My favorite new mountain joke

I find that mountain humor is often a little rougher than city humor – though seldom as politically or actually inappropriate as some of the humor we let ourselves indulge in the city.

This joke – that an old guy working at the motel told me this morning – was especially ironic because, in the grandeur of the city park where we had been walking and videotaping earlier, I had said about little Pancho that eventually she’s going to “bring down some thing big“.

Watch – maybe your second time watching the video – at about mile point 1 minutes and 19 seconds – little Panchita (who for the first 24 hours had the hardest time jumping up on the bed, even with the cooler positioned as a first step) totally dominate that bed.

https://share.icloud.com/photos/0bF6D5onFYbBU8IEXg46ahCtQ

Home

There’s a home loan outfit that these days is saying on their TV commercial that “home is everything”.

They don’t say that home can be a pretty rough place for a lot of people.

They don’t in anyway comment on all the people who are currently homeless in this country – or indicate that their company is making any efforts to help some of them get into homes.

They don’t say that some people are thrilled to lead a mobile lifestyle, not anchored in a stationary home. Pancho and I have sure been having a blast in our very old Ford Econoline camper van – deciding at the beginning of each day just where it is we want to live the next day.

This video captures some of how complicated home has been in my life – and how incredibly happy and grateful I am that it looks like we’re going to have an actual home indoors, out of the cold, for the winter months.

I hope that, for you, your home has been a good place to be while you have been sequestering. For some people, like my son and his family, the vibe in their family is really great – so this time with everybody being at home has really worked.

Certainly, if you are in an abusive relationship or a relationship that’s filled with conflict, this time of sequestering may not have been so great.

For poor people who do happen to have an inside home, they may have been forced to live with too many people in a small space.

And some of those people may have been required to go out to make some money, bringing back with them whatever germs they bring. It’s not a coincidence or a factor of heredity that black and Latino people have been dying at much greater rates from the virus.

https://share.icloud.com/photos/0AWzHGyjRNL7Alk2KwJx5Xr7Q

The Dr. Footloose top 100 songs of 2020

I find spirit through nature – and music and dance. I dance 24/7. People often assume I’m drunk, because my body is never still – I am moving all the time.

I have an aspiration to open a dance club in Burnsville and call it Dr. Footloose. For months this summer, I fantasized that we would have a “very soft opening” of the club on my birthday, September 26.

That sure didn’t happen. But I did toast the future of the club with a video on the back lot of the proposed future Dr. Footloose club on my birthday:

https://www.facebook.com/heymajo/videos/10222148061506482/

Spotify tells me that I listened to music on an average of three hours a day last year. Here are my top hundred picks from last year, according to how much time I spent with them on Spotify.

To listen to my playlist is to get some idea of who I am. To get up and dance to my playlist – to surrender your body to the music – is to know who I am.

https://open.spotify.com/playlist/37i9dQZF1EMeh3cLHGvlOg?si=8ZC86CgrR3eK1vbDFZGqGQ

“Giving to the poor”

A friend of mine cooked dinner for a bunch of homeless people on Christmas day. She put up a post on Facebook about this and all kinds of people fell all over each other telling her how great she was.

This was my comment:

You are very smart and savvy, Delia. Serving others who are even more in need than you is maybe the best way to tune in to spirit.

When I am most broke, I try to give things away – even things I really want. It makes me feel prosperous.

I have been blessed with a couple of big opportunities to bring homeless people into my home.

When I had an apartment at Battery Park Apartments, I first brought in a friend who had had a cat bite and was very sick and homeless. He stayed with me for a couple of months, then got on his feet and got his own apartment – with rent assistance from Homeward Bound.

During those two months, he and I became quite close – it was a beautiful friendship. I had for years been lamenting “Why do I never make it to the mountains?” A silly part of me was waiting around for a girlfriend to share that experience with.

My houseguest was a big hiker and got me big-time out to the mountains. It was awesome. And we talked about everything while we hiked. He was the buddy I had been missing for a while.

