Somebody Gave Easily (Part Two)

In four days, it will be four years that I have lived indoors, after years and years of living outside, mostly on urban city streets.   And I’m not sure if anyone’s noticed this, but I am often very disappointed in myself. 

It seems to me that these days I have been granted a huge amount of freedom, compared to how restricted my freedom has been in the past.   Yet I do not use this new freedom to its highest advantage.  My life is full of the very opportunities I so longed for, during all the years when I was homeless.   But I do I use those opportunities to their fullest?    

I have a shower – a bathtub even.   How often have I relaxed and sat down and drawn a nice hot bath?    Twice, I believe, in three years inside this apartment.   I have a dishwasher.  Do I use it?   I have a carpet.   Do I vacuum it?   I have an ironing board.  But do I iron my shirts?   What’s wrong with me?   I have a bed, a couch, and a few comforters.   But do I even have a pair of pajamas?   Half the time I sleep in my street clothes — just as I used to, when I slept on the streets.  

I have a piano now.  I have two home computers now.  I have music production software.   I have the capability to create high-quality sound files and videos, both on computer and on smartphone –– which is something I also have.  Not to mention, I can type all night if I want to, and nobody is going to complain about the constant pitter-patter.  I have space.  I have options.  I have freedom.   But do I fully utilize that freedom?  I don’t think I do.   Why am I not more grateful?

When I was homeless,  I didn’t have any of those things.  Like, for years.  Thoughts of “if only” often intruded my prayers.  I would be looking up to the sky at night, and saying things like: “If only I can ever get inside again — and not one of these facilities where they throw all the homeless people — places with all kinds of restrictions and curfews, where they confiscate your laptop along with your belt and your shoelaces, and they won’t even let you outside without supervision, much less trust you to go out for a jog and back.   If only I could ever have my own place  — if only . . .”

The inner assumption with “if only” is that it will never actually occur.  It was therefore painful to dwell on it.  Painful, yet inevitable.  All throughout my day to day existence, I was feeling the lack.    (Again, just the opposite of what I feel nowadays.)

Lack of money to get myself inside temporary situations where they would let me do my thing.   Lack of free power outlets where I could plug in my laptop.   Lack of sufficient change to warrant stays in coffeehouses.  Lack of supportive people who respected me as an Artist — or even as a man, as a father, as a human being.   And of course, there was the big one — lack of a roof over my head.  

And even worse: lack of confidence that there will ever again be a roof over my head.   

To get that roof, I would need money.  Usually, there was a direct proportion between the amount of money I raised, and the number of recommendations for affordable living situations that then came my way.

Invariably, these recommendations carried with them a price that was equal to or greater than the monetary price of admission.  The price was not only in the area of a restriction of personal freedoms, but also in the area of an imposition of potentially punitive rules and regulations, geared toward keeping the peace in an environment comprised largely of street criminals, practicing alcoholics and drug addicts, and people with severe, untreated mental health conditions.

The places I refer to are halfway houses, rehabs, homeless shelters, transitional living facilities, psychiatric institutions, board & care homes, and other group living situations.  All of these naturally carried a price tag that exceeded the relatively low amount of money one would need for admission.  Naturally, huge manuals full of restrictions and ultimatums were developed in order to accommodate such a freaky clientele.   But between the excess of regulation, and the intimidating influence of the inhabitants themselves, I found I had a very low tolerance for these kinds of living arrangements.  I might have lasted a few weeks or even months, but ultimately I always came to a place where living outdoors seemed preferable.

Living outdoors, there was at least the semblance of freedom.   Living in a shelter felt like being trapped in a glorified jailhouse.  Now — one might be taken aback by the expression “glorified jailhouse.” So let’s look a bit more closely at what it means.   

A jailhouse is a place where one lives if one has committed a crime.   While one may not necessarily have committed any crimes in order to be admitted into a homeless shelter, there are certainly enough people entering into shelters who have committed crimes, that the criminal element of the clientele must be taken into consideration.   So restrictions and ultimatums are developed according to the least common denominator.

The problem with this is that the person seeking shelter who is not criminally minded is suspected of criminality just the same as another person to whom the least common denominator might more justifiably apply.  This criminalization comes not only from the higher-ups at the shelter, but also from many who are living there and coexisting alongside each other.   One gets the sense that, while one had left the streets in order to remove oneself from an atmosphere that entailed great suspicion, one had instead relocated to an atmosphere of even greater suspicion and distrust.  

In leaving such an facility, on deciding to return to the streets of preference, I always felt as though I were leaving a place where my freedoms were very severely restricted, in favor of a place where my freedoms were less severely restricted.   And the cost factor was less, as well.  

