Episode 7: The Value of Narrative
Storytelling and the Circular Rambling
“I want people to know.”
[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, everyone, back to When you are homeless. This is episode 7, our final episode. We thought today that we would talk about how these storytellers described what it meant to them to tell their stories. There are lots of different ways that these people talked about that, and we wanted a chance to also just reflect maybe in a larger way about what the project has meant to us, perhaps to the storytellers themselves, and to give you who have been listening to the whole thing some kind of sense of what to make of it all really. But before we get into any of that, we know that you’ve just had a chance to listen to stories by Marissa and Analyn. So we wanted to talk about those just a bit, and I guess I’ll just ask you, Alison, what your thoughts were about Analyn, listening to it over again?
Alison: Yeah. Analyn’s story is really hard to listen to, and as I was listening to it again this time, I was thinking about how every time I listen to it, I feel very sad. And I feel like I need to be alone for a while. And I was wondering if listeners are maybe feeling this, too. That’s maybe one thing this podcast is doing is giving everyone the kind of time to listen to these stories in a slow way. And like, I have never once in my life listened to a podcast more than once, but I would like to recommend to everyone that you do listen to this storyteller’s stories more than once. Because Blake and I have been listening to them so many times, and I swear to God every time I listen to them again, I do get something new, and I heard something in a different way. So if you have a couple of extra hours, I really do recommend listening to—not Blake and me talking—but the ones in between, from Analyn and Dale and Don Juan and everyone we’ve been talking about in this podcast. I just think you get something new out of it. Anyway, returning to Analyn, unless you want to say something about that.
Blake: I would just add that part of the reason to do that is that there are these moments where it seems like you’re getting lulled to sleep by certain rhythms and cadence in the voice, and then some revelation will drop that floors you, and you cannot believe that it’s just among the other conversational tidbits, and that certainly happened to me this time listening to Analyn.
Alison: Yeah, yeah. One of the themes in Analyn’s that really struck me this time was how she mentioned twice these jokes that people try to make, and they’re awful in the context of her story. There’s the one where—so there’s this crazy tension between attempted humor and, like, her story is not funny. So, there’s the one where someone comes and doesn’t look in the fridge, and she repeats it so much. And he looks in the cupboard, and she’s like, “Why are you looking in there?” And he’s like, “Maybe your husband’s in there?” And she says, “Do you know my husband’s in jail?” Like, not amusing. And then the other one’s where she’s talking about her children, and people are like, “Oh, you must’ve not had TV, like because you had a baby every year.” And then she’s like, “Actually, I hate sex for these reasons. Sex is not, like, I don’t have children because I like having sex.” So she’s really like, it’s just not funny.
Blake: Yes, she turns these jokes on their heads really quickly. It’s true. There’s much to see in her story that seems unique to me. One, that she’s lived in so many places. Obviously she’s from the Philippines, but she’s lived in Manilla, Spain, Florida, Italy, Minnesota. Clearly, Denver. And so she brings with her a kind of experience that stands out to me among the eight storytellers we’ve described and that we’ve had a chance to talk to. By the same token, much of her experience resonates in a way that I think feels like it could happen anywhere. Her domestic abuse stories are, I think, sadly pretty common.
Blake: I don’t know. I don’t know what else to ask. I guess I have some other things to note but because you were the one to sit down with her, I’m curious to hear your thoughts first.
Alison: Yeah, I will probably talk about this a little bit more in the episode section actually but just about what it means for Analyn to tell her story but maybe in this section, I’ll stick to what I noticed again this most recent listen was how her story is confusing, and it’s like, like I remember when I was speaking with her, I was never really sure how many kids at one point she says nine and six and sometimes there seems to be three kids around. When I was listening to her and her story, so much about her horrible experience in social services, I really felt myself not wanting to ask for clarification because I felt like a very social service-y thing to do. So, kind of what I think is kind of important about her story is almost that it is confusing. And like resisting the need to clarify and like get everything down “straight.” You know?
