Meet Lucky, Dale, Marissa, Donjuan, Nicole, Devin, Analyn, and Eryka
“That’s part of how we want you to think about this stuff, is with some sense of mystery that we share with you: ‘What happened to these people?’”
[Intro music plays]
Dale: “I mean–I’ve died on the streets so many times”
Analyn: I say are you helping me to get out of this or are you taking my kid from me? I just had that feeling.
Marissa: “My new lover now thinks that he keeps saying, “Be stronger.” But I am stronger. There’s the difference.”
Eryka: I would definitely rather walk down an alley than down the street.
Donjuan: “But I was always kind of in the gut of the city, so to speak, looking for things, trying to – curious. Even here, just curious and roaming.”
Nicole: When I get stressed out, I’ll color. Or if my mind starts thinking too much, coloring is how I cope with a lot of – just about everything, actually.
Lucky: and pretty much he saw the crown that I wear on top of my head which is invisible to most, sometimes even me.
[end intro music]
Blake: Welcome, everybody, to a podcast we’re calling When you are homeless. I’m one of your hosts, Blake.
Alison: And I’m Alison.
Blake: And Alison and I have been at work for a little while on this project that we’re really excited to share with you. It involves our work with a number of different people in the homeless community—people who are experiencing homelessness right now. And I just want to start right off the bat by giving you their names because we really want their stories to be what you remember when you think about having listened to this. Their names are:
Blake: And so those are our eight. This first episode, what we’re going to try to do for you is just introduce you to who these people are. We’ll do it as much as we can using their voices, maybe give a little context to the issues at stake, certainly give you context to their lives. And the way this is going to work from this point forward is between each podcast episode, within those weeks, we will release edited stories—sound files—of one or two of these people we’ve just listed the names of. I guess we’ll just take a minute to tell you who we are, since this is the first time that we’ve been recording. I teach in the writing program. This is Blake. I teach in the Writing Program at the University of Denver, and part of my service work involves work at the Saint Francis Center day shelter for mostly men here in Denver. And with other colleagues of mine we’ve been running a writing center at the Saint Francis Center to help anyone who uses the shelter with any kind of writing that they might do. So, that would include résumés, cover letters, but also creative work that they do. It turns out that a lot of people are interested in that kind of writing. And so over the years we’ve gotten to know many of the clients who’ve come. And they change over time quite a bit. And it was through that work that I was able to recruit some people from the shelter to interview. And I know, Alison, you did some of this same kind of stuff through a different shelter, right?
Alison: Yeah. So this is Alison, and I’m a PhD student at the University of Denver, and I got involved in The Gathering Place through the Writing Center, which has a similar program to the one Blake was talking about at Saint Francis Center. The Gathering Place is a women’s day shelter, the only women’s day shelter in Denver. And we also met—it’s kind of drop-in style. We work with any writers who want to work on any projects. It can be a letter to, like, an estranged family member. It can be filling out an application. Poetry. Many things.
Blake: Well, I guess is maybe interesting to talk about a little bit is how we got together on this,
Alison: Maybe, yeah. And I think that what both of us were interested in was, this sort of—the nature of doing the work at The Gathering Place and Saint Francis Center, you meet people and you might never see them again. They’re a few regulars, but just how people come into—you interact with them for ten, twenty seconds sometimes, sometimes 5 minutes, sometimes 10, and you never see them again, and I think we both kind of wanted a way to know people’s stories better, or—
Blake: It’s totally a mystery. People will come in and they’ll be fascinating. And honestly, I’ve gotta say that one of the more interesting things that I do is freaking resumes. It sounds boring, but you sit down with somebody, and they can’t remember stuff and you ask questions to get them to say stuff and then they say stuff about the last twenty-five years of their lives and just the little bit of a window into that life is often jaw-dropping. And so you help them create this résumé and then they leave. And you’re left to wonder, “What happened to this person?”
