Tuesday Tuneup 78

Q. What’s going on inside?

A. Upheaval.

Q. What do you mean?

A. I feel like I’m being shaken up inside.

Q. Is that bad?

A. Probably not!  It’s just unfamiliar.

Q. New territory?

A. Yeah.

Q. Do you also feel torn?

A. Yes!  That’s it — torn.  

Q. Well, what is tearing at you?  What are you torn between?

A. I’m conflicted between a number of different internal narratives, and the unresolved conflict is distorting my view of reality.   I believe this is called cognitive dissonance.

Q. How long have you been like this?

A. Probably longer than I know.

Q. Why do you say that?

A. It goes at least as far back as being homeless.  I would ask fifteen people if I could come stay with them for a while.   Even for a night.    Sometimes I even only asked if I could come over to take a shower, and leave.  Sometimes I offered to pay them.   Or just ask to come over for dinner on a holiday.   “Can I come by on Christmas?”  But nobody would ever let me in.

Q, Why not?

A.  Because why should they?  It wasn’t their responsibility.   But they never came out and said that.  They said lots of other things, though.  They gave all kinds of reasons.   Some reasons made more sense than others.   Some of them seemed kind of cold – others kind of paranoid.   I think there might have been a general sense that if you give someone an inch, they’ll take a ruler.   Nobody wanted to take a chance.

Q. How did this feel?

A. Not good.  I could tell that not all of their reasons were honest.  Many of the reasons were implausible.  I got the feeling somebody wasn’t telling me something — something about me.   There must have been some reason why I deserved homelessness, rather than the chance to get inside and get back on my feet.   But I couldn’t figure out what it was.

Q. What else?  I mean, what did that feeling conflict with?

A. The fact that it wasn’t all me!  They were doing things wrong.   They weren’t being honest with me.   I wanted them to come up front. 

Q. But what is the essence of the dissonance?

A. The essence of the cognitive dissonance is that I could never tell how much of it was my fault, and how much of it was their fault.  

Q. Why does it have to be anybody’s fault?

A. Well, somebody had to be responsible!

Q. But aren’t you the one who’s responsible for where you stay the night?

A. Yes, of course!  And I failed — because I couldn’t find anyone who would let me stay the night with them.

Q. But why should that be their responsibility?

A. What does it have to do with responsibility?   They were the ones who had roofs over their heads, not me!   What was I going to do, ask another homeless person to let me stay at his house?   

Q. But why is this all on your mind this evening?

A. Because the same dissonance is occurring, only with different variables.   And I do not believe that the dissonance started with homelessness!   It’s something in me!   It keeps happening, in different ways, even though I’ve lived inside for years now.   

Q. PTSD?

A. Yes.  I’ve been triggered.  

Q. Again?

A. It happens.   Every now and then — you can’t know when the triggers will arise.

Q. What is it this time?

A. If it were just one person saying to me, why they can’t show up, why they don’t have the music, why they didn’t make the deadline, why they can’t do the project — it would easily be believable.  But because it’s a conglomerate of people, I start to think: “What’s wrong with me?  Who do they take me for?   A fool?   Why are they playing me?  Why aren’t they coming up front?   What’s wrong with everybody?  Why do they lack compassion?”

Q. And that’s what you used to think when people wouldn’t let you stay overnight at their houses?

A. Yeah.  In both situations, I have felt like they’re not letting me in.   

Q. So what does this tell you?

A. That it must be me.   Just like, when all those people weren’t letting me inside their houses – whether they were being truthful with me or not — I was what they all had in common.   It was I whom they all held at bay.

And now, when all these people aren’t doing their work, or it seems like they’re not, and the team seems to be fizzling, it’s kinda like my friends — my family — they’re gradually abandoning me — they didn’t even start talking to me again after I got a place to live, after I’d stopped trying to cling to them —

My friends – my family — we don’t talk anymore, there’s my daughter, there’s no friends from the old people – no family — and these Kids —

Q. Go on.

A. These Kids — are going to leave me.   Just like my friends  – just like my family  – – 

Q. Why  —  why do you think so  —

A. They won’t let me in.   My brother, my sister — they won’t let me in.   Winston and Taura — the Kids in the show — the directors, the musicians, the producers, the venues —  they won’t let me in.   The Family won’t — let – me – in . . .

Q. Dude!  Dude – can you grab a hold of yourself?

A. Sorry, I’m flashin’ man –

Q. Are you sure this isn’t just drama?   Or words for dramatic effect?  To call attention to yourself when you’re feeling oversensitive, and easily abandoned, and you’re desperate for community and camaraderie?

A. Are you calling me a narcissist?  

Q. Did I say narcissist?

A. No –

Q. Why is narcissism on your mind?

A. Because that thing that happens — that pattern — that syndrome — it didn’t start with homelessness.   It started long before, with those very same people — and that’s why they didn’t let me in.

Q. When did it start?

A. With the Internet.   Way back in around ’99 or so, when I got my first computer.   I didn’t become homeless till 2004, but the Internet was a driving factor.

Q. How so?

A. I realized I could send the same message to multiple people at once.  I realized this about two weeks after I’d sent my first email.   A friend had sent a big email entitled: “Timmy Needs Help!”  He sent it to about forty people when he was on the verge of homelessness.

Q. So you learned you could do the same?

A. Yes!  Only since I didn’t become homeless for five more years, I sent the group emails for other reasons.

Q. What kinds of reasons?

A. Oh – if I’d lost my cell phone and needed somebody to call it.

Q. Isn’t that called cross-threading?

A. That’s right, I just remembered.  They told me I was “cross-threading.”  It isn’t cool to ask ten people to do something that can be taken care of by one.   

Q. Didn’t you lose a job that way once?

A. Yeah – that was the job I lost, that made me homeless, in 2004.  They were the ones who told me.   First job where I had to use email.  One day, I emailed five people to ask for help moving a piano, when one would have sufficed.  So two of us moved the piano, and four people showed up later, and got pissed.

Q. Is that the only reason you lost the job?

A. No – but that was a reason.  I was doing things like that all the time, and my boss told me to please stop cross-threading.   But I didn’t.

Q. Why not?

A. I’m not sure.  I think – I don’t know!   It seemed like — I couldn’t!   They told me I was having a first-time manic episode, and that it was all part of the episode.  But to me, all I knew is I’d gotten into a habit where whenever I sent an email, it had to be sent to ten or fifteen people.   I just became an Email Dispenser —  dishing out emails to everybody all day long, right and left.

Q. So – did they dish ’em back?

A. No.  They ignored me.  I used to send music for them to hear, too.  Songs I wrote.  If they listened, they never told me so.

Q. And these are the people whom you asked to stay the night with?

A. Yes, by and large.  A few add-ons, and some drop-offs, but  basically the same list.   

Q. I would assume they all said no, didn’t they?

A. For the most part.  That is, if they said anything at all.   

Q. Ever get the feeling you’ve been barking up the wrong tree?

A. Yes.  For longer than I’ve known, and in more ways than I know.  

The Questioner is silent.

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Morning Call to Nature

A call to Nature in the early morning is of the Spirit.

One ought to seek Nature early in the morning, and go for a run, or walk, or bicycle ride – as one is able — or even find a spot and sit somewhere outdoors (weather permitting) — if for no other reason than to commune with Nature.

When I was homeless, I was forced by circumstance to do this one good thing; that is, to be outdoors in the early morning, often before the dawn, to watch the sunrise, and to participate in the waking of the day.

Since I’ve lived inside, I am no longer forced.   For a while, I was lax.  Then I learned that, unlike when I lived outdoors, I can only keep the morning sacrament through force of habit.   

But it’s a very good habit to have made.   

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Sixth Column Published on Religious News Site

My sixth column, concerning how the coronavirus has been impacting homeless populations, has now been published on Spokane Faith and Values, thanks to editor-in-chief Tracy Simmons.   The column includes interviews with a number of people currently experiencing homelessness in very different parts of the country.  

Capture

HOMELESSNESS DURING COVID-19

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Heartfelt Lie

“But when we were on the streets,”
(or so I texted),
“Wasn’t life so much simpler then?”

The answer came quickly, as expected
(but not as desired):

“Yeah, right.”

And thus I thought:
“This will never work —
me and her.”

But on the streets
(I further thought),
Wouldn’t it have been so right?

We’d have hooked up.
I’d have had her back.
I’d have protected her.
I’d have clearly been the one who cared 
(unlike the others,
who were only taking advantage of her).

We’d have found spots
to camp out together
where we’d have kissed
(under the stars),
and made false promises to each other,
which we almost both believed.

And then,
one or the other of us
would have gotten a little tired,
or a little freaked out,
and more than a little disillusioned.

And then,
one or the other of us
would have awakened some morning
to empty cement
and cold cardboard
where once the other one
had been there —
for us.  

Better to receive a quick text of truth
Than a gradual, well-thought out,
heartfelt lie.

So quick came my come-back:
(lol, fwiw).
And I guess we’ll both just stay put,
for now . . . 

© A. Pope 2020

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Dangers of Liberation (Part Seven)

This is the final post of a seven-part series.   Though it will make more sense if you read all six of the previous posts in the series, I won’t be so demanding as to insist upon it.  My hope is that it will stand on its own, enough to secure your interest.  I don’t differ from many other writers, in this regard.

My knees got hit pretty badly by the pavement on which I had slammed them down.  They would be swollen the next day.  But I did not care.   When I stood up from the prayer I had screamed, something was different.  There was an eerie calm about my spirit that suggested a newfound confidence.   I had never prayed a prayer like that before.

St. Paul wrote: Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.”  — (Philippians 4:8-9)

Nobody is an atheist in a foxhole.  I prayed more prayers in the trenches of homelessness than I had prayed at any more respectably churchgoing phase in m life.  But I had never felt a sense of peace engulf me as it did when I stood up from that prayer.   For the first time in twelve years, I had cast aside the sting of stigma, of all the things that people supposed my homeless experience to entail, and prayed directly that I would be granted a home.

It wasn’t long after that I remembered an old associate of mine.   It crossed my mind that a certain music teacher I’d worked with in the past had offered to get me a one-way ticket to anywhere I thought I could start a new life.   I remember being somewhat perplexed when he added: “I’m not trying to get rid of you, by the way.”  (This obviously planted the thought in my head that he was in fact trying to get rid of me.)

Whatever the case, we met to discuss the matter.  He told me he was no longer teaching, but had received a large retirement.  So he reiterated his offer, suggesting he fly me to Belize.  That was a bit far away for me.   

So I told him I would start googling keywords designed to land me in a part of the United States where I thought I would flourish.   I began to google things like “college town,” “small town,” “affordable rent,” and “low crime rate.”  I also threw in demographics tailored to my tastes, for I tend to thrive in the colder temperatures.    It wasn’t too long before the city “Moscow, Idaho” began to surface.

“This is bizarre!” I told myself.   “I was born in Moscow Idaho — but I only lived here for the first year of my life.   I know nothing about this place, except for that my dad was teaching ROTC at some college, and that he was transferred to San Diego or Long Beach shortly after I was born.”

As the city of Moscow began to work its way further up toward the front page, I took my leap of faith. 

“Why is it that I have never even pondered this town?  Nor wished to return to it?   One think I’d have been curious.  But I wasn’t — until now.”  

On a hunch, I looked on Craigslist for a room.   I saw a studio room with a kitchenette in a converted residence hotel now called the “Friendship Apartments.”  To my astonishment, the room rented for only $275 a month.

I sent pictures to my friend.  “How much do you think this rents for?” I asked.

“Oh – I don’t know.  Maybe $900?”

“Try $275.”

“We’re on!” he shouted.

Shortly later, he was buying me a $200 one-way ticket at the Transbay Terminal in San Francisco.  Forty-eight hours later, on July 27, 2016, exactly ten days after I had prayed that unprecedented prayer, I was sleeping indoors in a place of my choosing.

I have been sleeping indoors, in places of my own choosing, ever since.  Twelve years of degrading, debilitating, demeaning, undignifying, dehumanizing homelessness was ended that simply.   It was as easy as that.

I had only asked for “a lock on a door, a window, and a power outlet.”  But God gave me much more than that.   God answered all the prayers I had asked in frustration why I had to continue to be surrounding by thieves and hookers and pimps and hustlers and drug dealers, and why was I not surrounded by Artists and Writers and Musicians and Actors and Directors and people more like myself.

I walked through the city gate of the town of my birth, the place where (according to my late sister) I had lived for only fifteen months.   This is the gate that I found:

heart of the arts

This is why I related earlier that all the prayers I prayed in total outrage and frustration were answered by the God Who Is Love.   If that Love can cut through hatred as thick and vicious as mine, I believe it can cut through all the hatred in the world.

Let’s hope.   There is always danger on this earth.   I have been in danger of many things since I’ve lived indoors — danger of a different nature than one finds when one lives outside.  But there is one place where there is no danger, and one home that is eternal.

“If you make my Word your home, you will indeed be my disciples.  You will learn the truth — and the truth will make you free.”   — Jesus Christ

THE END 

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Dangers of Liberation (Part Six)

If you’re new to my blog, “Dangers of Liberation” is a seven-part series that I began several Thursdays ago.  The previous posts are on consecutive Thursdays, with a one week break after Part Four.  

The extent to which my mother symbolized the Mainstream cannot be underestimated.  In fact, the only way I was ever able to achieve independence from the Mainstream was to achieve independence from my mother.   I did not do so until long after she died.

A mother’s love is not always unconditional.   My mother loved me to the extreme, under one condition: that I remain emotionally and psychologically dependent upon her.  She gave me everything a mother could possibly have given me, except for the one thing I eventually needed most — my independence.

As the first-born son of her four children, I was never able to come into my true identity as long as my mother was alive.  I was always her “little boy.”   Though she loved all her children immensely, she favored me among the four.  This favoring became more noticeable as she approached her death at the age of 89.  At family gatherings, she practically forgot that any of her other children were there.

After she died, my oldest sister and a close friend informed me that Mom had been “manipulating” me.  Throughout my life, she affected my decision-making in such a way that was designed to keep me out of trouble.  In so doing, she kept me locked into the box of the Mainstream.  I stayed out of trouble, but I lacked personal freedom.

It was almost like an indoctrination, the way my decisions were manipulated by her will.  My own will became a passive extension of hers.   Though I thought I was making my own choices, they were always the choices that Mom would have approved of.  I never realized that she had been doing the deciding for me.

This dependency grew worse and worse as I began to become more successful. Though I hadn’t actually lived with her since my thirties, I relied on her well into my late forties.  I called her five times a day, sometimes only to ask: “What do I do now?”  At that, she would laugh and make a suggestion.  Without questioning it, I would unhesitantly follow her suggestion.   It was as though I didn’t have a mind of my own — only somehow, I did  not know it.  

My mother died when I was fifty.  By that time, I had ascended to heights of success in the form of society that I call the Mainstream.  I was renting a luxurious room in a large mansion owned by one of many wealthy people for whom I was working. Though I rarely had to work more than twenty hours a week, I was nonetheless making $50,000 a year as a church musician, a music teacher at a private school, and a personal piano and voice teacher.  download

From the moment she died on October 9, 2003, till the moment I first became homeless on May 17, 2004, it was a downward plunge.  As I mentioned in the previous post, my psychiatrist had changed my anti-anxiety medication from Gabapentin to Klonopin on the morning of the day she was to die.  She then died in the afternoon, and I proceeded to have a first-time manic episode.  In a little over seven months, I lost all my jobs, my car, my living situation, and every penny of the $13,000 I had in the bank.

The moment she died, aided by the suppressive power of 6mg of Klonopin, I instantly blocked out every mental image of my mother.  I also immediately forgot every conversation she and I had ever had.  No longer able to call her five times a day, nor able to imagine how she might have directed me, I dispersed my many questions among my various associates.  I began to ask just about everybody, including total strangers, what I should do next.  Then, unquestioningly, I did what they suggested.  It is no wonder I lost my jobs!

My ability to perform in the Mainstream was entirely dependent upon my ability to interact with my mother.   The extent to which she valued personal security over personal freedom had left its mark.  But by the time I became homeless, I was thrust into a kind of liberation from all the icons of stability that the Mainstream had displayed.  But my liberation was tainted, because it lacked an internal association with my true identity.  My identity instead became further squashed and suppressed during twelve years of undignifying, degrading, demeaning homelessness.

So when was I actually liberated from the Mainstream?   It happened the moment I rose up from the prayer that I quoted in the previous entry.  At approximately midnight of an unknown date in July 2016, I fervently appealed to the Universe to put an end to twelve years of homelessness.  I made that appeal in the name of Jesus Christ.  When I rose up from my knees, I sensed something was very different.   I didn’t know it yet — but I was free at last.

Exactly how free, I will divulge in the seventh and final post of this series.  

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Dangers of Liberation (Part Five)

For the sake of new followers I gained shortly before my hiatus, I’ve been thinking to reiterate some themes that are essential to this blog.  But for the sake of my longtime readers, I want to be careful.   In approaching the tail end of the “Dangers of Liberation” series, I wish not to fall prey to repeat information.   I’ve told my story so many times, in so many ways — from so many different angles — that I fear losing some of those who have followed me regularly.   Hopefully, after the last three Thursday posts in this series, my fears will have proven unwarranted.

A particular sound often heard is that I ought to get over the homeless topic and resume writing on other themes about which I am passionate.   This kind of sound does resonate with me.   But I also need to fulfill something I started here.   Hopefully I can impress upon my more longstanding followers that this is not exactly “repeat information,” but the announcement or heralding of something completely new.

After all, isn’t this the essence of liberation?   It is the opposite of being locked into any kind of box.   So what exactly happened after the cacophony of disturbing, disparate events described in the previous post?   How did I get from a place of hurling vindictive curses at the Almighty, to a position of recognizing that He had responded to those prayers, despite my curse?

I mentioned that on June 24, 2016, I walked quietly out of the City of Berkeley without saying a word.   This was immediately after buying a refurbished computer at Bill’s Computer Store on Shattuck Avenue after receiving an advance on my social security check.   Given that I was essentially a marked man, and that the sight of me with a full backpack would indicate to any one of a number of thugs and gang bangers that there was no doubt a laptop inside that backpack, one might think I’d have left Berkeley first, and bought the computer later.  After all, I had had four laptops stolen in Berkeley in the past four years, two of them the result of strong-armed robbery.

But the fact was, Bill had been working on an old Dell Latitude, and he was about to give me a much better deal than I’d have gotten from a complete stranger.   Moreover, I would need as much money as possible to start an entirely new life, outside of Berkeley.