Blake: Yeah, the memories are jumbled, and they’re all conflated into one big giant sort of constellation of confusion that adds up to a sense of a life lived in a way that’s somehow not just lacking but really somber, I think. One other thing I noticed as I was listening is just a moment where she’s describing the leaving of her husband, whom she was with for many years and who started out by not being abusive. That came later. And I think that’s really important to note that she didn’t choose someone who was abusive. That became a thing over time. And then during the worst of the abuse, she has this affair and this other guy who wants to marry her of course she can’t because she’s still married but she’s trying to decide how best to leave the abuser, and the way that she describes the making of that choice, I think it is really telling about maybe how domestic abuse often plays out. Like there are no good choices, and the choice she describes making is “should I tell him that I’m leaving or should I not?” And she goes back and forth about whether she should or shouldn’t and why and ultimately she chooses to tell him. And now, in retelling the story, she regrets that choice.
Blake: But the very fact that she has to make that choice is absurd, right?
Alison: And what’s so interesting about all of these moments she tells us about is that it becomes not just about her and her husband. Then the cops get involved. And I feel like that’s one of the layers that she’s like “I didn’t know that then. I know now I shouldn’t have done it this way because—
Blake: It just triggers all this bureaucratic interference or influence, which of course is well meaning but which leads to any number of complications for how she’s going to be able to get out of this pretty terrible situation.
Alison: Right. And the last thing I think we can talk about a little bit is how she copes and how there’s that moment where she says, “I don’t do alcohol. I don’t do drugs. Instead, I basically gather things.” I thought that was so sad because she connects that with—to me, it sounds like she’s connecting that with the moment social services says you don’t have food for your kids. And so now she’s like, “Oh, I have food. I have food. I have more food than I’m ever going to need.” And she goes and collects food that she doesn’t need. It really is this, like, connection to this trauma that happened to her.
Blake: Yeah, an obsessive need to sort of meet these requirements, it seems like maybe.
Alison: Yeah, I think so.
Blake: Well, you also heard from Marissa in the last week. And just a little bit of clarification on Marissa. Alison actually sat down with Marissa and I did the edits for the story, and so we both have had reason to be kind of intimately involved in thinking about her words and what they meant. So we both have I’m sure many things to think about. I’m curious I guess to ask you what it was like to sit down with her. One of the things I noticed as I was listening this time—and I think I noticed it before but it was more prominent this time—is that her voice and her attitude–God, I hope this sounds okay–it has a kind of like Mr. Rogers quality to it. And what I mean—
Alison: What do you mean?
Blake: What I mean by that is that she has these sort of like moments of seemingly innocent wisdom.
Blake: But they’re actually quite wise, and they seem to be breaking things down in this way that can at times feel simple until you put it in the larger context of the complexity of her life. And having just you know having recently watched the documentary about Mr. Rogers knowing that there’s a movie out about his life played by Tom Hanks, I’m just aware of this kind of like renaissance of remembering Mr. Rogers as this important cultural figure who dispensed wisdom to kids but also in a way to the parents.
Blake: I feel like people are coming to this point of realizing that he was always talking to both. And I was listening to Marissa this time around, I thought, God, she’s really talking about a lot of things in this way that feels how best to put it—educational in the best possible sense of that word.
Alison: Wow, yeah.
Blake: I’m trying to give you an example right now. Like, for example, she says, “One thing that can make it harder for yourself is if you deal drugs. Another thing . . .” Right, she has this kind of cadence to her talk, you know, she’s telling you that because it’s true. It’s been true for her.
Alison: Right, right.
Blake: I don’t want to linger too long on this, but I’m just noticing what I picked up and wondering how you picked up on her cadence, her rhythm, her kind of attitude toward life as you were listening to her in the moment.
Alison: Interesting. I did not see Mr. Rogers coming. When we spoke, near the end, you can hear this rattling, and there was this kind of jewelry in the room we were talking in, and she went right for it, and she was just playing with jewelry the whole time, and I remember there not being a lot of eye contact, which maybe changes the way you would envision like a Mr. Rogers—
Alison: —kind of conversation. But you’re right and I think also there’s so much repetition in her story, and that’s part of what you’re noticing—
Blake: I see.
Alison: —is this. And she always kind of balances things out. Some good, some bad.
Alison: Which does seem to add to the wisdom, I think.
Blake: Right. There’s this notion that I need to be balanced and portraying things both in terms of her own life but also in terms of for example her judgment on services, right? Like, she has many great things to say about the Dolores Apartments, I remember, and she balances that out by saying things about Samaritan House that she’s heard that feel not so great.
Alison: And her discussion about the lottery system is really interesting to compare with Eryka’s.
Blake: Totally. Completely different, right?
