(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
(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.
(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.
(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.
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.
(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.
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?
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?
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.
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.
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.
“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.
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.
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.
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” 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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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.
What 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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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.)
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.
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!
Please donate to Eden in Babylon. A little bit goes a long, long way.
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 Boonetook over as editor-in-chief is below. Following that is a verbatim transcript of my article as it appears in the September paper.
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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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.
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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My gratitude list from Sunday afternoon, after a nice long nap.
1. Napped for an hour and a half solidly between 1:30pm & 3pm.
2. Saw my Yamaha electronic piano first thing on awakening, and thought “it’s so nice to have this place of my own.”
3. Actually ate a banana this morning.
4. Am drinking orange juice now instead of coffee.
5. I’d been having a bit of difficulty getting along with this one person at the church, but after she came up and sat behind me in the pews and we started talking, I wound up sitting next to her. Then I wondered why I had been having a hard time getting along with her. It all seemed nice, normal, natural & no-big-deal.
6. Despite drowsiness, I got more out of the sermon than usual. I think this new ADHD medicationis helping me be a better listener.
7. Had a good talk with that one guy about that one thing that was bugging me. He wasn’t passing judgment against me as a person; he was just a bit exasperated with the general situation in question. Goes to show how we can’t always tell what someone’s thinking by a look on the face, and our own insecurities will often read too much into stuff.
8. Finished the second of the five new assignments with the paper. I’m calling it “My Life Has Just Begun.” Sent it to Alastair, telling her I’d rewrite the 1st one again, and call it “Bigger and Better than the Streets.” It feels good that the block has been removed and that I’m on a roll with the articles for the new column.
9. The more I think about it, the more the talk with my daughter last night was encouraging.
10. Really beautiful day today. I think I’ll head down to the cafe and chillax. Life is good.
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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.
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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