And so I think we have to admit that at least part of this is our own curiosity about the work that we do. And who are the people that we serve? And so I think that that’s part of what we’re hoping to do, is to just paint a little bit more detailed of a picture of, “Who are the people that come to homeless shelters? Who are the people who are experiencing homelessness?” And obviously, this is a random assortment of eight people. We had no real designs on looking for a particular theme, or in trying to push some agenda about what we would find. We were just curious. And I think we were—would you say ?—pretty faithful to that open curiosity.
Alison: Yeah. Absolutely And I think that for both of us, we didn’t speak with people for this project, with writers we’ve been working with regularly. There are people—at least in my case they were women I’d met for the first time, and I hadn’t been working with them in the writing consultation capacity.
Blake: It’s the same for me. I mean, just to give you a picture of what this looks like at the Saint Francis Center: So, you walk in the door and you turn to the right and there’s an intake center. It’s a half door with window and you can talk to someone to try to get an ID and you can use the shelter for all kinds of things. Like, you can store your stuff in there, you can take showers—but it’s only a day shelter.
But anyway, as you turn to the right, you would see a little fold-out chair and table where I would be sitting, with literally a hand-written sign that says “DU Writing Center” on it. And people are like, “What the freak is this?” And they sit down and ask me and I tell them and one out of every ten people who sits down actually wants to work on something. That’s more or less how it works.
And so that was our very scientific method for—or at least mine—was just to listen to a bunch of people. To help a couple of people throughout a period of time with their writing. And then, if they seemed like, to me, the kind of people who might be willing and interested in participating, then I would ask them if they wanted to. And pretty much every time I asked, someone said yes.
Alison: Wow, yeah.
Blake: And that’s how it happened. For me ,anyway.
Alison: And it was a little different at the Gathering Place. The Gathering Place has a much different atmosphere than Saint Francis Center. They have—it’s a new building. They have a whole learning center, whereas the Saint Francis Center is one, giant, kind of chaotic room.
Blake: Totally. One huge crazy room.
Alison: The Gathering Place has four stories. One of the rooms is devoted to a learning center. And there’s a woman there who is amazing but I won’t say her name because I didn’t ask for permission, but you know who you are. She really knows people—she knows the women who come in there very well. She actually kind of set up interviews for me. And she chose the women based on her opinion that telling their story would be very beneficial to them. Which I really liked her approach there. And some women said, “No, no thanks.” And some women didn’t show up. And so mine was much more curated, sort of, in terms of the meeting happening.
Blake: And I should say that there was definitely curation on my part. I gave thought to—as I was listening to someone—the idea of, “This person’s a little—just not quite ready to tell their story, and more living in the middle of it. Whereas some of the people that I talked to, they had clearly told their stories before and they had some—what do I want to say—like, exigency to telling their story. They were really intent on having it heard.
Alison: Yeah, absolutely.
Blake: And so when I saw someone who seemed to feel that way, that’s when I would ask. And I think when you listen, especially, for example, to Dale’s story, you’ll get a sense of that will to tell his story, which is really evident in how he just jumps from one thing to another with such passion. And it was true for my other interviewees as well.
Alison: Yeah, so, speaking of Dale, should we introduce the voices of our storytellers?
Blake: Sure. Yeah, let’s do it. So, now you’re going to hear from each of the eight people we interviewed. Just briefly, they’re gonna tell you where they’re from.
Alison: Also, as we’re about to let you hear the voices of the eight storytellers, we just did want to let you know that some of the sound quality can be hard to hear. Because of that—and other reasons—we’re providing transcripts for everything you’ll be hearing. So, certainly, for their own stories they’re telling and even within these episodes Blake and I are hosting, there are transcripts with what the storytellers are saying as well. So if you’re having trouble understanding some of the recordings please see the transcripts and try to follow along.
Lucky: I go by Lucky and I grew up in Seattle, Washington.
Nicole: I’m from Denver, Colorado.
Eryka: I grew up in a small town in western New York called Larsville.
Analyn: I came from the Philippines. A little village called Matageno.
Dale: Originally, I was born in Atlanta, and then we lived in the South. We lived at Fort Walton Beach in the Cuban Missile Crisis.
Marissa: I’m from Denver, Colorado.
Donjuan: I’m originally from Philadelphia, PA.
