Friday, December 21, 2012

Shoo, Flu Goo

Yesterday early afternoon, I had a stereotactic core needle biopsy, my second and I hope last. Beforehand, the radiologist showed me a picture of the line of calcifications, which was perpendicular to my lumpectomy scar, and said they think the calcifications got pulled into that configuration by the lumpectomy, so they don’t expect to find any problems, but need to check. Unlike Dr. P.’s thoughts, that actually was reassuring.

When he started, he said he would give me a small shot of Novocaine, and when that took effect, give me more Novocaine, and then start a Novocaine drip. I was to tell him if I felt any sharp pain, as opposed to pressure. I did feel sharp pain a number of times, and told him, and he turned up the drip every time, but it continued to be painful throughout. I don’t remember any pain last year, only the discomfort of lying on my stomach with my head turned to the side, which was uncomfortable this time, too, though eased by the attending nurse massaging my upper back. The final thing the doctor did was to implant a titanium chip in the biopsy area so they know where exactly to check in the future, if necessary. (A titanium chip was implanted at the end of last year’s biopsy, too, but got carved out along with the tumor.)

The nurse, by the way, was wearing a mask and when I asked about it, she said it was because she’d refused to have a flu shot, so she has to wear the mask until March. At first, I thought it was kind of strange and that she should just have the shot already, but then I remembered a close associate of mine who this year had a dreadful reaction to a high-dose flu shot (which is really a quadruple dose, evidently, not double). My friend felt lousy for a month and even coughed up some blood, so that nurse probably knows what she’s doing.

Toward the end of the procedure, the doctor said he wasn’t getting as many calcifications as he’d hoped and that he would take one more sample, but then he was going to leave it because he didn’t want to put me through any more discomfort. After he’d left the room, the nurse didn’t sound too certain that they had a good number of calcifications, but said the people who analyze the samples would take appropriate action. Presumably, if they don’t have a good sample, they’ll say so. It would have been better, I think, if the doctor had just stuck with it until he was sure of having enough calcifications, because what if there really aren’t enough and I have to have a whole new biopsy?

Afterward, I took a cab to see Deborah and then went home. The biopsy incision bled a little in the evening and eventually became very, very painful. I got up and took some Tylenol. The nearby nightclub was quite loud until past midnight, and some neighbor went in and out of his screen door about 10 times past 10 p.m., letting the door slam loudly every time, and I think I was pretty much awake until past midnight, hours past bedtime.

Then I woke up in the middle of the night, per usual, and lay awake for some time, and was also entirely awake before the alarm went off. I’ve suddenly become an insomniac. Why doesn’t the body naturally go to sleep when it’s tired? I feel terrible this morning.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

More or Less Dead as a Doornail

Yesterday I decided that, though I’m now feeling some bond of understanding with those who are unhappy with the look of their shirts, I will not be one of those Financial District a**holes. I will not. And the only way I can avoid that is somehow to generate friendly feelings on an ongoing basis, including toward those who strike me as not deserving it, though I do know better. I know there is no one who does not merit kind treatment.

Several days ago, I stopped by Joe’s corner store to pick up some packages that had been left there by UPS. I was in my work clothes, and I temporarily blocked the doorway with my bike. Another patron arrived and said coldly, “Excuse me,” and I knew for a fact she meant, “Get out of my #*%@!! way, yuppie,” because that’s precisely how I think about people in my neighborhood who are dressed as I now am, or how I used to think of them.

I also decided I can’t take another anxiety- and misery-drenched day like Tuesday was, and my friendships can’t take an unlimited amount of that, either. I’ve read how cancer patients aren’t supposed to be angry and unhappy. We are supposed to smile brightly and find meaning in our experience. For the record, I feel perfectly entitled to be angry and unhappy, and I don’t feel obligated to be cheery or to find meaning in my experience, but I would prefer to for my own sake. I will easily find meaning in this. I absolutely have a robust conceptual framework in which to hold this, and here it is, with thanks to the dharma: this is a matter of prior causes and conditions that cannot now be altered, and that’s all there is to it.

I can change my current actions and thus possibly affect future conditions, but I can’t change whatever past factors caused the current conditions and would do best to meet said conditions graciously.

So that’s the concept, and the rest is the practice. What is the practice? To be awake in as many moments as possible and to act ethically, kindly and generously as often as possible. I can take refuge in the "Three Jewels" of the Buddha, the dharma, and the sangha. What does this mean? It doesn’t mean to venerate the Buddha himself, though one may rightly be deeply thankful for the lessons he taught and find in him an inspiring example. However, as Howie lately pointed out, he’s kind of dead at this point, so taking refuge in the Buddha more properly means taking refuge in the qualities of awakeness and awareness he taught.

Likewise, the dharma is the teachings of the Buddha, and they are indeed of inestimable value, but the dharma is also the truth of how things are, so taking refuge in the dharma is taking refuge in what is so. As teachers sometimes say, the Buddha knows the dharma. When I am conscious of the feeling of my foot on the floor, I am the Buddha knowing the dharma.

