Friday, July 18, 2014

Needle Nose

I celebrated Independence Day by going to volunteer at the soup kitchen, where I saw a favorite guest lying on the ground in the sun, with his lunch arrayed across his chest—a piece of bread here, a spoon there—as he used a curved needle-nose pliers to groom his beard.

I had dinner that evening at Esperpento with Tom and his girlfriend, and the next day, I took a lovely long walk with a friend around the Mission and to Dolores Park. In the evening, Lesley and I had dinner at Savor on 24th St.

Howie was still away the following week, so, for the first time, Spring Washam, of the East Bay Meditation Center, came to teach at Mission Dharma. A delightful young lady with an enthusiastic and encouraging style of teaching, she trained with Jack Kornfield and is on the Spirit Rock teachers’ council.

Later that week I heard a riveting discussion on KQED’s Forum show about the Internet and privacy, during which someone remarked that there’s no getting away from Google. I called in to put in a plug for Duck Duck Go, the search engine that doesn’t track its users or their searches. The person who answered the phone at the radio station said, more or less, “State your name and topic.”

After I’d made my remark on the air and the show was over, I called my mother to tell her, since she told me about Duck Duck Go in the first place, and she (this is the absolute truth) answered the phone by saying firmly, “State your name and topic.”

I recounted verbatim what I’d said on the radio and heard what sounded suspiciously like a raspberry. I said, “I think this phone’s broken—it’s making a farting sound.”

“We Ypsilantians don’t like bragging,” my mother explained.

I wanted to jot down “State your name and topic” before I forgot it (for this very blog post) so I paused in order to do that, and my mother advised helpfully, “Also write down ‘Who is this??’”

Last Saturday I did my cooking and in the evening, I watched Populaire, starring Romain Duris, a French romantic comedy about an insurance salesman who enters his secretary in a speed typing competition. It’s set in the 1950s and is utterly delightful. Duris is perfect in his role, struggling to contain five or ten too many teeth behind his lips. I’ve seen him in several movies now and liked him in all of them. I see he has one newly out in the United States: Mood Indigo.

Every month, the soup kitchen invites all the volunteers to a potluck dinner, held at the house where the intentional community lives. Last Sunday I went for the first time. The people I work with are so great—kind, friendly, devoted—that I was excited to meet everyone who does the eight or so weekly shifts other than mine. But as it turned out, the only people who go to this potluck, though all are invited, are those on my own shift! Ergo, I basically didn’t meet anyone new—I met two people from my own shift whose names I hadn’t learned yet—but on the other hand, I felt right at home and had a good chat with Phyllis.

It was the best kind of party, just sitting around eating and talking, and the food was wonderful, especially the homemade bread made by one of my fellow volunteers, stuffed mushrooms, and a fantastic sun-dried tomato and walnut pesto. I’m looking forward to future potlucks.

I went to see my gum doctor earlier this week for a recheck and I told him that I like him very much, as I’m sure everyone does, and I like the toothbrushes he recommended, and I like his method of brushing, but I do not care for having brown teeth—brown is a lovely color for skin and for many other things, but not for teeth—so after my dentist had to polish them three times in the course of just a couple of months, I broke down and got another Sonicare, which I plan to use once a day with very non-abrasive toothpaste.

He didn’t scream at me, but he did sign me up for gum surgery, so I think we can say he won that round. I’m psyched about the gum surgery. That will be an interesting new experience, and it’s in the service of making sure all teeth remain firmly in my head.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Email Tale

So, that week’s worth of email never turned up and my contacts listed in webmail never returned, though if new mail is sent to my old email address, I get it. (But don’t use that address! Use the new one.) I also get, every day, a quarantine report that offers to update a list of trusted senders and then doesn’t do it. I indicate that mail from a certain sender is welcome and the next day receive a quarantine report about the exact same sender.

However, with much self-congratulatory back patting, I was able to configure Entourage, my email client, to both send and receive an AT&T email address attached to my Internet service. Did you know that AT&T is a well-respected, even revered, American company that has been around for at least a hundred years?

I determined that I could establish additional free AT&T email accounts for various purposes, just as I have had with my Dubai email, but first I wanted to get rid of a no-longer-applicable nickname attached to the AT&T email. It wasn’t something I set up when I configured Entourage, so I searched my email account online high and low but could not find any sign of this setting.

I finally had to call AT&T, which nearly always results in a complete enraged meltdown (on my part, not theirs). I was offered a phone number for fee-based assistance and managed to retain a pleasant tone of voice as I shared my personal feeling that, since my Internet service now costs $46 a month (not including phone service or cable TV), I’d like not to have to pay anyone to make a very minor change to a setting. Keeping my temper paid off, as I was then offered a number for free assistance, but no one there could find any sign of this nickname.

