Tuesday, February 09, 2016

Big Mrs. Sunshine

This past Saturday, paying the lowest matinee prices, F. and I saw the Coen brothers’ movie Hail, Caesar! I’d wanted to see it partly due to its lush, saturated look in the trailer, and partly due to something funny Tilda Swinton says which turned out not to be in the actual movie, but it was generally enjoyable, anyway. Afterward we hung out at F.’s new apartment in the heart of the Tenderloin, followed by dinner at inexpensive Heung Yuen.

I let F. have the table he’s been using for his artwork here, and have ordered a new one to replace it, whose cost he and I will split.

After having so much togetherness in the weeks before he moved into his new place, we’re in a new phase where we can perhaps achieve a better balance between quantity and quality. At first I thought never ever having him over here again would be good, but have reconsidered. In the past week, he was here just one night, and that wasn’t enough.

Here I have to applaud his equanimous response when I said I was thinking of never having company again, and decry, once again, my own imprudence in even saying such a thing right after it happened to cross my mind. He really has mastered the art of not reacting right away, so he is a good teacher for me in more than one way: he pushes my buttons, giving me lots of excellent practice with that, and he also demonstrates what it looks like to decline to have your buttons pushed. This is only one of many good practices he has, including that when something bad happens, he immediately thinks, “I’m halfway through this, heading for the end.”

Per our prior arrangement, he left late Sunday morning to gather snacks and otherwise make ready to listen to the Super Bowl. It was a gorgeous, sunny day, and after the door closed behind him, I felt terribly lonely. Usually while I’m doing my weekend tasks in the kitchen, F. is in the living room working on a collage and knocking on the kitchen door frame every hour or so in search of an “affectionate embrace.” After he was gone Sunday, I lay in bed for about 15 minutes feeling extremely sorry for myself—alone on such a splendid day!—and then I gave Tom a call and found out he was on his way to the Oakland Museum of California, where the first Sunday of each month is free day, and that he was amenable to having company.

Or is that the California Museum of Oakland? It seems that either name could work. Anyway, it’s within sight of the Lake Merritt BART station,
it’s a museum about California that is located in Oakland, and we spent a nice educational afternoon there in the history wing. Did you know that Spain once considered itself to be the owner of a large swath of the United States? Me, neither!

Yesterday, our wonderful administrative assistant at work threw me a goodbye party. “We will miss you, lovely Bugwalk” was written on the conference room whiteboard, and we had refreshments and live music—one of my colleagues has been taking guitar lessons for several months. A co-worker who works from home all but about six days a year came in for the occasion, which was touching. I was surprised but pleased when she rushed up and threw her arms around me. (When another co-worker first heard about my getting notice, she put her arm around me and left it there for about ten minutes.) Our administrative assistant also made me a giant card with everyone’s good wishes written on it. I felt very loved and appreciated.

I was doing some research on the education needed for chaplaincy and am starting to think I sprang into action too fast. I will find out more as things evolve, but came upon an M.Div. offered by Naropa that would cost $70,000 for tuition. I (sort of) don’t mind living off my savings for two years, but spending my savings plus a hefty chunk of money on tuition is highly unappealing. I was recalling the question I was asking myself before I got my current job: How can I get an entry-level technical job without spending any money on education? Perhaps the question now is: How can I get a job that I can do whole-heartedly and that will cover my expenses without spending any money on education?

I am also considering that nothing can stop me from acting like a chaplain in whatever job I have. I can be kind and friendly and cheerful anywhere, which is exactly what I’ve been doing for the last three years and why I got such a nice going-away party. Someone at the party said, “We’ll miss your sunshine.” Come to think of it, maybe a big company is more in need of a self-appointed chaplain than a hospital is, since the latter is already full of do-gooders.

Sunday, February 07, 2016

Oldish Fart

Hey, did you know that Walgreens has a handsome AARP discount and also a monthly $3000 sweepstakes you can enter by calling or going online to take their survey about your recent shopping experience? And that it costs only $63 to renew your AARP membership for five years? And that you can become an AARP member at age 50, while you’re still young enough to wring every drop of pleasure out of it? Me, neither, until recently, when it has become my business to know such things. (I did know about being able to become an AARP member at 50. Possibly unlike most people, I signed up the minute I turned 50, but my membership lapsed after the initial period.)

I know you know that no two Walgreens stores are alike. Some are bigger than others, or cleaner, or sell way more stuff for tourists or way more office supplies. I go to various stores accordingly, including the one at Castro and 18th St., which saw the gay community through the multi-year siege of AIDS. There is a woman working there who is always friendly and helpful, and you can tell she loves her job and her customers. Last week she was wearing earrings made out of tiny Walgreens Balance Rewards cards.

