Gratitude List 1556

1) Though we’re rapidly returning to real-life settings in these parts, I am thankful for the experience of Zoom and for the Zoom meetings I will continue to enjoy.  I imagine this would include my weekly Monday afternoon meeting with Kurt the linguistics expert.  Although it hasn’t happened yet, I always enjoy it, and usually learn new things.

(2) I’m thankful for all the professors I met in the two theology groups I discovered a while back.  On Thursday I met with Nick, a professor emeritus of philosophy who was the director of religious studies at the University here.  We had a wonderful conversation, in which he expressed his interest in my musical as well as theology.   I’m thankful he’d listened to Talking Shop Part Seven and Reaching for Your Hand, because he had useful observations as well as encouraging things to say.

(3) In the past year and a half, it seems that a niche has been prepared for me in the local journalism community.   I now count 22 columns I’ve had published in Spokane Faith and Values, where I’ve met numerous journalists with whom I am able to network.  Also thankful for all the local journalists I’ve met here in town, and at the University.

(4) Keva and I met again on Sunday.  We dd a new recording of “Reaching for Your Hand” in which we used two iPhones spaced strategically in different spots near singer and piano.   I’m in the process of mixing it down for my SoundCloud.   We also did a video of a song I wrote called “I Am the Blues.”  On examining her work closely, I told Keva she should feel free to interpret my songs as she chooses.  She does have that power, that gift.

(5) I’ve been meeting one to one with people who are interested in reinstating a musical workshop for the summer.  It won’t be the same exact team, but I am encouraged by the genuine interest and enthusiasm I am finding in those with whom I meet.  It’s been wonderful to have slowly realized in recent months that I am not the only person who enjoys working on my musical.   It’s been wonderful overall to have gradually discovered that I am no longer isolated, no longer alone.

“I realized if you can change a classroom, you can change a community, and if you change enough communities you can change the world.”
   — Erin Gruwell

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Gratitude List 1555

(1) Though I’d felt tired and innervated for weeks, my energy level definitely increased throughout last week and on into the start of this week.  Walking into town, I easily turned left and scaled up a hill that often has intimidated me.  A roundabout route through campus was not only beautiful, but brisk.  Moreover, I notice I’m getting to bed early these days and waking up like clockwork at the same time every morning, very naturally.   Grateful for the gift of health.

(2) Wrote a column for the religious news site, first one since the five-week series.   Kurt had a chance to go through it with suggested edits, many of which I accepted, prior to turning it in yesterday.  (It’s about hidden meaning that may be found in the pandemic.)  Grateful for this writing gig, and for all the journalists I’ve met here who encourage me.

(3) Had a wonderful experience yesterday providing special music at the United Church, where Cody is the regular church pianist on staff.  He played the service with great sensitivity, and Pastor Jodie preached a provocative sermon.  I played my “very Irish” version of Be Thou My Vision, and it was a warm, spirited occasion.

(4) Keva’s delivery of Reaching for Your Hand is almost too good for me to listen to.  She was practically sight-reading off of a score on her smartphone — that’s how little we had practiced it – and yet she nailed it.  I knew she was good, but I didn’t know she was that good!   I gave her another song I wrote for female voice called “I Am the Blues” that we’re practicing to record on Sunday.

(5) Getting up at 4:30 every morning again has been good for my spiritual health.  My friend Danielle in Georgia leaves at 7:45 to drive to work, and so at 4:45am PST we often have a conversation.  Lately the conversations have been very encouraging, mostly about how to be forgiving, in an ongoing way, in human relationships, and how we can feel free to solve our problems knowing that we are forgiven, for we can see ourselves without shame.  It’s inspiring how both Danielle and I have been positively influenced by our respective churches over the past few years.    There is new life all around me, and I am grateful.

If you can’t fly then run, if you can’t run then walk, if you can’t walk then crawl, but whatever you do you have to keep moving forward.
   –Martin Luther King, Jr.  

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Gratitude List 1549

(1) Exercise appears to have been reinstated, with corresponding weight loss in the works.   I ran 2 1/2 miles three days ago, walked four miles briskly the day after, and eight whole miles yesterday – though it was only brisk throughout the first four miles thereof.   Though innervated today, I’m confident I’ll have a good run tomorrow morning.

(2) Working on the 5th and final column of my five-part series for Spokane Faith and Values.   This one should drive the point home.   I’m grateful for the opportunity to have aired this particular viewpoint, at this time.

(3) Beautiful weather we’ve been having lately, which made the walk up and down the hills circling campus very pleasant yesterday, as well as quite brisk on the uphill at the start.   Today’s a shade on the cloudy side, but I like it a lot.   Reminds me of San Francisco.

(4) We closed out our pandemic-based Eden in Babylon workshop yesterday, with tears of joy and thanksgiving on my part.  I’m deeply moved that these people seemed to show up out of nowhere — talented, dedicated singer/actors, who helped me more than they know.   We also recorded three more songs — “Midnight Screams,” “Daylight,” and “The Urban Elegy” — with piano, singing and professional sound design on the part of Liam Marchant.   The band will keep rehearsing every Monday indefinitely, but outside of further future podcasts that Kelsey Chapman and I are planning, the involvement of the singer/actors is formally complete.   The whole having been uniquely beautiful, I’m sure we’ll all stay in touch.

(5) I finished the new version of the script on March 12th, the first revision since December 21st, incorporating everything we learned in the workshop, and then some.   I’m standing on new ground spiritually, and thankful, and taking heed lest I fall.

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A Hand Up

The fourth column in my five-week series on homelessness was published yesterday on the religion-related site Spokane Faith and Values.  Below is a transcript of the piece.  

It was when Nadine Woodward was running for Mayor of Spokane that I first heard Tracy Simmons speak. When I heard Ms. Woodward’s campaign slogan, “a hand up, not a hand out,” I felt compelled to comment. A handout to the homeless, she claimed, has a way of “enabling them.”

“It does enable them,” I blurted out.

Suddenly, I felt as though everybody in the room was looking at me.

“I was homeless for years in the San Francisco Bay Area,” I explained. “All that a constant string of handouts did for me was to keep me homeless.

