Thursday, May 24, 2012

The Elderly and Beautiful

On Mother’s Day, I got on the blower to my forebear: “Sir! Thank you for giving birth to me and for other mother-related amenities. Is [my sibling who lives nearby] coming over to wash your feet?” There had been no mention of that.

That evening, I watched Valkyrie, which was excellent. I love Tom Cruise and don’t mind who knows it, and this movie, based on the true story of the final failed plot to assassinate Hitler, was very well written and executed. The idea was to get rid of Hitler (did you know he ended up committing suicide? News to me) and then compromise with the Allied forces to end the war. During the period of dithering about the exact plan, Bill Nighy says something like, “I think the Allies might be more amenable to a truce if we offer it to them before they reach Berlin!”

On last Wednesday’s ride to the beach, I found the bike lane in the park completely blocked at five different points by dumpsters or large recycling bins, while another stretch involved riding through water sprinklers. It’s nerve-wracking wondering when someone is going to step from a car right into the bike lane, as well. When people get out of their cars, the vast majority of the time they’re heading for the lawn extension, and this is still the case, but now getting there requires them to clomp across the bike lane.

I was glad to see several giant signs posted explaining the new arrangement, because that means so many people are confused and unhappy that the whole thing should be disappearing soon.

Last Saturday, I went via City CarShare car to visit Carol Joy in Novato. We had lunch at Toast, saw The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (for the elderly and beautiful), and took a walk near College of Marin, possibly. We definitely took a walk, and I think that’s the school it was near. It was a hot, lovely day. Sunday was allocated to Rainbow and cooking.

On Tuesday C. and I took the bus downtown to do errands. We went to the office of my eye doctor, and to Patrick & Co. on Market St. for C. to get a notebook, and to the Patrick & Co. on Mission St. near New Montgomery so I could introduce him to Shirley Edelson, sprightly spirit extraordinaire, still happily working at 84 or so. Back in our neighborhood, we had lunch at an Asian place on Mission St. near 18th.

When I arrived at Howie’s Tuesday evening—besides being the greeter, I almost always get there an hour early to set up the chairs, which I rather enjoy—Howie asked if I had a topic suggestion. I asked how we can best practice when in the presence of others. You know, not for any particular reason or anything.

Here’s what he said, insofar as it was preserved in my notes: We should seek to feel our own feelings—our own pain and distress—rather than focusing on the other person. We would do well to pause before speaking and notice what our intentions are. Do I want to share information? To try to get you to do what I want so that I don’t have to feel unpleasant feelings? To impress you? To let you know you are loved and seen? To hurt your feelings because you hurt mine?

Those examples are mine, but Howie said that if we gain clarity about our intentions before opening our mouths, we might decide not to speak at all. I suppose we might also decide to say a different thing.

Here’s the kicker! I thought he might say we should try to keep, say, five percent of our attention on our own body even while talking to another, but he recommended keeping eighty percent of our attention there, as possible. That absolutely surprised me. He said that when he’s able to do this, paradoxically, he finds that he is able to attend to the other person more closely than when he doesn’t.

He said that if our speech is motivated by grasping or aversion/hatred, the results will be bad. Suffering will be increased, not alleviated. He said that if we feel uncomfortable, it’s because we’re no longer in harmony with reality, but superimposing some idea or story on top it. When we are mindful, all desires are fulfilled—that is, nothing can be discovered to be lacking. We can only be “hungry ghosts” in the domain of ideas. (A hungry ghost, in Buddhism, is a creature with a tiny mouth and neck and a huge stomach, who hungers endlessly but can never be satisfied.)

If I’m consciously present in my body, I don’t need you to fill the hole in my heart, because there isn’t one.

I tried the eighty percent thing when I talked to C. on the phone the next morning, and sure enough, I did take in more of what he was saying, I felt considerably calmer, and it was surprisingly easy. However, since then, I’ve found it difficult to remember to do, which is often the big problem.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Seis de Mayo

Last Sunday was another utterly gorgeous day, the third or fourth in a row. I went to Rainbow and saw my favorite checkout person and C. came over to sit in the kitchen with me while I cooked, after which we went to El Majahual for burritos and on to the Borderlands Café.

Tuesday I went to the office of the career consultants for another resume editing session. Only one other person showed up, which I thought was lucky, though Dwightly said it’s actually best to have a lot of people look at your resume. However, because there were just the two of us plus Dwightly, and because the other person was ten minutes or so late, Dwightly went over my resume almost line by line and gave me some excellent suggestions which will take about two minutes to implement. Yay! I’m very nearly done with this particular resume variation. Turns out Dwightly herself used to be a business analyst.

I don’t know if I’ve mentioned it, but 20 feet from my living room windows a construction project has been going on for about seven months, six days a week, starting with many weeks of heavy equipment running basically all day, because for some reason, it was felt that sinking five trillion tons of rebar into the ground would be necessary to keep a one-story wooden house from collapsing. I suspect there’s some more far-reaching plan in this somewhere, like after two months, they’ll burn the house down and build a ten-story apartment building, and when I step to my window to admire the view, someone 20 feet away will be staring back at me, goggle eyed.

I’ve gotten used to the construction noise—in fact, I was kind of peeved the other day when it didn’t start promptly at 7 a.m.—but when the workers cranked up a radio on top of that, I was instantly irate. I dug up a document I received about this project when it was first conceived years ago, called the city, left a message for someone, and voila! Minutes later, dead silence (except for the construction noise, of course). I couldn’t believe it. I called the guy back and left a very profuse message of thanks.

This was about a month ago and the radio was not heard again until today. I left a message for the same guy and again the radio has been silenced. This is definitely the part of our city government that is working best. Working perfectly!

