Friday, December 21, 2012

Shoo, Flu Goo

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, December 20, 2012

More or Less Dead as a Doornail

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

An Unrefreshing Trip to the Future

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Calcification Tribulation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Hyderabad Headbanger

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Heavy metal,” she said.

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

“Metallica. I think Metallica is great.”

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

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

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

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Friday, December 14, 2012

The Best Thing Ever

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, December 08, 2012

Incisive Interviewing Technique

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, December 05, 2012

Pithy Imaginary Remarks

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, December 04, 2012

Strangely Strange

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, December 03, 2012

SpongeBob Brings Characteristic Good Humor to New Opportunity

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, December 02, 2012

Back from the Brink

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, November 30, 2012

Even Better

You may have read about the fellow who died after winning a live cockroach-eating contest. I sent my parents a link to a news article about it and my father spotted that the grand prize was a python and wrote back, “What was the runner-up prize? Two pythons?”

I had noticed that my printer was trying to send through a second sheet even when I printed a one-page document (probably unrelated to pythons in any number). The second, completely unrequested sheet would invariably fail to emerge completely and cause a jam. This seemed like a Googlable symptom, so this past Monday, I did a search and found some instructions.

I am not a particularly handy person. Another thing I did that day was, per the manager of my apartment building, go look under a table in the back yard for a can of paint to use for touching up some things in my kitchen. Needless to say, I’m not going to do this painting myself, and I found just rooting through all the stuff underneath the table a somewhat enervating project. There were so many different kinds of things there, and I cut my finger.

I once had a construction-type job at PG&E when I was young and springy, and I have tools and stuff, but I don’t recall that I ever needed to figure anything out in that job. It seems to me that I received pretty detailed instructions before lifting any tool, so why I would think I would be able to fix a laser printer is a mystery.

But I actually did fix it! Which is so fantastic that it’s almost but not quite worth having spent an unnecessary $429.18—on having Peter “fix” the printer, two 2x4s, superfluous toner, the new printer, toner for the new printer, and expedited shipping.

Monday evening, I had dinner and took a shower and went online and, to make a long story short, took far more of the printer apart than necessary before I found the little thing that was the culprit. I had a picture that showed it clearly, but had to look at it five times before it dawned on me that it matched what I was looking at in real life, and then, just as the website had predicted, I yelled, “Oh my god—that?!?” One person said, “It took me 10 minutes to fix it! And half of that was the time I spent saying, ‘Are you kidding me?’”

The old printer is now working perfectly (even with three screws and a little piece of metal left over). However, to avoid paying double shipping charges, I plan to keep the new printer, which also copies, scans and faxes, and give away the old one.


Under the circumstances, I decided it would be appropriate to get part of my printer-fixing money back after all, and at lunchtime Tuesday walked over to retrieve it. I found Peter hanging around the shop. The cash register man was on the phone, so Peter and I chatted and I told him what I’d done to ungum things. He asked a couple of times, “You bought a new printer?” and I kept assuring him that it was the same old printer. Once the other fellow was off the phone, he cheerfully gave me a partial refund and joked, “Maybe we should have you fix our printer.”

I had to expend a good deal of effort on Wednesday convincing C. that he had not won a fortune in the UK lottery, despite the very official-looking email he’d gotten from a Yahoo address. By the time he first mentioned it to me, he’d already telephoned South Africa, but hadn’t handed over his credit card number or social security number. In his defense, he has little to do with computers, and is innocent of many things familiar to others. I felt bad for him, and for others who are victimized in such ways. Tom says that when his father was in his final years, he fell prey to a scam or two. (I heard on public radio that this is because people become sunnier in outlook as they age, and thus increasingly likely to assume that strangers are lovely and trustworthy people.) 

Now that I’ll be leaving my current job, of course J. has given me a long list of tasks, which all actually sound like fun things to do, but I’m not sure if I’ll be able to get to them, so I’m feeling a bit stressed, also due to the full-blown clothing crisis now underway. While I was visiting Michigan, I ordered some stuff from Lands’ End and LL Bean, because before yesterday I owned precisely two outfits that fit the definition of business casual.
Lisa will be here from Seattle next week and we have drafted an agreement to meet for dinner on Monday, at which the likelihood of my dribbling something colorful and staining down the front of one of my few work blouses is 100 percent. What I need is a professional-looking adult bib, and fortunately, Amazon sells them. At least, they sell adult bibs, and I am going to get some.

