Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Leisure Lifestyle Development

Four years ago, I considered applying to the Sati Center for Buddhist Studies’ Chaplaincy Training program. I was doing hospice volunteering at the time and thought it would be fantastic to hang around with old and/or dying people full time, which I still think, except that I now think it would be equally fantastic to hang around with homeless people. I decided that the job title most closely matching that ambition was “chaplain,” but was discouraged when I learned that to be an accredited chaplain, you need a master’s degree in theology (or equivalent thereof), which is the last thing on earth I want. There do happen to be two or three places in the country where you can get this degree in a Buddhist context. One of them is right in Berkeley, and it has a program that focuses on chaplaincy. Every person who graduates from that program gets a job in the Bay Area right away, according to the person who runs it.

Besides being a course of study I have zero interest in, the school in Berkeley is expensive and, while it claims to encompass the various strains of Buddhism, it appears to be slanted toward Japan and Zen, so I’m probably not going to do that particular program, anyway. There might be a low-residency degree program that would be a better choice if I decide I must be a professional chaplain. But you can also be a volunteer chaplain, and you can think of yourself as a chaplain whether you work as one or not.

The Sati Center program does not fulfill all of the requirements for becoming an accredited chaplain, but can potentially afford a handful of units toward the master’s in theology, and sounded like a wonderful thing in its own right. It is taught by Jennifer Block, who is a former chaplain and now teaches other chaplains; Gil Fronsdal, a vipassana teacher and also a Zen monk; and Paul Haller, a Zen priest who started out as a Theravadan monk. The latter is also my absolute favorite teacher from the Zen Center. Virtually every talk I ever heard there was utterly incomprehensible, except for his, which were clear, charming, and inspiring.

I started the application but the program requires ten hours a month of volunteering, which I concluded was not really feasible to add to my schedule. Earlier this year, I got an email about a day on chaplaincy at the Sati Center, which is in Redwood City, 30 minutes or so from here by City CarShare car. I attended, and got to thinking again about the Sati Center’s program. A woman who had done it spoke and said she had loved it so much, she wished she could do it a second time.

I brought home several pages of notes and pamphlets and then forgot about it, except that when requesting days off from work, I made sure to retain enough days to do the program, just in case. Somehow or other, before the deadline had arrived, I decided to apply. Probably something to do with the soup kitchen, wanting to make sure I am bringing everything I can to that service.

I sent in all my stuff, including a letter of recommendation from Howie, and got an email back about arranging a phone interview. I called Jennifer at the appointed hour and she said, “I can see from your application that you would be a good fit for this program, and we’d like to invite you to enroll.” I thanked her and said, “That wasn’t very much suspense,” and she said she doesn’t like to keep people in suspense, for her own sake or theirs. She was delightful to talk to, down to earth and very calm and thoughtful.

She sent an email listing the four main books the course will use, and one of them was How Can I Help?, by Ram Dass and Paul Gorman, which was published in 1985. At that time, I was attending San Francisco State University, where I took a class called, if I recall correctly, Leisure Lifestyle Development. A certain relative of mine who studied economics at the University of Chicago found that risible, ditto another who studied naval architecture, but it was one of the most important classes I ever took. It was an examination of values: what is important to me? How do I want to spend my time? How will I balance self-care and care for others? How will I handle stress? I remember we watched a movie about a speeded-up world, with everything rushing by. Some of the readings were from the newly published How Can I Help? It was nice to bump into that book again, and be reminded of that wonderful class.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Decluttering Successfully Uncompleted

I think I went too far with all this decluttering in that every day I miss certain irreplaceable objects, and the places where they were look sad and empty, so I’ve decided not to go ahead with the remaining sectors of my small apartment. The decluttering project is concluded and Barbara Reich has fallen off her pedestal. She was really talking about people with entire houses full of really too much stuff, which is not my situation.

I miss my mother’s gold casserole with a tiny crack in it and a certain butter knife, though it still seems OK that the ugly vase and many other things are gone. I still have my mother’s mechanical pencil and my father’s toy truck, and the last blouse my grandmother ever wore, found hanging on a hook on her bathroom door. It still smells faintly of her perfume, 12 years later.

I was telling my mother I planned to get rid of my LPs and turntable, etc., and she said, “I do not support this,” and she was right. It’s not time yet, and might never be. I’ll leave this for Hammett to do after I’m gone. Here he is, resting up for the future task, or maybe just for more resting up.

