Saturday, September 20, 2008

Crawlin’, as Slow as Possible, in the Wind

This past Thursday evening, I had a guitar lesson with Bruno, the first in many weeks. I’ve been working on “Blowin’ in the Wind,” so Bruno suggested we play it together and set off at a rollicking tempo.

“Wait, wait,” I begged. “My tempo is 40.” (For a half note, but that's still pretty slow.)

“Does the metronome even go that low?” he asked incredulously, which made me laugh.

I enjoy playing the guitar once I get going, and the little snippets I’m writing are lovely, if I may say so myself, but the time I can spend on any given day is not very long, plus I keep missing days, or weeks, as my enthusiasm ebbs and flows.

For about ten years, I practiced the trumpet two and a half or three hours a day. People used to remark admiringly on my discipline, but the truth is that no discipline was required—it was an obsession and I wanted to do it every single one of those days.

The guitar, however, requires discipline, which is something I have very little of. But I haven’t given up completely because I believe that if I keep at it, it will prove to have been worthwhile.

Taking lessons has already really helped me in my composing. One thing I do, per Bruno, is have a “key of the week” (or “key of the two weeks” or “key of the month,” in my case) and find all instances of the first note of the scale on the lowest string of the guitar, then on the next string, and so forth, and then do the same with the second note of the scale, etc.

This has really helped me start to form a mental map of what had formerly been completely uncharted and seemingly incomprehensible terrain.

I was playing single notes the other day and it was reminding me very strongly of something: my childhood zither! From earliest memory, there were simple instruments around—a triangle, a drum, the zither—plus my mother’s piano. When I was three or four, I took a piano class at the YMCA, my mother’s doing, and eventually one kid or another in my family sang and/or played the piano, violin, cello, accordion, tenor saxophone, trumpet, guitar and bass guitar.

Thanks to those classes at the Y (that is, thanks to my mother), I never consciously had to learn to read music. It seems like something I always knew. I remember liking very much how the circles fit neatly between the lines, or bisected a line, and how some circles were solid and some weren’t. (I think I liked and like most of all a half-note that is between two lines.)

So I will keep at the guitar and, sick of being humiliated at lesson after lesson, I am going to focus my efforts on “Blowin’ in the Wind,” for now. I’ve written down all the possible chord transitions, and will practice those until I can switch a little faster.

Tom came over last night to watch the second-to-last Dark Angel DVD. (My very favorite episode was quite recently, the one with the mobsters and the woman who could bend people to her will just by looking into their eyes.)

Just before he arrived, I noticed a colossal spider near the top of the bathroom window. He seemed to wish to descend, but was having problems, and then he fell. I figured he’d landed on one of the towels below—he wasn’t on the floor—but when I looked up, there he still was: he was such a huge spider, he’d actually kicked some substantial piece of debris off the top of the window frame.

When Tom arrived, I told him, “We have a nature situation in the bathroom.”

Tom admired the spider’s ample proportions and asked, “Are you going to put him outside?”

“Actually, I was thinking that would be a satisfying project for you.”

I got the plastic container and sturdy piece of cardboard I use for these operations, and set up the ladder in the bathroom, and in no time, the spider was in the backyard.

I would actually have done this myself if Tom hadn’t been due for a visit—certainly I would done it rather than have to wonder when I’d wake up with the spider in my bed—but one instance of spider removal seemed like a fair trade for three quality hours of Dark Angel.

For approximately the past year, I’ve meant to go buy a new pair of running shoes (what in my youth we generically called “tennis shoes,” though probably none of them were actually tennis shoes; I still think of them as such). My current pair are partly mesh, which became filthy very early on, and in general, these shoes are absolutely dreadful looking, and I wear them every day, including to work.

I know they need to be replaced, but I can’t bring myself to do this chore. I meant to do it today, for what seems like the millionth time. I know exactly where I’d go—On the Run, in the Inner Sunset—and the whole thing would take probably two hours, not a big deal, but I just can’t do it.

I got up today at 11:45 a.m. and was still sleepy—yay—and as I reset the alarm to 12:45 p.m., I happily thought, “Well, no shoe shopping today, I guess!”

The next three weekends are spoken for, so shoe shopping is safely deferred until October 18, at least, and so it goes. This is exactly how “get a shade for the lamp by the bed” has come to be on my to-do list for 15 years or so.