The stuff from Lands’ End arrived yesterday, so I tried it all on, and ran down to Sunny Launderette with three blouses to be washed and ironed. I now know what pants and blouse sizes I wear, which of course are not sizes that exist, but precisely between two sizes. In the evening, I saw Brigitte for an emergency haircut and walked home in the lovely, blustery evening, admiring the Christmas lights.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012


During my trip to Ypsi, I made a point of consciously feeling my body quite often (for instance, my feet on the floor), which I think allowed me to do less of something that bugs my mother: ask annoying questions. In fact, I was so successful that, after nearly 50 years, she was finally able to move on to her next gripe: my inattentive listening. She led into this subject by cordially asking if I think I might have ADHD. I guess this wasn’t the first time I’d heard about this, as she has often likened me to her mother’s mother, who would listen to an entire anecdote, and then say, “Eh?”, indicating that she hadn’t heard a word.

Certainly it’s efficient (for me) to ignore someone speaking for three minutes and then request the two-sentence synopsis, but I can see how that could be annoying after half a century. Here, then, the opportunity to take on the practice of wholehearted listening, which will probably also come in handy in my new job, so I wasn’t offended, but just glad it had finally sunk in. I thanked my mother for her honest feedback. Who else will tell a person such a thing?

She gave me an additional gift in the form of her new mantra: “The faster you can accept the unacceptable, the happier you’ll be.” As soon as I find myself thinking, “Oh, no—what if such-and-such happens?”, I say to myself, “I accept that such-and-such might happen,” even if it’s something really terrible, and there is an immediate feeling of relief. It also saves the time formerly spent strategizing about how to arrange things just so.

The day after Thanksgiving, Amy and I had a great lunch at Seva. It was 37 degrees when I drove by Arborland, which is chilly, but still warm enough that if there is any precipitation, it will be rain of the yucky and cold variety, which soon fell. By the time we left Seva, it had gotten cooler still. We went into Sam’s, where I used to buy overalls and t-shirts 40-some years ago, and while we were there, it began to snow in earnest, so I bought a warm coat to leave at my parents’ house. We finished with tea at the café across from Café Zola.
Friday evening, my parents and sister and I watched the American version of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. I haven’t seen the Swedish one, but I thought the American one was excellent.

I’d had the idea to record Mom’s and Dad’s voices on this trip, but they didn’t seem enthusiastic, so, attempting to be a semi-considerate guest, I dropped the idea and put the voice recorder back in my suitcase. However, on Saturday morning before I left for the airport, Dad asked if I was still interested in doing this, and he recorded a couple of anecdotes, sounding quite relaxed and natural.

Mom followed suit, and she had actually prepared some remarks and unearthed visual aids. Though not having consulted each other, they both had a story about the exact same thing, so it’s starting to look like their relationship was meant to be.

The reading material I brought along on this trip was Karl E. Wiegers’ Software Requirements, and in case I got through all 500 pages, I brought along a reward: Wiegers’ More About Software Requirements. I finished the first book during the plane trip home, and started the second. This may come in handy in my new job, but even if it never does, it was interesting reading, since I’ve worked in software development for more than a decade, and I also appreciated Wiegers’ tremendous clarity of expression.

I got back Saturday afternoon, and in the evening, C. made us dinner at his place, even lighting candles. On Sunday I did my weekly cooking and completed a massive number of chores, one of which was to decide posthaste on a new printer and order it, along with a spare toner cartridge.

Yesterday I finally solved the 25-year-old problem of the lamp with no lampshade—by taking the lamp back to the same thrift store where I got it. Now it will just be a little darker, or I’ll get another lamp that has all its parts.

I found out my new job is starting next Monday instead of a week later, and exchanged friendly emails with the group’s administrative assistant and with my one peer who reports to the same office, Igby. The administrative assistant sent a note entitled, “Welcome to the TEAM!”

Inevitably, my current and new job have begun to overlap a bit, which has occasioned somewhat of a feeling of stress, but it’s nice to know that at least a couple of the people at the new job are friendly and welcoming.

Red and Orange

(Click to enlarge)

Monday, November 26, 2012

The Ultimate Sacrifice

I found out on Wednesday a week before Thanksgiving that I got the job! While I’d felt calm about either prospect—either I got the job or I’ll continue to look for one—I was delighted once it was confirmed.

I also got a third visit from Peter, and again the printer fell into line while he was here and became insubordinate after he left. The place that deploys Peter had said that if the printer doesn’t end up fixed, you get your money back, but, egged on by my mother, I decided to let them keep the $115 ($110 being the cost of “fixing” the printer and $5 being the amount I insisted Peter take for two unsanded 2x4s that he thought might help by giving the printer’s underside more clearance). After all, maybe it just can’t be fixed. Likely I broke it myself, and Peter did make three trips over here. When I told the fellow at the computer repair place that I didn’t want any money back, he reacted as if that doesn’t happen very often.

