Thursday, December 31, 2009

Lay Off Detroit, Already

Christmas was absolutely splendid once again this year, perhaps the eleventh in a row I have celebrated with Tom’s family, bless their welcoming and kindly hearts. Tom and I took the train to Sacramento Christmas Eve, albeit different trains, since Tom missed the bus from the Ferry Building to Emeryville due to some last-minute shopping.

One thing he had wanted to do was pick up one of his bike frames from Steve Rex’s shop (where hang the photos of Tom’s brother Steve, if you happen to be there), and since he would now be arriving too late to do that, his brother Dan and I went and fetched it.

Tom expressed his gratitude later: “Thank you so much! Say, where’s my fork?” Oops. Even though I was there when he dropped off the frame and fork in the first place, I’d forgotten about the latter and so did the fellow at the shop. By chance, that person is someone I went to music school in San Francisco with, also a trumpet player.

We—Paul, Eva, Steve, Julie, Sarah, Josh, Ann, Mac, Chris, Dan, Tom and I—stuffed ourselves with appetizers and then again with Eva’s wonderful dinner, including Chris’s “man quiche,” followed by Sarah’s beautiful apple pie and Ann’s delectable pecan pie.

We talked and laughed and hung out and opened a veritable mountain of gifts. I got a book or two I am looking forward to reading, some good gadgets—Tom’s brother Paul has provided me with many excellent gadgets over the years; if you’ve lost count, Tom has three brothers—and a nutmeg grinder from Ann, which is enhancing my morning bowl of oatmeal.

Tom and I spent that night at Steve and Julie’s and in the morning, went back to Paul and Eva’s for stockings. Yet again, the various Santas were extremely generous. As we drove to Paul and Eva’s, Julie gave her mother in Michigan a call. I said from the backseat, “Tell your mother I say ‘Merry Christmas.’”

Then Steve said, “Tell your mother I wished her a merry Christmas before Linda did.” Of all the people at gatherings of Tom’s family and friends, Steve and I are most nearly the same age, just a couple of months apart. (Who is the wiser by those two months? I am, of course, though Steve likes to characterize it as being more elderly.) We would have made fine actual siblings, which does require some one-upmanship on occasion.

Later Julie said to her mother, “Linda and Steve wish you a merry Christmas.”

“I said it first,” Steve clarified (if out-and-out fibs can ever be said to clarify anything).

I said it first,” I averred.

“Whatever.” Steve from the driver’s seat.

The four of us spent Christmas Day afternoon at Ann and Mac’s, while other energetic members of the company headed east for skiing, and then Tom and I had a nice ride home on the train (the same train this time). One of us may or may not have eaten almost an entire small box of See’s truffles that she received for Christmas en route.

I gave my Uncle Rick a call the next day and he told me my cousin had been there for the holidays but had had to head back home on Christmas Day itself. She left the Detroit airport “an hour before the terrorist arrived.” I hadn’t heard about this terrorist, but was soon edified.

He was flying Northwest Airlines, which I always fly to Michigan, and basically—and I do take this personally—he was trying to blow up that water feature in the McNamara Terminal I like so much.

Also, like Detroit in general needed that kind of thing: thanks, creep.

I forgot to call my own mother and father in Michigan to wish them a merry Christmas: Merry Belated Christmas!

I forgot because Steve forgot to remind me, as he has every Christmas for a decade now, so you can see whose fault that was.

Tree Trees

Guess who had a lucid dream? My mother!

She was having a recurring dream, which caused her to become lucid—“I’ve seen this before”—and she also successfully practiced dream control! She said to herself, “If I’m dreaming, I ought to be able to do such-and-such,” and then immediately did it.

Lucid dreaming is no more a goal of hers than it is of my father’s, but, as she said, it’s in the air these days.

I also had a lucid dream quite recently, the morning of Christmas Day, in Steve and Julie’s luxurious Lucid Dreaming Guest Bed, 19 days after the previous one. Some house keys were behaving very strangely and I asked, “Why is all this weird stuff happening?” and answered myself, “Because I AM DREAMING!”

The period of knowing I was dreaming, before I woke up, was very brief. I’m starting to think I enjoyed some beginner’s luck when it came to prolonging lucidity and dream control, because recent periods of lucidity have been extremely short, though I am very confident about dream control itself. So far it has been as simple as saying, “I want such-and-such to happen.”

The two best-known methods of prolonging lucidity are to rub your dream hands together and to spin your dream body as if you’re trying to become dizzy. A time or two I have tried rubbing my hands together with absolutely no effect, and to date, I have not been able to remember to spin in any lucid dream. In the lucid dream that lasted the longest, one of the first things I did after confirming I was dreaming was to jump up and down for a while, another known prolonger of lucidity. Maybe that’s the best technique for me.

In this most recent lucid dream, I remembered to remain calm and observe my surroundings, which were patchy. What I could see—a person’s face, my own hands—was very clear, but there were holes in it. In straining to see, I opened my real eyes, and woke up. Rats. But great!

I also realized again that I was still not exactly following instructions. To recap, Stephen LaBerge’s classic MILD (Mnemonic Induction of Lucid Dreaming) technique calls for mentally replaying a dream you have just awoken from until you can easily remember it. Then you are to affirm something along the lines of “Next time I’m dreaming, I will recognize I’m dreaming,” and picture yourself back in the dream you just awoke from, but this time realizing you are dreaming.

I had decided it would be better to picture a previous actual lucid dream, to jog my unconscious’s memory of that event—no imagination required. I also thought it might boost its confidence to be able to remember an episode where it enjoyed success, but lately I have realized why it might be better to use the most recent dream, as LaBerge says: because it is entirely psychologically consonant with the rest of one’s life, circa now. Organic. All of a piece. Maybe it confuses one’s unconscious to be asked to focus on something that no longer has anything to do with anything.

I periodically review the list of things I want to do in lucid dreams, and quite a few of those things are turning up in non-lucid dreams. One item is to make friends with my grilling neighbors, and I have had very nice dreams about them, like one in which I told the man and his wife, “I sent you a Christmas card,” and they replied, “Oh, we sent you a Christmas card!” It makes me feel better even if the friendly things are happening only in dreams.

A recent Forum on KQED was about the antisocial aspects of wood smoke—it accounts for 40 percent of air pollution some days, and is hard on people with asthma and bronchitis. Also, trees don’t grow on trees, as it were. They had someone there from the something something barbecue association, so I hoped they might even get to the evils of charcoal grilling, but I had to wend my way toward my next engagement, alas.

I have a new hospice visitee, D., and will meet her for the first time on New Year’s Day. But I also got a call from B., who graduated from hospice and is now living elsewhere. I was delighted. I really like her so much. After B. left hospice, I called her daughter and said that if B. ever felt like calling me, she was more than welcome to do so, though I wouldn’t expect it. Then I hung up and hoped B.’s daughter didn’t think I was some sort of stalker, but when B. called yesterday, I could hear her daughter coaching her in the background, helping B. leave her message.

Why Don’t Yew

That’s the subject line of an email I sent my mother not long ago.

It continued: “Look into how we’d get Skype so we can see each other when we talk?”

She wrote back:

“I’ve put it on my to-do list (at the bottom).”

I keep forgetting to say that private traffic must now exit Market St. at either Eighth or Sixth by turning right. The city is so serious about this that they have had workers standing in those intersections every day for many weeks now insisting that private vehicles get off the main drag.

It is quite luxurious for us cyclists to have so few cars on Market St., though at first, I noticed that cab drivers seemed to be going all the faster, as if they were on some sort of law-free frontier. Cyclists were invited to send their feedback to the city, and I mentioned this along with my thanks, and maybe others did, too, because cab drivers seem to be back to their normal level of recklessness.

