"Then, here in Argos, we’d have often met in love and gladness, two as friends and guests, with nothing that could ever part our paths till, wrapped in blackest clouds, we met our death. A god must have been envious of that, for he has destined him—a fate not known by any other—never to come home.”
- Homer (The Odyssey Of Homer, Allen Mandelbaum 1990 translation)
No one, be it remembered, seeks the desert for a pleasure-ground. Life and business traverse it by paths along which the bones of things dead are strewn as so many blazons.
- LewWallace (Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ)
One of the concepts that's made it into the Pop Psychology/Philosophy canon is that life is about the journey, and not the destination, and like most truths, it's true if it is, and isn't if it isn't.
In the Middle Ages the Christians in the lower economic classes were taught to endure the present or at least enjoy the little things in life for the greater reward of Heaven after death. That was the ultimate goal oriented life, and perfect for a culture where spirituality (I'll trade you one lamb for good fortune) was materialistic and the powerful didn't want the peasants looking too closely at their earthly lives.
In all fairness, that was hardly just a Western world thing.
People might think that the average homeless person is just out there laying around stoned as a rock, boosting bike parts, pestering people for change, or living the herd life in a tent city, but that is just a narrow surface view as reported by the media. You'd be surprised to know that many out there think about life as much as any celebrity New Age guru or movie star, and that they might know more about which life philosophy, goal or journey works in the real world and what doesn't.
...what works, what people will actually do, and excess baggage...
One of the first things a Civil War soldier learned was to throw away that two pound bayonet, any pistol or sword (maybe four or more pounds), body armor (popular in the early part of the war if he had means), helmets, or anything that wasn't essential or not subject to court martial (even so, officers had to watch for solders sticking bayonets into the ground).
That included swords, contrary to the stirring images in movies. Union cavalry found that they weren't good at the Confederate game of charging with swords, so they revived the old dragoon, or mounted infantry tactics, so when the Rebels came charging with swords drawn, they were met by a line of Yankees firing carbines. A hasty change in Confederate cavalry tactics followed. It was said that when Stonewall Jackson's sword was examined, it had rusted in it's scabbard due to lack of use.
Most of war back then was marching back and forth in thick uniforms, heavy packs and equipment, in rain or shine, and maybe a battle, albeit an awesomely bloody one, every few months. When you have to trudge 20 miles a day in summer weather, every pound gets scrutinized and discarded if not necessary.
It's the same with life. In a comfortable situation, there's the luxury of which Netflix plan to buy, which phone plan is best, and if you can get thin in time for summer. It's a life with goals and often very pleasant journeys with high aspirations. When the daily food budget is five dollars for man and dog, then four bucks for coffee is out if the question, and safely waking up the next morning can become the future.
None of that disappears out there...at least at first.
I went out on the road with the goal of simply waiting out the bad luck, believing that it was all just a hiccup in the Silicon Valley lifestyle, and like a person not watching where he was going, fell into a hole that had been there for a while. That was goal oriented thinking, that my life would soon get back on a good track, but that thinking was flawed as it made me just wait around, and that was a good way to sink even faster in the streets.
The thing is, an outlook on life, whether material or spiritual, needs to be simpler than even a self help book message (which perhaps is a misnomer, as a simple principle shouldn't need an entire tome) but the idea of a simple principle is time tested, as is the inevitability of decay and inefficiency that comes with elaboration and detail (which is generally group think that marginalizes the individual).
Jesus, for example, preached a very simple message and never created a bible or a church. It was a simple vision that probably made Christianity in that period as workable as any religion could have been before money and power came into the picture.
The Internet is another good example. In the early days it was all about freedom and being a responsible member, and even hackers followed a code of independence from the powerful and a love for programming for the art. It's still a force that benefits, but it's mainstream now, with mainstream vices and controlled by money.
That's basically the fate of groups or systems, and it's not due to the elitist theory of the able being pulled down by mediocrity. The able, which in modern society generally translates to the privileged, really have nothing to fear from the so called rabble. The lower classes rarely have a say in such things, but things tend to go south when the betters of society muck things up for profit or power.
...the wild Wild West...
A good example is the popular media arts image of a wild and woolly western town taken over by respectable society, who bring in the usual hang ups, but it's just a variation of the leveling thing versus freedom. It's supposedly about people hating freedom or trying to control the free spirits or whatever. The "free" bunch is almost always depicted as a bunch of unwashed rootin' tooting Cowboys, gamblers, drunks, saloon women and pimps, and that's no accident. People who are outside the system will looked at as black sheep, even by those who claim to support them.
Sure, put in a large group of people anywhere that's untamed, and they'll seek to protect their investments and weed out sinners. That looks like the fight, but that's foot soldier stuff, down in the trenches and late on the chain of events. Any reasonably deep study of history books makes it clear that the story starts much earlier.
It's too detailed to examine in a blog entry, but in a nutshell, in the Wild West, a bunch of commercial interests saw a lot of wealth potential in land being wasted on a bunch of Native Americans, so the media did their part by publicizing various crowd pleasering stories like go west young man, gold rushes, free farm land, and massacres of white people. The railroad people stood ready to move the masses out there (for a fee), and the massacre stories brought out calls to send out the Army, which created the image of civilization advancing westward and justice being served on the bewildered Native Americans who couldn't wrap their minds around the concept that people could now buy and sell land that was there before people existed, and being portrayed as bloodthirsty savages.
