Wednesday, March 29, 2006

MH, Peanut Butter Zig Zag, Fear of Flying

I have been eating from MH (mouth hunger in OO parlance; non-physical hunger) for a couple of days now. It seems to have started when I visited the website of someone I was once involved with and saw the photos of him and his lovely family vacationing all over Europe. Ten minutes after leaving his site, I was awash in Venezuelan chocolate wrappers.

Tom and I once saw the Sklar Brothers at a comedy festival and thought they were hilarious. One said, “I just got married, which means my brother’s apartment is now my porn annex.” Tom’s apartment, which is right above mine, is my no-longer-favored-foodstuffs annex. When I get tired of something, I give the rest to him. In this way, he has recently acquired, among other things, two unopened jars of dill pickles. (“In case you get pregnant,” I explained.)

This came in handy last night, when I marched upstairs and knocked on his door. “I’ve come for my stuff,” I said. “What stuff?” he asked, edging out of my way. I went into the kitchen and peeled open the freezer. “This stuff.” A pint of Peanut Butter Zig Zag Soy Delicious Pure Indulgence non-dairy frozen dessert.

I went back downstairs and ate it all, followed by some homemade butter cookies with lemon frosting fresh out of the freezer. Then I finished reading Don Lattin’s book Following Our Bliss: How the Spiritual Ideals of the Sixties Shape Our Lives Today, and began Ian McEwan’s novel Saturday. If you’re wondering why you don’t read more here about the exciting San Francisco nightlife, it’s because my nightlife consists of sitting in my comfortable chair reading a book. Thelonious often is lying on the back of the chair, on a pillow I call the Cat Nest.

Earlier, I’d given P. a call. I don’t know if I’ll take him out again (I probably will), but it’s easy enough to give him a call most days. He’s not allowed to call me. He said he’s not worried that smoking will give him another heart attack; he hopes he’ll have a heart attack, as opposed to a stroke, because the former is more likely to be lethal.

For a while, every time I talked to him he asked when I was going to take him to the movies. I finally said, “Pretend it’s the fifties and I’m the boy and you’re the girl and you have to wait for me to ask you to the movies.” That worked. I hate to be asked for stuff. It takes the fun out of giving it.

I bought the ticket yesterday for my annual trip to Ann Arbor to see my parents. Usually once I do that, I have low-level anxiety until the day of the trip, as I severely hate to fly. Once the plane takes off, all is well. What I hate is the claustrophobia I feel right after I get on the plane. I always try to get an aisle seat toward the front. (Which means I have to keep going to Orbitz’ website to make sure I still have the seat I requested.) When I board, I make a point of looking particularly cheerful, in case anyone who’s already seated is also freaking out, and also to reassure them that I’m not the kind of person who has a box cutter in her backpack. Then I try to “drop the story and feel the feelings”— tune into physical sensations instead of my thoughts. And I ask myself, “How is everything right now?” Everything right now is always fine.

To be on the safe side, I also carry a little bottle with about six Ativan in it. I once took Ativan when I had to have an MRI (speaking of claustrophobia) and it is a miracle drug. What had been impossible became downright pleasant, but you don’t feel high. I called my doctor’s office to plead with them to consider giving me a prescription for Ativan. Before I was halfway through my spiel, the person who answered the phone said, “Where do you want to pick them up?” On a plane, I tell myself that if I really flip out, I’ll take the Ativan, but I’ve never had to yet.

San Francisco is considering charging motorists to drive into a downtown congestion zone, which I think is a fine idea. London does this. I heard this morning on the radio that the American embassy in London refuses to pay the charge, claiming that diplomats are exempt. Humiliated by my country once again.

My coworker just came over to apologize in advance for training someone at her desk near mine today. She hoped the noise wouldn’t be a problem. I said, “Don’t worry; I have tin foil and masking tape.” As soon as the trainee sat down, I said, “Keep it down, eh?” (I recently gave this coworker and two others a bar of Venezuelan chocolate apiece for all the coughing they had to listen to when I was sick. One of them said her husband said, “Hey, where’s my bar of chocolate?” She told him, “You didn’t have to listen to a lot of coughing.”)

On my ride to work this morning (it’s raining and raining, but I’ve been riding my bike every day except for acupuncture days) I realized I was extremely pissed off. This very often goes hand-in-hand with bouts of MH. I think I must be mad about something or other, and then I turn it inward by eating what my body doesn’t want. Twice this morning I chased motorists who had given offense; twice this morning an unpleasant scene was avoided when the motorist got away, which is good.

I decided to try to pretend that menopause has set in and that I will be enraged out of my mind for 10 years. What would I do then, to avoid ending up in prison? I would have to pause often and take three breaths, I think.

Monday, March 27, 2006

Linda Fire Thunder and Accuracy in Labeling

On Saturday morning I did my taxes, which was surprisingly quick and painless. After that, I read my email. Someone on a small list I’m on had sent a link about Cecilia Fire Thunder, the president of the Oglala Sioux tribe of South Dakota, who is going to open a Planned Parenthood clinic on the reservation so that women in South Dakota can get legal abortions.

Another list member said, "Now I want to change my name to Susan Fire Thunder. Has a nicer ring to it than Susan Outta My F***ing Way, Boys."

Then I went to Rainbow, where I saw a good bumper sticker:
Pre-emptive defense is an oxymoron.
(Bush is a regular moron.)

When I got back from Rainbow, I noticed a small splash of sunlight on the kitchen wall. It was so tranquil in there, it made me think about how someday I’ll be gone from the planet and maybe that piece of sun, or another like it, will still be shining in that spot.

