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Friday, January 13, 2012

How I Became Homeless: Loyalty and Respect

It is the stuff of Greek tragedies and great movies. It is the stuff we hope never happens to us in real life, for the end is very, very bad; and there is nothing to help it but to tear your eyes out at the sockets, wander aimlessly through the barren landscape of a life destroyed, and wish for death to come early. Revealing any part of a difficult truth seems to betray God and every hope of humankind. Friends scatter at the horror. There is nothing to say. Nothing left to do. The curtain falls, and we desperately want to laugh.

What lessons were intended in this time of my life and their meaning are still obscure to me, even if one can read simple answers in the outline. And that is the tragedy of it: it were as though Greek gods were moving people and situations around on a lark and making it all up as they went along. Only a god who does not share our humanity could think of such chaos and want to see it performed, lived out, as it were.

In the simplest terms, I met a man. He happened to have suffered in his life from alcoholism, but he also had a successful working wife who took care of him, that is to say, she paid for his court-ordered trips to rehab for DUIs. No one talks about this, but drinking and driving is great fun. In fact, I have tried it; and I can see how someone who likes alcohol better than I do might drink and drive with frequency. Perhaps more people do than we think.

Having had an excess of time to think about the circumstances under which I and this man met and all the attractions there were, I have come to think that life is ultimately fair, which does not mean that life will be painless. I no longer believe things add up, creating an abundance of good or bad karma, for instance. One may see the world in that way, with blinders on. One may see the world through any construct one wishes, and it will appear to be such.

What is fair about life is that we are all here more or less on the same footing. None of us is good, and few of us are categorically evil. No one knows what is coming in the next minute, hour, or day. None of us knows how we will act under every circumstance we come across, and we are certainly no one else's judge. There are many, many variables at all times and those variables are exponentially multiplied in interactions with other people.

Sometimes, we think we have a hold on reality and are setting our own course. We have, after all, a history: we have parents, went to school, have a job, and so on. We may have the illusion for a while that we even know ourselves. Yet, there are startling, uncomfortable discoveries that come with age: we have no idea, really, how we turn out the way we do. The sinuous threads of our lineage, culture, and personal history become harder to follow, like the crumbs in the forest that were to lead us out of darkness into the dawn, but now make a path more like a puzzle that sometimes has T-crossings, circles back on itself, or offers side trails that beckon but yield neither a way out nor any truth worth the time it took to travel them.

Simply stated, I no longer want to blame anyone for my perceived misfortune and misguided conduct because, while it is easy to do, it is dangerous. Even though someone else may be blameworthy (and we are all responsible because we are all here together), resentment is a millstone, an incredible poison. It is the golem of Jewish folklore that, created by its owner to defend and avenge, can become enormous and uncontrollable and come back one day to overpower and crush its maker.

Getting past the emotional hurdles of a difficult circumstance is daunting. It is traumatic, and sometimes scarring, to wrangle with resentment, grief, anger, and shame all at the same time. That is really the bigger story and, oddly, the only way out. The circumstances that led to the emotional hurt are long gone, so, in the end, one has to find the strategies to overcome oneself.

Forthright, once and for all, I will say here so that it is perfectly clear: I am finished with the story of the man who betrayed me. It is true that he lied, and that he is an inveterate liar has been substantiated a few times over by other women he has known whom I later came to know. The entire story has been replayed ad nauseum in many variations from several points of view. Finally, one must ask, "So what?"

Perhaps it is my existentialist tendencies, but it is also my ethics that have dictated this stance. Oddly, sometimes the truth is just not that important, especially given that truth can be static, freezing us in time, locking us in memory as someone we once were, but no longer are. Truth is the enemy of change unless truth changes and becomes a different truth. No truth should last too long.

Along with the devilment of truth, there is the insistence upon meaning. How interesting it is to come out of that Platonic trance that insists everything have meaning, that is, a logical relatedness we often refer to as progress or harmony. It is refreshing and strange to discover the parallel universe of "shit happens," "it doesn't mean anything," "it didn't matter," and "it is what it is." In fact, it is downright heartening since most people in the world actually live in that universe, not in the cozy, prepackaged trajectory of happy-endings with which certain classes in the western world are programmed (as I was). That universe is true, too, of course, until it isn't; and when it is no longer true, the fall is long and hard to reach an equilibrium, a relative security, and a new sense of perspective.