The sangha is the community of meditators. We can take refuge in their friendship, in seeing more clearly in them than we can see in ourselves the good things that happen when we try to pay attention. We can also take refuge in simply knowing that someone on the other side of the globe is always sitting in meditation at the same time we are.

How does it help to know something consciously? Why is that so great? For one thing, it naturally interrupts the worrisome story. And being conscious in a given moment allows for the possibility of more constructive choices. So those, at the very least.

For some reason or other, during the day my mood became buoyant, for what seemed no particular reason. It felt like a return to a fairly customary state. I ran into a riotous and friendly new colleague in the break room and had an entertaining conversation with her, and thought, “Ah, this isn’t so bad.” I forgot for an hour or two at a time that I’m dying of cancer. I started to take some online classes in tools that I’ll be using and got to make some nice new documents, with tables of contents.

I called David and Lisa yesterday evening and told them about my biopsy (which will be this afternoon), and I told them the good news that while dying of cancer builds character, having a friend die of cancer really builds character.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

An Unrefreshing Trip to the Future

Yesterday morning I talked with Sarah G. and she said that the radiologist said that the calcifications may or may not be new—they might be the ones that were seen last December and in June. However, they look different. For one thing, they are in a cluster, which I recall is a bad sign

My mid-day errands took me to the neighborhood where I used to work, near
MOMA and Yerba Buena Gardensthe latter has beautiful grounds and often features outdoor concertsand I was struck by how lively the scene was, what varied costumes people were wearing, how not every face looked twisted with stress. It’s also literally brighter over there. My new work neighborhood, amid all the tall buildings, is dark and gloomy and 90 percent of pedestrians are wearing sober business clothes and definitely don’t look happy or engaged.

After work, I picked up a pile of clothes from Sunny Launderette and noticed that Sally looked unusually polished. “You look very nice today,” I said, but she corrected me: “Every day!”

Unfortunately, Sunny Launderette is affording inconsistent results. One shirt retrieved recently was coated inside with some kind of white synthetic fur, and the pants I picked up yesterday, one of my very few pairs of work pants, were splotched with pale drips. I called Sally when I got home and said I’d bring the pants back in for examination, but I’ve decided not to bother and just to walk the five extra blocks to Pete’s, on 24th St. Pete’s takes many days to process an item, but everything looks superb. Maybe Sunny Launderette is trying to do things faster than is really possible.

I made it to Howie’s, though he himself wasn’t there (Tom Moon was subbing), and I didn’t tell anyone about my impending biopsy. I feel kind of ashamed of it, like I’ve failed in some way, and I also fear that if I tell people, they’ll think, “Wow, this chick is going to die of breast cancer,” because that’s what I myself think. The only person there who knew was C., who was sort of at my side and sort of not. Reliable support is not going to come from that sector. Thanks go here to the kind-hearted Charlie, who even from many rows behind me divined that something was wrong and asked at the end of the evening, “Are you sure you’re all right?”

While we sat, I was in tears, partly Tom Moon’s fault, because in one guided meditation, he asked us to think of someone who loves us unconditionally, to think of some problem we have, and to think of that person sending support and kindness. I thought of my father and the news he heard Monday night. I pictured my parents, whom I can visualize so clearly in their customary places in their house in Ypsilanti, and I missed them so much and I felt so sad.

I thought of a black and white photo of my father at 24, holding aloft a baby and looking at her with delighted amazement, and how my father and mother will soon have to bury that same baby. How terribly sad! Uh, can I have departed from the present moment? That this may possibly be happening has been pointed out by both C. and Tom. Pretty lousy day, self-inflicted.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Calcification Tribulation

Yesterday morning I had my yearly mammogram, which was administered by a large woman whose sleeves were a dazzling brilliant violet. I sat in the waiting room afterward for a time and was called back for two more pictures. I asked if the first ones had not been clear, but the technician said they had been clear and that the radiologist just wanted more pictures, so this was in effect an immediate follow-up, with one of the pictures being quite painful, as with last year’s follow-up mammogram, which was one of the most disagreeable parts of the entire thing.

I sat in the waiting room again and after a bit was instructed to get dressed and wait to meet with a nurse. While I was sitting near the reception desk waiting to speak with the nurse, I saw the technician looking at me through a glass panel with what appeared to be naked pity.

I met with Sarah G., the same person who gave me the news last year that I had cancer, and she told me that there were calcifications seen in my six-month mammogram in June, but they were thought to be near the tumor site and not of it. However, the calcifications have changed since June and now a biopsy is needed, which is scheduled for Thursday, one year to the day from my lumpectomy.