I had additional reason to be grateful for the reduced amount of traffic on Market St. when, in a bizarre four-day stretch of accident proneness, I foolishly rode over a round white lane marker in the rain (those evil devices known as Bott’s Dots; thanks, David) landing solidly on my left knee and giving the left side of my head a hearty thump as well.

(For the record, the night before that, I sliced my thumb while cutting bread. The day after my bike accident, I cut the top of my toe on a toilet seat. If you’d also like to do this, I can try to explain in a subsequent entry exactly how it happened. And when I opened the carton my new bike helmet came in—you should replace your bike helmet once it receives pretty much any type of impact, even if it looks fine—I got not one but two paper cuts.)

I lay on the ground for a while—and that’s why it’s good there is less traffic on Market St.—saying “Ow ow ow ow,” on account of my hapless knee, and the workmen I was going around in the first place eventually drifted over and, not going so far as to help me up, which might have implied some sort of liability, did ask if I thought I’d be able to get up.

After a bit, I could and did rise to my feet, and my bike was fine, and I was actually able to ride the rest of the way to work, but, with a headache having developed right away and the specter of poor Natasha Richardson hovering before me, I called my doctor’s office and they said to proceed to the emergency room and have my head scanned, which I did, and also had my abraded knee taped up. At the hospital, they said the side of the head, which is what I landed on, is the worst thing to bump because of some artery or something right there.

Needless to say (so I will be sure to say it), my head was encased in a helmet at the time of impact, and this is actually one of the best reasons for wearing a helmet. Not to be a Gloomy Gus, but if you really get clobbered by a motor vehicle, your helmet is not going to make much of a difference. But if you get very slightly bumped by a car, or have one of any number of minor mishaps that cause you to hit your head, with or without a fall per se, a helmet could make the entire difference between living and dying.

In sum, when you’re deciding whether or not to put your helmet on, think of Liam Neeson.


Final tally: Scraped knee, eight or nine bruises, and the embarrassment of having to admit to my first moving single-person bicycle accident. I would have said “first single-person bicycle accident,” period, but then I remembered the time I fell down a flight of cement stairs while carrying my bike. I’d put my helmet on before starting down the stairs and it helped then, too. I didn’t call my doctor that time. I was younger and less of a hypochondriac, and Natasha Richardson was still alive.

The brain scan showed that there was no internal bleeding and that everything that had been inside my head was still more or less there. Which is not to make any claims for the original quality or quantity of that substance.

They gave me 30 Vicodin and 30 Soma (muscle relaxants), thus suddenly increasing my popularity: “You can send Mommy some Vicodin,” suggested one email. Another, from a co-worker, contained just two words, the name of the internal mail system at our company. (My mother later discovered that Vicodin contains acetaminophen and retracted her request, which I imagine was not serious to begin with.)

I didn’t take any Vicodin—I’d had occasion to take one in the past, and it made me feel like I was being dragged underwater—but I did try a muscle relaxant, and immediately felt very stoned.

I happened to have a medical test a couple of days after the accident, and when Dr. M. called with the results—all was well—she said, “So, I see you had a bike accident! I hope you’re OK.” That was very nice, and slightly humiliating. Dr. M. really makes good use of the new computerized health records, as I discovered when I went for my annual exam and she mystified and dazzled me by saying, “I see your eye doctor told you to do such-and-such. Did you do it?”

Monday, December 21, 2009

How Does It Feel To Be Alive?

It has been quite chilly here lately, not so one would have to close the windows or anything, but my fingers feel kind of frozen when I’m cycling, so I got a pair of Pearl Izumi “Softshell Gloves” that I am very happy with. They are warm, but not bulky, and don’t interfere too much with operation of that crucial piece of equipment, the bicycle bell.

I dribbled something light colored down my at-home sweater not long ago, which meant it was time for its triennial dry cleaning. I had noticed a place on Valencia St. that does environmentally friendly cleaning, so I stopped there on my way to work one day to see what the hours are and so forth, and was surprised to see it was just one little room containing two banks of lockers, devoid of human life.

I took a flyer from the box by the door and studied up on the details. The place is called Laundry Locker, and they do indeed do environmentally friendly dry cleaning and regular laundry, but they don’t stand around waiting for you to hand them a garment. You create an account online, and then you go to any of about a million locations in San Francisco, put your thing in a locker, go online and regale them with the details of your laundry need, and then wait for an email (or text message on your phone) saying it’s done! Normally I stay away from this newfangled stuff, but I decided to give it a whirl, and it worked out very well. My sweater came back shredded and full of holes, just the way it was when I dropped it off, except clean.

I did attend the memorial gathering for my co-worker Chuck, at a location of the company I work for. There were maybe 25 people there, most very well known to me. Chuck’s widow was there, and two of their sons. It was about the saddest event I’ve ever been to. There were a couple of Employee Assistance people there to facilitate, and several photos of Chuck, and we sat in a circle, and anyone who was so moved could share a memory or thought. Most people didn’t, and there were many silent minutes, and a lot of red eyes and sniffling, but it was kind of nice just to sit there with so many familiar faces, quietly remembering Chuck together. The silence, as we held it together, didn’t seem particularly awkward. I introduced myself to his kids afterwards, and enjoyed talking to both of them, two smart young men.

Chuck was only 52 when he died! Several days later, I dreamed I saw him outdoors in front of a beautiful purplish mountain. He was dancing, spinning around, with a look of pure joy on his face.

Four days after my one and only visit to C., I got a call that she had passed away. I’m glad that worried and unquiet soul is at rest.

Saturday December 12 was the final day of my Establishing the Path of Practice class at the San Francisco Zen Center. We were there from nine a.m. until five p.m., and did a variety of rituals and exercises to recognize the ending/beginning. We also meditated in the zendo and had lunch together. Just before five p.m., we did a closing ceremony and each received a small gift and a document signed by all of the teachers, and then we did some group photos, and then I went outside and there was Mr. Bull lounging in the driver’s seat of a rented car with Metallica on the CD player, but not blasting since it was right in front of the Zen Center. It was a rather fine moment.

We picked up burritos (that Mr. Bull had pre-ordered) and headed down to San Jose, to the HP Pavilion, for the Metallica show. The place apparently seats 17,000 and was pretty much full, though not utterly sold out. That’s a lot of Metallica fans!

Mr. Bull mentioned that she prefers to store items in the trunk of the car prior to being at the event, so as not to attract thieves. She added casually that, no no, she wouldn’t mind being seen at the Metallica show with someone carrying a backpack; till then, it had not occurred to me there was anything bad about having a backpack, but I left it in the car, and indeed there was no one else there with a backpack. I said I supposed she didn’t want to be seen at the Metallica show with someone in a yellow raincoat, either, but she said I could be as square as I want to be (in so many words)—she said she’s old now and doesn’t care anymore.

We ate our burritos sitting in the backseat of the car in the parking lot. The line to get into HP Pavilion was unbelievably long, and people had already been filing in for an hour. I never saw any mention of opening bands, but there were two. I don’t know the name of the first one—we missed them—but the second was Machine Head. The people in line with us didn’t seem particular friendly, but they didn’t seem like out-and-out thugs, either; well, some probably were. There were a few children there, and people of our generation, some people with grey hair. I would say the average age was as high as 28 or 30. (Which is fine with me. I would have been happy if everyone there had been 80.)

We were fairly high up, since we didn’t decide to go until somewhat late in the game, but this is not to say we couldn’t hear. It was extremely loud, of course, and we both dispensed with our earplugs, since this was once in a lifetime. The stage was huge and James Hetfield, Rob Trujillo and Kirk Hammett (my cat Hammett’s namesake) kind of wandered from station to station; Lars Ulrich was of course detained at the drum kit. Kirk moves quite gracefully. He evidently keeps up with his yoga. We were probably 150 feet away from the stage, but it was still fantastic just to be separated from Kirk and James by nothing but air.

