Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Mute Galoot

On Sunday I saw my favorite checkout person at Rainbow for the first time in ages, due to vacation schedules, and it was excellent, as always. I made barley-mushroom pilaf when I got home, and in the evening, David and Lisa and I chatted on the phone for a bit, always fun.

Sunday night was another horrible night of anxiety, due to certain parties not behaving precisely as desired, or, more correctly, due to my thoughts and feelings about this. It was pretty similar to the night before I left for my retreat, with a good amount of second fear—fear of the original fear, fear that I won’t be able to handle the fear, that it will spiral out of control.

I got up several times to visit the bathroom, which I persuaded myself was biologically necessary, but I could also feel the desire to run from the unpleasant experience. I left a message or two for Deborah, but that actually made things worse, because afterward I had to lie down and start again from scratch. Next time, I’ll skip that part of the program. No one else can do this for me.

Unfortunately, the most helpful thing is also the least palatable: to lie on my back in bed in the dark, like a small, terrified insect in the unimaginably vast universe, and feel the physical sensations, reminding myself over and over that they won’t last forever, that the best thing I can do is to accept the anxious feelings, that I’m doing fine. It’s seriously unpleasant. There is definitely much aversion, and I know it’s important to get to the point where it doesn’t matter if the anxiety is there or not, and I know I will get to that point sooner or later. I have to: the other option is to take Ativan every day, which I’m not going to do.

After being awake for about four hours, I went into the kitchen and had a squirt of valerian in water to encourage sleep. I used to think it was so horrible when this night fear arose—well, those were the days, because it used to happen once and then be gone. It must have happened 20 times last night, though it was probably actually a few long bouts that ebbed and flowed.

Finally I fell asleep and woke up hoping it was nearly time for the alarm to go off, but it was 3:16 a.m. and there was yet more fear. However, the next time I woke up, it was about 45 minutes before alarm time and I was still alive.

I got up about 6:45 a.m. so I could meditate before starting work at 8, the first day of my four-month assignment. I attended my first conference call. My cell phone manual says you can mute a call, but there was no sign of the mute option after I dialed into the meeting, alas. Then I tried pressing the “Call” button even though I was already in the call, and I got an error message, but it also made the mute option appear—whew! This is a necessity for phone meetings.

It was a beautiful sunny day and I took an hour for lunch and went out for my customary walk, which was splendid and cheering. I decided that rather than focus on things I’d like to eliminate from my life, maybe it would be more constructive to think about some things it would be nice to add to it. I’d like to meet some new people. I’d like to go on group bike rides. Nothing too exotic.

In the afternoon, I had a good meeting on the phone (this entire job will take place on the phone) with the person who will be directing my work day to day, a project manager. She has a low-key manner which was agreeable to my temporarily stressed nervous system.

Besides attending the meeting and talking with the project manager, there wasn’t much else I could do because the stuff I need for remote access to the company’s network hasn’t arrived yet. I knocked off at 5 to have dinner with N. before going over to Howie’s for group meditation and a dharma talk.

I was all ready to go several more rounds with anxiety last night—I told anxiety that it was welcome to show up, that I would make good use of the opportunity to confront it—but there wasn’t any. To my credit, I wasn’t vastly relieved. I wasn’t like, “Oh, thank god! I hope it never comes back.” Instead I thought, “There was no anxiety. I appreciate that, but if there had been, I would have worked with it, and I know there will be again—plenty of it—and I will work with it.”

Sunday, August 26, 2012

What’s This Button Do?

Of course I called C. the moment I walked in the door on Wednesday afternoon. We had dinner that evening at La Santaneca and it was great to see him, though also kind of weird. We’d not met since two Fridays before, which meant we were practically strangers again, since we’d been seeing each other practically every day.

On Thursday I was planning to do some budget-related stuff, post here, do my journal and so forth, but I found out that day that my boss for the four-month position starting tomorrow has no intention of providing a phone for work, which meant either using my landline, which does not permit attaching a headset, or using my cell phone, which I pay for by the minute at a fairly hefty rate, so instead I had to shop for a new cell phone with a monthly plan.

My new boss also prefers not to provide a cube, though he was willing to if I really wanted one. Departing from my normal work persona, I decided not to give him any hassles, and said I’d be happy to work from home, which may actually be a good transition between not working at all and working somewhere else. However, by the end of this position, it will have been eleven and a half months since I haven’t had any particular place to go, so if the job extends beyond the end of the year, I’m going to ask to have a cube assigned. Not having anywhere to go means much less bike riding, which I miss, and I don’t want to completely lose the ability to tolerate the company of other human beings.

