Staying Creative while Homeless
One thing you can lose very quickly when you become homeless is a strong sense of self—self in a negative sense; what I probably mean is a sense of personal identity, Your life is turned upside down, your implements of creativity may be scattered here and there, you are focused on just survival, not creating, and you are receiving very little positive reinforcement of your work.
But there are ways of staying in the groove creatively speaking, and it turns out it is very beneficial to the individual, though he or she may not realize it.
For any creative person, it is very good to keep as journal. Drag yourself out of the shelter and head for a coffee shop—at least that’s what helped me. (Virtually anyone can afford a cup of java.) Sit there, relax bond and mind, get into your writing space, and start putting words down, eve n if it is to say that you have nothing to say and no inspiration. You can explore that idea.
It is also good to obtain a library card to check out books and, of course, use their computers. Now, this is important: use them, don’t abuse them. Be respectful of computer rules, things that may be off limits and time limits. Be respectful of other library rules, like not smoking. Do not make a nuisance of yourself.
Hygiene: wash up or shower. Find something to wear that does not stink. Whatever steps you take out, the homeless do stand out for various reasons. You may get some stares or even hostile glances. Just stay in your own space and keep on creating.
If you are a lucky, you are in a town where there are a few open mics where you can read your writing or sharing some of your music. This can be a tremendously fulfilling experience. You will be around other folks who write or play or sing. You may connect with a few—a good thing.
Staying creative helps also helps you to maintain continuity with your past life. The homeless experience should be seen as a phase of life, not an unending place of darkness that will never end.
Staying creative helps you to process trauma—past and present, in a healthy way. If you share your work, it can help you to form a bond with someone.
In my experience, homeless folks tend to isolate, for whatever reasons, even when they are jammed in an overcrowded shelter and sleeping on the floor. I mean isolating in their heads. Some homeless folks are introverted to begin with, or have a mentally ill that tends to separate them from others. It’s good for them to step out of their comfort space, at least once in a while.
In part two of this writing I will describe my own experience of creative engagement while homeless.
I managed to keep going with my creative work. During the 90’s I was publishing a haiku periodical entitled “Point Judith Light,” and somehow I managed to publish a couple issues while homeless in the late 90’s, with the help of another poet, Larry Kimmel. I also was invited to give a talk at a conference on haiku held at Smith College, which was not far from our rehab-shelter, the Samaritan Inn. Amazing experience. I am not bragging when I say these things, just pointing out that it is possible to continue engaging in one’s creative pursuits while homeless.
I wrote poetry about homelessness during the homeless period and later, during my recovery phase. I would go to the Springfield or Northampton or Westfield libraries and use their computers, copying the results to a disk. I did not do any open mics while homeless. I think my guitar got lost in the shuffle as I transitioned from having a home to homelessness. But I did write several songs about the homeless experience in the early 2000s in Chattanooga, after purchasing a guitar.
I think my self-regard and sense of self were enormously enhanced by continuing to write. The homeless lifestyle can give rise to the experience of anomie, even existential dread, the sense of loss of personal identity, of uniqueness.
Loss of a sense of uniqueness can be an enormously destructive place to be in your head.
Creativity can also connect you with folks outside of the homeless community—a healthy thing. People who become ensconced in the homeless community can forget how to relate to non-homeless people.
I think that there are ways that helpers can help the homeless to stay in touch with their creative work, but I deal with that in another essay. My main point here is that continuing with creative work while homeless is a very healthy thing and can have a huge impact on recovery.