If one hangs on to truths, forgiveness of the unconditional kind is impossible. In fact, the point of all those lovely truths evaporates. For example, my former lover made mistakes, but he did not make his decisions in the first place because they were mistakes at the time. I have come to appreciate how much love, hope, and goodness went into a dream that did not work out as planned and how much courage it takes to dare to create anything, relationships with the opposite sex being particularly complex and often capricious. What beauty there is in a personal landscape that was shaped by dreams, whether or not they manifested quite as we imagined them.

Once we are beyond judging outcomes based on like or dislike and want or don't want, we are free to respect ourselves and others for choosing to live and love past the incompleteness, failure, and loss to which one must surrender. For the miracle is loving oneself not just when things turn out well and make us feel good, but when there are unforeseen outcomes which we consider mistakes. There is no celebration of uncertainty in our culture, the kind of uncertainty that is the proving ground for strength of character, and far too little respect for those among us who dare. Perhaps that would be a culture with a taste for tragedy, like that of the Greeks, which did not pretend there were perfect outcomes or that perfect outcomes do not change, like the static notions of Christian heaven.

Finally and most importantly, there is loyalty to one's life --- every part of it --- no matter how much of it your mother thinks was a mistake or, lacking your mother's example, what you have picked out and scourged as somehow unworthy of who you are. We are informed, created, by our experiences; it is best to fall in love with them.

Despite my good fortune in the past year (very good fortune, indeed, at a time when so many people do not have work or other financial means), I have managed to find fault with it rather than accept and appreciate the radical transformation this very good fortune has allowed. I am healing quickly from the vestiges of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. I am so far along in my healing that I notice a moment of anxiety now rather than only noting its occasional absence. I am aligning myself with the forces of positive change in this world and seeking out others like me who want to create more of it. I am learning, too, how to live in peace with ambiguity, uncertainty, and constant change.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Gone to Hell in a Handcart . . . or Just Decompressing

It is common knowledge among my friends and family that I do not drink. I simply never acquired a taste for alcohol. Fine wines are entirely lost on me as I am disabled by a slow nose and humble palate that barely recognize the distinctions in bouquet such as hints of berry, soupcons of citrus, or smells of oak. I do not taste or smell pepper, butter, or grass in my wine; and even if I could, I would prefer those flavors alone to the overriding raw sensation of alcohol burning in my throat. The alcohol, of course, is the point; otherwise, everyone would just have soda.

All that changed in the late spring of 2011. I began to drink . . . a little. I would call it "tippling" in the way one might speak of Julia Child and her kitchen habits. Things got to me and not the small stuff. I was walled off by a complete inability to imagine a future, and I was suffocating from it.

By now, I had begun a comfortable job and was renting a condo in a decent part of town. I could not experience that as a miracle quite yet. Rather, I was slightly horrified at how much difference enough money can make and having a real roof over my head, that is, normalizing.

Port, the drink of sages, poets, and old women, was my tippling choice. I could bear drinking it as it was not too far from Mogen David and Boone's Farm, while having the cachet of foreign origin. For my palate, I preferred the caramel-colored, nutty-flavored, sweet viscosity of tawny port that derives from aging in wooden barrels. The Douro River valley in Portugal where port grapes are grown is the oldest appellation in the world, and porto derives its name from the village at the mouth of the river from which it is exported. Such distinctions make one feel comfortable.

The problem with port for me was that I could drink half a bottle at a time, and there was never any hangover the next day. Just enough sugar in my alcohol made it possible for me to get up as usual and go to work. However, I had cause to worry. While I do not have an addictive personality, one for whom habit becomes nearly unbreakable without really tough measures, one just never knows if there is a tipping point (on the proverbial scale, not the bottle) or where and with what it may lie if there is one. Port might prove to be my downfall; perhaps I was a latent alcoholic who only needed the "right" drink.

Weeks passed. I so enjoyed my evenings with the bottle. The mellow color in the small glass and thick sweetness on my tongue lent themselves to reverie. A month or so passed. It was so relaxing to read and write and talk to relatives by telephone after a few glasses of painlessness and nostalgia after which I simply passed out. Port seemed to calm my nerves so that I could slough off the pressures, anxieties, and intensity of my prior circumstance.