I had also been trying to think if there was a way I could get rid of my stereo receiver and old speakers and still use my turntable, and I made the thrilling discovery that, since the turntable has a pre-amp built in, I can plug it directly into the back of the new computer speakers, and I can do the same with my tape deck! But, a few days later, while listening to a Todd Rundgren song, I heard a truly terrible sound that I could not get rid of via the equalizer in iTunes.

I belatedly went to Amazon to read the reviews for the computer speakers, which are overwhelmingly positive, but on this occasion I read the 1-star reviews, about 50 of them, and a good number of people complained about the sound quality: overly booming bass, nonexistent midrange, tinny treble. There was a chart comparing this speaker system to other Logitech speaker systems that have 25 or 40 watts of power. These have 200. So now it’s back to the drawing board on all of this, because it appears that for great sound, I might need to use my old stereo receiver and old speakers, and that is really too much stuff to have on my desk.


A couple of weeks ago, I took a walk with Elea on a warm Saturday, and then had a phone date with Margaux. In the evening, I had a burrito with George, one of the core group of volunteers at the soup kitchen. He regularly goes to volunteer at San Quentin, as well, and I offered to treat him to a burrito if he’d tell me all about it. I thought I might like to go along with him one week. I must have mentioned this to my mother, because the next thing I knew, I’d received a copy of Robert D. Hare, Ph.D.’s Without Conscience: The Disturbing World of the Psychopaths Among Us in the mail, so I could choose my incarcerated husband carefully.


I was noticing one day very clearly in sitting practice that when something unpleasant arose, such as a physical sensation, the reaction was not one of aversion and trying to push the unpleasant thing away, as I would expect, but of shrinking away: There was a fear of fully perceiving the experience, coupled with a fear that the experience wouldn’t go away, that it would linger and maybe even become worse.

I also noticed that when a pleasant sensation arose, or perhaps a pleasant sound, like a certain kind of airplane, there arose a desire for the pleasant thing to continue, certainly, but also the mild anxiety that it would go away. So in the unpleasant there was mild fear, but also in the pleasant.

When I became Howie’s student, in 1990, I was excited that meditation and mindfulness might help with the compulsive eating I’d struggled with since I was seven years old. I figured that, instead of eating when I wasn’t hungry, I’d use my nascent mindfulness skills to notice what was happening, and thus not need to eat compulsively. This approach did not meet with immediate success, and I mentioned it one night at sangha. Howie asked how long I’d been practicing eating compulsively. If we had that conversation roughly a year after I became his student, then I had been practicing it for 22 years. He advised that it might then take that long to get the hang of doing something else. He was precisely correct. It’s been 23 years, and very recently, since going on the Tejaniya-style retreat at Spirit Rock in April, I have noticed a major change in the realm of eating.

I now see that, for most of those 23 years, I was on the Mindfulness Diet. (By the way, at Rainbow most recently, I saw that phrase, used sincerely, on the cover of one of the Buddhist magazines.) That is, I was attempting to use mindfulness to reach a predetermined goal, that of not eating when I wasn’t physically hungry. Basically, I was trying to use mindfulness in the service of grasping: I want a certain result, and mindfulness will help me get it. That was the idea, anyway. It absolutely did not work.

Since coming back from the retreat, I’ve been practicing a more open awareness. Rather than choosing an object and attempting to stick with it or drill down into it, I aspire to notice how all things are working together: What thoughts are arising? Is there wanting something to happen or wanting something not to happen? What am I aware of?

Thus I am aware that I am walking to the refrigerator and that I have an unpleasant task to do. Or I’m tired, but have several things I must do before going to bed. Or I have finished a task and will be beginning another, but am in between right now. And as soon as I see that, assuming I wasn’t actually physically hungry, the urge to have a snack disappears. The cause that created that condition—namely, unperceived anxiety—no longer exists.

(Click photos to enlarge.)

Tuesday, September 09, 2014

Divestment and Discovery of Objects

The decluttering is off to an excellent start. I’m philosophically in tune with this, so it was a short hop from “But I might need these hundred pounds of expired batteries someday” to ruthlessly placing objects formerly considered to be of great sentimental value in bags bound for the thrift store. The hundred pounds of batteries went to the soup kitchen.

