Wednesday, July 28, 2010

That’ll Cost You a Million Dollars

The hurly-burly of traffic can be more than just stressful. A couple of weeks ago, I took BART to work while my bike was in the shop. I walk relatively slowly, so there is often someone who thinks (correctly) that he or she will be able to squeeze in front of me going into the turnstile even though I’m only six inches from it.

Yes, this is irritating, but what can you do? Well, I confess that if the person is approaching from my right, I move to the right until they’re forced to go around me on the left, which is the exact same thing I do on my bicycle. Pass on the left! But we’ll get back into that later, I’m sure.

So after work I was back in the BART station, musing, as I often do, about how quickly people move, as if something horrible will happen if they don’t get down the flight of stairs in five seconds, and then to their waiting place in five seconds, and then onto the train before everyone else, and back up the stairs in five seconds …

It’s like everyone is constantly late for a once-in-a-lifetime lunch date with their favorite movie star. I said once to David C., “It’s as if they think they’ll get a million dollars if they’re first to the stop light,” and he said, “No, they think they’ll have a million dollars taken away if they’re not,” which I thought was insightful.

As I neared the bottom of the escalator, I could see a few people standing close by, and wondered why they didn’t move on. After I got off the escalator, I saw four or five people standing around a rather diminutive man who was leaning against the wall clutching his face, blood splashing down onto the ground. I dug in my backpack for absorbent materials. Someone went to notify the station agent. We realized the man should probably sit down.

I put my arm around him and helped him over to a bench. I sat next to him, rubbing his back, trying to comfort him. How dreadful it must have been suddenly not to be able to see, to be all alone and effectively blind in the rush hour scrum. He leaned forward, and I could feel him periodically shuddering, his back vibrating. Between our thighs was a small white paper bag of his, perhaps containing a cookie, covered with blood.

One or two of the others were still with us and one woman described the accident: the man had fallen on the escalator, cartwheeling entirely over not once but twice. The man himself added, “It was so crowded. Everyone was pressing around me.”

And then he moved the paper towels away from his face and I saw a tear in his skin—jagged, deep, dark. For a ghastly moment, I thought it was his eye socket, and that he’d lost his eye (which meant there was an eyeball on the ground somewhere, maybe already squished; I was forgetting it’s attached by a cord).

But, no, the deep wound was just beside his eye, thank god. However, there was also a very substantial thick, long chunk of flesh torn out of his face, now dangling alongside his cheek. It was a dreadful, stomach-turning injury.

Four police officers arrived then and one said the paramedics were close behind.

I’ve thought about that man a lot. A friend of mine recently had surgery and said she also had this man in mind when she decided to take an extra-long time before venturing out into the hubbub of the mecca (inside joke there)—that is, before going out where people aren’t necessarily careful about other people’s safety (i.e., pretty much everywhere).

Slowing down, at the very least, reduces stress. It allows moments of pleasure and well-being to be noticed and enjoyed, moments that might otherwise be missed or not exist at all.

For a nice slow week, and, at least temporarily, the improved skin tone that comes with eating many, many pounds of vegetables, I cannot too highly recommend a week at Spirit Rock or other meditation center of your choice.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

A Teeny-Tiny Actual Friendly Feeling

In mid-July, I spent a week at Spirit Rock Meditation Center on a metta, or lovingkindness, meditation retreat, where you consciously generate friendly wishes while sitting in meditation, and while doing everything else—walking meditation, eating, showering, moving from place to place, falling asleep.

Spirit Rock: a bucolic place in western Marin County where they take out all your stuffing and refill you from head to toe with vegetables. I confess it’s occurred to me more than once that one’s feeling of extreme well-being at the end of a period of intensive practice is entirely due to eating so many vegetables, foregoing (involuntarily) one’s customary sugar intake, and being removed from the hurly-burly of traffic. It is beautiful and peaceful there.

It’s OK if generating friendly wishes doesn’t actually result in feelings of friendliness, though it may, and it’s lovely when it does. Each wish is simply a seed and an intention. While I most certainly don’t always wish others well—not every person on every occasionit’s absolutely true that I always wish I wished others well. If nothing else, when one is busy thinking friendly thoughts, one is at any rate not occupied with critical or unfriendly thoughts. The mind is gently being aimed in the right direction, even if there is no obvious manifestation right away. (There is an entire book on this subject: Sharon Salzberg’s Lovingkindness: The Revolutionary Art of Happiness.)

