“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)
"...one 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 reserve...my 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.
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.