On Disorganization

Disorganization has been my mortal enemy lately.   So much so, that I often feel that if it weren’t for disorganization, I’d probably be able to get my musical produced.   Although we all have a tendency to be set back by forces beyond our control, it seems to me that disorganization is something that I can control.  It therefore leads me naturally to wonder why it is that I have become so disorganized.  I used to be one of the most organized people on the planet.

I used to be so punctual that people practically set their clocks according to the time that I was going to show up.  Once, back in around 2003 or so, my client told me they had almost called the cops out of concern for me — only because I was ten minutes late.  It was unlikely that I would have shown up later than a minute before the prescribed time.

I used to run my morning ritual like clockwork.   There were about five or ten actions that I performed religiously every single morning, in the same order every morning, without pausing.  Nowadays, the occasion of getting out the door in the morning is almost nothing but one giant pause.

“Where’s my shoes?”   
“What happened to my headphones?”   
“I could have sworn I had one last coffee filter!”

So how exactly did I become so scattered?   The answer could be given in less than four words – but here are the first four that come to mind:

TWELVE YEARS OF HOMELESSNESS!

homelessoffice
“Homeless Office”

When I was homeless, I had no problem finding my shoes because I slept in them.  Why, you may ask, did I sleep in them?   For at least two reasons.   First, at any time of the day or night, anybody could come out of anywhere and interrupt my sleep, sometimes with knife in hand.  I needed to be able to get up and run as fast as I could, as far as I could, calm my nerves, and find another place to sleep.

Secondly, if I took off my shoes and set them at my side, there would be a strong chance they wouldn’t be there in the morning.  They just might be the right size for another homeless guy whose shoes had been stolen as well.  Shoes, after all, go for at least five bucks at the pawn shop.   And five bucks when you’re homeless and out in a thunderstorm can save a homeless person’s life.  That person can get on a warm bus and sleep all night, rather than die of hypothermia in the elements.

Headphones?   You think I would dare own a pair of headphones under such conditions?  Well yes, I often so dared, and I would have to buy a new pair before I knew it.   Why bother?   A pair of headphones equals a twenty dollar bag of dope in that realm, and I might even risk bodily harm if I tried to defend myself.

(The absurdity of there being any role for coffee filters in such a realm is so obvious, it is probably redundant for me to have alluded to it even once.)

But the bright side of all this is a fact that not many people would even guess, had they not themselves been homeless over an extended period of time.   For that same homeless person who stole your twenty-five dollar SONY headphones will later drop a twenty dollar bill in your cup without saying a word.

Barring the sociopathic and criminal element — which does indeed exist but is far from the norm —  the homeless person doesn’t steal because he is a thief by nature.  He steals out of desperation, and feels pretty bad about it.   Even a young man who stole an entire laptop from me felt so bad about it, he ingratiated me with various gifts for two years, until I finally told him we were even.

So it’s not too much of a surprise I’m having a bit of difficulty getting organized, considering the level of “organization” I was dealing with for the better part of twelve years.  I’ve only lived indoors again for about a year and a half now, and old habits — or the lack thereof — die hard.

And if you want to find out what homelessness is really like, find out from someone who has been there.  Not for a week, or a month, or a season.   From someone who has been homeless for nearly half of his adult life — and who amazed everyone he knew by pulling out of it.

Find out from Eden in Babylon.   Please support this timely project, and please be “punctual” — while there still is time.

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Turns Toward Dawn

This has been a very strange and telling phase in my life.  While I’ve not seen myself make much headway in the areas where I have typically been placing my focus, I have noticed that progress appears to be taking place on a completely different level.   This is the second time in recent months when the desired progress toward the production of my new musical appears to be at a standstill, but yet an unexpectedly bright happenstance is seen taking place on an entirely different plane.

The first time was during August through October, when I saw five of my short pieces on the homeless phenomenon in America become published in Street Spirit, a Berkeley-based periodical dealing with such issues, distributed throughout the East Bay Area and in Santa Cruz.   (A sixth article, by the way, was published in the November issue, which unfortunately has not yet made it online.   The article is called The Class Gap, and is based on my blog post The Voices That Count.  The link on the title is to a pdf of the full page devoted to my story.)  The sudden opportunity for publication in the hitherto unexplored periodical coincided with a dry spell in my own efforts to persist in pushing my musical toward production.

Similarly, in the past two weeks, I really haven’t progressed at the desired rate with my usual push to produce the show.   But I have seen the community here come to embrace my piano playing on the local level, which is something for which I have been silently longing.  First, on Wednesday the 29th, I had the opportunity to play for the annual holiday dinner hosted by the Palouse-Clearwater Environmental Institute.

