Gratitude List 1607

(1) It used to be, people either begrudgingly tolerated me or completely avoided me. That these young people not only do neither — but actually appear to look up to me and admire me — is almost more than my fragile ego can bear.

(2) I’d assumed it was still the heat wave when I first stepped out the door to check my mail at around noon. To my surprise, it was cloudy, cool — and perfect running weather. My sunset run is scheduled to be sweet.

(3) Finished sequencing Sirens of Hope last night – check it out. It’s the opening number to my musical – the Kids will be singing to that track in lots of big harmonies. Lyrics are right here. Thankful for being in the position to move forward with this project, after all these years.

(4) I believe I may have found a good therapist at Community Care. They take both my forms of insurance, and I believe the therapist is versed in issues pertaining to PTSD. We begin on Wednesday.

(5) Meeting with the Professor of Journalism on Zoom in three minutes. Still kinda blown away that people like professors with degrees would even associate with me — but on the other hand, why wouldn’t they? Glad I’m finally going to get some help.

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Tuesday Tuneup 78

Q. What’s going on inside?

A. Upheaval.

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?

A. Yeah.

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.   

Q. PTSD?

A. Yes.  I’ve been triggered.  

Q. Again?

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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A little bit goes a long, long way. 

 

Fourth Column Published

At some point, I slacked on getting these Street Spirit columns posted on Thursdays in a timely fashion.   Here’s my 4th column, as it was published in the November issue.  More to come.   

The Homeless Habits that Followed Me Indoors
by Andy Pope

One of the many unexpected challenges that arose during my transition from homelessness to indoor living stemmed from the fact that I had simply gotten used to living outdoors. This caused many of the practices that worked for me when I was homeless to be carried over into the context of indoor living. While some of these lingering habits clearly didn’t apply indoors, others of them worked fairly well, both inside and out. In any case, all of them were surprisingly hard to shake. These hard-to shake habits fell into four main categories: Sleeping, eating, livelihood, and self-esteem.

Sleeping

When I was homeless, I got used to sleeping on two or three layers of cardboard placed over a hard surface.  I often slept on sidewalks, stairways, ramps, and cement alcoves positioned beneath awnings.   To off-set the hardness of such surfaces, I would pile on layers of cardboard until it simulated the effect of a mattress.

The problem with this, as far as my transition is concerned, was that I found I needed to use the same set-up in order to functionally sleep inside.  I tried sleeping in the bed that was provided in my first indoor room, but it just didn’t feel right.  I wasn’t used to sleeping in a bed.  So I set up three layers of cardboard on the hardwood floor, piled on an ample amount of blankets, and found I went right to sleep.  In fact, I slept much better than I’d ever slept outdoors.  I had combined the comfort of my preferred set-up with the added security of sleeping inside, where I was no longer vulnerable to the numerous assailants that roam the outdoor nights.  So I got the best of both worlds.

Another thing: Even though I had moved far away from Berkeley to a place where the temperatures were often below freezing in the winter, I found that I had to leave my window wide open at all times.  I had gotten so used to sleeping in the open air, I felt suffocated if I wasn’t getting a huge blast of fresh air in my face.  Also, for a long time I had to visualize one of my former outdoor sleeping spots in order to calm my mind enough to get to sleep at night.  This eventually faded with time, but evidenced an overall nostalgia for the homeless experience that flew in the face of reason.

Eating

My ideas around food, its availability, and one’s ability to feed oneself also changed radically as a result of my years of homelessness.  When food came my way while I was on the streets, I cheerfully shared it with those in my midst, assured that others would do the same for me.   Generally, I was right.  This is one of the small ways in which people on the streets take care of each other.

But without a street community to share resources with, managing my grocery shopping and eating habits was a struggle.  Having a kitchen for the first time in years, and being on a fixed income from Social Security, I naturally stocked up on food after I had paid rent and other bills.  But with this surplus of food available to me, I found myself overeating, using up my food supply long before the month was over, and thus gaining weight.   It took some time for me to become comfortable with stretching my groceries to last all month.

Livelihood 

I had also become accustomed to flying a sign on a sidewalk in order to accumulate pocket change to get through the day, as well as an occasional sandwich or other form of foodstuffs.  But in my current situation, there weren’t any panhandlers, let alone “silent sign-flyers” as I would have characterized myself.  Had I showed up on Main Street with my sign, I’d have stuck out like a sore thumb.  The local cops would have been on me in a heartbeat.  But I missed flying a sign for many reasons, not the least of which is that I simply was used to that means of livelihood.

In fact, I so missed flying my sign that on two occasions I invested over $50 on a round trip bus ticket to the nearest large city, when I hooked up with the homeless people who hung out by the station, and flew my sign until it was time for the bus to leave.   Unfortunately, I made less than $50 each time, so it as not even a cost-effective venture.  But it did satisfy my enormous urge to earn money in my customary fashion, if only for a day or two.

The overall inability to panhandle in a small rural community resulted in a form of food insecurity I had not at all anticipated.  After all, it was difficult to experience true food insecurity in Berkeley, where there were up to four free community meals each day.  Now, without community meals or the ability to fly a sign, I found myself suffering midway through each month.  I scrambled to make more money without the option of having a “street hustle,” and found that my job-related skills had suffered greatly as a result of years of unemployment.

Seeing the people in my midst who seemed not to have a problem feeding themselves, jealousy burned within me.  Whereas before, I had been jealous of practically anyone who had a roof over their head, I now found myself jealous of homeless people who were able to feed themselves more readily than I was, such as many of the homeless people in the city of Berkeley, where so much free food is abundant.

low self-esteem.png

Self-esteem 

By far, however, the most difficult transition to navigate was in the area of my self-esteem.  As much as I despised seeing the way that privileged people who lived indoors treated homeless people who were suffering, I had simply gotten used to being treated like a piece of shit.  Unbelievably, when people began to treat me humanely, as though I were “one of them,” I found I couldn’t handle it.  

For example, I had been quietly hanging out out at a local coffee house for a couple of weeks before one of the baristas extended her hand and asked what my name was.  Afterwards, I literally had to go into the bathroom and cry.  I could not believe that an employee in a public business establishment cared what my name was. I had gotten so used to being viewed with suspicion, as though it were assumed I could only be a troublemaker, that the experience of having an employee actually treat me with dignity was almost too much for me. While I soaked it all in with a natural delight, it also caused me to wonder why on earth I and my homeless brothers and sisters had put up with such pejorative treatment to begin with. 