It was she who, unsolicited, and with many apologies for daring to presume anything about my age, told me about the AARP discount, which is 20 percent off everything in the store except sale items on the first Tuesday of the month. I rushed home to renew my AARP membership, which will pay for itself in no time, and plan to make a list of what I need from Walgreens and wait until the first Tuesday of the month to buy it, now that I’m either in a career transition, retired, or in a lull between corporate positions, as the case may turn out to be.

Now, did you know that if you buy three of something at Pet Food Express, they’ll give you a fourth one free? If you go up to the counter with a multiple of eight of something, they give you 25% off automatically. Their price on the canned food Hammett eats is lower than Rainbow’s to begin with, so from now on I’m going to walk over to Pet Food Express to get his food, though some of the savings might be canceled out by the fact that a Whole Foods, with its enticing display of Garlic & Parmesan Plentils—the crunchy snack that tastes just like cheese but is vegan—is just across the street.

It occurred to me that after all this saving, I might actually have enough money to retire, which initially was a great feeling: from now on, I can do exactly what I feel like! However, this would definitely mean living very frugally. (It was also before I checked to see what my savings currently amount to.) I’ve already decided to eschew cabs unless utterly necessary, to take the bus up to see Carol Joy instead of going in a City CarShare car, to eat out less often. Meditation retreats and trips to see my parents or to Seattle to see friends and family are also likely to be less frequent.

F. has lately been looking for a new apartment and last Monday he moved into his new place. The past month, he was here nearly seven days a week, which I was hating more by the minute. Every single morning I got up, found something wet or greasy or covered with crumbs or hair in the kitchen, and six times out of seven commented on it, meaning that within five minutes of arising, I felt like a big jerk. Now and then I might succeed in keeping my mouth shut, but still felt put upon. For his part, after months of being extremely tolerant (while also leaving the exact same messes over and over), F. has made it clear he hates having the first thing he hears in the morning be a complaint, which is quite understandable.

After I helped him move, I came home to my empty apartment and felt a vast sense of relief and pleasure: all alone! Ahhhh! I tidied up and put some of his often-used items away, at least for the time being, and felt more relaxed with each passing moment. When I woke up the next morning, I felt great and there was nothing going on in the kitchen to change that. I started to think I’m not cut out for overnight company ever, but after a few days, I noticed something seemed to be missing: the sound of myself laughing, because the funny guy hadn’t been here, so we’ll see.

One reason I mention this is that F. is retired and lives on a modest income, and so I had been thinking about some things I was going to get for him when he got his new place, like a sturdy folding table similar to the one he uses here for his art projects. But now I feel very disinclined to do that. All of a sudden, after years when I often didn’t even glance at the total showing on a cash register or at my receipt, I’m scouring the town for bargains, and while I’m appreciating my own can-save spirit, contemplating decades of it is dispiriting. Therefore, today I started to think maybe I’m not quite ready to be an ex-corporate employee after all.

Saturday, February 06, 2016

Monkeyball

The very first book I ever read by a dharma teacher was Stephen Levine’s Who Dies?, given to me by a friend in 1988, almost two years to the day before I met Howie and became his student. Stephen’s son Noah was rebellious and given to drug use and violence. After hitting bottom, he turned to meditation himself, and went on to give birth to the Dharma Punx, or Against the Stream, movement. Stephen Levine himself died less than a month ago.

Among Noah’s wild friends was Vinny Ferraro, who teaches in San Francisco. Thinking to expand my dharma horizons, on Friday night I went over to meditate with Against the Stream. They have a space at Folsom and 23rd St. where it appears Vinny is the main teacher, but other teachers are also featured.

I think there’s a stated age range which stops well short of my age, but I know people older than myself who say they go there and feel welcome. Generally speaking, there were a lot of young people—in their 20s or 30s—and they didn’t appear as well-heeled as the younger people at Howie’s, most of whom are probably tech workers.

I saw three people I knew from Howie’s, including one who was also there for her first time. I sat next to a woman I know from Howie’s, who asked what I do. I told her about the job I’m losing, and then, since we had plenty of time before the evening began, I told her about my aspirations in regard to chaplaincy, which were in fact faltering at that moment; I almost didn’t mention chaplaincy because of it. She told me there is a man who goes to Eugene Cash’s Sunday night meditation group who is a chaplain. We chatted on, and then she said, “Oh—and there he is.”

I went over and introduced myself to this Buddhist chaplain, who immediately agreed to chat with me further. He said his path to chaplaincy had been unorthodox (as mine will be, if it happens at all) and that it might be helpful to hear about, and also that if I get a CPE interview, he’ll be happy to help me prepare for it.

