Monday, February 22, 2016

Incremental Collaborator

Valentine’s Day was F.’s and my one-year anniversary. Traditionally, our anniversaries (this or that number of months) have not been harmonious and this one wasn’t entirely, either, but since we didn’t actually break up in the course of the day, it was a success. The day before, we went to Tommy’s Joynt for lunch, a place I’ve seen hundreds of times but never visited. I had a sandwich that consisted of a huge sourdough roll and a microscopic amount of kielbasa, nothing else. I think they must cater largely to tourists—one-time visitors—because I’ll never go in there again. The kielbasa was delicious, but nearly nonexistent. The potato salad was good.

Then we went to the Goodwill at Van Ness and Mission to get an item or two, and then to the park we visited a year ago. On Sunday, our actual anniversary, we walked to Whole Foods for ingredients and then F. made us potatoes and eggs for breakfast. In the evening, we had burritos from Taqueria San Jose.

Two years ago, I had a chair refinished; I posted a picture of it here. F. often sits on it, and so I have periodically reminded him to treat it with care. I was displeased to see a tiny gouge appear on the seat, and some minor scratches on one leg, but that’s not a tremendous amount of damage. Plus, one leg has come loose, but I figured that when the whole chair started to seem wobbly, I’d just have it fixed. 

Valentine’s Day evening I was going to sit down on this chair to put Hammett’s gel in his ear and was aghast to see a large area of deep gouges on the seat, as if someone had worked it over with an ice pick. It turns out that F. has taken to keeping his keys in his back pocket (where you would think they would also put deep gouges in his butt). That was unfortunate timing, casting a chill over the final waking hours of our anniversary, though I didn’t get angry. I partly mention it as another example of the type of large and/or unexpected expense a non-certified chaplain would be hard-pressed to cover.

This, therefore, is my plan. I’m going to read Ron Chernow’s giant book about George Washington and then his giant book about Alexander Hamilton, along with all my other unread books. In addition, I may or may not do some of the items on my to-do list. If the weather is nice, I may ride my bike to the beach pretty often. In a few months, I’ll go visit my parents. After that, I hope to do the summer unit (ten weeks) of CPE at TWMC. I have also been invited to interview for the summer unit of CPE at the Very Fantastic Medical Center (VFMC), so I hope one or the other will work out. After that, I’ll go on a retreat at Spirit Rock. And after that, I’ll start devoting myself to getting another job at the wonderful company that I love that is very full of nice people where I have worked for 17 years. I will have about a year to accomplish that before losing my seniority (i.e., annual vacation days).

If I can get another job there, which I was readily able to do after being laid off in 2012, I will conduct myself like a chaplain and also try not to be so lazy. If I can’t get another job there, then I’ll do something else.

When I was laid off in 2012, a friend told me to enjoy my time off. In some ways, I did, because that is when I started spending time with Carlos. But I was also preoccupied with my employment situation, and it cast a pall over time I could have enjoyed much, much more. This time around, I have felt much calmer, and I do intend to enjoy every second of these precious days when I don’t have to work. I feel completely certain that everything will fall perfectly into place. I feel quite at peace and I am also interested to see what serendipitous events may occur and how things will unfold. As I heard the movie director Richard Linklater say on NPR, “The unknown will be our incremental collaborator over time.”

Friday, February 19, 2016

Ultra Expensive

It turns out that having your mail held at the post office means that some days the carrier drops it off anyway, and when our building manager got home from making a trip to the post office to pick up all of our mail, it turned out that every item in the pile was addressed to her, with the whereabouts of two weeks’ worth of mail for the rest of us temporarily unknown. Accordingly, I visited the website for each of the three credit reporting agencies to put a freeze on my account, which costs $10 per agency. It looks like it costs $10 every time you place or remove a freeze, per agency, and you have to do all three because different lenders may use different agencies.

Then I walked over to the post office to get what appeared to be much less mail than I would have received in two weeks. Several nights ago, our building manager’s camera in the lobby picked up a riveting little video of the thief breaking into our boxes yet again, while his girlfriend checks our recycling bin for anything of interest, and then stands near it waiting for the thief to finish his work. It’s clear from the video that there wasn’t actually anything in any of our mailboxes. A couple of days later, we had another video of a different aspiring thief, who evidently noticed the camera and stood there for a moment or two as if he’d only paused to have a couple of drags of his cigarette, and then walked off. Yesterday I visited the post office again and picked up what should have been more than a week’s worth of mail, but was only a few pieces.


Because I had breast cancer and because of another case of cancer that occurred in my immediate family, my risk of ovarian cancer is elevated. There’s no real screening test for it, but my doctor is amenable to my having an ultrasound every 18 months or so to see how things look, and I did that in January. (Everything was fine.) These days, one procedure can result in as many as three bills: the service, the doctor’s time and expertise, and the “facilities charge.” My doctor sent me to a different place this time, and my portion of the facilities charge, namely 100 percent of it, was $1400!

