Just so there is no confusion, other than my own, the title of this post is what it is because the whole first week of living at Everyone Village, a week at least, I was a completely spaced out individual, and the whole time was a blur. Sitting down to write about it is an interesting exercise, since saying that it is a blur and leaving it at that will result in a post that is mostly white space.
Right now, I am just looking for little pieces of memory to expand on.
I do remember my first shelter, which isn’t the shelter where I ended up. Being in a big hurry to move in did not make it easy on Heather because I kept calling her. They had been promised some pretty sweet shelters from a company in Washington state, basically eight by eight boxes with a nine-foot ceiling that were designed with bunks on either side, and since I was going to be living in one alone, that meant I had an entire side to turn into whatever I wanted.
The bunks fold up, so I had already planned to make that whole space a desk area where I could spread my stuff out. I was salivating at the prospect of having a quiet place to write and think, and not try to make do at the public library, a cafe, or in the lounge of the law school at the U of O.
Unfortunately, the promised shelters weren’t arriving due to administrative snags beyond the control of Everyone Village, and Heather finally just asked me if I was willing to move into a temporary shelter until the others were ready.
I thought you’d never ask.
The temporary shelter wasn’t a temporary shelter by definition, only temporary to me. In fact, the temp shelter was built much better than the one I would eventually move into. Designed and built by Gabe (A different Gabe) of Carry It Forward, these shelters are beasts in their own right. They are built to the same standards as houses, really, the only difference is that they are very small, and not just small, but small even by tiny house standards.
Called ‘spot shelters,’ they are designed so that they will fit inside a normal parking space, and are a great alternative to being in a tent. They are really cool, colorful ultra tiny shelters, and really well insulated too with a couple of windows and storage under the bed. For me, the only drawback was size. There was a bed and that’s it, with storage under the bed, but no room for a table or desk. Oh yeah, there are shelves too. They had electricity and deceptively small heaters that plugged into and hung from the electrical outlet.
Because of the insulation, I never turned that heater above the lowest two settings. Gabe, the pastor not the builder, asked how things were going and I said my main concern was being too hot, to which he replied:
“Good problem to have, right?”
A great problem to have. Yes it was.
(I feel compelled to mention, to follow up on the themes of recent posts, that one of my irrational fears was that I would go there and there wouldn’t be any power, meaning no heat. I moved in right during that cold snap where there was snow on the ground, and the reason for my fear was this:
Heather gave me a tour of the shelter before I moved in, and on the way out, I flipped one of the light switches and nothing happened.
That was all I needed to let my imagination go wild, leading to conversations with friends that only fueled the fire, or in this case, the lack of fire. I would mention that the electricity didn’t seem to work and my friends, being in my corner, would become indignant on my behalf: “It’s their responsibility to provide power and heat! It’s criminal not to.”
I was wondering if they were going to use generators, and what if the gas ran out in the middle of the night. I had whipped myself up into a paranoid frenzy, imagining I had to buy subzero sleeping bags and wool blankets just to survive and in the end, I sheepishly called Heather and asked about it. I could hear mild indignation over the phone:
“Of course we will have power.”
Like it was the most obvious, basic thing in the world, which it was, and my sheepishness intensified when I tested the two light switches after moving in. The one that I had thought wasn’t working? It was connected to the porchlight, not the interior light. I had simply tested the wrong switch.
Oh Lord how a simple misunderstanding pirouettes into fear and confusion without really trying at all!)
So I had my own space now, with heat and a real door and a real lock.
Not much of a revelation to a normal person, and yet this simple reality was almost completely the source of the space-blur situation:
When you are spaced you don’t perceive much, and when you don’t perceive much, you are left with a blurred memory.
I have reduced most of this mental state to two simple realities:
- A door you can lock.
- A place to sleep.
A DOOR YOU CAN L0CK
It’s just an odd feeling. To know that you’re gonna have your own space. I mean, to me, there’s a door, a door you can lock where you can keep your things that you have access to.