The closest I’ve come to an answer is that we all simply got used to it. We didn’t think things would ever be any different or any better. The overall message that society gave us was that we would always be homeless, and that we were without hope in a world where an uncrossable gulf was fixed between those who were within and those who were without. We even got the feeling that we should always remain homeless – that we belonged, not in the privileged world of renters and homeowners – but in the leprous realm of the ostracized, the abandoned, and the untouchable. For we were not such as were worthy of dignified indoor living.

When such a bombardment of dehumanizing messages is blasted at a person day in and day out, it messes fairly severely with one’s head. Had I not known the amazing community that existed between me and my fellow homeless people, I would never have found the strength to come out alive.

Homeless No More is a column that features the stories of people making the transition from homelessness to housing.  Andy Pope is a freelance writer who lives in the Pacific Northwest, and the author of Eden in Babylon, a musical about youth homelessness in urban America.   

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A little bit goes a long, long way.  

 

Gratitude List 1334

I make these gratitude lists every morning when I wake up, and choose one to post every Monday.   This one’s from Friday morning.  

1. I did get another hour’s sleep from 9 to 10 yesterday morning, and that saw me through the day. Then I slept very solidly from 10 pm till 4 am this morning.

2. After hearing the words of Jeremiah’s prayer in the car, I did not enter into despair after the next two mistakes I made. Because I was not despairing, I went to bed without desire to escape into the ephemeral pleasure of the sin that has troubled me so. My sleep was as though guarded by angels, my couch undefiled and sweet.

3. This morning I succeeded, as hoped, in having the synthroid with a full glass of water and avoiding the computer until the doctor’s orders regarding my hypothryoid condition were fulfilled. Didn’t have any coffee during that period of time, but prayed and read a Psalm. So I can do it, despite morning disorientation, but I think it wise not to do the reading at the computer. Also, I often have a hard time making out the small print in the hard copy RSV, but this time I read it very easily under the bright kitchen light.

4. Ran the 4 mile course yesterday as per Thanksgiving ritual. It was an absolutely gorgeous day and perfect running weather at around 40F degrees or so, blue skies, big clouds, gentle winds — I love running and am somewhat amazed it’s still even possible at my age. My mind may be in shambles and disarray, but I can be grateful my body is still in one piece.

5. Finished the Inequity Series yesterday with Part Five. If you want to check it out, here it is.   I’m proud of my work, you know, and grateful that God has provided me with a place to accomplish it. That has rarely been the case before, ever in life. Grateful for my nice, quiet apartment.

6. Really nice Thanksgiving gathering at Norman’s place (though he’s in Virginia). It was great talking with people, and especially playing the Kawai piano and singing with Chelsea. Once I was warmed up in the “second set” I did a fiery version of “We Three Kings,” and it blew me away to hear how it was happening, even though my thoughts were riddled with paranoias about gang bangers and other murderers all the way through the event. Then we sang Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” and it was plaintive, peaceful, powerful . . . I love the whole musical consciousness in this town, and Chelsea invited me over to her place tonight at 7 for a big jam.

7. Resigned one of my writing gigs due to a combination of PTSD and a revelation of practical wisdom. I know it’s the right choice, I worked through all the logic of it, and I committed myself on the run to do it, despite later conversations of confirmation. I felt a great peace in my spirit after submitting my resignation, and I remain thankful for the editor-in-chief of that paper, with whom I hope to work in the future.

8. Thankful for Jeremiah, for the fellowship and prayers last night, and for my Presbyterian church.

9. I need to express that the Revised Standard rocks. I turned to Psalm 55, and in the RSV every word was the exact cry of my heart. Turned to Psalm 55 in the Berean Study Bible – nothing. Checked the English Standard Version, thinking at least it would be authentic — still nothing. Confusion of the tongues, man! I’m posting Psalm 55 RSV on Sunday.  I know no one else can get inside my head, but reading every word and praying it confirmed God’s love for me at a very troubled time.

10. God is Love.

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The Noise of the Enemy

I’m posting this psalm for a reason I would be remiss not to state. My PTSD was triggered shortly before Thanksgiving Dinner, and I spent the entire dinner and evening thereafter processing frightening thoughts related to traumas past. In the morning, I was still troubled. Then I opened my Bible to this Psalm, and found that the Psalmist was troubled in the exact same way that I was. So his words became my words, and I was given new hope.

Give ear to my prayer, O God;
and hide not thyself from my supplication!
Attend to me, and answer me;
    I am overcome by my trouble.
I am distraught by the noise of the enemy,
    because of the oppression of the wicked.
For they bring trouble upon me,
    and in anger they cherish enmity against me.

My heart is in anguish within me,
    the terrors of death have fallen upon me.
Fear and trembling come upon me,
    and horror overwhelms me.
And I say, “O that I had wings like a dove!
    I would fly away and be at rest;
yea, I would wander afar,
    I would lodge in the wilderness,
I would haste to find me a shelter
    from the raging wind and tempest.”

Destroy their plans, O Lord, confuse their tongues;
    for I see violence and strife in the city.
Day and night they go around it
    on its walls;
and mischief and trouble are within it,
ruin is in its midst;
oppression and fraud
    do not depart from its market place.

It is not an enemy who taunts me—
    then I could bear it;
it is not an adversary who deals insolently with me—
    then I could hide from him.
But it is you, my equal,
    my companion, my familiar friend.
We used to hold sweet converse together;
    within God’s house we walked in fellowship.
Let death come upon them;
    let them go down to Sheol alive;
    let them go away in terror into their graves.

But I call upon God;
    and the Lord will save me.
Evening and morning and at noon
    I utter my complaint and moan,
    and he will hear my voice.
He will deliver my soul in safety
    from the battle that I wage,
    for many are arrayed against me.
God will give ear, and humble them,
    he who is enthroned from of old;
because they keep no law,
    and do not fear God.

My companion stretched out his hand against his friends,
    he violated his covenant.
His speech was smoother than butter,
    yet war was in his heart;
his words were softer than oil,
    yet they were drawn swords.