Alison: Eryka’s pissed, and she’s, like, like this is stupid. And Marissa’s kind of like, “It’s a lottery.” Maybe you could do your Mr. Roger’s impression again. ☺
Blake: “Yeah, you have to try every week, and sometimes you get in and sometimes you don’t and you just have to keep trying and maybe eventually you’ll get a chance to be in the apartments.”
Alison: That’s pretty good.
Blake: Yeah. I mean, I much appreciated it. It was a very comforting voice to listen to. Both for those associations but also for its kind of confidence about itself.
Alison: True. And she mentioned so many times how she’s strong and how her background made her strong. Like I think she first starts talking about her family, and she says, “My family should have been there but instead I was there for them.”
Alison: And then like she kind of goes back and forth between how her family has done wrong by her and then how the court systems do wrong by her.
Alison: And a lot about but even though she never sounds upset. It’s very, like, “This is how it is.”
Blake: Right. Yeah, there’s that wisdom. I keep using that word. I should use a different one. There’s that, like—
Alison: Sense of being wise [laughs]
Blake: —um, there’s also this set of things that she has to say about being transgender that feels very, um, considered. We’ve talked before on this program about her being this kind of like mentor to young, transgendered people. But there’s more to it than that, too. I think there’s a part where she describes kind of the fun of being, as she calls it, like, being bitchy with the other “transgenders,” as she calls them. And the fun of that, the kind of like playfulness of it. That felt very just joyful for her.
Blake: In a way, that was quite sweet, I thought.
Alison: She does seem very good at finding moments of joy. Like, she goes to the movies. I just love how she brought up going to the movies. She was like, “I thought it would be a good thing do and eat popcorn.”
Blake: Yeah, I don’t know if you can catch it in how we’ve edited this but, like, you were like, “Oh, well, what movie?” And she couldn’t even remember it. And it took her a little while, and she finally came around to it. But the point was just like just to go out and be in public and do a thing that involves no stress.
Alison: And it seems everyone thinks homeless people shouldn’t be allowed to or supposed to or able to do.
Blake: Totally. That’s right. Well, um, so those are I guess either some of our thoughts about those two stories or if you haven’t listened maybe you can take them as teasers and an excuse to decide to go back and listen to those for the first time and see what you missed.
We did mention that this will be our final episode, and as we’re preparing for it the last couple of days, Alison and I have been just kind of wondering what’s the best way not really to put a bow on it, because there is no such thing that you can do here, but how best to get you all out there to think in a way that feels maybe authentic to the kinds of stories that you’ve heard. And, like, are these even stories, or are these sort of like one-hour-long rants by people who are frustrated with their lives but who also have things to tell you that are joyful. Like, how best to even give a sense of what we think this has been?
And we continued to think about this. But for now, we’re going to start this by I think describing or giving you some excerpts in which our eight storytellers talk about what it meant to them to tell their stories like what value was there inherently and in some cases you’ll see explicit references to the telling of the story and then others because there was no such explicit reference from these particular people, we’ll give you some excerpts that we’ll kind of interpret a little bit and try to imagine ways that they have something to do these excerpts with this notion of what it meant to them to tell their stories. Hopefully, that’ll give you some sense of value to the project beyond the telling of the story for its own sake, which I think we should also mention as a real thing that I know I have. I feel value when I tell a story to someone. Just having told it mattered. So, with that said, I guess we’ll go ahead and start. Um, Alison, did you want to start us off maybe?
Alison: Yeah, sure. First, we’re going actually keep hearing from Marissa, what it felt like for Marissa to tell her story. Kind of keeping in mind I think it’s important with Marissa, all her experience with the court and how clearly she feels like it hasn’t been a good experience with the court system and so there’s always this tension between details on the page and what a person’s actual story is. It’s kind of the trope, right, like, that’s one of the problems with the system, I think, is that there isn’t the time to hear everyone’s story. You have to fit it all onto a document.
Blake: Yeah, I remember, just quickly, I remember that she was very keen to say, “Well, the lawyer listened.” That was very important, that he had listened to what she had to say.
Alison: Oh yeah, yeah, yeah. So here is Marissa talking about what it felt like to tell her story:
Marissa [recorded previously]:
I feel relieved, like a weight lifted off me. I’m tired right now. I felt like I’ve accomplished some things for some people if the story gets out there, the different sides. The world, I would like them to see – not to be so judgmental, to see really the problem is or it might not be the problem and then the other person has a problem. I just go through what they’re going through or understand that everybody suffers no matter what situation.
