Wednesday, February 29, 2012

No One Leaves this Room Until I Get that Minute Back

Last Friday was a gorgeous day. I did laundry, walked to 24th St. to retrieve my interview outfit, which had been cleaned and the sleeves of the jacket shortened a bit, and went to Papalote for a burrito. In the evening, I read online about the Pre-Existing Condition Insurance Plan (PCIP), for people who have been without insurance for at least six months, and the Major Risk Medical Insurance Program (MRMIP), which currently and unfortunately has an annual benefit maximum of $75,000, which could easily be exceeded with the right health condition.

I’d seen a figure of $1500 for a month of coverage under MRMIP, but if I were in it this year, it appears it would cost $553.86 for a month. That’s a lot of money, but less than $1500, so I was a bit cheered.

On Saturday I went to see my hospice visitee and in the evening, it was back to Papalote, this time with Tom, his girlfriend, and her son.

On Sunday I found myself feeling unexpectedly joyful, even liberated. I might not have let go of my health and my job voluntarily—I definitely wouldn’t have—but I still get the benefit of seeing once again that happiness isn’t dependent on those things or on any particular conditions.

On Sunday evening Tom and I went in a City CarShare car to a clubhouse in Novato for my friend Carol Joy’s 60th birthday party. There were five trillion cars parked outside, so we figured there must be several events happening there that evening, but it turned out every last car was for Carol Joy! She has lavished such love and kindness on me for 25 years now, I always figured I constituted 33% of her really close friends—who has time to have more than a few extremely extra-special friends? Well, there were a hundred people or so at that party, and I suspect that most everyone who was there thinks he or she is one of Carol Joy’s select group of extra-special friends. It was a fantastic party.

Using a microphone, she asked people from various eras of her life to raise their hands and be recognized: friends from elementary school, from high school, college, this job, that job. I got to raise my hand when she got to 1987 and her job at Recovering magazine. (I was the editor and production manager. Carol Joy was our ace ad saleslady and later the publisher.) The refreshments included goat cheese-stuffed pepperdaws and mushroom tarts, both of which were out of this world.

My most recent employer provides those who have been displaced with the opportunity to work with one of two career consulting firms. Other than laying me off, they are doing every possible thing to ensure that I stay off welfare. I made appointments with both career consultants for Monday so I wouldn’t have to get dressed up twice. Always thinking!

I was worried that going about town in my interview outfit would be complete torture, physically, or that there would be some horrible wardrobe malfunction, but it was actually fine, and any mild discomfort was offset by knowing I looked remarkable. After meeting with both career consultants, I had dinner at Herbivore with David and Lisa (visiting from Seattle), two friends of theirs, and Tom.

Last night I went to Howie’s and afterward succumbed to temptation and went for tea with Jen. I was out much later than usual and felt frazzled today, which unfortunately was a day when I had to call the latest phone company to seep into my life, the one for the cell phone.

At some point, the representative said he couldn’t hear me.

“Right, that’s because I have T-Mobile service,” I explained, the familiar feeling of rage filling my entire body. I went on, “I started out with 10 minutes and used two of them. Do you and I agree that 10 minus two is eight? OK, good. However, it then said I had seven minutes—what did T-Mobile do with my missing minute?”

Then I thought, “Did I really just say that?”

In the end, I decided not to pursue the missing minute, even though that lone minute did constitute 13 percent of my total minutes at the time, and I apologized to the support person, explaining that I go berserk with anger as soon as soon as I have to speak with anyone at any telephone company. Things could definitely have been worse in that I didn’t end up with my service cut off, as in a past regrettable incident.

Approximately 40 years ago, some of my father’s underdrawers went astray in the laundry and an investigation was initiated, in the course of which he said—he was joking—“No one leaves this room until I get those underpants back.”

Happy eighteenth birthday, Mom!

