Gratitude List 1174

(1)  Though I felt very lethargic this morning after oversleeping, I now feel more alive and energetic than I’ve been for several days.   Thankful for a good night’s sleep and for a quiet, secluded place where I can achieve it.

(2) Thankful for my bicycle.  On the brisk ride to the Courtyard, the air felt fresh and a tad moist as though I were swimming in it.

(3) Free Starbucks coffee at the Courtyard, second cup completely consumed.

(4) Made a new piano CD called Pinnacle.   (Link is to a SoundCloud playlist.)   I’ve got this idea I can sell them for $10 locally and $15 if I have to mail them to somebody.   In fact, if you want one, why not just donate anonymously on the link at the bottom and leave me your mailing info on my contact page Really, I’m pretty happy with it, and I’m thankful for the church that gave me a key to a building with a Baldwin grand piano.

(5) A third cup of coffee.  :)

(6)  Although arguably I did not change overnight on my 66th birthday, I rejoice in that according to the United States government, apparently I have changed for the better.  Apparently, I am no longer “disabled” but “retired” now.  The ironic upshot is that I now can work as much as I want without them chopping my disability check, because it is no longer a disability check, but a retirement check.  I may now joyfully join the ranks of all the other blokes who seem to work harder after they retire (no social statement intended.)

(7) Nice video chat with my daughter yesterday.  She appears to have a nice boyfriend now, which is a relief.   Had a nice chat with him about our parallel experiences with the Boy Scouts.  I saw an omelette he made her for “breakfast in bed.”  Obviously, he is quite the chef, and treats the lady kindly.

(8) Very thankful for the current close-knit creative, culturally conscious community tucked in between all those tall hills and at least one major mountain.   It’s a microcosm.  I love this place.

(9) Tuned into CityLab recently, and the wonderful work they’re doing to raise awareness as to how to make American cities more livable and sustainable for all.   Grateful for Alastair Boone, and for her strong encouragement toward my lending my voice through the medium of journalism.

(10) The first article for my new column Homeless No More was published a few days ago in the June issue of Street Spirit.   There isn’t a whole lot of money in this, but what’s money?   I’m just grateful I live indoors, and God has been very good to me.

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Gratitude List 1116

(1) I’m in good spirits this morning, and rested, after a lengthy period of anxiety and self-doubt.

(2) I’ll be turning 66 on Wednesday, and I have yet to have a serious physical ailment beyond a flu or a common cold.

(3) I’m at a new clinic where I have finally begun to receive effective treatment for my Severe ADHD and Dyslexia.

(4) Though I awoke discouraged, I found myself encouraged after a long talk with my good friend Danielle, wherein I was reminded of all the many positives in my present life.

(5) Just after Danielle and I got off the phone, I received a first-time call from Jennifer, the new behavioral health specialist at the clinic.   As a result of her influence and insight, I am uplifted.  I am now encouraged to focus on that which I am able to change; i.e., my own self, and not on those whom I am unable to change; i.e., most of my old friends and family members in the State of California.

(6) Alastair not only published two of my articles in the April issue of Street Spirit, but is giving me the opportunity to write regular monthly articles on a certain exciting theme, and also is willing to recommend my work to three major San Francisco Bay Area newspapers.

(7) I have found a publishing house in White Plains, Michigan willing to publish the anthology I am compiling of stories I’ve written about homelessness in America.

(8) Two weeks ago, I received a definite offer for a production of an unstaged concert-reading of Eden in Babylon at a local community theatre company.  The only reason I’ve not yet said “yes” is because a fully staged production is in the works at a much larger venue on the University level.   

(9) I have not met one person in this city who does not want to see Eden in Babylon produced here and elsewhere.   By contrast, there was not one person in the last city where I lived who cared about my musical at all.