The construction of a one-story house behind our apartment building is continuing apace, many months into the project, now featuring a fellow who likes to whistle hour after hour at the maximum volume his lungs will permit. It’s tremendously irritating, but I haven’t yet made up my mind to complain. It seems churlish to object to someone literally whistling while he works. Plus, my life is 99 percent wonderfully luxurious and fabulous compared to most everyone on this planet. There is so little to grumble about that it might demonstrate good character to overlook the one or two little things that aren’t exactly perfect. Of course, if you don’t have good character, there’s no point straining yourself trying to demonstrate it. I’ll probably end up complaining.

Friday was an agreeable day of drifting from this task to that at home. C. and I went to La Santaneca for dinner and sat by the front window. It was a particularly pleasant evening.

I’ve discovered yet another reason the Employment Development Department is so efficient: they don’t bother with the part about mailing checks. They do faithfully send a claim form to fill out every two weeks, and I in turn complete it and mail it by the specified date, but seven weeks into this process, not a single check has arrived. Good thing I didn’t urgently need the money. I sent them an email about it but didn’t hear back. I suppose one of these days I’ll have to schlep over to their office, or just let it go.

By yesterday morning, the new cell phone was already in hand, and testing with my mother and sister in Michigan ensued: the cell phone I already had versus the new one, with and without headphones, speakerphone or not.

Remarks my mother made during the operation:

“Who is this?”

“Maybe try not to move your head when you talk?”

“I think it’s OK because I can hear you. It doesn’t have to be perfect. [Your sister] says ‘no,’ but she was talking about something else.”

“My eyes have rolled back in my head. I don’t know if I can get them down this time.”

In one test, Mom suggested that turning up the phone’s volume might help me hear better. I emphatically, even snidely, averred that the control was only for the ringer, but then discovered it also changed the speaker volume, and that turning it up did actually help.

Mom: “If you weren’t 2500 miles away, you’d get a hard slap.”

In the end, it turned out that the phone I already had, a Samsung with T-Mobile service, was better than an LG phone with Verizon service, so then I had to call Verizon to cancel the new phone. Despite it being Saturday at 11:30 a.m., they advised that they were “experiencing high call volumes,” though the wait didn’t turn out to be that long.

The Verizon person said, “Have you done any troubleshooting?” I said no. She said, “Let me call you on that phone,” and so did.

I answered: “Hel—”

“Sounds fine to me! I’m not noticing any problem,” she said before I could gasp out the rest of the word.

I spent the rest of yesterday puttering about and, in the evening, skimmed through a stack of periodicals, or perhaps “the” stack of periodicals, since it’s always there, the reason I hardly ever have time to read a book.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Annual Mano a Mano with the Breath

The day I left for Spirit Rock was a Monday, and Deborah doesn’t work on Mondays, but fortunately, fate has brought me two mental health professionals and Monica happened to have a free hour at 11 a.m., so I rushed down there in a cab.

I had to try to explain my entire relationship with C. in 25 minutes or so, and after that, I told Monica that the idea of leaving for a week or so without speaking to him seemed unbearable. She asked, “What would happen if you called him?” I said, “I can’t! All my friends said not to.” She pointed out that I did still have that choice, regardless of anyone else’s opinion—Deborah has observed that our friends mostly hear the bad things that happen in our relationships, not the good parts, which is true—and, for that matter, Monica said, I could even decide that it wasn’t a good time to go on a retreat.

Thus permitted, I rushed home and called C. and, fortunately, he called me back half an hour before I was due to leave, and we had a very nice conversation.

I was thus able to drive off to Spirit Rock relieved in mind, though Tom (giving me a ride in a City CarShare car) hit me with his hat when he found out I’d caved in. (I was incredulous: “Did you hit me?”) I also felt extremely terrible due to lack of sleep, and still somewhat anxious in a way that rarely happens in the daytime, and that afternoon I was thinking that if I was going to have to struggle with anxiety all the time, life was just not even worth it. (What a short hop it is from “This is happening for practically the first time ever” to “This is going to happen all the time.”)

