Gratitude List 960

(1) Somehow the house felt like a furnace this morning, and it sure felt good to get out of the house and get a blast of nice cold fresh Winter air.  Thank God for the open air.  Just because I have a decent place to live after living outdoors for all those years doesn’t mean I have to stay inside all the time.

(2) That said, I still thank God that for the past two years, I have lived indoors and have generally been getting a good night’s sleep.  I was practically sleeping with one eye open for the better part of twelve years down there.

(3) I was able to get my thyroid medication refilled today and also a scrip to address my bipolar affective condition.  This will be the first time I’ve addressed that condition through medication for approximately a year and a half.  Though I am leery of the medical-pharmaceutical paradigm in general, sometimes you just gotta take care of your head.  Life’s too short, if you know what I mean.   

(4) A meeting with an important person on Friday was auspicious.

(5) When I find myself losing sleep over the precarious position of a close family member, it helps to remember that I have also been in that same precarious position.  God helped me see my way free of the dangers of the time, and He will help her too.

(6) Nice talk with my good friend Nick last night, and another this morning.  He always has a way of helping me put things into perspective.

(7) An unexpected $75 donation took place over night, and should be able to help me defray certain upcoming medical costs.

(8) It is a beautiful, bright, brisk Winter day in the city of my birth.

(9) Returning to my birth city after 63 years was the most positive thing I could ever have done for myself.  I knew nothing at all about this town when I stepped off of that bus, let alone that I would have a new job and an apartment within days.   By now it almost appears as though this town was custom-designed for me since the day I was born.  Of all the positive possibilities that loom ahead of me, the most promising are those that are right here where I stand.

(10) In the words of Oscar Hammerstein II:

You’ve got to have a dream!
If you don’t have a dream,
How you gonna have a dream come true?

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Gratitude List 904

(1) Writer’s Guild was great on Saturday.  I’m beginning to wrap my mind around writing on themes other than those of my recent passion.

(2) Jeremiah’s sermon was really interesting at church yesterday, filling in for the pastor.  I didn’t know he was such a good speaker.  Also, I’d never heard that emphasis in the story of the Prodigal Son before — how each of the sons at different times was treating their father more-or-less like an employer rather than a dad, and how their language not being “family language” thus robbed them of the sense of kinship or intimacy that their father was about, and that our own Heavenly Father seeks from His children.

(3) I don’t feel quite as “strangely threatened” as I have felt so much of the time recently.  And though I’d grappled against the idea of even going to church because I so hugely didn’t want to be around people afterwards at the Fellowship, it worked for me to make a conscious choice to leave the building immediately after the sermon.

(4) Latah Recovery Center.  It’s been great to have had peer support throughout the past few weeks, and I was especially surprised and happy they stayed open on Labor Day.  Also, if I fill out the tons of paperwork correctly, I can soon be receiving a minium-wage paycheck for my volunteer position there.  This perk is not to be overlooked.

(5) My daughter and I have been talking every day now – on the phone or on Skype.  Also, it appears that her sister is having the baby now.

(6) Holiday weekends can be hard, but this one will be over soon, and tomorrow things will be open again: the church, the bank, the Courtyard Cafe, the Bagel Shop, and the library.  People will somehow seem more “normal,” and I will be able to take comfort once again in connecting with my community.

proverbs 25-17(7) I think I’ve successfully warded off the Kid in the hood who tried to pawn off the hot MacBook.  Just the fact that it would even have wound up with the cops is probably enough to make him a bit leery of me.  (I could elaborate, but it’s mostly a Proverbs 25:17 issue.)

(8) Got my levothryoxine filled finally and today’s the 10th day.  Motivation is coming more easily now, and it’s easier to make it up the hills when I’m out walking.  Running with Jay D. was all right on Saturday too, though I’m still coughing up a storm, especially triggered by the deeper breaths.

(9) Downloaded the Google voice recorder to my new phone, so I’m probably good to make a speech Wedneday and correct the one from Wednesday before last that I had to throw into the trash.  Great to finally have a nice smartphone in life, and to be discovering all its features and potential.

(10) Received a positive communication from an important person.  God is Love and Love is God.

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Tuesday Tuneup 14

Q. Do you know who I am?

A. Move on to the next question.

Q. Why have you summoned me?

A. Because in a single morning, I have already been thrilled, angered, and thankful.  

Q. Why thrilled?

A. If all goes well, the third and (hopefully) final draft of my musical Eden in Babylon will be finished by sundown.

Q. Why angered?

A. Because I was on a total roll with my rewrite, when all of a sudden after a change of location my new laptop was unable to pull anything up but the previous owner’s Ubantu desktop.   