Cast your burden on the Lord,
    and he will sustain you;
he will never permit
    the righteous to be moved.

But thou, O God, wilt cast them down
    into the lowest pit;
men of blood and treachery
    shall not live out half their days.
But I will trust in thee.

  –-Psalm 55

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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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A little bit goes a long, long way.  

Tuesday Tuneup 56

finest work

Q. What are you doing here?

A. Getting ready.

Q. For what?

A. For a change in policy.

Q. Why does your policy need to change?

A. Because it’s ineffective.

Q. How is it ineffective?

A. Why don’t you just ask me what the policy is?

Q. Why should I ask you that?

A. Because you will then be able to determine for yourself why it is ineffective.

Q. Very well, then.  What is your current policy?

A. Reckless Abandon.

Q. With respect to what?

A. With respect to Art.

Q. How so?

A. I create continuously.   I create without letup or rest.  I create like a crazed maniac.   But I only create at random.  There is no order, nor rhyme nor reason, to the manner in which I create.

Q. Can you provide a specific example?

A. Yes.  The talks I gave recently, and the blog post I wrote as to how PTSD relates to the Homeless Experience.   This was random.  It was not something I intended to do according to a concrete creative plan.  It just sort of — happened — when I was moved to do so.

Q. And a second example?

A. The piano album I created, called Abandon.  It resulted from a comment someone had made that intrigued me.  I took off on that comment, until an entire piano album had been produced.

Q. Is this a bad thing?

A. Not in and of itself, no.

Q. Then why do you need to change the policy?

A. Because these creative endeavors have been keeping me from fully engaging a far more important creative task.

Q Which is?

A. The 4th Draft of my musical Eden in Babylon, and the 2nd draft of its musical score.

Q. Have you been procrastinating?

A. Yes.  But I prefer to frame it a bit differently.

Q. How so?

A. It’s not so much procrastination as it is preparation.  

Q. How can procrastination be preparation?

Labor of Love – A Semester’s Reflection | Kelsey BrannanA. It’s like so.  When I procrastinate, I engage my creative energies in a way that pleases me.  It is not what I have to do.  It is what I want to do.   In doing so, I practice creating out of desire, not out of obligation.   Then, when I cease to procrastinate, the desire to create remains — for I have practiced it.

Q. Do you mean to tell me that when you implement the new change in policy, the Object of your Creative Desire will immediately be changed?

A. Yes.  When the clock strikes midnight tonight, the Object of my Artistic Affection will be altered. It will no longer have anything to do with homelessness, or PTSD, or even blogging, for that matter.  Nor will it involve my piano playing.  It will instead return to what it was before I deviated off onto those artistic tangents.

Q. In other words, at the stroke of midnight, you will immediately reactivate the desire to work on your musical?

A. Not exactly.  It’s already been activated.  I just haven’t begun to do it yet.

Q. Why not?

A. Because it isn’t time yet.  It happens at midnight tonight.

Q. Why?

A. Because it’s been scheduled that way.

Q. Why adhere so strictly to the schedule?

A. You want the whole rundown?

Q. Why not?

Funny sublimation designs downloads quote funny Not | EtsyA. Very well then.  To be honest with you, when we suspended operations on the project, I became depressed.  I blamed myself for falling short.   I remained depressed for eleven days.  And I accomplished nothing.

Then I decided to deal with the depression in my typical, lifelong fashion.  I would hurl myself full force into various artistic endeavors.  But I wouldn’t work on the musical, because it was too depressing to think about it.

In the process of working on these less pertinent, less relevant side projects, I became happy again.   And now that I am happy, and longer depressed, I will resume working on the musical, and be happy doing so.

Q. So you’re trying to tell me that the same project that earlier depressed you will now make you happy?

A. Yes.

Q. Why do I find that hard to believe?

A. Probably because you’re either not an Artist, or you don’t know me very well, or both.

Q. May I ask a question that might insult you?

A. At your own risk, ask away.  

Q. Why do you think you can pull it off?

A. Because my name is Andy Pope.   Any further questions?

The Questioner is silent.

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Homelessness and PTSD

Trigger warning: some people may be triggered by information contained in this entry that pertains to personal violation.  Please proceed with caution, and read at your own risk.  

Earlier, when I created a talk on this theme, I did not believe I could capsulize my thoughts into a single blog post.   So I talked for a half hour instead.

I’ve since changed my mind.   It’s taken over a week for me to discover how to present these ideas more succinctly, in a logical order.  The first thing I would like to address is that people are generally unaware that homelessness — with all its confusing, unpredictable, and dangerous components — is as much a breeding grounds for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder as situations arising in combat or from having been physically or sexually abused.

PTSD is triggered when something happens to remind a person of past trauma, the memories of which are often buried.  When the reminder occurs, one leaps into the context of the trauma formerly inflicted.  And then, one begins to relive the entire circumstances involved in that traumatic event.

See the source imageSevere abuse comes with the homeless territory.  A person who is exposed, out in the open twenty-four hours a day, is a visible target.  This person is made even more vulnerable when they are sleeping.  When I was homeless, I was pistol-whipped, subjected to strong arm robbery, sexually abused, subjected to arson, and physically abused multiple times.  Any one of those situations can lead to PTSD — let alone all of them in confluence.

Because the first of these traumatic events was a sexual violation that took place on a very hot day when I could find no way out of it, I have been triggered on extremely hot days when I was lost and did not have clear directions to where I was going.  My PTSD counselor and I worked out a series of steps that I would take automatically if I felt that the PTSD had been triggered.  I would stop and take a number of deep breaths while looking for a shady spot.  Then I would sit in the shady spot, no longer moving around or looking where I might go, until the PTSD had subdued.

The reason for taking such steps is because I was reliving the horrific event of a sexual assault.  When the horrible event was over, and the rapist disappeared, I was so freaked out that I ran five miles in 90F degree weather.  That single event has affected my sexual attitudes for life.

But that was only a solitary example of numerous violations that were to ensue during the twelve years when I was homeless and “borderline-homelessness” — by which I mean staying in motels, residence hotels, and other sketch indoor situations.   The overall experience of homelessness carried with it its own set of triggers.   By and large, these were based on two things:

(1) A sense of inequality with, and inferiority to, the people around me.  