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Bedazzling Sacramento Night

Once you enter the world of clothes that actually fit, it’s not long before you have to enter the world of shapewear. A very nice saleslady at Nordstrom shared that now that she’s a shapewear expert, she no longer has to visit the gym.

Last Thursday I rode my bike to the beach, went to the library and to points downtown including the hardware store and Green Citizen. I rode home the long way, by the ballpark. Exercise makes such a difference. On Friday, I walked for an hour or so, dropping off my new interview outfit at Pete’s dry cleaners on 24th St.

On Saturday I went to Rainbow because Tom and I had been invited to a birthday party for his nephew Chris on Sunday, my usual day for grocery shopping and cooking, but then I found out that Tom wouldn’t be coming back with me Sunday night because he had things to do around Sacramento on Monday. At first I thought I’d have to miss the party because I didn’t want to drive home alone afterward. I often drive there and Tom always drives coming back, and I fall asleep two minutes after we get on the freeway, which is less good to do if you’re the one driving. I pondered if having to skip the party could somehow be construed to be Tom’s fault, but concluded it couldn’t and decided just to drive home afterward by myself, asleep or no.

We set off at 3 p.m. Sunday with his niece Sarah but didn’t get there until about 6 p.m. because of heavy traffic (and possibly because of someone’s suggestion that we take the Golden Gate Bridge). I had to leave again at 8:30, so it was a short visit, but well worth it. Julie said she’s sure that not only will I get a job, I’ll end up doing whatever it is that I want to do. I’m far from certain of that, and appreciate being able to tap into the confidence of others while mine is running a bit low.

While I’ve never been behind the steering wheel coming back from Sacramento, I’ve been in the passenger seat tens of times, so I was a little shocked to go astray immediately after getting on the freeway. Good: lost on the freeway at night. I took the first exit and called Tom’s brother on my very first cell phone, which fortunately had arrived on Friday. (Every prior cell phone had been issued by my employer.) Paul gave me directions and all was well after that. Since I was alone, I could open the window to the chilly night wind and was bedazzled by the amazing green smell of the fields west of Sacramento, and the drive was really very nice.

Yesterday I had tea with my friend Rod, who recently retired, which is what I would also do if I were ten years older and had twice the savings. As it is, I’m “between opportunities” or, even more agreeably, “jobfree.” While I’m hoping to find an interesting full-time job with benefits and congenial colleagues that has a reasonable chance of lasting until I retire (which will probably be whenever Medicare starts, unless all of Obamacare goes into effect), all this job losing has brought home that no set of circumstances is ultimately reliable. “Once I have a good job, I’ll be all set” now sounds kind of ridiculous.

Yesterday evening I walked to Howie’s. Afterward, I noticed someone else leaving who, unlike others, wasn’t clutching a device or staring into a screen. Several blocks later, I saw the same fellow still just a few feet ahead, so I introduced myself and found out he lives half a block from me, and has been going to Howie’s for two years. I’ve never seen him before, a consequence of always sitting in the front row.

Today featured a nice bike ride to the ocean and back. Looking for a job is starting to seem kind of fun. It’s a project, with a big list of interesting things to do, though I’m absolutely pacing myself—getting nine hours of sleep nightly, turning off the computer at 5 p.m. to have dinner and do some reading. I’m eating my fruits and veggies and getting some exercise nearly every day. This would be a very pleasant way to live if it were actually sustainable.

Recently I checked to see how many IT jobs had been listed in San Francisco that day and saw there were 20 of them, which seemed promising, and then I noticed the San Francisco jobs actually went to the bottom of the page: 30. I clicked to the next page. Make that 60. 90. 120. 150. 180. When I got to a thousand or so, I knocked off because my clicking finger was getting tired. Holy moly! We seem to be in a tech hiring boom similar to when I got the job I’m now saying goodbye to. Very good news; I had no idea.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

The Short Mean One

Last Thursday was another day of insurance research, and a particularly crappy one—I saw figures as high as $1500 for a month of coverage in the state’s high-risk pool. If that’s really what it will cost, that’s very bad news. Thus galvanized, on Friday I started work on my resume, and checked the job listings at the company that just laid me off. I noticed a position where the manager is someone I know and like, so I went ahead and applied for it, along with a couple of other jobs.

