Tuesday Tuneup 70

Q. What’s going on inside?

A. Composing.

Q. Composing what?

A. Music.

Q. This happens inside you?

A. Yes.

Q. But don’t you use music notation software?

A. I do.  But that’s for the notating of the stuff that’s already been composed.

Q. And it gets composed inside you?

A. Yes.

Q. But what if you don’t have music notation software?   Do you just write it down?

A. I could, but it makes my hand hurt.  Besides, I always lose the pieces of paper I write it on.  So I’m left with a hurting hand, and no record of the music.

Q. But you haven’t always had music notation software, have you?

A. Of course not.

Q. What did you do before music notation software?

A. Nothing. I just tried to remember it all.

Q. And then, when they finally came up with notation software, what did you do?

A. I didn’t get out of my bathrobe for about two weeks, and I bugged the heck out of the entire Finale tech support team.   I didn’t answer the phone or the door.   Everybody wondered what had become of me.   I sat inside my rented room in November of 2004 and didn’t stop notating until the entire 15 page piano vocal score of my song, “Where is Eden?” was arranged.

Hideout 20clipart | Clipart Panda - Free Clipart Images

Q. You wrote a song called “Where is Eden?”

A. Of course.

Q. What about when your laptops would be stolen, like say when you were homeless in Berkeley, what did you do then?

A. I replicated the various instrumental sounds on my body.

Q. Where did you do this?

A. Where do you think I did it?  I was homeless, wasn’t I?  I did it outdoors.

Q. So people saw you do this?

A. Yes.

Q. Wasn’t that kinda rude?

A. “Rude” comes with the territory.  “Vindictive” might be a better word.   

Q. How so?

A. I figured Berkeley was treating me like shit.   So I got back at Berkeley — in protest.

ugly

Q. But don’t you love Berkeley?

A. I most certainly do.

Q. Then why be vindictive or rude?

A. When in Rome, do as the Romans do.

Q. Are you saying the entire city was vindictive and rude?

A. Pretty much.  At least, in comparison to where I am now.

Q. What are they like where you are now?

A. Kind, courteous, considerate, compassionate, caring —

Q. Isn’t that how Berkeley used to be?

A. Yes.  And hopefully it’s how Berkeley will be in her future.

Q. Berkeley will no longer treat her own like shit?

A. Let’s hope not.  And I pray.   Berkeley has fallen.  But I believe Berkeley will rise again.

Q. Is there something special about Berkeley?

A. Yes.  Even in all its rudeness, violence, and hypocrisy.   There’s a spirit in Berkeley that, though it be quenched, cannot be killed.  And that spirit, ultimately, is of respect for all people.  It does not treat anyone like shit.

Q. How was Berkeley treating you like shit?

A. How do people in congested urban areas treat homeless people?

Q. But don’t homeless people in Berkeley treat people who live indoors like shit?

A. In Berkeley?   They sure do.  A lot of them do anyway.  And most of that is vindictiveness.   It’s hard to tell which came first — the chicken or the egg.  And of course, there are exceptions to the rule, on either side.

Q. So when you were writing music so flagrantly, weren’t you afraid people would steal it?

A. Of course.  That’s a fear all composers have.  But I have plenty of proof that I wrote the music.   And we’ll cross that bridge if and when we come to it.  Next question, please.

Q. Do you think people even knew you were writing music?

A. I tried to disguise it, but some people knew, I’m sure.

Q. How did you try to disguise it?

A. By acting crazy.

Q. Why did you act crazy?

A. So I would fit in with all the other crazy people, and not be conspicuous or stand out.  

Q. How did you act crazy?

A. I think I’ve told you already.  I walked around town, loudly singing melodies by going “bop bop bop,” playing drum beats on my pants legs, and playing keyboards and electric guitars in the air.

Q. What about the bass parts?

A. Oops, almost forgot.  I used my tummy.

Q. You think people figured you for crazy?

A. Crazy, or annoying, or both.   One time a fellow with a foreign accent emerged from a nearby store, and shouted back at me: “Bop Bop Bop Bop Bop!”  He did so in a very mocking way.

Q. How did you respond?

A. I turned to him and said: “If you were a composer, and you had no place to live, and your laptops were constantly being stolen by violent thugs on the streets, and you couldn’t access your music notation sofware, how would you compose music?”

Q. Then how did he respond?

A. He apologized.  He said: “Oh, I’m sorry, sir!  I did not know!”

Q. Did you ever explain what you were doing to anyone else?

A. Sometimes, to Americans.  But they never believed me.   The foreigner both challenged me, and believed my reply.   The Americans, every one of them, only told me I was crazy, and often told me to shut up.

Q. What about the cops?

A. They just waved at me.   They knew I was Andy — one of the local wingnuts — as they called them, and that I was harmless.

Q. Why are you releasing all this information?

A. Because I have recently begun to compose music again, after a long lull.   I felt that the music, composed internally, was actually coming from an invisible external realm.  But it seemed to depend upon homelessness.  When I got inside, I couldn’t compose anymore.  I have composed one and only one song since I got inside, a song called Anthem.  I sequenced it with Finale software.   It was difficult for me, and then I gave up.   

Q. But now you can compose?

A. Yes. It took three and a half years, but I got it back.  And it’s also coming from an external realm, but being processed inside of me.

Q. Is the external realm — the Beyond?   The place you described in Tuesday Tuneup 68?

A. No.  The stuff I wrote in Berkeley came from Beyond.

Q. What about this stuff?

A. It’s from Above.

Q. What’s the difference?

A. A very good question, that.

The Questioner is silent.   

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Tuesday Tuneup 69

Q. What’s going on inside?

A. Processing, as always.

Q. Processing thoughts?

A. Yes.

Q. Where are these thoughts formed?

A. In the mind.

Q. Not in the brain?

A. No.  They are processed in the brain, but formed in the mind.

Q. And where is the mind?

A. In the Beyond.

Q. Head in the clouds, I see.   So what else happens to thoughts in the mind?

A. Glad you asked.   Besides thought formation, three other activities occur, as pertain to thought.

Q. What are they?

A. Identification, application, and preservation.

Q. How is a thought identified?

A. When it is completed and defined.  You see, all thoughts have the power to merge with other thoughts.  When two thoughts merge, they become a new thought consisting of a composite of the original two thoughts.  Similarly, three or more thoughts may merge, and affix themselves onto other thought forms, and become still newer thoughts.  There is thus no end to the number of thoughts that can be formed.   But at some certain time, one puts a stop to it.

Q. One?

A. One’s will, that is.  One wills the thought merging to stop and defines a certain conglomerate of thoughts as a single thought by identifying it.

Q. Identifying?

A.  Yes.  By naming it — by giving it a name of its own.

Q. Who is the One who does this?

A. Whoever first thought it up.  Ultimately, God.  God is the one whose will is operative in Universal Mind.   But we humans also assign names to thoughts.   After all, we were created in His image, and granted that initiative.

Q. So once the thought is fully formed, it is then identified?

A. Correct.

Q. Then what?

A. It is applied.

Q. Meaning?

A. It is sent to a thought-container where it may be put to use.

Q. Is the human brain a thought-container?

A. Yes.  It’s not the only thought-container, but it’s one of them.

Q. Then what happens to the thought?

A. It is preserved.

Q. Who does the preserving?

A. Many sentient entities have this power.  But the only one who does it perfectly is God.  Others preserve it only impermanently.

Q. Why does this remind of me of something?

A. Probably because you work with computers, and you see the parallel.

Q. The parallel?

A. Yes.  Thoughts formed in the mind often wind up in files, where they merge with other thought forms until the file is named; that is, identified.   These identified thoughts are then applied by sending them into folders.   The folders and then saved — that is, preserved, on the cloud.

Q. Is the brain then therefore a computer?

A. Yes.  It’s quite like a hard drive — a central processing unit.  

Q. But the mind is not?

A. No.  The mind, at its core, is divine.  It exists in an intangible realm of the Spirit.

Q. This is what’s called the Beyond?

A. It can be called that, yes.

Q. Why do you back off?

A. I am often hesitant to use misleading labels.  Even speaking of Universal Mind would peg me a theosophist, which I am not.

Q. You’re a Christ Follower, aren’t you?

A. I try to be.

Q. Then why does this information strike me as —

A. As?

Q. I can’t quite tell you.

A. Then I can’t quite answer.  But probably what you’re picking up is that this has nothing to do with good and evil; that is, with morality.   And morality is what is commonly associated with the Christian faith.

Q. Is that common knowledge fallacious?

A. Not at all.  But it’s only part of it.  The Word of God has a lot to do with precise language, with the meanings of names.  Words associated with the Christian faith have meanings that are often misunderstood.

Q. Like what?

A. Like sin, for example.  Most people don’t know what sin actually means, and they shy away from the concept.

Q. Another example?

A. Faith.   St. Paul says “whatsoever is not of faith is sin.”  But if one has a false idea of faith —  or of sin — that statement will be misinterpreted.

Q. When did you learn all this?

A. In the year 2012.

Q. Where were you when you learned this?

A. Berkeley.

Q. How do you know all this?

A. I’d like to save that answer for later — if you don’t mind.

The Questioner is silent. 

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Fifth Column Published

Here’s my 5th column on Homeless No More, as published by Street Spirit under the editorship of Alastair Boone.

Homelessness Taught Me Gratitude
by Andy Pope

When one lives outdoors, and weather conditions are less than favorable, one sometimes wakes up freezing and soaking wet—not to mention flat broke. Under such circumstances, you can’t imagine the feeling of gratitude that would overwhelm me as I succeeded in scraping up 63 cents for a senior cup of coffee at a McDonald’s. At the store most frequented, they wouldn’t let us in if we didn’t have coffee change. Once admitted, our stays were limited to twenty minutes. But it was still huge that I could get out of the rain and get my bearings.

Picture the scenario, if you haven’t personally experienced it yourself. It’s raining cats and dogs. Your already soggy clothes are getting wet all over again. You’re shivering from cold. Your very blankets were full of moisture on awakening. You weren’t so bad when still enclosed beneath those coverings, but boy did it smart when you first got out from under ‘em! All of a sudden you were shaking to the bones. You ran, not walked, in the direction of the McDonald’s where, at 5:20 in the morning, approximately twenty other homeless people were pacing about the sidewalks on University and Shattuck, awaiting the moment of opening.

You don’t have coffee change and you just know they’re not going to let you in as a non-paying “vagrant.” So you swallow your pride, and you start hitting up your homeless buddies for bits of change.

“Hey Dave, do you have a quarter? That’s all I need. Bob, got a nickel? I’m only five cents short . . .” Just as the store is opening, somebody flips five pennies into your hand. “Here use this. I’m good.”

You breathe an incredible sigh of relief. Those five pennies just made the difference between your continuing to freeze your buns off, and your sitting comfortably in a warm building— with a morning cup of coffee to boot. You get in line, you get your coffee, and before you know it, you’re sitting at your favorite Mickey D’s table with a Berkeley Daily Californian. You made it! If you’re lucky, and somebody didn’t get there first, you might even be able to use the bathroom. If you’re even luckier, you’ll get a refill. Luckier still, and they might let you stay longer than twenty minutes. Heck, they might even let you stay till the sun shines through! Nowhere to go, says Gratitude, but up.

Because I live indoors now, a lot of the little things that used to inspire intense gratitude no longer have the same effect. But living inside has not dulled my sense of appreciation. I often find myself overwhelmed by the same kinds of feelings I had when I was able to pay my way into that McDonald’s. But the sources of this gratitude are different.

For example, living inside doesn’t make me exempt from the effects of nasty weather. It’s been freaky inclement in this part of the world lately, with temps in the low 10’s (Fahrenheit) and fierce winds and lots of snow rendering the outdoor trek a bit daunting for most people—and this particular formerly homeless homebody is no exception. The upside is that, when I walk into my apartment from such conditions, nobody is going to kick me out of my own home in twenty minutes and release me to the cold rain and snow. As I sleep, no night wanderer is going to wake me up to ask me for a cigarette, and no police officer is going to shine that bright light in my eyes and wake me up to an interrogation. When morning comes, and I hop into the shower, I won’t have to deal with a number of other men in the shower room, nor will I have had to wait for two hours to get there. Moreover, I get to make my own coffee in the morning. I don’t have to wait beneath a church stairway while a security guard barks orders at me in order to get my day started.

If I took for granted the extraordinary conveniences of indoor living before I was homeless, I certainly don’t today. I’m looking around the room as I write this. I look to my left and I see a 1921 vintage Howard upright piano that somebody gave me for free. How cool is that? I’ve never owned a piano before in my entire life. I look to my right, and I see a darn comfortable couch to crash on. A little further down is a five-drawer dresser. And believe you me, there are a heck of a lot of socks rolled up in that dresser. Gone are the days when I have to line up every Monday in hopes of getting a single pair of socks to last me all week.

For the first 51 years of my life, before I spent the better part of twelve years on the streets of Berkeley and other Bay Area cities, I took all these things for granted. Now, I am careful to make sure that I don’t lose my sense of gratitude as daily life becomes easier. Every morning when I wake up, I jot down ten things I am grateful for to off-set the sense of stress and sometimes drudgery that comes with maintaining all the details of a normal, mundane life.

Where before I would wonder what it was like if someone were homeless, I don’t have to wonder anymore. I know what it’s like to be homeless— and that knowledge is one of the greatest blessings I have ever received. While intense rushes of the feeling are much fewer and farther between now that I am trying to maintain stability, the gratitude, when it does come, is that much the richer.

I am grateful for all the years I lived outdoors, because my homeless experience is what taught me gratitude.

Homeless No More is a column that features the stories of people making the transition from homelessness to housing. Andy Pope is a freelance writer who lives in the Pacific Northwest, and the author of Eden in Babylon, a musical about youth homelessness in urban America.

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Inequity (Part Five)

Of the five “inequities” that I have chosen to discuss in an effort to illuminate how the world appears from the eyes of those who have been chronically homeless in large urban areas, this one will probably be the most controversial.   There is a huge disparity among all those who dwell on this subject as to how the homeless person can actually be helped.  

When I made the decision to join an intentional homeless community on April 15, 2011, I was thrown into a group of people who were predominantly White, mostly male, and mostly people who had worked all their lives until some costly crisis landed them on the streets.  Most of my fellow White male homeless people were lifelong conservatives, and it was bizarrely expected that all of them were supposed to change their lifelong political ideologies, and become “liberals,” only because they had fallen on hard times.

Why?  Because in the failed social experiment that is the City of Berkeley, the pseudo-socialist leaders of the churches that were feeding us believed that, because we had become homeless, our life-philosophies must have failed us, and they were eager to teach us another way.  The idea that anybody in the San Francisco Bay Area could have become homeless due to socio-economic factors entirely beyond their control — viz, a one-bedroom apartment in San Francisco might rent for upwards of $3000/mo — was never brought into consideration.   So we, who comprised approximately 35% of the then one thousand visible homeless people in Berkeley, were lumped into the same group as practicing thieves, hustlers, and hardened criminals on the one hand, and completely developmentally disabled (or at least chronically unemployable) individuals on the other.

In the process, we found ourselves continually demeaned and dehumanized by social workers whose politics invariably leaned to the Left.  My lifelong identity meant nothing to these people, and the none-too-subtle message that I would be homeless for the rest of my days — and rightly so — was hammered into me day in and day out, until I found myself beginning to believe it.

Those who leaned to the Right were another story.  I usually did not feel dehumanized per se, but I often felt stereotyped and stigmatized.  An example would be in Salvation Army workers trying to “save” me or convert me to Christianity, when the truth was that I was already a Christian who was clinging to Jesus more than ever during an uneasy, unsettling time of life.

My first experience at a homeless “feed” was that I and others were treated with complete indignity.  It was assumed that we were either criminally minded, completely mentally handicapped, or both.  Security guards barked orders at us and herded us around like cattle.  All this to get a bite to eat?   No, thanks!

Somebody I met throughout this process told me I ought to try “flying a sign.”  I had no idea what the expression meant at the time, but he showed me that all I had to do was sit silently on the sidewalk with a piece of cardboard and an explanatory statement, and I would probably get cash and food within a three or four hour shift.  (I’m glad he included the word “silently,” because I tried using the words “can you spare some change?” once and only once.  The judgmental shaking of the head and scornful reply, “Not for you, buddy!” was enough to convince me that verbal begging was not for me.)

But in displaying my sign in silence, making eye contact with passersby, I found that I averaged about $17/day working three hours daily at my “spot,” and often got a sandwich or two as well.   I usually sat there between about 9 am and noon.   After that, I felt free to vacate the homeless pandemonium, get on a BART train, and find a place where I could chill out, plug in my laptop (if it hadn’t gotten stolen) and gather my bearings for the next morning on the streets.

Those with whom I associated agreed with me that all of these homeless services, aside from being demeaning, primarily served to keep homeless people homeless.  And as far as the homeless “feeds,” it became clear after a while that they were simply feeding the wrong people.

Think about it.  If you were a street hustler who never cared to do a lick of decent work in your life, and you wanted to get food without working for it, where would you turn?  Of course you would head to one of those community meals.   You would do anything you could to get something for nothing — even steal.

The sad thing is that people with legitimate disabilities who needed caregivers and case workers, and who would thrive best in situations like board-and-care homes, were also mixed into the batch.   Many of them were stuck in the cracks of the system, and I saw quite a few die on the streets.

Another sad thing — or rather a maddening thing — is that it was assumed that I and my similar companions were unemployable, assumed we had landed on the streets due to drug addiction or alcoholism, assumed  we were insane, and basically assumed that unless we thought as they did, acted in the manner they wanted us to act, and believed the ideology that they wanted us to believe, then there was something wrong with us.  

Although I did vacate the premises after 19 months in order to rent a cottage in a rural area in the Central Valley — and there created nine talks on the subject based on what I had learned thus far — I wish I hadn’t been so eager to get inside.  The place I landed was in a horrible area, surrounded by tweakers, and it dawned on me that there weren’t too many places in that part of California where I could get a place in the $400/mo. range that were going to be any different.   So, once I finished the 9th talk, I returned to Berkeley for more research.

That might have been a mistake.

Three years later, I was having the devil of a time digging myself out of the hole that had been dug.   Years of sleep deprivation began to wear on my mental health.   I was constantly being awakened in the middle of the night by other homeless people (if not cops or security guards), my belongings would disappear over night, and I even dabbled in street drugs in an effort to keep my sanity and desensitize myself from all the chaos.

My self-esteem grew lower and lower.   Social workers who wanted to “help” me referred me to all kinds of programs with strict regimens, and I found I didn’t belong in any of them.  Not to mention, I’m one of those Introverted types who cherishes his privacy, and I learned that I would rather sleep outdoors in secluded spots on the outskirts of town, than stay crammed into a homeless shelter with about fifty other guys, where the rate of theft was even greater.

Finally, after one particularly disturbing instance when I was kicked out of a homeless shelter because I had caught the flu there, I got down on my knees and shouted to Whoever might hear my prayer:

“I do not care who they are telling me I am!
I do not care about drug addiction, alcoholism, mental illness,
or being a loser, or being a lazy bum, or being a worthless piece of crap!
I care about HOMELESSNESS!!
Please God put on end to all these years
of totally unpredicable, totally unreliable,
anything can happen, anytime, anywhere, HOMELESSNESS!!!”

I literally screamed that petition to the stars of a seemingly indifferent sky, hurting my knees from the impact of the concrete outside the Sequoia Station in Redwood City.

Long story short (and it’s a story that has been often told elsewhere), within three or four weeks, I had an affordable room in North Idaho, renting for about one fourth of what it would have rented in Berkeley, and a job playing piano at a small church, after being considered unemployable and mentally insane in the State of California for years.

How did I get there?  It wasn’t from a handout.  It was from a hand-up – in the form of a $200 bus ticket granted by an old associate of mine, a retired music teacher whom I’d worked with years ago on the San Francisco Bay Area Peninsula, before all of the sordid homelessness began.

Which brings me to my point.  The only homeless people who are into receiving “hand outs” from the system are those who either cannot fend for themselves, or choose not to, because they’d rather work the system.  The rest could use a hand-up.  I got one, and three and a half years later, on Thanksgiving Day, I must say I am thankful.  I’ve paid my rent on time in a place of my own choosing, a place of solitude and dignity, since September 1st, 2016.

So let that be food for thought on Thanksgiving Day.   You may use this information as you choose.   Maybe if somebody gives a hand-up to a person who could truly use it, then Somebody will give a hand-up to you.

Can I give you a hand? (Words and phrases for helping others) – About Words – Cambridge ...

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Inequity (Part One)

When I made the decision to join an intentional homeless community in the city of Berkeley on April 15, 2011, it was widely assumed that I had become homeless due to having lived a completely mistaken life for 58 years prior.

In this light, I noticed that if a person were a conservative, and they had become homeless in that community, they were often told that they should be a liberal “because the liberals were feeding them.”

