Monday, February 25, 2008
Last night the director of "The Soloist", Joe Wright, was at the Academy Awards. Today he was on location busy at work, filming the upcoming movie staring Jamie Foxx and Robert Downing, Jr. I was on the set as well, as one of hundreds who were the homeless in Skid Row, the backdrop for the upcoming movie.
I arrived on Skid Row a year ago. I fought hard to erase the memory of what I felt when I arrived here. I felt defeated, hopeless, isolated. As far as I was concerned, all was lost. I felt like those people in the pictures above. I fought for my sanity every second of the waking day.
It all came back to me today, those deep feelings of despair as I played a homeless person on the streets of Skid Row. My back pack was filled with water and books to read during the day as I have worked on movie sets in the past.
Today was rather surreal. My past intermingled with my present, and my present with my past. They danced together in the morning light as I swam through the plethora of emotions that came in wave after wave, banging against my emotional foundation.
In 1990, I first started 'extra' work on the trials of Rosie O'Neil, a show starring Sharon Gless of Cagney and Lacey fame. Sharon and I had friends in common as she had attended Marlborough School, a sister School of the Harvard School for Boys. The studio was on 3rd and Hewitt, on the edge of Skid Row. I was there every Tuesday and Thursday as a regular background artist. During that time, I studied materials for my real estate broker's examination. Between shoots, I sat at one of the desks on the set and focused in on the volumunous materials. Andre, another background artist and I would talk as he had an interest in real estate as well.
This morning, I arrived on the set of the soloist. I have not been on a movie set as a background artist since I was studying for my real estate broker's license.
This time, I was trying to pay for a renewed broker's license as the deadline to renew my expired license is rapidly approaching. Emotions were running high.
I saved alot from my cans and now with the two day shoot, I would have enough to renew my license. I thought I would never come close to renewing it. I thought all was lost. I hung in there. Look came my way.
I showed up at the set and the first person I saw was Andre, the background artist that befriended me years ago. I did not speak to him as a lot of explaining would have been necessary. I was not ready for it. Emotions were running high. I was experiencing the feelings I had when I landed on skid row. We were on a movie set deep in the bowels of the Skid Row area and that same feeling of being "cut off" ran through my body and soul like blood through veins.
The previous night I had watched the Academy Awards and flashbacks of a different time flashed by my eyes as I stood on the make shift movie lot, this morning, beneath a freeway overpast on the edge of downtown Los Angeles.
The first thing that came to mind was the Academy Awards when Jamie Foxx won the award for the movie Ray. At the time of the awards, I was training for the triathlon and writing everyday on legal pads as my computer went on the blink.
When Jamie won the Academy Award for his brilliant work on "Ray", it was a special moment for me. Ray Charles lived approximately one hundred yards from me when I was young and his son, Ray Jr., was a childhood friend and whenever we see eachother we still feel that close bond. I wrote extensively that night when Jamie won the academy award. I was developing my writing craft and there was no better opportunity than to write about my friends father and Jamie's success.
Today was an interweaving of the past and the present and emotions ran high as I recognized the connecting and blending strands. It was hard. However, I have learned how to fight well over the last few years, and I remembered that somebody said I was a fighter. Indeed, it is true. The doctors never expected me to live past one year. They did not know me. I was a fighter and I have learned how to fight again and again when my life was on the line.
Those past feelings of despair and isolation, when I landed on Skid Row surfaced without warning this morning as I reexperienced being sequestered from love and friendship. I had to fight through those feelings of desperation. I fought hard
today to remain focused and positive. It was a challenge as I did not count on the tidal waves of emotion slamming against my very soul, rocking me to my very core.
I looked around and saw the sea of people and how each of them, in their own way have played a part in my tremendous growth. Many are homeless. Many have experienced traumatic pasts. I used to run away from that association when I first landed on Skid Row. I now embrace it. They are men and women of courage.