I brought along a printout of an article I found online about dealing with anxiety, and it proved to be very helpful. I was also glad to find I had a roommate, a young woman who is a therapist-to-be. (About 80 percent of the time, you get a private dorm room at Spirit Rock.) She said she was relieved to have a roommate who’d been on the concentration retreat before, and I said I was relieved to have one who’s a therapist.

On this retreat, the oft-repeated instruction is to focus on the breath and I assume most people do that, but once I start to focus on the breath in this single-minded way, a headache tends to arise and there is some sense of struggle, and this retreat was no exception. However, there was also plenty of general calm, which I appreciated.

The first night, Monday, I had a bad fear attack at night, followed the new advice, and didn’t have to get up. There was also no fear of fear, or what the website calls “second fear.” On Tuesday, after a more reasonable amount of sleep, I felt much better, and had no anxiety to speak of—life was worth living again, though I understand that you have to come to accept that you might be anxious all day every day. The following several evenings, there was anxiety or there wasn’t; in one episode, a bit of second fear crept in, but basically it was fine.

As always, the retreat teachers had many wonderful things to say. The thing that struck me most was Phillip Moffitt’s talk one evening in which he pointed out that it’s easy to concentrate on something if it’s actually interesting, but that what we were doing was improving our ability to concentrate on a fairly neutral object of our choosing (the breath), practicing intention and making it more possible to choose consciously in the rest of our lives. That inspired me: At least in theory, I can choose where to aim my attention, what actions to take, what attitudes to cultivate.

(At the Marin Sangha link to the right, you can find and download some of Phillip’s talks. He is such an excellent teacher.)

There was also a lot of talk about cultivating relaxation and contentment, which encourage the deepening of concentration (and if that doesn’t happen, at least you have relaxation and contentment). Sally Armstrong said not to think of the breath as a life preserver we cling to for dear life, but more as if it’s water and we’re fish swimming through it. Andrea Fella said to think of the attention as a float sitting on top of gentle waves—the float doesn’t impinge upon the water, but nor does it lose contact with it. (Not to leave out Tempel Smith, who gave a very dear talk about aligning ourselves with reality, pointing out that when we fall down, we don't say, "Damn you, gravity!")

I interviewed twice with Phillip and once with Sally, and in my second interview with Phillip, I told him about my frustration with breathing (how does it happen so effortlessly the rest of the year?) and he asked how I would describe my breath. I said it’s very, very small; far away; wispy. He attempted to duplicate my experience and said it would give him a headache, too, to breathe that way. He said to aim for an energetic experience of my breath as porous, soft, spongy, fuller, wider—to imagine it being that way.

After trying that out and thinking it over, I saw Phillip outside the Council House as I was walking to lunch and asked him if he was trying to say there is nothing inherent about the breath and that we create it with our minds. He explained that we experience the breath based on our habits and conditioning—that you can measure the volume of breath, but that our felt sense of breath is co-created. I reckon we could say the same about every aspect of our lives.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Hammett on Patrol at the Back Door

Ante Meridiem Alarums, No Excursions

Last night was a seriously bad night. I cried at bedtime, and then felt relaxed and fine and went to sleep without problems only to wake up at 3:30 a.m. drenched in anxiety.

The first time I ever woke up afraid in the night, I was on retreat at Spirit Rock and a teacher advised me not to get in the habit of running from the fear, so I developed a protocol that I do lying in bed, and the anxiety always passes in some seconds, no longer than a minute, and there’s never been more than one episode of it per night. It happened so many times that it eventually became routine and I stopped feeling afraid of the fear—there was the fear, but there wasn’t the fear of the fear, which is by far the worst part.

Lately, however, I’ve been starting to fear the fear again, plus once or twice anxiety has arisen while I’m lying awake in bed (not asleep), which is unprecedented and unwelcome.

Last night the feeling of anxiety wasn’t extremely strong, but it lingered and lingered, which triggered fear of the fear, and I eventually got out of bed, though with grave misgivings: now will it be impossible to get through this while lying down ever again, and where will it end? If I walk into the kitchen and it doesn’t go away, then what? Will I run out into the street in a panic, ending up in the emergency room at San Francisco General Hospital on an IV drip of Ativan? Should I call the crisis hotline? Is there still such a thing?

I think the only time I ever called a crisis hotline, it was about 12 years ago and I was also freaking out about a relationship, and it was helpful. But if we hardly even have streetlights and trash pickup anymore, do we have crisis hotlines?

