Tuesday Tuneup Ten

Q. Do you know who I am?

A. Do you ever listen to my answer to that question?

Q. Why have you summoned me?

A. I guess not.  Well, I summoned you because I am disgruntled.

Q. Disgruntled?

A. Is there an echo in here?

Q. Why are you disgruntled?

A. Cognitive dissonance.

Q. Meaning?

A. I simultaneously hold to two conflicting systems of values.

Q. Specifically?

A. As a Christian, I believe in forgiving those who have wronged me.  As a guy who spent twelve years on the streets, I believe in rewarding loyalty and punishing betrayal.  

Q. Can’t you forgive them and punish them at the same time?

A. (nods) The concept of chastening.  I’m afraid only God has the rights on that one.

Q. But supposing your son or daughter had wronged you, wouldn’t you forgive them and still “chasten” them, as you say?

A. Sure I would.  But these people are not my sons and daughters, nor am I their father.  One of them is a 63 year old man.  Another is 62.

Q. What about their own fathers?

A. Neither of them is alive.  And if they were, I doubt they’d take my side.

Q. Then doesn’t that leaves the Father God to do the chastening?

A. But Father God might not be their father.   

Q. How can that be?  Is not God the father of all?  

A. Not necessarily.  According to Scripture, their father is either God the Father, or “their father the devil.”  Look what Jesus said once:

You are of your father the devil, 
and you want to do the desires of your father. 
He was a murderer from the beginning, 
and does not stand in the truth 
because there is no truth in him. 
Whenever he speaks a lie, 
he speaks from his own nature, 
for he is a liar and the father of lies. 
But because I speak the truth, 
you do not believe Me. 
“Which one of you convicts Me of sin? 
If I speak truth, why do you not believe Me? 
He who is of God hears the words of God; 
for this reason you do not hear them,
because you are not of God.”

— John 8:44-47

Q. Do you really think it’s all that black and white?   Are there a bunch of liars that are children of the devil and another batch of truth-seekers that are, like, God’s kids?

A. (nods again) Black and white thinking.  I don’t like the concept much either.  But as the article I just linked to points out, a lot of times we engage those approximations because the language lacks wording that will sufficiently describe the “middle ground” or “gray area” without having to use too many words, thus impeding communication.

Q. What do you mean by that?

A. Well, take the word “God” for example.  Any intelligent person engaged in the vaguest search for a definition of that word will first have to admit that “God” is only a word.  Like all words, it has a meaning.  Many meanings.  Different meanings for different people, and so forth.  So one person will say, “I don’t believe in God,” based solely on their preconceptions as to what that word means.

To one person, “God” is an old man with a long gray beard sitting in the clouds somewhere.  Do I believe that meaning?  No, I do not.  But the same person who holds to that idea of “God” will often speak of a “force” or a “higher power” or even of the Universe.  Who’s to say that those descriptives are not of God?  And yet, they say they don’t “believe in God.”  To me, it seems that they do believe in God.   They just won’t use the word God, because it’s loaded down with stigmatic preconceptions.

Q. Then why do you keep using the word “God?”

A. Ease of use.  It’s simply easier to say the single word “God” than to keep saying, “Spirit or Power of the Universe or whatever you want to call it.”  I get tired of using too many words when one will suffice.  I use too many words as it is already without having to add yet more words to the mix.  

Q. But why does the single word have to be “God?” Why not use some other word, if “God” is so loaded down with stigma?

A. (frowns) I find they all fall short.  The other words “Spirit” or “Universe’ somehow lack sufficient power or personality for me — or maybe command or authority — something like that.  I don’t know exactly.  But really, Questioner dear, aren’t we veering a bit astray of the subject?

Q. And what, pray tell, is the “subject?”

A. The subject is the black-and-white codification of humanity into a batch of Satan’s babies as contrasted with the real children of God.   I believe the words of Jesus I quote run deeper than that.