A wondrous transformation was effected in many areas of my small apartment. I asked myself, “I know this happened to belong to my grandmother, but do I really love it? Do I ever even look at it?” I also kept in mind what my new guru Barbara Reich says about what we’d like to do or intend to do versus what we actually do do, and consequently got rid of, among many other things, some pretty fabric I’ve been meaning for years to make into a certain thing. I’d like to do that, but evidently not enough to have done it in the past year, or the several years before that, so into the trash it went, as the thrift store doesn’t take fabric or linens.

I parted with an ugly ceramic vase with a frightening face with bulbous rubbery features on it. I don’t remember how this came to me, but it was serviceable for keeping colored pencils and highlighters in, and I felt obligated to safeguard it as a certified unique object. But I never really loved it, and drawing with colored pencils is more a thing I’d like to do than a thing I actually do, and why do I need four highlighters? One is plenty. How often do I highlight anything? One highlighter was easily stored in another pen holder, and the remaining highlighters, the colored pencils, and the vase all went to the thrift store, along with a little square metal case with a handle sticking out of it. When you press the latch, the lid springs open and a curved piece of metal flips out: a little personal ashtray for ladies playing bridge in the 1950s! It’s a groovy thing, and it has some of my grandmother’s own cigarette ashes still in it, but do I love it? And how many times a year do I spend time with it? So I took it to the thrift store, but dug it out of the bag and explained to the fellow exactly what it was, so it could be fully appreciated and sold for $100.

Soon I’m going to be getting to books: am I ever going to reread this book? I do tend to regard books as actual friends, and to love them, ditto my vinyl LPs, so those may be a bit tricky.

After the thrift store, it was off to the soup kitchen with three bags of stuff to give them, including a brand-new garlic press and a brand-new can opener, items that had been in a kitchen cupboard in case I needed them someday. I sat on the two-person bench just inside the gate and handed out numbered meal tickets to those arriving. The tickets are just to help manage the initial flow into the soup line. Once things have slowed down, we stop giving out tickets and people can just walk in and get in the food line; there may not be a line at all at that point. No one is turned away. After I was done giving out tickets, I went to fetch second bowls of soup and bus tables.

One guest said that he had taken a shower, which the soup kitchen offers, and that he was “clean—zestfully clean.”

Dennis had a new hat that said “Obey” on it, with a picture of a skull, and said it was yet another “ground score.” He finds a lot of good stuff, always very clean. He said that’s because if it was dirty, he wouldn’t touch it. Then he hinted that if I were ever to think of parting with my hat, he would take it off my hands. I think he said, “I could help you recycle that hat.” I said I thought he had a policy against putting his hands on anything that is filthy, and pointed out its very visible wear, but he said, “It has a certain panache,” so I agreed that if I ever decide to upgrade, the hat is his, minus the pin on it with the pair of shifty eyes peering out of the darkness, which Dennis himself gave me. However, it may be quite a while before the decluttering initiative extends to my hat.

Thursday, September 04, 2014

Excited to Finally Be a Member of the Special Club

I lately received my first copy of the AARP magazine and was pleasantly surprised. I remember once seeing an issue at the home of some people I knew who were nice enough but really, really old (I’m referring to my parents when they were 50, or however old they were when they got their first issue of the AARP magazine) and it struck me as being a dreary little leaflet, but the copy I received was colorful and appealing. It waded into the what-to-eat fray, sifting out a few facts that supposedly no one disagrees with, such as that people who eat an excess of protein are four times more likely to die of cancer than those who eat moderate amounts.

The most riveting article was a long one on decluttering, which I did a round of after reading Gretchen Rubin’s The Happiness Project. But Barbara Reich is stricter—if you haven’t used it in a year, get rid of it—and I’m inspired anew. She says you should only have things that are beautiful, useful, or that you love. She says you should not store other people’s mementoes. She says you shouldn’t leave getting rid of unnecessary stuff for your children to do after you’re gone. She says you don’t need four wooden spoons!

I have far too many sentimental items: “That was my father’s/mother’s/grandmother’s/Carlos’s!” or “That was mine when I was a child!” I have the simple wooden puzzle I put together when I was three years old, and a stack of my contemporaneous artwork, and the Raggedy Ann and stuffed animals I communed with in those days. I have costume jewelry of my grandmother’s and photos she took of people I don’t recognize, the mechanical pencil my mother used in the 1960s, a toy truck from my father’s childhood. All these items seem tremendously precious—they seem to fit into the category of well-loved—but since many of them are in a cupboard that gets opened just a few times a year, it’s hard to claim that I really need them.

