Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Sparkling Beautiful Sunday

Last weekend was amazingly wonderful. A lot of stuff seems to be amazingly wonderful lately now that I’m making a much more determined effort to put aside ruminations regarding the past and the future. There is so much to enjoy.

Last Friday night, I went to see Jeff for acupuncture, which is always hugely pleasant. The next day, I met not one, but two, of my neighbors from the building next door, where the griller lives. One has lived there for more than 20 years, and seemed delighted to meet a neighbor, and the other has lived there for 13 years, the same number of years I have lived in my current building. I always thought she was mean because she doesn't grin into my kitchen window when she's taking out her trash, but she's nice.

I often get her mail (because Laura is exactly the same thing as Linda, and 551 is exactly the same thing as 555), so we chatted about that, and she also said some other very interesting things, including that she doesn’t like the stuff piled up in the common areas of her building, and that periodically, the fire marshal is notified, and the person who owns the stuff clears some of it out, only for it to pile up again later, which means, at least, that he does take those warnings seriously, so maybe he also takes a request not to grill in a certain location seriously.

I mentioned to Tom that the grill remains in sight, but he said maybe it’s just being stored there, and maybe he’s right. Anyway, there has been no grilling, but even if there is, I’ve had some sort of breakthrough, I think. Along with trying harder not to drift off into the imaginary past and future, I’m putting more attention on my own experience when I’m upset.

When I noticed the grill still hanging around after the alley was cleared out, while I did think, “I may have to do something else about this,” I also consciously inquired into my own experience: How did I feel about seeing the grill? Angry? Agitated? What I felt was something very customary: fear, as a pressure in my chest. I think it’s the fear that someone will take advantage of me and I won’t be able to stand up for myself, or simply fear about having conflict and the danger that may bring.

I’ve been asking myself somewhat frequently these days, “What general emotion am I having? Fear, anger, sorrow, happiness? What exactly does it feel like? How do I know I’m having that feeling?” It is proving to be such a fruitful practice, because it takes the focus off the thing outside myself and how I’m going to struggle to change that external situation or person, and instead helps me to be with myself.

When I turn immediately to how I’m going to get X person to do what I think he or she should do, I’m abandoning myself. My own experience doesn’t get seen at all, and the energy of the emotion, I’m guessing, gets stuck. Then, when I find myself eating a pint of ice cream, I have no idea why. It seems to have come from nowhere, but it’s no doubt something inside me seeking comfort, since I’m not providing myself with comfort and attention—I’ve tuned out my own actual experience completely.

Turning in a detailed way to the concrete experience also makes me feel much more calm, capable and confident, which is somewhat paradoxical, since I’m not even thinking at that moment about how to handle the actual situation. So I am loving this exercise and have found myself almost looking forward to difficulties so I can try it again.

Yesterday was the 21st anniversary, to the day, of the first time I went to Howie’s sitting group.
(Yes, I am the world’s slowest learner.) I was there last night, as I am almost every Tuesday evening, and told him it was our anniversary and thanked him for all he has given me.

Last Saturday morning, I met a third neighbor still, while doing laundry. Jan has lived around the corner for nearly 30 years, with her identical twin. We had a very nice chat. I have so many neighbors on this block alone, and know so few of them to say hello to, so I really appreciated meeting these three friendly people.

After laundry, I went to Rainbow and then cooked up a pile of things, which took well into the evening.

Sunday was even better than Saturday. I’m writing a thing on Freedom from Training Wheels for the Chronicle, so I bestirred myself to Sunday Streets, which featured a car-free stretch from 17th and Third, I believe, to Third and Palou, well into the Bayview neighborhood.

First I hung around Freedom from Training Wheels for a while and watched a bunch of awfully cute little kids rolling up and down on tiny bicycles, which was just as great as you’d imagine. I interviewed one (very) young lady, a person after my own heart who started by making sure I was going to spell her name correctly in the newspaper, and then watched at my elbow as I wrote down her observations to make sure it was, word for word, what she’d said.

Toward the end of the time the streets would be closed to cars, I rode down to Third and Palou. I have never been there on a bike and found it kind of flabbergasting to be seeing so many things in my own city for the first time after living here for nearly 30 years.

I had been standing at Third and Palou for about three minutes marveling over this when a melee broke out, fortunately primarily a shoving match, no sign of weapons, but it was kind of startling how immediately it went from involving two people to involving 30 people, while an announcer at a nearby event pleaded in vain over a P.A. system, “We’re a community, so let’s act like one.”

I headed north again and stopped at a stage where musicians were playing and the bubble lady’s magical bicycle was sending thousands of shimmering spheres into the sunny skies. It was enchanting. I stayed there for quite a while.

Farther north still, but still in the Bayview, there was an outdoor poetry performance underway. It was really a wonderful afternoon. From now on, I’m not going to miss Sunday Streets.

