found urinating, they risk getting a scolding, if not an indecent exposure charge.

The fact of the matter is that those who live outside do not have easy access to bathrooms. Those who live inside generally do.  

As for the cops who often woke me in the middle of the night, in order to “search my backpack for drugs” and “run my criminal record,” I can truthfully attest that there were never any drugs in my backpack, nor did I have a criminal record.  But if searching my backpack against my will was not a violation of my 4th Amendment Rights, I’m not sure what it was. 

Many Homeless People Have Jobs

It was often thought that because a person was homeless, their homelessness would be cured if they got a job. It was seldom considered that if a person were homeless, their homelessness would be cured if they found a place to live.  

It was also often assumed that a homeless person didn’t already have a job.  Yet, according to the National Coalition for the Homeless,  40 – 60% of people experiencing homelessness move in and out of jobs. It is also estimated that about 25% of homeless people are working at any given time. I myself took at least four jobs in my field when I was homeless — temporary contracts as a musical director or accompanist at places like Children’s Musical Theatre San Jose and Peninsula Teen Opera. 

While 25% might seem a relatively low figure, it actually testifies tremendously to the fact that homeless people generally want to be working. When we consider the obstacles that homeless people face toward becoming employed — many of which are listed in this excellent article, the figure begins to look quite high.  Moreover, while it is often thought that people become homeless due to “drug addiction,” it is factually evident that most people become homeless due to having lost their jobs.  

There was a common catch-22 that abounded in the realm of outdoor living: “I can’t get a job until I have a place to live, and I can’t get a place to live without a job.” 

But because of rising costs of rents, many of us would rather avoid rentals entirely, and focus on making enough money to survive. It wasn’t the most pleasant use of our energies, but often it was the most essential.

All five of the inequities I have thus far delineated stem from a single evil.  That evil is in the dehumanization of the homeless individual. We were not regarded, in general, as people who were equal to others. It was not considered that we were human beings having inalienable rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. It was instead believed that we had to sacrifice our rights — only because we lived outdoors.

Many of us were unwilling to make that sacrifice. And this leads to the inequity that will be discussed in my next column. You may expect it to validate everything I’ve been trying to express since this series began.

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Talking Shop, Part Two

In this sequel to Talking Shop, Part One, the character of Winston Greene — the protagonist in the new musical Eden in Babylon — is explored.   Three of us involved in our ongoing workshop of this production express how Winston acts as a “shield of protection” for those of his chosen tribe.

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“Turns Toward Dawn” (Studio Version)

“Turns Toward Dawn” — Studio Version. Recorded (along with five other songs) on Cooper Knutson’s last day, serving as the main character, Winston Greene, in our ongoing Eden in Babylon workshop. Cooper Knutson and Keva Shull, vocals. Andy Pope, piano. Sound design by Liam Robert Marchant. I am at this stage nothing but proud of everyone involved. The world has yet to hear a better “Turns Toward Dawn” than this.

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Tuesday Tuneup 104

Q. Where are you coming from?

A. The very beginning.

Q. The beginning?  As though nothing else has ever happened before?

A. It doesn’t matter what’s happened before.   This is still the beginning.

Q. The beginning of what?

A. Of a brand new life, of course.  

Q. What happened to the old life?

A. It no longer exists.

Q. All gone?

A. Past.

Q. What about memories?

A. Oh, memories may indeed persist.   And one may learn from those memories, so long as they are not overly indulged.   But no matter how much I may learn from the past, my hope rests entirely in the future.

Q. Isn’t that the essence of hope?

A. I suppose so, by definition.   But all too often, we place our hope in the past.   And there is no hope in the past.  We can learn from the past — but there’s no hope there.

Q. How do we place our hope in the past?  Isn’t that twisted?

A. It is twisted indeed.  And indeed, we are often quite twisted.  But to answer your question, the ways in which we place our hope in the past are manifold.  

Q, Manifold?

A. Yeah.  We do it lots of ways.

Q. Like what?

A. We try to go back to old relationships and mend them.   We try to make mutual amends unilaterally.  But this is pointless.  It takes two to tango.  If one person in a twofold cord has broken that cord, then the other person has no power to bind it together again.

Q. Have you tried to do this recently?

A. I have indeed.

Q. Care to elaborate?

A. Not on the theme of the one-to-one intimate relationship.   But I wouldn’t mind discussing friendships for a while.

Q. Then what about friendships?   

A. We go back to friendships that we feel we botched up.  We flew off the handle, when their attitudes began to baffles us, and their values conflicted with our own.   And yet, we cannot mend these broken friendships all by our own selves.  If they don’t want to talk to us anymore, they won’t.  And there’s not a darn thing we can do about it.

Q. Can’t we apologize?

A. Many times over!  But I guarantee you, if it’s not meant to be, it won’t happen.  In fact, the many apologies issued may even be taken as intrusions.

Q. Intrusions?

A. Certainly!   Would not a single apology have sufficed?   And if they still don’t want to talk to you, no amount of further apology will change their minds.  If anything, they’ll be annoyed at your persistence.   It would be as though you’re trying to find the “magic words” that will win them back.  But let’s face it — there are no magic words.   If they ain’t comin’ back, they ain’t comin’ back.  