I called my insurance to ask why this was so expensive. Since I’ve had breast cancer and my risk of ovarian cancer is somewhat elevated, I think this should count as preventive care, which under my plan is free, but the representative explained that precisely because there is cause for concern, it’s considered diagnostic. However, in the future, I can at least contact the provider and ask what the “negotiated rate” for the service is, bearing in mind that I’ll be paying 100 percent of it.

I also spoke with my doctor and she said she thought I had to go to the new place because my insurance is an HMO, but it’s actually a PPO. To her credit, she apologized profusely. Presumably I can go to the old place from now on, and she also said that every two years should be fine, rather than every 18 months.

Fortunately, at this moment, I can cover this bill, but it’s becoming clear that the economics of becoming a certified chaplain are not favorable. You can probably get a job as a chaplain at a hospice with just CPE (clinical pastoral education), but it’s going to be an hourly job paying $25 or $30 an hour, where you’re driving around to people’s houses, and I’m sure such jobs don’t come with health coverage. By the time I bought and insured a car and paid for my own health coverage, I’d be living perilously low on the hog.

Besides CPE, becoming certified requires about two years’ worth of education, give or take, which can probably be done not too expensively, but while in school, I would be living off my savings, which is an unappealing prospect.

I’m really starting to wonder why I should do all that education when I can be chaplain-like right now. For free! Thus I was slightly ambivalent when TWMC, which had been the place I was most hoping to do CPE, invited me to come for an interview. My first response was to call my mentor, Naima. I confessed that I was wobbling on the whole idea, and she said that’s fine—that all along the way, I might not be sure. The only thing she was emphatic about was that I must wear a jacket to the interview. She said you want to look friendly and approachable to the hospital patients, but professional when dealing with doctors or lawyers, so my next call was to my friend Ann Marie to see if she’d come shopping with me, and also tell me what to do with my hair.

I told Naima that I was inclined to go ahead with some CPE even if I don’t think I’m going to pursue certification. For one thing, I just want to do it, and for another, a few months of hands-on experience might make it clear that I must pursue chaplaincy as a career, whatever the cost, or might make the exact opposite clear. She agreed, so I called TWMC back and my interview is scheduled for about a week and a half from now.

Monday, February 15, 2016

A Happy Ending

I had my annual review last Tuesday and it turns out that my boss is not going to miss my sunshine. Generally, despite being kind of a slacker, I get good reviews, possibly because a degree of intelligence and efficiency go a long way toward canceling out or camouflaging these tendencies. Last year my boss drafted an extremely glowing review. Alas, by the time the year ended, he had moved on to another position within the company, and his boss finished the review, and savaged me. I figured that, since I’m not really the world’s best employee, I would accept the bad review gracefully. They’re right that I’m doing something wrong, even if they don’t know exactly what it is.

I worked for the boss who wrote my final review for about six months and we seemed to have a great relationship, so I was shocked when I got pretty much the same review as last year, except even worse. My boss mentioned that, since she wasn’t with us the whole year, she had needed to get input from her own boss. I thought I recognized some of those stylistic flourishes. In addition, I think they need to make the case that the decision to eliminate my position was well-founded. (Though, as my dharma buddy said, if they’re going to claim that my layoff was merely a business decision, wouldn’t it have been gracious of them to give me an admiring parting review?) 

This year as last, I have not been the most highly energetic employee, so I wasn’t sure how strong of a tone to take in discussing this write-up. Then I thought about how enraged my mother would be if she read it, made some notes reflecting my honest opinion, and presented all of my thoughts to my boss, and we did pretty much have an argument, albeit a courteous and quiet one.

She had presented all of my accomplishments as if someone else had done all the parts that involve thinking, which simply is not accurate. She actually said that I do well with simple, repetitive tasks, as long as all the details are carefully explained to me, which later caused even my normally calm father to make an exclamatory sound. In the course of my discussion with my boss, she said that, on the one hand, when I successfully completed one thing, she had only been with us for three months, so she didn’t really know anything about it, but, on the other hand, that after working with me for several weeks, it was clear to her that I’m incapable of analyzing data. So either she’s extraordinarily discerning, or completely lost in a fog. I didn’t point out that inconsistency. I just told her what I accomplished and what it took to accomplish it. This was by far the most disagreeable conversation I’ve ever had with any manager, or probably any colleague, in all of my 17 years at this company.

However, I know that, fairly or unfairly, sometimes we get praise and sometimes we get blame. In the end, she added some things to the review that made me feel much better, and I will also learn what I can from her observations, which I’m sure contain some grains of truth.

My last working day was last Friday. On Thursday, I sent this note to my team; I have changed the names to initials here:

Dear Colleagues,

It has been a pleasure and a privilege to be part of this splendid team. I have so enjoyed getting to know you.

