700 Days of Gratitude

You know you’re a Writer when you come back to edit your daily gratitude list.  This is List 700, by the way.

1. This morning I received the zany idea to compile all seven hundred of these lists into a single volume, do a bit of editing to protect the innocent, and publish it on Zulu or CreateSpace under the title: 700 Days of Gratitude.  Why not?

gratitude2. That said, these lists having long since drifted from their original purpose, I’ve created a new morning wake-up routine that reduces the role of the Gratitude List to five points sprawled with a pen onto paper at the end of each day, and five each morning, first thing upon arising.  Then I’ll take my thyroid medication, read something fun and light for fifteen minutes, read a spiritual book for fifteen minutes, and then make my coffee, and write in my journal.   In this manner, I won’t hit the Internet for 45 minutes – and believe me, I shall be enriched.

3. Walked four miles today at a brisk pace.   All set to go running tomorrow.

4. Grateful the Recovery Center was open, where I received encouraging peer support, and also was able to be of service to a recovering alcoholic, as well as two addicts passing through town.

5. Learned something important about myself last night, and use the pain of the experience to effect a positive life change.

6. Was granted a few scoops of coffee tonight at the Center, and it sits in my filter, even as we speak.  Tomorrow I’ll put on a pot while I read, and drink it once a large glass of water’s been downed, one half hour after awakening.   Can’t go wrong with that!

7. What a nice, secluded, quiet, neat, clean one-bedroom apartment I rent today!  The price can’t be beat, the neighbors are civil, and there isn’t a tweaker in sight.

8. Finally broke my block and hammered out a blog for my new writing gig – and I’m glad.  Though it was 1500 words (rough draft, stream of flow), and it’s supposed to be 600 words max, at least I got from A-Z.   Also:

9. I’ve got a professional editor now, a retired lady from my church whose second career was in writing and editing.   She’s smart as a whip, and extremely proficient, and I’m sure she can chop off those excess adjectives and superfluous phrases and cut that thing down to size.

10. This will be my last published Gratitude List, so I might as well speak my conclusive piece.  Gratitude Lists indeed have a way of improving my spirits, all the day long.   I feel good when I’m happy, and these lists have a way of making me happy.  But in the end, life isn’t about feeling good.  It’s about being good — and doing good.  It’s about cultivating wisdom, and nurturing compassion, and caring for those in need.   But most of all, it’s about caring for one’s own self; and showing in that manner of selfless self-love an example that shines before others, that they might see that our actions are worthy, and glorify our God from beyond and before us, the Giver of all good gifts.

The people who seek their own pleasure are the takers.  They eat better, and gluttonously so, and eventually become fat, and burst.  But the people who seek to do justly, and love mercy, and walk humbly with their God are the givers.  They sleep better, and rest comfortably within their own skin, and wind up feeling better — about themselves, about their purpose, and about humanity on the whole.   So I ask you: is it pleasure, or righteousness, that one ought to seek after first?  It profits little if one gains the whole world, to the loss of their God-given soul.

 

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Are You Homeless?

I walked into the Courtyard Cafe this morning wearing my running shoes with spikes on.  We need to wear spikes around here to walk comfortably in the treacherous snow.  My ordinary shoes were slung across my shoulder as usual.

I asked a worker here if the spikes were creating dimples in the hardwood floor.  He said they probably were.   I mentioned that I hadn’t been in Idaho for very long, and I was still getting used to all this stuff.

Suddenly, a lady sitting across the way asked me: “Are you homeless?”

“No, I’m not,” I replied.  “But I’m curious.  That’s an odd question.   People don’t generally ask me if I’m ‘homeless.’   What prompted you to ask that?   Is it the way I look?   The beanie?  The beard?”

Ando Smiling“No,” she said, possibly lying. 

See that guy to the right?   That’s how I look.  This is my most recent look, after having lived for just about a year and a half now, here in Idaho, after escaping twelve years of on-and-off-again homelessness (mostly “on”) in a State I hope I never have to set foot in again, quite frankly.

“You’re dressed like every other guy in this town,” she continued, possibly telling the truth.   

(I did notice upon moving to this particular city that just about every man in my age group wore a beanie or cap, had a beard, and usually carried a backpack.  It made it easy on me.  Nobody assumed I was “homeless.”)

“You said you were new in Idaho, so I thought you might have been homeless.  I’m sorry if I offended you.”

“No, you didn’t offend me at all,” I clarified.  “Nothing wrong with being homeless.  I just wondered what it was about me that got you to think so.”

She drew a breath.  “A lot of people who are new to Idaho were homeless in another State.  It’s because here, people are just people.  They don’t judge you for being homeless in a place like this.   They don’t think of you as a scum bag or a loser.  They just figure you’re down on your luck – and they try to help you out.”

“Are you homeless?”  I asked.

“No,” she replied, looking a bit puzzled.  

