Wednesday, October 10, 2012


This past Sunday I made beluga lentils and brown rice, and also pasta puttanesca with artichoke hearts. C. came to keep me company toward the end of the afternoon and then we had dinner at La Santaneca, where I’ve had to cut back on the fried plantains. Between those and the mineral sunblock, it was starting to look like the 1970s again around here, complexion-wise.

Monday evening, C. and I set off to go to Glide Memorial Church for Jana Drakka’s meditation group, but he suddenly became famished, so we returned to the Mission—we were already downtown when this happened—and went to La Santaneca again. I’d already had dinner, but of course I had a little something: a side order of casamiento, and two of their robust handmade tortillas.

I’m continuing to learn a lot of stuff at work, of necessity. Normally I avoid learning anything—it gives my brain an unpleasant warmish feeling—but now there’s no choice, and I’m finding I am enjoying having to be resourceful. So that is a benefit resulting from having gone somewhat beyond putting the best face on my skill set in the interview and possibly into the territory of outright mendacity, and though of course it’s unfair that they are paying me to learn this stuff, it is also true that my former job was not as an Excel master and I didn’t say it was. Nonetheless, it might be better to say “I have used that program a lot and am sure I can learn anything necessary” rather than “I’m an expert with that program.” If you’re not.

My former job carried considerably more responsibility and was much broader in scope, but here we are, and I’m glad to have this job, actually enjoying sifting through my spreadsheets, and getting a huge kick out of automating tasks, however modestly. It feels good to use my head for something other than preventing my crappy old hat from resting directly on my shoulders. (Even C., who dresses pretty much like a homeless person, has hinted that it could be time to look into an upgrade.)

Ezra Bayda says in his almost-latest book, Zen Heart: Simple Advice for Living with Mindfulness and Compassion, that three of our favorite “detours from reality” are blaming, analyzing and fixing. I think he’s onto something there. Watching my thoughts, I can see a veritable parade of these: “Such-and-such person has acted incorrectly! Why does he do it? Probably because of blah blah blah. Well, from now on, I’m going to … ” Right there, in the course of 30 seconds, all three.

One of the meditation groups I belong to is very large (Eugene Cash’s, a couple of hundred people or so) and has a fairly active email list which, over the past year, has featured note after note from a woman who has been unemployed and bordering on homelessness, close to having to sleep in her car. Some of her notes have included lines like, “And, yes, I know about Craigslist,” so I imagine people have responded to her privately, trying to direct her elsewhere, perhaps irritated and wishing she would just go away. I can’t guess how many places she must have slept these past many months, a few days here and a few weeks there.

Her requests have sometimes been hilariously specific, long lists of what she’d like to have. I never exactly wished she would go away (for one thing, I know and like her in person), but at times I found myself judging what she was asking for: do you really need high-speed Internet and a cat-free environment and quiet after such-and-such hour? Offering considerably less than market rate, are you really expecting to get all that? It sounds like you’re desperate—wouldn’t anything suffice at this point? In her shoes, I would probably say that even a basement or garage would do.

The months passed and the very specific requests kept coming, and then, lo and behold, she got a job, and her latest housing request mentioned that she will be signing a lease on a studio in a month! As I rejoiced over her job and her studio and marveled at her sheer endurance, I realized she had given us a gift (beyond just the chance to practice with annoyance, which is not exactly difficult to come by), and posted this to the list:

“I would like to say on a group level that, while I’m sure there are some who have thought, ‘Not this sangha member again!’, we humans being what we are, and some of us being of aversive temperaments (myself among them), well, getting to the point here, I have been dazzled at the way you say over and over so clearly what you need and want.

“I have learned from you, and I hope that if I ever get into the extraordinarily challenging situation you have faced for quite some time, I can do it as bravely and persistently as you have done it.

“I’m so glad about your job and your studio. I hope they both prove to be great (or good enough) for the long term.”

At Howie’s yesterday evening, the almost-homeless sangha member thanked me for my supportive email to the group and said it had had an unexpected positive effect: a woman of great means contacted her, mentioned my note, and somewhat grudgingly (I gathered) offered to meet the latest short-term housing need.
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