Saturday, August 19, 2017

On The Road With Al & Ivy: A Homeless Literary Chronicle - August 19th, 2017

“I would that my soul were where I believe the soul of that woman to be.” 

- Anatole France (Life Of Joan Of Arc)

That thought, if I am right, is the possibility of establishing a sympathetic relation with an animal, a spirit, or other mighty being, with whom a man deposits for safe-keeping his soul or some part of it, and from whom he receives in return a gift of magical powers.

- James George Frazier (The Golden Bough, A Study Of Magic And Religion)

" of these days, when you hear a voice say 'come,' where you going to run to?"

- Lyric from Johnny Too Bad (The Slickers, Harder They Come soundtrack)

Spirituality and atheism require the same amount of faith out there. I got all butt hurt at God and his great plan that put me in a car on some hot muggy side street, and yet the prayers kept coming, begging for a happy ending.

In a Godless landscape, you have to believe that the god of money, and it's doctrine, capitalism, will reward faith in the Puritan Ethic that says work will get you out of that car, but sometimes getting that lucky break requires a miracle that only Jesus can deliver, as the priests of capitalism have the Darwinian belief that your misfortune is part of the overall plan that the best and strongest come out on top.

Either way, the idea is that you get what you deserve whether it's called reward, karma or market forces.

My belief in God permeates the book, though perhaps not in the way a Holy Roller would manifest it. Many true believers are confident that the Lord will provide. Others think that Jesus is in the business of delivering wins in the lottery or touchdowns in a football game.

I entered street life with a fairly conventional view of Christianity, or at least in the mystic sense like with the old Saints or Quakers, and it evolved like the latter group would see it...a matter of personal conscience and revelation. I saw God, or the deeper spiritual meanings differently as time passed. At times it felt like I had a guide, or a safe presence I could talk to, which given our judgement happy era, is no small thing.

The day that Ivy died, I experienced a wide range of faith...from a willingness to surrender everything for just one favor to bring her back, to bitter disappointment as she faded away in front of me.

I wrote that she had died in her sleep. That wasn't true. There was no intent to deceive, it's simply all I was capable of writing at the time. Her death is most of a whole chapter, as it happened while we were on a hike and almost a mile away from the car out on a farm road. It was extremely hot, and my pack, which as a precaution against towing and theft contained all my important papers and belongings so I couldn't drop it. So I ran with her and the pack as fast as I could, and lost the race.

It was a complex event, and it essentially put me out of action for a few days. One thing that happened was that as my race to get to the car began to look futile, I said and offered so many things to God in exchange for Ivy's life. I still can't look at the chapter without feeling intense grief, so it must have gotten a good part of what happened right.

The questions that still runs through my mind, and in the final run through of the manuscript will have to be answered is, who was I yelling at? What did I think God would or could do? Many older religions were about giving offerings for concrete favors, so was there something more basic and primal that came out in my desperation?

Or did I think it was also the death of dreams that clearly included her, and in my mind, as she left so went our dreams to get out?

In hindsight, that intensity of loss was partly because we had grown into a team. The 2008 recession put us in quite a bind, but we both handled the later homelessness period differently. Ivy became cooperative about being photographed, for example, and seemed to understand each one was for a different purpose.

I became more patient, and quit trying to train her...I treated her like a comrade in arms, and spent the year with us in sync on a lot of often Quixotic attempts to get back into the mainstream. Having her as a model in a promo agency that was run out of a car could only have been conceived by a guy who thought his dog was really a small person, yet it produced some money, and thus was a little magic created in those dreary parking lots and streets. It created hope, and with it, the ability to see a future, and without that, you go the other way towards apathy and death.

She had always been a joy to have as a pet, but was much more at the time of her death. I had made her a partner. At first it was just playful imagination, but as time passed we seemed like a sum greater than the parts. She stopped just being a pet out there. We spent 2008 as wanderers, but we spent 2016 as explorers that failed a lot, but kept going and constantly seeking.

Her light burned the brightest in our last year. She never gave in to the situation, and as a result, I never did.

I used to pray that I wouldn't die first, and leave her stranded and alone, as sad as the duty of survival would be. So perhaps my faith was rewarded. Not every miracle is going to be as big as winning the lottery. The smaller ones count too.

...a matter of life or death....

One difference between this blog and my book is that here I'll often go into a particular point at length as opposed to saying it with a single line or paragraph. That one line may have lots of meaning behind it, or it places all that came before it into context.

The concept of life being motion or movement defines both how those around me appeared and what guided most of my decisions in many of the chapters, that choices are constantly being made even when it seems there are no options. I make the point that this or that person is heading towards life or death, but it isn't a literal metaphor.