Vinny’s talk was on the five hindrances (grasping, aversion, sleepiness, restlessness, doubt), which he said he had “practiced with a monastic discipline.” He’s funny, and very colorful in expressing himself—a perfect teacher for his students, I imagine. He used a phrase I had heard verbatim from Steve Armstrong, a teacher I admire very much, and another couple of phrases that unmistakably pointed to Sayadaw U Tejaniya, so I felt right at home.

He talked about needing to sit in the fire, which caused me to realize that that is precisely what I’ve been hoping to skip in this career transition. The second I got my notice, I was off like a shot in the direction of chaplaincy. Now that I’m finding out more about what is involved, what the education might cost and how long it might take, and also since I added up my savings and found out they’re actually going down rather than up, there is definite emotional discomfort, which is highly undesired. I want this to be easy, not necessarily regarding tasks to be accomplished, but in feeling certain I’m going in the right direction, but I’m not certain of that. Plus, I did just lose a job that I considered to be an excellent one, and there is no way to avoid some difficult feelings about that. So I was inspired by Vinny’s reminder.

Regarding doubt, he offered that it can arise when love of ourselves or others falters, which I’d never heard before. I’m experimenting with sending myself metta (loving-kindness) when I feel doubt about my direction and it does seem to be rather helpful.

He said that he was in the group when Noah Levine went on his first long retreat in India, where they learned how England had colonized India and introduced the game of golf, failing to take into account the monkeys who found it good sport to run off with the little round balls. Chasing the monkeys was futile and the monkeys were easily able to climb fences, and so a new rule was adopted: wherever the monkey drops the ball, that’s where play begins anew. An excellent dharma reminder: Play the ball where the monkey dropped it.

Friday, February 05, 2016

Application Perturbation

A week after my mailbox was first broken into (also known as the day I found out I was losing my job), it was broken into again along with the mailboxes of others in the building, our brand new locks picked. We left a note for our mail carrier, Kerry (perfect name), to ring the bell when leaving our mail so that the building manager or I could run down and get it, but the very next day, according to her co-worker, she stopped work mid-route with chest pains and has not been seen since, so we’ve had a succession of substitute carriers, plus one or two more break-ins. The building manager, among other things, is an accomplished videographer, and has set up a camera to watch the mailboxes, but she’s also gone ahead and started the process of getting a metal gate for the entrance way.

On our block, on both sides of the street, there are only two buildings where you can walk right up to the mailboxes. Soon there will be just one. Until the gate is installed, we’re having our mail held and will pick it up a couple of times a week.

++

It turned out the neighbors’ bathroom window was open so far because it was broken in some way that caused it to go from being closed to being stuck open two feet. It has now been fixed, and I’m sure they are relieved.

++

I was happy to discover plenty of people complaining online about OSX scroll bars lacking up / down arrows. Unfortunately, the complaints date back to at least 2011, so I guess Apple is unmoved on this point.

++

At the start of the several days where I was feverishly writing and rewriting the essays for my CPE application, Hammett began to have diarrhea. Preliminary research suggested that he could be having problems with the methimazole (thyroid medication) in gel form; in pill form, it made him vomit. Someone said that once a cat is diagnosed with this condition, its lifespan is three to five years. I (while still typing) sank into grief: the best cat ever, soon to depart from this earthly plane! His little cat bed—empty! His other little cat bed—empty!

But after about four diarrheal deposits, things were back to normal, and Dr. Press said on the phone that he doubted the methimazole was the cause. I also remembered that he had said months ago that a cat treated with methimazole may very well live out its normal lifespan.

++

Along with the five essays, an updated resume is required for the CPE application. When I wrote my resume after being laid off in 2012, it took three months, but I didn’t have three months this time. I had less than an hour, so it was done in less than an hour, including soliciting and receiving Lisa C.’s excellent feedback.

The CPE application form that accompanies the five essays is two simple pages and I had gathered all the info for it, but I figured it was going to take several hours, on the last Friday in January, to email everything in and to mail a couple of checks for application fees, and I was right about that. You can download the form as a PDF or Word doc, but neither appeared to be something you could type into, so I filled out one form by hand, then copied it three times, then added information pertinent to the particular program, and then scanned the result. I emailed one of these to myself as a test and it was readable.

Meanwhile, Sam and Naima had both said to put all the essays into one document, but after I did that, what had been perfect formatting in each file got all screwed up.

Two of the places I was applying to to accept applications via email; the third said to mail the application, though there was also an email address listed. I sent an email asking if an electronic submission would be OK, but didn’t hear back from them right away, so I printed out my five essays plus my resume: 21 single-spaced pages. Unfortunately, the final five pages were unreadable. After threatening this for months, my printer was completely out of toner. Fortunately, I had a new toner cartridge in the closet, but I haven’t had this printer very long and couldn’t immediately figure out how to get the front cover open.