Thank you, H., for hiring me in the first place. Thank you all for helping me get oriented when I joined the team and for all you have taught me in these years. Special thanks to V. for being a Remarkable QC Query Guru, and to C. for being my congenial next-door neighbor, and most of all to R.—my best friend at work, always there with a kind word and always ready to step in in a pinch.

Please say hello if the spirit moves you, and for those who have inherited any of my tasks, if questions arise, please feel free to get in touch—I am at your service and will always do anything I can to help.

(Bugwalk’s secret contact info here.)

With the best of wishes for each of you always, and with gratitude,

I had a number of very nice exchanges with colleagues in the month after I got my notice, and after I sent the above parting note, there were several more, plus I got a note from my boss which, in part, said, “Your professionalism during this transition has been nothing less than inspirational.”

So I feel extremely good about how I have conducted myself, though sorry to have received a review that makes it look like I’m an imbecile (less so after my boss’s edits). Yet something good happened there, as well, at the very end.

The day before my last day, I got a call from a co-worker who had inherited one of my reports, and I spent an hour walking him through it again. He asked if I’d had help developing it, but I had done it all myself. He expressed admiration, and I said that if he felt like it and had time, I would appreciate it if he’d say that to our boss, and he sent me this note, copying her:

“Thanks again for all your help in reviewing this report. It is a complex report with the links, various calculations, and the nice graphs that you created. Your Excel skill level is very high, something that you can leverage in the future.”

When I got home, I found that F. had left me five supportive phone messages. In the first, he was reminding me, whatever happened, just to relax, which was the exact advice I’d been giving myself. In the fifth, he offered to drop everything he was doing and rush across town to hold my hand, if needed. Between F. and my parents and my other friends and quite a number of my co-workers, I have felt an immense amount of love and appreciation in these past four weeks, and I really am grateful.

Tuesday, February 09, 2016

Big Mrs. Sunshine

This past Saturday, paying the lowest matinee prices, F. and I saw the Coen brothers’ movie Hail, Caesar! I’d wanted to see it partly due to its lush, saturated look in the trailer, and partly due to something funny Tilda Swinton says which turned out not to be in the actual movie, but it was generally enjoyable, anyway. Afterward we hung out at F.’s new apartment in the heart of the Tenderloin, followed by dinner at inexpensive Heung Yuen.

I let F. have the table he’s been using for his artwork here, and have ordered a new one to replace it, whose cost he and I will split.

After having so much togetherness in the weeks before he moved into his new place, we’re in a new phase where we can perhaps achieve a better balance between quantity and quality. At first I thought never ever having him over here again would be good, but have reconsidered. In the past week, he was here just one night, and that wasn’t enough.

Here I have to applaud his equanimous response when I said I was thinking of never having company again, and decry, once again, my own imprudence in even saying such a thing right after it happened to cross my mind. He really has mastered the art of not reacting right away, so he is a good teacher for me in more than one way: he pushes my buttons, giving me lots of excellent practice with that, and he also demonstrates what it looks like to decline to have your buttons pushed. This is only one of many good practices he has, including that when something bad happens, he immediately thinks, “I’m halfway through this, heading for the end.”

Per our prior arrangement, he left late Sunday morning to gather snacks and otherwise make ready to listen to the Super Bowl. It was a gorgeous, sunny day, and after the door closed behind him, I felt terribly lonely. Usually while I’m doing my weekend tasks in the kitchen, F. is in the living room working on a collage and knocking on the kitchen door frame every hour or so in search of an “affectionate embrace.” After he was gone Sunday, I lay in bed for about 15 minutes feeling extremely sorry for myself—alone on such a splendid day!—and then I gave Tom a call and found out he was on his way to the Oakland Museum of California, where the first Sunday of each month is free day, and that he was amenable to having company.

Or is that the California Museum of Oakland? It seems that either name could work. Anyway, it’s within sight of the Lake Merritt BART station,
it’s a museum about California that is located in Oakland, and we spent a nice educational afternoon there in the history wing. Did you know that Spain once considered itself to be the owner of a large swath of the United States? Me, neither!

Yesterday, our wonderful administrative assistant at work threw me a goodbye party. “We will miss you, lovely Bugwalk” was written on the conference room whiteboard, and we had refreshments and live music—one of my colleagues has been taking guitar lessons for several months. A co-worker who works from home all but about six days a year came in for the occasion, which was touching. I was surprised but pleased when she rushed up and threw her arms around me. (When another co-worker first heard about my getting notice, she put her arm around me and left it there for about ten minutes.) Our administrative assistant also made me a giant card with everyone’s good wishes written on it. I felt very loved and appreciated.