Image result for dell latitude e6430

So, computer in tow, I headed for a small, out-of-the-way city called Burlingame, and for the all-night Royal Donuts shop, where I had some fair standing in the view of the nice Malaysian people who rolled doughnuts all night long, singing songs in their traditional fashion.  Though I was very eager to begin notating all the music I had “written in my head” while walking about the Berkeley city streets, I was also aware that I had practical matters to consider.  I needed to get some kind of roof over my head in a community where homeless services were few and far between.

Long story short, I found a shelter in a nearby city.   I recall the rules being fairly regimented.   For example, all shelter residents were required to attend daily meetings of either Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous.   I personally didn’t mind the meetings, because I have a reverence for the Twelve Steps and for that model of dealing with life’s difficulties.   But it was a red flag to find homelessness equated with drug addiction or alcoholism, as though those were the only reasons a person could have become homeless.   As one who was already painfully aware that most people in the San Francisco Bay Area were becoming homeless for socio-economic reasons entirely beyond their control, I found such stigma unsettling.

But there were some perks to being in the shelter.  I began working with a caseworker who rightly determined that the best thing for me would be to move to an entirely new State.   Then, as we began to work on this, I caught the flu.   Clearly, I had caught the flu from other residents in the male barracks who were coughing and sneezing throughout the night.  But the “mistake” I made was to let them know that I had the flu.  I went to the hospital, and came back with medical information.   When the people running the shelter learned of my medical diagnosis, their response was to kick me out of the shelter, lest I contaminate the other residents.

Something about this didn’t seem quite right.   For one thing, my immune system is such that I had only caught a flu twice in the past fifteen years, even though I had lived outdoors throughout most of that period of time.   That I had clearly caught the flu in the very shelter from which I was being expelled was obvious.

So I returned to the hospital in hopes of their letting me stay there.  But their reply was that they couldn’t make a special exemption for me being homeless, otherwise they would have to make exceptions for all homeless people, and the hospital would become overcrowded.  Standard procedure was to write “rest in bed for ten days” on the release form.  Of course, I did not have a bed.  But I couldn’t be made an exception — not in a part of the world where there are thousands of visible homeless people, night after night, lacking beds.

Next I tried the all-night bus that would run from Daly City to Palo Alto repeatedly.  This bus was a haven for sleeping homeless people who had nowhere else to go.  But when the homeless people saw me shivering and heard me sneezing, they too became concerned for their health.   The upshot was that the bus driver kicked me off of the bus, and I had now had literally no options but to suffer a flu of some 100+ degrees with no place to lay my head, except for outdoors in the elements.

It was then that I got on my knees.  Somehow, after twelve years of homelessness and borderline homelessness, it was catching a flu and being denied an indoor bed to rest in and to recuperate, due to no factor other than homelessness, that finally got to me.

I will never forget the exact words to the prayer that I prayed.   Just after midnight on  July 17, 2016,  I hit my knees so hard on the pavement outside of the Sequoia Station in Redwood City, California, I compounded illness with injury in order to scream these words:

God!!
If there is Anybody out there,
I don’t care Who you are,
or what your Name is,
if you can feel me,
where I’m coming from, please —
I do not care about drug addiction
or alcoholism,
or mental illness,
or being a lazy bum
or a slacker or a slouch –
I care about Homelessness!
Please put an END
to twelve years of totally unpredictable,
totally unreliable,
ANYTHING CAN HAPPEN,
ANYTIME ANYWHERE
HOMELESSNESS!!!
In the name of Jesus Christ I pray –
AMEN!!!!

One might argue the theological validity of a prayer worded in such a haphazard fashion – or even its internal logical consistency, for that matter.  Such discussions would be another story altogether.  What is critical here, from the standpoint of Homeless Rights Activism, is that it was the first time I had actually offered the heavens a petition with respect to homelessness itself, and not to all these other stigmatic things that are so often attached to that label.

Mental illness, alcoholism, drug addiction and laziness are not identical to homelessness.   But, much as I despised the stigma that was often thrown my way — even to the insistence that, as a homeless person, I needed to attend A.A. or N.A. meetings in order to sustain residence in a shelter — I myself suffered from the same stigmatic assaults on my identity.   My true identity, as the sociologist Erving Goffman framed it, was “spoiled” by perceptions people have toward the homeless.

Stigma Quotes. QuotesGram

Had this not been the case, I’d have certainly found within me the power or presence of mind to have prayed such a prayer long ago.   In fact, the practical wisdom of leaving the State of California and the San Francisco Bay Area in particular had been offered me by friends whom I knew from the Internet as early as 2004 — when I was first becoming homeless.   But I did not have the ears to listen.

I did not have the ears to hear the fullness of the fact that my problem — far and away more serious than any of its associated labels — was homelessness.   I had basically bought into all the very lies that I disdained.

That, above all things, is what kept me homeless for all those years.  I saw the contradictory nature of what it was assumed I must be.   I saw the ridiculous horrors of myself and others being treated as criminals, our true stories disbelieved by authority figures.  I felt the frustration we all felt when having to face such demeaning treatment.   But still, I hung on to the false notion that there must have been something about me that was innately flawed in such a way that I would never warrant a normal, self-respecting living situation such as even thieves and criminals are able to secure in our society.  I never fully allowed the truth about homelessness to enter my heart.

Why not?

The short, simple answer would be low self esteem.  That, combined with a certain measure of social indoctrination.  When one hears something about oneself repeatedly, by people who appear to be in authority, one eventually begins to believe it.

But there’s a deeper answer than this.   The dynamic of believing what one is told about oneself is most common when one is a child.   In such a case, the looming figures of authority are one’s parents.   Though my father had been dead since 1985, and my mother more recently deceased, they still remained the original authorities, exerting their influence upon me even as they tried to steer me away from dangerous behavior.

My mother died on October 9, 2003.   That morning, I had beseeched Kaiser Redwood City to put me back on a medication called Klonopin, being as the past three years under the medication Gabapentin had been extremely challenging for me.    While it is true that the combination of the med switch and my mother’s death triggered what psychiatry calls a “first time manic episode,” and it is true that I lost a $50,000 annual income, a home, a car, and all my professional accounts in the process, there is a deeper truth at work here.

The full extent to which my relationship with my mother ensured on a daily basis the type of sanity I needed to function in the workaday world of the Mainstream was something I was not to grasp until years later.   Essentially, hearing of her death so soon after many of my senses were being dulled by 6mg/day of a powerful sedative — the highest legal dosage at the time — resulted in my blocking out the feeling of every interaction I had ever known with the person with whom I was undoubtedly the closest.

Like the motherless child whom I was, I then began to seek her guidance and comfort through the many disparate, detached figures of authority whom I soon found in the vast cosmic orphanage that is Homelessness.   The horrible degree to which her nurturing love was cloned by the callous manipulations of an impassive band of power-hungry scoundrels was something I would have to face fully, were I ever to come to know the true identity of my actual enemy in life.

The manner in which my mother represented the Mainstream needed to be understood and embraced in completion, if I were ever to succeed in crafting a life free of her restrictions, and full of the independent identity that is mine and mine alone.

It will take me two more posts to drive the point home.

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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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Dangers of Liberation (Part Four)

This is the fourth in a seven-part series I am posting on consecutive Thursdays.  Though the series is only quasi-chronological, I urge you to leaf through the first three first.  

Soren Kierkegaard (1813-1855) Drawing by Granger

The Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard referred to the moment, not as “an atom of time,” but as an “atom of eternity.”  That’s how the moment of August 8, 2006 felt.  One might say that time stood still at that moment, and I had a glimpse of the eternal bliss we might experience in heaven.

This is one reason why I framed this series as I did.   A chronological order of events would not be as meaningful as a spiritual progression, which in a way defies time.  My first day of homelessness was not August 8, 2006 — it was May 17, 2004.  But the night of May 17, 2004 was a night of fright and awful uncertainty, afraid to make myself prone on a bench at the Burlingame CalTrain station, but sitting up all night, nodding off periodically, and watching for cops all the while.

By contrast, the event of August 8, 2006 was one of momentary ecstasy, but where did that moment lead?  Down the tubes fairly quickly, as I recall.  Its memory, however, did not fade.

That memory was in fact felt in retrospect.  For on March 19, 2004, I took a look at my badly beaten car, its front end crunched like an accordion.   As I discovered the freedom of public transportation, of leaving the driving to those more capable than myself, I was granted a foreshadow of the more complete liberation I would know two years in the future.

The horror that marked my final three years in Berkeley was also foretold.  It wasn’t until June 24, 2013 that I first found myself pistol-whipped, as I watched a pair of young hooligans making off with my laptop.   But on some unknown date back in June of 2004, I had known a much more serious violation, of the kind that in civil society it is not thought proper to discuss.

The complex confluence of incongruous influences that comprised the conditions of homelessness was never considered a drain or an overload, in the way that the Mainstream had been.  The overload of the Mainstream was death to my soul. But all the excesses of stimuli that combined to create the Homeless Adventure were health to my spirit, and marrow to my bones.

“Naked I am!” I shouted.  “I am stripped of all I have ever thought I would be!  I have made myself naked and vulnerable in the face of a fully mercurial and often hostile Universe!”

I saw all my possessions be burned to bits before my eyes, the act of an unfeeling young juggaloe who hadn’t slept in days.   I was hurled to the ground by deluded gangbangers, shouting “I’m going to kill you White Motherf—-r!” — as they hit me again and again with the barrels of their guns, on the head I had bowed before them.

Yet through all these atrocities, I found it in myself to sleep on my back without bedroll in a thunderstorm, exerting pelvic thrusts in the direction of the full moon, and reveling.

“Bring it on!” I screamed.  “I want more!  I want more!!”

Then, getting up, fully clad and with shoes on — (for I always slept in shoes, so as to be ready) — I suddenly shivered.   So what did I do?   Of course, I ran as far as I could, as fast as I could, till I warmed.

When the sun shone, and the daylight burned, I walked about the City of Berkeley and composed music in protest, having not paper nor pen, neither software, nor laptop, no possessions at all, save the clothes on my back.

“Bop bop bop!” came the singing of the melodies.   My weathered trousers were as sets of drums.   Keyboards and electric guitars anointed the air, while passersby mocked and mimicked me, shouting: “Shut the f—k up!”  Meanwhile, seemingly unbeknowst to them, I composed the score to Eden in Babylon— to my proud estimation, the finest music I have written thus far, to date — in the timeless spool of life.

“That’s your whole problem!” my naysayers chided.  “You think that your music is more important than God.”

“Ah but no,” I replied.  “It’s your problem.  You think that your Mainstream is God.”

There was nothing Mainstream about the Uniqueness that was Homelessness in Berkeley.  So for all of the fears, the highs, and the rages, it yet remained sacred — to me.

“How do we get inside again?” my friend Jerome had earlier queried.   “How do we get back inside, and yet not get sucked back into the Mainstream?”

In search of answer, I shouted at the Most High in outrage.

“WHY am I hanging around pimps and hookers and drug dealers and thieves and criminals and hustlers and panhandlers?   WHY am I not among Artists and Writers and Musicians and Actors and Directors — and people more like myself!?  I know — I know — these are the people whom JESUS hung out with!   But I’m NOT JESUS!!! I’m NOT JESUS!!  I’m only f—ing human!!!  Give me a god-d—–d break!!!!”

Many times did I scream to the God of my youth.  Many times someone screamed back at me: “Would you just shut the f—-k up?!”

Then came the terrifying threats of the night.  “This guy,” said a jealous man, pointing my way, “is not going to live much longer.”

“You know what?” I told myself.  “He’s probably right.”

So on June 24, 2016, exactly three years after the first of a series of violent assaults against my person, I went down to Bill’s Computer Store on Shattuck Avenue, bought myself a refurbished Dell laptop with my government check, and walked quietly away from the City of Berkeley without saying a word.

God then proceeded to answer every prayer I had hurled toward Him, facing His Infinite Love with hatred and vitriol.   He answered those prayers sevenfold, nay — seventy times sevenfold — in spades.   And He provided a way for me to live inside without getting sucked back into the evils of the Mainstream.   In so doing, He showed me the hugeness of His unfathomable, unconditional love.  

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Dangers of Liberation (Part Three)

It would be tempting for me to recount just about everything that took place between August 12, 2006 and April 15, 2011.   But that would be a story in itself — perhaps even a novel or a book.   Suffice it to say that my travels during that period of time were extremely disjointed.   They represented the trek of a man who, having already realized that the Mainstream held nothing for him, nevertheless engaged himself in a five year plan of pointless futility, hanging on to the remnants of a former Mainstream identity.  To everyone in my path, this leg of my journey appeared to be nothing other than a poisonous mixture of insanity and instability.   I bounced from Lodi to Redwood City to Stockton, back to Redwood City, up to Oakland, and back to Stockton, with frenetic periods in between where I could claim no single city as my own.  "BenjaminAlways, I was haunted by the lure of Berkeley and its particularly special brand of homelessness.  Having tasted of that heavenly fruit, there was no way I could return to anything like my former system of values without incurring disaster.  Berkeley loomed as though a Mecca for all who had embraced this unusual consciousness.  In fact, prior to the momentous event of August 8, 2006, there was even a previous moment in the Fall of 2005 that served as a kind of prophecy of unknown times to come.   Someone had driven me to visit my daughter where she was working at the Jamba Juice on Bancroft, and as I stepped out of the car, I suddenly found myself  lifting up my hands in a spontaneous gesture of amazement, shouting: “Berkeley!   This is where I’ve got to be!”

To this day, I have no idea what prompted that outburst.  Something in the air of this peculiar city had caught my attention in a way that no other place ever had.   And then, there was the mysterious revelation of 2006, followed by the tortuous premature application of that epiphany in the next three days, prompting a five year disappearance into failed jobs, shelters, residence hotels, and psych wards, until at last, on April 15, 2011, I gave up the ghost.

On that day, I took $40, left the last of a series of untenable living situations, got on an AmTrak, and alighted once again on the City of Berkeley, this time with the full intent of my heart.

That night I hooked up with a fellow named Sydney, sold my cell phone for a blanket, and the two of us slept in a corridor near the U.C. campus.  Far from the earlier disorientation, I now found myself guided, as if by an unseen hand, to every resource for the homeless that the city had to offer.  It was at that time that I also was directed to numerous other homeless men and women whom I discovered to be very much like myself.   All of them shared a similar story of having been “liberated” from an evil form of bondage that we called the Mainstream.

One of these was a tall African-American man named Jerome.  For the first five days of my intentional homelessness, I chatted with him at Starbucks.  He was well-dressed — as was I — and it took five days before either of us discovered the other was homeless.  At that, we decided to camp out together.  (There’s safety, after all, in numbers.)

“Here’s the challenge,” Jerome said one night.  “How do get inside again without getting sucked back into the Mainstream?”

“That is indeed the challenge,” I replied.

Then there was silence.

There are many levels to liberation.  As I wrote in Part Two of this series, one is not just liberated from something.   One is liberated into something.   And that something might just morph into an ogre as forbidding as that from which one had been released in the first place.

For my part, there is no true liberation, unless one is liberated into Christ.   “If you make my Word your home,” said Jesus, “you will indeed be my disciples.  You will learn the truth — and the truth will make  you free.”  

When one has found a home, one needs to maintain it.  Otherwise one will have a home no longer.   Even the freedom that there is in Christ is not an absolute arrival.   To what extent I had found liberation it now needed to be tilled like a garden.  Otherwise, it would morph into a beast as threatening as the Mainstream from which I first fled.

For better or worse, that is what happened with homelessness.  It developed into a world of its own, with rules of its own, many of them tacitly acknowledged — unwritten and unspoken, yet real.   And those rules bespoke betrayal, vengeance, and death.

Though the first months of homelessness in Berkeley were little short of blissful, even on into the second year, eventually my old enemy reared his head, though in a different and far more frightening form.   Just how bad it got, it will disturb me greatly to tell.  But I’ll tell it, as cogently as I can, in Part Four.

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Dangers of Liberation (Part Two)

This post is a sequel to Dangers of Liberation (Part One).  I strongly urge you to read it first, if you want to get the most out of this one.   

I am not the only person who has had an experience like the one described in the first post of this series.  After the unbelievable epiphany of August 8, 2006, I was later to be drawn toward a number of individuals who reported a very similar event.  The problem, however, is that the information received in that moment was processed prematurely, in a mind that was unready for so radical a change.   So I didn’t encounter the others till about five years later.  

Liberation is a two-way street.  It’s not just that someone finds themselves released from a form of inner bondage or imprisonment.  When one is liberated, they are released into a new realm.   The nature of that realm is of extreme significance.   We are not only liberated from.  We are liberated into.  

You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. Surely your goodness and love will follow me all ...

This raises a couple questions. From what sort of inner prison were we released?  Essentially, it was a conglomerate of rules, customs, social mores, status symbols, contracts, hierarchies, schedules, regimens, routines and protocols that ran contrary to our natural God-given design and character.  For lack of a better word, I and others called this conglomerate the Mainstream.   It was a stifling force, the Mainstream, whose role was to quench the spirit.  

To what sort of freedom were we liberated?  To freedom from the outmoded rules of a former day.  From customs by which we could no longer abide.  From social mores that bespoke hypocrisy, status symbols we no longer possessed, contracts severed, hierarchies violated, schedules disregarded, regimens rejected, routines discarded, and protocols exposed.   Where could we find such freedom?

Only in homelessness.  Everything else reflected a Mainstream that never served our true natures, and from which we were eventually severed.

It took five hard years for me to find the others who shared this unusual gift.  For in the days that followed that moment of bliss, I struggled to process the strange twists and turns that came of outdoor living.  I learned, for one thing, that a person doesn’t just walk into a shelter and expect to be served.  There was an application process, and a long waiting line, before one could be granted a bed.   So for three days I struggled to manage, with no money, no roof over my head, stuck and stranded in a strange town called Berkeley.

By the third day, my thinking was very much awry.  I got in with the wrong crowd, and long story short, found myself running from would-be assailants.   Though I believe I eluded the two young rapscallions, I was by that time completely spent.  In desperation, I flagged down a police car and beseeched them for help.   Discerning my mania, the officers had no problem escorting me to the place where they felt I belonged.

So on August 11, 2006, I sat in the John George Psychiatric Pavilion, having persuaded myself and others that my issue was merely one of untreated bipolar disorder.  The entire memory of a momentary freedom now paled in the wake of a serious disease.  In that downtrodden state, I permitted the clinicians to diagnose my liberation, and prescribe me the mood stabilizer Depakote.   After a single night’s stay in the psych ward, my thinking was clear enough to steer me toward a $50 PayPal loan from a friend in Las Vegas, a one-way Greyhound ticket to a small town in the Valley, a shelter, a clinic, and a cheap residence hotel.  