They had flames shooting out of boxes on stage at various moments and we were struck by the fact that the instant the flames appeared, we could feet the physical heat fairly intensely, despite being pretty far away from the stage. They played my favorite song from the new CD and the first song of theirs that Mr. Bull ever loved, and much else.

Quite a wonderful day and evening.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Winter Ride Home from Work

Please click on these to enlarge (you know, so you can see what they are). Captions pertain to the photo below.















I kept meaning to take a picture of this charming marina behind the ballpark in the summer, with light dancing on the water and all the pretty little boats shifting in the breeze.











































Look! A spaceship has zeroed in on me.















That odd-shaped thing you can almost see in the middle of this picture, on the far side of the water, is the “grand chapiteau” of the Cirque du Soleil.















When I got to the Mission, what was still there? Yep—that spaceship! Somehow I made it inside without being sucked up in it.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Leaves on Dorset St. in Ann Arbor and Cat at Birdbath















SorryI haven't learned the first thing about photo editing yet; otherwise, I would have cropped the below. You might have to click on it and view the larger version to see the actual cat.

Monday, December 07, 2009

Coming to Ypsi in 2010: Mr. Chicken

I’ve been trying to convince my mother to buy a Toto bidet so I can try it out when I’m visiting, but she pointed out that such a device gives you two points of failure: water and electricity. If either are out, you’re out of luck. And since my landlords won’t even do anything about the brown water that reliably gushes from my hot water taps or the window frames that are so warped, it’s pretty much all the same whether the windows are open or shut when it comes to a stiff breeze, I doubt they’re going to buy me an electric bidet. Oh, well. I’ve heard wonderful things about this item.

Last Thursday I was finally able to get to bed on time—8:20 p.m.—and in the morning, I recorded nine dreams. I also had a perfect Friday evening: I turned off the light by 8:19 p.m. and got a solid twelve (hours of sleep). On Saturday morning I did some chores, including preparing cards for Chuck’s widow and for my co-worker who is ill. I sent her my phone numbers in case she feels lonely. I think if I had a serious illness, the main thing I would want, besides not to die, would be to feel that I was loved and not alone.

Later I went to Rainbow on my bicycle for groceries. I spent the afternoon cooking, while listening to Load, Reload, and Death Magnetic to get in the proper frame of mind for next week. I’ve reached a turning point in life: I’m too feeble to cut the rind off a Hokkaido squash (for subsequent cubing and steaming). I considered asking Tom if he’d come down and do it for me, but then I just decided to bake the thing, and I should have switched to that method long ago. It is delicious.

Saturday evening, I watched the raucously entertaining Alpha Dog, which I cannot recommend due to violence and misogyny. I saw it because Emile Hirsch stars. He’s a wonderful actor, but this is not one of his strongest parts. The standout, surprisingly, was Justin Timberlake, who brought some complexity and depth to his role.

I’ve fallen a bit behind on my movie (and book) reviews, but can say these are the movies I’ve liked most lately: The Lookout and Mysterious Skin (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), and Into the Wild and The Mudge Boy (Emile Hirsch). The latter is the story of a young man whose mother has recently died, leaving him alone with his aloof and angry father. His only friends, using the term loosely, are a bunch of beer-guzzling joyriding thugs. The sole living creature he has to love is a cherished pet chicken. This movie does not have a happy ending and is still with me a month later. I’m kind of worried about that kid, even though I know he doesn’t exist. Some kid like him exists.

As for books, I’ve read a whole pile of books on lucid dreaming, with the current selection being Conscious Dreaming, by Robert Moss. I’m also reading The Afterlife, by Donald Antrim, a memoir about his mother's death (I suspect the title refers to his own life once his mother was gone) and When the Iron Eagle Flies: Buddhism for the West, by Ayya Khema. She is extremely direct and extremely clear.

I sent my parents my proposed 2010 visit dates and my mother wrote back, “Whatever works best for you, Mr. Chicken.”

On Saturday night, I had a brief lucid dream. Asleep, I was thinking, “If I were dreaming, I could do such-and-such.” To establish whether I was dreaming or not, I looked at a piece of paper on the floor—these have an obliging way of turning up when needed—and saw the word “fun” written on the piece of paper. I looked away, looked back, and the word was gone: definitely dreaming!

I realized I have been misusing the Dream Views website. It has these main categories, among others: General Lucid Discussion, Attaining Lucidity, Dream Control, and Lucid Experiences. Since I’m just getting the hang of attaining lucidity, I often head for that section. This almost always inspires me to try some new technique, and that is a mistake, because one can only focus on so many things at once, and I end up with sort of the frenzied feeling of stabbing wildly in all directions.

I’ve quit visiting that section and am sticking with Dream Control and Lucid Experiences, where I can be inspired and learn about things to try when I’m lucid in a dream without dissipating the energy of my basic protocol.

On Sunday I went to see my new hospice visitee, C. I felt kind of a pang when I passed B.’s room and could see someone else was in there. C. has dementia and spent our hour taking my hand and then snatching her hand away, and looking worriedly into a pocket on the front of her gown. She said only three things, in a tiny voice: “I don’t know what to do,” “What should I do?” and “Help me.” She looked afraid, and at times angry.

I know some of her relatives died long ago under very adverse circumstances, perhaps including her own parents, and I suspect she may have some ghosts visiting now, at the end. I don’t know how long it’s been since she got to hold her own mother’s hand, but I tried to look at her the same way her mother perhaps looked at her when she was a tiny girl, decades ago, and to hold her hand as her mother would have.

I went from there to a home in St. Francis Wood where I met Tom for a piano recital, his mother, Ann, being one of the performers. It was a lovely afternoon and I really enjoyed hearing Ann play. I could not believe how much music she memorized: lots and lots. One of the other performers played a Haydn piece I can remember hearing my mother play in the 1960s.

After all the splendid music, we had refreshments. Our hostess was the teacher of all the performers, and her husband, a very sweet man, is my new good friend because he insisted that I eat many, many cookies.

Friday, December 04, 2009

Holiday Miracle: Two Kvetchless Weeks

I found out two or three days ago that a very sweet co-worker of mine has cancer, and the very next day, I learned that another co-worker, Chuck, died last week of stomach cancer. He cannot have been more than 55 or so, was happily married, with children, and was an extraordinarily dear person, one of the first people I met when I began at this company eleven years ago.

I went through a phase of wearing a certain kind of permanent press men’s shirt and one day saw he was wearing the same thing. “Nice shirt!” I enthused, and it became a joke between us. Once or twice, years after we’d gone on to work in different groups, I got an email from him with that as the subject line.

I met him by chance on the street several months ago and was relieved and delighted to note how healthy he looked after having received treatment for cancer in recent years. He looked fit and energetic, entirely alive and well, so it was a shock to be forwarded an email about a memorial gathering for him next week.

While I was crying quietly in my cube over this untimely and awfully sad loss, I got a call from someone at my company who has made vast contributions in support of bicycle commuting, truly an outstanding leader in this area.

I have been working on a project to install secure bike parking at company locations, in conjunction, until recently, with two partners. We had secured funding for three sites, and racks have now been installed at two of them. Then both of those people lost their jobs due to a reorganization, and I was and am on my own, which means the project has ground nearly to a halt.

I met with the aforementioned dynamic leader several weeks ago and we agreed that once I was done with the third site, we would meet again to start to figure out how I can try to duplicate in San Francisco his amazing accomplishments in the Midwest. Turns out that fellow has now lost his job, too. Sigh.

My meditation group met this week on Tuesday evening. We formed via the San Francisco Zen Center’s Establishing the Path of Practice class, which lasted all year, though I didn’t join until May. Our last official class meeting will be in a week or so, but our little group has decided to continue to meet every two weeks. We normally meditate for about 15 minutes, and then each person gets five or six uninterrupted minutes to check in on an assigned topic, and then we just chat. Once we no longer have assigned topics, we’re going to take turns choosing things for the group to read and discuss.

