Inequity (Part Three)

There are many strange disparities that entail between the worlds of those who live outdoors and those who do not.   Few, however, cause as much difficulty as the naked fact that people who live outside have no privacy whatsoever.

In fact, the relationship between privacy and freedom is something I hadn’t really examined prior to having lived outdoors.   When I first decided to join an intentional homeless community in Berkeley, a large part of what I was after was freedom.  You see, I was writing a lot of music at the time, and I just felt that in the living situations I was able to afford, I never had enough privacy to be able to focus on it.   What that meant for me was that I was not free.  

I wanted so desperately to be free!  I wanted to be where the musical ideas would flow in an uninterrupted fashion — not in an environment where I was frequently interrupted by roommates or landlords, or by their friends, lovers, and children.  Somehow, the outdoor venues of the San Francisco East Bay provided that freedom for a good year and a half or so, between around April 2011 and October 2012.   I wrote a lot of music then, and I remember how blissful it felt to plug my laptop into an outdoor power outlet on the U.C.Berkeley campus and enjoy an uninterrupted creative flow in the open air.

Of course, that happiness was short-lived.  After a while it became known to the local thieves that I was a scatterbrained O.G. with a laptop – and therefore an easy mark.   I may have had freedom for a while, but I certainly was deluding myself if that freedom could be any substitute for the kind that is found in privacy.  

If those of us who were homeless began to bicker and squabble amongst each other, that bickering and squabbling was made known to whoever was within earshot.   We couldn’t even enjoy a mild debate or political discussion without it becoming privy to whoever happened to pass by.   And if we had to use the bathroom?   Good luck.  

I remember more than once spending over two hours looking for an open bathroom when I had to go No.2.   Finally, I would take matters into my own hands.  But what else could one do?   One does what one must  — of course.   But then, when homeless people are in search of privacy, and perhaps even locating a semblance of same, how do those homeless people appear in the eyes of ubiquitous observers?

“They appear as though they have something to hide.   And who has something to hide?   A criminal!  We better investigate!”

So we would find ourselves, even as we sought out privacy as quietly as possible, being pursued in that very search — by those who suspected us of subterfuge.  The more we sought after privacy, the less private our lives became.   

The fact that homeless people are often in search of privacy in order to conduct normal, routine business that is ordinarily conducted behind closed doors feeds into the criminalization of the homeless.   That there are criminals among the homeless is no secret.  Often criminals duck behind stairwells and into back alleys in order to conduct criminal business.   And they certainly look suspicious when they do.  But what if a couple of non-criminal homeless people need to have a private conversation?   Where do they go?

Chances are, they will go behind that same stairwell, and into that same back alley, where criminals are found engaging in illicit transactions.   Why?   Because there is nowhere else to go.   And any time a homeless person seeks privacy — whether their motives are benign, malicious, or neither — it makes them appear to be criminals with evil intent.  

If I have a personal habit today that one might frown upon — and God knows whether  I do — at least I know that I can go behind closed doors to engage that private practice without concern for onlookers.   When I was homeless, I had no such luxury.   Any peccadillo of mine was made public information, visible to an entire city.   Can you imagine the effect such a phenomenon would have on one’s sense of self, especially when perpetuated over months and years?

It wasn’t until long after I had gotten inside that I began to make sense out of it all.   The bare truth was that the very things I did outdoors that aroused disdain under public scrutiny are those which my observers themselves did, behind closed doors, unabashedly.  If that is not an inequity, I do not know what is.   

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Gratitude List 1295

This one’s from yesterday afternoon, immediately after waking up from a kick-ass nap.

1. Slept another 2 1/2 hours between 1:45 pm & 4:15.   (Not sure if I mentioned, but I took a 2-3 hr nap yesterday as well, after the 8 hours of sleep already).

2. Sleeping a lot lately is indicative of beginning a New Season in Life.    Gotta get a Good Night’s Sleep before starting the New Day.

3. I don’t think meeting Tracy Simmons at a U.I. event last week was a chance encounter.  She wrote saying my web site was “impressive” and asked me to submit some samples of my columns for consideration for her independent news site.  I also read her story in the Wall Street Journal.    I agree with her completely: the key to restoration is embracing, not forgetting, the past.     

4. Proverbs 25:28.   Wisdom.

5. Meaningful vivid dreams.

6. I got this huge rush of freedom-intertwined-with-privacy as soon as I walked through the front door this afternoon and thereafter flopped down exhausted.  It had happened so many times when I lived outdoors and was lucky enough to get a hotel room for a night, how could I forget the hugeness of the double blessing?  It’s not to be abused.  It’s my castle, and I shall build a moat around it.

7. Tom R. let me have his Mortimer Adler book Ten Philosophical Mistakes to use for Norman’s philosophy class.   Looking at it now, bringing back memories.