Then I searched my Internet service account (different from the email account) as advised, and still couldn’t find it. Could it somehow be specified in Entourage, after all? I went back there to search every single possible modifiable thing and, yes, there it was, something I put there years ago when I first switched to AT&T for Internet service, easily changed. But all the poking around online was worthwhile, in that I now know what settings are there, and I had the satisfaction of successfully keeping my temper and remaining friendly.

Next I set up additional AT&T email addresses and configured Entourage and tested them and gave as many email correspondents as I could think of a new address to use. Next issue: this very blog, owned by an account that has a Dubai email address. Naturally you can’t just go to Google and update the email address associated with the account. I had to create an additional Google account and send it an invitation to become an author of the blog, which I did over and over without seeing the new author turn up, and getting email after email saying something like, “An unexpected entity accepted your invitation.”

I finally figured out how to get the second author added, and then I made that author an admin, made Bugwalk just an author, and then took Bugwalk off Bugwalk’s own blog. (Frowny face here.) However, I did not delete the Google account for Bugwalk, because then every single photo Bugwalk ever posted would have disappeared, so that Google account has to exist permanently. I had now succeeded in transferring my blog to an account called Hear Morehere, because I had to put in something for first and last name when I made the new account.

I decided to do the whole thing over again so I could have an account with a name more or less equating to Bugwalk—that’s why it now shows Bug Walk as the owner—and I set out, with some trepidation, to delete the Google account named Here Morehere. I thought it was obvious how to do that: when you’re logging into your Google account, there is a button to add another account, and one that says “Delete.” On that login page, I could see my three accounts: Bugwalk, Hear Morehere, and Bug Walk. I clicked “Delete,” figuring it would then ask me which account I wanted to delete. Instead, it said something like, “Your changes have been made!” That was a bad moment.

Thank goodness, my blog was still here, and nothing actually seemed to have been deleted or changed. So then I looked up (using Duck Duck Go!) how you properly delete a Google account, held my breath, deleted Hear Morehere, and was relieved to see no ill effects. Hear Morehere didn’t own the blog long and didn’t post any pictures, but catastrophic results wouldn’t have surprised me.

Finally, in the coming week, I need to figure out what online accounts need updating, such as my bank account. The whole thing has been pretty painless, but time consuming. The worst parts, of course, have been those having to do with Google. For a while, I thought maybe that week’s worth of missing email would turn up and I’d just stick with my old email rather than go through all the steps to switch, but it didn’t, and, anyway, what happened  was unacceptable. For one thing, they should have notified their customers of the upcoming change, explaining exactly what was going to happen and when delayed email would turn up. And they should not have made themselves unreachable by phone, which they still are.

The final step will be to get these “providers” to stop billing my credit card, by whatever means necessary. I
’ve checked my credit account an extra time or two, to make sure extra charges from this biller aren’t appearing.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Proven Method for Clearing the Street of Luxury Autos

One evening late in June, on the spur of the moment, I decided to join the Trans March, which, like much else, can be found a block from where I live. I consulted the FAQ first, which said that anyone can participate, that friends and supporters are welcome. I remember how touching it was to see a ragtag bunch of about 150 people go by just two or three years ago (or 10 or 20, but I think it was just two or three), and was impressed at how large the group was this year. It filled two lanes of Dolores St. for maybe four blocks.

I appreciated that, if nothing else, BMWs were prevented from driving up and down the street for 30 minutes or so, and of course it’s always fun to walk where normally only cars are permitted. It was also nice to be with so many people who don’t look exactly like everyone else. We passed a number of condo developments for the wealthy—it’s impossible to go anywhere these days without doing that—but with very few people on their balconies or looking out their windows. I did see three men on a balcony who appeared to be straight; possibly they were smirking, or not. But if they were, that’s OK. Here, unmistakably and in the flesh, were a whole bunch of transgender people and their supporters (some naked). I thought about the trans woman beaten so badly her face was basically removed, sorry she couldn’t be with us, or anywhere, ever again.

At times, various chants sprang up, one of which included the line “F*ck the cops.” While I have no doubt many transgender (and gay) people have been beaten and abused by police officers, all the ones in sight that evening were there to protect the marchers, so that seemed rather ungracious. I’m sure the officers don’t care that much—they hear it all the time, and they are probably collecting overtime, but it also can’t feel great to hear yourself spoken of that way, so when I broke away from the march, near Market and Powell, I thanked the nearest couple of officers for keeping the marchers safe. One responded with a pleasant smile and a few words; the other ignored me.


++

On a sunny late afternoon weekend walk, I got to thinking about the Dalai Lama, who has famously said his religion is kindness. I have read he tries to treat everyone he encounters as if that person is an old friend of his. I have also read he gets up very early to meditate, possibly for hours, bolstering his intention to be kind that day. He must do some form of metta, or lovingkindness, practice.