I decided it was a good thing and to let it alone.

Since I could not decide how much of a good thing port was, I had to trust myself. After all, I had stopped smoking cigarettes (and pot before that) and managed to diet successfully a few times in my life. I was a veteran of the ongoing war with transcendence that must be waged or none of us would work or go to school or do anything society regards as productive. We all must decide how much pleasure we can bear.

One day, I simply forgot about port. I do not know how I turned that corner. I cannot remember what was on my mind that seemed so easily to supplant my port habit. I continued to drink port, but with less and less frequency. Months later, I have a near-empty bottle in a kitchen cabinet that is gathering dust and no desire to finish it off. And there sits my lonely aperitif crystal.

A woman with whom I shared a meditation class once told me something I did not want to hear at first because I thought it undermined everything I had ever learned about meditation. I spoke to her because I knew she had been practicing meditation for a very long time, and I thought she could help. I told her I was struggling and that I was seemingly getting nowhere with my practice. She asked me if I had tried a hot bubble bath or a little alcohol or both. I managed a quiet, "Ohhh . . ." while I struggled to hide my shock. She looked straight at me and said with a determination I rarely ever hear, "Whatever it takes."

The wider meaning to her statement is that our lives become the meditation once we go beyond mere practice. In life, as in practice, we cannot be certain what we will find along the way, but we will certainly be different at the end as we will be changed by it. We can have a bubble bath as meditation. We can eat pizza or have a milk shake. We can try anything to see where it leads. The truth is we do not know and cannot know until we get somewhere we like or do not like or that just ends by itself. It is a process, and not even meditation in the end, but trust of oneself and acceptance.

Monday, August 15, 2011

A Note to Readers

As I read through old posts, I sometimes come across misspellings and other mistakes. I apologize that I cannot seem to find a way to edit a post without also republishing it. The better news is that I am writing, and there will be new posts soon!

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Prozac Nation, Prozac Me

Almost twenty million people in America take Prozac or another anti-depressant like it. Millions upon millions more people around the world take Prozac by a different trade name. Recent reports claim that users of the serotonin-specific reuptake inhibitor kind of anti-depressant, which Prozac is, can become more depressed, hostile, psychopathic, and even suicidal, the very condition anti-depressants hope to mediate. As a footnote, however, many people are happy with the results they are getting from Prozac; and that would include me.

While I am not a proponent of prescription-drug use and abhor the power of the pharmaceutical companies over our nation's health (or lack of it), I discovered Prozac on a desperate visit to the doctor. I was having both menstrual and menopausal symptoms, and nothing at the health-food store was working. I was sleepless, irritable, anxious, and frightened at the lack of control I had over my body. I was surprised at the sudden impulse to take off all my clothes anywhere --- while driving, in the supermarket, outdoors in the middle of the night.

I was having both hot and cold flashes that were most virulent in the evening, and I was not getting enough sleep: just as I would begin to fall asleep, my body would heat up so feverishly that I had to throw off all blankets and clothing and sometimes rush outdoors for cool air. Perhaps ten minutes would pass before my body cooled down, but then it would cool off to freezing and I would need to put clothing and covers back on again. This cycle went on all night until I managed to fall asleep from exhaustion. This hellish phenomenon of disturbed sleep night after night, along with days of disrupted work (I slept through the morning alarms) made me highly agitated. I was being driven mad.

As a last resort, I found myself in the doctor's office begging for a medication that would instantly remove the overwhelming, crazy-making myriad of flashes, moods, aches, and pains. I had always suffered from dysmenorrhea growing up and regularly missed school because of it. I might have been able to succeed at a career in my adult life had I not been forced to miss work 12-24 days out of the year. I was at wit's end on the day I met the doctor for an ultimate cure.

It was to my great surprise that the doctor recommended Prozac. I told him I thought I was, well, too smart to need a drug like that. However, he explained, besides its reputation as the "happy drug," Prozac was known to moderate and reduce the severity of both menstrual and menopausal symptoms. While I seldom ever see a male doctor these days and would not ordinarily have trusted the advice of one, I was too sick to worry about who took care of me on so short a notice. Besides, I was eager to feel better.