She then walked to the counter and came back with a breakfast for me in a to-go box.

“Merry Christmas,” she smiled — and walked out.  

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The Dialectic (Part Four)

This is it, guys.  It’s the final post in the four-part series known as “The Dialectic.”  It is what it is.  I’m moving on now.   I’ve done my part, as best I can.  The rest is up to God.  

Q. Do you know who I am?

A. At this point, you’ve basically been reduced to a literary device that makes it easier to get my point across.

Q. From superego to literary device in one blog alone?  I’m crushed.

A. Join the club.  I’ve been crushed for thirteen years.

Q. So what’s your point?

A. My point is that $50,000 is not a whole lot of money to somebody.   Maybe not you, and certainly not me — but somebody.  Maybe not one person.  Maybe a group of people.  Maybe someone wants to invest?  Fine.  We’ll start talking about a return.   Maybe someone’s a patron of the Arts, and would simply like to be a donor.  Or maybe somebody just likes me — believes in me — and would like to see me succeed.  One way or the other, the $50,000 is obtainable, as long as we draw the right people to the cause.

Q. And what is the cause?

A. The cause is to produce the musical Eden in Babylon, which deals with the effects of homelessness on the youth of today.  I have placed within this piece a persistent suggestion that the solution to homelessness lies in better communication between those who are sheltered and those who are not — between those who have not yet seen the streets, and those who are forced to live there.   I know it’s sounds like I’m dreaming, so let me ask you this: why not?  What do we have to lose?   It just might be that if we embrace our common humanity, whether we be rich or poor, sheltered or homeless, we will bridge the Class Gap while it still glares, before it tears us apart.

Q. Why Musical Theatre?  Why did you choose that genre?

A. Largely, because that’s where my proficiency lies.  But also, the classic view of the traditional musical is that it is intended to present life, not as it is, but as it ought to be.  Man of La Mancha.  Carousel.  Camelot.  See a show like that — a show like mine – and you don’t leave for home in despair.

Q. Well then surely there must be patrons of the Arts somewhere who will resonate with such a cause.  But who will be these people be?

A. Well, they certainly won’t be poor people.

Q. But isn’t Eden in Babylon an exposé on classism?

A. It is.  So what?

Q. Well, don’t you think that the people who might have the kind of money to back you are the very people whom you have often antagonized?

A. They are.  But fences can be mended.  In fact – they must be mended.  It’s what the play is all about.

Q. But won’t you run the risk of antagonizing them again?  Or antagonizing people like them?   The kinds of people who tend to piss you off?

A. There are always risks involved in an enterprise of this scope.  Take no risks, and you get nowhere.  Besides, they no longer piss me off.

Q. They don’t?

A. Not often.  Not for the reasons that earlier got my goat.  You see, I am not in the state of demoralization in which I often found myself when I was destitute and frustrated, earlier in life.  In those days, I actually lived in all the indignity and insanity displayed in this show.  Today, on the other hand, all of my personal needs are met.  I’m in a decent living situation, in a secluded setting, with solitude — the kind of environment a Writer dreams of attaining.   I enjoy a fixed income, payable rent, eatable food, and lots of nice running trails, where I work out, and work things out, and sometimes let off steam.  I’m in a good place in life today, on a day that — though beautiful — cannot promise to last forever.   Best to strike while the iron’s still hot.   

Q. But what about the way that the wealthy are portrayed in the story itself?  Are they not the antagonists?

A. Wherever did you get that idea?  None of the three main antagonists are wealthy.  Two of them are only what you might call “mainstream” – those who are hired to serve the needs of the wealthy, to promote their interests.  I used to do that myself back in the 90’s with in a studio apartment with a Toyota Corolla, driving from one large home to another, giving piano lessons to children, cracking jokes with the parents, and sitting behind a baby grand piano at night in a three piece suit at a five star restaurant.  Did that mean I was wealthy?  Heavens, no!  I made about $33,000 a year before taxes.  There’s a big difference between having money to hire, and being hired by those who have it.

Q. What about the third antagonist?  The really, really bad guy whose name is Johnny James?

A. You’ve got his number already, buddy boy.  J.J.’s a homeless drug dealer — my own antagonist, as it were, on the streets.

Q. So the wealthy side with the protagonist?  With Winston Greene?

A. They appear to oppose him, but at the same time, they love him.  They are only misguided as to how best he might be loved.  For they are those of his birth family, and his original community.  They have sheltered him his whole life long, in an effort to shield him from that which they fear.  Naturally he rebels, and in so doing, learns that what they thought was so fearful, need not be feared at all.

Q. And he succeeds in getting this revelation across to them?

A. In the end, he does.  And then, those whom they feared, they at last embrace.  Those from whom they hid their eyes, they now see with eyes opened wide with clear vision.  So they let them in, to share in their privilege, and never be homeless again.