I pondered what it would be like to feel that everyone I saw was my old friend. What if I felt toward each person as the Dalai Lama would? Is there anything really stopping me (other than not doing two hours of metta practice every morning)? I tried on the idea of piggybacking on the Dalai Lama’s two hours of metta practice each morning, whose benefits I am sure he would be happy to share. What if all that metta practice gives him the ability to be kind to every single person he meets, and also me?

But then, just as I was channeling the Dalai Lama, feeling kindly toward everyone I saw, someone did something irritating, I forget what. At that moment, feeling kindly would have meant applying will power to push away what I actually felt, which doesn’t seem wise, so then I turned my attention to my physical experience, dropping any words to describe what had happened or what should have happened, just asking myself, “What does this feel like?”, and after noticing that for a few seconds, “What name would I give this feeling?”

The latter question frequently has a surprising answer: I think I’m angry, but quite often discover the feeling is actually sorrow, or sometimes fear. It’s also surprising how quickly the experience is over and forgotten when approached this way. So I think we
’re closing in on a method here: be kind when possible, and when not, notice what’s happening.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

The King and the Commodore Seek to Apprehend the Nature of Reality

Lisa C. was lately in town from Seattle, so we had dinner at Café Ethiopia, sharing three or four (well, four) tasty vegetarian dishes, two of which were the same mushroom dish, and then we went over to Howie’s for a spot of meditation. It was Lisa’s first time being there, and it was delightful to have her along. Howie said he was going to talk about the four foundations of mindfulness, but had to abort his mission after the first two, when time ran out. The first is mindfulness of the body, and the second is noticing whether a sense object is pleasant, unpleasant, or neither.

The third, which we didn’t get to that night, is mindfulness of the mind: noticing if some flavor of grasping, aversion or delusion is present, or if our minds are flitting from object to object or shrinking away from all objects. Sayadaw U Tejaniya’s style of practice is very involved with this third foundation of mindfulness, particularly noticing liking and disliking—if we want something to happen or keep happening, or if we want something to stop happening. Liking can solidify into craving, which often leads to strategizing about how we will get this thing that we believe will make us happy: a vacation, attention from a certain person, loss of X number of pounds, money, winning first prize, etc.

It may be a very small thing: when the water boils for my tea, I’ll be happy. Or huge and far away: after I finish my book and it’s on the New York Times bestseller list.

The means we choose to get the desired object can range from doing nothing whatsoever and hoping someone will read our minds to, on the other end of the spectrum, committing murder, and many other strategies in between. What is so interesting is that we rarely question our original idea that whatever it is will make us happy, mainly because we don’t even notice it as a thought. The thought occurs, and we believe it implicitly and set about actualizing it.

So being able to notice, “I’m having the thought that if Bob asked me out on a date, that would really make me happy” is incredibly useful, for at least two reasons. One is that if I’m noticing I’m having the thought, I can’t be one hundred percent caught in its thrall. The second is that, and here I think fondly of SUT once again, and also of Ezra Bayda, it eventually becomes obvious that the experience of wanting something consists of nothing more than—yep—a set of thoughts and some sort of visceral experience. Nothing more.

At this point, having done all this noticing, I’m free to inquire, “By the way, would this really make me happy?” It is fine to seek out and have pleasurable experiences, to enjoy amazing meals, wonderful trips, fun times with others, warm moments with those we love the most. There is nothing wrong with savoring the excellent things that come our way, but attempting to prolong any such pleasure is futile, and no matter how many agreeable experiences we manage to line up, we are all subject to what is called in Buddhism “the eight worldly winds” of praise and blame, pleasure and pain, gain and loss, fame and disrepute. Every last one of us sometimes doesn’t get what she wants and sometimes most definitely gets what she most definitely does not want.

More and more, it comes to mind: pleasure is not the same thing as happiness. (And, for that matter, displeasure doesn’t have to be the same thing as unhappiness.) I even reminded myself of this while asleep not long ago. In a dream, I was planning to have a certain agreeable experience, and told myself, “Yes, that will be very nice. But pleasure is not the same thing as happiness.”

As I understand it, Sayadaw U Tejaniya’s practice is to, at the least, notice some sense object as often as possible, and also to check frequently to see if we’re relaxed, and if not, to relax. Then, if possible, we can notice what we like and what we don’t. But if tuning in to the attitude of mind is not possible in a given moment for whatever reason, we can simply notice an easily recognized sense object: our feet on the floor, for instance. Doing that as many times per day as we can remember to will transform our lives.

Noticing thinking, in my opinion, eliminates approximately 95 percent of our problems, because it largely prevents excursions into the golden or miserable past, or into the annoying or frightening future. Relaxing the body and mind washes out the residue of past believed thoughts and makes it harder for new ones to take hold. Noticing liking and disliking has the miraculous and potent properties described above.