Q. What about business relationships?

A. Perhaps a professional relationship was damaged.  Maybe you thought somebody was on your side, but then they hit a nerve.   And you hit them back again!  You hit them even harder, because you were so pissed off.  And back and forth the two of you jousted, taking pot shots at each other whenever possible.  Finally one day, you hit them below the belt — right where it hurt.    

Q. What happened then?

A. What happened then, you ask?   Well I’ll tell you what happened!   They ghosted you.  They simply disappeared.   But this is all for the good, you see.   If they see things differently than you, so be it.   One cannot expect to convert everyone to one’s own way of thinking.   

Q, So how does this all relate to your having arrived at the very beginning?

A. It relates because I’m just not going to bother anymore!  These people are not that important.   Some of them haven’t talked to me in years.

Q. Yet you have persisted in trying to win them back?

A. Yes, I have.

Q. Why?

A. Because of fallacy for which I fell.   You see, I was certain that the only reason these associates had shunned me, was because I was homeless.   So naturally, I thought that once I finally escaped homelessness, they would breath a sigh of relief, and come my way again.   Foolishly, I expected our associations to pick up right where they left off.

Q. Did none of them come your way again?

A. Well – one of them did.  In an area that perhaps I should not discuss.  For it didn’t really work out, and they again went their way.   I took it kinda hard, but it helped to learn a hard lesson.

Q. Have you truly learned that lesson?

A. Perhaps not.  Does anyone ever learn lessons regarding the affairs of the heart?

Q. I don’t know.  Do they?

A. Beats me, pal.  But what I do know is this:

When I was becoming homeless, I lived in a cold cruel world.   I apologized to everyone I knew, all the way down to that gutter.   In that world of coldness and cruelty, the ones who got ahead were the ones who received the most apologies, and gave the least.   The ones who fell the furthest down were the ones who did the most apologizing.   The non-apologizers played one-up on the apologizers – to keep the apologizers in their place.

And the ones who were good at feeling guilty got beat out by the ones who were good at making them feel that way.  The ones who were good at laying on the guilt trips climbed up the corporate ladders, and often made it all the way up to the top.

Q. Wow – may I quote you on that?

A. Spell my name right, please.

Q. But you don’t live in that world anymore, do you?

A. Not at all.

Q. Where do you live?

A. In the emerging world of new beginnings.   Where people trust each other.   Where people respect each other.  Where people still treat each other with good old-fashioned common courtesy.   Where people believe in each other, and try to bring out the best in each other.  Where you have to try to get yourselves into trouble — and where the good guys make it all the way to the top!

Q. To the top?

A. The sky’s the limit.

Q. Shoot for the moon?

A. Consider it shot.

Q. And what will you do when you make it all the way to the top, Andy?

A. What do you think I’m going to do?  I’m going live frugally and simply, with very few possessions, like a minimalist — just like I live right now.   I’ll take all the extra money I’ve made and feed the hungry and give shelter to those who are without.   And I won’t feed them that junk food they dish out at the food banks — as though to tell them that “beggars can’t be choosers” – as though to punish them for the crime of being poor.   And I won’t put them up in flop houses on Skid Row either.  They’ll be staying at the Ritz Carlton, if I have any say in the matter.   And you won’t catch me flying to Bermuda and back!   The price of that ticket would put a married homeless couple up for three months, in the right situation.  And I’ll stay right here, where I’ve landed, till the day I die.  

Q. Really?

A. Mmm . . . give or take a few details.  I’m still contemplating a Trump-dodge up to Canada.  Not entirely sure we’ve gotten rid of the monster yet.  

Q. What about the past?

A. Kaput.  Finito.  

Q. And the future?

A. It’s the kingdom of heaven, man.   North Idaho is just a step along the way.   

The Questioner is silent.   

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Gratitude List 1655

(1) Just got the second dose of the Moderna vaccine, about two hours ago.   Fulfilled my civic duty, and we’ll see what happens.  No fluish symptoms as of yet.  Grateful for this leap onto what will hopefully be a new and better stage.   

(2) Walking into the cafe, signs of new beginnings are in the air.   People wearing masks appear to be smiling.  Customers are less isolated and more chatty.   Had a couple meaningful conversations with strangers — two ladies I’d not seen before — who gave two different accounts about reactions to their vaccinations.   Sat down in my favorite venue and composed this gratitude list.   God has been good to me today.

(3) Got a nice compliment on Bridging the Gap from a staff member of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival (AKA Ashland) — someone whom I haven’t talked to since 2004 (ironically, the year most referenced in the audio cast.)   After dispelling the immediate fantasies that Eden in Babylon might be produced at Ashland, I realized that two people who usually don’t comment have made appreciative remarks toward that single talk.   That means it’s probably useful, and I pinned it to my Twitter profile.   Glad I dug it up — hope it helps.   

(4) Because yesterday was Cooper’s last day, we recorded five of his songs back to back in the sanctuary.  Liam engineered the recordings and will have them ready, he says, by Thursday.   All were done with piano only, and most included five back-up singers from the team.    Though it’s difficult to lose Cooper, I’m grateful we used his last day wisely.   (Besides, you never know — he might come back someday.)

(5) Yes – definitely – new beginnings are in the air.   I can feel it.   It’s all around me.   It’s a beautiful day in the city of my birth.   I am somehow where I’m meant to be — where I belong — for now.  

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