Now perhaps that sentiment is misleading. We all need to eat. Jesus fed the hungry without qualification. Does anyone say, “All Jesus did was give them a hand-out?” That’s usually not the way it’s framed.

On the other hand, for five years I watched as a plethora of self-care items was freely distributed to whoever figured out where to find them. There were socks on Mondays, a laundry room on Tuesdays, and razors on Wednesdays. There were 35 free meals a week in the city where I slept outdoors. Many people took continual advantage of these services.

In fact, it began to look as though the same people were showing up for all these events, year after year. There was a noticeable tribe in the making, whose members were a mixed bag.

First, there were those who were disabled, who showed up with caregivers–those for whom the community meal was a part of their planned itinerary. A second group was of a criminal bent, in and out of jail, and discussing their adventures openly. Still others had merely fallen upon hard times. But by and large, the bulk of those who frequented homeless services were clearly sane, competent, and able to work.

So why did they remain there?

For one thing, it isn’t easy for a person who lives outdoors to find a job. Homeless people are disadvantaged. I recall how one of my applications was rejected because I didn’t own a cell phone. Another time, I couldn’t afford the fingerprint check. There was a $35 fee, and I wasn’t able to come up with the money fast enough. It isn’t easy for a homeless person to impress a prospective employer.

Numerous obstacles stand in the way of a homeless person arriving at an interview. They may not be able to shower in time, or obtain decent clothing. They may not be able to manage the public transit to get them there. Even if they succeed at showing up on time and looking sharp, the interviewer may notice that they lost a job three years ago, and haven’t landed one since.

Their credit score may not be pristine. Worse yet, their mailing address may only be a Post Office Box. Why are they not providing their home address? Could they possibly be homeless? How can a homeless person be trusted with a responsible position? Aren’t they all lazy, and perennially unemployed?

“On to the next applicant,” the interviewer frowns.

Ironically, the fallacy that all homeless people are lazy is often what prevents them from being hired. This leads to the sixth inequity that I have wanted to discuss:

It was often thought that because we were homeless, our lives were consigned to a countless string of handouts. It was seldom considered that our lives might be changed through a single hand-up instead.

Here’s How a Hand Up Works

Consider my own experience. Over a period of twelve years, how much money do you think went into feeding me and occasionally providing me with temporary lodging? Easily, thousands upon thousands of dollars, subsidized by the taxpayers of America.

How much money went into ending twelve years of homelessness in the Bay Area?

Exactly $600.

Seriously! That’s all it took. Once I was finally ready to get inside, I found someone who believed in me enough to front me $200 for a one way ticket to a brand new life. Shortly later, that person spotted me $200 for a deposit on my first place of residence. Granted, the place was an old, run-down hotel whose rooms had been converted to “apartments.” But it was still a roof over my head–with a decent mailing address, to boot.

On July 27, 2016, I arrived in the State of Idaho. On September 1st, I signed a one-year-lease. On September 6, I interviewed for a church job. Shortly later, I was hired. This was after years of being considered “unemployable” in California — only because I lived outdoors.

Over the next few weeks, I received four $50 loans from my benefactor. The money went to necessities such as clothing, toiletries, and a photo ID. He and I stayed in touch for a while, and then, by and by, parted ways.

Would it be too much to ask the privileged people of America to walk up and down the sidewalks, talk to the people who sit there daily, get to know them, and decide for themselves who would benefit from a $600 hand-up?

To be sure, many would decline. And even those who accepted would face a rather daunting task. It isn’t easy to discern who would put the hand-up to good use. It takes time to get to know people – and homeless people are no exception. The hand-up I’ve described did not take place in a single day.

But it did take place — and it did work. The role of a single benefactor cannot be discounted. But the main factor in my success was that I left all of my homeless stigma behind.

Think About It

I am not alone. There are millions of people scattered about the streets of North American cities. People who once were your next-door neighbors — who once looked very much like you. And now, due to the pandemic, a new upsurge in homelessness is on the rise. This consists largely of people who, just over a year ago, were working and faithfully keeping up on their rents and mortgages.

How logical is it to assume that all of them are “losers” and “lazy bums?”

How compassionate is it to turn a cold shoulder? To shrug and say: “There are services for people like you!”

How realistic is it to suppose that “services” will suffice to do what must be done?

How courageous is it to wash your hands of the matter, and refuse to associate with people who don’t look like me and you?

How open-minded is it to shun the homeless on the streets, and walk past them as though they were things — and not human beings?

The Answer Begins with You

I challenge anyone who has $600 to spare — and granted, that may not be many — to walk up and down the streets of Spokane and talk to homeless people, as you would talk to any other human being.

Talk about the ball game. Talk about the concert. Talk about your relationship hassles. Get to know these human beings who are no less human than you are. Find out their interests, their passions, their fields of expertise. Find out how much you have in common with these people who are just like you.

And if you have $6000 to spare, you know what to do. I guarantee you there are a lot more than ten people on those streets who don’t need to be there. If you have $60,000 to spare, you know where to spare it.

I’m not saying it will be easy. But the solution to the homeless problem in America does not lie in programs and institutions. It lies in removing the veil of stigma from the picture of the homeless individual.

Shelters and services may play a part, but they will never work effectively until this one thing has been secured. Just as I said in my very first column, we need to strengthen our weakest link. We need to see in every homeless person the book of humanity that we have judged by its cover. And our common humanity, one to another, must be revealed.

That book of humanity is a far more informative document than you might think. And that’s what my next column will be all about.

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Gratitude List 1548

(1) A lady from my church came over two days in a row, helped me clean the house, and showed me how to fix the toilet too. I learned all kinds of things about housecleaning that my own mother never taught me. As a result, I’m enthused about maintaining a nicer, cleaner place.

(2) After wrangling over it for three days in a spirit of merciless self-criticism, I have completed the first draft of my fourth column for the five-week series on Spokane Faith and Values. I submitted it to Kurt, the retired linguistics professor (and the man with the beret whom you see in Microcosm.) His edits on my second column were very helpful, and I look forward to more of the same.