I went to the bathroom, I paced about, I called my mother (who has kindly said I can call her at any time of the day or night, if needed) and left a message. I left a message for my father. I left a message for my therapist, about the eighth since Friday night. I left a message for Howie, my meditation teacher, at his office. I left a message for Lisa M., who has assured me that her phone is set to inaudible when she’s asleep. I left a message for Amy B., who gets up very early and is three time zones to the east.

I turned on the computer, correctly thinking I would find an anxiety chat room. The one I found first had a welcome message saying something like, “Everyone experiences anxiety from time to time, in this or that situation. This is normal. Anxiety disorder, however, is a completely different thing, a debilitating situation that makes normal life impossible,” and there was some information on PTSD, noting that it can kick in well after the traumatic events occurred, and then I got worried that I have PTSD because of the hysterectomy, cancer, job loss and loss of C. (and/or presence of C.).

I also got worried that I’ll end up with chronic anxiety, having to take pills, and chat all day every day with anxious others online, and then I decided not to get started with the anxiety chat room thing at all, and called my mother again instead. This time my father answered her phone and listened to my tale of woe, and somehow here I am on Monday morning still alive, albeit having slept for only three and a half hours.

But what about tomorrow night when I’m at Spirit Rock and wake up panicked in a dead silent dormitory full of strangers, far from my cat and my phone? Fortunately, there is always someone on call at night there in case of emergency. Unfortunately, that person is going to hate me by the end of this retreat.

And now, time to pack.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Reallocation of Stretchy Fabric

Yesterday I went to see my hospice visitee and found her slumped in her chair, head down, one leg hugely swollen. I fitted on her headphones, which allow me to speak to her via an electronic device, and she said she wanted to sort some of her photos. She ended up very pleased and happy, saying I’d helped her make more headway than in a long time. I liked it, too, because I got to see a lot of her pictures, spanning decades. She is about to turn 99. When I had to leave, she hollered, “Hey! That ain’t two hours!”

To see her smiling when she had seemed so sad and alone when I arrived was really satisfying, maybe my best moments ever of being a hospice volunteer. She’s very hard of hearing and the staff there don’t bother with her hearing device—they speak to her so briefly that they just yell instead. She has a daughter here in San Francisco, but her daughter rarely visits. My visitee said, “It seems like my daughter and I are in two different families.” I was thinking maybe I could write up the instructions for how to use her listening device and leave them in her room, in case anyone wanted to do it, but I don’t know if anyone would.

It was another enchantingly beautiful, sunny afternoon. This has been an extraordinary summer for good weather. Last summer, if I recall correctly, it was chilly and grey practically every day, and the summer before that featured several miserable heat waves. This one has been superb. Good for job hunting!

Yesterday evening, Tom and I took BART down to Daly City to see The Campaign, which I didn’t like very much—both of the best lines are in the trailer—but I really appreciated having somewhere to go and someone to go there with. Thank goodness for Tom and his even keel and imperturbable friendship over these many years. What would I do without him?

Here’s a weird thing: One of the photos of C. in his book of poetry looks very much like an actor whose name I couldn’t think of. I showed Tom the photo and he agreed. Well, I can now tell you the actor is Brian Cox, because he happens to be in The Campaign! (However, don’t think C. generally looks like Brian Cox; just that particular photo does. C. looks like Santa Claus.)

Speaking of lifesaving friends, Elea emailed yesterday to propose a walk for this morning. She lives right here, but I rarely see her, so that was magical good timing, ditto Lesley calling to say we should get together soon.

I’m trying to get through this as constructively as possible, but of course there are periods of grief, like pockets of weather one passes through. Having seen C. so often is helping now, in a way. Because of the frequency of our contact, it seemed like I had been spending time with him for much, much longer than just over four months—twenty years?—which means that after making it through the whole entire day yesterday without contact, it seemed as if a week had passed.

This morning Elea and I took a nice long walk, my standard walk and then some, and had a satisfying chat. After she left, I thought I might feel lonely and sad, but it was a good day of doing my journal, combing Hammett and clipping his nails, cleaning the bathroom, finalizing my packing list, and so forth.

By some miracle, I arrived at this evening, two entire days, without having called C., nor having heard from him. Still very odd to think of driving off for my retreat tomorrow without being in touch, but I know that is what must happen.

I found this in an Al-Anon book: “There are times when I have to hurt through a situation and when this happens, the choice is not whether to hurt or not to hurt, but what to do while I am hurting.”