I rode my bike downtown to have lunch at Ananda Fuara and sat over my dal and naan with tears dripping down my face, feeling wholeheartedly sorry for myself. I pictured C. walking around after I’m gone, which seemed very unfair: why does he get to live and I have to die? Of course, everyone will die. It’s not a special punishment reserved for the few. But 50 seemed way too young until I thought again of the children in Newtown. I guess if 20 six-year-olds can die, 50 is not too young at all. I consulted my Grandma Lee in heaven, who assured me everything would be all right. However, upon being pressed, she allowed that that didn’t necessarily mean I wasn’t going to die.

I’d scheduled my mammogram and one-year visits with my surgeon and radiation oncologist on the same day so I could just take the whole day off work and do all three appointments, so after lunch, I rode back to the medical campus and saw Dr. P., my surgeon. He already had my mammogram results and before he came into the examination room, I could hear him on the phone discussing my case with the radiologist. When Dr. P. joined me, he said that last year there were calcifications besides the cancerous ones, but of the kind they don’t worry about because they are always benign. But now there are calcifications that need to be checked as they couldn’t be made to “layer,” meaning they don’t appear to be in fluid. Evidently, if they are in fluid, they are not of concern. He said that what was seen today could be scar tissue, which can be not present at six months after surgery but present at 12 months, and it could also be that the calcifications were in fluid that has drained away. He said there are many possible explanations. I was not at all reassured.

Next I rode across town yet again to see my radiation oncologist, who said that three times lately there has been an abnormal mammogram that a biopsy showed to be not a problem—what looks worrisome could simply be benign changes in the breast due to the surgery or the radiation treatment. Because I had intraoperative radiation with my lumpectomy, if the biopsy shows DCIS again, I could choose a lumpectomy and external radiation this time, whereas if I’d had external radiation last year, and then had a recurrence (which I might be having), I’d have to have a mastectomy. If I’m having a recurrence, I can still choose a mastectomy, and if it’s invasive cancer this time instead of DCIS, likely I’d have to have chemotherapy.

I suppose there is no age at which death is welcome. Even if I were 99, the age my Aunt Mary was when she died, I still wouldn’t be excited about it
(though my Aunt Mary said she was pretty much ready to go). I thought about something Phillip Moffitt said when I was on retreat this year: “Something doesn’t have to last forever to have worked.” (He was referring to my relationship with C.)

Having learned from last year’s experience, this time I told many fewer people about the mammogram results. I very much appreciated all the support, but I ended up having to update 20 or so people every time something else happened.

Not long ago, I was telling Deborah that, when I think about it, I find it highly disconcerting that there is anything at all instead of nothing, and prefer to avoid pondering the matter—it makes me feel like I’m going crazy—though it is comforting that there are scientists who purport to be able to explain it. I think she said, “But isn’t it great that all this stuff is here?” I wasn’t in that mood at the time, but lately I have been: how miraculous that out of nothing should have come a purple marker! And this letter opener with a handle shaped like a giraffe’s head! And five trillion cars and paneer makhani and quite a bit of other stuff.

That feeling of marveling at creation was fitting nicely with my exuberance about having gotten a job. Life seemed wholly remarkable and enjoyable. Even when bad things occurred, I was thinking with a certain kind of delight, “Wow! I didn’t know this was going to happen. How amazing!” Howie sometimes uses the Sanskrit word “emaho” to express this joyful sense of wonder.

Since yesterday’s bad news, however, I have felt sad, scared and alone. I also am starting to not be so sure about my new job. It’s starting to look like once you learn it, that’s that, unlike my old job, which stretched my brain all the time. And I work in an atmosphere where the sole motivation for getting out of bed for most people can only be money, which was also true in my old job, but I think is even more the case in this department, and so, based on the evidence of one rather imperious phone call I received in error from another company employee, I decided that I’ve landed in a sea of jerks, though I will say that doesn’t seem to be true of my own team at all, thank goodness. My peers and manager seem entirely pleasant and relaxed, so further investigation is warranted.

In any event, I can hardly quit now, though I did tell myself that if it turns out I can actually buy my own health insurance one of these days, once the next round of medical attention is over, I have permission to quit this job and find something that brings more joy. I know finding a job while already working isn’t feasible, since it was pretty much impossible even while not working.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Hyderabad Headbanger

In the end, I decided to stick with the most direct route out of the parking garage, and on Friday morning, took the elevator nearest the bike rack up to the lobby, wished the two security guards a good morning, and walked past them to the loading dock without incident. Maybe, after all this, in that building they don’t care who uses the bike racks.

During my downtown bike parking research, I ended up at the garage where I used to park nearly a decade ago and could hardly believe that one of the attendants was still there! Imagine parking cars for ten years. However, he looked fantastic, which I told him, and he beamed. (Someone in that garage, probably him, once tried to prevent me from parking there because I didn’t work in the building.)

I’ve been introducing myself to the various lobby guards in my own building, most of whom are friendly, but one of whom looked startled and not too happy when I extended my hand. However, one recent night when I left, he was on duty, and I said, “Aaron, right?” and he lit up completely and said, “Wow! Are you a memory champion? Are you going to be in a memory contest?” Smiles all around.