It was to my even greater surprise to witness the results after taking the lowest prescribed doses of Prozac: I became completely symptom-free. I was happy to feel better, of course, but I was not on a "high" courtesy of the "happy drug." Rather, any enhanced state of well-being was mostly attributable to being able to sleep again.

I stayed on Prozac for a couple of years until I changed my daily routine to include yoga, running, and a diet that eliminated sugar. After speaking with a chiropractor about possible long-term effects of Prozac, I weaned myself off and managed well without it until December of 2010.

One possible long-term effect of taking Prozac could be that the reuptake-inhibitor action that keeps serotonin levels concentrated in the brain could begin to malfunction. As the body normally regulates itself through opening and closing or starting and stopping processes, the reuptake inhibitor action keeps "valves" open that usually shut and then reopen and shut again and so on. The "valves," so to speak, have a chance to rest. Just like a gate that has been held open for a long time, its mechanism may rust in place, give up resistance, and no longer close properly. What that could mean to a Prozac user is hallucinations and sleeplessness, much like one experiences on recreational drugs, but without the capacity to "come down." The body and its "valves" fail to rest. Of course, this is theoretical, only a guess, but as I tend to prefer not taking drugs in the first place, I thought it was a good idea to give up Prozac for a while.

It was not until homelessness became unbearable, being plagued at night with horrific anxiety and severely depressed thoughts, that I again contemplated taking Prozac. I felt I could not go on much longer; I was beginning to break and had no clear vision of a future; and I still don't, but at that very time also my application for housing had been accepted. One follows every lead, like crumbs left in the forest, to find one's way out. Call it hope; I call it desperation.

Remarkably, I was just not excited about housing. I am not sure what I expected. I guess I thought I might jump up and down and pinch myself to make sure I was not dreaming. Reality looked just like it is, not a great deal of fun unless one can stir oneself up inside to a spiritual fervor and live once-removed from it all. Besides, it is a lot of work to ignore the slavery of being on the bottom of the economic pyramid and enriching the people at the top with every boring, miserably-paid hour I spend at work.

This failure to improve my sense of reality, my seeming lack of imagination, was also a clear sign. Here I had an opportunity to get out of my vehicle, and my reaction was "So what?" I knew I was going to have to push myself, but the energy for a new venture in living was simply not there. My clean diet, running, and yoga did not serve to give the extra boost I needed. Within a day, I was back in the doctor's office asking for Prozac in double the dose I used to take.

As things turned out, the housing deal with the City was not the whoop-de-do for which I might have hoped: the Housing Commission would only pay one-third of the rent based on my gross income calculated over a year. I am now living beyond my means and spending ever dollar of my hard-earned, meager savings to keep up.

Nonetheless, driving past one of my old haunts yesterday, I shuttered to recall eating cold food most of the time and using public restrooms where I could never quite feel comfortable. I had grown accustomed to constipation and having to take laxatives. I was not housed a full day before my constitution regularized, and I sleep as long as I want without fear, not having to move my vehicle at 4:00 a.m. to get to the public park when it opens to avoid the "regular" people and the police. Yes, that is worth the money alone.

Interestingly, and contrary to what I anticipated, Prozac does not take away one's thoughts: I am still depressed and my thinking is somewhat grim. What Prozac does remove is the emotional attachment to memories of loss and pain. I remember, but I am not fixated. I am not brooding and obsessed. I have problems, but they do not possess me. That is the miracle of Prozac.

Yet, I make this report with regret. I am sorry I am not strong enough to live without a drug, any kind of drug, for that matter. I am sorry for all of us who are living in a state of overwhelm. We live in such a troubled world, and none of us is immune to the pain of economic downturn, social and financial immobility, loss of housing, and all the repercussions that ripple out from these phenomena that gradually erode a peaceful existence right down to the smallest joy. It is a daily triumph to notice a clear blue sky, early-spring birds singing, and the humble sweetness of love between two people. It is in these small gifts that I am nourished and get through another day.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Christmas 2010 *

This was the year of the black hole of the heart.

While years past were challenging, 2010 felt impossible. It has been the worst year of my life. There is now less than a week to go; and if we are lucky in 2011, we are all the closer to the end of the world. I say this in kindness given the problems we have on the planet that are not going away soon enough: we are losing species at a phenomenal rate, and the lose of other species does not, in turn, bode well for our human prospects. The corporation, a behemoth of destruction, is sorely in need of a legal definition that places greater stricture on its behavior. Capitalist greed may need no further comment than what Michael Moore has already said.