(2) A sense of being fully exposed in a context where most of the people were concealed.  

An example of something that triggered me was the event of having a story of mine published on a news site that permitted comments from its readers.  All of the readers had usernames and avatars.  One of them referred to having known me personally — but I had no idea, nor was I able to learn, who this person was.  This bore enough resemblance to the homeless context that I began to relive my homeless experience.

More information about PTSD triggers may be found here, for starts.  An excellent article exploring PTSD among the homeless may be found here.  And of course, further information on the Homeless Experience can be found all over this blog.

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Talks 2019 No. 2

I promised to get a new talk to you guys by 7:30 this morning, so here it is.  The purpose of this talk is to describe how the conditions of homelessness can easily lead to a PTSD diagnosis, and what the triggers can be like.   I hope you enjoy & gain from this. 

See the source image

The Perception of Inequality

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Is There Life After Homelessness?

Below the illustration is an excerpt from my personal diary.   

The Battle After the War – Homelessness and Housing

I’ve thought about almost nothing but homelessness in Berkeley throughout the past five days. It’s a disease; it’s a disorder; it’s PTSD; it’s been triggered.   So I thought I’d take the opposite tact as oft-advised. Rather than distract myself from the triggers, I would embrace the experience completely.

In that spirit, I created this talk, called It Can’t Be Forgotten. Later I judged this effort harshly. Not the fact that I did it — that I don’t mind at all. I was happy, thrilled, and thankful that I completed the spontaneously conceived task, exciting as it was to undertake it.

What I judged was its quality. Two glaring errors stood out. For one thing, while I spoke often of the “inequality” factor, I did very little, if anything, to back up how that sense experience was valid for those of us enduring the Homeless Experience. It could just as easily have been a reflection of my own individual inferiority complex as it was an alleged manifestation of a social injustice.

Secondly, when this issue of inequality arises in the speech, I adopt a tone of voice that seems excessively strident. This could make the listener uncomfortable. The stridency could be alternately interpreted as either anger or sarcasm, something of an almost bitter outrage enters into the vibration from time to time, and the whole thing can make one very uneasy. This is especially the case if one can only tune into the upset tone of voice, and figure this guy’s got some kind of ax to grind, and then never tune in to the actual content of the dissertation, due to the fact that the ostentatious style has stood in the way.

I just now listened to the whole thing for the first time this morning. I don’t find it nearly as objectionable as I did during yesterday’s listen, but that may be because as a listener, I’m simply getting addicted to the repetitive playing of an interesting piece, and I’m getting into the groove of it. But it also may mean that my original objections are not so objectionable, because to remove that element of anger as well as the component of vagueness as to what exactly made us all feel so unequal and so dehumanized when we were all together back then on the streets, would be in essence to assault the very concept of the piece. It is what it is. If it makes you uncomfortable, good. What does this say about you?

That question asked, the speech, on that level, succeeds.  What might be a distraction from that success, however, is if a certain kind of listener jumps to the conclusion, based on early, as yet undeveloped information, that the piece is “about” Internet trolling, trolls, etc.  But it’s not.  It’s about homelessness, inequality, and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.  The troll is only used as a device, to serve as a trigger.

8:06 a.m. – 2019-08-10

 

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Gratitude List 1220

1. Slept again about six hours from around 10 till 4:15.

2. Perfect running weather 61F and foggy.

3. Spent a while at LRC yesterday – I enjoyed talking with Cindy, Scott, Shaun & Amber. They’re doing some good expansion of the place, creating a Crisis Center next door where the barber shop used to be, of which Shaun is in charge.

4. Farmer’s Market this morning.

5. Working the door tomorrow night, will get a $30 gift card.

6. I spontaneously gave a sixteen-minute talk yesterday called It Can’t Be Forgotten. Did it in a single take and two quick edits, hope you enjoy it.

7. Got a chance to talk with Alex last night, good long talk.

8. It’s beginning to look like my daughter will be here soon.

9. Finished past No. 6 in the revised vocal score. Should have Act One done very soon.

10. Sky’s getting light, love this time of the morning. God is Good.

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My Life Has Just Begun

I wrote this on request from Alastair Boone, the editor-in-chief of Street Spirit.  


Shortly after I first became homeless in 2004, I was the victim of a sexual assault in a motel room. I had made a mistake I learned never to make again. I opened the door when someone knocked.

As one who had been sheltered his entire life, I didn’t know at the age of fifty some things that are common sense to people who are in the practice of renting cheap motel rooms in “red light districts.” One of them is that when you happen to land such a room — the kind where the owner might squeeze you in without proper identification — you never answer a knock on the door if you know what’s good for you. In this case, a large African-American man forced his way in and overpowered me. (I think he was looking for somebody else. In any case, I would suffice.)

Without going into horrific detail, the nature of the assault was such that it gave me a condition called Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, otherwise known as PTSD. While I did my best to deal healthfully with this ongoing condition, I found that its symptoms never truly subsided, but only worsened throughout twelve long years on the streets.

Being pistol-whipped, being hit on the head with guns, and watching someone set all my possessions on fire before my eyes were only isolated incidents. As such, they barely made a dent in the overall state of shock in which I lived throughout most of those years. Sleep deprivation, malnutrition, and forced overexercise were alone enough to induce serious mental health disorientation, without having to lace them with cognitive dissonance. My psyche felt as though it had been split into two. Half of me still clung to the fading memories of a former humanity — a humanity I never questioned when I was a complacent, overweight music teacher, driving a Corolla, making $50,000 a year. The other half began to believe that I was truly the piece of dog poop I was often considered to be, as people stepped over and around me whilst I slept, as though afraid to get my scent on their shoes.

homeless-man-sleeping-step-homeless-man-sleeping-step-people-walk-past-martin-place-sydney-january-nn-108120289

One look at me in those days was usually enough to convince most people that my condition was hopeless. Of course, medical treatment was difficult to access on any kind of regular basis. Once I finally escaped all that wretched homelessness, one would think I’d have needed even more medical help. After all, how can someone make a successful transition back into mainstream society when one has deteriorated so grossly?