So if pleasure is not happiness, what is? More and more, it seems to me that simply being aware and awake in this very moment is. And that’s exactly what Howie was going to say, if he’d only had the time.

Sunday, July 06, 2014

Bedsores Neatly Avoided Yet Again

A few weeks ago, Tom and I went to St. John the Evangelist Church for an evening walk with about 15 people from a handful of local churches, a synagogue, and Howie’s group. They do this twice a month, bringing three messages to the neighborhood: We care about what’s happening. Stop the violence. What do you need?

Before we departed, we left all money and valuables in the pastor’s office so that we could honestly say, “I don’t have any cash” if asked. I hand out money all the time, but they don’t want this group to be thought of as a moving ATM machine. On our walk, we went to the sites of three very recent acts of violence, two that ended in death.

We also walked down an alley where gang members are known to live, not to proselytize, but just to remind them that we care about them, and at certain points, we stopped and prayed. Tom wouldn’t even enter a church to hear my brass quintet perform years ago, so I was surprised that he stood around for Christian and Jewish prayers, and metta phrases offered by my two fellow sangha members. I actually didn’t enjoy it very much myself, though I appreciated the sincerity of this group, and their obvious kindness. We paused at the 16th St. BART plaza, and the pastor of St. John
’s told us about two transgender women who had lately been beaten to death, one so savagely that her face was basically removed.

Back at the church, we stood in a circle in the garden and shared thoughts. I said that I appreciated being with like-minded people, but that I actually felt more cut off from neighborhood people walking with the group than when I walk alone. The pastor looked so genuinely distressed that I was kind of sorry I’d mentioned it. He asked what I thought could be done about this, and I said I’d have to think about it, and that maybe there is nothing to be done—maybe it’s just two different things, walking with a group or walking alone. Another fellow seconded my observation about it being easier to connect with random people when he’s by himself.

I am probably on their email list now, so if I get an email, I think I’ll write back and say that while it may be easier to chat with neighbors and strangers when walking solo, certainly it makes more of a statement if there is an identifiable group, with a couple of people carrying signs, so both are good.

A couple of days after the walk, Tom and Ann and I went to see Tony Kushner’s The Intelligent Homosexual’s Guide to Capitalism and Socialism with a Key to the Scriptures, at Berkeley Rep. We tried a new place for lunch: Au Coquelet. Tom was happy (as always) and Ann liked what she had, but my scrambled eggs were pretty flavorless and the home fries were undistinguished, so, as far as I’m concerned, the search is still on for a fantastic lunch place right near Berkeley Rep. (And, yes, I’m glad I’m lunching inside anywhere and not standing on the street selling the Street Spirit, Berkeley and Oakland’s equivalent of the Street Sheet sold in San Francisco.)

As for the play, it’s three hours and 45 minutes long, and when a friend of Ann’s went, she and her group left after the second act and reported that many others did the same. If you make it through the whole thing, you can stay for a docent talk afterward. The play definitely does ramble on and there are way too many scenes with four or six or ten people yelling over each other, so that you just pick up snippets here and there—Tom fell asleep about two minutes after the play started—but at the end of the second act, Ann and I had to see how it came out, so we stayed for the whole thing, and we didn’t notice anyone else leaving, either. However, it could definitely be condensed to two acts and be, say, two and a half hours long. We did stand up after the second act. As Ann said, “We don’t want to get bedsores.”

I was reading an interview with Tony Kushner in the program and apparently he is a major procrastinator. He hates facing the blank page and so he waits to write until there is a very hard deadline, and then he ends up trying to revise after rehearsals have begun, by which time the actors have already learned earlier versions. I’m not dissing him! This was all right in the program. One can see how this could lead to works that are way too long and not sufficiently pruned and shaped; many of the first inspirations are still there by the time the work is actually being performed, somewhat akin to putting a first draft onstage.

++

Herewith a plug for the sun sleeve. I’ve long put sunblock on my face and worn a hat, but hate to put gloppy lotion on my arms, which then may end up on my clothes, so I’ve been using a set of Pearl Izumi sun sleeves and love them. They are just long stretchy tubes that pull on easily, covering from near the shoulder to the wrist, and when not needed, they are readily removed and stuffed in a backpack. There are other companies that make sun sleeves, and they come in a variety of colors.

Friday, July 04, 2014

A Congenial Chill

A few weeks ago, Carol Joy came to town on a Saturday and we had tasty breakfasts at Boogaloo’s, so large neither of us could finish ours, which is a rarity. I had scrambled eggs with mushrooms, a biscuit, and potatoes, and avocado on the side. The avocado, as at Radish, was a modest portion and a bit past its prime, but at least it was $1.50 instead of $2.50. If I go there again, I’ll have the exact same thing, minus the avocado.