I also have far too many but-I-might-need-this-someday items, including 20 pounds of wires. Barbara Reich says get rid of those wires! If you really ever need one of them, go to Radio Shack and buy one.

Then there’s the decades of journal entries in the filing cabinets in the walk-in closet that is now more of a peer-in closet. If my clothes weren’t in there, I’d just nail the door shut and try to forget it exists. These days, I don’t print my journal out, but up until a year or so ago, I did, and there’s a lot of it. It’s essential to write it, one of the deepest impulses I have, but I almost never reread it. Nor is it going to be source material for a riveting autobiography—let’s just concede that. I’m contemplating getting rid of the very first volume and seeing if I die. If not, I could get rid of the second, and so forth.

I also have a stack of Carlos’s journals from about 20 years ago, most of which I will never read, due to time constraints, and which I’m sure he wouldn’t want me to read. They cover a year or so and were tucked away in a high shelf closet in his apartment. He probably had no idea they were still around and would be horrified at the thought of anyone perusing them.

I’d planned to skim through the AARP magazine and then take it to the soup kitchen, with the mailing label scissored out so no one thinks I’m old, but instead I’m thumbing and rethumbing it as if it’s a special double issue of Hair Band Spectator.

Wednesday, September 03, 2014

Blogger’s Extremely Accomplished Young Relative Does Two New Things on the Very Same Day

In mid-August, I flew to Seattle to visit David and Lisa, and my cousin and her family. The last time I visited, I took a bus downtown from the airport, but now there is the LINK light rail system, which is fantastic. It’s easy to use and costs just $2.75 for the 45-minute ride from Sea-Tac to the last stop downtown. From there, it was a walk of 10 minutes or so to my hotel. From the train windows, one can see green in every direction, not the lush, bright green of a Michigan summer, but a deep, dark, almost forbidding green. Sort of a Twilight green. Beautiful, in a serious sort of way.

I also noticed again how the colors of buildings are often more saturated than they would be in San Francisco. I discussed this with Lisa and she theorized that San Francisco’s light and pastel colors are a nice fit with the Mediterranean light, whereas Seattle’s gloomier weather calls forth cheerier, more vigorous shades.

After I went to my hotel room, I walked over to David and Lisa’s, which involved crossing a four-lane street at an intersection with no traffic controls. As I was deciding whether to try to do this or not, an old lady with a walker came up behind me and yelled, “Go! Go!” “OK,” I said doubtfully, and stepped into the street, holding up my hand, the old lady in my wake. I made it across pretty quickly, but had to go back and retrieve the old lady. David and Lisa advised against employing this procedure in the future. There’s an intersection near the hotel where this street can be crossed safely.

The three of us sat on David and Lisa’s new deck—they moved to a different unit in their building since my last visit—which has a great view of the Space Needle, and of part of Amazon’s massive headquarters, which fills a series of buildings. That area is booming due to tech, as in San Francisco. I admired their garden, which consists of a tomato plant and a basil plant, both thriving. We ate some freshly harvested tomatoes and they were delicious. Lisa shared fantastic news: she has been selected for a poetry on the bus program, one of 365 poets whose work will be featured on one of the area’s bus systems. But, even better, she is going to be one of 52 poets who will be interviewed and photographed and appear on a related website.

Then we walked to I Love Sushi of South Lake Union and had a marvelous sushi dinner, sharing an order of pumpkin maki for “dessert.” I had maki made with Copper River salmon and avocado, and a small order of shiitake tempura.

On Saturday, my cousin A. fetched me from my hotel and she and I and her darling one-year-old daughter, whom I was meeting in person for the first time, walked around near the waterfront and Pike Place Market. We stopped at a little café for light refreshments and the baby drank through a straw for the first time! Then we went to my cousin’s house in a town just north of the city and hung out while the baby “napped,” though we could hear via the monitor that she was mostly chatting animatedly to herself about this and that. I met their two dogs (Checkers and Belle) and three cats and my cousin and I got all caught up.