Q. In what way?

A. In lots of ways.  For one thing, I think we’re all born “children of the devil” in the sense that we’re too unsophisticated to grasp the concept of a loving Father God apart from our own earthly fathers — who, let’s face it, might not be all that loving.  We’re innocent.  We’re vulnerable.  We’re easy to con, to manipulate.  I learned that on the streets.  The people who were pushovers seemed to be so faultless, yet in a very real sense they were the devil’s babies.   The hustlers, the thieves — they had them over a barrel.  In order to realize the authority of the True God, and to see yourself as His child, there has to be some kind of revelation, leading up to a transformation.  One gets to the point where one refuses to be hustled any further.  One says to oneself: “Screw these guys!  I’m a child of God!  I don’t have to put up with their garbage.”

Q. One says?  Or you say?

A. Both – along with a lot of other people who have managed to escape all the trappings of street life.  I’m a lot better off spiritually than I was earlier on.  I was such a pushover I believed all those lies I heard from pretentious preacher’s pulpits.   It’s like I always say, before the age of 51, I believed just about anybody who wore a badge.

Q. And now you don’t?

A. No, I don’t.  And obviously, in the passage I quote, Jesus didn’t either.  Those were Pharisees he was talking too — religious hypocrites very much like those who betrayed me.  Like I said, there’s a lot of depth to what the Master is saying here.  He speaks on many levels.

Q. Such as?

A. This.

(The Answerer takes a very deep breath.)

A. There are people who are so caught up in the game that they can’t tell lies from truth.  They lie so much and are lied to so often, they come to expect it from everyone.  You would think that the truth would stand out like an orchid in a petunia patch with people like that.  But somehow it doesn’t.  They are so used to lies, that when someone speaks the truth like Jesus did, they don’t hear it.  Their minds immediately begin to speculate and calculate.  

Speculate – by which I mean they speculate as to just what kind of a scam the truthful person is trying to pull.

Calculate – meaning they calculate a response designed to trap the one who tells the truth, and get them to say something completely inconsistent, to prove them a liar.

Q. And you are not one of those people?

A. Sure I am – in a certain context.  I test people all the time.  But the testing is of a different nature, because it follows an inward process of trying to dredge out the lies within my own heart.

Q. Are you lying to me, Andy?

A. Verily, verily, I tell you no lie.  But this is because I find myself lying to myself at times, and compelled to share that lie to others.  And when I do, I stop to examine my motives.  What am I trying to conceal?  Who am I afraid of?  Who am I trying to impress?

Q. Then what happens?

A. Then, when someone like that fellow who betrayed me lies to me, I don’t swallow his lies, because I see the same lies in my own self.

Q. Really?

A. Really.

Q. So the streets have made you sharper?

A. Can’t speak for my sharpness.  I’m an old guy, and my intellectual powers are naturally on the wane.  But I’m a bit more discerning between falsehood and truth.

Q. Andy, what is the bottom line?

A. This.

(Another deep breath is taken.)

Q. People seem to think that all those years on the streets are supposed to have crippled me to the point where I should have no higher goal than to sit in some meeting and raise my hand as an alcoholic or a drug addict, and then get down on my knees (and stay on my knees) and humble myself before every Tom, Dick, and Harry on the block.  Nothing could be further from the truth.

I came off the streets realizing I no longer had to take crap from just anybody.  I came off the streets seeing through all the Mainstream garbage that I swallowed so wholeheartedly before.  I came off the streets discerning that all those money-chasing money-hoarding money-worshipers who look down on poor people are the liars — not me.  They lie to their own selves, and yet they don’t stop to look within, to really see what’s inside them, to be able to discern with accuracy what’s going on around them.

So the bottom line is, I’m not going to get down on my knees before all those Mainstream robot clones, or to their “God,” whoever they think he is, or cow-tow to whatever they think it means to be a “Christian.”  I know what I’m about – or beginning to find out anyway – and on my spiritual journey, I ain’t taking no shit from nobody.

Q. Do you want to know what I think?

A. Shoot.

The Questioner is silent.

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Gratitude List 824

(1) Grateful for my lady friend.  If it weren’t for her stabilizing influence, I would have never gotten it together to record the Eden in Babylon demo.   

(2) Grateful that, after all this time, the demo has actually been completed.  Can’t wait to hear the mix.