(10) Three years ago I was in that city — and I was sleeping under a bridge.  I had been homeless and borderline-homeless in the San Francisco Bay Area for twelve years — and life was getting worse and worse.  Everybody I knew had given me up for gone.   Everybody I knew was just waiting to read my obituary, and I myself expected to die a miserable death in a California gutter.   Now, three years later, every prayer that I prayed to God in anger, yea, in outrage – is being answered – in spades.

Life will always have its ups and downs, and we are none of us perfect.   But the fact that I am not only alive and healthy, but also in the process of fulfilling my life’s dream, is little short of a miracle.  Glory to God – to the One True God — Jesus Christ – on High.

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Gratitude List 1001

1. Despite being once again bent out of shape over family difficulties, I turned in my article for Street Spirit on time last night, and even think I did a good job.  

2. Once again, I had the experience of feeling hassled over personal issues when I was outside trying to work in a coffee shop last night, and then moments later, walking through my front door and immediately being overwhelmed with gratitude and a sense of the love of God.

3. Very much enjoyed playing piano for the two nursing homes yesterday afternoon.  It is a particular blessing to be playing a Wurlitzer spinet at Aspen, identical to the one I grew up with, on which I first learned how to play a piano.

4. Heard from my friend Guy, who is a pianist, a singer, and an Acting teacher.  He gave me a great compliment on Holiday, beginning with the word “Wow” and again affirmed for me that it’s hard to believe that this sound quality came from a smartphone only. 

5. Had a auspicious 10-minute scheduled phone call with my editor that may lead to more work writing articles for other newspapers where she has worked.

6. Though my ingrown or distrophic left toenail snapped open when I tried to put on a pair of socks last night, I’m lucky I had some benzocaine on hand so I could apply the local anesthetic and yank it off myself, thus saving an expensive trip to a doctor whom I probably wouldn’t trust with my toenail anyway.

7. Looking forward to Christmas Eve services at my church tonight.

8. Though I awakened at three in the morning once again troubled over a family member, the Gregorian chant I just put on is helping me realize that I really can get some needed sleep again, and that things will probably look brighter in the morning.

9. Nice to have a place of my own where my sleep is uninterrupted by external insanity and cruelty.

10. If celibacy was good enough for Jesus, St. Paul, and St. Francis, then it is certainly good enough for me.  Very very thankful at this moment to be alone with the God who has blessed my solitude by permitting me to accomplish a plethora of creative, meaningful work that no living situation in the past has fostered.  Thank God for the God of Peace.  

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The H-Word

This post is an expansion on the fourth “buzzword” cited in my previous post, The Homeless Buzzwords.  I wrote it on request from Alastair Boone, the new editor of Street Spirit, whose fine editing is already evident in this piece.

Once, before I had gained more savvy in the realm of outdoor living, I asked a man if he were “homeless.” He replied: “Homeless is just a word.”

His answer still sticks with me. Homeless is just a word, one that is over-used to describe the experience of somebody who, for one reason or another, does not have a place to call their own. It fails to capture any of the individual characteristics that make the homeless person, well, a person.

homeless stigmaIn the twelve years when I lived outside, this word had a way of making me feel that I was in some way distinctly set apart from the rest of the human race. At times, the word suggested that possibly I was not even fully human. I quickly learned that in this over-generalization, the “H-Word” carries with it so much stigma that its usage actually had the power to actively work against me in a number of different ways.

I often found that avoiding the label of “homeless” was the only way to reach my personal goals. For it would be from that label that all the other distracting labels would spring. Drug addict. Nut case. Lazy Bum. Loser. If instead I somehow managed to be seen only as a fellow human being, and not as a “homeless” person, then my chances of achieving my goals were greatly enhanced.

Not the least of these goals was to find dignified dwelling. Not just any old place to live, but a place that I could truly call my own, where I could attend to all the things that make me the human being who I am—not just the homeless guy, but the human guy—the unique individual who goes by my name. Too often I had seen landlords reject a prospective tenant after learning that they had been homeless at some earlier point in time.