I was doing some research on the education needed for chaplaincy and am starting to think I sprang into action too fast. I will find out more as things evolve, but came upon an M.Div. offered by Naropa that would cost $70,000 for tuition. I (sort of) don’t mind living off my savings for two years, but spending my savings plus a hefty chunk of money on tuition is highly unappealing. I was recalling the question I was asking myself before I got my current job: How can I get an entry-level technical job without spending any money on education? Perhaps the question now is: How can I get a job that I can do whole-heartedly and that will cover my expenses without spending any money on education?

I am also considering that nothing can stop me from acting like a chaplain in whatever job I have. I can be kind and friendly and cheerful anywhere, which is exactly what I’ve been doing for the last three years and why I got such a nice going-away party. Someone at the party said, “We’ll miss your sunshine.” Come to think of it, maybe a big company is more in need of a self-appointed chaplain than a hospital is, since the latter is already full of do-gooders.

Sunday, February 07, 2016

Oldish Fart

Hey, did you know that Walgreens has a handsome AARP discount and also a monthly $3000 sweepstakes you can enter by calling or going online to take their survey about your recent shopping experience? And that it costs only $63 to renew your AARP membership for five years? And that you can become an AARP member at age 50, while you’re still young enough to wring every drop of pleasure out of it? Me, neither, until recently, when it has become my business to know such things. (I did know about being able to become an AARP member at 50. Possibly unlike most people, I signed up the minute I turned 50, but my membership lapsed after the initial period.)

I know you know that no two Walgreens stores are alike. Some are bigger than others, or cleaner, or sell way more stuff for tourists or way more office supplies. I go to various stores accordingly, including the one at Castro and 18th St., which saw the gay community through the multi-year siege of AIDS. There is a woman working there who is always friendly and helpful, and you can tell she loves her job and her customers. Last week she was wearing earrings made out of tiny Walgreens Balance Rewards cards.

It was she who, unsolicited, and with many apologies for daring to presume anything about my age, told me about the AARP discount, which is 20 percent off everything in the store except sale items on the first Tuesday of the month. I rushed home to renew my AARP membership, which will pay for itself in no time, and plan to make a list of what I need from Walgreens and wait until the first Tuesday of the month to buy it, now that I’m either in a career transition, retired, or in a lull between corporate positions, as the case may turn out to be.

Now, did you know that if you buy three of something at Pet Food Express, they’ll give you a fourth one free? If you go up to the counter with a multiple of eight of something, they give you 25% off automatically. Their price on the canned food Hammett eats is lower than Rainbow’s to begin with, so from now on I’m going to walk over to Pet Food Express to get his food, though some of the savings might be canceled out by the fact that a Whole Foods, with its enticing display of Garlic & Parmesan Plentils—the crunchy snack that tastes just like cheese but is vegan—is just across the street.

It occurred to me that after all this saving, I might actually have enough money to retire, which initially was a great feeling: from now on, I can do exactly what I feel like! However, this would definitely mean living very frugally. (It was also before I checked to see what my savings currently amount to.) I’ve already decided to eschew cabs unless utterly necessary, to take the bus up to see Carol Joy instead of going in a City CarShare car, to eat out less often. Meditation retreats and trips to see my parents or to Seattle to see friends and family are also likely to be less frequent.

F. has lately been looking for a new apartment and last Monday he moved into his new place. The past month, he was here nearly seven days a week, which I was hating more by the minute. Every single morning I got up, found something wet or greasy or covered with crumbs or hair in the kitchen, and six times out of seven commented on it, meaning that within five minutes of arising, I felt like a big jerk. Now and then I might succeed in keeping my mouth shut, but still felt put upon. For his part, after months of being extremely tolerant (while also leaving the exact same messes over and over), F. has made it clear he hates having the first thing he hears in the morning be a complaint, which is quite understandable.

After I helped him move, I came home to my empty apartment and felt a vast sense of relief and pleasure: all alone! Ahhhh! I tidied up and put some of his often-used items away, at least for the time being, and felt more relaxed with each passing moment. When I woke up the next morning, I felt great and there was nothing going on in the kitchen to change that. I started to think I’m not cut out for overnight company ever, but after a few days, I noticed something seemed to be missing: the sound of myself laughing, because the funny guy hadn’t been here, so we’ll see.

One reason I mention this is that F. is retired and lives on a modest income, and so I had been thinking about some things I was going to get for him when he got his new place, like a sturdy folding table similar to the one he uses here for his art projects. But now I feel very disinclined to do that. All of a sudden, after years when I often didn’t even glance at the total showing on a cash register or at my receipt, I’m scouring the town for bargains, and while I’m appreciating my own can-save spirit, contemplating decades of it is dispiriting. Therefore, today I started to think maybe I’m not quite ready to be an ex-corporate employee after all.