That made me think of two old ladies who used to live nearby, one in my building and one in the building next door. When I moved in, they were 90 years old or so and I believe had been living there as neighbors for decades. They shared the newspaper each day. I looked out my kitchen window once and saw the one in my building silently throwing the newspaper over to her friend, who was waiting outside her own door. One of them once told me she had had a hard time sleeping the night before, or she had fallen out of bed. “It was the worst night of my life,” she said. I remember thinking she must have had quite a nice life if that was the worst night of it.

I finished Jeannette Walls’ harrowing memoir The Glass Castle, which is excellent. When a new baby arrived while they were living somewhere in California where they had Mexican neighbors, Jeannette suggested naming the baby Rosita, but her mother said that was a Mexican name. Jeannette said, “I thought you said we weren’t supposed to be prejudiced.” Her mother replied, “It’s not being prejudiced. It’s a matter of accuracy in labeling.”

Saturday evening Tom and I went with his boss to have dinner at Ananda Fuara, a vegetarian restaurant run by the devotees of Sri Chinmoy. There are large photos on the wall of Sri Chinmoy with the previous pope, Princess Diana, Nelson Mandela. I had vegan ravioli with garlic toast, which was very good.

After dinner we went to see Last Planet Theatre’s production of Farmyard, by Franz Xaver Kroetz. I was particularly impressed by Garth Petal’s performance. Last Planet’s motto is “Difficult plays for difficult people.” The production used a lot of wonderful Shirley Horn music.

On Sunday morning I was up in time to hear Car Talk on KQED, which is very entertaining even if you don’t have a car. They are in fact anti-SUV and one of them has said, "I do not own a car. I either ride a bicycle or use public transportation,” which is great. If you visit their site, you can get “Actual Car Information.”

I’d had the ill-conceived idea that I would be a nice guy and take P. to a movie, which I haven’t done in about two months. He’s never been exactly animated, but he’s really depressed now. He spends much time lying in bed looking at the wall. When I talk to him on the phone, which I do fairly often, he says he’s sad because no one will take him to a movie. His sister takes him out twice a week, plus a couple of other people take him somewhere every week, plus he goes to a senior center a couple of days a week. So he does have a few things to do, and when I myself was taking him out twice a week, which I did for months, he didn’t seem much happier.

I took him to see Failure to Launch, which had a very weak script, but I wanted to see it because I like to see Matthew McConaughey. (Something he was in not too long ago with Al Pacino that was surprisingly good was Two for the Money.) P. was annoying, as always (“Can I have a soda? Can I have a hot dog? Can I have chocolate-covered raisins? Can I smoke a cigarette?”), and I wasn’t exactly gracious, and I felt guilty afterwards.

I did get to see P.’s housemate Lourdes, which was good. At some point she told me to go away, so I stood up to leave and she said, “Where are you going? I didn’t hire you to leave.”

I came home and talked to my friend Carol Joy on the phone. I said I didn’t know which is worse for P.—me hanging around being mean to him, or him not seeing me at all. She said it was interesting that I framed it in terms of what’s best for him as opposed to what’s best for me, but I think that would still be the same question, except that instead of saying, “What would be best for me?” I’d ask, “What would make me feel least guilty?”

I do think we have an obligation to care for those who are old and sick, and I feel horrible that, at least in regard to me, his choice is between a grumpy person or no person. When I met him in the late 80s, I absolutely could not stand him. Then I adored him for many years, and now I can’t stand him again. It’s quite something that I now find myself one of the very few people left at the end of his life, or what he hopes is the end of his life. He says, “I want to die.”

He is only 62. Watching this happen has pretty much convinced me that strokes and heart attacks are to be avoided, if possible. (He has a handful of mental health diagnoses, as well, which does not help.)

While I was talking to Carol Joy, Thelonious clambered up me in a frenzy, as she’d spotted her very favorite thing in my hand: an emery board. She’s extremely into emery boards. When I went to sleep later, Thelonious was chasing her tail on one corner of the bed. This is something she used to do only in private. I’d hear the sound and peek into the next room to see her soberly chasing her tail. Now that she’s 18 and a half, she feels comfortable enough to do it in front of me, even right on the bed while I’m in it.

Saturday, March 25, 2006

Miracle Cure and Droves of Unavailable Partners

On Friday after work I went to see my fabulous acupuncturist. I’m pleased to report that after two sessions (now three), my shoulder feels as if it never was injured to begin with (and this is after two years of pain, much of it excruciating, two cortisone shots and the threat of surgery), and my eyes are about 90 percent less drippy!

I had never really pictured myself telling the intimate details of certain symptoms to a fabulously attractive man (yes, I have a little crush on my acupuncturist), but I forced myself to do it, though I could feel that my face was tomato-red. However, he makes everything very easy. Whatever I say, he acts like it’s great news, absolutely to be expected, nothing odd in the slightest. He is an unusually warm and open person. I asked if I can go there for the rest of my life even if there’s nothing wrong with me. While I was lying in the dark room with the needles in, I could hear him out in the waiting room telling someone a story about being in a flood and his truck sinking and having to spend the night in a tree.

I figured I’d better force myself to describe my symptoms, even if some of them are embarrassing, because I already have a therapist I refuse to discuss my feelings with; it would be going a bit far to add a doctor to whom I won’t say what of my corporeal self needs attention.

When I began seeing my long-suffering mental health professional, I was in my early 20s (that would be 20 years ago) and depressed out of my mind. I poured my heart out without reservation and she fixed me: I never felt profoundly or persistently depressed again. After that, I saw her just now and then. About six years ago, I went back after I started a new job and found myself feeling a bit gloomy. That cleared up instantly, and since then we’ve been working on the core issue, the oft-mentioned fear of intimacy, which has involved many missed appointments, temper tantrums, and periods where I stop seeing her.