However, if a person were a liberal, and they had become homeless in that same community, they were often told that they should become a conservative “because the Salvation Army was feeding them.”

dont judge etcIn general, no conclusions that any of us had drawn in all of our lifetimes prior to becoming homeless in Berkeley were regarded as being of value by anyone other than homeless people.   You don’t know how many people came up to me in an effort to proselytize their particular brand of Christianity, without even bothering to ask me if I identified as a Christian in the first place.

Why should a person change all the conclusions that they had drawn throughout 58 years of living, only because they had fallen on hard times?   If anything, my faith was needed more than ever.

The reason for this, simply put, is that it is widely assumed that a person becomes homeless due to some flaw in their character.   It is almost never supposed that the person might have become homeless because of a lack of affordable housing.  Yet, if that were not the case, I wouldn’t be sitting here today.   A renter in San Francisco might be paying $3000/mo. for a one bedroom apartment.  Here, I am paying $450/mo. for the same.

Yet the number of people who think that I experienced a total psychic change during a one way 48 hour bus trip to a low rent district in other State is staggering.  Some people even insist that it was then that I “found God.”  The fact of the matter is — and I hate to break to anybody — I did not change on that trip at all.  As for having “found God,” the notion is equally ludicrous.  I prayed more prayers to God when I was sleeping in that gutter than at any previous time in my life – and I’m fairly sure you would have too. 

What I found was an affordable place to live.  When will people listen to reason, and to the simple truth?

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(Talks 2018) – Talk No. 5

In this talk, I try to show how the dynamics of outdoor living provoke the dehumanization of homeless people, consciously or unconsciously, by those who have always lived indoors, and how this phenomenon is a biproduct of a much larger spiritual malaise that, in one way or another, has affected us all.  

Homeless and Human 

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Anything Helps – God Bless!

That’s His Whole Problem!

I’ve been under the weather lately, and I’ve taken to composing music to pass the time.  As I broke out my music notation software for the first time in quite a while, I noticed an assortment of unpleasant feelings associated with the task.   For some reason, I keep thinking that it is wrong for me to be writing music.

Wrong to write music?   Ah, but this makes no sense.   Where does that come from? Arguably, my father, though I’m sure the poor bloke was only trying to protect me from myself.   He would see the delirious obsession overtake me, quite like his own very similar obsession, and he feared for where it might lead. 

Wrong to write music – what do you make of it?   I can somewhat understand the inherent dangers in the “new toy effect” of this amazing music notation software — especially since I first acquired the new toy over ten years ago, and one would think its fascination would have faded by now.  Ah, but no – there is an almost addictive, compulsive quality to the way that I attack the Finale commands with such fervor, almost like playing a video game, or taking a ride in an amusement park.  Too much fun is involved, and escapism.  How can it possibly be good for me?

Escapism . . . I tend to escape the doldrums of life — by writing music.  In fact, I even escape the demands of the music world itself.  After all, I’m supposed to be finding other musicians to play my stuff, aren’t I?   Other musicians are supposed to play my notes; other singers are supposed to sing my words.  Instead, I belabor for hours over this feigned representation of my music, produced by the artificial, heartless software.  I pretend that there’s an improvised saxophone solo between Measures 33 and 48.  But let’s face it, every note of that “improvisation” has been painstakingly fabricated by the workings of my own tomfoolery, trying my best to mislead the listener into believing that there’s actually a sax being played there, rather than a sophisticated electronic fake.

Don’t I have more important things to do?  Aren’t I behind on my blogs?   I’m supposed to be writing about Homelessness, aren’t I?  What’s music got to do with that?

Well, that’s just it.  It’s got everything  to do with that.  And everything to do with this sense of wrongness that engulfs me whenever I try to write music these days.   It recalls a former time, not too long past, when the average person in my life believed that my relationship to Music was the biggest problem I had in life.

whole problem

It was widely thought, seemingly by everybody else but me, that it was a huge problem, this obsession I had with composing music.  It was a conspicuous problem — a visible problem, something that could not escape public notice.   In a way, it was like Homelessness itself.   There was no way I could hide my homelessness effectively from everybody in the city of Berkeley.   No matter how nice I tried to act, how good I tried to look, the cat was out of the bag.  Everybody knew I was homeless.   Everybody knew I was “just one of the local wing nuts.”   So my obsession with composing music, whether I used the software, or whether I only walked about town singing “bop bop bop” and playing drums on my pants legs, was all part of that huge visibility.   I couldn’t hide being homeless; and I couldn’t hide writing music.  So to my observers, they only seemed like two sides of the same coin.

“That’s his whole problem right there! Look at him writing music all day long, while he’s homeless.  No wonder he never gets off the streets!  How disgusting.”

I remember how depressed I would become whenever I encountered this objection.  Even at church, or at the recovery fellowship I attended, there was this idea that “music was more important to him than God.”  And it disturbed me.   I kept wanting to defend myself.  I honestly did not think it was true.  I just happened to be a deeply driven, tightly wound, highly charged composer, who just happened to keep getting all these musical ideas, that he felt a deep need to pursue.  What’s that got to do with God?  Other than that it was His gift?  How would eliminating this huge part of me possibly help me, either to figure out how not to be homeless anymore, or to be a better Christian, or achieve more sobriety, or recovery — why would eliminating music be so essential to my health and well-being?  Wasn’t Music what was keeping me halfway sane throughout all of this insanity?

I still feel the depression of all that.  I start to relive it, even now, while trying to write music again, after all this time.

But it wasn’t like that when I first got to Moscow, Idaho, almost two years ago to this day.  By that time, I had so much music accumulated in my mind, stuff that I had written without the software, that I’d kept track of in my head — I basically couldn’t wait to get it all notated, now that I finally had a computer, and a place to live.   

When I sat in a cafe writing music, I couldn’t help but notice that the reaction of passersby was much different than I’d become accustomed to.   Nobody scowled at me.  Nobody looked over and thought: “There’s his whole problem right there.”

Why not?  Because there was no huge visible problem that people were hung up on trying to determine the cause of.   There was not this thing called Homelessness hanging over me everywhere I went, seeming to demand an explanation.   

My friend Danielle put it nicely once, with this analogy.  “You see a fat guy eating a doughnut,” she said, “and everybody says: ‘that’s his whole problem right there.’   But you see a skinny guy eating a doughnut — the very same doughnut — and nobody squawks.”

“So what’s that got to do with me?” I asked, naturally.

“The fat guy has a visible problem.  He’s fat.  Everybody can see it.  So they look for the probable cause.  As soon as he sinks his teeth into that doughnut, they think they know the answer.  Genetics, upbringing, age, alcoholism — any other factor is thrown by the wayside.  That there doughnut is his whole problem.

“Same thing with you.  You’re homeless.  You’re conspicuous.  Everybody knows you’re homeless, and they wonder why.  As soon as they see you writing music — and all the time, by the way, you must admit it — any time of the day or night, anywhere, for hours on end — they say: ‘That’s it!   That’s his whole problem!’  Socio-economic factors, mental health, company downsizing, landlord owner move in evictions — none of those more disturbing, complex factors need come into play.”

“That is very disturbing,” I agreed.

“Quite so,” she nodded.  “But now?” Now you’re not homeless.  You don’t this big visible problem that everybody’s trying to figure.   Now you can write as much music as you want, and nobody’s going to fault you for it.”

Needless to say, I was quite relieved.   Now if only I could turn back the hands of time, and get them all to see that it was never my “problem” to begin with . . .

Or was it?

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A Parallel and Opposing Culture

I’ll try to have a new speech posted by next Wednesday.  Here is more of what I had to say back in 2013 on the matter (the matter being the phenomenon of homelessness in modern-day America, and my own experiences therein.)

A Parallel and Opposing Culture

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Spiritual Independence

This is one of nine speeches I made in the year 2013 concerning my experience with homelessness.  I created these speeches in a tiny spot that I rented for six months on the outskirts of Stockton, California.   Spiritual Independence was created on May 17, 2013, shortly before I returned to Berkeley to be homeless once again — by choice.

tent-secluded-night

Spiritual Independence

My views on the homeless phenomenon in America have changed and expanded quite a bit in the past five years since that speech was made.  I’m eager to begin a new Spoken Word project that I have outlined accordingly.  Assuming I can surmount the current technical hurdles toward this end, I will post a speech entitled “Homeless By Condition: Part One” on this blog one week from today.   Thank you for your ongoing interest in my work.

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Gimme Shower

I recently found this email in my Sent folder.  To this day, I wonder if it was my sense of desperation that prevented each of seventeen people in my life from permitting me to offer them twenty dollars so that I could step inside one of their homes for a period of a half an hour so that I could take a shower — or whether it was “something else.”

From : andypope7 at zoho dot com
To : [17 friends and family members]
Date : Mon, 11 Jul 2016 13:51:40 -0800
Subject : Shower?

Dear Friends and Family Members:

I kinda hate to approach you all in this fashion, but I don’t really have a cell phone now, and as you all know, I disdain to beg for change.  Not to mention, they’ve ripped out the pay phone by the library, outside of which I’ve been camping out these days.  I hope somebody will get back to me.

showerI really need a shower.  I’m not used to this neck of the woods, and I can’t just go hang out at the Multi-Agency Service Center like I could in Berkeley, where I could usually be assured of a shower in the morning, though I often had to wait for over three hours with about fifty other people, and sometimes would have my things ripped off during the brief period of time I was allotted for my shower.

As you know, I don’t drink, and I’m honestly not on drugs or anything like that.  I have twenty bucks I can give you for your trouble.  I promise I’ll be in and out really fast, and I won’t leave a towel on the bathroom floor, as someone complained about last time I tried this.  Honestly I’m totally clean, I just need to get cleaner enough to put on some decent clothes I got at Goodwill and hopefully pound the pavement and find a job pretty soon.

I’m only asking a half hour of your time.  I really really really need a shower.  Can anybody help me with this?  I’d really appreciate it.

Love,
Andy

Only one person replied, which was kind of him.  Now, in deference to that person’s kindness, I must admit that I have not been able to find the exact email.  I did, however, have several conversations with this individual (whom we shall call “Randy”) during that period of time.  So I recall that this is the basic gist of what he had said.  I hope you can appreciate the disparity in our viewpoints here.

From : “Randy McRiddle”<randy@mcriddle.net>
To : “andypope at zoho dot com”
Date : Mon, 11 Jul 2016 15:28:17 -0800
Subject : Re: Shower?

Hey Andy –

I talked to my wife about this, and I’d like to help you.  But we let a homeless guy in here last year, and it turned out he had lice.  It was a real hassle getting rid of all the lice.

Also, to be quite honest with you, my daughter is home from school for the summer, and she gets really freaked by those kinds of people.  You understand.

If it was just me myself, I’d probably consider helping you.  But I’ve got the wife and kid to think about.

Hope it works out for you, trying to find a job.

“Randy”

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“Get a Job!”

The spot where I used to sit on Shattuck Avenue in Berkeley was in close proximity to a pub where Cal students would often become intoxicated.  I usually left before this could happen, but occasionally a drunken fellow would emerge in the daytime.

One day I was sitting there quietly, lamenting as usual the fact that too many people were approaching me telling me where the organized meals were, where the shelters were, how to get government “crazy money,” and so forth.  It tended to depress me, because I obviously knew all that stuff already.  What I wanted was some cash and some food for my stomach, so I could smile at them before they moved on.

But then this drunken guy came out of the pub, even though it was only about two in the afternoon.  He was making loud abusive comments toward women, and generally seemed pretty disgusting.  Of course, I probably seemed pretty disgusting too — just the sight of me sitting there — even though I wasn’t saying anything.  (As you know, if you’ve been reading me, my whole gig was to never open my mouth, and simply sit there, holding up an informative sign.)

Eventually, the young man staggered his way toward me, and stopped in front of my sign, staring at it silently, as though dumbfounded.

sign

Lifting up his eyes after what seemed an eternity, he then began to stare directly at me for an even longer eternity. Finally, he spoke.

“Get a job, man!!  Get off your butt!   Get a hustle!!!” 

He then staggered off of my spot just as sure as he’d staggered onto it.  I watched him stagger away, and once he was out of sight, I turned my head and saw another young man.  This new fellow, obviously more sober, was laughing.  Whether he was laughing at me, at him, with me, or with him — I cannot say.   Whatever the case, he apparently found the situation amusing.

I decided to break my rule at that point.  (That is to say, I opened my mouth.)

“You know what?” I said.

“What?” he asked.

“He’s right.”

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Pick of the Litter

It was hot. I was tired. I had enough money for a candy bar, and I thought the sugar might help me for the long walk ahead. I bought a Butterfinger at the Touchless Car Wash.  I saw a step with a couple stairs about half a block away. Seemed to be a business, not a private residence. Didn’t look like they were open. It was Saturday. I sat down to eat the Butterfinger.

Suddenly, a hostile voice interrupted the pleasant onset of the desired sugar rush.  The ensuing dialogue was most unfortunate.

“I don’t mind you guys sitting here, but I sure hate the mess you always make!”

“Us guys? What guys? There are guys who sit here? I’ve never sat here before! What mess?  What the hell are you talking about?”

The man said nothing, but seemed to sneer at me before shutting the door between us.  Guess he was the business owner, or property owner, or what-have-you. Jesus! I had just sat down! I’d been walking all day! All I wanted to do was eat my damned Butterfinger, get an energy lift, and move on. Did the guy have to pop me over nothing?  

Not to mention, being identified as a member of some group of guys, rather than the individual whom I am, obviously pressed a pretty big button in the Berkeley Boy.   Seriously, it was all I could do to bite my lip. Fortunately, the grouch who so grossly growled at me had shut his door on my brewing indignation. Best for both of us, I thought.

I got up to walk away, then noticed that the top my Butterfinger wrapper was lying on the sidewalk, about four feet from the stairs.  I must have dropped it there in my hot hungry haste.  Gee whiz.  Guess that was “the mess you guys always make.”

Next time, remind me to buy a Milky Way instead.  Darker wrapper, better blend.

litter

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A Meaningful Life

I just received a forward of a letter of appreciation that someone sent to Terry Messman, the publisher of Street Spirit, with regards to a previous article of mine he had published.   I deduced that it must have been the August article, based on the context:

Hi Terry,

I just wanted to say that I was really moved by a recent piece by Andy Pope (unsure of which volume, but it was from several months ago). His writing really helped me understand what it’s like to be in his shoes, day by day. I also felt incredibly sad reading it. I wish that I could offer someone like Andy a place to stay.

I’m also curious about your fundraiser, and if . . . .

Alison

Upon reading those words, I felt a poignant surge of pathos.   I did not need a place to stay at the time the article was published.  I wrote that piece in June of 2016.  It wasn’t published until August 2017 — long after I’d succeeded in getting myself indoors.  So it felt somehow wrong that someone should be thinking of offering me one.  

At the same time, however, this is the point of its having been published in the first place.   When I wrote it, I was fortunate enough to have gained a seat for me and my laptop in a Starbucks on a rainy Sunday morning.   I had been living outdoors for so many years that the idea of ever actually attaining to an indoor dwelling place again seemed inconceivable.  It was that sense of resignation to the complete unpredictability of the homeless condition that gave the piece its purpose.  It was written by a homeless person while homeless, and thus filtered out nothing of the very present feelings so painfully described therein.

This also served to remind me that my life has meaning.  I had always fancied myself something of a Writer, even as I wrote frivolous bagatelles to pass the time away while bored.  I wrote pieces of garbage that I knew to be garbage, only because my nervous need to engage myself in such intellectual thumb-twiddling was so pressing in my restless mind.  But now I have been granted this great gift of experience, and not only of experience itself, but of the subsequent freedom to actually sit down and write about it.  This is something I never dreamed I would gain.  I, like almost everyone else I knew, had consigned myself to die a miserable, meaningless death on the streets.

Not two years have passed since I penned those words sitting in that Starbucks, grimly watching the sun make an effort to reveal itself from amid an early morning cloudburst.   Thankful was I indeed, as I’d have been on any other rainy morning, to have gotten out of the homeless rain.  But at the same time, how completely cynical I was that after all those years, I would ever manage to get myself into a decent, dignified living situation again!

Kate in Cabin
A Decent, Dignified Living Situation — for Me.  

I had been so happy to have landed the simple hole-in-the-wall that I found at Friendship Square, almost an entire year went by before I could even grasp the concept that there might be a better place in store for me.   This adds to the pathos.  For so many years, I prayed specifically that I would one day be given “a lock on a door, a window, and a power outlet. ”   That  wish having been granted so dramatically, I sincerely felt like an ingrate when I began to look for a more suitable living situation.   After all, God had answered that prayer pretty much down to the letter.  I received exactly one window, two power outlets, and three locks on my door.   (God apparently knew which of the three priorities was most important to me!)

Eventually, however, it reached the unpleasant stage where not even three locks could do the trick.  I would surface from fitful sleep in the wee hours, only to hear the ribald congregating of drug-addicted young men out in the hallway.  Then, I would presume in my half-awake state that I still slept outdoors, and that these other fellows must have been outdoors, as well.

“Where am I? Who are these people?  Are they coming to steal my stuff?  Or did I steal their Spot by mistake?   Or are these the security guards, or maybe even the property owners?  Damn!  I better get out of here!”

But then, a few seconds would pass, and slowly the details of reality would sink in.  I was in no immediate danger.  The voices I heard, though they seemed intrusive, were actually separated from me by the three locks on my very own door.   And yet – why could I not sleep for the evidence of their presence?   Could I honestly be that traumatized?   Could I not separate the aggressive energy of my new neighbors from that of space invaders of times past?  My pastor literally had to persuade me that the little hole-in-the-wall was not the be-all-and-end-all to my life’s experience.   I did not need to live among practicing thieves and drug addicts if I did not want to.   

It was hard to leave Friendship Square without feeling like an ingrate.  But that is exactly what I have done.   It’s costing me a bit more money than I can comfortably squeeze out at the moment, but the trade-off is well worth it.  For the past two nights, I have slept soundly and peacefully in my new secluded apartment, far removed from the downtown denizens, and all the constant raucous activity that I so easily overlooked in my earlier elation over having landed any kind of indoor place of residence at all.  And you know what?  The moment I set my laptop down on that dining room table, I felt instantly more focused than I have felt for months.  Surely now I have everything I need!   I have my own bathtub even.  And a dishwasher.   A medicine cabinet in which to store hygienic needs.  My own bedroom.   A living room.   My daughter can even comfortably come visit me now.  Do I deserve this?  Honestly – it is almost too good to be true.

Well – I suppose whether I “deserve” it or not is immaterial.  At best, it would lead to pointless theological debate.   For me, the purpose of the gift is to put it to use.  I am going to set myself down in this seclusion, and write write Write Write WRITE —  because now I have something to write about.   And not only that – but a place to do it from.   So do me a favor.   Don’t ever let me forget how huge this is.   

On the streets, I would have died a meaningless death.  Here, far away from the streets — in distance, if not in memory — I have been granted a meaningful life.   

Please help raise awareness as to the Homeless Phenomenon in America.
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Published Again in Street Spirit

I just received this very pleasant email:

Hi Andy,

I published another of your really well-written reflections in the October issue of Street Spirit. I’m sending you the pdf version now, and I’ll send a link to the online edition in a few days when I post it.
 
Thanks so much for your insightful, thoughtful writing.
 
Best,
Terry
and now where
And Now Where?

I’ve uploaded the pdf on this link if you want to check it out.  I’m on p.3, the story entitled “I Remember Who I Am.”

He uses the illustration to the right, a lithograph by Rockwell Kent named “And Now Where?” in conjunction with my piece.  The piece itself is taken almost word for word from The God Who Believes in Me, earlier posted on this site.

The “Author’s Note” is taken from editor’s notes on that entry and also on the one entitled An Incredibly Empty Place.

In the past three months, since I have been fortunate enough to have had some of my short pieces published in Street Spirit, I have come to admire Terry Messman, the publisher, and Sally Hindman, the Berkeley activist and Quaker minister who connected me to this unique opportunity.  It’s interesting that I never knew either of them when I actually still lived in Berkeley.  Maybe I was too busy dealing with the extenuating circumstances described in these articles.  Rarely did I extend myself toward people with whom I might network, as though I had something distinctive to offer, and was interested in making a contribution to the community.

When I moved up here to Northern Idaho, all of that changed.  I told the personnel director at my church that if I had to summarize the difference between my life today and my life back then, I would say that previously the idea around me was that I had some kind of huge problem, and so how can we possibly help Andy solve his problem?  The idea in the here and now, on the other hand, is that Andy has something to offer.  How can we help him to offer it?

I would think anyone in their right mind would prefer the latter of the two scenarios.