Saturday, February 06, 2016


The very first book I ever read by a dharma teacher was Stephen Levine’s Who Dies?, given to me by a friend in 1988, almost two years to the day before I met Howie and became his student. Stephen’s son Noah was rebellious and given to drug use and violence. After hitting bottom, he turned to meditation himself, and went on to give birth to the Dharma Punx, or Against the Stream, movement. Stephen Levine himself died less than a month ago.

Among Noah’s wild friends was Vinny Ferraro, who teaches in San Francisco. Thinking to expand my dharma horizons, on Friday night I went over to meditate with Against the Stream. They have a space at Folsom and 23rd St. where it appears Vinny is the main teacher, but other teachers are also featured.

I think there’s a stated age range which stops well short of my age, but I know people older than myself who say they go there and feel welcome. Generally speaking, there were a lot of young people—in their 20s or 30s—and they didn’t appear as well-heeled as the younger people at Howie’s, most of whom are probably tech workers.

I saw three people I knew from Howie’s, including one who was also there for her first time. I sat next to a woman I know from Howie’s, who asked what I do. I told her about the job I’m losing, and then, since we had plenty of time before the evening began, I told her about my aspirations in regard to chaplaincy, which were in fact faltering at that moment; I almost didn’t mention chaplaincy because of it. She told me there is a man who goes to Eugene Cash’s Sunday night meditation group who is a chaplain. We chatted on, and then she said, “Oh—and there he is.”

I went over and introduced myself to this Buddhist chaplain, who immediately agreed to chat with me further. He said his path to chaplaincy had been unorthodox (as mine will be, if it happens at all) and that it might be helpful to hear about, and also that if I get a CPE interview, he’ll be happy to help me prepare for it.

Vinny’s talk was on the five hindrances (grasping, aversion, sleepiness, restlessness, doubt), which he said he had “practiced with a monastic discipline.” He’s funny, and very colorful in expressing himself—a perfect teacher for his students, I imagine. He used a phrase I had heard verbatim from Steve Armstrong, a teacher I admire very much, and another couple of phrases that unmistakably pointed to Sayadaw U Tejaniya, so I felt right at home.

He talked about needing to sit in the fire, which caused me to realize that that is precisely what I’ve been hoping to skip in this career transition. The second I got my notice, I was off like a shot in the direction of chaplaincy. Now that I’m finding out more about what is involved, what the education might cost and how long it might take, and also since I added up my savings and found out they’re actually going down rather than up, there is definite emotional discomfort, which is highly undesired. I want this to be easy, not necessarily regarding tasks to be accomplished, but in feeling certain I’m going in the right direction, but I’m not certain of that. Plus, I did just lose a job that I considered to be an excellent one, and there is no way to avoid some difficult feelings about that. So I was inspired by Vinny’s reminder.

Regarding doubt, he offered that it can arise when love of ourselves or others falters, which I’d never heard before. I’m experimenting with sending myself metta (loving-kindness) when I feel doubt about my direction and it does seem to be rather helpful.

He said that he was in the group when Noah Levine went on his first long retreat in India, where they learned how England had colonized India and introduced the game of golf, failing to take into account the monkeys who found it good sport to run off with the little round balls. Chasing the monkeys was futile and the monkeys were easily able to climb fences, and so a new rule was adopted: wherever the monkey drops the ball, that’s where play begins anew. An excellent dharma reminder: Play the ball where the monkey dropped it.

Friday, February 05, 2016

Application Perturbation

A week after my mailbox was first broken into (also known as the day I found out I was losing my job), it was broken into again along with the mailboxes of others in the building, our brand new locks picked. We left a note for our mail carrier, Kerry (perfect name), to ring the bell when leaving our mail so that the building manager or I could run down and get it, but the very next day, according to her co-worker, she stopped work mid-route with chest pains and has not been seen since, so we’ve had a succession of substitute carriers, plus one or two more break-ins. The building manager, among other things, is an accomplished videographer, and has set up a camera to watch the mailboxes, but she’s also gone ahead and started the process of getting a metal gate for the entrance way.

On our block, on both sides of the street, there are only two buildings where you can walk right up to the mailboxes. Soon there will be just one. Until the gate is installed, we’re having our mail held and will pick it up a couple of times a week.


It turned out the neighbors’ bathroom window was open so far because it was broken in some way that caused it to go from being closed to being stuck open two feet. It has now been fixed, and I’m sure they are relieved.


I was happy to discover plenty of people complaining online about OSX scroll bars lacking up / down arrows. Unfortunately, the complaints date back to at least 2011, so I guess Apple is unmoved on this point.


At the start of the several days where I was feverishly writing and rewriting the essays for my CPE application, Hammett began to have diarrhea. Preliminary research suggested that he could be having problems with the methimazole (thyroid medication) in gel form; in pill form, it made him vomit. Someone said that once a cat is diagnosed with this condition, its lifespan is three to five years. I (while still typing) sank into grief: the best cat ever, soon to depart from this earthly plane! His little cat bed—empty! His other little cat bed—empty!