I heard back from the person at the Municipal Transportation Agency (MTA) and it appears that garage operators are free to discriminate against cyclists: even if anyone is welcome to park his or her car in the garage, bike parking can be restricted to tenants of the building.

Friday was also the day of my department’s holiday lunch, at a nice hotel downtown. I was seated by a pleasant-looking young Indian woman and across the table from someone extraordinarily nosy who in about ten minutes determined my relationship status, where my apartment is, who I live here with, what I pay in rent, and my educational background.

The Indian woman, hearing that I have a degree in music, told me that she loves music and took guitar lessons in India for a while. “What kind of music did you want to play?” I asked.

“Heavy metal,” she said.

Surely I had heard wrong, or the term is used in India to mean something else. “Heavy metal? Like—?”

“Metallica. I think Metallica is great.”

The shooting in Newtown also happened that day, which cast a pall over the rest of the day, and in the evening, C. and I had dinner at Esperpento.

Yesterday I packed up a bunch of stuff to return to Lands’ End and LL Bean and took it to a mailing place, a project that took hours. Lately, with all the coming and going of merchandise, it’s starting to look like a hoarder lives in my walk-in closet, and I feel a little breathless with anxiety every time I enter it. The annual SantaCon event had rolled around again, when many people dress up like Santa for a pub crawl. Even though it was rainy and miserably cold, Santa was everywhere, including on Castro St. wearing only red furry shorts and cowboy boots, waving frantically for a cab. One has to admire how no amount of personal discomfort will deter some from being part of a spectacle. I had a pleasant Santa evening of my own, when C. came over for a dinner of salmon burgers and apples.

I’ve been quite upset about the children in Newtown, in tears now and then. I considered sending a condolence card to the family of each child, and imagined writing, “I would do anything to bring your child back. If I could trade my life for hers, I would,” and then pondered if that was true and realized it was. I’m already 50, and they were just six. It’s heartbreaking to think of them going off to school in their brightly colored little-kid clothes and their families never seeing them alive again, never again hearing their voices.

Friday, December 14, 2012

The Best Thing Ever

Last Saturday morning after a solid nine hours of sleep that I was very thankful for, I stretched, meditated, took a shower, and tried on another crop of shirts from Lands’ End. Besides being a period of rushing back and forth to Sunny Launderette constantly, there has also been much frenzied online shopping, which isn’t that much fun, but I’m grateful that it’s necessary. When I was employed before, it didn’t seem thrilling and fabulous, but after having been displaced, having a job seems exhilarating and remarkable, the best thing ever.

In the evening, Gen and Tom and I had dinner at Thai House on Valencia (it was OK) and saw Skyfall, which was spectacular.

On Sunday I did my cooking, and C. and I had dinner at La Santaneca.

Frustrated with the shortage of bike parking in my own building, this past Wednesday morning, I followed another cyclist into the garage at 300 California St., where there proved to be a capacious bike cage, but, as is often the case, not for just anyone. The attendant said it’s only for people who work in the building and might have given me the door code if I’d thought in time to lie. Normally, despite being a major exaggerator, I’m firmly opposed to lying, but this is one case where I would probably do it, out of desperation. I consider it a moral wrong to withhold bike parking.

I ended up underneath 350 Sansome St., where there were five potential spaces, three unoccupied. At lunchtime, clutching a list of downtown parking garages, I walked around doing reconnaissance and found another good possibility nearby, plus an excellent one three blocks away, plus I visited the garage in my own building and saw there were actually a couple of spaces still open, so maybe that will work out, after all.

At the end of the day Wednesday, I went into the building that I thought was sitting atop my bike, took the elevator to the garage, and wandered for a while in an increasing state of anxiety around the creepy, low-ceilinged, extensive maze—trapped forever in the parking garage? Did the door seal up and vanish after I came through it? It took me a while to find my bike, and before I did, an attendant raced by in someone’s car at alarming speed. This is not a pleasant place, but the bike rack is near the attendants’ booth, and there were still only three bikes there including mine.

Of course I’d thought of storming into the office of my own building and unfurling a printout of the secure bike parking ordinance, but I really wouldn’t want Takworth to hear about militant action on my part, so I’ll have to be more delicate and imposed upon myself a cooling-off period of one week during which I won’t say anything to anyone in the building office about anything.

Yesterday morning I parked in the horrible dungeon again and took the nearest elevator up to the lobby, which was not the same elevator I used after work Wednesday or yesterday to get down to the garage. Probably there are four or five street addresses involved, all told, and any number of ways to get to or from the bike rack: up or down the ramp, using the elevator in Building A or the elevator in Building B.

The attendants in the garage are ignoring me completely so far, which is good, but I’m a little worried about getting out of the garage in the morning. I’ve been taking the elevator nearest the bike rack to the lobby and exiting to the loading dock, which puts me closest to my own building, but this means passing right by the lobby guard. The fact that I then immediately leave the building must make it pretty obvious that I’m an interloper.