Devin: Raleigh, North Carolina. Yeah. Single family, single just raising me and my sister first.
Blake: And I think we should talk a little bit about what our purpose was, maybe, in doing this project. And I think for me anyway, I think it evolved over time. I mean, certainly, I want to make it clear that mission number one for us is to help tell these stories. To have the voices of the eight people we interviewed front and center so that as you’re listening you can kind of get a sense of what a life of a person experiencing homeless might look like. Of course, we’re not trying to say that these are representative, but we are saying that these types of lives exist, and are maybe under-represented.
Alison: And, as we’re doing this project, and I think we’ve talked about this—and maybe it goes without saying, or maybe it needs to be said even more—is that this is just—we spoke with each of these people for an hour, and this is what they chose to tell during that one hour. And what we’re sharing with you, listeners, is a half hour from that hour. And so, obviously, it’s not the full story.
Blake: Right, so let’s just walk you through the full process. So, step number one was, let’s find some people through these shelters to interview. Through that we interviewed eight people. Each interview lasted probably an average of an hour. Once we had those interviews, we each edited down that interview into a sound file of about thirty minutes, trying our best to maintain some loyalty to the things that seemed to be most important while also trying to create some sort of narrative for each of the eight storytellers. In the process, we removed our own voices from that, And so eventually, as this podcast drops they’ll be releases of these thirty-minute, edited interviews with each of the eight storytellers telling their story.
Alison: Right. And then at the end of the entire podcast, we will make available the raw interviews. So that, if you care to, you could listen to the full, hour-and-forty-five minute interview, if you wanted to.
Blake: Totally. And those are all over the map. I mean, I hope that you do it. Also, it would be as chaotic for you as it was for us to listen to it, because those conversations went completely in unexpected directions. Which was great. I mean, I was really fascinated to see some of the things that people decided to turn the conversation back to, and at what moments they did. And I think that some of that would be lost if you just listened to the thirty-minute, edited versions.
Alison: Yeah, and along those lines, I mean, we did prepare some questions. I mean, basically, the gist was like, “Tell me your story.” And we did have some other questions planned out, but we really weren’t asking direct questions about certain aspects of the experience of homelessness as we predicted it, we just kind of—“Where were you from? “ And, yeah. Pretty open.
Blake:So we interviewed these eight people and we’re about to play their voices for you and get you a little bit of an introduction beyond where they’re from so that you get a better sense of them. And we’ll continue to refer to them throughout the next episodes of the show. But just quickly, to kind of put a context to it, we’ve got people in these eight storytellers who are as young as their early 20s, as late—as old as, I’d say, mid-60s.
Alison: Yeah, These people are from all over the country and the Philippines, and a pretty even split between men and women. We have two transgender storytellers. We have storytellers who are parents, storytellers who are maybe parents but didn’t mention it. We didn’t ask that explicitly.
Blake: And some storytellers who are definitively children. In the sense that they talk about their experience in terms of their mother or in terms of their father. I certainly had a couple of interviewees, storytellers who constantly referred to what their mother did for them, or what their father did or did not do for them. And I think that’s notable.
Alison: Yeah, and as you will hear throughout this podcast, they’re all coming from such different experiences with homelessness. Some, when we spoke to them, are right on the pivot of some giant—this might change or this might not. Some are kind of riding the course. Some are in a place of great struggle. Some are in a place of hopefulness.
Blake: And I think that really speaks to why maybe we even came up with this title, When You Are Homeless. Because we want to make it clear that homelessness is not some permanent state of being, nor is it a term that really collects under its umbrella a certain, defined set of characteristics. Those things are all over the map. And some people that we interviewed—and some of these interviews happened four or five months ago—we really have no idea where they are. And maybe they’re not homeless anymore, or maybe they’re in a worse position. It’s impossible for us to know. And so that’s part of how we want you to think about this stuff, is with some sense of mystery that we share with you, of like, “What happened to these people?”
Beyond that, there is also a range of voices that have been interviewed. We have people who identify as black, white, Phillippina, and, Latina, I would say, right?
Alison: Yeah, Latina and Native American.
Blake: Right. And so, in every sense of diversity—of that word, diversity, we have it.