Meanwhile, I’d already emailed in a couple of applications and UCSF had responded instantly to say they were having problems viewing the application form—would I be so kind as to type into this Word doc? We had a very friendly exchange, making it now my first choice. Sam said that when he interviewed there, he immediately fell in love with the people and the program.

It turned out that it was perfectly possible to type into the Word form (probably the PDF, too). I just hadn’t tried hard enough. This was after I’d done all that copying and scanning, and about six hours into what I’d thought would take four hours, and by now I was very stressed out and I yelled at the aforementioned best cat on earth when he innocently walked over to try to help with the printer.

Finally, it was all done: applications typed, printed and signed; essays and resume properly formatted; checks written; envelopes addressed; postage amount determined; everything emailed and/or packaged up and dropped in the mailbox down the corner.

Thursday, February 04, 2016

Guru

The next morning, I called Naima to tell her I’d emailed my essays—all five—and she called me back and said two were ready to send in and the third was terrible and should be started over from scratch. She gave me page by page feedback and suggestions on the final two, the longest ones, and typing continued; also glancing at my work computer frequently and doing, with lightning rapidity, whatever needed to be done.

F. left early each morning and stayed away all day, sat in the other room when he was here, and ate dinners alone. It was a weird several days. I get some exercise every single day, except for when I’m visiting my parents, but I went four days without stepping outside. I wore the exact same baggy pants and t-shirt around the clock. My shoulders got more and more tight and I got more and more stressed out. F. came in for a certain amount of impatience, despite doing everything he could to support the process.

++

A rather jolting thing occurred about six feet from my bathroom window, which is where the bathroom window of my young neighbors is located. They have lived there for two years or so and it must be the world’s most harmonious relationship, because that space is identical to mine: a one-room studio. At all times, they have kept their bathroom window closed, or open no more than an inch. But all of a sudden, this window had been thrown open two feet or more, making it impossible not to see in.

For a while, I wondered if they had moved out and two other people had moved in without my noticing it, but no, I saw the exact same things on their windowsill. And now I could also see the back of the tall young man’s bald head as he perched upon the toilet. All this was fine, but isn’t bathroom window aperture preference a hard-wired personality trait? What could have happened?

++

Speaking of harmonious relationships, F. and I have done a much less good job of cohabiting in a small space than (as far as I can tell) my bathroom window neighbors. At first he was here just a couple of days a week, but it has crept up over the months. We are at opposite extremes of the orderliness spectrum and there have been many ill feelings on both parts these past 11 months, though not quite enough to overwhelm our fondness for each other. In many ways, he’s a wonderful boyfriend—loving, affectionate, accepting, hilariously funny—but that is hard to remember when I find, for what seems like the millionth time, a kitchen cupboard not quite closed, or specks of coffee on the floor, or a food container unsealed, or stuff that should be in the fridge sitting on the counter, not to mention a burner that is still lit long after cooking has ceased, or the refrigerator or the freezer door not quite closed, or sometimes four or five of the foregoing at once.

It is astounding what he manages not to notice, and I’m sorry to say that he has been the recipient of many a complaining or even shaming utterance. (Don’t worry, he does not read my blog unless I print an entry out for him.) For his part, he does not understand how three or four fresh scratches in someone’s hardwood floor,
let alone a not-quite-closed plastic container, could be more important than the feelings of an actual human being, and he has a point. On the other hand, I do kind of feel I’m entitled to have things the way I want them in the space for which I’m entirely financially responsible.

And so, back and forth, back and forth. We have gotten better at moving speedily through a conflict and putting it behind us. He’s much quicker to say if something is bothering him, and things appear to bother us both for a noticeably shorter time. However, every time I criticize him, I feel like the world’s worst person. My mental health professional, Deborah, creased her brow over this: “If you don’t feel good in the relationship, you need to get out of it.” She added that if I wanted to stay in it, I’d have to practice more acceptance and less criticism.

Now that I have embarked on the path toward chaplain certification, my failures have become even more painful: how could a mean, terrible person like myself be a good chaplain? Thanks to Ezra Bayda, I was able to notice, “Having the thought such-and-such,” and thanks to Rob Burbea, I could remind myself that I also can be kind and accepting, so I need not paint myself with such a monochrome color. And of course I know that one’s most intimate relationship is the most challenging proving ground. As Ezra Bayda says (this might be a paraphrase), “We don’t have to travel far to find a relationship guru—our guru is the very person who pushes our buttons. Relationship difficulties are a valuable opportunity to learn about our expectations, judgments, anger, fear.”

