Monday, May 09, 2016

Green Onions and Red Chard

Lisa M. and I took a walk in Tilden Park a week ago Saturday. It was a hot, sunny afternoon, so we took a path that is largely shaded, and had our usual very good talk. The following morning, F. and I had brunch at Grub, on Valencia St. I’m trying to cross as many things as possible off my to-do list before clinical pastoral education starts, and trying Grub was one of them.

Last Monday I went to Nordstrom to meet with a personal shopper to get a few blouses for work and a jacket that is less fancy (and allows more arm movement) than my interview jacket, but it turned out they didn’t have either. The woman I was meeting with advised trying Macy’s, which she said has tons of stuff for work, but they also didn’t have either item.

Tuesday I had another pre-CPE medical appointment, and on Wednesday I made a new pants pattern, longer and narrower than my usual pants, and sewed a pair. The results were somehow not pleasing, so it was sort of a wasted day (as was Monday), but at least now I know.

Things picked up on Thursday, with volunteering at the soup kitchen followed by an extremely delicious burger and shoestring potatoes at Zuni, also on my list of restaurants to try. The potatoes had a very favorable grease-to-starch ratio and the burger, with bleu cheese on top, was fantastic. I sat right next to the window and watched the passersby and read The Sun before and after eating. Very nice, relaxing time.

On Saturday, F. and I took a drive out to the East Bay in a City CarShare Scion iA, whose dashboard panel dims if you turn on the headlights, which we did because it was rainy. Therefore, you can only see how fast you’re going if you don’t have the headlights on. Odd. We also had problems with the sound system, whose touch screen seemed to be downright user hostile. (And which does not include a CD player. I guess they figure no one has them anymore.) A button to turn on the hazard lights is located right where your wrist naturally rests when you’re fiddling with the sound system, so we inadvertently turned on the hazard lights while on the freeway.

The next day, Tom, F., and I took the very same car to Sacramento for Steve and Julie’s Mother’s Day soiree. (Earlier I sang my mother’s voice mail a soulful improvised
Mother’s Day song to the tune of “Summertime.”) Again, we were unable to achieve rapport with the sound system touch screen, again the hazard lights got turned on on the freeway, and both of us ended up furious, which is not unheard of for me, but rather unusual for Tom. After a dangerous swerve toward the concrete divider, we ended up just doing what F. and I did the day before, which was to turn the volume down to zero (which can be done using a button on the steering wheel).

After we arrived in Sacramento and were stopped at a red light, we poked at the sound system again and it responded with alacrity: it only works if the car is not in motion. Which is fine, but it would be helpful if there were a sign on it saying so. We almost had an accident trying to make it work. (Actually, that’s not really fine. If you’re driving 15 hours on the freeway, you’re supposed to exit every time you want to change the radio station?)

As for the party, it was really nice to sit in Steve and Julie’s backyard with them and Tom’s mother, Ann, our honoree, and Steve and Julie’s neighbor Robin. I admired Julie’s colorful garden, with its profusion of flowers and wonderful border of green onion plants alternating with red chard. We had a very tasty lunch of steak, fruit salad, Caprese salad, and roasted potatoes. We had to overeat with one eye on the clock so as to get back to San Francisco in time to overeat at the monthly Thomas House potluck.

Today I got an email asking if I’d spent $200 at a Ross in Alameda this afternoon—the second time my credit card has been used fraudulently in two months.

I’m nearly done with two books about Buddhist chaplaincy and have found a few extremely helpful things in one or the other. It was a good idea to read them. I’ll finish them before my program starts in June, and I also hope to reread a third chaplaincy book and finish Chernow’s Alexander Hamilton.

Thursday, May 05, 2016

President Trump

Just thought I’d be the first to say it and get it over with.

Tuesday evening, a friend at Howie’s showed me an email he’d gotten from his sister in Indiana, who earlier that day had visited their mother, who has Alzheimer’s. The sister reported that she had told their mother that she had to go vote and added, “Did you know Trump is running for president?”

“President of what?”

“Of the United States.”

“HOLY SH*T!”

The idea of a Trump presidency was enough to give my friend’s mother a moment of perfect, albeit horrified lucidity.

Tuesday, May 03, 2016

Where to Find Friends

The soup kitchen I volunteer at is a Catholic Worker community, which doesn’t at all imply that the core community is composed exclusively of Catholics, let alone the outside volunteers. My walking friend, who runs the soup kitchen, says that some “Catholic Workers,” which is how he refers to the communities, have lots of Catholics involved and a strong religious orientation, and some don’t. A delightful young couple lived for a time at Thomas House (as I call it here) and worked at the soup kitchen. Then they went on an adventure in India, and now one of them is at a Catholic Worker in Ann Arbor. I plan to visit or even volunteer for a few hours the next time I go to Michigan. 