Since this type of practice uses the same object over and over, it can also result in the development of concentration (sort of like using a mantra to quiet the mind). One of the teachers leading the retreat said this does tend to happen on metta retreats, and that some people will feel more friendly feelings while others tend to experience more concentration. (I of course fell in the latter category.)

One of my shoulders has been killing me (plus the elbow and wrist on the same side, three separate injuries), so just before the retreat, I went to see Jeff, my acupuncturist, and told him, “I don’t even care if you make it feel better—at this point, I just want it punished.” I had been worried there would be a lot of pain while sitting in meditation, but there wasn’t, maybe due to Jeff having stuck needles in the offending spots.

Also, a difficult thing that I think has happened on every retreat I’ve ever been on didn’t happen this time. It usually gets underway two or three days before the end of the retreat and has two phases, beginning with Doubt, Part I: Buddhism Is Balderdash, and So Are Its Purveyors.

Close on the heels of this is Doubt, Part II: Buddhism Is Awesome, But I Can’t Do It.

Then there is a period of emotional upset, and then I go see one of the teachers for an unscheduled interview, get some steadying advice, and then there is usually a period that is particularly peaceful and/or pleasant. Last year, after I told Richard Shankman I thought I had done everything all wrong, he told me firmly, “Gandhi, the Buddha, and Mother Teresa combined couldn’t have done any better.”

I suppose even the retreat where I spent three entire weeks having romantic fantasies about the guy sitting in front of me in the meditation hall—he had long straight grey hair—wasn’t wasted in that I learned to make every effort to avoid that happening on subsequent retreats.

On this latest retreat, Doubt, Part I, got underway right on schedule, but this time, I recognized it for what it was. And when I saw Doubt, Part II, coming along, with unkind thoughts about myself gathering like thunderclouds, instead of taking that ride yet again, I sent friendly thoughts to myself, and the emotional upset never happened, so I didn’t have to go see a teacher, not that there’s anything wrong with that.

This retreat was a huge gift in that I finally understand that metta practice isn’t about trying to will myself to feel a certain thing (and beating myself when I don’t). I’d heard that many times, but didn’t believe it. I thought teachers who said that were just trying to make us grumpy souls feel better, while secretly thinking we were losers.

Now I know it is fine to approach it as a concentration practice: I will sit here and when I notice I’m no longer generating friendly wishes, I will start again, and if friendly feelings arise, that is fantastic! And if something else arises, also fantastic! Merely not focusing on annoyances bring huge benefits, plus, if you consciously think enough kind thoughts, sooner or later, you will have an actual friendly feeling, at least a little one.

Monday, July 26, 2010

When My Mother and Father Were Little Girls

I discovered some speck of something or other on my cotton duvet cover not long ago and was pleased when it was easily removed using a wet washcloth. I adjusted the gooseneck lamp by the bed so that the light shone on the spot, to help it dry. When I returned to check on progress, an ant was hurrying toward the circle of light, maybe thinking, “Yeah! The sun’s out. I’m going to lie on the beach!”

Meanwhile, Hammett was sitting in the bathroom near some dripping fine washables with the dreamy air of one enjoying a gentle summer evening rain.

I read an outstandingly helpful article by Ezra Bayda in the July 2010 issue of Shambhala Sun. There is a link at their website, but it’s to an excerpt only. He offers five questions to use in processing emotional upset: 1) What is going on right now? 2) Can I see this as my path? 3) What is my most believed thought? 4) What is this? 5) Can I let this experience just be?

The first question is answered by describing the situation objectively; I myself think it’s OK to include things that are invisible. For instance, I’m sitting in my comfortable chair and I’m extremely worried about such-and-such.

“Can I see this as my path?” reminds me that whatever is happening isn’t some obstruction on my path, something to be dispensed with or shunted aside as quickly as possible so I can get back to my life. In fact, it is the path itself.

(By the way, I highly recommend Ezra Bayda’s books Being Zen: Bringing Meditation to Life, and At Home in the Muddy Water: A Guide to Finding Peace Within Everyday Chaos. I see he has another book due out later this year.)