But after about four diarrheal deposits, things were back to normal, and Dr. Press said on the phone that he doubted the methimazole was the cause. I also remembered that he had said months ago that a cat treated with methimazole may very well live out its normal lifespan.


Along with the five essays, an updated resume is required for the CPE application. When I wrote my resume after being laid off in 2012, it took three months, but I didn’t have three months this time. I had less than an hour, so it was done in less than an hour, including soliciting and receiving Lisa C.’s excellent feedback.

The CPE application form that accompanies the five essays is two simple pages and I had gathered all the info for it, but I figured it was going to take several hours, on the last Friday in January, to email everything in and to mail a couple of checks for application fees, and I was right about that. You can download the form as a PDF or Word doc, but neither appeared to be something you could type into, so I filled out one form by hand, then copied it three times, then added information pertinent to the particular program, and then scanned the result. I emailed one of these to myself as a test and it was readable.

Meanwhile, Sam and Naima had both said to put all the essays into one document, but after I did that, what had been perfect formatting in each file got all screwed up.

Two of the places I was applying to to accept applications via email; the third said to mail the application, though there was also an email address listed. I sent an email asking if an electronic submission would be OK, but didn’t hear back from them right away, so I printed out my five essays plus my resume: 21 single-spaced pages. Unfortunately, the final five pages were unreadable. After threatening this for months, my printer was completely out of toner. Fortunately, I had a new toner cartridge in the closet, but I haven’t had this printer very long and couldn’t immediately figure out how to get the front cover open.

Meanwhile, I’d already emailed in a couple of applications and TWMC had responded instantly to say they were having problems viewing the application form—would I be so kind as to type into this Word doc? We had a very friendly exchange, making it now my first choice. Sam said that when he interviewed there, he immediately fell in love with the people and the program.

It turned out that it was perfectly possible to type into the Word form (probably the PDF, too). I just hadn’t tried hard enough. This was after I’d done all that copying and scanning, and about six hours into what I’d thought would take four hours, and by now I was very stressed out and I yelled at the aforementioned best cat on earth when he innocently walked over to try to help with the printer.

Finally, it was all done: applications typed, printed and signed; essays and resume properly formatted; checks written; envelopes addressed; postage amount determined; everything emailed and/or packaged up and dropped in the mailbox down the corner.

Thursday, February 04, 2016


The next morning, I called Naima to tell her I’d emailed my essays—all five—and she called me back and said two were ready to send in and the third was terrible and should be started over from scratch. She gave me page by page feedback and suggestions on the final two, the longest ones, and typing continued; also glancing at my work computer frequently and doing, with lightning rapidity, whatever needed to be done.

F. left early each morning and stayed away all day, sat in the other room when he was here, and ate dinners alone. It was a weird several days. I get some exercise every single day, except for when I’m visiting my parents, but I went four days without stepping outside. I wore the exact same baggy pants and t-shirt around the clock. My shoulders got more and more tight and I got more and more stressed out. F. came in for a certain amount of impatience, despite doing everything he could to support the process.


A rather jolting thing occurred about six feet from my bathroom window, which is where the bathroom window of my young neighbors is located. They have lived there for two years or so and it must be the world’s most harmonious relationship, because that space is identical to mine: a one-room studio. At all times, they have kept their bathroom window closed, or open no more than an inch. But all of a sudden, this window had been thrown open two feet or more, making it impossible not to see in.

For a while, I wondered if they had moved out and two other people had moved in without my noticing it, but no, I saw the exact same things on their windowsill. And now I could also see the back of the tall young man’s bald head as he perched upon the toilet. All this was fine, but isn’t bathroom window aperture preference a hard-wired personality trait? What could have happened?


Speaking of harmonious relationships, F. and I have done a much less good job of cohabiting in a small space than (as far as I can tell) my bathroom window neighbors. At first he was here just a couple of days a week, but it has crept up over the months. We are at opposite extremes of the orderliness spectrum and there have been many ill feelings on both parts these past 11 months, though not quite enough to overwhelm our fondness for each other. In many ways, he’s a wonderful boyfriend—loving, affectionate, accepting, hilariously funny—but that is hard to remember when I find, for what seems like the millionth time, a kitchen cupboard not quite closed, or specks of coffee on the floor, or a food container unsealed, or stuff that should be in the fridge sitting on the counter, not to mention a burner that is still lit long after cooking has ceased, or the refrigerator or the freezer door not quite closed, or sometimes four or five of the foregoing at once.

It is astounding what he manages not to notice, and I’m sorry to say that he has been the recipient of many a complaining or even shaming utterance. (Don’t worry, he does not read my blog unless I print an entry out for him.) For his part, he does not understand how three or four fresh scratches in someone’s hardwood floor,
let alone a not-quite-closed plastic container, could be more important than the feelings of an actual human being, and he has a point. On the other hand, I do kind of feel I’m entitled to have things the way I want them in the space for which I’m entirely financially responsible.