(3) Grateful that now that it’s over, I will finally have time to give quality time to my daughter.  

(4) Grateful that the money to pay for demo costs came together more-or-less miraculously right in the nick of time, and all of it came from anonymous donations to the pool.

(5) Relieved that I am no longer manic like I was during the 48 hour period of pretty much non-stop preparation for this project.

(6) Grateful that when I got home from the recording session last night, there was no part of me that felt a need to “keep working.”  Instead, my entire being wanted to enjoy my night with my lady friend, and look peacefully into her beautiful blue eyes.

(7) Although, when I was manic, I thought this project was the most important thing in the world, I am relieved and thankful that when I got home last night, I realized that it was no big deal.  

(8) Grateful both for all the years when I slaved away as a servant for the super-rich, and all the years of enduring indignity and dehumanization on the cold city streets.   I have experienced both extremes.  Most people are not fortunate enough to even have experienced one of them.

(9) Grateful that No. 8 above has done nothing but fuel my philosophical fire.

(10) Let the Philosopher now prevail over the Artist.  I’ve got a job to do on this Earth – and nothing can stop me now.

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Welcome to Homelessness

I make a point of remembering important dates in my life.  One would think that the first night I slept outdoors, inaugurating twelve long years of homelessness, would be a very important date.  That I don’t know the date is telling.  Who wants to know a date like that?

I do know that I was prescribed the psychiatric drug klonopin on the morning that my mother was to die (unbeknownst to me) on October 9, 2003.   I do know I was asked to resign my teaching job on February 17, 2004.   I know that I was illegally evicted from my place of residence on April 1, 2004.   Though I became legally homeless on that date, I still had enough money for motel rooms to keep me afloat for another month or more.

The day when I stopped using klonopin was certainly one that I remember.   I went off of 4mg of klonopin cold turkey on May 10, 2004.  I never even had the seizure they told me I would have, as they tried to convince me to keep taking that God-awful drug that had lost me my shirt.  I was so relieved to finally be free of that stuff.  My short-term memory returned, I began to speak coherently again, and I started to remember the names of the people with whom I was conversing.

Though my living situation by that time was sketchy — an illegally parked motor home in the back yard of a friend of mine – at least I was still indoors.  But then, by May 20, 2004, I had lost my reading glasses after sleeping in Golden Gate Park. It was that day that inspired the first piece of literature I ever had published on the subject of homelessness: A New Pair of Glasses.

So it was at some point between May 10th and May 20th that I sat on a bench at a CalTrain station all night long, sometimes nodding off, sometimes waking with a start — to the sound of a roaring engine, or laughter from late night carousers, or some other noise in the night.   Cops would drive by, and I feared interrogation.  But they never stopped me.  Eventually, the sky grew light.  I grabbed a coffee at a nearby doughnut shop, then walked up to the church where for several years, I had been the Director of Music.

Pete, the pastor, had known of some of my recent struggles, and we seemed to be on good terms.  I had visited with him more than once in the past few months, and I figured he might be able to help me get up to San Francisco, where my friend Tony had promised to help.   As I strolled to the church on that bright sunny morning, I pondered how easily I had made it through the night.  There was nothing so far about homelessness that seemed intolerable.

When I arrived at the church, I saw that the Hispanic minister was there, along with two friends.  He did not recognize me from the 90’s, where he had seen me at the church organ many times.  Walking up to shake his hand, I told him that I remembered him from all of those joint preaching sessions, where he and Pete would take turns behind the pulpit on days when the Spanish-speaking congregation joined in with us English-speaking folks.

But he eyed me cautiously, as though I were somehow suspect.  The others looked at me strangely, too.  It seemed they did not believe me.  I could understand if the Hispanic pastor would not have recognized me.  But I couldn’t understand why I wasn’t being believed.  That seemed strange.  I had provided at least enough information for him to have made the connection.

“Pastor Peter will not be in today,” he said, in a guarded fashion.  “This is his day off.”

“Oh that’s right,” I said.  “He takes Mondays off after preaching on Sundays.  Well — I’ll just come back tomorrow again at eight.   Just let him know that Andy stopped by.”