The question that has been particularly helpful to me is “What is my most believed thought?” Maybe it’s “Something terrible is going to happen.” Or, more elaborately, “Something is going to happen that will make me permanently unhappy. It will be beyond my resources to deal with. I will simply not be able to handle it.” Or, “If I don’t make the right decision—and there is a decision that would be the right one—it will wreck the rest of my life and I’ll spend my golden years in bitter regret.” Ah! Just thoughts! Things I’m making up all by myself, about the imagined future.

“What is this?” invites a detailed examination of my actual, current physical experience. (E. Bayda writes that this might be the most important question.)

Finally, can I allow this experience? Can I open to it moment by moment with a sense of kindness toward myself. Or, in a rewording that may come in handy now and then, can I tolerate this sensation in my gut for one single second more?

This has been working like a charm. I have the questions on my desk at home, and a printout of the whole article on my desk at work.

Since I saw Bridge on the River Kwai per my father’s recommendation, it was only right that I see two movies my mother likes a lot, Ikiru (the true fan of this movie, as it turns out, is tolerant of those who insist on calling it Icky-Roo, but doesn't really think that's super-hilarious), and Prince of the City.

I wanted to do this before my June trip to Ypsilanti, because I love my mother very much and esteem her completely, not because I didn’t want to afford anyone the opportunity to say, “Oh, you watched your father’s recommended movie immediately but still haven’t seen mine. I guess when you’re the mother, no one cares if they ever see your recommended movies.”

As it happens, Ikiru is about 2.5 hours long and the other, Prince of the City, is three hours long.

My mother said on the phone that I didn’t have to watch the latter all at once, that I could watch it in installments.

“In fact,” she said, “You could just see the scene with the law—”


“You could just see the scene with the lawyers, near the end,” she said firmly.

Darn it! Was there even any point in seeing it, now that I knew it had lawyers in it somewhere? (Tom and I did end up doing so, albeit after I got back from Ypsi, as already mentioned, and we both liked it.)

We went on to discuss my perimenopausal situation. Based on what she’d told me about her experience, I was expecting smooth sailing, so 60 days in a row of bleeding must be more similar to my father’s experience?

My mother said, “He’s out, but when he gets home, I’ll be sure to blame him.”

Once, decades ago, my father began an anecdote by saying, “When your mother and I were little girls … ” All these years, I’d thought that was my father’s charming way of being gender flexible, which is very much something he would do, just to be gracious, but it now seems that prior to that occasion, a member of my generation had seen a picture of two children and innocently asked our mother, “Is that you and Dad when you were little girls?”

This is by way of saying my father won’t mind being blamed for the 60 days.

Friday, July 09, 2010

50$ Might Do It

Sure enough, last night I had a lucid dream, the first since April 25! In the dream, I was in an apartment where I lived in the 90s, and noticed there were two kitchen sinks, and in fact, two kitchens. I said to Hammett, “Could I be dreaming?” though I was almost embarrassed to ask such a silly question. It seemed extremely implausible that I wasn’t awake, two kitchens or no—everything was so vivid and real.

But Hammett agreed that I was dreaming (no, it didn’t seem odd to be discussing this with a cat) and I spontaneously started jumping up and down, in semi-slow motion, looking at my fingers, and then I crumpled to the floor. Everything turned dark, and I started to fall. I realized that since I was already on the ground, I must be heading into the pitch black underworld.

I didn’t feel at all scared. I knew I was dreaming and that nothing could hurt me, and I knew that I had some sort of help, an otherworldly guide or my departed Grandma Lee or someone. I was kind of interested to see what would happen next, but the dream ended there.

This is precisely one of my reasons for doing this practice—facing scary things and knowing that they can’t hurt you (that there is no “you” to hurt) can only be beneficial in waking life, too. I have found myself treating waking life more as if it’s a dream, as if things are fluid (which they are), as if there are plenty of choices (which there are), as if entities that appear to be hostile can be friendly if approached in a welcoming manner.

Last night I had returned to using sounds as an object of concentration, as I had tried a few evenings ago, and this confirms that sounds it is! This practice is not unpleasant, doesn’t particularly keep me awake, and imparts enough alertness that it can carry into sleep.

