Thursday, June 28, 2012

Non-Service Level Agreement

Last Saturday I went to Rainbow and did my cooking, as the store was to be closed on Sunday for Gay Pride day. In the evening, C. and I went to a party at John S.’s, co-hosted by Cesar L. The ceilings in John’s apartment are very high and there is one bookshelf after the other stuffed to the brim. “This is a staggering number of books,” was my first thought. My second was, “I hope I’m not in here when the big one hits.” Not only that, there did not appear to be even one self-help book among those million books. They appeared to all be literary works, or about art or music.

John had made a tableful of beautiful vegetarian food, and it was an evening for guests to sign up for performance opportunities: to play the piano, sing a song, read a poem. C. read from his book, and John S. sang art songs in Russian and German. Two people played several four hands works by Ligeti, I believe, including a strange and very beautiful waltz.

On Sunday I went to see my hospice visitee. During our visit, she asked me to fetch her scissors from a dresser drawer and she set about cutting some hair that was impeding her view. It was fairly nerve-wracking (for me), since she really can’t see, so when she asked for the scissors again later, I went and fetched a nurse to assist instead. I shouldn’t have let her do it even once.

A. was furious and said, “You betrayed my trust.” I apologized, and after a bit, she said she’d decided to forgive me. “You know why? Because you’re human.”

She said of some unrelated matter, “I don’t like it, but that’s it.” Wise words there.

On Monday I gave LabCorp a call for the second time in three weeks to say that they’d submitted a claim to the wrong insurance company despite my having handed them the correct insurance card upon arrival. One benefit of all this medical stuff is having much more understanding about how my insurance is supposed to work and how to straighten things out when they go wrong. My surgeon’s front desk person has more than once submitted something to the wrong insurance company, giving me further practice.

One of the visits to LabCorp was for lab work to get “health and wellness dollars” I can apply to medical costs in my current insurance scheme, and I was delighted to find that my blood glucose reading has dropped by 40 points since I ceased to eat sugar! It was formerly above the normal range, but now it’s close to the bottom of that range.

Tom is still in Sacramento and over the weeks, his snake’s cage has fallen into deplorable conditions, so he persuaded Terry R. to come and address the situation.

Terry and I spoke on the phone before he came over and he asked if I was going to help him and I assured him I was not going to lift a finger—that I was very sorry, but I’m completely terrified of snakes. We discussed where the snake might be placed during the cage-cleaning operation and other logistics. Soon Terry arrived from across town, got Tom’s keys from me, and in ten minutes, there came a knock on my door.

“Is that Terry R.?”, I asked before opening it.

“It certainly is!”, came the emphatic answer, which I assumed would be followed by, “Do you know where Tom keeps his garbage bags?” or, “It’s not as easy to get a big snake into a pillowcase as I’d thought.” But instead he said he was done and coming to return the keys: he took the snake out, took the stuff out, put the new stuff in, and put the snake back in. Terry is a marvel!

Tom received the latest Rolling Stone that day, which I read before taking it up to his place; I knew he wouldn’t mind. It contained a very frightening feature on middle-class folks who lost their jobs and ended up living in their cars. It scared the crap out of me—how do I know that won’t be my fate? Plus, not having a car, I'll have to live perched on my bicycle.

In the evening, C. stopped by after his poetry event.

Tuesday I had a very unagreeable day applying for unemployment, in part because I had moral qualms about doing it at all: I don’t really need it, at least now, so shouldn’t I leave the funds for those who do? Part of it was not being sure where the money comes from. Entirely from my former employer? Or is part of it from a government pot that can be exhausted? C. thought it was OK to go ahead, for what it’s worth, and I also decided that if I get another job before my severance pay ends, I could donate whatever I may get from unemployment to others.

That afternoon I talked on the phone to my recruiter friend, who had reviewed my resume and had a few suggestions.

In the evening, N. and I had burritos at La Cumbre and went on to Howie’s.

Yesterday I attended the support group session at Dwightly’s office. I’ve (finally) realized I’ve not been moving faster on the job hunt due to anxiety about discovering it’s going to be more difficult than I thought. Then, of course, there’s not really wanting a job, plus being torn between trying for something that might be easier to obtain and pay reasonably well (something in IT) and seizing this golden opportunity to try to find something I’d actually be excited about and happy to tell people I do.