But the cost factor involved in acceding to a dignified living situation was greater.   I remember having $1000 once, because I had been prepaid half the fee of musical-directing a children’s show.   The director hired me over Craigslist, and she didn’t know I was homeless.  I was in San Francisco at the time, so I took the $1000 down to what they called a Twelve Step House, which was really a cheaply run rehab organization that then offered me a room with a roommate in a house with twelve other men in exchange for $700.  This seemed the easiest way to get inside quickly, which after all I would need to do, now that I had a job.

But what would have been the cost factor involved in getting my own place?   As a renter, that would mean a first and last month’s rent, plus deposit.  I remember at the time of my leaving the Bay Area, a friend of mine was paying $1800/mo. for his one bedroom apartment.  By that gauge, I would need $3600 to start, plus whatever the security deposit turned out to be, could be another $1800, not unlikely.   The point is that the obstacles toward my securing a place of my own liking were pretty sizable.  That is, as long as I remained in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Moving up to North Idaho was about the smartest thing I did in maybe fifteen years or more.   Here I have a one-bedroom for $450 in a nice secluded spot with quiet, friendly neighbors, in a town with an extremely low crime rate.   An apartment like this could cost me $3000 or more right now in San Francisco.  And yet, my retirement income is exactly the same, here there or everywhere.   

I always wonder why I didn’t do it sooner.  But I stop wondering when I remember the true reason.

Low self-esteem.   If you’re treated like a criminal, if you’re continually demeaned and brought to think that you are somehow worse or lesser than the people around you — only because you have become homeless — it eventually gets to you.   I imagine people of higher self-esteem might have brought themselves up by their own bootstraps a bit sooner than I did.  But I basically felt so ashamed of having become homeless, that I bought into all the self-definitions that people were laying on me.  The upside of this ultimately was that it took a gigantic leap in my self-esteem for me to decide, in July 2016, to make the relatively few moves I needed to make in order to start a new and better life.

Don’t get me wrong.  It wasn’t just being criminalized.   Poor people and people of color are criminalized.   Homeless people are criminalized too — but there’s something that affects homeless people that is even deeper than criminalization.  It’s dehumanization — and people of color will know about this — you’re not just a “criminal” but some kind of “animal” or in some other way, not quite fully human.  Even when your humanity is acknowledged, you are then often not regarded as mature or adult, even though you many be a couple generations older than the authority figure who passes that judgment upon you.

It is not thought that you can make decisions for yourself.   It is assumed that you need caseworkers, and caregivers, and people to make your decisions for you.  Even the simple decision to leave the city of Berkeley was met with much resistance.

Once, when I was considering leaving town, I made mention of this to someone who was in a position of some power in the community, whom I believe was the Director of the Homeless Action Center.  She then asked:  “Where will you go if you’re not in Berkeley?”

“Well, my friend in Georgia might have a room for me.  She has to talk to her husband.”

“Well, I don’t know anything about your friend in Georgia, but I know what it’s like when someone’s starting to have a manic episode!  You start thinking of wanting to take long trips to distant places.”

True.  Sudden spontaneous trips out of town are hallmarks of mania.   But this is besides the point.   Why could this person not “know” that my friend in Georgia might have provided a roof over my head, and that sleeping on the Berkeley city streets would naturally be less preferable than staying with a friend in Georgia inside a house?   Why was it a problem in me — “manic episode” or what-have-you —  to want to not sleep on the Berkeley streets anymore, and sleep inside a warm house — even it meant moving to Georgia?   Did Berkeley own me?

Of course not.   But there were many in that city who acted as though they did.  It was thought that I could not make my own choices.   It was assumed that, because I had become homeless, I had no ability to fend for myself, and someone else ought to be doing it for me.

Once I became friends with somebody who had an official position in the City, and she came and saw me at my Spot after one of the times when I had escaped the halfway house.

“Andy, what are you doing back here?”

“I’m in my sixties, Carmen.   I don’t like being treated like a juvenile delinquent.”

Now another type of person might have said: “Okay, I’ll suck it up.  I’ll be treated like a truant schoolboy for another seven months or so.  It will be worth it to get myself into a better place.”

I respect that reasoning and the implicit patience and strength of character.  But I don’t buy it.   Why not?

There is no evidence that people who treat other people like that have any power to get them into a “better place.”   That power, when it did come — either came from deep inside me, or from God – or some combination thereof.   I had to get to the point where I believed in Andy.   I had to get to the place where I stopped buying into every negative self-definition that was being thrown my way by people who were doing materially better than me.  I had to somehow get with Andy, and know what would work — for Andy.

To be honest, I don’t know how I did it.  I don’t know it how it happened.  There was that prayer I always talk about, that I’ve written about  And there was a lot of sudden resolve.   I don’t know how it happened, really.   I’m just glad it did.