“I must have been out of my mind!” I told myself.  And then, for five years, I followed the guidelines of a Mainstream I’d already rejected in my heart.

It was not until April 15, 2011, that I took the next plunge into the realm where the memory of a transcendent event had informed my true spirit.   On that day, I took $40, left the last of a series of untenable living situations, hopped on an AmTrak, alighted upon the City of Berkeley once again, and proceeded to become Homeless by Choice.  

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Dangers of Liberation (Part One)

This post was lifted from its original manifestation of approximately one year ago.  I didn’t feel ready at that time to produce the next four parts of the series.  I do now.  

On August 8, 2006, I sat at the corner of Shattuck and Kitteredge in Berkeley, California, three blocks North of the Royal Grounds Cafe, where I had just spent my last two dollars on coffee.   

I had walked back and forth, to and fro, not knowing where I was going.  It gradually dawned on me that I had nowhere left to go.  I had spent my entire severance check after leaving my summer job as a singing teacher with Children’s Musical Theatre San Jose.  I had spent it all on taxicabs, meals in restaurants, and motel rooms.   So I sat down, expecting to enter into total misery.  Instead, I entered into total bliss.

Mihai Eminescu Quote: “I understand that a man can have everything having nothing and nothing ...

I finally had nothing.  Nothing to prove anymore.  Nothing to hold on to.  Nothing to need to protect or salvage or horde.  Nothing that could be coveted or stolen.  Nothing that I needed to accomplish or achieve.   

And in having nothing, I realized that I was open to everything.  In an instant, everything that the Universe had to offer came soaring into my consciousness.  All the gifts of life — the very gifts that my worldly concerns had blinded me from seeing — were now not only visible, but tangible, accessible, and omnipresent.  

I found paper and pen, and I wrote down these words:

I have indeed hit bottom.
And at the moment when I reached my bottom,
I realized that I had reached the very top.
At that moment, I was Buddha.

While this surprising sense of liberation was very real, and while it was destined to impact me for years to come, its accompanying bliss was short-lived.  Within three days, I was to see its downside in a dramatic way.   And the bittersweet dynamic thereof informed my later thought.

So I’ve decided to use the next several Thursdays to post my thoughts on this theme as best I can.   There are distinct dangers involved when one permits oneself to receive gifts of joy and happiness from sources commonly associated with misery and despair.  I’ll do my best to illustrate what the years following that experience have held for me.  Hopefully, I can do so with clarity.

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Tuesday Tuneup 66

Q. What are you doing here?

A. Having a third cup of coffee.

Q. Was there something wrong with the first two cups?

A. No — in fact, there was something right about them.

Q. What was that?

A. They tasted good.

Q. Are you trying to tell me that just because your first two cups of coffee tasted good, you’re drinking a third one?

A. That’s what I said, isn’t it?

Q. Well — don’t you think there’s something wrong with you?

A. There are many things wrong with me, as with us all.  But what are you driving at?

Q. Don’t you know that it’s unhealthy to indulge that which you enjoy to unneeded extremes?

A. Uh — a third cup of coffee is an “unneeded extreme?”

Q. Isn’t it well known that two cups of coffee are sufficient for all?   And that a third cup is extreme?

A. But how often do I actually have a third cup?

Q. I don’t know – how often?

A. Almost never.

Q. Your point?

A. My point is that it would be more extreme to remain at two cups every morning than to allow myself the occasional indulgence of a third cup.

Q. So you justify your indulgence on the basis of its rarity?

A. Yes.  It is so rare that I bother having a third cup of coffee, that I really don’t think I am in danger of overdoing it.

Q. Have you experienced any palpitations of the heart lately?

A. None.

Q. What about your excrement?  Notice anything strange in your poop?

A. Funny, my doctor asked me the same two questions last week.  And again I say, none.

Q. Why did your doctor ask you those questions?

A. Low thyroid, apparently.

Q. But don’t you take thyroid medication?

A. Begrudgingly, yes.

Q. Why is it begrudging?

A. Because I have to wait a half hour after taking it before I am allowed to have a morning cup of coffee.

Q. Isn’t that cruel and unusual punishment?

A. It has occurred to me more than once that the doctor’s orders are a violation of my 8th Amendment Rights.

Eighth Amendment: Banning Cruel and Unusual Punishment - David J. Shestokas

Q. And who else has violated your 8th Amendment Rights?

A. Glad you asked.   Before 2016, when I was experiencing homelessness in the San Francisco Bay Area, lots of people violated my 8th Amendment Rights because they kept waking me up when I had nowhere else to sleep.  Then finally Martin v. Boise came into effect, and Judge Marsha Berson ruled that it is unconstitutional to wake up someone who is sleeping on public property and tell them to move, if in fact they have nowhere else to sleep.  So, at least in the 9th Circuit, including most Western States, I am free to be homeless again and not fear unjust awakening.

Q. Do you want to be homeless again?

A. Kinda.

Q. Why?

A. You want an honest answer?

Q. Of course.

A. Because I got to be good at it.   Really, the main thing that bothered me was all the awakenings in the middle of the night, when I was only trying to get a good night’s sleep.

Q. But will those awakenings stop just because of a new ruling?

A. Come to think of it, probably not.

Q. Why not?

A. For one thing, not all of the awakenings were by authority figures.   A lot of them were by other homeless people, and many of them were by random thieves and vandals roaming the area looking for easy marks.   What mark could be easier than a sleeping homeless person?

Q. So you say you got a lot of things stolen from you in the middle of the night?

A. Yes.  Also was threatened to bodily harm quite a bit, when I awakened to the sight of a stranger telling me I had stolen “his spot.”

Q. Would you say homelessness has lost its appeal?

A. Most of it, yes.

Q. Why did it ever appeal to you in the first place?

A. As earlier stated, it seemed a thing I could probably do well.   After all, I wasn’t managing very well at hanging on to a living situation.

Q. But you’re hanging on to your living situation now, aren’t you?

A. Seems that way, yes.  In a few short days I will have paid my rent on time for the 26th month in a row.   And prior to that, on a smaller cheaper place, fifteen months in a row.

Q. Doesn’t that give you a sense of stability?

A. It does.

Q. Then why on earth would you ever consider being homeless again?

A. Why on earth should I value something like “stability?”

Q. What do you mean?

A. We’re all going to die anyway, right?

Q. So?

A. So there’s no such thing as stability on this planet.  If we get too attached to things that make us feel stable, they will eventually be taken from us, and then we will have a really hard time letting go of them.  Better not to become so attached.  Better to be ready for anything.

Q. Anything?

A. You heard me.  Especially nowadays.   It is better to live spontaneously, and for one to ready oneself for anything — than to seek the fragile semblances of stability that this passing world has to offer.

Q. You really believe that?

A. I said it, didn’t I?

Q, Why do I find that hard to believe?

A. I don’t know.  Why do you?   

The Questioner is silent.  

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A little bit goes a long, long way. 

 

Paralyzed

Meant to get this to you earlier.  It was first published in the October “special issue” of Street Spirit and subsequently submitted to the International Network of Street Papers, where it has been published elsewhere.   And now, here as well.   Hope you enjoy it.  

Paralyzed: The Demons That Prey on the Homeless
by Andy Pope

When one is homeless, one is by definition exposed to all kinds of elements that escape the confines of one who lives indoors.  Weather is only one such element.  There are also predatorial elements — people who invade the space of someone who has no physical barrier to separate them from intruders of the night.

There is also another kind of predator sometimes encountered in the darkness.  This is the supernatural predator, often colloquially referred to as a “demon” — an entity that invades one’s dream states, or states of half-sleep.

Homeless friends of mine reported being “hassled” or “attacked” by malevolent entities that seemed to hover over various outdoor spots where we tried to sleep.  I sometimes sensed these invasions as well.  Typically, I would become paralyzed, and suddenly feel as though an invisible hostile creature was grabbing me and rubbing or scratching me with things that felt like paws or claws.  Sometimes I would feel as though I were being pounded on.  I would hear abusive voices as this happened: “Andy, you scum bag!! You are a total piece of shit!!!!”

Whether these were truly alien invaders from outer space, or merely the subconscious reflection of my own low self-esteem, I cannot say.

I learned that these attacks have a name: sleep paralysis.  Sleep paralysis is a condition where one is awake to one’s surroundings but lacks motor control.  In other words, you’re not awake enough to move your body, but awake enough to know what’s going on.  It often strikes during times when the usual patterns of sleep have been disrupted.  In my experience, very few things have disrupted my normal sleep patterns as much as the overall conditions of homelessness.

As a person who has had sleep paralysis since the age of 14, I am among the 8 percent of the population for whom this condition is commonplace.  When I was homeless, I noticed that these intrusions would be different depending on when and where they occurred.  For example, intrusions in Ohlone Park were different than those that took place on the steps of St. Joseph the Worker church or outside the Rubicon building.  I always sensed that I was being assaulted by some kind of invisible entity, but the nature of the entity would differ according to where it was that I was trying (unsuccessfully) to sleep.

If I were to take a daytime nap on Bart, however, I noticed that I was free of these mysterious assailants.  However, when the train would stop, sometimes they would attack.  This gave rise to the theory that they lived in a reality that intersected the normal Earth-based reality at certain spots, but that they were unable to traverse the surface of the Earth — at least not at speeds corresponding to those of rapid transit.   This theory is reminiscent of the concept of the “tesseract” expounded in the book A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine l’Engel.  

Another theory had to do with the veracity of these demon-riddled reports.  How plausible were they really?   How credible were those who reported them?   And most of all, who was most likely to believe them?  I could not help but notice that those who were impoverished, homeless, on disability, working poor, or low-wage blue collar or assembly line workers were the quickest to embrace and believe my reports of sleep paralysis.  Often, people in the lower socio-economic brackets would share their own similar experiences of encounters with “demons.”  But people in the scientific community, upper level academicians, white collar workers, and corporate business people seemed often to scoff at our accounts, writing them off the same way that they wrote off all of our statements.  To be sure, this is another type of paralysis — one that is relentless, and occurs in broad daylight.

Whatever the cause or effect of these widespread stories, one thing seemed most disturbingly clear.  There were legions of demons haunting the realm of the disadvantaged, the underprivileged, the unprotected, and the abandoned.  Whether they meet us in dream states or in harsh reality, there are far more homeless demons than meet the eye.

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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Gratitude List 1354

This one’s from Thursday morning.  

1. Slept about 8 hrs from 11:30 till 7:30 am.

2. Snow all about, very beautiful.

3. Echo called early, having also gotten up at 7:30.  She seems well, and I’m glad.  I’ve spoken with her in fact two times today, for which I’m thankful.

4. Also got a chance to talk with Nick.

5. Making progress toward submitting my 2nd column for Tracy.  I am connecting together themes of social media / pleasure-seeking to the creation of Cancel Culture, and then how homeless people have been cancelled by society.

6. Got another compliment, it was from Nick G., the ‘Palouse Pundit,’ it was on my Homelessness Taught Me Gratitude piece, he said it was good writing.  At the end, he said: “Keep writing!”  He himself is reputable, a retired philosophy professor, spent several years with the Maharishi in India.

7. Seneca made me a quad espresso and gave me a day old scone, even though I only paid for a doppio.

8. Took a brisk three mile walk in the snow, wherein all errands were accomplished.

9. This includes having gotten my levothyroxine, of which Dr. M. has how given me a 90 day supply at 137 micrograms / day.

10. Nice to be inside on a snowy day.   God is Good.

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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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Fourth Column Published

At some point, I slacked on getting these Street Spirit columns posted on Thursdays in a timely fashion.   Here’s my 4th column, as it was published in the November issue.  More to come.   

The Homeless Habits that Followed Me Indoors
by Andy Pope

One of the many unexpected challenges that arose during my transition from homelessness to indoor living stemmed from the fact that I had simply gotten used to living outdoors. This caused many of the practices that worked for me when I was homeless to be carried over into the context of indoor living. While some of these lingering habits clearly didn’t apply indoors, others of them worked fairly well, both inside and out. In any case, all of them were surprisingly hard to shake. These hard-to shake habits fell into four main categories: Sleeping, eating, livelihood, and self-esteem.

Sleeping

When I was homeless, I got used to sleeping on two or three layers of cardboard placed over a hard surface.  I often slept on sidewalks, stairways, ramps, and cement alcoves positioned beneath awnings.   To off-set the hardness of such surfaces, I would pile on layers of cardboard until it simulated the effect of a mattress.

The problem with this, as far as my transition is concerned, was that I found I needed to use the same set-up in order to functionally sleep inside.  I tried sleeping in the bed that was provided in my first indoor room, but it just didn’t feel right.  I wasn’t used to sleeping in a bed.  So I set up three layers of cardboard on the hardwood floor, piled on an ample amount of blankets, and found I went right to sleep.  In fact, I slept much better than I’d ever slept outdoors.  I had combined the comfort of my preferred set-up with the added security of sleeping inside, where I was no longer vulnerable to the numerous assailants that roam the outdoor nights.  So I got the best of both worlds.

Another thing: Even though I had moved far away from Berkeley to a place where the temperatures were often below freezing in the winter, I found that I had to leave my window wide open at all times.  I had gotten so used to sleeping in the open air, I felt suffocated if I wasn’t getting a huge blast of fresh air in my face.  Also, for a long time I had to visualize one of my former outdoor sleeping spots in order to calm my mind enough to get to sleep at night.  This eventually faded with time, but evidenced an overall nostalgia for the homeless experience that flew in the face of reason.

Eating

My ideas around food, its availability, and one’s ability to feed oneself also changed radically as a result of my years of homelessness.  When food came my way while I was on the streets, I cheerfully shared it with those in my midst, assured that others would do the same for me.   Generally, I was right.  This is one of the small ways in which people on the streets take care of each other.

But without a street community to share resources with, managing my grocery shopping and eating habits was a struggle.  Having a kitchen for the first time in years, and being on a fixed income from Social Security, I naturally stocked up on food after I had paid rent and other bills.  But with this surplus of food available to me, I found myself overeating, using up my food supply long before the month was over, and thus gaining weight.   It took some time for me to become comfortable with stretching my groceries to last all month.

Livelihood 

I had also become accustomed to flying a sign on a sidewalk in order to accumulate pocket change to get through the day, as well as an occasional sandwich or other form of foodstuffs.  But in my current situation, there weren’t any panhandlers, let alone “silent sign-flyers” as I would have characterized myself.  Had I showed up on Main Street with my sign, I’d have stuck out like a sore thumb.  The local cops would have been on me in a heartbeat.  But I missed flying a sign for many reasons, not the least of which is that I simply was used to that means of livelihood.

In fact, I so missed flying my sign that on two occasions I invested over $50 on a round trip bus ticket to the nearest large city, when I hooked up with the homeless people who hung out by the station, and flew my sign until it was time for the bus to leave.   Unfortunately, I made less than $50 each time, so it as not even a cost-effective venture.  But it did satisfy my enormous urge to earn money in my customary fashion, if only for a day or two.

The overall inability to panhandle in a small rural community resulted in a form of food insecurity I had not at all anticipated.  After all, it was difficult to experience true food insecurity in Berkeley, where there were up to four free community meals each day.  Now, without community meals or the ability to fly a sign, I found myself suffering midway through each month.  I scrambled to make more money without the option of having a “street hustle,” and found that my job-related skills had suffered greatly as a result of years of unemployment.

Seeing the people in my midst who seemed not to have a problem feeding themselves, jealousy burned within me.  Whereas before, I had been jealous of practically anyone who had a roof over their head, I now found myself jealous of homeless people who were able to feed themselves more readily than I was, such as many of the homeless people in the city of Berkeley, where so much free food is abundant.

low self-esteem.png

Self-esteem 

By far, however, the most difficult transition to navigate was in the area of my self-esteem.  As much as I despised seeing the way that privileged people who lived indoors treated homeless people who were suffering, I had simply gotten used to being treated like a piece of shit.  Unbelievably, when people began to treat me humanely, as though I were “one of them,” I found I couldn’t handle it.  

For example, I had been quietly hanging out out at a local coffee house for a couple of weeks before one of the baristas extended her hand and asked what my name was.  Afterwards, I literally had to go into the bathroom and cry.  I could not believe that an employee in a public business establishment cared what my name was. I had gotten so used to being viewed with suspicion, as though it were assumed I could only be a troublemaker, that the experience of having an employee actually treat me with dignity was almost too much for me. While I soaked it all in with a natural delight, it also caused me to wonder why on earth I and my homeless brothers and sisters had put up with such pejorative treatment to begin with. 

The closest I’ve come to an answer is that we all simply got used to it. We didn’t think things would ever be any different or any better. The overall message that society gave us was that we would always be homeless, and that we were without hope in a world where an uncrossable gulf was fixed between those who were within and those who were without. We even got the feeling that we should always remain homeless – that we belonged, not in the privileged world of renters and homeowners – but in the leprous realm of the ostracized, the abandoned, and the untouchable. For we were not such as were worthy of dignified indoor living.

When such a bombardment of dehumanizing messages is blasted at a person day in and day out, it messes fairly severely with one’s head. Had I not known the amazing community that existed between me and my fellow homeless people, I would never have found the strength to come out alive.

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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The Homeless Link

Below is a verbatim transcript of my column Rebuilding Trust by Strengthening the “Homeless Link” as it was recently published on the independent news site, Spokane Faith and Values, under the editorship of Tracy Simmons.   

When asked to write about our need to address the erosion of trust in our national consciousness, the first thing that crossed my mind is that I’ve never fully succeeded at rebuilding trust on a personal level. But I don’t think this failure is unique to me alone.

In today’s society, when friendships or business relationships go sour, it is much more likely that one will simply “move on” than that a person will expend the energy needed to repair a broken relationship. After all, such an energy expense is often painful, and people don’t like to endure pain unless it’s absolutely necessary. And with so many options for replacing unfavorable associations with more promising ones, why should one concern oneself with mending fences?

Through increased mobility and the phenomenal interactive potential of social media, it’s more accurate to depict people as jumping several fences in succession – more-or-less like hurdles in a track meet – than going back to mend any of them. The unusual ease with which people sever their personal contacts these days is assisted by the fact that through electronic communications and social media, one is able to block, delete, or ignore someone completely unilaterally. People take advantage of this convenience, often without prior word of warning or common courtesy.

