Last week, my very close friend – my “soul friend” – Diana described to me a very scary experience she had had earlier that week.
“I was sitting out in front of Battery Park, by myself (she is frequently joined by various of her many friends – smoking and non-smoking), smoking my cigarettes – and I see this guy taking pictures of me. I pulled my hat down over my face.” She has been wearing a very hot, heavy toboggan hat all summer for situations just like this – though most are not this scary. If somebody in her little posse – or especially someone else who is not one of her regulars and she may not like – sometimes nobody in the little group likes them – is saying something she doesn’t like and doesn’t feel ready to confront (she does confront people sometimes) she pulls her hat down over her face and feels like she has disappeared. In this particular instance with the mysterious photographer, covering her face made very intuitive sense. “When I finally pulled my hat back up, he was gone.”
I thought it was probably all paranoia – Diana sometimes has the experience of paranoia, which she has described to me very clearly and specifically. When she does tell me about this experience – several times now – it always violates my expectations, as a once-upon-a-time psychologist, of someone who is paranoid that they would describe it so clearly, confide to a friend about it, and name it as paranoia. Diana is complicated – ever surprising.
“Diana, people take pictures of this building all the time. It is a historic property. Those stairs leading up to the front door are very beautiful. You always sit right next to those stairs. How do you know he was taking pictures of you and not the building?” She had no good answer for this – and I thought she seemed maybe at least a little comforted by my challenge.
Today around noon, several of us were out in front of the building. Diana and maybe three others were sitting on the cement block wall and I was probably regaling them with funny and interesting and heroically boundary-setting (my new fetish) stories from my morning – which I am wont to do and which all of them love.
Suddenly Diana pulled her hat low over her face. I knew immediately that she was scared, but what had scared her? All my nerve endings had woken up, as I also sensed that there was danger around here somewhere. I looked around – and directly across the street from us, in front of the Grove Arcade, were two men, one of them very clearly taking pictures of us. He was not aiming his camera at the stairs of the building – he was aiming it at us.
It did not take me a second to respond – in a way that was very unlike me. (OK, not really so unlike how I have been for the last six weeks or so – but certainly unlike me for the rest of my life before this six weeks.)
Without thinking or hesitating or planning, I was instantly at the curb, screaming at the top of my lungs: “Who the fuck are you? What the fuck are you doing? Get the fuck away from us. I’m calling the cops – I’m going to call the cops right now!”
When I then returned to our wall, Diana looked at me with big, adoring eyes: “You protected your soul friend!” “Yes I did – immediately, instinctively, not needing to think about it. I will do that every time, Diana – I promise it. Now let’s call the cops!”
“He just left.”
It had all been so exciting and brave – and so totally unlike me, Mr. Too-Nice Guy.” I let out a big belly laugh: “That was so great! And I never even really got angry – I just acted and sounded angry. I just wanted to scare him the fuck away. And it worked!”
Later I said, “I’ve got a hunch he may never come back – I think I really scared him. But, Diana, you’ve got to promise me that if you ever see him again, you will immediately call the cops.” “I promise.” I know she meant it, I know she has it in her to do this, but I’m not positive she will do it. Fear can freeze us in our tracks.
But maybe she will think about my big bellows – and the sight of him running away – and that will give her courage.
To the people who have been telling me that I’m not a nice person:
Thank you for noticing – I really do appreciate it. It’s such a drag to invest all this energy in not being a nice person and then to not have anybody notice it.
Many of my behaviors could still be described as “nice” (though I really mostly do hate that word) or “kind” – and many people do still think of me as “nice” or “kind”. But most of the people who know me best would, these days, probably have trouble saying of me “He’s a very nice person” without choking on it. They have seen me get in people’s faces when I think they are in my space, have heard me say “That’s bullshit”, have seen me cuss out old ladies (at Battery Park Apartments, there is no shortage of old ladies – or of old ladies who piss me off).