I read in the most recent Newsweek that only four percent of the population is in therapy, which made me feel like stopping, because it made me feel like a freak. Let me say in a spirit of defensiveness that I’d be absolutely fine if I didn’t see her; we agree on that. (She has graciously termed what we’re doing “fine-tuning.”) The reason I keep going is that I tend to fixate romantically on one unavailable person after the other: acupuncturists, doctors, teachers, married people. Obviously this is an excellent strategy for avoiding intimacy, by which I mean simply being seen as I am. I always want that, not this.

After seeing this therapist for so long, it’s definitely a whole lot of this, and so, just as in relationships, I spend much time thinking, “I don’t want to see this person anymore. There’s probably someone better out there. I don’t need to be here. This, that and the other is wrong with her. She’ll never understand me because of X, Y and Z.” Etc.

Our conversations are thus largely characterized by me saying, “That’s a bit personal, isn’t it?” “I don’t see how that’s any of your business.” “I couldn’t possibly discuss here any of the things that are truly most important to me, but I will tell you a funny thing Sir Dave said this week.”

(One time as Sir Dave and I were parting after a walk, I asked, “Is your bus coming?” and he said, with an air of great ennui, “Inevitably.” He doesn’t say that many funny things, but when he does, they are gems. I think he’s delightful.)

Once I asked her, “Would you say that to a complete stranger on the street?” She said, “I’ve known you for 20 years. We’re not complete strangers.” A couple of years ago, I took a stand-up comedy class and incorporated some of these exchanges into my routine. When I performed it, I invited her. She loved it. The reason I keep going there is that it’s practice in doing what I least want to do: be seen by the same old person day after day.

After I left acupuncture yesterday, I saw three Geary St. buses go by right before I got to the bus stop, and then I had to wait half an hour for another to come. On the 22 Fillmore subsequently, a woman got on via the back door lost her balance and stepped right on my foot. It hurt. I said, “Ouch, god damn it.” She apologized, but I found that I was still brooding, so I stated my view of the matter. “You stepped right on my foot with the heel of your shoe.” She was wearing pointy little heels. She apologized again, profusely, though she also said it was Muni’s fault. I refrained from saying, “How is it Muni’s fault you didn’t hold the railing?”

She happened to get off at my stop and walk up my street at almost precisely my pace, just in front of me. I don’t think she noticed me behind her, which is just as well, because she might have assumed I meant to punch her out, which of course I did not. I’d probably be nervous if I mashed someone’s foot on the bus with my pointy heel and then noticed they were following me up a dark street. (There was no one following me. I checked.)

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Earthly Vibrations and Cold

I have had a cold since last Monday and am no doubt driving my coworkers crazy with the hacking and moaning. (We have Personal Time Off instead of sick days and vacation days, so there is very little incentive for one to lie in bed sick, though I do if I’m really miserable. The less one stays home sick, the more one can go on vacation.)

On Friday night, I went to see my lovely new acupuncturist, who told me many entertaining stories, and then I went home and balanced my checkbook and did my monthly money-related stuff (like counting it to see how much there is).

The rumbling I’ve been complaining about is now absolutely non-stop at home, but it doesn’t keep me awake at all anymore. There is road work happening on Valencia St., a block away, and Tom suggested that maybe the vibration is caused by cars bumping over the multitudinous steel plates, but I looked out the window at the cars going by and there didn’t seem to be a correlation. Tom cannot perceive this vibration at all, but believes that I perceive it (whew).

Until recently, if I went up to his place, which is right above mine, I couldn’t feel/hear it, but now I can. At this point, the bottoms of my feet kind of tickle. The other day, I realized I can feel something similar at work. Therefore I conclude that it’s just some machine under whichever building I’m in: the furnace or hot water heater or something.

I went to see my long-suffering mental health professional today. I slept through our appointment four weeks ago—I call it the $80 nap—and canceled the one two weeks ago, so I started by saying, “We’ve had a refreshing break.” I told her all about the ski trip and about the rumbling, which I could feel in her office, too, though not quite the same thing as at work or at home.

She couldn’t sense it at all, while it seemed glaringly obvious to me. Can’t you feel that? She mentioned that some Native Americans could listen to the earth and tell when something was off. (Maybe I’m developing a similar sense, though I can tell you something is off just by reading the newspaper.) She also said it would be interesting to see if I perceive it when I’m in a large park. If I’m ever in a large park again, I’ll check it out.

The one thing I haven’t mastered yet about this vibration thing is if someone really is playing their stereo and then they turn it down and later turn it off. Somewhere along the line it segues into being just the rumbling, without my realizing it. Friday night, I was under the impression that a neighbor’s stereo was on late into the night, and stayed up until three a.m. puttering around and waiting for it to stop. The next day I realized it had probably stopped long before I went to sleep and I just couldn’t tell. (I think this whole thing has to do with 15 or so years of paying-attention meditation. Who knows what else is out there yet to be perceived?)

Both Saturday and Sunday were absolutely gorgeous days. I sprang out of bed at 11 on Saturday (by rights, I should have slept until noon since I was up until three) and went to Rainbow and then did some cooking. I chopped veggies and baked tofu and cooked rice. In the evening, Tom and I saw Where the Truth Lies, with Kevin Bacon, which I had missed in the theater and wanted to see. It was good. I love Kevin Bacon. Not to be missed: The Woodsman.

On Sunday I did more cooking: split pea soup, and butter cookies with lemon frosting. I’m using up the rest of my animal food (which in the case of milk chocolate is probably going to take about a year), so I made the cookies with half butter and half fake butter (Earth Balance, which is incredible stuff—it’s probably got as much fat and saturated fat as real butter, which is great: that’s what you want in cookies; if you want something more virtuous, with less fat, try Spectrum Spread, which is fine on toast but probably wouldn’t make very good cookies). I also used 2/3 real egg and 1/3 egg replacer. The cookies were actually even better than they usually are, which is saying something. I’ll be interested to see how they are with only fake butter and eggs.