After breakfast, we took a stroll on 24th St. east of Mission, to Potrero Ave. and back. Next we sat in Borderlands Café and played two entire games of Sneaky Pete. Each game has seven hands, each of which has a different objective, a combination of runs (four cards in a row in the same suit) and sets (three of a kind). During these two games, not once but twice I forgot what the objective was while playing the hand! This has never happened before, let alone twice in a day. So I was trying to, for instance, put together two sets and one run when the goal was two runs and one set. Sigh. I lost both games, but then, I almost always do. Playing is fun, anyway. Once, looking at my hand, I frowned and said, “Good lord!” and Carol Joy joked, “There’s that poker face.”

After all that card playing, it was time for dinner at Café Ethiopia. We’re both vegetarians, so we shared three or four (well, four) tasty vegetarian dishes. The mushrooms are my favorite.

I’ve started taking a bike ride instead of a walk when feasible, and I’m so enjoying those rides, now that it has been 19 months of hot flashes, and with the weather often hotter than it used to be. On top of that, there are two clothes dryers that vent underneath my kitchen windows, and at least one person uses dryer sheets, full of nasty chemicals. (They probably have some in Rainbow that are just fine, smell aside.) She probably doesn’t even know she’s cloaking herself in carcinogens because the law doesn’t require the actual ingredients to be listed on the box, but two minutes online will tell you what they are. So from time to time, instead of a nice westerly breeze coming through my three kitchen windows, it’s a cloud of poisonous fumes, so the two choices in regard to those windows are to leave them closed most of the time and only open them when I’m in the kitchen and can verify that the dryer below is not in use, or to leave them open all the time and close them when I realize my apartment has filled with fumes, neither of which is ideal.

I actually gave some thought to taking this up with the dryer sheet user—maybe she would like me to find her a better class of dryer sheet at Rainbow, or maybe it would be possible to extend the vent up to the top of the building—it doesn’t look like it is—but this is the same person with whom I fought so many times over cigarette smoke and grilling, and with whom I get along excellently now, so I decided not to say anything to her. Yes, on the one hand, people should not be venting poison into other people’s space, but on the other, we’re talking about three or four hours a week, and I can easily close my window at those times. If I choose to keep my windows closed most of the time to avoid a toxic wind and my apartment is like a sauna and I’m dripping with sweat, I can’t blame her.

I’m contemplating getting a giant fan to supplement my collection of little fans. I remember reading in about 1987—I remember right where I was standing when I read this newspaper article—about how we would have to ensure that we had plenty of electricity to run all the extra air conditioning and fans we’d need as the globe warmed, and of course I thought that was ludicrous: why don’t we not warm the globe? But here we are. We have warmed the globe and I personally am extremely warm and I guess the cost of not risking a fight with my neighbor may be to use additional power to run a fan, just as that article said. Or I may not get another fan. Maybe I’ll just be hot.

So I appreciate every moment where there is a clean breeze. I love being in that part of the park before the final turn that takes you to the water, where there are a lot of tall trees and it’s always cool. I love sailing downhill on my bike, heading west, with the wind in my face, and then enjoying the view at the water’s edge. Any moment that is cold and gloomy and foggy is a delectable moment to be appreciated.

Tuesday, July 01, 2014

Another Bracing Day in the Digital Era!

This morning I discovered that, email-wise, I’d been bombed almost back to the stone age. In my email client, Entourage, I saw I had no email, which is not possible, so I went to check webmail online and found the interface looking quite different and the name of the service different and my contact list different in that it used to contain however many email addresses and now it contains none at all. My inbox showed just one ancient email, sent by my father last week.

I called the usual tech support number and was advised that, per their desire to provide excellent service, they were unable to provide any service whatsoever: I could not speak with anyone nor even leave a voice mail, but their recorded message provided enough of a clue that I was able to reconfigure Entourage to receive email, which I know because that one elderly email I saw in webmail then turned up in Entourage. I can also send email to others, as confirmed by my father, but I can’t receive it, including test messages from myself. These don’t even end up in webmail, so either they will turn up in a flood later, or however many messages that were sent to me are gone for good.

Per my practice of relaxed, continuous awareness, I noted a feeling of disliking.

I did a bit of searching online and found the website for one related entity, which advertised 24/7 support and listed a phone number. Its logo, by the way, looks like a vagina plus ovaries. I saw a very similar graphic the last time I visited my ob/gyn. I called the number and got a message saying no assistance would be forthcoming due to the holiday, namely whatever holiday they are celebrating today in Dubai, where this outfit is located.

A mild but unmistakable wave of xenophobia, possibly jingoism, swept over me: this fly-by-night cheap email service has served me well for many years, but maybe it’s time for some good old American email!

Possibly everything will fall into place: I’ll reach someone at the support number and get Entourage configured so as to receive email. Or I won’t even have to do that: email will start turning up in webmail—it will be reassuring if it includes the test messages I sent myself—and then in Entourage.