Even recently, a 65-year old man came to the Recovery Center where I work, and was extremely open about his having become homeless at the first time in his life. He had received assistance from St. Vincent DePaul and another charitable organization in the area, and was referred to me to help him find a room at a local residence hotel, where I was on good terms with the manager.

However, by the time I contacted the manager on his behalf, the manager had already heard about the man through the grapevine, this being a very small community, and the man in question a very outspoken fellow. The landlord explained to me simply:

“No, Andy — if I let him in off the streets, I will have let them all in. And I’m sorry, I just can’t take that risk.”

I had hoped to head off his reputation at the pass, but unfortunately it preceded me.  I then remembered how another landlord of my acquaintanceship had once told me, point blank:

“If there are ten people on my rental application, and I find out that one of them has been homeless, there will soon be only nine people on that application.”

Sadly, all of this corroborates with my overall experience with the homeless condition. Not only landlords and apartment managers, but people in general do not like to have homeless people on their premises. There seems to be a prevailing notion that if a person has become homeless, then they must have somehow “messed up” their living situation somehow. “Therefore,” continues the line of thought, “let’s not have them mess up mine.

So, at the end of my homeless sojourn, when I finally did find a place that was to my liking, what do you think I did? I found a landlord who had no reason to see me as anything other than a fellow human being, in a place where nobody would have any knowledge of my homelessness, and I basically started afresh from scratch—just to get my foot in the door. Literally. The H-Word in no way entered into the process.

The H-Word, after all, is divisive. Its essential function is to cause division. The person to whom this word applies—the “homeless person”—is pitted against the person to whom the word does not apply; the “housed person,” if you will. From that moment on, it’s: “You stay in your camp; I stay in mine; never the twain shall meet.” By categorizing all the vastly disparate reasons that one might live outside under the umbrella of “homeless,” society gives itself permission to ignore these stories altogether. If the H-word doesn’t apply to you, then you can put those people in a box and carry on your way.

People who have been so privileged as to always have lived indoors often don’t grasp that the H-word is not just a neutral label used to describe one’s state of living. It also packs a punch that has the power to keep you from finding a place to live, and from leaving the experience of homelessness behind. Simply put, this word carries in it a certain violence. Because of this, I prefer to talk about those who live “outside” or “outdoors,” rather than “the homeless,” whenever possible. I feel called upon to emphasize that the main difference between those who are homeless and those who are not is that the homeless person lives outdoors—exposed and vulnerable to all kinds of external influences, human or inhuman, foul or fair. Whoever is not homeless lives inside and as such is protected from the vast array of such external elements.

Acutely aware of such disparities, many people struggling with homelessness will do everything they can to conceal their homelessness from those who live indoors. They become driven into the realm of invisibility in order to avoid the stigma that arises as soon as the question is posed: “Hey – are you homeless?” When spoken, the flood of unwanted connotations and generalities comes rushing in. In the midst of all this, the truth of the actual person who is happens to live outside—their individual and unique story—is forgotten.

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Gratitude List 907

1. Slept rather sweetly between 10pm and 5am.

2. Glad I didn’t flake on the commitment to go running with Jay every Saturday. Only did two miles today, but didn’t stop, and was definitely stronger than the first Saturday.

3. We celebrated the 3rd birthday of our Recovery Center on Saturday, and it was a warm occasion.

4. Daily Skype calls and phone calls with my daughter have been a wonderful blessing at this time.

5. Again very thankful for my new Galaxy J-3, a great gift from a great friend.

6. Same thing goes for this ThinkPad – another great gift from another great friend. Also very grateful that I own not one, not two, but actually three laptop computers now. That would have never been possible in my previous life.

7. Got my Street Spirit check as well as a complimentary September issue containing my article.

8. Finished my article for October and will post it on Thursday.

9. The vocal score is coming along. I’ve also noticed that it’s the kind of work I can still perform while preoccupied, distracted, or disgruntled. It’s therapeutic, and helps me to process some of my internal difficulties. Very grateful for all my schooling, and for my ability to compose and arrange music of my own liking.