Her husband came home from work—he is a really sweet fellow; I was meeting him for the first time, as well—and we went to a lake not far off to visit his parents, who are absolutely lovely, too. A.’s husband grilled us all veggie burgers and we had a fine dinner together. The day featured a second milestone when the baby rode the rocking horse at her grandparents’ house all by herself. A. took me back to my hotel after dinner. It was a really nice visit, and it was good of her to schlep into town twice on the same day on my behalf.

By Sunday, David had left for a challenging multi-day bike trip, so Lisa and I had breakfast at Row House Cafe and walked down to the Center for Wooden Boats to see about going for a boat ride, but they had been on NPR in the past week, so there were a lot of aspiring passengers. (Note to the King: maybe next time we should go down to CWB just before 9 a.m., sign up for a ride at maybe 11 a.m., and then go have a leisurely brunch followed by a walk and/or tea.) Lisa recently went on a mostly women sailing trip and spotted a couple of the crew. We briefly boarded a pretty sailboat so Lisa could get a flyer from one of her friends, and even just sitting on the boat for a few minutes as it bobbed gently on the tranquil water, of which there is much around Seattle, was highly agreeable.

Next we went to REI’s flagship store, which is enormous, and I bought a hat. We had tea at a café not far from my hotel, and then I collected my stuff and took LINK back to the airport. It was very sunny. One doesn’t think of walking around Seattle sweating, but such was the situation that day.

At the airport, I had fish and chips for lunch, and got three grease splotches on my pants, which is good, because now they match the pair I got three grease splotches on eating a salmon burger in Ann Arbor in July. 

(Click photos to enlarge.)

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Man Over Machine

Weekly I take the magazines I’m done with to the soup kitchen for the guests, plus I always pick up a couple of San Francisco Chronicles on my way over there. One recent week, Tom gave me some of his periodicals to take along, so I had a number of items to put on the rack, most of which were not well received. Time (mine) and Rolling Stone (Tom’s) were snatched right up, ditto the two newspapers. No one really wanted Tom’s The Nation, Mother Jones, or the magazine put out by an environmental organization. Even less did they want my copy of The Economist, and the very last things to remain, which surprised me, were two issues of The New Yorker.

Now and then I have taken gossip or shopping magazines over there, if I find them in the laundromat around the corner or on the rare occasion that I buy gossip magazines—when I do buy them, I buy all of them, to make sure I fully understand what is happening with Kim K.—and those are extremely desirable items. I thought maybe it would be a bummer to look at a magazine featuring things one can’t buy, but magazines full of photos of colorful things, models and movie stars are highly sought after. I guess that makes sense. I like looking at photos of houses only billionaires could afford and places I’ll never visit.

That day, I saw that the nose piece of handsome Dennis’s glasses was broken, the two lenses flimsily connected with blue tape. He said they were Walgreens platinum unbreakable glasses. I observed that he had disproved that, and he said with satisfaction, “Man over machine.” The following week he had a different pair of glasses, these also falling apart, but he said he was thinking of getting a monocle or actually two monocles, which he planned to fashion into glasses using string.

There was also something unusual about Billy’s glasses, namely that they were on upside down. He is another favorite guest of mine, the one who was observed using needle-nose pliers to groom his curly beard. He told me that since 1999, he has lived inside for just five years. He is working on finding housing, but it’s a challenging bureaucratic process. He’d had an appointment related to getting housing, but everything had gone wrong on his way there, including that his belt broke, and he was 30 minutes late and the lady screamed at him. Then he said, very sweetly, sounding very concerned, “Maybe I shouldn’t be telling you about this. I don’t want to make you sad.”

Tuesday, August 26, 2014


Twenty years after starting to sew my own pants, I took the unprecedented action of ironing them, inspired by being at the soup kitchen, where I got to wondering if the guests thought I was purposely wearing crappy clothes because I regard it as a dirty place or them as not worth wearing reputable garments for, and after I saw a guest whose slacks and shirt (both!) had been carefully pressed—he looked great—I was shamed into extracting the ironing board and iron from the closet, normally only used to press fabric before it is fashioned into baggy cotton pants and not thereafter.

It took 15 minutes to iron the first pair, and since a biweekly load of laundry usually involves ten pairs of pants (mostly green), this would be two and a half hours of ironing, which is out of the question. But the next several pairs took just seven minutes apiece as my technique improved, so this is probably doable, and I must admit these pants look better ironed. The final hurdle is the temptation now to reduce the ironing chore by making one pair of pants last for two weeks.