Most recently, last February I brought my wonderful friend, brilliant bluesman Eric Freeman, into my home. That worked out extremely well.

We got so tight that I was thinking of him as my young black alter ego – and he was thinking of me as some kind of a cross between white father, drinking-and-getting-into-trouble buddy – and just generally the fool that I am.

Eric incites my badass self in a way that is really great for me. I had no idea back then how much I would be leaning into this badass side of myself in the coming year. This development has been extraordinarily liberating for me – and I credit Eric with opening up this area for me.

Last April, Pancho and I fled Battery Park Apartments to stay ahead of the Covid. For a week we lived in my old Suzuki – with Eric, who had already been living in it for a couple of weeks.

With me attempting to sleep in the driver’s seat, Eric sleeping soundly in the shotgun seat – and the backseat and wayback totally stuffed with my remaining worldly possessions, poor Pancho had no turf at all. Her only choices were to sleep in my lap or Eric’s.

On those occasions when she chose to sleep in Eric’s lap, that big softy who likes to play gruff tried to act irritated about this – but it was clear to me that it tickled him when she chose his lap to sleep on instead of mine.

Since then, Pancho and I have had an amazing journey, which has included glorious experiences out in the mountains – in dialectic tension with, at times, a lot of poverty…both out in the mountains and back here in Asheville.

Through Eric, who has been surviving on the streets since he left my place, we have gotten intimately connected with the Asheville homeless community.

We have upgraded to a camper van, which is way more comfortable than the old Suzuki – but because we live in our vehicle, in this state we are technically homeless.

And at times we have been dramatically poor.

I have come to truly love homeless people. Recently, when a middle-class friend gave me $16 to replace my drivers license, but would not give me $4 for cigarettes, I said to her,

“I’ll take a good homeless person with no pretenses any day over some middle-class person who thinks she has the right to judge what I need to do to get through the day. I need better friends than you.“

Poor people are way more generous than rich people – they will literally give you the shirt off their back.

If you are homeless, you lose things a lot – or have things stolen from you. It really helps you get non-attached to things.

A homeless guy told me one day that he wasn’t wearing a coat because he had lost it. I asked him “Do you find that when you’re homeless you lose things a lot?“

He said, “Everything – everything goes away.” Homelessness is a crash course in Buddhism.

Quite clearly, life has scripted me to really identify with homeless people and to find ways to make a contribution to them.

A few weeks ago, Pancho and I were in the middle of making a big getaway back up to the mountains – where we are super-happy even when we are poor.

Life apparently decided that there was a risk of me forgetting my roots. I was just getting too high on my new prosperity.

Amy Steinberg sings a haunting, brilliant song called Wide Sky Life – that has a lyric that goes “As easy as it comes, it can be taken from you.”

So I made a wrong turn trying to find a shortcut, my old van broke down on a back road, the police came around and very nicely said that they had to get the car towed because it was in a dangerous place.

Because I had no money to pay for the tow, the car was impounded.

A very kind police officer, rather than just leave Pancho and I stranded on the country road, gave me 20 minutes to put whatever I most needed in a backpack and then – against department protocol – actually gave us a ride back into Asheville.

At 12 PM, he deposited us at the top of Ann Street downtown, because A-Hope homeless services are just down the street from there.

I had about $5, a sleeping bag, a few clothes and my trusty dog.

It got down to the low 30s that night – and we slept in the grass behind Haywood Street Community church.

It was quite a miserable night – and somehow none of it touched me. I knew in my heart that life was right to teach me that lesson – that there was, in fact, a danger that I was gonna run off to the North country and forget my people in Asheville.

The next two days were pretty difficult. I shot this video walking down Louisiana Street two days later. I think it is a pretty good snapshot of a moment in the life of a homeless person.

https://share.icloud.com/photos/0YEtx9McW3Z5-1S9ti1cgV62g

All fall, I dreaded the onset of winter for my homeless friends. Even though we have had the shelter of our camper van, we have gone through some very uncomfortable bitter cold nights.