That evening I went to Eugene’s sitting group for the second time in a few weeks. I’ve vowed to get there regularly, where I always see so many people I know and where the energy is so upbeat and welcoming.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Bathtub Kayaking

Late in April I went to We Be Sushi for dinner with Tom, his girlfriend, and her son. Close questioning revealed that the son’s birthday is the very day after mine, so he has just left his teens and I have one more year before I turn 50.

Did I mention the very helpful thing my father said when my mother had cancer? Before I tell you what it was—cliffhanger!—I wanted to mention that after my mother’s cancer was gone, I got an email from her out of the blue giving me permission to mention it here. That was very sweet of her.

As for my father, he said he tries not to worry about anything he can’t control, and certainly not about anything not happening today. That is at the other end of the spectrum from my own procedures, but it seemed to have some merit nonetheless, and proved to be very helpful. Even setting aside my mother’s cancer, I’ve spent far too much of my life brooding over the past and worrying about the future and I vow to enjoy as many moments as possible from now on, past (probably well past) my life’s halfway mark.

But there is no reason for gloom on that score. For one thing, I’ve spent so much time in fruitless mental pursuits that it’s entirely possible I could have more moments of being present in, say, the 20 years to come than the 49 years already gone. Actually, I could probably do it in one year.

Also, as it said on the front of the birthday card I got from Carol Joy, “Birthdays are good for you. The more you have, the longer you live.” Good point! And a nice contrast to our society’s highly prevalent view that old age is to be dreaded.

I went to Ypsilanti for a week just before my birthday and had a lovely time. I stayed with my parents, of course, and went with my mother to a couple of appointments. My sister came over thrice, I had lunch with Helen and Ginny at Seva (unfortunately, Sally and I couldn’t work out a visit, which I was looking forward to, but I’m sure we will next time), and Amy had me over for a lovely homemade vegetarian birthday dinner with her and her son Mike. She roasted a variety of vegetables, and baked me a birthday cake.

She said I was the first person ever to request a white cake with white frosting, a year or two ago, but it has now taken hold in their family enough that Mike requested the same for his most recent celebration. I said I was glad to learn I had had at least some positive effect on him.

Later in the week, my father announced there would be a “birthday ceremony” around dinnertime, and at the appointed hour, produced a beautiful fruit-covered tart, a card, and the check he customarily mails every year. I am very fond of that check. Because it comes some decades after childhood, it always makes me feel quite spoiled and loved.

Amy and I also got together on another day for lunch at Seva, and Dad and I took a trip to the cemetery one sunny and tranquil afternoon. I’ve never seen a family member’s grave before and found it slightly arresting to see our last name on a headstone. One of the markers was that of a little girl who died after only 19 days, of something that would be readily fixable now. It was overwhelmingly sad to see that stone, with a lamb carved in one corner, and to reflect on what those 19 days must have been like for her mother, who knew from the beginning that her child would not live. Three women on my father's side of the family all outlived a daughter.

Living for a week where there is a TV let me get caught up on Rachel Maddow, and, less happily, on Palin and Weiner. Rachel said she got an email from her parents saying that if they die, they would like such-and-such public couple to adopt her, which I thought was endearing. During the many days of non-stop Weiner coverage, Rachel said something like, “Perhaps you were out today and didn’t get to watch TV. Maybe you missed your TV. If you want to know what your TV looked like while you were out, it looked like this,” and then we saw a screen divided into four quarters, each displaying Congressperson Weiner’s face.

Late in the week, I had lunch at Haab’s with my Uncle Rick and his fiancée, Janet, about which I had had some slight trepidation. Mentally, I was one hundred percent on board, but I feared that when we actually met, I might be overcome with grief over my departed, beloved aunt, but it turned out perfectly fine. Janet is lovely—outgoing, cheerful, full of enthusiasm. She and Uncle Rick have known each other since high school, and are doing all sorts of fun things together. I fully and completely endorse this happy match.

Uncle Rick has lost nearly 40 pounds and looks utterly fantastic. I hasten to say he looked entirely fine before—he’s one of the more handsome uncles around—but he looks amazing now. (Actually, Janet said that when one of her longtime friends learned she was engaged to my uncle, the friend said, “You’re kidding! He was the It Guy in high school!”)

One thing Janet likes to do is go kayaking, and so we discussed the three of us doing this together next year, as they’re about to buy a house on the water. My mother is already worried about it and suggested I take some kayaking lessons in the meantime. I pointed out that Uncle Rick and Janet’s new house is going to be on an internal, probably very placid, waterway, and that I’m sure Janet will save me if anything goes amiss. My mother wasn’t reassured.

“Wait!” I said. “You want me to go kayaking in San Francisco Bay?”

“No,” she explained, “I didn't mean you should go out past the Golden Gate in a kayak. I meant in a swimming pool.”