I am lucky to have a top-notch relationship guru around on a regular basis, also perfect practice for the aspiring chaplain, keeping in mind that I’m likely to fail often in this most challenging situation. This (I hope) is harder than most moments of being a chaplain will be, though I’m sure that as a chaplain I will be angry or frustrated or full of sour judgments from time to time, so I am very lucky to have all this practice right in my own apartment. If I can reduce even ten percent of my reactivity in the domestic situation, I’ll be a top-notch chaplain.

Before I had fully decided to pursue certification as a chaplain, I was thinking aloud one day: what should I do? Should I do this? Should I be a chaplain? F. answered, “You are a chaplain,” which was kind of him—I told you he was a good boyfriend.

Wednesday, February 03, 2016

Full Court Press

My last layoff began with a month where I would work and be paid as usual, followed by a month where I would not work, but still be paid as usual and be considered an employee; after that, severance pay would start. However, from the minute I got my notice, no one in my group expected me to do one single thing. The arrangement is the same this time around, but my boss (not incorrectly) expects to make full use of this final month, so I have been busy teaching my co-workers the things I do; my work has been distributed among four other people.

Meanwhile, I sprang into action regarding chaplaincy. I emailed one of the three teachers of the yearlong chaplaincy training I took at the Sati Center for Buddhist Studies, called another, and both emailed and called one of our guest speakers whom I’d particularly liked.

To be certified as a chaplain, you need three things: 1) A master of divinity degree, or the equivalent thereof. 2) Four units of clinical pastoral education (CPE) in the form of a residency at a hospital. Four units of CPE takes a year. 3) To be ordained or endorsed by some appropriate body within your religion.

I wanted to talk to one of my teachers about ordination, and another about what she thinks should be done first, the academics or CPE. I got a call back from a woman who works for the same health organization the guest speaker works for. She said he’s not really so involved with CPE anymore, and gave me some information herself. However, a bit later, I got an email from the guest speaker saying he’d be delighted to meet with me, and we made a date. I remember he was very funny when he came to our class, and he stayed with us for lunch and answered a lot of questions.

I got a call back from the teacher I wanted to ask about CPE versus education and we made a date to talk on the phone. However, before that rolled around, I mentioned to one of my classmates via email what I’m planning to do and she said she had run into another of our group in Kyoto (the one in Japan) recently and that he had been accepted into some program or other.

I emailed him to inquire and seconds later my phone rang—Sam, explaining that after applying to quite a number of CPE programs from Alaska to Colorado, and after five or six interviews, he has been accepted into a yearlong CPE program at UCSF starting this fall. He directed me to a couple of websites and I realized that, while people usually apply for CPE a year before they want to start, it was not too late to apply for CPE for the fall of 2016.

Applying for CPE involves writing five essays. I thought this over. If I was going to have a week of hideous stress, that did not sound very healthy and I should probably let the deadline pass. On the other hand—ahem—I do have ample experience crafting jolly little nuggets of writing. I decided I could probably do this, especially since at least one of these essays could readily be adapted from one of our chaplaincy class written assignments.

I sat down at the computer and typed and typed and typed. On Tuesday morning, I spoke with my teacher and she said that she thinks it’s better to do the academics first, because right after people finish CPE, they’re ready to go to work, but not yet qualified to do so, or at least, they are competing against other people who have the certification. Nonetheless, people do this in all kinds of ways, including doing the CPE first.

I had figured we’d be on the phone for 20 minutes, but instead we spoke for an hour, and she was so helpful and encouraging that I now feel I have acquired a wonderful mentor. I was relieved and inspired when we got off the phone. She said the journey to professional chaplaincy is 3-5 years, and I can think of myself as being in year two due to my dharma experience. She said the turtle wins the race, not the rabbit—people with deep roots in their own wellness and religious identity.

She added that this is a tried and true track, and that I can trust the process. I should ask myself, “How can I be a turtle and get the most out of this?” I should make ready to ride the ebb and flow. She said that for anyone she has observed who has wanted this and put in the effort, it has worked out. We will have to give her a name. What is a beautiful name for my wonderful mentor? Jehoshaphat? Takes too long to type; also not beautiful. I will call her Naima.

Without my having asked, she offered to review my CPE application, and I agreed to send her my essays the following morning and returned to my computer to type and type and type. Normally I’m not Mrs. Full Court Press. Normally it’s more like I’m going to get nine hours of sleep, stretch, meditate, have a nice breakfast and take a walk and then I’ll see what does or doesn’t fit into my schedule (while also of course super-efficiently getting my job done), but this seemed worth an unusual effort.