When I decided not to go south for the winter, I decided to look for some kind of an apartment or a little house inside for the winter.

But we have had very little money and housing out in the North country is in extremely short supply. As recently as a week ago, I was really believing that we might have to ride out the winter in the camper van.

My best homeless friends, Diana Buchanan and Eric Freeman, both are very clear that if you are living in a vehicle you are not truly homeless. And I see that difference extremely clearly. But still I was honestly pretty scared of the prospect of spending the winter in our van.

Life has changed pretty dramatically for us in just the last couple of weeks.

When the really bad weather hit, my friend Stef got worried about us in the van. She had reason to be worried. My Christmas day Facebook post describes how that day went from potentially terrible to miraculous.

Stef, who is not a wealthy person, has paid for us to get inside in a little motel in Spruce Pine. It’s very sweet, very modest – and we are very happy here.

January 1, I start renting a totally adequate little 1-room apartment, with a very sweet landlord (and new friend) upstairs – on 350 spectacular acres, way out in the mountains north of Spruce Pine.

My landlord and I have both been kind of worried about whether I could stretch my Social Security check to cover the rent and my other expenses.

Yesterday I was simply updating a friend in Chicago of my worries about not having paid my new landlord the $200 earnest money I promised her for Friday. Mary Ellen astonished me by saying, “

That Covid relief fund I am administrator for will allow me to pay three months rent for you upfront. Ask your landlord how I can send her the money.” That made the prosperity turn-around I have experienced since Christmas morning almost unbelievable.

I have finally started to post some of my 200+ videos of all the many things I’ve been learning in the north country. You can find them at healingvalidations.com. (This blog where you are reading this.)

So you are right, Delia, to serve the poor. All of us who are blessed and cursed with being middle class owe it to ourselves to bust out of our shells and learn from those people.

It’s nice that so many people told you you’re great for doing it, but I think they may be missing the point.

You are getting way more than you’re giving. A middle-class person who doesn’t have a homeless friend is living an impoverished life. There’s almost no chance of them seeing through the blinders of being asleep in the middle class.

Haywood Street Community church invites the general public to come to their Wednesday lunch every week. It is about 80 to 90% homeless people, but there are some “straight people“ who also come.

I would encourage people to go.

How to approach my videos of Appalachia in the year of the pandemic…

Last April, at age 73, I fled my subsidized senior apartment building in Asheville, North Carolina to prevent being quarantined in that building.

I spent the next week living out of my car in Asheville. I posted information about the events of that week on Facebook. At the end of that week, a good friend of mine – concerned about me from what she was seeing about me on Facebook – texted me that she had a little walk-in basement apartment in her own home out in the mountains, and that I should come out there to get away from the mean streets of pandemic Asheville.

My little dog Panchita and I spent six weeks out at Petula’s house in the mountains. (I have given her the name “Petula” to protect her privacy.)

On day 2 out in the mountains, I realized why I had been so unhappy in Asheville. “I was meant to be living out in the mountains all along!”

The power of nature out in the Appalachian Mountains transformed me – and my little chihuahua – in the next few weeks.

When it was time to leave my friend’s home, Pancho and I pushed farther north – in search of a new home. We first went to Marshall, NC, a very sweet town nestled on the beautiful French Broad River – full of artists displaced by the steeply-rising studio rents in boom-town Asheville.

Pancho the wonder-Chihuahua

From there, we pushed further north to Burnsville and Bakersville – then over the sacred Roan Mountain to the sleepy little town of Roan Mountain, Tennessee.

Several people now have told me that when I finally settle somewhere out in the north country, I should consider the Toe River area and the Celo community. I’ve got a hunch that’s going to turn out to be accurate.

Four months before the Covid hit America, I had left my “retirement job” as a grocery store cashier to pursue my creative vision of an innovative consulting and coaching practice – that would be driven equally by my lifelong passions of storytelling and dance.