It can be, in the case of a suicide, or a drug habit involving risky behavior, but it's more nuanced in my book. There's one scene where I've emotionally hit bottom, and suicide enters the list of options, but is quickly brushed off.

The thought that runs through my mind is that my life at that moment may spiral down further, but I'll accept any setback because there's nothing going on worth my life and that my will still has plenty in life may sink further down but as long as the decision is to choose life, and not death, there is hope and life is a fluid state.

Many religious and philosophical sensibilities define death as rebirth, and that's certainly one layer of the whole. In my story, death is also a trending towards stasis or apathy, which to me is a kind of pre-death condition that invites or predisposes extinction.

Some of the characters in the book look like they've got it all under control, and early on, I emulated them, but found that it was a disastrous lifestyle based on a common form of apathy that led to the key period in my homelessness, the summer of 2016, where Ivy and I came very close to becoming indigents living out of a backpack, but were able to correct course towards life.

My book is about all people who chose life or death, and not just the homeless. It's a choice we all make. Expressing that concept, as it appears to contradict the obvious, that continuing downwards is necessarily heading towards death, wasn't easy, but I think how it came out will be one of the most compelling passages in my book.

...the rain in Spain...

One of the things that surprised me was my reaction to bad weather. The idea of sitting in a car while it's cold and rainy might seem like sheer misery but it wasn't. In fact, the better the weather, the worse I felt.

Most people experience storms while looking at it from shelter, or in the process of getting to it, and of course, I was sitting there in the middle of it. Yet, that was when I was the most grateful.

Rain is a miserable time for the homeless who aren't lucky enough to have a car. It's not just the wet, but how cold it is while it's happening. Belongings get soaked and continue the process of becoming mildewed, and comfortable places become scarce. Forget trying to sleep.

I was lucky enough to have a car, and thanks to so many people who helped me, able to keep it.

I'd see all the water pouring down but we were dry, and could put on more clothes to stay warm. Outside, people would be scurrying about, trying to get themselves and their belongings to some shelter and soaked underneath any rain gear. None of that escaped my view, and the lesson was that homelessness wasn't some state that was black or white.

It was a life condition that had levels, or degrees. The homeless are a diverse group of people who are on the way up or down, and it can get better or worse. When I sat there watching the rain come down over the windows, it was a reminder that things could be a whole lot worse. Somewhere in that swelling tide of gratitude is hope if you look for it.

...tales for the millennium, or millennials...

I've noticed on social networks that it's popular (in some circles) to make fun of millennials, mainly by older types who used to rail at the establishment about not judging a man by the length of his hair, and who should know better.

One of the few pleasures I had out there was being able to hang out in a Starbucks in the evening. Most were manned by millennials who quickly figured out that I was homeless, and were quite kind. The young workers and managers there would often give me a free coffee, or even a snack or meal, and do it discreetly so no one noticed. More than a few were doing volunteer work with the homeless, and were sensitive enough to the problem that they'd never call attention to any kindness. It's a very good heart that doesn't need applause.

The trips to Starbucks were vital to me. It was when I recharged my backup batteries, and could work under a stable wi-fi signal. What freelance work I could get as a drafter was done in coffee houses, and the cheery youthful atmosphere was a real tonic.

When I think of music from that time, it's not blues, or jazz, but often millennial music. When I hear "Best Kept Secret," or "Just Do It," it pops me back to the open spaces of Gilroy or Salinas, though perhaps it's not always a pleasant memory, and of nights after Starbucks when I would take Ivy out for an extended walk, and of being able to find carefree moments.

Millennials are really a pretty happy bunch, and some of the jaded members of  the older generations should be careful to not try to wipe the smiles off their faces too soon in life.

...the first of many thank you's.....

One of the central themes to my book is the subject of help. The main thing was that getting out requires it. It's also, particularly in America, a gray area where the definition of help is interpreted in a lot of ways. It's too complicated to cover in a blog entry, but the generous acts of charity that helped me survive aren't ambiguous. I had mentioned that a piece of each blog would thank those who helped, and this is the first of many.

Back in December of 2016, I had just returned from a trip to the Fresno area that had very mixed results. I was looking at a pretty bleak Christmas season, and three authors, Lynn Lamb, Nicole Storey, and P.J. Webb organized a "Helping Handa" Facebook page, and solicited funds and food. The support helped, particularly in getting cold weather clothing which I was desperately short of, but also in food supplies for both Ivy and me.

It was also a huge psychological boost. Never underestimate what moral support brings to the table, the sense of acceptance counters the feeling of guilt/blame that surrounds being down and out. Once you've eaten a good meal, and life is sustained, it all has to go somewhere, so the mind is important too. The good people who created that site and contributed gave me help for both body and soul.

- Al Handa 

...cover reveal for Hide In Plain Sight...