I signed up for EPP primarily because of the small group aspect, and it has turned out to be exactly what I had hoped. I have dharma friends! On top of that, I now feel at home at the Zen Center, where I had never set foot before, and got to meet and learn from a handful of top-notch teachers, including Paul Haller, the co-abbot of SFZC, whose honesty and openness have touched me on several occasions. We were presented with lots of interesting material, and had homework between sessions—things to think about and notice and practice—and monthly writing assignments. During the sessions, we did all sorts of things, including partner exercises, which I'm fond of, and we were introduced to koan practice. The entire thing has wildly exceeded my expectations.

Our small group has been meeting at the Zen Center, but after the class ends, we’re going to meet in the conference room at the office where one of us works, so we did that for the first time this week. I knew I’d be running early and asked our host if he could recommend a café. He directed me to La Boulange de Hayes, at Octavia and Hayes, a charming and tranquil spot.

I’m not a fan of hot chocolate, normally, but it was very chilly that evening, so I went ahead and ordered the traditional item, and of course got the large size, since it was only 40 cents more than the small and since more is by definition better than less, even if you don't like the thing to begin with.

One of our group happened to be there, and he, being a person of moderation, had gotten the small size, which came in a fairly diminutive teacup. Mine arrived in what J. later described to our group as a “tureen.” Oddly, it was about three times the size of the small, and it was also by far the best hot chocolate I’ve ever had.

I also count as a benefit of the EPP class D. setting me back on the proper path in regard to remaining still while meditating. I think it’s been only a couple of weeks since I resolved to do that, but I can really feel the difference already, which I notice at work in particular. Suddenly it seems relatively easy to be patient, and I even realized I’d gone a couple of weeks without complaining to my team lead about anything whatsoever (until today, anyway, when I saw that the on-call list has shrunk to five people, obviously my cue to mention that we used to be on call every ten weeks).

It felt like I passed a test when I spoke recently to a person who thoroughly irritated me on a past occasion. Even this time I could feel impatience arising, but then, before it became particularly pronounced, it ebbed away. This fellow commented that the day beforehand, he had thought he understood the matter at hand, but then the next day, he suddenly wasn’t sure. “I know the feeling,” I said, and a feeling of friendliness, even tenderness, overtook me. I vowed to myself to explain the thing 50 times in a row if necessary. Soon enough, I could tell he understood, and I hung up feeling good instead of guilty.

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Red Streak and Water Feature at McNamara Terminal at Detroit Metro Airport















One great thing about this water feature is that in some phases, the water turns on and off quickly, so there are little disembodied curved pieces of water sailing through the air as if of their own volition. It's charming.

Upholding Tradition: Mexican Bean Salad and Rocky Horror

My visit to Ypsilanti was quite nice. I saw my parents, of course, and my sister, and Nigel the cat, plus the cat who came to drink from the bird bath out back. We ate and talked and watched lots of DVDs; my mother, ever the bad influence, tried to get me to stay up the entire night before my return flight watching movies. I lasted for three in a row.

At one point, all four of us were together in the living room, me on my mother’s laptop (chatting on Facebook; they have it in Ypsilanti, too), my sister on her BlackBerry and my parents on their cell phones. My sister observed, “This is just like being anywhere.”

I visited Amy one day in Chelsea and got to see her boys and have a fresh-baked chocolate muffin. I had lunch with the aforementioned person who struck me as being a glamorous older man at 18 (when I was 16). We had an enjoyable chat. I found it extremely difficult to mentally match him up with the person I knew 30 years ago, and actually now find it rather difficult to retrieve my memories from that era: he overwrote himself.

I got to see Amy a second time, this time with Sally, too, one of my closest friends when I was seven. We had lunch downtown and then went on a walking tour of our old neighborhood. My father said we could go through our old house, still in our hands for the time being, and we did that. I’ve said “goodbye” to this house five times at this point, and I can now do it without weeping and wailing. Oh, I take that back—I did have a good cry when I happened to drive within a block of it while on my way to downtown Ann Arbor. I dream about that place two or three times a week, and it just is weird literally to drive into a dreamscape.

Thanksgiving was a vegetarian feast. My father made vegan nut roast, stuffing, gravy, Mexican bean salad (this is traditional), chocolate chip cookies, and lemon cookies; the latter required making lemon jam the day beforehand, which takes several hours. My mother made cranberry-orange relish, another dessert, and delectable dinner rolls. We had sparkling pomegranate and blueberry juice to drink. The table is kind of small, so we put the food on a cart and on the nearby kitchen counter, and placed only one special centerpiece, something that perfectly evokes the spirit of the holiday, on the table: a stick of softened butter.

After dinner, we watched Rocky Horror Picture Show. I had never seen it, to my father’s delight; it’s fun to watch a favorite movie with someone who hasn’t yet had the pleasure. I absolutely could not believe my parents even like this movie, let alone that they have seen it three or four (now four or five) times. It just didn’t seem to me like it would be their kind of thing, but one does learn something new and astounding every now and then.

After it was over, we started again at the beginning, but with English subtitles turned on, and when my mother saw the word “groin,” she said, “Is THAT what this movie is about?”

My father told us that the lemon jam he makes is so powerful in flavor, only a quarter cup is needed for a whole recipe of lemon cookies. “Do I have that recipe?” I asked.

“No, and you’re not going to,” my mother grumbled, but of course the next day, I found it waiting for me on the counter; my father had printed it out.

On Saturday I was back at the airport, gazing at my beloved water feature in the McNamara terminal. I’d been taking acidophilus all week to combat the anti-digestion properties of the antibiotics, and my father had suggested that since I did happen to be flying first class (for the only time ever), maybe I could get the flight attendants to put it in the refrigerator on the plane for the trip home. This they were not particularly happy to do, in fact, but they did it.

Hammett was thrilled to see me, and I him. I came back Saturday so I could cook on Sunday. I made green split peas and buckwheat, washed fruit, rinsed spinach for salads, and chopped veggies. I’ve gotten in the habit of treating myself to some olives from Rainbow’s olive bar on cooking day.

I called B.’s daughter, whose mother “graduated” from hospice, to say how glad I am for them, and also that I will really miss seeing B. The volunteer coordinator says that if a patient is able to leave hospice and later returns, usually they try to send the same volunteer over to visit with the person, but I can hardly hope for that. As much as I will miss her, I hope I don’t see her again for a good long time. B. left me a voice mail on my home answering machine not long ago. I will save it and listen to that scratchy, dear voice now and then.

I have a new visitee, C., whom I will meet this weekend.

I had a strangely horrible day at work on Tuesday, self inflicted, a perfect example of the adage that no good deed goes unpunished. It’s terribly cynical to believe such a thing, but I sort of do. I set out to do someone a good turn and, three or so hours later, after every possible complication, was about ready to hurl myself out the window. The person I was “helping” was extremely nice about it and reminded me, with a relaxed chuckle, that he was getting paid by the hour, in which case I really did do him a nice favor. (Come to think of it, he should send me a box of chocolates.)

I recalled a thing I had read recently in a dharma context about trying to feel the space around the discomfort, so I tried it, though my initial thought was that it wasn’t really a physical experience; the entire universe seemed drenched in misery.

Starting with something I knew I could do, I asked myself: Can I feel my feet? My hands? My calves? My lower arms? My thighs? My upper arms? The top of my head? Certainly I could feel all of those things, and by the time I’d established that, which took no time at all, I felt I might live, which was a relief.

Purple Thing and Sparkles on Wall



















Can Facebook Kill?