I was vegan in the past for some years, but toward the end began to feel shaky and weird. I ate rice and beans and veggies three times a day, under the watchful eye of Lisa M., my coworker at the time, who had inspired me to give up this, that and the other. One day she was exhorting me to abandon an unhealthy relationship. “But what will I do for fun?” I asked, as I’d already given up cigarettes, alcohol, marijuana, sugar, etc. Lisa M. released a well-timed burst of life-affirming flatulence and answered: “Honor your bodily processes.”

Because I had eventually felt woozy eating rice and beans and veggies, I was worried about getting enough protein; this evidently often concerns new vegans. John Robbins says in Diet for a New America that if you’re getting enough calories, you’re getting enough protein, though he goes on to say that there are a few ways you can manage to become protein-deficient, like if you eat a lot of empty calories (fat, sugar). He mentions this almost in passing, as if he can’t believe anyone actually does this. Well, I do it all the time, so must keep an eye on that. Earlier this week I counted up the protein grams in what I’d eaten that day and, sure enough, it was more than 60 grams.

I spoke to Lisa M. a couple of days ago. You know everything about snot,” I began. “Tell me one thing.” In the course of the conversation, she discovered that I was not using her seven-part protocol for colds and sent it to me again. I started doing some of it and immediately felt much better. Next time I’ll do it as soon as I start to have a sore throat.

(The protocol involves steaming one’s sinuses over chopped fresh ginger boiled in water, drinking water with ascorbic acid powder in it, megadoses of vitamin A for a few days, Source Naturals brand Wellness Formula, gargling with hot salt water, zinc lozenges, and bathing in hydrogen peroxide. You can mix and match.)

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Ants, Mice and Water

I am in the middle of reading Diet for a New America and am therefore about to be a vegan (I defy anyone to read Fast Food Nation followed by Diet for a New America and not resolve to be a vegan), and therefore I have stopped killing ants in my apartment.

Once upon a time, I lovingly carried outside any ant I encountered and gently deposited it in a safe location. Soon I was up to my ears in ants. On retreat at Spirit Rock Meditation Center, I asked one of the cooks in their spotless kitchen how they dealt with ants. A Buddhist precept forbids causing harm, yet I saw no ants in that Buddhist kitchen. The cook said, “Sometimes you have to defend your territory.” I loosely interpreted that to mean, “Go ahead and kill ants any time you feel like it,” and proceeded accordingly.

Now I’ve decided there’s enough room for them and me, though if one gets in the way of whatever I’m doing and happens to perish, I’m considering that to be a natural event. I won’t deliberately kill them, and their numbers don’t seem to have risen since I stopped doing so.

My mother’s theory of ant control is to squish one and leave it on a well-traveled path, so that the next ant comes along and clutches its chest, wailing, “Oh, my god! Something terrible has happened here!” after which it tells all its friends to stay away.

If she’s actually done this, the karmic balance may have been righted by her putting dried corn in her attic for any mice that might come along. She said she liked to think of her heart beating and my father’s heart beating and all the little mouse hearts beating under the same roof.

One thing I have seen a lot more of since I stopped killing ants is ants carrying other dead ants around, which I always find rather touching. I guess there are more ants dying natural deaths in my apartment these days and needing to be carried to the final resting place.

One time in the desert near Joshua Tree, I saw one ant obviously remonstrating with another. I figured the bad ant might have spent the night in a bar, neglecting his wife and children, and come home the next day still drunk. Finally, the good ant tired of preaching and simply seized hold of the ne’er-do-well and hauled him off. I’m sure the good ant was exasperated, but it struck me as a caring act.

I heard a guilt-inducing thing on KQED last night. I didn’t catch the very beginning, but I believe it was a moderated exchange between a woman in England and one in India, about indoor plumbing. The English woman said that the water is on all the time; if she turns the tap, water comes out. The Indian woman said that the water where she lives is on about half the time. Then the Indian woman asked the English woman directly, “Can you drink the water that comes out of the tap?” It was heartrending, the kid outside the candy store saying to the one inside, “Is all that candy yours? Can you eat it whenever you want?” The English woman said that in most places, the water that comes out of the tap is fine to drink. She asked the same question of the Indian woman, who said that they must purify their tap water with chemicals before they can drink it. Twenty percent of the world’s population does not have access to safe drinking water.

At some event on Peak Oil I attended with Sir Dave, one of the speakers asked how we thought countries who had run out of oil or other resources were likely to feel about the country that will be hogging the last bit of everything, namely us. Probably not too friendly.

I took a stroll with Sir Dave yesterday and he said, “I don’t know what to think about such-and-such,” and then he screwed up his face and visibly thought. It was very cute.

Letter to the Tube Times (the publication of the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition) written after this morning’s ride to work:

To the cyclist who passed me on the right on Valencia this morning and then waved his hand airily as if to say, “What’s the diff?” when I called after him, “Please not on the right.”

For starters, you passed with about two inches to spare and no warning. A simple “On your right” would amply suffice, but I’d rather hear “On your left” (and not have you pass so close) because when you pass on the right, you may be placing yourself squarely in the door zone, where you were this morning. (Did you notice the person in the driver's seat of that car?)

And if you get doored at that moment, likely I’m going down, too, possibly into the path of a moving car. Jeopardizing your own safety is one thing; jeopardizing mine is quite another.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Cycling, the Bus, Encroaching Thighs

I took the bus home from work yesterday and then stopped at Freewheel to ask Dan, who wears glasses, his secrets for cycling in the rain without having his glasses get covered with water. He didn’t have any. He asked if I’d gotten rained on earlier in the day. I admitted I’d taken the bus. “But I really—” As I paused to think of the right word, he finished, “Hate the bus.” “Right, I hate the bus.” “Don’t we all.”