Alison: I think that several of our storytellers, as you’ll hear, they do talk about, you know, telling a story they’re hoping that other people will see things differently as Marissa does, but as you said earlier, Blake, things Marissa says seem kind of simple and then when you put them in the context of her story, they kind of compound—
Blake: It resonates in a certain way for sure, differently. You understand that there’s complexity behind that statement.
Alison: So I think in what she just said, the court system, there’s her family, there’s being trans, there’s having a lover in prison, there’s . . . yeah.
Alison: And then next we’re listening to Analyn, and I do want to say when I first sat down with Analyn, she was like, “An hour’s not enough.” And she very strongly wanted to do a giant project of telling her story and someone publishing it. I told her, “That ain’t me.” But if anyone’s out there, seriously, if you wanted to sit down with Analyn, I don’t think there’s going to be any money in it, but she’s looking for someone to tell her story. I think her main audience is maybe social services, but I think she also knows her story is unique and needs to be told. So she’s looking for someone to collaborate with.
Blake: And you know I just came from St. Francis Center where a woman sat down with me and she wanted me to help her fill out a form that she needed to bring to a doctor so they would pay for her services given some circumstance, and unsolicited, she just went into this story. It took her probably 25 minutes to tell it about this horrific abuse, she’s suffered that’s caused her to need to go to the dentist. She told me her name. She told me about seven or eight things about the last 20 years of her life, and I think to bring that up now because the way that she had this real just need to be heard. It sounds like the way you’re describing Analyn.
Alison: Yep. I think that’s right.
Blake: And that happens all the time at these shelters, it really does.
Alison: If you think about it, people are encountering, if it’s at the doctor’s office or someone at social services. They’re on timelines and they have five minutes, and I don’t have time to hear this story. So here’s Analyn talking about what it felt like to tell her story.
Analyn [recorded previously] :
And, hopefully, someone out there can help me get my kids. I cannot do it alone. But the problem is not over yet. That’s my children. I wanna move them away from where they at because I know they being abused. There’s only one mother on earth that can give that love to your children. I know now.
But if someone out there is willing to get the kid who is being abused, try to look at it a little bit differently or help the person who need it the most instead of leave the children – oh, she put the kid endangerment. You don’t know what goes in that story. You don’t know what the woman goes through.
Blake: That you don’t know—that repetition that’s at the heart of a few of these stories, a sense of like, “I need to let you know some things that you don’t know. You probably have it wrong in your head, and you don’t know and I do and let me tell you.” Right?
Alison: Yep. And I think Analyn’s is the most tangible, for lack of a better word, and urgent of any of our storytellers. She’s like, “Seriously, people need to know what’s happening with social services and how they screwed me over.”
Blake: That’s right. That’s right. One more quick story along those lines, I once worked repeatedly with a man who was absolutely insistent that I help him tell the story of organized crime in New York. And he had lived there and he had been married to a woman who was connected to the mafia, and he would come every day with all these papers he had that in his mind proved this thing that was true. And he wanted to write a book that was sort of a memoir, and he really was like, “No, this needs to be about how the laws need to change with regard to this issue, and I’m going to walk you through all the things.” So yeah, I think in that way, I can point to evidence that Analyn’s story’s certainly not the only one of that type. We’re going to turn now to Devin. And Devin doesn’t have anything that he says explicitly about what it was like to tell his stories, but there are a couple of excerpts that I’m going to include here and talk around as a way of kind of making a case of what I think was most important for him in telling the story. I’ll just give you the first quote, and then talk around it a bit.
Devin [recorded previously]:
I like trucking because it’s very good money. But I’m really asking myself, “Is that what you really, really, really want to do? Is that a reason that you should get that license and try to be a driver like that? Because, you didn’t pass trucking school the first time. You never tried to embrace it again back home.”
Blake: That use of the “you” like he’s talking to himself in this moment. I mean, he’s being interviewed by me and he’s telling me his story, but in this moment he’s not talking to me. He’s talking to himself about what he really, really, really wants to do. And I very much got the sense in other parts of the interview with him with his telling of his story that he was keen to figure it out and he was very passionate about figuring it out even if he didn’t yet quite know what the thing was that he would want to do with his life. And again, Devin was really very young. I’d put him somewhere between 22 and 26.
Alison: Wow. I was picturing a little older. That’s interesting.