But I have a strong suspicion that I’ll never be able to reach anyone at that number and email will never start to turn up. Well, whatever. Fortunately, I have an email address associated with my excellent American Internet service provider, also known as my savagely hated telephone company.
I’ll see if I can configure Entourage to fetch that email, and notify anyone really crucial to use that address instead. Yes, of course that includes you!

Huh! I feel a simplifying force underway. It’s not a bad feeling.

As for getting these Dubai-ese email “providers” to stop charging my credit card monthly, well, as you know, it’s not a matter of letting my financial institution know that. Legally, it’s not my decision to make. It’s up to the biller to tell my financial institution it no longer wishes to receive funds via my account. I’m sure there is someone in Dubai doing that right this minute, or, possibly, not.

However, if email doesn’t start trickling into view, this will be an actual case of fraud, which should make it easy enough to stop the monthly billing. If necessary, I can cancel the credit card itself, which, oddly, would probably create fewer problems than having my long-term email address disappear.

I think I don’t have to explain why I won’t be transitioning to a “smart” apartment that turns my bed covers down for me and starts warming up my dinner when it detects that I
m 20 minutes away by bicycle. There’s a lot more one can lose than one’s email address, and a lot of juicy data that remains private unless you yourself put it online.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

AFGE

Recently I finally did something I hadn’t done since Carlos died 15 months ago: attend a grief and loss support group, one with an explicit focus on mindfulness. I hadn’t gone to any group and also hadn’t gone to therapy. After Deborah told me it was “just going to be an effing hard year,” which it was, I thought, among other things, that I might as well save my money, and it turned out that bodywork was a better allocation of funds. From time to time, I would think I should go to a group, but before I could locate one, the particularly sad period would pass and it wouldn’t seem necessary.

I know some people start going immediately after a loss, and some never go, and that either is fine, so I didn’t feel obligated, but I got an email about this group, and just decided to go. I don’t think about Carlos all day every day (though I do think of him every day), but it is dawning on me that, sometimes when I miss him, it is with the same intensity as ever, and I’m starting to think that is never going to abate. In fact, in a way, now that some time has passed, it seems even more shocking when I have a specific memory of him: that happened? That is gone?


(Seems a little unfair that I should be with him for less than a year and then potentially have to mourn his loss maybe for decades.)

I was the first person to arrive at the group and felt quite hostile. I decided that I would share my name and nothing more, and when one of the co-facilitators approached me, I felt grumpy and very nearly left. However, I’d been thinking that maybe another group member would give me a ride home later, so a vague desire to avoid the 30-minute walk home and a degree of inertia kept me sitting there.

There ended up being six attendees, some whose losses were as long as three or four years ago and some whose losses were exceedingly fresh, plus two leaders. There was no one there I knew. I would have left if there had been, probably. What was said was of course confidential, but I think it’s OK to share the format.

We went around and said our names and who we lost and when and shared a memory of that person. I did that, except I shared someone else’s memory of a thing Carlos once did, and I said it wasn’t my memory.

Then we did a written exercise, reflecting on a past loss, not the one that had brought us to the group. We answered three questions: Did that experience change my life? Did I gain understanding or wisdom? What strengths do I have now that I didn’t have then? We got into dyads (pairs) and shared our answers, taking turns talking and listening.

Then we did another written exercise, reflecting on our current loss, again with three questions: Are there others affected by this loss? How are they dealing with it? Do I know others going through a loss similar to mine? We again shared our findings in the same dyad and then we shared on a group level a bit about what our experience had been. In responding to what we said, one of the leaders put a big emphasis on mindfulness of the body, asking us to notice what we were experiencing and reminding us that that is where our wisdom resides, not in our stories about things. That is, he was speaking my language exactly.

I thought the exercises were brilliant. My previous loss was that of Chet, who was 26 years older than I was, and an excellent friend and mentor to me starting when I was 17. He died of a heart attack when I was 25, he 51. I had been living in San Francisco for five years by then, and didn’t talk to him often, but as it happened, we had spoken on the phone maybe a month before, and after we hung up, I called back specifically to tell him that I loved him.

The experience of his death did not change my life and I did not gain in understanding or wisdom. I remember crying perhaps once, but not mourning beyond that, because it was unbearable. There was no way Chet could be gone, and that was that. Even years later, I couldn’t think about it for more than a few seconds. But thanks to our discussion, I see now that, even though I thought I was all grown up, at 25 I wasn’t able to remain awake to that loss and feel it fully, which is fine. That’s how it was, but one of the leaders pointed out that such un-mourned losses can affect our ability to deal with our current loss; hence the question about strengths we have now that we didn’t have then.