The degradation of my personal inner life, however, is all I really have with which to work. That may sound like a retreat or a little too Buddhistic, but homelessness does cast one's life in its legimitate light of powerlessness over anything in the vast Otherness we confront every day. Of course, there are demands on us all from the Outside. One homeless friend constantly reminds me that I am here to work.

Now that is really ugly and demeaning because I grew up in the once-prosperous middle class from which I might make anything of myself, go anywhere, and do anything in a world of endless possibilities; but my friend's comment stinks to high heaven of Truth. There is no religion, either, that does not command we have something to do and contribute; and that is fair enough.

However, our world recently metamorphosed in a way few of us yet understand. The world is both larger and smaller at the same time. The Emerging Economies are quickly surpassing the First World in financial prospects, though our stock market is as high in volume as it ever was, despite record numbers of homeless and jobless people. Technology is produced in many parts of the world and creates a common language through the internet while access to simple necessities such as food is dwindling. (Food free of genetically-modified organisms may soon be a thing of the past.) The Good is great and the Bad is horror beyond the scope of imagination.

Driven nearly mad by my circumstance, I determined to get out as soon as possible. The nightmare of overwhelming grief that was waking me consistently out of almost every sleep had me thinking about the storage space to which I have access. The renter who lends me space there built in a heavy dowel overhead to hold clothing, quite a reach, but sturdy nonetheless. How easy it would be to buy rope, though I would have to consult the internet on making a noose and the details of how the deed is carried out most effectively.

I knew I was in trouble.

After one particularly bad night, I was confronted by a co-worker the next day with whether or not I believed in God because she needed to tell someone what had happened to her. She outlined a quite miraculous event in which desperate prayer had saved her from immediate disaster. It was a beautiful story. I cried because that story had just saved me from the deadly plot I had been hatching all morning. I have not since had the same degree of compulsion or decisiveness.

Within a day or so, I received a notice that I had been accepted into the Homeless Prevention and Rapid Re-housing Program and was expected to find a place to live within its guidelines in a month's time. It was numbing, and I cannot account for the feelings of ambivalence that notice evoked in me, like a joke that is no longer funny and will not elicit even a smile. I had been through hoop after hoop of fire searching for programs by internet and telephone, filling out program paperwork, interviewing with program managers and case workers, and enduring administrative delays. I was one of thousands of worthy people who needed help, even if, like me, they all felt alone in the world and as though a mountain were going to drop on them.

There is a tremendous sense of dread that comes with homelessness, and it is not entirely in one's own mind. The behavior of the police toward the homeless is a huge factor as they have the authority to make sure a homeless person can never get up again. It is simply too much power over another person's life. (I have detailed here at Vagabond several incidences of police disregard and destruction over the months I have been writing.)

Meanwhile, the general public is convinced that homeless people are dangerous, and one of the lowest accusations is that homeless men are rapists. I do not particularly like homeless men because the ones I have met seldom bathe and smell badly; but these are the most offensive things I have ever encountered. Many do not eat or do not eat well, nor do they get sufficient rest sleeping on the ground; and many drink or do drugs that rather serve to suppress normal desire. The reality is that these men would not have the strength to chase or nab a woman and would not be capable of the physical act of rape. They tend to sleep or lie about whenever they can. Many like to read books or listen to the radio. Some visit the local library to use the internet. Homeless men are far from being anyone's worst dream.

Nonetheless, the mythology of the homeless perpetuates ugly stereotypes that keep them from receiving the compassion and real services they need for support if they are ever to get off the street. The mythology also keeps the police busy when there is apparently nothing else for them to do. For example, rookie cops are often broken in with the harassment of a homeless person, waking him up, shaking him down, handcuffing him, putting him in the police car, and driving him to jail where he stays several nights before being let out because there is no reason to hold him. And this is routine.