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She Called Me Dad

A young Hispanic lady named Maria used to come sit across from my Spot about five or ten feet to my left.  Repeatedly, she would accost passersby, shouting “Fifty cents for a soda?  Fifty cents for a soda?”  At first it annoyed me, because it’s what we call “spange-busting.”  I was there first, and here she’s stealing my business with aggressive tactics.  It was especially annoying, being as I was determined to remain silent throughout my entire sign-flying tenure — partly so that I would never come across like she and others did, constantly invading the space of innocent bystanders.  

After a while, though, I developed something of a heart for the poor young woman.  She obviously had some kind of mental health diagnosis of the more severe variety.   Schizo-affective disorder maybe, or dissociative identity disorder, perhaps, or maybe paranoid schizoprenia.  She would break into different accents and identify herself according to different names, some of which belonged to fictitious entities with extremely interesting personalities. It made me wonder if she had done a lot of musical theatre at some point in her past.

watch my backBy and by, perhaps sensing my budding affinity for her eccentricity, she began to call me “Dad.”  She would hop off the bus, see me sitting with my back to the wall, and smiling, shout out: “Hi, Dad!”  How sweet, I thought.   She certainly wasn’t a bad looking young lady, either.  Perhaps having her “dad” nearby would afford her some measure of protection from the local wolves.  

One day, I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to fulfill that very role.  A young man approached Maria flirtatiously, and proceeded to come at her with all kinds of odious pick-up lines.  Maria turned her head toward me as though to convey that she was in trouble.  We made eye contact, her fear meeting my concern.   Finally, breaking the silence, Maria scooped all the money from the cup beneath her feet, saying:  

“Hey Dad, I’m going to the grocery store.  Do you need anything?”

“No, I’m good.”

“All right –  see you in a half hour.”

“Okay — stay safe.”

At that, she scurried off, and the young lad turned to me with a look of shock on his face.  Approaching me, he spoke sheepishly:

“Hey – I’m sorry, sir.  I didn’t know she was your daughter.”

I glared at the fellow with a disapproving look in my paternal old eyes.  

“Maria and I are not biologically related,” I explained.  “We do what we can to take care of each other on these streets.”   

“Oh, I see,” the young man replied, taking a few steps back from me.  Then, turning his head from side to side as though to scan the neighborhood for possible friends of mine, he shrugged his shoulders and headed off up Allston toward the University.   

I looked to the right.  Maria was coming back from around the corner.

“Coast is clear,” I said.

She dropped a Hershey bar into my hat and took her seat.  The sun was setting on another beautiful evening in the city where I belonged.   

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The God Who Believes in Me

This undated piece was written in Berkeley in early 2016.  I hope it gives you a picture of what Homelessness was like — for me.  

It’s driving me nuts having to be outdoors while almost everybody I can halfway relate to in life is indoors. If I relate to the people who live outdoors, it is because we all live outdoors. We share the values and mores of outdoor living in common, even if we share nothing else. But ninety percent of the time – damn right we share nothing else.

Approximately three times a week, someone who lives outside, someone whom I’ve never seen before, emerges out of someplace where I’ve probably never been and threatens to knock the crap out of me.  Yet I am a man of peace.  I only want to make my music.  I want to sit down with my laptop, crank up my music notation software, and compose.  But if I even dare get my hands on a laptop at these days, I’m an easy mark for every living thing that hides behind a bush.  I’ve been hit on the head with guns down here. If I buy a laptop, they assume it’s for trade or sale.  If I’m not willing to sell it, they might just take it by force.  My musicianship means nothing to a predator.

Maybe five times a week, a person who lives inside (whom I’ve also never seen before) approaches me and asks: “Are you homeless?”   How I have come to hate that question!  I almost disdain telling the truth, because I am so tired of seeing so much blood come pouring out of their heart, you’d think they’d have expected me to slurp it up and drink it.  Then, as they begin to promote whatever form of “help” they think best suits me, I find that in order to gain access to their assistance, I will be required to change my taste in food, my outlook on life, my political philosophy, and sometimes even my religion.   I’m frickin’ sixty-three years old, for God’s sake!!  I worked all my life!!  And they’re asking me to change my faith?  Now, of all times?  My faith is exactly what has kept me alive throughout twelve years of indignity and insanity.  Why should I abandon that which has helped me the most, in order to risk being hurt more than helped by the benign but misinformed intentions of a total stranger?   

I know a very conservative homeless man who tells me he is expected to become a liberal because it is the liberals who are feeding him.  But I have also seen many who identify as liberals become homeless, only to find themselves expected to become conservatives because, in their case, it’s the conservative Christians who feed them.   Why is that, just because someone is down on their luck, they are expected to adopt the views of those who are not?  Everyone is entitled to their own perspective, and it angers me that I should be expected to adopt the perspective of another person only because that person happens to have a roof over their head and more money than I do.  Just because a person is in a higher socio-economic class doesn’t make them right.  All it means is that they are in a better position to take advantage of another person’s weakness.  And in my case, that weakness is H– H–H–  My God, I don’t even want to speak the word anymore! 

What word?  The H-Word!  Homeless!  The word that, in one way, nobody ever hears — and in another way, it’s the only word they hear. It’s maddening. It’s exasperating. It’s more than frustrating – it’s infuriating.

Then there are the those who are not strangers.   These are the ones to whom I once was close, perhaps even intimate — the well-meaning friends and family members who want to “help.”  Oh, they’ll help all right!  They’ll help in any way they can shy of actually putting a roof over my head.  They’re always looking for the problem that “caused” me to become homeless, as if solving whatever that elusive problem might be could possibly solve the much more enormous problem that is Homelessness Itself.  None of those band-aids can possibly heal the wound of Homelessness.   That wound is way too deep for that.

There’s this huge division between the people who live outdoors and those who live indoors. It’s almost as though we’re an entirely different species. I can’t seem to do anything to bridge the gap, nor can I seem to do anything to get myself back inside. I’ve tried everything. All the suggestions everybody gives – they only lead me back to Homelessness. They never hit the core issue at its heart. So I get into this space where I start thinking: “Well, screw it. What’s the use of even trying?”  

I shrug my shoulders.  I head back to my Spot, lean my back against the brick wall of the BART station at the corner of Shattuck & Allston, take off my hat, and hold up a sign that reads:

BROKE AND HOMELESS
OFTEN HUNGRY
PLEASE HELP IF YOU CAN

I silently watch them all go by.  I make eye contact.  I look as many of them in the eye as possible.  Then, slowly but surely, little bits of change find their way into my hat.  Then a couple of dollars here and there, every now and then a five, a ten if I’m lucky, perhaps even a twenty.  People ask if they can buy me a sandwich.  Some people sneer, but they’re easy to overlook.  By and by, I calm down.  I forget my frustrations, my angst.  I meditate.  I pray.  I look around me, and it is a beautiful day in the city that I love.

An hour goes by, and suddenly it doesn’t matter any longer what they all think.  No longer am I driven nuts.  Then another half hour or so goes by, and I remember something.  I remember who I am.  I know who I am.  I even like who I am.   So what’s that word I hear?  The H-Word?  Is that supposed to say something about me?  Ah but no – perhaps we have forgotten.  Nothing says anything about me but the Me who Knows Who Me Is.   I Am the One I Am.

Three hours go by.  I pick up my cash.  The sun is setting.   I weave my way off toward the spot where I sleep, where nobody knows where to find me.   I look to the stars, and say my prayers to the God who believes in Me.

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An Incredibly Empty Place

As most of you know, I am a person who became homeless at the age of 51 in the San Francisco Bay Area during a midlife crisis of enormous proportion, after working for many years as an elementary school music teacher and private teacher of Piano and Voice on the San Francisco Bay Area Peninsula.  I struggled in and out of homelessness for the next twelve years, mostly on the streets of Berkeley, California.  For the past fourteen months, I’ve successfully maintained an apartment in a completely different part of the country, and have been gainfully employed throughout most of that time.   Still, however, I sometimes miss the allure of the streets.  I find myself wanting to “hit the road” — to chuck it all, to flick it in, to flip the switch — and to become homeless once again.   But when I read something like this short blurb I wrote in 2015, I remember why this might not be such a good idea.

An Incredibly Empty Place

Believe it or not, the streets used to inspire me. I used to feel free here. I wrote ten songs from the streets, arranged them, recorded them – here in Berkeley, in 2012, I wrote decent interesting music — while homeless. But now? They all recognize me. They see me on the streets.

Who’s “they?”   Whoever it is who assumes — is they, and not we.   Whoever stigmatizes is “they” — not we.   We know who I really am  — we who neither stigmatize nor assume.   But they?  They assume, because they see me on the streets, that I’m all about the hustle.  Then, if they are not on the streets, they look down upon me, as though I am a dirt bag, here to rip them off.  And if they are on the streets?  Then they assume I am one of them.  I’m supposed to have a hustle, supposed to have a game.  When they find I have no hustle, when they find I have no game, then they assume I am their enemy.  I then become a target.   I must be a nark, a snitch, a rat.  Why is Andy never in jail?   It can’t possibly be that Andy isn’t about committing crimes, can it?   It can’t possibly be that he wants nothing whatsoever to do with that game.   It must be that he is a police informant.  He’s going to turn us all in.  We better get that guy Andy — before he gets us.

I’m either one of them — or I am their prey.   And as for Music? What is Music?  As for Art?  What the hell is Art?  Isn’t life all about the hustle? About taking from people who have even less than you have? And feeling good about it at the end of the day? As though it were an honest day’s work?

But to write music — what is that? Does it make me any money? No — not yet, anyway.  Perhaps it never will.  But why is that the prevailing question?   Why is the question not whether I do another person harm?   Does my writing music intrude on others at all? No.   It does not.  Then why am I not left alone, as I once was, in 2012?   Because they think they know me now.  They think they know me — because they see me.    Whoever they are who assume, they judge the book by its cover.  Whoever they are who stigmatize, they see me, and think they know me.  In reality, they know me not.

Some of these hustlers don’t seem to think they can make any money in life without totally infringing upon the rights of others.  Their means of earning money involves invading other people’s space.  All day long I hear them: “Got fifty cents?  Got a cigarette?   A light?   A cell phone?   Can I sync my cell phone to your laptop?  How much you want for that “top”?  What do you mean, it’s not for sale?  Who the hell do you think you are?”

I had a guy who calls himself my “friend” con me out of my last BART ticket. I paid for that BART ticket with my own earned money. It isn’t easy to sit there with back up against the brick wall of that BART station, flying a sign all day, and and keeping my mouth shut long enough for somebody to “get it.”   I’ve had jobs that were way easier than that!  But I’ve got my pride.   You won’t hear the words “can you spare some change?” come out of me.  I don’t want to be like those hustlers.  I don’t want to intrude on people’s mind-sets, or invade their space while they’re rushing to get from one gig to another in the Mainstream.  The sign says it all.  

need a miracle

But I tell you – some of these people just get to me.  They have no respect for other people. They don’t respect me. I have no value to them except for what they can con me out of. I don’t need their food stamps, their marijuana, their attitude. I don’t need them. I tell them I’m hungry, they tell me I should give them my last two dollars. I would so love to be able to eat regularly – to eat real food without having to wait for hours in a line every day, with fights breaking out, with security being involved and police being called — I’m tired of it all. Down here, it is either assumed that I am a criminal or, like I said, it’s assumed that I’m a mark. I’m either a potential perpetrator or a potential victim. There is no in between.

How did I ever get myself into this irreconcilable mess?  I should be hanging around college professors, theatre directors, school principals, and parents of singing students and piano students!  Like I used to be!   I should be hanging around Actors and musicians and set designers!  Like I used to!  I should be hanging around playwrights and screen writers. Piano players, singers – composers like me. But I am exempt from hanging with people like myself.  Somehow, it does not happen. Somehow, I cannot climb out of this hole. It’s too deep. My best hope is to communicate – and keep communicating – until someone feels me.

Does anyone feel me yet?  Do you?  I am constantly visible. Constantly seen – by whom? By everyone.   And believe me – some people down here – that’s all they do is look.  Look, lurk, watch, wait — and lay in wait.  They cannot sleep at night — unless they have done somebody harm.

There are no walls around me. I have no roof over my head. I have no bed beneath me. I am vulnerable – through visibility. And I am associated with all those who are similarly vulnerable – through visibility. Many of whom are violent. To find identification, I look to pimps, hustlers, hookers, and drug dealers. Why? Because they live in the same world that I do.  We have that in common.  I smile and laugh and joke in the presence of people of whose lifestyles I disapprove.  Why?  Because it keeps me from getting the crap knocked out of me, day after day after day.

And yet, through all of those smiles and all of that laughter, through all of the identification, the unusual common ground, the ground that validates us, that separates us from those who live “inside,”– throughout the foundation of our amazing common dignity, the buck always stops when the fine print is read.   And the fine print said:

I’m sorry, bro, but I really don’t want to distract that guy while you steal his bicycle.  I mean, I’m sorry man, but I’m just not into it.  I know you just turned me on to a bud of great medical weed.  I know, I know, but still, but still . . . 

How does one convey that just because one does not desire to partake in a criminal activity, this does not mean that one is the enemy of those who do?   At least five times a week, I have to look into the shocked, threatened eyes of someone who has just realized that I simply have no desire to commit a crime. No desire to steal from anyone. No desire to do someone bodily harm or psychic damage in order to obtain what I want for myself.

At that point, our common dignity means nothing. I am only an easy mark. My personality means nothing, really. And so, nobody recognizes me for who I am. It’s an incredibly empty place to be.

Andy Pope
Berkeley, California
June 15, 2015

 Anything Helps!
God Bless!

 

The End from the Beginning

I tend to use the word “composing” a bit loosely.  The word “arranging” might be more appropriate for what I’m currently about.   I wrote the song “Bone of My Bones” in my head a little over a year ago, when I was still homeless in Berkeley.   I arranged it shortly after I moved up to Idaho, and used that arrangement as the first movement in my Royal Rhapsody.  But then, throughout the months that passed since creating that arrangement, I kept “hearing” a different feel for “Bone of My Bones,” one that suggested rock instruments and a driving rock beat in places.  So I created the arrangement linked to the title below, and I called that process “composing.”

Bone of My Bones

Copyright © 2017 by Andrew Michael Pope
All Rights Reserved

It often seems to me that I am not truly “composing” the piece in question until I actually put the notes down on paper, reasonably replicating the way that I “hear” those notes in my head.  Hence, the looseness of terminology.  Also, I’m intending to use this version of “Bone of My Bones” as part of a much larger piece, described in this post.  All of the themes I allude to have already been “composed” in my head.  But have they truly been composed?   If a tree falls in the forest, and no one is there to hear the sound, did it really fall?  

Well – if you want my opinion, it did.  But enough people differ from that opinion, I figured it would be best to post a more-or-less philosophical disclaimer at this time.  We basically do not know at what point in the process the “composing” of the musical piece actually begins.   In like manner, we also do not know when the composing of the piece of music ends.  

Case in point.   When I started working on Bones again, I decided to name the first file “Bones 17-A” since this was the year 2017, and I wanted to distinguish it from the 2016 version.   When I got to Version 18-F, it therefore meant that I had created 32 versions of the piece, going all the way through the alphabet once, from 17-A to 17-Z, and then up to the letter F with the number 18 preceding.  I then played Version 18-F for a friend of mine named Cindy.

Cindy liked the piece of music, even though it wasn’t nearly finished yet.  Then, when I got to Version 18-W, the 53rd version (the one you are hearing now), I wanted to play it for her again — but she said:

Why

Apparently, she thought it was fine the way it was, and that I had no need to work on it any further.  Yet I had already created seventeen more versions of the piece!   At that point, I was afraid to play it for her, for fear that she wouldn’t think it had evolved.

But if I defer to my own sovereignty in the matter (since after all, I am the Artist here), I still don’t think it’s done, even at Version 18-W.  The only reason why I have stopped here, and am permitting you all to hear it in this highly incomplete state, is because I know it’s only one theme in a much larger work, and I want to get onto the other themes, and start connecting them together.  In that process, many things are bound to change anyway, so I might as well not be too much of a perfectionist.  At the extreme, I would keep working on it until it was Bones 47-C or greater.  And I would never get anything else done, in life, at all.

I once lived behind a Fine Artist – a sculptor, in fact, one of great renown.   I had to walk through his studio in order to get to my apartment.  (A bizarre but symbiotic arrangement.)  Once, for days on end, I saw him become increasingly frustrated working on a certain sculpture.  Finally, he said something to me as I passed through.

duchamp
Marcel Duchamp

“Andy, do you see that spot there?  I’ve been trying for days to get it off of this damn thing!   It’s ruining the whole sculpture!”

“Spot?” I queried.  “What spot?  I don’t see anything.”

“Right there!  Don’t you see it?  It’s right there, damn it — getting in the way of everything!!”

“Uh…er…Darryl — who is the sculptor whom you revere the most?”

“Why, Marcel Duchamp.  You know that already, Andy.”

“And what did Marcel Duchamp say about the completion of a work of Art?”

“He said that he never finished a piece of Art.  He only abandoned it.”

“Well, I hate to break it to you, Daryl, but I think it’s about time you abandoned this sculpture.”

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No Longer an Island

I mentioned in this recent post that three more of my pieces have been published in Street Spirit. It looks as though Terry Messman, the publisher, is going to want me to contribute regularly.  So far, he has published one story in the August edition, and three in the September edition.  I told him I would try to come up with three publishable pieces each month after this.  I’ve noticed that he and I seem to see eye to eye on these themes, and I am basically blown away that a newspaper even exists wherein my work would be appropriate.  I am no longer an island unto myself.  

I’m writing today to let you know that the online version of this month’s Street Spirit is now available.   Below are links that will lead you to all three samples of my work, along with copies of the illustrations attached to each.  (The beautiful painting below is “Serenity Base” by Christine Hanlon.)

SERENITY_BASE-770x257

The Voices of the Streets

MobyNO

Easy to Say No

(Please note that in addition to the story now entitled “Easy to Say No,” you will also find an exact copy of my short statement, I Told Them I was Homeless, on that same page.)

I want to thank Sally Hindman for connecting me to Street Spirit, and of course I want to thank Terry Messman, the publisher.  Information on these two very interesting people, and their connection to Street Spirit, may be found here.  It strikes me as interesting how I never actually met Sally and Terry when I actually lived in Berkeley, but am now connected to them now in a very meaningful way.  For I have discovered a wonderful newspaper, created by like-minded “kindred spirits” who, prior to the past two months, I did not know existed.   This, coming as it does at a very tumultuous period in my admittedly very rocky and uncertain life, is a true sign of hope.

Finally, I want to thank all of my faithful readers for your ongoing interest in my creative work and in the cause therein embraced.  Thank you all for your support.

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The Voices of the Streets

Good news — I just had three more pieces published in the September issue of Street Spirit.  The publisher, Terry Messman, has not yet prepared the online links, but he did send me a pdf of the hard copy:

September 2017 Street Spirit

You can find two of my pieces on the 4th page.  On the top is the one entitled “Easy to Say No,” the title of which has been changed from Social Statement by the publisher.   I Told Them I Was Homeless is below.   There are very interesting illustrations involved, as well as a posting of the lyrics from the song “Easy to Be Hard” from the rock musical HAIR. which incidentally I music-directed at U.C. Davis in 1979.

But the best representation of my work is the piece now called “Society Must Listen to the Voices of the Streets,” which is published on p.8 beneath a beautiful painting called “Serenity Base” by Christine Hanlon.   This is actually the second half of Homeless Tinge, done up newspaper-column-style, with some of the paragraphs split into shorter components.  

I hope you all get a chance to check these out.  I really had no expectations when I stumbled on this gig.  But I must say that any expectations I might have had have been far exceeded by the wonderful work of Terry Messman.  I also want to thank Pastor Sally Hindman for connecting me to the paper.  I had never pictured myself as a “columnist” before!  It is a surprising and strangely welcome feeling.

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Fifth Day of Composing

I’ve been composing a lot of music. I’m working on “Bone of My Bones” the way I actually have been hearing it in my head all this time, ever since doing a substandard sequencing of it some time ago, only motivated by wanting to “place” it within the Royal Rhapsody. This new version coincides with the email of July 12th of this year, which I sent jointly to Danielle, to my daughter, and to my pastor, when I received the musical information for the extended composition I’m now working on.

Although it is a bit embarrassing in restrospect to observe how I attributed every nuance of my new compositional focus to Direct Divine Design, there nonetheless is a nice balance in the way the varying themes blend into a whole.  I notice this as I work on the new composition, and it eases the sense of enormity which the project conveys, which can at times be intimidating, especially when one is overcome with sloth.  

Not so my present mode, as I actively pursue heated composition on Day Five.  Here is the extended creative information:

July 12, 2017

New / Old Music.

All these themes, as well as the various segues and transitions that tie them together, come from the “same place,” musically speaking, a place of perfect beauty and purity that I daresay is divine, both in origin and in nature.