But I think it’s mainly the former, or, as the Queens of the Stone Age say, “Fear of failure’s all you’ve started.”

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Now That I Have a Spreadsheet, Can Success Continue to Elude Me?

This past Tuesday I finally put up a profile on the professional networking website (LinkedIn), and uploaded my resume to DICE, the IT jobs website that was once the place for this kind of thing, though I gather that now people just use LinkedIn to search for jobs, plus do research and connect with others.

On Wednesday I had my six-month mammogram, which was strangely unpainful, which normally would be good, but since the mammogram that found the problem in the first place was bordering on excruciating, I asked if there had been sufficient compression. The technician said she was trying not to mash the surgical site, and that she had gotten clear pictures. Maybe it was also less painful because there’s somewhat less flesh to mash, per the new anti-cancer ingestion habits. I got the results ten minutes later—everything appeared to be fine—which is one perk of having had breast cancer. They said from now on, I will always get the results immediately.

I went then to see my surgeon, who did a clinical exam and said everything seemed good and that it didn’t appear there was any damage from the radiation.

In the past year or so, I acquired a tape deck that will make an mp3 from a cassette tape (or from a CD) and, though I’m normally opposed to this kind of project, actually thought I might convert all of my cassettes into mp3s. I’m opposed to it because it’s just undoable. It’s a waste of time to even think you’ll get around to something like that, and if you did somehow do it, it would be pure folly, because you’d never even listen to any of those mp3s, plus by then the whole mp3 thing would be over in favor of planting a chip right in your brain.

That has to be coming: everyone gets a chip in the brain at birth, and then you just stand near conveniently located scanners to download music into your head and pay for stuff.

Nonetheless, because all those songs are my winning little friends, I thought about converting them, and decided to fish five cassettes per week out of the brown paper grocery bag and perform an evaluation: convert or take straight to Green Citizen for recycling. I did actually convert a few initially just to see how it worked, and it worked perfectly, but the plan to assess five cassettes per week didn’t work at all—a worthy candidate might be identified, but I couldn’t force myself to actually do the task.

On Thursday I looked at every cassette I have and decided I could live on without about half of them, and I think now that I will just look at all of them periodically until I’ve taken every last one to Green Citizen, and then sell the tape deck. Voila!

Yesterday the job search networking phase officially began, complete with a spreadsheet! I wanted to make sure that the recruiting firm that originally sent me to the job I just left (maybe it’s getting to be a stretch to say I “just” left it) was in possession of my updated resume, and was able to find the exact person who helped me out 13 years ago—one of the biggest benefactors in my entire life. Turns out she’s back at that same firm, and she now has my resume.

I’ve always thought that not coloring one’s grey hair was a sign of growing old naturally and gracefully, and I still do, but it’s kind of pointless when practically everyone else on earth sees it as being frumpy. I read somewhere that if everyone tells you your grey hair looks marvelous, then don’t touch it; otherwise, do. One of these years, it could happen that I have a job interview, and everyone else my age will have dyed her hair, thus placing me at a disadvantage. Maybe. Are there people out there who don’t think it’s bad to be old? I like to think so, but fear that’s giving my countrymen too much credit. (Not you, of course! I know you and I are in accord.)

I used to bleach my hair when I was in my 20s, but the chemicals were pretty hard on the scalp, so I decided to experiment this time with semi-permanent hair color, which still uses peroxide, but much less, and it washes out in about six weeks, though you don’t see brown water running down the drain in the shower.

Decision made, I went to see Tom. There is another fellow at Tom’s salon, but I’ve identified him as being what is known in Buddhism as a grasping type. You don’t want that kind of person to touch your hair because they like a lot of things and are full of enthusiasm: “I know, we’ll try this! Have you ever thought of doing this before? Oh my god, it looks so great!” No, no, no. You want the curmudgeon—the aversive type, in Buddhism, because they look at things critically and carefully and proceed with caution. That’s the upside to being an aversive type: improved discernment, though you still have to be careful not to believe everything you think.

Tom and I discussed the color options and went with “brown.”