There were probably close to a hundred people there. All nice people. I played jazz standards like I used to play when I had a regular piano job in the 90’s in the Bay Area.  I got paid for the gig in cash, and made decent tips, too.  I felt so good about it all, and was so appreciated, that it made me want to do it all the time. Imagine if only I could make that kind of money on a regular basis! I wouldn’t have to do anything else in life, other than rejoice and relax, I suppose. I mean, I’m sure that binding obligations would arise as usual, life being life. But it would sure solve a lot of problems.

The most flattering part of the night was when a critic named Donna from the Tuesday Night Critics Group showed up. She put a tip in my jar and said: “I’m the one who emailed you raving about your new musical.” Then I remembered that I’d met her briefly when I had shown up for critique one night. She went so far as to read the entire show and write to me in detail. It was funny too, because she had an idea for a device in the last Scene that I had to admit was a good one, and I wound up using it in the second draft that I finished on November 8th. She hasn’t read that version yet, but I assured her it was in there.

Then, last Tuesday, December 5th, I played the piano for the Community Event of Remembrance, when every year people in the community gather to commemorate those who have passed away in our lives throughout the past year. Usually the music is provided by whoever does the stuff at funerals, but for some reason they had to back out at the last minute. So I was called.

I believe I did a good job, despite myself. I think I selected appropriate music for the prelude and postlude, as well as an interim processional when everyone was approaching the tree to be given an ornament representing the one who had died in their life.  There was a tenor from the Evangelical Free Church who directed the hymns and sang special music at the piano. I was otherwise at the Baldwin grand piano, and messages were delivered by the priest from St. Mary’s, the pastor from the United Church, and my own pastor.  It seemed very well-coordinated, despite little rehearsal.  Moreover, it was a very meaningful event, where people were in no way disingenuous or full of affectation, but extremely real and genuine, authentic, and without hypocrisy of any sort.  Afterwards, I received a number of very kind compliments.  People seemed genuinely moved by my presentation, which was a little odd, considering how detached I felt from it all. But it was definitely an honor to have been given the opportunity, and it was good that I rose to the occasion.

Otherwise, I’m on the new computer now. I found one like it on Amazon — it lists for $875. It’s a pretty amazing machine, came with 8gb installed RAM and an Intel i7 processor, 2.8ghz. It’s a real blessing. Having a new computer is kind of like having the new apartment. It gives me a chance to start afresh, and not make the same mistakes I made last time. It’s also about as much better of a computer than my last one as this apartment is a better apartment than my last. So there’s a positive sense of moving up in the world.

One of the first things I did with the new machine was upload this you tube of my playing piano at Moscow First Presbyterian Church on Wednesday the 30th.  It came out surprisingly well, especially considering it was recorded using my pastor’s iPhone.  But in a way, that gives it a raw, uncut quality that I believe informs its artistry.  It’s amazing what kind of effect a fine piano can have on one’s musicianship.

 

Well, I need to get to church and sing with the Choir.   I wanted to make sure I got this stuff to you beforehand.   I did – so now I can relax!   Hoping you all have a blessed Sunday.  Take care, and God bless.

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Anything Helps – God Bless!

Gratitude List 662

This is actually yesterday’s morning gratitude list.   I scribbled it out very quickly before church, and didn’t look at it again until just now.  As I saw and recollected what I wrote, it made me feel so grateful I just had to do something with it.  So I posted it here on WordPress, yet again.

1. Got caught up on my sleep — it’s only eight o’clock.
 
2. Walked six miles again yesterday, and got into a good fast clip in the last two miles.
 
3. It’s only 47F degrees now, and no colder.  I won’t dread walking to the church, but rather will enjoy the jaunt.
 
4. Just hopped out of a nice quick shower, am all dressed up and ready for church.  This wouldn’t have happened in Berkeley.  I remember one time having my cardboard laid out over dirt turned into mud by the rain outside of the Rubicon building, having to decide that a single sheet was better for shielding the rain than a warmer, heavier blanket, since the blanket caught all the moisture.  The sheet wasn’t bad until I was forced to shake it off, then walked to the Lutheran Church of the Cross in a shivering state to teach the Bible Study.  Life is much more conducive now.  
 
5. Moscow, Idaho.  I love this town more and more, the more I wake up to it.
 
6. Gorgeous, spectacular day yesterday at around noon when I was walking.  Had a nice talk with Alex on the phone, about Judah Loew ben Bezalel, the legendary Maharal of Prague, and other subjects.   
 
