Homeless in Mayfield: Part One

One of the great buried treasures I’ve been able to dig up since having lived indoors these past two and a half years is a folder full of pasted timeline posts preserved from a long-deleted Facebook.  All of them display the cavalier attitude of a homeless Artist given to brutal sarcasm as a coping mechanism.  

I just finished reading three consecutive entries about harsh treatment by the local officers of the peace, shortly after I had vacated the Berkeley homeless scene in favor of a low crime district in an all White, sheltered upper-crust community.  The name of the city is not actually Mayfield — but if you ever watched “Leave it to Beaver,” you’ll get my drift.

Well — I’ve humbled my head full of hubris just enough to figure out where the food is on Friday. As a result, I’ll be attending my first feed since having found myself home-free in this fine town of wealth and promise (whose name is being with-held until further notice.) It will be taking place at 6:30, and I’m looking forward to what fashion of food will be fed at the commons to the commoners.

Moreover, in the passage of time, I’ve realized that the tone of desperation in my universal Facebook appeal for “shelter with dignity” could conceivably have been off-putting. It’s well-known that I am not permitted into friends’ and family’s homes during the holiday season because I have a reputation of being “manic.” No one wants their walls bounced off by a belligerent birdbrain of such ill repute. And of course, the penalty for such a hyper-active mind is — you guessed it: homelessness.

AFree Homelessness Cliparts, Download Free Clip Art, Free Clip Art on Clipart Libraryll sarcasm aside, I recognize that in the absence of mariijuana, my overall energy level is off the charts. Therefore I amend my earlier proposal. Just kick down the good weed, guys. Who cares about “vibrancy?” It only got me to complete a rough draft of a long-desired libretto to a musical that, unlike the last two I wrote (and promptly shelved), I actually believe in for once. No doubt I should have stopped smoking pot — among other things — much earlier in life. My apologies for such reprobate tardiness.

Now – to figure out where and how to sleep tonight, being as a certain red-hot hot-shot hog of a cop saw fit to do a sweep of my only Spot thus far evoked, as he poked his blaring brights my way, thus scaring the daylights out of the would-be dirt-bag he had wished would have been me. 

So bright was that light at its closest, grossest height – that long into night I could still scarcely see. There but for God’s grace goes Me.

© A. Pope 2014

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Statement to the World

I’m finally going to try to adhere to my earlier stated concept.   I’m going to try to make sure that six posts of six different natures are each posted here at 7:30am PST, Monday thru Friday, with Saturday off.  

Why am I going to try and do this?  It’s not necessarily for the sake of creating a decent, appealing blog here.  That’s part of it.  But it’s a bit deeper than that.

People who have been diagnosed with mental health conditions are often regarded as unstable, incompetent, or insane.   It is generally held that we are flaky, unpredictable, and unreliable.  We can’t hold down jobs, and people can’t tell which way we’re going next, or where we are going to land — if we are going to land.   So, naturally, I would like to do my best to dispel that stigma.

So far, however, I can’t help but feel that all I am doing is proving them right.  My Tuesday Tuneup often shows up on Wednesday — if not Thursday, or even Monday.  There is no consistency whatsoever as to the times that any of the posts show up.   I don’t always take Saturdays off, and in fact the Friday piano video often gets postponed till Saturday or later.  Frequently, I disappear for a few days (while probably in a depressed funk), and then try to “make up for lost time” by, for example, posting the Wednesday speech, the Thursday “blog of substance,” and maybe even the Friday piano video all on the same day, which might even be Sunday.

The point is, no consistency.

How can I possibly dispel the notion that those of us who have diagnosed mental health conditions are unstable, inconsistent flakes if I don’t get it together and bring some order to the table?

Well, obviously, I can’t.   But that doesn’t mean I might not be — er – biting off more than I can chew.  Still, I’m going to give it the ol’ college try, one more time.   You will see this post tomorrow at 7:30am PST, rain or shine.   The mail must go through, and the show must go on.

idiotsavant-tshirt
Severe ADHD, Dyslexia, Bipolar One Hypomanic Disorder, PTSD & Blah Blah blah.

Sigh.

There’s even more to it than this.

People with mental health conditions are often very talented, vibrant people when given their chance to shine.   To meet me in real life, I might not be the most charismatic fellow on the face of the planet, but I do have some specific talents in certain key areas.  My writing isn’t all that bad, for one thing.  It’s good enough to have been published this past year, anyway, for the first time in my life.   You can’t say I’m a bad piano player, and I’m told I’m a pretty good speaker — although admittedly, it’s a lot easier to make a speech in my dining room using the voice recorder app on my lady friend’s smartphone than it would be to stand behind a podium and boldly address the multitudes.