I have a long list of things I’d like to do in lucid dreams and I still intend to do them all, but I’ve always known that my ultimate goal was simply to be conscious and explore the dream world. (I love that you can be awake while asleep!) I assumed I would do all of the things on my list and then move on to just enjoying being alert—which has already made simply knowing I'm awake during the day a source of conscious joy much more often than before—but I’ve decided to proceed per B. Alan Wallace.

Herewith an extensive quote from his article in Tricycle magazine, which might need even more ellipses than seen here; you can find it by Googling “tricycle lucid dream.” B. Alan Wallace:

“The daytime practice of dream yoga centers on maintaining the awareness that everything we experience around us is illusory. …

“The nighttime practice of dream yoga begins with recognizing that you are dreaming and then sustaining that awareness. To achieve such attentional stability and clarity, it's very helpful to train first in the practice of samadhi, or focused attention, both during the daytime and as you fall asleep. Once you've stabilized your awareness that you are dreaming, you progress to the second phase, in which you learn to control and transform the contents of your dreams. This is not just an ego trip, seeing how much you can dominate your dreams. Rather, it is a practical way to investigate the pliable nature of your dreams and to fathom more and more deeply how illusory they really are.

“For example, you may set yourself the task of walking through walls. After all, the walls are made of the stuff of dreams, so why shouldn't your dream body be able to glide right through a dream wall without obstruction? But when you try this, you may find to your surprise that you move halfway through the wall and then get stuck! This shows that there's a whole range of degrees of lucidity. You may know that you're dreaming, but that knowledge hasn't yet sunk in enough for you to transform anything in the dream as you wish.

“ … Whenever you feel threatened in a dream—perhaps from ferocious animals, roaring fire, or raging waters—deepen your awareness of the nature of the dream by asking yourself, ‘How can such illusory apparitions possibly hurt my illusory self?’ Then allow yourself to be attacked by the marauder, incinerated by the fire, or drowned in the water. All this is like one rainbow assaulting another rainbow, and insofar as you recognize the illusory nature of everything in the dream, there is no way you can be harmed.

“A lucid dream provides you with the perfect laboratory for exploring the nature of the mind … .”

I tend to fight back vigorously when attacked in a dream, or when I think I’m going to be attacked, and I always prevail. It will be interesting to experiment with letting myself be vanquished.

I went to the Zen Center again this week for the Wednesday night talk, and in other news, I have received a nice offer by email: “Amazing increase in thickness of your penis, up to 30$”

I’m thinking it over, but I’m not sure if 30$ is going to be a big enough increase.

Thursday, July 08, 2010

No More Oedipus

I think the lucid dreaming project is back on track. I haven’t had a lucid dream in more than two months, but I can tell one’s coming. A couple of months ago, I decided to give up on this project because it seemed the results—one lucid dream every two weeks on average, most very brief, except for one ten-minute extravaganza—weren’t worth the expenditure of energy and the missed sleep, though by then I wasn’t missing nearly as much sleep as in the beginning.

I stopped making dream notes during the night, and ceased keeping a dream journal. I decided that I would just go to sleep without doing anything special, and if I had a lucid dream, so be it. I would certainly be happy about it. But after just a couple of weeks or so, I couldn’t stand letting all those dreams get away, and I started writing them down again, and making notes during the night.

(There is a 3 x 5” pad of paper under each of my two pillows, along with a mechanical pencil, and the same next to the bed. I have calculated that, if I live to be 90, I should be able to fit my dream journal in my current apartment—just barely, and only if I don’t acquire anything else between now and then, 42 years. I hate printing it out—so wasteful of trees and space—but part of my practice is to review the day’s catch at bedtime and underline anything that should have told me I was dreaming. I hope that by the time I’m 90, if I live that long, I can have a lucid dream at will.)

Since gearing up again, I’ve been writing down dreams each morning, but until the past couple of days, had not had a single lucid dream, or a dream that hints that lucidity is around the corner, such as a dream about dreaming, a dream about making dream notes, or a dream where something odd is noticed and not rationalized away. Quite often, we dream of things that would be unusual or impossible in waking life and, if we make anything of them at all, immediately think of an explanation: “Oh, right, this is that country where everyone has three legs; I read about this,” or “Hmm, it must be Cinco de Mayo.”

Patricia Garfield says that dreams where we know we are seeing something strange and can’t account for it are “cooperative dreams,” and well along the path to realizing we are dreaming.