Though social media has the potential to build bridges, it also helps us to burn them. Our worlds have become increasingly fragmented, and it is common on instant messengers for people to drop out of conversations abruptly and leap over to a new conversation without answering the last question or even saying goodbye. How can trust possibly be built when so many interactions are left incomplete?

Moreover, busy people may receive 500 emails a day and not have time to answer five of them. We have come to accept non-response as a response, but what does that response say? We have no idea, really. We only know that they won’t talk to us, we don’t know why, and the mass phenomenon of all this electronic dismissal, one of another, has eaten away at the morale of an entire nation.

If we’re going to think about rebuilding trust, we need first to consider that there will never be trust at the expense of communication. This applies not only to personal relationships, but to human associations at all levels of society. We don’t trust our educational system, we don’t trust our clergy, we don’t trust the politicians whom we have elected to represent us, and we certainly don’t trust corporate officers. While I would be the last to advocate a reactionary return to a less inclusive era, I will be the first to propose that a revival of misplaced values such as common courtesy and mutual respect would be a good place to start if we are to go about rebuilding trust on a grander scale.

Our devaluing of respectful communication is, to my view, a function of our inordinate love of personal pleasures. It is natural that in a culture so fraught with danger, we would seek escape in diversions that distract us from our troubles. But for many, it has become more important to feel good than to do good. When given a choice between feeling good and doing good, we often choose the former.

A man storms out of the house after an argument with his wife. Instead of returning to bless her with a surprise bouquet, he takes that money to a poker game and escapes into a night of male bonding with the boys. We take our ten dollar bills to the movie theater in order to entertain ourselves, and we ignore the beggar outside the theater whose life might end in the cold that night if he doesn’t get two dollars for an all-night bus pass. We justify our self-serving nature by rationalizing that the person on the other end of our avarice has made bad choices in their lives, and that they need to learn from their mistakes by being deprived of basic needs. But we are neither gods nor goddesses, and no human being is in the moral position to judge another for their station in life, especially when we have no idea what the conditions were that got them there.

As cities become more congested, and the rapid pace of life accelerates, we stigmatize. We hesitate to take the time to listen to the unique stories of those who cross our paths. Instead, we view people according to what “box” we can place them in. The box of leftie. The box of drug addict. The boxes of codependent, feminist, fundamentalist. The list goes on and on. We judge people according to their “boxes,” rather than recognize them as the unique individuals whom they are.

Nowhere is this stereotyping more flagrant than in typical attitudes toward the homeless. Every homeless person has their story, and I have found that these stories are generally told truthfully. But because of our fast-paced agendas and stigmatic notions as to what the homeless are about, we don’t stop to engage these fellow citizens, especially if we feel interrupted. People do not like to witness visible poverty in all its ugliness, so we turn our heads away from the very people who may need our attention the most.

In hearing any stranger’s story, of course we will have doubts as to its veracity. In the case of a homeless stranger’s story, one often suspects it is only a covert plea for financial assistance. But how do we know that if we don’t stop to hear them out? The fact is, unless the homeless person is visibly drunk or loaded, we have no idea how they are going to spend that money. A recent study by the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Addiction estimates that 27 percent of homeless people are drug-addicted. Yet I have lived in big cities where homelessness and drug addiction are thought to be synonymous in the eyes of passersby.

Well, we think, if we give the homeless person food, then we’re still doing good, and we’re on the safe side. So we drop some food off every now and then and wash our hands of the matter. What matter? The matter that we haven’t engaged them, we haven’t heard their voices. We haven’t made no effort to discern whether a hand-up might be more applicable than a hand-out.

I’m not suggesting we cease to feed the hungry. I’m suggesting we get to know the hungry. Talk to a homeless person about something other than their homelessness. Take the time to learn what kind of person they are. Do they want to remain homeless all their lives? Some do. Most don’t. The only way we come to find out is by involving them, by treating the homeless with dignity — as equals, with respect — and not as lesser sub-human mutants or inanimate objects to step over around and over whilst they sleep.

That is the core of the true homeless problem, and it also would be a great place to start in rebuilding trust within the society as a whole. If we want to restore unity in a divided culture, why don’t we first bring inclusion to those who have been the most abandoned? In doing so, we could conceivably inaugurate a chain reaction, and trust may be ignited all the way up the scale. A chain, after all, is only as strong as its weakest link. What link could possibly be weaker than that of the homeless?

I say we strengthen the Homeless Link. Provide for a homeless person neither pity nor judgment, but encouragement, hope, and respect. Maybe — just maybe — this is what it will take to renew the lost strength of an entire nation.

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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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Inequity (Part Four)

Apparently, some people don’t think I know how to spell.   I’m referring to my recent use of the word “inequity.”  Some think I am referring to “iniquity.”  Others believe I am talking about “inequality.”   Neither is the case.  The truth is that I have spelled the word correctly: “inequity.”

inequity.JPG

Of the three nouns cited, the second one corresponds to the usage of the word as it pertains to this series.   The first “instance of injustice or unfairness” has to do with how homeless people are assumed to have done something terribly wrong in order to have become homeless, and that therefore homelessness is their due.  The second has to do with the notion that the homeless person is not qualified to engage in normal conversations or activities that people who live indoors are permitted to indulge.   The third has to do with privacy — how homeless people are deprived access to it, and regarded with suspicion if they seek it.

Today I would like to discuss a fourth inequity: how it is assumed that the homeless person does not have a job.  In some cases, it is even assumed that he could not have a job, and in other cases, that he should not have a job.  This is all part of the Overall Homeless Inequity.

A 2017 report by the Washington Council of Governments concluded that 22% of single homeless people, and 25% of homeless people in families, are employed.   These figures are remarkably similar to a report citing that 22% of homeless people are drug-addicted.  While it is often supposed that nearly all homeless people are drug-addicted (and no homeless people are working), the two statistics have a striking commonality.  Both of them equate homelessness with something that homelessness is not.

Homelessness is not the same thing as drug addiction.  Yet many people assume that a homeless person is an addict.   It is not the same thing as unemployment either.  Yet people will pass a homeless person on the street, and shout: Get a job!   Having been homeless for a number of years, I can tell you why I think people are content with these misconceptions.   Simply put, they justify the idea that the person is homeless because of some factor that that they can control; and that therefore, homelessness is their choice.  These comfortable fallacies free people from having to sympathize with the homeless person’s plight.

Now when I became homeless by choice, it was a choice made after seven years of struggling in and out of homeless and borderline-homeless situations, all the while finding my entire set of options for personal progress completely negated by the detrimental effects of any living situation I was able to afford.   While people assumed my main problem was something other than this, the fact of the matter is that I was making $50,000 a year and doing quite well before circumstances led to homelessness.  I then found homelessness nearly impossible to escape.

Many people have no idea how deep the hole of homelessness is dug.  Again and again, I tried my hardest to climb out of it.  But in the urban Bay Area reality, where studio apartments often rent for $2500/mo. or more, I could not get back on my feet.  The situations I could afford were limited to shelters, halfway houses, board-and-care homes, and (if I got desperate) psych wards and rehab facilities.  All of these resorts were undignifying, the last two were downright dehumanizing and criminalizing, and every one of them wound up leading me back to the streets.   Finally, I figured I better start learning how to be a functional homeless person, since that is where I continually found myself landing.  So on April 15, 2011, I left the last of numerous lousy living situations in order to join an intentional homeless community in Berkeley, California.

In Berkeley, where there were over one thousand visible homeless people on the streets, it wasn’t generally supposed that any of us were capable of working.  Combine that with a “progressive” quasi-socialist climate, and one was more likely to be encouraged to seek government aid through mental health disability than to get a job.  In short, it was assumed that I was unemployable.  This is another facet of this inequity.

Only once did someone shout at me: “Get a job!”  And when he did, I was damn near ready to go to the Social Security Office and ask them to cancel my disability paychecks.  It was so rare that someone believed I could work that what was intended to be a demeaning insult was actually refreshing.

Then, when I left Berkeley and moved to low-rent district in the Pacific Northwest, I found that within five days, I was able to secure a one year lease on a studio room, within three weeks, had secured a job, and was employed part-time shortly thereafter.  This was after being considered unemployable for years in Berkeley!   And as I always am quick to say, despite what many of my old associates in California believed, I did not change at all on a 48 hour one way bus trip.

What this points to is that when dealing with homeless people, we need to consider the socio-economic factors first and foremost, before we make judgments as to their personal character and choices.   The exact same person who secured a lease and a job as soon as he moved to Idaho was the one who flew a sign on a sidewalk for five years in California.

To those who still think people generally become homeless because they are drug addicts, alcoholics, nut cases, losers, or lazy bums, I say, please think again.   While this is sometimes the case, it is more often true that prolonged homelessness brings about any or all of those factors.  Please think a lot.   This culture gone awry needs the best thinking of us all.

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The Unforgiven in the Eyes of Man

I found this “plea” in my Zoho Docs folder, a folder I rarely open.  I had long ago forgotten writing this on March 18, 2016.   I was homeless at the time, and had been homeless for quite a few years.   Little did I know that my exact plea was to be answered, four months and nine days later.   Not only did I receive the “lock on the door, window, and power outlet” for which I was pleading;  I even received the “community of like-minded Artists and visionaries”  that I was hoping would replace my homeless community.   So I cannot help but post this plea — verbatim and unaltered, in all its raw and fervent appeal.  The only thing that has been changed is that the words now appearing in italics were once in caps, since it was written on a Facebook timeline.  

I apologize for my recent mania. Although — I’m thinking. What exactly is wrong with mania? What is there to apologize for? People tell me I “exhaust” them. But to me, almost everybody else seems to be moving in slow motion. Is it morally wrong that I think and move so quickly? Of course not.  But I begin to develop a chip on my shoulder. I do not know how to express this dynamic clearly or articulately, or in a manner that would be persuasive of my case. My “apology” — such as it is — is placed before your eyes in order that it may be held distinct from the mania that was placed in another venue. I am banking on your objectivity to help me to believe that I can find words to express my position in such a way that will incur the empathy of the powerful.

This is because I, despite an empathic nature, despite an articulate presence, have been robbed of my natural power by a set of conditions and circumstances that have persisted far past the point of the conscious choices that initially set them into motion. That set of conditions and circumstances is called, in a word, homelessness. It has been going on for eleven years now. I do not know how I have made it this far. But I do know that I am not going to make it much farther without real help from someone who has the power to help and who cares to help.  So: let’s get real.  

I cannot live outdoors any longer. I mean – I can, but we may expect my life to end within the next two years at best. From eleven years of Homelessness I am finally breaking down. I, even I. No one can take the overwhelming conditions of homelessness for long without breaking in some way at some point. That I have endured this long is miraculous — especially in combination with the fact that every single person who is homeless understands my issue completely – whether they can articulate it or not – and every single person who lives indoors believes that my issue is something other than what it is.

Initially, this dynamic fascinated me. It fascinated me on an academic level, sociologically, as an item of analysis.  But it has grown to disgust me. Not on an emotional level — but on a revolutionary level. Let me articulate my issue as clearly as I can. I know you love me – and I know you have had your own overwhelming issues. And I am proud of you. But please hear what my issue is. Every homeless person I know will echo this issue. I might as well speak in the editorial “we.” I speak on behalf of the Homeless People of the United States of America.

Our issue is that we feel unloved.

Much as I know that you love me, much as I know that my brother loves me, much as I know that my best female friend loves me – and if I have a remaining male friend who has not rejected me totally, he probably loves me too, whoever he is — I do not feel loved. None of us do. We feel unloved because it is not possible for us to grasp the disparity between the love that we see in the eyes of those who profess it – the love that I hear in your voice and in the voice of my brother and of my best female friend – and the other side of that dynamic, which is that none of the people who love us so will let us into their homes, much less agree to rent rooms to us, even in exchange for good money that we promise to pay. This is a universal homeless phenomenon.

Apparently, it is thought that we do not bathe. That our clothes are filthy. That we cannot manage. We will do something horrible in your house. If this were not the case, then why are we not in houses of our own? Although we know that the demand for affordable housing far exceeds the supply – in America – we still feel somehow blamed for the fact that we are the one who got left without residence.  It’s as though we’re all in a competition, we are the ones who lost the game, and the booby prize is homelessness.

Rather than look at us as “losers,” why not view us according to reason?   Because of high demand and low supply, somebody had to get left. It just happened to be us. We feel like lepers. We are the ostracized, the rejected, the pariahs, the untouchables. We are the perennial round pegs who did not fit, despite ourselves, into the square holes of the society that has discarded us.

We feel unloved because we do not understand how all these people who love us are permitting us to persist in a pattern of life that we have pleaded with them to help us to escape.  For some of us, those pleas have been sent out for years.  In my case, for eleven years.  During that time there have been brief oases of residence that have lasted in some cases as long as six or seven months or more, before — before what? Something happened, and we are out in the wilderness once more.

What is that happened?  Why did we lose those short-lived residential sites?  It is because we didn’t want to sell used cars for our landlords, nor trim their marijuana plants. The housemates didn’t like the way that we paced the floors, or perhaps we were possessed of an annoying tick or snore that kept them awake at night. When asked to put something in the microwave, we who were absent-minded put it in the broiler oven instead. When it was discovered that we had been homeless, that somehow explained everything in the eyes of the potential landlord, and those eyes moved on to the next applicant — the one who had references and a credit rating, the one who either had not been homeless, or else was remarkably good at hiding the fact that they had. If the latter were the case, and one would possess that depth of discretion (I, by the way, do not), then one would probably have been shrewd enough to have avoided homelessness altogether in the first place.

In my case, after seven years of struggling, I finally became homeless by choice. That choice was made long ago.  Made gladly, as you know. The problem is that it is no longer my choice. But I am having the devil of the time acting on the new choice – which is not to be homeless – because the stigmata that is Homelessness radiates from my forehead like a scarlet letter, as though warning everyone who crosses my path that I, like the others, having dabbled in the darkness that is homelessness, am thereby marked and branded. I differ from Cain only in that I have not yet killed a man. But I am just as marked, living in the awful place of confusion wherein the love of God so fills my heart that I know I am forgiven, and yet I know not what it is for which one must forgive me. I know that only God has forgiven me, and suspect that only God can.  For we are those whom Man cannot forgive: The Unforgiven in the Eyes of Man. Not only that, but we do not know what we did that they won’t forgive us for. Ask ten people, we get ten different answers.

Homeless? You must be lazy. You’re not? Then you’re a loser. You’re not? Then you’re a dead beat. You’re not? Well then, shall we say, scum bag? Dirt bag? Piece of shit – that’s it! You must be a piece of shit. No doubt you are seriously drug-addicted. Hard drugs, the kind that ought never be discussed, much less indulged. You must be an alcoholic. Or severely mentally unhealthy – yes, that’s it. You’re a wing nut. Homeless? What do you mean by homeless? There’s got to be a reason for it.

Well, yes there is a reason. By definition, a person is homeless because he does not have a home. Whatever those other problems are – and believe me, if you’re homeless for long enough, you’ll encounter them all- they certainly cannot be solved until the problem of Homelessness that preempted them is solved. Otherwise, they will only recur again and again, because Homelessness feeds them. They come with the territory. We not only are homeless, but we will always be homeless, and we should always be homeless. We not only will never have a place to live indoors again, but we should not ever have a place to live again.  Through the impaired vision of America, homelessness is seen not as a temporary state of affairs, but as a permanent and insoluble, incurable condition of the soul.

It is not that I happen to be able to withstand cold temperatures and inclement weather. It is not that I sleep in thunderstorms without a bedroll, shouting “Bring it On!” and exerting mighty pelvic thrusts toward the stars with each successive lightning bolt or thunderclap. It is not that I have not worn a jacket since 1985, or that I ran my half-marathon PR in 35 mph gales high on LSD flanked by local city cops. It is not that I am gonzo. True – I got exactly what I asked for, and if my book on the subject, the book that has needed to be written for years now, the book that explains the conditions from homelessness according to an author who actually is homeless and not according to some detached liberal social worker or socio-economist or some other form of clueless ivory tower bleeding heart do-gooder – but from the card-carrying, gun-toting homeless bro in dick mode, the real homeless man, AKA Yours Truly. That book is being written faster than these words are being penned, however spontaneously. And people tell me I exhaust them?  Ha!  They ain’t seen nothin’ yet.

That I have pleaded persistently with people who do have the power to terminate this way of living for me and help me into dignified indoor situation  – not a “shelter” – nothing to do with “services” – nothing to do with a “program” – nothing to do with agencies, facilities, or institutions, but an actual living situation that entails outside the realm of homelessness, that (unlike the others) does not simply lead the homeless back to homelessness.   A dignified living situation, where it will not be assumed that I am a criminal, that I plot crimes when so visibly preoccupied – I do not – where my writings of music and text and script on all levels will actually be met with a supportive environment of like-minded Artists and visionaries,  rather than with further attempts to transform the vibrancy of this particularly uniquely gifted Child of the Most High into an impassive robot clone who serves the purposes of a sterile society consisting of those whose claim to fame is neither to threaten, not to make waves, not to cause wrinkles in time or similar anomalies that would disrupt the deluded flow of a culture gone awry.  I refuse to join the ranks of those whose brains have been suspended until further notice so that they no longer can think for themselves but only serve the purposes of the State and of spiritual wickedness in high places when I AM A CHILD OF GOD! I AM A CHILD OF THE MOST HIGH KING! I AM BORN OF THE UNIVERSE THAT IS UNFOLDING ACCORDING TO DIVINE DESIGN, and I HAVE A RIGHT TO BE WHO I AM!

And I’m tired. Believe it or not, I — even I — tire. I exhaust even myself. So I close.

These could be the words of an asshole. But they are not.  They are the words of a person who has been chosen to receive a message that he will articulate with precision and persuasive power. It is a message that America needs to hear – and that the nation, yea the world, has not yet heard. It is not that the message has not been delivered. On the contrary, it has been submitted en masse. It is that those to whom it has been spoken either have not listened, or they have not needed to hear it. Who has not listened to the message? Those of you live indoors. Who does not need to hear it? The homeless people of America who, ironically, are the only ones listening to it.

I can no longer abide the fact that only other homeless people are hearing the message that needs to be heard by those who are not. Somebody somewhere please grant me a place to live indoors that contains three prerequisites:

(1) It must have a window. I will probably need air from the outdoors at all times.

(2) It must have a lock on a single door, and a hide-a-key under a stone outside.

(3) It must have at least one power outlet.