Blake: Yeah. He was not that old at all. And so he’s you can see I think in that quote kind of asking himself this question. And then later in the interview he seems to come to some kind of like more decisive understanding of what he might want to do. And so I’ll play a clip in which you see that happen.
Devin [recorded previously]:
I’m out here in the world still looking for jobs. I still wake up in the morning and get out of my bed. I still give people an attitude. I know it’s hard. I know people that can’t even do that. Their emotions have them so caught up that they don’t do nothing but sit in one spot and just down themselves. I want to be an individual that can enlighten them and just give people a push. I’m not going to be no specialized, big vocabulary word person. I’m going to give it to them straight up. How do you get through situations? I just wanted to give up on everything. I’m tired. I just want to die. I’ve been in those stages. The only thing that got me out of that was good music, talking to good people like Miss Shelby. I had to believe in myself.
Blake: And there are a couple of things about that quote that really stand out to me. For one, you see that the way that he got out of this bad place that he’s describing is in part by telling his story to Miss Shelby. And Miss Shelby appears elsewhere in his story as a central figure of someone who, like, really helped him. And clearly, part of how she was able to do that had to do with listening to him. And that was very important. He seems to have taken a lesson out of it. That he wants to be that for other people. And so, the larger context for this quote is that he was talking about the possibility of becoming this kind of like, social services peer services type of person to people in need. That’s a thing that he sees that he might want to do. And so interestingly, for Devin, it seems that telling his story and getting comfortable with it for the hour seems to have been part of the way that he comes to the notion that, “Wow, maybe I could actually listen to other stories like this.”
Alison: Right. And that would be the work of being a peer social worker, whatever the title is.
Blake: Right, and he seemed very passionate and maybe even more concrete about this idea than any other, aside from the poem that he read. Of any of the other ideas that he put out there for himself. So, that felts significant to me. Again, that could just be me reading into it. But that’s what I took from sitting down with him.
Alison: And you were saying that he did feel more relaxed by the end of the hour, right?
Blake: He did, I thought. I thought so.
Alison: Next, we have Eryka. Perhaps we’ll hear from her and then we’ll discuss it a little bit after. This is Eryka talking about storytelling, telling her own story.
Eryka [recorded previously]:
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 from somebody that’s giving either their real thoughts and stuff, I guess, today.
I know even if there’s one person that listens to, talk, or reads whatever, it’s gonna make somebody think about something a little bit differently _____ not look at every fucking person walking the street _____ _____ [inaudible due to public announcement] as a fucking junkie that just doesn’t want to work or something. I’m all about having people open up their minds and view situations different _____ their thoughts in a different area
Don’t be so judgmental _____ something. You don’t know what the person that – you just called them bum. You don’t know what somebody’s going through or what their thought process is.
Alison: So we have that theme again of people wanting their story to be heard, so in that sense of, “You don’t know” that we talked about. “You don’t know. You don’t know what it’s like.” One of the things I think is really interesting about what we just heard from Eryka when she says that “I don’t have secrets. I don’t hold shit back.” It made me think about what we heard talking about a few episodes ago and how she wonders why she’s intimidating and I think it’s in our culture that holding shit back is a way to be successful. It’s a way to get in certain doors depending on what your shit is. Right? And so I’m just wondering if that is adding to why she’s intimidating to some people. And then how that kind of relates to storytelling in general.
Blake: That’s really interesting, the social withholding. I think one way that hers kind of furthers what we saw earlier from Analyn and from others, this notion of “you don’t know,” and how the point of the story is to get people to know. She wants to change people’s minds it seems and there’s this line, “Don’t be so judgmental.” She clearly feels judged. And I think that’s true for a lot of our storytellers. They feel judged. And so they’re very sensitive to not doing that themselves. And trying to get people to not do that to them. And that feels like a large part of why she told her story. “Look. I want you to know my story so that you don’t judge me so quickly so that you feel like you maybe have a little bit of a quicker trigger when it comes to coming to conclusions about the people you see on the street.”
Alison: And interestingly, we talked about this earlier about Eryka too. Yet she is also judging other people experiencing homeless. She really, she’s like, “Don’t judge me. I’m not like them,” equals judging them.
Blake: That’s right. That’s right.
Alison: I wonder if that’s adding to that intensity. That sort of ironic loop.