However, I don’t think not mourning for Chet has impeded my mourning for Carlos, which has been full and unstinting. Nonetheless, I plan to spend some time reflecting on Chet to see if there is anything that wants to be felt or seen.

As for my current loss, are there others affected? Certainly; many. How are they dealing with it? As it happens, I’m not in touch with the three other people who were closest to Carlos—his ex-girlfriend, his brother, a dear friend—so I have no idea! But I often run into other friends and acquaintances of his who might say, “Oh, I miss him—I was just thinking about him today.” He was very loved.

Do I know others going through a loss similar to mine? At first, I thought not. I could only think of the other five people in the room. But then I remembered about the administrative assistant at work. And another co-worker. And a person I was in a class with long ago whom I ran into at a party in the past year and have kept in touch with a bit. And a woman in my meditation group. And—duh—another friend I see regularly; how could I have not thought of him? Plus I have two close friends whose mothers are terminally ill right now.

These questions were also excellent, reminding me that I’m not the only one to suffer a loss; I’m not even the only one to suffer this loss. The group meets monthly on a drop-in, donation basis. I plan to return. We talked a bit about things we like to hear on the subject of the person we lost, and things we hate. You can’t go wrong with, “I’m so sorry,” but as far as I’m concerned, you can go very wrong with, “He’s still here in spirit.” That actually makes me angry.

One of the leaders mentioned another potentially angering response: any reference to the loss being a growth experience or how we might receive a gift from it. However, it dawned on me that I have received at least one major gift from this loss: the gift of a broken heart itself. I cry frequently now, about my own sorrows, and, sometimes just as freely, about other people’s. I cried when I heard on the radio about the woman in Washington, DC, who lost her housing and found all her stuff outside on the lawn, that which hadn’t been stolen. I cried when I read about the little girl who was asked to leave a KFC because her facial scars from having been attacked by a dog were bothering other patrons. Until then, she hadn’t thought there was anything wrong with her face. Now she doesn’t want to look in a mirror or have others see her. I’m crying now. I can feel that. It hurts. I can feel it because I was able to feel my own loss.

It is also thanks to Carlos that I’ve ended up at the soup kitchen, which every week softens my heart further. The more open my heart is, the more satisfying and meaningful life is, and if that’s not a gift, I don’t know what is. And, yes, I did get a ride home, from a very nice person.

Addendum:
Since I wrote the above, it came out that the family of the little girl at KFC may have made their story up.

Also, in the days since I wrote the above, the mother of one of my close friends died, after being ill for about a year. I have vivid memories of her starting from when I was seven years old, when her daughter and I would go to their house after school to eat ice cream and sit on giant bean bag chairs, watching TV. I haven’t heard her actual voice for decades, but can hear it in my head as if it was just yesterday. My friend had been planning to marry her gentleman companion in due time, but once her mother became ill, they went ahead immediately, so that her mother could help choose her dress and be at the ceremony.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

A Mostly Satisfying Expansion

My own parents, in a daring move, tried to kill me by making me watch a video called Fathead on my last visit. Fathead is an answer to Super Size Me, and is more poorly produced, by a fellow much less likeable than Morgan Spurlock, but it makes a convincing case that it’s perfectly fine to eat fat—that eating fat is not what makes us fat. It even avers that a total cholesterol reading of less than 160 is associated with depression. Once upon a time, my total cholesterol was 103, and I did struggle a lot with depression in those days. These days, I can’t think of the last time I would have said I was depressed, which might be because I’m older, or because of 24 years of meditating, or maybe it is because my cholesterol is no longer 103.

The film makes a pretty compelling argument—think cancer—against eating high-carb vegetables fried in vegetable oil. After seeing it, it was out with potato chips and in with jars of coconut oil and peanut butter. I figured any amount was basically fine, based on Fathead’s favorite snack, which is cheese fried in coconut oil. The very fact of frying one substance full of saturated fat in another would suggest that anything goes.

I discovered that extra-virgin coconut oil, if spoonable but still a bit firm, in conjunction with peanut butter is remarkably like a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup in texture and flavor, but without a single speck of sugar. Yum. Later on, I discovered that eating the better part of a jar of soft, almost runny coconut oil with a spoon is remarkably like something very disgusting. And it is extremely high in saturated fat, so just in case Fathead isn’t completely correct, it was on to nuts and more nuts, though I hadn’t forgotten that peanuts have a poor omega 3:6 ratio, which also is associated with depression. When it comes to the omega 3:6 ratio, the very best kind of nut to eat, alas also one of the yuckiest, is the raw walnut.

Anyway, nuts and more nuts, and then I noticed something curious, in a photo taken of me in Tilden Park by Lisa M. I walk with her there every month or so lately, and we always take a few snapshots in the very flattering natural light. In this photo, it almost appeared as if my stomach were sticking out, and in the photos taken on the subsequent walk, there was no mistaking it: I was gaining weight. Once upon a time, this would have been terrible and I would have felt ugly and awful, but for whatever reason, weight gain seems almost entirely excellent to me now.