During my visit with my current hospice patient Saturday, he asked if I could fetch him a nurse, so I went to their station. C. got up immediately and asked, “Does he want the tall, handsome one or the short, mean one?” (By the latter, C. meant himself.) Peeking in from A.’s doorway, I saw C. rubbing his hands seductively over his torso as he spoke with A. He’s so funny. A. adores him.

When I arrived, A. already had a friend visiting, so I read The New Yorker in the dining room until A.’s friend came to let me know she was leaving. She told me that she and A. have been pals for 46 years. She also said she is 80 and writes textbooks for a living!

When I went to Rainbow on Sunday, I told my favorite checkout person that the threat of having to pay $1500 a month for health insurance had convinced me once and for all that a job will be needed. She had been extremely supportive of my more free-form plan, and of the new plan said, “I disagree!” I think she meant I shouldn’t make all my life decisions based on money, and shouldn’t so easily give up on what I want to do, but I felt quite depressed afterward, probably because I also think making health insurance the centerpiece of one’s life is pretty sad.

Here’s another dismal consideration: you can wear pajamas to extremely few jobs, which means items that constitute actual clothes will have to be obtained. I arranged with my newish friend Judy to undertake this on Monday, but fortunately it was pouring rain, so I slept all day instead.

Yesterday we took the bus to the large Goodwill at Van Ness and Mission (Judy said we also might want to visit “Salvation Armani”) and she explained to me how you buy pants: you have to look at every single pair and see if it’s your size and if it appears to be, try it on. Who knew? My normal method is to enter the store, advance two feet, look around in a general way, say “I’m sure there’s nothing here” and depart.

Judy found the pants I ended up buying, which struck me as much, much too small both upon first viewing and once I had them on. “Aren’t these way too tight?” I asked. “No!”, she said, demonstrating that it was still possible to pinch half an inch of fabric at the hip. I did locate a lovely skirt suit in pale green-blue, but Judy commanded, “Put that back! You look like a nun. It’s two sizes too big!”

I literally could not have done this without her. Not one thing I ended up purchasing would I have acquired if she hadn’t been there. I would definitely have bought the nun’s suit. I left with slacks, a jacket, and a white blouse—for a total of $18! However, as I further learned from my new mentor, there is some arcane reason you can’t go to an interview for a professional position carrying a red backpack, so then I had to buy a Coach purse at another thrift store in the Mission, for $24. I think the last time I owned a purse, I was six years old and it was a gift from my grandmother.

We had burritos at Papalote and walked to Judy’s, where we had a cup of tea with her roommate, Lesley, also a friend, and then I went home and put on my new outfit and went up to show Tom, who took a photo as evidence. No one who knows me was going to believe this without seeing it.

This morning I took a glorious bike ride to the beach. It was sunny out, fresh, a bit cool, breezy. Invigorating!

Normally I consider positive thinking to be cheating—something artificial tacked on to reality—but in my case, since I do so much negative thinking, it would probably count as what in Buddhism is known as “skillful means.” Everything won’t necessarily come out fine, but then again, it might, and the relentless habit of looking on the dark side can’t be good for the immune system. Accordingly, I’ve decided to retire this affirmation: “Everyone knows you can’t get a job after 50. I’m going to die in a homeless shelter.”

In its place, I’ve adopted these:

I have a satisfying and enjoyable life.
I am healthy and strong.
I am happy and content.
I have plenty of money and excellent health insurance.
I have interesting work and agreeable colleagues.
I have more than I need to enjoy each moment of my life.

I ran these by my mother and she said, “I guess all of that is correct, except what’s your work?” I told her my interesting work is to find work and as for the agreeable colleagues, I currently have the most agreeable colleague one could ever want: me!