But the facts are that even people who live indoors will go nuts when deprived of regular rest, proper nutrition, and moderate exercise. To exercise in moderation was never an option for me. Skin and bones though I was, I was forced by the details of homeless life to walk over ten miles a day on most days. If for no other reason than to get from one needed resource to another, this was my daily requirement. And there were plenty of other reasons to be denied proper rest and be forced to keep moving. None of the spots where we sat or lay down were secure. Cops would wake us up in the middle of the night, and tell us to get up and “move on.” Once we had found somewhere else to crash, who was to say that another cop wouldn’t come again and do the same thing? Homeless people like to say that they sleep with one eye open. Anything can happen at any time.

Suppose that people living indoors were placed under the same sort of psychic fire. Suppose a group of homeowners were daily reminded that they were somehow “less than” the rest of the human race. Suppose they were treated like inanimate objects while there were sleeping in their own beds at home. Suppose people were walking over them and around them all night long, making as much noise as they wanted to make, disturbing their sleep. Of course they too would develop serious issues with sleep deprivation, and serious issues with self-esteem. I daresay many of them would wind up landing on the streets as well.

On the other hand, consider how one would respond, if one had been enduring such demeaning assaults on his health and well-being for years on end, and then suddenly found themselves in a living situation that was manageable, affordable, sustainable — and dignified. Well, if you can imagine that kind of a paradigm shift, it’s exactly what happened to me.

In the first week of having found palatable residence, far away from the demeaning indignities that had characterized my previous life, I wrote to a pastor of my acquaintance. I told her: “This is the first time in twelve years that I haven’t been in a state of shock.”

If that was my experience in the very first week, can you imagine what I feel like nearly three years later? For almost three years now, I’ve been getting REM sleep on a regular basis. I’ve even been dreaming. And that’s something that never happened when I was “sleeping with one eye open.”

Not only am I sleeping better; but also, I’ve been cooking my own food, taking showers in my own bathroom, and lacing up my shoes when I want to get moving — not when I’m told to “move on.” If I walk, if I run, I am the one who determines the pathways that I will traverse. I am the one who decides how many miles I need to put in each day. Many of the things I did when I was homeless were determined by conditions beyond my control. The contrast between the empowerment of my present day world and the powerlessness of my previous life is enough alone to lay waste to the remnants of a formerly traumatized existence.

And yet, I hear people of wealth and privilege crying out like helpless victims over “trauma” that isn’t one tenth the magnitude of what homeless people deal with routinely. Recently I heard someone complaining at a 12-Step meeting that they had spent $15,000 on blinds for their mansion, and that the blinds weren’t working right. Hello? Talk about your “luxury problem!” I would guess that the blinds would be to their satisfaction – after all, they are keeping the Light from shining in their blinded eyes.

To whatever extent my PTSD worsened over all that time on the streets, to that same extent has it been increasingly alleviated, the longer I live indoors. If I need a doctor, it won’t be for that. At the age of sixty-six, many of my peers are retiring from jobs that they probably hated. They act as though they don’t know what to do with themselves. They act as though they’re headed for the grave. After twelve years on the streets where hatred ruled, my life has just begun.

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It Is What It Is

There was this sense, when I was homeless, that my personal achievements were not as important as the achievements of those who lived indoors.   On the other side of the coin, my misfortunes were not as worthy of sympathy as those of people who lived inside.  If I achieved something wonderful, it was dismissed as irrelevant.  If I suffered something horrible, it was shrugged off as unimportant.  Yet if the same wonderful thing had happened to someone who lived inside, people would have smiled and offered their congratulations.  And if the same horrible thing had happened to someone who lived indoors, they would have received due sympathy.

I’ll never forget how, when I was house-sitting for a friend of mine, I took a twenty-five mile bus trip to a homeless feed, and I left my wallet on the bus.  I was more than inconvenienced by this.  It threw me into a completely discouraged state.  The house-sitting had enabled me to replace my stolen photo I.D and a lost debit card, obtain a library card, and (last but not least) store needed cash in a single place.  In this case, the dollar I needed to get back to my friend’s place on the bus was a critical component of that cash.

Naively, I figured that that the social workers at the feed might have helped me with a dollar to get back to my friend’s house.  Instead, what followed was a demeaning event, in which one by one, every single person I asked for a dollar bill assumed I was a hustler working a sophisticated con.  Not one of them believed I had actually lost my wallet.  

When I told one of them how I had lost my wallet, my cards, and all my money, she replied by saying: 

“It is what it is.”

At that point, I finally exploded.  

“How would you like it if you had lost your keys, and couldn’t get into your car, and couldn’t get into your house, and were desperate for help and support, and somebody responded by saying: ‘It is what it is?'”

I guess I had raised my voice a little too loudly with that question, for it was then that the security guard approached me to inform me that I was no longer welcome at the feed.

A far worse assault is something I find myself reluctant to share, for fear I might relive the trauma.  It happened at about four in the morning, when I stopped to ask a buddy of mine for change to get onto the BART train from the Downtown Berkeley station.   While my friend and I were counting the change, I casually set my backpack down behind me.  My backpack, at the time, contained a Mac PowerBook, two years worth of CD’s of music I’d written, headphones, and various and sundry life-aids, survival devices, and creature comforts.  In other words, it contained everything I owned.

While I was not looking, a nearby kid poured lighter fluid all over my backpack and set it on fire.

My friends saw it first, and started to scream: “What the hell are you doing!?  This guy’s a friend of mine!”

But the kid, apparently having been up for five or six days on crystal methamphetamine, only laughed.  He thought it was funny and fun.

Badly shaken, I forgot all about my BART trip and began to seek the emotional support of friends.  First, I called my best female friend in Georgia.  When she heard what had happened, of course she gasped, and cried: “That’s horrible!”

But when I approached a certain fellowship in the vicinity, and I related the story to a member who was standing outside, she only said: 

“Aw, who cares?”

This triggered a chain reaction involving a number of the members dismissing my trauma as irrelevant.  The message I received was essentially: “Well, if you weren’t homeless, these kinds of things wouldn’t happen to you.”

I was upset enough that I later approached the president of the church council, only to hear:

“Well, how did you expect them to react?”

I wanted to tell him that I’d expected them to say something similar to what my friend in Georgia had said; i.e., “that’s horrible!”  I wanted to tell him that I had expected there to be some sympathy for the condition of a guy who had just watched all his possessions burnt down by arson before his eyes.  But instead, grasping the incredulity of the scenario, all I could say to the council president was: “That’s a good question.”

seeking_human_kindness-homeless-hub-york-uniA better question would have been: “Why didn’t they react with normal human sympathy for a person who had just been so violated and traumatized?