My mother was lately suggesting I do something or other. I told her I absolutely was not going to do it, because if it were the kind of thing I could actually get done, I would also have bought a lamp shade long ago. “Ah, well, I guess you are your parents’ child,” she said, not without satisfaction.

This also marks a year since I promised David and Lisa I would send them a recording of a piano composition of mine. It’s on a cassette tape. I need it to be in the Mac so I can make an mp3. One of these years I’ll figure out how to do this (and then actually do it).

I’M Perimenopausal. YOU Suck It Up.

My post about perimenopause (quite understandably) inflamed the passions of one of my correspondents, who fired off an email with the subject line “GIRL, i hear you.”

She went on, except she had real "u"s where I have put asterisks:

same thing here.
mine isn't heavy - but I've started acupuncture just to tame my f*cking rage.
I am a mellow person by nature. Virtually no temper.
until now.
lord have f*cking mercy.
I was pulling out of the parking lot of at work - and had been distracted by a fellow in a wheelchair who kept standing up, etc.
I was looking both ways, and moving fwd, etc.
and these 2 women (pedestrians) step out in front of my car and I stop and wave them on
I am so not f*cking kidding you
I saw RED - red red RED!
and I had the strongest impulse to get out of my car and literally grab her by her f*cking swiveling neck and bash her head into the ground.
for real.
I'm 46 and it's just beginning.
My mom once told me that she asked my 75-year-old (at the time) grandmother when her hot flashes had stopped and my Grammy said: "I'LL LET YOU KNOW"


that's all
keep breathing

(End of email.)

My favorite part was the “f*cking swiveling neck.” I hope I never see anyone with that type of neck, or all bets are off.

Last Sunday I volunteered at the second occurrence of Sunday Streets, in which a long stretch of the Embarcadero is closed to automobiles so people can ride their bikes and stroll along the waterfront in peace and safety.

I was posted at one end of the Illinois St. bridge, at the north edge of the Bayview district, where I was in charge of making sure cyclists didn’t use the pedestrian path and vice versa. I saw a tiny little boy pedal furiously by on the world’s smallest tricycle. He had on a full helmet, not just a bike helmet, and was wearing a very serious expression. It was about the cutest thing I’ve ever seen.

In October, I am going to take the League of American Bicyclists’ three-day seminar which, if all goes well, will result in my being an LCI—League Cycling Instructor. While I was volunteering at Sunday Streets, by chance I met one of the people who will be teaching the seminar.

At the end of the retreat I just returned from, Phillip Moffitt encouraged us to have as many mindful moments as possible each day. He pointed out that most of us don’t spend most of our time on retreat, so if we aren’t mindful in our regular lives, when will we be? I’m reading his book Dancing with Life now—signed by the author!—and am getting a lot out of it.

It is often mentioned how the Buddha said “All life is suffering,” though in fact, he never said that at all; he said that suffering exists, meaning getting what we don’t want, not getting what we do want, aging, sickness, and death, among other things, but these aren’t the whole of life.

It’s easy (for me) to think suffering should not exist and that it’s something to try to ignore or push away (because it entails suffering!). Phillip writes, “I sometimes joke with my students that our modern interpretation of suffering is so distorted that for the Buddha to teach the Four Noble Truths today [the first of which is the truth of suffering] he would have to rename them ‘One Crummy Truth and Three Noble Truths’ or ‘The Horrible Truth of Suffering and Three Great Solutions.’” That cracked me up.

I have been trying for years to have as many mindful moments as possible, but was inspired anew by what Phillip said. I think I’ve managed to find plenty of ways to push away the truth of a given moment despite my conscious intention.

Phillip pointed out that one can sneak in a bit of walking meditation even at a harried workplace by making a mindful trip to the office supplies cabinet, and one is always assured of privacy in a bathroom stall.

Since then, I’ve been starting each morning with a few minutes of metta, or loving-kindness practice. I’m using four pretty standard metta phrases, plus three others I particularly like, and am finding it’s working pretty well to say the phrase for myself first—for instance, “May I be happy”—and then for all beings: “May all beings be happy,” after which I think of a handful of people, mixing benefactors, friends and difficult people all together: “Hammett, Carol Joy, [difficult person at work], my mother, my father, [Grilling Neighbor #1], [Grilling Neighbor #2].”