Today I rode my bike to work, though it was a tad soupy out. As I rode south on New Montgomery in the left-hand lane, though traffic was very light and the right lane was utterly unoccupied, some idiot floored his gas pedal behind me and swerved around me in the left-hand parking lane. It was scary. I wasn’t hurt. After I got done being scared, I was angry. I couldn’t easily catch up with the driver; just as well. That sort of incident is probably my least-favorite thing about riding a bike, and something like it happens on virtually every ride.

Now that it’s been raining so much, it’s a toss-up as to which is worse/better, the bus or cycling.

Bad things about riding the bus: Waiting for it to come. Not getting a seat. Sitting on a seat with god knows what on it. Feeling crowded. Unwanted physical contact with strangers. (More on that below.) Weird smells. Wondering who touched the railing before me and where their hands had been prior to that. Having the bus break down halfway to one’s destination. Waiting while the driver gets off the bus and walks into a fast-food place. Waiting in traffic jams. Loud, annoying fellow passengers. Vaguely menacing fellow passengers. Fighting teenagers.

Good things about riding the bus: It’s dry. Interesting-looking people. I never fear being run down while I’m on a bus.

Bad things about riding my bike: Schlepping stuff I wouldn’t need if I weren’t cycling: panniers, locks, rain gear, pump, spare tube, patch kit, latex gloves, etc. Not being able to see through my glasses when it rains, particularly in the dark. Having to ride farther out in the street when it rains to avoid puddles of indeterminate depth. Having to allow 15 minutes to mop off my bike and deal with wet effects after riding in the rain. Aggressive motorists. Feeling afraid of motorists.

Good things about riding my bike: Feeling awake and energetic when I get where I’m going. (I kept noticing myself yawning as I waited at the bus stop. I never yawn on my bike.) Being outside in the (relatively) fresh air, the sun, the wind, even the rain. (Riding in the rain is perfectly pleasant; it’s just not being able to see that’s the thing.) Traveling on exactly my own schedule and never having to wait for anything—a bike slides easily around traffic jams and broken-down buses. Getting a bit of exercise. Saving fuel. Not contributing to air pollution or the pernicious effects of travel by automobile, including sprawl and valuable space that must be allocated to parking cars, both in garages and on the street. Seeing people I know while cycling around town. (The people are there even if I’m not cycling, but if I’m in a rental car, I don’t notice them and wouldn’t be able easily to stop and chat with them.) The pleasant feeling of self-sufficiency when I get somewhere under my own steam, or when I haul a week’s worth of groceries home on my bike. Not having to drive around for half an hour looking for a place to park. Parking right outside the door of the building I’m visiting.

My cycling rain jacket is a Burley, and it’s great, but is just a bit snug these years. It serves its purpose but the look may not be entirely flattering. However, it’s the largest size Burley offered, an XL. I happened to visit their site yesterday and saw that they are now offering an XXL. I plan to order one today.

So, about the physical contact with strangers: Somewhere along the line, probably in 10 or so years of riding Muni a lot, I developed a strong aversion to having a stranger mash his thigh against mine. Generally, this is a thigh that belongs to a him, not a her, and generally it’s because the owner of the thigh is sitting with his knees as far apart as is physically possible, taking up three-quarters of the space meant for two people. My aversion no doubt comes more from the indignant thought that the guy is taking up more than his fair share of space than from the actual sensation, which is not injurious.

I’ve never come up with a really great way to deal with it. Sometimes I cross my legs so that the other person must be in his own space or find his pants leg resting against the bottom of my shoe. I did this once at a meeting at City Hall. The man next to me was wearing an elegant suit and was well into my space by virtue of his wide-spread legs. When he retreated for a moment, maybe turning to speak to someone behind him, I established my boundaries by crossing my legs. When he turned back to re-occupy what he obviously regarded as his rightful area, his pants leg did very nearly touch the bottom of my much less elegant shoe and he gave me an angry, aggrieved look: how dare I seek to besmirch his suit? I noted his displeasure but moved not my foot.

I’ve also noted that men on planes tend to assume that they are entitled to use the arm rests on both sides of them, though there are, in a three-person row, four armrests for three people, meaning that just one person can have two armrests, while the other two people get one apiece. The man evidently does not question that he will be the person to get the two armrests.

On a flight from San Francisco to Phoenix, I was the first person to sit down in a three-person row, in the window seat. I made a conscious decision to use the armrests on both sides of me. Deliberately I planted my arms upon them. The occupant of the middle seat arrived: a man, who also was determined to have two armrests. My arm already being on the armrest did not faze him. He mashed his arm against mine. I refused to move my arm. He refused to move his, and thus we rode all the way to Phoenix pushing against each other’s arms. I was furious by the time I got off the plane, and probably so was he.

What I need is a polite, concise and highly effective utterance that’s somewhere between “Get your f***ing leg out of my space,” which could provoke unpleasantries, and “Sir, you may not be aware that blah blah blah,” which would probably lead to a look of utter incomprehension and not produce the desired results.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Snow and Forgiveness

This past weekend I went cross-country skiing near Lake Tahoe with Tom and two friends of ours. Our friends do a lot of skiing and invited us along on this trip and made all the arrangements. I very nearly didn’t go because, thanks to Tara Brach’s wonderful book Radical Acceptance, I’m more in my body than I ever have been, which is great—it’s kind of tickly in here sometimes in a pleasant way—but also makes me feel more than before, on top of which I was premenstrual, which always involves a week of being really prone to losing my temper in a big way or, once in a while, a week of black despair. This particular installment featured mainly black despair, during which I heard from friends a couple of stories that in the past would have made me say, “My god, that’s terrible,” and I would have meant it, but last week they made me really terribly sad.