I will provide the rest. I will pay up to $460 a month. But no more, because I will need to have a grocery chain like Safeway deliver food to my door. If somebody wants to kick down a new pair of Size 11 1/2 New Balance running shoes, it will be greatly appreciated, but not necessary to the task. I need – obviously- to write.

To write – the Homeless Message to the Mainstream of Modern American Life. What we want – is to be heard. What we want – is to be understood. What we want – is to be believed. What we want – is to be respected. We could care less if you say you “love” us — because, we cannot believe that you love us, and yet never let us in your home to so much as take a shower in exchange for money. We will believe that you love us when you begin to listen to what we have to say.  

It will take me approximately five months to finish the book which currently is outlined in a 12 – page single space outline in standard outline form which I will submit to anyone interested.

My daughter, I love you. And I am proud of you. My brother, my sister, all of you — I love you.  But I have something to say and I am going to get myself into the position where I will be physically and technically able to say it. Somebody get me out of the situation where I have to spend 90% of my time searching either for outdoor power outlets or chump change for North Berkeley coffeehouses with attitudes.

Here is the ninth and of last of my speeches on the Homeless Phenomenon in America. It is called “A Parallel and Opposing Culture.” Please – don’t just listen to it. Believe it.

And whoever happens to have gotten to the bottom of this, if there’s a God in Heaven or Beyond, that Power will bless you richly.

AMEN.

Andy Pope
Berkeley, California
March 18, 2016

A Parallel and Opposing Culture

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Gratitude List 1310

This one’s from last Thursday morning, Halloween in fact.  

1. Slept five surprisingly solid hours between midnight and 5 am, was surprised it was already 5 when I first woke.

2. Took a long hot shower before bed. It still blows my mind how I’m able to do that now, without having to interact with multiple other men, many of whom have been suspicious characters. I still remember my friend George getting his Ibanez custom ripped off during the 5 minutes he was taking a shower at Multi Agency Service Center. Thankful those days are gone.

3. Meditation service was nice. It was gentle. Thomas mentioned liking the Prelude. I didn’t think I was playing very well, but sometimes that’s the best.

4. Did the door last night and got a $20 gift card to use at the cafe. Just used $5.50 of it on a doppio and blueberry muffin. Breakfast at the Courtyard is now obviated, and money saved.

5. The singer-songwriter, Julien Kozak, was also gentle. Very good guitarist and singer, reminiscent of James Taylor. Stopped on his way to Seattle. I am reminded of a gentle period in the 80’s when I used to tour different cafes in the Bay Area. Makes me want to do a tour.

6. You know, I have a really good church now. I’ve been at the same church for over 3 years. This is unusual, in my experience.  My church is a gift from God.

7. Got to talk with Danielle first thing in the morning, and we had a great conversation. There were so many spiritual insights, I was taking notes, and just finished writing down a whole bunch of stuff in my journal, lest I forget.

8. Not having heard from her for a while, I just got a substantial email from Lynne that looks very supportive and insightful. I skimmed it by reading the topic sentences of several paragraphs and am eager to see what all she has to say.

9. Had a nice conversation with Vern yesterday — not Vern the bus driver, but Vern the trumpet player. I’m grateful to be living in a town where everybody knows me as Andy, and where, whether it’s Vern the bus driver, Vern the trumpet player, or anybody else, Andy is ALL RIGHT.

10. God is Love.

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Inequity (Part Three)

There are many strange disparities that entail between the worlds of those who live outdoors and those who do not.   Few, however, cause as much difficulty as the naked fact that people who live outside have no privacy whatsoever.

In fact, the relationship between privacy and freedom is something I hadn’t really examined prior to having lived outdoors.   When I first decided to join an intentional homeless community in Berkeley, a large part of what I was after was freedom.  You see, I was writing a lot of music at the time, and I just felt that in the living situations I was able to afford, I never had enough privacy to be able to focus on it.   What that meant for me was that I was not free.  

I wanted so desperately to be free!  I wanted to be where the musical ideas would flow in an uninterrupted fashion — not in an environment where I was frequently interrupted by roommates or landlords, or by their friends, lovers, and children.  Somehow, the outdoor venues of the San Francisco East Bay provided that freedom for a good year and a half or so, between around April 2011 and October 2012.   I wrote a lot of music then, and I remember how blissful it felt to plug my laptop into an outdoor power outlet on the U.C.Berkeley campus and enjoy an uninterrupted creative flow in the open air.

Of course, that happiness was short-lived.  After a while it became known to the local thieves that I was a scatterbrained O.G. with a laptop – and therefore an easy mark.   I may have had freedom for a while, but I certainly was deluding myself if that freedom could be any substitute for the kind that is found in privacy.  

If those of us who were homeless began to bicker and squabble amongst each other, that bickering and squabbling was made known to whoever was within earshot.   We couldn’t even enjoy a mild debate or political discussion without it becoming privy to whoever happened to pass by.   And if we had to use the bathroom?   Good luck.  

I remember more than once spending over two hours looking for an open bathroom when I had to go No.2.   Finally, I would take matters into my own hands.  But what else could one do?   One does what one must  — of course.   But then, when homeless people are in search of privacy, and perhaps even locating a semblance of same, how do those homeless people appear in the eyes of ubiquitous observers?

“They appear as though they have something to hide.   And who has something to hide?   A criminal!  We better investigate!”

So we would find ourselves, even as we sought out privacy as quietly as possible, being pursued in that very search — by those who suspected us of subterfuge.  The more we sought after privacy, the less private our lives became.   

The fact that homeless people are often in search of privacy in order to conduct normal, routine business that is ordinarily conducted behind closed doors feeds into the criminalization of the homeless.   That there are criminals among the homeless is no secret.  Often criminals duck behind stairwells and into back alleys in order to conduct criminal business.   And they certainly look suspicious when they do.  But what if a couple of non-criminal homeless people need to have a private conversation?   Where do they go?

Chances are, they will go behind that same stairwell, and into that same back alley, where criminals are found engaging in illicit transactions.   Why?   Because there is nowhere else to go.   And any time a homeless person seeks privacy — whether their motives are benign, malicious, or neither — it makes them appear to be criminals with evil intent.  

If I have a personal habit today that one might frown upon — and God knows whether  I do — at least I know that I can go behind closed doors to engage that private practice without concern for onlookers.   When I was homeless, I had no such luxury.   Any peccadillo of mine was made public information, visible to an entire city.   Can you imagine the effect such a phenomenon would have on one’s sense of self, especially when perpetuated over months and years?

It wasn’t until long after I had gotten inside that I began to make sense out of it all.   The bare truth was that the very things I did outdoors that aroused disdain under public scrutiny are those which my observers themselves did, behind closed doors, unabashedly.  If that is not an inequity, I do not know what is.   

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Inequity (Part Two)

Another function of long-term homelessness — at least of the kind of homelessness that I and others experienced in an urban environment as part of an intentional homeless community — was that it was hell trying to get off the subject.   Of homelessness, that is.

Phrased positively, it was always refreshing when I found myself engaged in happy small talk, say at a McDonald’s or a Starbucks early in the morning.  These were spots where those of us who were homeless would eagerly gather come daybreak, these being the two places that opened the earliest.   Of course, our motive was to get out of wandering mode and become situated within a seemingly normal context.   If we were lucky, we might even blend with the early risers having themselves emerged from the indoors.   After all, what was to distinguish us from those who dwelt inside?   Maybe an unkempt appearance, possibly a smell.  But we were usually pretty good about taking care of that stuff.  And in a college town?   You didn’t really expect everyone to be doing the three-piece business suits.

Now, the Starbucks was a different scene than the McDonald’s.  I needed more money to get in, and it opened a half hour earlier (at five in the morning, rather than 5:30.)   There was no such thing as a Senior Cup for 65 cents.  I had to at least get a tall coffee, and probably spend $1.75 at the time.   But there was also the advantage that, once I had consumed the coffee, they were in no particular hurry to kick me out.  The McDonald’s, however, had a twenty minute sit-down limit — obviously targeting the myriad homeless people seeming to invade the joint upon opening.   And while others were permitted refills, they had an unwritten policy not to give a refill to a homeless person.   So obviously, the MacDonald’s was the less savory — though less expensive — of the two options.

At times, I had the advantage of owning a laptop I could plug in at the Starbucks.  Once I was working away, I differed in no discernible way from an older student, or perhaps a professor.   If I happened to be at the counter, and no one was around to “out” me, I stood a good chance of blending.   I recall once a fellow sat near me on the counter with a newspaper.  He nodded at me, “Good morning!”  I did the same.  I liked that feeling.  No wall had yet been erected between us.   We were just two human beings, and the homelessness of one of the two human beings had not yet been so imposing as to have erected one.

“You following the Warriors?” the man asked casually, looking up from his paper.

“Not a big basketball fan,” I replied.  “I hear they’re having an unusually good season.”

“Yup.”

So far so good, I thought.   Waiting a moment or two, I decided to comment on the music being piped through the Starbucks speakers.

“I love this Wagner, Symphony in C Major.   Seems to match my mood swings somehow.”

“Oh really.  How so?”

“Well you hear it — it’s almost dissonant, then lands on these big blasts of major chords — you enjoy classical music?”

“Not so much.  The wife always gets me to go to the San Francisco Symphony.”

“Ah, Michael Tilson Thomas.”

“I guess,” he replied softly, looking back down at the paper.

Returning to my work, I felt a clear sense of satisfaction.   Almost ten minutes had gone by.  I hadn’t managed to out myself, and nobody else had come by to — uh, oh here comes Hunter, I thought, literally worried that I was thinking too loud.

“Hey Andy, do you have any change?”

“Am I going to change?” I replied, dodging the question.  “No, I wasn’t planning on it.”

“No, I mean, do you have any change?  Have you even been at your Spot yet?  Oh, never mind.”

Obviously having displayed some familiarity with me, my friend walked away quite randomly.  But it wasn’t random at all to the fellow with whom I’d been chit-chatting.

“You’re HOMELESS??!!” he cried out.  

“Well, uh, yeah,” I admitted, still trying to keep things “low key.”

“Aargh!” he barked.  “Well, here’s what you do.  You dial 2-1-1, you do know about 2-1-1, don’t you?”

Of course I knew about 2-1-1, but that’s beside the point.  The wall had been erected between us, that wall has proven to be virtually insurmountable, and it would be downhill from here.  I’d thought I’d been going to get away with having a normal conversation for once.  But I thought wrong.  As soon as I was outed, and my homeless credentials revealed, the subject reverted back to the usual topic of homelessness.   And it might have been very fresh for the one who picked up that ball, possibly even an exciting first-time conversation.  But to us it was one we’d heard all too often. It was one thing to be living it 24/7.  It was quite another to be expected to talk to every Tom, Dick & Harry about it, total strangers that we would literally meet off the streets, daily.

“You know, you don’t look homeless.  I’m having a hard time believing you’re really homeless.   It just seems like you don’t belong there, and there must be something you can do to get yourself out of it.  Ever think of that?”

Nope, never thought about it once at all!  I mean, really!  Can you imagine if I had been Black, or Hispanic, or any other easily recognized minority in such a context?   Would a stranger, on realizing my ethnicity, immediately launch into a monologue about my being Black or Hispanic, and what I ought to be doing about it?  Of course not!  But that’s the extent to which homelessness is unrecognized.   When one is homeless, one is not generally recognized as representing a legitimate minority in our culture.  This is why a stranger with no true knowledge of the homeless person’s individual circumstances will often feel qualified to lecture the homeless total stranger on how they are to go about living.  It stems from a lack of respect for the obvious human fact that the homeless person has a right to govern their own life, no more and no less than any other kind of person in society.

Until we honor this basic human fact, and respect each homeless individual’s right to have made choices that have seemed most prudent to them under the circumstances, no real progress will be made in solving the “homeless problem.”  This is because the essence of the problem is in the dehumanization of a massive group of human beings in our culture, those being they who are without homes in society.   If many of us extended to a homeless person the same courtesy and dignity we might extend to one of different race, gender, genetic culture, or sexual orientation, we might be surprised at the results.

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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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Gratitude List 1295

This one’s from yesterday afternoon, immediately after waking up from a kick-ass nap.

1. Slept another 2 1/2 hours between 1:45 pm & 4:15.   (Not sure if I mentioned, but I took a 2-3 hr nap yesterday as well, after the 8 hours of sleep already).

2. Sleeping a lot lately is indicative of beginning a New Season in Life.    Gotta get a Good Night’s Sleep before starting the New Day.

3. I don’t think meeting Tracy Simmons at a U.I. event last week was a chance encounter.  She wrote saying my web site was “impressive” and asked me to submit some samples of my columns for consideration for her independent news site.  I also read her story in the Wall Street Journal.    I agree with her completely: the key to restoration is embracing, not forgetting, the past.     

4. Proverbs 25:28.   Wisdom.

5. Meaningful vivid dreams.

6. I got this huge rush of freedom-intertwined-with-privacy as soon as I walked through the front door this afternoon and thereafter flopped down exhausted.  It had happened so many times when I lived outdoors and was lucky enough to get a hotel room for a night, how could I forget the hugeness of the double blessing?  It’s not to be abused.  It’s my castle, and I shall build a moat around it.

7. Tom R. let me have his Mortimer Adler book Ten Philosophical Mistakes to use for Norman’s philosophy class.   Looking at it now, bringing back memories.

8. Did the whole wash yesterday.

9. Sold an Abandon CD to Ed S.

10. This coffee is great.   Running four miles now.   

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Tuesday Tuneup 57

Q. What are you doing here?

A. Waking up.

Q. Literally or figuratively?

A. Both.

Q. Aren’t you usually an early riser?

A. Up at 3 this morning.   There’s a chair where I meditate sometimes.  I sat down to meditate, and fell asleep.

Q. Is this a good thing?

A. Sleep?  Generally, yes.  I don’t think we get enough of it.

Q. We?

A. We the People of Today’s Society.   We seem to run ragged on the lack of it, and even glorify ourselves in the process, as though proud of this insanity.

Q. How did we ever get that way?

A. First Industrial Revolution, I suppose.  From there it happened gradually.

Q. What about figuratively?

A. Figuratively?   Refresh my memory.

Q. Aren’t you waking up in some sense other than the literal?

A. Well yeah.   Waking up to some of the harder realities.   Folly in my behavior.   False sense of nobility.   Twisted use of the Golden Rule.  

Q. Twisted?

A. Check it out:

But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them, expecting nothing in return. Then your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High; for He is kind to the ungrateful and wicked.  — Luke 6:35

Q. How did you twist that rule?

A. How do ya think?

Q. Did you expect something in return?

A. Yeah.   I didn’t think I did at the time, but I did.  When I was homeless, I expected compassion from people who lived indoors.  That was a pretty unwieldy expectation.  It set me up for a lot of disappointment.   Then when I lived indoors, I expected respect from those who were homeless.  That didn’t happen either.

Q. But the passage refers to loving your enemies.   Who, then, were your enemies?

A. That’s a loaded question.   For a long time, my enemies were just about anybody who slept in a bed, and who wouldn’t let me inside their front door, even for a half hour to take a needed shower, even when offered money in return.

Q. And how did you try to love these enemies?

A. By appealing to them.   By making them more important than my friends.   By trying to state my case, very respectfully, as to why they should let me inside their front doors.  By advising them how great their rewards would be in heaven if they did so.

Q. And who were your friends?

A. Homeless people.   People in the same boat.   People who knew how hard it was to be out there — not just being rained on — that wasn’t one tenth of it.   It was being stormed on — by people.   By condescending social workers, treating us as though we were good-for-nothing, incompetent nobodies.   By cops, security guards, business owners, property owners — and worst of all, other homeless people.   It was this indignity, this demeaning demoralizing crap, crammed into our heads, day after day, year after year — this idea that we were somehow worse than other human beings — if indeed, we were even regarded as human at all.  Much of the time, we were regarded rather as inanimate objects to be stepped around and shouted over, whilst we tried unsuccessfully to get our good night’s sleeps.  

Q. Go on.

A. I remember my one friend Jerome — a big black guy.   He and D’Angelo, another big black guy, they kinda protected me.   We slept in a big vacant lot.   I had my laptop.  If someone wanted to steal it, they’d have to get past these two big guys.  So I wasn’t so easy a mark.

Q. What about Jerome?

A. He would say to me — “Andy, if you ever get lucky enough to get inside again, you’re not going to be one of those guys who never lets us inside your house, are you?”

Q. What was your answer?

A. My answer was: “No!  Of course not!   I know what it’s like out here — I could never do that to any of you.”

Q. Then what?

A. Then I got inside.

Q. And you didn’t let them in?

A. I was thousands of miles away.  And light years away in culture.   I couldn’t let them in, so I let other homeless people in.   Homeless people, and people who were on the verge of homelessness.  

Q. And what happened?

A. Every single one of them took a gigantic dump on my good nature.   

Q. How so?

A. It pains me to go into detail.   I made house rules.   No alcohol in my house.   No cigarettes, no overnight guests, no sex.   Lights out at ten.   

Q. And they disobeyed your rules?

A.  Yes.  They dishonored my graciousness.   So you know what that means?   I expected something in return.  I expected appreciation.   I expected respect.    So where was the Golden Rule then?

Q. Aren’t you being a little —

A. Hard on myself?  Don’t even go there.   Yes, Jesus said to feed the hungry, to help the needy, and to take in the homeless.  He didn’t say that after I take in the homeless, I’m supposed to put up with them trashing my place and stealing from me.   How the hell is that helping anybody?   In fact, maybe it’s not about the Golden Rule.  It’s about not being a doormat, a masochist.   Not making oneself completely useless in a failed effort to help another.   Check it out, the very next verse:

“Be merciful, as your father in heaven is merciful.”  — Luke 6:36

Q. Is that what you were trying to do?   Be merciful?

A. Yeah, but I forgot something.   I’m one of the people I’m supposed to be merciful towards.

Q. So what about nobility?   

A. The sense of nobility, of ideals —  totally false.   A sham.   Nothing more than masochistic hypocrisy — if you can even imagine such a baffling combination.

Q. What would be more noble?

A. Gratitude.

Q. How so?  

A. I wanted them to be grateful.   They were not.   So I became bitter.  But then I thought, well, if I want someone to be grateful, then I myself should be grateful.   You know, Prayer of St. Francis.

Q. Refresh my memory?

Prayer Of St Francis - Pope Francis Prayer - Gold Parchment Digital Art by Ginny Gaura

A. If nothing else, it’s a great psychological tool.  If I want to be understood, I should understand.   If I want forgiveness, I should forgive.   So if I want gratitude, I should be grateful.

