I still hang with travelers and the homeless, but it’s different now. I’m not one of them anymore. I don’t look the part either. When I walk through downtown I still glance into trashcans instinctively, and when I see to-go boxes of food I take them out and leave them on benches for people to find. I feel guilty coming out of restaurants. I always try to scrape together whatever extra food I can, stuff that most people would throw away but that I know will be appreciated. I ask for extra chips or rolls or whatever and package them up to give away or to leave in places I know they’ll be found.
Yes, there is a guilt, definitely. When I traveled and owned nothing but what I carried on my back, my relationship to privilege shifted in some way. When I was younger I always felt queasy when I saw a beggar and didn’t give a dollar, and really I still felt bad even when I did give something. Regardless of what I did about it, it just always seemed like there was something deeply wrong with the fact that some people are living large and others are sleeping in the dust. Why I became an activist. But while I was living on the road and sleeping outside, the inevitable guilt for living a life of privilege seemed, if not to fade away completely, at least to lose some of its sharp edges. But now it’s all back. I get to shower whenever I want, I have a warm place to sleep, I have enough money to go out for a meal and a beer, and every day I walk past people who have access to none of these luxuries. It’s amazing how quickly the novelty of the change wore off, now it’s just routine and almost mundane, whereas so recently having a room in which to leave my stuff, sleep and write, seemed so outrageously amazing. The guilt is something I will find a way to deal with, but it does leave me with a strong sense of responsibility to use this time for good. To do something worthwhile in some way. Which is part of the reason my lack of creative productivity is wearing on me right now.
This morning I came to a café to do some transcription work. A couple of guys with packs and dogs were flying a sign by the exit of the parking lot, and after setting up in the coffee shop I walked over to them with a couple bottles of Gatorade and some cigarettes. They thanked me and said that they’d been trying to manifest the Gatorade. Now I am sitting inside about to work; I can still see them through the window. Both of us are at work, them for a few hours of sitting and chilling and waiting and waving at people, me for a few hours of listening and typing and rewinding, and both of us will walk away later with enough money to continue supporting our own lifestyles. Their work is maybe more honest than mine. Their work openly involves receiving money from other people. Mine also involves receiving money from other people, but through an elaborate system of justification, I will convince myself that the money is mine, that I deserve it, am entitled to it on my own because I have done “productive” work that is a “contribution to society.” This is part of the reason why I might make $80 and they might make $10 and at the end of the day they will probably be more grateful for whatever is in their pockets than I will.