That phrase, men and women of courage, has a special meaning to me. It was coined by someone who has had a profound influence on my life. He is the reason why I practiced diligently to express myself on this keyboard and with the pen. I admired his ability to write and I wanted to express myself as well as he has always done.
I looked across the sea of people and thought so hard about how far I have come. I used to avoid people who were dirty and unkempt when I landed here. I have always treated the homeless with respect. In Philadelphia, I was first exposed to the homeless and the mentally ill as they dotted the campus of the University of Pennsylvania. I treated them with respect but it was different.
I was not "connected" with them. I could give them a dollar and go about my business in the Ivy League towers at Penn.
This was different. I could not visit and leave. I started out as roommates in a huge dormitory on Skid Row and are still neighbors with many mentally ill. They have taught me more about life than I ever knew there was to know. It is one thing to know something, to be aware of it. It is another to "FEEL" it. I have endeavored to use this craft at which I have worked so hard to inmprove, to make people feel the heart and souls of those who are invisible and forgotten in society. It is becoming easier as I have felt that same way and now it is very easy to articulate what is in their souls. When I see angst, I feel it. I understand the different brands of it.
All of those things ran through my body and soul this morning as I fought hard not to scream. The movie set brought back so many different feelings of my first months on Skid Row. It was painful and gut wrenching. I was eager to return to Skid Row
after experiencing the "Skid Row" set. Reexperiencing those feelings of isolation was unbearable. However, it showed me how far I have come in more ways than I know.
Joe Wright, Jamie Fox, and Robert Downing Jr. will do a great job shedding light on the homeless situation. I have been on many sets. This set was different. From the beginning there was a comraderie with staff and crew. Usually, that bond takes time to develop. You start out in the morning and by the end of the day, everyone is family. It did not take all day. It was instantaneouswhen Joe Wright made his speech to the 'background army' from day one. He expressed respect and love and you can see in his eyes that this is a very emotional piece of work for him. He, Downey and Foxx will do splendidly. I have been on many sets. I can feel the chemistry of this one. I feel it deeply to my core.
I have written many times in the past months how when you look at Skid Row, it is a reflection of ourselves. I I have said that many times in many different ways.
I have read that same phrase on a website, recently. It was the website of the organization with whom I had an interview recently. They need someone to write. They have no idea that I have written everyday, all day, for years. The writing has evolved. It has had diffeent purposes as time has moved forward.
Today, I read a press release from their website. It is the kind of thing that I would do for them if I am blessed with their confidence. After reading the press release, I read a few more. I studied their website. I am convinced this is where I need to be.
They are about economic empowerment, education and inceasing high self esteem. I had to rebuild my self esteem after it was shattered in various ways. Each day, I know I will be able to expound on the feeling of empowerment that economic development brings. I have tasted it again the few times I have worked in the last year.
My major was international economics and finance, with a concentration on the development of third world countries. A third world country and the economically and educationally disenfranchised in this country share the same differences.
They need someone who can write. I will pour my heart out so that every word has the weight of ten. I never thought I would evolve as a writer. It took a long time for me to develop the confidence to do so. It came from hard work and the love of communicating. It came from the desire to impact the lives of people as someone who I admire has done with his writing. I followed his footsteps when he worked for a company. I followed his footsteps in many ways. He was a writer and I wanted to bring about change the way he has with his writing.
I am a man of passion. I had to relearn how to be a man of courage. I had to feel things inside of me that were not demanded of me in the past. I had to fight in ways I have never had to fight.
I want this position. I deserve a chance to use my education in economics and finance to uplift the lives of others I can do that the same way some one used his ability to create and publish.
That is on my mind tonight. God I want it to be. As someone said to me. This position is made for me. It involves everything that has been threaded into my life. Education. Economics. etc. etc.
I was told I was a fighter recently. I must fight for this. Once I get the position, I can help the organization fight to empower people.
Good night world. I love you.