Being kind certainly has its place – but for me, it’s just a place, not an ultimate value or something I aspire to be all the time. Much more important to me is to be real, genuine, authentic – to have integrity. Thus the title of my yet unpublished bookRadical Integrity – which I titled and began writing about 17 years ago. Integrity – realness, wholeness – actually is an ultimate quest for me. That’s why I have, for 17 years, been writing a book about it. (Hey, I’m a publishing whiz, huh?) And, when I am being real, genuine, authentic – am reclaiming my integrity – then it’s easier for me to be kind: kind or even loving behaviors just spill out of me effortlessly, without effort, without trying to be anything, including kind.
When you tell me I’m not nice, I may say “Thank you” – because it’s valuable to have feedback. Often your statement will confirm for me that I am on the right track – it will reassure me. Sometimes – though I do like the sound of “You’re not a nice person” – I may encourage you to speak in a more self-responsible way, to use I-statements. “I think you are not a nice person” or “That didn’t seem nice to me” or “I wish you wouldn’t use the word ‘Fuck’ or tell people to ‘Fuck off’ or ‘Get fucked’ or ‘Get the fuck out of my face'”. This kind of self-responsible speech is overall easier for me to hear and is healthier for you to use. Or I may encourage you to “Get the fuck away from me and don’t come back until you are ready to speak responsibly”.
And, if it’s really important to you that everybody treat you nicely and not tell you that you are full of shit, then please don’t get in my shit.
My buddy and long-time Jubilant John Clabaugh is in love with my Battery Park neighbor and “soul friend” Diana Buchanan
– for good reason. Disguised in her overalls, her big hot toboggan hat, and her chain smoking out in front of our building, I have discovered – after initially wanting only to avoid her – that she is one of coolest people I’ve ever known: brilliant, empathic, funny & generous. She is a world class communicator: she is able and willing, as she comes to trust you, to share very deeply about herself, and also a fabulous listener – one of the best in my life (which includes people with much more education, several psychotherapists, and just a bunch of very cool, very psychologically sophisticated people). When she is listening to you, she is doing absolutely nothing but listening to you – and her responses are at least empathic and sometimes brilliant.
She has confided to me more trauma in her life than I would ever want anybody else to hear. I almost wish that I had not heard some of it – it’s a little hard to shake some of the gruesome images.
“If this woman needs cigarettes to cope with all this trauma and pain” (including a plethora of medical problems – some caused or exacerbated by the smoking) “I will never – ever – judge her for smoking.” I will still sometimes let myself say something gently challenging when she is doubled over with her smoker’s cough. But she teases me right back when I erupt in my smoker’s cough. (I picked the little cancer sticks up again, when I was dealing with so much chronic pain – still undiagnosed, but my constant companion for the last few months, and getting progressively worse. I do have plans to quit the smokes <and actually did on 10/7/19>).
Diana has been dog sitter and a huge lover of my two dogs, Toni and now Panchita. Diana – a Mexican who grew up in Mexico City, then Chicago and LA – refuses to call Panchita by my nickname Pancho. “Pancho is a boy’s name. She’s a girl – she needs a feminine name, ending in the letter ‘a’.”
With some amount of coaxing, I can sometimes get her to talk about what it is like to be Mexican in this country right now. She will describe her pain and her fear – for her and for “my people” – with never a trace of bitterness or victimhood.
John Clabaugh is having a lot of fun discovering her – as I did, when I got past my judgments of her. “I know she shouldn’t smoke. I hate her smoker’s cough. I fear that, at age 60, she will die younger than she should. But she actually smokes in a very regal way. One day, when I was observing how genuinely elegant she looked with her cigarette, I got it: ‘she’s royalty!’ I think I don’t believe in past lives, but have no other way to describe how she clearly channels that lineage.”
Having spent most of her adult life homeless – living with her husband under a bridge for a very long time – here she is: wounded, traumatized, vulnerable, haunted…and a genuinely huge human being. Those who take the time to get to know her have a wonderful experience – it’s a hugely funny process, she is a very funny person…sometimes with (for me) just enough of a dark edge.
Our new thing – Diana, John Clabaugh who lives on Church St., frequently his wife Ingrid Friesen (funny, strong, brilliant , and much beloved in this town for all the people she helped in her many years of practicing family law before recently retiring), me (a lot more fun since “reclaiming my integrity” at 3 a.m. on June 26), and a changing cast of Diana’s friends and admirers from the building, come out to smoke (or not smoke, like me after October 7, but just to be with her).
