Archive | April 2012

The Meaning of Value

What seems like a simple trip to the supermarket, convenience store, department store, or local mall is not nearly as simple or convenient to some people. So, the times when it can happen, it becomes an event, something worth remembering. After you’ve been caught in a rainstorm without your umbrella, you return home, soaking wet, throw your clothes on the floor or perhaps you indulge in the luxury of throwing them into the clothes dryer, strip off your socks and shoes and sink into dry clothes and some heat (let’s not even get into the value of a hot shower). Ah, socks. Those elusive objects that always seem to lose its pair in that bizarre Bermuda Triangle vortex located somewhere between the washer and dryer; they may seem like a conspiracy to make you buy more socks, but let us not stray too far from the point. Socks. After you’ve spent a few minutes or maybe hours in a pair of wet socks, your feet have never felt so good as when you take those off and slip your feet into a clean, dry pair. It seems almost shameful to take this for granted. Socks to those who are homeless (and have been for many months or years) are as valuable and necessary as food. Socks can be as valued as money is on the stock market. We know. When you walk for miles daily, in the heat, or cold, or rain, your feet not only ache but are made that much more painful because they are wet with sweat or too long in the rain. Blisters become a certainty, cracking and bleeding almost inevitable. Dry socks are tantamount to not only comfort but also well-being (and I don’t just mean psychological well-being; I’m talking about health). When you’re homeless, your feet are your main and only form of transportation. If you can’t walk, you may be out of an important job interview that may have finally secured you the steady means to get yourself off the street or you may not be able to make it to the local food kitchen for that day’s possibly sole meal. Socks may not seem like much, but I have seen the value in a clean, dry pair of socks.

In the city (Harrisburg, Pa) where we sometimes walk around (when mentally able), we have found not a single working water fountain. Oh, certainly, there is one or two located in distant spots, but they are not turned on. In the homeless world, particularly in the summer, water is a must. Despite being surrounded by many bodies of water (in the form of lakes, rivers, streams, and falling from the sky like manna), water can only be bought, else you may face some sort of legal trouble. A 20 oz. bottle of water can cost close to three dollars in some stores, and as much as five or six dollars, depending on the brand, and a gallon of water costs from sixty-nine cents for an off brand at the suburban supermarket to $1.49 in a convenience store, but when you are homeless not much is convenient. A trip to the supermarket involves getting on a bus or walking, and sometimes this is not at all convenient or possible (most of the homeless here are in the city proper, i.e., downtown) and although $1.49 may seem like spare or loose change, it’s like trying to make 100 dollars when you’re homeless. Water becomes as valuable as water seen in the film WaterWorld (starring Kevin Costner and Dennis Hopper); this may sound like an exaggeration, unfortunately, not when you are homeless in a city where free water barely exists without worry of punishment. The only place to get free water is by water fountain located at the local soup kitchen. It’s preposterous to us that you must pay for something as essential as water. A bottle or cup of water to someone homeless, the ability to quench your thirst, is value beyond price.

Paying for water is not the only piracy in this city. When you live in a house, going to the bathroom is a matter of walking down the hall or at the worst up or down a flight of steps. When you are homeless, it is a matter of walking miles only to find it closed (if it is past business hours. Oh, yes, there are marked hours when certain bathrooms are open). Should you arrive after closing, you’re met with a locked door and hurting bladder . . . or worse. Portable Toilets, you say. During the off-season, these are nowhere to be found. By off-season, I mean during the summer there is a local park open that is quite the well-trafficked attraction, but only during the summer. In the off-season, these portable toilets are removed and any public restroom is locked. In addition, this local park closes after sunset! Every local establishment is pay to pee: you must first buy something before you can use the restroom. A moment to sit on a throne and relieve yourself without having to pay or sneak can be beyond the benefits of royalty. It’s sickening that something so natural, so normal and routine, can be denied by the hours of a clock.