David and Lisa came to town from Seattle, and Friday night they and Tom and I had dinner at Chef Jia’s and spent some time at Café Greco, affording the best laughs I’ve had lately. David is funny. (Reminders to myself: The Village People and the thumb company.)

Yesterday I went to see A. at the hospice facility again, and again found it enjoyable. She is almost nearly blind and deaf, and among the many problems these conditions cause is that when she writes a letter, she doesn’t know if one line is being written on top of another, and if she forgets what she’s writing, she can’t reread it, so I acted as amanuensis for a letter to a friend. At first she dictated word for word, but then she started saying, “Don’t write that yet! I want to say … ” And I’d suggest a phrasing and her face would light up: “Yes! Write that.”

She got a phone call, so I stepped out of her room to give her some privacy, and took the opportunity to go to the bathroom, during which her call ended, which I could tell because she hollered, “Yoo hoo. Yoo hoo! YOO HOO!”, louder every time.

Next I took BART downtown for a memorial service for the partner of a friend of a friend. I didn’t know M. very well and had only been in his company five or six times (one occasion being a lovely, intimate dinner at the art-filled home he shared with his partner), but he’d made a fairly vivid impression on me, and I liked him and felt he liked me. He was only 55 and died after a brief illness, so it seemed very sudden. I feel particularly bad for his partner, who probably anticipated they would have many more years together.

I met a lot of people, some really sweet folks, a number of entertaining characters among them. We saw a slide show covering the span of M.’s life and people shared recollections and we heard his favorite song, “Lovely Day” by Bill Withers.

Last night I got to see David and Lisa yet again, this time at Herbivore. Tom joined us, and Paul and Joshua. Joshua will enter high school in the fall—he is being mentored by Paul—and is a delightful young man, bursting with energy and intelligence. I don’t know the details, but I gather Paul has made quite a commitment of resources, and it appears he has changed the course of Joshua’s life, which is very touching.

Sunday, May 06, 2012

On the Other Hand, a BlackBerry Would Have Known What I Was Supposed to Be Doing Without Me Having to Tell It All the Time

Sorry, sorry, sorry. I know there has been an inexcusable interruption in service. I’d been making notes in my “calendar book” (like a BlackBerry, but better for fanning yourself with) as to what days I would draft blog entries and then post them. For some reason, I quit doing this and then immediately and completely forgot I even had a blog, but now I remember.

The prospective job I’ve mentioned here lately is business analyst, which requires being able to build rapport with people, learn what they want software (or something else) to do, and translate that into clearly written documentation. I’ve acquired some books on the subject and have also been taking online courses.

I had tea with a friend a while ago who told me he’d found a miracle worker in the insurance business who was able to get him an individual policy at a good price despite his having a pre-existing condition. He gave me the phone number, and I made a note on my massive to-do list to give Steve a call on a sunny day when I was in a good mood, since insurance research has already wrecked more than one day.

I talked with Steve this past Tuesday and got great information and excellent news. First, it turns out that the state program I was thinking of would not actually be appropriate, as you have to have been without coverage for six months and/or (I can’t remember which) have been denied it. It would be a last resort, so I don’t have to think about it right now. As for being denied, there is a very brief form you can submit to find out if an insurance company would or wouldn’t accept your application without the hassle of completing an actual application, and you also avoid the risk of an official denial.

I still have coverage from my beneficent ex-company, which I love more with every passing day. Every time I pass one of their locations, my heart fills with gratitude: thank you for giving me a job in the first place! Thank you for all the great people I met, for all I learned, for the excellent pay and benefits I enjoyed for more than a decade. And thank you for the generous severance and the opportunity to work with the career consultants.

After my severance ends, I have 18 months of COBRA, and if I get that far without getting a job with benefits, Steve said he’s got several tricks up his sleeve. One thing he mentioned is that you can form a company with another person and then get your own group plan! I was extremely relieved after our conversation.

Also on Tuesday I went for a walk partly on Mission St. and ran into a gaggle of May Day drummers. I looked to see if C. was among them—seemed like his kind of thing—then fled to Valencia St. to get away from the racket and then ran into C., who told me he had just parted from the drummers. I knew it!

Thursday I attended a webinar on personal branding for executives, which I am not, but Dwightly said personal branding is personal branding, and yet another thing the job seeker must do these days. I had a consultation on the phone with Dwightly later in the afternoon, and C. and I went to Borderlands Café in the evening for a spot of tea.

Friday evening Judy and I went to the Metreon to see Safe, the new Jason Statham movie. It features a lot of graphic violence, but less than his last movie, The Mechanic, which really was too much. (If Judy happens to read this, she’ll be surprised to learn there’s a movie that Safe is less violent than.)

Yesterday was Cinco de Mayo. I started by going to visit my new hospice visitee, A., and found favorite nurse Charlie standing on the front steps. He told me that his mother now occupies the room of the man I visited for many months. Charlie took me in to meet his mother after I visited with A., who is utterly wonderful. I really enjoyed our time together, though it also kind of wore me out, since she talked for two hours straight, telling me about a very intelligent dog she once had.

After that, C. and I met up and went to La Cumbre for lunch, then to Dolores Park, where Cinco de Mayo was being celebrated, and then to Borderlands Café, where we sat for a good long time and communed with those we knew who happened to come in, including the poet Joie Cook and her husband.

Last on the agenda was a house concert given by Larry Gallagher, someone I’m very fond of, whose music and presence are extremely beautiful and affecting. That was a big treat, particularly getting to experience it while sitting on a couch in a someone’s cozy apartment with maybe 15 others.