This way some of the friendly feelings it’s easy to feel for Hammett and Carol Joy sort of tide me over while I think of Mr. Rude Email at work, and likewise for my mother and father followed by my grilling neighbors.

The building manager generally ignores me when she sees me in the hallway, but was forced to speak to me when there was water dripping into her apartment. Then she went back to ignoring me. That was annoying (as so many things are): It seems to me that she should either always be civil, or never speak to me at all, but not mix and match as the mood takes her.

But then I thought: Well, why is that? And decided that there’s no particular reason she can’t be inconsistent. It’s out of my control, anyway.

Several days ago she greeted me and asked me to pass something on to Tom. She, like the rest of the world, was having trouble reaching him by phone and email.

A few days later, I saw her out front, and she said hello and, most surprisingly, added, “How are you doing?” I told her I was fine and asked how she was. I don’t want to attribute this to metta practice, but you never know. It also made me glad I hadn’t taken any further action in regard to the grilling, because I’m sure we wouldn’t have had that interaction if I had.

And, last, it made me feel kind of good about always keeping the door open with her. No matter the extent of our conflict, I have always been civil, which means she never has to be afraid I will pretend I don’t see her or hear her.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

I'M 68. YOU Suck It Up.

I can't wait until I'm 68 and can use this line uttered recently by my mother. (I believe we were discussing my dissatisfaction with having to call her on her cell phone, per her instruction not to use their landline, which is reserved for telemarketers.)

My Bad

A month or so on, my bike crash injuries are mostly healed, and I did drop off information on the urban bike skills class for the Jamie Foxx-looking guy, as promised. I’m usually horrible with faces (as well as names, not to mention anything else that requires the use of the memory, other than real or perceived injuries to myself), but he was easy to pick out again.

By way of a souvenir, I will have a small scar on my elbow—it looks like a smirking little mouth—plus one on my knee, and I’m still waiting for one bruise to fade, but my knee has stopped clicking, and I think everything is basically fine.

A couple of weeks after the crash, when I had some idea of what the expenses would amount to, I called the fellow who knocked me down, and asked him how he came to hit me. He said he doesn't think of that red light as being a place where cyclists need to stop, since it isn't a true four-way intersection, so he was just sailing along.

That was the only part of the conversation that was at all testy. He asked, "Did you notice no other cyclists were stopped?" and I answered, "The ones who obey the law stop. The light applies to us, too."

I realized he was suggesting it was my fault the crash occurred, or that he might even have felt he had suffered a wrong: "Why did this darn person stop right in front of me?" He, like me, received a variety of painful injuries. He said he was bruised so badly it was difficult for him to get out of bed.

I had planned to ask him to take the urban bike skills class (what the League of American Bicyclists calls Road I), which I highly recommend, and which is what made me so scrupulous about red lights, but he had already decided to do that. Before I even mentioned it, he said that he'd realized he needed to improve his habits, so he'd signed up for the class.

I said that I wanted to apologize again for my uncivil remarks; they were spontaneous, but I felt kind of bad about them afterwards. He said it was OK.

I listed my injuries, told him what I’d spent on fixing the bike and myself, and asked him to reimburse me for what it cost to fix my bicycle, which was $105.90. He thought for a moment and said he would do that, and in just a couple of days, his check arrived in the mail.

My mother asked if there is a way for cyclists to signal a stop, and loyally said that despite being 2500 miles away at the time of the incident, she was prepared to testify that I had windmilled my arms before applying my brakes.

One would think that cyclists would be watching what is in front of them pretty carefully out of self-interest, if nothing else. In a car, if you space out and hit something that isn't big enough to register as another motor vehicle, well, no big deal (for you). But on a bicycle, you can't hit much of anything at all without risking your own safety.

There is indeed a signal cyclists can use to indicate an imminent stop—fortunately, it does not require waving both arms—but one would hope not to have to employ it before stopping at a red light, for goodness’ sake.

Grimacing and Bearing It

At some point after the three-day mental rant on the subject of grilling wrapped up, I went on to consider the options in a more realistic manner, but will refrain from posting the details except to say that I decided simply to note each occasion of grilling and to put up with it for now, meaning that I will leave my main room or apartment when the need to breathe semi-clean air requires it.