Tom and I went on a weekend trip with these friends (and they are beloved friends) a few years ago and I found it difficult. I think it probably boiled down to anxiety caused by the loss of control that is inherent in doing things in a group. (Of course, to be alive is to do almost everything in a group, in one way or another.) So I had a bit of trepidation about this trip and vowed not to contend over small things. (Years ago, I drove from San Francisco to San Diego with a friend and we fought so horribly about the window and the radio, and so forth, that one of us flew home as soon as we got to San Diego. Yes, that was me.)

The day before we left for skiing, it turned out we all didn’t have the same idea about what time we were going to depart, and thus I found myself startled and contending after all. I was all ready not to fight about the window, but hadn’t psychologically prepared not to fight about the departure time.

By Friday morning, I had decided it would be a bad idea to undertake this trip. The potential for conflict was too great. In the almost end, I packed not a single item and let my friends drive off without me. In the actual end, I frantically found the driver’s cell phone number and called to say, “I changed my mind.” These are good friends. They came back and got me and didn’t act like I had wrecked their morning and waited while I packed in a frenzy.

We stayed in a lodge near Sugar Bowl in what were actually the fancy rooms—bare plywood crates so tiny that one’s shoulder was almost touching the wall on one side while one’s other shoulder was almost touching the upper bunk bed. One other thing about being more in my body is that it’s kind of claustrophobia-inducing at times: I’m trapped in this thing that is heading inevitably for the grave, or, as Yeats correctly said, fastened to a dying animal. A dying animal in a small plywood box.

The next day, our friends went off on an adventure and Tom and I received a lesson from a miracle worker of a skiing instructor who, with great enthusiasm and good cheer, showed us how to put on our skis, take them off, stride through the snow, use double poles, climb a hill, and one or two ways to slow down when descending. In the afternoon, a more advanced skier generously offered to take me and Tom out on the trails, which was really great.

The feared conflict did also materialize, between the two people, one from each couple, who most like to be in charge, one of them of course being me.

I kept having to deal, also, with little wavelets of panic as I lay at night trapped in my body, trapped in the little room, trapped in the rustic wooden firetrap of a lodge. And I felt sad about my cat, who was looking particularly thin and delicate when I left. She is old and there is far less time left with her than there has already been.

At this point, I have dealt with a good deal of nighttime panic and know to notice, for starters, that whatever I’m worried about is in the future, that everything is OK right now.

As for my cat, a la Tara Brach, I must say “yes” to the fact of my sadness. Yes, I am sad when I think about saying goodbye to my cat. Yes, my cat is old. I can notice where I physically feel that and attend to it with care; I can notice how the sensations evolve, as they will.

The best thing that happened this weekend was what I realized about forgiveness, which is largely a foreign concept in my family. If you anger a member of my family, prepare to lose the relationship permanently. On my refrigerator is a photo of my beloved grandmother next to a photo of my adored little second cousin, the former being the great-grandmother of the latter. But they never laid eyes on each other while my grandmother was alive, due to a family feud. While I consciously aspire not to behave that way, my first impulse when difficulty arises in a relationship is often to think, “Forget this. This is a bad person. I never want to see him/her again.”

My long-suffering mental health professional, fortunately, never thinks that’s a good idea. She says, “Well, now. You’ve known this person for a long time. Is there anything you would miss about this friendship?” She does not say, “You don’t need this. Slam the door and don’t look back.” She always proves to be right and I’ve learned to go through that mental process before I make any rash announcements.

But this weekend I got viscerally how a hard moment in a friendship doesn’t mean the friendship is bad. If anything, maybe it means it’s an extra-good friendship, that it can stand the strain of a hard moment or hard hour or day, that there is enough mercy to get through such a thing. All things pass, certainly including irritation. But perhaps the real bit of grace is forgiveness, being able to say internally, “Yes, I wanted to wring your neck and that’s OK. This relationship means a lot to me. There are a lot of things about you I really think are great. Whatever you did that pushed my buttons, I forgive it.”

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Big Waves, Twisterz and TP

I went to see my new acupuncturist yesterday. He was recommended by my friend Lisa, who likes him very much and told me that he is also a big-wave surfer; he surfs Maverick’s. Indeed, Googling his name plus “acupuncture” yields a respectable number of results, but replacing “acupuncture” with “surf” yields pages and pages of links. I liked him a lot. He was very enthusiastic and his needle-inserting technique was virtually painless, even the one that went in right near my fingernail!

I’m seeing him for my aforementioned dry/drippy eyes, and mainly for chronic pain in my right shoulder, which I injured meditating, which I like to think is rather unique. I was on a 28-day retreat at Spirit Rock two years ago in February, doing sitting and walking meditation. During the walking periods, my shoulders began to hurt, which I figured was due to some bit of tension being encountered and released. The pain got worse and worse, however, and was eventually excruciating and didn’t go away after I went home.

In due time (i.e., about a year later), I went to see a physical therapist who explained that my shoulders tended to slump forward and that with my arms hanging like dead weights, I had strained or torn something. I never was quite able to picture what was going on internally, but she prescribed stretching the front of my shoulder and two exercises to strengthen the muscles behind the shoulder.

(She also observed that once upon a time, I had broken a collarbone and that someone had not done a very good job of setting it. Indeed, I did break my collarbone when I was seven, riding double on a banana-seat bike with my friend Angie Warrington, but I can’t tell any difference between the two sides now.)

I did the shoulder exercises faithfully, but they didn’t really help, and I ended up getting a cortisone shot from a really lovely orthopedist. (He actually seemed like an extremely cold fish the first time I met him, but the shot helped so much that I sent him a heartfelt thank-you card, and the second time I saw him, he said, “Are you the person who sent the thank-you card? That was so nice! I don’t always get to hear if the treatment has helped or not.” He had saved the card in my file, so then I thought he was very sweet.)