Blake: Next we have Dale, who, again, didn’t mention anything specific to what it meant to tell his story but who did wax poetic on a number of things if you listened to his story. One of them being this question of, I think, judgement, empathy, that I’ll come around to after I give the quote.
Dale [recorded previously]:
So no, I think – I mean if you live in a place where you’re eating well and you’ve got a good place to live and you drive a nice car, basically you have a wall of your vested interest where you don’t even see people that are on the street. I’ll give you an example – get this: I had some people – I was in real trouble – and I said, “I need to get taken to Porter Hospital.” I was at St. Francis Center and I said, “I will be right out, sitting by the door.” These people came down and looked for me for over two hours and they couldn’t even see me. They couldn’t even see me. And I was sitting right there. I think that tells you a little bit. (Interviewer: “It does. It says quite a lot.”)
Blake: I think for Dale, this story that he told me, it was absolutely about being seen. He had so much urgency to how he told this story to how he told every part of it. And this is you know, this is where this story ends. These are the final lines of his story. I think that urgency that others would equate to changing people’s minds for Dale. I don’t know if it’s about changing people’s mind. I think he’s quite certain that people aren’t going to change. He wants to vent. He want to say, “This is what it’s like to be in my situation. You don’t get seen. See me now. Hear me now. This is what I have to say.”
Alison: True. It does still feel sort of like—it does feel like another form of “You don’t know.” But it’s with a slant, right, because it’s like he understands. He’s made it very clear he’s lived a very different life before with this wall of vested interest, as he puts it.
Blake: That’s right.
Alison: He’s had some high dollar bill living, and—
Blake: Yeah, I think it’s true. I think that when you hear him say those words, when you live in a place where you’re eating well and you’ve got a good place to live, he’s not just talking about some abstract thing that he notices when people look at him now.
Alison: He’s been there.
Blake: He’s thinking about himself and how he used to be.
Alison: Right. So it’s a different implication, I think, of other people, right? It’s not the “You don’t know.” It is the “You Don’t know,” and I’m finding it hard to articulate it. There’s something else going on there. I think you probably already said it, Blake, and I’m just walking around it with my words.
Blake: He’s definitely frustrated. You can hear it. The tone of voice tells it all.
Alison: Maybe we’ll just let that hang, and you listeners can fill in my words that I couldn’t find. The next person we’ll hear from is Nicole. She made it clear that she has experienced homelessness a couple of different times in her life. So, this is her explaining what it’s like to tell her story.
Nicole [recorded previously]:
It’s kind of a bittersweet thing because it brings up old emotions, but I want people to know. If there’s somebody else that has a similar situation, they know that they’re not the only person in that situation. I feel that way a lot.
Alison: So I noticed a couple of interesting things in that. It seems many of the people we’ve heard from so far are talking to Blake and Alison, Blake or Alison, and people like Blake and Alison who are not experiencing homelessness. Nicole seems to be speaking to other people experiencing homelessness. And so that there’s not the only person in that situation.
Blake: Yeah, that’s beautiful for her to think in that way, despite the fact that in the moment she’s talking to you. For her to have that kind of awareness that this story’s going to be bigger than this moment in which she’s telling it.
Alison: It’s very optimistic of her. I appreciate that.
Blake: I appreciate her statement as well. And it does I think pretty clearly distinguish this storyteller from others in that way. And it makes me think to more directly address any listeners out there who might be homeless. We’d be very curious to hear from you what you think about how we’ve framed these issues. What you think about these eight stories that you’ve heard. We would just really enjoy hearing from you, I think.
Alison: Please do reach out in whatever way, website or whatever. One more thing I wanted to say about Nicole’s is the bittersweet thing and it brings up bold emotions, the fact that it can be hard to tell your story, and some people don’t because it’s hard. And because it’s traumatic and going back there is a traumatic thing. So I think Nicole more than anyone notes that.
Blake: Right. Whereas Dale really is just going to jump into the most traumatic stuff because he wants—and we’ve talked on this show many times before how often trauma would just come up unsolicited. You got the sense from Nicole that it was a very calculated decision to do it. And here you can see her explaining why because she sees value in it for other people in her situation. So you can really see her story as a kind of an act of selflessness perhaps.
Alison: I think that’s true.
Blake: Our next excerpt is from Don Juan, and much as with others that I’ve described, this one isn’t precisely what it was like for him to tell his story, though it does get at things that I think are connected to storytelling, which is why I included it. Here’s the quote, and again I’ll talk about it afterward.