C. had not liked this idea at all and tried to convince me that I should love my hair as it is, and indeed the freshly colored hair looked pretty strange. I thought everyone was going to say, “Holy crap, you colored your hair!”, but no one has said that, probably for the same reason I never say that to anyone else: sometimes people do color their hair. Also, it doesn’t sound polite.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012


Two Fridays ago, I took a lovely bike ride to the beach and found the ocean gorgeous in the wind. For the millionth time, I neared the rose garden in Golden Gate Park and thought, “I should stop and visit one of these days,” which resolve is always forgotten immediately, so this time I paused to make a note in my little notebook, and on the way back from the ocean, I stopped to lie in the radiant sun in a field of grass with little yellow flowers in it.

Then I went by The Freewheel on Hayes St. and saw Travis, who adjusted my brakes. A fellow rode his bike into a display of something or other and it all went crashing to the ground, and another fellow came in with a giant snake he said could kill you if it managed to get around your neck. He cautioned Travis not to let the snake wrap itself around any bike frame, or it would be impossible to remove. Larry C. was also in there, which didn’t strike me as remarkable until I found out he’d moved away from San Francisco years ago. Travis said it was freaking him out that he’d not seen either of us for years, and then we both turned up on the very same day.

That evening, C. and I had dinner at the Ethiopian place on Valencia St. near 20th.

The following day I went to the San Francisco Zen Center to hear Paul Haller’s talk on relationships and the amygdala. I stayed for the question and answer session, and then lunch, and walked over to see my hospice visitee.

Last Monday, a week ago, I rode my bike to the beach again and this time I stopped at the rose garden. While I was locking my bike up, a cyclist whizzed through the nearby stop sign, narrowly missing two pedestrians, one of whom yelled, “Asshole!” “I agree,” I said and then realized one of the pedestrians was an acquaintance of mine.

On Tuesday I walked to a medical appointment, on to 24th St. to see my mental health professional, and then home. It was a beautiful day. In the evening, C. and I went to Howie’s. Howie wasn’t there, but Yvonne Ginsberg was. Her talk was about using discernment to decide what thoughts to entertain and which to let go of, such as unkind judgments of ourselves and others.

Last Wednesday I went for my six-month cancer checkup with my radiation oncologist. I didn’t think it would be upsetting, but I did start to feel upset after I pushed the down elevator button, heading for the basement, where the only department is radiation oncology. I started to cry in the waiting room and left in tears after my appointment, too, even though as far as I know, my health is fine. The bike ride over there and back was great, however, and I saw this bumper sticker:


Are you not supposed to say you think your health is fine until five years have passed? Most recurrences are within five years, but that can happen at any time, including decades later, so until someone tells me I have cancer again, my belief is that my health is fine. Which may indeed be so.

C. and I had dinner at El Majahual in the evening.

On Thursday I consulted with Dwightly on the phone about my resume. In the evening, C. and I walked to Mission Pie for dinner, but I discovered there was nothing there that I would eat (the only vegan thing was a tofu-coconut curry—ick), went to Herbivore, changed our minds, and ended up at Cha-Ya, a vegan Japanese place. I commented that the tofu-coconut curry had sounded terrible and C. said, “That could be, but I don’t know what’s behind it,” which I thought was funny. (He also said lately, “You’re quite the one I hadn’t met—you’re out of a space suit,” and, “You’re a veteran meditutor.”)

On Friday I had lunch with an ex-colleague of mine who looked really fantastic. He told me that he’d gotten a diagnosis of pre-diabetes, so he’d quit eating sugar, packaged food and junk food, and he said the weight had dropped off.

On Saturday, I drove by myself in a City CarShare car to Sacramento to visit Ann and Tom. Tom has been there for a few weeks helping out after various medical travails. It turns out it’s a particularly bad idea to fracture one’s sternum, because it takes forever—weeks and weeks—before the pain goes away, and it hurts every time you take a breath, let alone sneeze or cough.

It was as hot as 111 degrees that day, if you can believe a car thermometer. I was able to capture this action shot of the thermometer showing an outdoor temperature of 110. Of course, one likes to experience the extremes when possible, so I drove all the way there with my window down, and then was so exhausted, I had to lie on the floor at Ann’s place while the three of us talked.

