Tuesday, August 25, 2009


Most of these look better bigger (click on them) but the last two look better smaller.

Carol Joy with something or other in her mouth.

Flowers in Mill Valley.

101 in Novato from overpass.

Tree with cloud finger pointing at it.

Seattle. You've seen photos like this before, but were they taken by me from a little bitty seaplane? You can actually see David and Lisa's apartment building in this photo; if you're looking at this with them, have them point it out. It's kind of a yellow-beige color.

Sneaky self-portrait. Those are our alter egos beyond the reflecting ball. How I love reflective surfaces! I really like this photo so much, because it looks like the three of us are in some enchanted beautiful world, and then there are those three other people who look like they're in some other place entirely, but they're only 10 feet away!

Church in San Francisco on Mission between Fourth and Third. The inside is very beautiful. It wants to be a pile of bricks again someday. I hope I'm not near it when the Big One hits.

Hammett making ready to inspect new recycling bag, having knocked it over.

See that beady pair of eyes?

My handsome boy!

Excellent Advice for the Homeless

That day after we went to Butt Chart Gardens, we went to the 14 Carrot Café for huevos rancheros, a tradition now two years old, and then Lisa and David went off to attend to some pre-workweek tasks, while I went for a stroll.

I started by walking all the way downtown to visit my favorite building, Two Union Square, and then I generally toured downtown and visited the public library, which is in a very unique building and well worth seeing.

I obtained a small gift for David, whose birthday is coming up soon, and a card and a bunch of sunflowers from Pike’s Place Market, and then I walked to their place for a delicious dinner made by Lisa and the viewing of another DVD, plus this thing was said by David, calling to Lisa in another room: “Lisa, Linda scarfed down all our lemon drops,” which I thought was very funny (not to mention true).

They escorted me back to my hotel and in the morning I walked back to the bus stop, where I met a deranged man who was spectacularly good-looking except for his teeth. He had beautiful brown eyes and a nice mouth and buttery smooth tanned skin. (Unfortunately, I didn’t get a photo.) He told me every detail of his bank account, how much was added on what occasion and how much was later subtracted, and to the penny what he believed the balance to be. He said that if there was any trouble with his health benefits, he was going to refuse to stay in Seattle; so there.

If you want my opinion, I think he should get his teeth fixed, get some nice clothes, try not to talk too much about his bank account, find a rich girlfriend and live in luxury. He was utterly gorgeous.

Little Plane We Went to Victoria in, D & L, Flowers

Well, it wasn't exactly this plane, but mighty similar.

Justifiable Confusion

Scene: I’m in a car with David C. He’s in the driver’s seat, wearing a nice button-down shirt, looking at a map.

Scene: For some reason, I’m in the international terminal at the San Francisco airport. Oddly, the sound of distorted electric guitar is reverberating through the huge space.

Scene: I’m with a lead-footed ex-wrestler from Uzbekistan who speaks four languages and claims to live on Treasure Island. He tells me his name means “dream” or “wish.” We drive all over San Francisco, always screeching to a halt five feet past the stop signs: we’re near San Francisco State University, we’re at the beach, we’re on Geary St., we’re on a twisting little lane we fear getting permanently stuck in; we get to a road you used to be able to drive down, but it’s blocked and people are sitting right in the middle of the road drinking coffee. We pass the first place I ever lived in S.F., 27 years ago, and then the second.

No wonder I can’t figure out when I’m dreaming or not. The first scene above was a dream; the second occurred during waking life and so did the third, courtesy of SuperShuttle. It was fantastic—where else can you get a 105-minute tour of the entire city for only $17 with such a colorful and charming character, especially when you live only 10 minutes from the airport? I tipped him $20 and took his photo and there was much hand-shaking all around. (His name really did mean “dream.” You see the problem.)

There was one interesting thing about the scene that was actually a dream: While it was utterly indistinguishable from real life—David quite often wears a nice shirt—it did have the excellent property of coming true several hours after I dreamed it, when David and Lisa and I were in a Kenmore Air seaplane making our way from Seattle to Victoria, British Columbia, and I looked across the narrow aisle and saw David studying a map. We were in almost the exact physical configuration I saw in my dream, and he was doing the exact same thing.

The people playing the electric guitars in the international terminal at the airport—I was just going to Seattle, but that’s where the lavender-drenched Virgin America is—were members of Persephone’s Bees, and since the information about the gate for my flight was not imparted until worryingly late, I had plenty of time to listen to them, and it made me have to dab at my eyes with my hanky, it was so lovely and unexpected.

After my plane landed, I took the bus to downtown Seattle and Lisa met me at Convention Place Station and we walked to my hotel and then to an Ethiopian restaurant, where David (in a nice shirt) joined us. They walked me back to my hotel after dinner so I could get my requisite nine hours of sleep, and the next day, we took an itsy-bitsy seaplane to Victoria, and then a rental car to Butt Chart—oh, sorry, Butchart (say “boo-shart”) Gardens, where there are many, many, MANY flowers. We sniffed nearly every flower in the rose garden and took photos of our favorites. Nearly every soul there, including all three of us, had a digital camera along.