Wednesday, February 08, 2012

Relaxing in the Isness

For almost 22 years, I’ve been hearing my meditation teacher, Howard Cohn, say “You are what you’re looking for,” which I had reformulated as a question to hang out with in an open-ended way: What am I? I’d gotten as far as concluding that I’m awareness itself, but is that what I’m looking for? Why would I be looking for that? Listening to Howie speak last night, I finally understood what he’s been going on about since 1990, and no doubt prior.

He was talking about ease, and asked how we feel when we hear the word. I immediately feel more relaxed. The effect is so powerful and noticeable that, back when I had a job and therefore a Microsoft Outlook calendar, I had this daily appointment: “May I be at ease in my _____.” May I be at ease in my tension. May I be at ease in my irritation. May I be at ease in my lack of ease.

Howie pointed out on Tuesday that ease is inherent and unconditioned—there’s nothing that causes it, whereas if, for instance, we want to buy a bicycle, we need money. One of the conditions that must be in place for us to purchase a bicycle is that we must have enough money, but for ease, there is no preceding cause. It’s our very nature, meaning that when we take away all the elements that are constantly in flux, that’s what’s left. We literally are that pure consciousness, with its inherent qualities of ease and peace and, yep, joy.

This explains why, if we sit in meditation long enough, we eventually feel happy instead of miserable. There does seem to be something inherently benign, even more than benign, that permeates everything. Maybe it’s universal consciousness, and maybe that’s what we were before we were born and will be again after we die—what we are even now—and maybe while we’re in these bodies, enjoying the thousands of kinds of sense pleasures and tormenting ourselves with thousands of fears and longings, we forget that.

We can find many kinds of pleasure and happiness in this world, but the conditioned ones—the ones we have to get or create or that come into being over time—can’t be held onto. All things that have the nature to arise have the nature to pass away, naturally causing sorrow and suffering.

Aha! Got it! (Finally.) (And why didn’t he just say so?) If I’m looking for peace, spaciousness and happiness, they are already here, obscured by my thoughts of what I wish I had that I don’t have, and what I wish I didn’t have that I do have. Not to mention by fears and worries. Not to mention by taking thoughts to be reality. Not to mention by living in the imagined past and/or imagined future.

For about the millionth time, Howie read us Gendyn Rinpoche’s “spontaneous Vajra song” called “Free and Easy,” (you can find it online) and it was like hearing it for the first time.

It’s a matter of being here now, and now, and now. The now part is easy enough: outside of thoughts and memories, there’s nothing besides now and there never will be. As for here, here is kind of all there is, too.

Back in the realm of the relative, my sister has informed me that practically any job you can have involves selling your soul. Now she tells me! I am starting to think that it might not be such a bad thing to rake in money and health insurance in return for some small portion of my soul I’d hardly even notice was gone, perhaps a few acres from the back forty.

Of course I now think that if I had my job back, I’d make more of an effort to appreciate it. Therefore, what’s stopping me from appreciating being unemployed? Being upset about it would be stupid, because if I should happen to get another job, it’s almost guaranteed that then I’d miss these days of complete freedom, of being able to sleep in, of being able to cycle to the park during the day.

What would Gendyn Rinpoche’s career advice be? In his song, he says, “Far better to simply let the entire game happen on its own, springing up and falling back like waves … .” I believe this—not that if I sit in my comfortable chair reading, a job will eventually hurl itself through the window, but that one thing leads to another, that the whole web of conditions is mutating lawfully, largely beyond my control. This doesn’t excuse me from taking action, but there is much beyond my control, so from my perspective, everything is kind of happening on its own.

Life is unfolding naturally, and at some point, I’ll find myself with a job, or I won’t. I’ll continue to live indoors, or I won’t. I’ll die in a homeless shelter or I won’t. The entire thing is evolving in an orderly fashion, and all I can really do is plant whatever positive seeds come to mind today, and take whatever actions seem constructive, finishing at night with a consideration of what in the day brought enjoyment.