Now that I have a job, I need a mug to drink tea from while I’m there! At lunchtime the next day, Thursday, I walked up and down 24th St. in Noe Valley and went into any shop that seemed likely to contain a large and comely tea vessel, and saw some pretty things.

After spending half an hour hoping to stumble into the right object, I considered what would constitute a beautiful mug and thought of a lovely Japanese bowl I own. It would be nice to have a mug that looked like that. On my way home, I went into Scarlet Sage on Valencia St., a shop C. frequently mentions. It’s a wonderful place, full of gorgeous little items, soap, herbs, books, stuff for tea. Lo and behold, they actually had some saucers in the very pattern I’d thought of, which seemed rather cosmic. I bought two to use as coasters and told the counter lady that a friend of mine often visits there: C., who looks like Santa Claus? “Oh, yes, we know C.,” she said.

I researched the bike parking at the office building where I will report to work and it seems that this building is quite a wonderful place, very environmentally friendly, with a rooftop garden, and where bike parking is advertised as one of their many amenities, so that should be fine, though I called the building manager to see if they ever have bikes stolen from their racks. She said she’s never heard of such an incident.

I got a call of congratulations from Dwightly, my career coach, and we had a nice chat.

On Friday evening, I packed, and on Saturday flew to Detroit for Thanksgiving with my parents and sister in Ypsilanti. The trip was uneventful except for the grim family sitting in front of me on the plane. At first I took the person compulsively running her fingers over and over through her long, beautiful, red hair to be a teenager, but she was a grown woman sitting with her young daughter at her side, while her husband sat a row ahead with their baby girl, who was crying loudly for her mommy. Later the children traded seats and I heard the father berating the young girl, speaking to her in a sarcastic, belittling way. When we were deplaning, the child happened to stand near me and I was shocked to see the dead look in her eyes. If that’s how the father behaves in public, what is their home life like? So sad.

On Sunday morning, C. was back from El Salvador and we spoke on the phone. He said his stomach felt tender and that he was thinking of going to the emergency room. I said he might feel better after a nap, but that if he really thought he should go to the emergency room, then he probably should, and the next day he called and reported that he was just back from a night in the hospital and an emergency appendectomy! Sunday evening, Mom and Dad and I watched a documentary about the Dust Bowl.

Monday was a nice reading day, Mom and me together in the living room.

On Tuesday, Dad and I went to Knight’s in Ann Arbor to have lunch with some of his high school friends, and then we went to see his childhood home and the site of his erstwhile one-room schoolhouse, the latter at the northwest corner of Knight and Scio Church Rd. (two Knights in that day, I just realized). The house has fallen nearly into shambles, and only the fence remains of the school. Then it was on to take a look at my childhood home and back to Ypsi. In the late afternoon, my sister came over.

Ginny and I had lunch at Seva on Wednesday, which was very pleasant, and then Mom and I read in the living room all afternoon and evening.

On Thanksgiving, my sister came over and we had a beautiful, colorful meal, mostly made by Dad: vegan nut loaf, stuffing, gravy, Mexican bean salad, avocado slices. Mom made sweet potato biscuits and Dad served canned fruit and pomegranate juice. As for dessert, there was none, whereas usually there are several homemade treats. Because I don’t eat sugar anymore, everyone else skipped dessert without saying a word about it! Of course, it would have been fine with me if they had had dessert, so I was very touched by that thoughtful gesture.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Bordering on the Not Quite Mannerly

Last Friday I got a company IM from the internal recruiter who had set up my recent job interview. He wanted to know if my current manager knew about the interview. I said he did, and that he had wished me luck. The recruiter said, “Looks positive,” at which point I knew I’d probably gotten the job, since I’m sure they don’t hint at a favorable outcome unless it’s pretty certain.

I called my mother to tell her things were looking hopeful.

“Does this mean a big-screen TV in the future?”

“Yeah, now I can buy a lot of stuff!”

“No, I meant our future.”

“Trust me, that never leaves my mind for one second.”

“After all,” she continued, “this couldn’t have happened without me and your father.”

“How so?”

“If we hadn’t given birth to you, you couldn’t have gotten this job.”

I’ll tell you who this actually couldn’t have happened without: the friend who said she thought I’d be a good business analyst and who lined up the very helpful meeting with the bracingly clear senior business analyst, which led me to focus my resume on that kind of role and then to apply for such jobs. Thank you, incomparable benefactor!

Friday evening C. and I had dinner at La Santaneca, and on Saturday, we lunched at Esperpento, getting along very nicely and finally solving our spicy potatoes problem by each getting our own order, plus we split some grilled asparagus.

Between the fellow building the trillion-dollar house and the city park in the center of the block being completely redone, the view from my living room windows is now considerably fancier. For years, I looked out at a shabby little abandoned wooden bungalow, and beyond that, an expanse of grass often populated by Latino soccer players.