What I’m not glad about is that I’m not more grateful, and that I don’t have as much to show for myself throughout these past four years than I’d hoped.   But maybe I have more to show for myself than I know.

Please donate to Eden in Babylon.

 

Gratitude List 1141

1. Slept from 7 till midnight, and midnight till 6am after being up for a while at midnight.  Feeling rested.  This is the second night in a row of good solid sleep.

2. I’m lucky to have the percussionist I have in Paul.  He’s intuitive too.  That song Rosy he had never played before, yet he picked up every nuance.  He’ll be good in the show.  Not to mention, he plays a number of other instruments that may come in handy.   They told me he was a “musical genius” — and much as I don’t like to throw that term around lightly, I believe they told me right.   

3. Though my computer crisis continues, I managed amid the melee to get all my important files and folders saved onto flash drive.

4. Dave okayed up to $200 for computer repair.  Unfortuately, all pertinent repair estimates have so far have exceeded $200.  But still it’s nice that he took my computer issues seriously enough to want to help.

5. It’s possible I might be able to borrow a decent Dell laptop from a cast member.

6. Looks like I have three excellent young singer-actors for the Three Girls now: Zyowelle, Koko, and Crispi.  

7. Walked over ten miles yesterday, and have walked four miles thus far today.   There’s something to be said for walking as a mode of transportation.  Time-consuming — but it does burn off calories.

8. The Open Mike last Friday was a high event.   There was warmth among all who participated and attended.  A true feeling of community in a city I’ve come to love.

9. Have received sponsorship on my project from the Latah Recovery Center, Family Promise, and First Presbyterian Church.  The President of the Board of Directors of Family Promise wrote this wonderful appraisal of my work:

Eden in Babylon urges us to consider the damage that is caused by homelessness and poverty in the midst of affluence. Andy Pope’s significant creative energy and life experience also offers a message of hope in this musical as his characters journey through the chaos that they experience on the streets.

While homeless people are relatively invisible in our community, it deeply wounds many of our neighbors who we do not know. Eden in Babylon is a call for us to care for our neighbors who are in need.

Bruce Pitman, President
Family Promise Board of Directors   

I was just a hobo coming off of a Greyhound bus only three months shy of three years ago to this day. It amazes me how, in what seems like a very short time, an entire community of Artists and Activists has banded together in support of my project.  If I didn’t believe in God before all this happened to me, I do now.

10. God is Love.

Please donate to Eden in Babylon.
A little bit goes a long, long way.

 

A Long and Winding Tunnel

The other day, another blogger cautioned me not to let my blogging get in the way of my Art.  She’s got a point there.  I reflected on this, and I realized that there have been days when I’ve put more energy into describing my project than I have into the actual project itself.  For this reason, I have decided that my earlier decision to try to post “every other day” is unrealistic.  I’ll post when I have something to say.  We must, after all, remember the wise words of Plato:  plato1

The fool speaks because he has to say something.  The wise man speaks because he has something to say. 

That said, I do have a couple things to say this morning.  I may be getting way ahead of myself here, but I worry about my song Children of the Universe being taken out of context.  In the musical, the Street Kids are fed up, they’re out in the elements, they have an inkling that they’d rather be “safe” in jail, and they decide to vandalize the homes of the wealthy where their friend, Winston Greene, was born, so they can go join him in jail after his wealthy birth family put him there.  It’s a vengeful act, and not an uncommon sentiment among those who feel they’ve been screwed left and right by society.  This is how revolutions have been started throughout history.

But once again, I’m a spiritual person, and a morally minded person.  Do I  myself advocate violent uprising against the bourgeoisie?  Actually, no — I do not.  I am a man of peace.   But I am trying to make a point here.  The point I’m trying to make is that if we don’t get a handle on the effects of classism in America, it’s probably going to happen.  Many people in the impoverished classes are incredibly frustrated that wealthy people seem at times to view their poverty as a moral failing.  They would prefer that people in the privileged classes respect them enough to at least listen to their points of view, and consider that what they have to say might be valid.  I am far from wealthy myself, but when I was even more impoverished than I am today, I felt this frustration.  I was simply receiving too many lectures from people who thought they knew the answers for me, when in reality they knew nothing about the world of poverty, and I often felt that I had a lot of answers for them.  But in general, they wouldn’t listen — and this was a frustration.

This frustration was shared by almost everyone else I knew who was in a similarly impoverished position.  Apparently, it was also compounded by the tensions of urban living.  This is one reason why I finally made the decision to relocate in a rural area, which is just about the wisest move I’ve ever made in my life.  Since then, my wrathful resentment toward those who flaunt their opulence has been reduced to a relatively mild disdain.  (We don’t “do” upper crust in this neck of the woods.)   