Before we boarded the first seaplane, which took off from Lake Union and seated just nine people plus the pilot, the pilot asked who would like to ride in the co-pilot’s seat in the cockpit. My hand shot into the air, but he, obvious misogynist, pretended he didn’t see me and asked the fellow next to him if HE’D like to ride in the co-pilot’s seat. When I was grumbling about this later, David and Lisa said that I should just ask the return pilot right away if I could sit in that seat; David also thought the fellow who got to ride in the cockpit might have been the pilot’s friend (in which case he shouldn’t have pretended he was taking volunteers; all right, so just possibly he wasn’t a misogynist).

Anyway, the advice of Lisa and David was excellent, and thus I did get to ride in the cockpit on the return trip, and see the view out the big front window. There were tiny windows on the pilot’s side and the co-pilot’s side that could be opened; we both had them open. When we got near Seattle, we could see the downtown skyline and Mt. Rainier beyond, which was stunning. I hadn’t wanted to distract the pilot, but at that point, I couldn’t resist pointing at the window and mouthing “Wow” and then the pilot and I grinned at each other and nodded vigorously, as if to say, “Yeah—cool!” Then I got out my camera and took a photo and the pilot did the same.

That evening we ate vegan Asian carryout at Lisa and David’s place and watched a DVD.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

The Big S, Sacramento at Night, Action Shot of Tom

In case you can’t tell from this photo, it was like 95 degrees. Tom’s in this picture, too, taken outside the Sacramento train station.

Free as a Bird

Guess WHAT? The night after I realized I was dreaming and woke up from the bad dream, I again recognized that I was dreaming and had, uh, “quality time” with Johnny Depp, which is on my lengthy list of things to do when lucidly dreaming.

(When I told my mother, she said, “He’s mine! Are you trying to tell me he cheated on me with you?”)

I was dreaming that I was back at the house I grew up in, which I dream about very often, probably four times a week, decade after decade, and there was Johnny Depp in the study with two other people, a major clue that I was dreaming, AND I remembered my previously formulated goal (Johnny seemed amenable—OK, go ahead and say it: “In your dreams”), AND I even remembered that rubbing one’s dream hands together is a way to prolong lucidity.

Now, the quality of the “quality time” was not actually amazing; it wasn’t tremendously vivid and didn't feel all that real, but that I realized I was dreaming and was able to do something from my list is a major step forward in this project.

But there was considerably more, actually the best part: When I left the house on my bicycle, I felt UNBELIEVABLY good. I felt completely and utterly free (free as a bird, as Mily says), like, wow, I’m AWAKE! And I can DO ANYTHING I WANT! I can ride my bike HERE. I can ride my bike THERE. And I was indeed riding my bike here and there, and so I felt like the absolute ruler of the universe, and two hours later, I still felt that exact same way.

(A very stressful situation at work managed to quell some of the good feeling, but didn't entirely remove it.)

So it’s as if dreaming and being awake reinforce and elevate each other: being awake is even better when it’s like a lucid dream, and a dream is even better when it’s like being awake!

I’m going to take my big book about Iraq back to the library, because for the time being, I’m only going to read books about lucid dreaming. I have one in progress (Stephen LaBerge’s first), four more on the shelf, and will acquire two more soon. I am obsessed. (Looks like I don’t have to get a tattoo, either, which is just as well.)

Stephen LaBerge, uncharacteristically indulging in italics, says this about how to decide what to do in lucid dreams: “I have found from experience that the feelings I am left with after a lucid dream reliably indicate my intuitive evaluation of my behavior in that dream. Please do not misunderstand me. I am not saying that 'if it feels good, it is good.' What I am saying is that 'if it feels good afterward, it was good.' … If I do something in a lucid dream that I feel good about later, I do it in future lucid dreams. If I feel bad about what I have done, I avoid that action in later lucid dreams. Following this policy, of course, leads to increasingly good feelings in my lucid dreams.”

Sounds like a pretty good prescription for the rest of life, too.

He also writes this: “I believe the habit of flexibility to be well worth developing in lucid dreams. In addition to being highly effective in the dream world, it is also generally applicable in the waking world. Indeed, it may at times be the only course of action open to you. In most situations, it would be unrealistic to expect other people to change in the way you want them to. You cannot always, or even often, get others to do what you want; you may not even be able to prevent them from doing exactly what you don't want. Nonetheless, at every moment, whether dreaming or waking, you have the power to reframe the way you see the circumstances you find yourself in.”

This made me think of grilling. Regarding that, I have vowed not to fight with my neighbors henceforth—not about smoke, not about grilling, not about noise, not about anything that is not truly actionable. Of course, it’s easier to say now that there pretty much is none of those things (for which I’m grateful). But I think I did learn from the situation.

Or would I do the exact same things again? Maybe I would. Anyway, at THIS point, I will not fight with my neighbors. I was talking to someone who is about to sue two different people in small claims court, and thought that if it were I in either situation, I wouldn’t bother. It wouldn’t be worth the cost in peace of mind.

In my previous building, I also had conflict with neighbors, but in that case I compromised, and compromised some more, and compromised some more, so I guess I have now tried both extremes and found both wanting.