Q. Grateful to whom?

A. To God.   God gave me a nice secluded spot of my own after years of sleeping outdoors.  I had only prayed for a “lock on a door, a window, and a power outlet.”  God knew that was all I needed, and He gave me so much more than that.

Q. And how will you express this gratitude?

A. By being a good steward of this great blessing He has bestowed upon me.   By making it my spiritual sanctuary, my place of my repose, and the place where I accomplish my creative work.

Q. Did the people you let stay with you keep you from doing this?

A. Yes.  But I invited it.   So I could have expected it.   And now I’ve learned from it.

Q. What have you learned?

A. That there was a certain thousand dollars that didn’t come easy.   And now it’s gone.  I will never let anyone through that door again!

Q. Are you embittered? 

A. Perhaps.  But this too shall pass.  Are you but a gadfly?

The Questioner is silent.   

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Third Column Published

The third story in my Homeless No More column has now been published on Street Spirit.  A link to the September issue — by far the best issue since Alastair Boone took over as editor-in-chief is below.   Following that is a verbatim transcript of my article as it appears in the September paper.  

Capture.PNG

As the homelessness crisis worsens, cities all over the U.S. are desperately trying to come up with solutions. California, for example, is in a frenzy to build new homeless shelters that will fit thousands of new shelter beds. The state is so desperate to get more people inside that last month, Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg wrote an op-ed to the LA Times in which he said that “homeless people should have a legal right to shelter and an obligation to use it.”

Obligation?  To obligate homeless people to sleep in shelters would be a violation of their constitutional rights.  Where a person sleeps should be up to that individual, so long as they are not sleeping on private property without owner consent.

Now, it would definitely be a good thing to increase California’s shelter capacity.  But aside from the issue of human rights, there are many practical reasons why to force homeless people to sleep in shelters is not a good thing.  One of them is that there is no way that one shelter program will be able to fit the needs of the diverse group of individuals who make up California’s homeless community.

This seems to be a trend in how the general population thinks about “the homeless.”  Our society appears to be obsessed with putting people into boxes.  Rather than take the time to actually get to know an individual for who they are uniquely, we like to make snap judgments about them according to their appearance.  For example, if a man is seen flying a sign on a sidewalk, we think: “That guy’s a lazy bum.” Why a lazy bum?  Couldn’t that guy just be down on his luck?

In my personal experience, I have never been stigmatized more than when I was a homeless person. I was lumped into the same box as virtually every one of my fellow homeless people. And when solutions were offered to end my homelessness, I found there was an alarming “one size fits all” approach. My personal story, if even listened to, was disregarded completely.

“You’re homeless?” one would say. “Here’s what you do. I’ve got a lead on a live-in drug rehabilitation program.”

Now, there are a number of flaws with that kind of reasoning. First of all, it presupposes that homelessness and drug addiction are synonymous.  This is fallacious.  On the other hand, many people who live indoors are severely addicted to all kinds of drugs. They just don’t let anyone see it.

Secondly, suppose a person is a drug addict.  Is a “live-in drug rehabilitation program” necessarily the solution for them?  There are twelve-step programs, sober living environments, a program at Kaiser called LifeRing, and a program called Rational Recovery.  Similarly, if one is homeless, one might be directed toward a board-and-care home, a live-in psychiatric facility, a halfway house, or transitional housing.  And those options will work for many people.

I spoke with a formerly homeless woman who enrolled in in a transitional housing facility and spent seven months there, giving them a percentage of her disability check every month.  At the end of the seven months, she had enough money to pay the first and last months rent and security deposit on a studio apartment.  She seemed quite content with her situation the last time I saw her.

I myself received a call from someone at the Berkeley Food and Housing Administration shortly after I left Berkeley for another State.  It turned out that my name had come up on a list of senior housing options, and they were willing to offer me my own one-bedroom apartment near Lake Merritt.  While that might sound wonderful, it would also have kept me in a part of the world where I had developed far more detrimental associations than beneficial ones.  Although I was tempted to drop everything and move back to the East Bay for sentimental reasons, I knew deep down that it would be a step backward that could have landed me back on the streets.

This is just one example of two different situations that worked for two individual people.  If each of us had not taken care of our individual needs, the shelter we found may not have lasted.  Until, as a society, we slow ourselves down enough, and open ourselves up enough, to listen to the plethora of unique stories that homeless people generally tell truthfully, we will not come close to solving the “homeless problem.”

So, while transitional housing programs and halfway houses have their place, a true solution to the homeless predicament will never be reached until we recognize that the homeless person is an individual, endowed with rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness no more and no less than anyone else on the planet.  As long as the wall of division that separates a “person” from a “homeless person” still stands, no lasting solution will be attained.

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.

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The Refuse of the World

For who makes you so superior?
What do you have that you did not receive?
And if you did receive it,
why do you boast as though you did not?

Already you have all you want.
Already you have become rich.
Without us, you have become kings.
How I wish you really were kings,
so that we might be kings with you. 
For it seems to me that God has displayed us apostles
at the end of the procession,
like prisoners appointed for death.
We have become a spectacle to the whole world,
to angels as well as to men.

We are fools for Christ,
but you are wise in Christ.
We are weak,
but you are strong.
You are honored,
but we are dishonored. 
To this very hour we are hungry and thirsty,
we are poorly clothed,
we are brutally treated,
we are homeless. 

We work hard with our own hands.
When we are vilified, we bless;
when we are persecuted, we endure it; 
when we are slandered, we answer gently.
Up to this moment
we have become the scum of the earth,
the refuse of the world.

–1 Corinthians 4:7-13

Homelessness and PTSD

Trigger warning: some people may be triggered by information contained in this entry that pertains to personal violation.  Please proceed with caution, and read at your own risk.  

Earlier, when I created a talk on this theme, I did not believe I could capsulize my thoughts into a single blog post.   So I talked for a half hour instead.

I’ve since changed my mind.   It’s taken over a week for me to discover how to present these ideas more succinctly, in a logical order.  The first thing I would like to address is that people are generally unaware that homelessness — with all its confusing, unpredictable, and dangerous components — is as much a breeding grounds for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder as situations arising in combat or from having been physically or sexually abused.

PTSD is triggered when something happens to remind a person of past trauma, the memories of which are often buried.  When the reminder occurs, one leaps into the context of the trauma formerly inflicted.  And then, one begins to relive the entire circumstances involved in that traumatic event.

See the source imageSevere abuse comes with the homeless territory.  A person who is exposed, out in the open twenty-four hours a day, is a visible target.  This person is made even more vulnerable when they are sleeping.  When I was homeless, I was pistol-whipped, subjected to strong arm robbery, sexually abused, subjected to arson, and physically abused multiple times.  Any one of those situations can lead to PTSD — let alone all of them in confluence.

Because the first of these traumatic events was a sexual violation that took place on a very hot day when I could find no way out of it, I have been triggered on extremely hot days when I was lost and did not have clear directions to where I was going.  My PTSD counselor and I worked out a series of steps that I would take automatically if I felt that the PTSD had been triggered.  I would stop and take a number of deep breaths while looking for a shady spot.  Then I would sit in the shady spot, no longer moving around or looking where I might go, until the PTSD had subdued.

The reason for taking such steps is because I was reliving the horrific event of a sexual assault.  When the horrible event was over, and the rapist disappeared, I was so freaked out that I ran five miles in 90F degree weather.  That single event has affected my sexual attitudes for life.

But that was only a solitary example of numerous violations that were to ensue during the twelve years when I was homeless and “borderline-homelessness” — by which I mean staying in motels, residence hotels, and other sketch indoor situations.   The overall experience of homelessness carried with it its own set of triggers.   By and large, these were based on two things:

(1) A sense of inequality with, and inferiority to, the people around me.  

(2) A sense of being fully exposed in a context where most of the people were concealed.  

An example of something that triggered me was the event of having a story of mine published on a news site that permitted comments from its readers.  All of the readers had usernames and avatars.  One of them referred to having known me personally — but I had no idea, nor was I able to learn, who this person was.  This bore enough resemblance to the homeless context that I began to relive my homeless experience.

More information about PTSD triggers may be found here, for starts.  An excellent article exploring PTSD among the homeless may be found here.  And of course, further information on the Homeless Experience can be found all over this blog.

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Talks 2019 No. 2

I promised to get a new talk to you guys by 7:30 this morning, so here it is.  The purpose of this talk is to describe how the conditions of homelessness can easily lead to a PTSD diagnosis, and what the triggers can be like.   I hope you enjoy & gain from this. 

See the source image

The Perception of Inequality

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Gratitude List 1221

1. Slept well, got up at 4:00 am exactly.

2. Daily money manifested at around that time, and this time I was able to hold off on coffee till I got to the Courtyard (where the coffee is free).

3. Nice breakfast at Courtyard. First time in weeks I’ve been able to finish the whole breakfast.

4. Weight was up two pounds at the doctor, which is okay, as I had been losing rapidly. Heart still 56, blood pressure 108/60, temp 97.2. Finally, after three years, all vital signs are down to what they usually were in Berkeley.

5. Doc prescribed Trazodone for insomnia and (hopefully) sleep paralysis.  My daughter says it’s effective, and it appears it may be the lesser of evils. I was honest with the doctor about use of benzos and cannabis, past and present, respectively.  Well — I’m not convinced how much of the solution can possibly lie in the medical realm, but I’m grateful I made it to the appointment anyway, like a responsible human being.

6. Worked the door again last night, great young band from Vancouver, fresh out of high school, advanced garage band style. Brandy gave me a $40 gift card.

7. Nice weather this morning 69F degrees, breezy, conducive to brisk exercise.

8. Nice talk with my friend Kent this morning.

9. Made another speech, again spontaneously, though this one has some undeveloped themes and must be re-done.  I’m calling it “The Perception of Inequality.”  I posted it here before deciding it falls too far short of my artistic standards on too many levels for it to be live in its current state.   So I have pulled it until it has been rightly adjusted.   I took eight lengthy notes for an expanded revision, and am hoping to post the updated version on Wednesday morning.

10. Though still hung up on “Oracle,” the vocal score revisions are proceeding aright. I feel on track with all my homework, actually, if for no other reason than that I no longer shun or shirk the task. It helps to enjoy what you’re doing. God is Good.

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Is There Life After Homelessness?

Below the illustration is an excerpt from my personal diary.   

The Battle After the War – Homelessness and Housing

I’ve thought about almost nothing but homelessness in Berkeley throughout the past five days. It’s a disease; it’s a disorder; it’s PTSD; it’s been triggered.   So I thought I’d take the opposite tact as oft-advised. Rather than distract myself from the triggers, I would embrace the experience completely.

In that spirit, I created this talk, called It Can’t Be Forgotten. Later I judged this effort harshly. Not the fact that I did it — that I don’t mind at all. I was happy, thrilled, and thankful that I completed the spontaneously conceived task, exciting as it was to undertake it.

What I judged was its quality. Two glaring errors stood out. For one thing, while I spoke often of the “inequality” factor, I did very little, if anything, to back up how that sense experience was valid for those of us enduring the Homeless Experience. It could just as easily have been a reflection of my own individual inferiority complex as it was an alleged manifestation of a social injustice.

Secondly, when this issue of inequality arises in the speech, I adopt a tone of voice that seems excessively strident. This could make the listener uncomfortable. The stridency could be alternately interpreted as either anger or sarcasm, something of an almost bitter outrage enters into the vibration from time to time, and the whole thing can make one very uneasy. This is especially the case if one can only tune into the upset tone of voice, and figure this guy’s got some kind of ax to grind, and then never tune in to the actual content of the dissertation, due to the fact that the ostentatious style has stood in the way.

I just now listened to the whole thing for the first time this morning. I don’t find it nearly as objectionable as I did during yesterday’s listen, but that may be because as a listener, I’m simply getting addicted to the repetitive playing of an interesting piece, and I’m getting into the groove of it. But it also may mean that my original objections are not so objectionable, because to remove that element of anger as well as the component of vagueness as to what exactly made us all feel so unequal and so dehumanized when we were all together back then on the streets, would be in essence to assault the very concept of the piece. It is what it is. If it makes you uncomfortable, good. What does this say about you?

That question asked, the speech, on that level, succeeds.  What might be a distraction from that success, however, is if a certain kind of listener jumps to the conclusion, based on early, as yet undeveloped information, that the piece is “about” Internet trolling, trolls, etc.  But it’s not.  It’s about homelessness, inequality, and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.  The troll is only used as a device, to serve as a trigger.

8:06 a.m. – 2019-08-10

 

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Gratitude List 1214

1. Slept well from about 10pm till 6:30. First woke at 2:30, used sleep aid of choice, woke fairly solid.

2. Rode 9.5 miles into the nearest town West and stopped at the foot of the six mile weaving country bike trail. Easy ride and didn’t seem that long, checked on GoogleMaps from where I live, the way I rode. Rode 9.5 miles back this morning, very pleasant both ways.

3. Spent my first night outdoors and outside of present-day city limits in over three years. Stripped myself of phone and Internet, camped out in the wilds, and thought things through.

4. Was able to help a homeless guy with a ten dollar bill. It was interesting because I’d bought some food with a twenty dollar bill and the cashier commented how it came out to exactly 10.00. I said: “There’ll be a use for that ten dollar bill!” The homeless cat appeared in the morning, and it’ll come back around.

5. At the doctor yesterday, my weight was down one lb. (from 205 to 204), pulse 56, bp 116/78. Nothing else was decided other than to maintain the status quo for now.

6. Woke this morning having a hard time believing I did 15 quick push-ups the morning before yesterday. Nothing’s sore yet. Well, I’m probably in better shape than I thought. I feel lighter than 204, it’s misleading due to somatotype. Thankful for being in good shape, and usually vigorous. In fact, the recent exercise, including running and lots more walking, has seemed to have soothed my spirit.

7. Though I’d felt emotionally compelled to depart from my geographical community indefinitely, I realized during a single night outside the city limits that the best thing to do would be to make the most of it and return home in the morning, where I had left cell phone charger, prescription medication, and all kinds of other responsibilities. I was easily able to rationalize the mini-vacation on the basis of health and sanity, but not so much on the basis of finances, until I remembered that a coming paycheck from Berkeleyside will pretty much cover the costs. (Pretty much).

8. Alastair had me sign a consent form to publish my previously published articles along with future articles of my consent in any of 200 other INSP guild newspapers. (It’s still not syndication, as there is no pay for these reprints, only exposure. It’s just a heck of a lot of exposure.)

9. Phone conversations with my daughter, Danielle, Kent, Nick, Holly, and other good friends have been precious lately. Looking forward to catching up with my friend Alex today. Also very thankful for the brothers and sisters at my church and for their ongoing tolerance of my every peccadillo. Thankful for support from other Artists and Writers as well as spiritually principled and disciplined individuals. God has blessed me with good support and fellowship, not to be taken for granted.

10. I re-outlined the Last Scene last night according to what we learned in rehearsals, and also adjusted my attitude toward the impending script and vocal score revisions. This was unsurprisingly timed with running into Dave, who reassured me of his same commitment, only he can’t commit to an exact date. I’ll return the commitment and do what I’m supposed to do. Thankful for this ongoing opportunity. Don’t give up the ship.

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Published in Berkeleyside

Good news.  Recently, as you may know, my work began appearing in a regular column called “Homeless No More,” published in the newspaper Street Spirit, which has a 25,000 monthly distribution in Berkeley and Santa Cruz, California.  As of yesterday morning at 8am, my first story in the column, entitled “How I Got Inside,” has now been taken up by Berkeleyside, the award-winning, independent news site covering Berkeley and the East Bay.  

How I Got Inside

Berkeleyside-1

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Pitfalls of Forgiveness: Part Two

I wanted to subtitle this one: “How NOT to forgive somebody.”   I got this crazy idea that  if somebody whom I have resented would only answer a few questions for me, I would finally “understand” the situation, and therefore finally “forgive” the guy.   After all, isn’t there a French proverb that reads: “To understand all is to forgive all?”   Sure there is!  Therefore,  if I could only understand this fellow’s baffling behavior toward me, then naturally I would finally arrive at a moment like this:

“Oh!  I get it!  That’s why you said all those weird and totally hurtful things!  I understand now!   It all makes sense!!  Finally, I forgive you, man!!!”

Believe me, this is not the way to approach the matter.   To illustrate this, I’ve prepared a fictitious email, sent to someone named “Tom” who hypothetically had offended me.  The nature of the offense is based on truth, though the names and variables have been altered and mixed, for the sake of discretion and taste.  Observe the absurdity of such an entreaty:

Hey Tom –

As you know, I’ve been having a very difficult time forgiving you for nearly two years now.    Largely, this is due to a single conversation in which you suddenly decided, among other things, that you were not really my good, close friend, but only a “casual acquaintance.”

Being as we have had many close conversations over a twenty year period of time, this demotion seemed a bit unfair.  Come to think of it, however, it was only I who kept revealing all kinds of personal information to you, thinking you were one of my very best friends.  Perhaps this explains why you would often take the information I conveyed to you in confidence and freely distribute among your many associates.  Had I been your friend, and not just some random guy, you might have been more loyal.

It appears that either you are one of the most malicious people I’ve ever met, or one of the stupidest.  I sure hope the latter is the case.  If you are stupid, then you simply don’t realize the implications of your statements, and therefore it is more difficult for me to find fault with you.

I have therefore provided you with a 12-point questionnaire, designed to determine whether or not you are an evil genius or a stupid idiot.  Once I know the answer, I will understand you perfectly; and therefore forgive you.  

Best Regards,

Andy

Do you see how ludicrous that would be?  If the situation were reversed, and I knew that someone hated me, and the person who hated me was insisting that I alter my behavior in some form or another, until he would no longer hate me, how would I feel?

I would be incensed!  It is not my purpose in life to adjust my behavior to please him who hates me.  That person who hates me is not God, and has no right to insist that I change in any way.

Scrummaster Needed Desperately at LAST Conf 2016 in ...

But the aphorism above comes to mind and is wise.  This person whom I am calling “Tom” also had a way of lecturing me.  Lengthy dissertations on how to live my life, flavored by little gifts he would buy me — running shoes, a cell phone, and lunches.  It took me a while to realize that he must not have been all that bright.   People who give a lot of advice generally mean well.  They’re just not smart enough to realize that they shouldn’t be doing it.  

Of course, this begs the question: “Why on earth did I listen to all these uninvited lectures in the first place?

The answer is this:

When you’re homeless, and you’re out on the streets, and you’re not sleeping very well, and you’re being treated left and right as though you are a totally worthless scum bag with no clue how to live your life, you eventually begin to believe it.

