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Tuesday Tuneup 107

Q. Where would you like to be?

A. In a place of greater balance.

Q. Is there something about your present place that is particularly imbalanced?

A. Definitely.  In fact, almost everything about it seems imbalanced.

Q. However did it get this way?

A. Gradually, I think, over time.

Q. When did you first become aware of the imbalance?

A. Oh, I think I’ve always been aware of it.  It’s just that lately it’s seemed particularly noticeable.  It interferes with easy access to a manageable reality.

Q. Has reality been unmanageable lately?

A. Not entirely.  Elusive would be a better word.

Q. Reality eludes you?

A. Yes.

Q. Why is this?

A. Because day after day, I find myself to be overbalanced in the realm of the creative imagination, which by definition creates a world of its own – separate from and independent of reality.

Q. And you wish for a greater measure of reality in your daily balance?

A. Hmm – well, now that you put it that way, it doesn’t sound too desirable.

Q. But how long can you get around reality?

A. Oh, I don’t know.  Probably a while longer.

Q. Do you really think it wise to avoid reality completely?

A. Doesn’t sound quite wise, no.

Q. Then why don’t you just face reality?

A. Who’s to say what’s reality?

Q. I don’t know – who?

A. Beats me.  So how do I know it’s even reality that I’m avoiding?  What’s real to one person might be a dream to another.  A dream — or even a nightmare.

Q. Is it a nightmare to you?  Or only a dream?

A. Will I ever know?

Q. I don’t know — will you?

A. I don’t know.

The Questioner is silent. 

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Gratitude List 1556

1) Though we’re rapidly returning to real-life settings in these parts, I am thankful for the experience of Zoom and for the Zoom meetings I will continue to enjoy.  I imagine this would include my weekly Monday afternoon meeting with Kurt the linguistics expert.  Although it hasn’t happened yet, I always enjoy it, and usually learn new things.

(2) I’m thankful for all the professors I met in the two theology groups I discovered a while back.  On Thursday I met with Nick, a professor emeritus of philosophy who was the director of religious studies at the University here.  We had a wonderful conversation, in which he expressed his interest in my musical as well as theology.   I’m thankful he’d listened to Talking Shop Part Seven and Reaching for Your Hand, because he had useful observations as well as encouraging things to say.

(3) In the past year and a half, it seems that a niche has been prepared for me in the local journalism community.   I now count 22 columns I’ve had published in Spokane Faith and Values, where I’ve met numerous journalists with whom I am able to network.  Also thankful for all the local journalists I’ve met here in town, and at the University.

(4) Keva and I met again on Sunday.  We dd a new recording of “Reaching for Your Hand” in which we used two iPhones spaced strategically in different spots near singer and piano.   I’m in the process of mixing it down for my SoundCloud.   We also did a video of a song I wrote called “I Am the Blues.”  On examining her work closely, I told Keva she should feel free to interpret my songs as she chooses.  She does have that power, that gift.

(5) I’ve been meeting one to one with people who are interested in reinstating a musical workshop for the summer.  It won’t be the same exact team, but I am encouraged by the genuine interest and enthusiasm I am finding in those with whom I meet.  It’s been wonderful to have slowly realized in recent months that I am not the only person who enjoys working on my musical.   It’s been wonderful overall to have gradually discovered that I am no longer isolated, no longer alone.

“I realized if you can change a classroom, you can change a community, and if you change enough communities you can change the world.”
   — Erin Gruwell

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The Meaning Behind the Masks

This post was first published early today under the title “Finding Meaning in the Pandemic” on the religion-related news site, Spokane Faith and Values.   

When I was 14 years old, I made two very important discoveries.

First, I discovered the world was beautiful. Here I was in sunny Naples, Italy, waking up to the sights of Mt. Vesuvius and the Isle of Capri. Also notable were the young Italian women, whose beauty I was likewise now at an age to appreciate. I learned how to play the guitar in the summer of 1967, sitting on the balcony of the large villa that my military family was renting. With hormones pulsing in post-pubescent bliss, I played my first gig at the Allied Teen Club, hung out with groupies, and enjoyed my first kiss.

The second discovery I made was equally important. I learned that the world was horrible.

Every day I listened to the death count. The family television, continually blaring, reported just how many men had been killed daily in the unpopular Vietnam War. These were young men, only a few years older than myself. That could be me, before long.

On Italian television, I saw images of an America on fire. Protests were raging. Buildings were burning. There had been four major assassinations of powerful American figures in the past four years. The Cold War continually threatened to become hotter. The world, despite all the wonders of its beauty, was in reality a very precarious and volatile place.

Like many, I feared the worst. I feared that the end was just around the corner. If the world were not blown up in its entirety, I myself would probably be blown up in Vietnam. There seemed no way for beauty to prevail over ugliness, or for what was worthy to prevail over what was shameful.  We were all stuck on a violent planet composed of violent, greedy people.

But the years went by. The end did not come. When I was 18, I got a high number in the ’71 lottery, and was thus spared the draft. The 70’s went by, then the 80’s and 90’s. Here we are in the year 2021 already — and the world has not yet ended.

One might be tempted to become complacent, or even cavalier. Some already have:

“We’ve gotten through everything else so far, we’ll get through this too. Climate change? No worries!  It’s all under control.”

But in resorting to such a stance, one essentially defaults to a fallacy identified in Scripture:

“They will say, ‘Where is this ‘coming’ He promised?  Ever since our ancestors died, everything goes on as it has since the beginning of creation.’” — 2 Peter 3:4

To think that just because everything has always proceeded in a certain way, it therefore always will, is pretty faulty logic. Backing up a bit, to think that everything today actually is proceeding as it always has is pretty funky reasoning as well.