Yesterday evening C. and I went to Glide Memorial Church, to a little meditation group that practices zazen. There were just eight of us in all. The regular teacher is Jana Drakka, whom everyone was raving about, but she was not there yesterday. I’ll have to go back one week when she’s there.

Friday, June 08, 2012

You Say My Name Like There Could Be an Us

On Monday I did my cooking, and Tuesday was a tour de force of errands: first by bicycle to the dentist for a cleaning, to the endodontist for a quick X-ray, to the eye doctor to pick up prescription sunglasses, to Macy’s to buy some stuff, and to the library to return books. Then by foot to see my mental health professional, to the dry cleaners to pick up my duds, to LabCorp to have a soupcon of blood drawn, and on to Howie’s.

Howie spoke about letting go, which is a phrase that always arouses a faint anxiety, even if there’s nothing I can think of that needs letting go of. Let go! You mean, experience loss? That sounds very not fun.

Howie said that the only reliable refuge is the nature of our own minds, that the very awareness through which we perceive this or that—whether pleasant or unpleasant—is the Buddha. He shared Poonjaji’s quote: “You need the past and thoughts to suffer. You don’t need anything to be free.”  The person sitting next to me remarked afterward that he had found Howie’s talk “abstract,” which I could sympathize with. For the first 21 years I heard Howie say this kind of thing, I wondered, “What on earth is he even talking about?” But now this strikes me as concrete and literal, as very usable information.

I had the world’s most low-key 50th birthday. Tom, with whom I might have gone out to dinner, is away in Sacramento for a spell and C. was at a poetry event, so the blow-out celebration consisted of taking a shower, feeling tremendously sleepy, and receiving phone calls from Margaux, and David and Lisa. David and Lisa also sent a card, thus proving their excellence as friends once again. They were visiting Lisa’s parents at the time, so the signatories included “guest stars.” Lisa’s mother wrote, “Aging has its rewards. Be happy!” I liked that a lot. (David wrote, “Dude! Where did you park your forties?”)

I received some unwelcome news via phone this morning and hung up and noticed I felt sad and scared, which I feel quite a bit lately. You know, not for any particular reason or anything. Why, relationships are easy! However, extremely pleased to report that I’ve gotten so much dad-blasted practice with this lately, it’s getting noticeably easier to work with. I reminded myself to feel, not think, and asked myself repeatedly, “What do I feel?”

Being of a responsive nature, I told myself forthrightly and immediately, “Sad and scared!”

Being also of a helpful and investigative nature, I then asked myself, “Where do you feel that?”

“Here. And here.”

And, finally, being of a kindly and optimistic nature, I assured myself, “I’m positive that you have the ability to be with this feeling.”

Every time I started to think, “Here’s what needs to happen here. I’m going to do this, this and this. I’m not going to do that, that or that,” I caught it and told myself, “That’s the imaginary future. None of those actions can be taken or not taken in this very moment. Tell me, what do you feel right now?”

Then I went for a walk. It was such a beautiful day. I felt my feelings and mostly didn’t venture into the imaginary future. I appreciated that the very awareness that allowed me to distinguish one feeling from another is a dependable refuge—it has inherent qualities of peace, space and freedom. I even found that “let go” had a much more appealing ring to it than usual. It sounded positively musical and delicious, not gloomy and arduous. Let go!

When I got home, there were no messages on the “answering machine.” This is like the voice mail aspect of an iPhone, but three dimensional in nature. It occurred to me that if, hypothetically, I did happen to have some sort of troublesome relationship and if, hypothetically, I found myself unwilling to continue in it, I might start to see that non-blinking light quite often, which has always been more than enough to cause me to rationalize away any problems: “Oh, well, it’s not that bad! Why, a good thing happened not a month ago!” Because: potential pain. I won’t be able to stand it if I feel sad or scared.

Well, I’m now positive I can easily feel sadness and scardedness. And you know how it feels to feel sad and scared? Besides sad and scared, it feels kind of good, at least after a while, because it feels good to steady the mind upon an object, even if that object is itself unpleasant. And it also feels good to have a conscious experience of being aware of something, whatever it may be, because the nature of consciousness is peaceful and joyful, as can potentially be experienced by anyone.