Yesterday I took the bus to Novato to see Carol Joy, and we had our usual fabulous visit. We had lunch at a P.F. Chang’s, and then we saw The Time Traveler’s Wife and Adam, both of which we both liked. The first has some logical flaws, but Eric Bana is great and it is a poignant meditation on love and its costs. The second is about a young man with Asperger’s whose neighbor develops a romantic interest in him.

After the second movie, we had dinner at Vasco in Mill Valley, which is really nice, and at every opportunity during the day, we whipped out the cards and played a hand or two of Sneaky Pete (“Deal ‘em!”)

This morning we had breakfast at Toast, played another few hands of Sneaky Pete, and then I came home on the bus and spent the afternoon cooking.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Sacramento at Night, Bricks, Tom on the Low Seas

When I took the San Francisco Fire Department NERT class, one of the instructors mentioned that an unreinforced masonry (i.e., brick) building is something that was once a pile of bricks and wants to be a pile of bricks again. I think this is a good example of a wall that REALLY wants to be a pile of bricks.

Thursday, August 13, 2009


I’m feeling very hopeful about my lucid dreaming project. First of all, I’m finding it reasonably easy to make a few dream notes during the night using my new LED pen, and, second, to remember to practice LaBerge’s technique, as well, which always eluded me before; I just wouldn’t be able to remember what I was supposed to do when the time came. I also couldn’t get myself to make dream notes before morning, and would spend each period of wakefulness during the night mentally going over my dreams so I’d be able to remember them in the morning, which also interfered with doing LaBerge’s technique.

Besides those good signs, three very encouraging things happened last night. First, I had a dream about a young lady instructing DREAM RESEARCHERS as to where to put certain pieces of modular furniture. Dream researchers!

Then, as if that weren’t enough, I dreamed about looking at a checklist pertaining to lucid dreaming—without it crossing my mind that I could be dreaming.

For the grand finale, I actually did realize I was dreaming, and I woke up at almost the exact same moment, but that’s totally OK. Things are trending in the right direction.

When I started this project this time around, at the end of July, I was able to remember one dream snippet in the morning. This morning it took me half an hour to write down six or seven vividly detailed dreams. In one, I had stored up a whole bunch of pubic hair in a gold casserole my mother once gave me. (Now, THAT should have told me I was dreaming.)

Toward morning, I dreamed about a cat getting hit by a car. Unfortunately, I now and then have this sort of dream. These are among the worst kinds of dreams I have—they cast a lingering unpleasant spelland last night’s dream was of course terrible and upsetting.

In my dream, I thought, “This cat is going to die. This is awful! I wish this weren’t happening. Oh: this DOESN’T have to be happening—this is a dream,” and then I woke up, which was a relief in and of itself, and it was also a moment of realizing I was dreaming, a first step to build upon.

I feel so good about it, I’m going to retract my hyperbole about Stephen LaBerge’s books. Wikipedia says this, which should clear the matter up. I think the earliest book may be out of print.
—1985 Lucid Dreaming: The power of being aware and awake in your dreams
—1987 Controlling Your Dreams (audio cassette)
—1990 Exploring the World of Lucid Dreaming, with Howard Rheingold
—2002 KISS Guide to Dreams, with Lisa Lenard
—2004 Lucid Dreaming: A Concise Guide to Awakening in Your Dreams and in Your Life (a short book bundled with a CD)
—2009 Lucid Dreaming: A Concise Guide to Awakening in Your Dreams and in Your Life (paperback release with CD)

The “KISS” book appears mainly to be by Lisa Lenard, and is apparently part of a series whose names all start with “KISS,” which undoubtedly stands for “Keep It Simple, Stupid.” I’m not going to get this.

Another reason it’s good that I received a positive sign or two is that I had pretty much decided yesterday to tattoo some text onto my left hand, but now maybe I won’t. As part of my project, I’ve been asking myself many times per day, “Am I dreaming?” and counting the fingers of my left hand as the palm faces me, one, two, three, four, five, from thumb to pinky.

Apparently if you do this in a dream, you will never come up with the right total number of fingers, which will be a sign you are dreaming. But then I happened upon something about looking at one’s hand as a lucidity cue, and I didn’t read much about it, but became concerned (slightly) that maybe it’s an accepted lucidity cue to say, “Ah, there are my five fingers,” meaning that you CAN expect to see five fingers in your dream. (Though maybe that’s not even true. Maybe they just meant that one’s hand is a lucidity cue because it won’t have five fingers.)

By all accounts, if you look at a digital (not analog) clock in a dream, look away, and then look back, the numbers will have changed; ditto if you look twice at any text, so that should be a reliable sign that one is dreaming.

So it occurred to me that it could be handy to have some text permanently etched on my hand that I could use during the day (and night) for my “Am I dreaming?” test.