1. The Main Theme – is essentially “Bone of My Bones” (first movement, Royal Rhapsody), but with a defining beat to it – unlike its manifestation in The Royal Rhapsody, and more like the way I played it on Neil’s guitar after I first wrote it, before the lady from the nearby house interrupted us to inform us that we should really not have been making music so close to a private residence.

The “defining beat” is able to identify nuances in the melodic/harmonic content of the piece and highlight them for the listener, whereas they would otherwise have been overlooked. For this purpose, the usage of “beat” is very definitive throughout the larger piece of which all these themes are a part. This also means that is *essential* to find the right percussive instrumentation for the project. If I’m at the stage where my own body comes closest, then I haven’t gotten very far. But the “electronic drums” used in the original Berkeley Project from which this type of music-making springs fall far short of the more divinely designated drumming that I’m sure is available if I truly seek that beat wholeheartedly.

The Main Theme will be stated three times, not in succession, but spread about throughout the piece. The first time would probably be at the very beginning – just as is the case in the original Royal Rhapsody. The second time will emerge from the Tertiary Theme which I will discuss a bit later. The third and final time will emerge from the Secondary Theme, which I will discuss right now.

2. The Secondary Theme is stated three times in succession, with different transitional music following each statement of the theme, before the final segue leads to the conclusive Main Theme, and not just to another restatement of the Secondary Theme.

To identify the Secondary Theme, it is the section of music that I originally had inserted within the “Stalk Section” found in the long version of “Bubbles Taboo,” before I left it out when I got up to Moscow and was able to sequence that version. It is a sad theme, though with an interesting lilt in this more lively, rhythmic version. Alao, to further identify it for the sake of nostalgia, the guitarist Niel Mortenson, and he alone, has heard this music emerge from my fingers.

About the transitional music following each statement of the Secondary Theme, the first transition is the shortest and the second transition is considerably longer. The first statement of the second transition leads to the third statement of the Secondary Theme. The second statement of the second transition is the third and final transition pertaining to the Secondary Theme, and leads to the third and conclusive statement of the Main Theme.

(I see that I am in danger of forgetting both the aforementioned transitions. That’s what I get for not singing them immediately into my Audacity sound editor that I have downloaded for Windows – a time-saving habit that I’ve never quit bothered to develop. But I’m trying not to kick myself too hard right now. Next time it’s quiet, and I’m at home at my desk, I’ll tune into the Secondary Theme as deeply as possible, and hope that the relevant transitions return to me. They always do, if I work at it.)

3. The Tertiary Theme can best be identified by its being the theme I first “heard” this morning. As a “brand new” theme, it is connected conceptually, but not historically, to the themes in the Berkeley Project. It is a much shorter theme, and the power of its three-time successive statement might be dismissed by the listener were it not for the glaring function of its transitions. The transitions actually expand upon the power of their predecessors, and fool the listener into believing they’re headed for their original usage to serve the Main Theme or the Secondary Theme, rather than back to the Tertiary Theme.

Although there are other themes, it gets tricky from here. The Secondary Theme is connected musically to “Bubbles Taboo” in a way that is telling, if awkward. Its original usage not only was conceived to be part of a lengthier rendition of “Bubbles Taboo” than the world will probably never hear, but the transitions it involves point to “Bubbles Taboo” in other ways as well. Right now, however, I’m having a hard time recollecting how one of the transitions, used to lead directly into one of the statements of the Main Theme, also leads very easily into the main defining theme of “Bubbles Taboo.” But let’s face it — who wouldn’t be having a hard time keeping track of all this by now? I believe the connection between the two uses of that particular transition will return to me, along with the defining musical content of the transition in question. But if it doesn’t? C’est la vie. God obviously has something better in mind.

4. Sirens of Hope – this will not necessarily be referred to as the Fourth Theme. What appears to happen. after an appropriate expression of transitional music seems to be putting a cap on the final statement of the Main Theme, is that the last measure or two of that transitional music happens to lead very nicely into the main theme of “Sirens of Hope” – yet stated this time without the fast, rhythmic quality that characterizes the way I had hastily sequenced it for the Berkeley Project, once I had arrived in Moscow and had proceeded to put some small measure of rational thought into how exactly I was to go about it, before impulsively plunging into the haphazard, misleading version I posted on the Berkeley Page, because I couldn’t wait, and couldn’t stop, and was just too excited, and too impatient, and all that.

I also don’t want to overemphasize the value of another body of transitional music that stems from the “A Part” or introductory section of the version of “Sirens of Hope” already sequenced. But it appears that when this body of music is taken much slower and much less rhythmically than I had presented it for the “Sirens” already sequenced, it has power both to attract the listener almost to a theme of its own, and also to take the statement of that theme directly back to the main theme of “Sirens of Hope” from which it stemmed.

In conclusion, I know that I will later feel I should have gathered my senses and sung into my Audacity program every theme or transition that I originally heard myself performing when I first woke up this morning and seemed not to be able to stop the singing, accompanied by the percussive use of my body, that apparently I was performing all throughout my sleep last night. (If you’re incredulous, just ask my next door neighbor.)

However, I also feel that the information provided in this file is sufficient to get me started on the project. At some point, the transitional themes will recur in full, if I go about this in a good heart – the way I went about when I was in Berkeley. I basically have to keep bearing in mind where this music is coming from – the place from which it comes is not merely Beauty of Meaning or Purpose or Truth – it s actually Perfection, and it cries out to be honored as such. Probably it cries out more loudly to perfectionists themselves — because we are the ones most likely to believe its call.

The difference, of course, between God’s Perfection and human perfectionism is that He doesn’t make mistakes. This is why He is completely to be trusted. There’s no danger in trusting Him, as there is with even the most trustworthy of mere mortals. So, I can take comfort in that His giving me this unexpected new musical direction so surprisingly this morning, was *not* a mistake of His. I may or may not be mistaken to prioritize so highly its production. The Jury is still out on that one. but the Judge is the one with the gavel.

All for now —

Andy

The problem has been that by the time I went back to these words approximately three weeks later, I had forgotten the “Tertiary Theme” entirely. You see, I had never bothered to write it down, and so eventually it escaped me. I then abandoned the project in disgust. But then, unexpectedly, the theme that I had not written down returned to me! This was approximately five days ago, and so I resumed work on the project immediately. I still haven’t written the theme down — but I’m convinced I won’t forget it, as I continue to work on other, less relevant, portions of the impending piece — such as this “Bone of My Bones” section.

This new composing persona also suggests the rebirth or resurrection of a former great Andy-image within the Moscow community. In this image, I am *seen* composing music with Finale at various hot spots around town. This is a bright contrast to the image of the Andy who is *seen* furiously typing on his externally extended keyboard, as he is doing now, when just minutes ago, he was *seen* pleasantly composing beautiful new music, as is his preferred persona. Conspicuously so, at that. Noticeably, visibly composing music — to the widespread admiration of all.

You see, when I am composing music with Finale, I use a lot of “drag & drop” features, mostly large silent swoops of the external mouse.  It’s a novel sight in comparison to the previous, furious fast-paced, prolonged spells of typing.  It’s a welcome sight, in the eyes of most of the community.  They are at once relieved of my typing, and introduced to the much more pleasant and intriguing world of music notation software, its usage made manifest among the multitudes that comprise Moscow, Idaho, where I most notably, noticeably do my work.  

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Daylight

This will undoubtedly be a more difficult post for me to write than the two more wild posts that have preceded it.   What has been happening is that I have been coming to terms with how severely my personal issues of the past six months have completely interfered with the discipline I need to move forward with my larger creative projects.

When I first moved into the Friendship Apartments on July 27th of last year, it seemed an incredible godsend.   This was especially the case when compared with my previous “place of residence.”  I had been on the streets for three years consistently in Berkeley prior to that, and for twelve years I had been homeless off-and-on in Berkeley and other towns.  That a trustworthy landlord even appeared who would trust me with a one-year lease on an apartment was remarkable.  So I cannot claim that Friendship Square has not been a blessing of tremendous magnitude.

However, something began to change within me, maybe not exactly on March 4th, when I reached the “pinnacle” described in the previous entry, but in a gradual way following that date.  Whereas before, my studio apartment had been a place of refuge and solitude, it gradually became on open door to all the social activities I eventually found among those who also took up residence in the Friendship Apartments.  I’m not sure how to describe what happened to me, other than to say that my loneliness eventually superseded my aloneness.  

The blessing of aloneness had been in solitude, seclusion, and sanctuary.  I found creative asylum in aloneness, and I proceeded with the Berkeley Music and the Babylon Script with a disciplined fury, only taking Sundays off from my writing.  Slowly, however, the blessing of solitude was transformed into a curse of loneliness.  I began to interact with whoever happened to be nearby, often another lonely person like myself.  I honestly think I did not even realize that I was lonely.  I doubt that many of the other men in my building were in touch with their loneliness either.  It isn’t easy, after all, for a man to admit that he has such feelings.

Before I knew it, I had befriended every man, and most of the women, in the Friendship Apartments.  It seemed they were called the “Friendship Apartments” for a reason.  Much reveling took place.  I would sometimes wake up in the morning wondering what I had done with myself.   (At this point, I am certain I need say no more.)

My pastor at my church had become concerned, along with those few members of the community whom I had truly befriended, including Young Paul down at the Bagel Shop.   We were all decidedly looking for a new and better place for me to stay, even as I was clinging to the model of Friendship Square as the answer to years of prayers I prayed on the streets, praying only that God would grant me “a window, a lock on the door, and a power outlet.”  After being homeless for so long, I was convinced that this was all I would need to be happy.

I got on a list for subsidized Senior housing.  Then, just yesterday, something came up.  It’s a two bedroom apartment, actually, for only $318/mo.  It’s in a good area, near Paradise Path where I run, and near the Safeway at the East Side Mall.  It’s off the beaten trail of the student partying at the Main Street pubs, as well as the more insidious, invisible “tweaker” scene that lurks menacingly all around the current block.   It isn’t at all a certainty yet, but I feel a real hope about this option.  Also, if it falls through, Young Paul has offered to let me take over the lease on his one-bedroom apartment (also in an excellent location) as soon as he and a roommate move into their two-bedroom.   So it seems fail-safe.

If any of you are the praying types, please pray about this.  I believe that, while it may not exactly “solve” my problems, it will put me in an environment much more conducive to their being solved.   And in any case, I awoke this morning feeling that some unweildy burden had been lifted from me overnight.  I am no longer so “wild,” nor have I been contemplating the unfeasible.   It is entirely possible that, the next time you hear from me, I will be standing on higher, more fertile, ground.

“The night is far gone; the day is at hand. So then let us cast off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light.”
–Romans 13:12

Published!

To those of you who might be more accustomed to getting more substantial pieces of prose or poetry published in more prestigious periodicals, my excitement about having been published yesterday may appear to be entirely unwarranted.  Therefore, I will try to subdue it.

As I mentioned earlier, I submitted three short pieces of prose to a San Francisco Bay Area newspaper called Street Spirit.  The pieces I submitted were Homeless Tinge, I Told Them I was Homeless, and A New Pair of Glasses.   Yesterday, I was informed that “A New Pair of Glasses” had been published – although the publisher change the title to A New Way of Seeing.  I didn’t mind the change, however, in light of its having been published.  I also find the layout to be very professional, and the illustrations to be marvelous.  Both are duplicated here below, with a link to the story itself sandwiched between them.  

Scavengers-1

A New Way of Seeing

Forgotten

The publisher Terry Messman offered to send some hard copies of the newspaper to my home address here in Moscow.  If anybody wants one, please leave a message on my Contact Page, and we’ll take it from there.  

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Hang On To Your Wallet

Believe it or not, this is a true story.  It happened when I was house-sitting for a friend in Burlingame, California where I lived and worked for many years, long before becoming homeless in Berkeley.   It tells how I left my wallet on a bus on the way to a lunch for poor people at a Catholic church, in Redwood City and how my efforts to borrow a dollar in order to get a bus back to Burlingame were only greeted with suspicion, as though it were some kind of sophisticated scam.  After five failed efforts in increasing frustration, I never could procure a single dollar.  So I wound up sleeping on a lawn outside the city library.  I suppose I’ll have to put some serious effort into honing my dollar-borrowing skills for the future.

Get a load of this. I lost my wallet yesterday with my photo I.D. and all my cards including Starbucks and McDonald’s cards I had put money on knowing that I might run of cash early in the month. Lost both my debit cards – and even though one of my customers is paying me tomorrow, I have no way of receiving the money that I know of. My assistant Danielle will get the money as usual, but the typical means of transferring my cut of it to my account are inapplicable, since there is no way for me to draw the money out of my account.

I was stranded in a strange town all day where I had been going to a “feed,” which is a “free lunch” where people in the impoverished classes go in order not to spend money that they don’t have on food. I had left the wallet on the bus, and though I realized seconds later what I had done (waking up and hurriedly running off the bus, realizing it was my stop), I could not flag the bus driver down. Then, once I was able to reach a SamTrans office agent by phone, I was told that the particular driver had switched buses by then and that I would have to fill out an online form in order *maybe* to get the wallet back in 8-10 days.

walletAll right, so that’s typical bureaucracy, and worse things have happened. But proceeding to the feed after that was one of the biggest mistakes I could have made in terms of maintaining health or sanity at that time. For as I attempted to see about obtaining a bus ticket of some sort in order to get back home to Burlingame, I was repeatedly told by one social worker after another that I would have to walk a distance of over two miles in the noonday heat and get in a line at a separate social service agency in order to *maybe* get a bus ticket. There was not one iota of sympathy for the loss of wallet, cards, Safeway card, library card, photo I.D., etc.,” Slowly I began to realize that this was not an issue of my ability or inability to tolerate a difficult situation in life; it was an issue of prejudice against a person in a lower socio-economic class.  

After I had spoken with four or five people at the feed, trying to find someone’s supervisor and so forth, I admit that by then I was deploying what appeared to be a very well-rehearsed appeal — possibly even a scam. Did anyone actually believe me? I wasn’t quite sure. I could easily have been a very sophisticated street hustler brandishing some cockamaney tale in order to get one dollar after another from the gullible. That would at least explain all the chuckles and general feeling of amusement that I was getting on the part of these social workers as one by one, they dismissed my dilemma as frivolous and immaterial, not to be taken seriously.

But my “appeal,” of course, was that I be granted a single dollar bill in light of my hardship, so that I could simply take a bus home, and take it from there — given that I had also left my bus pass on the SamTrans bus. The fourth person had her arms on my shoulders telling me she would “pray for me,” which was a wonderful expression of complete abnegation of one’s responsibility as a fellow human being toward another human being in need, as though: “Of course I dare not help you, but perhaps God will if I petition Him on your behalf.”

Incensed, I approached a fifth person with my plea, to which she simply shrugged and said: “It is what it is.”

By this time, I was infuriated. I turned to her and asked her directly: “When you lose all your keys, and you cannot get into your car, and you cannot get back inside your house, and your kids are crying and screaming, and you cannot get them to school on time, and you left the burner on in the kitchen, but you do not have the key to the side door, and you call for help somehow to someone, and then you hear the words, ‘it is what it is,’ do you particularly appreciate that response?

At that point, I was advised by security that I was no longer welcome at the feed.

I said: “fine,” and set down my plate, somewhat emphatically, as it were. I was thereafter so exercised that I had no problem at all storming over to the Human Services Agency in the heat at a lightning-fast clip, being as one of the many great advantages of my years of outdoor living is that it happens to have put me into excellent, vigorous, physical shape. (That there were no vouchers for bus rides at the HSA came as no particular surprise, nor did my announcement that I would then therefore be crashing out on the lawn by their lovely city’s local library come as any surprise to the shoulder-shrugging social workers in attendance.)

People who are in the business of “helping” those of us who are in the underprivileged and disadvantaged classes need to become aware that it does net “help” us when we are not regarded as equals. Granted, nobody there “owed” me a dollar — but if they are Christians, which I would hope that people associated with St. Anthony’s Church in Redwood City are; then certainly the words of St. Paul apply:

“Owe nothing to anyone except to love one another; for he who loves his neighbor has fulfilled the law.” – Romans 13:8 NASB

What they owed me — what we all owe each other – and the only thing that we owe each other – is love. Where, I ask – where — is the love?

Andy Pope
Burlingame  CA
November 12. 2015

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Closet of Shame

This one was written at around the same time as my Homeless Tinge.  I had been living indoors here in Idaho for about four months, successfully managing a job and an studio apartment for the first time in over twelve years.  But I remember being annoyed with the friend of mine who had helped me with the one-way.  He kept advising me to completely hide the fact that I had ever been homeless.  I understood that he was only trying to help, but it just didn’t sit well with my integrity.

I need to make the decision whether  to “come out” concerning my recently heavily hidden homeless experience, or whether to continue to hide it. I have not told one person in Moscow that I was homeless, except for the therapist whom I saw for exactly two visits, and then left once I realized he wasn’t listening to my issues, and was actively in the process of beginning to address issues I did not have. I left somewhat regretting that I’d mentioned the homelessness to this particular individual, not that I didn’t like him personally (because I did) but because after I decided to leave the counseling, it seemed that my release of the information was entirely unnecessary.

woman-closetSome time ago, an intuition told me to wait six months before “coming out.” I’ve only been here four and a half months. It just dawned on me, however, that I’ll have six months of “sobriety” at six o’clock tomorrow morning. Could the “intuition” have referred to that six months? Maybe so. But if so, it makes me feel rushed. I feel like a “closet homeless person.” One might say that I am no longer homeless. But that’s not exactly true. I’m still homeless in my heart, by a certain very profound definition of the word that often escapes public attention. I may not be homeless in my current behavioral patterns; i.e.,using a key to unlock a door to a place I can roughly call “home;” using a forever-open window to obtain fresh air rather than an outdoor dwelling spot to obtain the same, and so forth. But all that means is that I am not currently practicing my homelessness. So what is the sense in which I am still homeless?

I am still “homeless” because I do not relate my current place of residence to permanence. The only permanent residence to which I relate is the Kingdom of God. My home is in heaven; I am a stranger and a pilgrim on the earth; I knew I was a stranger to the earth long before I became a Christian or could even contemplate identifying as a pilgrim. But then, in another sense, I am not homeless at all, because I have an eternal home in Christ. That’s huge. Still, I am homeless in a worldly sense, impermanent in the big picture, but permanent as far as life in this world, on this earth, is concerned. Whether anyone around me is aware of it, I think, speak, and act like more like your typical homeless person than I do like a person who holds his home to be a specific dwelling place on the earth, in the world.

It may seem I’m mincing words. But there is an enormity here that needs to be taken into consideration. Whatever the strength or weakness of my explanation, my identification as “homeless” makes me feel as though I am in the “closet” and hiding something essential about my nature to the people around me. I am not merely hiding my history of past homeless experience. I am actually hiding who I am.

This is spiritually dangerous. For one thing, it will inevitably impair my personal and social relationships here in Moscow. People will sense that I am hiding something – only they don’t know what it is. So they begin to speculate among themselves, as people will do. This may already be happening. How many times have I been talking with Norman, Kathy, or Mary – the three people at my church with whom I have been making a concerted effort to make friends – and all of a sudden there is a huge pause in my speaking? It’s as though I’ve run up against a brick wall. I’m not a person who hides his feelings very easily. People tell me that I am “transparent” or even that I wear them on my shirtsleeve. So I sense that these people receive my feeling very clearly – and yet the words have mysteriously ceased to emerge from my mouth – sometimes even in mid-sentence. “What is he hiding?” I can hear them thinking.

We know what he is hiding. So the more pertinent question is: Why is he hiding?”

Originally, I concealed my homelessness for much the same reason I would have concealed my experience with chemical dependency pertaining to an unpopular substance. I didn’t want not to be considered for a lease on an apartment; I didn’t want not to be considered for a part-time church job. I also didn’t want to be somehow funneled into some pointless program, facility, agency, or institution – although the more I remain in Moscow, the more I realize that this is unlikely. Outside of the obvious issue of personal sovereignty; that is to say, nobody can force me into one of those programs or institutions, unless I were legally mandated into one of them by Court order; there are two other Moscow-related factors that make the suggestion unlikely. For one thing, I can’t help but notice that people in Moscow are disinclined to put other people into “boxes” – far less inclined than people in, say, Berkeley, or the San Francisco Bay Area in general. This may or may not be a “California” thing; but it definitely hasn’t happened in Idaho as I have thus far experienced Idaho through Moscow. If a person is “headed down,” people here are much more likely to attribute it to the economy than they are to personal factors, such as drug addiction, alcoholism, poor mental health, or laziness. Needless to say, this is refreshing.