(3) Looks like I’m losing weight again.  Haven’t been running so much, but have been enjoying long brisk walks in the morning and at night.  I use them as a time for prayer and reflection.  They also help to deflect the fact that I’ve got a lot of food in my cupboard these days, and that I’ve a tendency to munch.  Grateful, however, not to be going without.

(4) Mixes are starting to come in from our studio session Sunday before last.   New versions of “Hunted,” “Oracle,” and “Turns Toward Dawn” are available.   The last of these three clips is by far the best, earning us a wonderful commendation from the head of the jazz department at the Conservatory.   

(5) Our church met indoors for the first time yesterday.   We still wore masks and social-distanced.  It was well-coordinated and well-attended, and it made me feel warm inside.   I keep getting a sense that something really positive is in the works.  I can’t quite put my finger on it — but that doesn’t mean it isn’t real.   

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Further Inequities

The third column in my five-week series on homelessness was published yesterday on the religion-related site Spokane Faith and Values.  Below is a transcript of the piece.  

Since this series began, I have been observing the nature of comments and reactions to my words.  As a result, it strikes me that a few things may need to be clarified.

When I use the word “we” in reference to my experience, I refer specifically to the Berkeley-based homeless community in which I participated between the years 2011 and 2016.  But I have also found that my statements generally hold true for those who have experienced long-term homelessness in other urban areas. 

Also, when I speak in past tense, I refer to specific events that took place throughout the entire 12-year period when I struggled with homelessness.  But again, I believe it stands to reason that the nature of such events is universal.

I am not here to discuss shelters and services. Such discussions can take place anywhere.  I am here to issue a call that we accept and respect those who continue to live outdoors — at a time when more and more people are beginning to do so. 

That said, I’m going to breeze through the next three inequities, to further fortify my statement.

There Are Other Topics of Conversation

If was often thought that homeless people should discuss only homelessness, at the expense of other topics.  It was seldom thought that homeless people, like all other people, should be permitted to discuss any topic they please.

A young person said to me once: “I would have no idea what to say to a homeless person.”

“That’s easy,” I replied.  “Talk to them about anything except homelessness.

You have no idea how refreshing it was when somebody approached me and began to discuss the ball game, the concert, or their most recent argument with their partner.  Conversations in which we were treated as human beings, not as homeless people, were a breath of fresh air. 

It was alarming how many people seemed to think that the only thing that should have been on our minds was our homelessness. Can you imagine if your new neighbor were Black or Hispanic, and the first thing you did was to approach them and discuss their ethnicity?  That’s the way it felt when people insisted on discussing our homelessness with us. 

So, if like my young friend, you are uncertain what to say in the presence of a person who is experiencing homelessness, consider my advice. Unless they bring it up first, talk about anything other than homelessness. Try it – you just might make their day. 

A Homeless Person Has a Need for Privacy

It was often thought that because one was homeless, one had sacrificed their “right to privacy.” It was seldom considered that homeless people need as much privacy as people who live behind closed doors.  

While it is debatable that our right to privacy is guaranteed in the 4th Amendment, I will assert that the 4th Amendment ought to apply equally to homeless citizens as well as to those who live indoors. The problem with a homeless person’s “right to privacy” stems from the fact that, living outdoors, most of the time there simply isn’t any. 

Yet homeless people need to relieve themselves, just like any other kind of person. But indoor bathrooms are often inaccessible. I remember walking the streets of Berkeley for an hour and a half once, trying to find a public bathroom that wasn’t locked. When I finally sneaked behind a bush to do the job, can you imagine how it felt to be viewed with suspicion?

Of course I was viewed with suspicion! Why does somebody sneak behind a bush? Doesn’t everybody have a bathroom? Surely the homeless person was bugging out to “do some drugs.” If a homeless person sneaks into an alleyway, that person probably needs to urinate. But how often is this the public perception? People are more likely to think that the homeless person is sneaking off to “do a drug deal.” And then, once found urinating, they risk getting a scolding, if not an indecent exposure charge.

The fact of the matter is that those who live outside do not have easy access to bathrooms. Those who live inside generally do.  

As for the cops who often woke me in the middle of the night, in order to “search my backpack for drugs” and “run my criminal record,” I can truthfully attest that there were never any drugs in my backpack, nor did I have a criminal record.  But if searching my backpack against my will was not a violation of my 4th Amendment Rights, I’m not sure what it was. 

Many Homeless People Have Jobs

It was often thought that because a person was homeless, their homelessness would be cured if they got a job. It was seldom considered that if a person were homeless, their homelessness would be cured if they found a place to live.  

It was also often assumed that a homeless person didn’t already have a job.  Yet, according to the National Coalition for the Homeless,  40 – 60% of people experiencing homelessness move in and out of jobs. It is also estimated that about 25% of homeless people are working at any given time. I myself took at least four jobs in my field when I was homeless — temporary contracts as a musical director or accompanist at places like Children’s Musical Theatre San Jose and Peninsula Teen Opera. 

While 25% might seem a relatively low figure, it actually testifies tremendously to the fact that homeless people generally want to be working. When we consider the obstacles that homeless people face toward becoming employed — many of which are listed in this excellent article, the figure begins to look quite high.  Moreover, while it is often thought that people become homeless due to “drug addiction,” it is factually evident that most people become homeless due to having lost their jobs.  

There was a common catch-22 that abounded in the realm of outdoor living: “I can’t get a job until I have a place to live, and I can’t get a place to live without a job.” 

But because of rising costs of rents, many of us would rather avoid rentals entirely, and focus on making enough money to survive. It wasn’t the most pleasant use of our energies, but often it was the most essential.

All five of the inequities I have thus far delineated stem from a single evil.  That evil is in the dehumanization of the homeless individual. We were not regarded, in general, as people who were equal to others. It was not considered that we were human beings having inalienable rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. It was instead believed that we had to sacrifice our rights — only because we lived outdoors.

Many of us were unwilling to make that sacrifice. And this leads to the inequity that will be discussed in my next column. You may expect it to validate everything I’ve been trying to express since this series began.