The good cop/bad cop game is played out, too. The police have their own version of homeless prevention, called the Homeless Outreach Team (HOT). I have placed several phone calls to this group in the hopes of learning what they do and what they might be able to do for me, as I have left no stone unturned. My calls were never answered, despite assurances by beat police that the Team would respond. I have seen the HOT van parked here and there and have seen it pass by on the street, but I cannot tell you after all this time what HOT does or is supposed to be doing.

Perhaps the worse blow to any homeless person is losing all your friends, as that will eventually happen. No one can bear to hear homeless stories every time they phone to inquire about you, and few housed people have the kind of economic security that seemed to be the right of every American just a few years ago. The crushing weight of the homeless person's fears, depression, isolation, and hopelessness take a toll on even the best of friends. There is little left in common in fact as one's homeless life is an unshared bare-bones existence.

As for family, few people can tolerate the expectations engendered by this institution under normal conditions, much less the judgments and sense of failure evoked by a straightforward admission of the truth of one's situation. I would have considered the noose sooner than I did. It is not easy, all the same, sugar-coating one's life for family consumption. So far as anyone knows, we are all just fine, and all the usual normative assumptions, that is, that we all have a place to live and eat reasonably well and so on, hold true.

That homelessness is an unshared life is perhaps the most tragic outcome. Many people have a fictionalized version of homelessness in mind, as I did when I first decided to live in my truck. We were not hopping trains with Woody Guthrie; and far from sitting around the campfire at night, we scattered each to our own hidey-holes, places where the police were not likely to find us. We could not congregate for fear of calling attention to ourselves; and it is against the law to sleep in one's vehicle, even to nap in broad daylight. Just like prison camp interns, the homeless have a near-complete isolation from the rest of the world and little sense of home. The reality of being constantly watched by police, because they guard the streets in their cars round the clock, cut off most avenues of fellowship.

Of course, my life is different now; and without any conscious effort, I am dissociating from homelessness. I have little desire to go back and visit the homeless people I knew, not because I now eschew that kind of life, but because we could not manage to build that commonality like neighbors in the usual sense would do. As much as we had in common, it would never translate into lasting friendships.

And what would I say? I am not yet sure my life is better, and those I now meet in a more normative setting are far from better people. The homeless are honest, unspoiled, and realistic, not out of virtue, but because their poverty and status as non-citizens makes them so.

The terror of homelessness must run deep in the human psyche. There may be collective memories spanning centuries of losing our homes to marauders and war parties that reached our villages. Whatever the case, as a society, we seem to need to turn our backs on the homeless and deny with every fiber of our being the reality that we have no right or guarantee to a place to live. There is no inalienable right to a home in the Constitution of the United States, a nation missing an essential building block, built without a foundation, when seen in this light. In God We Trust takes on new meaning here as the only home we possess we owe only to an inner spiritual sense that there is a better world somewhere beyond this one.

We are all fundamentally homeless, dependent upon the mercy of someone higher up on the food chain who employs us. Our human culture is pyramidal, that is, many people supporting a few at the top, no matter whether the country is capitalist or communist. What we learn from the symbolism of the pyramids in Egypt or in Mexico is that the pyramid as a structure is unstable. All lost cultures modeled on the pyramid now lie in ruins; and there may be no end to the exploitation of people and other living things until this structure is consigned to the past.

Our hopes lie in the circle of life.

* Note: Writing was begun on December 26, 2010, and completed on February 13, 2011.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

That Which Cannot Be Taken

"Only that which cannot be taken away by death is real. Everything else is unreal, it is made of the same stuff dreams are made of." -- Osho

A friend asked me to elucidate this statement as it pertains to my life. As my readers know, I have fallen a considerable distance from faith (also hope and love). I have been grasping at straws, and that is just how elusive my efforts have seemed at saving myself from being awakened every morning with a dark heaviness in my chest, a near inability to breathe, and a mind clogged of any vision beyond my nose. It is only with forcing myself to get up, dress, roll up my bedding, and start the engine that I come out of the bog.

That morning slough happens every day now, and it is a painful reminder that I no longer want the life I am constrained to live. Belief that tomorrow could be different requires a leap of faith for which I am no longer equipped. That kind of faith is a pole vault or a climb up Mt. Everest. What I have had to do, at least, to make myself more comfortable physically is dial down the sensation and shut off my mind, meditational skills I learned long ago.