Alternatively, I could walk up the ramp, which would prevent any lobby security guard from seeing me directly, but it’s technically forbidden and might be noticed on a monitor, leading to a conversation that might end with my being asked not to park there. I could also use the elevator that is farther away—the same one I use to get back to my bike after work—but that is less direct and means more walking around the parking garage, where the young attendants drive as if they’re at the Indy 500: kind of dangerous.

Regardless of the garage, here is another question: If there is a rack that I can physically roll right up to, do I have as much right to use it as any motorist has to park his or her car in that garage? I called the Municipal Transportation Agency (MTA) and someone called me right back and agreed to research this question.

Saturday, December 08, 2012

Incisive Interviewing Technique

After ordering several more pairs of LL Bean pants like the ones I have, I discovered that they are on the verge of being too short now that they have been washed, so then I had to order the same thing but two inches longer and will have to continue running to Sunny Launderette morning and night for the time being.

Earlier this week, one of our two administrative assistants at work (such a luxury—where I was before, we had only one, and no matter what you asked her to do, she said she wouldn’t do it) took my picture to use on my card key. I received the badge today and was surprised at how large my face looked. Also, I’d taken a peek at the photo right after the admin took it and thought my hair looked quite voluminous, so was pleased but slightly baffled that on the finished product, my hair appeared reasonably tidy.

To me, my face looked just as it did when I weighed more than 200 pounds, which I couldn’t make any sense of and finally concluded that I’m completely incapable of seeing myself objectively in a mirror. Then I realized that in the photo, I’m wearing an outfit I no longer even own. It’s a photo that was taken years ago, found lingering in the system! The admin asked if I’d like to have my badge feature the new photo, and I said I would, but that I didn’t want to give her any hassles, so I’ll stick with what I’ve got. Which maybe is all to the good. I certainly look young in the old photo. Probably if I had the newer one, I’d be unhappy because I look wrinkly.

San Francisco locations of my company typically give each employee a fancy but highly unyielding chair, and populate conference rooms with a simpler, less expensive chair from the same company. I think the latter is much more comfy, so I have always just taken one from a conference room and used that instead. But in my new office we have only two conference rooms and this is a much fancier, more formal operation, and I’m pretty sure purloining a conference room chair would not be the thing to do, especially since everyone who walks by my cube can see my chair (not to mention my monitor and everything on my shelves).

The chair in my cube is neither of the above. It’s a Steelcase of some sort and at first, it seemed fine, but after a day or two, my legs started to hurt, and I started to worry about it a little. Then I was visiting our incredible admin, not the one who took the photo but the high-fiving one, and she pulled up a spare chair for me to sit in: a conference room chair! Next, without my having said a word about it, she asked “Is the chair in your cube comfortable?” and said I’m welcome to have her spare chair if I prefer! At this point, I think I’m starting to bond with the Steelcase, but the universe seems to be showering me with gifts lately.

I sent the folks at my temporary assignment a fond goodbye note and got some nice replies, including one from an SME (subject matter expert) who thanked me profusely and said if I ever need a reference, he’d be happy to help. I also thanked J. for not getting mad at me for sorting the header row into our master spreadsheet ten or so times.

Yesterday was the last official day of my short-term job. I walked to Chef Jia’s after work, passing elegant-looking people in fancy establishments along the way. David had come from Seattle to join Lisa, and we had dinner with Tom, Terry and Nancy, Pete, and another couple. I was seated next to Terry and we had a great chat, bonding over our shared dislike of the new Golden Gate Park bike lane arrangement. After the plates formerly holding pot stickers had been bare for a while, Terry announced, “It’s my understanding that if you don’t place an order, they don’t bring you any additional food,” which was funny.

After dinner, the party headed to a café for further repartee, but just then my two weeks of crappy sleep decisively caught up with me—stuffing myself at Chef Jia’s probably didn’t help—and I took a cab home, driven by a Pakistani who interrogated me about where I live and everywhere I formerly lived: “And before that? And before that?”

He also desired to know what I was going to do when I got home, if I had ever been to the 500 Club at 17th and Guerrero and, since not, why not? I told him I’d gotten sober in AA at the age of 17 and shared a lurid anecdote or two, at which he murmured, “My goodness.”

And when someone threatened to slow our progress, he grumbled, “Come on, man,” which is precisely what I say when I’m on my bicycle in the same situation, so he was quite the kindred spirit. I also like to ask one nosy question after the other.

Wednesday, December 05, 2012

Pithy Imaginary Remarks

Before I started work in my new building, I called the building office (twice, being me) to discuss bike parking and was assured they have plenty in their parking garage, in what should be a secure location.

I rode my bike downtown yesterday, all dressed up—it felt triumphant, joyful—and discovered that the bike parking, as stated, certainly is secure. You have to pass an attendant to get to it, and it’s within earshot of the attendant, and you’d have to pass back by the attendant to exit the garage with the bike you’d just stolen. However, the parking wasn’t a rack attached to the ground, but wobbly hooks you have to lift your bike up to.