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Gratitude List 1652

(1) Health and self-care have been distinctly better since having finally finished a very challenging and unanticipated task. Actually got eight hours sleep the night before last, and six hours last night. Starting to run again – did three miles in the snow with my NanoSpikes. Sat down to meditate thereafter, and though I slept through most of the twenty minutes, it still seemed beneficial.

(2) Finished the first column for the five-week series on Spokane Faith and Values. Completed a draft of the second column, which I’m about to edit and submit. Grateful for the opportunity.

(3) It was nice to hear my daughter introduce me to a friend of hers yesterday by saying: “This is my dad Andy.  He was on the streets for like thirteen years and now he’s a published journalist and widely respected, and they’re producing a musical he wrote about youth homelessness.”  (A bit hyperbolic on both ends, but still nice to hear.) Grateful for a daughter who is proud of me.

(4) Big night tonight, if Cooper doesn’t get snowed out on the mountainous 30 mile drive.  Five musicians and five singers are going to be gathering with sound engineer and all kinds of recording equipment, hopefully to record “Sirens of Hope” and “Turns Toward Dawn” before we lose Cooper to a lead in a TV series.   (Asking for prayer).  

(5) Observed a very restful Sabbath on Saturday, which no doubt contributed to the unprecedented eight hours of sleep.  One thing I did do was fix the ending to Desperado.  It was a labor of love as opposed to all the stressful stuff that constitutes “work” in our high-pressure, fast-paced society.  You might check it out — we all need to let Somebody love us — before it’s too late.

The moment one definitely commits oneself, then Providence moves too. Whatever you think you can do, or believe you can do, begin it. Action has magic, power and grace. — Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

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Gratitude List 1651

(1) Finally got that huge project concerning the time signature change out of the way.  Even got inspired in the process and heard some cool three part harmonies in my head that I was able to add to the score.   The result is a 12-page combined vocal, bass and guitar score to my song The Word from Beyond.  I’m not only proud of my work, I am relieved and thankful to have finished it.

(2) Really enjoyed the Coffee Talk on Saturday morning. I always enjoy hearing the perspectives of all the religious journalists, and often more so, the atheists who are clearly freethinkers and untainted by dogmatic doctrine.

(3) One of the Kids came over and helped me clean up the house.  Got a jump start anyway – still gotta do the bathroom.  She sang while she worked, too.  Nice to have supportive people in my life.

(4) I agreed with my editor-in-chief to a five-week series on a certain theme, to begin on the 17th and run for five consecutive Wednesdays.   Also, my Hobo, Homeless or Houseless piece will be published this Wednesday.   So I get six in a row — this could lead to something even better.

(5) I hope you enjoy this rehearsal version of The Urban Elegy that we did yesterday.  It’s a rough recording, but the essence of the song is there.   You can hear the Wendt Brothers harmonies as well as solos by Zazen and Keva, and four part harmonies throughout.   I’m proud of these young Artists.  We’re all proud — and I’m grateful.

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Gratitude List 1646

(1) True to resolution, I’ve been exercising much more and spending much less time on the Internet.  Mostly I’ve been engaging in long brisk walks.  I’m losing weight and feeling a bit more heightened, spiritually speaking.

(2) Just dropped off my monthly rent check at the landlord’s office — a monthly ritual as of over three years now.

(3) Grateful for the $300 anonymous donation sent to Danielle’s pool, followed by the $600 relief check.

(4) I was granted an honorable mention among eight other journalists for having placed in the top ten of every category in the annual awards ceremony conducted by Spokane Faith and Values.  Also my column on the recent anti-maskers stunt placed No. 8 in the Top Ten opinion pieces of 2020.

(5) It was recently very freeing to make an unpopular decision for the benefit of the greater good.  It was liberating to release the unpopular information, with my reasons.  It had been such a burdensome thing, holding it all in.  I have faith we’ll move forward in liberation from here.

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Gratitude List 1633

(1) I’ve recently noticed a direct correlation between the quality of my sleep and the quality of my exercise the previous day. Thankful for the ability to exercise vigorously. Thankful for sleep, and for a safe and quiet place in which to obtain it.

(2) My daughter and I have been writing a song together, our first collaboration. It’s about ghosting. We’re going to try to record it thousands of miles apart and present it on our respective platforms. Excited about this!

(3) Thankful for a budding new friendship here in town, with an intelligent journalist whose ideas appeal to me and with whose life-situations I can identify. I’d thought we’d made fast friends, then it seemed he may have ghosted me. So I withdrew and didn’t pester him, and now it appears that we’re still friends, as the other day I ran into him and we had a fine conversation.

(4) I finished the vocal score that had been hanging over me. Now I can focus on doing the edits for the Audio Show. Good to be in the groove.

(5) Grateful that Governor Little rolled Idaho back to “Stage Two.” No gatherings of over ten people are allowed. I’ve returned to more intensive sheltering in place, and the team is working toward doing the Audio Show from our various abodes. Thankful that life seems a bit more well-defined now. Thankful as always for the Gift of Life.

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Eleventh Hour Appeal

Wrote this yesterday in a spontaneous reaction to the Spokesman-Review having endorsed Donald Trump for President. This morning, Tracy Simmons published it on Spokane Faith and Values — all 1829 words of it — and did not change one word. This appeal is directed at fellow followers of Jesus Christ who may still be undecided as to which way their vote will be cast tomorrow. I hope it helps.

Will 82% of Evangelicals Really Vote for Trump? 

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Gratitude List 1624

(1) I just turned in my October column for Spokane Faith and Values concerning the use and abuse of Holy Scripture. Grateful to have gotten it done, and grateful for this ongoing opportunity.

(2) I recently channeled an insane crush by writing three stream-of-consciousness sonnets in iambic pentameter. Seems a good thing to do when strange feelings occasionally distract. Got them posted on the Sonnets Page in case anyone’s down to take a peek. (Go ahead and laugh, by the way, I won’t be offended.) Grateful for WordPress, since it gives me a nice place to post my various pieces.

(3) Began pastoral counseling again today. My pastor and I are meeting on Zoom every Monday at 1:30 now. We got off to a really good start, and I’m grateful.

(4) A lady from my church gave me a ride to Winko’s and back so I could stock up on a month’s worth of groceries. Grateful for the help, and for my own kitchen, and for the pleasure of being able to eat my own kind of food — the kind of food I enjoy.