Limits of Denial

When I first discovered that the world was at once beautiful and horrible, I collapsed under the force of that disparity. What was I to believe? In which “world” would I live? The cognitive dissonance was overwhelming.

But as time went by, I noticed that I could choose to live almost exclusively in the “beautiful world.” By hurling myself full-force into my various endeavors, I was able to wipe the horrible stuff from my mind. This worked wonderfully, as long as the horrible stuff was not right outside my door.

In fact, it worked wonderfully throughout most of my life. As long as the bad stuff was only seen and heard from a distance and not directly experienced, I was able to construct a reality that overlooked the overall state of humanity.

While years of living on the streets put a significant dent in that illusion, the pandemic destroyed it completely. It was now impossible to ignore the critical state of the planet, because the most significant planetary story was no longer being presented strictly through the media, but in plain sight, everywhere I went.

The Masses Masked and Unmasked

Everywhere I saw people wearing masks. The sight of the masses in masks is not something from which one can easily hide. No matter what one believes about the value of mask-wearing, one cannot deny the unavoidable nature of the phenomenon. In seeing humanity in masks, we see a living symbol of a massive human wound.

That wound has been exacerbated and its healing delayed by the fact that many people have denied it. They see the wearing of the masks itself as the problem, and in so doing fail to acknowledge the much more serious problem that is the reason why people are wearing them. In seeing humanity half-masked and half unmasked, we see another living symbol: that of the war between human acceptance and human denial.

We have waged that war within and among ourselves since the beginning of time — since the Garden. But never in my lifetime have I seen it displayed as brazenly as it is today. The cultural division, once displayed mostly on social media via our personal devices, is now manifest in real life, right before our eyes.

It is one thing to block out information being received on the Internet. Accounts can be blocked, subscriptions terminated, devices disabled. It’s quite another thing to block out the obvious. Those who try are only trying to do what I and many others did for years. We succeeded in constructing our own little worlds and reveling in them, in order to sidestep the disturbances of the greater picture. But we can no longer do so. The pandemic has changed all that.

That insular cubicle in which I crafted my custom-made reality can no longer contain me. The cradle in which a sheltering parent nurtured me can no longer rock me.  I used to walk about Moscow, Idaho thinking: “This is such a nice town!  Look how everybody smiles!” Now, when I walk about my home community, I walk in the presence of the problems of the planet.

And you know what? This is a good thing. It’s no longer just my world. For better or worse, it’s our world — where each of us has a part to play. In the years to come, we may look back on this unique period of our history, when one way or another, our lives were determined by a deadly disease that had impacted the entire human race. When we do so, we may well see in hindsight how the pandemic provided a needed turning point in our shared life and our common culture.

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Tuesday Tuneup 106

Q. Where would you like to be?

A. What?

Q. I asked you: “Where would you like to be?”

A. Is that what you’re going to ask me this morning?

Q. Well, I just asked you it, didn’t I?

A. I imagine you did.

Q. Well, you gonna answer it?

A. I suppose so.

Q. What do you mean, suppose so?  

A. Just what I said, suppose so! 

Q. Well, what’s your answer?

A. I would like to be in a place where . . . hmm .  . . where I am free of fear, and where I am fully authentic.

Q. How are the two related?

A. They’re related because it’s fear that keeps me from being fully authentic.

Q. What are you afraid of?

A. I’m afraid that my real self will not be acceptable.

Q. Acceptable to whom?

A. To people whom I need.

Q. Do you really need these people?

A. Yes.   We all need people.   

Q. Are you afraid that if you show your true colors, you will lose them?

A. Yes.

Q. So what colors do you show them instead?

A. False colors, obviously.

Q. Can you give me an example?

A. Well, take the other night, when I was preparing the podcast for tomorrow.   As soon as the devices were rolling, and I knew I was being recorded, I became completely uptight.  I tried to compensate for my uptight state by putting on a stage voice.   At the time I thought it was the right thing to do — the professional thing to do.   But later, when I listened to the recording, I felt that I sounded forced and phony. 

Q. Can’t you just record it over again, and try to sound less affected this time?   And more like your real self?

A. Not possible.  There were two people involved in the podcast, and I would inconvenience them to ask them to meet a second time.

Q. Do you think the other person may also have been nervous?   Perhaps they too were not their true self?

A. Again, not possible.   As I listened to the recording, they seemed perfectly relaxed and at ease.  Totally natural — calm, rational, genuine — in fact, all the other participants have been little short of excellent — in all their spoken contributions.  It is only I who cannot measure up to the level of authenticity and integrity that I desire so strongly in myself and others.  I am the one who fails at his own endeavor . .  it is I who —

Q. May I interrupt?

A. Please do.

Q. How can you possibly believe that your perceptions are accurate?   

A. What do you mean?

Q. Is it logically possible that all these other people are performing perfectly, and you alone are in error?

A. I guess not.

Q. You guess not?

A. Okay – I know not.   But still it bugs me that I can’t find my authentic voice.

Q. Aren’t you confusing your inner voice with your speaking voice?

A. What’s the difference?

Q. Isn’t your speaking voice a mere anatomical apparatus?   Isn’t your Inner Voice the Voice of the Heart – the True Voice – from whence the True Self shines though?

A. But shouldn’t the speaking voice be a reflection of the Inner Voice?

Q. Does everybody have to be a good speaker?   What about somebody who can’t speak at all?   Does this deny them the right to access their own Inner Voice?  

