Q. What’s going on inside?
Q. What do you mean?
A. I feel like I’m being shaken up inside.
Q. Is that bad?
A. Probably not! It’s just unfamiliar.
Q. New territory?
Q. Do you also feel torn?
A. Yes! That’s it — torn.
Q. Well, what is tearing at you? What are you torn between?
A. I’m conflicted between a number of different internal narratives, and the unresolved conflict is distorting my view of reality. I believe this is called cognitive dissonance.
Q. How long have you been like this?
A. Probably longer than I know.
Q. Why do you say that?
A. It goes at least as far back as being homeless. I would ask fifteen people if I could come stay with them for a while. Even for a night. Sometimes I even only asked if I could come over to take a shower, and leave. Sometimes I offered to pay them. Or just ask to come over for dinner on a holiday. “Can I come by on Christmas?” But nobody would ever let me in.
Q, Why not?
A. Because why should they? It wasn’t their responsibility. But they never came out and said that. They said lots of other things, though. They gave all kinds of reasons. Some reasons made more sense than others. Some of them seemed kind of cold – others kind of paranoid. I think there might have been a general sense that if you give someone an inch, they’ll take a ruler. Nobody wanted to take a chance.
Q. How did this feel?
A. Not good. I could tell that not all of their reasons were honest. Many of the reasons were implausible. I got the feeling somebody wasn’t telling me something — something about me. There must have been some reason why I deserved homelessness, rather than the chance to get inside and get back on my feet. But I couldn’t figure out what it was.
Q. What else? I mean, what did that feeling conflict with?
A. The fact that it wasn’t all me! They were doing things wrong. They weren’t being honest with me. I wanted them to come up front.
Q. But what is the essence of the dissonance?
A. The essence of the cognitive dissonance is that I could never tell how much of it was my fault, and how much of it was their fault.
Q. Why does it have to be anybody’s fault?
A. Well, somebody had to be responsible!
Q. But aren’t you the one who’s responsible for where you stay the night?
A. Yes, of course! And I failed — because I couldn’t find anyone who would let me stay the night with them.
Q. But why should that be their responsibility?
A. What does it have to do with responsibility? They were the ones who had roofs over their heads, not me! What was I going to do, ask another homeless person to let me stay at his house?
Q. But why is this all on your mind this evening?
A. Because the same dissonance is occurring, only with different variables. And I do not believe that the dissonance started with homelessness! It’s something in me! It keeps happening, in different ways, even though I’ve lived inside for years now.
A. Yes. I’ve been triggered.
A. It happens. Every now and then — you can’t know when the triggers will arise.
Q. What is it this time?
A. If it were just one person saying to me, why they can’t show up, why they don’t have the music, why they didn’t make the deadline, why they can’t do the project — it would easily be believable. But because it’s a conglomerate of people, I start to think: “What’s wrong with me? Who do they take me for? A fool? Why are they playing me? Why aren’t they coming up front? What’s wrong with everybody? Why do they lack compassion?”
Q. And that’s what you used to think when people wouldn’t let you stay overnight at their houses?
A. Yeah. In both situations, I have felt like they’re not letting me in.
Q. So what does this tell you?
A. That it must be me. Just like, when all those people weren’t letting me inside their houses – whether they were being truthful with me or not — I was what they all had in common. It was I whom they all held at bay.
And now, when all these people aren’t doing their work, or it seems like they’re not, and the team seems to be fizzling, it’s kinda like my friends — my family — they’re gradually abandoning me — they didn’t even start talking to me again after I got a place to live, after I’d stopped trying to cling to them —
My friends – my family — we don’t talk anymore, there’s my daughter, there’s no friends from the old people – no family — and these Kids —
Q. Go on.
A. These Kids — are going to leave me. Just like my friends – just like my family – –
Q. Why — why do you think so —
A. They won’t let me in. My brother, my sister — they won’t let me in. Winston and Taura — the Kids in the show — the directors, the musicians, the producers, the venues — they won’t let me in. The Family won’t — let – me – in . . .
Q. Dude! Dude – can you grab a hold of yourself?
A. Sorry, I’m flashin’ man –
Q. Are you sure this isn’t just drama? Or words for dramatic effect? To call attention to yourself when you’re feeling oversensitive, and easily abandoned, and you’re desperate for community and camaraderie?
A. Are you calling me a narcissist?
Q. Did I say narcissist?
A. No –
Q. Why is narcissism on your mind?
A. Because that thing that happens — that pattern — that syndrome — it didn’t start with homelessness. It started long before, with those very same people — and that’s why they didn’t let me in.
Q. When did it start?
A. With the Internet. Way back in around ’99 or so, when I got my first computer. I didn’t become homeless till 2004, but the Internet was a driving factor.
Q. How so?
A. I realized I could send the same message to multiple people at once. I realized this about two weeks after I’d sent my first email. A friend had sent a big email entitled: “Timmy Needs Help!” He sent it to about forty people when he was on the verge of homelessness.
Q. So you learned you could do the same?
A. Yes! Only since I didn’t become homeless for five more years, I sent the group emails for other reasons.
Q. What kinds of reasons?
A. Oh – if I’d lost my cell phone and needed somebody to call it.
Q. Isn’t that called cross-threading?
A. That’s right, I just remembered. They told me I was “cross-threading.” It isn’t cool to ask ten people to do something that can be taken care of by one.
Q. Didn’t you lose a job that way once?
A. Yeah – that was the job I lost, that made me homeless, in 2004. They were the ones who told me. First job where I had to use email. One day, I emailed five people to ask for help moving a piano, when one would have sufficed. So two of us moved the piano, and four people showed up later, and got pissed.
Q. Is that the only reason you lost the job?
A. No – but that was a reason. I was doing things like that all the time, and my boss told me to please stop cross-threading. But I didn’t.
Q. Why not?
A. I’m not sure. I think – I don’t know! It seemed like — I couldn’t! They told me I was having a first-time manic episode, and that it was all part of the episode. But to me, all I knew is I’d gotten into a habit where whenever I sent an email, it had to be sent to ten or fifteen people. I just became an Email Dispenser — dishing out emails to everybody all day long, right and left.
Q. So – did they dish ’em back?
A. No. They ignored me. I used to send music for them to hear, too. Songs I wrote. If they listened, they never told me so.
Q. And these are the people whom you asked to stay the night with?
A. Yes, by and large. A few add-ons, and some drop-offs, but basically the same list.
Q. I would assume they all said no, didn’t they?
A. For the most part. That is, if they said anything at all.
Q. Ever get the feeling you’ve been barking up the wrong tree?
A. Yes. For longer than I’ve known, and in more ways than I know.
The Questioner is silent.
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