7. I really like the Writers I have met online on WordPress.  They are very supportive, as well as in most cases knowledgeable and talented.  It behooves me to read their work, most of which is available on the Kindle at a very low price, next month.
 
8. I’m feeling that early morning workaday mainstream buzz of high competent energy, the kind you feel when you look forward to being a part of the day ahead, a worker among workers, in America.  I feel this way even though it’s Sunday and all I’m doing is going to church and singing in the Choir.  But I also feel it a lot on the days when I volunteer now, and before Taize service.  Think how much more often I will feel this wonderful workaday feeling, when I actually have a job.
 
9. Listening to “Oracle” right now – Version 17-C on the new 15-system template designed specifically for the Eden in Babylon orchestral score.  Almost done with it.  Why has it been easier to take on the more elaborate, intensely involved project than the earlier project of far less size and substance?  It’s simple.  This larger project is much more enjoyable, despite its intimidating grandeur.
 
10. I get to have breakfast at the Courtyard Cafe before church this morning.  There are so many conveniences in my present life today for which to be grateful.  In Berkeley, I’d have been having to stand in line in Provo Park with two hundred other homeless people, some of whom were of very dubious character, in order to get breakfast on Sunday.  Fights would be breaking out, and all kinds of aggressive drug dealers would be roaming up and down the food line, issuing varying stages of irresistible offers and threats.  Life is better today than it’s ever been.  Glory to God on High.

Please donate to Eden in Babylon.
Anything Helps – God Bless!

 

Another New Development

There’s been another new development — possibly even a breakthrough – insofar as my goal to produce the new musical Eden in Babylon is concerned.  

It looks like there’s a very strong chance that the University will permit the use of their Theater Arts students in a reading of the script, to be held at some point after the 14th of January.   

This came about when my assistant Danielle asked me if I had ever thought about simply walking into the Theater Arts Department with a hard copy of my script, and asking if they had any ideas as to how to expedite a work-in-progress production.  I had to tell her honestly that the thought had never crossed my mind.   For one thing, I really didn’t have a script with which I was completely comfortable until a little over a week ago.   Nor was  the first coil-bound copy of the script created until six days ago.   So it seemed like an idea whose time was ripe.

The reception I received at the Department office far exceeded my expectations.  The Media Relations Assistant turned out to be a wonderfully warm and supportive person.  During a very pleasant and informative chat of about a half hour or so, I was advised of the Department philosophy: 

“Plays are not meant to be read —
they are meant to be acted, directed,
and produced.”

So while they would not read my play further than a quick skim, I was assured that if I sent them a email letter of intent with script attached, my email would be forwarded to all undergraduate and graduate Acting students in an effort to encourage their involvement.

group-reading-2The MRA also told me that my having a large cast (27) would actually work to my advantage in this context, because students are typically much less intimidated with the larger-cast projects than if, say, it were a cast of two.  She said that they generally are enthused about the large group effort, and eager to participate, free of charge.

Because I had been expecting anything from a cold shoulder to a run–through-the-ringer, I found the brief encounter to be a catalyst to further inform my path.  It occurs to me that I might as well take the vocal score to the School of Music and ask the director of the jazz choir if there are any singing majors who would like to sing on a demo recording of the project.  it can’t hurt.  And who knows?  They might even work for free.

In general, I don’t feel the sense of postpartum that I felt last March after having given birth to such a huge baby.  At the same time, I know a few things about my bipolarity as it can manifest over the long-term.  If for no other reason than to stave off another period of deep depression and artistic frustration, I think it behooves me to optimize the current energy — and strike while the iron is hot.

Please donate to Eden in Babylon.
Anything Helps – God Bless!

 

 

Somebody Gave Easily

Lately there has been a gnawing sensation within me that a critical part of my story has been left out. I’ve been wanting to relate a certain turn of events that occurred in July 2016, after I had left Berkeley, but before I had moved up to Idaho. It may explain why it is that I am so passionate about what I am writing, and why I now know that my life has meaning.

To provide some background, I left Berkeley, California on the day that I received my monthly Social Security check for July. On that day, I bought a laptop. Knowing that four laptops had been stolen in a three year period in Berkeley, and that I was a known “mark” for the thugs and gang bangers who hung out by the local rapid transit station, my plan was to silently leave town before anyone caught wind of my acquisition.

The city where I landed on the San Francisco Bay Area Peninsula was a small town of about 25,000 composed almost entirely of upper-class Caucasians. I selected it because it was noted for a low crime rate and a peaceful aura. However, it wasn’t particularly friendly toward outdoor homeless types, and after the second time my sleep was interrupted by an officer of the law, I agreed to be transferred from my spot behind the local library to a shelter about twenty five miles South of there, in a more industrial neck of the woods.