Or, to put it another way, after a hundred hours of stewing and $200 worth of consultation with my mental health professional ($100 just before the Fourth of July and another $100 this week), I decided Tom was right. Though he was worked up enough to say he planned to talk to the landlord after the horrible night of grilling in May, he has since reverted to his original opinion that it doesn’t happen all that often, so we should grin and bear it.

We recently saw The Dark Knight. It was long and loud and dark indeed. Tom liked it more than I did. I think the main reason to see it is to take in Heath Ledger’s final and remarkable performance, therefore, it is necessary to see it.

We are into the second season of Dark Angel now, which is much sillier than the first, but we are committed fans and will see every minute of every episode.

After my retreat, I didn’t start practicing the guitar again until after Tom’s brother Paul let me play his electric guitar at top volume last weekend and hear the distorted sound I so adore. I’ve found that I have to turn my amp up pretty far to get that sound; this also produces a knock on the door in moments.

I knew I could turn the amp up and use headphones, but it’s bad enough not to be able to remember anything of a factual nature without also being deaf, so I haven’t done that. But Paul told me I can get an effects box that will produce distortion at a low volume, so now I’m practicing again, and have scheduled a lesson for next week. I’m writing little bits of music and maybe one day will turn them into whole songs and record them on the Mac. Maybe I’ll sing.

Today I got the new Metallica album, Death Magnetic, which I think is quite good—it’s certainly much, much better than St. Anger; I do wish Rob Trujillo was considerably louder—and in the evening Tom and I saw The Bank Job for a second time. I think Jason Statham bears a passing resemblance to Tom’s brother Steve, or vice versa (hi, Steve!).

The astute reader will have noticed that I have fought with virtually everyone I have encountered lately, though this is not to say my feelings, perceptions, or opinions were necessarily wrong, and today I decided that I will not survive perimenopause if I don’t make some changes. At the very least, I’ll be in jail, and I’m probably within 5000 angry thoughts of a stroke, so it’s back to basics: My feet. Can I feel them? Yes, there they are.

What am I thinking right now? And now? And now? “Thinking that I need to buy more cheese puffs. Thinking that this person is very irritating. Thinking what if there’s grilling soon? Thinking that I should have joined Metallica when they asked me the first time; oh, wait, I guess they never did do that.”

I find labeling thoughts very helpful. For at least a moment, I am seeing thoughts as thoughts rather than being lost in them and believing them. Observing what is passing through my mind gives me the chance to question it: Am I one hundred percent positive this person maliciously set out to damage my chair? Per Byron Katie, no, I can’t be positive of that. In fact, that’s almost certainly not the case. (The chair was without question damaged, but very likely this was not consciously intended by anyone: Whoever did it thought he was doing the right thing, for at least a moment.)

Saying yes to everything also helps a lot: Yes to grilling! Yes to my apartment being filled with smoke! Yes to whoever it was damaging my chair!

So much of the problem is thinking that things that ARE should not be. Saying yes to what is doesn’t mean one can’t choose to take some sort of action, but it does lessen the portion of misery that comes from struggling to negate reality.

Finding something I can feel grateful for, and there is always something, is also good.

Work, luckily, has been relatively peaceful. Someone called me at an inopportune moment this week, and I asked if I might call her back. After I hung up, I added, “Meaning after I finish these cheese puffs.”

My nearby coworker said, “I’m glad to hear you have your priorities straight.”

“Right,” I agreed. “The user will always be here, whereas these cheese puffs will expire in a matter of months.”

New Sympathy for the Leprous and/or Homeless

I had given Andrew Woodside Carter favorable mention for fixing my chair, but I must now retract that; herewith is the review I posted on Yelp this week, slightly edited:

I took an old wooden chair to Andrew for regluing/strengthening. He was very friendly and pleasant, and when I received the chair back, indeed it was glued and seems very sturdy. He charged me $85 for the regluing.

One of the vertical pieces in the back was cracked, evidently from having a wedge inserted during the regluing process, and there were messy drips of glue here and there, but the main visible difference was various areas of the chair where the finish had been removed completely and which are now rough to the touch. I noticed that an area that my cat had dug her claws into had been sanded down such that the little gouges were nearly gonenot anything I had requested.