The first shot killed the pain instantly, but after several weeks it came back. The lovely orthopedist reluctantly parted with one more cortisone shot, saying, to his credit, that I was at my lifetime limit, as I should have known myself.

He mentioned surgery as a possibility. I asked if I’d be able to ride my bike the next day. He said, “Sure, but you wouldn’t want to for about six weeks—the pain would be too intense.” So I went away and kept on with my exercises and the pain has been at a very manageable level, but not gone. I’m hoping the acupuncture will help.

I used to aver that the worst day cycling was still better than the best day on Muni, but now the glasses-getting-wet-in-the-rain thing has shifted the balance just enough that I’ve been taking the bus a lot lately, plus I took it yesterday because I wasn’t sure if there would be a safe place for my bike at the acupuncture office.

The other day I was taking the 14 Mission home, a bus I particularly hate. I was seated quite near the driver and heard a passenger come up and whisper to the driver that some kids in the back were “jumping” passengers. The driver ignored this news, and the passenger hastened to depart the bus and march away at a brisk pace. I made an executive decision to do the same, and was chagrined, as the spot was relatively desolate, to see the four thugs depart at the same time, through the back door. Oops! Fortunately, the driver re-opened the door and let me back on.

One time, years ago, a friend of mine was riding the 5 Fulton when some people on the street spotted someone on the bus that they wished to beat up. They simply stopped the bus by pulling the spring-loaded connector off the overhead wires, boarded the bus and beat the crap out of the guy while the passengers watched from the sidewalk.

At my friend’s house last Saturday, I had an opportunity to try a tasty product called Twisterz, from the Cheez-It Baked Snack Crackers people. I’d had a slight yen for them, or perhaps for the preservatives or hydrogenated oil, ever since, so on my way home from acupuncture, I went to Safeway and got a box of Twisterz, and a box of Cheez-Its to boot. On the bus, a guy asked, “What are those? I know Cheez-Its, but I’ve never seen Twisterz.” I explained, “They’re similar to Cheez-Its, but cheesier. (I feel like I’m on TV.)”

Another fellow with a laptop said, “Rather a contrast with your reading material,” which was Diet for a New America. Agreed. I got the Twisterz thing out of my system last night and gave the rest of them to my coworkers today, and gave the box of Cheez-Its, unopened, to the homeless guy near my work building who sits on the sidewalk and makes little chairs out of pieces of metal and fabric.

A friend of mine told me a story years ago about her brother being at that same Safeway and buying a jumbo pack of toilet paper, 48 rolls. At the checkout counter, the clerk said, “Those are on sale two-for-one. Go back and get another.” “No, thanks,” said the brother, “I don’t really need any more.” As he left the store, another employee said, “That’s on sale two-for-one. Do you want me to go get you another one?” “No, thanks. This is plenty.” As he walked through the parking lot, a security guard said, “Sir, those are on sale two-for-one. Let me go get you another. I’m going to get in trouble with my boss if I let you go without it!” “Oh, all right; thank you,” said the brother, and thus ended up having to get on Muni with 96 rolls of toilet paper.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Felicity, Cycling in the Rain or Not, Books, Gaslighting

I did watch the Oscars and, while I would have loved it if Brokeback Mountain had gotten best picture, I thought the only egregious miscarriage of justice was that Felicity Huffman didn’t win best actress for Transamerica.

I was going to ride my bike to work today, though it looked a bit damp out, but just as I was getting ready to leave, it began to pour, so I went out to the bus stop instead. I’ve more or less sworn off riding in the rain, for three reasons: first and foremost, my glasses get covered with water and I can’t see. If it’s daytime, I can take them off and see reasonably well, though it feels kind of odd, but once it gets to be evening, I could roll over an umbrella on the ground without seeing it.

I wear a baseball cap with a long bill underneath my helmet, and that does the trick if it’s a light rain that’s falling straight down, but that’s rarely the case.

The other two reasons are that motorists’ skills seem to diminish on rainy days, and that avoiding puddles at the end of the road (which might be very shallow or might be deep ruts; you can’t tell) makes me have to ride significantly farther from the curb, which makes me kind of nervous these days.

As I waited at the bus stop this morning, I saw many cyclists come by wearing glasses. They probably know something I don’t. I also saw a guy with a miniature bicycle attached to the back of his own bike; a little girl was on the second bike. The man pedaled right through a red light, and then wobbled along in the door zone—close enough to parked cars to be knocked over if a car door should open suddenly. (Doorings are the most common cause of injury to urban cyclists.)

Ten minutes later, I saw a cyclist coming from the other direction, up to and through a light that was just turning red. Cross traffic was present; I suppose the cyclist was thinking, “Sorry you can’t go even though you have the green light, but, as you can see, I am trying to run the red light here.” Turned out to be the same guy, now minus the little girl.

I recently finished reading Fast Food Nation, which is absolutely excellent and which of course made me feel like never eating chicken, pork or beef ever again. What I found most disgusting was that chickens are fed ground-up cow parts and vice versa, even though, as a friend pointed out, we eat both those things anyway. (Another friend joked, “Yeah, that book was fantastic. I couldn’t eat a burger for like two weeks afterwards.”)

Then I started a novel that I had to take back to the library after about ten pages. It was full of sentences like, “It’s me, years later, back then the girl in the story, writing this: in my pink dress: a gift from my grandmother Marietta, who owned the tobacco store on the corner; she did a brisk business there.” That is to say, there were too many coy asides, too many colons and semicolons, and too many references to too many relatives I couldn’t keep straight.

All those colons in a work of fiction make you feel like someone is poking you in the chest with two fingers just when you’re starting to get somewhere.