And so, back and forth, back and forth. We have gotten better at moving speedily through a conflict and putting it behind us. He’s much quicker to say if something is bothering him, and things appear to bother us both for a noticeably shorter time. However, every time I criticize him, I feel like the world’s worst person. My mental health professional, Deborah, creased her brow over this: “If you don’t feel good in the relationship, you need to get out of it.” She added that if I wanted to stay in it, I’d have to practice more acceptance and less criticism.

Now that I have embarked on the path toward chaplain certification, my failures have become even more painful: how could a mean, terrible person like myself be a good chaplain? Thanks to Ezra Bayda, I was able to notice, “Having the thought such-and-such,” and thanks to Rob Burbea, I could remind myself that I also can be kind and accepting, so I need not paint myself with such a monochrome color. And of course I know that one’s most intimate relationship is the most challenging proving ground. As Ezra Bayda says (this might be a paraphrase), “We don’t have to travel far to find a relationship guru—our guru is the very person who pushes our buttons. Relationship difficulties are a valuable opportunity to learn about our expectations, judgments, anger, fear.”

I am lucky to have a top-notch relationship guru around on a regular basis, also perfect practice for the aspiring chaplain, keeping in mind that I’m likely to fail often in this most challenging situation. This (I hope) is harder than most moments of being a chaplain will be, though I’m sure that as a chaplain I will be angry or frustrated or full of sour judgments from time to time, so I am very lucky to have all this practice right in my own apartment. If I can reduce even ten percent of my reactivity in the domestic situation, I’ll be a top-notch chaplain.

Before I had fully decided to pursue certification as a chaplain, I was thinking aloud one day: what should I do? Should I do this? Should I be a chaplain? F. answered, “You are a chaplain,” which was kind of him—I told you he was a good boyfriend.

Wednesday, February 03, 2016

Full Court Press

My last layoff began with a month where I would work and be paid as usual, followed by a month where I would not work, but still be paid as usual and be considered an employee; after that, severance pay would start. However, from the minute I got my notice, no one in my group expected me to do one single thing. The arrangement is the same this time around, but my boss (not incorrectly) expects to make full use of this final month, so I have been busy teaching my co-workers the things I do; my work has been distributed among four other people.

Meanwhile, I sprang into action regarding chaplaincy. I emailed one of the three teachers of the yearlong chaplaincy training I took at the Sati Center for Buddhist Studies, called another, and both emailed and called one of our guest speakers whom I’d particularly liked.

To be certified as a chaplain, you need three things: 1) A master of divinity degree, or the equivalent thereof. 2) Four units of clinical pastoral education (CPE) in the form of a residency at a hospital. Four units of CPE takes a year. 3) To be ordained or endorsed by some appropriate body within your religion.

I wanted to talk to one of my teachers about ordination, and another about what she thinks should be done first, the academics or CPE. I got a call back from a woman who works for the same health organization the guest speaker works for. She said he’s not really so involved with CPE anymore, and gave me some information herself. However, a bit later, I got an email from the guest speaker saying he’d be delighted to meet with me, and we made a date. I remember he was very funny when he came to our class, and he stayed with us for lunch and answered a lot of questions.

I got a call back from the teacher I wanted to ask about CPE versus education and we made a date to talk on the phone. However, before that rolled around, I mentioned to one of my classmates via email what I’m planning to do and she said she had run into another of our group in Kyoto (the one in Japan) recently and that he had been accepted into some program or other.

I emailed him to inquire and seconds later my phone rang—Sam, explaining that after applying to quite a number of CPE programs from Alaska to Colorado, and after five or six interviews, he has been accepted into a yearlong CPE program at the Truly Wonderful Medical Center (TWMC) starting this fall. He directed me to a couple of websites and I realized that, while people usually apply for CPE a year before they want to start, it was not too late to apply for CPE for the fall of 2016.

Applying for CPE involves writing five essays. I thought this over. If I was going to have a week of hideous stress, that did not sound very healthy and I should probably let the deadline pass. On the other hand—ahem—I do have ample experience crafting jolly little nuggets of writing. I decided I could probably do this, especially since at least one of these essays could readily be adapted from one of our chaplaincy class written assignments.

I sat down at the computer and typed and typed and typed. On Tuesday morning, I spoke with my teacher and she said that she thinks it’s better to do the academics first, because right after people finish CPE, they’re ready to go to work, but not yet qualified to do so, or at least, they are competing against other people who have the certification. Nonetheless, people do this in all kinds of ways, including doing the CPE first.

