Tuesday Tuneup 18

Q. Do you know who I am?

A. Yeah.  You’re a pain in the ass who darkens my door once a week, annoying me with an incessant series of inane questions, challenging my patience.

Q. So why have you summoned me?

A. What choice did I have?

Q. Aren’t I supposed to be asking you the questions?

A. Supposed to schummosed to.  I’m totally disgruntled.

Q. Whatever for?

A. I don’t know.  The whole thing just seems to be — on me. 

Q. What whole thing?

A. Forgiveness!  Why am I the guy who always has to focus all his energy on forgiving all these other people?   If even one of them would so much as give me the time of day, it would sure make it a lot easier.

hillary forgivenessQ. Easier on who?

A. On me — obviously!

Q. Why don’t you make it easy on them?

A. Don’t insult my integrity.  I’m already trying to do that, and you know that.

Q. How?

A. By apologizing to them.  By asking their forgiveness.  Like the Bible says.  Like Jesus says.  Like we’re all supposed to do with each other.  But they still won’t —

Q. Give you the time of day?

A. Right.  How do I know they’re even reading my emails?  Or listening to my voice mail messages?  Or even reading my carefully, prayerfully worded snail mail letters?   I wouldn’t be surprised if whats-his-face just ripped up the letter I sent to his home address, without even bothering to open it.

Q. But why would he do that?

A. I don’t know.  Fear of its contents, I guess.  Or disrespect for me as a man.  Hard to say.  Maybe his wife doesn’t want him to have anything to do with me.  Maybe his doctor told him to avoid “toxic people,” and he decided I was “toxic.”  Or maybe he’s just a cowardly wimp who can’t face up to his own bullshit unless he’s painted into a damn corner.

Q. Do you really need this guy?

A. No, not really.

Q. Then what do you need?  

Pause.

A. I need to forgive him.  To be free and clear of all the lingering resentment over the way I was treated — and the way I treated him.   To know that he has received my apologies, my requests for forgiveness, and that they matter enough to him — that Jesus matters enough for him — to say “I forgive you, Andy.”  And then we can both move on.  Or even be friends again, who knows?   God only knows.

Q. How long has this been going on?

A. Five years now.  

Q. He hasn’t talked to you for five years?

A. Not just him – but all kinds of people.

Q. Why did they all stop talking to you?

A. Probably because of the way I was coming across at the time.

Q. How were you coming across?

A. I was desperate.  I was homeless.  Sure I had all kinds of other problems, but I couldn’t solve any of them from homelessness.  And none of those damned group situations that were always recommended ever worked out for me.  They only surrounded me with thieves and criminals, and furthered the violation of my person and my property.   I was down in this hole that was so deep, I couldn’t climb out of it myself for the life of me.  I kept beseeching them, please, let me stay with you, just for a while, just for a month or so, till I can get my bearings, get some sleep, and see a way to maybe get back on my feet.  But nobody would budge.  They all rejected me.  Most of them without even a word of notice or warning.  They flushed me down the toilet like I was a total piece of — piece of — piece of  —

Q. Shit?

A. You said it.  

Q. Why did you internalize their opinions of you?

A. I couldn’t help it.  I knew I was coming across in a way that freaked them out, or pissed them off even.  But all the gross details of homelessness, the sleep deprivation, the constant insinuation from everyone around me that I was this worthless piece of crap, that my music didn’t matter, my singing, my piano playing, my writing, my public speaking, none of the good things about me counted!  I was just supposed to cram a bunch of damned pills down my throat that I knew would destroy everything I had going for me, and get into some group home where they monitored all my meds and only let me out under supervision on Sundays.   

And I had already tried all that.  And I just couldn’t do it!  I’d have rather slept alone out in a field somewhere.  So I did.  But then — all the other crap set in.

Q. What other crap?

A. You know something?  I really don’t want to talk about it.

Q. Then why are you?

A. Because of you.  And all your damned questions.  Go away! And don’t come back till Tuesday!   Tired of your robotic, unfeeling crap.

The Questioner is silent.

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Gratitude List 858

1. In 11 days, it will be two years that I’ve been successfully living indoors and paying my rent on time at the beginning of every month, after years of struggling with homelessness on the San Francisco Bay Area streets.

