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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Gratitude List 591

Although this blog exists in order to promote my own project as well as to support the projects of similar, like-minded Artists and Writers, I can’t help but confess that I’ve been posting a lot of personal stuff here lately.   It doesn’t sit entirely well for me to do so.  However, my Art is so entirely wrapped up in my personal issues and experiences, it becomes a bit difficult to separate the two at times.  Nor should I really concern myself with creating an arbitrary separation, as though my absorption in Art were a strictly professional matter, mandating that I leave my personal stuff behind in order to work.  Such distinctions never pan out in reality — not for me, anyway.  

aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaThe best “separation” I’ve ever been able to accept is that I write better about personal experiences when they are not immediately happening.   Take my recent writings on Homelessness, for example.  The descriptions of the homeless life that I wrote while I was homeless might be extremely lurid, perhaps even shocking, but they don’t adequately convey the essence of homelessness towards those who are not homeless.  I write better about homelessness when I am removed enough from the experience to be more objective in my writing, but not so far removed as to have forgotten entirely what it was like to live outdoors, sleeping with one eye open, constantly wondering when I was going to be awakened, by whom, and for what purpose.  I’ve been living indoors for almost a year now, and the urgency with which I sometimes feel compelled to post about my homeless experiences is based almost entirely on the perception that I’m about to forget all about it, any day now.

All that said, I don’t wish to belabor personal issues here on this blog to the extent that they overwhelm or even replace my focus on my Art.  But lately they have been so intense that I’ve felt that I had to.  It would have been sheer hypocrisy to sit here behind my computer, pretending that everything is A.O.K.   Still, enough is enough.  It’s time I take responsibility for my depression, and move forward once again.  

So I’m going to swallow my pride once again, and meet with my therapist and my doctor on Friday, and concede to explore the new mood stabilizer that they have considered for me, on the basis that the previous one (which I’ve not taken for months now) was giving me acid reflux.  Although I am leery as to any lasting effects the medication may have, I do recall that the previous medication definitely helped me to focus well enough to finish my musical script and to interact favorably with the other Writers in my guild.  After a while, however, its favorable effects sort of wore off, and all I was left with was the acid reflux.  Maybe this one will be better.  We’ll see.  In any event, I don’t want to become as depressed as I’ve been throughout the past several days, if I don’t really need to be.

I do want to report that I’m in much better spirits today.  For one thing, I got up and made a daily gratitude list — as I do every morning — only this time it was not merely the empty ritual it had somehow become.  I sincerely attempted to come up with ten things I could truly be grateful for — and you know what?   It worked.   (The strong cup of coffee alluded to in #9 below also helped.)

GRATITUDE LIST 591
 

1. It was good to go to One World last night, where I felt the energy of being around students who are into higher learning and not into ripping me off, rather than around tweakers who are only into crystal methamphetamine and ripping me off.

2. I had this funny feeling of “recognition” when I walked past the Kenworthy on the way to One World and “remembered” how David H. would often invite me to some theatrical event there, and often I would attend and talk with him thereafter.

3. I noticed that D. seemed kind to me when he paused briefly from his studies to say “hello” — not so much as though I was only another interruption.

4. I did something different when I got up this morning and listened to this brief clip of Pastor Larry Austin, my friend from Faith Family Presbyterian Church in Oakland. A nice reminder with which to begin the day. I was grateful that God sent it to me first thing in the morning, and grateful that Larry requested my Facebook friendship, after all this time.

5. Jim the Janitor has also requested my friendship on Facebook. I’ve also noticed that Jim is a lot more fun to talk to once I have accepted his peccadillos.

6. Speaking of which, today would be Day 13 — were it not for the “peccadillo.”

7. I remembered Homelessness in the surprising rain that poured when I left One World last night, and I felt that earnest gratitude once again when I got behind the locks of the room I am renting. Beats being out in the rain.

8. I get to play for the Taize service tonight. I can also apologize to Erika and maybe even show up for Choir practice, if they have it.

9. Vandals Blend coffee from the Bagel Shop last night. Good thing to have saved it for morning, and grateful for the coffee cup that Kathy Pendegraft gave me from the church yesterday. Glad she pointed it out, because I would never have thought of it, despite how desperately I’d have longed for one in the morning.

10. Though depressed throughout the day yesterday, a brief conversation with Nick cheered me up quite a bit. It was as though I picked up his positive attitude all the way from Marin. I was able to sleep well after that, though previously I had been very anxious.

I actually got all the way through the Gratitude List without spouting anything negative that I am aware of. This could be a good day in Christ, and anyway His blessings are new every morning. Great is His faithfulness. It is another day of Grace under the sun.