Q. Why thankful?

A. Because I came home to the previous owner who knows how to fix such things.

Q. And she fixed it?

A. Not only that.

Q. What else?

A. I asked her to marry me.

Q. What did she say?

A. She said “Probably.”  A step up from the first time I asked her, when she said: “Not yet.”

Q. How does that make you thankful?  Weren’t you hoping for a “yes?”

A. Sure I was.  But I’m thankful my Flame is somebody who’s practical.  God knows if we do get married, she sure won’t be marrying a very practical man.

The Questioner is Silent.

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The Marathon Race to Hell

There are values within American culture that are often lined up side to side with positive moral values, but that contain no moral component whatsoever.  Among these values are what, for the sake of this essay, will be referred to as “industry” and “competence.”

erving goffman
Erving Goffman

Industry is what comes about when one is industrious; that is, when one works hard.  We all tend to admire people who are hard-working.  On the other hand, we are often disdainful of those who do not work, even labeling them “lazy” or “losers,” before we bother to sufficiently examine the facts.  A disabled person, for example, may actually be unable to perform work for reasons that are entirely physical or psychological in nature.  Yet we may write such a person off as  “freeloader” who feels that he or she is “entitled.”  This exemplifies what Erving Goffman calls social stigma — the instance in which a common preconception about a group as a whole spoils the perception of a person as an individual.

The idea that a person with a severe physical disability might think of themselves as “entitled” flies in the face of the facts.   Enormous tax breaks are granted to the super-rich.  But disabled people who make a modicum of $900/mo., while condemned by the wealthy for “not paying taxes,” barely have enough money to get by even without having to add taxation to their hardships.

hustlerOn the other hand, a person who works very hard will often be acclaimed for their industry.  The hard-working person might themselves look down upon those who seem unproductive, using words like “lazy” or “crazy” to explain their lack of tangible progress.  But does it ever occur to any of these people that, while hard work is certainly in line with the Puritan work ethic, it bears absolutely no relationship whatsoever to moral stature?

I was on the streets for many years.   I observed the hustlers and con artists in my midst.  Many of them would spend at least eight hours a day doing nothing but accosting one person after another, asking them “can you spare a dollar?” repeatedly.   At the end of their day, their dollars would be lined up.  Law of averages!  Now —  this may be morally reprehensible, but one cannot claim such work is easy.   Hustlers work hard at what they do.

The con artists operated in similarly high gear:

“Excuse me, my car just broke down and I need two dollars for the bus to get back to Daly City.  Oh thank you, sir!   Thank you.” (Brief pause.) “Excuse me, my car just broke down and I need two dollars for the bus to get back to Daly City.  Oh thank you, sir!   Thank you.” (Brief pause.) “Excuse me, my car just broke down and I . . .”

That’s only to cite the low end of the socio-economic spectrum.  On the high end, I know a guy who was making in excess of $150,000 a year prior to his retirement.  He wound up getting both a huge retirement and a rather hefty inheritance.  One would think he’d have relaxed after that, and spent some time with his family.  But what did he do instead?

He began to work even harder, accepting odd jobs and gigs in all kinds of places, boasting that he was making much more money after retirement than he was before.  But anyone close to him could tell that the main reason he was doing this was to get out of the house, since the idea of having to spend more time with his poor wife was of no appeal.  That, and the sheer force of workaholism, wherein his entire identity was wrapped up in how hard he worked, often at the expense of common courtesy to family and friends.

A hard-working woman in a similar bracket kicked her own mother out of the house at a time when she felt her aging, struggling mother was nothing but an invasion of her space.   Her mother was of course heartbroken and devastated.  But did her daughter bat an eye?  Not in the least.  She kept on chasing the bucks, oblivious to the moral depravity of her actions.

In neither of those cases could “industry” be logically equated with a high moral standard.  Yet our society, in so many ways beyond the mere monetary factor, routinely rewards industry and punishes what appears to be “laxity.”  But things are not always what they seem.  What may seem “sloth” to the hard-at-work is often nothing other than the lack of workaholism.  People become addicted to work.  As with any other addiction, this affects those close to them.

I’m all in favor of going out and getting a job, especially if one is prone to sitting on one’s rump doing nothing and getting nowhere in life.  But the way that we exalt the value of industry in our society is, to my view, missing the mark.  Many people work hard to feed their families, save up for hard times, and contribute to worthy causes.   But hard work in and of itself is not a moral value.   Criminals work hard, and hard-working people often become criminals in the process.