So you turn to those who appear to be doing well, and you eat up their worthless advice as though it were manna from heaven.  Somehow, you don’t realize until you finally get inside that their advice pertains only to the world of the wealthy.  It has no relevance whatever to the world of the underprivileged — the world where you actually live.

As far as forgiveness is concerned, as Bryan Wagner has pointed out, it has nothing to do with the other person at all.   The idea of requesting that someone alter their behavior in order that you might forgive them is absurd.   Had they been willing to do something like that, you’d have never resented them in the first place.

Forgiveness is an inside job.  It can only be accomplished in that place inside you where you meet your True and Highest Self.  It can only be accomplished in the heart.

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Pitfalls of Forgiveness: Part One

As most of  you know, I am of a genetic heritage (Sicilian) that is noted for resisting the notion of forgiveness.   Some of us seem to have an alarming capacity to take our grudges to our graves.   However, because I am a Christian, and I take the Bible seriously, I would like to make sure that I forgive those whom I still begrudge.   Yet I frankly find forgiveness of these people to be next to impossible. 

But I’ve got to forgive them!   Even if I didn’t identify as a Christian, I’d probably still feel a need to forgive them, if for no other reason than that a lingering resentment doesn’t feel good.   Resentments against others eat away at one’s mental health.   If I weren’t a Christian, I would want to let go of these grudges for my sake.   But because I am a Christian, it is not only for my own sake that I must forgive.  It is for God’s sake — for the sake of all that is good and just and kind in this world.  Look what Jesus said:

Whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone, so that your Father who is in heaven will also forgive you your transgressions.  But if you do not forgive, neither will your Father who is in heaven forgive your transgressions.
–Mark 11:25-26

So if we want to be forgiven, then we need to forgive.   That much seems simple and sound.   But whether or not you are conversant with Scripture, these words of Jesus are likely to strike a puzzling note.   Aren’t we Christians the ones who believe that we simply are forgiven?   As in, no matter what we do?

forgiveWell, yes and no.   There are Christians and there are Christians.  A Calvinist might believe this.  An Arminian might not.   We could get into Romans Six and all that, but this single Scripture definitely appears to contradict numerous biblical references to the security of the believer. Have our names not been written on the Book of Life since “before the foundation of the world?”  If I am a Christian, and I believe that God has already forgiven me, then why would I need to forgive anyone else in order to secure His forgiveness?   

Although I’ve read numerous studies on the matter, they seem by and large to be rationalizations.   One suggested that Jesus speaks in this context not to “believers” but to “people in the world.”   But that doesn’t hold water.   Jesus is simply speaking to everybody — to whoever has ears to hear — whether they believe Him or not.

So I pondered this apparent contradiction for a long time.  Finally, I arrived at a reconciliation within myself, as a result of performing the following dialectic:

Q. What’s bugging you?

A. I think I might be going to hell.

Q. Why?

A. There are three people in my life whom I have not forgiven.  

Q. But aren’t you a Christian?

A. That depends upon what you mean by “Christian.”

Q. What do you mean by Christian?

A. A Christian (according to me) is a person who is in the process of being saved.

Q. Saved from what?

A. From the just consequences of our many misdeeds.

Q. Can you document this scripturally?

A. I can try.   Romans 10:9 states:  “If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and you believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.”  According to this Scripture, these are the two prerequisites for salvation.

Q. Do you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord?

A. Sometimes.

Q. Do you believe in your heart that God has raised him from the dead?

A. Always.

Q. Then why would you not be saved?

A. Because I haven’t forgiven these three people, and God says I have to forgive them if I want to go to heaven.

Q. Do you want to forgive them?

A. Oh yes!

Q. Then why don’t you?

A. I keep trying, but I keep winding up going back to the grudges.   It’s not that I don’t want to forgive them, it’s that I don’t feel I have the power to do so.

Q. But as a Christian, doesn’t your power come from God?

A. Well, if it doesn’t, then it ought to.

Q. Then why not ask God to empower you to forgive them?

A. Good idea.   I will do so immediately.

Q. Anything else?

A. Yes.

Q. What?

A. As I asked God to empower me to forgive the triumvirate whom I begrudge, a thought came to mind.  Something I’d never thought before.

Q. Really?  What thought is that?

A. Since God knows all things, maybe God knows that ultimately, at some time in my life, I am going to forgive all three of them.   Therefore, though I haven’t forgiven them yet — and would certainly go to hell were I to die on this very day — I am still nonetheless going to go to heaven on some future day, because by the time that future day rolls around, I will have forgiven them.   And God knows this!  I may not have forgiven them yet, but I will forgive them.  I will then be free to depart gracefully from the present planet, and take up my throne in heaven.

Q. Your throne?   Isn’t God the one on the throne?

A. 2 Timothy 2:12 & Revelation 20:6, dude.  We’re all gonna be reigning in heaven.   Remember: you are dealing with a person who actually reads the Bible.   I’m not a person who blindly swallows every lie that comes out of the mouth of the preacher on the pulpit.  Nor am I of the camp who absolutely refuse to open the Book, for fear of its contents.   Nor am I —

Q. Excuse me!! What about 1 Corinthians 8:1?

A. Oops — I forgot.  You actually read the Bible, too.

Q. Well, what about it?

A. What about what?

Q. Don’t dodge the question — what about 1 Cor 8:1?   Paul clearly states that the pursuit of knowledge leads to arrogance, whereas the pursuit of love leads to encouragement and spiritual growth.

A. All right, I’ll admit it.  My problem is that I’m too hung up on learning, reading, absorbing, acquiring information, and gaining knowledge.   And despite all of that intellectual focus, the plain fact is that I just don’t have enough love in my heart.   

Q. And Who is Love?

A. You know the answer to that.   Luke 15:9 & John 4:8 come to mind.   God is Love.

Q. Then Whom shall you seek, if you are to learn how to love?

A. Deuteronomy 4:29 & Jeremiah 29:13 hold the answer to that one.

Q. Wasn’t that a bit indirect of you?

A. Was Jesus always direct?

The Questioner is silent.  

Obviously, I’ve arrived at a resolution that is quite pleasant, if tenuous.   It would seem that my next move along these lines should be to forgive the three people whom I continue to begrudge.   So, in Parts 2-4 of this series (if I ever get around to writing them),  please expect me to go through great efforts to forgive the triad of traitors who so treacherously trapped, tricked, and traumatized me.   I’m not going to mention them by name — of course.   But I’m definitely going to delve into it.

Why?  Because I must.  It’s not just being Sicilian.   It’s that I spent way too much time on the streets.   There, the concept of achieving peace of mind over a troubling individual was virtually synonymous with the notion of getting even with them.   If I wanted there to be peace between me and someone with whom I was quarreling,  I didn’t even think about forgiving them.  I thought about intimidating them until they were too scared to mess with me.   It was only then that I would breathe my long-awaited — though highly temporary — sigh of relief.

Let’s put it this way.   I may have Mafioso blood, but I sure didn’t have anything against any of these people before I had to spend twelve years on the streets.

TO BE CONTINUED

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Gratitude List 1192

1. Went to bed early (seven or so) and slept well — possibly too well — till about 4:45am. Was definitely up & about after that. Grateful to have gotten up early, and felt early morning wakefulness and light spirits.

2. Strongly sensing that a lengthy period of isolation and extremely low self-regard has come to an end.

3. Courtyard Cafe, nice Starbucks coffee. Had a large “tastes like morning” from the Sunset, too, which discouraged going back to bed and pulling the covers over my head again, like a slacker.

4. Phone is working again, though dimly. Thinking of the need for a new phone, I also can’t help but think how I actually have held on to this Samsung, ever since it was awkwardly gifted to me, and have not hurled it to the ground in order to stomp it to bits. So a new phone is not out of the question, as it once would have been.

5. Nice of the pastor Jodie to think of me for a 10am Sunday piano playing engagement of some sort; however, I also told her to give me a day to think about it, as I am unaccustomed to people asking me to play piano during the period of a church service. Still, nice of her to think of me; and I noticed I got on with her very well at Theology on Tap.

6. Grateful for the positive spirit of acceptance and belonging that pervades the community wherein I dwell.  The strong sense of community here is a big deterrent to my tendency to want to isolate myself more deeply.

7. Grateful for some of the things I learned on the streets, though others must be shed. Thankful for developing discernment, to absorb what’s of value and discard the rest.

8. Though I’ve not been feeling entirely good about the communication to Dave that prompted the recent suspension of operations, I’ve not until this morning known exactly what it is about it that wasn’t exactly right. Now I see it, and I see that healing is possible.

9. Great that Kathy printed a new vocal score (sans opening & closing numbers) consisting of the most recent pdf files of all the individual numbers, pagination removed, per my request. This can’t help but be useful. Probably there will still be typos on certain pages, but those individual pages can be readily replaced and rebound. And then, the full body of the score will inform my opening and closing enhancements. Also great that she did new covers for the Pinnacle remakes, for I have brought five of them with me, plus two Exiles.

10. Got the interview down to shortly over one hour and posted it here. Information as to actual dates for the reading is no longer factual, but I just posted a disclaimer along with it. The thing is, I know to take the time to do all my particular homework before we reconvene.

And for that, the Howard piano is very strong for the kind of unique syncopation that characterizes the “Sirens” number I am trying to squeeze into Eden in Babylon in place of both versions of “Intervention.” The Baldwin grand can’t even accommodate any of those subtle accents and other distinct articulations. Finale software can pretty much replicate them, but the light action on the grand opposes them. Another good case for hanging on to the Howard.

It was good to get some of J’s things transferred as well. Maybe by now the Harvard Classics have been sent down. But still, my place of residence is dark and dingy and destitute. I’ve had to defer to the excellence of the Howard piano not to wish to succumb to a lingering urge to chop it into firewood. I sometimes wish I were just sleeping outdoors somewhere, and that I just didn’t have to mess with any of this burdensome household garbage. But I guess that’s just my stuff. God is Good.

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A little bit goes a long, long way.  

 

Interview

Earlier I mentioned having been interviewed on a local radio show.   The full three hour show (with all kinds of music clips), is available on the Radio Free America website on this link.   However, one is fairly well mandated to hear out the entire affair, as there is neither a fast-forward nor a rewind control on the player.

Here below on the other hand is a condensed version I’ve prepared for your listening scrutiny.  This one I’ve managed to trim down to shortly over an hour.  The only music clips are the two songs I did at the Open Mike, where I met Fiddlin’ Big Al, the radio interviewer.  The rest of it is my being interviewed about this & that & the other thing:

TalkAndy Pope Interview
06-29-2019

Of course I put in a plug for the musical.  The only thing that’s a downer is that the stated dates are no longer slated, and so the information as to those slots is out of date.    That’s because we’ve postponed the concert reading, which as I earlier suggested I feel is the right choice.

I also feel that a bigger and better production of this show is in the works, involving members of the same team, as well as some new players.  What’s nice in this town is that the ordinary procedures for producing a show within the Theatre Arts realm or that of the School of Music are adjusted in my favor in the unique case of an original musical.  There is a strong sense that a certain community of a Performing Artists is so enamored with the idea that they won’t allow it not to happen.   And this is a great relief.  It’s not just me anymore.  It’s us.  

But aside from all things thespian, there is a lot of material on the recorded interview that may appeal to you in an entirely different light.   I was able both to tell the story about how I got out of homelessness, and how I became homeless in the first place.  And other worthwhile stories have been shared.  I hope you enjoy them.   

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Good Cop Bad Cop

Here’s a little slice of my present-day life — a far cry from where I was three years ago, flying a sign on sidewalk in Berkeley figuring I’d be dead in a gutter any day now.

As most of you know, we are producing a concert reading of my musical about youth homelessness in America.   People in the cast have gotten a little lax about showing up, and some of their reasons remind me of things the Street Kids used to try to tell me when they were trying to convince me I owed them money.   

Police Man Thumbs Up - Down Saying Like And Dislike Stock ...

So yesterday the director and I decided to play Good Cop Bad Cop.  Below you will find my email to the cast, followed by Dave’s email about three hours later.   I told him this was great teamwork.   Hopefully, the cast will get the picture, after this:

To the Cast of Eden in Babylon:

ALL means ALL.

I expect to see ALL who have been called tomorrow at 3pm for an “Awake the Dawn” rehearsal, with the exception of Seth and Matt.

On Friday, only four people showed up. Kathy will be making 12 copies of the “Awake the Dawn” score, so that each of you will have his/her own hard copy part.

Come on. No more sudden excuses, no more last minute bail-outs. Michael* has been fired; his behavior and attitude have been completely unprofessional and unacceptable. If you want to be in Eden in Babylon, please prioritize this important project from here on in. If you need to miss a rehearsal, please give me notice. I have received too many texts either immediately before the rehearsal or, in some cases, during the rehearsal, for my comfort. Not to mention, some of the “reasons” why people need to miss rehearsal have been, frankly, implausible.

All that said, I would like to extend a very special thank you to Zach, Alexi, Liz and Vincent for your excellent work on Friday.

I will see you ALL — except for the two exceptions cited, tomorrow at three.

Andy

*The person who has been dismissed is not actually named Michael.  All right — so here’s Dave’s version:

 

Team,

First, thanks for your work on this so far. Every rehearsal I’ve been able to make has shown heart and musicianship and forward momentum. Let’s keep it going.

We’ve got a lot of time until our performance, but we also have some work to do. Andy is working hard to get all of you comfortable with the music so we can put the best possible product on stage in a couple of months. To do this, we all need to work together. Please help us – particularly Andy at this point – by respecting everyone’s time and effort. If you’re having trouble accessing or understanding the calendar, let us know. Everyone should have access. Please look at it a week in advance and plan your schedule accordingly. Let Andy know – well ahead of time – if you can’t make a rehearsal. It may seem like a small thing to miss a rehearsal right now, but it all adds up. It’s also very hard to have a productive rehearsal when we don’t know who is going to be there. Please respect your collaborators and the process.

With all that said, we’ll continue to try to improve the communication process as well. We’re trying to find a stage manager to help with this. We’ll keep you posted.

Thanks again for your work. See you soon.

Dave Harlan
Director – Eden in Babylon
Artistic Director, Moscow Art Theatre (Too)

Obviously, I’m lucky to have a guy like Dave.  I’m lucky to be alive – let alone working on a project like this.   And who knows?   Maybe next time I’ll get to be the “good cop.”

 

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A little bit goes a long, long way.  

 

Gratitude List 1180

1. Awoke refreshed at 4:40 am, my median wake-up time.   Grateful for my sleeping spot in my place of residence, and for the early morning hours.  It’s pleasant to see the sky grow light, and to hear the birds chirping outside my open window.

2. Grateful for this close-knit, creative community.   I read recently where this town was rated the best place to live in the entire State.

3. 48F degrees and perfect running weather.   Jeremiah said he would leave a pair of whole shoes for me at the church.   Grateful for the runners I’ve met recently – Jeremiah, Cody, Brandy — and the motivation I’ve received talking with them.  I remember if I wanted to run when I lived in Berkeley I had to always ask another homeless guy whom I trusted to watch my back pack and all my stuff while I ran.   It’s nice becoming a runner among runners again.

4. Nice cup of Instant that I made here at  home.

5. Heard from Lynne Fisher just now.  Grateful for our ongoing correspondence and friendship.

6. The cafe here in town where I get most of my work done.  It’s not only not problematical, like most cafes where I’ve attempted to hang out in the past, but the people who own and run the place, and the regular customers whom I’ve gotten to know, are genuinely very supportive of me and of each other.  I’m really grateful for that cafe, and for the round table where I sit.

7.  It’s great to have a new computer that is not interfering with my process or slowing down to a huge degree, like the old one was.  It’s also great to have a single computer with everything on it, and not to have to go back home to (say) burn a CD, for example. Thankful for there finally having been a solution to an aggravating computer issue that had hindered me for so long.

8. Everybody is on board my project, and rehearsals are going well.  It’s nice to be a worker among workers.

9.My church. Thankful for their letting us use the facilities for rehearsals, before we all move into the Kenworthy Theatre at the end of the summer.

10. God is Good. :)

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A little bit goes a long, long way.  

 

Gratitude List 1178

(1) Slept well and got up at the preferred time of around 4:40 in the morning, wide awake and ready to go.  I really prefer the waking hours to the sleeping ones — especially considering that throughout a large part of my life, I was in much more danger when I was sleeping than when I was awake.   

(2) Remembered to have a carefully measured cup of coffee ready to drink at home this morning, rather than have to hustle in order to obtain a cup of coffee.   Now that I have the privilege of making my own coffee in the morning, I better be keen to exercise that privilege.   Some of the maneuvers I’ve had to go through in my day to secure a morning cup of Joe have not been pleasant.   

(3) Nice talk with my friend Danielle early this morning.  I really enjoy the conversations we have when she’s driving to work in the morning on the East Coast, three hours different from me.   It’s one of the nicer perks of being an early riser.

(4) Ran two miles this morning, my first run for ten days.  Ran right past the old guy walking his dog who made fun of me last time.  Ran past him quickly without looking, and he didn’t say anything.  Eager to get in shape so that none of those scoffers will find a reason to poke fun at me.  Thankful I have two strong legs, a good set of lungs, and I can still run after all these years.   Let’s put it this way — these two miles had a much better effect on me than the first time I tried running a couple miles — back on April 9, 1976.

(5) Took a shower — and once again, that’s a privilege I ought not to neglect.   This here apartment is the first time since 2010 when taking a shower has actually been a private, personal practice not to be observed or interrupted by others.  Grateful for my own shower, and for early morning solitude.

(6) My first story for my new column Homeless No More has been published in this month’s Street Spirit.   Also my editor attended the INSP Summit for the first time, involving over 300 street papers.   

(7) Rehearsals for the concert reading of my musical about Youth Homelessness, entitled Eden in Babylon, have been going remarkably well.   Although it dismayed me that when I was homeless in Berkeley, there was nobody in the whole town who wanted to see my musical produced; it is wonderful to be noticing that there is nobody in the present town — where I am not homeless — who does not want to see my musical produced.

(8) Randomly did eight quick push-ups getting out of the shower.   Waited a while, then did 10 push-ups in the second set.  So I did 18 push-ups.   (Thought you should know.)

(9) Vital signs were surprisingly good at the doctor’s office the other day: blood pressure 110/70, heart rate 58.   Probably all the bicycling has helped recently.   Thankful for all the help in getting me a new bicycle seat, soon to replace the broken one.