In light of that personal transformation, I would hate to go down as one who advocated violent revolt against the establishment – or against anyone or anything, for that matter.  But I wouldn’t mind going down as one who issued a warning that it’s probably about to happen if we don’t shape up.

The second thing I wanted to mention is that I’ve been vigorously working on the second Scene in Act Two and am beginning to see the light at the end of this particularly long and winding tunnel.   I have this odd feeling that the next time I put pen to paper, I’m probably not going to stop until the long-awaited moment arrives when I write the words “The End” at the bottom of the document.  This time, unlike my earlier efforts at getting this show on the road, I can see the end from the beginning.   For that progress, I may thank my  Writer’s Guild , my pastor, my Minister of Music, my friends in my current community of Artists and musicians — and all of you.  Without the support of other writers and like-minded thinkers, I would never have been able to reach this stage  — in fact, I wouldn’t have come near it.  So – what I have to say in closing is:

thankyoured

The Psychic Slate

A few days ago, I decided that my policy for this blog will be to post every other day.   Not every day, not twice a week, but every other day.   Somehow that frequency will ease my anxiety.

So this is today’s post (obviously), after which the next post will be on Wednesday, and the one after that on Friday.  I say this so that you’ll know what to expect.

I would have posted earlier but one of my anxieties had not yet been addressed, and it would unfortunately have kept me from posting.  That anxiety is the father’s anxiety concerning the welfare of his daughter, from whom he hadn’t heard for an uneasy period of time.  She did answer the phone just now, she does seem fine, and all it took was a brief phone conversation for my paternal anxiety to be assuaged.

So – now I can post.  As to what I shall post, I can only say that the psychological issues regarding anxieties, resentments, mania, frustrations, confusions and so forth have been predominant in my consciousness of late.   I might be able to create a blog post when hassled by these things, but I certainly can’t create a good Act 2, Scene 2.  Somehow, I feel as though my psychic slate needs to be cleared before I can proceed.

Case in point.  After I “finished” Act 2, Scene 1 on Thursday, I emailed the script to a friend of mine whose opinion I esteem.  I then remembered that people tend to look at the beginning and the end of something before deciding if it’s worth their time and energy to bother with it.  The ending sucked, but I was exhausted by the effort, and my own perfectionism was a deterrent, so I slapped it in place pretty sloppily and decided to move on.  Then, when I realized that she would probably look at the ending before reading much of what came before it, I couldn’t live with myself.

So, on Saturday, I sat in the same spot for six hours rewriting the lyrics to “Children of the Universe.”  Now, even if you know nothing whatsoever about Music, if you choose to indulge me with four minutes of your time and listen to this clip, I’m sure you will easily discern how difficult the process of creating all those lyrics could be.  Click here:

Children of the Universe

I wrote that piece about four years ago, wrote about half the words, and left it – knowing that one day I was going to have to finish the lyrics.   Due to the arduous nature of the task, I procrastinated.  But did I “let go?”  Of course not.   If I had, I’d have never come back to it — even though it took four years to get around to it.   I thought about it consistently.  I had to do it — I just kept stalling.

This time, I was through stalling.  I hammered it out until I truly was satisfied.  Then I let go.   But here’s my quandary: why do I not let go before I finish an arduous task?   Why did I have to sit in one spot for six hours without taking a break before I could reach any peace of mind about it?

It seems to me, now that I really stop to think about it, that the difficulty I have “letting go” of a task is psychologically akin to the difficulty I have in “letting go” of broken friendships, shattered hopes, and so forth.   I have a couple friends who haven’t talked with me for years now.  One of them even hung up on the phone the last time I called him, and I honestly can tell you that I have no idea why.  However, since then, he has not answered any emails or phone messages.  Try as I might to find out what I could have done to have deserved such disrespectful treatment, I will never know the answer unless he decides to tell me himself.  That was four years ago, and not one word has been spoken.  Therefore, I must “let go.”

Now, another person might more readily let go of such an unfortunate event.  Another person might just shrug his shoulders and say: “Who cares?”  Another person might let go of the entire friendship right of the bat, saying: “Well, I guess there goes that friendship!  Now – what’s for dinner, honey?”  To the point, another  person might have taken three or four breaks in the six hour period of time in which I insisted on not leaving my desk until the lyrics to Children of the Universe were complete.   But you know what?

Another person would not be about to finish the first musical in the history of American musical theatre that will depict classism in its most sordid form; and yet still engage, entertain, and even inspire the audience.  Another person would never have dared even begin trying to write a musical of such gargantuan scope, let alone finish it.  Another person would not have dreamed about writing Eden in Babylon. But I not only dreamed about writing it — I *am* writing it.