It so happens that right now my left elbow and right shoulder are killing me such that I can barely hoist a mug of tea without wincing. As I was standing there brooding over what to do, a woman I know happened to come along and showed me her technique for lifting her bike up to the hooks, which is difficult for her, too, but she also told me there was more bike parking farther down the ramp.


Sure enough, around the bend was a huge (nearly empty) locked bike cage with a posted warning not to lock your bike to the outside of it, but also a rack bolted to the ground nearby, so I parked there. However, there were only a couple of spots left once I’d parked, so I went to the building office and spoke to Diane there, who was very nice and who made a note that they need more bike parking in the form of a rack attached to the ground, for us old fogies.


Just like that! When I think of what I’ve gone through in the past vis a vis bike parking ...


It helps that there is now a law in San Francisco that every commercial building must provide bike parking, and if secure parking is not available, tenants may bring their bicycles right up to their cubes or offices. However, that is something the commercial tenant must request, not the individual Joe Schmöe, and there is obviously no way I’m going to ask Takworth, my brand-new manager, who isn’t even in San Francisco, to press this for me, so I was delighted with Diane’s response.


When I first got a job at this company, in 1998, I felt I’d sold my soul. I remember literally crying about it once when talking to my mother on the phone. So many times in the following years, I fretted that I should have a more meaningful job, that it was wrong to continue with work that was primarily a trade of time for money, albeit one where I got to use my brain and one I often enjoyed.


But now, at 50, having experienced a major health issue or two, I am fully at peace with the idea of swapping hours for money and benefits, and yesterday was feeling thrilled to have this job, on top of which I will get to use my brain and, I hope, enjoy what I’m doing.


The company will no longer provide Microsoft Ergonomic keyboards, so I brought my spare from home and plugged it in, but discovered it’s noticeably louder than the one supplied, so I took it home again. I don’t want my new neighbors to hate me right away. It’s OK if they come to despise me after they know me better, but I don’t want to alienate them in my first week.


Yes, gone is the highly self-entitled employee who didn’t hesitate to close a manager’s office door if he/she was on speakerphone with the door open. (Trying to get some work done out here, people!) To quote my mother again, who in turn was quoting whomever, “The sooner you accept the unacceptable, the happier you’ll be.” I accept that I hear a loud noise.


I brought more food along yesterday, and I was entirely happy.


I went to say hello to our wonderful administrative assistant, D., today but found her on the phone. She turned up at my cube later to see what I’d needed. Just coming to see how her day was going, I told her, and she taught me the office’s special high-five in response.


Down to two pairs of pants I can wear to work, I’m now visiting Sunny Launderette morning and night, dropping off a pair of pants before work and picking them up after work. One of the shirts I got back had unsightly wrinkles ironed into it, so I made an inquiry and Sally explained that to wash and iron a shirt costs an economical $1.75, but if you want it ironed so there aren’t wrinkles in it, that’s $3.25. (Actually, that’s not quite fair—if the shirt happens to come out of the machine looking good, fine. For shirts that don’t happen to accord with the machine’s idea of how a shirt should be shaped, Sally fixes it by hand afterward.)


This morning I went to a downtown hotel for a giant meeting run by a boss several levels above me. They always share some interesting statistics at these things, plus the cutest guy in the entire company, who normally works from home an hour north of here, came in and sat right next to me.


After that, I went on to my own office. I’m still quite in arrears on sleep, which might explain the dip my mood took today when I realized I’ve joined the suits in the financial district. My former job was in a groovy sector South of Market and I wore t-shirts, baggy homemade cotton pants, and filthy tennis shoes to it every single day, and didn’t particularly stand out, or so I preferred to think. People near me were also wearing t-shirts and tennis shoes (though they cheated by purchasing their pants). As I trod the silent hallways today, I thought again of C. and how foreign he would find the whole thing.


I’ve discovered that, despite the year it had off, the motorist- and cyclist-lecturing voice in my head isn’t one bit rusty. It seems to be in top form, thinking of pithy remarks to deliver in imaginary circumstances. To counteract that, I’m doing metta practice when I walk around outside and even in my office, silently wishing happiness for each person I pass. Howie says he used to walk around thinking, “May you be happy. I love you! May you be happy.”

Tuesday, December 04, 2012

Strangely Strange

Despite two cups of chamomile tea made with two teabags apiece and a squirt of valerian at bedtime, I woke up at 2 a.m. or so Monday morning and never went back to sleep. While I was awake I read the final page of the second Wiegers book, at least. I’d planned to ride my bicycle downtown but had too much stuff to schlep with me, so I took a cab and gave the driver an astronomical tip to bring me good luck my first day on the job.

It was strangely familiar and also strangely strange to be back in a cubicle farm. This one is located in the heart of the financial district, and is very, very quiet, and people are definitely more dressed up than at my former job, though not quite in business wear. I don’t have a window cube, but I’m not far from a large window, so it’s fine in that respect.

