Gratitude List 858

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Tuesday Tuneup 16

Q. Do you know who I am?

A. Sure do.  You’re a creation of mine who always questions everything.   

Q. Why have you summoned me?

A. Because I can.  I have the power to do so — the God-given right, and the authority.

Q. Are you my authority?

A. Yes, I am.

Question AuthorityQ. Are you proud of that position?

A. I am indeed.

Q. But why, specifically, have you summoned me today, sir?

A. For the usual reasons.  I summon you every Tuesday, when I need to do a little introspection.  You might say, a tune-up.  I’ve done it 16 consecutive Tuesdays in a row now.

Q. Are you proud of that accomplishment?

A. As a matter of fact, I am.

Q. Why?

A. Because it represents consistency.  And consistency represents stability.   

Q. Are you usually unstable?

A. Yes.  Or so I’m told, anyway.

Q. Who tells you this?

A. Stable people.

Q. Such as?

A. I decline to name names.  But I’m sure you know the type of person I mean.  The kind who can hold down a 9-5 job, stay in one town for a long time without wanting to vamoose, and so forth.

Q. Are  you unable to hold down a 9-5 job?

A. Not for very long.  

Q. Why not?

A. I’m not sure.  But I do know that the last time I held down a 9-5 was in the year 1990, and I didn’t last through the year.

Q. Why not?

A. Got fired.

Q. Why?

A. Got beat out in the competition.

Q. With whom?

A. With a more stable person, obviously.

Q. Are you sure this is the real reason for your not holding down a 9-5 job?

A. You paint me into a corner, you  do.

Q. How’s that?

A. You force me to seek out a deeper reason.

Q. Such as?

A. Such as maybe I just don’t want to hold down a 9-5.

Q. Why not?

A. Because I have no confidence that I won’t be fired.

Q. Why not?

A. Because every time I start out with confidence, I wind up getting fired anyway.  So I’ve developed a —

Q. Block?

A. Maybe.

Q. Disdain?

A. Closer.

Q. Frustration?

A. Closest yet.

Q. So why do they fire you?

A. Three things.

Q. Namely?

A. Number One, I’m extremely absent-minded.  I space too many things out, and it frustrates my employers and co-workers.

Q. Number Two?

A. I show up late.  I keep looking for things in my apartment that I’ve spaced out, things I need for the job, and can’t find them.

Q. Why don’t you just leave them at work?

A. My glasses?  My keys?  My wallet?  Come on.

Q. What’s the third reason?

A. Can’t handle stress.

Q. What happens when you’re under stress?

A. I implode.  I shut down.  I can’t function.

Q. Is that why you’re on disability?

A. Pretty much.

Q. So how do you spend your time on disability?

A. Doing things I can do.

Q. Such as?

A. Play the piano.  Sing.  Write music.  And write.  Oh – and run long distances.

Q. Why is it that you can do those things, but not the normal 9-5 office type things?

A. I think it has to do with the fact that they can all be done while I’m totally alone, with no other people around.

Q. Does being around people stress you out?

A. Somewhat.   Although I am in a relationship now, and I spend a lot of time with my flame.

Q. How’s that going?

A. Amazingly well.  We seem to compliment each other nicely.

Q. But don’t you get stressed out sometimes being around her?

A. Sometimes.  But we take the time to work through the stressors, and wind up the better for it.

Q. Then why can’t you do the same thing with your office mates on the 9-5?

A. Because they don’t give me the time.  Everything is done according to deadlines, and time pressure.  

Q. You don’t work well to deadlines?

A. Not at all.  I cease to function completely when under time pressure.

Q. But you work well without deadlines?

A. Look at all the stuff I’ve accomplished.  All over this website.  Were any of those things accomplished according to deadlines?

Q. I don’t know – were they?

A. Not at all.  They’re all labors of love.  And no deadline has been involved whatsoever.

Q. What about the Tuesday tuneups?

A. I space a lot of them out, too.  Some are composed over the weekend, or late Monday nights.  Some I don’t even get around to until Thursday.   But I’m trying.