A. Well, it shouldn’t. 

Q. Then why can’t you just let your speaking voice be?

A. Because it’s — lousy.

Q. Is everything about you lousy?

A. No.  I’m good at some things.   You know what they are.   

Q. Then why not focus on what you’re good at?

A. Are you saying, you don’t want me to make any more podcasts?

Q. Did I say that?

A. No.

Q. Do you think you should give up on the podcasts?

A. Well, no — because the information being exchanged is potentially very valuable — at least to certain sorts of people who are potentially very significant — and therefore the positive content of the podcasts outweighs the negative nature of my vocal delivery.

Q. So you’re going to keep up the Spoken Word projects, even though you don’t like the sound of your own voice?

A. I’m not sure.   It takes an awful long time to edit these things, though I do enjoy the process.

Q. So there are other variables to be considered?

A. Indeed there are.   

Q. Will you see me again next week?

A. Will you ask me a different question?

Q. Why should I?

A. Because this question didn’t lead to a conclusion.   I mean, there’s got to be a question that will get us where we need to go more quickly.   Don’t you think? 

The Questioner is silent.   

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Gratitude List 1555

(1) Though I’d felt tired and innervated for weeks, my energy level definitely increased throughout last week and on into the start of this week.  Walking into town, I easily turned left and scaled up a hill that often has intimidated me.  A roundabout route through campus was not only beautiful, but brisk.  Moreover, I notice I’m getting to bed early these days and waking up like clockwork at the same time every morning, very naturally.   Grateful for the gift of health.

(2) Wrote a column for the religious news site, first one since the five-week series.   Kurt had a chance to go through it with suggested edits, many of which I accepted, prior to turning it in yesterday.  (It’s about hidden meaning that may be found in the pandemic.)  Grateful for this writing gig, and for all the journalists I’ve met here who encourage me.

(3) Had a wonderful experience yesterday providing special music at the United Church, where Cody is the regular church pianist on staff.  He played the service with great sensitivity, and Pastor Jodie preached a provocative sermon.  I played my “very Irish” version of Be Thou My Vision, and it was a warm, spirited occasion.

(4) Keva’s delivery of Reaching for Your Hand is almost too good for me to listen to.  She was practically sight-reading off of a score on her smartphone — that’s how little we had practiced it – and yet she nailed it.  I knew she was good, but I didn’t know she was that good!   I gave her another song I wrote for female voice called “I Am the Blues” that we’re practicing to record on Sunday.

(5) Getting up at 4:30 every morning again has been good for my spiritual health.  My friend Danielle in Georgia leaves at 7:45 to drive to work, and so at 4:45am PST we often have a conversation.  Lately the conversations have been very encouraging, mostly about how to be forgiving, in an ongoing way, in human relationships, and how we can feel free to solve our problems knowing that we are forgiven, for we can see ourselves without shame.  It’s inspiring how both Danielle and I have been positively influenced by our respective churches over the past few years.    There is new life all around me, and I am grateful.

If you can’t fly then run, if you can’t run then walk, if you can’t walk then crawl, but whatever you do you have to keep moving forward.
   –Martin Luther King, Jr.  

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Gratitude List 1554

(1) It’s been great getting to sit in the café lately, where a number of people have told me I look more relaxed and healthy than ever before. Funny too, because I haven’t been running and I think I’m fat. But if I transcend the personal perception of potbelly, I can be thankful for the compliment.

(2) Just sold a Pensive CD for $15 on the site. Thankful for my first sale.

(3) Looking forward to meeting with Kurt the retired linguistics professor this afternoon at 3:30 as usual on Zoom.  I continue to be grateful for the ongoing search for knowledge and purpose that I have found here on WordPress, as well as in my University community, among all the scholars whom I’ve been privileged to meet.

(4) Keva did an amazing job on both of those songs yesterday.   We’re planning to do another version of “Reaching for Your Hand” once she doesn’t have to read it off of her phone, but even so, it’s the best anyone I know has ever sung that song — out of many singers, over the years.  I’m grateful for Keva as well as for all the other young performing artists who recently have shown an interest in my work.

(5) Beautiful day, cool and breezy.   Nice running weather.  I may be a slouch but I am grateful I have two strong legs and two long lungs.   They’ve come in handy, here and there, throughout life.

“Education is not the filling of a pot but the lighting of a fire.”
— W.B. Yeats”

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Keva Singing

Just want to post these, that we did during afternoon rehearsal.   Keva was singing “Reaching for Your Hand” fairly unrehearsed, reading the words and music from her smartphone.    She and I have done “Daylight” before, but we both wanted to do it over again — and I’m glad we did.   Both songs are from original musicals of mine.    Keva Shull does an outstanding job with them, imho — and I think you’ll agree.

“Reaching for Your Hand” from The Burden of Eden

“Daylight” from Eden in Babylon

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New Piano Album: “Pensive”

Recently I mentioned putting together twelve selections for a piano album. I’m in the process of preparing CD’s for the usual regulars, but at the same time I’ve already uploaded the album onto a SoundCloud playlist, so that the world can listen free of charge. If you like the album and you feel moved to make a donation, you can always do so anonymously by clicking where it says donate. There are expenses involved, and donations are always appreciated.

If anyone wants a CD, hit me with a postal address in the Contact Form and we’ll work something out. Hope you all like my work.

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Gratitude List 1553

(1) Grateful for the nice change in the weather the past few days.  Sunny and warm, the walk to the Dollar Store was very enjoyable.  I never noticed how beautiful it can be on Paradise Creek before.   Grateful for the sense of vigor and new energy that is brought about by Spring.