I have christened us Diana and the Merry Pranksters.We gather at 7 a.m. (or later – Diana is always there by 7) out in front of the Battery Park Apartments to swap stories from the previous day and earlier in our lives, to laugh and joke and sometimes challenge each other and often to affirm and love on each other – to make ourselves fully human before we go on to the rest of our day. When our schedule for the rest of the day allows it, we are often there until 9 – tomorrow I have to leave at 8 to get to Earth Fare for my 8:30 shift. (Call or text me at 828-582-9822 any morning to check if we are there – the more the “merrier”.)
It turned out to be an inopportune day to reduce the clutter in my little apartment by grabbing all my empty grocery bags and taking them to the car.
I – like so many other people in this building – seek opportunities to hang out with Diana by her throne in front of the building. (I do so even when I am not smoking, which will be the case again soon, though I am not sure exactly when.) Earlier this afternoon, I needed a smoke break after talking with my great physician friend Steve Swearingen about my disturbingly mysteriously infected foot, including him making a very cogent case for why it’s a particularly bad time to be smoking. (“That infected foot is a long ways from your heart. All the swelling makes it hard for the antibiotic and the blood to get in there. Smoking taxes your heart – makes it harder for it to do all of that work.”) Very cogent – really did get me thinking. But not enough to not want a cigarette. When was the last time you heard me claim to be completely rational or non-addictive? “Waking up” is infamous for not always taking away our human flaws.
I decided to go out back, across the street to our residents’ parking lot (next to the Basilica)
and drop my bags in my car before returning to the front to hang out with Diana. Here’s a text I sent Diana at 4:35:
M: “Out front? In ten minutes?”
M (10 minutes later): “No – 10 minutes from now! Was incorrect about the location of our car. It’s not in the lot out back where I thought it was. Going to go to the Flint Street lot (on the other side of the highway) now and hopefully will see you in ten minutes.”
D: “OK. I go back in at 5:30 to feed John’s cat Fluff (John out of town) and Barbara’s dog Bubbles (Barbara in the hospital). Then I walk my doggy and call mom.”
M: (ten minutes later) “Hopefully I will see you by then. Certainly will at least swing by in about ten minutes to continue looking for a car which is not in the Battery Park Resident’s lot and it’s not in the Flint Street lot. I can’t even remember when was the last time…Oh, shit!! I know exactly where it is! It’s at Mission Hospital! I left it at Mission Hospital yesterday and John was going to give me a ride over there today to pick it up – but we both forgot!…Fuck it!…I’m laughing!! I’m unreasonably happy!!! Now that I know what’s going on, I can relax. Somehow, we will make it work out tomorrow. I’ll see you in about ten minutes.”
Dr. David Clements at Carolina Internal Medicine – my primary doc for the whole 15 years I have been in Asheville – is a really fine doctor. He gives you all his focus when he is with you – though it is hard to ignore that his clock is running. He is a good listener, friendly and respectful, and seems pretty consistently knowledgeable about and relatively open to the newer and more integrative approaches about which I want to talk to him.
His associate Dr. ____, to whom I have been shunted twice recently when I went to the “Walk-in Clinic” for my infected foot, is probably good at the technical aspects of medicine – in fact, the first time I saw him I instinctively trusted his competence. But in managing the relationship with the patient, at least in our two meetings, I thought he sucked. But he did give me great opportunities to practice my assertive truth-telling – and my central grounding strategy of “Leave it out”. In fact, it was precisely because he so greatly pissed me off that he gave me so many opportunities to “leave out” doing battle with him, even when he seemed to so quickly become defensive and combative.
I probably should not have gotten off my sarcastic comment to him in our first meeting, regardless of how satisfying that was to me. That would have been a good one to “leave out”. He had just asked me a question that, to me, seemed so stupid (maybe I was missing some important context) that I genuinely had a hard time not saying something like, “That seems like a really stupid question”. (I think i did actively leave that question out, which in itself was pretty good.)
“So you saw your podiatrist two weeks ago?” “Right.”
“And he did not comment on this redness and swelling then?” “No, I don’t think there was any sign of it then.”