If you’re on the streets, you’re always worried about stuff being stolen. If you’re at a rescue mission, you know, you have limitations on what you can store. And you also don’t always have access to it. So just that would have been was huge for me.
I checked in with other people as they moved in and they reported feeling the same way, just disoriented with the sudden change.
In a way it makes sense when your whole life has been organized around some simple assumptions and then the situation changes. You understand it intellectually for sure, only it takes time to work out and internalize all the permutations of the change. Like you have a major assumption that guides your life, and a million little sub-assumptions that are are branching off the big one, and each one has to be examined to see if it is still valid, and if it isn’t, a new assumption has to take its place, only it doesn’t start as an assumption.
It starts as an intuition, becomes a thought, and then, even when you have the thought, it isn’t an assumption yet, it is still an uninternalized thought and it takes time for it to become second nature, hence a bunch of formerly homeless people walking around like zombies because they still haven’t worked out all the consequences of the change.
I mentioned in an earlier post something about the place I was staying before E1V. (This is how we abbreviate Everyone Village. I am glad Gabe told me that, because before that, I was abbreviating it: EVIL. And if I got a phone number from someone and didn’t know their last name from the village, I would append it to their name to remember where I knew them from. One day staff member made a point of telling me her last name and it took me a while to figure out why. She had seen my phone address book, and didn’t particularly like being referred to as: ‘Kathy Evil.’) At that place, if you happen to remember the sentence before the long digression in parentheses, was an extreme limitation on possessions, basically just two medium backpacks.
If you operate that way for years, how long will it take you to have little boxes in your room, this one for tools, this for toiletries, this for cleaning supplies, this for stationery stuff? These are thoughts that have to be arrived at one by one, each leading to the next, and when you are talking about a population who might not have had any new thoughts for years, living life on autopilot, by habit, well, it is no wonder they become zombified.
If nothing else, their brains are tired. Too many new thoughts.
It took me a long time living here to realize that I didn’t have to carry everything important around in my day pack, which had been too heavy for years, but always organized with disaster in mind. Can I really leave my sewing kit behind, or my toenail clippers? Emergency blanket and extra poncho? The answer, NOW, was yes, it just took time, as if leaving each item at home was taking a big risk.
You should have seen me the first day I left my entire day pack at home. I was like a cat walking across the back of a porcupine. This can’t be right. It just feels wrong, like I had started the day with a pack and left it somewhere. Walking without a pack felt totally alien.
So that’s that. Next subject.
SLEEP SLEEP THE BEAUTIFUL SLEEP.
It has to be addressed, so let’s get it over with. Sleep is one of the defining predicaments of the homeless life, lack of it to be precise. Sometimes I wonder if I would have smoked so long or drank so much coffee over the years if I had had a quiet place to sleep when I needed to. When you are homeless, you are always expected to just move along, and you wake up tired and think, I have to wake up, where is my coffee and my too many smokes?
You are simply always tired, and you envy those people who can just nod off in their chairs, no wall to lean their head, just let their head droop forwards and nap. I could never do it no matter how hard I tried to train myself. Most shelters don’t mind if you sleep in your chair for whatever time you are allowed there during the day.
Lots of guy-drama in shelters though, so getting up early, getting out, and not coming back till the last second possible was the best way not to get frustrated or become the object of frustration; it was, despite the fact you are zombified because of it, a bit of hobo self-care.
In the past, when there were fewer homeless people, you could grab a nap in libraries, just lower your head to the table and drift off for a few.
That’s why I miss the old Eugene library. It was just a humble happy little place, no fancy architects or expensive blond wood paneling. It was in the new library where they suddenly needed security guards who, some at least, took pleasure in rousting us away from our dreams. At the University of Oregon it was similar. There was a big room in the student union with couches and a fireplace and if you needed to, there, you could stretch out on a sofa for a few hours.
Nowadays, you are playing security roulette any time you try to sleep in a public place. It is different when it isn’t raining which is only a few months out of the year in Eugene, and you can catch up on sleep lost in the winter snoozing in a park. It might as well be Winter for eight months of the year here because that is how many months it rains and you can’t take a nap in a park.