Q. Why are you trying?

A. Because I’d like to show the world some consistency.  Some stability.   So I figured I’d set some mild deadlines for myself, and see if I could keep them.

Q. What other deadlines have you set?

A. I’m supposed to come up with a Scripture every Sunday, a Gratitude List every Monday, this tuneup every Tuesday, a speech every Wednesday, a substantial essay-like blog post every Thursday, and a piano video every Friday.

Q. Who says you’re supposed to?

A. I says.

Q. And if someone else says?

A. No can do.

Q. Problem with authority?

A. Hey!   What are you trying to insinuate?   

Q. Does it . . . seem like I am . . . trying to insinuate something?

A. You heard me!   You’re insinuating that I have a problem with authority, aren’t you?

Q. Am I?

A. Of course you are!

Q. But aren’t I . . . only . . . doing my job, sir?

A. Don’t put words in my mouth!   You actually have the audacity to insinuate that I, your sole Creator and Absolute Authority, have a problem with authority?   What authority?  Who’s my authority? 

Q. Well . . . isn’t your own Creator your authority?   I mean  . . . isn’t God your Creator and your Absolute Authority?

A. GOD??  And who, pray tell, would be God’s Creator?  And His own Absolute Authority?

Q. Why do you challenge me with such intellectual matters, sir?

A. Because it’s your job, damn it!   I summoned you to do your job!

Q. Are you going to fire me, sir?

A. I just might!  And if you don’t want to get fired, young man, I suggest you keep your big mouth SHUT!!

The Questioner is silent.

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Gratitude List 845

1. Though the energy of absent-mindedness and frustration drained me yesterday, it caused me to go to bed early and get a good seven hours sleep.

2. Jan & I get along really well with a sense of each of us making the other one better, and the two of us getting better and better.  We really seem to have been made for each other.

3. It was great running into the three musicians outside of One World, and feeling a special bond or connection you don’t just feel with just anybody.  Their love lifted me up at a low moment.

4. Sold an LP to a great musician who been very helpful to me, despite that this has been one of the worst years of his life.

5. Finished the Open Letter.

6. I’ve never lived in a place where people are as positive as they are here.

7. Danielle had the baby. :)  

8. Touched up The Temple of the Human Race and submitted it to Other Worlds.  Submitted “Classism, Stigma and Mental Health” to Classism Exposed and Street Spirit.  Submitted “The Age of Nevermore” to Street Spirit.

9. It’s really okay for people to think I’m crazy or in some way undesirable or to be avoided.  That way they leave me alone and I can get my work done.

10. For numerous reasons, I have wiped out Facebook and other sites I have found problematical with respect to my new life.  I have made a complete commitment to cease to bring the negativity of my past in California to the positivity of my present life in a part of the world that has been much more conducive to my creative and spiritual growth.  2 Corinthians 5:17.  God is Love.

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Andy’s Story Published

I haven’t posted in a few days because I’ve been waiting for something to happen — and, well, it happened.  

As of December 27, two weeks ago today, I have been hired by Denise Moorehead to write for Classism Exposed.   Yesterday my first article, simply entitled “Andy’s Story,” was published.   

Andy’s Story

Homeless
Andy’s Story: Class and Homelessness

(And now, being as I just spent over an hour trying fruitlessly to figure out how to link to my story and make it look like it does on the blog, with the picture and everything, I will now cease from the pretense of having any patience with technology, and return to my more idyllic realm of being a reclusive — if clueless — Artist.)

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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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My Secret Place

I promised Terry Messman, the editor of Street Spirit, I would post three homeless-related pieces on this blog before Friday, just in case he sees fit to publish one or more of them.   The first is my post An Incredibly Empty Place.   This is the second: something I came up in Berkeley during the summer of 2014.  I hope you like it.

My Secret Place

I used to feel really hassled when people would suggest various living situations for me.  I usually cringed, as though such environments were completely out of the question — but I didn’t have the guts to explain why.  Lately, however, there has been a turn for the better.  When I simply state my truth, I find that more often than not, it is accepted.  You cannot believe how good it feels to turn to these people and say: “I prefer sleeping outdoors.” 

