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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An Open Letter to the Community

Sun, 13 Oct 2019 8:17:54 PM -0700
From: Andy Pope
To: Heart of the Arts
Subject: An Open Letter to the Community

To Whom It May Concern:

I’m sensing from everybody’s non-response that everybody thinks I am making a mistake.  If so, everybody is wrong.

Nobody but me is in my head and my body when the peak of unmanageable anxiety strikes.  Why should I risk running out of the church screaming after throwing all my messed up attempts at organizing my work onto the floor?  True, you guys are tolerant.  True, my friend the church secretary was right when she said that very few people would have done what she did afterwards, which was to pick up everything and sort it back together after I threw an apparent tantrum.  But nobody but me is inside my head and my body.  Nobody but me knows that the “tantrum” is an effect of uncontrollable levels of anxiety that are solely produced by a failed attempt to manage vibrations from multiple human entities while trying to focus on the single task of vocal-directing for musical theatre as I always used to be able to do so prior to the Summer of 2017.

I know what you all are thinking. You’re thinking that Opportunity has knocked. You’re thinking that here’s a way for me to “give back” and make a contribution to the community. Well! I would make a much stronger contribution to the community if I sat here at home and finished the vocal score — which is nearly done, honestly, just a few glitches to correct — until it was in such a condition that somebody of the calibre of [Name Withheld] could interpret and direct it (if he wanted to) and somebody of the caliber of [Name Withheld] could actually play it. And they don’t have the problem dealing with the panoroma of discontinuous non-myopic autistic dyslexic blah blah blah that I do. I know everybody else is a nice person and tolerant and a good Christian but if so, why is everybody making me suffer?

It’s because nobody understands the autism spectrum, you all think it’s a moral problem, and the notion that I personally do not have any God-given desire to interact, other than in a superficial way, with any other human being again -let alone two or three or more — is unfathomable to all you social animals.  I’m an Autistic Artist and I Need My Space.

Now about the Summer of 2017. I was already speeding up the tempos before I lost the church job. But I could still VD – I just could. I remember one time taking over a Choir rehearsal and doing it. It was musical theatre style as per high school students as per my experience but the fact was I could do it. I tried the same thing last year, with my own music even, and I could NOT do it. It had to have been what happened throughout the summer of 2017 at the Friendship Apartments.  It hasn’t happened since then — but it left its mark.  PTSD is real.  You guys have gotta grasp that I’m not just whining.

I failed to help my ex-wife, I failed to help my daughter, I failed at vocal-directing my own show last Summer, and I will fail at everything I set out to do henceforth if I don’t wholeheartedly go about doing the one thing I seem to be doing right, which is write.(Other than a play a piano, and that sure isn’t making the O.G. any money. Not in this neck, and not without a car, and I’ll be damned if I try to start driving again after 15 years. Can any of you even imagine it? I’d wipe out on the first day.)

Mortimer J. Adler - Wikipedia
Mortimer Adler

To me this is a no-brainer. Now I’ve been trying to read Mortimer Adler and my reading of even the Prologue was hounded by these thoughts as-yet-unexpressed, so I have expressed them. Hopefully this has not been at the expense of the health of any of the recipients. Anyway this is easy reading and engaging compared to most Philosophy.  I think his thought is very important. I wish my daughter would read it — but this is not about my daughter. It’s about my musical and the heart failure I will have if I re-enter the exact same stress that I couldn’t handle last Summer.

We don’t have a Stage Manager. We don’t truly have a Vocal Director who can handle this score. We don’t have a rehearsal accompanist. All we have is a playwright trying to do five people’s jobs. We don’t even have but four people committed in the cast! How can I pull this thing off with only Kelsey and the Three Girls? It is not possible. I will just be going through the same junk as last Summer.

I’ve already talked to Dave and the deal is off. This show will be produced when it’s good and ready and not a moment before. I am not Superman.

Yes, scoring a piano-vocal score will take forever. Maybe I can find a piano-playing music student with perfect pitch and send them the recordings.  They’ll probably need to get paid.  And that’s another story!  But somebody has to sometime give the O.G. a break, I’m sixty-six, I’m retired, I want to write at home and live a quiet life.  I didn’t write a musical so as to get all wrapped up in its production and have the same kind of nervous breakdown that caused me to become homeless in the first place in 2004.  I do not need to become homeless again.

I wrote a musical so I could make a needed statement to America on an important issue using a medium with which I have a wealth of experience.  My role should be restricted to an occasional show-up at a production staff meeting and a show-up on Opening Night with a date.

Seriously,

Andy

P.S. And this weird idea floating around town that I’m supposed to have a lady friend or some kind of wife or girlfriend has got to be the most preposterous proposal ever propounded. Talk about adding stress to stress!  You guys act like I was born yesterday.  Really!

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Tuesday Tuneup 33

Q. Where would you like to be?

A. In a place of peace.

Q. Are you at war?

A. Yes.

Q. With whom?

A. With my enemies, of course.

Q. And who are your enemies?

A. Good question.  I tend to think that there are two of them — two young rapscallions from the hood, deluded young gentlemen who are often ringing my doorbell at odd hours of the night, for lengthy periods of time, and only to request annoying favors of me.