One evening early in August I got home from Howie’s to find a phone message from my cousin, whom I hadn’t spoken with in perhaps 20 years. She said she was calling to say my uncle was—here of course I feared she was going to say he had died, but it was that he was in the hospital with a burst appendix and had asked her to let me and Dad know. She and I ended up having a nice long chat. She’s a real Texan with an actual Texas accent. She often says, in an emphatic way that makes me smile to recall, “Gotcha,” to indicate she has understood whatever you said. Oh, it turned out they were wrong about my uncle’s appendix having burst. They were able to do an appendectomy before that happened.

The next day I had another nice long chat, this time with my uncle’s fiancée, whom I’d never talked to before. She sent me a photo of herself in which her eyes are huge and childlike, as if regarding some wondrous sight. She is an artist with a sweet smile. I’m now angling for an invitation to the wedding.


Another day I became ambitious and put my stereo receiver, turntable, tape deck, and speakers in my huge walk-in closet, along with my musical keyboard, stand and bench. The main room looked barren and empty at first, but what was remaining was what I actually use: bed, desk (a table), computer, bookshelf, reading chair, meditation chair, desk chair. To replace the speakers, I ordered what I thought was a small pair that could attach directly to my iMac—I decided I couldn’t wait until I inherit my mother’s fabulous-looking and -sounding Klipsch speakers.

Usually I get bogged down in a lot of fretting about the details of a possible acquisition, but this time I just went to Amazon, entered “computer speakers,” and bought something near the top of the page. It took 30 seconds. However, I was slightly taken aback when an enormous, quite heavy box arrived. The two speakers themselves are small and nice-looking, but the subwoofer is a behemoth relative to what I was picturing. It would fit on the floor under my desk, but I’m scared of the reaction of my downstairs neighbors, so it’s on my desk. It’s darn near as big as the two old speakers put together, but since the turntable and receiver are tucked away, there’s been a substantial gain in available desk space. Now there’s a free end of the desk I can use as a place to eat! (Where did I eat before? Sitting in my reading chair with my legs draped over one arm.)


Also this month Carol Joy came to town from Novato and we went to the Asian Art Museum to see “Gorgeous,” a splendid collection of conventionally and unconventionally beautiful things. It included a Jeff Koons sculpture of Michael Jackson and his chimp, a Marcel Duchamp urinal, a John Currin painting, a Robert Mapplethorpe photo of a naked guy, a gorgeous (sorry!) clear Lucite chair with red plastic roses embedded in it, and much else, but not an overwhelming amount of it. The exhibition fills four non-enormous galleries, so it can easily be seen in an hour or so, if you’re not compelled to read all the explanatory notes (which I am not). It was probably the most satisfying art museum experience of my entire life.

One of my favorite things was a “wall” made out of long strands of gold-colored beads. You could walk through it or riffle it with your fingers or just watch its mesmerizing movements in the gentle ambient breezes, a golden wind with 24-karat stars appearing and disappearing. There was also a particularly good thing made out of some mirrors and a pile of dirt.

Saturday, August 09, 2014

A Sufficient Amount of Service

I’m now reading Sayadaw U Tejaniya’s second book, Awareness Alone Is Not Enough, and encountered something in it while in Michigan that was really helpful. I’d fallen again into trying to be aware of awareness directly, and had also decided that maybe I’m not advanced enough of a yogi to notice my mental attitude all the time or to actively investigate my experience via questions—maybe after 24 years I’m still at the stage where it would be most helpful to choose an object and notice it as often as possible (which, after all, as Eugene Cash says, will take you all the way to enlightenment). Awareness Alone Is Not Enough is a collection of brief dialogues between SUT and various students, illustrated with handsome black and white photos.

Here’s the particularly helpful exchange:

SUT: Put your hands together like this. Can you feel the sensations?

Student: Yes.

SUT:  Do you recognize that you know the sensations?

Student: Yes.

SUT: That’s awareness of awareness.

Oh! Very helpful reminder that, just as Steve Armstrong said at Spirit Rock in April, we can’t know awareness directly, but only in relationship to an object.

The book also includes this enticement to would-be lucid dreamers: “If you can be aware of every thought that comes into your mind, you will automatically be aware of your dreams too.”