(I had already told him that this symptom came on just five days before this appointment – I’m already working at keeping my patience.)
“And he saw you in his office?” (“Where else?”, I wonder. I just give him a quizzical cock of my head.)
He apparently thinks that my non-response means I just haven’t heard him, so he says a bit louder, “He saw you in his office?” “No, in the supermarket.”
That is – overall, I know – not the kind of shit you want to be giving your physician. But I couldn’t help it, he was already really pissing me off. But unloading this seemed to relax me and I played nice with him after that. I even almost apologized: “Hey, I’m tired and in pain – and you may be hearing that in some of my responses.”
I even found a couple of opportunities to appreciate his thoroughness – which I really did appreciate – and it seemed like things were cool between us by the end of the meeting. When he said goodbye, he called me “man”. My old orthopedist used to call me by the “buddyism” man. I don’t know if it happens anywhere in the country but Asheville that your physician will call you “man”, but I kinda like it. And between me and Dr. ____, it seemed like code that he was no longer mad at me.
John Clabaugh was the perfect successor to another good male friend with whom I recently (post-waking-up) had a very major falling out. I had, over many recent months, gotten very tight with that other guy – spent a lot of time with him, 2-3 times per weekend – and ending our connection quite abruptly left a big hole in my daily schedule and in my heart.
I’ve known John through Jubilee – a little bit, like I know most people there – for probably most of my 15 years going to that wildly non-denominational un-church. Then, maybe six years ago, he participated in a weekly men’s group that I offered from its inception with eight guys, pretty quickly down to four guys, then several months with the four of us getting pretty tight.
In the few years since that group, John and I have probably had coffee a couple of times at Earth Fare – just bumping into each other there – and, I think, both of us have liked the conversations. There is still definitely a connection between us.
The connection intensified recently in an ironic way. Last spring I was in the psych unit at Park Ridge Hospital for two weeks – a long time. My old (now un-) friend, who is a very generous person, had a key to my apartment and took it upon himself to tidy up my apartment – do the dishes and laundry, which over two weeks of deep depression had really accumulated. My old friend recruited John to help with this task. That created a new level of connection between the John and I.
Over the last few weeks, John has started to join Diana (my soul friend) and I for our 7 a.m. gathering – over our first smoke of the day two weeks ago, when John and I were both still smoking, and now just Diana smoking. We have had such a good time together, the three of us – sharing stories, laughing, being crazy together, challenging each other – that I thought our little band needed a name and christened us The Merry Pranksters, a name with a rich history of wildness. The other day we talked about sex! That was big fun. And it has been fun for me to watch the process of John discovering Diana, just as I did a year ago: going beyond the shabby clothes and the chain-smoking and the ways she generally keeps herself small – to the amazing gem she is underneath, my soul friend, the queen (blog post?, photo) that John keeps paying honor to.
John in some ways looks up to me: He repeatedly calls me “The smartest guy I know.” Then he almost religiously follows this sentence by saying, “But you are still totally fucked up in this one area” (that area tends to change) “which is what keeps your life from working.” The combination of hero-worship and absolutely giving me no respect is, I think, very, very good for me. And I just like him so much – find his energy so fresh and real and wild – that I definitely want to keep him around me and to have a genuine collaboration together.
Yesterday, John – who is a certifiable wild-man and incites the wild part of me (some might say we should be separated) – brought to me a proposal:
“You’re the smartest guy I know – and clearly into some amazing things. You say you have ‘woken up’. The one thing you still need is disciples. This will all be a big experiment – an improv, a ‘yes…and’ process, but I would like to propose that I would be your first disciple. Then maybe Diana would want to be your second disciple.”
I have to admit that – even coming from such a wild card as John – the idea of having disciples kind of took my breath away.
“Disciples – Jesus H. Christ! As I’ve been attempting to get my hands around this whole idea of ‘waking up’, I actually have had the image of teaching – at least through this blog, and maybe through quarterly presentations from the podium of Jubilee. The teacher role is very familiar and comfortable to me – and my particular version of ‘waking up’ is so odd and fresh that it maybe could be provocative and even useful to some people. But I haven’t pictured such a thing as disciples…Me?! No, that doesn’t make sense…Wow!”