For another thing, there simply aren’t any programs, agencies, or institutions in the area. The only facility I’ve noticed is the Police Department, which I suppose contains a city jail. But how likely is it, given what I just said, that somebody is going to criminalize me on the basis of this revelation, should I choose to “come out” and reveal my true identity? Not likely – especially considering that I am not “practicing” my homelessness at this time. So basically the only remaining reason why I wouldn’t come out of the closet – is stigma. I have experienced so much stigma that spoils the identity of the true homeless person, and therefore diminishes reception toward his truth, that I basically am reluctant even to deal with it. Much as it is difficult for me to hide anything about myself at all, it is still in a way easier to overlook this issue, rather than risk opening up a Pandora’s box that could lead practically anywhere.

Now, to the moment  — and to the reason why this has come up at this time.

A buddy of mine, a retired middle school music teacher, spotted me $600 in three separate installments in order for me to get established here. He paid my security deposit (though not my last month’s rent), paid for my one-way bus ticket, and shelled out an additional $200 during the first couple months of my stay here. He’s a person who gives unsolicited advice by nature (many people in the teaching profession have this quirk), and he gave me a lot of advice that I soaked in for two reasons: (1) it made logical sense, at least at the start; and (2) I was kissing his ass in case I could get more money out of him. Now (2) is entirely against my integrity, but it actually took me until very recently – as in the past two days – to realize that this is what I was doing. The way that I realized it was as follows.

Usually, when he would send me am email of unsolicited advice, I would do one of two things:

(1) I would recognize that the advice pertained pretty well to my situation, thank him for the advice, and proceed to follow it immediately (with or without checking first with the Lord on the matter, or with any other person from whom I stood no real chance of receiving further money).

(2) I would notice that it did not pertain to my situation, be mildly irked, and send out some polite, half-truthful response that kept me on the up-and-up with the Rich Man.

But the Poor Boy could only suppress his true nature so far, and he would finally wind up exploding – as he did on Thursday night. The explosion would contain my truth, as opposed to all the previous bullshit; but since it was an explosion, the explosion itself would immediately become the issue, rather than any truthful content that the explosion would contain. So why was my truth coming out in an explosion, rather than bit by bit along the path? Obviously, because I had been bullshitting him, whether I knew it or not.

Why was I bullshitting him? Partly out of guilt because I figure I owed him (even though he wrote off the debt.) But largely, I was bullshitting him in order to please him, to live by his standards, and not mine.  I did this in the hope that further money would be kicked my way, further down the road. This is what’s known as hypocrisy. So I refused to do it anymore. The easiest way to do so, though perhaps not the best way, is to have announced that while I have appreciated his help, he and I are two essentially different people; and I would not be engaging in the email exchange any further, nor do I wish him to be anything but relieved of all sense of obligation toward assisting me with my personal struggle. That does sound like integrity, though a deeper integrity would have been to persist in the email exchange anyway and just keep arguing with him as long as he was down for it, with or without the ulterior motive of desiring money to be kicked toward the Poor Boy from the Rich Man. (Note the ironic hierarchical twist in my phraseology. One is a Man if one has money and a Boy if he does not.)

I have respectfully bowed out of the email aspect of my longstanding friendship with this man.  I have insisted that he not help me financially in any way any further. This doesn’t mean I might not call him further down the road, or write a letter, or something along those lines. But this daily contact through email, defining an active friendship with a large degree of dysfunction, has been terminated. I’m fine with that. What’s interesting, however, is what has transpired in the two days since I’ve ceased to try to live by his standards, but rather by my own integrity and the timeless biblical foundation in which it is founded.

truthWhat happened is that less than two days later, I spontaneously wrote the first inspired piece pertaining to the homeless experience that I have written since coming to Moscow, with the half-exception of Scene One of the new version of Eden in Babylon. When I wrote “Homeless Tinge,” I thought: “My God! It’s all coming back to me!” As removed as I have been from my homeless identity, that identity was thrust to the forefront as soon as I realized I’d been kissing up to a person who has consistently disavowed any integrity in my embrace of said identity. As soon as I ceased trying to adopt the uninformed values of someone who has no identification with the homeless experience whatsoever, my own homeless identification was reawakened. Then, my friend Jamie wanted to post a couple paragraphs of that piece on her Facebook, “with or without attribution,” which catalyzed the present dialectic. For one thing, it confirmed for me that the writing was strong and that the message is needed. When my voice was subjugated under my wealthy friend’s domination of my personal sovereignty, I’d neglected the message entirely.

This explains my depression. It explains the emptiness I would often feel coming back from Choir rehearsal, feeling that something was definitely wrong, that my chi was clogged, that the life flow had been stunted, that I had been oppressed by arbitrary hierarchical domination based on classist values that I myself abhor. None of that stuff pertains anymore. Now that I have been granted this bill of divorcement, my true vision has once again surfaced. God bless the man; he fulfilled a purpose in God’s scheme, but that doesn’t mean that I owe him any kind of allegiance, to do his bidding thereafter.  I only him love, the same love I owe to all – great or small, rich or poor, close or far.  That I would feel obliged to “kiss up” to him is to my failing and my hurt.  But if I shed that false notion, than I am immediately washed with a balm of painless success.  The man did no wrong; I did wrong by him; I need do no more wrong, to him or another.  My sins are forgiven: I need only sin no more.

But the question remains as to how far I should come out. Do I come out slowly? Leak it out? Talk to Norman first? Or limit this divulgence to the three friends I’ve made at the church? And maybe to Paul and his wife, decent hard-working musicians whom I would be much inclined to trust? Or will that mean it will get around? Do I limit it to my writing only? And to unpublished writing? Basically, I don’t want Jamie to post my decent writing on a needed message without acknowledging its source – that would be extremely self-defeating for me as a Writer, being as anyone who’s read any of my writing at all will tell you that my writing on Homelessness is my strongest work.

I do not have the answer yet, except to express to Jamie that I don’t want the two paragraphs to be quoted without attribution. It’s either with attribution or not at all. But if there’s attribution, then how am I to be identified or contacted? My current public blog, though it deals implicitly with these issues, goes out of its way to conceal the homeless identity every bit as much as did the many compromising conversations that were used to maintain the dysfunctional status quo with my music teacher friend, and the conversations containing the awkward moments that I’ve had with those whom I have attempted to befriend. So if she puts my name there and people wonder “who is Andy Pope?” naturally as a Writer I would want there to be a link to my web site. But my web site suffers in the same manner as do the conversations in my budding friendships. I am telling the truth, but not the whole truth as pertains to the matter at hand. And it shows. And – it hurts.

What is the temptation? Am I tempted toward vainglory? Or, on the other hand, toward cowardice? If I come out, will I give God the glory? Ha – the point is moot. How can I not give him the glory? The risk involve is large enough, and the trial huge enough, that I will need to turn to Him. So turn to Him I will, and turn to Him I do, for in Him may I trust.

A Scripture has been running through my head all day. It says: “redeeming the time, for the days are evil.” Why is that coming up? What does it mean to “redeem the time?” Well, for one thing, it means not to waste time. Yeah – that’s what I’ve been doing – I’ve been wasting time – I could postpone this calling forever – but I mustn’t. So when do I come out? That’s the question – not how far. If I’m going to come out, I’m coming out all the way — none of this half-assed malarkey. But what does all the way mean? Shout it from the house tops? Stand up on top of the fountain at Friendship Square and say: “People of Moscow! I have an announcement to make!” (?) God forbid.

No that’s not where it is – but it’s somewhere. There’s something gnawing at me – hence I have sped the pace of this dialectic. What it is – is this.

When I have gotten depressed, and I’ve felt empty inside, as though spiritually dry, or even spiritually dead, I have almost invariably thought in my heart: “I need to be homeless again. I cannot be a member of the Mainstream of Modern American Life. It no longer works for me.” The wish to find my niche, my home so to speak, is valid; in fact, eternally so, for I am not a part of this world. This is something I’ve sensed internally, as I said, long prior to my deciding to identify as a Christian. But to seek to find my home in Homelessness; that is to say, in the practice of homelessness, is a misdirected application of this wish. My home is in heaven with Christ whether I live indoors or outdoors. So if I am experiencing separation from God in any sense by living indoors, it is not going to be solved by living outdoors. It is to be solved by getting my heart right with God.

In conclusion, my homelessness is not just a past experience, but an actual identity to be embraced.   Whether I live inside our outside, all I really need to do is validate that for myself, within myself, between me and my God. The rest will follow suit.

Given that conclusion, I already have repented. All that “repentance” really means is to change one’s mind. I have changed my mind. Have I changed my mind about living indoors? Not at all. Have I changed my mind about denying my homeless identity? Yes, I have. The only remaining question is when, where, how, and to whom is this information to be divulged. And the only answer I can come up with is that, since obviously it cannot be completely divulged all at once, I have to begin, bit by bit, step by step, to own my identity in some arena other than the Closet of Shame.

Andy Pope
Moscow, Idaho
6:10 p.m. – 2016-12-10

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Social Statement

Because I have been recently lamenting a tendency for some readers not to recognize that my posts are generally “social statements” rather than “requests for advice” (if you can possibly grasp that there could even be a relationship between the two), I am entitling this post “Social Statement,”  just in case there’s any doubt about where I’m coming from.  Granted, it’s a lousy title, but let’s begin.

I was blessed last night to spend the night at my pastor’s house on his farm, where I learned that he is also a farmer, and not only a pastor.  It was  great to be out in the beautiful country, away from the city, and away from Friendship Square, if only for a single night.  It was funny, too.

It was funny — because when he invited me to stay the night, my first thought was: “In all the years when I was homeless, when I lived on the streets, how many times did anyone ask me over to stay the night?”

zero

When I was homeless, and I asked somebody if I could stay the night at their house, what was their answer?

no-no

Herein lies the gist of a social statement.  It may not be headed in the exact direction you are suspecting.  My fellow homeless people and I naturally became more and more discouraged the more these statistics accumulated.  But we also naturally asked ourselves, “why” did close friends and family members categorically refuse to let us stay the night at their houses?  Even for one night?   In my case, even when I offered money to let them stay over one night and take a shower  –  or even just take the shower itself – they said “No.”  Why?

Eventually, we all concluded what I am about to describe.  They all knew that we were homeless.  They also knew that we had a number of other problems, but that none of those problems had ever made us homeless.  They had let us stay over when we were total slobs.  They had let me stay over when we were addicted to drugs.  Often, they themselves were addicted to drugs. They had let us stay over, whenever we were passing through, as long as we had not yet lost a place to live.   So why didn’t they let us stay over when we needed a place to stay?

The answer is simple.  All the problems that they had known about had never made us homeless.  Now we were homeless, and they did not know why.  Therefore we must have some problem that they did not know about, and that problem must have made us homeless.  Obviously, they thought, we had somehow screwed up our living situations in some way — otherwise, we wouldn’t have become homeless.  Since that had to be the case, would we not similarly screw up their living situations as well?  Sure we would.  

They were not concerned about our problems of which they were aware — they were concerned about our problems of which they were unaware.  Everyone has a little fear of the unknown, don’t they?  That fear prevented each and every one of them from ever letting us stay at their houses when we needed to.

You can’t imagine how difficult it was for me to call up a very close family member ten days after I had become homeless in 2004, and ask him if I could stay for a while in his spare room, and hear the word “No.”  When I asked him why, he said, “I don’t care to expand.”  Whenever I asked him over the years if he could elaborate, he said: “No.”

Why?  Because he himself did not know the reason.  He was not afraid of what he knew – he was afraid of what he didn’t know.  What he didn’t know was why I had wrecked up my living situation, and he didn’t want to take the risk of my wrecking up his as well.

The simple truth was that in the urban area where I had become homeless, the demand for living situations far exceeds the supply.  When I lost my last rental — for whatever reason — I could not readily get another one — for whatever reason.  I then fell down into the hole called Homelessness — a whole so deep I tried for twelve years to climb my way out of it.

0519d869c2f17b567099948384b9099bf8a86d-wmIf you can imagine the hurt and the pain I felt from hearing my own brother refuse to let me stay in the spare room at his house ten days after I had become homeless, try multiplying that level of pain by fifteen.  One by one, my closest friends and family members told me that I could not stay with them, nor even take a shower at their homes – not even in exchange for money.  So the discouragement that was strong enough, became fifteen times stronger.

Whatever enabled me to become encouraged again?  Encouraged as I still remain today, despite depression, despite mania, despite a medical condition, despite the loss of a job?

The amazing commonality that I shared with my homeless brothers and sisters on the streets of Berkeley, California, almost all of whom were enduring the same indignity as myself, affirmed our common dignity.  Our conversations, over a five year period, eventually lifted my spirit out of that hole, even though there did my body remain.

I’ve since been in touch with a Berkeley social worker.  I asked him how my best friend Lauren was doing, if she was still on the streets, and if her health was holding up.  I broke into tears when I learned that somebody had finally helped her with the initial deposit and last month’s rent, and she was now able to live on her disability in her own apartment somewhere in Southern California.  I have also heard similar stories, all across the board, of homeless people in my tribe pulling out of that gigantic hole, because our spirits had finally become encouraged by the hugeness of our common dignity, so much so that our bodies were soon to follow.

In Lauren’s case, it was her own brother who finally stepped up to the plate.  In my case, it was a retired music teacher who knew what I was made of, and fronted me a one-way to Idaho and enough money for the deposit on an apartment.  But the dramatic lift in spirits is common in all cases.  I went from being homeless on the streets of Berkeley, assuming I was to die a miserable, meaningless death on the streets, to having a job and an apartment in Moscow, Idaho, faster than the twinkle of an eye.

If that’s not an inspiration, I don’t know what it is.  But remember  – it is not just my inspiration; it is the inspiration of hundreds, maybe thousands, of some of the most inspired people on the face of this Earth.  That inspiration can make a difference.  Please,  let us make that difference — before it is too late.

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Culture Shock

I haven’t been active here lately because I’ve been trying to deal with complex issues related to my mental health and my Christian faith.  Much of this is explained in a 27-paragraph Facebook timeline post that prints out to 16 pages double-spaced.   It’s extremely lengthy and revealing, but if you want to read it, I will of course be highly gratified.  I’ll post again with a progress update once the smoke clears from this most recent explosion of nerves.  Take care in the meantime, and God bless you.

CULTURE SHOCK

Whenever I’ve had a Facebook in the past, there has usually been a much larger number of “friends” here, and I have created timeline posts of substantial length and content much more frequently. This wasn’t such a bad thing, because it provided a forum for the expression of some of my rather unusual personal views. However, it also got me into trouble. Not that I couldn’t handle the lively debate I had in fact been hoping to incite, but that sometimes I would be misconstrued in my core intentions. Sometimes, people would become concerned about me personally, when basically all I was trying to do was render a social statement based on my experience.

The classic example in my history would be the event of having three Oakland city cops knock on my door and haul me off to a loony bin over something I wrote on my timeline. To this day, I’m not even sure what I wrote, or how it was thus misconstrued. If I recall correctly, it had something to do with the ownership of a certain type of firearm, and how it related to 2nd Amendment rights. It was *not* along the lines of my being about to *use* a firearm on anybody. In fact, I have never owned a gun in my life. But this is the kind of thing that can happen here on Facebook. It was an unfortunate event, but like all unfortunate events, it did motivate me to think a few things through. I am always grateful that God gifted me with an unusually analytical mind, because the intellectual analysis of social details is invariably far more pleasant and productive than any mere depression in which I might otherwise engage. So – call that sublimation or what-have-you. I am an Artist and a Writer – or at least, I think like one. As such, any negative experience I have will immediately become source material for a future work of Art. That’s just the way I roll.

But many other things about my relationship to Facebook concern me. They seem symptomatic of a larger ill. I am never quite sure how much is *my* ill – my boundary issues, communication problems, impulse control issues, impatience, and so forth – and how much of it is due to the fact that the world is simply evil, and that Facebook instantiates the evil that is in the world already. If so, it’s a pretty huge, multi-billion dollar replica of that evil, and not just something to be trifled with. Whatever the case, Facebook is a lot more manageable if I keep it on the down low. But I will keep it. There are people in my life who will never answer my emails or even check their email. There are people in my life who won’t even call me on the phone or answer back if I call them. If I want to find these people, I know where to find them: Facebook. It’s a fact of modern life, just like the damned smartphone that so annoys me. The O.G. is just going to have to live with it.

rotary telephoneFor my part, I would rather we all still had rotary land line telephones that had only one function. Nowadays the smartphone has so many hundreds of functions, it frustrates me no end trying to keep track of them all. My sense of isolation from humanity is completely fed and fostered by modern-day technology. Am I the only person who has all these weird issues around Internet communications and social media? Maybe I’ve just never really bothered to explore it deeply enough to learn what’s truly useful and enjoyable about it all. But it just seems to me that all these different devices, and syncing them together, and two-step verification, and all that other rot is essentially a ploy on the part of the Powers That Be to rob us of our privacy and personal sovereignty, under the guise of increasing our security and convenience. Then again, I can never quite tell how much of this is *me* and how much is *it.* So I take the middle road, and have a smaller Facebook that I use much less frequently. Life is easier that way — for me.

Life is easier for me in a lot of ways, these days, than it has been for many years. This is why I am writing tonight. I haven’t created too many lengthy or meaningful timeline posts, and it’s about time I made a contribution. The lamentations that I have indulged regarding modern technology and the effects of classism on our culture were once those of an embittered old man who assumed he was on his way out. Despite my dreams, despite the worldview about which I am passionate, and despite my God-given talents, I was consigned to die a miserable, meaningless death on the streets, among others who were slowly doing the same. I would have died, as Cervantes wrote about the soldiers he saw dying in battle, not wondering why I was dying, but why I had lived. When I moved from Berkeley, California, to Moscow, Idaho, all of that changed. The sense of culture shock, though still quite shocking, was at the same time a true inspiration.

culture shockBut don’t get me wrong. I still believe what my unusual experiences have led me to believe. I still romance the year 1975, when we all had rotary land line telephones with only one function. But it was remarkable how many things that I loved about the seventies, that I thought had disappeared for good, were obviously still alive here in Moscow. So any despair I might have felt over the state of affairs here in America was instantly removed from my system of social perceptions. I almost feel guilty expressing optimism at this time in our history, but if you can get a grasp of the hugeness of the culture shock, and of its overall impact upon me, you will understand why. I simply did not know there were any places left in America where people still trust each other and believe in each other, where the average person has no reason to suspect that his neighbor will steal from him, and where it is ordinarily assumed that the person in his midst is a competent individual, capable of making rational choices and earning his own living. You have no idea how encouraged I have been to have made this discovery.

Even so, people in California warned me that I would find Idaho to be “backwards, bigoted, and behind the times.” Even as I gushed about how thrilled I was to have finally been able to pick myself up off the streets and craft the lifestyle I had been longing to know for years, many of my friends from California would only emphasize the negative. This could have been a reaction to the effusive and sometimes hyperbolic nature of my ravings. Or perhaps they were jealous that my life had suddenly become easier than theirs. Maybe they just wanted me to chill out, or calm down, or not to fly too high. What happened when Icarus flew too high? He crashed and burned. People who have known me for years know that I have this tendency, which in modern terminology is known as bipolar disorder. But there are other ways to frame the effects of this tendency rather than to treat it as a disease. I got a little bit hot under the collar when I was trying to express how wonderful life had suddenly become, and most of my friends in California were responding by telling me to go see a psychiatrist. Whatever the case, the inability of almost everyone I knew in the State of California to simply be happy for me, without inserting uninformed criticisms of the State of Idaho into their responses, angered me to the point where eventually, I decided to cut all contact with people from my previous existence. This was a rash and blanket, catch-all decision, which after a few weeks I recanted. But it kept me focused at a time when I was, in fact, beginning to “fly too high,” and I needed all the focus I could get.

So let’s take a step back and analyze the gist of their warning. Essentially, the warning states that Idaho, and every other State besides California (with the possible exception of Oregon and Washington) is “backwards, bigoted, and behind the times.” I hesitate to speak for “bigoted” because of the obvious fact that there is no distinct race in Idaho with a large enough population to comprise a target for bigotry, other than the White race. For bigotry and racial tension to be active in any environment, there would have to be at least two races of substantial population in that environment. However, I also want to say that I haven’t really met anyone here who expresses prejudicial or bigoted sentiments. I include this information partly because of something that Julian Hoover posted on a meme recently, regarding the Trump administration, and how racial tension and distrust have increased since his election. This may be true, but since I personally am emerging from a background of such *extreme* racial tension, it’s difficult for me to imagine how much worse it may have gotten since the election. After all, I’m not there anymore. I can only read about it in the papers. But when I was there, in the situation I was in, I was constantly being accused of being a racist by people who did not know me at all, who made this accusation on first sight, merely because my skin was White. Now in that dynamic, who exactly is the racist?

soical-stigmaThis is not mere prejudice. This is stigma. It is the event in which, as the sociologist Erving Goffman wrote in his work on the subject, “perception spoils identity.” I was being judged, not as an individual with his own unique identity, but as a member of a social faction that, in the perception of the person making the judgment, was composed completely of racists. It’s like assuming that the man begging for change on the sidewalk is a drug addict. Or that every drug addict is a thief. Neither of these things is true. In my opinion, the sooner we can all relax and see each other as the unique individuals whom we are, perfectly molded and crafted through our DNA by intentional divine design, at the hands of an invisible and ineffable Creator who knows exactly what He is doing, in a manner that we mere human beings cannot even conceive of, then the better off we will be. This is another reason why I was so overjoyed in coming to Moscow, Idaho. It was the first time in years that anybody was bothering to take me at face value for who I appeared to be, and not just lump me into some box. In the previous world, I kept feeling that the representatives of a political philosophy were trying very hard to put the round hole whom I am into the square box whom I am not. They almost succeeded, because their influence was so pervasive, I almost came to believe that they were right. Had I stayed in that environment much longer, I might have lost my identity completely.