“He won’t be in at eight tomorrow.  He never comes in before noon, you know.”

“He doesn’t?” I asked, perplexed.  “I just saw him a couple months ago.  He was in at eight as usual, the same way he always came in at eight every morning for years, when I worked here before.”

“Please, no more, sir,” he said.  “I cannot help you, and Peter will not help you.   Please go back to wherever you came from.”

love thy neighborAt that, a strange mix of fear and anger ripped through my body.  The man had not only lied to me about Pete’s schedule, but he blatantly refused to even consider that I might have been telling the truth.  Moreover, I had recognized him; I knew exactly who he was, and I could not possibly have changed my appearance so hugely in the past seven years, that he would think I was anyone other than who I said I was.

“And you call yourself a Christian pastor?” I said, outraged. “I’ll have you know I’m a decent guy who’s down on his luck, and you’re treating me like a scum bag.”

“Go!” he shouted, as his friends joined in.  “Go!  Go!  Go away!!”

Talk about your Monday morning! 

I stormed away in torment.  Somehow I knew at that moment that the worst was yet to come.   The worst thing about homelessness, I somehow sensed, would have nothing to do with weather conditions, or malnutrition, or even sleep deprivation — or any of the other things that people always ask about when they find out that one is homeless.  It would have to do with something they never ask about: the way I would be treated.   I would be cast out like a leper, as though one would contract a deadly disease just from being in my presence.

But if nothing else comes of my recounting this horrible memory, at least I have finally learned the exact date.   After all, it was Monday.   There is only one Monday between May 10, 2004 and May 20, 2004.   So the first night I slept outdoors was May 17, 2004.

How could I forget?

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Tuesday Tuneup Nine

Q. Do you know who I am?

A. Yes.

Q. Why have you summoned me?

A. Because it’s Wednesday.

Q. Uh – isn’t the Tuesday Tuneup supposed to take place on Tuesday?   And haven’t we been here before?

A. You asked me two questions at once.

Q. What’s wrong with that?

A. And now there are three unanswered questions!   Really, sir, you overload me.  And I’m already overloaded.

Q. Why so overloaded?

A. Perhaps you haven’t heard. 

(Takes a deep breath.)

when_opportunity_knocksI’m engaged in this huge process of getting all these singers and musicians to learn my music, so as to record three songs from my musical Eden in Babylon and have the long-awaited demo recording finished by Sunday night.  It isn’t often that a decent sound engineer offers me free studio services and resources, and his availability will not last forever.   

Q. Do you mean to tell me that you are actually working to a deadline?

A. (sighs) Much as I despise the concept, ’tis true.  

Q. Now why do I find that so hard to believe?

A. Probably because I am noted for espousing wild philosophies I picked up after years of living on the streets.  I’ve even gone so far as to say that no human being should ever be required to show up a specific place at a specific time.

Q. But don’t you work better when you don’t have a deadline?

A. I do, yes.  Others do not.  But the point is that my own work as the composer-playwright of Eden in Babylon is already complete.  It’s only a matter of getting a finite number of people to respond accordingly.  It may well be that these people work well to deadlines.

Q. And when is this deadline?

A. Four days from today.

Q. Have you — er — succeeded in getting the money together to pay these singers and musicians?

A. Almost.  I am prepared to pay the remaining $150 out of pocket the at this stage.  But I would have to wait till the beginning of the month, which might inconvenience a couple of the singers who are strapped.  And of course, I am also strapped.  I have made myself strapped in order to succeed in this venture, as any other devoted Artist would do.

Q. Won’t you become even more strapped after contributing $150 from your fixed income?

A. Of course.  And I’d prefer the $150 come from somebody who can actually afford it.  Still, the joy of seeing this leg of the project finally coming together after all these years is certainly worth a lot more than $150 to me.

Q. But – but – won’t you starve?

A. I prefer the word “fast,” thank you.

Q. Are you not parsing words?

A. Not at all, sir.  When a starving artist decides to fast in order to produce a work of Art he believes in, it is no longer a matter of health.  It is a matter of Spirit.  For Art is a spiritual matter.  It is a matter of the Heart.

The Questioner is silent.