So my surgery on the Thursday before Thanksgiving went fine, and the following day, Friday, I spent preparing for my trip to Michigan on Saturday. Most of Friday was Packing, Phase One: chatting on Facebook.

As the afternoon began to wane, it seemed to be time to move on to Packing, Phase Two, which involves the actual placing of items into a suitcase. At that point, I was chatting with my old and dear friend D., whom I met in music school. He had recently lost two friends, both dead suddenly and far too young, and was feeling the effects of that. “DON’T DIE!!” he wrote me.

I told him that I would certainly die, but probably not during our chat. Then, while walking into the kitchen to get a glass of water as fortification for packing, I noticed a sharp pain issuing from my left arm, and pulled up my sweater sleeve to see an ominous red streak crawling up a vein. Ironic to think that if I’d remained online for 24 hours telling D. how I was not going to die while chatting, maybe I could have managed to die while chatting.

I called Dr. M., and then it occurred to me to call Tom, my tall handsome ex-boyfriend/best friend/upstairs neighbor. He’s a special ed teacher—when it comes to romance, I find it is best for me to stick to those in the helping professions: teachers, nurses, masseurs, etc.—and I thought he might have some sort of protocol established for the sighting of a red streak.

I could hear that Tom was chatting with a friend in town for the weekend and didn’t want to interrupt. On the other hand, wouldn’t it be a terrible shame if I died with helpful advice potentially so close at hand? I went ahead and called, but left a very low-key message, saying I sort of had sort of a first aid question, but it wasn’t anything urgent or anything.

Then Dr. M. called and agreed it sounded like the place where the I.V. had been put in was infected. She said she’d call Walgreens with a prescription for antibiotics and that I should also take an aspirin so I didn’t get a blood clot on the plane.

Just after we hung up, Tom, bless his heart, called me back and reminded me that his pal has some expertise in this area—should they come down and perform an examination? I said I’d talked to my doctor, so there was no need for that, though it was a very nice offer. The next thing I heard was the click of the phone as Tom hung up on me, and then a knock at my door.

The friend agreed that treatment was a good idea and suggested that they walk to Walgreens with me! How incredibly sweet of her that was. I insisted that they get on with their evening, and took a cab to Walgreens, where I felt first like a guy in a movie who’s been bitten by a snake and is waiting for the poison to reach his heart, and then like a junkie, as I tore the bag open right outside the store so I could take the first pill as soon as possible. I was worried that I would end up having to cancel my trip east.

At some point, I had given my mother a call to let her know what was going on and she was extremely concerned and immediately asked, “This isn’t something I’m going to catch, is it? You gotta look out for number one.”

In the morning, the streak was no better, but also no worse, and off I went to Michigan. After 47 years, I had finally accrued enough infrequent flyer miles for a single round-trip upgrade to first class. I found the people there strangely aloof. Try as I might to interest them in my little problems and opinions, they were wedded to their laptops, but I did appreciate the bigger space and the dual armrests between seats.

When we boarded, there was already a bottle of water at each seat, and the second we were seated, there was someone ready to bring further refreshments. Also, there was a little display showing if there was someone in the bathroom or not. But, on the whole, I think where I usually sit is OK: more chatting.

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Tom at the Helm, World's Largest Floating Crane















Tom at the wheel of the City CarShare car we drove to Sacramento not long ago. He claims the below is the world's largest floating crane, and I'm not really in a position to contradict him.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

A Surfeit of Source Material

Guess who had a lucid dream?! Well, not me, but my father did! Since he’s a very nice father, he has lately been reading a lot about this subject on a certain website, despite it probably being not of much inherent interest.

He sent me a wonderful description of what sounded like a very vivid and detailed dream, wherein so many impossible things happened that it finally became obvious that he was dreaming. I also have a new lucid dream correspondent (a really, really good one), and am greatly enjoying sharing thoughts about this most fascinating of subjects.

I had to have a little spot of surgery today. My doctor, who gets rave reviews on Yelp, said that since I’ve had this surgery (twice) before, she didn’t think I needed to go to the hospital for a pre-surgery appointment, but I did end up having to do that. I found this out when I got a message on my answering machine saying they’d scheduled me a 7:30 appointment, and that I should arrive at 7:00 (meaning 7:00 in the morning, for a person who can barely get to work by 9:00).

That meant getting up at 4:20 a.m., due to my extensive morning routine, and that was skipping more than half of the things I usually do. I still got seven and a half hours sleep, but I felt unbelievably terrible, anyway; I think my eyes just having to see the digits “4:20,” glowing red in the dark was too much.

I’d thought of taking a cab to the hospital, but decided riding my bike across town would be more invigorating, and it was. I rode to the hospital, then to work, then to see my doctor toward the end of the workday, and then to Walgreens to fill a prescription for one measly little pill, and then home.

Despite feeling haggard, all that bike riding made me very cheerful. I also like to be extremely upbeat around anyone who is going to be near me with a knife while I’m unconscious. I don’t think my doctor would make a superfluous hole in me for complaining about having to go to Walgreens, but why be reckless?

Yesterday evening I thought I might try to find some references in my journal to one of my restored-by-Facebook friends; I thought he might get a kick out of reading what I had to say about him 30 years ago, but I had to give up on this project. I found a couple of mentions, including one extremely flattering one, and there may be more, but in that era, I either typed my journal—single spaced: what was wrong with me?—on whatever piece of paper came my way, such as on the back of a piece of scrap paper, or I wrote it in a spiral notebook, page after page of relentless cursive, what now looks like block after solid block of scribbling (using both sides of the paper, of course).

Further, it appears I didn’t believe in paragraphs yet—I would have thought I was born believing in paragraphs—and I also insisted on doing much of the handwriting with my left hand: In the event that I should suffer a stroke—I was 16 and had not a moment to lose when it came to stroke preparedness—I wanted to be able to write with my remaining hand.

Which is to say there is much, much data, but not much information. It would probably take me as long to reread all that stuff as it did to live it in the first place. (And what a bacchanal it was; my goodness. A couple of weeks of that would probably finish me off if I tried it now.)

So, anyway, I was due at the hospital for surgery at 6:00 a.m. (“odarkhundred,” as a friend said), which meant getting up at 3:20 a.m. the very day after I’d gotten up at 4:20 a.m. This time I took a cab.

I put on a gown and lay in bed and read an interesting article about nightmares in a recent New Yorker, and started on a very funny piece about an Egyptian Egyptologist with a pugnacious style of relating and TV-friendly architectural methods that worry some of his academic peers.

Then the anesthesiologist came in and said something very exciting: “I guess we’ll be taking out some organs today!”

“No,” I said. “No. We are not taking out any organs. Do not take out any organs.”

My doctor came in just then and confirmed no organs would be removed—something had been written down wrong somewhere—and she said my hair looked great. I told you she was a good doctor.

Then another lady said, “Don’t forget your party hat,” and put on my hair net for me and off we rolled, and then I was looking up at Dr. M. in the operating room, and she probably patted my arm, and then I was awake again, in the recovery room, groaning with every out-breath—I wasn’t in pain in the slightest; it was some involuntary thing—and then this that and the other, and I was transported home. Oh, Dr. M. showed me photographs of what she’d done to my internal self. It looked very nice (from an artistic standpoint).

I was home by 11:30 a.m. and felt perfectly, absolutely well. “Good to see you in such fine fettle!” exclaimed Lisa M. when she came to visit later; we had a delightful chat. Hammett ran into the bathroom when she came in and stayed behind the sink until she left.

The Big J. and Dave C., and the Cloud















I always thought “the cloud” was figurative, but look; there it is.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Olive Clump Bread

Now that Daylight Savings Time has ended, it’s kind of dark when I leave work and pitch black soon thereafter. I wondered if I’d have to go back to riding my bike home on Market St.—it was so dark passing behind the ballpark—but after trying Market St. again one time, I decided just to use more lights and stick with my nice route by the water. The next time I passed the ballpark, the lights were on, so this will be fine.