Alison: Right, and that was not intentional.
Alison: It was just the people we happened to encounter.
Blake: That’s absolutely right.
Alison: As we’ve been making this podcast and really pulling this together we’ve also just thinking a lot about homelessness. And each of us has done this work at day shelters. And even so, I would say that I was so surprised by listening to—like, really sitting down and talking to these storytellers for an hour is such a different experience than those kind of short clips we would get when working with them as writing consultants. And I think that it has definitely changed the way I’ve been thinking about homelessness and what I thought I knew about homelessness was not a lot, I’m realizing now.
Blake: Yeah, and I think about that question for myself. What did I think I knew about homelessness before I started this work nine years ago, and what do I think I know about it now? And both of those are prefaced with, “What do I think I know,” because I still don’t know what I know. And it makes me wonder where you are out there on this question. Like, what do you think of when you think of homelessness?
And so, I was wondering what sort of cultural referents there are for it. And in preparation for this, I started to think about what kind of art there is that depicts homeless people. I’ve watched a couple of things recently that put that notion on my radar. One is this movie that came out four years ago, simply called Homeless, directed by a guy named Clay Riley Hassler. It’s his first feature film. He’d also done work on other movies, none of which I’ve seen: The Planeteer, The Lone Warrior. And he certainly went about it in a super admirable way. And yet I did feel like there were some issues as well.
He seemed really interested in creating a kind of “authentic” experience. He really wanted a kind of verisimilitude here. And just to summarize the movie really quickly and use it as a way to point to what I imagine might be some things that you’re thinking about when you think about homelessness: it depicts a young kid using a shelter trying to go through the day-to-day of his life, trying to find a way to get a job, mostly not succeeding, just sort of having conversations with whoever comes in front of him. He’s certainly depicted in a very sympathetic light, I would say—which may or may not part of how you’re thinking about homelessness. I think it’s really notable that the movie completely does not touch anything to do with substance abuse. Which, is a whole episode that we’re gonna have later where we talk about that as a theme. That we either saw or did not see in certain of the storytellers you’ll hear form.
Alison: So, right away, you were wondering what the director was perhaps cutting?
Blake: Well, it’s not a documentary. It’s a fictional movie, right? And so he made this artful choice to decide not to have that as part of the story. Which I respect on the one hand. I get that you don’t wanna just have your protagonist be some drunken, crazy person, which is maybe kind of a stereotype that’s out there. So I appreciated that. What else is notable about the movie? And I’ll use this as a frame for talking about our expectations of homeless people.
Alison: Yeah, I think you mentioned it was problematic in some ways?
Blake: Yeah. So, one thing that was problematic I think is that—first of all, it was shot at an actual homeless shelter and you can tell—there’s something about the nature of the floors that shows you that these are “real homeless people.” And the actor himself has never been—who plays the main role, the actor who plays the protagonist—has never been in a big film. So he has a certain authenticity to his look and way of being. But the issue that I had is that all the people who are in the shelters seem for the most part to be black, and the kid is white. And he has this really—I wondered about that choice as a way of…I worried that it was like a choice made to make the character “more sympathetic” to a certain kind of audience, maybe. Which seemed strange to me. And the kid just has this, like, sad, kitten, I’m-in-a-cardboard-box-in-a-Dumpster-and-Sarah-MacLachlan-is-playing-behind-me-and-will-you-adopt-me look the entire movie.
Alison: But it works.
Blake: It totally worked, But at a certain point, I was like, “Is this the part where they’re gonna play the sad music and he’s gonna make that face again?” And that totally happened over and over. And for the most part it was super successful in that way. I felt this kid’s story being lived out in a way that seemed mostly authentic.
Alison: Which is interesting, because once you listen to all of our eight storytellers, it’s nothing like that.
Blake: That’s right. And that’s what I was thinking about as I was watching this movie, I like, “Is this kid’s experience like or unlike those eight people that we interviewed?” And in that way, I think that the reality of the people that we interviewed, anyway, is that they’re lives are pretty complicated. And in a lot of cases we have people who are very upfront to tell you, “Look, I have made these mistakes. And I understand that this is my fault, that I’m in this position.” And then we have other people who are maybe dealing with certain issues of substance abuse, or dealing with certain choices that they’ve made that they’re not happy about. And they’re actually quite willing to discuss that.