However, somebody whom I respected once told me this:

“You act as though all these talents of yours make up for all your bad qualities.”

While that’s certainly debatable (if not hurtful), I can see where she was coming from.  The particular skills of expertise do not make up for bad qualities in other areas.  I’ve even said it myself, in so many words.   We live in a society that values competence, and devalues moral integrity.  And I hate to say it, but I’m pretty sure the person who said that to me felt that I was morally lax.

But there’s another facet to all of this.   While skillful expertise cannot compensate for moral turpitude, it can compensate for the lack of expertise in other areas.   I am horribly incompetent when it comes to most jobs, because my mind is largely incapable of panoramic focus.  I can only focus myopically.  If there is more than one thing I need to keep my mind on for any significant period of time, my mind will fail me.  I will screw up.  It will be noticeable and frustrating to my coworkers, and I like-as-not will be fired.

They call this Severe ADHD and Dyslexia.  Other aspects of my personality have been dubbed Bipolar One and Hypomanic.   Throw in a little PTSD, and the O.G.’s pretty much a mess.

Given all that, to cut to the quick, why should I not be focusing on the things that I can do?  I’ve spent most of my life trying to excel at things at which I suck, just because they happen to be the things that make money in this world.  But now I’m an Old Guy, and I’m on Social Security, and why not just take some time to show the world what I’m really made of?

In fact, if I don’t do so, I would feel like I’m shirking a calling of mine.   Yes, a calling – of which this post is a part.  

My disability landed me in a gutter for damn near twelve years, where none of these special gifts I have to offer were given the chance to shine.   While my ascent from that gutter to a decent apartment in another part of the world was rapid, sudden, unanticipated, and miraculous, that ascent would be meaningless if I didn’t do something with it.  For I am no less disabled, no less “incompetent,” than I was when I was sleeping under a bridge.   

The difference is not in my personality.  The difference is that I have been granted favorable circumstances in life, in such a form that the gifts with which I hope to bless you actually are given a chance to shine.

And that alone is the essence of my Statement to the World.  Not every homeless person is a worthless, low-life scum bag.  In fact, none of them are — because no person on Earth needs to be saddled with that tag.   Every person is redeemable and salvageable, for our Father in Heaven desires that none will be consigned to perdition, but that all will be preserved and saved.   So, if I don’t hide my light under a bushel, and I don’t let it shine before humanity, then people will not glorify the Maker of All Things — and yet, that’s what life’s all about.  (It’s also 2 Peter 3:9, Matthew 5:16, and Ecclesiastes 12:13 in a nutshell — and the reason I know this is because I just looked ’em up.)

So I’ll give it a go.   If you’re reading these words, it means it’s 7:30am PST or after.  If you’re not, you’re not.  Wish me luck.

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Gratitude List 824

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Revelation of Humanity

It was the year 2008 — the year in which I lost over half of my so-called “friends” and at least one close member of my extended family by sending a single three-sentence email that I guess they couldn’t handle.   The word “homelessness” might as well not have even existed in that email. 

The few friends who cared wrote back with advice that had to do with anything and everything other than the fact that for over four years now, it had been all I could do to keep a roof over my head.  One person even advised me to look at its contents when I was “sober” — as though assuming that a person had to be drunk in order to express that he could no longer handle the ongoing conditions of Homelessness.   I had written that somebody had to believe in me enough to let them stay at their house long enough so I could get back on my feet — or else, I would do something drastic.

I would take my own life.

Record gales were assaulting my entire body in Golden Gate Park.  Do I die of hypothermia tonight, or do I spare myself the trouble and do the deed of my own courage and power?   I had just heard yet another landlady claim that I had to leave my cottage because her daughter was separating from her husband and needed to move in. In California, they call this an “Owner Move In.”  It’s the easiest way to get rid of a renter whom you don’t happen to like.

I had been working as an accompanist for a Gilbert and Sullivan company, the Stanford Savoyard Players, at the time.  When I lost the cottage, the musical director kept paying for my motel rooms so I could finish the show.  This was more than gracious of him, but of course I could not expect such treatment to continue once the show was over.

I had been in so many different programs, shelters, and board-and-care homes — in addition to all the rentals that somehow only led to irreconcilable conflicts, owner move-ins, and finally a crash landing back on the streets — I had stopped counting long ago.  None of those situations had ever put a single dent in the rock hard armor that is Homelessness.