What remains is me being, me in my beingness and nothing else. I am not relating temporally where there is so much energetic investment and anxiety, nor am I connected spacially where I experience confinement. I am existing outside time and space: I am here but unattached, here but free of judgments. I am bound only to the moment and the barest of daily routines.

I am not talking about the be-here-now mantra I never understood unless, in fact, I now understand it as I never before could. That mantra seemed to imply a spurious break with the past and future in exchange for a romp in an irresponsible moment. One's past and future, like a prison term, are still there the next day. No wonder so many hippies turned out to be investment bankers.

What I am referring to here is shutting out the suppositions, assumptions, theories, what-ifs, as-ifs, and the futurism and nostalgia that perpetuate these states of mind. I am getting empty so that I can see again, if there is any path at all to follow. I am just here, and I do not pretend to know why. Maybe answers will come. Maybe not. I suspect there is no reason to be here, though I would still like to be more comfortable, that is, not living in my truck any longer.

So far so good with these new practices. I really have no choice given the deadly, suffocating heaviness I experience every day. At least, the emotional pain subsides; and I keep it that way, rejecting any thoughts that lead to uncomfortable feelings. I am not ignoring my feelings, but being discriminate as I have walked the way of those difficult feelings before and know those well-worn paths to be unnecessary and unprofitable. I am staying open to new experiences.

All that is left is the living soul experiencing.

One question I am beginning to ask is, "What am I not seeing?" I ask this question particularly in response to running out of money, which, as I reported in a previous post, causes me tremendous fear, even if I do recognize the damage it has done to our society. Nothing changes the need for it, but I am beginning to look for ways around it. Most recently, I cannot pay the cell phone and internet broadband bill. I panicked. I phoned a friend to see if he could pay the bill this month for me, but he is also hard up and goes without broadband.

So, I figure I, too, can go without broadband, though it means driving to places where there is a wi-fi presence that allows me to connect from the street while online in the truck. Of course, there are also cafes and coffee houses where I can plug in as well. Anyway, that was how I used to do it, and I got spoiled. Any convenience is very welcome and usually saves gasoline.

Minus broadband internet, I may be able to keep the phone on, and my best friends are going to appreciate that. Nonetheless, there is someone who would be willing to take calls for me in the interim if I cannot find at least $50 today. And so it goes.

Allowing myself comforts, however small, is becoming a new habit. Yesterday, I had ice cream sandwiches, raspberry with small chocolate bits between two chocolate cookies. Four in all. (I still have Food Stamps!) As a concession, I did not eat lunch or dinner. I was quite full, anyway. I am also sleeping more as a way of worrying less. Worry is tiresome, and I can feel those fine lines around my mouth sagging with every sorrowful thought. I am afraid my mouth will fix in a permanent frown. Hence, I remember to smile, sometimes at nothing. I seem to have created, magically, more time in a day by not worrying. The day seems to race to a close with an excess of concerns and fears in the mind, and my vanity just will not allow me to consider aging in any serious, graceful way quite yet.

Remarkably, despite my mother, despite the life-long agony of feeling motherless, I want to go home and fantasize about being in the house and surroundings of my childhood. I allow it. No good fighting the sense of joy I have sitting for breakfast at the antique table in Mother's light-filled kitchen as the sun tops the huge oaks in the backyard: 10:00 a.m. From now in summer, the heat will pour on thick as a down blanket and all but smother every living thing. Bathing is futile, for as soon as one dries off, the sweat is on again.

There is no use doing much of anything. The old people used to sit on their porches and shell peas or shuck corn in this weather. The slightest breeze would knock together the delicate glass pieces of the Chinese wind chime hung in the corner, the sound wondrously like the tinkling of water. It seems anyone with a porch had one of those once-cheap wind chimes comprising two or three tiers of glass inscribed with Chinese characters held together with paper glued to red string and gathered at the top by a ring. The chimes were available for sale at the dime store for two bucks fifty. Some years later, I bought one in Chinatown and had to spend $35.

If one can only get through the muggy afternoons, the early evenings bring the sweet smell of grasses and wild honeysuckle. Ground fog rises up and sits gently over the neighboring fields like a dewy cloth to relieve the brow of fever. The air is humid, misty, fragrant. The oppression is lifting as night falls and the tender winking lights of the fireflies fill the trees and shrubs as if to rival the display of stars overhead.