I listened to Adele today and cried a little, which I believe is correct breakup form, but didn’t prolong this activity. After three songs, it was on to Slayer, but not as a way to drown anything out. I can definitely feel the gentle simmer of anxiety and sorrow.

If there will be upsides to not seeing C., one might be eating out less. All the dining out has been great fun, but lately I noticed my underwear was no longer fitting properly in the rear—it seemed to be covering less and less territory, which I realized was because the material was, of necessity, gathering to the front.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Parking Mishap

I saw this with my own eyes on Third St. some months ago.

I’ll Be the Judge of That

I haven’t gotten to be the judge of anything lately (except everyone my eye falls on), but hope to soon, because this is one of my favorite things to say.

After I received the Employment Development Department’s directive to attend the Initial Assistance Workshop and sent them an email saying I’m already getting job search assistance from my former employer, I received an answer which was not crystal clear, but I think the gist of it was, “You might or might not be getting such services, but we’ll be the judge of that.” (Thus awakening my desire to judge something.) It also said that one option was to just not make a claim for the week containing the workshop (this past week), so I did that. That is, didn’t do that.

A few weeks ago, about a month after my six-month mammogram, I started to have some pain in the breast that was treated for cancer (i.e., DCIS), some of it burning, some of it tending toward the excruciating. I called my surgeon, Dr. P., and he said he suspects it’s due to the periodic hormonal surge, though he said they don’t know why hormones cause extra pain in breasts that have undergone surgery. This appears to be a known phenomenon. He also said that breasts that have undergone surgery and radiation can have flare-ups of pain for an indefinite span of time, and he said if it still hurt in a week, to call him back.

I consulted, and learned that sometimes this pain lasts forever, and doesn’t necessarily get a sympathetic response one’s surgeon.

It did still hurt in a week, so I spoke with Dr. P. again and he said if the pain waxes and wanes, which it does, it is likely to eventually go away, and he claimed this kind of pain has nothing to do with heightened recurrence risk. After hearing Ellen Langer, the author of Counterclockwise: Mindful Health and the Power of Possibility, on the radio, I decided just to notice when the pain is there and not, and in fact, it’s hardly ever there. It’s easy to think, “I have a pain! I’m stuck with this pain,” but in fact, it could be that most of the time, we don’t have a pain. Most of the time, I don’t have a pain.

However, when I do have a pain, it’s probably because of a surge of the exact hormones that also encourage the growth of cancer (mine was estrogen and progesterone positive), so that’s a little gloomy. It will be a relief when that is done altogether (and, yes, why didn’t I have my ovaries plucked out when I had the chance?).

This past Wednesday I had a phone interview for the full-time position at my former company. I spoke with a very nice recruiter for 20 minutes or so, and was impressed with her ability to ask meaningful questions regarding my past jobs, particularly since she has to do the same for probably many, many different positions.

I was able to force myself not to say, “Aren’t you guys making a colossal mistake even interviewing me?” and did my best to sell myself (why not?), except that I did say that the things I have implemented have been for particular groups, not for the entire enterprise, and when she asked about my analyzing business solutions, I clarified that they were technical solutions, not business solutions. I know nothing about business.

I imagine that’s the end of that, but it was extremely worthwhile preparing for this second interview. Preparing for the first one was painful and took a long time. It went much faster for the second one and now I’m closing in on a checklist/process which should come in handy.

In the evening, C. and I read together at his place for a while, and then had dinner at Radio Habana. My vegetarian plate consisted of a runny puddle of black beans, a mound of perfectly cooked yellow rice, and a salad of greens that were slightly past their prime and considerably over-salted, so that may be my last visit there, though the décor is very interesting and I liked the down-to-earth proprietress.

Toward the end of my walk on Thursday, I went by C.’s and kept him company while he readied a couple of his poetry books to mail, and then we walked to the post office. He went to a class at the Zen Center and after he returned, we met at Esperpento.

Yesterday I got a haircut and did laundry and C. and I went to Café La Boheme for dinner (lentil soup) in the evening. We sat with a couple of acquaintances of his, including a really nice woman named Hilma. At some point, C. stood up to sing a song and I said, “I have to go to the bathroom,” which Hilma thought was hilarious.

One half hour after C. and I returned to our respective houses, there was a bit of a giant upheaval on the phone. I used somewhat stern language, concluding with “Don’t call me,” which struck me later as kind of cheesy—just because you’re breaking up doesn’t mean you have to act like you’re on Jersey Shore.