2. Although I am up much earlier than the average person, I am grateful for the absolutely quiet hours when I can focus and get my writing done, undisturbed by the influences of others.

3. I am grateful for the wisdom of my father, who taught me to get up three hours before anybody else does, and to drink my coffee black, to avoid stomach problems.

4. I’m grateful for the freedom and solitude that indoor living has provided for me, enabling me to do all the things I always wished I could do when I still lived outdoors — things like make speeches, play the piano, write music, write blog posts, and most especially, finish a musical about homelessness in America that I could never fully focus on when I lived outdoors.

5. I’m grateful that if I wake up at one in the morning, I can make a cup of coffee and go straight to my computer, rather than wander the streets amid cops & robbers, fearing for my safety and preparing for the worst.

6. I’m not only grateful for the freedom to write about the Homeless Experience, but for the increasing awareness that a lot of other people are writing about it, too — people who, like me, spent years outside, and were gifted with the blessing of indoor residence, and the freedom to shape their thoughts.

7. I really like my pastor and my church.  Even though I’ve had problems, they were not quick to expel me, or tell me to go to the Salvation Army or some other unappealing indoor group living situation where I would have had orders barked at me day in and day out, and all my freedoms would have been removed.

8. Glad I no longer have to struggle with the choice either to live outdoors in danger, or indoors in a group situation among dubious denizens, in just as much danger, despite.

9. Glad that the person I am living with now is probably the only person whom I know for sure I can live with without feeling like we’re in each other’s way.

10. Grateful to be living with the woman whom I love.  The Lord has blessed me so much, my cup runneth over.  The sky is the limit from here.

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The Eye of a Needle

As Jesus started on his way, a man ran up to him and fell on his knees before him. “Good teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

“Why do you call me good?” Jesus answered. “No one is good—except God alone. You know the commandments: ‘You shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, you shall not defraud, honor your father and mother.’ ”

“Teacher,” he declared, “all these I have kept since I was a boy.”

Jesus looked at him and loved him. “One thing you lack,” he said. “Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”

At this the man’s face fell. He went away sad, because he had great wealth.

Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God!”

The disciples were amazed at his words. But Jesus said again, “Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.”

–Mark 10:17-24

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Homeless Shelters

Note: this post was first written here in an answer to a question posed on the Q&A site Quora, which I am acknowledging according to their terms of service.   The question, as posed, was “What are homeless shelters like?”  Of course, I could only answer according to my personal experience.  But I did my best.  

During the many years when I was homeless, I stayed in a number of different shelters, as well as in other group situations that were even less favorable and less appealing to me than the preferred choice to sleep in a secluded spot outdoors.

I did get a good feeling from one or two of the shelters, but most of them gave me the creeps. Even in the one where I felt most “at home,” it was still assumed that I was of a criminal mentality, and that I had a criminal record. I had a hard time believing that all of us who had fallen into homelessness were “criminals” – and of course I gravitated toward those who clearly were not.

I eventually realized that part of the reason why this mentality was so widespread was because the people who ran the homeless shelter were themselves ex-convicts or criminals in varying states of reformation, rehabilitation, or recovery. So from the top down, it was pretty much assumed that one was comfortable with the criminal element.

A great plus was my being able to get a free breakfast with unlimited coffee refills in the morning; in fact, Peet’s coffee was served, which I loved. At night, there would be dinners brought by organizations in the community who desired to help the homeless. Usually these were religious organizations having a strong bent in the area of converting the homeless to their particular brand of faith. That I already had my own religious preferences was usually dismissed as irrelevant, since it was assumed that if I had a true “relationship with God,” I would never have wound up homeless to begin with.

The preponderance of religious zealotry mixed in with a criminal mentality made it almost impossible for me to feel “safe” in the shelter. I slept on a fold-up cot that sank down very low in the middle, inducing backaches, and not conducive to a good night’s sleep. When the night manager shouted: “Lights Out!” at ten at night, all that this meant, literally, was that the lights were turned off. It did not mean that people kept their voices down or made an effort to stay quiet.

In close proximity to my cot was a large T.V. where a number of the men who had rented pornographic movies stayed up and watched porn flicks all night, reacting as men would do in private to the various suggestions of these movies, while I was trying liberty-safetyunsuccessfully to sleep.