It took many months for the park to be redone, and now it’s gorgeous, with lovely green turf, the two tennis courts sparkling new, and a splendid children’s play area with colorful, fanciful play equipment. However, the Latino soccer players largely seem to have disappeared, which is kind of sad—a lot is lost when a place becomes hospitable only to well-to-do white people—but there also seem to be a lot more organized activities happening, which is good, as many of them are for children. It makes me smile to hear 20 little girls screaming on the ball field.

Not so much the obnoxious fellow who shrieks something like “Patitucci!” every time there is a change of fortunes in his tennis game—I’d hoped he was going to move away during the months of refurbishment—ditto the blared instructions of the tennis coach who has started to ply his trade here.

On Sunday I did my cooking and watched I Heart Huckabees, which features everyone from Mark Wahlberg to Lily Tomlin to Isabelle Huppert. It wasn’t very good. I mainly watched it because Mark Wahlberg is in it.

This past Monday I made my biennial visit to my primary care provider, had my annual vision exam, and went to the hardware store for epoxy. In the evening, C. and I had dinner at La Santaneca and got into a fight, which was absolutely to be counted on, since he was leaving that very evening for El Salvador. There are certain things we don’t do well with, including impending time apart, eating, and any kind of stress whatsoever. However, our goodbye at the airport was pleasant. I took him there in a City CarShare. After we parted, I waited to see if he’d turn to wave, but he didn’t, so I got back in the car, and then, just as he was about to walk inside the terminal, he turned and waved.

Yesterday morning, Peter the printer fixer came over to see what he could do with my laser printer, which has been misfeeding consistently ever since there was a paper jam and I pounded the paper tray back in when it didn’t want to go. Peter has been fixing printers for a long time and came highly recommended. When he arrived, I buzzed him into the building and waited for him to knock on my door.

When that didn’t happen, I opened my door and stuck my head into the hallway and heard Peter calling, “Where are you? I can’t find you.”

“I’m in number four.”

“But I only see five through seven.”

“You’re on the floor above me. Come down one flight.”

“I only see five through seven! Where is number four? Help help!” And so forth.

At this point, I was losing faith in his powers of deduction and was about to yell, “I’ve changed my mind about having my printer fixed!” and slam my door, but couldn’t quite bring myself to do that. And perhaps being great at fixing printers doesn’t translate to being great at finding a given apartment in (ahem) a seven-unit building.

Peter proved to be older, very hard of hearing, and quite affable. After I told him about having forced the paper tray in, he examined the printer, found the problem, fixed it, demonstrated that it was no longer misfeeding, and left, after which it misfed again. He returned shortly with a few additional theories, including that the problem was that the toner was low. That hardly sounded plausible, but I went to OfficeMax and bought new toner ($91.13!), which of course didn’t help.

In the evening I went to Howie’s. One of our sangha members has commented a couple of times on my weight loss in frankly disapproving terms, as if it’s something I’ve done on purpose to offend her. This week, she asked whether I’d had dinner or not and asked, almost angrily, “Have you lost even more weight?” I said, “I don’t know,” and she said, before storming off, “Well, check it out—you look peaked.” This is starting to displease me. If I’d gained weight, I doubt she’d say (to my face), “You appear to me to be bordering on the corpulent.” It’s rather bittersweet to have finally lost weight and not feel good about it myself, plus basically have other people telling me I look terrible.

Friday, November 09, 2012

Premium Misinformation Service

Last week Howie said we were to come to sitting group on Tuesday evening despite it being election day. I planned to do that, but then found out I had a telephone interview for a job the following day, so instead stayed home to “prepare for my interview,” but of course spent most of the evening watching the election returns online. Like many, I feared there would be some snafu that would drag the whole thing out for days or weeks, after which the Supreme Court would install Romney. I called my mother and found her watching TV with my father and sister. I gave her some election-related fact or other, which she was glad to hear, but then I added that only 11% of precincts had reported for that state, and she grumbled, “I’m getting misinformation from this cell phone.”

Being a person with a pre-existing health condition—having been treated last year for DCIS, or Stage 0 breast cancer—I was tremendously relieved that Obama won, and delighted at how long it didn’t take. I called my mother back and she asked if there was screaming in the streets. I said there was. San Franciscans never miss an opportunity to scream in the streets, whether or not this service has been requested. “This does call for screaming in the streets,” my mother agreed, “or at least banging a pot lid with a wooden spoon.” She conferred with my father and sister and reported, “Well, I can’t get my staff to go out with pot lids.”