The longer I walked and the more I felt, the happier I became, and was finally so overcome by gratitude that I put my hands together and bowed, just there on the street, that holy spot.

When I got home, I listened to previews of Adele songs on Amazon. (The title of this post is a line from an Adele song.) Then it occurred to me: “Wait, could this possibly constitute wasting time?” But, no, it didn’t, because this is another thing Howie (more or less) said to do: appreciate Adele. I ended up buying four songs: “Rolling in the Deep,” “He Won’t Go,” “Right as Rain,” and one other, which I heard about five times in a row, and by the last time, I was sobbing my heart out, tears dripping down my shirt: “Melt My Heart to Stone.” Good song. Howie was right, as ever.

In the evening, C. and I walked clear to Ananda Fuara and had a very leisurely and agreeable dinner.

Monday, June 04, 2012

Toe Stub Hazard

For literally decades, C. has attended a poetry open mike Wednesday evening at the Sacred Grounds Café on Hayes St. The Wednesday before last, I accompanied him and we sat together on a comfortable small couch against one wall. Evidently the sight of C. with a lady companion was extremely novel to some, as evidenced by the large African seated in front of us, who turned around at intervals to stare with open interest.

The following day, C. and I both had errands in Noe Valley, so we walked over there together along the grassy islands in the middle of Dolores St., which I’ve never done before. It was enchanting, like suddenly being in the country. Post errands, we had dinner at El Majahual.

The next day, the Friday before last, I was finally able to travel to Michigan, on a flight that ended up being delayed by seven and a half hours. I got to know the couple seated next to me in the airport quite well, if you want to know anything about their daughter, her fiancé, or their rental property in Oakland.

On the plane, a little Japanese-American boy seated in the row ahead stood up to face the rear of the plane and sang “Happy Birthday” to me in a tiny, sweet voice. As we were deplaning, I told his mother that her son had sung to me and that it was particularly appreciated because my birthday is coming up soon, and she explained it was his birthday that very day, his second, which is why he was all ready to go with the birthday song. I’m not sure I could have sung “Happy Birthday” to a stranger at age two.

The day after I arrived was for reading and resting, and on Sunday (not yesterday but the one before that), my mother and father and I drove to Grosse Ile, an island south of Detroit, to visit my Uncle Rick and his fiancée, Janet. Janet made us a beautiful vegan lunch, which we ate on the deck behind their new house, on an inland lagoon (not on what they call the “big water” of the Detroit River), and they also treated us to a tour of the island.

Several years ago, I read a riveting biography of Henry Ford, and thus learned something about Harry Bennett, a colorful character and right-hand man of Henry Ford’s at Ford Motor Company in the 1930s and 1940s. As we were motoring about Grosse Ile, Janet pointed out Harry Bennett’s pagoda and it further emerged that Janet’s father once worked for Harry Bennett!

When Janet’s father left Ford to use his GI benefits, Henry Ford gave him a number of wooden pallets, some of which he refurbished and sold back to Ford; others he used to start a business making packing and shipping containers. My uncle worked for Janet’s father decades ago, eventually buying the business, which he runs to this day. Which started with Henry Ford's pallets! Very exciting.

Last Tuesday, Amy and I had lunch at Seva in Ann Arbor and on Thursday, Mom and Dad and I went to the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn for the Titanic Exhibition. (My father said you could tell it was special by the fact that they called it an “exhibition” instead of an “exhibit.”) Afterward, we drove by two houses Mom lived in when she was a girl and in the late afternoon, I drove to Chelsea to see Amy and her darling boys, Chris and Mike. Amy made us a delectable vegan feast.

On Friday, it was back to Seva (a restaurant I love) for lunch and a nice chat with Ginny, who was wearing a lovely and striking chain around her neck that she had made herself. On Saturday, my parents and sister and I had an early birthday celebration for me. In lieu of cake, Dad obtained a loaf of walnut bread, which he garnished with blueberries, and he also roasted portabella mushrooms and steamed some asparagus.

Yesterday I flew home to San Francisco. In the Detroit airport, I was sitting across from a woman with her son, a very personable four year old. She asked him, “Do you want to get on the plane first or second” and the child said firmly, “If anyone gets on before me, I want to stub their toe.”