(2) Grateful once again for my church and especially for their letting me use the grand piano for my recordings and many of the spaces for scheduled rehearsals of my musical.   I was there late last night and got a lot of new piano music recorded.  In fact, I have enough for a new album now, and have been arranging it on a SoundCloud playlist.

(3) I’ve been learning so much from some of the people I’ve met on WordPress, in addition to some of the very well-educated people whom I’ve met her in town, that I often feel like I’m going to school again – yet without the pressure of things like deadlines, midterms and grades.

(4) Had a really good meeting with Liam yesterday.  We set a groundwork of stuff for each of us to do between now and summer, and also plan to involve Cody, to the end that we get something happening again this Summer, after everybody does their homework.   I was impressed with how well-organized and encouraging the meeting was.   There’s a sense of something very exciting being drafted on the down low, behind the scenes.   

(5) There’s a feeling of people hanging together a little more right now.   I feel it in the community, and in my church group, and on the blogosphere, and even on a bigger level.   I’m encouraged to see the way people are toughing it out.   Just when I think I’m alone, someone is there for me.   We all have a lot in common, at this time.   

“My humanity is bound up in yours, for we can only be human together.”
    — Desmond Tutu 

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Over the Rainbow

I think this is the second of a number of takes I did of this song in recent days. I couldn’t surpass this one, because nothing I did afterward said what I wanted to say. As far as the song I did before this one, “Why Don’t You Do Right?”  Well, I did it over again because it just didn’t do it right.   And the song before that, “Everything Must Change?”  I figured it had to be changed.

You see, I’m compiling a new album that so far has nine tunes on it. I’m doing parts of certain tunes over again — and it’s an interesting project. Once I get to twelve tunes, I’ll put it all together, and let y’all know.   

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Why Don’t You Do Right?

“Why Don’t You Do Right?” is an old standard (1936) jointly composed by a couple of cats named Kansas Joe McCoy and Herb Morand.  I believe it was popularized by Peggy Lee and most associated with her rendition.   Andy Pope at the Baldwin Grand, April 16, 2021.

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Authenticity and Community

To start off this Thursday’s post, I’m going to spin off of something I wrote last week:  

“What is being brought to light in the podcasts is how, when we were homeless, we were not in the position to be able to distinguish, among all the authority figures and “pseudo-authorities” in our midst, who were the ones who represented benign agencies whose role it was to assist us, and who were the ones who represented more-or-less adversarial institutions designed to investigate and incriminate us. All these “higher ups” were relegated into the box of our “observers from inside” – and thus it was difficult to distinguish them, one from another.

“In a corresponding way, it was difficult for those who lived indoors to discern from among those who were outside who was a legitimate candidate for genuine assistance, and who was of a criminal bent.   Those in the latter camp often feigned a need for assistance in order to gain benefits.  They were also often very good at it.  Whatever the case, I can assure you that I didn’t look much different than any other person on the streets — at least not at first glance.”

Having become homeless, I was dealing with this dynamic from the start.  Add to this the conditions under which the homelessness began; that is, that I had been subjected to a costly medical misdiagnosis that at first I embraced naively, only later to find myself headed for the streets.  The further I fell, the more it appeared that people in the medical profession were assuming authority over me.  This in fact was indicative of a greater phenomenon:  The further one descended down the socio-economic scale, the more people began to exert power and authority over that person.  The lower I got, the higher became the number of “pseudo-authorities.”  As more and more people seemed to grab power over me, I literally felt myself losing my last shreds of personal power–losing my value to society–as I became homeless.

The more people assumed authority over me, the more I rebelled against them.  After all, they did not know me personally and made no effort to engage me meaningfully.  What authority qualified them to boss me around?  Why should this particular batch of emerging new people, eminently random in my span of life experience, be the ones to whom I hold myself accountable?   In the case of the medical professionals in particular, I not only ceased to hold myself accountable to them, but I went so far as to address them from an adversarial stance, sometimes even a hostile one.  For it was they who had, in my view, initiated my demise. 

Abuse of Authority

The absolute audacity!  The very sort of people whom I thought should be held accountable for my downfall were now in a position of supposed authority over me!  They lived indoors; they had jobs with responsibilities and tenure; they wore badges.  Mental health professionals did not differ much from security guards in their approach toward us, when we were homeless.   Nor did we ourselves hold any particularly greater degree of respect for them than we did for anyone else who wore a badge.  

While my previous relationship with my psychiatrist had ordinarily been pleasant as well as at least potentially helpful, my new position with respect to mental health professionals was clearly one of assumed subordination.  Earlier, when I lived indoors and paid into my Kaiser health-insurance, I was happy to discuss life with my psychiatrist and more than willing to take her suggestions, since I felt she and I were on an even playing field.   But now, mental health officials often showed up in cahoots with police officers and fire department personnel, in a scenario where the badges even of emergency medical technicians seemed no less intimidating than those of the chief executive officers of major corporate hospitals.  The idea that any of these detached pseudo-authorities should even care to get to know me personally, let alone that I should be expected to blindly obey their uninformed commands, was absurd.   There was no reasonable choice other than to rebel.  

It was with such biases weighing upon me that I found myself eager to give musical and dramatic form to my emerging worldview.   For one thing, the season of life was quite exciting.  I was meeting other men and women who had fallen into the same predicament, and their views coincided closely with my own.  In fact, our perceptions began to build and feed upon each other.  Before long, I found myself overtaken by an alternate view of reality.  It was as though I had become a member of an alternative society, formed by the interactions that entailed among myself and others, as we all set out to interpret what had befallen us in a way that made mutual sense.