Then I called David and Lisa in Seattle and we hung out on the phone, which was fun. The next worry was about whether Romney would concede or not. His seeming delay aroused some anxiety, but finally he did give his concession speech—I gather he hadn’t bothered to write one, which might explain the wait. His speech was quite gracious, and then Obama gave his victory speech.

I was shocked at how many people voted for Romney. How could they think they even knew what his actual positions were, and did they really trust him to hold their concerns as top priorities? I mean, other than very rich people? The latter would certainly have felt they were in good hands with Romney, and I feared he would win because of the vast sums he was able to spend and that were spent on his behalf, so it was great to find out that trainloads of cash still can’t quite buy you the presidency.

Wednesday was my job interview on the phone, and also a day of complete fasting in preparation for my first colonoscopy. I considered asking to reschedule the interview, but seizing the moment seemed more prudent, and it turned out that I felt all right during our conversation, which I think went well. I liked the person who would be my boss, and it sounds like they’re only interviewing a couple of other people, so my odds sound fairly good. This job is at my former company; please disregard all that blather about not wanting to work there. The job itself looks genuinely great, right up my alley: gathering information, analyzing it, working with all kinds of different people, organizing and managing information and projects, providing technical support and training. It’s not a pure business analyst role, but a step in that direction.

I did fairly extensive preparation the morning of the interview, practicing over and over for the question I was most worried about, which didn’t end up being asked. I taped a lot of pieces of paper to my walls at eye level so they’d be at the ready, but, also due to having prepared for the interview for my current temporary job not so long ago, found I really didn’t need them, which means I might actually survive an in-person interview if I ever have one.

After not eating all day, I drank a bottle of extremely yucky stuff at 5 p.m., and let’s leave it at that, except to say that it paid off to undertake the fasting. I gather that if you eat anything the day before your colonoscopy and then drink the yucky stuff, you’ll be up many times in the night running to the bathroom, which I wasn’t.

However, when I got up at 5 a.m. yesterday, I was feeling dizzy and extremely lousy. I could barely stand up, and drinking the second and final dose of that really dreadful-tasting stuff was a misery. Every cell in the body doesn’t want to take it in, even with the fake fruit flavoring. I went to my appointment by cab and everything from then on was perfectly delightful: one is fawned over by a nice nurse, goes completely to sleep, and wakes up when it’s all over. Before I left the endoscopy center, my doctor—she was totally darling—said everything looked perfect and that I don’t have to come back for ten years. By that time, there will probably be a mobile app for bowel cleansing.

C. took a long bus ride across town to come and fetch me, which was very sweet of him, and we took a cab home. I can only remember one brief snippet of that ride. I made us lunch and then took a long and wonderful nap. C. went somewhere or other and returned later for dinner.

Monday, November 05, 2012

Día de la VBA for Excel

Last Thursday Lesley and I had dinner at La Santaneca and went to the farmers’ market near 22nd and Valencia so she could buy marigolds for her Día de los Muertos altar. She’s the seventh person I’ve introduced to La Santaneca and, like all the others, she liked it.

I’ve always meant to learn Perl scripting and only extreme laziness and lack of initiative have stood in my way, but now I’m so enjoying learning how to manipulate data in Excel that I decided to look into VBA programming for Excel, and, accordingly, acquired a book: Microsoft Excel VBA Programming for Dummies, by John Walkenbach, which is very easy to follow, and also funny.

Whereas it always felt like kind of a chore to read a Perl book, in my spare moments on Friday, I was eager to get back to the VBA book, because I could do stuff right away, even if it was just causing the Developer tab to appear in Excel’s Ribbon. Exciting! This was on my work PC; my manager said early on that I was welcome to spend time on programming for Excel.

The version of Excel on my own Mac looked very different, and in fact didn’t allow for recording macros or using VBA, but Excel for Mac 2011 does.

In the evening, C. and I had dinner at We Be Sushi and went to the Día de los Muertos procession. C. wanted to go see a friend’s art but I didn’t want to miss the beginning of the procession, so we parted for an hour. A lot of the spectators have their faces painted to look like those of skeletons or corpses, and artistry abounds. It took the walkers an hour and fifteen minutes to travel the eight blocks from the beginning of the route to where I was standing, at 24th and Mission. At the front there were some feathery things raised high in the air, plus traditional dancers (or very au courant dancers performing traditional moves), and then it was mainly just plain old people shambling along, most not decorated, so this may not be worth doing next year. Maybe instead it would be better to go to Garfield Park and see the altars that people create, which are probably wonderful.

Back at my place, I bought, downloaded and installed Office for Mac 2011, and made a nice document to record what I learn. With a table of contents!

On Saturday I puttered around at home, and in the evening, Tom and Gen and I had dinner at La Santaneca and took BART downtown to see Argo.