Then John brought me back to earth – in a way that maybe he only can. “Yeah, so you would be the master and us two would be your disciples for one day – then the next day I would be the master and you two would be the disciples. And then the third day, Diana would be the master. The disciples might be good disciples or they might be bad disciples. They might be adoring or they might lead a revolt.”
This brought me right down to earth. John is coming around to thinking that maybe there is something real in this ‘waking up’ process I have been going through – but he also is clearly insisting that this doesn’t make me all so special. “Thank you, John! Don’t go anywhere – I need you!”
I think that this could actually be a really interesting and provocative and maybe educational experience – looking at the teacher-student (“master-disciple”! Yikes!) relationship real-time, for just a day at a time.
I think Diana might be the most resistant to the role of master. In some ways (only some ways) she doesn’t like to be the focus of attention – and I think she has less ego than John and I (maybe almost none – maybe actually none). But I think that, if she were convinced to try it – if we could convince her that her playing “master” for a day would just be a little play, a skit, an experiment – she would probably wear the role of teacher with more natural grace than either John and I. She is more genuinely spiritual, more of a mystic and/or a monk. She literally prays all day. Visits with others – or from some of her inner demons – may interrupt her praying, but she always immediately goes right back to it, or even resumes it right in the middle of a group conversation if the content goes in a direction that she finds not helpful. I would like to try being her student/disciple – in fact, that is one way to hold what I have already been doing for the last year.
OK, John – you’re on! Let the show begin! (I imagine there will be more blog posts coming out of it :).)
One thing that has confused – even, at times, concerned me – about my “waking up” process is that I am turning up not like Thich Nhat Hanh (my old spiritual teacher and still a big hero) or the Dalais Lamas, but more like Fritz Perls (who was very awake, but may not have been enlightened) and Byron Katie (who apparently is). I say things to people that are very confrontive and not “nice”. And I at least come close to having fights out on the street. It’s not immediately apparent to everyone how being mean to people and getting into fights could possibly be part of “waking up” – and it certainly a pretty unique path within the umbrella of “waking up” – but it works for me.
I got a glimpse the other evening, though, of how difficult this particular material might be for some people – how genuinely scandalizing, even, it might be to some. I had participated in a “Spiritual emergence support group” at the Center for Spiritual Emergence. The two group facilitators – each experienced 12 Step people – introduced the group by describing group “agreements” like “no cross talk” and something to the effect of not judging what others say.
Near the end of the group, I felt the need for some lightness and quickly told the story of getting into it with my ambulance driver over our president and finally, in genuinely a somewhat delirious state from my foot infection, saying “If you mention that guy’s name again, I’m gonna jump out of this gurney and come up there and strangle you.” When he said, “I could take you”, I said, “Well today I can’t even stand up, but yesterday I could have taken you.”
You, reading this now, may not even find it very funny, but it often draws big laughs from people – as well as maybe a little horror. As we were all leaving the group, one of the members who I knew a bit coming in – and who I think of as very “spiritual” – stopped in front of me, looked me square in the eye and said “Get out of that dualistic thinking!” and made a gesture as if to slap me. I tell the full story elsewhere.
As I have gradually digested this experience, part of where it has left me is seeing that the more hard-edged aspect of my waking up experience may be so confusing or even disturbing to people that I want to move it to a separate blog, where people to whom it is not helpful will not always be tripping over it. I think of it as the R-rated material in this particular soul’s “waking up” path.
That blog is soon to come.
OK, I just went to the Word Press site, to set up the separate “Great Majo Throw-down” blog – and discovered there was no longer a stripped-down free blog site available, as I thought I remembered. I was going to have to lay out $60 today to set up that blog. I don’t have that kind of money right now. I have $120 to last me until 11/3, unless I bring home some money busking poetry – which I actually am planning to do.
Faced with this challenge, a little rebellion broke loose inside me: “What are you doing trying to take the more challenging side of your waking up process and lock it up in some basement, where people who might not be ready to wrestle with it don’t have to see it – leaving you with some half-assed, white bread, milquetoast story!” Ooh, I was mad!
