I want to remind readers that I have moved my content about the homeless over to a newsletter format called Substack. The newsletter is called The New American Diaspora and I believe I am turning out some of my most important and passionate writing of my career. I urge you to check it out at the web site below and subscribe (it’s free for the time being) and support this endeavor. I will continue to post other content on this blog. Below is the link to Substack and one of the pieces I recently posted.
Heather the Writer
I exited the grocery store and the woman was still sitting on a concrete retaining wall and writing in what appeared to be a journal. In front of her was a cardboard sign that read: “Anything helps. The struggle is real.”
It was in the 80s and she had found some shade. She looked hard at work.
I had noticed her upon my entrance into the store and vowed to investigate after concluding my shopping. In recent weeks, I had sought better engagement with the homeless, although I didn’t really know what constituted “better.” Clearly, though, just random observation wasn’t cutting it anymore.
My groceries stored in the car, I walked over to the woman. I said hello.
She stared up at me and stopped writing. She had red curly hair, big eyes and a face with a road map carved into the skin.
“I see you’re writing. What are you writing about?” I said.
“About being homeless and addicted. I want to write a book.”
“What are you going to title it?”
“I don’t know.”
She spoke softly and with precision and always made eye contact. I had absolutely no idea how old she might be.
“Do you live around here?” I said.
“I live on 122nd and Burnside. It’s disgusting,” she said.
“So you take the bus to over here?”
“Yes, it’s much quieter, the people are nice and I can write.”
A writer often wants to leave a noisy and combative living situation and find a quiet place to write. When Raymond Carver started writing, he often left his contentious home in Clatskanie for the inside of his vehicle parked in the driveway.
“I don’t know how you do it,” I said.
She hesitated then said, “I learned the body can survive incredible temperatures, hot and cold.”
I pulled out my walled and extricated a $5 bill. I handed it to her. She took it.
“This is to help out,” I said.
I returned to my car, opened the door, then closed it. I walked back to the woman.
She was writing.
“I don’t mean to interrupt,” I said. “But I would be interested in reading some of your writing.”
“I am writer, you’re a writer, and I want to pay you for your writing. Writer should get paid for writing.”
It sounded like a mini manifesto and maybe it was.
I tell you what,” I said, “I want to commission a piece of writing from you.”
I reached into my pocket and pulled out all the loose cash. It wasn’t much.
“Here’s six bucks, for one page or two of anything you want to write. You can tear it out of your journal if you want.”
I handed her the money and she took it. A look of surprise registered on her face.
“Thank you so much,” she said. “I’ll do it.”
“I want to support your project. I shop here on a regular basis so I can pick up the piece when you finish it. This is my regular time.”
“What’s your name?” she said.
“Nice to meet you Heather. I hope to see you again.”
With that, I left. The plan was to return in a couple of days. She had a deadline, I think.