Then, as far as “backwards” and “behind the times,” I think we need to take a look at this as well. For one thing, I have really come to question what is “progressive” about a society in which people have no good reason to trust their neighbors. Have we “progressed” to the point where there is so much theft in our worlds that we turn a blind eye to it, and much of it goes unreported? When I left my wallet at a Starbucks in Berkeley, it was gone fifteen minutes later. I had to replace all the cards, and of course I never got the cash back. When twice I left my wallet in the laundry room of my apartment building here, each time it was returned to me within three days by the janitors, once with $75 in cash in it. I also bought five cell phones during a five year period of time. With the exception of the one I sold when I was destitute, all four of them disappeared from my backpack overnight, whilst I slept. Finally, as most of you know, I had four laptops stolen from me in a three year period of time in Berkeley, and a fifth in Oakland, during that same period. Two of the Berkeley thefts were strong-armed robberies, meaning that I was pistol-whipped in the process. Outside of having to deal with the indignity and trauma thereof, I was extremely frustrated for the interruptions. I had work to do that was important to me, if to no one else, and I was tired of not being able to have a solid place where I could sit down, plug in my laptop, and resume my projects. Finally, I bought a laptop from Bill at the Used Computer Store on Shattuck Avenue, then quietly left Berkeley without saying a word. It has been over a year now. I still have that same laptop today. How long would that laptop have lasted me in Berkeley? Your guess ought to be as good as mine by this point, but I can guarantee you it would not have lasted an entire year.

get-a-jobWhen I lived in California, it was generally assumed that I was unemployable, due to an alleged mental health condition, the veracity of which dates back to January 1, 2007. On that day, I made the two biggest mistakes I have ever made in my entire life. Both mistakes were a direct result of my having bought into the lie that I was unemployable. The first mistake was that I placed myself on Social Security Disability Income at a time in my life when I was easily young enough to be working – and was, in fact (unbeknownst to them) still working. To what degree this was a “scam” of mine, I honestly cannot say. Most of us are glad to receive extra money, no matter where it comes from. But as I accepted the $875 monthly government crazy money that I had not earned, along with the $15,000 back payment that I did not deserve, I had to see the words LEGALLY INCOMPETENT placed in capital letters on a bizarre document informing me that I could not, and should not, ever work again. And, as I saw those words, I believed them. Why did I believe them? Well, that has to do with the second big mistake, which was even bigger, and which we need not discuss at this time. (You all know what it is anyway – or if you don’t, I’ll write a book about it and get back to you.)

Dealing with the rising cost of living as we all were down there, and working less and less the more I leaned on my government money, I eventually landed on the streets. There, I lived for years, desperately trying to find my Andy, and get my Andy back, while not one person validated for me the notion that maybe I could still work. Local agents of the Powers That Be incessantly kept trying to put me into some kind of institution, agency, program, shelter, halfway house, board and care home, or other such strictly structured residential environment. Only once did a stranger passing by me look down upon me, and shout: “GET A JOB!” You have no idea how good it felt to hear those words, when all around me, it was assumed that I was completely incompetent, if not gravely disabled, and in need of some sort of assisted living situation. Honestly, I still remember looking up silently at this total stranger, and hearing him shout: “GET A JOB, MAN! GET OFF YOUR BUTT! GET A HUSTLE!” All I could do, after hearing everybody else around me only tell me where the free food was and how to get a bed in a homeless shelter, was to look up at the guy, and silently think: “You know something? He’s right.”

But the pervasiveness of the identity-crushing, dehumanizing ideology that insidiously weaves its way into the hearts of every free speech advocate who dares take up residence in the city of Berkeley was overwhelming. I consistently thought that I was wrong, and that all of them were right. I couldn’t possibly be right, and the whole world wrong, could I? I must be wrong, I thought. So I permitted them to place me into all kinds of programs and facilities, only to my hurt. For whenever I did succumb, and try to take up residence in one of those God-awful situations, I only found myself surrounded by other people who were also thought to be completely unemployable, if not criminal, and I only drifted further away from my simple goal of regaining the Andy whom I had lost. I lost him when he was smothered in the maze and mire known as Stigma. I would last maybe five weeks at most before it finally dawned on me that I was happier pitching a tent in Tilden Park and quietly saying my evening prayers to the stars. In that solitude, there was a glimpse of the Andy whom I had lost, and even a hint of hope that I might regain him. But I honestly never dreamed I would truly get my Andy back, or even a part of him, until I moved to Moscow, Idaho. Here, after years of living on the streets, I had a job within three weeks after my arrival. Backwards? Behind the times? If this is “backwards,” then give me “backwards.” If this is “behind the times” — all I can say is: Bring It On!

The move I made was phenomenal, abrupt, swift and unforeseen. It seemed to everyone I knew that one day I was dying in a gutter, and the next day I had a job and an apartment in another State. Four days after I arrived here, I signed a one-year lease on an apartment. Would that ever happened down in California? Not on your life. There would have been a complex series of providing references from past landlords as well as personal references, not to mention a credit check and a criminal background check. In the process, some other applicant would have beat me out. But here, when my present landlord even hinted at querying about past landlords, I only had to tell him that they were all a bunch of lying crooks, and that if the tables were turned, I would never provide a reference for any of them. “You, on the other hand,” I smiled, “seem like a genuinely decent fellow.” That was all it took to get a one year lease on an apartment. He trusted me; I trusted him; we still both trust each other. In Berkeley, even after four months of renting a room in an old Victorian, there was never a moment when the landlord and I truly trusted each other.

And the cost of living? I was paying $900/mo. for a place just like this in Berkeley six years ago, only without an on-site laundry room. Here I pay only $285/mo. — with all utilities paid, and free wireless Internet. One might wonder, then, if the clientele consists of completely dubious characters. I can tell you for a fact that I am easily the most dubious character of them all – and that I truly try not to be. I have stolen from no one, nor would I. No one has stolen from me — nor would they. Nobody has assaulted me, or accused me of being a “racist” or threatened to knock the crap out of me, only because my skin is White. I still have the exact same laptop that I bought on the day I left Berkeley. In Berkeley, I had been frustrated that I couldn’t finish a large project – a full scale musical with a cast of 27 – throughout the whole five years since I had conceived of the idea. In Moscow, I sat down between Thanksgiving Day and March 4th of this year at the Moscow Bagel and Deli, and finished the entire thing, all 135 pages of it. I had been furious that I could not score any of the music I had been composing, a song cycle including 18 songs, and a certain instrumentation. I sat down in the One World Cafe in Moscow, Idaho, and I finished the whole damn thing, 400 pages of music, fully orchestrated. Given those personal successes, weighed against my background, one would think I would have no reason to complain about my life at all. And I basically don’t, except for one single horrible, inescapable truth:

I, Andy Pope, have not changed. Oh, I got my Andy back all right – and when I got him back, he was same arrogant, obstinate, stubborn, touchy, finicky, over-talkative, over-sensitive, boundary-breaking, foot-in-the-mouth son-of-a-gun that he always was and probably always will be. (Guess it’s the DNA I was gushing about, and maybe a little of that “divine design.”)

change-231x300I need to change. If I cannot change my heart, which is deceitful above all things, than I at least have to change my approach. Everything that happened before I left my church job on April 15th was stuff that could have easily happened down there, were it not for my circumstances. But I never changed inside of me. I didn’t even try to. I didn’t want to. All that happened was that I got to show my good side for a change, to myself, and to a bunch of other people whom one year ago, I never dreamed I’d have met. But that’s not enough in the long haul. The reasons why my job began to frustrate me were no different than they have ever been in the past, except for maybe that I’m older now, and my ability to roll with the punches of normal workaday stress is even more diminished. I’ve always been too sensitive. I’ve always been too absent-minded. I’ve always stressed out too easily over things that weren’t stressing the others out, leaving them wondering what the problem was. But to move from those relatively minor shortcomings to LEGALLY INCOMPETENT was a big mistake! All it did was to erode my confidence even further, in an atmosphere where everybody around me believed it, and I dared not think they all were wrong. Believing that lie has led me nowhere but to the unenviable position of unemployment in which I find myself tonight.

In the past three months, I have watched myself do everything I have ever done anywhere else in the world in order to shoot myself in the foot. I have committed the same sins I have committed at any other time in my past, whenever I have “crashed and burned,” and in so doing, inexplicably destroyed everything it had taken me months to build up. But what is different is the type of responses I’ve been getting from people in the community here. I have been stopped by cops three times over situations that, had I remained in California, nobody would have cared about. This is great. It means that I am getting wake-up calls for the very same things that would have been completely dismissed down in a State where the jails are too overcrowded for the cops to care. I have had a lady approach me to tell me that she saw a private message I sent to her son and had told him to delete me from his friends list. This is also great. Now I might start being a lot more careful about who I accept as a Facebook friend, and what I say in a private message. I have learned that personal emails I’d sent of a highly sensitive nature, erratic emails that I sent when I was in a volatile state, were shared by the recipient with her associates. This is even greater. Maybe now I will finally be able to address my perennial “email problem,” because in the past whenever I have sent such emails, everybody ignored them, and nobody even cared enough to call me on my stuff. But the most painful thing of all was the sudden rejection I received from a young friend whom I genuinely loved, when he inexplicably blocked me and made communication with him impossible, immediately after informing me that these emails, not intended for him in the first place, had been shared with him. But something stood out in all the mysterious things he was suddenly saying about me. It was his cryptic statement: “You only care about one thing.”

Of all the totally weird things that have happened to me in the past three months, things that would never have happened in California, that was the weirdest and by far the most hurtful. It has been almost impossible to find anything positive about somebody whom I loved absolutely refusing to talk to me, for reasons about which I can only speculate. But for anybody who knows me at all to declare that I “only care about one thing” is a total red flag. It’s a bigger wake-up than any of the other things that have thrown me off balance in the past three months, at a time when my main focus has been trying to regain my balance. The truth is that, in a sense, there actually is only One Thing that I care about. Any caring I might have for anything else stems from that One Thing. And yet, I am completely negligent in letting anyone know what that One Thing is. Most people don’t even want to hear about it, but the plain truth is this. If I don’t start being more vocal about my Christian faith, then the second of the two mistakes I made on January 1, 2007 will rear its head again, for the fifth time in the past three months. In that event, any words I may speak pertaining to the Person of Jesus Christ will be completely ineffective, if not ludicrous and disgusting. And as for Stigma, my avowed nemesis? I can only be grateful to have finally learned just how unscrupulous and indiscriminate my enemy can be. Stigma marches militantly through the narrow minds of the deluded and the depraved, like a ruthless crusader on a quest to rob each and every person on earth of their true and valid, God-given unique identities. If I thought Stigma was my mortal enemy in Berkeley, I had no idea how lethal it would be up here in Moscow. I will attack that monster with all my strength, before it kills me, and every word I write will in some way address its poisons, until I finally get my message across. As I said, every negative thing that happens in my life immediately becomes source material for my Art — and this one is just about as negative as they come.

After informing me that I “only care about one thing,” the young man also very kindly suggested that I ought to save up my money and move back to Berkeley to be closer to my daughter. It was a nice sentiment, and I know that when he said that, he was remembering that I also care very deeply for my daughter. But I have to tell anyone who has bothered to read this whole thing that I am not about to go back to Berkeley. After all the things I just told you (and that’s just the tip of the iceberg) why would I? Sure, I miss my friends from California, people who have known me since the 70’s I so fondly revere, people with whom I hope to always retain contact. But that doesn’t mean I am going to move back to the dangerous, costly, life-threatening situation that I have just now attempted to describe. In California, generally speaking, if I had a problem, everybody ignored me. They decided that it was my stuff, and that I had to work it out on my own, or at best, at their most compassionate, they referred me to some agency that would help me deal with it, claiming that they did not have the personal expertise to address my issue. As near as I can see, if I have a problem here in Idaho, everybody rushes up at me and gets totally in my face about it. I would say that I honestly don’t know which is worse, but that would be total bullshit. It’s a lot better to feel cared about, even if the caring is misplaced or misguided, than to feel as though nobody cares about you at all. So once again, thank God I am in Moscow, Idaho. I was born here, and I will die here, so help me God.

The difference between Moscow and any other city where I have attempted to live is this. By and large, except for a few minor, regrettable events, you guys have not tried to put me in a box. All of you, Paul and Niko and anyone else with whom I’ve talked to any meaningful extent, have obviously accepted me for who I am. This may seem very normal and commonplace to you here in Moscow, but outside of a few close friendships, it’s not something that I have in my experience. Whenever I was asked to resign a job at a Christian church, it was with the strong inference that they did not believe I was a Christian. And yet, my friend Danielle with whom I would talk every day on the Internet, had no doubt that I am a Christian. And this woman is easily one of the strongest Christians I’ve ever met. So what’s up with that? If, in my earlier exuberance for my new life here, people couldn’t even tell that I’m a Christian, then that’s a pretty huge problem — and I will definitely make sure I do something about *that.* A large part of being a Christian is to identify as such, and to let people know about it. It’s a difficult thing to do in a world that has disdain for Christians, but it is a necessary thing. It lets people know where you stand, and it keeps you from falling into sinful practices that could easily ensnare you if you are leading people to believe that you’re all right with those practices. I have to remember that Jesus warned us all that the world would hate us because of our beliefs. He said that the day would come when those who killed us would earnestly believe that they were serving God in the process. But he also said that if they hate us, to remember that they hated Him, before they hated us. They hated Him enough to nail Him to a Cross and force Him to endure the mockeries of those who tortured Him to death, while He was in the process of performing the greatest act of self-sacrificial love that has ever been accomplished in the history of the world. Had He not done that, I for one would be burning in hell. If you don’t believe this, that is perfectly understandable. There was a time when I didn’t believe it either. But there came a time when I reflected, and I realized the truth in it, as well as the power. Maybe that time will one day come for you as well.

View from northeastWhen I left the church job that I had somehow managed to keep for nine months, despite my alleged incompetence, I was discouraged. But again, the discouragement was overpowered by the essential difference between Moscow, Idaho and any other city where I have attempted to live. I was not rejected for blowing my gig. I was not ostracized or abandoned or deserted at a trying time in my life. I did not leave a church – I only left a job. As far as my faith is concerned, Moscow First Presbyterian Church is my home. If I made a mistake in Berkeley, if I messed up somehow, I woke up in the presence of other people who had fallen into the same hole as myself, many of whom were making the same kinds of mistakes that I was making, and many of whom did not care. That kind of environment offered me no incentive to rectify my error. If I make a mistake in Moscow, I awaken to a beautiful city that has received me when I was at my best, and that has every reason to deserve my best. If, at some earlier time in my life, I could not tell how much of it was *me* and how much of it was *it,* then it might well have been because my self-esteem was so low, that I really could not tell how much of it actually *was* it, and how relatively little of it actually was “me.* Here, the disparity is much more glaring. I think I can honestly tell how much of it is me (a lot) and how much is *it* — (relatively little).

You see, I am a Christian. Part of being a Christian is to recognize that our true home is in heaven, and that we are all pilgrims and strangers on the earth. Our true body is a spiritual body, that we already have in heaven, and that will be made manifest instantly at the moment of our deaths, when we finally shed this fleshly body, which is only temporary. We are not human beings having a spiritual experience. We are spiritual beings having a human experience. I think this sentiment is prevalent among all the major religions, the perusal of which I also enjoy. But I remain a Christian, and Jesus Christ is central in my life — or if He’s not, He should be. But like Icarus, when I was flying higher than I’d ever flown in my life, I almost thought I had literally died and gone to heaven. But no way had I died and gone to heaven – I had only moved to Moscow. As a military brat and a lifelong wanderer, I have lived in so many different cities. They all have their different pros and cons. But as a Christian, I believe the words of Hebrews 13 and all the other Scriptures hat I clandestinely have referenced in this post: “We have no continuing city – but we seek one that is to come.”

My true home is not any of the cities or states I have been talking about. My true home is in heaven, where my place has been secured before the foundation of the world. I err when I empower Moscow to such a degree that its positive power becomes akin to that of God’s. I err when I think that Moscow will overpower or overwhelm me if I stay, and that I must then move — to where, exactly? Where else do I go? And when I go there, what will I find? I will only find the same arrogant, obstinate, stubborn, touchy, finicky, over-talkative, over-sensitive, boundary-breaking, foot-in-the-mouth son-of-a-gun that I always was and probably always will be. If I give this city so much power that I feel I must escape it, then I only rob power from the One who has all the power. So why should I empower any person in this city more than I empower God? I know these words may make no sense at all to anyone who is not a believer, but I write them in the hope that they make sense to somebody other than myself. It is God who effected the change that was “phenomenal, abrupt, swift and unforeseen.” I could not possibly have effected such an enormous transition on my own power, without invisible, superhuman, supernatural aid. It is He who snatched me up so suddenly out of all of that chaos, and plopped me down onto Friendship Square on July of 2016 — just the same way that He took me out of an untenable situation in Antioch, CA in September 1990, and I suddenly found myself in Burlingame CA in a three piece suit at a piano job that I was able to keep for nine more years. At no other times in my life has anything like that happened. I could not possibly have created all the sudden conditions that would enable such a dramatic shift of circumstance on my own. It is not a coincidence that I am here. If I were to move, I basically would be denying my faith in the very God in whom I try to put my trust — the very same God I initially thanked so much for putting me here – the God whom I need in order to live, without Whom I am nothing.

homeless-sign-3In the final analysis, God is the One Thing I ought to be caring about. Any caring I might have toward any other human being will then only result from the caring I have toward God. So, if I am to care about God, then I need to ask myself: has God told me to leave this city, just because times have gotten hard, and I am beginning to fall into old patterns that I had hoped to leave behind me for good? After blasting me with so huge a blessing as this, why would God be telling me to go anywhere else at all? You see, all my life I have moved around, first as a military dependent, then as an itinerant theatre person accepting jobs at different regional theatres, and finally as a confused, compulsive, chronic relocator who couldn’t seem to settle down for the life of him. So if I might have mouthed off lately about going back to Berkeley and sleeping on a stairwell while making meager bucks and an occasional slice of pizza flying a sign on a sidewalk, please know that any such sentiment stems from self-delusion and despair — not from any values I would truly wish to cultivate and embrace. I can only thank the Lord that all the insanity of that negativity has provided not only source material for my own Art, but for the ever-evolving, enduring work of Art that is continually being created by the most brilliant Artist of them all. Who am I to challenge the ultimate, perfected Artistry of the Divine?

Nothing in God’s Universe happens by accident. All things work out for good for those who love Him and are called according to His purpose. It is not a coincidence that my sister saw the piano on which I learned how to play being wheeled out of the van of a door-to-door piano salesman in Moscow, Idaho, in the year 1953 when I was in my mother’s womb. It is not a coincidence that Idaho Repertory Theatre was founded in Moscow, Idaho in 1953, the year I was born. It is not a coincidence that there is a school of Reformed Theology directly across the street from me, and that the name of that school is “New Saint Andrews College.” My friends have been calling me “Saint Andrew” ever since. It is not a coincidence to have gotten into long-distance running, and to find that there is a running shoe store on the very corner of the building where I live. It is not a coincidence to have found out from my sister, God rest her soul, where to find the house where I was born, and that in walking up to that house, the cross-street read “HOME STREET.” Most of all, it is not a coincidence that although I only lived here for the first year of my life, I came back in my 63rd year to see what this town was like, and I loved it so much, it almost seemed custom-designed for me. To leave this beautiful city, only because I began to have the same problems I have had in every other city, everywhere else I have tried to live, for the past 34 years of my life, would truly to be to kick a gift horse in the mouth, don’t you think? Far better it will be to remain here, and actually deal with those problems, rather than continue to escape from them.

II was born in Moscow, Idaho, and there’s a good chance I will die in Moscow Idaho. Now how beautiful of a creation is that? Glory, I say therefore: Glory! Glory to God on High! I thank God that if I seek love, I now know where love can be found. If I looked for love in the “wrong places,” I need do so no longer — because I know where the Right Place is. Glory to the One who loves the unlovable. Glory to the Name of God.