In this case, I guess my $900 monthly disability money vis a vis my $550 rent was making the landlady nervous.    And though she knew I’d landed the Stanford gig after finishing my opera coach service at Peninsula Teen Opera, she still came up with the Owner Move In.  Last I checked, her daughter never even moved in.   Guess she didn’t like the way I looked. 

Sure, I remember pacing the floor in her living room, when I was supposed to be staying inside the college.  I remember her approaching me, asking: “How did I ever wind up with the likes of you?”

I remember the incredulity she expressed when she didn’t believe that all of my family members were refusing to let me stay with them.

“But why should they let me stay with them?”  I asked her.  “You won’t even let me stay with you, even though I’m paying rent.”

“You’ve got a point there,” she shrugged.   And of course, she still kicked me out on my ass.

coldest winter san franciscoSo the show ended, and a couple days later I found myself completely lost in the kind of “summer” that Mark Twain claimed to be the “coldest winter he had ever spent.”    I crawled into the Simple Pleasures Cafe on Balboa, and after breaking my last five dollar bill, bought a minimum three dollar hour on their public computer.

It was then that, overwhelmed with despair, I emailed at least one hundred people at once with these words:

I am stuck in a T-shirt out in Golden Gate Park in the freezing cold wind, and I do not believe I can make it through night.  I am writing to let you all know that I can no longer handle the ongoing conditions of Homelessness.   Please, somebody let me stay over tonight, or show me where I can go, because at this time, I am prepared to take my own life, to avoid what I feel is coming.

And though I indeed lost at least a hundred formerly positive contacts with a single email, the revelation of humanity that poured forth from exactly three people whom I hardly knew was astonishing.

An Actress: Andy, I’ve been there.  Give me your number; I will do everything I can possibly do to help you.

A Bartender: Andy, I’m driving over from Lodi to get you.   Tell me where you are — my dad says you can stay at his house for a night or two.

A Poet: Andy, check your PayPal.  I just shot you eighty bucks.  Get yourself a hotel room, get inside for tonight, and take it from there.  Tomorrow is another day.

Of course, the final offer was of most immediate appeal.  I used my last two dollars to hop on a SamTrans bus and check into a cheap motel in Belmont for the night.

In the morning, I woke up, scratched my head, and scanned my options.  I knew that Greg the bartender was willing to come get me.  But it seemed as though something more important needed to happen first.  So, I walked up the hill to Sequoia Hospital, and told them everything I just told you. 

I explained how my job contracts had ended, and how it would be a bit of a lull before I could find another gig.  I expressed how I had thought that surely now, with both employment and a rental, I should have managed to get back on my feet.  Before, I explained, I either didn’t have a job or I didn’t have a place to live.  This time, I had managed to muster up both at once.   And yet still the Homelessness loomed larger than any of that. 

I told them how two nights prior, I had written to all of my family members to beseech them to let me stay at their homes for just a couple nights, and no one at all replied.  I told them I had been trying to deal with my mental health issues ever since a first-time manic episode in the year 2004 had lost me my job, my car, and my home.  I told them how every time I entered into some kind of program, something would happen, something having to do with my inability to get along with others in close quarters, and I would get kicked out.  Or else I would finish the program, and then what?   Where would I go?  All roads, I told them, led to Homelessness.

I told them I completely understood why people didn’t want to have me over, because I probably would’t want me over either.  But at the same time, I asked them, where is compassion?  Who has a heart?   Can’t somebody bend for a little while?  When is anybody going to realize that I’m not going to be able to solve any of my “boundary issues” or exacerbations of ADHD or bipolar disorder if I don’t find that somebody loves me enough to make a simple sacrifice – and yet, nobody will.

“Can I possibly be that bad of a piece of shit that nobody will let me stay with them?”  I asked them.  “I’ve let homeless guys stay at my place before.   I didn’t like having my space invaded either, but I had compassion.   Sure, Tony slept for twelve hours and left a mess in the kitchen.  So what?   Was I supposed to let him die out in Golden Gate Park on a night like this?  Why can’t they get that I won’t be able to solve any of these other problems of mine if I can’t first solve the much more enormous problem that is Homelessness? 

“And why, why, why doesn’t anybody love me anymore?” I cried.  “How can they keep saying they ‘love’ me, yet forbidding me to even so much as knock on their door, or to come over for Christmas dinner?  What is wrong with me?  Am I that horrible of a human being that, for all of my God-given gifts and musical abilities, I am supposed to die in a damn gutter?   Why can’t anybody give me a break?”

