Monday, July 30, 2012

Passing into Shadow

A mean person I know, who might even be my own mother, sent this malicious soap-related artwork. Aside from the malign sentiment, aren’t they nice?

Snipp, Snapp and Snurr

Two Fridays ago, I went to see my mental health professional, and felt distinctly worse afterward. During our session, she mentioned the need to set a boundary. “What’s a boundary?” I asked politely. Assuming I was joking, she laughed, but offered some examples. You have to start by figuring out what you need and want. “What’s the point?” I asked. “You’re either going to get whatever it is or you aren’t; even if someone promises a certain thing, that doesn’t mean they won’t change their mind.” She said that doesn’t matter: it’s about knowing what is acceptable or not and expressing it. Ah, so.

I walked home along Dolores St.—such a brilliantly sunny day—brooding about how I tend to surrender immediately when there is a hint of conflict, and, correspondingly, aim low in many situations. Anything to avoid trying, and anything to avoid being perceived to have a need or a want. (This definitely has some bearing on the job hunt.)

I also tend to be compulsively generous, as if I don’t have the right to withhold something if I possess it and someone else wants it. I was lately asked by a friend for the loan of a rather staggering sum of money, and then another friend asked for money, and someone else asked for something else fairly substantial, and the other day, I walked into a bookstore and saw an acquaintance at the counter who said she’d been thinking of looking me up: she wants to borrow a piece of electronic equipment! Deborah pointed out that this is quite a confluence of events: “Everyone wants your stuff.”

Now, it is quite true (I think) that if you say, “I insist on such-and-such, and if it isn’t that way, I’m going to be very upset!” you should prepare to be very upset. The fewer things necessary for one’s happiness, the happier one will be. However, I also see that I’ve used that generally solid philosophy to skip over knowing about some things I feel.

There is some work to be done here, because these habits are not helping me. I’m going to have to practice at least knowing what I want, whether I express it or not, and I also need to say “no” more often, while bearing in mind that it’s genuinely a good thing to be generous.

The next day, Saturday, I went to see my hospice visitee, and then had a burrito at Papalote. It was a very warm, sultry day. After Papalote, I was able to get the extremely comfortable chair in the front window at Borderlands Café, and sat there reading and drinking rooibos tea until the guy near me fanned himself for the tenth time, when it dawned on me that it actually was warmer in there than outside, so then I came home.

Sunday was grocery shopping at Rainbow followed by cooking, and last Monday featured a wonderful bike ride to the beach. On Tuesday evening, N. and I had burritos at La Cumbre Tuesday evening and went on to Howie’s. On Wednesday I did seven loads of laundry, and then Tom and his girlfriend and I took BART to Daly City to see The Dark Knight Rises.

Thursday was C.’s birthday, so I got a City CarShare car and treated him to lunch at Toast in Novato. We sat outside in the sun and had a very excellent time.

This past Saturday, Tom and I went in a City CarShare car to visit Mac at a care center in Carmichael, east of Sacramento. We arrived just as Ann and one of Mac’s sons were leaving, so we had him to ourselves for a time. I sat by his beside for two hours and held his hand off and on, and tried to be relaxed and happy, which is my practice when visiting hospice patients. It is possible we won’t see Mac again, so I was glad to have the chance to hold his hand, kiss his forehead, and tell him I love him, which I do, very much.

I got a letter from the Employment Development Department saying I’ve been selected to attend a workshop on job hunting a couple of weeks from now, across town at 8:30 in the morning. Fortunately, at the bottom it said that if you’re already receiving such services (which I am; the problem is the complete inability to put them into practice), just call this number. Unfortunately, it’s that same number that is never, ever answered by a human being.

I have to say, the EDD is incredibly efficient. I applied for unemployment benefits online and it seemed as if only seconds passed before I got further instructions in the mail. Really, they are remarkable and I’m very impressed. However, the reason they can get so much done is that they don’t chitchat with every—or any—Flicka, Ricka and Dicka on the phone. (Nor every or any Snipp, Snapp and Snurr.) (These are characters in books for children.)

Back in the 1960s, some of us liked to intone, “Snipp, Snapp and Snurr,” and attempt to produce an explosion of flatulence timed to the final syllable, delighting and/or dismaying siblings within range.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Countenancing No Sentiment Whatever Beyond Mild Approbation

Sorry to say that by later that same day, I’d thought better of what had seemed like an excellent plan (the part-time job and pursuing activities meaningful to me—what was I thinking?) and was drenched in a mild, unrefreshing anxiety. This lurching from extreme to extreme is a bit disconcerting—“I’ll do this! No, I’ll do the exact opposite!”—but the latest thought is that I’m probably too young to eschew the income that comes with a full-time job and I’m admittedly not the entrepreneurial type, though my extended family is full of entrepreneurs, meaning that I’m not likely to want to be a self-employed consultant/teacher/coach.