You are guaranteed 8 months of sleep deprivation and that is it. And watch out when you are sick. Even if you are in a shelter you have to ride out your flu upright in a chair trying to get what rest you can.
Listen, I am not ripping on librarians or campus cops. There are far more homeless people than there used to be, and they are more aggressive too, so what can they really do but police the shut-eyes?
Writing this reminds me of the day I realized that sleeping was over at the U of O. The beginning of the end for public sleepers. Things started tightening up everywhere.
Probably early 2000s.
I had always counted on that lounge with the couches to catch some shut-eye for a few hours in the morning before the libraries opened, and no one ever bothered me. Maybe like one time a student woke me up to tell me I was snoring, but no one cared I was there or asked me to leave. In summer I also could curl up on the benches outside without worry tucked in a corner or under a tree.
And then it ended.
I awoke to a very aggressive woman, campus cop it turned out, saying:
“Uh sir sir sir you are sleeping there is no sleeping here.”
As I woke up, coming slowly into consciousness, I saw her speaking into her radio reporting back to home base saying, with a voice of great gravity, “Uh, yeah, looks like we got a SLEEPER!”
I was trying not to laugh. She said it in the same tone of voice you might say, we got a jumper, or we got a murderer, like this is an INCIDENT folks. We got a SITUATION here.
And she asked my name and address, wrote it in her book, and began to lecture me about not sleeping there.
Because I had been napping there for so many months without incident, and because she was being over the top, I made the mistake of trying to debate it with her, saying, reasonably I thought, that people sleep here all the time and maybe if there were signs saying no sleeping you could make a big deal about it.
“Signs,” she said in a chilly voice, as if it were preposterous that prohibited behavior might be communicated, “Yeah, yeah, yeah, signs.”
I said, well, okay, you could have just told me, and I started to leave when she said, not so fast sir, and said something or other into her radio. Not getting it, I said it didn’t make sense to be making such a big deal over it and I would be happy to leave.
“I am in charge of this conversation sir!” was the response.
Still not getting that policies had changed, and not being smart enough to shut up, I said:
“You aren’t even in charge of your own emotions at this point.”
(Sometimes homeless people forget they are homeless and just talk like normal people, with all the rights and privileges that entails. So sorry lady cop!)
At that point she asked me to leave and I did, and the gauntlet was thrown. No more loopholes, no more quiet spot to catch a few zzzzzs.
The funny thing is that even if you can sleep in a shelter, it is seldom really good sleep when you are in a dormitory with 100 other guys. It is like a part of your unconscious mind stay vigilant and never quite lets you really rest. You can sleep 8 hours and wake up exhausted.
Right now, as I write this, I can sleep sometimes, but not all the time, as old habits die hard.
it took weeks to be able to get a good night’s sleep, to lose the unconscious vigilance.
After a month I finally slept in. Whenever I get a good night’s sleep I think to myself, “If I slept like this all the time I wouldn’t even need cigarettes, so rare is the feeling of being rested and ready to face the world.” Coffee too. These habits evolved from the need to be constantly on the move and awake when you are dog tired.
I think I am going to end this here. I will get into more of the particulars of moving in and life at the village in the next post. This was a post for the big overall themes that not only affected me but seemed to affect everyone when they moved in.
I would see someone new walking around in a directionless stunned way and without any prompting they would tell me how disorienting it is to be able to sleep and especially to have a place to keep their stuff and to be alone.
I guess it just takes a while for reality to settle in, even postive new realities.
If you think it was hard for me to go out without my backpack, let me tell you going out, at night, with a friend, for a beer, that was terrifying, feeling like such a transgression, I immediately needed a second beer, but was afraid to drink it.
Don’t push your luck.
I made that beer last an hour.
(Note: I am officially changing my nom de plume to “Mr. In-Between” with this post. It feels better. I would rather refer to others as scrappers than myself. Talk to you next week.)