I rarely lie awake in bed worrying about what bad things might happen. At that point, there’s nothing more I can do or have to do. I’m completely free to relax and enjoy my descent into the dreamworld. Also, anyone who is serious about her worrying does it during the daylight hours, when she can bring her utmost to bear on it.

Tuesday, February 07, 2012

Photo Essay About Hammett and Poop

This morning I found this in the tub: one of my hand towels, carefully formed into a hat, sort of.

But under this particular hat, alas: poop, cat litter, cat hair and perhaps an eyelash? Yes, Hammett can make a towel into a hat.

Feigning surprise.

A closer inspection. No, definitely not mine!

Monday, February 06, 2012

The Other Kind of Fair

Late last week, there was an awful smell in the common areas of my apartment building. As I was coming in with my laundry late Friday afternoon, I finally figured out what it was: a container of noxious stink beads sitting on the cupboard in the lobby, evidently something another tenant was giving away. Fortunately, a man I’d never seen before was just coming down the stairs as my eye fell on this dispiriting item, so I said to him, “Hello, I don’t know you, but could you do me a huge favor and take this outside?” He pleasantly obliged.

On Saturday there was a note in the lobby from the building manager asking who had made off with her “air freshener.” I immediately sent her an email saying I was the culprit. I said I’d thought someone was giving it away, which was a relief to me, because the smell seemed unbearable. I told her that theft was not intended and that I’d reimburse her, and of course appended a short treatise on artificial scents and their deleterious effects on humans. I concluded by offering to pick something else up at Rainbow.

Then I was, as usual, terrified of getting an angry note back—I wished I’d skipped the treatise, anyway—and I felt extraordinarily stressed out. It seemed like some kind of final straw, that one last little horrible thing on top of everything else, and so there was immense relief when I got a completely nice note back.

When I went to Rainbow yesterday, I got a couple of air fresheners containing natural ingredients, and was going to leave them outside the building manager’s door with a note, but decided that a pleasant interaction in person would be even better, so I knocked on her door and we spoke briefly and she was perfectly nice.

Last week I spoke with my surgeon, Dr. P., on the phone and of the medical oncologist’s prediction that my breast cancer recurrence risk is 5% over five years, he said, “That’s too high,” and of the risk of a new breast cancer being 13% over five years, he said, “I don’t know where he got that.” Even more satisfyingly, when I said that Dr. W. was unaware I’d had intraoperative radiation, Dr. P. said, “That’s interesting information. I’m going to make a note of that and make use of that information.” So I feel entirely vindicated and have abandoned any thought of sending Dr. W. a letter.

I told Dr. P. I’ve decided not to take tamoxifen and he said I’m making an informed decision and mentioned that it’s hard to prove that taking tamoxifen actually changes survival rates. If I do have a recurrence, I could have a bilateral mastectomy if I wanted to, but another lumpectomy and more radiation might also be options.

Since I won’t be taking tamoxifen, do I simply have my six-month checkup and thereafter just have annual breast exams and mammograms under the direction of my ob/gyn? He said no, that I have “bought” him and will see him every six months for five years. That was a relief. I will not be dangling alone in the breeze with my DCIS.

So that is that, for now at least, and I can get on with other things.

When I go to sleep at night, I affirm that when I’m dreaming, I will realize it, and when I’m awake during the night, I will practice Stephen LaBerge’s MILD technique for inducing lucid dreams; I’ve now had 51 lucid dreams that I know of. Then I ask myself what I enjoyed or appreciated during the day. Lately the list has been rather short, partly because one thing I really enjoyed was riding my bike to work, but no work means no bike ride to work.

I have been making a point of taking a walk just about every day, but the only time I ride my bike lately is to Rainbow on Sundays. I like to walk, but it doesn’t bring the kind of joy cycling does, so today I rode my bike into Golden Gate Park and back, and felt just splendid afterward. Cycling endorphins seem to be more powerful than walking endorphins.

