“I Need A Dollar”

Every so often an artist captures a complex problem in a simple way. I’m in awe of the photo or sketch that conveys nuances in a glance, and of the poem, song or piece of flash fiction that evokes layers of meaning in its few words. The best of popular music manages this, I think. I put the song “I Need A Dollar” by Aloe Blacc in this small group.

Working hard, can’t get a break, can’t get ahead. Why is it all around me? Substance abuse for comfort? Substance abuse as part of the problem? Which came first? Is this life’s plan for me? Do I get some kind of reward after death for my perseverance? Or perhaps not. Maybe I should just give up now? Too tired to think it through. Another drink? Another day. It has to get better. Doesn’t it?

unlevelI hear a lot of questions in this song, and a lot of anguish, and the odd hope that the teller’s tale might be worth a few dollars in the end. Yes, it is a song to think about when you contemplate building a level playing field in this world.

Which brings me to the fact that I recently began volunteering at a shelter, and yesterday one of the employees discovered that I was from Houston. She felt compelled to share with me that Houston is the home of her favorite minister, someone I had never heard of named Joel Osteen.LAKEWOOD-CHURCH I’m not big on evangelical ministers or mega churches, but she went on about how great this guy was, so I looked him up. Yup, he has about 43,000 people in his church, is worth about 56 million, and lives in a ten million dollar home. What a great man. And, as the shelter worker pointed out to me, his wife is gorgeous, too.

Okay. Given what I know of evangelical churches, I suspect that most of this man’s money has come from people who desperately “need a dollar” and have been persuaded by him to tithe the tiny bits of what they do have to one who promises to bring them better fortune in this life or the next. Clearly, the person who is getting better fortune out of this is Mr. Osteen.

bottleYes, people can do anything they want with their limited income, and yes, most probably get some sort of comfort from this guy. At least I hope that they do. None-the-less I found his very existence to be even more discouraging than the verse about the singer’s good friends whiskey and wine. There are so many shitty ways to take money from the tired and discouraged who barely have it. And we keep coming up with more.

So many ways to lose. Maybe not a single way to win. Is this the way HAS to be?

So I listened to the song again, hoping that maybe Aloe Blacc had hidden an answer of some sort in with all his questions.

No, not really. But I continue to admire a singer/songwriter who at least asks the questions well.

(Note: I refer to the song “I Need A Dollar” in my book y2. Enjoy this excerpt and the link to my favorite video of the song which follows.)

Afi, meanwhile, had used most of his remaining cash to buy a used bicycle at a thrift store that he found near their rent-by-the-week apartment. Joy was annoyed at the frivolity of the purchase and said so, until Afi pointed out with a trace of irritation that he was trying to find a way to contribute. If he could get around, he might be allowed to perform for tips at one of the tourist places, bringing in at least a little cash under the table while she sought out the more dependable teaching work for which she was qualified.

She apologized with a simple “I’m sorry” but that evening as she watched him head off to towards the nice hotels on his beat up bike with his fire knife dancing supplies on his back, the Aloe Blacc song “I Need a Dollar” played in her head. As she sang along to the lyrics of a man desperate to make ends meet, she thought that perhaps she had sold Afi short by not recognizing his talents or his ingenuity. She owed it to him not to make that mistake again.

Late that night they shared a mattress and the comfort of worrying together.

This video of Aloe Blacc performing “I Need a Dollar” with The Grand Scheme at Southpaw in Brooklyn, New York, lets you see the artist close up and feel the fun he has performing this serious song. But the best part is the last two minutes, when he mentions his Jamaican roots and then adds on a short version of the song, reggae style. His compassion comes through along with his smile.

My Imaginary Time in Witness Protection

I finally figured it out. When I first moved here five months ago I thought that my main problem was exhaustion. I had been working long hours, living various places, and moving heavy things for months before the move. I would be happy here just as soon as I got caught up on sleep. Or as soon as I got finally got unpacked, or found the right drapes and got them hung.

Psychedelic 14After a few weeks, I realized that my restlessness wasn’t just caused by fatigue. I had left friends and family a thousand miles behind. I had no cell phone coverage and no land line. I knew no one here, and no one I knew had ever been here. I’ve died, I thought. This feels like I’ve died. Well, my husband was here with me, equally discombobulated. Maybe we’d died together? Scenes from the movie “The Sixth Sense” kept running through my head. Was it possible?

I looked out the window and saw the gorgeous mountains and bright blue sky and amended my assessment. Clearly if I’d died, I’d gone to heaven, whatever that was, and I should be happy. There were reportedly far worse alternatives. But I still just felt confused and disconnected. Being in heaven didn’t turn out to be such a great thing.

I was also unemployed, by choice, and this should have made me wildly, deliriously joyous but it didn’t. I had hoped to write for forty to sixty hours a week, but the open expanse of time was overwhelming and for the first time in my life I could barely write for an hour.  I signed up for yoga classes mostly for an excuse to get dressed, look at a clock, and get out of the house. The yoga turned out to be wonderful on many more levels, and one day one of the wiser instructors managed to give me a key clue to my dilemma.

“Today, let go of whatever it is that defines you, to you,” the instructor suggested.

That’s it! I almost said it aloud. What defines me to me! It was my job. Rather my profession and all the people who knew me as such. It was where I had lived. It was the places I liked to go, for lunch and ice cream and shopping. It was the clothes I wore to work and my habits and the way I lived my week and now all of that was gone.

It made perfect sense. I’d come to define myself by a fairly shallow set of behaviors and now that I had none of them, I needed to redefine me and I wasn’t doing a particularly good job of it.

I’ve gone into Witness Protection, I thought. Nice home, just enough money, and none of my old self to fall back on. No one knows me here, or knows what I can do. I’ve lost myself and I need to make a new me.

I mean, being in witness protection is an amazing opportunity if you think about it.  You get to leave a lot of baggage behind. You can be nicer, more fit, interested in birds or herbs or any old thing you want and no one is going to ask “What’s gotten into you?”

A little bit of looking around established that a lot of people of all ages have moved to this area, and some have taken on some amazing challenges once they did so. Who knows what they were like before. I could redefine me too.

What do I want to be? Well, I am and always will be a writer and now that I’m making sense of the void that intimidated me at first, the writing ought to come more easily. But writing will also always be a solitary part of me, and it’s the social, interactive parts that are needing the fleshing out.

I’d already taken steps to reconnect with loved ones.  I’d gotten a new cell phone carrier with coverage at my house. Some friends and family came to visit and that helped and now I’m making plans to visit some of them. But I had to figure out what else defined me besides a connection with those who will always be close to me.

bolder7Well, I want to help people; I want to put something back for all the good fortune that I’ve had. So over the last week I’ve found four or five volunteer opportunities I’m excited about and looking into. It turns out that I don’t like being broke or never working as much as I though I would, and it looks like I’ve also found a chance to work a day and half a week. The money and the structure will help. Better and better.

I already like the ways I’m starting to define me as me, to me, and once I’m comfortable enough I won’t be in witness protection anymore. I’ll just be Sherrie, the lady who works from home on her computer a little and volunteers over there every week and writes books on the side and does a lot of yoga and seems very happy in her new life.

(Read more at “My Imaginary Prison Time“)