After I started writing down dreams again, I couldn’t figure out what more to do to encourage a lucid dream, and then I came upon an article by B. Alan Wallace that reminded me that the practice of concentration (samadhi) might be helpful. Three nights ago, I chose, arbitrarily, the object of ambient sound while I was falling asleep and every time I was awake during the night, and in the morning, for the first time in a while, I had ten dreams to record, which means I was briefly awake many times during the night, which means I wasn’t sleeping very heavily, which is good.

One doesn’t wish to be lying awake half the night, but if you sleep heavily and don’t recall any dreams until morning, it is unlikely you will have a lucid dream. I also had two dreams that night that contained weird things I couldn’t explain: a raccoon as big as a large dog, and a man who wrote a phone number on his own teeth.

The next night, I chose the object of ambient sights (i.e., mostly nothing, since my eyes were closed) and had a very different experience. It didn’t keep me awake, but it immediately caused a sense of what I would call activation throughout my body, plus a breathless sort of claustrophobia, and actual pain here and there. I had seven dreams to write down the next day, but the practice was quite unpleasant. (I’ve noticed that if I visualize—imagine seeing things—while trying to go to sleep, I will be unable to fall asleep for hours.)

Last night I tried body sensations in general. This was not at all unpleasant, but a bit harder to stick with than hearing. This morning I had five dreams for my dream journal, four of which were long and involved—another good sign—including a hideous nightmare in which my mother, after nearly 50 years of marriage, suddenly leaves my father for a guy named Jerry and says with satisfaction that now she doesn’t have to hear about Oedipus or the oscillation of electric fans anymore. The first I even know of this guy, he’s sitting in the living room and my father is gone!

I woke up hugely relieved, and also amused at the part of the dream where I threatened to go live with my father. (“Oh, is that so? Well, maybe I’ll go live with Dad!”)

I emailed the entire dream to my parents and my father wrote back, “Wow! And I had no idea! [Linda’s mother], how could you?"

My mother's comment? "Good stuff!" (Which may have meant my riveting account of this dream and not that she has a desire for divorce.)

Wednesday, July 07, 2010


This past Saturday, Tom (for anyone just joining us, that's my tall, handsome ex-boyfriend/best friend) and I drove a City CarShare Prius to Sacramento to visit Ann and Mac. The Prius, like the other City CarShare cars at our nearest location, was kind of grubby inside—if I ever switch to another car-sharing operation, that will be the only reason—and it was also weirdly jerky, as if Tom was putting his foot on the gas pedal and taking it off again over and over.

In fact, I suggested possibly more than once that he was doing just that, but he finally convinced me that it was the car, not him. I don’t know if all Priuses are like that or just this one, but 200 miles of it was enough. Fortunately, our nearest City CarShare location has two other cars, and there are any number of other locations nearby.

Our visit with Ann and Mac was lovely, as always. Ann treated us all to lunch at a Boudin’s in Sacramento and we for the most part hung out and chatted.

After I got home that night, I watched Goodbye Solo, about a Senegalese cab driver in Winston-Salem, NC, who tries to prevent one of his passengers from committing suicide. It was OK. Next I saw The Men Who Stare at Goats, which was about the worst movie I’ve ever seen. It didn’t look like something I’d really enjoy, but it supposedly takes place partly in Ann Arbor, so I was curious to see if I’d recognize any sights. I didn’t, and the movie in general was so incoherent that I turned it off before it was over. It seemed like kind of a waste of George Clooney, Jeff Bridges, Kevin Spacey, and Ewan McGregor.

On Sunday, the Fourth of July, I drove a CarShare car (not the Prius) to Berkeley to visit Lisa M. and see her new apartment. I’m sorry to say that her new neighborhood is quite terrible—grilling was underway in all directions! Practically the first thing I saw upon exiting the Scion was a man with a 100-pound bag of charcoal briquettes, and the smell of lighter fluid was everywhere. However, Lisa’s apartment is the perfect setup for the writer and artist that she is, and she has lovely views of trees, flowers and grass from several windows. We had lunch at the Vault Café on Adeline St. and then Lisa gave me a beginning hula hoop lesson. “Good effort!” she beamed as the plastic circle hit the floor yet again.