On falling asleep at night: “Don’t ever think of wanting to go to sleep.” Instead, we can be aware of our mind and bodies until reactions in the mind cease and we naturally fall asleep. Or, if we don’t, we can have a nice night of mindfulness practice! Less than a week after I started taking this approach at bedtime, I had my first definitely lucid dream in about eight months, though quite often, I’m generally aware that I’m dreaming: I know I don’t have to worry about events that occur in many dreams, because I know it’s just a dream, but there’s not enough lucidity to allow choosing actions or making things appear.


A couple of Tuesday nights ago, as almost always, I went to Howie’s. Parting from Charlie outside afterward, I said, “Cycle safely,” and he assured me, “I’ve been psycho-ing safely for a long time.” 


Lately it was once again time to find someone to cut my hair. My most recent stylist, a young lady I liked a lot, got pregnant and thus had to leave the Bay Area. Living here on a hair stylist’s salary is challenging, I imagine, and having a family out of the question. Thanks, real estate speculators, and tech companies who don’t encourage workers to live near their jobs but instead offer San Francisco residency as a corporate perk, driving rents through the roof.

I went to see a stylist recommended by a friend and found her shop (which says “Full Service” on the front door) colorfully decorated, with a huge TV on at top volume, and quite dirty, with hair all over the floor and grubby implements of beauty strewn here and there. I decided that if I didn’t end up with an infection, at a very modest $25, I’d consider it a fair trade. I knocked on the door at 4:00 sharp, was let in at 4:01, waited until 4:03 for A. to get off her cell phone, and explained I wanted a trim—there was a language barrier that precluded anything more elaborate and also precluded nitpicking.

A. spritzed my hair with water—her long fingernails make shampooing difficult, so it’s discouraged via a $10 additional fee—made a few strategic strokes with her scissors and pronounced the job done. She said, “You have too much hair,” but added that its salt-and-pepper color is good. I prefer to think of it as burnished mahogany and platinum, but that was nice to hear. At 4:07, I retrieved cash from my backpack and thanked her, and at 4:08, I was back on the sidewalk, leaving plenty of time for a walk, and my hair looks perfectly fine. In fact, one of the guests at the soup kitchen said, “I like your hair,” so if I don’t actually get an infection, A. is my new stylist.

The guest was one who took an instant disliking to me on our first meeting several weeks ago. He gave me on that occasion a symbolic punch on the arm along with a discouraging look and word, so my hair must really look fantastic.

Also at the soup kitchen was one of my favorites, the fellow who was grooming his beard with the needle-nose pliers several weeks ago. He was carrying a bowl of chili, in the center of which was firmly planted a plastic cup half full of water, in which floated several lettuce leaves. A plastic bag was tied around one of his ankles and one eyepiece of his sunglasses had been replaced with a random piece of metal tubing. After being outside for what sounds like a long time, he is working on getting housing. He said he thinks his time is short and he doesn’t intend to die on the sidewalk. He told me he gets so tired that he passes out very suddenly, sometimes coming to with half a mouthful of unchewed food.

He had been nearly incommunicado for several weeks before this chat, but on this day he was back to his old self, and explained that someone had advised him that he’d have better luck with women if he talked less, so he’d been giving that a try.

I met another guest for the first time, someone I hadn’t spoken with before, an extraordinarily fast-acting and aggressive matchmaker. “Are you married, divorced or single? Single? That fellow over there is handsome, isn’t he? Do you like to go to Opera Plaza? Why go through life alone? What’s your phone number? I’m going to go tell Dennis you think he’s handsome and that you want him to have your phone number.” I had to leap up and scurry off before I found myself standing before a justice of the peace.

As it happens, the guest named Dennis is extremely handsome, and charming and affable. He also says all sorts of entertaining things. For instance, he thinks it would be good if the soup kitchen, along with offering showers, massages, basic first aid and other medical services, clean needles, clothing, and assistance with a large array of bureaucratic needs, could be a medical marijuana dispensary. He told the executive director that offering marijuana to guests would be a meaningful step toward “simplicity and peace.”

He’s also weirdly sweet and generous. The first time I spoke with him, he said, “For you?” and gave me a section of newspaper he was done with, and another week, he gave me a small pin featuring a sinister pair of eyes peering out of the blackness, which I affixed to the back of my hat.