On Thursday I had dinner at Ananda Fuara and then my peer group of five meditators met at the Zen Center. Our class ends in December, but we’ve decided to continue to meet after that on our own, every two weeks. I’ve become very fond of this little bunch of folks.

Prior to our meeting, I had a “practice discussion” with one of the teachers there, D., wherein I confessed how much I fidget when I meditate. I even pick up Hammett for a few minutes if he really, really wants to be picked up, rationalizing that I’m doing “love meditation.”

Hearing from vipassana teachers, I have picked up the idea, rightly or wrongly, that mindfulness is all that counts. I think that is ultimately so, but Zen puts much more emphasis on forms, including posture, as a way to support mindfulness. D. reminded me that moments of being utterly still are rare and precious, and encouraged me to have a bit more resolve. She noted that sitting alone is admittedly difficult. In the zendo, if nothing else, a sense of decorum quells floundering about.

The next day I sat down intending not to move (and certainly not to pick up the cat). The instructions I gave myself were to keep my body still, and to keep my mind with my body. Within about two breaths, I felt like I was suffocating and became intensely claustrophobic—trapped in my own flesh. No wonder I don’t do this very often. I made it through that, and later some definite quiet and peace set in, though by then I noticed I was leaning to one side, curved over like a banana.

I emailed D. to see if, in that case, I should just remain contorted, or if it would be better to make small adjustments as I go along (meaning there might be several movements) or wait until one big adjustment is needed (just one movement, but larger).

She wrote back that it’s OK to regain one’s upright posture, preferably with small, gentle movements, and preferably without getting into movements that aren’t really necessary under the guise of “adjusting.” But she also asked how I had ended up like a banana without noticing it: good question. Since then I’ve been paying attention to that and it hasn’t happened again so far.

My company has just made Veteran’s Day into a paid holiday, so for the first time in many years, I had that day off and utterly squandered it on Facebook, not a week after piously explaining to Lisa M. why I would never become a Facebook user.

In retrospect, it was a bit overwhelming to have elementary school, junior high AND high school come flooding back all at once, but it was really nice to see all of those old names and learn a bit about what people are up to, and some particularly great things happened, too. I reconnected with someone I was very fond of whom I had Googled in vain many, many times. I got back in touch with my best friend in eighth grade, Mark. I found two or three lucid dreamers, including one of my closest friends when I was seven! I am back in touch with a fellow I had a crush on when I was 16; at the time, he seemed like a glamorous older man, so I was surprised to find out he’s actually only two years older than I am.

Almost nothing I’d planned to do that day got done. I spent hours and hours on Facebook, and got to bed a bit late. I routinely write down six or seven or eight dreams each morning, but the day after Facebook day, I remembered precisely zero dreams. It had fried my brain and/or my unconscious was ticked off about something.

The next day, Saturday, I remembered one very brief dream and two snippets. I went to see B. at the hospice. She dozed for the first hour, and then we chatted for another hour or so. I told her my mother was a marine architect by education and her eyes grew big as golf balls. She said, “That is so exciting!” Somewhere along in there, I realized I was absolutely happy, just sitting there with B. There was nowhere else I could have enjoyed being more.

It was a splendid crisp fall day, sunny and beautiful. Tom (my tall handsome ex-boyfriend) and I used a City CarShare car, for the first time, to get to a birthday party for him, Jim and Dan in Sacramento.

“I brought along a selection of CDs,” I said. It had occurred to me that Tom’s musical education had a lacuna in the area of Megadeth.

“So did I,” countered Tom. The battle was on!

“I brought Megadeth.”

“Good. Did you remember to bring your headphones?”

I like to drive with the window wide open at all times, which Tom indulges until it gets to be cold and dark; even then, I’d really prefer the window down. There is nothing like a frigid wind to make one feel positively refreshed.

So I was a little worried Tom might not be able to hear Dave over the noise of the wind as we traversed I-80, despite the stereo being turned way, way up. “Can you hear that OK?”

“Um, YES!!”

“But are you picking up all the nuances?”

“There’s nuances?”

The party was wonderful, as always, although some of us ate way too many cheddar biscuits during the appetizers phase and ended considerably too full (and remembered few dreams once again the next morning).

Here’s who was there: Paul, Eva, Steve, Julie, Sarah, Josh, Dave C., Christine, Dan, Jim, Melinda, Abbie, Tom and me.

On Sunday I was hoping to see Mark and Doug, but I never heard from them, so I went to Rainbow and made brown basmati rice with Portobello ragu and two loaves of olive bread. I used King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose flour and could not believe how much and how fast the dough rose. I’m a convert.

As for getting the olives into the bread, I didn’t precisely follow the instructions—how hard could it be?—and ended up with these giant loaves where the three slices on each end have no olives at all, and all the slices in between have a big clump of olives right in the center. I won’t be able to put this bread in the toaster because all of the olives will fall out, so I’ll have to use the oven for reheating, and next time I will study the instructions more closely. The flavor and texture of this bread, clumped-up olives notwithstanding, is excellent.

I felt extremely calm yesterday while I was cooking—I think partly due to applying more discipline when sitting the past few days—so much so that I didn’t listen to KQED or any music, and this morning I remembered eight dreams, three of which were fairly long, and one of which was about lucid dreaming per se, a good sign.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Tree & Trees



















A Close Shave

My latest lucid dreaming innovation is to make notes during the night with my eyes closed. I experimented with a pen with a light in the tip, and with just turning on a small LED light and sort of trying to wedge it between my chin and my chest while writing, but Patricia Garfield convinced me that keeping one’s eyes closed is best.

She has some method of writing on 5 x 8” pieces of paper while keeping her lines readably straight. Maybe I’ll get the hang of that later, but for now, I’m writing on 3 x 5” pads. I have one under each of my two pillows, and one on the nightstand, with a Pentel P205 pencil clipped to each.

I pick up the pad with my left hand and hold it from behind with my thumb on the left side and other fingers on the right side, up near the top, and write two or three words on the top line. Then I move my thumb down a tad, tap my thumb with the tip of the pencil so I can feel where the line should start, write a few words, and so forth.

When I’m done, I peek at the clock and then, with my eyes closed again, write the time on the back of each piece of paper before dropping it on the floor. In the morning, there is a little snowstorm of notes on the floor, including things I had already forgotten.

I’m also putting a bit more effort into considering the messages my dreams might have for me, mainly by thinking about what associations I have with the main elements. On a night I was thinking about changing jobs, for instance, I dreamed of coming to a fork in the road and realizing there weren’t just two choices; there were three, four, five, and the most forbidding turned out to be perfectly workable.

I went to the hospice this past Saturday, and while I was there, a harried-seeming person arrived, possibly a doctor, who requested that the doors on either side of an elevator lobby be closed.

A short while later, my person sent me on an errand, and as I opened the door to the elevator lobby, I saw the doctor, if such he was, wheeling out a corpse. It was small, and wrapped in a blue blanket.

I had just come out of the kitchen and the door was still open behind me. I suddenly realized the people in the kitchen, patients and their visitors, might also be able to see the dead body, so I closed the door quickly, and then was in the tiny space with the doctor and the gurney and the dead person. In fact, the doctor backed into me. “Sorry!” I said.

I left the place soon after and happened to see the slight bundle being loaded into an unmarked van the doctor had pulled up on the sidewalk. I walked over to the Tibet Shop and bought a raw silk scarf in a gorgeous deep purple, made in Nepal. It seemed like a good moment for something beautiful. I told the shop owner what I’d just seen, and he murmured, “Impermanence.”