I figured “AWAKEN” would be good for this purpose, or should it be “AWAKE,” as in “I am … ”? I liked that that would cover two of my major interests in one short word, dreams and meditation. Though if I wanted to cover all the bases, I might want the tattoo to read AWAKEN AND EAT GREASY SNAX. The X would save me three letters’ worth of pain.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Particularly Ludicrous

On July 18, I went to the Zen Center for a class meeting and then I went down to the Ferry Building to meet Tom for the train to Sacramento. We stayed at Ann and Mac’s that night, and the next day, we had a birthday lunch for the two of them at Joe’s Crab Shack in Old Sacramento. Here’s who was there: Ann, Mac, Tom, Steve, Julie, Dan, Eva, me, and Ann’s friend Geri, who organized our outing.

It was extremely hot, to the point that even Sacramentans murmured a word or two about it, which means it was over a hundred degrees. After lunch, we went on the aforementioned river cruise, which was quite interesting and which I already posted a couple of pictures of.

It was rather offensive (I was going to say “comical,” but it wasn’t comical) to hear the complaints about Sonia Sotomayor’s “empathy” being an ominous sign her decisions would be biased (because of course she would feel empathy only for other Latinos; you know how they all stick together).

We already have a Supreme Court justice—John Roberts—who consistently demonstrates tremendous empathy—for corporations. If we have a new justice who feels actual empathy for actual persons, that sounds pretty good to me.

A movie I enjoyed very much lately was Bull Durham, which I’d never seen before. A young gangly Tim Robbins is in it, and Susan Sarandon, twelve years his senior. He was 30, she 42. This is where they met and became a couple, though the star attraction is Kevin Costner. I’m on a Kevin Costner kick.

I also really liked Donnie Brasco, with Johnny Depp and Al Pacino. It’s based on the true story of an FBI agent (Depp) who was embedded with the Mafia for so many years that he became, in effect, a Mobster himself, torn between his job and loyalty to his criminal friends.

I enjoyed 13 Going on 30—gosh, Jennifer Garner is extremely pretty—and thought Amores Perros was excellent. It takes place in Mexico and features three slightly overlapping dramatic stories.

I read And Now You Can Go, and was surprised at how much I didn’t enjoy it. Didn’t I read another thing by Vendela Vida and didn’t I conclude she was a genius? No! I read a thing by Heidi Julavits (they are co-editors of literary magazine The Believer), and she IS a genius.

The New York Observer said this: “Heidi Julavits is a show-stopping maximalist compared with Vendela Vida, whose elegant restraint is sometimes a little too unflinching.” The latter means, as far as I can tell, that Vida’s writing is utterly without affect or human emotion. I read all of And Now You Can Go and never felt engaged or interested. Instead, read Julavits’ The Mineral Palace and/or The Effect of Living Backward; The Uses of Enchantment is on my library list.

A book I enjoyed lately was Name All the Animals, by Alison Smith, a memoir about losing her 18-year-old brother in a terrible car accident when she was 15 and subsequently falling in love with a fellow student at her Catholic girls’ school, which also did not have a happy ending. (It’s possible that not falling asleep together in the bed of the nun who was in charge of discipline might have allowed the romance to flourish for a bit longer than it did. Ai yi yi.)

Terry Jentz’s Strange Piece of Paradise is also a memoir, about a summer cross-country bicycle trip she undertook with a college friend in 1977. A week into the trip, a never-apprehended assailant drove over their tent with his truck and then attacked them with an axe; the author’s friend’s eyesight was permanently damaged.

Fifteen years later, Jentz went back to the small town in Oregon that was the scene of the crime and conducted her own investigation, during which she almost certainly discovered the identity of her attacker. The book is a bit heavy on somewhat mystical introspection, but generally well written, and very interesting, if creepy. The description of the evening they pulled into the campground is chilling.

As a side note, Jentz is gay but we don’t learn that until the last few pages of the book, in the acknowledgements section, when she thanks her partner, Donna Deitch. That name sounded vaguely familiar—it's because Deitch is a movie director (Desert Hearts).

One striking fact was that Jentz’s friend had complete amnesia about the entire thing: she went to sleep in her tent, and woke up in the hospital, whereas Jentz was acutely conscious at every moment.

The friend refused, ever, to listen to Jentz describe what had happened, so, while Jentz was physically with her friend during this act of violence, in effect, she was completely alone, because she could never discuss it with the other person who was there.

I lately read Eric Puchner’s Music Through the Floor, a collection of short stories. Here are a couple of my favorite bits. This is from a story about a young man who has a job an an attendant to a couple of developmentally disabled boys:

“Jason never went back to his original self. He sat in the back of the van and saved himself for special occasions, shouting out the window only at particularly ludicrous sights, like a dog or a hippie.”

Here a character in another story is attending a poetry reading:

“After a while, he realized that she wasn’t bowing her head from shyness at all: rather, she seemed to be addressing her own sexual organ, beseeching it in a progressively louder voice.”

Tom in His Green Sweater, Tower Bridge in Sacramento, Guy at Ferry Building Who Said He Was Blackfoot and Cherokee

Crafty Zen Masters Put Kibosh on Daydreams

It’s been a nice experience to hang around the Zen Center. It’s a beautiful building with a tranquil atmosphere, full of lovely Buddhist art and objects. A building where people meditate all the time has a nice vibe.