Yesterday I did my cooking and had a rewarding interpersonal experience with C. Last week, we had approximately our millionth conflict, and the past several days have been a period of semi-estrangement. We’ve talked a bit and even seen each other, but he didn’t come to Howie’s, and things have just felt not quite right. By today, I’d started to think maybe the whole thing was just over, which seemed sad, and I sat down to do my journal, always a strong impulse at such moments.

First, though, I thought I’d type up my notes on what Ezra Bayda has to say in Zen Heart about relationships. In the course of that, I got even more inspired to just be with my bereft feelings, and also saw that here was an opportunity to feel goodwill toward C. even if he didn’t do what I wanted—even if I never saw him again. Then I discovered that I was starting to be genuinely curious about what had gone on for him this week, which I’d mostly spent assessing who was wrong and who was right (analyzing), deciding he was wrong (blaming), and fixing (I’ll do this or that about the entire relationship, I’ll leave it, I’ll tell him such-and-such).

Ezra Bayda says that when we’re having difficulty in a relationship, it’s always because we’re expecting something or someone to be different, and that while we generally think the barriers to love lie with the other person, these barriers are always our own. Accordingly, I made a list of what I expect C. to do and how I expect him to act, and it was embarrassingly long. Just as I was putting the finishing touches on that, the phone rang, and it was him, sounding a few notches friendlier.

We said a bit about how our days were going, and then he ran along. I didn’t press him to get together or to talk, but shortly, he called back to suggest a visit. After he arrived at my place, we ended up having a really excellent talk, which was not about why my feelings are more worthy of consideration than his, or why I’m entitled to always get what I want, or why I was right and he was wrong. It was entirely about here’s how I felt and here’s why I acted the way I did. It might not be the best way to act, but here’s why it tends to happen. We both shared those kinds of things, and ended up once again feeling that we were on the same side.

I don’t think we could have had this conversation several days ago. The breathing room was good, and Ezra Bayda helped incredibly much.

Thursday, November 01, 2012

In Need of a Project

Last Monday evening C. and I watched the final presidential debate together.

The next day, N. and I met for burritos at La Cumbre in the late afternoon. At Howie’s afterward, I told him that reciting the Five Remembrances daily—I can’t escape sickness, old age, death or being separated from everything and everyone I love; my actions are my only true belongings—was starting to make me feel gloomy. It has also been leading to some poor decisions: I’ll be dead one day, so I’d be foolish to miss this chance to do such-and-such. Howie said we’re not supposed to stew over the Five Remembrances, just use them as a reminder, and that if I’m dwelling on them during the rest of the day, it’s a sign I’ve lost touch with reality.

Wednesday evening I was feeling unusually depressed (probably because of the Five Remembrances), and C. came over to keep me company and patiently listened while I explained why nothing in this world is any good.

Thursday I went to see Brigitte for yet another haircut, to fix what Max did to me, but there’s not really anything to be done except wait for it to grow out. Brigitte did sympathize very sincerely, which made it all the more clear that it looks pretty terrible at the moment. Spooked, I asked, “What would I do if I had an important meeting tomorrow?” and she said sadly and despairingly, “I don’t know!”

“Wear a hat?”, I suggested, and she considered and said, “Yes, perhaps a hat.”

On Friday, C. and I had dinner at El Majahual.

This past Saturday was Open Studios in the Mission. C. and I visited some artists near my place in the mid-afternoon, and then walked in the direction of Developing Environments. In the course of our stroll, vigorous antipathetic feelings developed and we agreed to part and stalked off in opposite directions. I felt very good about this for about one block, but then decided it wasn’t really going to be that much fun to spend the beautiful afternoon by myself, and turned around to look for C., but there was no sign of him. I walked up and down one block of Mission St., and just as I was about to give up, I spotted his halo of white hair as he trundled along in the direction I’d headed when we separated—he’d come to the same conclusion, and we soldiered on.

Good moods restored, we saw some art, and sat chatting outside a café for a while, and walked over to the Sun Rise restaurant to use the gift certificate I’d won at the benefit. C. had tilapia, which was the entire fish, not omitting eyeballs and skin.

When I got home, there was still time to watch HappyThankYouMorePlease, in which a woman declines to date a man who she says is very immature and going to cause her a lot of problems. In reply he asks, “Don’t you need a project?”

On Sunday I did my cooking. The Giants won the World Series that night, causing a tremendous ruckus outside.

Awhile back, I spoke on the phone with the recruiter who helped me get my first technical job many years ago, and on Tuesday we talked again. I have been meaning to pursue a business analyst position, but had begun to fear it was just too much of a stretch. Plus, I’m having such fun learning new stuff in Excel and writing for-loops that I was thinking I might just enjoy a technical job more.