I constantly feared for the theft of my laptop and cell phone. I kept my backpack attached by one of its straps to my body at all times, even while I slept (or tried to.) Although there were lockers in the shelter, one had to fill out a lengthy application in order to obtain one of the lockers, and there was a long waiting list to get one. I often declined to take a shower in the morning after I watched a young man’s Ibinez custom electric guitar be stolen during the five minutes he was allotted to shower. But at least they had showers, and it was also a good place to shave and brush my teeth, both of which activities were frowned upon in the library bathrooms, as well as in the bathrooms of local cafes and restaurants. It was nice having a bathroom right nearby during the night, and this was one advantage that staying in the shelter had to sleeping outdoors.

I also was able to do my laundry on Tuesdays and receive razor blades on Wednesdays. There were several other perks. In general, however, I felt “safer” sleeping outdoors in a secluded place known only to me. But I must put the word “safe” in quotes, because the concept of “safety” is meaningless on the streets. We did not think in terms of “safety;” and whenever anyone made references to our “safety” (or the lack of it) we were generally baffled. Homelessness was best regarded as a wild adventure, where one had to be ready for anything at any time, almost like being in a war zone. The word “safety” has very little relevance to that manner of life.  

I must also disclaim that in this brief exposé, I have tried to describe only the shelter I liked best. The last one, the one I liked least, was the one where I was kicked out for catching a flu, even though I had obviously caught the flu in the shelter itself. There followed an awful scenario in which I was denied a stay in a hospital because I was homeles and kicked off of the all-night bus (where several homeless people regularly slept) because of my having the flu. Having a bad flu and being forced to stay outdoors was the catalyst toward terminating my homeless “adventure” of twelve years. But I owe that termination to prayer and to my God. Homelessness is a hole so deep, one really has to have lived it in order to understand how next-to-impossible it can be to climb out of it. I consider myself therefore lucky and blessed. 

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(Talks 2018) – Talk No. 2

Here’s the second talk in my Talks 2018 series, intending to illuminate the realities of the Homeless Experience to those who have not yet been there.   This talk is entitled “Homeless by Choice.”  I hope you gain from it.

Homeless by Choice

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Tuesday Tuneup 17

Q. Do you know who I am?

A. Yes.  You are a part of me.

Q. Why have you summoned me?

A. Quick, spot-check tuneup.  I know, I know — it’s Thursday, not Tuesday.  I’m two days late.

Q. Why so late?

A. Exhaustion.  Sleeping round the clock ever since July 4th, for eight days barely fitting in all the things I’m supposed to be doing in this world.

new-beginning-quotes-picturesQ. What happened on July 4th?

A. Independence.

Q. Independence from what?

A. From Eden in Babylon. 

Q. You were — enslaved by Eden in Babylon?

A. I was indeed.  Enslaved by my own work.

Q. And now you are free?

A. In a very real sense, yes.  I need no longer belabor this script.   It’s as good as it needs to be, in order for me to submit it.

Q. Don’t you need the demo in order to submit it?

A. The demo is on its way.   The pieces for the final mix are coming in.  Listen to this one, the first one — you gotta admit it’s not bad:

Q. Who’s the singer?

A. Her name’s Erika.  Very good singer, classically trained with a degree in Voice, and having musical theatre experience.  Obviously, she put her whole heart into it.  I acknowledge her in full, along with the sound engineer, on the credits.

Q. But don’t you need more than one song on the demo?

A. They’re on their way.  I’ve heard drafts of the mixes.  The engineer is in the process of preparing a final mix.   It won’t be long now.

Q. And then what?

A. Then I package the show, of course.  I send out packages to theatre companies who accept submissions of new musicals.  And also, to theatre companies where I’ve worked in the past, or where I know people with whom I’ve worked, people who might think well of me from the start (as opposed to hearing from a total stranger.)   

Q. Won’t this cost money?

A. Gee, I thought you’d never ask.  Of course it will cost money.  And this could take a long time.

Q. Won’t that be a drag?

A. Maybe.  But the way I look at it, it’s all part of the process.  It could take a long time, or it might not take very long at all, depending on how it’s meant to be. 

Q. What if it’s not meant to be?

A. Oh, it’s meant to be all right.  If it weren’t meant to be, it wouldn’t have gotten this far. 

Q.  But once you’ve sent out your script and your music, won’t you have to wait to hear from these companies?  For months on end?  Possibly years?  What if you never hear from them at all?