Bureaucracy: Let us end with the horrible hindrances caused by agencies and institutions to the homeless. Of the homeless Stephen and I met so far, very few have been the mythic crack addict or criminal. Most have been normal, average people who once had jobs and homes, but may have lost that job during a layoff or fallen on bad times so could not keep the home, had their home taken from them, or were a victim of some other atrocity. They were working people, who paid their bills, and followed the rules. It took but one unexpected loose thread and everything unraveled. Now, they are homeless and wanting to reenter the job force, but are denied because they do not have the valid, verifiable paperwork. When you’re homeless, paperwork is very difficult to come by. You can’t afford the money to obtain a proper ID or perhaps one that is no longer expired, you don’t always have easy and convenient access to the internet (a local downtown library is open during the week, but the line for getting on the few computers is often hours long), and that trip to the proper government office could cost $1.75 (for the bus) you don’t have because you needed it for that gallon of water. It’s nearly impossible to line up all the correct paperwork that allows you to obtain the correct paperwork. This is a typical story of the homeless we have met. We’re fortunate in that way, we have all our paperwork. Often the homeless are given the runaround, or are deliberately deceived by the customer service representatives (oh, yes, this does go on in the world) or are told the wrong information. Wrong information can be detrimental to someone homeless, because every minute counts, literally. Someone who can help and be truthful and reliable can be like winning the lottery to someone homeless. What stops homeless people from no longer being homeless is not their laziness or desire to live off the system, but the system itself! The homeless people we have met WANT to get a job, they WANT to pay rent or a mortgage, they WANT to pay their bills, but they can’t because they are hindered by the very system that says it can save them. What can save the homeless can come in the form of a base, a foundation from which to stand that won’t crumble, like an address, or access to a phone, or a hot shower and clean clothes. None of these are supplied by the system that says it can help, at least not without the proper paperwork and some verifiable ID.

A handout is not some spare change in the bottom of your purse or jingling loose in your pocket, or welfare, it’s a hand out, with something like socks, or a blanket, or a warm cup of coffee, or a toothbrush and toothpaste, or jug of water, without obligation. This, to our eyes, is the meaning of value to the homeless, sometimes more than money, it seems, because this can come without indebtedness attached.  From what we have seen, what can be most valuable to someone homeless is an actual chance to get back on their feet.



Nearly every day now, Stephen and I walk around the woods, slowly, taking one careful step after another, highly aware of where our feet will next land and the degree of vibrations, knowing that the slightest molecule out of place will alert any insect basking on a leaf to our presence, and they will flit away. So, we have to be more than quiet; we have to know where each body part will next end up, while our eyes scan the many, many branches and leaves for the tiniest movement, like a flicker of imagination.

Hence, we find it difficult to define a particular significant event in our lives that has prompted us to embark upon this journey of exploring the lateral, as what finally prompted us to break free of civilization and its psychoses was not any single event or whether any single event is significant or insignificant. Every happening we have witnessed since we were borne is still present in our lives, continuously with distinction, but without detachment. Therefore, we are incapable of a vantage point of reference objective enough to separate any singular event from a continuous, lateral stream constantly evolving. Is not the expression, experience, and exercise of Curiosity, want of learning, and awe of the unknown the very drives of any journey?

That we were involuntarily committed to State Hospitals and diagnosed with Schizoaffective Disorder and Obsessive Compulsive Disorder may seem like a significant event. That we are mentally disabled and social security disability recipients might seem like a significant event. However, each of these happenings obviously have impact upon our lives, they are not peculiar in life, because they are not the result of cause and effect, but a current constant presence.  Our psychiatrists pointed out to us that our diagnoses are simply a manifestation of the way our minds work and the way we perceive the world in which we are aware. Our minds pay exacting attention to detail; our minds metabolize every environment. Although, it may seem as if being committed to the State Hospital, being on social security disability and diagnosed with Schizoaffective Disorder and Obsessive Compulsive Disorder are significant events in our lives, they are not. . . at least not to us. They are among all that composes our lives, merely threads in a tapestry of an existence. And it is that tapestry that prompted us to seek the freedom of the Out Side, the Out of Doors, not any particular event, significant, insignificant or otherwise.  Minds like ours love information and knowledge, because we can then comprehend the How’s and Why’s involved in truly living (whatever that may turn out to be), that connection to the only home Stephen and I regard, Earth. This same sense of mind, this imagination, that we apply to seeking information and knowing, we also apply when we are walking in the woods, something we love to do and do as much as possible.  We see a reciprocal relationship among the trees and soil and rain and sunshine and shadow and elevation, etc. and can perceive how the forest works together and how we are part of that forest.

Richard Feynman is quoted as saying

“People say to me, “Are you looking for the ultimate laws of physics?” No, I’m not… If it turns out there is a simple ultimate law which explains everything, so be it — that would be very nice to discover. If it turns out it’s like an onion with millions of layers… then that’s the way it is. But either way there’s Nature and she’s going to come out the way She is. So therefore when we go to investigate we shouldn’t predecide what it is we’re looking for only to find out more about it. Now you ask: “Why do you try to find out more about it?” If you began your investigation to get an answer to some deep philosophical question, you may be wrong. It may be that you can’t get an answer to that particular question just by finding out more about the character of Nature. But that’s not my interest in science; my interest in science is to simply find out about the world and the more I find out the better it is, I like to find out…”