Monday, February 01, 2016

Medium-Sized Hat

After being laid off, I expected to feel the disorientation and pressure I felt last time, but discovered that I didn’t and don’t feel that anything has gone wrong. I knew a layoff was possible, and had been telling myself that if that happened, I would pursue becoming certified as a Buddhist chaplain. Perhaps that was almost a deal with the universe, and it has now done its part. It seemed a good omen when Lisa C. emailed me, the very next day, a link to an article with a handy rule of thumb for offering support when troubles strike a friend or family member (since offering support is part of what chaplains do).

Three possible courses of action seemed obvious: 1) Attempt to get another job at my company, as I ended up doing last time. I have given myself full permission to do this. 2) Become certified as a chaplain. 3) Follow my heart completely by pretending for a time to be retired and doing what I’d like to do then: volunteer at the soup kitchen, at Laguna Honda as a chaplain, and at KQED, which is a place I’ve always thought I’d like to spend some time.

The day after I received my layoff notice, I went to see Youth with Lisa M., which was full of gorgeous images. Afterward, we walked along Fillmore St. looking for a place to have dinner. Lisa said she was in the mood for a burger, and the very next place our gaze fell upon was Roam, which offers “artisan burgers,” which were delicious, reasonably priced, and served in a pleasant dining room by friendly young workers. There was music playing, but quietly enough that one could easily converse.

++

One day I teased F. about his ubiquitous knitted cap: “I see you’re wearing your little hat.”

“Hat, don’t you worry,” he said as he pulled its brim down over his face so he could give it a comforting kiss. “You and I know you’re a medium-sized hat.”

++

After a few days, I was having some confusion about the criteria by which which to make a career-related decision. Assuming that I can pay my rent, is it important that I’m doing things I’m very good at? That my work bring me joy? That it be helpful to others?

I was also having some self-doubt regarding chaplaincy, after I remembered I don’t like to be around people that much, or that I very much like to be around them for a little while, like an hour or two, and then I like to go home and be by myself for a week.

Then I had an insight I’ve had before in other contexts, such as regarding flying: fear before flying doesn’t mean my plane is going to crash. It means I feel afraid. Thinking that being a chaplain is a crazy idea that I’ll never be able to do doesn’t mean that. It means I’m having some negative thoughts and an opportunity to be careful where I’m placing my attention. If I believe my thoughts rather than noticing that they are thoughts, they will seem truer with every passing second.

++

I’m not normally much of an affirmations person, but last time I was laid off, these were my affirmations, posted several places around my apartment:

I have a satisfying and enjoyable life.
I am healthy and strong.
I am happy and content.
I have plenty of money and excellent health insurance.
I have interesting work and agreeable colleagues.
I have more than I need to enjoy every moment of my life.

This is my affirmation this time:
I have everything I need, and my life is unfolding perfectly.

++

The last time I was laid off, even though I also had a generous amount of severance pay coming, I was preoccupied with my situation, yet failed to take the kind of actions that might have resulted in having a more satisfying job. Or is that fair? I did go through all the preliminary steps suggested by my career coach. I did update my resume and put an entry on the main business networking website. I did attend a weekly support group. But I didn’t apply for a single job until I applied for one at my own company.

Last time around, at first I was thinking maybe I’d take the opportunity to spend much more time writing. A writer is still what I’d most like to be. But I figured I would also need a job, and what primarily sent me back to my old company was thinking about having to start at a new company with ten annual days of vacation. I was delighted when I got rehired in time to have the same number of vacation days as before.

This time, however, the thought of having to start over with a smaller number of vacation days, if that’s what happens, doesn’t seem so terrible. This is all hypothetical, but if I apply for a job that starts with ten days of vacation per year, possibly I can negotiate for more days, or possibly I can take unpaid days off, or possibly I can adjust and work with what is offered.

It now seems rather perfect that this is my second time being laid off by the same company, as if the first layoff loosened my attachment a bit, and this time I’m ready to let go, and to proceed in a new direction.

Monday, January 25, 2016

Promotion

I have done yet another very good deed! I’m thinking here of how extremely gracious I was when my corporate employer, in mid-January, saw fit for the second time in four years to unemploy me, or, you could say, promote me to unemployed person.

The first displacement came as a surprise. I knew it was coming sooner or later, because a merger between my company and another had caused the tool I worked on to be phased out, but on the day it happened, I thought I was just having my regular one-on-one meeting with my boss. I only realized what was happening when he said that an HR person was also on the line with us.

This time I knew a displacement could be possible, because of the joining together of two large areas within the company, but didn’t think it was probable, given the number of people in the two groups combined: nearly 5000.

In contrast with the last layoff, this one was very well telegraphed by my boss asking the day beforehand that I be in the office for our meeting. In addition, she had reserved a conference room for me to sit in for our meeting, so I was one hundred percent positive what was going to happen and had 24 hours to get my attitude properly adjusted.

