I had a rough time a few years ago and decided to take an extended trip to San Francisco. Well, it was almost decided for me…
I gave away many of my possessions, keeping only clothes and things with sentimental value.
I had no real plan but something inside me was pushing me forward.
I arrived with only the promise of perhaps a weeks accommodation with a friend of a friend and no work to speak of.
I was expecting money from various sources; owed wages, rent deposit and something else that I can’t now recall. None of the money arrived in my account and I could have been homeless and hungry if it weren’t for the generosity of Stevie (Stephen),
Elise and Lisa.
Stevie passed on a singing student of his and all 3 housemates treated me like family; the weird distant Scottish relative.
Believe me, I was weird. I knew that my head was all over the place and that I wasn’t quite my usual self so I disclosed a little of the months that had led me to this point.
Honesty breeds compassion and that’s one lesson I’ll never forget.
The prospect of leaving Britain was terrifying and exhilarating in equal measure but the flight to San Francisco gave me ample opportunity to reflect and decide on a plan of attack. Say YES, say YES, SAY YES, was all that rang out in my mind.
I tried to get work but this was in the days when the internet was pretty new or at least new to me. I didn’t have a Green Card either and my return flight was 3 months from when I’d arrived.
All sounds a bit gloomy but, forced to rely on the kindness of strangers, i survived and thrived. They never once made me feel guilty and I am forever in their debt.
Before leaving for San Francisco, I had just come to the end of a miserable relationship, I had been working in a non-music job (processing credit card applications) and teaching at weekends, I never saw the rundown home that I rented and which cost almost all of my monthly income. It was all feeling pretty pointless; I was working to scrape by and had no life to speak of.
At my lowest point, I won a flight to America. It was strange and unexpected because I hadn’t any memory of entering a competition.
After checking that I really had won this prize, I began to wonder if the universe was perhaps giving me the nudge that I needed to move on and make a fresh start.
Between booking the flight and leaving for America, I had a homeless and jobless month in Scotland. It was then that my oldest and dearest friend took both her own life and that of her two children. I don’t share this story easily but it is important that you understand how desperately painful life had become.
So I had no job, no home, no relationship and now my friend had made a decision that was to change so many of us forever.
I was a wreck. I was a complete mess; trying as best I could to accept recent events and to be philosophical and find the lesson that I was supposed to be learning.
I rationalised and justified my friend’s suicide and I swam just above the waves of grief; enough to keep going.
Either Lisa or Elise told me about Craigslist and I put out my CV. Within days, I had an audition for a new musical.
I auditioned in the composers car. Parked up outside Starbucks, I serenaded Louise with “I’ve Got a Crush on You” and I guess that this does rate pretty highly in my strangest ever auditions.
Rehearsing for the show I met incredible people who sang elsewhere and other opportunities arose.
I was fortunate to be offered the opportunity to sing at the Cathedral of Saint Mary of the Assumption, where the soloists were more Broadway than Benedictine.
Stevie and I started a cabaret duo – we could have been stars, I tell ya!
Elise took me dancing and the Swedish Cultural Center and I sweated (a lot), then a bar where smoking was still allowed. She introduced me to the life-changing Glide Memorial Church and the Glide Ensemble. I surrendered to the enthusiasm and energy of this loving and diverse congregation, led by Pastor Cecil Williams.
Here’s a little glimpse of the Glide Ensemble as they bring joy through their music: http://youtu.be/MLgk3glxMjo
On my first visit, there was a baptism where the African-American parents and the Chinese-American God-Parents stood before the diverse congregation to celebrate the new life in their family.
Elise also introduced me to the Harvey Milk Center and Stevie and I performed there. Hideous Gomphidius could have gone places!
During rehearsals for “Over the Bridge” by Louise Canepa, I was mothered by the ladies in the cast, and by Louise herself. I’m eternally grateful to them all. I’d often leave rehearsals with arms loaded up with trays of food. They understood my situation and gave so generously that I felt cared for and both physically and spiritually nourished.
Others invited me over to share evenings in apartments that convinced me that I had become an ARMISTEAD MAUPIN character and that I’d be meeting Mrs Madrigal and Mouse at any moment.
I met such creative people, such open and energised souls who, no matter their own struggles, could find time to create and relate.
I met Elvis Presley’s cousin, or so I was led to believe. I met a wonderful and talented photographer, Jose, Jose Serna, who generously took some head shots for me.
And I met the gorgeously charming and fascinating Melton, whose only fault was that he couldn’t marry me! Not everyone can be a homo, I suppose.
The three months spent in San Francisco were a blessing, a gift from the universe which helped me in some way to heal. I found kindness, generosity, a renewed faith in the goodness that can be found when one looks and truly sees. Wearing the right metaphorical glasses brightened my vision and reinvigorated my hope. I found so many things that I’d lost and I found myself again; a little fragile and battered but a the gentle Bay breeze breathed life to my weak flickering flame.
How strange that, so many years later, I found inspiration in Harvey Milk, his message and his conviction that the collective voice of all “minorities” can crush the oppressive so-called majority.
We are stronger together. We just need to say YES. Take a chance and trust that the universe will reward our courage.
Let’s face it, the alternative is too hideous to contemplate.