I made up my mind to live with the chair's radically different appearance, but found it continued to nag at me in the ensuing weeks, so I contacted Andrew and arranged to take the chair in for his inspection. My theory was that perhaps one of his assistants had assumed the job was going to be a refinish, and had started stripping off the finish accordingly, only to be told it was only a regluing job, and I expected that Andrew would say, "Goodnessthat happened here? I am so sorry. Let me fix this."

Instead he said that he had not touched the chair in any way other than to reglue it, and when I pointed out the cracked vertical piece, obviously a result of the regluing job, he said, "I dunno about that."

I have been sitting on this chair every day for decades. I know what it looked like before I took it to Andrew Woodside Carter, and I know what it looks like now. I was forced to conclude that, at best, he is a sloppy and inattentive craftsperson.

He observed that my chair is a "junky old chair" by way of explaining why it doesn't now look perfect. I completely agree that it did not look perfect when I took it to him, but it was at least covered with finish and didn't have rough areas all over it. I assume that if I were rich and my chair cost $1000, Andrew would have found himself able to be polite, and perhaps he does lovely work for such people and is unfailingly courteous to them, as he was not with me, but I would never deal with him again and advise others to steer clear.

At the end of our discussion, he offered to put shellac on the bare areas, but considering the way the glue was applied, I would never let him touch any item of mine again. Overall, a disappointing and really kind of shocking experience. Actually, about the worst experience I've ever had with the owner of a small business.

ADDENDUM: Yesterday evening I was able to find a photo of my chair that shows that the vertical piece was not cracked before Andrew "I dunno about that" Woodside Carter worked on it. (I had not doubted my perceptions, but it was good to have photographic validation.)

Tom also can easily see the spots on the chair where the finish disappeared during its sojourn in Andrew's shop and theorizes that maybe Andrew was burned previously by a customer who meant to rip him off, and that I received the treatment actually earned by that customer.

I was not going to ask him to fix it—had he offered to refinish the entire chair for free, for instance, I would not have taken him up on it, partly because the vertical piece DID get cracked, and there WAS excess glue here and there—if the reglue job came out like that, how would an actual refinish have gone? But since it is just a "junky old chair," per Andrew, I guess he didn't feel it merited careful attention to details.

Therefore, my purpose in showing him the chair was simply to know what had happened and have the damage acknowledged.

My theory is that one of Andrew's assistants started to sand the chair, was told by another assistant to stop, and that by the time Andrew began work on it, it had already been damaged. That would fit the facts: That the finish was removed from various sections of the chair, but that Andrew is positive he didn't touch the finish.

I guess we will never know since Andrew was not for one second willing to entertain the possibility that I was not telling him a bald-faced lie or that I might actually know what this chair, which I've owned all my life and upon which I sit nearly every day, looked like when I took it to him. Weird. (Sorry for the LONG review. It was a traumatic experience.)

(End of review.)

Off I walked down the street clutching my chair, soon to discover that cab drivers evidently won’t stop for a person with a chair, as they also will not stop for a person with a bicycle.

There was no way I was setting my chair down on the sidewalk anywhere in the Mission, but it was unlikely I could carry it seven blocks home. Fortunately, along came the bus, and I and my chair boarded.

I told the bus driver that I’d need to come back in a moment to pay my fare, and asked if the bus would be stopping at my desired street. “Sure,” he said, leaning as far from me as possible; his head was nearly out the window. I wasn’t sure if he meant, “Sure, you can come back and pay your fare in a moment,” or if he meant, “Sure, the bus does stop there,” so then we had one of those clarifying conversations that always annoys both parties, with the bus driver continuing to lean away from me.

When I came back to pay my fare, he leaned away again. I’ve never experienced anything like that before, but then I considered what he was seeing, and I must digress here to say that the evening Tom and I got back from Sacramento, my ankles, stomach, one arm and one hand had some sort of bites on them, with one ankle by far the most affected area.

They seemed reminiscent of flea bites, and they really itched, though I hadn’t noticed any fleas about, and Tom was completely unbitten, even though we were in almost the exact same spots all weekend.

Of course, I scratched these bites vigorously and ended up with my ankles scabby and reddened.

So I concluded the bus driver was thinking, “Hmm. Here we have a person in her pajamas, face covered with a hat that clearly was dug out of a trash bin, and, from the looks of her legs, suffering from leprosy. Carrying a junky old chair.” And I suspect that explains that, though I did still feel slightly wounded.