The same goes for the value known as competence.  I am a person who has been declared “legally incompetent” by the United States government.  I am not only seen to be incompetent, but — (try not to laugh) — legally incompetent.  The reason for this verdict is a combination of two mental health diagnoses, usually labeled “bipolar one hypomanic disorder,” and “severe adult attention deficit hyperactive disorder.”  In other words, I’m a space case.  No one wants to hire me, because I have a hard time concentrating on anything outside of my own head.

This is a legitimate mental health disability.  It rears its head every time I am required to focus on an external task that is time-dependent.  The greater the time pressure, the less likely I will turn the work on time.  It can be maddening.  Because of it, I have lost many jobs.  But is it a moral failing?   Not at all.  Not even the bosses who fired me saw it as anything other than a condition.  It’s not even a moral choice.   

Fortunately, there are a couple of things I do very well.  I am a decent piano player, and I also type very fast, in the area of 120 wpm.  If I’m writing an article like this, or a song, or a musical play, I am able to organize my thoughts with a fair degree of clarity.  But these are my thoughts — not the thoughts transmitted to me by an external employer.  It’s pretty easy for me to channel my own thinking in ways that are constructive, as long as I do it on my own time, and in my own space.  But try to get me to keep track of items in a workplace, or to function normally in the face of an pressing deadline, and you might not even think I’m the same guy.

Another thing I am incapable of doing is to juggle two or more tasks at once.  Everything I do well involves only one task, and to do it well, I need to be alone.  But I have met people who can multi-task effectively in the presence of multiple human influences.  These are the valuable workers of this world.  And yet, at least one of these highly competent people has left his poor, ailing wife alone at home all alone; and another one kicked her own mother out of her house.

Like industry, competence contains no moral component whatsoever.  Great thieves and even serial killers are competent.  So why do we place such a high value on competence and industry?  Why do we not place a similarly high value on unconditional, self-sacrificial love?

In my opinion, it all boils down to classism.  A competent person who works very hard naturally tends to make more money than one who is incompetent or who can’t seem to find work.  Water seeks its own level, and so someone making $150,000 or more usually finds themselves in the company of the upper class.  And there is where all the self-congratulating and mutual admiration reeks of what Jesus called the “deceitfulness of riches”.

In our society, if someone is steadily making more and more money, they often hear the words: “You must be doing something right!”  Then, convinced that they are indeed “doing something right,” they naturally make no effort to change their modus operandi, even if, in fact, they are doing something wrong.  Conversely, they may find themselves befuddled by the lack of productivity of some who are in the lower social classes, and shake their heads in incredulity.  “They’ve got it all wrong!” they are quick to declare, when in reality, in God’s eyes, many of those poor, self-sacrificing people are the ones who are doing things right.

If there is a God in heaven – which I fully believe there is — can you imagine the sorrow He feels when He looks down upon those whom His Providence has blessed, and beholds their utter refusal to return the blessing to those of their own families?   A mother brings a woman into the world, cares for her, nurtures her, packs her lunch, holds her hand on the way to school, tucks her into bed at night, and sends her proudly to the finest schools.   Why cannot that person take care of her mother in her old age?  Why can she not return the favor?

“Through sickness and through health, till death do us part,” is the wedding vow shared by a man and his bride.  Forty years down the road, where is the healthy, vigorous man when the bride is lonely and sick?   Where is the man who made her that promise?   Chasing the dollar, at world record pace, running on empty — to nowhere.   How I pity the one who runs after money!  Who will be there to cheer his victory, when he crosses the finish line of the Marathon Race to Hell?

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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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Gratitude List 806

1. It amazes me how well Jan and I are getting along.   It’s as though my best friend has come back into my life, and vice-versa, she claims, according to her.  It’s uncanny, in a good way.  And it feels so right.

2. It was an incredibly warm family feeling for me when we all three were here together throughout the day yesterday after church, and Echo and I were both working on our music, in different rooms, and getting things done.

3. Not to mention I really like the rug, the dining room table, the clean bathroom and kitchen, and the decent wholesale organic coffee every morning.

4. Slept well and long last night for the third night in a row, not arising till 7:30 am.

5. Nice of Norman to bring by that flat panel.  Resolution and clarity while working on Finale is amazing.

6. Wiped clean Polaris and downloaded Finale on it, registered Finale on the new / old computer.   I can carry this one forth, considering the Asus needs to stay at home now.   Also, there is a printer now.