Post-ride, I gave my father a call to see if he thought I’d wrecked the entire rest of my life by losing my job. He doesn’t think that.

While I certainly ponder what the future may hold and notwithstanding the call to my father, I don’t actually brood that much about having lost my job. My losing the job was either perfectly fair, in which case so be it, or it was the other kind of fair, unfair. In which case also so be it. Sometimes unfair things happen.

Wednesday, February 01, 2012

Ceaseless Imaginary Tribulations

In recent years, I’d worked from home more and more often, and always had good intentions about getting some exercise on those days—cycling or walking—but it’s amazingly easy just to sit down and stay there if you don’t have to leave the house. So I’ve been a bit worried that I’ll grind to a halt completely. Will I start going to bed at 3 a.m. and getting up at noon only to spend the day weeping and eating Doritos?

I did walk late yesterday afternoon for just under an hour, ending up at Howie’s for meditation group, where I go pretty much every week. I haven’t been sure how to talk to people there about recent events. When someone says, “How are you?”, am I supposed to say “Great!” or am I supposed to say, “Well, I had a hysterectomy, and then I was diagnosed with breast cancer, and then I lost my job”? That seems like kind of too much for casual conversation. It seems unfair to the other person, and also to myself, though not saying that feels kind of strange, too, as if I’m trying to conceal something.

In any event, it was starting to make me feel isolated just to say “Fine” or “Good,” so last night I told a couple of people I’d lost my job (skipping the rest of it), and it was comforting to receive expressions of sympathy, plus one of the two said he’s also looking for work. I’m not the only one in this boat.

I told Howie I’m afraid of dying in a homeless shelter and he said, “We won’t let that happen.” I don’t think he meant he’s expecting to see me on his doorstep with all my belongings heaped about me and Hammett tucked under my arm, but it was consoling.

When I asked him what he thought I should be when I grow up, if ever, he immediately said, “Stand-up comic!”

I woke up rather anxious today. Meditation helped. Each moment of liberation from the imaginary future, with its bleak landscape of unrelenting misery and full as it is of hideous losses, is a relief. The difference between that seemingly vivid place and real life, where comparatively little happens, is becoming more and more obvious, though each moment of seeing it has a faint flavor of surprise: an entire world, complete in every detail, suddenly gone.

I’m also seeing what a persistent habit of aversion I have: I don’t like this job and wish I had some other job. I don’t like being unemployed and wish I had that job back. I don’t like living in San Francisco and wish I lived where more of my family members live.

Then there’s pre-emptive aversion, making sure every possible thing has been considered and disliked. If I did move to where my family members live, sooner or later I’d think, “Wasn’t it great when I lived in San Francisco? Why did I let that below-market-rate apartment get away?”

In sum, grief no matter where you look. Oh, except for one place, just one teeny-tiny spot that is astoundingly easy to miss: the one where my body is right now. As I sit in my chair, feel my posterior on the seat, and look at the iMac’s screen, where is all of that misery? It’s nowhere. It’s not here, and it’s not anywhere else, either. It’s made of thoughts, but I don’t even have to banish those thoughts—all I have to do is directly notice any sense impression whatsoever and what is false is automatically gone.

I’d been thinking about sending medical oncologist Dr. W. a letter about his not looking at my chart, and not answering the question the nurse educator was happy to answer, and making up crazy recurrence-risk numbers just for sport, and I was planning to mention early and often that his services had cost me $500, but then got I a bill for $542 for my consultation with Surgeon Number Two, so I guess that’s a very standard charge. I guess these cancer-related people get to charge $500 every time they move a muscle. Perhaps I’ll start doing the same.

I’ve finally figured out that while I’m probably going to worry about cancer recurring, I’d worry even more about what tamoxifen was doing to my body, so I have finally made the decision not to take it.