Patting Myself on the Back for Being Highly Irritable for 46 Years: That Was Smart!

Perimenopause started a couple of months ago, unmistakably, and it’s fantastic so far. The only hard part is deciding which aspect is best: the boiling hot and suddenly erupting rage (thank goodness I ramped up to this by being easily irritated for the previous four and a half decades), the inability to sleep long enough to feel rested, or the uncontrollably gushing blood which soaks multiple feminine hygiene devices and everything else in its path before I can take defensive measures.

That is to say, it is really a big pain, and I’m completely sick of it already. Good thing it doesn’t usually last more than ten years.

Tom and I went to Sacramento last weekend, and we had a really great time. Steve and Julie had a dinner party at their place, and it was truly splendid. (For Chris, the guest list: Steve, Julie, Paul, Eva, Sarah, Dan, Ann, Jim, Melinda, Abby, a friend of Abby’s, Tom, me, John Febbo and his girlfriend, Alison.) The next day, we spent a lovely couple of hours with Ann and Mac. And Sophie!

I didn’t want to spend the whole weekend lecturing my grilling neighbor in my head, so when I meditated Saturday morning before we left for Sacramento by train, I promised myself a grilling-free weekend, and for a good ten minutes, I enjoyed total serenity.

As mentioned, there is some difficulty sleeping in the perimenopausal era. I, who formerly could and often did sleep for 17 hours straight, now frequently wake up way too early—like, three hours too early—not at all rested, and completely wired.

For this condition, Lisa M. recommended a piping hot cup of Celestial Seasonings Sleepytime Extra before bed (i.e., Sleepytime plus heroin or some such). The Sleepytime I had in the cupboard proved to have expired in 2002, so I got some of the turbo-charged kind.

(By chance, I saw the movie Catch and Release lately, which was pretty much one big Celestial Seasonings advertisement, with the characters chatting with each other about the little quotes on the boxes and the camera lingering lovingly on a Celestial Seasonings sign.)

A cup of Sleepytime Extra at bedtime has indeed proven to be soothing. In the same conversation, Lisa recommended a homeopathic remedy from Hyland’s, Calms Forte. I tried it, but found it made me feel a bit jittery. I read some reviews online and found that most reviews were glowing, though not all. In the course of reading the reviews, I came upon mention of Hyland’s Insomnia, so I gave that a try one evening, and within ten minutes, was extremely drowsy, and woke up the next morning only 30 minutes too early, feeling groggy, which is fine. Groggy is better than wired. I’ve got the little bottle under my pillow now, and will see if it helps next time I wake up far too early.

However, Hyland’s Insomnia was indirectly responsible for my serenity of Saturday morning ending after only ten minutes, because when I called my mother to tell her about it, my long distance provider, OneSuite, played me a recording saying my account had expired, and in moments, I was on the phone telling a hapless customer service person, “This is [unprintable unprintable].”

I didn’t call her any names per se, and I did soon switch to utterances that I consider to be allowable when necessary, which is descriptions of my evolving mental state, employing “I” statements only, as in, “I am ENRAGED right now,” and so forth.

OneSuite doesn’t care if you have money left in your account, as I did, and they don’t care if you used your service two days prior, as I likely had. If you don’t give them more money every six months, they turn off your account, though they don’t confiscate your money. It seems to me that giving them $10 every two months and two days is the same thing as giving them $30 every six months and six days—except three times the aggravation for me—but they don’t care.

I must say that their customer service people demonstrated Zenlike calm. The first person I talked to offered to un-expire my account. “No, I don’t want you to do that!” I said. “I am canceling this account. I am really, really, REALLY angry right now.” They readily agreed to send me back the remaining money in my account, and I hung up and sent two grumpy emails to their management (or, more likely, to no one at all; those emails probably go straight into the trash).

Then I emailed those I speak to most frequently via long distance to tell them they wouldn’t be hearing from me until I found a new long distance company. Then I looked online for thirty seconds for a new long distance provider whose rates are as low as OneSuite’s.

And then I called OneSuite back and begged them to reinstate my account. I told them I was impressed at their courteous handling of my irate earlier call. My voice was kind of raspy by then. I cleared my voice and apologized, adding, “See, I can barely talk after all that screaming,” and if I am not mistaken, the customer service person allowed herself a gentle chuckle.