(10) It’s 7:20 in the morning.  Soon I’ll be at the Courtyard, eating a full traditional breakfast for $3, plus free unlimited Starbucks coffee refills.   I somehow prefer this to the community breakfast where I was banned permanently for barking back at the security guard who kept barking orders at me before I could get a morning cup of coffee into my system.  (Guess it all boils down to how hard one has to work to obtain a cup of coffee in the morning.)  God is Good.    

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A little bit goes a long, long way.  

How I Got Inside

Attached is a verbatim transcript of the first story I had published in my new column in the new Street Spirit.  My column is called “Homeless No More,” and my story is entitled “How I Got Inside.”  This is based on a blog post called Bigger and Better than the Streets, also written on request of Alastair Boone, the new editor-in-chief of Street Spirit.    However, this version involves signature edits and additions.  As such, it stands on its own.

Note also the illustration provided.  The caption reads: “A drawing of Andy getting on a bus and leaving the Bay Area, soon to be housed elsewhere.”  Outside of being an outstanding illustration in its own rite, the work of one Inti Gonzalez, portions of it are charmingly telling.  Note how the homeless Andy is haggard, with a more unkempt beard, wearing a helmet, carrying a sack on a stick, eagerly boarding the bus for greener pastures.

And then, on his arrival!  Suddenly his beard is trim, his hair short and styled – he’s even wearing a Hawaiian shirt – as he bounds into his pristine new place of residence with a shit-eating grin on his face.  I see “white male privilege” reflected all over, which makes  sense in the context of my having moved to a largely all-White State.  But the white male couldn’t have felt too privileged a few weeks back, flying a sign on a Berkeley city sidewalk all those years.

In any event, here’s the text.  You can see for yourself what I wrote on the subject.

When I was homeless in the San Francisco Bay Area, I relied to a large degree on the moral support of lifelong friends and family who were not. For one reason or another, it was not feasible for any of them to let me stay in their homes for any substantial length of time. Still, they frequently provided me with encouragement, and on occasion sent me money. While I was often upset that nobody was “letting me in,” I nonetheless was dependent on their emotional and financial support in order to endure the ongoing conditions of homelessness.

One of the reasons why I delayed the decision to leave the Bay Area for so long was because I was attached to my support group. I felt that my old friends and family members were just about the only people who knew that I was a competent guy who had landed on the streets as the result of a costly medical misdiagnosis. They were the ones who knew that a mistreated health condition had led to a mental breakdown, as my inability to properly manage a health condition threw me into first-time homelessness at the age of 51. They were the ones who watched in horror, as one by one I lost all my accounts, and could no longer keep up with the high cost of living on the S.F. Bay Area Peninsula. But still, they believed in me, and they did what they could to help me get back on my feet. Of course I needed their support!

The only thing they didn’t do was to let me stay with them. Ironically, to have offered me housing, even temporarily, would have been the only thing that could possibly have helped me to get back on my feet.

But they could not do this. They had their own concerns. Meanwhile, I watched while the sordid conditions of homelessness gradually transformed me from a naïve, overweight singing teacher to a scrawny fraction of my former self. Gradually, I got to be half-crazed from protracted sleep deprivation. Often, I became fully crazed from feeling that I was treated like a sub-human mutant, rather than an equal. Passersby sneered at me in disgust.

In order to cope with this massive sense of ever-increasing dehumanization, I turned at first to marijuana, though I’d smoked no more than twice since the 80’s. Then, during the last three years of my homeless sojourn, I turned to a harder drug. I used speed to desensitize me from the cold—both the physical coldness of temperature, and the spiritual coldness of the condescending mockers in my midst. One by one, my old friends and family members, with rare exception, abandoned me. One of them recently told me: “We were all just waiting to read your obituary.”

Finally, in June of 2016, I picked up my social security check and walked out of the city of Berkeley without saying a word. “If the drugs won’t kill me,” I told myself, “the thugs who dispense them will.”

For a month I wandered the other side of the Bay in search of a permanent answer. But nothing seemed to work. In a shelter, I caught a flu, and was kicked out for that reason. The hospital wouldn’t let me in, because if they let me in, they’d have to let all of us in. I got kicked off of the all-night bus for fear of contaminating the other homeless people, who relied on the all-night bus as a shelter.

In desperation, I got down on my knees. I told the Universe that all I wanted was “a lock on a door, a window, and a power outlet.”

Then I took action. I began googling keywords until I found a place in the Pacific Northwest that rented for only $275/month—something that would easily have gone for $900/month in the Bay Area. It was a tiny room in a converted hotel—but it would do the job. I called an old associate, someone whom I’d worked with long ago when he was a music teacher at a middle school. Hearing my story, he agreed to front me $200 for a one-way Greyhound ticket to a new life. After that, I told my story to the prospective landlord, whom I called while still in San Francisco. To my amazement, he agreed to hold the place for me until I got there.

Forty-eight hours later, I was sleeping in my new room. It had a window, two power outlets, and three locks on the door. Four days after that, I signed a one-year lease. Three weeks later, after years of being considered unemployable in the San Francisco Bay Area, I landed a part-time job as a piano player at a small-town church.

A part of me wishes I had made the decision earlier. It would have spared me the last three years of psychic hell. But had I made the decision earlier, I would have abandoned the bulk of my support group. For me, leaving my support system and moving out of town was what it took to lead me to housing. However, it is a common misconception that the homeless crisis would be solved if homeless people just picked themselves up and moved out of town. This is not always the case, nor is it always readily possible.

I was lucky to have found a sympathetic person who would front me the money for a one-way-ticket to another state and help me with an apartment deposit and a few other odds and ends. Not everybody can find such a benefactor. Also, we cannot deny the obvious fact that I am a white male brimming with the semblance of “white privilege”even while living on the street—if only for the ability to decide to move to a state largely composed of other white people. While I obviously did not possess a whole lot of privilege per se, I looked as though I could conceivably be, or become, a privileged person. Let’s face it: Had I been Black or Hispanic, to show up in a largely white neighborhood would not have worked to my advantage.

So in a way, I had it easy. At the same time, however, I believe that there is a way out for everyone. Though the sheltered world does not know it, homelessness is not the same thing as alcoholism, drug addiction, or incompetence. It’s not the kind of thing where one needs to “change their ways” in order to overcome it. In order to overcome homelessness, what one needs is dignity. We are all created equal; we are all endowed by our Creator with inalienable rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. We are all bigger and better than the streets.

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Gratitude List 1174

(1)  Though I felt very lethargic this morning after oversleeping, I now feel more alive and energetic than I’ve been for several days.   Thankful for a good night’s sleep and for a quiet, secluded place where I can achieve it.

(2) Thankful for my bicycle.  On the brisk ride to the Courtyard, the air felt fresh and a tad moist as though I were swimming in it.

(3) Free Starbucks coffee at the Courtyard, second cup completely consumed.

(4) Made a new piano CD called Pinnacle.   (Link is to a SoundCloud playlist.)   I’ve got this idea I can sell them for $10 locally and $15 if I have to mail them to somebody.   In fact, if you want one, why not just donate anonymously on the link at the bottom and leave me your mailing info on my contact page Really, I’m pretty happy with it, and I’m thankful for the church that gave me a key to a building with a Baldwin grand piano.

(5) A third cup of coffee.  :)

(6)  Although arguably I did not change overnight on my 66th birthday, I rejoice in that according to the United States government, apparently I have changed for the better.  Apparently, I am no longer “disabled” but “retired” now.  The ironic upshot is that I now can work as much as I want without them chopping my disability check, because it is no longer a disability check, but a retirement check.  I may now joyfully join the ranks of all the other blokes who seem to work harder after they retire (no social statement intended.)

(7) Nice video chat with my daughter yesterday.  She appears to have a nice boyfriend now, which is a relief.   Had a nice chat with him about our parallel experiences with the Boy Scouts.  I saw an omelette he made her for “breakfast in bed.”  Obviously, he is quite the chef, and treats the lady kindly.

(8) Very thankful for the current close-knit creative, culturally conscious community tucked in between all those tall hills and at least one major mountain.   It’s a microcosm.  I love this place.

(9) Tuned into CityLab recently, and the wonderful work they’re doing to raise awareness as to how to make American cities more livable and sustainable for all.   Grateful for Alastair Boone, and for her strong encouragement toward my lending my voice through the medium of journalism.

(10) The first article for my new column Homeless No More was published a few days ago in the June issue of Street Spirit.   There isn’t a whole lot of money in this, but what’s money?   I’m just grateful I live indoors, and God has been very good to me.

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Tuesday Tuneup Fifty

Q. What’s been bugging you lately?

A. Remnants and reminders.

Q. Of what?

A. Not of what — of whom.  Of the last person who lived here with me.

Q. What kind of remnants?  What kind of reminders?

A. Oh – a dresser.  A book case.  About fifty books. A bunch of foodstuffs that seem unusual to me, grains collected in canisters, things that look like rice that don’t taste like rice, and other stuff I don’t want to touch.  Unreceived mail, a pair of very nice dress boots.   And many knick knacks.  A tapestry that reminds me of her.  A carpet that reminds me of her.  And an upright piano that I never play, because it reminds me of her.   It doesn’t belong to her, but it reminds me of her.   

Q. Can’t you just ask her to come get her things?

A. She hasn’t answered a text or call from me for several months.  I have asked her many times.  Once she even came up to get them, but left almost all of it in the house, inexplicably.   And that also was nearly a year ago.

Q. Why did she leave all of that stuff with you?

A. I don’t know.   It may be a hardship for her to get up here and get it.  It might also be that she left it here to “ensure her return.”

Q. Ensure her return?  What do you mean by that?

A. When people inwardly suspect that the day will come when you don’t want them around any longer, they have a tendency to leave some of their belongings with you, so that you can’t say “no” when they want to come back.

Q. Have other people done that with you?

A. Yes.  Usually either very insecure people, or scammers of one kind or another.   But to be frank, it hasn’t happened very often in recent years, because I haven’t had a place to live.  For many years, I was homeless.   So it’s particularly disconcerting that it’s happening now, when I finally do have a place to live.  

Q. Isn’t this all a bit inconsiderate of her?

A. It would seem that way, yes.  I doubt she considers the issue.  It doesn’t seem like she gives it a second thought.  I’m pretty sure she assumes that I’m easy about it — if she even ever thinks about it at all.   I don’t think she thinks about what effect it might have on me to feel as though this home of mine that I was so lucky to get after all those years on the streets is her home and not mine.

Q. What do you mean?  How can it be her home and not yours?

A. Because I feel as though I am living in the type of apartment that she would have, all done up the way she would do up an apartment.  It’s not the way I would do up the apartment.  Her personality, her spirit, is all over this place.

Q. Is that a problem?

A. It wasn’t when we were still together.  When we were still together, my spirit was her spirit.  We were One.   But now that we’re not together, my spirit is my spirit.  And it’s a new spirit, which is not compatible with my old spirit.

A. So how can you solve this problem?

Q. By renting a U-Haul for about $50, boxing up all her things, putting the bookcase and the dresser in the U-Haul, and taking it all down to the basement of my church.   We’ll mark it for safekeeping, and it will be safer there than it is in my house.

Q. Why would it be safer in your church basement?

A. Because I occasionally allow homeless people to stay at my house, which is a risk.  One of them ripped me off.

Manliga och kvinnliga tecken, Vektorbild - Clipart.meQ. May I ask you something?

A. By all means.

Q. Do you love her?

Pause.

A. That depends upon what you mean by love.   

Q. Did she hurt you?

A. Yes.  She says she didn’t intend to, and I believe her.  But I wound up getting hurt, and I’d rather not be hurt if I don’t need to be.

Q. Do you think that you hurt her?

A. I can think of some things I have done that probably hurt her.  But I didn’t intend to hurt her either.   This is why I believe her, when she says she didn’t mean to hurt me.   Different people are hurt by different things.

Q. Are you saying that you and she are incompatible?

A. Yes!  And that’s the best way to frame it.

Q. Are you still hurt by her?

A. Only on a bad day — and only because all these remnants and reminders of her are strewn about my house.  If I get lonely, if I get depressed, I keep having to look at the remains of her spirit.  It can be painful. 

Q. Aren’t relationships usually painful?

A. I have no idea.  I’ve only been in one meaningful relationship.  Come to think of it, however, even the meaningless relationships that I’ve had eventually turned out to be painful.   

Q. Do you want to be in a relationship?

A. I don’t know.   I don’t think in terms of relationships.   It’s not in my nature to pursue them.   

Q. Do you prefer being alone?

A. That, I don’t know either.  I don’t have much to measure it against, other than the one relationship to which I refer.

Q. What about sex?

A. What about it?  It’s a nice thing to contemplate, but in reality, it’s unwieldy.  Not to mention, I space out.  I don’t focus well.  I focus better on other things.

Q. Like what?

ABlack Grand Piano Clip Art at Clker.com - vector clip art online, royalty free & public domain. Like playing the piano.

Q. But the piano is only an inanimate instrument, isn’t it?

A. I beg to differ.  The piano responds to me.   The piano reflects me.  I animate the piano with my will.  But making love is different than that.  To animate another person with my will would be nothing but a control issue, a manipulation.  I refuse to do that.  I am not God.

Q. Why am I getting the feeling you need professional help?

A. I’m already getting professional help.   I have a therapist, and I’m also involved in pastoral counseling.

Q. What does the therapist say?

A. He says she probably has Borderline Personality Disorder.

Q. But what does he say about you?

A. He says that I don’t like to address my mental health issues directly because I feel that they make a positive contribution to my Artistic efforts.  He says it’s more important for me to create beautiful Art than it is for me to work on developing a beautiful personality.

Q. Is that true?

A. Well, he’s not the first person to have said it.  It’s gotten me to thinking, but I will say that I honestly try to be respectful of others, and to treat all living beings with kindness and dignity.  

Q. What did the pastor say?

A. The pastor said that when she was here, everybody could tell how much happier I was.   How much mellower, and more at peace.   Before she came here, I was stressed and restless.  Since she has been gone, also I am stressed and restless.  But hey — it’s my nature.

Q. What else did he say?

A. That it could very well be that I am not meant to be alone, but that perhaps it is not she with whom I am meant to be..   In other words, the happiness and contentment came from there being a woman in my life.  She just wasn’t the right woman.

Q. But if she wasn’t the right woman, how could she have made you happy?

A. That, sir, is a very good question!

Q. Do you want another woman in your life?

A. Like I said earlier, I don’t know.

Q. Well then, what can you do to alleviate the depression?   

A. For a while, I smoked marijuana.

Q. Why did you stop?

A. Because it’s a drug.   The pain returns when I run out, and is worse than if I never had any to begin with.   Not to mention, I can’t afford it, and I have addictive tendencies around it.  

Q. What else can you do, then?

A. Like I said, I can rent a U-Haul next time I’m flushed, or maybe even get a friend with a truck to help me.  Then I can move all her things to the basement of my church, where they will be in safekeeping — like I said.  After that, I can replace all the items with parallel items that reflect my own spirit, and not hers.

Q. What is her spirit like?

A. Hippie.

Q. And yours?

A. Impoverished yuppie.

Q. But aren’t you an aging hippie?

A. I’m changing into an aging yuppie.

Q. Isn’t that an oxymoron?

A. Next question, please.

Q. Are you separating your spirit from hers?

A. What an awful thought!  I don’t think anyone should separate their spirit from anyone!  That’s like – Anti-Love.  We’re all connected on this planet.  We’re all One.   But my house is my house.  I was on the streets for a long time.  And after all those years, and finally landing a place of my own, I sure don’t want to be living in a house that is not the House of Andy, but the House of —

The Questioner is silent.  

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Gratitude List 1147

This one’s from Friday morning (edited slightly toward the end).  

1. Slept a lot, from around 9pm till just 5am, about eight hours. Only got up once to use the bathroom, at around 1:30. Next thing I knew, it was morning.

2. Man, I just remembered sleeping cautiously outside of St. Joseph the Worker church, waking up at least five times in the middle of every night (if I even was fully asleep) having to clandestinely urinate behind a designated bush, and eyeing my surroundings at all times with great concern before stealthily finding my way back to my two layers of cardboard, in order to crawl underneath my two blankets. Contrasting that with #1 above makes me know what I have to be grateful for.

3. Am on 3rd cup of nice Co-Op coffee I brewed in the Black & Decker. Had a dark Hershey bar with almonds and a larger Quaker oatmeal with peanut butter.

4. There was a time when in order to get my morning cup of coffee, I had to stand beneath an outdoor church stairway while an angry black man barked orders at me and others. Eventually, we were all permitted to step upstairs and into a large hall, where one by one we obtained our cups of coffee from the same angry man. We then waited for about a half hour under strict surveilance before permitted to stand in a long line to obtain our oatmeal and peanut butter. If I ever think my life is hard today, I am mistaken.

5. First Presbyterian Church. Great teaching, fellowship, and resources.

6. The location of my apartment is an ongoing blessing. I’m just distanced enough from the hub bub that it makes it difficult to go down to Main Street and get into any trouble even if I do have that anxious hankering on a Friday night.

7. The community of this intriguing, quiet college town is an easy access to inspiration as well as to renewed motivation to cease from unsavory behavior.

8. Today in particular is a new day full of blessing and promise.

9. Outstanding rehearsal last night. For my part, it was a turning point.  I made a point of being well-prepared, of having a clear purpose.   I think the director and the two actors present picked up on this.   Kelsey and Marshall sang Turns Toward Dawn extremely well, and I like what Dave began to do with their scene.   It was a pivotal point, a fulcrum.  I see pretty clearly a very positive direction, from here.

10. Seven-thirty in the morning, and time to get on with the day. God is Good.

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The Beautiful Gate

One afternoon Peter and John were going up to the temple at the hour of prayer, the ninth hour. And a man who was lame from birth was being carried to the temple gate called Beautiful, where he was put every day to beg from those entering the temple courts. When he saw Peter and John about to enter the temple, he asked them for money.

Peter looked directly at him, as did John. “Look at us!” said Peter. So the man gave them his attention, expecting to receive something from them. But Peter said, “Silver or gold I do not have, but what I have I give you: In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, get up and walk!”

Taking him by the right hand, Peter helped him up, and at once the man’s feet and ankles were strengthened. He sprang to his feet and began to walk. Then he went with them into the temple courts, walking and leaping and praising God.

When all the people saw him walking and praising God, they recognized him as the man who used to sit begging at the Beautiful Gate of the temple, and they were filled with wonder and amazement at what had happened to him.

— Acts 3:1-10

 

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