This is the cover for the upcoming book, Hide In Plain Sight, designed by Jenna Brooks, supervised and edited by Mutiny Rising Media.

-Al Handa

Please consider a contribution to keep this blog going and support my activities:

My intent isn't to become a donor funded homeless blogger, I'd like to do much more...until then, a donation would help Ivy and I to survive and continue efforts (like seeking work, etc) that can bring us out of homelessness as opposed to dropping further down into a transient lifestyle.

The Al & Ivy Homeless Literary Journal Archive:
The earliest entries were on the Delta Snake Review section of this blog site.

Saturday, August 5, 2017

On The Road With Al & Ivy: A Homeless Literary Chronicle - August 5th, 2017

"When a man is asleep, he has in a circle round him the chain of the hours, the sequence of the years, the order of the heavenly host. Instinctively, when he awakes, he looks to these, and in an instant reads off his own position on the earth's surface and the amount of time that has elapsed during his slumbers; but this ordered procession is apt to grow confused, and to break its ranks."

- Marcel Proust (Swann's Way - Remembrance Of  Things Past, Vol 1 - C.K. Scott Moncrieff translation from the French 1922)

I have heard the mermaids singing, each to each. 
I do not think that they will sing to me. 
I have seen them riding seaward on the waves 
Combing the white hair of the waves blown back 
When the wind blows the water white and black. 
We have lingered in the chambers of the sea 
By sea-girls wreathed with seaweed red and brown
Till human voices wake us, and we drown.

T.S. Eliot

In my upcoming book, a key point is that sleep time is the main part of life where homelessness is an issue. In my waking hours, as long as I didn't set up house somewhere, there was nothing illegal or noticably disreputable about my lifestyle. I was really like anybody else (sort of).

It was in the evening, when most of the world was going home that I truly felt homeless. It was at that point, when I chose a spot to sleep, that my activity broke the law and made me an outlier.

The reason is simple, there's no free land or territory in this country, it's all owned by somebody who doesn't want you to sleeping there. Society considers it trespassing and while prosecution is relatively rare, it's still illegal.

Illegal in the same sense as pot or sexual kinks...some people are OK with it and could care less about rousting the homeless, and others have to be restrained by other parts of the legal code from treating transients like wack a mole targets.

The book deals with, but doesn't delve too deeply into the legalities of the issue. The main reason is that the law isn't personally relevant to a homeless person unless they're looking for trouble, are plain stupid, or impaired by drugs or booze. The normal law enforcement response is to get you to go elsewhere.

Most of us move on if told to; it's sleep somewhere, wake up as early as possible, get into motion to join the real world and blend back into society where the law doesn't come looking for you.

There's always going to be the ones who bring out lawn chairs, pile junk and garbage around their vehicle (or on the roof in many cases), and test the patience of law enforcement, but lowbrow behavior is hardly unique to homeless people.

The legal aspect was the last thing I worried about. It was more about being safe while asleep, a time when out of touch with the surroundings in dreamland separated from the real world by a thin car window.

Like more than few homeless newbies, I tried alternatives like not sleeping, and found hallucinations from sleep deprivation too scary as a lifestyle. Using meth wasn't an option either. I could look around and see that meth was bad news.

I tried various methods to sleep, so many that some of the ways didn't make it into my book.

The outside environment determined how to sleep. If it didn't seem safe, I slept fully clothed and curled up in the front seat, covered by a down jacket and the car completely clear of clutter.

The idea was if a situation occurred, to be up and driving in just a moment or two. It was also important to not have wallet or keys visible to any person walking by. In an area where there's homeless, there will be onlookers while sleeping. You can never forget that the world still turns even on the quietest night, and the next moment can reveal a surprise. More than a few times I was greeted by both the morning sun and a face peering through the window.

Most media stories focus on a "typical" situation, and can create the impression that it's how all the homeless live out there, but in a area only a few hundred square yards, there'll be dozens of living situations and stories out there.

In the opening scenes in my book, I felt that diversity was the most striking element and worked the hardest on the opening chapters to capture that concentration of humanity, fear, tragedy, despair, desperation, dreams and hopes that played out every day like a play, never completely went to sleep, and started up again when the sun came up.

A peaceful nights sleep was elusive, because night time was when we all became homeless, and all the trouble started.

...the singing of angels...

There are certain sounds that will transport my consciousness back into the past to some place out there. Phone message and email notification tones still do that, as those portended a possible job lead, or a new donation coming in, often in the nick of time.

The sound of a phone starting up was part of the morning routine, as it had to be turned off at night to save power. That tone will sound and momentarily put me back into my car in Gilroy, or the Crystal Springs rest stop.