So now what you are getting in this blog is the whole story – naughty bits and all. If that causes me to lose some readership – who don’t think that this is true spirituality or who become convinced that I am obviously not “the real McCoy” – so be it.
I want to start by challenging the language. I’ve never been a big fan of the manic word. Nor honestly depression. Much more intuitive to me or words like expanded and contracted. When I’m up I expand, I fill the space. When I am down I contract into it tight little ball the terrible painI experience in the state comes from being so contracted so tight nothing
I probably never should have been to the psychiatric establishment and started using these psychiatric words. I think maybe everything would’ve stayed clearer that way.
My quotes depression” has never looked like when I depression is supposed to look like. The core of my depression is physical pain, this contraction had described. Sometimes I get affective changes secondary to that, but they can really be largely explained by that the discouragement, is from suffering that seems to have no end -No light at the end of the tunnel￼￼￼￼.
I have called the state this contract and stayed depressed because that’s what the shrinks wanted to call it and because it alternates with what they call mania but I prefer expand it. My mania almost never looks like the chaotic out of control state we see on TV commercials for Bipolar Drugs. And actually overtime I have learned to manage that state to where it is mostly a pretty beautiful experience: I live free funny full of feelings creative productive – seldom spending too much money or starting projects I can’t complete. I’ve had honestly a couple of months long episodes that do fit in all of those criteria, but that’s two in 30 years
I had a therapist who always rejected the validity of my expanded states because I didn’t get enough sleep. “That means your diss regulated”. But my experience has always been that I just plain didn’t need all that sleep and that I would much prefer to be getting things done. Some of it may be the artist temperament: choosing to be used by the muse, When the creative spark flashes you honor it, strike while the iron is hot. Are usually can get to sleep fine, but two hours later when I get up to P or five or four hours later at my second day, I’m just awake. Do you want to lay back down and try to be asleep like you do when you’re contracted or shall we get up and get going. It’s an easy choice for me.
To me, one sign that this is not media is that I have not resisted the question. I’m not defensive about it. “Let’s explore it.” I have felt pretty confident that I knew where that exploration was going to go, but I have reviewed it and I think a whole hearted way.
My really good friend Tom Kilby with my live for three years and who knows my moods up close and personal, is unequivocal: I know your mania and this is not bad. I think you were having a genuine waking up experience, I just worry about, how wild it is and if this is it going to Chareane out of control. A few years ago I had another friend who also I think was having a genuine Waking Up experience, but then his ego took over: he started thinking he was God and became psychotic. I don’t see any sign of that with you yet, but I worry about it.
Tom, loves me a lot and knows me really well, scared me one day by saying that he thought he would not want to perform a certain piece with me. He’s missed your performance and never misses a chance to show off.
Quotes not the way you are now”.￼Why? Does he really think there’s something basically wrong with my current state?￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼ I inquired about this and was very comforted by his response: “I see nothing wrong with where you are now, I just don’t know if I can keep up with you. “He’s Mr. spontaneity, very fast himself, and it never occurred to me that his reluctance might be about this. “You are just so fast right now if I were you would hand me things that I couldn’t deal with.
My last psychiatrist, before he retired and I changed over to the wonderful man Howard, was Bill Simons in a while your bird parentheses oh, like me, exactly my age. When my previous psychiatrist David Manly, who was moving to the VA system referred me to Bob, he said Dr. Simon knows more about bipolar disorder than anybody else in the southeast and I ended up thinking that maybe that’s true. He like to say parenthesis and does old people do oftenrepeat ourselves parentheses that bipolar disorder is not a mental illness but an energy disorder. You’re either too fast or too slow.This is similar to what some Chinese medicine people say: there are two diseases either too fast or too slow parentheses for alternatively too hot or too cold parentheses. To expanded or too contract￼￼￼Ed.
Another reason I think I’m not “manic” is because of all the ways I see myself around myself, stop myself. Let me do another separate post about that.
DJ is a young, bearded, scruffy, dirty-clothed homeless guy who comes by the front of Battery Park Apartments several times a day and – when he is not talking to us – is usually walking the streets talking to himself, or to somebody that the rest of us can’t see. I don’t think any of us knows where he stays at night.