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Gratitude List 818

1. The birds are chirping outside my window; and not only that, but the sky is getting light at only 4:45 am.  It just feels so right to be up early and to see all this stuff happening out of my very own rented window.   I loved hearing the birds chirp at four in the morning when I slept on layers of cardboard on the dirt outside of East Bay Area Works.  And now that I have a nice one-bedroom apartment in a secluded setting nestled within an idyllic art-positive community, I love to hear them chirping even more.

2. Slept solidly for four hours last night – but I mean solidly.  At this stage, that’s fine.

3. Really good two mile run last night.  I was fleet.   One nice thing about the heat wave is that it’s going to be super nice to run in the early mornings (like at around this time) and also the evenings, when it’s nice and cool.

4. Thankful I’m not going to have to worry about wearing the spikes when I run.

5. Yesterday I both meditated for the second time (in this phase) and ran for the second time (in this phase) – and I mean back to back.   It’s one of the many reasons it’s so wonderful to be living with the woman I love.  She motivates me to do all the right things.

6. Adora Myers has my vote.  I don’t know what office we can get her to run for, but when she does, she has my vote.

7. In a few short hours, my 32 year old daughter will be driving up from California.  Starting tomorrow night, her car will be parked in my apartment parking lot.  So nice of her to offer us all three its use, as needed.  I will now get a State of Idaho driver license, and be driving again – for the first time in 14 years.

8. All four of my singers should be showing up to rehearse the music from Eden in Babylon tonight at the church containing the Baldwin grand piano I’ve been playing daily, the church that actually let me have a key to the building.  I also was able to reduce the cost of the demo by $125 by rearranging the men’s parts after one of the basses had to drop out.   So I only have $150 more to raise — and my demo will be affordable.  After all this time!

9. I don’t have a penny to my name; and yet I am more blessed than any man.

10. The Lord my God is Good.

Is Poverty a Choice?

I occasionally encounter the “poverty is a choice” mentality, but I can’t help but notice that those who say this often have never been poor and have no real idea what the details of poverty are like. There’s something a bit odious about a rich person trying to tell a person who has been poor and disadvantaged since birth that their poverty is a “choice.”

That said, I have chosen to remain poor at this time in my life, largely because I dislike the effects that having a lot of money has had on certain lifelong old friends of mine. I’ve watched them pursue money, property, and prestige — and I have not watched them become happy. Some of them are downright miserable.

I also dislike the effects that having had a lot of money has had on me. There have been times in my past when I had more money than I knew what to do with. I can sit here without money and dream about all the nice things I would do with a few thousand dollars, but the actual reality is that whenever I encounter money upwards of $5,000 or so, it has a tendency to vanish very rapidly. This leads to a lot of anxieties as to who my actual friends are on this planet. They sure do show up when I have money – whoever they are. I think I’ll remain poor, thank you.

As a poor person, I do not have to worry about who my real friends are. Nobody ever asks me for money, because I don’t have any. A rich person often wonders if somebody is actually his friend, or if they only want their money. I don’t have that worry. If somebody happens to like me, I know that it’s me they like – not my money.

wiser still though poorAs a poor person, I get to work on my inner spiritual issues around money without fear of spending a whole lot of it in the process. Nobody is advising me to go on an expensive retreat or pay for long-term psychotherapy, because both those options are financially out of the question. I find this refreshing, because an hour’s conversation with a caring friend usually works better than several sessions with a psychotherapist. Not to mention, the friend actually cares about me, whereas there’s a good chance the therapist mostly wants my money.  And of course, the friend probably won’t “charge” me anything more than the price of a cup of coffee.  

As a poor person, I actually enjoy running out of money on around the 10th of each month and challenging myself to live without money for the rest of the month. I have found that this is not at all an impossibility; and I believe that I have become a stronger person as a result of this challenge.

As a poor person, I have been able to sit down and write an entire musical — book, music & lyrics — about Homelessness in America. I wrote it from the heart, because I felt the themes I was putting into musical and dramatic form.  When I was a working composer, I wrote money for commission.  I felt forced to write songs, and the pressure of deadlines drastically reduced the authenticity of my work.   