Andy Pope
Moscow, Idaho
July 20, 2017

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A New Pair of Glasses

The first time in my life that I had ever lost a pair of glasses was on May 20, 2004, when I awoke in Golden Gate Park and realized that I had casually tossed my glasses down in the foliage when I was about to go to sleep the previous night. I and another person spent about a half hour trying to find them, then concluded they were lost. Since I had only been homeless since April 1, 2004, I had not yet come to terms with the many subtle nuances that would distinguish my homeless life from my previous life. Losing a pair of glasses is one of them.

When I lived in a house, I might have casually tossed my glasses onto the rug of my bedroom floor. I might have spent a few minutes looking for them, possibly even more than a few minutes, depending on the nature of the toss and the location of the landing. But once I had found them, I could not truthfully claim to have lost them. I had only misplaced them. The $300 pair of corrective reading glasses that I lost on that morning can never be replaced.

This is telling. Homelessness is not about misplacement. It’s about loss. In some cases — in my case, for example — deep loss. Loss that a person doesn’t get over very easily. In some cases, they might not get over it in an entire lifetime. In my case? Well, the jury is still out.

As I walked toward a certain cafe that morning where another homeless person was going to buy me a cup of coffee, I told myself: “Now I really *have* to do something about my situation! I’ve got to stop being homeless before this gets any worse. All kinds of things have been happening since I’ve been homeless that I could never have predicted would happen. Problems that used to take me five or ten minutes to solve have been setting me back for days.”

But then I thought: “How do I stop being homeless?”

I did not know the answer then, and I do not know it now. That was twelve years ago. Now is now. You cannot imagine the number of “subtle nuances” that have accumulated in those twelve years. If I became cold when I lived in a house, I turned on the heater. It took me less than one minute.

If I become cold now, I go about town looking for extra layers of clothing outside the good will stores, in the “drop boxes.” and on the ground. And remember – there are about a thousand other homeless people living in this city. Many of them are very much like me, and so many of them are doing the exact same thing. We fight each other over a pair of pants. It can literally take me days to turn coldness into warmth. Sometimes you don’t even bother. You’re starting to become hardened. You’re tired of fighting another homeless person for the only sweatshirt in your size.

This, too, is telling. Homelessness is not about warmth – it’s about coldness. It’s about discovering that your lifelong friends and family members, the very people whom you thought were truly supportive of you, are suddenly very leery of you. They won’t take your truthful statements at face value anymore. They keep looking for the “reason” why you’re homeless, and in so doing completely ignore the obvious fact that you are homeless because you don’t have a home.

So you turn to them for support, just the way you always used to, in the hope that they might help you to find a home, just the way they always used to help you help you deal with a difficult co-worker or help you after the break-up of a relationship. They cannot seem to imagine that all these problems you are having are the result of the conditions of homelessness, and not the cause. They find that while you always used to be noted for your punctuality, you suddenly are showing up late. They correlate this with your increasing instances of absent-mindedness, and conclude that you need a psychiatrist. You know in your heart that as soon as you are no longer homeless, you won’t have these problems anymore, so you start to feel a bit brushed off.

They brush off your need for a place to live by providing answers for all the other problems, while ignoring the fact that these other problems are related to all the “subtle nuances” that distinguish your homeless life from your previous life. You suddenly realize that half of these people you thought were so supportive never really did a damn thing for you at all. Anybody can give advice. It takes somebody who really loves you, to let you in much farther than that. But they’re not letting you in. You thought they loved you. But where is the warmth? Why is your own brother, even having a spare room in his house, forcing you to sleep out in the cold?

Finally, you yourself become cold. You thought you were warm, but all these cold blasts are turning down your temperature. The cold blasts accumulate. You used to be able to handle cold weather, but you’re getting older, and it’s getting harder. You used to think you could endure homelessness till the ends of your days. Now you know that if you don’t get inside soon, those days will be drastically shortened. The many unanswered pleas for dignified shelter accumulate. The failed attempts at getting a stint in a homeless shelter to lead anywhere but to another homeless shelter accumulate.

The subtle nuances themselves accumulate. When I lived indoors, how many times did I lose my cell phone? If I recall correctly, none at all. Since I’ve been homeless, how many different cell phones have I had? It pains me to count. “Why is Andy losing his cell phone so often?” I seem to hear them ask. It’s not just because there’s a drastic increase in Andy’s absent-mindedness. It’s because homeless people steal from homeless people. If there is a cell phone in my backpack, I can guarantee you it will be gone within a month or so. Usually, within a week.

As far as the $300 pair of protective reading glasses is concerned, talk about your “luxury” problem! I’ve been buying non-corrective readers for $1.10 at the dollar store for as long as I can remember. And the rate at which I am losing them is steadily increasing. I cannot solve this problem – of losing my glasses 3 to 5 times a week – without help. Real help. From someone who cares. Somebody help me. Let me keep a pair of reading glasses everywhere I try to use this computer. Somebody help me. Give me a place to live. Somebody, somebody, somebody —

“Why isn’t Andy helping himself?”

Because Homelessness is not about love. It’s about hate. Jesus could have had a place to live, you know. He could have lived anywhere he wanted to. So why did he choose to live outdoors? Well, look at this way. If Jesus had been living in some nice plush three-story house and living the good life, how would that have prepared him for the event that He knew was coming, when He would have to endure the mockeries of those who tortured Him to death out of pure hatred for anything so good as Him? How would He have been tough enough do produce enough love to compensate for all the hate in all the history of the world?

The thing is, I’m not Jesus. I’m not headed toward that kind of event, but I am headed toward an event that will be sufficient for who I am. Let me in, please. Before it’s too late.

Andy Pope
Berkeley, California
June 12, 2016 7:52am

lost pair of glasses

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The Mark of Cain

“Do you really need that thing?”
I heard the softness
of a half-familiar voice
as my eyes were opened.
And I saw a pair of young White hands,
playfully swinging my brand new HP notebook
from side to side,
and to and fro,
and side to side, again.

“Yeah, I do,” I smiled, looking up
from my half-slumber,
from the bench on which I sat,
just outside McDonald’s,
on University and Shattuck Avenue
in Berkeley, California.

It was still dark.
McDonald’s would not open
for another ten minutes or so.
I had seen other friends of mine
across the street,
and had waved.
It did not seem like any other morning,
as we all awaited our senior cups
and the single refills we would receive
as long as we promised not to linger
more than twenty minutes in the store,
and promptly took our first and only refill
for the road.

I was certain this was a young buddy of mine,
playing a joke on me,
as others had in the past,
when they noticed I’d acquired a laptop.
“High Top!” they would shout.
“High Rise!” – and I would grin.
But the grin of the green-eyed monster
was much wider than the smile
which which I looked up at the lad,
only to see his hoodie obscuring his young face,
like a veil, and his body,
like a cloak.

Then, in an instant, I felt a metallic force
carving a ridge into my lower back,
and just as quickly, a sharp yang,
a strike less than half an inch
below my right eye.

“Take it! Take it!”
I shouted, as though consenting
to be plundered, or condoning
the crime as though it had been mine
to commit as well as theirs —
as though having counted all the costs,
I no longer cared
that it took me a month to save up for that “thing” —
I in fact had slept outside,
when I did not really need to.
I had left a cozy cottage
in another County,
to prioritize the purchase
of the device I called my home.

Then I saw a large Black hand grab my backpack.
There went my new headphones,
a bag of marijuana, and a pipe,
a new lighter, socks, and sunglasses –
But no matter:
I was alive.

I got up and watched them closely –
the Black man on the right,
his gun facing sideways to his right,
as though informing me he was armed
and dangerous.

Mesomorphic.
The taller ectomorph to his left,
With the hoodie.
Him I recognized,
but I knew not where or why.
I watched them jog,
I noted that the White boy on the left
was a runner.
No one runs with a form like that,
unless he has been trained.

They turned off to the left
and darted down Berkeley Way,
not to be seen again, until —
One day at my Spot,
I saw them together walking past,
That view from behind that I shall never forget.

“Are you who I think you are, Officer?”
“I am,” she said, turning to me
with that inscrutable austerity
That so defines her nature.

“I know who stole my laptop.”
And I told her who and who,
For each of them had walked past me
on the same day
and flashed at me the peace sign,
which I returned in kind.
I also questioned the younger one,
And asked if I should bother to replace it,
Getting right into his face,
feigning a crazed countenance,
eyes bulging widely,
as I chided him with these words:

“Or will I just get jacked again?”
The young man never missed a beat,
but looked up at me shrewdly:
“Do you really need that thing?”

“I tell you it was he,” I told the stoic,
jaded cop with whom I spoke so candidly
in broad daylight just outside the station.

“I’m not at all surprised,” she said,
without expression on her serious, worn face.
“But watch your own back
and be wise as befits your years,
Because we know that you are of the streets
when you call it Provo Park
and not Civic Center Park,
or when you call it Ho Chi Minh Park,
instead of Willard Park.
And know that on your forehead
there is the Mark of Cain,
because for all intents and purposes,
you yourself have killed a man.”

© Andy Pope
Moscow, Idaho
17 June 17

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A House Divided

Q. Back so soon?

A. I promise there won’t be more than a third time before the weekend’s out.

Q. Do you know who I am?

A. I think so.  More so than I did yesterday, anyway.

Q. So why have you summoned me?

A. Insecurity and uncertainty as to my path.  Stuff that has to be resolved.

Q. What stuff?

A. Work-related.  And spiritual.

Q. To what work do you refer?

A. My life’s work.   A calling I feel I have been shirking.

Q. What calling?

A. It  has to do with classism in America, especially as seen through the eyes of one who has been fortunate enough to have been homeless for many years in an urban area of great social and racial tension, and to have escaped it and been granted the great gift of solitude in a favorable social and racial climate.

Q. How have you been shirking this calling?

A. In two ways that I can think of.

Q. First?

A. First, by throwing my energy toward projects that, while inviting, do not pertain to the calling.

Q. Such as?

A. This novel I’m compelled to write.  I wrote a first chapter, and sketched the second and third chapters.  Sent Chapter One to my Writers’ Guild, who will critique it this morning.

Q. Are you afraid of their criticism?

A. Yes.  I’m afraid they might like it.  And if they like it, I will be tempted to pursue it.  But it has nothing to do with what I am supposed to be about right now.

Q. How do you know this?

A. When I am working on what I am supposed to be about, eventually something comes over me — like chills.  Sometimes the chills engulf my entire body.  They seem to come from some place far beyond my normal experience of human consciousness.  I get this sense of inspiration – of privilege and honor.  As though I have been selected to channel something of great, great magnitude and consequence.  As though I am a conduit – an oracle.

Q. Don’t you think that sounds a bit grandiose?

A. Of course it does!  But it is true all the same.  I can’t deny it – or if I do, I suffer for having done so.  As I have suffered for the past three and a half months.  And this is why I hesitate to discuss it — with anyone, at all.  It’s so deeply personal, yet at the same time universal.  Nobody will believe me.  People will think I’m nuts, even here in Moscow, as they did in Berkeley and Stockton, and other places where I have attempted to live throughout my highly dysfunctional, disoriented, aimless past.

Q. Can you put that past behind you now, in order to focus on your calling?

A. Yes and no.  I don’t want to put certain elements of it behind me, because they are crucial to the inspiration of the calling.  Had I never lived on the urban streets continuously — for years on end, that is — and had I never been a member of a cohesive community of others who were in the same predicament as myself, I would never have gained these unique perceptions on society that many people either have never shared, or, if they share them, are unable to articulate them with clarity.

Q. You feel that you are able to articulate these unique perceptions with clarity?

A. Yes. This is my calling.  This is what I have been put on this earth to do.

Q. How do you know this?

A. I just do.  It’s evidenced in the chills that come over me, when I am on fire for this cause.  It’s also evidenced in my health.  I marvel that my heart and lungs are in such good condition, my cholesterol is low, I have never had the diseases that many people my age have had and that most people who have lived on the streets have had.  I have never had Hepatitis C or Diabetes 2 or any kind of STD, unlike almost everyone else I knew when we all lived together on the streets.  I’ve been spared all these physical sidetracks – for now – for a reason; and I am convinced that it is because I am to offer these perceptions, through my Art, to the world.

Q. Do you understand how arrogant that sounds?

A. Of course I do!  This is why I continually shirk my calling.

Q. Are you afraid of your calling?

A. Only when I am shirking it.

Q. So what keeps you shirking it?

A. Incredible psychological blocks that sometimes last for months on end.  And this is the second thing that I’d meant to mention.  I not only throw my energy into irrelevant projects, but I balk at the natural roadblocks that arise when I try to go about my relevant projects in an organized fashion.  Take, for example, this piano-vocal score.  It has been almost three and a half months since I have known that it was the next logical step toward the production of my recently completed musical, Eden in Babylon, and yet, only last night did I actually complete a single number in that score. 

Q. But can’t you just forget about the past three and a half months, and build upon the victory of having completed one of your numbers?   And forge ahead to the next number?

A. I can.  But only if I accept a few hard facts.

Q. What facts?

A. First off, the compilation of this piano-vocal score is a chore that I will probably not enjoy too very much.  It will be full of drudgery and the promise of further technical hurdles along the way.

Q. And secondly?

A. Secondly, like any other thankless task, I will need to discipline myself stringently in order to accomplish it.

Q. How so?

A. By allotting three an only three hours a day for it, say between 8:30am and 11:30am, six days a week, and laboriously slaving away over it for an estimated five more months, until it is complete.

Q. Will this be total drudgery?

A. Nothing is total drudgery.  There are always ways to maximize and optimize the enjoyment of a miserable procedure.

Q. Such as?

A. Rejoicing in the success of a disciplined life.  Rejoicing in the benefits of a regular schedule, with fifteen minute breaks every forty-five minutes, as is conducive to the efficiency of the human brain.  But most of all, knowing that once 11:30am has come, I am free to work on other, more enjoyable projects, as long as they are not irrelevant to the cause.

Q. Again, such as?

A. Talks 2017.  I’ve already outlined the four talks.  I can get cracking on them.  My home studio is a perfect venue for their creation.  This will be an enjoyable and fulfilling process, and it will balance out the relative tedium of my having to compile my piano-vocal score.

Q. Anything else?

A. Finishing the sequencing of the music that I composed “in my head” while I was without music notation software — or any other possessions for that matter — in Berkeley.  Even though the themes may not seem to pertain to the calling, they actually do.  I was actually was writing some pretty decent music in Berkeley while all around me the only response I received was a highly resonant “Shut the f–k up, you worthless low life idiot!”  The fact that most people couldn’t even tell I was composing music at all, and that they all assumed I was crazy, is only yet another strong statement of the huge evil that is Classism in modern-day America.  I need to demonstrate to the world that I am a talented, Conservatory-trained composer, so as to bust through the stigma they carry that I, and people like me who have somehow been drawn toward the urban streets, are all worthless, low-life, drug-addicted, over-medicated, mental-health-disordered, unsightly blots upon our society — not to mention “idiots.”

Q. Do I detect a note of vengeance in your calling?

A. In a sense.  But I wish nobody harm.  Proverbs 24:7.  Romans 12:19.  I fight not against flesh and blood, but against a foul spiritual principle.  Ephesians 6:12.

Q. You dare to back up your insanity with Holy Scripture!?

A. Indeed I do.

Q. You presume that this mere musical comedy of yours is indicative of a godly calling?  A spiritual calling??

A. Kind sir, I would hardly refer to years and years of intently focused labor as “presumptuous.”  But again, your retort is exactly why it doesn’t matter how much I am mocked, sneered at, scoffed at, and ridiculed in my quite reasonable expression of my calling.  In a sense, all of that condemnation is immaterial.  The only person I have to truly answer to, in this context, is God.  But in another sense, the fact that they mock, sneer, scoff, scorn, disdain, jeer, and so forth — has everything to do with the calling.  It reveals that I am in no way distinctly different than any other formerly homeless person on the urban streets.  I am no different than anyone else  who had to fly a sign on a sidewalk and endure constant ridicule in order to survive.  The stigma has got to be broken, and people in this country have got to start listening to what homeless people have to say.

Q. Do I detect a tone of inspiration?  Are you getting the “chills” yet?

A. No, I am not.  And I probably won’t – until rare moments.  But because of those moments, and because of my faith, I press on.  I know what I am supposed to be about in this world.   99% of the people I know have no clue.  I am privileged.  I am honored.  I am called.

Q. In light of such grandiosity, how dare you even publish such words?

A. Chock it up to a pep talk.  I let three and a half months go by, basically forgetting I had any purpose in life at all — except to be a decent father to my daughter, to try to be a good friend to my friends, and maybe to sing hymns in the back-most pews on an occasional Sunday. It might be that the three and a half month lull will have been useful, when viewed in retrospect.  When I looked at my script afresh last night, I was astounded.  I saw this whole picture of what I am supposed to be about, and how, as I write the piano-vocal score, I can refine the script, and touch it up, and come up with a second complete draft that exceeds the first in Artistic and dramatic quality.  But I’ll be damned if, when Monday 8:30am rolls around, I only continue to draw a blank.  I’m revving up my engines.  This is it.

Q. So what about the time beforehand?

A. Talks 2017There are four of them: (1) Homeless By Condition: Part One.  (2) Homeless by Choice. (3) Homeless By Condition, Part Two. (4) Homeless No More.  They exceed Talks 2013 in clarity, truth, and power.  And this will be my gift to the world.

Q. Aren’t you still concerned about things like arrogance, mania, grandiosity, excessive goal orientation, flight of ideas, fragmentation, and pressured speech? 

A. Dude!  I am not a psychiatrist!  That the unscrupulous agents of the so-called mental health industry will never cease to regard creative genius as a disease to be treated with pills designed to dull the senses and numb the Spirit is only further proof of my purpose.  No doubt they were among the masses who mocked me and shouted abusive assaults as I merely sat in Ohlone Park playing drums on my pants legs and singing the various instrumental parts of my creations, after all my laptops and software were repeatedly stolen by crack heads and traded within minutes for grams of methamphetamine and cocaine.   Of course I am traumatized!  I don’t even report the most horrid of these assaults, for I have been strongly advised never to speak of them, by almost everyone I know, inside or out of the therapist’s office.   Of course I am dealing with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.  But all of that is further fuel for my fire.  Nothing — not even you — can stop me now.

Q. But what about — humility?

A. Humility is only knowing where you stand with God.  Believe me, I’ve got plenty of thorns in my flesh to remind me just how depraved and broken I am.  But I still know the joy of having a clear and distinct purpose on this planet.   Most people don’t know that joy.   It mandates me to do justice to the call.

Q. Don’t you think it is only quite understandable that at this time, I should be extremely concerned about your mental health?   Will you promise to check in with me again tomorrow evening, before you embark upon this path of wanton masochism and self-defeating self-torture?

A. As you wish.  But I will not let you crumple me.  I’ve got Matthew 12:26 and a great speech by Abraham Lincoln on my side.  For can Satan cast out Satan?  A house divided cannot stand.

The Questioner is silent.

lincoln3

 

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Homeless Tinge

I wrote this piece somewhat spontaneously last year, when the novelty of living indoors still amazed me.  Somebody recently suggested I submit it to three San Francisco Bay Area periodicals that deal with such themes.  I just received the address of the publisher of one such periodical from an East Bay minister and activist whom I hope will let me use her name.  So I’m in the process of submitting it, there and elsewhere.  Let me know what you think.

Homeless Tinge

I’m sure you guys are going to think I’m just the junkie from hell, but after not being able to sleep the entire night, I finally reached down into the drawer and tugged the last possible two hits off of a roach that had been sitting in the ashtray for God knows how long. I had a makeshift clip on it made out of cardboard, and I would venture to guess I smoked more cardboard than paper and weed combined. But I did sense the weed, at least in the first hit, so we’ll see if anything happens, and if I can get to sleep after this.

When I got a wiff of the weed, I suddenly had a flash glimpse of it being just about this time in Berkeley on a Saturday morning. I would have packed up my bedroll and stashed it neatly at the illegal spot where I slept every night on U.C. campus, then walked down Oxford Way till I got to University, turned right on University downhill toward the Marina, checked by Ace Hardware to see if Hunter and Tweaker John were awake yet, and if so, headed down with Hunter toward McDonald’s, where he & I would have gotten stoned in the entrance way to the bike shop next door. Maybe Bertha would have been with us, maybe someone else. But we would have gotten stoned before going inside for a Senior Cup, and if we were flushed, a Big Breakfast.

Hunter always had this weed he called the “bombarooski” in that weird language he was always speaking – the language in which I was “Poparooni” and sometimes even “Pepperoni.” He would have laid his whole street philosophy on me, about how each and every one of us had a role to fulfill in the Berkeley street community, all of it centered around a kind of crazy micro-economics, where everything mattered down to the very penny, and it was all about buy and sell. He’d hop on his bike after that and begin his “hustle,” while I would go sit at my Spot out in front of the Mini-Target, and stare like a puppy dog into the eyes of all passing female citizens until one of them took enough pity on me to put some change in my cup, or maybe a sandwich.