A. Then there’s another alternative.  Rather than put most of the money into submissions, put only a little bit of the money toward that aspect.  Say, 20%.  The other 80% will go toward funding a trial production — a local production, renting out a local house that will be ideal for the show.  And then — inviting key people to the production.

Q. So then you can invite the people to whom you’ve submitted the show to come to this local production?

A. Yes.  And not only them – but all kinds of other people.  We’ll run the show for six nights only, over three weekends.  

hartungQ. Can you get this venue for three weekends in a row?

A. If I start soon enough, I can.

Q. How much does it rent for per night?

A. Two hundred bucks.

Q. So that’s $1200 you need already?

A. More than that.  Add an extra four nights for tech week, and make it $2000.  Plus, they provide the technical staff, and I have to pay them $15/hr.

Q. And won’t there be other costs?

A. All kinds of costs.  I need to print out scripts.  I might need to rent a rehearsal space, some building on campus somewhere, a space to use only to rehearse.  Then of course I have to hold auditions somewhere, and get a cast together.  Prior to that, there will be advertising costs.   This thing could cost me hella money, let’s face it.

Q. Won’t there be some kind of return?  Or profit margin?

A. I wouldn’t say profit.  But a partial return, in terms of box office receipts.  Even for the trial production at the perfect 400-seat theatre I have in mind, there will be ticket costs.  I won’t let people in for free.

Q. So some money will be coming back?

A. To somebody, yes.  Maybe that can go to the investor, or investors.

Q. Investor?  Investors?

A. Yeah.  That’s what I’m thinking,.  Some detached person with little more than a monetary interest, might kick down some reasonable sum of money in exchange for box office receipts, and a small profit.

Q. But will that be enough to produce the show?

A. Naw, it would only be a jump start.  A drop in the bucket, maybe.

Q. Where will the rest of the money come from?

A. Grants.  Loans.  Financial aid.   LP sales.

Q. LP sales?  

A. Yes.  First off, I’m trying to sell my LP.  I’ve managed to sell over 15 CD’s – you know, hard copies, to people in the hood who like my stuff.  But online, last I checked, only two people had bought one.  And they were both, like, friends of mine.

Q. Isn’t that discouraging?

A. I try not to think in those terms.  I just have to push harder.

Q. But doesn’t this all go against your grain?

A. What grain?  You gotta do what you gotta do.  And relax in the process, knowing that the outcome is inevitable.

commitmentQ. Inevitable?

A. Inevitable.  It’s meant to be.

Q. How can you say that?

A. I just can.  I just know.  It has something to do with the nature of complete commitment, and forging forward continuously, despite obstacles.  

Q. But how do you know that your commitment is complete?  I mean, if you did nothing but sleep for eight days after you finished your script, that hardly indicates the kind of commitment that suggests hard work and fortitude.  

A. Maybe not.  But it shows how much work went into that script, and why an eight day crashout would be warranted.   And besides, there’s a universal nature to all of this that plays upon my very laziness, the very burnout of which you speak.

Q. How so?

A. It’s like this.  Whenever I sink, whenever I crash, whenever I begin to feel that the whole project is random, and senseless, and pointless, and useless, and doomed to failure from the start, something happens in the Universe that alerts me back to the program.

Q. What do you mean?

A. Take for example when this demo came about.  I had all but given up on the project.  I had turned my attention to other things, more tangible, lucrative ventures.  But at that very moment of disillusionment, the sound engineer appeared, willing to provide his services for free.   This revitalized me.

And then, the money for the singers manifested at the exact time when we could do the studio work, and I could actually pay them.   Saving up for months to pay competent, trained singers, actually worked.  It was frustrating having to scrimp and save, while former associates of mine, people with money to spare, were only laughing at me and scoffing at me.  But they too were a provision of the Universe.

Q. How so?

A. They provided the Resistance.  Without resistance, there is no creation.  Without an enemy, there is no battle.

Q. Then this whole thing is a battle?

A. Yes. I am at war.

Q. At war with whom?

A. With you, to be truthful.

Q. Why me?

A. Because you always question everything I do.  

The Questioner is silent. 

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