After I had DCIS, I stopped eating sugar and dairy and I lost a whole lot of weight, and I could barely recognize myself in the mirror—I felt like crying when I saw myself—and people were basically telling me how lousy I looked, all but wondering aloud if I was dying. I don’t have a scale, so I don’t know how much weight I’ve gained back, but, according to myself, I look superb. I feel splendid, and, as for my work pants no longer fitting—duh—I bought the same pants in a larger size. I even am noticing other people around me looking better as they happen to gain weight. All that scrumptious flesh!

There’s only one consideration on the other side, but it’s a major one, which is that my DCIS was estrogen positive—it was fed by my body’s own estrogen. Because fat cells produce estrogen, being larger raises the risk of breast cancer, so if you want to keep breast cancer risk to a minimum, being as skinny as possible is probably good. I certainly do not wish to have breast cancer again, so I totted up just how many grams of fat and ergo calories I was taking in—yikes—and decided that barrels of roasted cashews are probably to be avoided.

To be fair, my father basically said the same thing. He said that he no longer worries about what percentage of his daily intake consists of fat, but he also doesn’t drink olive oil by the cup in an effort to get up to 5000 or 6000 calories daily. His overall intake is normally quite moderate, and so is my mother’s. So it’s possible that they weren’t actually trying to kill me.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Blab

I have to say, I’m having some misgivings about the whole blogging enterprise lately—are my efforts in the blaboratory really worthwhile? I think this is yet another result of the Tejaniya-style retreat at Spirit Rock in April: What are my motivations for doing this? To what end? I enjoy doing it, which maybe is reason enough, and since I like reading about other people’s lives, perhaps there are those four or nine or as many as 12 people who like reading about mine, but if not, I relish my minutes of writing every day, anyway. Knowing that my father faithfully reads every single post is a motivator. (Thanks, Dad!) But lately I find myself, on the one hand, deleting many paragraphs of draft material after I ask myself, “Does this actually seem interesting?” and many other paragraphs after the question, “Do I actually want to share this about myself on the Internet?”

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A couple of weeks ago, instead of taking my customary walk, I took a bike ride around the city, and found myself cycling along the Embarcadero, where I heard what sounded like one of those super-loud motorcycles, but it turned out it was a low-slung Mercedes convertible covered entirely in a gold-colored metal. Very striking, and it made an absolutely earsplitting noise when moving. Then I realized that wasn’t the car making the noise—it was a similar Mercedes, right next to the gold-colored one, this one covered entirely in shining silver. Even more fabulous looking, but obnoxious beyond belief. I’m sort of sick of living near rich people (which I guess is not news, in this blog).

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To celebrate my birthday earlier this month I had a massage including TMJ work—I felt great afterward—and then Tom and L. from meditation group took me out to dinner at Radish. I had the veggie burger again. Tom had their hickory burger, overflowing with cheese and sauce, and L. had one of the specials, a fried chicken dinner.

The next day I treated Tom to brunch at Radish. Yelp advises that there can be a two-hour wait if you get there at 11 or noon, but we went minutes after they opened at 9 a.m.—there were other people there already—and had no wait, but the service tends to be slow and somewhat haphazard, though the people who run it are darling. When we were there the night before, the adorable woman (maybe the owner) who took our plates away dropped one item and then another. As the silverware crashed to the floor, she called, “I got it!”, making everyone smile.

Brunch Saturday was tasty scrambled eggs—there didn’t seem to be any way of adding items to the eggs themselves—and crispy home fries and a biscuit. I ordered a side of avocado, which turned out to be about one quarter of an avocado rather past its prime and cost $2.50. In sum, I would say go to Boogaloo’s, where the potatoes are tastier, the biscuits are larger and softer, and you get a good amount of soft butter in a cup instead of a single pat of cold butter. The prices are better, too. But Radish seems like a fine place for an afternoon veggie burger and giant pile of fries, and it’s a pleasant place to be, open and light.

In the afternoon I went to Berkeley for a stroll in Tilden Park with Lisa M. That was fun, as always, and in the evening, I watched The Ledge, with Charlie Hunnam (wow, he’s cute!) and Terrence Howard. It also featured Liv Tyler and Patrick Wilson. The latter two seemed kind of strange and wooden, even beyond what might have been appropriate for their characters. The only character who seemed entirely real was the one played by Terrence Howard, though Charlie Hunnam also did a good job and is highly watchable. The movie starts with Charlie Hunnam ascending to a ledge he means to jump to his death from. Howard is the police detective trying to convince him not to, and the story mainly unfolds in flashbacks. I watched the whole thing and found it absorbing and affecting, though it seemed in a way more like a theater piece than a movie, slightly stylized.