(5) Last but not least, I am moved to tears with gratitude for the talent and devotion of the current musical team. These wonderful young people remain a joy and inspiration to me at this trying time in all of our lives.

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Tuesday Tuneup 86

Q. What’s happening now?

A. Paralysis.

Q. Meaning?

A. I can’t move.

Q. Can’t?

A. Well — maybe “won’t” would be a better word.

Q. Can you tell us the difference, please?

A. “Can’t” connotes actual inability. “Won’t” only connotes unwillingness.

Q. Are you saying, therefore, that you actually can move, but only that you won’t move?

A. Actually, now that you mention it, I not only can move, but I probably will move — eventually.

Q. Eventually? What’s keeping you from moving right now?

A. I don’t know which way to move.

Q. Why is that?

A. I could move in a number of different directions. But I don’t know which is best.

Q. How can you find out which is best?

A. Obviously, by examining the nature of each different direction, and deciding which direction is the priority.

Q. Well then! What are the various directions?

A. I could work on the three columns of the five columns in the series that I have not yet turned in.

Q. Columns? Series?

A. You heard me! My editor wants to do a series of my columns, one after another I believe, with some regularity, between now and Election Day.

Q. What happens on Election Day?

A. God only knows. But the point is, I have three more columns to turn in before Election Day. And in fact, I have stated that I would get them done within the next three weeks.

Q. So – is that the top priority?

A. Not necessarily. But it’s the first thing that comes to mind.

Q. What else must you do?

A. I’m getting frightfully near the completion of a die-hard project that I began in June. Only a few short steps remain in order to complete it.

Q. What project is that?

A. It’s called the Ode Project.

Q. Ode? As in “Ode to Joy?”

A. As in “Ode to the Universe.”

Q. What is “Ode to the Universe?”

A. It’s a crazy concept I came up with about ten years ago. I had the idea to write a zany “ode” designed to be sung by anybody at anytime, anywhere around the globe, to the end that maybe we could get the entire human race together at one moment, and sing one song at one time — to the Universe.

Q. Isn’t that a bit ambitious?

A. I can do it! I truly can!

Q. Now is this really a priority on this particular morning, when you have all those columns to write?

A. No no – let me explain. So far I have nine videos of nine people performing the piece in different places and different times, accumulated over the past four months or so. I’m supposed to submit the videos to the videographer, who will then create a nice 3 by 3 set of frames, and —

Q. May I interrupt?

A. You already have.

Q. How long will this take you?

A. Well, I’m nearing the end — I have to do my video over — I think the mix of the nine performances needs to be synchronized a bit better — I can’t quite find the trumpet player’s video – and the trumpeter has not gotten back to me about it —

Q. So you don’t know how long it’s going to take, correct?

A. Correct. It may be nearing completion, but it depends on a number of unknown variables.

Q. So is there anything else you need to do today? I mean, on this very day?

A. Yes.

Q. What, may I ask?

A. I need to add three more piano tracks to this folder, so maybe my cast members will be able to listen to them before we rehearse them at 3:30 this afternoon.

Q. What time is it now?

A. About 10:30 in the morning.

Q. So you have five hours?

A. Correct.

Q. To record three songs on the piano?

A. Well, the sooner I do them, the sooner they’ll have them.

Q. How difficult will that be?

A. Not difficult at all.

Q. So what’s keeping you?

A. Nothing, anymore — now that we’ve thought it through.

Q. We?

A. Don’t you know two heads are better than one?

The Questioner is silent.

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The Conspiracy Theorist

This is the ninth of my monthly columns to have been published for Spokane Faith and Values. I’m going to rev up my search engine and churn out three more columns prior to Election Day in an effort to do my part, and then probably break for a while to work full time on my new musical, Eden in Babylon.

The Mindset of the Conspiracy Theorist and Matthew 7:5-3

Because of certain aspects of my background, I have been quicker than most to let people experiencing homelessness stay at my house. Sometimes too quick.

Twice I had people over whom one might classify as conspiracy theorists. One of them, a Q-Anon adherent, believed that the FBI & CIA were watching her and her ex-husband. The other guest told me of conversations he’d had with Bill Clinton and Steve Bannon, and also claimed to be suing 17 States in a case of mistaken identity.  His tales were very tall, involving altercations with multiple federal agents, from which he always emerged victorious. Furthermore, he claimed to know the brother and ex-husband of the first person I’d had over, even though I’m fairly certain that she and he, coming from two entirely different parts of the country, had never met. 

I noticed that each of these people had one trait in common. Each of them blamed all of their misfortunes on other people, and neither took much responsibility for their own choices. It then struck me that we have a president today who not only gives lip service to conspiracy theories, but consistently blames anybody but him for what is going wrong in the nation.  

But let’s take a look at the raw facts. Forty million Americans have lost their jobs in the past three months. Violent riots are breaking out in many major cities. An untempered pandemic rages chaotically across the country. And worst of all (in my opinion), our country who once identified herself as “one nation under God” is so radically divided, I hesitate to identify as a “moderate” lest I be accused of being a “coward” for not fully embracing one extreme or the other.

And yet, who is responsible for all these problems, according to Donald Trump? From the sounds of him, one would think that the fault belongs to some bizarre combination of Obama, Joe Biden, both Bill and Hillary Clinton, Mitt Romney, anyone else who disagrees with him, somebody somewhere in the Ukraine — and of course, the Chinese.  

It’s also impossible not to notice that a good portion of our president’s followers appear to do the same. Many Trump-supporters would rather focus on unverifiable conspiracies than on the pressing issues that all Americans face today. It makes me wonder how many of them might be “blame-shifters” in their personal lives. My two house guests certainly were. One wonders what exactly is the relationship between blame-shifting and the mind-set of the conspiracy theorist.

In the Wikipedia article on conspiracy theory, a statement in the second paragraph intrigues me.

“Research suggests that conspiracist ideation — belief in conspiracy theories — can be psychologically harmful or pathological, and that it is correlated with psychological projection, paranoia and Machiavellianism.” Interesting that the concept of “projection” emerges as a factor in the conspiracist mind-set.