Alison: Even those who are really kind of ensnared in legal systems, they seemed very forthcoming in talking about it. It kind of went back and forth . Some people, like you said, sort of saying, “This is my fault,” and other people saying, “The system’s got problems.”
Blake: And to be clear, in the interview process, at no point were we asking those kinds of questions. Often I found—I don’t know if you’d agree—but I would ask some question like, “Where are you from?” and the answer would be, “Well, I got out of jail,” or “The first time I tried this drug was…”
Alison: Trauma was coming up right away.
Blake: Trauma always came up right away, and we’ll have a whole episode on that, as well. And so in this movie, I found that all of the trauma was sort of intentionally shown to be someone else’s fault. Which was interesting.
Alison: That is interesting.
Blake: Like, the kid’s dad was in jail and wasn’t there for him. He’d get stuff stolen—which, by the way, happens all the time
Alison: And you’ll hear that from our storytellers.
Blake: For our eight storytellers. There is a question of an ID and how it’s used. And you’ll see that in episode 2 we talk about the logistical problems that many of these storytellers face. So that all rang true, but it felt like a very conscious move, to not show the kid as having had any role in his own demise.
Alison: Interesting. And I don’t think any of our storytellers said they had no role. Some people make it sound like it wasn’t only their own choices that have complicated their own lives, but no one said, “None of this is my fault.”
Blake: Right. And so that’s Homeless, the movie. And so I was thinking about that in preparation for this. And just scrolling through a lot of other stuff. I’ve got this song that I absolutely love. I wanna play it for you when we’re done. Or if you don’t already know it—you probably do. It’s a Tom Waits song called “On the Nickel.”
Blake: There’s an area of LA. Fifth Street. The homeless people who frequent that area call Fifth Street, “The Nickel.” And he wrote this, as he calls it himself, “a lullaby for the winos on Fifth Street.”
Alison: That’s an okay Tom Waits impersonation.
Blake: And there’s this great clip where he plays it live on TV and describes about how he wrote the song and the lyrics are particularly heartbreaking, and also, I think very evocative of many of the things that people might think of when they think of homeless people. Like, a certain disheveled quality, a certain kind of bad luck that only seems to happen to certain people.
Alison: A sort of unraveling?
Blake: A sort of unraveling. So, anyway, those are some of the touchstones that I’m coming to this with, and thinking about in comparison to the people we interviewed.
Alison: Yeah, and I think it would be neat, listeners, if, as you’re listening, you’re thinking of other movies or books or songs that you know of that depict homelessness and if you’re finding that the stories you’re hearing are different from those, it would be kind of cool to let us know about that.
Blake: Totally. I would be so—just in a selfish way, I would be so interested to hear what they are and to learn about them and to read them. I guess I’m curious, Alison: what would you say are some things that you would say that really stick out to you in remembering the interviews that you did?
Alison:Particularly, loneliness is one thing that really stuck out to me that, just hearing someone talk about it in more context, it really clicked for me. And a feeling of like, “Oh. I didn’t get it, and I still don’t get it.” What about yourself?
Blake: A lot of the same. I think we mentioned earlier that we were both surprised by how quickly trauma comes up unsolicited in these interviews. That certainly is one of the things I’ll remember most about this experience and that I’m curious to see if readers see it as well when they listen to these stories that we’ve got for you.
Beyond that, let’s see: I guess there’s something about the openness with which all of these people describe things that if I were talking about my life, I’d probably keep pretty close to the vest.
Blake: And I wonder: is there something about the experience of being homeless for some amount of time that leaves you less guarded in some way? I have no idea. I almost think it would be the opposite. So that was really surprising to me.
Alison: Absolutely. Yeah. I found that intimacy occurred very quickly, where people were telling me very intimate details that, as you said, I’d probably myself would choose to not speak aloud, honestly—or not not speak aloud, but—
Blake: But not divulge to a stranger, right?