I had figured we’d be on the phone for 20 minutes, but instead we spoke for an hour, and she was so helpful and encouraging that I now feel I have acquired a wonderful mentor. I was relieved and inspired when we got off the phone. She said the journey to professional chaplaincy is 3-5 years, and I can think of myself as being in year two due to my dharma experience. She said the turtle wins the race, not the rabbit—people with deep roots in their own wellness and religious identity.

She added that this is a tried and true track, and that I can trust the process. I should ask myself, “How can I be a turtle and get the most out of this?” I should make ready to ride the ebb and flow. She said that for anyone she has observed who has wanted this and put in the effort, it has worked out. We will have to give her a name. What is a beautiful name for my wonderful mentor? Jehoshaphat? Takes too long to type; also not beautiful. I will call her Naima.

Without my having asked, she offered to review my CPE application, and I agreed to send her my essays the following morning and returned to my computer to type and type and type. Normally I’m not Mrs. Full Court Press. Normally it’s more like I’m going to get nine hours of sleep, stretch, meditate, have a nice breakfast and take a walk and then I’ll see what does or doesn’t fit into my schedule (while also of course super-efficiently getting my job done), but this seemed worth an unusual effort.

Monday, February 01, 2016

Medium-Sized Hat

After being laid off, I expected to feel the disorientation and pressure I felt last time, but discovered that I didn’t and don’t feel that anything has gone wrong. I knew a layoff was possible, and had been telling myself that if that happened, I would pursue becoming certified as a Buddhist chaplain. Perhaps that was almost a deal with the universe, and it has now done its part. It seemed a good omen when Lisa C. emailed me, the very next day, a link to an article with a handy rule of thumb for offering support when troubles strike a friend or family member (since offering support is part of what chaplains do).

Three possible courses of action seemed obvious: 1) Attempt to get another job at my company, as I ended up doing last time. I have given myself full permission to do this. 2) Become certified as a chaplain. 3) Follow my heart completely by pretending for a time to be retired and doing what I’d like to do then: volunteer at the soup kitchen, at Laguna Honda as a chaplain, and at KQED, which is a place I’ve always thought I’d like to spend some time.

The day after I received my layoff notice, I went to see Youth with Lisa M., which was full of gorgeous images. Afterward, we walked along Fillmore St. looking for a place to have dinner. Lisa said she was in the mood for a burger, and the very next place our gaze fell upon was Roam, which offers “artisan burgers,” which were delicious, reasonably priced, and served in a pleasant dining room by friendly young workers. There was music playing, but quietly enough that one could easily converse.


One day I teased F. about his ubiquitous knitted cap: “I see you’re wearing your little hat.”

“Hat, don’t you worry,” he said as he pulled its brim down over his face so he could give it a comforting kiss. “You and I know you’re a medium-sized hat.”


After a few days, I was having some confusion about the criteria by which which to make a career-related decision. Assuming that I can pay my rent, is it important that I’m doing things I’m very good at? That my work bring me joy? That it be helpful to others?

I was also having some self-doubt regarding chaplaincy, after I remembered I don’t like to be around people that much, or that I very much like to be around them for a little while, like an hour or two, and then I like to go home and be by myself for a week.

Then I had an insight I’ve had before in other contexts, such as regarding flying: fear before flying doesn’t mean my plane is going to crash. It means I feel afraid. Thinking that being a chaplain is a crazy idea that I’ll never be able to do doesn’t mean that. It means I’m having some negative thoughts and an opportunity to be careful where I’m placing my attention. If I believe my thoughts rather than noticing that they are thoughts, they will seem truer with every passing second.


I’m not normally much of an affirmations person, but last time I was laid off, these were my affirmations, posted several places around my apartment:

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 every moment of my life.

This is my affirmation this time:
I have everything I need, and my life is unfolding perfectly.


The last time I was laid off, even though I also had a generous amount of severance pay coming, I was preoccupied with my situation, yet failed to take the kind of actions that might have resulted in having a more satisfying job. Or is that fair? I did go through all the preliminary steps suggested by my career coach. I did update my resume and put an entry on the main business networking website. I did attend a weekly support group. But I didn’t apply for a single job until I applied for one at my own company.

Last time around, at first I was thinking maybe I’d take the opportunity to spend much more time writing. A writer is still what I’d most like to be. But I figured I would also need a job, and what primarily sent me back to my old company was thinking about having to start at a new company with ten annual days of vacation. I was delighted when I got rehired in time to have the same number of vacation days as before.

This time, however, the thought of having to start over with a smaller number of vacation days, if that’s what happens, doesn’t seem so terrible. This is all hypothetical, but if I apply for a job that starts with ten days of vacation per year, possibly I can negotiate for more days, or possibly I can take unpaid days off, or possibly I can adjust and work with what is offered.

It now seems rather perfect that this is my second time being laid off by the same company, as if the first layoff loosened my attachment a bit, and this time I’m ready to let go, and to proceed in a new direction.