Psychology Today defines projection as “the process of displacing one’s feelings onto a different person, animal, or object. The term is most commonly used to describe defensive projection–attributing one’s own unacceptable urges to another.”

In this definition, I am stricken by the expression “unacceptable urges.” For the current president, even in some bygone day, to have glorified the urge to grab a woman by her vagina is certainly unacceptable. Yet there are Trump-supporters who believe the details of Q-Anon; to wit, that the president is secretly in the process of outing a group of pedophiles — most of whom appear to be Democrats – who are secretly running the world and even sacrificing children in Satanic rituals.

Combine that with the testimonies of numerous women who have claimed that Mr. Trump has sexually abused them, and another wonder unfolds. Could it possibly be that an abusive misogynist would like for his supporters to think he is anything but?

Jesus said: “Why do you look at the speck in your brother’s eye, but fail to notice the beam in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ while there is still a beam in your own eye? You hypocrite! First take the beam out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.” (Matthew 7:3-5)

As with many of Jesus’ sayings, He spoke this to “those to have ears to hear.” When I read these words, I am often convicted of my own tendency to pin the blame onto others. In some cases, of course, others truly are to blame. But I believe the point that my Lord is making is a universal one.  

All human beings have a natural tendency to blame-shift. When this tendency is activated to the extreme, one just might believe that the United States Government is to blame for their problems.  While one might well be right, on a certain level, one would certainly need to take the “beam” out of their own eye, before being able to see clearly to solve the problems of Uncle Sam.

Finally, if a person is actually involved in a conspiracy or “cabal,” wouldn’t it be convenient to divert attention from their own nefarious doings, and alert people to the supposed existence of an entirely different cabal? 

For all the absurdity of Q-Anon, its adherents often overlook one simple fact. Donald Trump colluded with the Russians in order to rise to power. And that is the conspiracy we all need to be looking at, as we approach Election Day on Nov. 3rd.

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Seventh Column Published on Religious News Site

My seventh column has now been published on Spokane Faith and Values, thanks to editor-in-chief Tracy Simmons.   I wrote it to show how the current combination of a patriotic people who also feel very entitled could easily lead to a spirit of Fascism such as engulfed Nazi Germany in the 30’s.    

Capture

Entitlement and Patriotism 

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Entitlement, Patriotism and Fascism

Submitted to Spokane Faith and Values on May 15, 2020.

We’ve all been hearing recently about protests that are taking place as a reaction to some of the more disturbing ramifications of social distancing. It is only natural that a rebellion should arise, while so many Americans are out of work and forced to stay at home. Naturally, people begin to feel oppressed under such circumstances, and it is to be expected that some would take to the streets.

However, there is something unusual about the nature of these protests. We see people showing up at City Hall with assault rifles, waving American flags, flaming with indignation over their privileges having been removed. Ostensibly, tyrannical governors are to blame. There is a feeling that these anti-American authority figures are exploiting the current crisis in order to rob their constituents of their Constitutional rights.

alt right protesters
Protesters outside City Hall in Topeka, Kansas on April 23, 2020 (Jay Biggerstaff, USA Today Network.)

One such protest occurred in Spokane earlier this month, in response to Gov. Inslee’s having extended the stay-at-home order through the end of May. Their rallying cry was: “Freedom is the cure!”

But let’s examine that statement. Is freedom, in and of itself, a “cure?” What does the word “freedom” suggest in such a context? And what does that freedom cure? Obviously, to put oneself and others at greater risk of contracting a deadly disease could not possibly be a cure for that disease. But what does it cure? Where is the healing power in an excessive show of freedom?

We need to start thinking like Americans again,” one of the protesters is quoted as having said. But how is an American supposed to be thinking in such a situation? Is it “American” to demand personal freedom at the expense of the health of countless others?

It would seem that such an attitude is actually antithetical to the spirit in which this country was founded. Here we have been taught since grade school that each of us has the right to do whatever we want to do, so long as it does not interfere with the rights of others. But the more wanton form of freedom that these protesters appear to be advocating does interfere with the rights of others. If people are going to be congregating in my vicinity without wearing face masks or paying attention to my need that they be safely distanced from me, that interferes with my right to take reasonable care of my health.

So it can’t possibly be really about freedom. What it’s about is entitlement.

In a USA Today article dated April 29th, former Chief of Homeland Security and Governor of Pennsylvania Tom Ridge has this to say:

These self-absorbed and selfish Americans complain they are irritated, anxious, bored, upset — unhappy that their lives have been affected by this temporary restraint on their freedoms.”

Ridge, who was awarded the Bronze Star for Valor for his service in Vietnam, is keen to clarify that true patriotism is not about entitlement – it’s about sacrifice.

In this war against the indiscriminate and lethal enemy, nurses, doctors, ambulance drivers and countless other health care workers are serving on the front lines. While wearing a different uniform, they are surely putting their lives at risk just as I did as a young Army staff sergeant 50 years ago.”

Ridge continues: “As a veteran, I look at these protests with a different perspective and believe many veterans would agree.”

One can only imagine how people displaying such a flagrant sense of entitlement might appear to heroic men and women who have made great personal sacrifices in the service of their country. It is also disturbing that these demands would be associated with “patriotism.” If prisoners of war who loved their country could serve years in foreign jails, why cannot our own citizens, professing that same love for America, last out more than a couple months of sheltering in their own homes?

It is understandable that with all the economic and emotional factors involved, the nature of social distancing would drive a lot of people mad. But that’s not the point I’m driving at. It’s the combination of entitlement with patriotism that is of concern here.

It’s one thing to have an entitled attitude. We run across it all the time. It’s another thing to mix entitlement with nationalism. And where have we seen this before? The spirit in Nazi Germany might not have been much different than this.

Hitler’s followers committed abhorrent atrocities in a spirit of total entitlement. In addition to feeling they had the right to participate in the murder of six million Jews, they felt justified in targeting the weakest elements of society – the disabled, the terminally ill, and the homeless – and sending such people to concentration camps and to their deaths.