The answer is simple.  My friend in Georgia was treating me like a human being.  The people at the fellowship were treating me like a homeless person.   Apparently, in a lot of people’s minds, there’s a big difference.

This is to say nothing about the achievements I managed to accomplish when I was homeless.  When I lived outdoors in Berkeley between 2013 and 2016,  I composed all of the music on the Berkeley Page of this web site without the aid of a laptop or music notation software.  I walked about town like a madman, singing “bop bop bop” and playing drums on my pants legs.   And when I was able to get inside with a laptop in 2016, I scored and sequenced all of that music with Finale music notation software.

The total strangers in the cafe here in town where I scored all that music recognized it as an achievement.  But what kind of response did I get from the townspeople?

“Shut the f–k up, you wingnut!”

And from church people?


“So what?
You act as though your music is more important than your God.”

But do you know who did appreciate the songs I was writing?

The homeless people.  They clapped whenever I found a piano to play it on, or when a homeless friend and I sang harmonies, while he strummed on his guitar.

And you know why?

Because homeless people see each other as human beings.   People who live indoors, by and large, see homeless people as homeless people.

There’s a big difference, you see — and don’t you forget it.

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The Homeless Monologue

This is in response to a Quora question, to the effect of one’s wondering why so many homeless people seem to be talking to themselves quite a bit.  I didn’t contest this perception.  I did my best to explain the phenomenon, and also referenced another writer who had done the same.  

I appreciated the answer of Adora Myers because this is a side not often seen in the homeless equation.

It is true that a person suffering from paranoid schizophrenia will often believe that s(he) is talking with those who are not actually there. It is also true that many schizophrenics, as well as people suffering from severe PTSD and other mental illnesses, are too ill to effectively access treatment, or else they lack privilege which would render treatment more accessible to them. So they wind up on the streets, more-or-less by default. This is a very sad state of affairs.

invisibleHowever, it is also true that people who have become homeless in large urban areas, especially where there is a sizable concentration of other homeless people, will feign or play-act the known symptoms of these mental disorders in order to protect themselves by making themselves more frightening to would-be assailants and thieves.

I know this to be true, because I did it myself. When I was homeless, I walked around a city that contained over a thousand visible homeless people. As I did so, I composed music in my head. This meant playing drums on my pants legs, guitars and keyboards in the air, and singing tell-tale syllabic sounds such as “Bop Bop Bop” in a manner that conceivably could be construed to be obnoxious.  

People frequently told me to “shut the f—k up” but they also had a way of keeping a distance from me. So this “act” worked in my favor.

Incidentally, I would guess that only about 30% of onlookers realized that I was actually a serious musician in the process of composing music. The other 70% shrugged and said, if they knew me by name: “That’s just Andy. He’s one of the local wingnuts.” If they did not know me by name that was reduced to: “Wingnut.”

Of the 30% who perceived I was writing music, I would say that probably 20% of them appreciated what I was doing. The other 10% frequently showed up with smartphones facing me and grim expressions on their faces, giving me the distinct idea they were out to steal my stuff.

So much for life in the Big City. Glad to be indoors — and far away from all that particular noise.

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A Meaningful Life

I just received a forward of a letter of appreciation that someone sent to Terry Messman, the publisher of Street Spirit, with regards to a previous article of mine he had published.   I deduced that it must have been the August article, based on the context:

Hi Terry,

I just wanted to say that I was really moved by a recent piece by Andy Pope (unsure of which volume, but it was from several months ago). His writing really helped me understand what it’s like to be in his shoes, day by day. I also felt incredibly sad reading it. I wish that I could offer someone like Andy a place to stay.

I’m also curious about your fundraiser, and if . . . .

Alison

Upon reading those words, I felt a poignant surge of pathos.   I did not need a place to stay at the time the article was published.  I wrote that piece in June of 2016.  It wasn’t published until August 2017 — long after I’d succeeded in getting myself indoors.  So it felt somehow wrong that someone should be thinking of offering me one.  

At the same time, however, this is the point of its having been published in the first place.   When I wrote it, I was fortunate enough to have gained a seat for me and my laptop in a Starbucks on a rainy Sunday morning.   I had been living outdoors for so many years that the idea of ever actually attaining to an indoor dwelling place again seemed inconceivable.  It was that sense of resignation to the complete unpredictability of the homeless condition that gave the piece its purpose.  It was written by a homeless person while homeless, and thus filtered out nothing of the very present feelings so painfully described therein.

This also served to remind me that my life has meaning.  I had always fancied myself something of a Writer, even as I wrote frivolous bagatelles to pass the time away while bored.  I wrote pieces of garbage that I knew to be garbage, only because my nervous need to engage myself in such intellectual thumb-twiddling was so pressing in my restless mind.  But now I have been granted this great gift of experience, and not only of experience itself, but of the subsequent freedom to actually sit down and write about it.  This is something I never dreamed I would gain.  I, like almost everyone else I knew, had consigned myself to die a miserable, meaningless death on the streets.

Not two years have passed since I penned those words sitting in that Starbucks, grimly watching the sun make an effort to reveal itself from amid an early morning cloudburst.   Thankful was I indeed, as I’d have been on any other rainy morning, to have gotten out of the homeless rain.  But at the same time, how completely cynical I was that after all those years, I would ever manage to get myself into a decent, dignified living situation again!

Kate in Cabin
A Decent, Dignified Living Situation — for Me.  

I had been so happy to have landed the simple hole-in-the-wall that I found at Friendship Square, almost an entire year went by before I could even grasp the concept that there might be a better place in store for me.   This adds to the pathos.  For so many years, I prayed specifically that I would one day be given “a lock on a door, a window, and a power outlet. ”   That  wish having been granted so dramatically, I sincerely felt like an ingrate when I began to look for a more suitable living situation.   After all, God had answered that prayer pretty much down to the letter.  I received exactly one window, two power outlets, and three locks on my door.   (God apparently knew which of the three priorities was most important to me!)