The administrative assistant who has been so kind and welcoming and who has handled so many details for me helped me with more stuff, and stopped by in the afternoon to say hello and see what I needed. She didn’t say “Do you need anything?” but rather “What do you need?”, which I thought was nice. She’d left office supplies in my cube and a mug with the company logo on it—my favorite company! On top of everything else, against all odds, my pal Venkata works in this very group now.

Igby, my one peer in this location, was also friendly, and told me how much she likes our boss, who strikes her as being very down to earth. She says the group is flexible about hours and comings and goings, which she thinks is important—because you work for many years of your life, you should love your job, she said.

In my interview, my manager-to-be, Takworth, asked for my thoughts on working with difficult people, because he said his group works with some. I happen to be an expert on that, because my former group was home to the world’s biggest jerk. However, I’m delighted that this time, evidently, the difficult person isn’t in my own group.

Of course, I felt beyond dreadful from lack of sleep, but Takworth isn’t giving me anything to do this week. I get to spend it wrapping up the temporary position, so I didn’t have to strain my head. Igby mentioned that she uses Excel, and a warm glow suffused me: my friend works here!

I discovered I’d lost the final crucial five pounds that were keeping my formerly rather nice-looking thrift store work pants up, so at lunchtime, I rushed to Macy’s to buy a belt. I also was starving three hours before quitting time, long after my lunch was safely tucked inside me. I’d forgotten how famishing sitting in a cube can be.

It was strange to be so far from C. The geographical distance isn’t great, but it’s two different worlds in every other way. I left him a quick voice mail from a conference room and felt as if I were phoning another planet.

After work, I met Lisa C. at Esperpento and she treated me to a super-yummy celebration dinner: spicy potatoes, grilled asparagus, roasted eggplant and a delectable sautéed cabbage dish. It was so good, and that was so lovely of her.

I’ve decided the idea of reading if one can’t sleep is not a good one, though I’m also recalling that you’re not supposed to do it while lying in bed. You’re supposed to go sit in a chair so that your bed remains primarily associated with sleeping. But I think I’m better off just lying there awake, so I did that last night when I woke up at 3 a.m., and did go back to sleep after a bit, and felt rather better today.

I remembered that the too-large pants I wore yesterday are the smallest of my four pairs of thrift store pants, so I tried on the others first thing today, and sure enough, I can’t leave the house in any of them. Even with the new belt deployed, the effect was strange—I see now that the placing of belt loops is a fine art—but fortunately, I have a new pair of LL Bean pants I was planning not to wear until I compared them with the next larger size, so I wore those, and they were perfect. Oh! Indeed they are called Perfect Fit, and they are comfortable and look nice.

Monday, December 03, 2012

SpongeBob Brings Characteristic Good Humor to New Opportunity

The Five Remembrances, which for a while were making me feel gloomy, are starting to infuse my life with joy and relief.

—I am of the nature to grow old—there is no way to escape growing old.

—I am of the nature to have ill health—there is no way to escape ill health.

—I am of the nature to die—there is no way to escape death.

—All that is dear to me and everyone I love are of the nature to change. There is no way to escape being separated from them.

—My actions are my only true belongings. I cannot escape the consequences of my actions. My actions are the ground upon which I stand.


This isn’t bad news. It’s great news, liberating news. If ill health, old age and death can’t be avoided, then I don’t have to waste time and energy trying to do that. Now, I might not want to actively try to bring them on by adopting an all pork rinds diet—I’d like to feel semi-well while I am in fact alive—but that I’m aging or have become ill doesn’t mean I’m failing. These things are supposed to happen, so I can relax.

Likewise, I don’t have to strategize about how to hang onto this or that forever—I can’t. One way or another, we will be separated.

Unrelated to this, I’ve lately changed the object I use for mindfulness meditation. Forget the breath. I’m sick of wrestling with it, despite the instructions being simply to observe the breath and to notice the associated sensations without trying to alter them. This is impossible. I don’t think that in 20 years I’ve taken an observed breath that I didn’t subtly try to alter in some way, trying to make it more exciting or more soothing or a little more noticeable.

At some point, noticing the breath at my nostrils began to give me a headache, which is not uncommon, and since then—and this was many years ago—I’ve tried a variety of different things, including attending to the breath in the belly and/or chest. I once heard a woman say she attends to the breath in her feet, which is perfectly legitimate. Every breath does affect our entire body, however subtly. After that, I tried the feet myself, but found it gave rise to increased thinking, as if my head was seizing the opportunity of my attention being five feet to the south to get up to some mischief.

I got some great advice from Phillip Moffitt on this at my retreat in August, but lately I finally decided to let go of the breath completely and just use the heart center—chest area—as my object, and that is working quite well. I often remember Andrea Fella’s words about thinking of attention on our object as if it’s a float resting on gently moving water: contact at all times, but so easy—the natural effect of gravity, no forcing or pressing required.