At first, I was very impressed with the shelter. They had a number of programs designed to help homeless people get back on their feet and regain self-esteem. It was, however, assumed that I was an alcoholic or a drug addict, and daily twelve-step meetings were required. Still, I acquiesced.  I think twelve-step meetings are great, in general.  The only thing that bothered me was the assumption that I needed one. 

About five days into my sojourn at the shelter, an unfortunate turn of events took place. In the Men’s Barracks, where I slept on a bunk in close proximity to about twenty-five other men, I caught a flu.  I went to the hospital, where I was told I had “viral bronchitis” — which I’m pretty sure is just a fancy name for a high-follutin’ flu.  I definitely do not have bronchitis in any other sense.  In any case, I was given the usual stuff, and told to “rest in bed for ten days.” 

But when I went back to the shelter, they told me that because I had a contagious disease, I could no longer stay at the shelter.  This disturbed me.   After all, I had obviously caught the flu at the shelter.   So I was not the only person there with a flu.  Half of the guys in the barracks were coughing, sneezing, and wheezing from all their cigarette smoke anyway.  Here I’m this guy with an unusually strong immune system, who had caught exactly two flus in the past fifteen years, works out, doesn’t smoke or drink — it very much upset me that I was being reprimanded for my honesty.

So I went back to the hospital and explained what happened, hoping they would let me in to recover.  But at the hospital, I was told that they couldn’t show any special preference for me, just because I was homeless.  

“I know you have the flu, Andy, but let’s face it.  Homeless people come in here trying to get an overnight stay all the time, for all kinds of reasons.  If I were to let you in, I’d have to let in the whole lot of you.   I’m sorry, Andy, but that’s just the way it is.”

A rush of numbing fright consumed me.  I suddenly realized that I was going to have to fend with this flu outdoors!  I’d seen homeless people die overnight after catching a flu!  I feared death – but I was too young to die — and generally a very healthy, fit human being.   But what could I do?

Throughout the next five days, my condition worsened.  I was sneezing, and often visibly perspiring.  The driver of the all-night bus stopped letting me inside the bus at night, because all the other homeless people who used the bus as a sleeping spot were complaining that I might be contagious.  I told him that viral bronchitis is only contagious in the first two to three days.  But this was to no avail.

Then one night, something came over me.   And this is why I now know that my life has meaning.   I was walking by the Sequoia Station in Redwood City, wondering where to sleep that night, when suddenly I dropped down on my knees and screamed at the top of my lungs.

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!!!!

Granted, it was an impulsive emotional outburst, and I’m sure any theologian worth their salt could easily chop holes in the wording.  But I felt an eerie sense of calm when I got back up to my feet. 

I looked around.  The night was still and quiet.  My spirit was overwhelmed with the clear feeling that Somebody had heard that prayer — and that Somebody would honor it.

A couple days later, as the symptoms of the flu subsided, I remembered an associate of mine, a now retired music teacher with whom I had worked when I was still a sheltered elementary school music teacher making a modest living on the Peninsula, before all this homelessness ensued.   He had earlier said that if I could choose a spot outside of the State of California where the rents would be cheaper and I could conceivably live off of my Social Security, he would spot me the one-way ticket.

The rest of my story I have told.  Here, there, and elsewhere.  Within forty-eight hours, I had rented a room at Friendship Square on a temporary basis.  Three days later I signed a one year lease on an apartment that would have rented for $900 in Berkeley, and was only $275 in Moscow, Idaho.  I alighted upon the city of my birth for the first time in sixty-three years — a city that I knew nothing about whatsoever, other than the fact that I was born here.   Three weeks later, I applied for a part time job and was hired — after years of being considered unemployable and mentally incapable of working in the State of California. 

I only later learned that Idaho Repertory Theatre was founded in this city on the year I was born, and that the Lionel Hampton School of Music sports a city-wide jazz festival every year here — in the town where I was born.  I only later walked through one of the city gates, and saw the city proudly proclaiming itself: “The Heart of the Arts.” 

I’m not going to ask you to believe in God, if you don’t already, after having read these words.  The word “God” after all, is only a word.  If you ask ten people the meaning of that Word, you are likely to get ten different answers.  I know what I believe, and you probably do too.