Q. These two young rapscallions — are they truly your ememies?

A. Probably not.   My enemies are probably more internal than external.  

internal enemyQ. What do you mean by that?

A. Well you know, I have all these inner blocks or demons that try to prevent me from staying the course, from keeping to what I’m about, and all that.

Q. But if a guy rings your doorbell at three in the morning, and keeps ringing and knocking until you finally give up and go answer it, and you can’t get back to sleep, how is that your fault in any way?

A. You know something, you’re right.  Almost any O.G. would not be able to get to sleep after something like that!

Q. So why are you being such a pushover?

A. That’s the internal enemy I’m talking about.  I’m a pushover.  The Kid knows that once a month, I’m going to be available to walk down to the nearest ATM and get him money for his chewing tobacco.   So what I’ve got to do is just say NO and say it firmly.  

Q. Why haven’t you done this already?

A. He keeps catching me off guard.  Both of them do — the other one’s not so flagrantly nefarious – but he’s still got his angle.  And his angle involves me, because—

Q. Because?

A. Because I’m a pushover.  And worse yet, I just told the whole world about it.  Pretty soon, every rambunctious rapscallion in town will be knocking on my door.  On MY door!  On the lockable, locked door that I EARNED – after putting in twelve hard years on the streets, where there was no door to be locked, or even to offer the slightest separation from me and all the evils of the night.  What a fool I am to willfully descreate and violate the sanctity of my sanctuary!   Damn, I’m pissed.

Q. And now?

A. And now what?  I just have to make the internal change, and enforce it, and be firm about it.  It’s like — a life lesson.  It’s something I’m supposed to learn here, while I’m on this Earth, and take it to the next stage of experience, when I’m not.

Q. You think so?

A. Sounds good to me.   Not knowing how to stand up for myself and say NO to people landed me in a gutter for over ten years.  I daresay I shan’t make the same mistake twice.

The Questioner is Silent.

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Brotherly Love

As any of my close readers surely know, I’m a person who made a dramatic shift in  location and lifestyle round about July 2016.   So dramatic, that I’ve been having some difficulty relating to old friends and family members.

I don’t know if age is “relative,” but I do know that as I’m about to turn 65, I feel like a fit and vigorous, healthy man. Even though I earlier lamented that I’d gained weight and that my vital signs no longer boasted a 55 heart rate and a 100/65 blood pressure, I found recently when I had a check-up that my pulse is still 60, and my blood pressure 112/80.  Although I suppose it’s inevitable that I eventually contract a serious disease, I’m not any more worried about it than I was twenty or thirty years ago.  The idea that life stops at 65 flies in the face of the fact that after twelve years of homelessness, I feel that my life has just begun.

So when old friends contact me, I often feel a tinge of depression.  Most of them are so depressed and distracted by life.  Of course I have moments of depression, but I don’t live there.  One of my friends never even laughs at my jokes anymore.  It’s not that I mind being around depressed people when I’m not at depressed myself.  I’m not that insensitive.  It’s that it’s hard for me to deal with their expectation that I, too, am “supposed” to be feeling depressed or miserable, at this stage in my life.

At the local Recovery Center where I volunteer, I try to help other men who have had similar issues as my own, whether derived from homelessness or from some other form of sustained trauma.   So I asked my counselors there about this dynamic.

One of the counselors suggested I don’t contact any of these people at all, even the ones whom I’ve always gotten on well with.  She said that to continue buzzing them is only preventing me from fully embracing my new and better life.

Then I asked: “What about my brother?”

“That’s different,” she said. “Contact him about three times a year, unless he contacts you first.”

At that, I figured it was about time to contact him.  So I did.  He hasn’t contacted me back, but that’s just Steve.  In some ways, he’s about as opposite of me as they come.  Whereas I tend to use too many words to convey my point, he tends not to use enough.  Also, his issues are much different than mine – what I know of them.  Basically, he was brought up by my logical-scientific dad, and I was brought up by my emotional Sicilian mother.  Somehow, she favored me, me being the first-born son.  But Dad favored my brother.  As the first-born son, I was supposed to follow in his footsteps.  But the logical-scientific stuff was just — not me.  It was Steve.  So Dad taught my little brother everything he knew — so much so that Steve got 800’s all across the board on his achievement tests: physics, chemistry, and Math Level 2.  He graduated with a 4.0 from the California Institute of Technology.   I haven’t graduated from anywhere.

Not yet, anyway.


The above is my rendition of an old Hollies song I kinda like.  In this day and age, we often feel that our siblings have been a burden to us.  I often think I must have burdened my brother quite a bit when I was still homeless, continually looking for help that he was not disposed to provide.   Similarly, I wonder if he feels he was burdened by me.  It seems to be a dynamic in modern life that one brother will “succeed” financially, and the other won’t.   I wonder if I gypped him out of some of his success, by leaning on him, as I did.

In any case, I thought of him as I played this song.   If only we, as Christians or spiritual people, could freely bear the burdens of our birth brothers and sisters, the way we so readily bear the burdens of our brothers and sisters in Christ.  Here’s hoping.

I love you, Steve.