Don Juan [recorded previously]:
It’s a great guy. Matter of fact, I’ve got to remember him because he’s maybe fourth on my list of inspirational people for me. Mr. Lufrial, number one, World History teacher. He was also New Greek, New Latin. He had an archeology degree and he was an anthropologist. He took pictures with his family every summer all over the world. He number one. Piet den Blanken, my favorite photojournalist. Awesome. Then, Anthony Bourdain was number three, because he stole my job. That’s my freaking brainchild. I guess he had it before me. [Laughs] But that was it. That’s what I went to school to – Piet den Blanken, photojournalist. My high school teacher, anthropologist, archeologist, take his family to take pictures and write stuff all throughout the summer. Anthony Bourdain. All three of them carry the core of what I enjoy doing.
Blake: And what do all three have at their core? I think that they’re all storytellers. This history teacher who takes photographs and uses them to tell the story of his family; Piet den Blanken, the famous photojournalist who tells the story of other people from across the world for many decades; Anthony Bourdain, beloved of CNN’s Parts Unknown that tells the story of cultures of around the world. I mean knowing those source materials is clearly so important to him and they speak with such inspirational verve to what he wants to do with his life. He wants to tell stories too, and if you remember his story you’ll remember him talking about Four Seasons and a Day as this project, this—essentially, a photojournalism project that he has in mind. That in his mind would tell a story not only of something external to him but about his own journey of becoming a storyteller. It’s at the core, as he says, it’s at the core of who he wants to be and what he enjoys doing.
Alison: I was just going to emphasize he says all three of them carry the core of what I enjoy doing. That’s such a Don Juan way of putting it. Because he’s such a journey-er . And you can tell he’s carrying things with him, and he’s always kind of seeking something to do with what he’s carrying. I don’t know if you’d agree with that description.
Blake: I do.
Alison: This is kind of neither here nor there, but I am wondering did you talk to Don Juan before or after Anthony Bourdain passed?
Blake: Oh, gosh. What a good question. Bourdain died in March, right?
Alison: I don’t know.
Blake: I think so. I think this would have been before, so I don’t think that he would have been in any way eulogizing him.
Alison: Yeah, yeah.
Blake: He would have just been kind of like endearingly jealous of this life.
Alison: And then, the last we’ll hear from his Lucky. And as we’ve talked about several times, Lucky is clearly a very natural storyteller, the way she takes her time and sets up the moments you can tell she’s just she knows what she’s doing, like she is this storyteller. Um, and I think from this quote, we might understand a little bit more why it seems like she does tell her story often. This wasn’t a unique experience for her, I don’t think.
Blake: I see.
Alison: So, we’ll listen to Lucky and then discuss a little bit after.
Lucky [recorded previously]:
I feel like I do expose a lot of myself to people. I talk a lot about myself and a lot about my daughter and a lot about what I want to do in life. So a lot of random people will know my story. ‘Cause it’s something that ails me and pains me, but it’s also something that is a trial that I’m happy that I had to go through. And it’s an enlightened story. It’s a happy story still. A young lady just trying to find her place. There’s nothing wrong with that, just as long as it happens before you destroy another young lady’s life. My daughter. So I feel like the more I talk about it, the more upfront it is right there in my face and I can’t run from it. And the support of The Gathering Place, the support of House of Purpose, the support of church and fellowshipping with other human beings and like-minded people in any way sitting down at the table and having a cup of coffee to me and you here, me telling you my story, it all helps. It really does.
Alison: Yeah, I feel like Lucky is doing what I think we were she’s expressing what I think, Blake, you and I were hoping would be a big part of this project is that storytelling would be helping to the people telling their stories.
Alison: And Lucky already knows that, and maybe that is why she chose to come.
Blake: Yeah, she’s got such an awareness of herself and such a tendency as you can see there to frame her own life as a story. Right? I am living a story and this is what this story is and somehow the framing of the story in that way helps her understand where she’s trying to go.
Alison: Yeah. You’re reminding me of a moment in her story. She talks about when her mom relapses. And she says, “I don’t know why she chose to do that. That’s her story, but this is my story.” And then she keeps talking.