Stand by to hear these exact revelations again six months from now; I’ll try to make it sound like I just figured it out.

I was walking near C.’s that afternoon—Wednesday a week ago—and so dropped by and found him working on his own application for unemployment benefits and having even less fun than I did. I took over to see if I could make any headway with it and realized that one of the Employment Development Department website’s error messages is a complete misnomer, and thought, “This software was poorly designed,” and then I thought, “Huh! Maybe I’m actually on the right track with the business analyst idea.”

The Mission evening was particularly lovely—very warm and balmy. I’d planned to have a reading evening at home while C. went to his weekly poetry event at Sacred Grounds, but it started to seem like a nice evening to be out, and as if it might be lonely to be at home alone, for which I blame C. It seems to me that when Tom and I were a couple, we saw each other once a week—could that be right?—and that that was agreeable to both parties, whereas I see C. five or six evenings a week, which at first struck me as a major overdose, but now seems just about right.

So I did join C. for the bus ride to the Haight, where, alas, it had to be a good 30 degrees cooler than in our neighborhood despite being just a couple of miles away, and instead of warm sun, there was wet grey fog right down to the sidewalk, and such a strong fishy smell that it was as if the ocean were a block away instead of tens of blocks away. Uck.

It’s now dawning on me that the reason I can’t decide what kind of job to get is that I don’t really want a job at all. Phillip Moffitt’s book addresses making decisions. He recommends, among other things, clarifying what the decision to be made actually is, and thus I see that the question here isn’t what kind of job to get, but if one should be obtained at all. But maybe that’s neither here nor there. Presumably no one wants a job (does anyone want a job?), but I am going to have to have one, anyway, meaning that I’ll have to face the fear of networking.

Phillip also writes about distinguishing our interpretations of things from our actual experience, and about expectations. Is it our habit to have high expectations (“Everything is going to come out just great!”) or low (“It will probably mostly be OK”) or downright negative: “I won’t be able to do this. I’m going to fail.” I fit pretty squarely in the last category, which is not helping.

Last Friday evening, C. and I went to the Red Poppy Arthouse to hear Ray Obiedo’s group play music billed as a hybrid of Latin jazz and funk. We danced together! It was fun.

This past Monday evening we went to Glide Memorial Church for Jana Drakka’s meditation group, and then to El Majahual for a late dinner.

Tuesday evening we had dinner at We Be Sushi and went to Howie’s. (That is, to the weekly meeting of Mission Dharma, for group meditation followed by a dharma talk from teacher Howard Cohn.)

On Wednesday I rode my bike down to Dwightly’s office for strategy team, and in the evening, C. and I took the bus to Chef Jia’s for dinner and went on to City Lights bookstore to hear Jim Nisbet read.

I went lately to stock up on Ivory bar soap, and found that there was none in two or more Walgreens! I “phoned” (that’s like texting, but you have to hear the person’s voice) my mother to express that tragedy had struck. “Really?” she asked. “Something that is old, out of date and no longer used by anyone other than a few cranks is no longer on the shelf? Odd.” She added, “Honestly, you’re just like your father.”

“Put him on, please.”

“He’s busy. Hold on.” I heard her yell, “Linda says she can’t buy Ivory soap at Walgreens anymore and she thinks the world is coming to an end.” Pause. “He quite agrees,” she reported back. I guess people now prefer to squirt their soap out of a little plastic bottle. Unfortunately, Ivory soap, as far as I know, is the only kind I can use without getting a red, itchy rash, so I visited other Walgreens stores and have found the inestimable highly pure bars here and there, marked way down for clearance. I have now secreted 33 bars of Ivory soap in my apartment (not saying exactly where, for security reasons), which will last a year, give or take.

Yesterday I completed a long list of little chores and in the evening watched Play Misty for Me, which is about a deranged, violent woman who develops an obsessive “love” for a radio DJ played by Clint Eastwood back in his particularly toothsome years. Afterward, I formed a resolve to avoid obsessive love, if possible.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Key First Step Successfully Completed

On Monday I had a good talk with my career coach, Dwightly. She observed that I’m methodical and organized by nature and therefore may be feeling like I’m wandering in a maze. She said it’s natural to feel disconcerted in this situation and that I need to be “opportunistic”—to talk to people and explore various paths: try this and that and rule things out along the way. She said I shouldn’t start by trying to find the perfect job at the perfect organization. (She has my number.) I need to wander in the maze and trust the process, and I need to try to be comfortable with uncertainty. She said I can try a particular path and it may or may not lead anywhere, and I can go on to other careers or organizations as necessary.

She finished by saying I have a nice skill set and that I should be encouraged and optimistic.

In the evening, C. and I went to the little zazen sitting group at Glide Memorial Church.