That evening I watched The Bodyguard, with Kevin Costner and Whitney Houston. This was an instant download from Netflix, and since it’s from 1992, the picture was quality was iffy, but I got the general idea. It was more frightening than I’d expected. For some reason, the only thing I’d pictured was romantic scenes of Kevin Costner carrying W. Houston around in his arms—is that on the cover?—why, yes, it is—but it actually was kind of creepy. If you like either star, it’s worth seeing.

Several days ago, my father sent me a cryptic email entitled “Golfers Law” and containing a clue in the form of a question. In a subsequent email, he said I might want to discuss with my friend Anna Graham. Ah! An anagram. I started by going online to see how you solve an anagram. You solve an anagram by typing the letters into an online anagram engine, natch, but if for some reason, you have to use a pencil and paper, a few pointers were offered. My father asks very little of me and offers much, so whereas my resolution to get the old blind down myself didn’t last long (rightly not), I will solve this anagram without a computer if it’s the last thing I do.

This past weekend, my father offered another hint: The answer is two words of five letters apiece. When I began work on the anagram again, I counted the letters in the words of my latest attempt (A LOSER FGW). Hmm, only nine letters total. The prior attempt was also nine letters, and ditto every single attempt including the first, which was FLAG WORSE: when I started trying to solve the puzzle, one of the Ls didn’t even make it onto the playing field!

So I’m going to keep at this, but with all the letters from now on.

I have determined that the answer is not LARGE FLOWS, LOWER FLAGS, or FEARS GLLOW.

Tuesday, July 06, 2010

This Is Going So Much More Smoothly Now That Someone Else Is Doing It

Last Tuesday, the day after B. died, I was no longer in tears, but just very sleepy. At odd moments, I think of her and am surprised anew that she’s gone. On Wednesday evening, I took my bike to Freewheel so Jason could build the new less groovy wheel, but he was out ill, so I rode over to the Zen Center, had dinner there and stayed for Wendy Lewis’s dharma talk.

On Thursday, something very wonderful happened: I got to meet in person someone I met online the better part of a decade ago. Stacie came to town for a writers workshop and we had lunch at the Osha Thai at Third and Folsom, and it was splendid.

Friday afternoon found me in a mood of firm resolve.

Some two or three years ago, I bought a replacement roll-up shade for my closet, but of course had not gotten around to installing it. Maybe eight months ago, I bought a latch for something that was loose in the kitchen, and a few months later, obtained a piece of square metal tubing that I thought would make a good replacement towel bar once the sharp ends were filed down and it was cleaned off; the old one was broken by a plumber

These small undone tasks were weighing, however slightly, on my mind, and then, late last week, I received a replacement Levolor blind for my living/dining/sleeping room, and reached the tipping point, as I contemplated one more not-done thing queuing up behind the others.

As I left work for the long holiday weekend, I vowed I would not watch a single DVD until all four items were complete and, when I arrived home, began with the most daunting, the blind. The slats of the old one could be opened and closed, but the overall blind could no longer be raised and lowered, so I’ve been looking out through the slats for the better part of a year.

The old blind was actually still under warranty, though it was about eight years old, and I could have returned it and had it repaired. I’d actually obtained a piece of modern day oilcloth to put in its place while it was traveling about the country, and that would have been the more environmentally friendly thing to do, but I realized that, because it involved more steps, it was literally never going to happen.

I got out the original instructions for installing the blind, set up my ladder and tried to take the old blind down, making several trips back and forth to the Mac in search of more helpful instructions. I found a handful, some of which contradicted others, and nothing worked.

I’ve reached that age where at least one body part is always killing me, at the moment my left shoulder and left elbow. My elbow, in particular, is so excruciatingly painful that I can’t believe blood isn’t dripping out of it. Wrestling with the blind hurt tremendously, but I tried several times and didn’t even lose my temperthe energy needed for flying into a rage was probably going straight into producing physical pain.

Obviously it had occurred to me after five minutes to call Tom and ask for help, but I resolved not to take the easy way out and it was a good 25 minutes before I decided to transcend this artificial and self-imposed limitation.

Since this blind was (tsk) going to go into the trash, anyway, all but the head rail, obstinately clinging to its brackets, was redundant, so I cut some of the lines and when Tom arrived, the blind was hanging down in a most artistic manner.