...back to the wild Wild West...
All that movement west solved another big problem...big enough that if it hadn't have been solved, it would have threatened the fabric of society in that era. Dangerous enough to cause revolution.
It was that the economy of the era couldn't support the rapidly growing population (by birth and immigration) exacerbated by the discharge of huge Civil War armies that threatened to create a layer of poor as large as Europe (who used immigration to lower that percentage). If there had been no Western expansion, the United States would have had to deal with the question of social services, homelessness, unemployment and massive unrest.
Getting back to journeys, goals, and such...
There was a lot homelessness back then. A countless amount of Irish and Chinese lived in camps building the railroads, wagon trains were all over the land heading west, tent cities of prospectors, bandits, wanderers, missionaries dotted the landscape...all of the sinews of an evolving nation.
But they weren't seen as a social problem, lazy asses, or boozers, and that was because there was a journey or goal concept at work. It was the 1800's version of giving them a bus ticket out of town, but with a purpose.
...meanwhile, back at the Native American villages...
On the Native American side, they were seen as a bunch of uncivilized savages, yet had a saner view of life...so much so that in modern times there's a lot of public sympathy toward their side of the story (not enough to rectify it all of course, that would cost money). They lived in tent cities, and weren't transient in the sense that it's defined now, but in many ways were viewed the same way as modern homeless.
One reason was that they didn't have a goal that the so called modern people of the era could relate to, as their life was about the journey, being in harmony with nature. That view perhaps has a little bit of New Age revisionism in it, but it's essentially true. They didn't engage in the then modern types of wealth building, and that was seen as lazy, dissolute, wicked and so on.
Americans from top to bottom had a goal to become economically better off in material terms, and if that involved screwing over the natives, so be it. In this country, seeking wealth is considered a virtue (and maybe it is) and thus can justify a lot of means, some of it shady.
There's that old saying that behind every fortune is a crime. When a rich family can become revered now even if the original fortune was obtained illegally, the message is clear; Goal orientation works.
...a new simple message...
All this activity was guided by a principle called "manifest destiny" and was simple like any idea that worked. That idea could be understood on any level, and allowed people to interpret it subjectively with any good or bigoted idea as achieving the basic goal didn't require Saints...just take over every bit of land to the west and if necessary, kill any Native American who got into the way. Participate, and you got land, possible wealth and a chance to enter the exhalted ranks of the fabulously wealthy. An idea that sold itself.
As I've written in earlier blog entries, this method of solving the homeless problem is no longer workable. There's no more untamed land to ship people off to, and any open space space is now owned by somebody, and none of the owners (even the taxpayers) want transients there. More than a little of that hostility is due to modern liability law, otherwise most people wouldn't really care if a tent city pops up in a remote area.
The issue has never been about whether the homeless should have shelter. Most people with any heart believe that. It's always been about where. Setting up a homeless camp out in some open public land will rarely work because like warfare, it's not about strategy but logistics.
When I was out there in a car, my location was always based on where I could get the cheapest food and where services were available. Early on, I did try to hang out in the foothills of Marin County, where it was open and no one cared if I was there, but food and bathrooms were down in the cities. You might be able to make water behind a tree, but to be seen squatting and doing more brought in an immediate police response. Farming and foraging were not options, so drug zones or not, home was in the cities.
...home sweet home...
The book will have many "themes" as I've related, but a central one of people searching for a "home" is very simple. It's not simply a roof over one's head, it's a concept that's a goal, and that's why simply putting the homeless into housing won't work for many of them. Almost all were in a house or apartment before that life...it's important to understand why that roof went away as it is to put another over them.
There was one meth head out there who ended up living in a car and sold it off to maintain the habit. He was given an RV by a charity, and that was gone in three months and he was back on foot with his dog, and sometime later, even the dog was gone.
Incidentally, that dog has a story, and it's in the book. He was there when I arrived in Gilroy in the summer of 2016, and he was there when I left for Salinas in 2017.
Any assistance has to start with humanizing that apparent mass of homeless, and then you'll know who needs deeper help than a new roof, and who would have taken that RV and built a better life with it. That's why I keep saying that the goal of the book is to make that mass into a group of faces. Some that a person will not want to help, some that you'd sympathize with and want to help.
Those tent cities that are a central media image aren't an accident or a random event. Although I avoided living in those for various reasons, I understood why those were there. The reasons appear complicated, and it took a full chapter to fully describe the surface reasons, but those gatherings are part of a basic human instinct to find a home. I wrote in the story of a woman who became homeless and entered a camp as a way to cover that subject, and to highlight one that wasn't there because of drugs. There's plenty there who won't use even when offered free stuff, and their stories will relate to many women who aren't homeless.
That concept of home took a couple of drafts to express clearly, or simply, to be exact. It's not an instinct that can be easily explained in an essay, and by this final draft, I realized that it was better to simply tell the stories and trust that the reader would find the meaning in the word in those characters and themselves.
Ivy and I became homeless, and we found a "home" that survived even her death out there. If I still think of her now and then it's because I still live in that home we built. It was just a word back in 2016, but now I know what home is.
- Al Handa
...cover reveal for Hide In Plain Sight...
This is the cover for the upcoming book, Hide In Plain Sight, hopefully out sometime in the summer of 2018.