Chatting with Ann Marie turned out to be a very good idea. She looked at my LinkedIn profile and offered some suggestions, and pointed out that not everyone can speak both English and Computer fluently—that this is a desirable skill—and she also mentioned that a business analyst job would be less subject to offshoring than coding jobs. It was an encouraging conversation.

In the evening, it was off to Howie’s.

In my current temporary job, there are four SMEs—subject matter experts—for network traffic hubs that are being decommissioned and will be replaced with new, virtual ones. The project underway is to find the owner of everything—routers, switches, servers—that’s sending data to these and get them to switch to the new hubs.

This week, someone said she was pretty sure she had pointed her stuff to the new hubs—could we confirm by checking in HP Network Automation? I sent a request to the four SMEs, waited a couple of days, and finally decided just to do it myself; I recalled someone had showed me this in my first couple of weeks on the job. I was able to validate the new configuration without further delay, and the woman was delighted.

I’m also starting to run meetings with the owners of the equipment and can now explain a lot of stuff the SMEs used to have to provide information on, which is quite satisfying.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Though He Does Have Fish Breath from Time to Time

As of last Sunday, Hammett had been with me for six years exactly. He’s a fantastic roommate. He never eats any of my food and doesn’t use the last of the shampoo. He doesn’t welsh on his share of the rent nor watch TV late at night. Out of all people and all cats, he’s my favorite, as I frequently tell him.

I did my cooking Sunday afternoon and then C. and I went to a benefit for the upcoming children’s poetry festival in El Salvador. The benefit was at the Sun Rise restaurant on 24th St. east of Mission, a neighborhood I had never ventured into before getting to know C. There was a reading of children’s stories, a showing of animated short films, and a raffle, at which I won two of the six or so items, though not the one I wanted: a giant book on reptiles and insects, in Spanish. My lucky streak was embarrassing, considering that I was a stranger to everyone there except C. (not to mention the only non-Hispanic). I was praying I wouldn’t win a third item.

Cake was served for someone’s birthday, brought around to us by a wee tyke, and when I said, “No, thank you,” the MC insisted I take it: given by the hand of a little girl! So then I said, “Thank you,” and took the cake, and then the MC insisted I also eat a little! Of course I didn’t eat any, but I did reconfigure it, causing C. to say, “Oh, you ate some.” I told him I hadn’t, and he extravagantly complimented my ability to make a piece of cake look like some of it has been eaten. I later asked C. if that’s a known thing, that you can’t refuse what a little girl offers, but he’d never heard of it.

Monday evening, after trying to get around to this for about nine weeks, I finally watched Kill the Irishman but ended up turning it off before it was done: too violent. For good measure, I purged my Netflix queue of everything that looked bloody.

Also that day I remembered about my mother and gave her a call. “What’s going on over there?” I inquired and she claimed nothing was going on. She’s in the beginning stages of building herself a new computer—she’s picking out the case—and she also, though not normally a fiction reader, acquired a book of short stories in which the first one was about zombies.

“About what?”

“Zombies. Z as in zebra, O as in orange, M as in Linda.”

“M as in Linda?” The ways of some are frankly inscrutable.

Tuesday evening I watched the second presidential debate with C. and Tom, and then C. and I took a pre-requested cab to Howie’s, which was starting 20 minutes late (unprecedented, as far as I know) so people could finish watching the debate and get over there. The debate was on in the cab, so we got to hear the last few minutes.

C. had called earlier in the day to ask what the ground rules for talking during the debate were, and I said that the Golden Rule should be applied, plus that anyone who talked during the debate would be sent to his or her room and also receive a spanking.

Thursday evening C. and I dined at Esperpento, where ill feeling arose over how to divide the various shared dishes, whether one should apply one’s preferred condiment to the entire expanse of the food on the communal serving, what kind of lout eats from the serving plate with his or her personal utensil, and so forth. Friday we were still, or again, speaking to each other and went to La Santaneca for dinner.

On Saturday I did my marketing at Rainbow and in the evening, C. and I went to Live Worms gallery in North Beach for an event celebrating Jennifer Barone’s new book. I enjoyed Lam Khong’s wonderful drawings. Several of C.’s poetry buddies were there and I got to meet one he speaks of often. We left before Jennifer’s actual reading began, and walked all the way to 111 Minna for an auction to benefit the Mission neighborhood newspaper El Tecolote. There was an entire room filled with the art of Lennie Mace, most of which is done in ballpoint pen, although you would never guess that. I fell in love with a dazzling piece called Winter Playground. It’s wildly fanciful and so beautifully rendered. Had it not been $16,000, I would have snapped it up.