Less and less do I hear them reply: “You’re crazy!”  Now maybe this is because I am speaking my truth to people who already know me somewhat — enough to know I’m not exactly bat crazy mad.  Naturally, if somebody suspects that there’s still something rationally ticking between my ears, despite the past ten years of near total sleep deprivation, they’re more likely to respect my position.   Still, the feeling of finally being able to stand up to somebody who insists I ought to be shooting for a slot in someplace like a long-term psychiatric facility is, in a word, liberating.

When I try to think of living situations that have worked for me better than my current one, the only thing I can think of is when I have had my own lockable space with plenty of ventilation and sufficient electrical power.  Even then, if enough of the “wrong people” find out where I live, I will default to sleeping outdoors. Moreover, in any other situation, such as living with roommates, sharing a house or an apartment — or worse yet, living in a homeless shelter, board-and-care, halfway house, or anywhere else that has the ring of “institution” about it — I will eventually default to Homelessness again.  Note the use of the word “default.”   Over the years, I’ve become more comfortable sleeping alone outdoors, despite the alleged risks, than sleeping indoors and having to deal with there being other people too close to my personal living space.

I recently lasted six days in a “sober living environment,” sharing an attic with three other guys.  One of the guys was a crack head who kept the other three of us awake all night, babbling incessantly about nothing.  One of the other two men was constantly threatening the crack head to bodily harm.   The third man snored at unbelievably high volume.  Add to this the factor that my “overhead” in the attic was literally about two feet shorter than I am, six days was about all I could take.  I’ll settle for an empty church stairwell any day, thank you.

Shortly after that, I survived four days at the Men’s Shelter.  Just didn’t care for the conversation topics, didn’t like the assumption that I must have just gotten out of State Prison or at least be interested in collaborating on some criminal heist of some sort. Not that I’ve never broken a law – I do so every day.  But that doesn’t mean that I identify with the criminal mind-set — and I’ll tell you why.

Smoking marijuana ought not to be a crime. But unfortunately, it can lead one to the company of those who commit other crimes if one is not careful. Further reason why marijuana should be legalized, immediately and totally decriminalized, and why personal drug-related issues should be treated as mental health or medical issues, not as criminal issues. Somebody must be making a lot of money filling up our jails with decent people who got popped for some piddly little pot deal. Disgusting, if you ask me.

So – knock on wood — but in my current living space, I sleep well just about every night, nobody ever hassles me, nobody approaches me, nobody wakes me up in the middle of the night to ask for a cigarette lighter — basically nobody knows I’m there. No one knows where I sleep – therefore my privacy is assured. If even one person finds out – word will get around, and I’m screwed.

Screwed — until I find another secret place. Which soon I will.  I always do.  And isn’t that a good thing?   Look at what the Psalmist says: “He who dwells in the secret place of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty.”  Psalm 91:1.  Doesn’t that say it all, right there?  Where would you rather “dwell?”  In the secret place of the Most High, resting in the shadow of the Almighty?  Or in a four foot high attic with a crack head?

Granted, it’s pretty weird that this is what a person will do in order to achieve privacy. But it is exactly what I have done.  And – it is okay that I have done so. It ‘s my choice.  All I need to do is cast aside the social stigma, and make the most of it. Nothing’s perfect in this world anyway.  We all have our different sensibilities.  The best we can do is to honor the choices of ourselves and others, and to try to get along.

Besides, getting a lot of fresh air is good for you. They say that fresh air contains “negative ions,” which are oxygen atoms charged with an extra electron.   They clear the air of dust and pollen, and significantly decrease airborne viruses and bacteria.   Barring other factors, people who sleep outdoors are less likely to have respiratory issues, colds and flus, and even asthma.  Seriously!   The more you can soak in the negative ions, and the less you have to soak in the negative people, the healthier and happier you will be.

Andy Pope
Berkeley, California
June 6, 2014

secluded

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