I thought this morning of Howie, who I know would say, “You have the tools you need to get through this.” Noticing when I have drifted into the imaginary past or future seems to be helping. I can ask myself, “What is my actual experience?” and investigate: What is this like? What is it like to be sad? What do I feel where? What is truly happening, once I stop telling myself a story about it?

Probably the single best piece of advice I’ve ever encountered is this: do the next thing.

I also this morning received the sage advice of Carol Joy, who observed that all breakups are painful for both parties, but there are also some tried and true ways to make them worse, including anything that prolongs the process, so she strongly advised that there be no further contact before I leave for my retreat on Monday. I can scarcely think of driving away without talking to C. again without feeling slightly panicked, but then it is time to refer to the clause about the imaginary future. When I’m actually driving away, I’ll see what it’s like. Right now I’m sitting in my desk chair, typing—what is this like?

Margaux also spoke convincingly about the merits of going through this just once; not reuniting and breaking up over and over, only to have the same result in the end, but after lots more anguish.

Wednesday, August 08, 2012

A Passel of Plantains

Last Thursday I watched a video on interviewing for jobs and read some related info on the website of Dwightly’s company.  In the late afternoon, C. and I went to Forest Books so he could give Bob there a copy of his book of poems (My Heart in the Matter), and then we had burritos at El Toro.

On Friday I had the aforementioned phone interview, for 30 minutes, with the hiring manager for the business applications analyst position, along with two project managers. In the evening, C. and I had dinner at Café Ethiopia.

On Saturday, Tom and I drove again to Sacramento to see Mac, now back at the assisted living place and officially under hospice care. He looked about the same as last week, or maybe even better, but seemed a bit less present mentally. As with last week, Ann took the opportunity to do an errand, Tom fell soundly asleep, and I sat by Mac’s bed. The rails of the bed prevented me from holding his hand, but we made eye contact

When I first got there, he said “Hi” and looked me in the eye and gave me a warm smile, and several other moments of eye contact and recognition occurred as I sat there. When Ann returned, she told Mac we were going to lunch, and he indistinctly but clearly enough indicated that he wanted to come with us. Ann told him he couldn’t, and he said again, “I want to come.” If I’d realized he could interact that much, I would have tried to engage him a bit more, though Ann said she was very surprised that he’d communicated so directly.

Ann and Tom and I had lunch in the dining room—Steve and Julie, already full of lunch, joined us—and then Tom and I saw Mac again briefly and drove home. In the evening, C. and I had dinner at La Santaneca, near Mission and 24th streets, which has a warm, convivial feel, and purveys El Salvadorean and Mexican comfort food at very low prices. You can eat way more than you really should for under ten dollars. C. goes there often. He pointed out that they don’t serve alcohol, and how the servers were all dressed up in white shirts. For a very low price, you can get a “side dish” of fried plantains which would be plenty for four people to share. C. and I split one. He hardly had any. The plate was empty when we departed.

Sunday I spent cooking. C. came over in the evening and dined on some of the crackers and marmalade he keeps at my place.

On Monday I found out I had gotten the four-month position as a business applications analyst, and also was invited to interview for a fancier full-time job at the same company. Whereas I got a telephone call from the hiring manager of the temporary position to invite me to interview for it, the communication about the potential full-time job was extremely impersonal: I got an email saying I was eligible to interview, with a link to click on if I was interested. I had to select my time zone and then select an interview slot, and then I got a notice saying a recruiter would call me at home at that time.

The four-month job will pay the same as my former job and will interrupt my severance pay, which will start again after the job ends and continue until I get the full original amount. I was extremely psyched after both pieces of job-related news, though later I felt kind of queasy, after I remembered I don’t want to work for my ex-employer or in that industry at all: Instead of putting effort into finding something more suitable, I did what was easiest, out of fear and laziness.

On the other hand, there’s a lot to be said for steady income. I have friends who are struggling terribly, full of fear, unable to sleep. So I guess complaining about being offered a third of a year of paychecks would not at all be good form.

On Tuesday morning I got a call from Ann with the news that Mac had died the evening before, on Monday, August 6, about dinnertime. How wonderful that we saw him just two days prior, and that he knew we were there.