7. Just about done with the “Hunted” score, so all scores are done for the demo session, except for my need to rewrite six lines of Molly’s lyrics in keeping with her character and her relationship to Winston.

8. Echo so precious.

9. Weird that I wrote to Erika in the morning yesterday with those bizarre reservations toward Midnight Screams and related matters.  Anyway, everything is done as soon as I do the formatting and divvy the parts accordingly via email.  Then at least my colleagues will note my attempt at professionalism, even if the modern-day Internet-related standards for academic excellence never cease to intimidate me.
 
10. God is Love, and Love is God.

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Tuesday Tuneup Six

Q. Do you know who I am?

A. I really wish you would stop asking me that.

Q. Why have you summoned me?

A. Because today’s the Big Day.

Q. You mean, Tuesday?

A. Well – that, too.  But it’s not just any Tuesday.   Barring the catastrophic, I will finally be with my daughter for the first time in two years, and with my ex-wife for the first time in 16 years.   And my ex and I will be sleeping under the same roof for the first time in 28 years.

Q. How did all this come about?

A. I believe you asked me that already, two or three Tuesdays ago.

Q. Can you run it by me again, please?

A. Whew – I barely know where to start.   And I disdain to unveil personal information about my family here.  Let’s just say that I’m a person who was on the streets for about twelve years in the San Francisco Bay Area.  I learned a lot about people during those twelve years, and a lot about life.  Of course times were hard, and moments were miserable.  But I was given valuable information during that period of time that I have since been compelled to share.

sacrificesI have noticed, however, that not everyone wants to hear this information.  They would rather cling to old stereotypes that make them feel comfortable, because the truth would cause them to look inward, into places within themselves of which they are afraid.

Of course this has been disturbing to me.  When I was homeless, I watched as old friends of mine, people with whom I had thought I would be friends forever, began to reject me one by one.  They didn’t return emails or phone calls.  They got all bent out of shape over relatively little things that gave me the feeling that, if any of these people had landed on the streets, they wouldn’t have lasted more than a week or two.

Before too long, I realized that most of these people were never my friends at all.  In fact, there were times when I thought I had never made a friend in my life — until I had become homeless.

While people of privilege were blowing me off left and right with half-truths and transparent forms of Mainstream Doublespeak, homeless people were telling it like it is.  Sure, there were scoundrels among us.  Of course there were those it is best off to avoid, and yet the streets made it next-to-impossible to do so.

I was hit on the head with guns.  I was pistol-whipped.  I was raped.  I watched all my possessions being burnt to bits before my eyes.  Not one person in my former life who professed to believe that Jesus Christ died for my sins lifted a finger to help me.  The only Christian who continued to believe in me, who treated me as a Christian, is a woman who knew me from the Internet, in a distant State, who never ceased to treat me as an equal, as a friend.  And she is among my best friends to this day.   But as far as people from the church I used to attend when I still was making money in this world?

They told me to go to counseling, to see a psychiatrist, to go into some kind of live-in program of some sort, or to merely “check in” to a shelter – as if they had any clue what bureaucracy would be involved, or what atrocities I would be subjected to in that so-called “shelter.”  The shelters in my world were little more than glorified jailhouses, and I far preferred to sleep in seclusion, absolutely alone.

Did any of those Pontius Pilates actually help me?  If you want to call an occasional lunch date at the price of a lecture “help,” I suppose they did.  Believe me, I was grateful enough for the lunch to put up with the lecture, however irrelevant that lecture may have been.

The continual experience of condescension, dismissal, and disrespect that I received from so-called Christians was such a far cry from the acceptance, dignity, and love that I was receiving from my homeless friends, I would become infuriated at the thought that these “Christians” actually thought they were doing the will of God, when they continually treated a man who was suffering like a bag of dirt.

Even to this day, I have difficulty getting my own eyes to see the naked truth.  Even in the last week, I appealed to former friends of mine, thinking surely they would express some happiness or joy over this reconciliation — when all they did was continue to raise their eyebrows and write me off as “crazy.”

But when the mother of my only daughter reappeared in my life, and I had learned that she had been through trials very similar to that which I and others endure on the streets, she didn’t write me off as crazy.

And the Lord Himself seeks such to worship Him.

Q. John?  Chapter Four?

A. John.  Chapter Four.  The day will come when those who worship God will worship Him neither in Jerusalem nor on the mountain – but the true worshipers will worship Him in Spirit and in Truth.

The Questioner is silent.

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