Yesterday Tom and I went in a City CarShare car to Sacramento to visit Ann, who treated us to lunch from Boudin’s. We got caught up on all the news and helped Ann pack up the rest of Mac’s personal effects. I admired her ability to get rid of all of this stuff so relatively soon. I still have the personal effects of a cat who died six years ago.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Exercise, Once and For All

Two Fridays ago, I worked on the spreadsheet of the Roseville fellow until late into the evening, and this past week it dawned on me that he’d never sent me a note of thanks, but I concluded that maybe network guys don’t bother with those niceties (though I do; hmmph), and then that no news was good news.

Wednesday of this week, I got an email asking me to call him so we could “discuss.” Sure enough, he’d found a problem. Since the project had involved pulling data from 13 other workbooks and was an immense effort, my heart sank. We got on the phone and he pointed out what he was looking at, and sure enough, it was wrong, as I could plainly see. But then he looked again, and nope, it was right, as I could also plainly see, the lesson here being that spreadsheets are devious in the extreme.

In the end, it turned out that the stuff from just one of the 13 source workbooks was wrong, because the person who had made them all had assigned the columns differently in that one, which on the one hand was not my mistake, but on the other hand, it would have been good if I’d noticed it. Fortunately, the oddball workbook contained fewer than 10 rows, so the compilation was easily fixed via copying and pasting. What a relief! I could and would have redone the whole thing from scratch, but J. would have killed me for needing to take that time away from our work.

Wednesday evening, David L. from Howie’s and I had dinner at La Santaneca.

On Thursday, Tom and C. and I watched the debate between Biden and Ryan (who does indeed look a little like Eddie Munster) on my iMac. I must agree Biden’s demeanor wasn’t quite professional, but his being so decidedly on the attack made me feel a lot better after the debate between Obama and Romney.

At work on Friday, J. referred to something I might do “several weeks” from now, which was a relief—I guess they’re not firing me. I feel I’ve been behind the curve a lot, which perhaps is true at the start of any new job, but since this is only a four-month job, any time that isn’t productive seems particularly bad.

I had C. over in the evening for pasta puttanesca, and received many extravagant compliments: he couldn’t imagine anyone making anything better, I should open a restaurant, and so forth.

Yesterday I finally did something I’ve meant to do for years: go on a bike ride with Different Spokes, which is an LGBT and friends-of-LGBT cycling club in San Francisco. Tom joined me. We met the group at Peet’s Coffee & Tea on Market St. near Sanchez, about five minutes from our building by bike, which was very convenient—some had BARTed from the East Bay to be there.

The club members were extremely friendly, smiling and introducing themselves. Two men greeted their (male) friend by saying “Oh, good, you’re here! We were starting to think we douched for nothing,” the kind of ribald humor I’d been counting on this group to provide. The listing for the ride said there were 27-mile, 37-mile, and 57-mile options. I was planning to do the shortest. 

We took a scenic route to the Presidio, one that avoided the few steep blocks on Arguello, and we rode across the Golden Gate Bridge, down into Sausalito, out of Sausalito, and onto the bike path. The pace was definitely faster than I would kept alone, but on the other hand, I wouldn’t have been there at all on my own. At the end of the bike path, there was a choice between going “the short way” and “over the hill.” I joined the group going over the hill and I believe it to be the case that we passed a good deal of gorgeous scenery, but can’t say for sure, as I was mainly focused on not getting left miles behind the others.

We arrived in Tiburon and stopped for a leisurely lunch at a nice café with outdoor seating. One of the group that went the short way was clipped by another cyclist and sent flying. Her bike was a bit askew (Tom fixed it for her), but she herself was fortunately and somewhat miraculously not injured. Cyclists are animals. This fellow knew he hit her—he was yelling at her to get out of the way as he charged down the hill behind her. It seems to me that since he knew he was going to hit her, he should have refrained from doing so, and once he did knock her off her bike and possibly hurt her seriously, he should have stopped to assist, but instead he rode off.

After lunch, we went back to Sausalito and there I could have joined another person in taking the ferry back to town, but vanity caused me to keep on through town, up the hill to the bridge, back across the bridge, through the Presidio, and across San Francisco. “I never have to exercise again after this, right?” I asked Tom, but he didn’t think it worked that way. When we got home, Tom said (upon being asked for the fifth or sixth time that day) that we’d covered 50.21 miles.

That was a nice chunk of exertion, but I think next time I will actually take the ferry back and maybe even go the short way instead of over the hill. That would still be plenty of riding and I’m starting to think this weekend warrior way of doing things is going to cause some sort of injury sooner or later.

By the way, this was Different Spokes’ slow and social monthly ride! Given that, I’m never, ever going on any of their other rides, but I look forward to doing one of these again, which they do the second Saturday of every month.

In the evening, C. and I had dinner at Esperpento.