Blake: So that was certainly interesting and I’m grateful for it. It brought a lot of humanity to the interviews that—I think it’s…out of context, it might be off-putting or it might even be, kind of, stereotypical, right, to imagine a homeless person on the street yelling out various intimacies of his life. But when you actually sit down and listen to those same sorts of things and they’re put into some kind of context, it’s suddenly extremely…intimate and extremely revealing of a kind of person that maybe you wouldn’t have thought had you just heard them saying the same things on the street.
Alison: Absolutely. And I think later near the end of this podcast we will talk a lot about storytelling in particular. And one of the questions we did try to ask all of our storytellers is, “What has it been like to tell your story?” So stay tuned for those answers.
Blake: And for sure, a lot of those answers are really telling about where they are in their lives and like, I think I used the word exigency earlier. Or kind of, like, will they have to tell their stories is really evident there.
So first I’ll introduce Donjuan. I met Donjuan while doing a resume for him at Saint Francis. He immediately struck me as someone who was interested in things that I’m interested in. I could easily imagine myself being friendly with him because he was interested in art. He was interested in cultivating an artistic sensibility, at the risk of putting it a little pretentiously. But he didn’t really bring that pretension at all. I mean, one of the things that we talked about off the cuff in the middle of this interview of his job experience so that we could help him get this stuff down on this paper, was Wes Anderson. He’s a huge Wes Anderson fan. And so am I, and so we just started to talk in the middle of this interview about Wes Anderson movies, and which ones we like, and what moments from them we thought were especially funny or great. And that led him to begin to talk about this project that he has in mind, this artistic project that he calls Four Seasons in a Day, which he actually will describe if you listen to his thirty-minute, edited interview. And so immediately at that point I knew, “Man, I really hope this guy wants to be interviewed, because I think he’ll have a lot of fun stuff to say.” And it turned out to be true. He certainly did. He’s a really soft-spoken guy, and I guess what I’ll do now is just play a little clip of him talking, and my hope is that this little bit will give you a sense of his personality a little bit, his character, that’s true to who he is.
Donjuan: I guess my mother just went off to New Mexico somewhere and just was into this little culture of some shamanism stuff and named me Donjuan like out the blue. She got away like, she like, “This one mine.” It is. Yeah, it’s a novel of a Yankee shaman, which I keep on me. It was crazy to find it back a while, because everybody always want to go to this Don Juan DeMarco and Don Juan some old other stuff since I was a kid. I was like, “No, no. I’m more shaman than –” I mean like I was named toward that where you’re going to find some sort of truth than trying to womanize or whatever. But I was always kind of in the gut of the city, so to speak, looking for things, trying to – curious. Even here, just curious and roaming.
Alison: One of the women that I spoke to, she, like Donjuan, she kind of had a very personal connection to her name, I suppose. She has chosen the name Lucky for herself—not as a pseudonym for the interview or anything, but she has decided to go by Lucky. She didn’t explain why. And when I spoke with Lucky, this was at The Gathering Place. And she was a person who—we had scheduled to speak maybe three or four times, and she kind of kept not showing up. And the first thing she said when she came in, on the day we did meet, was, “I almost didn’t come, but I decided I would.” And I’m really glad she did, and I think you will be too. I’ll let her introduce herself with just a snip from her story:
Lucky: I am a musician. I play cello and I’m a vocalist and I’m an audio engineer, graduated from University of Colorado, Denver. I always have my music ’cause my music is me. literally if you are the creator of something you always have that. And so I know if I get too down and out I can lean on the fact that I can burst into song at any moment to try to boost myself up.
I walk up and down the street singing and that’s what a lot of people will say about me. “You’ve always got your earphones in, walking up and down the street, listening to music, singing and stuff, screaming at the top of your lungs like a banshee.” And I’m just like, “Well, I can’t help it.” And I know that if I’m not pressed about a situation, whatever it is that I need usually comes to me so why not sing along the way?