Being part of Establishing the Path of Practice has changed my daily meditation practice in two ways. One is holding my hands in a particular position, which is one more thing to be aware of, and the other is sitting with my eyes open, which is a major difference, and which took a bit of getting used to.

I realized I had somewhat been thinking of meditating as visiting some other realm, where sometimes I have some type of special experience. At first, paying attention to my hands and keeping my eyes open seemed physically uncomfortable and so non-special that I thought it would be day after day of misery.

But I found that, after a couple of days, it was more comfortable and I could feel the same types of intermittent pleasant sensations in my body that I typically feel when meditating, which shouldn’t really be necessary, but was reassuring to me.

After a week, I had come very much to appreciate the value of keeping my eyes open. For one thing, it really cuts down on the time spent daydreaming; I realize what’s happening much sooner. And for some reason, keeping my eyes open makes the ebb and flow of sleepiness glaringly obvious, something I never really noticed before! Second to second, I can feel myself falling asleep and waking up.

And because sitting with my eyes open is so similar to what I do the rest of the day, it erases much of the mental division between sitting and not-sitting, so there are moments during the day when I realize, “Oh, here I am with my eyes open, noticing the floor in front of me—just like when I was meditating this morning.” And that is an awake moment, so there are more awake moments.

However, I’m very glad that I began meditating in the kinder and gentler vipassana tradition than in the Zen tradition (not sure if that needs a capital letter or not and the Internet isn’t helping)—this past Saturday, we sat for an hour and a half, with intermittent periods of walking, in the zendo, and I COULD NOT WAIT for that final bell to ring. Of course, I did wait, but I was suffering. Physical comfort is not a big priority, or so it seemed. It appeared to me that it would not be the thing to pile cushions on a chair to form a cushy throne, so I was fairly uncomfortable, and I was also surprised by the dead silence.

Not that they chat all the time during vipassana sitting periods, but it’s not uncommon for a teacher to throw in a little pep talk now and then—“If you find you’ve drifted off into thinking, that’s OK. Just gently return your attention to the sensations of your breath”—and I think it would be absolutely unheard of for a teacher to expect beginning students (which I think most of the people in EPP are) to sit/walk for 90 minutes without a word of encouragement, though one teacher did come around to correct posture, and when she got to me, she just put her very warm hands on my shoulders for a bit and then squeezed a little, which felt very nice indeed. Maybe that’s the equivalent.

At heart, I believe Buddhism is Buddhism and that it’s about being awake with a more or less kind heart in this very moment. I don’t see any fundamental contradiction at all, but in practice, vipassana teachers seem not to be particular about a lot of things as long as you’re trying to be present with what is, whereas the forms are obviously very important in Zen. All to the same end, but, again, I’m glad I began with vipassana teachers.

People often report being turned off by the bowing and so forth in Zen, but when I went to an introductory session at the Zen Center not long ago, the person who led the session likened the forms to rules in sports—things you need to know to enjoy the game and to be able to play with others. I like the bowing and rituals, though there is some anxiety when I don’t know what is required at a given moment. I was walking behind a teacher who suddenly stopped dead and bowed deeply for some reason I couldn’t fathom, and it took me several beats to emulate her. She explained later what it had all been about, and I’m sure there are a million things like that.

One day at the Zen Center, we did koan practice (e.g., “What is the sound of one hand clapping?”), which I’ve never had the slightest desire to try: I don’t understand, I don’t know how you figure out the answer, I don’t know how anyone knows what the right answer is, this does not sound fun.

I won’t claim to know the first thing about it now, either, but I will say that we did do an exercise where, working with a partner, one person asked over and over, “How do you suffer?” and, after receiving the answer, offered one of three previously assigned koans.

As a veteran of support groups where you’re “as sick as your secrets,” I find it extremely easy to tell anyone anything about myself, though I did hesitate for one second before telling a complete stranger, someone I’d never even noticed before, that one thing that makes me suffer is trying to punish people for doing things I think they shouldn’t be doing. Then I just went ahead and told her I do that, and she looked gravely into my eyes for some long seconds, and then she said, “This very mind is the Buddha.”

The idea was not to offer a literal prescription, but to offer whichever of the three koans seemed to arise somatically. It was nice for the answerer (and for the sufferer), because the answerer was NOT trying to fix anything, NOT trying to give advice, NOT trying to pick the right koan, but just to go with whatever her body seemed to want.

It ended up being a powerful and intimate thing—from now on, I’ll always have a special feeling about that particular person, for one thing—and I saw that it was, like everything else, about being awake and present.

Another good thing about this class is much focus on listening with presence, without trying to fix or advise or change anything. I’m not good at this. It’s extraordinarily difficult for me not to nod and smile, at the very least, so it’s excellent to hang around people who expect you to listen with much less affect.

When I talk to certain people, I’ve been practicing pausing and counting one, two, three breaths, after the person ends a sentence, in case she or he wants to say anything else. With that long of a pause, the other person almost always starts talking again, giving me another opportunity to listen. (Which may come in handy in hospice volunteering, too.)

I’ve met lots of lovely people in the class. I have a small peer group that meets every two weeks. My group gets along very nicely. The whole thing has been very good.