10. We tend to be worrisome as well as critical of ourselves over this-and-that. But God views us with love, and in that light there is comfort.

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Gratitude List 906

(1) My daughter and I have been in touch daily, on phone, Skype, and text chat.   This blesses my heart.

(2) I was feeling empty and heavy after much oversleep and willful wishing to escape from my allotted difficulties.  But as soon as I stepped into the One World Cafe, I felt full again, and light.

(3) The Round Table.   It’s nice to have a specific table at the cafe that has come to be associated with productivity and forward motion.

(4) Sugar free short mocha.  It helps.

(5) Nice weather at 68F degrees, nearing noon already.

(6) The people at the Recovery Center really enjoy my piano music, and are going to pipe it over the speakers at the Fairgrounds when we have our picnic.

(7) The new editor has another assignment for me, due Wednesday, and I got a little excited as she articulated it.  It’s fun to be sinking my teeth into journalism at this time.

(8) It looks as though I’ve just about scored the first five numbers in my vocal score.  I’m saying they’ll be all done by Friday.

(9) I really like my pastor and my church.

(10) It’s nice to have a quiet apartment to come home to, when I feel worn.  I didn’t have that for a lot of years.  I had to shuffle about outdoors, looking for places to crash on large lawns, and on the subway, arousing suspicion wherever I went.  It’s so nice to be unsuspected in life — to be respected, and regarded as an equal.  What to do with this great gift is the question — but more will be revealed.   

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Tuesday Tuneup 23

Q. Where would you like to be?

A. In a safe place.

Q. Is there something about your present place that is not safe?

A. What kind of a dumb question is that?  Of course there is!  Why else would I wish I were in safer place?

Q. Could you be a bit more specific, please?

A. What do you mean?

Q. What is it exactly about your present place that is unsafe?

A. That’s a good question.  Let me think about this for a while.

Pause.

A. Well, it’s like this.  I can’t exactly say that I’m in an unsafe place, at least not with respect to many of the other places where I’ve been.  When I slept on a pile of cardboard in a high-crime district, I was considerably more unsafe.   Yet at the same time, if I took care of myself, and I did the right things, I felt that God protected me.

Q. And if you did not take care of yourself, and did not do the right things?

A. I sometimes got burned.  He protected me insofar as that He spared me my life, and saw to it that I didn’t suffer as much bodily harm or psychological damage as a lot of the people around me.   But I was hit enough — and hurt enough, hard enough — to get the message.

Q. That message being?

A. All over the Book of Proverbs — for starts.   But I’m afraid we’ve drifted from the point.

Q. And what’s the point?

A. The point is that, even though I’m living in a nice one-bedroom apartment in a secluded area with good neighbors, lots of protection, and a couple of locks on my door, there’s something about the place I’m at that isn’t safe.  It’s not my physical spot that is my biggest concern.  It’s my mental spot — where my head is at.

Q. And where’s your head at?

A. All over the map, man.  I still dwell on a lot of the situations from my past, people from my past — from my homelessness.  The people who tried to help me, even though they didn’t quite really get what my problem was, and so they couldn’t really help.  And not only them, but the people who tried to hurt me, and who sometimes succeeded.  And not only them, but — 

Q. But whom?

A. My friends.  The people I miss.  The people who were in the same boat as I was.  People who, for one reason or another, had lost their homes.   We bonded together.  We prayed together.  We watched each other’s backs.   We were there for each other, whenever somebody was down, or hassled, or messed with in some way.  It was powerful.  And that bonding, that love — I miss it.

Q. But isn’t there love in your life today?

A. Lots of it!  Don’t get me wrong.  But it’s a different kind of love.

Q. What makes it different?

A. Context.  

Q. What do you mean?

A. See, I don’t have the same issues here.  And the people I hang with, they don’t have the kinds of issues I had back then.  Most of them never have.   So when we share our love with each other, it’s on an entirely different basis.

