Homelessness, Family and Identity

The other day on the Q&A site Quora ,someone asked why homeless people don’t go stay with their families.  The person who asked that question seemed a bit naive, so I thought I’d enlighten them.  

Again, I can only answer by sharing my personal experience. However, it might point to a generality.

I first became homeless in April 2004. In May of that year, I asked my brother if I could stay at his house, where I knew he had a spare room. He said no. I asked him why? He said: “I won’t expand.”

It hurt me. I was not drinking. I was not on drugs. I was out in the cold. Although at the time, I took it as rejection, I later realized that he needed privacy. He probably had some private practice that he wished not to share with anyone, let alone his brother, who might be disdainful of whatever private habit he indulged. That’s just a theory. But I’ll go on.

LGBT Homeless YouthI asked my sister if I could stay at her house. She said no. She, however, gave me a reason. She had a very small house, was aging with health concerns, in a wheelchair, and with live-in care. My presence in the house would not have helped her health, and I can understand that. (She is since deceased.)

I was already running out of relatives, but the point is that once I had asked them all if I could stay there, all of them had said no. At the time, I took it as though there were something terribly wrong with me. But that was not the case. They all had reasons why they couldn’t permit another person in their space.

My best female friend while I was homeless was a woman who had had two strokes, and difficulty speaking. Again, she did not use drugs. But it took great patience to understand what she was saying or trying to do. Her relatives responded by never having her over to their houses, even on holidays and special occasions.

She would cry. “I used to play tennis. I used to wait tables. I used to ride a bicycle.” She would be arrested while she was sleeping, and once spent four nights in jail because the cops had no empathy for her condition. They woke her up because she wasn’t sleeping in the right place – a parking lot — and when she began to talk in strange half-words, they clamped handcuffs on her and put her in a jail.

In other words, she was criminalized for being gravely disabled, and for sleeping.

Believe me, I was homeless for a lot of years. People seemed to think it should have been easy for me to have pulled out of it. But for the better part of twelve years, all roads in the San Francisco Bay Area only led back to homelessness. People would ask me: “What about the halfway house? The rehabs? The shelters? The board and care homes?” Board and care, maybe, I can see that — if I were the type who wanted to completely give up all his freedoms. But I’m not that type – thank God. So it wasn’t too long before I realized that all the well-meaning advice was useless. Those advisers had never been homeless, and they had never been me.

All roads led me back to a quiet spot beneath the stars where nobody could find me and where I could say my prayers. That I am now living indoors and free to illuminate the sordid realities of homelessness to those who do not know, is the answer to those prayers.

I hope this helps.

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Anything Helps – God Bless!

 

The Second Act

I’m currently lodged within an out-of-the-way fast food joint on the edge of town with a Wireless connection and a very limited number of customers on site.   I figure I’m removed enough from my ordinary itinerary that I’m not likely to be disturbed as I try to sink my teeth into the Opening of Act Two.

I did write four pages Monday morning before my first meeting with the therapist to whom I have been assigned.  I had been struggling for about three days with exactly how to begin the second Act, prior to its opening number: Hunted.   During those three days, there was a sequence of illuminations, each one drawing me closer to the point where I could confidently put pen to page.   Then, when I wrote those pages, I was rolling.  They were almost right.  However, the first time that new characters needed to arrive, I got stuck again.  Something was wrong.

I retreated into incubation; and arguably, into depression.  I really wanted to be rolling — to be flowing.  I don’t enjoy these lulls.  But once again, during the lull, I gradually received a substantial illumination.  It is now clear to me that if I want to know what the entrance of the new characters is all about, I’m going to have to go back and rewrite the first four pages.   Those four pages in and of themselves seem very effective, but they are not sufficiently continuous with the end of Act One.  The continuity that I need in order to proceed must be evident at the very beginning of the Act — not midway through the first Scene.  

light-goes-onSo the light had gone on, and I could relax a bit.  Still, none of this is as important to me at this moment as the substance of this first meeting with my therapist.  I had been nervous prior to seeing him.   I’m not a person who very readily places his trust in psychologists or psychiatrists.  At times, they have even seemed to be the very enemies of Art in my highly defensive view.  But this time, I had too much to get off my chest — and too much at stake.  Moreover, the doctor who recently diagnosed me as “mildly bipolar” strongly encouraged me to seek therapy in order to supplement the low dose of the mood stabilizer that he had prescribed.  So I was eager to meet with Dave, the therapist — though admittedly very nervous.  

To my surprise, Dave made me feel quite comfortable the moment I walked through the door.  As it turns out, he is from a musical family.  He himself is musical, as are his parents and siblings, and his daughter is a high school music teacher.  More crucially, he thinks like an Artist.  So I could tell that, as I discussed the dilemma of the Writer’s Block that had paralyzed me for three years, and its lingering effects, I sensed that he identified. 

When I finished my explanation, he said something very profound, and I quote:

Wherever Art is involved, the ego of the Artist
is something that the Artist will seek to protect at all costs.

His insight was that, in the manner in which I could not “take or leave” the perplexing implications in the professor’s critique (see this post), I was protecting my ego for the sake of my Art.  The manner in which I protected my ego was, unfortunately, to pester the professor, badger him, and possibly be perceived as a threat to his own well-being as I persistently tried to persuade him to clarify his mysterious review before it drove me nuts.  All the while, I was blocked against further work on the project, because I couldn’t rectify my respect for his opinion with the fact that I was unable to understand it.

His theory is that the professor himself, also being an Artist, had to protect his own ego, for the sake of his own professionalism.  He had hoped I would “take it or leave it.”  Had I been more professional, I most certainly would have left it.  Unfortunately, due to my very low station in life at the time, being lucky enough to have secured a 30-day stay in a homeless shelter during the Winter, with no possessions to my name other than the laptop which was, in fact, a gift from the professor, I was unable to ascend to the level of professionalism the professor expected of me.  In my downtrodden state of being, I considered that script to be all I had going for me.  Since the professor was the only person in the business who was paying any attention to me, I placed an inordinate amount of hope in his estimate of my work.  Then, when he “panned” me, I felt attacked.  So I protected myself – by fighting back.   He then protected his own self – by withdrawing, and eventually removing me from all Internet interfaces.

This all seemed somehow perfectly understandable.  Dave was able to help me see a broader view, in which the professor and I were more alike than different.  Our artistic egos are strangely locking horns in an invisible dimension of the Arts.  Both egos desire the horns to be unlocked.  It only takes one entity to unlock both horns.  I only have the power over the horns of one of the entities.  It’s time I unlocked the horns of my ego – and my ego will be at peace.

horns Dave then asked how the script was coming along now.  Perking up, I was able to convey the happy news, how the block first began to break at a cathartic Thanksgiving dinner, where a kind family from my church permitted me to express my angst without judging me or writing me off as some kind of petty bastard, wallowing in the bitterness of a broken friendship.   I shared how, gradually, more and more people in my community have tuned into my project, and have shown a surprising amount of support for my work.  But most of all, I shared how I had proceeded much further into the script than ever before, more slowly and carefully, reaching the end of Act One even, and on into the second Act.   The 91 pages now are far more evolved than the earlier 56 pages of relative drivel I submitted in haste to the previous professor.   Nor am I at an impasse or any kind of roadblock, but plowing steadily forward to the end of Act Two.  My creative life has been transformed far and away for the better, since the darker days of dejection, despair, and dependency upon the approval of a single, detached individual.  As I approach the end of the Second Act, I need neither praise nor blame.  My approval resounds from within and without me.  My God has accepted my work.