Blake: Like Lucky, our next storyteller to introduce, whose name is Dale, also has connections to music as well, albeit in a very, very different way. When I listen to that clip from Lucky, I get the sense of a person who’s just really trying to exude a kind of positive energy, which her name even suggests. And for Dale, his connection to music feels much more as if it’s coming from a kind of engineering mind, which it is. Dale is a person who’s had all kinds of ups and downs in his life, mainly regarding his ownership of a business involving the selling of speakers. And he did it for a long time, to many different kinds of people. And here you’ll hear him talk about the process of going through that ownership process. You’ll hear him go through the process of becoming that kind of person.
Dale: And we sold – and I sold high-end audio equipment, I mean Crown, Face, Linear, Quad, Stacks. I mean those channel – I mean even now those are all really, really high-end lines. But my senior year I sold out of that and then I started a company called Essence. When I got into the audio world basically little else existed. I had – when I was a junior in Academy I was started to build my own speakers. And my first speaker was 20 – I got a big plastic ball and another plastic ball and I made a hollow, concrete box with a ten-inch coaxial Tannoy speaker in it. And that was my first speaker; I did that actually between my sophomore and junior years.
Alison: And I think Dale’s enthusiasm and that sort of—he almost describes it as a tunnel vision into this world of speaker-making, even at such a young age. It kind of reminded us of a woman I spoke with named Nicole. That is not her real name, we are using the name Nicole. For a very different reason, she ended up stuck in her room, which is when she came—she started to color, to start to use the adult coloring books. And then it became—she describes it as a coping method, as you’ll hear. And she also kind of talks about it in a similar way to Dale with the speakers of, you know the very different—arts. And so here’s Nicole speaking about coloring:
Nicole: Well, I got into the coloring books. I’ll give them to people. People that are special to me, I’ll give them pictures. If you get into the details of your pictures, you put a lot of thought into what colors you want to use and how you want to use them in the pictures — it’s the thought process in how you want it to come out or how you imagine it in your head and then to put it on paper. ’Cause one page will take me two or three days. And that’s how I cope with a lot of my stuff. When I get stressed out, I’ll color. Or if my mind starts thinking too much, coloring is how I cope with a lot of – just about everything, actually.
Blake: It’s really striking to listen to Nicole talking about coloring as coping. And this notion of coping is something that all of our storytellers at some point have had to do. And this next storyteller, Marissa, I think I’d say that one way that maybe she was able to cope was by becoming a kind of mentor to other people who’ve gone through a kind of lifestyle change like what she has—and she’s transgender. And so here you’ll hear her talk about a mentoring experience related to that part of her identity:
Marissa: I’ve had some transgender friends when I was younger. I’ll say this is the most mature ones I’ve been around. And the drag daughters which became transgenders made a better life than I did ’cause they’re so pretty. They’ve got their houses, husbands and things. It’s when they first start to become trans and they wanted to become trans kind of had it – I was mentoring them and I had my own place so sheltering them and feeding them and showing them that they’re worth it and you go out there and try ’cause, like I said, some of them has been born on a silver spoon and did not realize it until they talk to me and don’t like me for it but it’s the reality.
Alison: Yeah, and I think just as you said, Blake, that so many—probably all of our storytellers did kind of share their coping methods with us, a lot—many of them also expressed forms where they had been mentors, or where they had meeting with other people in mentoring roles, or particularly as mothers. Several or our speakers talk about—are parents being but—um, but I think some of our female storytellers as mothers were really passionate about how motherhood was affecting their experiences. This is absolutely the case for Analyn. Analyn is also a pseudonym, she didn’t want her name used in this podcast. So here’s a snippet from Analyn:
Analyn: Because I want my baby to have a baby daddy because I was divorced. I don’t want that to happen. I want a relationship to continue. But the problem is I have a back and forth with my husband. Put him in jail and get him out. This is not because I wanna be with him; this is because I still have no time. I don’t have the money yet. I don’t wanna go in a shelter and be kicked out and have no plan. I did everything I could. I thought I was gonna get my kid. And no, I lost it. And then, I didn’t get my kid. I lost my trial. I lose my trial. I lose my kids. Every lawyer that I have is denying my case. Every time they read it, they say, we believe that you were done wrong, but you can’t fight the system. It’s too much for us.