Blake: Right. Yeah. That ownership. She’s owning who she is. It’s a way of creating an identity for herself that she feels like the right one from which to emerge out of what she’s in. Her daughter being at the heart of that, I believe. And then, that final line of how, like, her being here telling her story to you is a large part of what helps. I think for someone like this, it’s absolutely the case. I do think we should acknowledge that not all of them—not all of our storytellers—and by the way, we keep calling them “storytellers,” there’s a number of ways you can think about who they are—people experiencing homelessness or, crassly, “homeless,”
Blake: There’s so many ways to think about who they were. We made a conscious decision at the beginning of this project that we would call them “storytellers.” And here we are at the very end of the last episode kind of questioning our own decision to do that. I think that there’s no doubt that Lucky would call herself a storyteller. I don’t know that every other person we interviewed would call themselves that. Which raises a kind of larger issue about what does it even mean to talk about your life as a homeless person, how is that either a story or not a story? How is it maybe something else?
Alison: And how are we calling it a storym when we don’t even know where we are in this story. If a life story is birth to death, we don’t know where we are.
Blake: What is the beginning, middle, or end of any of the things you have been listening to? And I know that we have in mind to leave you listeners with a kind of quote that comes from Travels with Lizbeth, a memoir by Lars Eighner that I’ve cited before on this show and talked about. And there are many moments in that man’s kind of epic journey in which he stops because he has plenty of time on his hands from moment to moment to reflect on, like, what is the nature of even of this story that I’m telling you. And he has this quote about, you know, what is the shape of a story of a homeless person? Is there a shape? And it’s super depressing, and before we give it to you because we’re kind of thinking that it might end the show, we want to talk about some of these notions, I think, a little bit, and leave it to you to maybe just listen to Lars Eighner, who by the way, is going to be read by Geoff Stacks. His quote will be read by Geoff Stacks, who is responsible for all of the music on this show. If you have been listening to the credits, you will have heard his name. We love Geoff and he’s been great to us and the composition of this music. And he also just has a better voice I think than either of us.
Alison: I think it’s true. He has proven that to be the case.
Blake: We have wanted him to get the last word for sure. But while we’re talking about this issue of the shape of a homeless person’s story, I wonder if you’ve had any thoughts about that, Alison.
Alison: Well, I don’t know if this kind of revealing what the quotation does that we’re going to use, but it does bring up the issue of deus ex machina, which, Blake, you and I were talking earlier what does that mean for a person experiencing homelessness and you brought up earlier the kind of cliché is like “Oh well, if I win the lotto my story will turn around. And everything will be better.” It’s kind of said tongue-in-cheek, I think, mostly because we know we won’t win the lotto but also because we all know it won’t really change everything. Um, but so I mean we’ve—Blake and I really just have been chatting in like really wondering, like, what would change Dale’s story, what would be the break for Lucky, what would does Don Juan, is there one thing Don Juan needs?
Blake: Right. Like, does he need some kind of assistance that he’s not getting? Is it what he really needs just like one landlord to—
Alison: Cut him a break.
Blake: —irrationally and generous cut him a break.
Alison: Not do credit checks.
Blake: Right. Is this really the thing, right? Are all these people waiting for just some sort of outside force to kind of unbelievably shift things seismically for them such that all their plans can at least be attempted?
Alison: Right. And then, returning to the idea of story, if that one thing exists, is that the beginning of a story or the end of a story, is it the middle of a story? Obviously, we don’t know. But these thoughts have really been on our minds as we’ve been creating many stories and then trying to sort of create the larger story of this podcast but it not really having a center to hold it, really.
Blake: That’s a great way to put it. Yeah, what is the center of this? I guess you made it, guys! You made it to the end. I guess, thank you!
Alison: Is anyone listening? ☺
Blake: Hello, hello? I guess what we hope from you in leaving you with this quote I just leaving you with a question. And so here then is Geoff Stacks reading an excerpt from Travels with Lizbeth by Lars Eighner. Thanks again so much for being a part of this journey with us.
Alison: Yes. Thank you for listening, and please reach out.
Blake: Yeah, we’d love to hear from you.
Geoff Stacks [recorded previously]:
Home is the natural destination of any homeless person. But nothing can be done in a day, in a week, in a year to get nearer that destination. No perceptible progress can be made. In the absence of progress, time is nearly meaningless. Some days are more comfortable than others. And that is all the difference. A homeless life has no storyline. It is a pointless, circular rambling about the stage that can be brought to a happy conclusion only by Deus ex machina. Lars Eighner.
[exit music starts]
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.
Deus ex machina
Travels with Lizbeth by Lars Eighner