Q. Is that a bad thing?

A. Not at all.  It’s just that — I sometimes feel alone.  As though my own specific experience, the particularly powerful progression of my life that has shaped me, is too weird for anybody to relate to.   So while I may not be surrounded by people who blatantly want to hurt me, the ones who want to help me don’t quite know how to help.  Or maybe I don’t let them help.  I mean, I gotta admit, my pastor helps.  My lady friend, she helps — though it’s not her job, and I sometimes feel guilty.  I should be helping her, supporting her.  But I’m not.   I’m still on disability, and all screwed up in the head.  So I turn to the therapists, to the doctors, to the system.  And I find that — 

Q. That what?

A. They totally don’t help.  It happened just this morning even.  I go to the therapist, and I think I’m advocating for myself, and I’m finding once again that I really like the guy, and I’m thinking it’s all good — and then, at the end of the session, it all comes down to the same old thing.  That same old useless, worthless band-aid that can never really stop what’s bleeding inside.

Q. What same old useless, worthless band-aid?

A. Lithium. 

Q. Lithium?

A. You heard me.  No matter what I do and where I go, it all comes down to lithium.

Q. Why do they keep wanting to put you on lithium?

mental abuse quoteA. Because they’re boxing me into a box and not listening to my real issues.  They think they know something more about me than I know about myself, because of their credentials and alleged expertise in their field.  But how can they know me, if they’re not listening?   They think that just because it’s well-known that those of us who are quote-unquote “bipolar” don’t like to take our medication, it means that I’m in denial, and I’ve got to take their medications.  What a bunch of malarky.   They might as well have told me that just because people are bipolar don’t like to walk across a pile of hot coals, then I’m in denial, and so I better walk across a pile of hot coals.   Think about it!  Do they think I’m stupid?

Q. I son’t know — do they?

A. Probably not.  But I sure think they’re stupid, if they think that after all I’ve been through, I’m going to turn around and start believing anybody who wears a badge.  And I won’t!  Because I already know what’s going to happen   That lithium won’t have anything to do with clearing out all of the garbage that is related to years of living on the streets.  Which of course is the part they never listen to — the main part.  The important part.  And you know what else it will do?

Q. What?

A. It will destroy all the things that are good about me.  The things that I waited years to be able to get inside and do –  and that now I’m finally doing — because I finally got myself inside. 

Q. What things?  What things are good about you?

A. Dude!  My piano playing!  My speaking!  My writing!  My playwriting!  My songwriting!  All of that good stuff that I so delight in finally being able to do will be trashed and shot the hell if I take their lithium — just like it’s been trashed whenever I’ve taken any other psychiatric drug that those bastards have never ceased to cram down my throat!   I lost a $50.000 annnual income in 2004 because of a psych med!  And do those money-guzzling mainstream, medical monsters give a damn?  Do they care?  Do they care about Andy??  Do they???

Pause.

Q. Do I detect a note of resentment?

A. Listen, I’m sorry I got so pissed off.  But now you understand how hard it is to keep going back to that damn clinic and trying to advocate myself.  When they throw their crap back at me, I explode.  I hate those medical bastards so much for what they did to me all my life – you don’t even know how much I hate them.  All of them.

Q. But aren’t you — stigmatizing them?   Lumping them into a box?   Much as you yourself dislike being pigeonholed, can’t you find it somewhere inside yourself to be more open to them?  To forgive them?  To give them another chance?

A. There’s a big difference between forgiving them and just swallowing any damn pill they stuff down my esophagus.

Q. Then what are we to do about it?  Shall we adjourn until next Tuesday, and give you a chance to get your bearings?

A. Sounds like a plan.  I’ll need about a week to cool down.

Q. May I be excused now?

A. You may.   Thank you for your time.  

The Questioner is silent.  

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