While I don’t want to indulge a trendy comparison of modern America to Nazi Germany, I think it is interesting to see where such references emerge and who is saying them. Often, we find people accused of being “Fascist” by the very people whom I observe to be moving in the direction of Fascism.

At a Trader Joe’s in Palo Verdes, California, a woman was kicked out for refusing to wear a mask. Her reaction was captured on video, where she went on and on about this being the “land of the free and the home of the brave.” The inference is that they had no right to remove her from the store. The truth is that store owners have the right to decide on whatever policy they choose.

What is even more interesting is that the people who promulgated this video on youtube, who call themselves the “Lockdown Channel,” refer to the people wearing masks as “sheep” and to those who enforce such rules as “Gestapo.”

She advises the employees and customers that the fear of a pandemic is being used to take away our freedoms, there is no law or reason to wear a mask and that they are acting like Gestapo and Sheep!”

In reality, there is nothing about setting a store policy regarding the wearing of masks that even remotely resembles the actions of a force composed of nearly 600,000 Germans who by the end of World War II were killing thousands of people every day.

But there is something about the combination of entitlement and patriotism that resembles the spirit of Fascism that engulfed Germany in the 30’s. If we are to look at today’s events in light of history and reason, we need to be careful to discern where the nexus between Fascism and America truly lies.

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Theology Afield

“Theology Afield” is a group of spiritual seekers, comprised largely of members of St. Mark’s Episcopal Church in Moscow, Idaho.  Though I am not a member of that church, I was welcomed into that group when we still met in the reading room of our beloved One World Cafe.  Below is an excerpt from our first Zoom meeting, held last Thursday the 16th.   Kenton Bird, the group facilitator and Professor of Journalism at the University of Idaho, asked I and the others a very timely question.

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My Story on Cancel Culture Published in the Spokesman

I had the honor this month of being the guest columnist in the Faith and Values section of the Spokesman-Review, the main newspaper of the city of Spokane, Washington.   The story may be found online here, and a verbatim transcript is below.  

CaptureWhat is cancel culture? In a nutshell, it’s a subculture that consists of people who have eliminated other people from their lives, based on perceptions of their having behaved inappropriately. Those who perform these eliminations also encourage others to eliminate them as well, on the grounds that their offenses are irredeemable, and so no one should have to tolerate them.

None of us particularly relish the futility of arguing against someone’s egregious conduct. But the problems with advocating such a full-fledged “cancellation” of another human being are ultimately more serious than those which arise from that person’s unacceptable behavior in the first place.

On October 29, speaking at an Obama Foundation event, the former president declared: “Among certain young people, and this is accelerated by social media, there is this sense sometimes of: ‘The way of me making change is to be as judgmental as possible about other people’ and that’s enough.”

That’s not activism,” Obama went on. “That’s not bringing about change. If all you’re doing is casting stones, you’re probably not going to get that far.”

It’s interesting that Obama stresses how this phenomenon is propelled by social media. I’ve often been aghast at what people get away with on social media that they couldn’t do in their real, non-wired lives – such as block someone from a group and still participate in that group. In real life, this wouldn’t be possible. You’d either attend the group or not. You wouldn’t be able to simply render yourself invisible to somebody you don’t want to deal with.

But when it comes to cancel culture, people come close to doing just that. Those who have been “cancelled” are not only blocked on social media, but in every aspect of their lives. From that moment on, there is no prospect for redemption on the part of the offenders. They are like condemned buildings, destroyed by the wrecking ball. And who has condemned them? Fallible human beings, who may later find themselves condemned as well.

What about the First Amendment? An open debate over difficult differences is a touchstone of democracy. As Obama said in a speech to college students, as early as 2015: “Anybody who comes to speak to you and you disagree with, you should have an argument with them, but you shouldn’t silence them by saying you can’t come because I’m too sensitive to hear what you have to say.”

What is at the root of such a twisted culture? In a certain light, it can be seen as just another instance of our human urge to seek personal glory at the expense of the greater good. When someone succeeds in calling out an adversary, of course that person feels exalted. As Obama explained: “If I tweet or hashtag about how you didn’t do something right or used the wrong verb, then I can sit back and feel pretty good about myself.”

The idea of removing others from our sight is not something that serves humanity on the whole. It’s self-serving. And it’s been around for a long time. People used to be “banished” in the Middle Ages. Even today, how often do we walk past scores of homeless people on the sidewalks, and act as though they don’t exist?

In my view, we could all open our eyes just a little bit more, and start doing the small things for others that will gradually help us to rebuild a broken society. If we don’t, historically speaking, something will happen to open our eyes for us. And those events have not normally been very pretty.

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An Open Letter to the Community

Sun, 13 Oct 2019 8:17:54 PM -0700
From: Andy Pope
To: Heart of the Arts
Subject: An Open Letter to the Community

To Whom It May Concern:

I’m sensing from everybody’s non-response that everybody thinks I am making a mistake.  If so, everybody is wrong.

Nobody but me is in my head and my body when the peak of unmanageable anxiety strikes.  Why should I risk running out of the church screaming after throwing all my messed up attempts at organizing my work onto the floor?  True, you guys are tolerant.  True, my friend the church secretary was right when she said that very few people would have done what she did afterwards, which was to pick up everything and sort it back together after I threw an apparent tantrum.  But nobody but me is inside my head and my body.  Nobody but me knows that the “tantrum” is an effect of uncontrollable levels of anxiety that are solely produced by a failed attempt to manage vibrations from multiple human entities while trying to focus on the single task of vocal-directing for musical theatre as I always used to be able to do so prior to the Summer of 2017.

I know what you all are thinking. You’re thinking that Opportunity has knocked. You’re thinking that here’s a way for me to “give back” and make a contribution to the community. Well! I would make a much stronger contribution to the community if I sat here at home and finished the vocal score — which is nearly done, honestly, just a few glitches to correct — until it was in such a condition that somebody of the calibre of [Name Withheld] could interpret and direct it (if he wanted to) and somebody of the caliber of [Name Withheld] could actually play it. And they don’t have the problem dealing with the panoroma of discontinuous non-myopic autistic dyslexic blah blah blah that I do. I know everybody else is a nice person and tolerant and a good Christian but if so, why is everybody making me suffer?

