Gratitude List 1343

This one’s from Saturday afternoon.   Apparently, I’d had a rough morning, and decided at some point to count my blessings and begin anew.  

1. Am feeling decidedly better.  Starting the day over.  

2. Ran about 2 miles (aborting the 3 mile course when I got tired, and walking back home).

3. Listened to all of Suspended at the round table.   I think my edits are fine now, and also it sounds a lot better conceptually than it did last night.   People will either like it or hate it, but I doubt they’ll think I don’t know what I’m doing.

4. Gave a CD to this guy, the trumpet teacher, whom I saw immediately after I finished listening.   Moments later, at the Co-Op, this fellow the Math professor gave me some cash for one, and this other man the German professor told me he would pay for one if I could figure out how to put it online.

5. Ran into this fellow who writes for the Daily News and we exchanged numbers.   He’s very bright, and knows a lot about journalism, too.  Reminds me, I ran into the journalism professor the other night, who had already read my commentary, since he subscribes to that site.  He said: “Good work!”  Thankful for all this newfound focus on journalism and on getting my stories published.  It’s been a pleasantly unexpected turn of events throughout my brief retirement.

6. I finally decided to approach K. about my reservations regarding the Theology group, and we wound up having a nice long conversation.   A very nice and extremely erudite man.

7. K. also assured me not to be intimidated by all these professors and people with degrees, despite my lack of a higher education.  He said I’m on the same intellectual level as most of the professors anyway.

8. Said two really great prayers while I was running.  Actually one of them was of the magnitude of the heavily answered prayer I prayed in July 2016 outside the Sequoia station.   It was the second time it’s ever happened — I don’t want to say what the content of the prayer was — but when I prayed it, the words were given me with clear conviction, and as I looked into the sky, I “felt” that those words were heard.

9. Shaun also was helpful last night in that we delineated that I prayed in anger for a certain thing to happen, and it happened, and my anger was assuaged.  Now is the time to pray in Gratitude to make good use of that which has happened, for this is the blessing of God, though I’d asked for it in anger.

10. Asking myself “what’s next?” always works, even if the answer is silence.   God is Good.

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To Those Who Are at Ease

Woe to those who are at ease in Zion,
and to those who feel secure on the mountain of Samaria,
the notable men of the first of the nations,
to whom the house of Israel comes!
Pass over to Calneh, and see,
and from there go to Hamath the great;
then go down to Gath of the Philistines.
Are you better than these kingdoms?
Or is their territory greater than your territory,
O you who put far away the day of disaster
and bring near the seat of violence?

“Woe to those who lie on beds of ivory
and stretch themselves out on their couches,
and eat lambs from the flock
and calves from the midst of the stall,
who sing idle songs to the sound of the harp
and like David invent for themselves instruments of music,
who drink wine in bowls
and anoint themselves with the finest oils,
but are not grieved over the ruin of Joseph!
Therefore they shall now be the first of those who go into exile,
and the revelry of those who stretch themselves shall pass away.”

— Amos 6:1-7

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Tuesday Tuneup 62

Q. What are you doing here?

A. Getting my bearings.

Q. What happened??

A. I stressed out at the church service, and my heart started beating out of my chest.  They kept making me do things that are really really hard for me, but that are really easy for most people, and it stressed me out.

Q. What kinds of things?

A. Oh, uh – page turns.   Fumbling with bulletin inserts.  Trying to get to the right hymn in the right hymnal at the right time.  And worst of all, we had to put these ornaments on a Christmas tree, and the hook of my ornament fell out.

Q. What happened then?

A. I went and showed the guy with the ornaments, assuming he would give me a new ornament with a more secure hook.

Q. What did he give you instead?

A. Another hook.

Q. And you weren’t able to put the new hook on the old ornament?

A. Well, I fumbled with it for long enough, and I know myself well enough, that I determined fairly quickly it would be impossible.

Q. And what did you do then?

A. I gave both ornament and unhooked hook to Amanda.

Q. Who is Amanda?

A. The person standing next to me.  She’s a speech therapist and works at a hospital, so I figured I might luck out and she might understand why it is actually impossible for me to put a hook on an ornament.  I mean, done deal.  It’s a disease.  It’s called ADHD / Dyslexia and High-Functioning Autism.

Q. What did you say to Amanda?

A. I told her it would be impossible for me to put the hook on the ornament in order to hang it on the tree.

Q. How did Amanda respond?

A. She nodded her head in compassionate understanding, then deftly placed the ornament on the tree in my stead.

Q. Were you thankful?

A. Uh — more relieved than anything else.  But now that you mention it, gratitude is certainly an appropriate response.   It’s rare that somebody believes me, in such situations.