 

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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

My Pitch

I have been flagrantly panhandling online for far too long for the sake of the advancement of my project.  I suck at marketing, sales, and advertising.  In fact, all those departments annoy the living daylights out of me.  I rock at playwriting, singing, playing the piano, writing music, musical direction, and homeless rights activism.  Blogging probably falls somewhere in the middle.

online-business-to-start-nowIt has occurred to me that if people perhaps knew why I’ve been asking for money, and where the money would be going, it might help me to get some donations from sympathetic people who can afford to do so.  So here goes.

I’m a person who has written a musical, and I would very much like to see this musical produced.  The musical paints a picture of the effects of homelessness on the youth of today’s America.  It is a very positive, upbeat show with an extremely encouraging, happy ending.  I have written the entire script, all of the music, and all of the lyrics.

But there I stop.  It will not be possible to move further toward the production of this musical without getting the kind of green stuff that doesn’t grow on trees.  This stuff is not known to come wafting through the window.  So I need to make a pitch.

There are numerous hurdles I need to surmount before anyone is going to take a look at this show — that is, anyone having the power to produce it.  First and foremost, I need to make an adequate demo recording of three or four of the songs, with real singers singing with their real voices, rendering the melodies and harmonies I have so meticulously created in the musical score that I have painstakingly composed, over a number of years, as I have been passionately absorbed in this project.

Talking around campus, and especially at the local School of Music, I get the feeling there are competent singers who will get behind me.  But like all singers, they will need to be paid.  My songs are catchy, urban, progressive show tunes, Broadway-influenced, and according to many, Broadway-bound.   However, it’s not the kind of stuff that even the quickest of studies are going to be able to pull off with minimal rehearsal.   No singer worth their salt is going to want to lend their voice to this endeavor without at least two or three rehearsals, prior to recording.  The very least I feel I should pay such a singer would be $125 for the whole shot.   I also need five singers to pull this off.  Even some of those five voices will be doubled or tripled, in order to replicate the chorus sections of the musical numbers that I have scored.

I am a serious composer who emphasized in Music Theory and Composition at a major Conservatory, and I hung out with my composition mentor, Dr. Stan Beckler, till shortly before the day he died.  My music draws from folk, classic rock, hip-hop and rap as well as from traditional comic light opera, but by no means does it entail your typical, tired old  1-4-5 progressions.  I have taken great pains to honor the genre of my youth, and bring fresh life and vigor to my favorite Performing Arts Form.  So basically, I need $625 to get started with this leg of the project, and create a decent demo of at least three songs.

I am technically situated so that I can record the singing over the instrumental tracks you hear on this page, eliminating doubled melody lines when necessary, to emphasize the live vocals.  This will sound a lot more authentic than one might think, and any irksome complaints regarding the “canned” use of the “electronic” sounds wll be instantly jettisoned, once my project is heard.   If I had the money to hire musicians and schedule studio time, I would probably go that route instead.  But I don’t have the money, and it would take quite a bit more rehearsal time — so this is the starting point that I propose.

It has not been easy to write these words tonight, much less paste them in three different spots on this web site, and blast them all across the Internet, to the expected ridicule of those who don’t believe me.   But because I know what I am doing — musically, artistically, and theatrically — in the realm of Musical Theatre where most of my lifelong experience lies, I can confidently tell you that I will back up my claims with action — as soon as I have the bucks to make it happen.

hippies singingWe can take it from there.  I am not above self-producing the show locally, and directing it myself.  But all these moves will require money, which a mere church musician in between jobs on a fixed monthly income cannot possibly conjure.  Rather, if I could conjure up that kind of capital, I’d neither have the time nor the energy to pursue my passion, and the dream of my lifetime will land in my grave.   Daylight’s burning.  I’m in my sixties already.  Let’s get a move on.  Let’s get this show on the road.

If you’ve been reading this blog, and listening to my music, and reading my posts about the Homeless Phenomenon in America, then get the word out to those who have the power — assuming you don’t have the power yourself.

And power to the people.  Power to all the people!  Power to the Homeless People of the United States of America.

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Red Squigglified

My awareness of my failings is so huge right now, it prevents anything positive I might have to offer from being — what would the word be? “Offerable?” Shucks – I knew it would get a red squiggly.

18rbgc“Presentable” comes close. My gifts, my strengths, my good points — are simply not presentable. They’re not presentable, so long as I remain unpresentable. (Another red squiggly – somebody please cue me in on where to uncheck that annoying default, so I can make up any word I want!)

Guess “uncheck” is another one. Now come on — there have got to be more qualified candidates for a red squiggly – than that.

Basically, this morning, I feel that this techno-culture is going to place a red squiggly line below anything meaningful I have to offer. Now if that’s not a social statement, I don’t know what is.

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