There is only one healthful time to eat in the midwestern summer, and that is in early morning, though one is tempted to eat, and hungry, when the sun goes down. But one is also tired at the end of the day, enervated, sapped by any human effort. If there were ever a place to drink a lot of water, it is here. The cool evening air is delicious, stirring musings on life and love and their inevitabilities as one begins to drift to sleep.

But my mind wanders, relaxed in these peaceful thoughts.

That which cannot be taken away by death is what has remained in the heart long after the passing of people, places, and things, which can be evoked again and again and which are met once more in lifetime after lifetime. The heart, connected to the permanent atom of myself, is what transform all experience into light.

Still, I do wish I could go home again.

Friday, July 2, 2010

A Letter to a Friend

Hi Leslie,

I am writing to apologize for my reaction to your comment yesterday.

Perhaps your friend is right. Perhaps, no matter what, I should call on my mother and siblings. Maybe your friend's comment was a nudge at a distance.

Nonetheless, I want to repeat here for the record that I did take umbrage at your friend's comment, to paraphrase, that were she in my position and homeless, she would go to her family to live. You told me your friend is in her 50's, and I thought that comment was rather glib, uninformed, and maybe unrealistic given her age.

I cannot rule out that her relations with her family may be much better than mine; but it is no secret that family are often the hardest people with whom to maintain relations, just karmic fact for most of us. Family always have higher expectations for us than for anyone else, so my apparent failure being homeless would sting them. I would be surprised if this were not the case with her family as well. I wondered how much thought your friend had given this matter.

Personally, I also have my pride and have not given up on making it on my own despite the odds. Of course, given my circumstance, I have had to think of everything. When I have thought I did not, I phoned friends to ask for their ideas. So it did seem patronizing that your friend would think a homeless person who was formerly middle-class and educated would not think about every avenue of escape.

Please bear in mind that I am attempting to raise your awareness and your friend's. That is the purpose of my blog, to help dispel all the assumptions we tend to make about a situation that we do not share with another human being. There are, of course, middle-class assumptions that simply do not hold in a homeless setting. Where you would typically shun an alcoholic person, for example, I now tend to overlook the addiction. I told you how one alcoholic was the first person to greet me when I first started living in my truck. He made me laugh, and I dearly needed laughter at that time as I was laden with grief.

I also tend to ignore addiction among the homeless for another reason. Addiction may be the reason why some people become homeless, but it is not exactly the reason why they stay homeless. Among the wealthy, there are plenty of alcoholics and drug abusers. The difference is that they can hide what they do because they can afford it. It is a class issue, not a drug issue. Lack of money is what separates a poor user from a rich one.

Here in the United States, we think we are an exception to the rest of the world. It is known as American exceptionalism ---- the reason we do not protest all that much or start riots over money like they do in Europe. The Europeans have not forgotten that there is an ongoing class war, no matter how large their middle class. They know that if the European elites decide to fart in their direction, there goes the middle class; their goes funding for education, health care, worker safety nets, jobs --- the whole enchilada. We would do well here in the United States to remember that there are very powerful people who can shut down the entire game if they want to. And, those elites need to know that we will do ugly things to keep them in check as well, like rioting and other things that scare the Bejesus out of them.

Surely you remember the Kent State shootings. It was appalling to see footage of the National Guard shooting live ammunition at students, not unlike Tiananmen Square some decades later. It was quite surreal to me given the high-flown rhetoric of the greatness of our country with which I had grown up. It just did not seem possible, yet it happened, and someone gave the order and that order came from higher up. (As a note here, restitution has still not been made to the families whose children died at Kent State 50 years ago. Here is a recent report: http://origin.wkyc.com/news/local/news_article.aspx?storyid=135890&catid=45 ).

I recall thinking that the elites were real tired of the bratty children of the veterans of WWII skipping college classes to protest the Vietnam War. We were not grateful enough and did not appreciate the virtually universal education they had acceded to give to the generations of the World War II vets; and it was not long before it was taken away. Subsequent cohorts have had to go into debt for a mere undergraduate degree or forgo a higher education altogether.

So, yes, I spend considerable time thinking about my situation and that of others.

I only wish I could have listened more patiently to you yesterday.

Thank you for your help, always.

Kerry Echo