It was in such an atmosphere that I naturally conceived of the musical that was to become Eden in Babylon.  I felt an eagerness to use my particular skills to hone a medium through which a picture of youth homelessness in urban America could be presented.   Naturally, the Kids in the story would hang together and be protective of one another, in an environment where they were constantly having orders barked at them by desensitized pseudo-officials.  In such a scenario, an idealistic protagonist who finds himself subjected to brutal torture on the part of the “powers that be” in a psychiatric facility seemed to fit right in.

A New Life

Fast forward about ten years, and we find the playwright in a quiet college town in North Idaho, having not only lived inside for almost five years now, but actually having become acclimated to an accepting community of artists and academicians.  In the process, I cannot help but have gradually embraced some of the details of functioning in a healthy indoor community that, when I was outside, I would have shunned as “mainstream.”  The same system of tacitly acknowledged social conventions that I disdained when I was outside now appears at worst to be a necessary evil, and at best a convenience designed to make life easier on myself and on the others with whom I come into contact.

In such a markedly different culture, the thought of finding a compatible doctor and therapist, and of exploring medications that might assist in adapting to the established social norms, does not seem very far-fetched at all.   There is at least a tangible ideal of connecting meaningfully with mental health professionals who may assist me along my path.  Before, it was like, “get him in, give him some meds, get him out of here.”  I’d be ejected from the system turnstile just in time to have all my new meds stolen out of my backpack in a food line.

But it is not only my position with respect to medical professionals that has changed.  If something unruly is taking place in the neighborhood, I am confident that I can call the local cops, give them my name, receive their assistance, and be regarded as a responsible citizen in the process.  This would not have been the case when I was homeless.  The menacing nature of all the “badges” has diminished since I’ve been back inside.  There appear to be fewer of them now, and the ones that there are no longer hover so high above me.  

Also significantly diminished is the sense of inexorable evil wrapped up in this entity we called the Mainstream.  No longer do I feel that there is this giant social ogre — the Mainstream — ready to expel me from all the blessings of indoor living if I don’t abide precisely by all its confusing restrictions and demands.   Because of this, I feel that the cry that was so often expressed by my homeless brothers and sisters has been heard in the affirmative.  “How can we get back inside without getting caught up again in the Mainstream?”  That was the perennial question.

Authenticity and Community 

The answer for me has been twofold.  I had to first agree with myself to be genuine and authentic in my approach toward others and toward life.  I had to be myself decidedly, and to believe in myself — otherwise I would construct from all my guise and façade the very Mainstream that I was trying to avoid.  Life would again become a game in which I had already proven myself a very poor player, and I would risk being cast outside once again.   

Secondly, I had to agree to give of myself to a community that I would serve and in which I would play a part.   Here in Moscow, I have found a supportive church group, I have volunteered at a recovery center where I have found an emotional support group, I have found artists and musicians committed to my work, and I participate in theology groups with professors from both of the nearby Universities.  This accountability – or connectivity – keeps me from the isolation that would occur if I were still setting myself as an entity separate from and almost opposed to the world — the natural iconoclasm that sets in when one becomes homeless.

Thus is found the construction of an authentic life within an authentic community.   This differs hugely from what I experienced for years before ever becoming homeless.  I remember on the Peninsula wondering if I had any friends among the many associates whom I classified as consisting of the “three C’s” — clients, colleagues, and co-workers.   Many of my associations were contractual, and more money was indeed made.  But few of my associations were truly meaningful.   In a sense, this experience of a threatening Mainstream that sought to devour my true identity was itself only a social construct, because it was composed of the consequences of my own hypocrisy.  All its many conventions and protocols were but a reflection of my own personal falsity.  

That ugly scepter need not return to rear its head, for it has been dissolved in the greater reality of authenticity and community.   And, as Kelsey Chapman pointed out in one of the podcasts, Eden in Babylon has evolved accordingly, in a way that parallels my own personal transformation.    According to Kelsey, earlier drafts evidenced a protagonist who himself stood separate from the culture with which he was concerned, and who felt a false sense of empowerment that he could fix the situation from a detached, single-handed position.  It’s possible I was a bit like that myself.  In any case, the new protagonist – the new Winston – is a person who, like his creator, now merges in an even way with his community. 

So the picture of the tortured Artist who ten years ago sat beneath a Starbucks awning in the dead of night while homeless, conceiving a scene in which his main character was subjected to torture in a psych ward, is no longer the prevailing picture.  The Artist is no longer tortured by same.

The workshop was more than a mere musical workshop, for it awakened the desire deeply driven into all of our Actors to display how each of their characters represented a greater principle at work in today’s society.  In that more holistic view, Eden in Babylon ceases to be a statement about the mental health industry or even about homelessness, for that matter.  It becomes a statement about classism — and how it fosters the abuse of authority and power — as seen through the eyes of those who lack power the most.   

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Gratitude List 1552

(1) I was grateful to see that the little Greek gyros place on Main Street has opened up for indoor seating now, as long as people wear their masks when not seated.   Nice to see things returning to a semblance of normalcy.

(2) In the past couple days I’ve been blessed to accomplish much more reading than usual, by way of research.  Among other things, I read all kinds of information related to the “social construction of reality,” culminating in this excellent 14-minute video.  All of this is turning out to be very useful in the blog sequel I’m slowly composing for Thursday.

(3) Gorgeous clear day today, having gotten up to 48F degrees already, though it was 26F when I first awoke in the morning.   Doppio at the cafe makes me want to walk vigorously, like I did yesterday, four miles.

(4) Grateful for this A&W being so close to my house, because it has really fast Wi-Fi and they don’t mind me sitting in here for a while.   Good coffee, too.   A nice place to take my new laptop after an afternoon nap.