8. Did the whole wash yesterday.

9. Sold an Abandon CD to Ed S.

10. This coffee is great.   Running four miles now.   

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Once Homeless Always Homeless?

smileIn trying to do my part to raise awareness as to the homeless phenomenon in America, I would be remiss if I left out the fact that there are certain perks to the homeless experience that often go unnoticed. In fact, it is partly because of those positives that I managed to sustain my homeless condition for as long as I did. If it had not have been on some level enjoyable for me, I would probably have figured out a way out of it before lingering twelve long years in it.

This is not to say that it wasn’t absolutely horrible at times. So horrible, it made me wonder why people thought I was being hyperbolic whenever I compared it to being in a war zone or a concentration camp. Nobody in their right mind would think homelessness was a “piece of cake.” But just as people had no idea just how awful it could be, they also seemed to have no idea what it was that I actually liked about it, that kept deluding me for so many years into believing it was “worth the risk.”

Here are some positive aspects of my homeless experience that I have not yet been able to replace readily by living indoors:

(1) I did not have to pay any rent. I was therefore able to use my monthly disability money for things such as food, clothing, and creature comforts. If I had still lived indoors in the San Francisco Bay Area, most (if not all) of my monthly check would have been consumed in rent.

(2) I had no trouble coming up with food. Because I lived in an area where it was lawful and commonplace to sit down and fly a sign on a sidewalk, I often received food at my Spot, even when I had no money. I also lived in a city where there were 35 free community meals per week, at various churches.

(3) Being considered unemployable, I did not have to work on a job that, chances are, I would have screwed up somehow.  Therefore I had plenty of time to work on my various artistic projects, most of which were inspired by the very colorful and unusual world in which I lived.

(4) I had no trouble maintaining a healthy exercise program. My lifestyle necessitated that I walk at least ten miles a day. So I remained thin and fit, no matter how much I ate. My vital signs were always excellent: 100/65 blood pressure, 55 heart rate. Believe me, fifty pounds heavier from living inside, it is not easy to maintain physical fitness.

(5) I had no trouble with overeating. Not having a kitchen or a place of my own, there was no urge to binge-eat or gorge down food late at night out of general uneasiness and nervousness. Even when I did happen to come into, say, a box of doughnuts, I could divide them up between me and my homeys, and know that within a day or two, all of those calories would be worked out of my system.

(6) I did not suffer from the kinds of annoying “addictions” that are inherent in indoor living. For example, it was not possible for me to remain on the computer for twelve hours goofing off, because I hardly ever owned a computer. When I did, I was constantly in search of an outdoor power outlet and a quiet spot where I would go unnoticed. Usually, my computer would be stolen within a few short weeks, so Internet addiction became basically impossible.

(7) I kept my sexual desires in check. Hard to engage that stuff when you live outdoors and you might at least wind up with a “lewd conduct” charge (if not indecent exposure.)

(8) Negative ions in the air have been proven to be good for one’s physical and mental health.   The vast majority of Americans do not spend nearly enough time outdoors.  I miss the amount of time I spent outdoors, because it seemed to be good for me.

(9) I was not a softie in those days, like I sometimes fear I am becoming. I was strong, and a staunch survivor. I endured life’s vicissitudes without pampering or babying myself.  I was vigorous and ready for anything.  Now I’m lazy, slacking, undisciplined, and not ready for jack shit.

(10) In general, things that would be regarded as frequent temptations in the realm of indoor living were seen as rare opportunities in the realm of the outdoors. If somebody tossed me a doughnut, I rejoiced — I didn’t worry about my calories. If marijuana showed up, I rejoiced to smoke it, and went my way. I didn’t worry about smoking the whole bag in less than twenty-four hours because it was just so easy to keep tugging on that thing while staring at all the pretty images on my indoor computer.

In conclusion, things that I absolutely loved when I lived outdoors have become the very things I absolutely hate while I continue to try to live indoors.  The shock of the hugeness of the transition continues to be too much for me, and I am extremely surprised that I have managed to stay indoors for over a year and a half now without giving up and hitting the road.

Those are just off the top of my head. I’m sure many other benefits of homelessness will come to mind, if I really think about it. But along with those benefits came huge detriments, often suddenly and out-of-the-blue. My life was often threatened, I was subjected twice to strong armed robbery and once to arson, and many items of value were stolen from me in the night whilst I slept.

So it’s important at this stage in my journey that I resist the temptation to default back to homelessness. It’s important that I regain some of the simple disciplines that kept me trim, fit, and healthy for so many years before I ever had to be homeless. Being sedentary, after being highly active for so long, has not been a whole lot of fun.

Oh, don’t get me wrong. I have not gone so far as to get an automobile yet.  I still walk four to six miles a day for transportation, and I go on long runs on the weekends. But somehow, used to all that excessive exercise, I’ve still managed to gain fifty pounds. I gotta get that weight off – and if all else fails, I know one sure way to do it.

Once homeless? Always homeless. Guess it’s just in my blood.

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