Q. So there is a happy ending!

A. Of course.  Why would there not be?

Q. But don’t they sing an elegy to Winston Greene?  At a jailhouse memorial, in Act Two, Scene Two?

A. Let’s just say, as Mark Twain once put it, that the reports of his death have been greatly exaggerated.

Q. And what about that horribly demonic, death metal Opening, the song Intervention, which depicts psychiatric intervention followed by techno-torture, in the song The Age of Nevermore, in the terrifying second scene?

A. It has been adjusted accordingly.  In the Opening, it still depicts psychiatric intervention.  As the Finale, it now shows divine intervention.  

Q. A pleasant twist! How did you arrive at it?

A. In a flash, as though given by an Artist Greater Than Myself.

Q. An Artist Greater Than Yourself?

A. Yes.  For I have made a decision to turn my will and my life over to an Artist Greater Than Myself.  

Q. And this Greater Artist is — on your side?

A. God’s not on my side.  He’s on our side.   Together, we’re going to win.

Q. Andy, let me ask you one more question.

A. Be my guest.

Q. What will it take, besides money, to get this show off the ground?

A. Divine Intervention – and Love.

can-do

LET’S PUT AN END TO CLASSISM.
LET’S PUT AN END TO HOMELESSNESS.
LET’S ALL SPEAK THE TRUTH
IN LOVE

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The Mark of Cain

“Do you really need that thing?”
I heard the softness
of a half-familiar voice
as my eyes were opened.
And I saw a pair of young White hands,
playfully swinging my brand new HP notebook
from side to side,
and to and fro,
and side to side, again.

“Yeah, I do,” I smiled, looking up
from my half-slumber,
from the bench on which I sat,
just outside McDonald’s,
on University and Shattuck Avenue
in Berkeley, California.

It was still dark.
McDonald’s would not open
for another ten minutes or so.
I had seen other friends of mine
across the street,
and had waved.
It did not seem like any other morning,
as we all awaited our senior cups
and the single refills we would receive
as long as we promised not to linger
more than twenty minutes in the store,
and promptly took our first and only refill
for the road.

I was certain this was a young buddy of mine,
playing a joke on me,
as others had in the past,
when they noticed I’d acquired a laptop.
“High Top!” they would shout.
“High Rise!” – and I would grin.
But the grin of the green-eyed monster
was much wider than the smile
which which I looked up at the lad,
only to see his hoodie obscuring his young face,
like a veil, and his body,
like a cloak.

Then, in an instant, I felt a metallic force
carving a ridge into my lower back,
and just as quickly, a sharp yang,
a strike less than half an inch
below my right eye.

“Take it! Take it!”
I shouted, as though consenting
to be plundered, or condoning
the crime as though it had been mine
to commit as well as theirs —
as though having counted all the costs,
I no longer cared
that it took me a month to save up for that “thing” —
I in fact had slept outside,
when I did not really need to.
I had left a cozy cottage
in another County,
to prioritize the purchase
of the device I called my home.

Then I saw a large Black hand grab my backpack.
There went my new headphones,
a bag of marijuana, and a pipe,
a new lighter, socks, and sunglasses –
But no matter:
I was alive.

I got up and watched them closely –
the Black man on the right,
his gun facing sideways to his right,
as though informing me he was armed
and dangerous.

Mesomorphic.
The taller ectomorph to his left,
With the hoodie.
Him I recognized,
but I knew not where or why.
I watched them jog,
I noted that the White boy on the left
was a runner.
No one runs with a form like that,
unless he has been trained.

They turned off to the left
and darted down Berkeley Way,
not to be seen again, until —
One day at my Spot,
I saw them together walking past,
That view from behind that I shall never forget.

“Are you who I think you are, Officer?”
“I am,” she said, turning to me
with that inscrutable austerity
That so defines her nature.

“I know who stole my laptop.”
And I told her who and who,
For each of them had walked past me
on the same day
and flashed at me the peace sign,
which I returned in kind.
I also questioned the younger one,
And asked if I should bother to replace it,
Getting right into his face,
feigning a crazed countenance,
eyes bulging widely,
as I chided him with these words:

“Or will I just get jacked again?”
The young man never missed a beat,
but looked up at me shrewdly:
“Do you really need that thing?”

“I tell you it was he,” I told the stoic,
jaded cop with whom I spoke so candidly
in broad daylight just outside the station.

“I’m not at all surprised,” she said,
without expression on her serious, worn face.
“But watch your own back
and be wise as befits your years,
Because we know that you are of the streets
when you call it Provo Park
and not Civic Center Park,
or when you call it Ho Chi Minh Park,
instead of Willard Park.
And know that on your forehead
there is the Mark of Cain,
because for all intents and purposes,
you yourself have killed a man.”

© Andy Pope
Moscow, Idaho
17 June 17

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