I recently spoke to yet another chaplain, this one particularly warm and encouraging. Her job is .3 of a full-time job, but she says that’s perfect, because she is doing several other things. (One thing she did in the past several years was to develop and teach a bioethics class at Yale! I hope the profession of chaplaincy is ready for a major slacker, meaning me. I do not plan to develop anything.) Her job happens to be at the hospital where my parents get some of their care, right near their place in Ypsilanti. And it further happens that this chaplain’s boss is the head of the Association of Professional Chaplains committee that grants M.Div. equivalency to Buddhists, and said he’d be happy to talk to me. Marian (as I will call her here) also told me about two Buddhist meditation groups she attends, one in Ypsilanti and one in Ann Arbor.

It was rather striking to find all these resources right near my parents all at once: a new chaplain friend, the head of the equivalency committee, two meditation groups, and a Catholic Worker where I actually know someone. F. was displeased to hear of these developments; he’s afraid I’ll move away. (Per a recent survey, one third of Bay Area residents would like to leave in the next few years. If only we could have the people and businesses back which were pushed out.)

Marian emphasized the importance of self-care during clinical pastoral education. She also said the M.Div. requirements for Buddhists are changing: they are going to get much harder. She said I should, if possible, put in my application before I start CPE in June. That way, I could be considered as in progress under the current scheme, but when I told her my plan, she said it sounded perfect, which was a relief. I really don’t want to scramble to put together a detailed application in my last several weeks off.

Agonizing over whether to be a chaplain or to go back to my former company has abated and I am back to enjoying this time off as much as possible. Fretting was not a very fun pastime, and also, the scales are now tilting inexorably toward chaplaincy. One huge inducement is all the fantastic people I’m already meeting. In glaring contrast, I worked at my ex-company for 17 years and, while I met great people there and had good friends at work, I did not make a single friend that I saw outside work, though Rekha, from my last position, may prove to be an exception.

Besides the few treasured friends still (or again) with me from childhood, my closest friends have all appeared when I was doing something that meant a lot to me: working as the editor of a magazine for people in recovery, volunteering at the Bicycle Coalition or the soup kitchen, attending Howie’s meditation group, studying creative writing at San Francisco State, doing the Sati Center’s yearlong chaplaincy course. I look forward to making excellent friends in the coming years. Of the five chaplains I have lately done informational interviews with, four of them offered themselves as ongoing resources. Marian said she felt like quitting CPE three different times, and that I can call or email her if difficulties arise.

I am now thinking that I will certainly do the yearlong CPE program starting in the fall, and after that, instead of getting a part-time hospice job that forces me to get a car, I will take the year off! (Why didn’t I think of this before?!) I will devote that year to education and volunteering, and have in mind a low-residency two-year program in New Mexico and a school in Berkeley right near BART. Marian said units from both of these places are directly accepted by the Association of Professional Chaplains, so one doesn’t have to demonstrate equivalency. After the first year, I should be able to get a part-time or three-quarters time job as a hospital chaplain somewhere in this country. It doesn’t have to be here. I’ve decided to have an adventure.

Or it still may be that I totally hate the whole thing by the end of summer, or that something else happens that changes everything completely. Anything may happen. Very exciting!

Friday, April 29, 2016

Inconsiderately Overscheduled Nurse Wearies Blogger

I went back to the health center to have TB test #2 placed and was assisted again by the LVN with the daunting schedule. He inquired about my weekend and I about his—he and his girlfriend went to Renaissance Faire. Now I really feel exhausted. On top of all he does, how does he have time for either of those things? Apparently the latter is per the wishes of the former, but it’s worth it, because she is a great lady (in his words). She is Mary, Queen of Scots, and he is her second husband-to-be, so his position is a bit nebulous at the moment.

I got a call from my chaplaincy pal Sam, who has a friend who applied for the CPE program at just one place and got an interview—at Stanford! That’s impressive. Sam wondered if I would speak to her on the phone and give her any tips I could think of about preparing for her interview, which I was happy to do. We had a good talk, and afterward I sent her my written notes on this topic. It was nice to get a chance to help someone else after having been mentored myself so generously lately.

This aspiring chaplain, who is a Zen Buddhist, said she’s not interested in praying for people or doing rituals—why should she try to pretend something is there that isn’t there? I told her I sympathize. In the past, I decided more than once not to pursue chaplaincy for that precise reason: I didn’t want to become immersed in religion, even my own. But I now feel that I will be happy to learn to offer whatever will be most soothing to someone in distress. If someone wants me to pray to God on his or her behalf, I will be delighted to do that. We experimented with this in the Sati Center class. I was prayed for, briefly, by someone who was adamantly opposed to the whole thing and I was very surprised at how comforting it was. Also, in my limited experience as a volunteer chaplain, hardly anyone wants an explicitly religious conversation. Most people just want to talk.

The aspiring chaplain also asked about being able to provide love in a hospital. I’m sure she knows she can be loving in any context if she chooses, so I answered by telling her that I am an aversive type: I don’t naturally walk around radiating love, and therefore rely much more on my ability to be awake and present. I have often observed that when I am fully present, an appropriate kind and friendly response arises easily.