It’s because nobody understands the autism spectrum, you all think it’s a moral problem, and the notion that I personally do not have any God-given desire to interact, other than in a superficial way, with any other human being again -let alone two or three or more — is unfathomable to all you social animals.  I’m an Autistic Artist and I Need My Space.

Now about the Summer of 2017. I was already speeding up the tempos before I lost the church job. But I could still VD – I just could. I remember one time taking over a Choir rehearsal and doing it. It was musical theatre style as per high school students as per my experience but the fact was I could do it. I tried the same thing last year, with my own music even, and I could NOT do it. It had to have been what happened throughout the summer of 2017 at the Friendship Apartments.  It hasn’t happened since then — but it left its mark.  PTSD is real.  You guys have gotta grasp that I’m not just whining.

I failed to help my ex-wife, I failed to help my daughter, I failed at vocal-directing my own show last Summer, and I will fail at everything I set out to do henceforth if I don’t wholeheartedly go about doing the one thing I seem to be doing right, which is write.(Other than a play a piano, and that sure isn’t making the O.G. any money. Not in this neck, and not without a car, and I’ll be damned if I try to start driving again after 15 years. Can any of you even imagine it? I’d wipe out on the first day.)

Mortimer J. Adler - Wikipedia
Mortimer Adler

To me this is a no-brainer. Now I’ve been trying to read Mortimer Adler and my reading of even the Prologue was hounded by these thoughts as-yet-unexpressed, so I have expressed them. Hopefully this has not been at the expense of the health of any of the recipients. Anyway this is easy reading and engaging compared to most Philosophy.  I think his thought is very important. I wish my daughter would read it — but this is not about my daughter. It’s about my musical and the heart failure I will have if I re-enter the exact same stress that I couldn’t handle last Summer.

We don’t have a Stage Manager. We don’t truly have a Vocal Director who can handle this score. We don’t have a rehearsal accompanist. All we have is a playwright trying to do five people’s jobs. We don’t even have but four people committed in the cast! How can I pull this thing off with only Kelsey and the Three Girls? It is not possible. I will just be going through the same junk as last Summer.

I’ve already talked to Dave and the deal is off. This show will be produced when it’s good and ready and not a moment before. I am not Superman.

Yes, scoring a piano-vocal score will take forever. Maybe I can find a piano-playing music student with perfect pitch and send them the recordings.  They’ll probably need to get paid.  And that’s another story!  But somebody has to sometime give the O.G. a break, I’m sixty-six, I’m retired, I want to write at home and live a quiet life.  I didn’t write a musical so as to get all wrapped up in its production and have the same kind of nervous breakdown that caused me to become homeless in the first place in 2004.  I do not need to become homeless again.

I wrote a musical so I could make a needed statement to America on an important issue using a medium with which I have a wealth of experience.  My role should be restricted to an occasional show-up at a production staff meeting and a show-up on Opening Night with a date.

Seriously,

Andy

P.S. And this weird idea floating around town that I’m supposed to have a lady friend or some kind of wife or girlfriend has got to be the most preposterous proposal ever propounded. Talk about adding stress to stress!  You guys act like I was born yesterday.  Really!

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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.  

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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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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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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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Lillian

I found this story in a folder containing old timeline posts from around 2015, when I was still homeless.   I submitted it to Alastair Boone, the editor of Street Spirit, for consideration in the January issue.  I hope you gain from these words.   

To say that there are not criminals roaming the streets at all hours of the day and night would do a severe disservice to the truth. But to assume from that observation that every homeless person is a criminal seems a bit pejorative, if you ask me.

Of all the people whom I regularly see at events like the Sunday morning community breakfast, I’m trying to think of who do I know who has not been to jail. Well, let me see here — I haven’t been, and my best African American 50-something friend hasn’t been. That’s about all. Even my best female friend, whom I shall call Lillian, was recently in the Berkeley City Jail for four days.

Which is sick. The woman has had two serious strokes. As a result, she doesn’t speak normally. She has to speak at a louder volume than most, and it takes her a long time to find the words. During the period of time when she is looking to find words, her face makes unusual contortions. But I can guarantee you that her highly intelligent mind knows exactly what she is intending to say. Her neuro-physiological condition only makes her speaking very difficult and uncomfortable.

Homeless Bill of Rights - Building Opportunities for Self ...

This woman has never used drugs other than marijuana, nor does she drink alcohol. People think she is “retarded” because of her stroke. I have even heard people say: “She needs to get off the meth.” I know this person, and others who know her will affirm that she has never used methamphetamine. I am one of the few people who has bothered to get to know her well enough to realize that not only is she not “retarded” — she is actually quite brilliant.

So she’s sleeping in a parking lot on Bancroft, near Peet’s Coffee and Tea, where she meets her Payee in the morning. Three Berkeley City Police cars pull up, tell her she is charged with Trespassing, and hand-cuff her. She tries to explain, in her odd way of forming words: “I was only trying to sleep.” She is then charged with Resisting Arrest.

Two days ago, she comes to my Spot to say she had been in jail for four days. She’s laughing, because she thinks it’s hilarious that someone like her would be sent to jail for something she does every single night; that is to say, sleep. She couldn’t wait to tell me, because, as she says: “I knew you would be sensitive enough to be outraged on my behalf; and insensitive enough to think it was hilarious.”

People who are “retarded” do not come up with such statements. But it’s not hilarious, really. These idiot cops couldn’t tell the difference between a 50-something woman with a serious physical disability, and an irresponsible crook or drug addict invading U.C. campus property. That is just plain sick.

What is the world coming to? It’s getting to where, if you see someone approaching in a wheelchair with a missing leg, you don’t think: “Oh, that’s awful. I wonder how he lost his leg?” You either think: “There’s another hustler, and what does he want from me?” Or else you think: “Look at that screwed up degenerate scum bag.” I swear to God, on a stack of Holy Bibles — this is not the America that I was brought up in.

I am not even asking America to open up her eyes to the plight of her own people. Her eyes are well wide open enough. I ask America to open up her heart – because I am old enough to remember when America was a compassionate nation.

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A little bit goes a long, long way.