Sitting in meditation is a chance to practice consciously resting my attention somewhere, improving the odds that I’ll remember to act with conscious intention now and then when not sitting. I actually am noticing an improved ability to be aware of some physical sensation while speaking with someone else, which makes it easier to choose how to respond rather than simply doing what is habitual.

Often these days I feel completely contented, as if absolutely nothing is missing, nothing additional is required. As I read in a Buddhist magazine lately, maybe Tricycle, “In order to learn to be truly content here, you have to practice being truly content here.”

It’s been raining for days, with some periods of torrential downpour, such that when it’s merely raining, it seems like fantastic weather. I’ve heard seagulls outside my window, which is unusual, and also have discovered that the fellow who built the trillion-dollar house out back forgot to include drains for the flat portions of his roof, which have had standing water on them ever since it started raining.

Recalling the Seattle adage that there’s no such thing as bad weather, just improper clothing, I suited up yesterday morning and went to Rainbow, only to find it was closed due to flooding.

I’ve engaged two guards for the top of my new printer. SpongeBob’s lolling stance is somewhat eroding the professionalism of my home office, but he and his colleague are getting the job done, and he certainly does look happy.


Sunday, December 02, 2012

Back from the Brink

Friday was another frenzied day of accomplishment, doing my current job, addressing some details related to the new job (which I’m more and more excited about), and ordering more shirts from Lands’ End and Eddie Bauer. At lunch, I rushed out and mailed a package, visited the hardware store for sandpaper for my new 2x4s, bought some cheap earrings at Walgreens for a girly touch on my first day of work, and celebrated my re-employment by picking up the four main gossip magazines. The last I saw, Rob was refusing to take Kristen back, but now they’re having a baby! Then I went to Community Thrift and dropped off Barbara Sher’s I Could Do Anything If I Only Knew What It Was, and the most recent What Color Is Your Parachute? Both are brand new, I don’t need to read them now (thank god), and someone else can undoubtedly use them. It was a good feeling to hand those books over.

Now that I’m getting emails about what printer to map to and how to get my card key and what do I want to eat at the holiday luncheon, it’s sinking in more and more that I really have a job. I was never in danger financially, but I still feel as relieved as if I’d been pulled back from the very brink of an abyss. I’m cured of taking employment for granted and plan to do every possible thing to retain this job.

After work, I did laundry and C. came over to have a salmon burger on toast for dinner. I hadn’t seen him since last Saturday evening, and I was moving at such a fast and stressed-out pace, it was all but guaranteed that we’d have a conflict, and we certainly did, though this time, when he announced he was going to go home, that sounded all right to me. I said, “OK,” and walked toward the door to open it for him.

Then he said something along the lines of, “Oh, all right, I’ll stay,” as if I’d begged him to do so, which was kind of cute. By the way, I can address this here with relative freedom because C., in keeping with his disavowal of computers, doesn’t visit here. Of course, only the merest fraction of the details of this highly volatile friendship are posted here.

Friday night was my fifth night in a row of poor sleep, nicely timed to coincide with my exploding to-do list. I recalled someone once asking Eugene Cash what he would recommend for periods of insomnia. He said that reading the Buddha’s sutras (sermons or aphorisms) might help, which got a laugh, though Eugene hastened to add, no doubt somewhat tongue in cheek, “They can be very soothing.”

I’ve read that you shouldn’t use your bed as a place to read or watch TV, but I’ve also heard that you shouldn’t lie there staring at the inside of your eyelids indefinitely, either. If it were a case of not being able to fall asleep in the first place, I’d get up and have a squirt of valerian, which almost always helps, but this is a case of waking up in the wee hours unable to fall asleep again. Taking valerian at 4 or 5 a.m. would produce grogginess during the day, so I tried Eugene’s advice, except with Wiegers’ second book, which worked like a charm.

Accordingly, I’ve installed Bhikkhu Bodhi’s In the Buddha’s Words: An Anthology of Discourses from the Pali Canon by the side of the bed for when I’m done with Wiegers, which will be very soon. I was on the verge of taking the Bhikkhu Bodhi book to the thrift store as something I’d never get around to reading, and it should be perfect for this purpose. (The Pali Canon, according to the Internet, is the standard collection of scriptures in the Theravada Buddhist tradition, as preserved in the Pali language. Vipassana or mindfulness meditation is associated with the Theravada tradition. Your eyelids are growing heavy … )

On Saturday I installed a replacement water filter and went to pick up my three shirts from Sunny Launderette. I thought she’d quoted me $5.25 per shirt, and was prepared to pay $15.75 for the three, but it turned out that the $5.25 was for washing and ironing all three shirts. In the late afternoon, Lisa M. came to visit from Berkeley and we had a great chat and a good dinner at Café Ethiopia. When I got home, I installed my new printer. The top of the former printer was not a place a cat would want to sit, but the top of the new one very much is, so I need to think of some way to discourage that.