On to Diet for a New America, which so far I like very much. (My reading list alternates between nonfiction and fiction/memoir, plus I usually have a dharma book underway. I’m now reading Focusing, because Tara Brach mentions it in her book Radical Acceptance, which I found extremely helpful and highly recommend.)

The coworker who was driving me crazy is long gone, but the rumbling underneath my apartment is still happening. I can go to sleep without any problems, but it’s somewhat oppressive when I’m awake, and I find that I’m happy when I can go up to Tom’s and be away from it for a while.

I decided to run it by P., who these days often can’t remember what he had for lunch, but who fifteen years ago used to burst forth with a remarkable flash of insight now and then. I didn’t warn him that his advice was going to be sought. I said, “There’s a low-pitched rumbling underneath my apartment. What do you think it is?” “Radiator,” he said immediately. “You mean the furnace?” “Yes.” “But the heat isn’t always on when it’s happening.” “If it were serious, someone else would have noticed it.” And there you have it.

Actually, I’m not positive his latter assertion is correct. It wouldn’t apply, for instance, if someone were out-and-out trying to gaslight me, which I would consider pretty serious. (I can hear my building manager, after having disposed of her generator on Craig’s List, saying to some future prospective tenant, “The poor woman who used to live here was convinced there was something rumbling underneath her apartment.”)

My grandmother had two extremely shy cats that always ran and hid when all the ladies came over in their brightly colored suits to play bridge. None of my grandmother’s friends ever laid eyes on either of these cats, and they would tease her, saying, “Shirley seems to be under the impression that she has cats.” One of the cats now lives with my parents, where she is probably very happy, as no ladies ever come over to play bridge.

My grandmother really did have cats, and I really do have rumbling.

Sunday, March 05, 2006

Scrabble, Tomatoes, Is This Mine or Yours?

It’s been quite a nice weekend. Friday night, Lee K. and I played a game or two of Scrabble at our regular café on Valencia St. She won, as usual, but we had a fun time. There are always many people in the café, but besides us chatting and giggling, all are dead silent, most bathed in the eerie white light of their laptops, and one or two Luddites reading.

Yesterday, Saturday, I sprang out of bed at nine or so and rode my bike to the farmers’ market at the Ferry Building, which is much smaller than the vast farmers’ market I remember from my youth in Ann Arbor, where there were piles and piles of produce and jug after jug of apple cider. I bought chard, a red onion, carrots, apples, kiwis and some tomatoes I didn’t need, but which were of such a hallucinatory otherworldly glowing redness that I couldn’t resist.

They were absolutely beautiful but didn’t taste quite as good as tomatoes of decades ago, though it’s still early in the season. I’ve never tasted a tomato as good as those my mother grew in her vegetable garden except for incredibly tasty cherry tomatoes served at the wedding last year of Tom’s brother Steve.

On my way home, I saw Tom’s niece, Sarah, at a bus stop on Market St.

When I got home, I whipped out my calculator (as the child of two engineers will tend to do) and discovered that I’d paid nearly twice as much at the farmers’ market than I would have at Rainbow.

There were some booths at the market selling products that are available at Rainbow, like Bariani olive oil from Sacramento, which I switched to after another of Tom’s brothers, Dan, gave me a bottle of it. This tells me that Rainbow is doing a pretty good job of stocking the wares of not-too-distant farmers, and therefore, and I don’t mean to dis the farmers’ market or anything, but I might as well do all my shopping at Rainbow, and just try to pay attention to where an item comes from and if it’s in season or not.

Next I went to see a friend who lives on Bernal hill, and her daughter, who I believe is 13, and who, as a young toddler, made three remarks that I still think are the funniest baby remarks ever.

She was at my apartment one day and spotted something she liked (a brightly colored plastic toothbrush container). Her solution was elegant. Instead of sticking it in her pocket and rather than throwing herself on the ground and shrieking, “I want that!”, she casually inquired, “Is this mine or yours?”

When the three of us were getting into my friend’s car one day, as the daughter was being set into her car seat in back, she magnanimously announced, “I’m not going to drive.” (“Good,” said my friend, “because you’re not allowed to drive.”)

And her mother told me about the same time that her daughter had announced gravely to a complete stranger, “I don’t play with knives.”

After our visit yesterday, I went to get the Marin from Freewheel (again; this time it was having its rear wheel rebuilt) and then I went to Rainbow to do my non-produce shopping and then I came home and cooked.

I made butter cookies, half with nuts in them and half that I was going to put peppermint frosting on, but the mint frosting experiment was a failure (alas, as a bottle of mint flavoring probably is going up the same way vanilla extract is). Baked tofu was another semi-failure. I made a glop out of soy sauce, garlic, ginger, toasted sesame oil, red pepper flakes and a bit of brown sugar to put on the tofu slabs while they baked. Halfway through, I turned the slabs over and put a bit more of the glop on top; the glop on the bottom ended up burning. I’ll have to rethink my method. Maybe I should use that as a marinade instead.

I also made brown rice and I chopped veggies and washed apples.

To work this week I will bring containers of brown rice with garlic, olive oil and soy sauce; in each container will be slices of reconstituted shiitake mushrooms (I guess that’s redundant), and a slab of semi-failed baked tofu. I’ll also bring zucchini (left over from last week), carrot slices, a sliced apple, a bit of tuna salad, and three homemade cookies. Yum.

Today I slept until about noon and then I got up and had a tomato from the farmers’ market, sliced and with a bit of salt and pepper, and brown Crimini mushrooms sautéed in butter with balsamic vinegar and soy sauce. Now I’m going to psychologically prepare for the Oscars, which I’m going to watch with Tom. I haven’t watched the Oscars in about 25 years, but it seemed appealing this year for some reason.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Glamorous Poverty

I just spoke to P. and he said, "I want a million dollars." I asked why. He said, "I don't want to glamorize poverty," and added, "I'm just a little girl."