Eventually, however, it reached the unpleasant stage where not even three locks could do the trick.  I would surface from fitful sleep in the wee hours, only to hear the ribald congregating of drug-addicted young men out in the hallway.  Then, I would presume in my half-awake state that I still slept outdoors, and that these other fellows must have been outdoors, as well.

“Where am I? Who are these people?  Are they coming to steal my stuff?  Or did I steal their Spot by mistake?   Or are these the security guards, or maybe even the property owners?  Damn!  I better get out of here!”

But then, a few seconds would pass, and slowly the details of reality would sink in.  I was in no immediate danger.  The voices I heard, though they seemed intrusive, were actually separated from me by the three locks on my very own door.   And yet – why could I not sleep for the evidence of their presence?   Could I honestly be that traumatized?   Could I not separate the aggressive energy of my new neighbors from that of space invaders of times past?  My pastor literally had to persuade me that the little hole-in-the-wall was not the be-all-and-end-all to my life’s experience.   I did not need to live among practicing thieves and drug addicts if I did not want to.   

It was hard to leave Friendship Square without feeling like an ingrate.  But that is exactly what I have done.   It’s costing me a bit more money than I can comfortably squeeze out at the moment, but the trade-off is well worth it.  For the past two nights, I have slept soundly and peacefully in my new secluded apartment, far removed from the downtown denizens, and all the constant raucous activity that I so easily overlooked in my earlier elation over having landed any kind of indoor place of residence at all.  And you know what?  The moment I set my laptop down on that dining room table, I felt instantly more focused than I have felt for months.  Surely now I have everything I need!   I have my own bathtub even.  And a dishwasher.   A medicine cabinet in which to store hygienic needs.  My own bedroom.   A living room.   My daughter can even comfortably come visit me now.  Do I deserve this?  Honestly – it is almost too good to be true.

Well – I suppose whether I “deserve” it or not is immaterial.  At best, it would lead to pointless theological debate.   For me, the purpose of the gift is to put it to use.  I am going to set myself down in this seclusion, and write write Write Write WRITE —  because now I have something to write about.   And not only that – but a place to do it from.   So do me a favor.   Don’t ever let me forget how huge this is.   

On the streets, I would have died a meaningless death.  Here, far away from the streets — in distance, if not in memory — I have been granted a meaningful life.   

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God Bless!

A House Divided

Q. Back so soon?

A. I promise there won’t be more than a third time before the weekend’s out.

Q. Do you know who I am?

A. I think so.  More so than I did yesterday, anyway.

Q. So why have you summoned me?

A. Insecurity and uncertainty as to my path.  Stuff that has to be resolved.

Q. What stuff?

A. Work-related.  And spiritual.

Q. To what work do you refer?

A. My life’s work.   A calling I feel I have been shirking.

Q. What calling?

A. It  has to do with classism in America, especially as seen through the eyes of one who has been fortunate enough to have been homeless for many years in an urban area of great social and racial tension, and to have escaped it and been granted the great gift of solitude in a favorable social and racial climate.

Q. How have you been shirking this calling?

A. In two ways that I can think of.

Q. First?

A. First, by throwing my energy toward projects that, while inviting, do not pertain to the calling.

Q. Such as?

A. This novel I’m compelled to write.  I wrote a first chapter, and sketched the second and third chapters.  Sent Chapter One to my Writers’ Guild, who will critique it this morning.

Q. Are you afraid of their criticism?

A. Yes.  I’m afraid they might like it.  And if they like it, I will be tempted to pursue it.  But it has nothing to do with what I am supposed to be about right now.

Q. How do you know this?

A. When I am working on what I am supposed to be about, eventually something comes over me — like chills.  Sometimes the chills engulf my entire body.  They seem to come from some place far beyond my normal experience of human consciousness.  I get this sense of inspiration – of privilege and honor.  As though I have been selected to channel something of great, great magnitude and consequence.  As though I am a conduit – an oracle.

Q. Don’t you think that sounds a bit grandiose?

A. Of course it does!  But it is true all the same.  I can’t deny it – or if I do, I suffer for having done so.  As I have suffered for the past three and a half months.  And this is why I hesitate to discuss it — with anyone, at all.  It’s so deeply personal, yet at the same time universal.  Nobody will believe me.  People will think I’m nuts, even here in Moscow, as they did in Berkeley and Stockton, and other places where I have attempted to live throughout my highly dysfunctional, disoriented, aimless past.

Q. Can you put that past behind you now, in order to focus on your calling?

A. Yes and no.  I don’t want to put certain elements of it behind me, because they are crucial to the inspiration of the calling.  Had I never lived on the urban streets continuously — for years on end, that is — and had I never been a member of a cohesive community of others who were in the same predicament as myself, I would never have gained these unique perceptions on society that many people either have never shared, or, if they share them, are unable to articulate them with clarity.

Q. You feel that you are able to articulate these unique perceptions with clarity?

A. Yes. This is my calling.  This is what I have been put on this earth to do.

Q. How do you know this?

A. I just do.  It’s evidenced in the chills that come over me, when I am on fire for this cause.  It’s also evidenced in my health.  I marvel that my heart and lungs are in such good condition, my cholesterol is low, I have never had the diseases that many people my age have had and that most people who have lived on the streets have had.  I have never had Hepatitis C or Diabetes 2 or any kind of STD, unlike almost everyone else I knew when we all lived together on the streets.  I’ve been spared all these physical sidetracks – for now – for a reason; and I am convinced that it is because I am to offer these perceptions, through my Art, to the world.

Q. Do you understand how arrogant that sounds?

A. Of course I do!  This is why I continually shirk my calling.

Q. Are you afraid of your calling?

A. Only when I am shirking it.

Q. So what keeps you shirking it?

A. Incredible psychological blocks that sometimes last for months on end.  And this is the second thing that I’d meant to mention.  I not only throw my energy into irrelevant projects, but I balk at the natural roadblocks that arise when I try to go about my relevant projects in an organized fashion.  Take, for example, this piano-vocal score.  It has been almost three and a half months since I have known that it was the next logical step toward the production of my recently completed musical, Eden in Babylon, and yet, only last night did I actually complete a single number in that score. 

Q. But can’t you just forget about the past three and a half months, and build upon the victory of having completed one of your numbers?   And forge ahead to the next number?