The pandemic made sure that there was no chance of getting this new business off the ground. My Social Security check never covers our expenses for the whole month – and often we have spent the second half of the month being quite poor.

I worked for years in a black VA hospital, raised a black son – and have been generally sculpted to have a special relationship with people of color. The “summer of racial reckoning” has figured heavily in my experience of the last eight months.

Driving a big, very old van which we park in random places has naturally drawn the attention of local police, in every town where we have spent much time. I have had almost entirely great experiences with police.

I never can know how much of that very positive experience with police has to do with me being white, but I have yet to encounter a country cop who I could spot as being more racist than the rest of us white people. I have had extraordinary conversations with several police officers about the dialectic between laws or rules and personal freedom.

And then there has been the constant specter of our 45th president, that has cast such a giant shadow on our country.

One of my central experiences has been to fall in love with the people of Appalachia – who are mostly not unusually racist, but suffer from lack of experience with diversity. Although they mostly support our current president, they are not stupid at all – but suffer from a radical lack of good information.

The serious lack of good broadband coverage in rural America is a very significant civil rights issue of our time. (I have spent extraordinary amounts of time hunting for a good Wi-Fi signal.)

Along the way, a generous $5000 grant from a good friend allowed me to move up from the little Suzuki mini SUV – which had been a torture chamber to attempt to sleep in, and after two months of very little sleep had left me toxically exhausted – to a very old Ford Econoline camper van.

I dubbed my cargo truck Narwal the Whale in honor of her 6000 pound weight – and “A turning radius like an ocean liner”.

Narwal has been a central figure in our journey. She has had a world of electrical problems and tends to run out of gas because of a broken gas gauge.

But she has a bed, she is virtually indestructible, she has gotten us down roads that she never should have – and even though she has sometimes gotten stuck, we have always gotten out before the end of the day.

Narwal the Whale – ’88 Ford Econoline camper van

At this point, we are taking shelter for the winter – out of our camper van – in a little apartment way up in the mountains north of Spruce Pine, North Carolina. But we are committed to our mobile lifestyle and will go back out on the open road in Narwal the Whale come spring. I love asking my little dog Pancho, at the beginning of each day, “Where shall we live tomorrow?”

I started our adventure as a writer. I guess I am still a writer, but I have also morphed into a videographer. Most of my writing these days consists of my spontaneous observations while I am videotaping the towns and countryside of the Appalachian mountains.

At this point, I have well upwards of 200 videos – which I cherish as documentation of our journey of personal transformation – and many of which I think may be helpful to other people.

I have learned a lot out in these mountains, especially about myself and my dog – but my background as a psychologist and a management consultant has caused me to muse about topics including “the demise of humanistic capitalism in America”, “the ongoing rape of Appalachia”, “the systematic oppression of homeless people”, “why alpha dogs make bad cops and women make good ones” and other topics.

My personal background includes a lifelong passion for and commitment to personal growth and healing – and 30 years of being misdiagnosed as having bipolar disorder, and being heavily drugged with psychotropic medications during that whole period.

You will hear in many of these videos how totally thrilled I am to be drug-free and fully alive. And I do have many things to say about “the problem of pain”.

I now believe that most of psychology and psychiatry can be boiled down to “What do we do with our human pain?” Philosophers have mused about this question through the ages – and the Buddha’s first principle is that “life is suffering”.

I have many pointed things to say about what I consider to be an out-of-control psychiatry industry.

Several of my posts deal with an event that occurred last June back in Asheville. I had been punched in the face and reported to the big, newly-“for-profit” hospital – asking to be treated for a possible concussion and/or broken nose. I also reported that “I think I’m kind of delirious.”

The ER intake team saw in my records my background of psych hospitalizations and locked me up on a psych unit. They never treated me for a concussion or a broken nose – both of which their own ER later confirmed that I had. My discharge summary from the hospital, after 48 hours, made no mention of any medical complaints.

In this post I offer two videos;

The first video suggests ideas about how to make fruitful use of my videos.