Having discovered myself to be stuck as regards my job hunt, I have taken the universally agreed-upon first step in solving any problem, which is to order up some stuff from Amazon, in this case the 2012 edition of What Color Is Your Parachute?, Barbara Sher’s I Could Do Anything If I Only Knew What It Was, and Phillip Moffitt’s new book, Emotional Chaos to Clarity: How to Live More Skillfully, Make Better Decisions, and Find Purpose in Life. I almost always interview with Phillip at my annual retreat at Spirit Rock Meditation Center, and think very highly of him. (Typically, you meet with a teacher every other day while on retreat to check in about how things are going and ask any questions.)

Yesterday I spent part of the day reading Phillip’s book and I went to see my mental health professional, which entailed taking an extraordinarily beautiful walk along Dolores St. Such a lovely, sunny day.

In the evening, I went to Howie’s.

Last night I dreamed I’d been rehired at my former company and was wandering in a vast, dispiriting cubicle farm, all in shades of dull blue. I felt sad and gloomy: my lovely, sunny summer—gone! Spending such nice time, in such quantity, with C.—gone!

That horrible little cracking sound you just heard was all 56 to 68 of my parents’ teeth (depending on how many wisdom teeth are still present) crashing together as they thought, “I knew that was the reason she hasn’t been looking for a job!”

Well, not really. I do see C. very often, but have made a point of almost never getting together with him before 5 or 6 p.m. on weekdays, allocating the time that may one day be spent working to looking for work, or at least not to socializing. (What is it that I actually do weekdays until 5 or 6 p.m.? That's a bit mysterious, even to me.)

In this dream, I gave my former co-worker, Emily, a call on the phone and was surprised to find she was cold and unfriendly, not happy to hear from me.

When I spoke with Dwightly on Monday, we discussed the possibility of part-time work. Do such jobs ever come with insurance? Dwightly said sometimes they do, and that this is certainly something one could negotiate for. She also said that part-time jobs aren’t always posted, but that doesn’t mean they don’t exist or can’t be created for a desirable candidate.

Now that Obamacare has been validated by the Supreme Court, which will make it possible for those with pre-existing conditions to buy their own insurance (in fact, may make it necessary for everyone to buy their own insurance, as businesses seize the opportunity to stop offering it), I’m starting to think maybe I was right in the first place about trying to put together a life full of the things that matter most to me, and that my favorite checkout person at Rainbow was right in not liking to see me retreat in fear from what I really wanted.

(Also starting to think I was wrong about John Roberts, though the The New Yorker says his vote in this case may be consistent with a diabolical long-term plan we won’t like. When I visited Ypsilanti recently, we spent an agreeable 15 minutes listing our most-hated Supreme Court justices in descending order of enmity. My least favorite is Roberts, followed by Thomas. Roberts’ assurance that he would be like the umpire in a game of baseball followed by what has seemed to be naked partisan action, some of it so incredibly damaging, has been enraging. How extraordinary, even touching, to have him cast the decisive vote to affirm Obamacare.)

As for what means the most to me, the most important and beneficial thing in my life is my mindfulness practice, both formal sitting in meditation and trying to be awake the rest of the time, and one thing I’d really like to do is to be a mindfulness/meditation teacher/coach, not a dharma teacher per se. Lately I was discussing this with a meditation pal who has completed a Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) training program. Becoming certified requires additional steps, but once you finish this program, you can start teaching.

The same class is starting again soon, but I had decided not to apply because I also don’t think I want to be an MBSR teacher per se. However, I might change my mind about that, and the class may provide a valuable opportunity to learn how to teach meditation, so as soon as I finished stretching, I rushed to turn on the computer to find that email again, and saw this from Elea:

“Were you mad at me in that dream! I am glad it was not for reals.

“You had a job you loved though. Sadly, I don't remember what it was, but it was your dream job.”

Funny that both those dreams occurred on the same night. I put together and mailed an application for the MBSR class, and my plan now is to find a part-time IT job, which would give me time to pursue being a mindfulness/meditation teacher and to write.

Monday, July 09, 2012

The Three Habits of Highly Ineffective People

Maybe you need seven to be effective, but three should get the job done otherwise.


I’m still stewing about money versus meaning, and was thinking about going around and conducting some informational interviews on the topic of finding satisfying work, or would that be yet another way to attenuate what is becoming a painful process—a means of avoiding informational interviews that might actually lead to employment?

Saturday a week ago I spent reading Blue Monday, a highly satisfying thriller by Nicci French (the pseudonym of a wife and husband writing team). I will definitely read more of their books. C. and I had dinner at We Be Sushi.

On Monday I went to the dentist to have a crown reaffixed to its stump (or does “pedestal” sound better?), and in the evening, C. and I went down to Glide church for the little meditation group there and I got to meet Jana Drakka, who is very engaging and likeable. When C. and I were walking through the Tenderloin back to BART afterward, we passed a guy who said of us, “Aw, that’s so cute. Keep it going, keep it going.”