(5) I’m really grateful for Kelsey, because she is such a grounding force in the project, both conceptually, and in terms of providing a bridge between me and the younger actors.  It’s been wonderful working with her on the deeper themes during these podcasts.  Grateful for Cody & Keva and the others who remain enthused.  Their spirit is helping to sustain a feeling that I’m not in this thing alone.

“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.”
   –Will Durant

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In the Greater Picture

It was a few weeks ago when I told Ashley Peterson of Mental Health at Home that I’d have this blog post ready soon, and just yesterday that I got it done. It still only says about one-third of what I’ve felt is needed. But that’s a good thing. There will probably be a couple sequels. 

Much as I hesitate to draw from immediate personal experience in order to support any greater social theories of mine, I can’t help but have noticed how the events surrounding my difficulty in getting my thyroid medication point to a larger phenomenon.   In this case, I’m going to forego my usual hesitations, on the basis of reasonable suspicion that my hesitation could be lifelong if I don’t speak up at some point.

Besides, the “larger phenomenon” to which I allude may have a lot more to do with my personal development than with anything universal.  So if I focus on how I personally have been affected by certain perceptions and expectations of the medical industry, I can only speak my truth at this time.  How my personal truth may reflect a greater reality is a matter for one’s searching.  I can’t claim to know – only to search.

The Story

When I received my retirement income, I noticed a very nice package combining two forms of insurance: MediCare and MediCaid. At the time, I was also somewhat disappointed with the treatment from the local low income clinic (where the doctor I had was only a P.A. – a Physician Assistant – not a full-fledged M.D.)  It occurred to me a while later that the low income clinic was geared toward those who may not have any insurance at all, and that maybe now that I was more fully insured, I ought to find a small family practice center, and hopefully a more knowledgeable doctor.

While I believe I did find an extremely knowledgeable, experienced doctor, I have noticed over the past few months that the people at the small family practice center seem more stressed in general.   Waits are much longer, which one might think would be the other way around.   While they still smile and try to comport themselves professionally, one does not get the feeling that they enjoy what they are doing.

Often I waited a very long time, and sometimes the doctor himself seemed hurried when he did see me.  But when it seemed to take a lot longer than it should have been taking for me to receive my levothyroxine, I returned to the low income clinic to see if I could get a quick scrip from the previous doctor.

As I entered the clinic, I was immediately greeted with the warmth of familial recognition.  They shouted out: “Hey Andy!  How’s it going?”  There was something distinctly genuine and caring in their vibration.   They weren’t just smiling because that’s the professional thing to do.

I quickly got a hold of the doctor there, who wrote me a prescription after a single meeting.  Then, ironically, when I went to pick up the prescription, it was blocked because the doctor at the family practice center had finally filled the prescription two days beforehand.   I not only had received no notice from either the pharmacy or the doctor’s office, but how was I supposed to believe that the prescription would even be filled at all, if this had been going on for over two weeks?

While the wait at the low income clinic’s pharmacy would have been less than five seconds, the wait at the Walgreens where I had been getting meds from the family practice center was well over an hour.   Also consonant with this theme is that no one at the family practice center other than my doctor himself ever learned my name, even though I’d been going there for months.   The people at the low income clinic remembered me even though I haven’t been going there at all, and in fact went there as infrequently as possible, when I did go there.

Throwback to Homelessness

What this all flashes me back to is an experience I had when I was homeless, which recently has been on my mind because of developments in the musical — things that Kelsey and I have been trying to illuminate in the weekly podcasts.   The experience was that of having found a nice “wellness center” in a low income district in Oakland CA where almost all the patients were African-American and where I was treated very kindly — with true caring — despite long waits and a generally congested staff.

At the same time, if I showed up in the Emergency Room in the hospital in Berkeley, and it was known or determined that I was a homeless person, I was given distinctly less preferential treatment than the person who lived indoors.  Sometimes, the medical problem I came to Emergency for was overlooked completely, as they proceeded to give me all kinds of printed information on where the shelters and services were — as if I wouldn’t have known all of that stuff already.

So naturally, my mind has drawn a parallel.  I’m not homeless now, but I am low income.   My insurance isn’t exactly Blue Shield – it’s the kind people have who are elderly or disabled.  Family practice?  I wondered if I even belonged there.  My mind began to imagine what they might be saying about me:

“We’re a respectable family practice!!  This guy doesn’t have a family, he’s just a transient, there’s substance abuse on his medical chart, he’s probably just passing through town . . .” 

Of course, they probably weren’t thinking that.  The point is that my experiences would be such that I would even think that they would be thinking it!

A Theory in the Making

It seems that there are institutions populated by people who are naturally compassionate and even empathetic towards those who are down and out.   There are also institutions where such people are given lower priority.   This present situation may or may not exemplify this phenomenon, because it could easily be a function of the two individual organizations I have described.   That specific family practice center may be particularly understaffed or otherwise swamped due to the pandemic, and this particular low income clinic may happen to be expanding, and gaining more personnel, and apparently State funds of some kind.

Still, the thing that intrigues me is that, whether or not the recent experience exemplifies a larger phenomenon, it was brought to mind in my interactions with the people involved.   There could have been a kind of confirmation bias going on.   But if so, what exactly is the theory I am trying to confirm?

Only bits and pieces of this “theory” are in place.  That’s why I haven’t been writing.   But I am beginning to believe that my intellect alone is insufficient to piece the entire theory together.  And that’s why (if this makes sense) I finally am writing.