DJ’s primary contact at Battery Park Apartments is naturally Diana, who is out in front of the building smoking most of the day. But she is also his natural point of contact because she knows DJ’s world: she herself has been homeless – almost certainly more than anyone else in the building and probably more than all 105 of us put together. Years after getting housed, she had a full-time job managing a women’s homeless shelter for the Salvation Army. She both understands where DJ is coming from and is much less caught in the stereotypes, generalizations and negative judgments that poison the rest of us.
Diana – whose natural/instinctive/ values-based generosity is really central to who she is – is trying to balance that huge open heart with her new practice of solid boundaries. I’ve told her of Brene Brown’s research where the social science researcher found that the personal quality that most relates to happiness is open heartedness – and the personal quality that most relates to open heartedness is solid boundaries. As Diana and I share stories from our day, “boundaries” is one of the lenses we apply to those stories. She might say to me: “That’s a place where you needed a solid boundary” or “You were holding your boundary”.
The rest of us, who do not know DJ’s world – and may not even have had much real interchange with homeless people over the course of our lives (hosting Room In the Inn at Jubilee has been a real game-changer for some Jubilants, but I have volunteered just twice for this project where homeless women spend the night in the first floor at Jubilee – Patton Ave. side). We may only have ever “talked” to a homeless person to help ourselves feel less guilty over the fact that we have so many judgments about them.
DJ is kinda sweet and very polite – and probably mentally ill, another world that Diana knows well. I think that he and Diana genuinely like each other, though his frequent intrusions get irritating even to her and she knows that he would clean her out like a vacuum cleaner if she let him.
DJ can be so intrusive and softly pushy.
“Miss Diana, can I get a cigarette? “No, honey, you’ve come by four times already today – no more.” “Uh, ma’am, maybe just one cigarette?” “No, I’m very low myself – I’m almost out.” “If I give you 50 cents, would you give me a cigarette?”
Diana will acknowledge openly to us, when DJ is not there, that he does eventually piss her off. She doesn’t like to be angry at people – it’s way outside of her comfort zone, but she really kind of embraces the opportunities to practice holding a boundary. Already in the last few months she has started to get better at this, will save up stories to tell us about how she held a boundary (sometimes with DJ) – and really believes she is already a slightly healthier person because of it.
In my maybe four encounters with DJ, I have been consistently slightly mean and unwavering in my resistance to his (polite) requests for cigarettes (and money? I can’t quite remember if he ever asks us for money. Certainly cigarettes is the main thing.) I’m not usually this nasty to street people. I think that in certain areas my newfound commitment to solid boundaries has not yet translated into more open heartedness. I don’t like it that he invades our turf with his panhandling. I have not quite said to DJ, but certainly have thought: “It’s one thing to keep it over there, on some other street corner. But don’t start bringing your begging over into our peaceful, happy, playful – and private – place.” And, finally and probably the most central, I do get very protective of Diana’s space and mad at DJ for being so pushy with her.
Yesterday afternoon at five, we had mostly run through an encounter with DJ that already had showed most of the qualities I describe above. He was politely pushing Diana for a cigarette and almost sweetly refusing to take no for an answer – even though Diana had just done a pretty good job of protecting her boundary.
My voice is naturally louder than Diana’s. And it is more readily capable of carrying assertiveness, meanness and even a hint of menace – as a couple of weeks ago when I said to the old bat who, from half-way down the street, was continuing to yell at me that my Pancho was the real problem between Pancho and her wonderful little dog – and, actually, that I was the real problem. I don’t know what threatening movie character I channeled when I yelled, “Don’t make me come over there!” And I think I was probably breaking some building policy that you are not allowed to threaten another resident – but it was such a new behavior for me and popped out so effortlessly that it was totally thrilling, and got the job done. She did shut up and go away. She probably was thinking, “Fuck, he has totally snapped. He’s going to come over here and beat the shit out of me.”
In this case with DJ, I don’t think my voice was really carrying menace when I said to him, “She already said ‘No‘.” But it was so curt and sharp that DJ was apparently deciding he had worn out his welcome and was getting ready to go.