Blake: And I think you can see there in Analyn’s describing her own situation, how she’s kind of bumping up against authority in some way that’s very, very frustrating. And I would say that I see that in some other stories as well. That authority can take all kinds of forms but—I can remember, for example, Marissa having much to say about lawyers; Dale, the same way. And for our next storyteller that I introduce, Devin, I would say that that was certainly true. And in his case, I felt that it was clear that he had tried to internalize a lot of what he had gone through at the hands of an authority figure. And in this case, for him, that authority structure was really prison, and so here you’ll hear him talking about how he grew out of that experience:
Devin: During that prison sentence, I learned a lot about myself. I didn’t actually know myself. I was actually I call it a runner. A runner is always somebody else. I was lost. In those five and a half years, man, I learned a lot. What I really learned is that out of all the stuff you do in the streets, everything you do in the streets, when you get locked up in prison, all you’ve got is yourself. You’re away from the world. You need to realize that you’re there to find out what brought you to this point.
Alison: Devin’s self-reflection after the fact—you know, him looking back, a lot of our storytellers were doing that as they were telling us about their experiences. Our final storyteller that we were able to speak with for this project, Eryka, she also seemed to be doing a lot of self-reflection, but it seemed really present, too. Like, she really felt like she was in the process of—well, she was very confident, but it wasn’t like, “I know this from years back.” It was a very present confidence. Like, “This is who I am now.” And I’ll just let her speak for herself because she says it way better.
Eryka: I’m really confident. Aside from everything else going on, I love myself a lot and I know who I am, what I am. I know what my abilities are pretty much. Anybody would be lucky to have me as a friend, blah-blah-blah. But people shy away and I don’t understand it.
I’m by myself 90 percent of the time. The other ten percent is usually people that I know or run into from the other places and church. But I don’t rely on anybody for anything, except myself. Because at the end of the day, it’s me that’s responsible for me.
Blake: Okay, so you’ve just heard from each of our eight: Lucky, Nicole, Eryka, Analyn, Dale, Marissa, Donjuan, Devin. Not in that order, but, whatever.
Alison: There’s no order.
Blake: There is no order. So, just to remind you, those clips you’ve heard, they come from these thirty-minute edited sound files that came from the longer interviews that Alison and I conducted with these eight storytellers, and one of each of those eight, thirty-minute storytelling episodes, will be released in between each of these podcast episodes that Alison and I are recording, so the next thing—
Alison: That’s a little bit of a white lie, because once or twice you’ll get two storytellers between episodes.
Blake: That’s right. Just to make the numbers work, we will drop two of those in between these podcast episodes. So, that’s kind of the structure you can expect the rest of the way. So, right now, you’re listening to podcast Episode One. The next thing you’ll see is a release of one of these thirty-minute stories, and after that, Episode Two, and so forth.
We’ll try to do this every episode, listeners: we’ll leave you with a clip from one of those thirty-minute sound files from the storytellers. And so here we have a clip, and I don’t think we want to do any kind of introduction to it. We just want to leave you with it as a kind of thing to reflect on, think about, and hold onto until we talk to you again. Thanks so much for listening.
Alison: Until next time.
Eryka: I don’t have secrets. I don’t hold shit back. I gave you my real thoughts. And again, I signed up to do this, because I felt maybe people could benefit from meeting a real opinion, information coming from somebody that’s giving either their real thoughts and stuff, I guess, today.
Alison: For web design and sound support, thanks to Jonathan Howard.
Blake: Our theme music was composed by Geoff Stacks
Alison: For support for interview space and scheduling, thanks to Melanie Deem and The Gathering Place
Blake: And at St. Francis Center, thanks for Andrew Spinks for permissions and support. Also thanks to the DU—the University of Denver and its Executive Director, Doug Hesse.
Alison: And another special thanks to Juli Parrish , Director of the University of Denver Writing Center
Blake: Thanks also to Kateri McRae for sound support and equipment, and to Andrea Sanz for social media outreach and photography.
Alison: Thank you, Chris Bunch
Blake: And thank you, Sarah Hoffman. See you next week.