What is being brought to light in the podcasts is how, when we were homeless, we were not in the position to be able to distinguish, among all the authority figures and “pseudo-authorities” in our midst, who were the ones who represented benign agencies whose role it was to assist us, and who were the ones who represented more-or-less adversarial institutions designed to investigate and incriminate us.  All these “higher ups” were relegated into the box of our “observers from inside” – and thus it was difficult to distinguish them, one from another.

In a corresponding way, it was difficult for those who lived indoors to discern from among those who were outside who was a legitimate candidate for genuine assistance, and who was of a criminal bent.   Those in the latter camp often feigned a need for assistance in order to gain benefits.   They were also often very good at it.  Whatever the case, I can assure you that I didn’t look much different than any other person on the streets — at least not at first glance.

Unfortunately, that first glance often seemed to be the only glance I got.   Even if the glance became a stare, or a series of stares, I felt like I was being observed with an ulterior motive.   I felt as though people were watching me, just waiting for me to somehow screw up and incriminate myself.    Years of living with that feeling seem to have led to years of trying to find a feeling to replace it.

So I still resort to ways of dealing with feelings that don’t differ widely from how we approached the matter when we were homeless.   How does one, after all, deal with the inner feeling of being dismissed, overlooked, disregarded?   On the other side of the coin, how does one deal with the feeling of being embraced, respected, and accepted — especially if one is not accustomed to it?

When we were homeless, we lived with eyes in the backs of our heads.  We couldn’t drop our guard long enough to process difficult personal feelings.  So instead, we looked for the larger phenomena that they might represent — and we analyzed, and drew conclusions about society.    We conducted such conversations vocally, publicly — encouraging others nearby to join in.  We were a lot more powerful that way, and much less vulnerable, or at risk.

In a way, this doesn’t seem like all that bad a thing to have been doing — in the greater picture.

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Gratitude List 1551

(1) Going to meet with Keva this Sunday and do some singing and maybe more recording – not necessarily all stuff from the show.   Grateful for the connection.  Just because the workshop is over, it doesn’t have to end.

(2) An idea for a new column came to me out of the blue this morning.   Grateful to have been given something new and interesting to focus on at this time.

(3) New Lenovo arrived from Office Depot.   Great computer, never read a bad review, got $220 off on the deal, everything appears to be working perfectly.

(4) I really like this town cafe, which they expanded during the pandemic.   Takes up a whole block now with two new sections, including a beer and wine bar for after hours.   Looking forward to settling into a new phase of working quietly from here — gotta finish the 4th draft vocal score, and finally begin the piano score (having left the hardest part till last.)  Then the show will be ready for whoever.

(5) And I can move on.   It’s weird when change is “trying to happen.”  It feels so awkward needing to navigate new territory.   But change is necessary — I just have to keep trusting in the One who does not change.

“Every great dream begins with a dreamer.   Always remember, you have within yourself the strength, the patience, and the passion to reach for the stars and change the world.”  — Harriet Tubman 

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Re: Everything Must Change

I briefly posted my version of “Everything Must Change” yesterday, prior to promptly removing it from the public eye upon recognition of bloopers too big to bear widespread disclosure.  

Specifically, I kept forgetting during my improv around the standard changes to enter into the repeated modulating passage that precedes the signature hook.  Anyone who knew the correct changes could easily raise their voice in justifiable objection.   So I had to remove the rendition before any further foreseen damage could be effected.

I’m headed up to the church at this moment, confident in my capacity to create a conducive restoration of the formerly misshapen theme.  So convinced am I in my competence to thereof, that I even have dared to announce it beforehand, though one knows not what the future brings.

The piece had been on my mind for two reasons.  One is that it seems fitting in this time of temporal transition, with Good Friday representing the power of Christ’s sacrificial love, wherein there is a death to the flesh in its formerly all-inclusive nature, to be followed by a promised rebirth of a far more transcendent form of life.   “Everything Must Change” can be said to embody this theme, in its core essence.

A second reason is that its chord progression resembles that of another piece that had crossed my mind recently; and that, in fact, I had already performed on a video recording.  “All in Love is Fair” is a song by Stevie Wonder that was popularized in roughly the same era as “Everything Must Change.”  Their chord progressions are similar though not identical.  My mind, while improvising around the progression to “Everything Must Change,” kept forgetting which tune it was that I was supposed to be embellishing.  Many odd short-circuitries of mortal mental prowess transpired.  The upshot was a failure to honor the essence of either piece.   A reconstruction of said construction is therefore in order.

That’s about it!  I’d hesitated to offer what might be interpreted as a mere disclaimer — but then I had a hunch that the explanatory information might be useful to someone, on some level.  I’ll be back within a few hours.    

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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Bridging the Gap

In case anybody caught yesterday’s podcast, I had a weird realization when I got up this morning.  The Kids of course know my story — and I’ve told my story elsewhere on this blog.   But if you didn’t know that story, there’s a big gap in the information provided on that particular, spontaneous podcast.  It seems I never really explain how I got from living in that big mansion to being homeless on the California streets so quickly.    It then occurred to me, perhaps you would like to have that information as well.

So I dug up this talk I gave into my then-partner’s Motorola smartphone on July 3, 2018.  It tells the story, and then some.   Seems I was a lot more patriotic in those days, and I also knew a lot less about psychiatric conditions.  But the essence of the talk is neither my patriotism nor my lack of savvy.  It’s about classism in America, and social stigma, and the hope that one day, we will bridge the ever-widening gap between the super-rich and the super-poor in our society.   We are, after all, all human – and only human – each and every one.