But I will ask you to believe that my life has meaning — and purpose.  If you can help me in any way to move that purpose forward, please do. I’ve been sleeping in gutters for almost half of my adult life.  That I did not die a meaningless death on the streets of Berkeley is an absolute miracle.   I have written a full-length musical about homelessness since I have been off the streets, in addition to numerous blogs, and five articles published in Street Spirit.   If you can help me in any way with the money I need to make a demo recording of three songs from my musical, please believe me:

giving-is-easy-620

That one has got to be true.  After all, Somebody gave pretty easily — once I finally, earnestly asked.

Please donate to Eden in Babylon.
Anything Helps – God Bless!

Please note.  As of October 30, 2017, all donations to this cause should be sent to my assistant, Danielle Stephens.  Donations in any amount may be made safely here.   

 

Gratitude List 644

1. Ran in the new shoes for the first time yesterday.  They fit perfectly – best fit I’ve had in years.   Also I felt fine running even though I hadn’t run for about a month.   Did two miles (just checked the distance on MapMyRun) and felt good the whole way.

2. Showered right afterwards, felt good.  Sure is nice to be able to take a shower without having to wait in a line with fifty other guys, some of whom would no doubt be of dubious moral character.

3. Carnation Instant Breakfast, vanilla flavor.  Too good.   Also made my Folgers Classic at the right strength this morning.  When it runs out, I get to buy Kirkland Columbian, like they served at the North Berkeley Senior Center and the Hillcrest Lodge here in town, best coffee yet.

4. Got a really nice card from all the tellers at my bank, and the bank manager Tamara, thanking me for one year of loyalty.   That’s a first!!

5. My daughter called last night for the first time in a while and we talked at length.  She seemed good, and wants to call me every day now, for which I’m glad.

6. Nice chat with my lifelong friend Kent from Stockton yesterday morning.  He always sounds so positive these days, and his energy helps me to focus on the positive.

7. Really good work with R.J. yesterday at the Recovery Center, got me to thinking constructively about my codependency and other issues.

8. Also nice chatting with Susan B. at the church when she was practicing on the Marceua.  She taught Organ for 35 years at the University and is a very nice lady.  Turns out she made the switch from Piano to Organ as early as 11th grade, and that she (like me) learned Piano through the Schaum and Thompson courses, before piano pedagogy got hijacked by modern weirdos.  

9. I have 250 followers on Eden in Babylon now.  

10. Received the first knock on my door last night and learned two things: (1) I am totally not practiced at not answering the door, even when there’s a peephole and I can see that I don’t know the gents.  (2) I am totally not down for theological debate with Mormon missionaries at this time in my life.  Well, at least they weren’t tweakers waking me up at 3am to ask me for a cigarette lighter, and not believing me when I tell them that I don’t smoke.  Progress not Perfection – God is GOOD.

Please donate to Eden in Babylon.
Anything Helps – God Bless!

 

Gratitude List 642

This one’s from two mornings ago, but I just thought I’d post it today.   Further gratitude to follow. 

1. Got my dystrophic toenail removed yesterday. Within 48 hours I’ll be running in my new Mizuno running shoes (that I got for free – a gift, and not a ground score, either.)

2. Did the wash last night. Nice to have a decent, reasonably priced washer-dryer less than 25 feet away from me. Remembered to wash my beanie this time — nice to have a clean beanie wrapped around my ears in the Winter.

3. Planned out my meals for the rest of the month and bought $110 worth of groceries at Winko’s. Amazing some of the prices there – and now I’m all stocked up.

4. Nice to see all the people from my church standing by the doorway in the clinic when I stepped out from surgery. I’m grateful for my church — for the people there being so nice.

5. Though I freaked out last night, when I realized I had locked myself out of my bathroom, I was able to break in with the aid of an earpiece of an old pair of readers that I used as a wedge. Sure is nice to have my own bathroom, and clean towels now, too. This is the first time I’ve had a place with my own bathroom since 2010 — and it’s half of that rent, and in a much better location.

6. Kathleen W. from the church liked my writings in Street Spirit. She said they were “very insightful” (a nice compliment) and she forwarded them to her son in Seattle, who works with the homeless there.

7. Slept unusually well last night, for seven hours.

8. This is the first time I’ve had a place to live in as long as I can remember where I wasn’t all tripped out about my neighbors and/or roommates. It’s helping me to be as much of a homebody as I’ve always wanted to be, and I bet that the rent difference is easily made up for in the lack of coffee out and meals out. I don’t feel as much of a need to go out for stuff I can have at home. There’s nothing to *escape* from here. (Below freezing helps too.)

9. I’ve been starting to “hear music in my head” again, since I got this new apartment — for the first time since I left Berkeley.

10. Our house is a very very very fine house
with two cats in the yard
Life used to be so hard
Now everything is easy
’cause of You 

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Anything Helps – God Bless!