Three Revealing Self-Portraits


I think I had mentioned that at the place where I normally park my bike while at work, they had moved the bike racks to be closer to the attendants’ booth, to ward off theft and vandalism. Unfortunately, they also squeezed the racks into such a small area that it was difficult to impossible to get to many of the spaces, depending on when one arrived.

I started a fresh round of communications. I made phone calls. I sent emails. I drafted a letter to City Park. And then, you know what? I gave up, and it is very restful. I’d been pestering these people for more than four years, and it was worthwhile in that, in the racks’ former location, the attendants always made sure to leave the bikes plenty of room, which was not the case when I began my campaign. I will also say that the assistant building manager has been extremely kind to me. He’s a really sweet fellow.

The day before Independence Day, I arrived to find the garage closed, so I went to try my own building, which has very limited bike parking. Lo and behold, seven brand-new bike parking spaces had been added since the last time I’d been there. I was able to park, but there were only one or two spaces beyond that, so I contacted the new building manager, who is particularly friendly and cheerful, and we toured the garage together to scope out places for even more bike parking in the future.

There is a third bike rack that has a cage around it, which I always believed was restricted to a certain group, but the new building manager said it’s not, and said she had notified the group of that, AND she gave me the secret door code, in case I ever need to park there.

I thought of going ahead and sending my letter to City Park, anyway, just to acquaint them with my sentiments, but, ah, forget it. Now I park every day where there is sufficient bike parking, with great access, where more racks will likely be added when they are needed, and it is a huge relief to be rid of that stewing point (like a talking point, but less fun).

Last night I called my mother a bit later than usual, at 10:15 her time. She used to stay up until 3 a.m. routinely, but she has transformed herself into an early to bed, early to rise type of person, so I don’t usually call past 9 p.m., but I had had a perturbing social event, and since I forgot to get married, I have to call my mom when that happens (i.e., when there's anything I want to tell anyone). She answered right away and said, “I’m in my bed: it’s just a fact.”

Speaking of being in bed, I’ve re-embarked on the project of learning lucid dreaming, a nice hobby one can do right atop one's own mattress. I’ve always been interested in dreams, and at my hippie high school even took a class in dream analysis, with the same teacher who taught the creative problem solving class. The main prerequisite for being able to be conscious that one is dreaming is the ability to recall dreams, which I can easily do. I read something the other day that said you should be able to remember one dream per night before starting to work on lucid dreaming. I can often remember four, six, or more dreams, but I’ve only had one or two very brief lucid dreams in my entire life, which is rather frustrating.

(I did have a mesmerizingly beautiful dream once of riding my bicycle at night with silver moonlight gleaming all around me, which sort of makes up for it.)

My mother recently mentioned a podcast by Erin Pavlina (wife of Steve Pavlina) and I went and listened to it and was hugely inspired. She suggests trying to remain conscious until the moment of falling asleep in the hope that some consciousness will trickle into a dream. Her suggested method is to keep one’s eyes open as long as possible after retiring at bedtime.

I tried that and kept waking up over and over and then keeping my eyes open some more, per what I understood to be the instructions. After four or five days, I felt seriously terrible, even worse than after four or five days of mere trouble sleeping. Then I remembered: Isn’t sleep deprivation something we do to people we want to torture, if we were the kind of terrible country that could think of torturing actual human beings? And if this is a form of torture, why am I voluntarily doing it to myself?

I gave that up and am now rereading my Stephen LaBerge book. He’s truly a wonderful writer, and his bibliography is easy to remember because his three books all have the same title: Lucid Dreaming. I’m reading the one called Lucid Dreaming. It was published in 1985. I have the other two on order, plus two other books on lucid dreaming written by other people.

It’s important to remember as many dreams as possible so you become familiar with your own dreams. This in itself might allow you to realize you’re dreaming—wait, this thing with the giraffe and the shoelace! I’ve had this dream before. Hey, did I say “dream”? Oh, I’m DREAMING!

Then, if you get the hang of directing your dreams, you can enjoy “quality time,” as Erin puts it, with Jason Statham, fly, visit other galaxies, find out just what your subconscious meant by a certain dream, face your fears, talk to God, take a ride in Iron Maiden’s plane, and goodness knows what else.

Stephen LaBerge suggests a method for learning lucid dreaming which is, when one wakes from a dream in the early morning, to go over it mentally until it’s memorized, to tell oneself, “Next time I’m dreaming, I want to remember to recognize I’m dreaming,” or words to that effect, to picture oneself back in the same dream realizing one is dreaming, and to repeat the latter two steps until one falls asleep again.

I also got a pen with a light in it so I can make notes about dreams during the night (without picking up a pen AND turning on a little flashlight). My bed is now surrounded with lucid dreaming instructions, my dream journal, various flashlights, my LED pen, a selection of pencils, my lucid dreaming book, etc. I will stick with this until I get the hang of it. It is my goal to be a fluent lucid dreamer who can direct her dreams.

Erin Pavlina also talks about pre-programming a dream, and I was able to do that the other night. I said, “I would like to have a dream about going to the Zen Center and talking to the co-abbot," and that’s precisely what I dreamed, but I wasn’t lucid during it.