When the meeting began, my boss said that her boss would be joining us. “Let me guess,” I said. “I’m getting a promotion and a huge raise?” “Let’s wait for Helga to join,” she said wanly. Helga said she’d get right to it: due to a new company-wide initiative (and no doubt also due to the 5000 people being mashed together), our area has been asked to trim expenses by five percent, and so she was having to lay off one person with my job title, namely me.

(Later I saw in the paperwork that the choice had been between me and the other person in my group who works in San Francisco. We have people in other cities, but office space costs the most here, so it was a sound business idea to lay one of us off. I don’t think Helga likes either one of us, but she must hate me slightly more. Or, my father suggested later, my salary might be higher than my colleague’s.)

I didn’t get a very good night’s sleep the night before, but I resolved to be amiable, and succeeded handsomely. I asked a question or two, and said, “You know, this is probably harder for you guys than for me—don’t feel bad.” Helga thanked me for that. I also said if they had feedback at any point on how I could do better in a future position, I would welcome hearing it.

Later there was a meeting for Helga and the 13 people under her to let everyone know my position had been eliminated. I said in that meeting that I’m thinking about the transition, as I’m sure my boss is, and that if there is anything I can show people how to do before my last day, I’d love to do that. My manager thanked me for my professional attitude.

I was given the rest of the day off and returned home, where I found Tom’s mailbox door ajar. In the lobby, I found several pieces of my mail, and then I read an email from the building manager saying she’d found almost all of the mailboxes hanging open.

And then I remembered something that had been in my mailbox: a full set of my keys. A key to the front door of the building, my mail key, and both keys to my apartment. I recently changed cat sitters and had gotten around to asking my former cat sitter for my keys back. She asked if she could mail them, and I said that would be fine, and in a few days, a padded envelope appeared in my mailbox. I was going out when I saw it, and, not wanting to carry it around town, planned to bring it in upon my return.

Before I got around to it, it was stolen. I’ve lived here for 17 years and this is the one and only time anyone has ever mailed me a set of my own keys, and also the only time our mail has been broken into. What are the odds? F. reminded me that a couple of weeks ago, he had seen the police visiting a building down the block where the same thing had happened. We had to have the locksmith come out immediately and change the front door lock, everyone’s mail lock, and my own two locks. Since this wouldn’t have been necessary if I’d plucked that envelope out of the box as soon as I saw it, I paid for my own two locks and made a $25 contribution besides. Besides that being the right thing to do, keeping the goodwill of my landlords is paramount.

I had a phone date with Margaux that day and told her in detail all about the mail and the mailboxes and the locksmith and what I’d learned from this experience. One thing I learned was that the next time someone asks me, “OK if I mail your keys?”, the answer is, “No! I’ll come and get them.” And then I remembered I’d also been laid off earlier that day. Quite a day, at the end of which, F. and I had Pakistani food at Pakwan.

Friday, January 22, 2016

Yellow Tape

I recently had my yearly diagnostic mammogram and everything was fine. This concludes year four after treatment for DCIS. My breast cancer surgeon is retiring, so I will see his replacement six months and a year from now, and then if nothing has gone wrong, that will be the end of the six-month checks. (A diagnostic mammogram is pretty much the same as a screening mammogram, except there might be additional views needed, and you get your results immediately.)

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I have returned to my walking-around metta practice, inspired by something Phillip Moffitt said at the December retreat at Spirit Rock: that he used to aspire to be loving and friendly, but he now thinks benign is good enough. So when I’m perambulating about, I try to get a little glimpse of each person I encounter and think, “May you be happy,” and I don’t worry if I don’t feel any friendly feeling at all, particularly after I made the encouraging discovery that consciously sending that little wish at least neutralizes the automatic aversion I would otherwise feel. That is a huge benefit, given how many people I can see on a typical walk. Two units of aversion times 150 people is a lot of aversion.

With that little bit of default disliking eliminated, I don’t have to try to avoid having my gaze fall on other people, which I now realize has undoubtedly been my custom, as I tried to prevent the unpleasant experience of mild animosity. Freely looking at others has also had the entirely unexpected effect of making the world seem to open up around me. Along with seeing those who share the sidewalk, I am seeing all kinds of other stuff I might have missed. Vistas, even interior ones, seem more sweeping and expansive, and rather wondrous and beautiful. Also, when I make a point of seeing the people around me, I invariably see acquaintances of mine, who I must normally walk right by.

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When my walking friend and I left Howie’s Tuesday night a week and a half ago, we walked along Mission St., and at 18th St., found the bus stop on the southwest corner sealed off by yellow police tape, along with the entire block of 18th St. from Mission to Valencia. One of the nearby police officers said all he could tell us was that it was a crime scene. I had arranged to meet F. a couple of blocks later, and when we joined him, I asked if he knew what had happened.