I shot the second video about 15 minutes after the first one. It deals with the topic of “good things and bad things”. It flows naturally out of that first video, because the first video ends with me discovering that I have left my car lights on and that my battery is dead.

One might think that having a broken-down car would be a bad thing, but maybe not….

https://share.icloud.com/photos/0tM5igZh_nitvKwmNvEVP3nIw

https://share.icloud.com/photos/0mJIjgynkr5xZz9N8zC_ZPj5A

Happy winter solstice 2020 – in the year of the pandemic

The night before the winter solstice, I found myself in an extraordinary, remote Appalachian Mountain setting. I describe it in this 30-minute video:

https://share.icloud.com/photos/0o7JISAiJdZfhX5MaxvXRhdsw

The next morning, as I sat in my van attempting to wake up, I saw – through the windshield of Narwal the van – a slight line of pink creep over the eastern horizon.

I was instantly awake: “Holy cow, I have got to capture this!” I threw on some clothes, grabbed my iPhone – and spent the next hour videotaping this historic sunrise.

I don’t know about you, but never before have I so much needed to know that the sun had turned its face to shine more strongly once again on me.

The following two videos capture the sunrise on Monday, December 21, 2020. They are slow and minimal. But, if you set all distractions aside and just focus on the experience of waking up to a new day in the Appalachian mountains, these videos can take you there.

https://share.icloud.com/photos/0v0ElrhTPxF94JJMtFfY30mtA

https://share.icloud.com/photos/0c9_thQNCDcOTMa1J9A-cxKHQ

Brother Sun is offering us a brand new day, in the middle of all this devastation and despair. I encourage you to take an hour to go there with me.

(If you find that these videos have offered you some value, please consider dropping a tip in my PayPal tip jar. This will both let me know that my mission has been successful – and help me to finance my winter in Appalachia doing this work.)

Thanks.

PayPal.me/heymajo

Reminiscing about an old dog and a previous girlfriend

Surrendering to the mountains of Appalachia:

I was talking on the phone with my friend Diana as I walked up the hill. I had no idea how high I had climbed!

Pancho makes an unexpected new friend:

Pancho and Linda’s neighbor dog “Buddy” had checked each other out from a distance.

“Buddy” is probably not this sweet little dog’s real name. But he reminds me a lot of my old dog Buddy, so – for want of knowing his real name – Buddy is what I am calling him.

I think he is probably quite old – and also maybe deaf. But he has an enormously sweet, calm, grounded presence – and I want Pancho to become friends with him.

But now – with some very patient coaching – they became a pack.

Remembering my old girlfriend:

Pancho made friends with Buddy when Buddy handled a little nastiness from Pancho with great poise. That can work in human relationships, too.

https://share.icloud.com/photos/0ZTMmUb0fotXDZjgiRT4YRuGQ

Happy solstice, everybody!

I shot this video today at an overlook on the Blue Ridge Parkway, above “The Orchards at Altapass”, south of Spruce Pine, North Carolina.

(Website for the Orchard at Altapass – check out it’s amazing history: https://altapassorchard.org/)

It carries my wish for a happy solstice – happy return of the sun – for Spruce Pine, the Appalachian Mountains, America, and planet Earth.

Watch how dramatically darkness falls in the mountains during the 30 minutes I was taping this video.

Videos #2 & 3: sunrise on the solstice 2020, deep in the Blue Ridge Mountains.

Happy sunrise, happy solstice – the return of the sun, shining his face brightly on us. The sun – which the Native Americans wisely worshiped – bringing us light and hope and warmth, in the middle of a still-raging pandemic.

There seems now to be no way to avoid this being in many ways a terrible year for the humans of planet earth.

But could it somehow paradoxically also be the start of something new and positive and powerful for all of us?

Altapass solstice #1 – 8 minutes

https://share.icloud.com/photos/0SyN-TxWB6xXzve7Ocn4EWVcg

Altapass solstice #2 – 39″

https://share.icloud.com/photos/0ejt8wGHTYSzZFrBy1np7zZVQ