Now that I have this temporary job, I feel I’m excused from looking for work for the time being, and it was a strange day, knowing Mac was gone, or the opposite—perhaps he’s everywhere now—so C. came over and was kind and comforting, and walked me over to Deborah’s office. He was funny as we walked up a hilly block of Dolores St., swinging his arms exaggeratedly.

Lisa C. was visiting from Seattle, and in the evening, she and I had dinner at La Santaneca, which she liked, too.

I’d thought I would miss going to Howie’s, but Lisa headed to BART just before 7:30, so I took a cab down there (Mark Coleman was filling in for Howie) and walked home with C. afterward.

Wednesday, August 01, 2012

Now, If You Were to Call from Outer Space Using a Satellite Phone …

At some point I did some research online to see if there’s any way to reach someone at the Employment Development Department by phone and saw something about using the phone at an actual EDD office. My most customary walk takes me right past an EDD location, so I went in there on Monday and was directed to a bank of phones overseen, to some extent, by an apparently joyless security guard absorbed by her smart phone. She told me, “Press the button for English and follow the instructions.”

I tried three or four times, inevitably hearing, “Due to high call volume, we are unable … ” and I went back to the security guard, tried to adopt a non-self-entitled tone—I tried not to sound like, “Look here, madam, I really don’t have all day for this”—and begged for a hint. She was friendlier this time and said you just have to keep trying. She claimed that people do actually get through from time to time, that it can take five minutes or it can take two hours.

After 15 more minutes, I gave up and left, but before I got to the corner, a key question occurred to me and I went back with a final question for the guard: is there anything different about the phones there, or would it be the same from my phone at home? She smiled winningly and said, “It’s pretty much the same,” which is good. It means I can be frustrated in the comfort of my own living room.

It dawned on me that if I’m going to spend four hours trying to call them to say I’m not coming to the Initial Assistance Workshop, where job search help is provided, I almost might as well just go to the Initial Assistance Workshop. I might even learn something worth learning (that I can then also refrain from doing). But that word “initial” is ominous—would this be the first of many 8:30 a.m. sessions? And if I tried to tell the leader of the first session that I’m already getting such assistance from my ex-employer, would she say, “Cool. I’ll pass that on to my friends in government”? Or would she say, “Fine. To notify us of that officially, you’ll need to call … ”

Monday evening, C. and I went down to the lovely and atmospheric Om Shan Tea teahouse on 14th St. for a poetry event. When I was employed, I almost always went to bed by 8:30 p.m. on work nights, pretty much right after dinner, so I could get up at 5:30 a.m. to stretch and meditate and have breakfast before riding my bike to work. I guess my free time occurred before work instead of after. While sitting at Om Shan Tea, I was thinking how all over San Francisco, people are doing all kinds of things every evening, so little of which will ever be experienced by me. It’s kind of a shame. I wish I could go everywhere and see everything. Probably what’s happening on only one square block in certain San Francisco neighborhoods would provide months of entertainment.

Today I talked to a friend who has been on unemployment several times, and she said she has never reached the EDD on the phone, but that they’re pretty good about returning emails. She has herself been to an Initial Assistance Workshop and vaguely recalled that there are subsequent sessions, and, for what it’s worth, she didn’t find it worthwhile.

On my walk today, I stopped at the EDD office on Mission St. again to see if it was possible to tell them I’m already receiving career services by just, you know, telling them, and it may be, but not at that office. The woman at the front desk said I’d need to tell someone at the main office, on Turk St. When I got home, I sent an email via their website, and if I haven’t heard anything by the day before the workshop, I’ll ride my bicycle over to Turk St.

Over the past couple of months or so, I have applied for several jobs at my ex-company, in part so I don’t have to lie if the Employment Development Department asks if I’ve been applying for work. Typically, I get an email back saying something like, “Due to the astronomical number of people who have applied for this position, don’t hold your breath,” and weeks later, they send an email saying my qualifications are not a match. This company no longer wants to hire in San Francisco at all, so there are not many jobs I can even apply for.

Today, in happy contrast, I got a phone call about a four-month temporary job where one of the possible locations actually is San Francisco, and the caller, who is the hiring manager, said that I’m one of only one or two applicants whose qualifications match the job description. We set up an interview for this Friday. A phone interview! No dressing up or complicated arranging of one’s coiffure required.

I looked up the description of the job in question again—the first for which I’ve been invited to interview—and indeed it’s something I am very qualified for, and it’s even a step toward a business analysis job, in that its title is Business Applications Analyst, which will look nice on my resume if I get the job.