Andy tells his story on July 3, 2018
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A Homeless Person Has a Life

The second column in my five-week series on homelessness was published yesterday on the religion-oriented site Spokane Faith and Values, where I have been writing throughout the pandemic.  Below is a verbatim transcript of the piece.  

I recently raised a public objection to the notion that I ought to change my phraseology from “homeless” to “houseless” in everything I write. I felt a bit miffed that the person who made this suggestion had never actually lived outdoors.  

But I am someone who has lived outdoors — not just for a while, but for years on end. During those years, I associated largely with others who were in the same boat. I learned how such people generally speak of themselves.   As a result, I use the words “outside” and “outdoors” more than either of the other two–and I feel compelled to explain why.

In a way, I have the same motive as those who wish to replace “homeless” with “houseless.” The word “homeless” has a lot of pejorative connotations.  But both of these words end with “less.” They still suggest that the person who lives outdoors is necessarily lacking something. But this is not always the case.

In my case, after struggling in and out of untenable living situations in the San Francisco Bay Area for seven years, I made a conscious choice on April 15, 2011 to join an intentional homeless community. While most of us had experienced a crisis that led to a loss of residence, we unanimously believed that to live outdoors was the lesser of evils. For one thing, we found it preferable to live outside rather than to pay exorbitant rental fees for acceptable living situations (not to mention paying decent rent for unacceptable situations). 

In short, we had a heck of a time finding living situations in the Bay Area that were both affordable and acceptable. So for the time being, we were content to stay outdoors. 

It was there that I found the language most prevalent among all who shared my predicament. This was a simple exchange between the words “inside” and “outside.” If someone had a roof over their head, we said they were “inside.” If they didn’t, they were “outside.” This is how homeless people speak of themselves in the Bay Area. It’s also how they speak of themselves in Moscow, Idaho. And while I have never been homeless in Spokane, I wouldn’t doubt that this parlance is common there as well.

Is there a reason for this linguistic preference? I think there is. It speaks to the essential difference between two disparate camps. Some people have roofs over their heads, and some people don’t. Furthermore, there is nothing morally wrong with sleeping outside — so long as one is not sleeping on someone else’s property.  The landmark decision in Martin v. Boise would seem to support this.

This leads nicely into the second of the seven inequities I have wanted to discuss.

A Homeless Person Does Have a Life 

It was often assumed that, because we had wound up homeless, all of the conclusions we had drawn throughout our entire life span were in need of revision.

This led to an amusing observation. If a person had been a lifelong conservative, and they became homeless, that person was supposed to “become a liberal.” Why? Because the liberal social workers were feeding them.

If a person had been a liberal all their lives, and they became homeless, they were often told that they should “become a conservative.” Why?   Because the Salvation Army was feeding them. 

How many people in those days approached me in order to proselytize their particular version of Christianity? Very many. How many people asked me first if I already knew Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior? Very few. 

This imbalance appears to have evolved from some of the preconceptions I discussed last week. It was rarely considered that someone might have become homeless due to a lack of tenable housing. It was almost universally assumed that they became homeless because there was something wrong with them.

Homelessness is Not a Disease

In the rooms of 12-step programs such as Alcoholics Anonymous, there are many “clichés” or sayings intended to assist people who have hit huge “bottoms” in their lives. One of these is: “Your best thinking got you here.”  That statement is then followed by suggestions as to how the recovering addict or alcoholic might change their way of thinking, in accordance with the 12 steps.

I can understand how this would apply to the enormous losses one might incur through drug addiction or alcoholism. People do “drink themselves out of house and home.” Many people with drug problems wind up alienating friends and family, as well as landlords. Many do wind up outdoors. This cannot be denied.

But here I found myself having consciously chosen homelessness as the lesser of evils in a precarious life-situation that had yet to be resolved.  Numerous people approached me saying, in effect:”Your best thinking got you into this position. I have suggestions how you might change your way of thinking.”

I felt like saying: “I agree that my best thinking got me into this position.  But you have never been in this position; therefore you cannot advise me as to how to get out of it.” 

This is how the details of homelessness differ radically from the details of drug addiction or alcoholism. The A.A. member who makes that suggestion is a recovering alcoholic and does have valuable information to share.  But the person who, having always living indoors, makes such a suggestion to a homeless person, has no relevant personal experience. Therefore their suggestions, however well-intended, are not often useful.

This disparity — or inequity or imbalance — is something that can be solved through better communication. But before we can even begin to make that effort, we need to dignify, not only the homeless human being, but the homeless experience itself.

In short, there is nothing wrong with being homeless.

We need to understand this simple truth, and to have it acknowledged far and wide. Look how many people are on the streets! Despite the best efforts of all involved, that number is only bound to increase — especially now, when more people than ever are losing their homes.

We need to stop moralizing, and start accepting. We need to stop obligating people who sleep outside toward quick entries into undignified indoor living situations.  Homelessness is neither a crime nor a disease. We need to stop criminalizing the homeless, and we need to stop treating them as though they are sick. 

If we cannot truly help them to get inside, let us please make it easier for them to live outdoors.

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Talking Shop, Part One

This Wednesday’s podcast is an excerpt from a long conversation involving myself, Kelsey Chapman our Artistic Director, and Cooper Knutson our male lead in the ongoing workshop of my new musical Eden in Babylon.   If you’re interested in my personal story involving wealth, poverty, and homelessness, you probably don’t want to miss this one.   Toward the end, it fades after revealing the connection between my own story and that of the main character in the musical drama, whose name is Winston Greene.  

The song referenced by Cooper, called “Hunted,” involves Winston’s arrest in the second Act, which precedes his attempted assassination.  An instrumental version of it may be found here.   

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