Life was somehow easier then, and yet much, much harder. It was easier in that I was my own boss and I didn’t have to answer to anybody. It was harder in that everybody else was their own boss, too, and we didn’t all play by the same rules. I would cringe whenever Andrew the thug came walking down the sidewalk, even though I must admit he was always nice to me, three years worth of nice to me after hitting me on the head with that there gun that time.

It’s almost uncanny how opposite of a world it is that I live in today. I brought almost nothing I did in Berkeley with me to do here in Moscow. And I’m doing things in Moscow I never got to do in Berkeley. I hang around professors and people whose first thought is that I must myself be a professor. I’m even considering applying for an adjunct professor position in the Creative Writing division of the English department – a full-time $48,000 gig. I’m balking, but why? They said to submit a twenty-page sample. I almost want to submit twenty-pages out of Part Four of Anthology for Anathema, just to see if it would work in my advantage to admit that I was homeless not six months ago, and yet here I show up smelling like a rose.

I guess what it is is, I’m not ready for a full-time job yet. I’d actually be afraid that they would hire me. What’s eerie, though, is that it’s the only job listed right now that I could actually walk to, and I still don’t have a car.

Life is incredibly different than it was down in B-Town by the Bay. You don’t see any panhandlers in Moscow, you don’t hear anybody on the hustle asking you for spare change or a cigarette. I remember the first time Seneca reached out her hand behind the counter at the One World Cafe and said, “What’s your name, by the way?” I had to duck into the bathroom to cry. I had only been in Moscow two or three weeks, and I could not believe that a barista in a cafe would actually care what my name was. It was too good to be true that I was actually not being viewed as a worthless piece of shit everywhere I went.

What people don’t seem to know about homelessness unless they’ve actually put in some really serious homeless time themselves is that the worst thing about being homeless is not having to endure the elements, or the lack of indoor conveniences like a space heater, shower, sink, or (of course) bed in which to sleep, or the lack of ready access to food or other basic needs, or difficulty maintaining personal hygeine, or any of that stuff. The worst thing about being homeless is the way that you are treated.

Homeless people in general don’t want pity or even compassion half the time. It seems like half the people pity homeless people and the other half pass judgment. All we really wanted down there, any of us, was to be treated with normal human respect and dignity, and treated as equals, not as inferiors. We wanted to be listened to, we wanted our voices heard. But people in general wouldn’t listen to us. They sure talked to us, and after a while we had heard it all.

Communication is a two way street. People in this country, especially in the upper classes, need to start listening to what poor people, disabled people, and homeless people have to say. They need to realize that these people are human, that they have valuable life experience, and that their experience is worth listening to, and learning about, and understanding.

When that happens, there will really be change in this country. We’ll start building bridges again, instead of burning them. With email and voice mail and social media abounding, with deletes and ignores and blocks aplenty, it has never been easier to burn a bridge in the history of this nation. And what has that done but caused the national morale to reach an all-time low? We need at some point to realize that to “make America great again,” we need to start talking to each other, hearing each other out, making an effort to understand each other’s perspectives before we just ditch them like they’re all a bunch of losers.

Homeless people, believe me, are anything but losers. Quite the opposite is the case. Homeless people are the winners. They’re winning life, day by day, against all odds. What do we win by treating them as sub-human creatures? Not a thing. What would we gain by hearing them out? Or even by sharing in their experience?

We might just gain our country back.

Andy Pope
Moscow, Idaho
6:45 a.m. – 2016-12-10

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The Belly of the Whale

I strongly sensed that I was being followed,
and I thought I knew by whom.
It must have been those two young men
Who had questioned me oddly
across from the Walgreens.
They had seemed so strangely disturbed,
when I merely declined to purchase
Some small item they were peddling,

in which I had no interest.

Though I thought I had been quite polite,
I feared I must have crossed them,
For I virtually saw them stalking me
From a place where eyes have never seen.

I broke into a jog.
I thought I might elude them.
I ran about a mile.
I thought I was in the clear.
So I thought nothing of stopping at the well
and shuffling through the throwaways
in search of shirt or trousers,
or perhaps a pair of boots.

Suddenly I heard a sound.
I looked up to see a handgun

rapidly, forcefully striking me
On the top of my head, and hurling me
Down onto the sidewalk.
I hid my eyes.
I felt the power of their guns
Repeatedly beating me upon the head
Like drumsticks on a drum.

“I am going to kill you, White motherfucker!
Kill your White ass, bitch-ass, dead!
White bitch-ass motherfucker!”
White racist pig!!”

Something made me plead with them:
“Guys!  Guys!  It doesn’t have to be this way!
Take everything I have — take the laptop –
but please, please spare my life!!”

As quickly as they had appeared,
they yanked the pack right off my back,
and while I watched in disbelief,

they fled into the night.

Down the stairs a lady ran.
“Are you all right?
Are you all right?

Do you want me to call the cops?”
Of course I did!

But when the police arrived,
they questioned me for what seemed forever,
as worried neighbors emerged from their doorways
and blood poured down my face like rain.
They ordered me to slow my speech,
And frisked me, shouting harsh demands,
mocking my requests for medical help,
and seeming to suppose that I was a criminal,
Or some kind of offender,
Rather than the victim
Of a crime of theft and battery,
Of violation – and of hate.

Finally they let me file a report,
which I held powerlessly in my hand,
at the Community Breakfast, before Bible Study,
in the morning following that long, long night.

There I saw the first of my assailants
Staring at me from across the line,

with pain is his own young twenty-year-old eyes,
as though pleading with me to spare him,
The way he had spared me.
And something gave me pause –
“He’s just a kid!” I thought.
And I collapsed in my integrity,
For I did not have the heart.

O Berkeley, city of my sorrow!
You care about social injustice and human rights from afar,
Yet you overlook the suffering of the one who sits nearby!
I swear I will not return to you,
Till running frantically upon your shores,
I warn you of the wrath to come,
And urge you to repent your wrongs,
Or face the fate that is your due.
For that will be the  dreaded day
Of many nightmares coming true –
The day when God will place me
In the Belly of the Whale.

Copyright © 2017 by Andrew Michael Pope.
Please donate to Eden in Babylon.
Anything Helps – God Bless!

My Choice

I’ve never written a novel before.  All I’ve written so far are a number of plays, some of them musicals, numerous short stories that I lost in a storage unit (unless the English department at U.C.Davis happens to have kept a hold of them, which I doubt), thousands of blog posts and diary entries (for whatever that’s worth), the couple handfuls of poems posted on this web site, and zillions of songs, complete with lyrics everybody seems to rave about and music that nobody likes at all.   Oh – and I also wrote a couple “rock operas” when I was younger, two movements of a flute sonata, and scattered piano preludes.  No first symphony, as of yet.  Typical story of a lifelong burned out starving artist. 

That said, I read the first paragraph of my new novel to the other members of the Palouse Writers Guild this morning.  All of them agreed that if those were the first words that befell their eyes, they would keep on reading without hesitation.   One guy I showed it to later even said he’d probably buy the book right off the bat.   But the problem with all of that is, of course, that there’s no book to buy.  Will there ever be?  Am I capable of writing an entire novel, just because I happened to get off to a good start?

I’ve been advised to barrel out 10,000 words as rapidly as possible, just the way I churned out the first five pages.  But I don’t know that I can.  Or even want to.

nothing-in-the-world-is-worth-havingOr even should.  Since feeling the worst impacts of all the demons that have come storming down my stairwell ever since I finished the script to Eden in Babylon, I wonder what my next course really ought to be.  It is clear that for lack of a definite, disciplined project I have practically let myself be devoured by all the local wolves, and whatever strange poltergeists inhabit my creepy confines in the dead of night, full of trickery and tripe.  But should I really dive head-first into an entire novel, just to hide my head from all the hunger, the hysteria, and the hurt?

Why not just notate my piano-vocal score like a good little musical comedy composer?  It would seem the thing to do, if anyone other than myself is ever to attempt to play such bizarre tunes.

There’s also this third idea hovering over my head, haunting me.  It has to do with the themes that were left hanging when I suddenly dropped the Berkeley project some months ago and dove head-first into my musical script.   Not that this was a bad thing to do, for I did, after all, finish the script.  But as I took from the Berkeley music those songs that seemed most to fit the Eden in Babylon style — the showiest, the most “musical theatre” of them all — I find that what is left is an intriguing set of strains.  The remains seem much less show-tune, less schmaltzy, more seriously operatic in nature, and somewhat other-worldly.

But this causes me to recall the neuro-physiological conditions under which I placed myself in order to conceive of such music; specifically, highly altered states of consciousness.  Somehow I just “heard” the music in those unnatural states of mind.  It fascinated me so much that I promised myself I would orchestrate it all once I “came down” (and once I had regained access to a laptop and a regular power outlet in which to plug it).   So I did that until the thrill wore off.   Yet, on examining the music of Sirens of Hope, and of The Royal Rhapsody, I must admit that the thrill returns. 

So – if I went by what others think I should do, I’d have to say that the other Writers in the guild probably would like to see me follow through with the novel, especially seeing as I got off to such a surprisingly good start.  That would probably also be the easiest and most absorbing thing to do – at least, in terms of generating a very rough, rough draft.  Who wants me to write music?   A bunch of stoners in a flop house who won’t even listen to it anyway.  Nobody ever listens to my music.  It makes me feel like all the huge effort I put into writing it is all for nought.

Now, the arduous task of painstakingly notating my piano-vocal score is something I’ve been avoiding for a good month or more.  Obviously, it’s what I’m supposed to do.  Otherwise, I won’t be able to live with myself.  There it would be, even should I die before my time: a complete piano-vocal score that conceivably some conductor could pick up on, some group of singer-actors sing and act from, and some pianist, other than myself, actually play.  How gratifying.  Worth its weight in gold.

The first chapter of the novel looks good, but knowing me, it would degenerate into mindless pornography before Chapter Three.  I’ve made my choice.  And you know what?  I’ll start tomorrow.  Today’s the Lord’s day and I’ll do my best to rejoice in it — even if it means putting on my headphones and rocking out to the music that no one else will ever hear.

Excerpt from Insomnia

I won’t go back.
At all.
I can’t let my not having a gig right now
Propel me back to homelessness
In a God-forsaken land.

I had all my possessions set on fire before my eyes…
I lost the only remaining CD’s of half my work –
A punk ass kid poured lighter fluid all over my backpack –
Set it on fire when I wasn’t looking –
just because he could.
Destroyed a PowerBook, pair of headphones –

I went to the Berkeley Fellowship in the morning –
thinking there would be compassion.
The lady there literally said: “Aw, so what?”
I went to the church council president.
He said: “Well, how did you expect them to react?”
On the other hand, I called my best friend in Georgia –
And she said (of course): “That’s horrible!”
So why couldn’t anyone in Berkeley have sympathized in kind?

The bottom line is:
Moscow will happen if I make it happen.
My nature works against me.
So I have to work against my nature,
to make things work.

Andy Pope
5/17/17 3:10am
Moscow Idaho USA

There is a God

The piano-vocal score to my song “The Very Same World” is finished now.  If anyone wants to take a look at it, you can click on the title below.   (It will lead to an 11-page pdf file.)

The Very Same World

from the new musical Eden in Babylon
Words and Music by Andy Pope
Copyright © 2017 by Andrew Michael Pope

I’d hoped to get three of these finished and then approach a certain professor from the nearby School of Music.  A number of people told me that he would be the logical person to talk to, if I wanted to find singers to help me out with my musical demo.   But a couple things arose to deter me, much as I so desperately desired to proceed unhindered.  First of all, I got behind schedule.  I had been hoping to have two of them done by Friday, and the third by next Friday.  Instead, I only have one of them done — and it’s already Monday.   Secondly, I was somewhat intimidated by the man’s awe-inspiring credentials.  This played into my natural shyness, and I began to doubt my fortitude.

But then, a mysterious turn of events took place.  As it happens, the professor is actually coming to meet me.  You see, the departing Minister of Music at my church has to leave during Holy Week due to the poor health of her husband.  It turns out that she knows this professor, and so she called him to take over our rehearsal on Wednesday night, as well as the Good Friday and Easter Sunday services.   So by this Wednesday, I will be following his conducting on the piano as I accompany our church choir.  Naturally, I used this as a deadline to finish the score to The Very Same World I printed it out today, and after I make minor corrections, I can simply show it to him.  So my shyness and timidity are no longer an issue.  

I also just happened to  meet three decent singers who have expressed an interest in working with me on this project.  One of them, a mezzo-soprano whom I ran into at the local pub, looked over my score briefly, then said she would reply to my call if I “posted a notice.”  Being the new kid on the block here, I haven’t exactly found out where to post this notice.  She said it with such authority, I did not want to admit my naivete.   But then, I met two young men at a cafe who were working on theory assignments on music paper, so I invited them to come look at my score.  Turned out one of them was a baritone, and we exchanged contact information.  They also advised me that anyone can audit the Jazz Choir that meets in the afternoons throughout the week, and that I could pick up a bass part and sing with them.  I don’t have to be a University student to participate.  Finally, there’s this fellow Josh who works at the Bagel Shop downstairs from me, who has a degree in Acting and has sung professionally in musicals.  He seems eager to help me out with this as well.   So perhaps I already have two or three singers.  I only need two or three more.

All of this points to an eerie phenomenon that might best be explained once it’s understood that I have only lived in this particular city for eight months.  I came here from the San Francisco Bay Area, largely because the rising cost of living was getting to me on numerous levels.   Six years ago, I lived in a situation that was almost identical to my present digs, as far as basic specs were concerned, and it rented for $900/mo.  What do I pay here in Northern Idaho for the same set-up?   You guessed it.  $275/mo.   So I finally came up here on a lark, answering a Craigslist ad, looking for a mere hole-in-the-wall where I could plug in my laptop, unhassled by numerous disconcerting factors: high crime rate, distrust among neighbors, frequent homelessness, and so forth.

friendship squareI moved into small studio in an old-style apartment building, where there are business on the first floor, and residences on the higher floors.  What I did not expect was for there to be a running store in my very building.  Being a runner, this intrigued me.  I then noticed yoga centers and bike shops.  A health-and-wellness emphasis, I thought.  Very good.   I then learned about the School of Music, and that the State Repertory Theatre was founded here as well – in the year I was born, incidentally.  As you soon will find, that’s quite germane.

The second week I was here, I applied for a part-time church position, was hired, and still hold that job today.   Before I knew it, I was surrounded by Artists and Writers of all kinds.  And as for music?  I’m doing gigs all up and down the main drag.   And culture?  I heard more decent music my first five days in this small college community than I heard in Berkeley, California, in five years.

There is more to this story, so I might as well tell it.

Why did I choose Moscow, Idaho?   Out of all the small out-of-the-way villages where I could have sought affordable housing, why Moscow?   Because I was born here.  I lived here the first year of my life when my dad was teaching ROTC at the University.  Then his Navy career took us all over the country as well as to other parts of the world.  I didn’t want my whole life to go by without seeing what Moscow, Idaho was like.  When I came here, I was astounded.  This city seemed to be custom-designed for me.

BerkeleyIn the first four months I was here, I sequenced all the music I wrote internally after four of my laptops were successively stolen in Berkeley, and I could not afford to replace them.   In the next three months, I sat down and finished a draft of the musical I had been struggling, through adverse circumstances in California, for five years.  Now I’m working on the piano-vocal score to that musical.  I have the same laptop now that I bought shortly before I left Berkeley.   Had I stayed in Berkeley, I would never have been able to retain a laptop that long.  It would have been stolen by now.   In fact, considering the huge upsurge in violence that has taken place on the Berkeley streets since the election of our current clueless leader, I can’t help but wonder if I would even still be alive today, had I stayed in this unfavorable town. 

This is why my faith has increased as much as it has.   I was so angry and discouraged when I was homeless on the Berkeley streets, that I shouted out to God:

“WHY am I always forced to be hanging around thieves and hustlers and pimps and hookers and panhandlers and criminals and murderers?   WHY does nobody care about my Music or my Art?  WHY am I not hanging around Actors and Directors and Musicians and Writers and Artists??”

The question “Why?” is often moot.  But if the desperation in that oft-repeated query could be interpreted as an entreaty to an unseen God, then the proof of the answer to that twisted prayer is in the very experience I own today.  It happened in less than forty-eight hours.   I hopped on a Greyhound, alighted randomly upon this little town in Idaho, answered an ad for a studio, and three days later signed a one-year lease.   I’m where I am supposed to be.  There is a God.

Time to Come Out

People in general have no idea how insecure I am about this whole playwriting process.   I could gloat about how it seems as though I’m gradually developing a positive support group in the community here — and I must admit the guys at the bagel shop downstairs have been remarkably supportive.  But what is that, really?  So there’s this guy who lives upstairs who likes to come down for a bagel and has a halfway interesting project going on.  So what?

To their credit, the “guys” to whom I refer are Paul, the night manager who has a degree in Psychology; and Josh, the swing shift worker who has a degree in Acting.  That’s a good blend, considering the subject matter.  There’s also Mary, the choir director at my church who played Eliza Doolittle in My Fair Lady, and this fellow David who is the Artistic Director of the local community theater, who got his MFA in Playwriting and Directing from the University here.  I’ve discussed my work with a handful of other people, but the obvious course of action is to find some kind of writer’s  workshop.

writers-workshop-returns-1862When I ran into David the other day, I asked him if he thought it would be possible to audit a playwriting seminar at the University.   He seemed to think it would work if were to email the professor who teaches the class; and then, if I didn’t hear from him for a few days, just to walk into the building and announce my desire.  When I mentioned this to Josh last night, Josh also said they would almost certainly let me do that.  He then directed me to the building – so at this point it’s only a matter of working up the fortitude.

It might be a good idea for me to print out the script first, what I’ve got anyway.  Basically, since whenever my last “progress report” was, I’ve written up to p.53, or about midway through Scene Four.  There’s a good chance that if I start now, I can finish Scene Four this morning.  Then maybe I can print the pages out at the library.  It would be nice to show up with hard copy in hand, willing to let somebody look at it if they like, before they decide what to do with me.

Yes – this is the obvious solution to my woes.  The writer’s block that I occasionally encounter may not be as severe as the one earlier blogged, the one that kept me at a standstill for three years.   But the impasses are painful.  They slow me down, and they need to be addressed.   It’s time for me to get off my rump as far as presenting myself to the Performing Arts community here.   It’s not that I’m not thankful for the support I’ve thus far gleaned – it sure beats wandering the streets of Berkeley trying to maintain my sanity by composing music out loud after gang bangers hit me on the head with guns and stole my laptops.

But it’s time I did things according to reasonable protocol.  It’s time to break out of my shell.  It’s time to come out.

Inspiration

There are mornings when I awake without any sense of inspiration whatsoever. Nothing inspires me.  Nothing thrills me.  Nothing moves me — I find no sense of joy or purpose in my heart. Sometimes on such mornings I struggle for three or more hours with the notion that life is meaningless, that everything is vain and pointless — that there is no better end for me than to take each day’s evil as it comes, praying for the best but expecting the worst, and so trudge the tumultuous trail of trial after trial till the travesty of such tragic tribulation trickles into death.

How I thank the Lord above that this morning was not such a morning! As I woke, I registered that I had been dreaming song lyrics in my mind, to one of the tunes I’d written while I was still wandering wistfully about the dangerous streets of Berkeley— a tune I’d only barely begun to sequence in my new and much more palatable place of pleasure, poise, and purpose, the providential paradise I now am proud to call my home. Though the phone rang immediately, sidetracking me suddenly from the sweetness of my song, I was nonetheless thrilled to find my dearest daughter Echo on the other end of the line, equally inspired — though she, unlike her father, is forever inspired, even on her bad days. As her dad, needless to say, this makes me glad.

Although the Internet was down where I consumed my morning coffee, I thank God all the more so. For before I’d downed a single cup, five offline files were at once thrown open before my eyes, as though competing for the privilege of my sole creative fury — as if to see which one would lend the greatest inspiration to my heart. Lo and behold, there has emerged a victor:  

The Very Same World

Copyright © 2016 by Andrew Michael Pope
All Rights Reserved.

At last, the formerly unfinished lyrics flow so finely, I’ve no doubt in my mind I will have sung this song with my own voice, and added my own singing to that instrumental track – ere sundown, I would wager, if I were a gambling man – or my name’s not Andy Pope.

And yet, alas – I  seem to have forgotten that sunset is at 4:30 in this part of the world.  But even in this embarrassing peccadillo do I thank the Lord above.  Thank God I’m not a gambling man, for I have not lost the bet.