At Winco last summer I ran into a woman named Terina Garron. She was with her husband, Tom whom I had never met before.
I met Terina, who I would guess is in her late 30s, about two and a half years ago when she was my social worker at the Butte County Department of Employment and Social Services (known in bureaucratic circles as the DESS).
Through some extremely difficult times, she has been of enormous help to me in her professionalism and saying just the right thing to help my muddled mind find some clarity.
All of the rooms at the DESS are named after trees. One waits in the Maple Room with a numbered ticket and a door at the back right corner opens and someone calls your number and you are walked through a maze of cubicles.
When Terina and I first met, I was sitting in her cubicle decorated with a sense of whimsy and commented on two posters of Hunter S. Thomspon. Terina said, I think, that he was a hero to her.
I mentioned that his ‘gonzo’ (sometimes considered a crazy and subjective method) style of journalism had greatly influenced me.
At the time, the Chico News and Review had just published a feature story I penned, “Searching for Snipes” (March 21, 2013) about my winding up in Chico and labeled ‘mentally ill’ and ‘homeless’. As I’ve often written, I prefer ‘crazy bum’.
A look of recognition came over Terina (my unsmiling face was on the cover of the CN&R) and she said something to the affect of, “That took a lot of courage. I saved it [the article].”
I probably rambled on about how I was pressured into writing it by my then services coordinator, Johnny Meehan at the Torres Community Shelter (he’s now at the 6th Street Center for Youth and we’ve maintained a friendly relationship) and others in that, well, I’m a writer. I also probably added that the notoriety ‘Snipes’ had brought me was unsettling in that, as disingenuine as it may sound, I’m uncomfortable with a lot of attention.
At Winco last summer Terina had said, “It must be very therapeutic for you.” We were talking about my writing and being published, primarily in the Enterprise-Record.
“It is,” I said. I explained to Tom that Terina had shown me a photo of him once on her phone long ago and said, “He’s a good-looking guy…” which caused them to smooch briefly and exhibit other light affection and that made me smile.
I had met their two young children at the Downton City Plaza a couple of summers back when Terina had taken them there for an event. I neither recall their names or the nature of the event, but I do recall stooping down to their smallnesses and shaking hands with each.
At some point in knowing Terina (ones social worker is periodically changed) she loaned me a copy of Neil Gaiman’s ‘American Gods’, stating that it was the best book she had read in 10 years.
I had never read anything by Gaiman before and the book, which became remarkably tattered and I never gave back for which I apologized, was a remarkable read: full of fictionally engaging weirdness, phantasmagorical fantasy and a plot that balanced humor, sadness and heart ache for a wonderful read.
The gesture, the inadvertent gifting of that book, was a big deal in relation to feeling validated. The majority of the staff at the DESS, including the security guards, display just enough humanity to make one feel less alien. In homelessness and mental illness, there is often a chasm between you and normative society.
While I was at the Torres, Johnny Mehan loaned me a copy of Viktor Frankl’s “Man’s Search for Meaning” which I read in my youth, but didn’t recall. One of Frankl’s best known quotes from that book is, “When we are no longer able to change a situation. We are challenged to change ourselves.”
Like Terina loaning me Gaiman’s novel, Johnny’s loaning me (I got it back to him) Frankl’s book had a profound impact.
Reading and writing (and as a kid, drawing) have been a constant in my life for as long as I can remember.
As I sit here at a computer trying to breathe in a healthful way, I know that writing is therapeutic for me and, hence, I’m struggling to be more disciplined about it.
I just sent an email to an editor friend explaining that so much of what I’m producing is ‘drivel’. But, as it is often said to me and in general writing circles (and as I remind myself), the most important thing about being a writer is to write.
Writers write. That’s what we do.
Love and Peace,