I asked Tom what he was doing that evening—would he like to install a Levolor blind, install a roll-up shade, file and clean a towel bar, and install a latch? I said if he helped, I would treat him to dinner at Herbivore and he agreed.

Then, lest I incur any injury, I retreated to the other side of the room, affixed my safety goggles in place, and mentioned approximately a million times that it was my hope that after the new middle blind was installed, its top edge would be level with the top edges of the two outer blinds.

In the end, it was not—it’s lower—but if you aren’t willing to do something yourself, you can’t be too particular. Unto itself, I must say, the new blind is perfectly level—unlike the new latch, which was one of my tasks and is blatantly crooked—and it doesn’t really bother me that the blind is lower than the other two, since it’s the one in the middle. It’s symmetrical, anyway.

While Tom was working on the blind—he’s a regular at the gym weight bench and removing the old one took an immense effort on his part, so I didn’t feel bad about not being able to do it—I installed the latch (crooked), filed down the ends of the towel bar, and discovered that the roll-up blind was the wrong size. Then Tom cleaned the towel bar with paint thinner and I installed it. Tom thought he might be able to use the roll-up shade intended for the closet at his place, so I gave it to him.

We had a nice dinner at Herbivore, followed by a trip to a new organic ice cream place in our neighborhood, and I am delighted with the sturdy new towel bar, the latch, and finally to be able to open all the blinds in the main room.

Friday, July 02, 2010

B., for the Last Time

When I visited B. last Sunday night, she was asleep the whole time, though she reached for my hand, or a hand, so we got to hold hands, too. On Monday afternoon, I called her daughter to see about a visit that evening after work, and her daughter said that B. was still sleeping soundly, so I decided to visit the following day instead, and went to bed quite early, about 8:30, as I aspire to do every single night.

At 9:30 p.m. that same evening, I got a call from B.’s daughter saying that the hospital had called her 30 minutes earlier with the news that her mother had died. It was really very kind of her to call me so soon! She could have called days after the fact, and it would have been entirely understandable.

She said I was welcome to go to the hospital to say goodbye to B. Since I’m the hospice volunteer who’s scared of dead bodies, I said I didn’t need to do that, but then after wailing for half an hour in my apartment by myself, I decided it would be a good idea to go be with others feeling something similar. (Except much worse. I’m distraught at losing B. after knowing her for seven months—I can’t imagine what it’s like for her children and grandchildren.)

Part of the reason I fear dead bodies dates back to childhood, with its numberless dead pet rodents. I distinctly recall a particular black mouse, passed from this world, eyes still open. Her name might have been Mary. I recall feeling a horrible challenge in regard to this small body: that I should demonstrate my bravery by touching one of those dull, dead eyes before consigning the two ounces of flesh to the earth. I’m sure I didn’t do it, but I can still remember that panicked now-or-never feeling, plus chagrin and disappointment in myself for being such a scaredy cat. (Why I should have thought I was required to touch a corpse, I do not know.)

A similar feeling arose on our family field trip to the crematory several years ago to make sure it was Grandma Lee and no other entering the industrial oven. I didn’t touch her as she lay in her cardboard box—like a very large cake boxand I felt that exact feeling, a giant knot in my stomach.

I’m sure B. would not mind my mentioning that post-death, her appearance was less welcoming than formerly, but she herself was quite obviously gone, and I did solve the 40-year-old problem on this occasion, so I thank her for that: When invited to touch what remained, I said, “I think this is close enough,” and gave myself permission for that to be so.

I noticed that others also felt that several feet was close enough, while a couple of people were entirely comfortable stroking and petting B.’s body, which brave souls have my admiration. Both of her daughters told me several times how much I had meant to their mother. The feeling was entirely mutual.

When I got home from the hospital, I listened to the seven or eight voice mails from her I currently have on my answering machine. The next power outage will wipe them out, so I took the precaution of transferring them to a cassette tape for posterity. The first one says something like, “I enjoyed your visit very, very much. I think you’re fun! And I think you’re unusual. And I like you.”

She was so enthusiastic about so many things. The last time I heard her voice, the Friday before she died, she said to a visitor, “I don’t know you very well—but I’d like to!”

Thank you so much, B., for your wonderful friendship and your love. How strange it is to have you not here.