On the Fourth of July, C. and I walked over to Dolores Park and briefly joined the San Francisco Mime Troupe’s audience, making our way from there to Golden Gate Park for a lovely stroll (where, if I may mention it, a man stopped us to say how “beautiful” we look together and that it should be our job to go around teaching people how to be happy—that was flattering, but I should also say there may have been a faint whiff of spirits coming from this person). We managed to arrive at the Conservatory of Flowers at 4 p.m., just in time for closing. Next was Zona Rosa on Haight St. for burritos, and then back to the Mission to step onto the roof of my building for fireworks. The city’s display was lower in the sky than usual this year, so they were kind of hard to see.

On Thursday Tom came to town to feed Darwin, a task Terry R., who loves animals (e.g., rats), had balked at, so Tom and I got to have lunch at Papalote. (Tom has been in Sacramento for a number of weeks, helping Ann out.)

On Friday, I took an actual weekday off, figuring I might as well. For months now, I’ve been “looking for work,” and have felt I should keep at that five days a week, despite failing to accomplish much of anything. However, people with jobs now and then have a day off, so I decided it would be all right to follow suit. I took my usual walk out Dolores St. to Randall, but then instead of coming home, I went to Borderlands Café with a book, ordered a pot of rooibos tea, and sank into a comfy chair in the back room.

There is a second upholstered chair in the little room, plus a couch. A guy came along and sat in the other chair and pulled something out of his bag: a knitting project! I found that enchanting. It was extraordinarily tranquil and delightful, just sitting there reading with others quietly occupied nearby, the tea so beautifully, deeply orange in its white cup.

Esperpento with C. that evening for tapas was, in contrast, somewhat like hell on earth—so incredibly loud, though the food was tasty and not as expensive as I’d assumed it would be. Small plates = bring a big bag of money.

On Saturday I went in a City CarShare car to visit Carol Joy in Novato. I recently acquired an iPod Nano and an AUX cable for the sole purpose of being able to hear mp3s in a CarShare car. Apparently these days you can plug an AUX cable into just about any car other than a Prius, strange if true. I tried it with a Scion and it worked beautifully. Carol Joy and I ate at Toast and saw Magic Mike, which was good. Then we sat on a breezy, shaded veranda and played cards for awhile—so nice on that extremely hot afternoon!—and had dinner at La Piñata, which evidently is a small, family-owned Bay Area chain of restaurants. We both thought our burritos were uncommonly tasty.

Ponderings yesterday while cooking: Happiness doesn’t come from getting what I want, and most certainly not from compelling others to act as I prefer. It comes from non-greed (generosity) and non-hatred (kindness). The highest happiness is peace, which can potentially be had by practicing non-harming behavior, including generosity, kindness and equanimity, and by bringing the mind back to observable reality over and over. Happiness comes from being steadily present with whatever is occurring, in a relaxed and accepting way.

I’ve evolved a two-tiered system, which starts with accepting the actual thing, if possible: It’s all right that that person is doing thus and such. Yes to that. But if I can’t accept that, then I try to accept the related feelings: Yes to feeling upset, plus every now and then there will also be an opportunity to accept still more bad feelings that arose as a consequence of acting intemperately in reaction to the first bad feelings.

It seems to me that I lately bumped into the idea that God needs us to fully enjoy His creation. I don’t believe in God (but here capitalize the name out of consideration for those who do). C. says he takes “God” as an acronym for “Great Outdoors.” In Twelve Step programs, it’s said to stand for “Good Orderly Direction.” Certainly things seem to unfold in a lawful fashion, but more than that, things seem to be inherently weighted toward the good—if you sit long enough, while you might feel lousy in the short term, eventually you’ll be permeated with joy. Why is that? I don’t know (well, I suppose because God is great, and also good, and we also thank him for our food, the one prayer my parents taught me when I was a child), but I think it would be perfectly reasonable to call the way things unfold lawfully plus that general benevolent force “God.” One doesn’t want to go around having to say “general benevolent force” all the time.

I was thinking today about that idea of God needing us—about how pure consciousness, which I believe is what we ultimately are, is vastly spacious and peaceful and joyful, but not in possession of eyes or ears or skin. Without us, it can’t know what a cat looks like curled up for a nap, what a burrito tastes like, what annoyance feels like. It’s our part in creation—a way we can express our gratitude for the gift of a human life—to do our best to fully experience our lives, whether this moment is agreeable or otherwise. I find this idea moving. This is our job, and we’re the only ones who can do it. When I sit here and feel scared that things might not go my way, that I might lose this or that thing that seems essential, it is my sacred duty to do that as wholeheartedly as I can.