The bike parking in my building at work has been nearly at maximum capacity lately, so I went to see the building manager to tell her about an idea I’d had. We have a rack, a cage enclosing a rack, and another rack. It seems to me that if the cage itself were removed, we could fit a lot more racks in that general area; all of this is in a spot not accessible to the public.

The building manager is extraordinarily warm and friendly. She has the clearest skin and eyes I’ve ever seen, and she kept patting my arm. She studied the cage and said, “This thing is a waste of space, isn’t it? You know, I think this thing is a waste of space! I’m going to call my bike rack man.”

She said she’s working on a lot of green improvements in the building—instructions from the company she works for—and asked if I’d be interested in helping with a commuter survey, to find out how people are traveling to work. I said I’d love to do that. Part of her mandate is to support environmentally friendly ways of getting around.

As a gentlewoman of 47, I have lately had to give some thought to facial fuzz—that wasn’t there before, was it? I’m pretty sure not—and decided that smooth skin was preferable even if interspersed with periods of what one would have to call stubble, so, not long ago, I was shaving away in my cube at work when the guy who sits across from me passed right by without a word—after all, what exactly would he say? “I see you’re shaving”?



A few days later, I was recalling that the last hair artiste to attempt an improvement in my coiffure had said there’s a hole in the back that she didn’t put there (in my hair, not my actual skull, presumably), and it occurred to me to try to get a look at this using two mirrors. I had my head stuck into the shelf over my desk, where one mirror is, and was using a small hand mirror to try to see the spot in question when—yep—the same guy passed by again. He didn't say anything that time, either.

Of the first, my mother said, “My mother never told me not to shave my chin where other people could see me, probably because it never occurred to her that it needed saying.

In the end, I decided to rebrand “perimenopausal facial hair” as “beautiful gleaming angel down” and to pretend I live, say, where Frida Kahlo lived; i.e., where someone with smooth skin is seen as lacking something essential.

Note to All Three of My Loyal Readers

Clicking on the September 2009 link will yield another new post or two. I will try to post something weekly from now on!

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

The Cheapest of Thrills

My class at the Zen Center is rolling along pleasantly. It will be over in December. I’m enjoying getting to know the members of my peer group better, and one day I had lunch with a couple of the other students before an afternoon session of the class.

I’ve taken to having dinner at Ananda Fuara before evening sessions of the class or meetings with my peer group, and that is a nice thing to do.

I have a new hospice visitee (I guess I'll call her B.), a 91-year-old who is very bright and positive and is interested in lots of things, and asks me a lot of questions. She confided that a lot of people are there in hospice because they’re going to die, but she personally is not going to, at least not in the foreseeable future, so she needs to figure out where she’s going to live next. She observed that her dying housemates don’t seem to do much. I said that people who are dying might be rather weary; they might want to rest.

She has tons of friends and a devoted family, and I can see why. She is a pleasure to be around.

I finally found out who my new boss will be—and then two days later, that person got laid off, so now I don’t know again, but my boss’s boss and my boss’s boss’s boss came to town and took us to lunch at Lark Creek, which was a treat. I had a Portobello mushroom sandwich on “griddled” bread and fresh-squeezed lemonade. Our boss’s boss said her boss told her, “This group is functioning very well—don’t mess it up!”

I repeated that to an officemate who said, “You mean, that’s what they said to your face,” and then he laughed uproariously.

Well, James Howard Kunstler says our way of life is going to change radically—he thinks we’ve passed the peak of oil production already.

He writes in the latest issue of The Sun: “If you’re a mortgage broker or work in the financial industry, you might consider whether there’s something else you’d rather do with your life. You won’t make as much money doing it, but maybe it will be rewarding in other ways. You might buy ten acres of land and start growing table greens, become a paramedic, or find some other focus for your energy that would make you useful to your fellow human beings during the coming crisis.”

I was reading that on the steps of the Zen Center one evening earlier this week after dinner at Ananda Fuara, and reflecting that I had heard something very similar at a conference on 9/11. I attended that conference with Sir Dave, Mr. 9/11 himself, and just as I was thinking about that, Sir Dave hove into view. I hadn’t seen him in a while. He is recently and majorly bereaved. That does not make anything easier.

My lucid dreaming practice seems to be interfering with sleep less and less, thank goodness. In fact, it hardly does at all now.

Here’s my latest lucid dream, a mere week and a half after the last one: I was either seeing hypnagogic imagery, or dreaming that I was; probably the latter. I recalled that one way of inducing a lucid dream is to follow hypnagogic imagery into sleep, and then to “step into” the dream, so I stepped into a cool evening with a deep blue sky and tried three methods of increasing the vividness of a dream: I said “Increase lucidity,” I tried to focus on a detail—my hands—and I rubbed my hands together. None worked, and the visuals completely disappeared.

But I was still lucid, so I decided to try to fly, something I have never, ever done in a dream, to my knowledge. The closest I’ve come is bounding down stairs in long leaps I wouldn’t be able to do in waking life without breaking my leg, or both legs.

I halfheartedly made as if to spring into the air, but I didn’t want to attempt something that wouldn’t work, because I didn’t want to conclude that it’s difficult for me to fly—I was thinking all of this in the dream—so instead I gently pushed off as if I were pushing off from the side of a swimming pool, and I floated along a foot or so above the grass, more like a fish in the water than a bird in the air. Maybe I was more swimming than flying, but whatever it was, I was liberated from the constraints of gravity.

Then, still without being able to see a thing, I arched my back and had the impression I was going far up, maybe as far as the cosmos, but I couldn’t be sure, because I couldn’t see. And then I woke up.

This is really a fun and interesting thing, and it’s having a good effect on my waking life. I just feel freer and more open—when I walk down the street of my own free will, going here or going there as the spirit takes me, I think what it would be like to do that in a lucid dream: it would be thrilling, and so I’m a little thrilled now just walking down the street.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Not Intrinsically Funny

Two weeks after the aforementioned lucid dream, I had another.

I was dreaming I was in my old house in Ann Arbor, in the master bedroom, looking out the window onto a snowy night. I dream about my old house very frequently, but this time I was making mental notes, just as when I’m awake: “I’m drawing the blinds, because I just prefer to have them closed. I’m here in Ann Arbor,” and as soon as I heard myself announce I was in Ann Arbor, I knew I was dreaming!

This time I remembered a particular thing I wanted to do in a lucid dream and commanded such-and-such person to appear. Nothing happened. I considered that maybe my tone had been arrogant, so I tried the wording from my prior lucid dream: “I would like so-and-so to walk through that door,” and instantly that occurred. I was saying to myself, “I’m dreaming, I’m dreaming, I’m dreaming,” in hopes of remaining lucid, but soon thereafter, I woke up.

However, I was extremely pleased that I remembered a specific thing I wanted to do (“Are you trying to say this happened in my ex-master bedroom?” my mother inquired), and that it was so easy to make that scenario begin. Next time I will try to remember to do one or both of the best-known prolongers of lucidity, which are to rub your dream hands together, or to stick your arms out and spin in a circle.

I’m reading Patricia Garfield’s groundbreaking book Creative Dreaming: Plan and Control Your Dreams to Develop Creativity, Overcome Fears, Solve Problems, and Create a Better Self, wherein she mentions a four-point scale of lucidity.

To paraphrase, the first level is having something weird happen in a dream but not realizing it until you wake up.
The second level is noticing in your dream that something odd is happening, but rationalizing it away or taking it in stride. Third is noticing the weird thing and really being aware of its oddness. The final level is realizing that the weird thing would be impossible in waking life and that you are dreaming.

Garfield says that if you have level two or three experiences, those are certainly “cooperative” dreams, and bode well for true lucid dreaming. I do have those, as well as dreams about lucid dreaming; for instance, about reviewing a checklist that pertains to lucid dreaming, or knowing that an eminent lucid dreamer is going to be giving a talk.