I'll feel the chill of a cold car, and look for Ivy to say "hi schmoo," which was the customary morning greeting. I'd quickly get the Cadillac moving, and go to a spot where we could be in the sun to warm up. Ivy was taken out for her walk at that point, that was never done where we'd slept. Never. I make a big deal of that in my book, the axiom to never hang out where you sleep.

It was advice from old timers, and later on, empirical wisdom as almost every time I violated that rule, it got me into some sort of trouble.

Another sound is generators or truck engines. That often makes me think about this street in Gilroy, where there were RVs and trucks about, and where I was stuck for six weeks in a dead car, and along with this particular parking lot in Salinas, was as close to home as a place could have been.

When I heard those sounds, it meant I was as safe as I was ever going to be at night. We all parked close to each other, minded our own business and made no trouble with the police, who checked in on us regularly. We went our separate ways during the day, and saw many of the same faces at night, and perhaps wondered about those who disappeared.

It wasn't like we missed them or something, but I know we all hoped that the "missing chair" meant that the person had caught a break. When a person made it out it felt like it lowered the odds for the rest of us, so our hopes for others was as a prayer for ourselves. It can feel so hopeless out there, and even imagining a success story is a powerful tonic when personal experience gives little evidence of a better future. in the eyes of the beholder...

One of threads that runs through my book is the concept of aesthetics, or beauty. I mentioned in the last blog entry how Willie Nile's Vagabond Moon song found a sense of delight in the vision of a moon, and while such moments do occur, it isn't always a case of finding a pearl in an oyster.

For example, I enjoyed the beauty of the Crystal Springs rest stop with it's gorgeous view of the Santa Cruz mountains, but that ambiance quickly got old when the temperature dropped into the 40s or the druggies discovered the heated bathrooms and set up shop there.

There were hot, dreary nights in Gilroy, where I had to keep Ivy and myself cooped up because it wasn't safe to leave the windows open, and the air was filled with arguments, people talking to whatever, and that energy sapping fear permeating everything.

There were no hidden gems, flowers in the mud, or angels with flowing hair. Any long haired angel out late at night wasn't out to save you.

If there was beauty, or redemption out there, you had to put it there. I often imagine myself back in the car, looking around at the street we were parked and shake my head in wonder at how I got through so many nights in that hopeless soup of a world without retreating into booze or meth, buying comfort sex with drugs, or putting a bullet through my brain.

The interesting thing about adversity is that small details become important and a slim thread can become a lifeline. Life out there becomes all about things like the next meal, if there's enough gas, a few hours of good sleep, a nice nap, and yes, finding that pearl.

One such pearl was imagination. There were times Ivy needed to go out at night, and you can't go walking around at night in fear. Predators pick up on that, and the anxiety will slowly cripple you. So Ivy and I took our walks, and I'd look for a mood or sight to write about and become a detached observer.

The blog and the book became part of that mental construct, role playing that turned perception into a search for beauty, though in retrospect, it was probably more a search for truths and meaning...all the sights out there were taken in, and decorated with words, and my book in a sense will be that epic poem it was originally envisioned to be, if poetry is truth as they say.

That night when Willie Nile saw a beautiful moon that filled his "poor heart with delight," was probably a very ordinary sight that he painted into wonderful colors from a palette deep in his heart,. That's really where beauty comes from.

...speaking of beauty....

Here's a good example of created beauty. This is a favorite picture of Ivy. I see her cheerful spirit in it, and it's a treasured memory.

In retrospect, that is. The day the picture was taken, it was 90 degrees out, and the car had stopped running a week earlier and was stuck in the hot sun most of the day. That meant we had to stay out of the car until evening.

Ivy was sitting on the curb next to the car, and the photo was cropped to leave out all the trash that surrounded us. I had no choice but to clean up the rubbish left by customers to avoid attracting attention to our area. The photo didn't capture the strong odor of urine or half eaten food.

That was the world back then for us, but the picture captures what was good about the day. She was still alive back then during Independence Day weekend 2016, and like so many other days, her cheery smile and spirit made the moment a pleasant one.

We felt good, there was enough money to eat a decent dinner and at that moment, without fear or cares. A lot was going on then, but that beautiful photo is what remains, the best part of that day, and because she was still alive, one of the best times of my life.

- Al Handa 

...cover reveal for Hide In Plain Sight...

This is the cover for the upcoming book, Hide In Plain Sight, designed by Jenna Brooks, supervised and edited by Mutiny Rising Media.

-Al Handa

Please consider a contribution to keep this blog going and support my activities:

My intent isn't to become a donor funded homeless blogger, I'd like to do much more...until then, a donation would help Ivy and I to survive and continue efforts (like seeking work, etc) that can bring us out of homelessness as opposed to dropping further down into a transient lifestyle.

The Al & Ivy Homeless Literary Journal Archive:
The earliest entries were on the Delta Snake Review section of this blog site.