I shut my mouth and ceased my appeal.  I looked in their eyes, fully expecting them to say the usual:

I’m sorry, Andy.  We’re not a spa or a ski resort.  I know you want to get your meds fixed and find some help here, but we can’t just let every homeless person on earth over for a 72-hour stay.   We feel for you, but you will just have to receive help for your condition somewhere else.

Tears were flowing down my eyes.  I stayed silent and gazed at the three women in front of me, who in turn gazed at me. 

And I tell you — when those three social workers rushed up and hugged me, I remembered again the Revelation of Humanity — that inkling of hope, not just for me, but for the entire human race.   

I was not a piece of shit.

I was not “worthless homeless scum.”

I was not a “dirt bag.”

I was a human being who needed and deserved real help.  

Sure, I lost at least eighty professional contacts, maybe twenty people I had thought were my friends, and another person whom I very much love, with a single email.   But what I gained from this experience was far greater.

I thought I would end my meaningless, worthless life.  Instead, my life of worth and meaning had just begun.   

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Of Creation and Control

I’m writing on a text file in Open Office. I have the emerging text to The Oracle Sequence open on another file. I’m making a conscious point of avoiding the typical Internet venues on which I write. That means WordPress, DiaryLand, Facebook, Twitter, and all email-related interfaces, such as Zoho or G-Mail. I’m trying to break certain negative associations I have developed with all of those venues, for they seem to be thwarting my progress on this particularly pertinent portion of my project.  Never before have I felt such an enormity in the gap that separates the degree of my desire to progress with the degree of my actual progress, as pertains to a specific project or piece. I want nothing more than to begin making substantial progress on this project. I want the piece to “break.”

But let me explain what I mean by “break.” I use this expression a lot, but I don’t often take the time to clarify what I mean.

ionescoWhenever I am in the process of creating something substantial, my progress seems to proceed extremely slowly for the first several days, taxing my patience. But I endure, for the knowledge that at some point soon, the piece will “break.” When it breaks, it is as though floodgates have been opened. Where the rate of progress before was tortuously slow, all of a sudden I am progressing at a very rapid, steady pace. The process of producing the piece has begun to “flow.” With that sudden huge burst of energy comes a renewed confidence. I no longer brood with the sense that the inevitable break I await will be delayed interminably. Instead, I exult in the creative process.   Whereas, days or hours earlier — or even moments earlier — various aspects of the process seemed to pose nothing but horrific obstacles toward my progress, they now seem to work marvelously in my favor, as if by magic.  And before you can bat an eye, I feel that I am actually completing the piece in question.

You heard me: completing the piece.  The prospect of its elusive completion no longer buzzes about my brain like an annoying insect I can never manage to swat.  Completion occurs readily, rapidly, precisely — and in fact, numerous times

“What?” you may ask.  “How can completion occur numerous times?   You just got finished telling me that until this thing ‘broke,’ you couldn’t even complete it once.” 

That’s a very logical question, and please allow me to explain.  For you see, it seems I’ve substituted one problem for another one.

What happens after the piece “breaks” is that, in my greatly increased productivity, I get from A to Z so fast that my emotions can barely handle the sudden positive turn of events, and I decide that everybody needs to know about it.  So I gleefully send out a “completed” version of my piece to all my dearest friends and family members, hoping they will be as excited at the surprise “completion” as I am.  But then, little do they barely have the chance to open their email, when BAM!  I decide that the recently completed version wasn’t quite good enough; and so I send a second version of the piece; say, Version “1-B.” 

After that, I send Version 1-C, and then Versions 1-D thru F, and so on down the line.  People in my life are suddenly receiving so many versions of some new work of mine, they naturally have no idea when the bombardment will cease, and exactly which of the many versions, if any, they should bother with.  

correlationWhile this is happening, I vaguely sense that there is something wrong with my approach.  Oh, I understand exactly why this pattern has come into being.   The hugeness of the moment when the piece finally “breaks” is typically too much for me emotionally.  You see, I had been frustrated for days, perhaps weeks, all around a relatively insignificant creative project of mine; for example, this polishing of The Oracle Sequence that has come to receive such prominence in my head lately.  But once The Oracle Sequence “breaks,” then to whatever extent that I had earlier been impatient and frustrated, I will now have become just as excited, and in fact, full of glee.  Excited, exuberant, and gleeful.  I feel almost mischievous at that level of enthusiasm.  In that sudden, newfound elation, it will be extremely difficult for me not to burst forth with a constant, incessant gush, exulting in the experience of excitement that so elates me, and exuding that ecstasy upon the world.