Two Sneak Peeks at My Cube, and My Home Command Center

Me Entirely Deceased (A Gloomy Vision Indeed)

In July, I started training to be a hospice volunteer. I’ve long been interested in doing this, and had looked into the Zen Hospice (connected to the San Francisco Zen Center) a few times, but the training program was many hours, and then they wanted an ongoing time commitment that would pretty much be impossible for someone with a full-time job to do.

But then I got an email about doing hospice work with a different organization (connected with a chain of hospitals), requiring just six or so evening and weekend training sessions, and a year-long commitment which can be as little as two to four hours a week. This was specifically to do vigil, to sit with people who are expected to die imminently, so they won’t die alone.

As of now, I have one training session left to go, and haven’t yet started volunteering, but I have met some very nice and interesting people at the training sessions I’ve already been to, and the training itself has been illuminating and thought provoking. We did an exercise one night where we wrote down, on 16 little squares of paper, the names of the four people most important to us, the four most important or useful things we own, the four things we most enjoy doing, and the four beliefs we hold most dear.

Then the bereavement coordinator took us through an exercise where we imagined not feeling well and visiting the doctor, waiting a couple of weeks for test results, getting the unthinkable news that we have an inoperable mass, having to leave our jobs, becoming bedridden, having our friends stop visiting as the months pass, etc. At intervals, she had us pick up some of the pieces of paper, read what was written on them, and imagine losing those things: my mother and my iMac, gone! My sister and being able to ride my bike, gone!

It was very sad and upsetting, which presumably is the point; for us to remember that each person we meet will have lost a whole lot of stuff they didn't want to lose, and is in the process of losing more—losing everything.

At the end of the exercise, we pictured taking our own dying breath—a final exhale, and nothing more. I had always thought that I would be practicing bare attention at that moment: this is happening, that is happening. Well, really, I mainly just hoped I wouldn’t die while in a rage about grilling or about my hospital roommate’s weird smell or chewing noises.

It turned out that when I pictured it during this exercise, I did the exact same thing I do when I get on an airplane, which is also the same thing I used to do when I had a bout of extreme terror in bed at night, which has more to do with taking refuge than with simply paying attention. Part of it involves chatting with my Grandma Lee, up there in heaven smiling down at me. It is a form of faith, not in an afterlife, but that some type of kindly energy is always there when needed, even if I have to imagine it myself.

That is now my plan for what to do when I die, if I’m conscious.

And what will I do before I die, today and tomorrow and for the next X number of years? That’s also a good thing to think about. I think about it all the time anyway, but hospice training has made it even more real, so it’s already given me more than I can hope to offer, though I do hope to be of assistance.

They said during training that people who have consciously contemplated dying, such as Buddhists, normally have a relatively easy time of it, as do people with religious faith—people who have no doubt they are going to heaven, where they will be welcomed by God.

The people who have the hardest time, they said, are those without faith, which I at first thought meant me, and those who believe they are going to be punished for something they did—a different type of faith.

When we pictured ourselves dying, I realized I absolutely do have faith, as described above.

Fly from Evil, The Hamster, Air Conditioning

This is a church at, uh, uh, California and Grant?

This is not a very good picture, but it is basically a picture of our San Francisco air conditioning. (By the way, you should be able to click on any photo here and see a larger version.)

Near Ax Murderment Escape

Now about cameras: The last time I tried to use my venerable Nikon FG, the shutter opened and never closed again. Toward the end of June, I finally got around to taking it to Calumet on my way home from work. I’ve been treated rudely in the past there, but hoped for the best. There were a couple of employees in sight, each talking to a customer. Across the big main room, there were two guys standing near each other, one behind a counter, one in front of it, neither saying a word.

I waited a few moments for one of them to say it would be his extreme pleasure to serve me, and then I walked over and said to the one behind the counter, “I have a camera that needs to be repaired and a question about buying a new camera.” There was a period of (more) dead silence, so then I waved my hand, as if to say, “Hello! Here I am—an actual human being—right in front of you!” Once you get to be a middle-aged lady, you have to wave your hands a lot so you don’t get ignored.

Then the fellow I was addressing looked at me with an expression that clearly said, “Is that ax still nearby, or did I leave it in the break room? Because I would really like to hack you to bits and see your blood running across the carpet.” It was an expression of pure malevolence, to the point that I felt a frisson of fear. Then he coldly informed me, “I’m with a customer.”

I had assumed the second person was a fellow employee, since neither was doing or saying anything, but I gather they were sharing some silent “together” time, and who am I to judge?

I went to the other side of the floor to wait for someone else, but was, unfortunately, joined by the same person, who gave me to understand that my camera is a piece of crap no one but an imbecile would bother repairing. He said at some point, “I don’t mean to be rude,” by which he meant, “I totally mean to be rude.”

It was an extremely unpleasant experience, and I went home with the intention of complaining to the store manager and also to corporate headquarters; to the latter, I was also going to suggest they put a bike rack in the parking lot.

But by the time I got home and took a shower, I didn’t feel like stewing about it anymore—I know, strange—and even decided I might go back there to shop for a camera, after telephoning the manager to find out who the nice people are, if any.