My point? It has to do with integrity. As a poor person, I have developed integrity, and I am proud of the person I have become. When I had money, I had no integrity. I only had money.

When I say, for example. that I am looking for money to pay for singers, musicians, and studio costs to create a demo recording of a few songs from that musical, I mean what I say.  The money will not go into pocket, because I have trained myself to live on minimal means. This is a much happier choice than the earlier kind of choice I made, at a time when I had no inclination to detach myself from worldly concerns.  When I was well-off, my life was all about worldly stuff — passing stuff.  My life as a poor person is all about spiritual stuff — everlasting stuff. Does that make any sense to anyone?

If it does, I’m glad. At this point, I think it’s a lot more likely that 1,000 poor people will each kick down five bucks apiece for me to package this musical of mine, than it is that five rich people will each kick down a thousand bucks. When I talk to wealthy people about my ideas, I have to filter though all kinds of annoying perceptions that they think I’m some kind of a “con artist” or “scammer” or “hustler” trying to put one over on them somehow. When I talk with poor people about my ideas, they usually say: “Great idea, man! I hope that works out for you!” Which experience would you rather have? I think it’s a no-brainer, quite frankly.

Poverty in America is not, for most people, a choice. It is a condition. I myself have made the choice to remain poor, because I don’t care for the effects that money has had on myself and others. Therefore any money toward this project goes to my assistant Danielle — because I have a problem with money (obviously!) and she does not.

I will now cease these deliberations, lest I be construed for having a hidden agenda. My agenda is not hidden — it’s about as open as they come. Information on my project is on my home page, in case anyone’s interested in pursuing this theme a bit further.

I’m not a person who wants money or fame. Been there, done that, too old for all of that. I’m a person who wants to get an important message across about Classism in America. I placed my message in musical-dramatic form — because that’s where I’m strong.

Money is where I’m weak. So, while poverty may not be a choice in most parts of the world, it is my choice. Any other choice, in my 65 years of life experience, has led to disaster.

Thank you for hearing me out.

Note: this post was first submitted on the site Quora, which I am acknowledging in honor of their terms of service.  

 

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The Homeless Monologue

This is in response to a Quora question, to the effect of one’s wondering why so many homeless people seem to be talking to themselves quite a bit.  I didn’t contest this perception.  I did my best to explain the phenomenon, and also referenced another writer who had done the same.  

I appreciated the answer of Adora Myers because this is a side not often seen in the homeless equation.

It is true that a person suffering from paranoid schizophrenia will often believe that s(he) is talking with those who are not actually there. It is also true that many schizophrenics, as well as people suffering from severe PTSD and other mental illnesses, are too ill to effectively access treatment, or else they lack privilege which would render treatment more accessible to them. So they wind up on the streets, more-or-less by default. This is a very sad state of affairs.

invisibleHowever, it is also true that people who have become homeless in large urban areas, especially where there is a sizable concentration of other homeless people, will feign or play-act the known symptoms of these mental disorders in order to protect themselves by making themselves more frightening to would-be assailants and thieves.

I know this to be true, because I did it myself. When I was homeless, I walked around a city that contained over a thousand visible homeless people. As I did so, I composed music in my head. This meant playing drums on my pants legs, guitars and keyboards in the air, and singing tell-tale syllabic sounds such as “Bop Bop Bop” in a manner that conceivably could be construed to be obnoxious.  

People frequently told me to “shut the f—k up” but they also had a way of keeping a distance from me. So this “act” worked in my favor.

Incidentally, I would guess that only about 30% of onlookers realized that I was actually a serious musician in the process of composing music. The other 70% shrugged and said, if they knew me by name: “That’s just Andy. He’s one of the local wingnuts.” If they did not know me by name that was reduced to: “Wingnut.”

Of the 30% who perceived I was writing music, I would say that probably 20% of them appreciated what I was doing. The other 10% frequently showed up with smartphones facing me and grim expressions on their faces, giving me the distinct idea they were out to steal my stuff.

So much for life in the Big City. Glad to be indoors — and far away from all that particular noise.

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Anything Helps – God Bless!