But when I do this, I forget that the world is not necessarily predisposed to tuning into the value of my creation at that moment.  Moreover, the world does not necessarily care about my creation — at least not yet. If I want them to care in some future, positive scenario; then probably I shouldn’t be bombarding them prematurely as though to prove my prowess and prodigy in an a priori fashion. Wouldn’t it be better to hold back, until I really have a product worth releasing; and even then, to release it to the world with humility, and grace?

graham_wallasOf course it would be. I therefore must commit myself to terminate my earlier practice, difficult though that termination may be to effect emotionally.   I need to cease to involve all my close friends and family members in my process.   Henceforth I will not even go online, not even to WordPress, but do all my work in secret, offline, where nobody will see me, and where I will nor be tempted to share my work prematurely.  Far better will it be for me to regard this wonderful burst of creativity as a private matter, something that speaks for the ineffable unity of the Creative Mind.   In this way, it is akin to the moment of “illumination” delineated by Graham Wallas in his work on the four stages of the creative process.  According to this model, the previous period of frustration and confusion actually parallels an unconscious process of “incubation,” whereby the piece is quietly being constructed with great direction and progress in the unconscious mind.   The conscious mind remains unaware of this inner process, and in fact believes falsely that nothing is being accomplished at all.  According to that model, The Oracle Sequence is at this very moment being polished, refined, and completed — even as we speak — though in my limited awareness, I feel as though nothing is happening at all.

Obviously, this explanation is pleasant to the ears of the Artist.  But how valid is it, really?  There are other ways of framing this event of “breaking,” this sudden bursting of the floodgates, and the subsequent steady flow of unprecedented Artistic creation.   Some of those ways are not particularly favorable, however, or sympathetic with the Artist’s dilemma.  Take the view often espoused, for example, by those in the mental health profession.   These are those who contend that the Artist is only subject to his mental health disorder, since his pattern clearly manifests the mood swings of manic depression, nowadays known more commonly as Bipolar Disorder.   In this view, the Artist is unable to create while in the depressive phase, because his depression prevents him from doing so, on a basic neuro-physiological level.  When, in my case, I experience the event of the “breaking,” followed by a fast flow of creative prodigy, I am according to the psychiatrist merely in the “manic” phase of my “disorder.”

I am further told that during the depressive phase, the Artist may not even be aware that he is depressed.  This is due to the intensity of his Artistic focus, in which he is completely immersed —  even as he gets nothing accomplished at all.   His focus, after all, is on his Art — whether he is succeeding in manifesting that Creation or not.  So if he is not succeeding, he may well be depressed and in fact rather irritable.  But he does not know this, for his focus is not on his feelings — but on his Art. 

psychiatrist couchThe psychiatrist continues to advise him that the reason why nothing is getting done is on account of his depression.  The depression, claims the psychiatrist, has overwhelmed him, and rendered him inert and immobile with regards to his creative goals.  But the Artist doesn’t see it this way.  He argues that the converse is the case.  The only reason he may be depressed is because nothing is getting done.  And besides, the word “depression” doesn’t quite cut it.  “Annoyed,” perhaps.  “Annoyed, irritated, aggravated, frustrated, impatient, confused, bewildered, and generally out of sorts.   But depressed?   You gotta be kidding me!  Depression is for less inspired, less purpose-driven men than I.”  

At this, the psychiatrist typically only nods her head.  “Give it about a week, my boy, and you’ll be just fine.” 

Be this as it may.  We have the clinical, ultra-behavioristic approach of the detached, unfeeling psychiatrist, dismissing all the mysterious spectacles of Artistic angst with a cold, calculated DSM-V approach to life.   A bit more pleasing, we have the intriguing approach of Mr. Wallas and his followers, an approach that is definitely more Art-Positive than diagnostic in nature.  But neither of these perspectives really assists me in confronting the essential anxiety that I must endure in order to attain to a happier state of affairs.  The one way exalts Art above all, the other poo-poos and dismisses the Artistic character, even hinting at attributing the Artistic Focus to some form of mental illness.  Yet despite this glaring difference in the two perspectives, they both point to one very disturbing factor that they share in common.   In each case, the Artist is at the mercy of a psychic process that is largely beyond his conscious, creative control.  

What is needed, then, is greater control.   

As to just how this greater control is to be gained, please don’t think for one minute that I have not already pondered this question eternally.   There are in fact several text files on Open Office already, exploring this perennial question.  I even draw near to a solution or three, in places.   But let me take my leave at this juncture, and advise you of my findings when they are bit more conclusive.   It may well be that as I complete my analysis as to what it will take to complete my piece, the completion of the analysis may prove to be a more important creation than the completion of the piece itself.

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