(The real problem with my intervention was that no intervention was really needed. Sure, Diana’s “No” had not gotten DJ to back off – but she had said it and had not given up a cigarette, so this was already a success for her. Could she take the next step and raise her own voice – maybe put more of a non-sweet edge in it, to drive away the intruder? Maybe she would have risen to the occasion yesterday. But, if she had not quite gotten there, we could have debriefed the event together and gotten her more ready for the next battle. I’ve got to stop pushing into the middle of the altercation to protect her. I mean well, but I am not being genuinely helpful – it’s her fight. And I will get my turn, because as soon as DJ gives up on Diana he is going to turn to one of the others of us and start with them.
So DJ was getting ready to leave when white 60ish Joe (one of our neighbors who has not been directly involved in any of these encounters, but has apparently been building up a charge against DJ) strides kind of aggressively down the street (too close really to DJ) sticks his finger out almost in DJ’s face and, with a low note of masculine menace says “I’m psychic, because I know why you are here – you want money from us.” Really pretty stupid and uninteresting as a mano-a-mano challenge. I at least am thinking, “Really? Is that the best you got?”
I was immediately more pissed off at Joe than DJ and – just to jerk him around – said “He actually doesn’t want money, he wants cigarettes”.
Now that my interruption has stopped the mighty Joe in his tracks and that there is a moment of quiet, I launch us into a little debrief of what had just happened between Joe and DJ – with the two of them still standing there. I started by saying, “You never should have stuck your finger in DJ’s face – that’s rude and aggressive.” Lisa – “Yeah, and your tone of voice was too angry.”
Suddenly, even though Joe was in many demographic and personal style ways more like us than is DJ – and he lives in our building – we had been down this road with DJ and kind of knew how to negotiate the curves. As far as this conversation now was concerned, DJ was more a member of our pack than was Joe and we kind of closed ranks around him. Nobody actually said, “Who the fuck are you, Joe? This isn’t your business – go away”. I would be the most likely to say it, but – having spoken my little piece to Joe, I had immediately shifted my focus to DJ, who I was already starting to kind of like. Joe left.
Then DJ was getting ready to leave. As he turns west to face Page Avenue and the AT&T building, he says “Bye everybody – I’ll pray for you all.”
Me: “You’ll pray for us all?” (“Not just for Miss Diana, who is the closest thing to a friend you have here – and maybe anywhere.”)
DJ: “Yeah, I’ll pray for all of you.”
Me: “You’ll pray for me?” (“after I have been so mean to you?”)
DJ: “Yeah, I’ll pray for you.”
Me, fumbling in my Earth Fare grocery bag: “Well then I’ll give you a cigarette, if you’re going to pray for me.”
Before I even get my cigarette pack out of my grocery bag, DJ starts to pray:
He throws his head back and looks skyward. His prayer is at moments kind of halting, but mostly really pretty self-assured. His voice is almost too loud, but the loudness is really mostly effective. None of us is thinking that he is a professional preacher or leads the prayers at some little Christian church, but he clearly has done this before, if maybe never for other people before or never before at this volume. It probably is “some of the crazy things he mutters to himself as he wanders the streets of downtown Asheville.”
DJ’s prayer was all about forgiveness, trust and love. He was asking some higher power to bless us all – all of us, no exceptions. I don’t think he said one thing that any of us had any theological problem with. And it all was very beautiful – strong, self-assured, calm, trusting in this God that DJ never attempted to describe. He needed a little help from the ever-more-assertive Diana to wrap it up: was clearly warming to the task, might have prayed well longer if allowed to – but he responded well to Diana’s guidance, and then promptly took off.
This leaves us Battery Park residents who can (maybe just barely) afford to go the Up In Smoke shop on Tunnel Road next to the Ingles and buy cigarettes (not $6 American Spirits, but $3.50 Natives – American Spirits knock-offs that claim to be similarly additive free, and so basically healthy.)
We look at each other and, almost in unison, say “Wow!” DJ had given us something that we did not expect. Lisa says, “That was beautiful!” and we all agree. It would be a great understatement to say I will never see DJ the same way again. I may even be nice to him. I may even give him a cigarette – at least until I quit, which will probably be next week.