Q. Then what did you do?

A. I sneaked out of the church, placing myself in the middle of a long line, so that no one would notice my swift departure.

Q. Why did you depart swiftly?

A. Because by that time, my heart was beating out of my chest, and I was having a major panic attack.  I mean, it was like — I was under pressure, in a line, with people waiting on me – and everybody could see that I was fumbling with the logistics of trying to get the hook on the ornament and the ornament on the tree — it was like — Mainstream Stress – the kind of stuff that made me homeless in the first place back in 2004 —

Q. Mainstream Stress?

A. Yeah.  The kind of stress you get when you’re pressured to perform under time constraints, with people observing you, and people to answer to, under deadlines —

Q. What other kind of stress is there?

street person stress.jpgA. Street Stress.  It’s a horse of a different color.   It’s the kind where you’re not under time constraints, but at the same time, you never have time to check in with yourself and feel what your actual feelings are.  You’re in a state of shock at all times, as though in a battle zone, ready for anything, at any time.  No time to feel.   Anything.   

Q. Where are you now?

A. At the local cafe.

Q. Do you plan on returning to the church?

A. Yes.  After I’m through getting my bearings.   I can make it there for the Fellowship, where my mental health condition will not be so severely challenged.

Q. May I ask two more questions?

A. One will do.  I’m running out of time.

Q. What does all this have to do with the birth of Jesus?

A. Don’t ask me, man.

Q. May I please ask the second question?

A. Shoot.

Q. Why was the church service being held on Tuesday?

A. It wasn’t.   Today is Sunday.

Q. It is?

A. I told you I was neurodivergent!   Now get outta here!  

The Questioner is silent.

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Gratitude List 1334

I make these gratitude lists every morning when I wake up, and choose one to post every Monday.   This one’s from Friday morning.  

1. I did get another hour’s sleep from 9 to 10 yesterday morning, and that saw me through the day. Then I slept very solidly from 10 pm till 4 am this morning.

2. After hearing the words of Jeremiah’s prayer in the car, I did not enter into despair after the next two mistakes I made. Because I was not despairing, I went to bed without desire to escape into the ephemeral pleasure of the sin that has troubled me so. My sleep was as though guarded by angels, my couch undefiled and sweet.

3. This morning I succeeded, as hoped, in having the synthroid with a full glass of water and avoiding the computer until the doctor’s orders regarding my hypothryoid condition were fulfilled. Didn’t have any coffee during that period of time, but prayed and read a Psalm. So I can do it, despite morning disorientation, but I think it wise not to do the reading at the computer. Also, I often have a hard time making out the small print in the hard copy RSV, but this time I read it very easily under the bright kitchen light.

4. Ran the 4 mile course yesterday as per Thanksgiving ritual. It was an absolutely gorgeous day and perfect running weather at around 40F degrees or so, blue skies, big clouds, gentle winds — I love running and am somewhat amazed it’s still even possible at my age. My mind may be in shambles and disarray, but I can be grateful my body is still in one piece.

5. Finished the Inequity Series yesterday with Part Five. If you want to check it out, here it is.   I’m proud of my work, you know, and grateful that God has provided me with a place to accomplish it. That has rarely been the case before, ever in life. Grateful for my nice, quiet apartment.

6. Really nice Thanksgiving gathering at Norman’s place (though he’s in Virginia). It was great talking with people, and especially playing the Kawai piano and singing with Chelsea. Once I was warmed up in the “second set” I did a fiery version of “We Three Kings,” and it blew me away to hear how it was happening, even though my thoughts were riddled with paranoias about gang bangers and other murderers all the way through the event. Then we sang Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” and it was plaintive, peaceful, powerful . . . I love the whole musical consciousness in this town, and Chelsea invited me over to her place tonight at 7 for a big jam.

7. Resigned one of my writing gigs due to a combination of PTSD and a revelation of practical wisdom. I know it’s the right choice, I worked through all the logic of it, and I committed myself on the run to do it, despite later conversations of confirmation. I felt a great peace in my spirit after submitting my resignation, and I remain thankful for the editor-in-chief of that paper, with whom I hope to work in the future.

8. Thankful for Jeremiah, for the fellowship and prayers last night, and for my Presbyterian church.

9. I need to express that the Revised Standard rocks. I turned to Psalm 55, and in the RSV every word was the exact cry of my heart. Turned to Psalm 55 in the Berean Study Bible – nothing. Checked the English Standard Version, thinking at least it would be authentic — still nothing. Confusion of the tongues, man! I’m posting Psalm 55 RSV on Sunday.  I know no one else can get inside my head, but reading every word and praying it confirmed God’s love for me at a very troubled time.