A. I can.  But only if I accept a few hard facts.

Q. What facts?

A. First off, the compilation of this piano-vocal score is a chore that I will probably not enjoy too very much.  It will be full of drudgery and the promise of further technical hurdles along the way.

Q. And secondly?

A. Secondly, like any other thankless task, I will need to discipline myself stringently in order to accomplish it.

Q. How so?

A. By allotting three an only three hours a day for it, say between 8:30am and 11:30am, six days a week, and laboriously slaving away over it for an estimated five more months, until it is complete.

Q. Will this be total drudgery?

A. Nothing is total drudgery.  There are always ways to maximize and optimize the enjoyment of a miserable procedure.

Q. Such as?

A. Rejoicing in the success of a disciplined life.  Rejoicing in the benefits of a regular schedule, with fifteen minute breaks every forty-five minutes, as is conducive to the efficiency of the human brain.  But most of all, knowing that once 11:30am has come, I am free to work on other, more enjoyable projects, as long as they are not irrelevant to the cause.

Q. Again, such as?

A. Talks 2017.  I’ve already outlined the four talks.  I can get cracking on them.  My home studio is a perfect venue for their creation.  This will be an enjoyable and fulfilling process, and it will balance out the relative tedium of my having to compile my piano-vocal score.

Q. Anything else?

A. Finishing the sequencing of the music that I composed “in my head” while I was without music notation software — or any other possessions for that matter — in Berkeley.  Even though the themes may not seem to pertain to the calling, they actually do.  I was actually was writing some pretty decent music in Berkeley while all around me the only response I received was a highly resonant “Shut the f–k up, you worthless low life idiot!”  The fact that most people couldn’t even tell I was composing music at all, and that they all assumed I was crazy, is only yet another strong statement of the huge evil that is Classism in modern-day America.  I need to demonstrate to the world that I am a talented, Conservatory-trained composer, so as to bust through the stigma they carry that I, and people like me who have somehow been drawn toward the urban streets, are all worthless, low-life, drug-addicted, over-medicated, mental-health-disordered, unsightly blots upon our society — not to mention “idiots.”

Q. Do I detect a note of vengeance in your calling?

A. In a sense.  But I wish nobody harm.  Proverbs 24:7.  Romans 12:19.  I fight not against flesh and blood, but against a foul spiritual principle.  Ephesians 6:12.

Q. You dare to back up your insanity with Holy Scripture!?

A. Indeed I do.

Q. You presume that this mere musical comedy of yours is indicative of a godly calling?  A spiritual calling??

A. Kind sir, I would hardly refer to years and years of intently focused labor as “presumptuous.”  But again, your retort is exactly why it doesn’t matter how much I am mocked, sneered at, scoffed at, and ridiculed in my quite reasonable expression of my calling.  In a sense, all of that condemnation is immaterial.  The only person I have to truly answer to, in this context, is God.  But in another sense, the fact that they mock, sneer, scoff, scorn, disdain, jeer, and so forth — has everything to do with the calling.  It reveals that I am in no way distinctly different than any other formerly homeless person on the urban streets.  I am no different than anyone else  who had to fly a sign on a sidewalk and endure constant ridicule in order to survive.  The stigma has got to be broken, and people in this country have got to start listening to what homeless people have to say.

Q. Do I detect a tone of inspiration?  Are you getting the “chills” yet?

A. No, I am not.  And I probably won’t – until rare moments.  But because of those moments, and because of my faith, I press on.  I know what I am supposed to be about in this world.   99% of the people I know have no clue.  I am privileged.  I am honored.  I am called.

Q. In light of such grandiosity, how dare you even publish such words?

A. Chock it up to a pep talk.  I let three and a half months go by, basically forgetting I had any purpose in life at all — except to be a decent father to my daughter, to try to be a good friend to my friends, and maybe to sing hymns in the back-most pews on an occasional Sunday. It might be that the three and a half month lull will have been useful, when viewed in retrospect.  When I looked at my script afresh last night, I was astounded.  I saw this whole picture of what I am supposed to be about, and how, as I write the piano-vocal score, I can refine the script, and touch it up, and come up with a second complete draft that exceeds the first in Artistic and dramatic quality.  But I’ll be damned if, when Monday 8:30am rolls around, I only continue to draw a blank.  I’m revving up my engines.  This is it.

Q. So what about the time beforehand?

A. Talks 2017There are four of them: (1) Homeless By Condition: Part One.  (2) Homeless by Choice. (3) Homeless By Condition, Part Two. (4) Homeless No More.  They exceed Talks 2013 in clarity, truth, and power.  And this will be my gift to the world.

Q. Aren’t you still concerned about things like arrogance, mania, grandiosity, excessive goal orientation, flight of ideas, fragmentation, and pressured speech? 

A. Dude!  I am not a psychiatrist!  That the unscrupulous agents of the so-called mental health industry will never cease to regard creative genius as a disease to be treated with pills designed to dull the senses and numb the Spirit is only further proof of my purpose.  No doubt they were among the masses who mocked me and shouted abusive assaults as I merely sat in Ohlone Park playing drums on my pants legs and singing the various instrumental parts of my creations, after all my laptops and software were repeatedly stolen by crack heads and traded within minutes for grams of methamphetamine and cocaine.   Of course I am traumatized!  I don’t even report the most horrid of these assaults, for I have been strongly advised never to speak of them, by almost everyone I know, inside or out of the therapist’s office.   Of course I am dealing with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.  But all of that is further fuel for my fire.  Nothing — not even you — can stop me now.

Q. But what about — humility?

A. Humility is only knowing where you stand with God.  Believe me, I’ve got plenty of thorns in my flesh to remind me just how depraved and broken I am.  But I still know the joy of having a clear and distinct purpose on this planet.   Most people don’t know that joy.   It mandates me to do justice to the call.

Q. Don’t you think it is only quite understandable that at this time, I should be extremely concerned about your mental health?   Will you promise to check in with me again tomorrow evening, before you embark upon this path of wanton masochism and self-defeating self-torture?

A. As you wish.  But I will not let you crumple me.  I’ve got Matthew 12:26 and a great speech by Abraham Lincoln on my side.  For can Satan cast out Satan?  A house divided cannot stand.

The Questioner is silent.

lincoln3

 

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