American Culture Triumphs Once Again

I recently returned from my annual meditation retreat, which was tremendous. It was a concentration retreat (samatha), not insight meditation (vipassana), and it did give me the ability, temporarily, to aim my mind at a chosen object and have it stay there.

Pointing the mind over and over at any given object happens to produce a very calm and blissful state after some days, but the main point of doing this is to use one’s improved ability to concentrate in the service of insight meditation.

At the beginning of the retreat, I was brushing bees away as I walked outside in the sun, worried about being stung. By the end of the retreat, I was saying to them (silently), “If you have to sting me to redress wrongs done to your people, go right ahead,” and not waving them away or trying to walk away from them. Of course, I didn’t get stung. They just wanted to see what was going on.

I’ve found that doing concentration practice regularly makes everything more intense, for good or ill, so it was most unfortunate that grilling occurred soon after I returned home, because my mind was then aimed in a decidedly unwholesome direction, and it was like a speeding freight train, in that it was pretty much going where it was going.

I had allowed a sense of security to creep in, and then firmly to take hold, when a few months or so passed without grilling. But on Labor Day, alas, there seemed to be extra activity outside my kitchen door, the neighbors going out and coming in. Sure enough, their little grill disappeared from outside their kitchen door only to reappear in the back yard.

The female half of the couple came over and said they would really like to grill a couple of things—would that be OK? I said it’s kind of a problem, but that if she absolutely had to, she should go ahead. She was a bit miffed when she left, and then the husband came over to announce that he doesn’t believe it’s that big a problem—he doesn’t, for instance, believe that it stinks up all the clothes in my closet, which is to say, he basically called me a liar—and that he was going to grill whether I liked it or not, and so he did.

He opined that grilling is part of American culture, and I would agree that it is, along with driving around in an SUV and violence against women and children—well, violence in generalon the down side, and, on the up side, Metallica.

I closed my windows and put folded-up towels over the obvious leaks, and then I just stayed out of my main room for the next two and a half hours or so for the most part; it did stink in there.

Then commenced three or so days of nonstop mental commentary along the lines of, “Listen here, sonny, if you think you’re not going to hear from my attorney, you’ve got another think coming …”

Some of this commentary was perfectly truthful, to the best of my knowledge, and some was outrageous lies, which is particularly useless: Why bother practicing speeches I will never give?

If you join the San Francisco Tenants Union, they will send you a manual, which may or may not be helpful—it wasn’t, in my case—and you get a secret number to call for phone counseling. If you call the secret number, you hear a recorded message instructing you to leave a message with every detail of your situation and wait for a call back. When you get the call back, it says something like, “Well, it’s hard to say, since we haven’t talked directly, but based on your voice mail, I’d say this … “

Which is to say: forget joining the SFTU, and just walk over there as a non-member, make a donation on the spot, and speak in person to an attorney.

I did once call the special secret number about grilling and eventually got a voice mail that said something like, “Well, I can’t really say, but you could try asking your landlord to fix the leaky windows. However, you really should be able to have your windows open if you want them open, so your best bets are to bring a lawsuit or to do a rent strike, and, of those two options, you’re probably better off with the lawsuit. This does sound like an issue of habitability.” I assume this is because I could place myself in jeopardy if I stop paying rent, but who can say?

I started poking around on legal websites myself and concluded it probably wasn’t an issue of habitability per se, but perhaps of interference with quiet enjoyment—it does appear that a rent-paying tenant has the right to enjoy her apartment free of nuisances caused by other tenants. An objectionable odor is specifically mentioned as an example of a nuisance. Having to leave my main room for two and a half hours whenever one of my neighbors is overcome by the desire to grill is a problem.

So I feel that, if it comes right down to it, I may possibly be on firm ground, legally speaking, which did ease my mind. It’s good to know that if necessary, I can sue, or maybe just having an attorney write a letter would do the trick.

But someone or other once told me, or I read online, that no party to a lawsuit ever feels happy or satisfied afterwards, which I can readily believe, so I resolved to think the matter over thoroughly before doing anything, and to consult my mental health professional.

I also asked Tom what he thought. He thinks suing a neighbor is an extremely bad idea. But then, if I am—ahem—highly attuned to all sorts of things, he is pretty much oblivious to all of those same things; somewhere between our viewpoints is probably where a balanced perspective lies.