Garfield says those are good signs, and notes that people with a good sense of balance tend to have more lucid dreams, as do women and meditators. I decided that, far from being a dolt who just can’t learn this, I’m an absolute natural, and the very night after the lucid dream just described, I had a dream where I saw, in an improbable place—18th St. and Guerrero—a beautiful expanse of green mountains with a river winding through them.

“That is lovely,” I thought. “Perhaps I should take a photograph and see if the photo still shows the same thing after I wake up.” I don’t count that as a lucid dream, but there was some dim awareness that I was asleep.

I was sitting in my cube at work one day noting away—I see this, I see that—and I suddenly realized what my unconscious wants: It wants me to see what it sees.

I’m making a practice, too, of noticing as many people on the street as possible, and that is great. For one thing, I get a good look at a lot of interesting-looking people. I also sometimes see the same person again later, which is thrilling.

The other day I saw a large fellow shambling along drinking out of a plastic soda cup. He was going east, a block north of Market. A very short while later, I saw him three blocks south of that spot and two blocks to the west, still slumping along to the east. It was a mystery as to how he’d gotten there so fast, especially given that he wasn’t heading in that direction when I first saw him, but it was undoubtedly him, and I would not have noticed that before. My unconscious loved that (I think), and for once, I was there to appreciate it, too.


Today I was walking near 18th and Guerrero and made a point of going to the location in my dream, just in case there should happen to be green mountains there now, and indeed there were not, but I did see someone I like quite a bit, whom I haven’t seen in months, so that dream had its usefulness, as I fully expect many dreams in the future will.

I’ve been searching for a good decaffeinated green tea, and mentioned that to my mother, who asked why I didn’t just drink herbal tea.

“I want the antioxidants in the green tea,” I told her.

“Oh, poop poop poop,” she said, and added, “You’re making me laugh, but it’s not intrinsically funny.” Hearing the scratching of pen and paper on my end, she said, “Don’t put that—say, does your blog need an editor? I don’t know anything about editing, but I could learn.”

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Yeah!!!!!!!!!!

I did it!

I had a lucid dream last night, absolutely unmistakably, and it lasted long enough for me to try my hand at dream control, with thrilling results.

I was dreaming that I was in a cluttered room in a house unfamiliar to me, but spied my own stuffed bear, Iyengar, on a chair. That struck me as odd, and I wondered if I could be dreaming. I concluded there was no way, but just to go through the motions, I looked at a newspaper lying on the floor and saw it was addressed to me. I looked away and looked back, in the classic state test, and this time it was addressed to “Pearly Gates.”

I could scarcely believe it, as things seemed so real and so vivid, but I WAS DREAMING AND I KNEW IT!

I started jumping up and down and was able to jump higher than in waking life. I touched the ceiling, and then I thought about leaping out the window and flying, but decided to save that for when I’m a more advanced lucid dreamer, just in case.

I thought about my long list, in waking life, of people I’d like to enjoy “quality time” with, should I achieve lucidity, but none in particular came to mind, and anyway, I couldn’t figure out how exactly I would get from this room to romance with Viggo, so I did an experiment instead:

I looked at the door and announced that I would like a dream companion to come through it, which happened immediately. I said that I would like us to engage in such-and-such activity, which also happened immediately. I said that I would like this activity to conclude in the customary pleasant manner, and it did!

I’m absolutely delighted. This tells me that the advice just to notice things as often as possible was good—and where had I heard that before? Oh, right, during 18 years’ worth of meditation teachers, dharma talks, intensive retreats, visits to the Zen Center, and books on Buddhism.

But probably the nearly two and a half months of dedicated lucid dreaming effort also helped. Knowing exactly what to do to confirm lucidity and some ways to alter the course of a dream came from reading so much about it.

One way to change the course of a dream is to imagine changing the channel on a giant TV to the desired show and then stepping through the screen. I think I actually considered doing that in this dream, but, maybe because I have watched virtually no TV for decades, it seemed simpler and easier just to invite what I wanted to come through the door. There’s nearly always a door or a window in any room. Or should be if you look again.

I also note that this happened just a couple of days after I consciously decided to be in cahoots with my own unconscious and began thanking it for helping me. Thank you very much for this lucid dream, unconscious! My goodness, the places we will go!

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Inching Toward Lucidity, I Hope

I was getting discouraged about my lucid dreaming project and was actually on the verge of giving up, because some lucid dreaming induction techniques were keeping me awake for hours and I was missing too much sleep, but then I found the Dream Views website, with forums full of useful tips.

I decided to try some of the ideas I read about there, and to keep at it, but in a much more relaxed way.

I haven’t had a lucid dream that I know of since a very brief one late August, but it continues to be foremost in my mind. My process has continued to evolve toward the easier and simpler, because obviously the strenuous and difficult isn’t doing the trick.

I’m several books into this and am now reading Teach Yourself to Dream: A Practical Guide to Unleashing the Power of the Subconscious Mind, by David Fontana. He includes only a few pages on lucid dream induction, but they have been helpful. He writes that the unconscious is willful and learns in fits and starts, but that, like the conscious mind, it likes to be appreciated, so he advises thanking your own unconscious for any improvement in your dream life, so I’ve been doing that, and I think we’re on cozier terms already.

It even sent me a little joke last night: a dream about riding the FATE train in Minneapolis. When I happened to speak to someone in Minneapolis today, I asked the name of the train system. It’s not FATE.

Somewhere I read that lucid dreaming is a mental discipline, so the best way to be able to notice things while asleep is to be able to notice them when you’re awake, and the best way to remember your intention while asleep is to remember your intention while awake.

So, for instance, I had started wearing my watch for the sole purpose of using the on-the-hour chime to remind me to do a state test (“Am I dreaming right now?”) but after I read that, I took it off: Either I’m motivated enough to remember to do frequent state tests or not, and if not, no amount of electronic beeping is going to help.

I read a long and detailed tutorial on lucid dream induction at the Dream Views website which concluded several pages of advice by saying that there is also an easier way: simply to be aware all the time.

Not that that’s exactly easy, but the idea that awareness when awake may translate to awareness when asleep certainly makes sense, so I have crossed a few more things off my personal list of instructions and now it pretty much boils down to consciously noting actions and sensory impressions during the day—sitting in my chair, seeing a picture with such-and-such colors and shapes, hearing the Blue Angels, dern them—and doing state tests as often as I can remember to: “Am I dreaming? Does anything seem illogical or out of place? Can I remember what happened right before this?”

Now that I have analyzed many recorded dreams, I see that one notable feature is the way they lurch from scene to scene, so if I ever remember to ask myself in a dream if I can remember what just happened, I might find I can’t.

When I go to sleep, I express a few intentions: “I will awaken from my dreams and remember them. When I am dreaming, I will observe my surroundings carefully. I will realize I am dreaming.”

Here’s something good: it turns out I am acquainted with a master lucid dreamer!

Sitting right next to me at work is a fellow who has as many as four or five lucid dreams per night, which is extremely rare. Apparently he almost never has a night without one. 
It’s effortless for him—he says it’s perfectly obvious to him when he’s dreaming. He kept asking me, “When you realize you’re dreaming, do you do such-and-such?” I kept having to tell him, “I don't realize I’m dreaming.”

The night after we had our first chat about this, I dreamed I was in a cab that turned onto a sidewalk where pedestrians stared at us curiously. My companion and I looked at each other in a knowing way and asked simultaneously, with good humor, “Is this a dream?” I still didn’t realize I was dreaming, but the idea that one could discover herself to be dreaming is evidently creeping into my dreams.

In another dream, I noticed something definitely amiss, and inquired of another dream character (one of my sisters), who explained, “Oh, that’s just such-and-such,” which I took at face value.

Two minutes later in the same dream I told her, “You know, if I hadn't been so credulous a couple of minutes ago, I would have realized I was dreaming.”