Meanwhile, my camera was still broken. I probably won’t ever use it again, but it has sentimental value, and I didn’t like to think of it sitting on the shelf with its eye perpetually stuck open, so I decided to take it to Gassers, where I have also been treated rudely in the past; one learns to enter both camera shops and bicycle shops with a degree of trepidation.

I figured I could tolerate a brief unpleasant interaction and maybe there would be the reward of having a fixed camera, and if not, I was going to let the camera just stay as it was.

Wonderfully, the guy at the repair counter at Gassers could not have been more sympathetic and helpful. Not only did he not roll his eyes over my camera, he said it was well worth fixing, because “this is going to last longer than anything they’re making these days.” So there, Calumet. He explained everything clearly, and we also bonded over the plight of Michael Jackson’s children.

Then I went upstairs and immediately caught the eye of a salesman, to whom I confided that I was now psychologically prepared to purchase a digital camera. He showed me the basic types of digital camera, recommended one that could be considered a hybrid between an SLR and a point-and-shoot, and gave me a brochure and his card. Thus Gassers surprised me pleasantly not once but twice.

However, in the end, while Gassers did fix the FG, I actually ended up buying a camera—my first digital camera—from Calumet, after all. Gassers didn’t have the desired item in stock, and would have charged $40 more for it. I took the precaution of calling ahead, speaking to a manager, and making a date to buy the camera from a Certified Nice Saleslady, which she was. Cathy is her name.

Zen Center, Bread of Me, and Tom's Leg

A Convivial Birthday Season

Yikes, how did it happen? I’m way behind again. Well, let’s get started. On June 20, I went to the Zen Center for a meeting of my class, which is called Establishing the Path of Practice. I left a tad early to walk over to the apartment of Tom’s niece Sarah, who is a very open-hearted and kind and lovely young lady who threw a dinner party to celebrate my birthday! That was extraordinarily sweet of her, and I know it was a lot of work.

I should say that a couple of months prior, I got a voice mail from her saying that she would like to do this, and suggesting we go out to eat (we went to Tsunami for sushi) so we could plan the dinner party. That was pretty much like getting a call from Benicio del Toro saying, “Let’s get together so I can give you a foot massage while we plan your upcoming date with Viggo Mortensen.” That is, it was very good.

Here’s who was at the dinner party: Sarah, Josh (Sarah’s partner), Steve (Sarah’s uncle), Julie (Steve’s wife), Paul (Sarah’s father), Dan (Sarah’s other uncle), Tom (Sarah’s other uncle), me (the birthday lady), my friend Carol Joy (usually of Novato), Dave (Paul’s friend), and Christine (Dave’s friend). I got a pile of presents, including something approximating a pith helmet, and a big bunch of flowers, and we communed and enjoyed Sarah’s wonderful dinner. It was a splendid party.

Eva was in Sweden, but she called us, and Chris had to work, but he later came to San Francisco and treated me to dinner at Ziryab on Divisadero (Kristin, Tom, and Sarah were there, too), which was another very congenial occasion, so, given that Amy had also made me birthday pizza and cake and invited people over when I was in Michigan, this was by far my best-celebrated birthday in 47 years. So that was extremely great.

A week later, on a splendid Saturday morning, I woke up with the strong feeling that it was intolerable that anything in my apartment should be stored in a paper bag whose contents I wasn’t sure of without digging through the bag, and leapt out of bed to rectify the situation.

In a couple of hours, matters were greatly improved, with things (even) better organized and fewer things that are out of sight or out of reach. New empty horizontal surfaces appeared, even though I didn’t discard anything to speak of.

Later on, I went to the dentist for approximately the twenty-fifth time in nine months. Since then, one of my new crowns fell off, so I’ll be going again soon.

The next day, I made chard lasagna and two-bean chili with bulgur, and ventured my third attempt at whole-wheat bread. This “kneading” suggested by my mother proved to be quite a good idea: this loaf was absolutely perfect, soft and chewy and with a fine flavor. (My mother adds some cracked wheat to her dough for a firmer texture.)

After that, I had more and less success, so I decided to take the bread website’s advice and start with white bread and work my way back to whole-wheat bread; I also got Beth Hensperger’s book The Bread Bible, 300 Favorite Recipes. I want to make olive bread.

This past weekend, I made two utterly gorgeous and delicious loaves of white bread, as you can see for yourself, the gorgeous part, anyway. It’s really good toasted with a bit of garlic olive oil drizzled on it.

In July, Tom suffered a double communications whammy: his PC died AND it turned out he hardly gets any TV stations in the digital TV era, even though he got the converter; he would be in better shape if he could speak Spanish or the language Chinese people speak. He also has a microwave he’s trying to get rid of, so far without success, so he noted, charmingly, that he was “rich in e-waste.” (As are most of us, I guess, sooner or later.)

For entertainment, he was forced to do puzzles, the kind that are made of little pieces of cardboard that can be fitted together.

The one good thing was that I got to tell Tom all the news for a while, until his mother very generously gave him a laptop she was no longer using. On one evening, for instance, he was the only person in San Francisco who didn’t know Palin had resigned the governorship of Alaska.