~The Pleasure of Finding Things Out, 1981 filmed interview

This same pleasure of finding things out, the ‘unknown’, prompts us to seek, not only the unknown, but to seek at all. We have minds; therefore, we seek. . . as simple as that. And like Richard Feynman says of the character of Nature, we cannot define a particular significant event, because we cannot define an insignificant event.  We seek, so every event is as significant as it is insignificant; we do not see a difference.  See, it is more than just numbers (mathematics, or science, if you will, as Richard Feynman also points out), but the deeper meanings behind the numbers, like deciphering an elaborate chaotic, spiraling mystery. For this same “unseen force” also drives the quantum mechanizations of human systems, i.e. society, industry, etc.

Sometimes, while we walk or during the interesting and wonderful evenings beneath the open sky and weaving, tussling tree branches or in a perfect pause of stillness, we push all of that aside for a moment, and think about sitting behind desks, sitting behind the wheel of a car, sitting in a waiting room, standing in line, talking on the phone, texting, watching TV, plugged in…and are marvelled at the possibility that others would choose that over walking around seeing what you can see.  Instead, why not walk around on the planet seeing what you can see? Not hurting anyone, not harming anyone, not fighting, just walking around seeing what we can see. Every so often, one or more of us will meet, as friends, and converse, sharing with one another all things that we can see.

What will we learn from this? We don’t know, but we are learning to really observe, to be aware of our surroundings, to examine what our eyes see, to intuit motion, breathing, air, aromas. What we learn expands with each new time we are outside, seeing what we can see. It has only been about two months and we have seen such wonders of life that we are humbled.

We all have but a minute length of time to spend on the planet, why should we want to spend it sitting down, standing up, opening our mouths only when someone tells us that we can?

Why not see what we can see. . .?

Just Being

We are into our second month of what we call ‘exploring the lateral’ and/or seeing what we can see. We usually sleep in the forest, without a tent; actually with no shelter at all save our sleeping bags. Before we set out a couple of months ago, we either threw away or gave away all our possessions save what fits in our backpacks, a few boxes of papers, and some photos (the boxes and photos are in storage). Some say we are intentionally homeless, but we consider the Earth our home. When we set out we had no plans, we didn’t know where we were going or what we were going to do, we just started walking. And walk we did, almost 600 miles so far! It was quite difficult at first what with the freezing weather and rain, but in only a couple weeks, our bodies adjusted. Actually, our bodies have changed drastically. We were both in excellent physical shape before we left. We usually hiked 50-60 miles a week and lifted weights, but those activities cannot compare to carrying 75 and 45 pound backpacks 20 miles a day. Our bodies are more muscular and lean than any other period in our lives. Our senses are  much more acute, as is our mental clarity. For the first time in our lives, we feel truly alive. We usually awaken at sunrise to the sound of hundreds of birds singing, and at night, the deer walk within three feet of us. The bucks are highly protective of the does and when they come near us they snort and stomp their feet. We have lost the ability to keep track of time; the days are no longer segmented and all run together. We really have no need for clocks or calendars anymore; we are usually in the moment. We have no plans or goals. Winning, losing, failing and succeeding do not apply. We don’t know what’s going to happen to us or around us, every day is a complete unknown. We live mostly in the right now, and as far as we can tell, it is the only thing that allows us to be sane. We are both former long-term State Hospital patients. Both of us are diagnosed schizoaffective disorder and obsessive-compulsive disorder, but when we are in the forest surrounded by trees, birds and animals all the symptoms just fade away. When we enter a city, however, all the symptoms come rushing back. The smells, sounds etc. of a city cause us to become psychotic, as do the absurdity of bureaucracies, governments and various other social constructions. We are not really anti-civilization, though, we simply cannot live in it.  Mathematics, Physics and Philosophy are three of our favorite subjects that we discuss at length daily and every night before we drift off to sleep; these subjects are usually researched and studied at institutions of higher learning, and institutions of higher learning are found primarily in civilization, so we are not anti-civilization, we just cannot exist in civilization. Although, walking through small towns doesn’t seem to bring on states of psychosis like the city.

We have spent the last several years avoiding people. We only went to appointments, hiking in the woods and grocery shopping but we have talked to more people the past two months than the last 10 years. We have met many kinds of people on our journey: some wonderful, generous, cheerful, and happy people. But we have also met a few obstreperous individuals, who feel trapped in jobs and situations that they hate. Even though they make us angry and can even cause us to become psychotic when they lie or attempt to harm us, once we come to our senses we feel sorry for them and hope they too can find peace.

We are doing this blog so we can share our experiences with others that they too can see what we see.