10. God is Love.

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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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The Homeless Inequities

Happy Thanksgiving — to those to whom it applies.   Here’s a little talk I created yesterday.  It’s about twenty-five minutes long, explaining how my recent “Inequity Series” came about, what it means, and what we probably should be doing about it.  I’d be happy if you gave it a listen.

The Homeless Inequities 

We who live indoors have a lot to be thankful for.  I say, let’s give a “hand up” to those who could use it.  God bless you — and God bless America.

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Tuesday Tuneup 60

Q. What are you doing here?

A. Thinking.

Q. About what?

A. About what to do next.

Q. What are your options?

A. Well, I can start working on one of two stories due Friday, I can continue working on my new musical, or I can do neither of the above.

Q. What will happen if you do neither of the above?

A. I’ll probably flop down on the floor from exhaustion.

Q. Have you been working too hard lately?

A. You might say so.

Q. Why?

A. Because everybody else says so.

Q. I meant, why you have been working so hard?

A. Because I’ve been hurt.

Q. What is the relationship between your working hard and your having been hurt?

A. When I’m hurt, I don’t like to experience the super-painful feelings.  So I dive into a creative project of some kind.  Something so engaging that it takes my mind off the hurt.

Q. Isn’t that unhealthy?

A. Why would it be unhealthy?

Q. Aren’t you supposed to face the hurt directly?   Walk through the pain?   Experience it fully until it has been processed?

A. Why would I be supposed to do that?

Q. Wouldn’t you be in denial if you don’t?

A. Denial of what?

Q. Denial of your feelings?

A. I don’t think so.  I already know how horribly painful the feelings are.   That’s the reason why I turn my attention away from them in the first place.

Q. In other words, your creative work is your painkiller?

A. You could put it that way, yes.

Q. How long have you been doing this?

A. I believe I was seven years old when I began to do this.

Q. What happened when you were seven?

A. Somebody hurt me.  And that same year, I learned how to play the piano, write music, write stories, and draw pictures.

Q. Who hurt you?

A. God.

Q. How could God have hurt you?

A. He hurt me in the sense that He created death.   Before I found out about death, I assumed I was going to live forever, in a very happy place, with a loving family.  Naturally, when I learned this was not the case, I was shattered.   And not only on my own behalf.  I was shattered on behalf of the entire human race.

Q. Would it be better if we all lived forever?

A. Yes.

Q. But won’t we all live forever anyway?  I mean, in heaven?

A. We’d certainly like to think so.  But apparently that statement has been the theme of much debate.

Q. Would you like to engage in such a debate at this time?

A. No, I would not.

Q. What would you like to do at this time?

A. To be honest, my heart is hugely into this new musical of mine.  When I was super-hurt yesterday, I sat down and cranked out five songs for the first scene — songs I’d already written (music only, no lyrics) and saw in a very short time how they could form the exposition and a good part of the development of an engaging new story line. And I’m psyched! This really could be the best of all the musicals, if I hunker down.

Q. How many musicals have you written?

A. Five.

Q. How many have been produced?

A. One.

Q. Why only one?

A. Because the process of trying to produce a musical is tedious, cumbersome, arduous, uncertain, stressful, frustrating, maddening, and painful.

Q. And you don’t like to face those feelings?

A. You know I don’t.

Q. So what do you do instead?

A. Usually, I write another musical.  But not immediately.  I have to let the last musical set for a while.

Q. What do you do in the meantime?  I mean, if you get hurt?

A. Depending on the level of the hurt, I either write a poem, an essay, or a song.  Unless the hurt is really really huge.

Q. What happens when the hurt is really really huge?

A. I jump the gun and dive into the next musical.   It’s the way I roll.  When my mom died, I wrote a musical.   When my wife left me years ago, I wrote a musical.

Q. And you’ve started yet another musical?   A sixth?  And you knocked out the first Scene with five songs in one morning?

A. Yes.

Q. How hurt must you have been to do something so huge!?

A. It’s not really important how hurt I was, or who hurt me, or why.  The important thing is that I’m tired.

Q. Tired?

A. Tired and weary.

Q. Tired of what?

A, Please move on to the next question.

Q. So what is this new musical going to be about?

A. The original hurt.

Q. You mean, when you were seven?

A. No.  Even more original.  I’m talking about what happened in the Garden.

Q. You mean, Eden?

A. Eden.  The Garden that we’re all unconsciously trying to return to.

garden.jpg

The Questioner is silent.  

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