He said that after dinner at a Chinese restaurant, he was walking up Mission when a lot of police cars raced past him. When he got to 18th St., he saw a man of about 45 being loaded onto a stretcher for transport, and a younger man, who appeared to him to be a skinhead, sitting on the ground. He was under the impression that the younger man had attacked the older man with some sort of weapon. “Didn’t you see all the blood on the sidewalk?” he asked us.

On sfgate the next day, I learned that both of the people F. saw were the victims of a group of ten young men who approached them at the bus stop, picked a fight, and then stabbed one of them multiple times in the back, nearly killing him—he was in the hospital in critical condition—and also stabbed the other, who was in stable condition. As for the ten young men, not a single one of them was caught.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

On Cashews and Cached Equanimity

F. was patient with my busy social life over the holiday season and my going off on retreat soon after getting back from Michigan, so when it came time for a Saturday afternoon movie, I readily acceded to his choice: Quentin Tarantino’s The Hateful Eight. I have never seen a Tarantino film because of their reputation for violence. This one was three hours long and it certainly was violent, particularly toward the end, but it never seemed to drag, and the gore was so disgustingly exaggerated, it was less disturbing than, say, one very realistic stabbing.

We originally were going to go to the new theater on Mission St., the Alamo Drafthouse New Mission, but our movie was sold out there—all 30 seats. That must be one tiny screen. We were much better off watching the blood splatter on a huge screen at the AMC theater on Van Ness.

I was speaking with a dharma friend who, per the natural rhythms of his practice, has been meditating less lately. Consequently, he said, he was noticing more reactivity, and what he said he would have to call the hindrance of doubt—not of himself, but of the dharma, which I thought was funny. He was wondering why, after 20 or so years of practice, there isn’t more residual or cached equanimity to carry one through such stretches.

This made me think about my lingering idea that regular meditation will raise my default level of kindness. I’m always a little surprised when I find myself being unkind: how can this be happening after 25 years of meditation? I think the answer is that meditation does not directly increase kindness or equanimity. It makes it easier to detect how it feels to be unkind or reactive, and it gives us practice in being awake, which may lead to more frequently making beneficial choices, and if we choose kindness over and over, it may become habitual, but I think it takes a huge number of choices before that happens, especially if one has a lot of practice in being angry or petulant or anxious.

Thinking about having to choose repeatedly then made me think about food and eating. I’m continuing to eat mindfully and am increasingly aware of how uncomfortable it feels when my body gets more food than it needs and how good it feels to eat in response to physical hunger. I want to have that experience as often as possible, which means sometimes choosing not to have an enormous meal that will delay the next experience of hunger for many hours or even into the next day.

I also am pondering what need a particular mouthful of food is satisfying. If I am actually hungry, the answer is clear. Or perhaps it is satisfying what I think is a legitimate or at least understandably human desire for a little pleasure now and then, but that is only true of the first few bites of food. One mouthful of garlic-parmesan potato chips is fantastic, ditto the second and third. But after that, the pleasure only wanes and continuing to eat just reinforces the habit of eating when there isn’t any physical reason for it.

In trying to re-create the pleasure of the first few bites of food, one frequently employed technique is to try some other kind of food: Hmm, roasted, salted cashews not doing the trick. Maybe some macadamia nuts. Maybe macadamia nuts with raisins. Maybe an English muffin with ghee. Maybe an English muffin with ghee and cashew butter. Um … maybe a third English muffin?

Not reading while eating is bringing a lot more clarity. I can say to myself, “I have had three handfuls of roasted, salted cashews and they were absolutely splendid. But what need will this next handful of cashews satisfy? None. There is no currently existing need that can be satisfied by continuing to eat cashews. I am free to do so. I am free to eat cashews until I physically can’t contain any more of them, and then I will feel terrible. So perhaps I will stop now.” And so, lately, sometimes I stop and sometimes it feels great, but sometimes it doesn’t. Sometimes it feels empty and blank, like, now what?

But when not much time has passed and I’m hungry once more, then I’m glad I stopped when I did. Also, being more aligned with reality rather than basing my behavior on fantasy (e.g., more cashews equals more joy) is a satisfying feeling.

In the past, I just wanted to be on a certain diet and not have to choose. When I felt stuffed and ill from egregious overeating, I would think, “I’ll sure never do that again.” I believed that having a sufficiently horrible experience would mean I would do anything to avoid that experience in the future. But how many times did that prove not to work? Quite a large number of times. Eating is just like speaking and acting: constructive choices have to be made over and over again, and the only time this can be done is right now.