Friday, November 21, 2014

See What I Mean?

I’ve been doing power saving—saving as much as I possibly can—for six months or a year and accordingly don’t have cash for a new camera lying around at the moment. What with paying the second installment for my chaplaincy class soon and signing up for a retreat in the spring, I’ll have to save up, so in the meantime, I took these flattering self-portraits with my new horrible camera.

It’s even making a weird thing stick out of the top of my hairdo! Hmm, looking a little grim. Let’s brighten things up.

Maybe if I go outside, into the beautiful, natural light.

Certainly you can't go wrong with a shot or two of your adorable pet. Here's Hammett.

(Click photos to enlarge.)

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Little Silver Friend

I picked up the new camera from Gasser’s and immediately hated it, pretty much in the same way I immediately loved my old camera. I asked A. if it might be possible to get my old camera back—no one ever asked me if it was all right to toss it in the trash! To make a medium-length story short, my camera is definitely gone, which A. told me in a voice mail, without a word of contrition. (Now Gasser’s has lost a customer.) I considered calling and saying I’d appreciate an apology, but decided to let it go. If he’s of reasonable intelligence, which he probably is, he has comprehended that it might be better to check with customers before discarding their cameras, and if he’s not, no amount of carrying on will help.

So that is that, though I did happen to recall that I gave my parents a gift of this exact same camera after buying one for myself, so I called my father and said that if they happen to find they have a superfluous camera, I would not be offended to receive it. I don’t think they take many pictures and they have more than one camera (if I may mention it), but I suppose after my father, my most faithful reader, sees this post and my unflattering remarks about the new camera, he will rightly prefer to keep that Canon PowerShot SD780IS and not to trade it for my new one, which is a Canon PowerShot ELPH 150 IS. Whereas many pictures I took with the former were dazzlingly beautiful, I can’t get the new camera to take a beautiful picture, and I have taken many at this point.

You can still get it my old camera new on Amazon, but only in black or red. Mine was silver. It was beautiful. I loved it. I’m sad that it’s gone.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Thrown Clear

The topic of November’s chaplaincy class was ethics (sila). I felt profoundly sleepy during the class, starting during a particular presentation. It brought back vivid memories of seven hundred occasions of being in a boring class in 7th grade, even though what was being said in chaplaincy class wasn’t boring at all.

One of the teachers did a presentation on how to lead a guided meditation, and then we got to practice on each other. When I was playing the patient, I appreciated my classmate’s calm and soothing voice, and found the experience genuinely helpful. When I was playing the chaplain, I was surprised by how responsible I felt for the person sitting opposite me, how concerned that what I offered would be helpful and not in any way harmful.

During the day, another student shared an anecdote that was blatantly racist. I was shocked, and assumed one of our three teachers would respond, but none of them did, and nor did either of the people of color in the room, and nor did I nor anyone else. This came after a fair amount of lip service about honoring diversity and cultural differences, so it was all the more astounding.

The next day, Tom and I went to Berkeley to see Party People, preceded by lunch at Thai Street Food. The food was a bit sweet but not overly so (not like at Gecko Gecko) and was generally quite tasty. The place is open and airy and the presentation of the food, including the bowls and plates, is pleasing. The only big demerit is in the area of the seating, which is downright uncomfortable: a hard little stool, a hard little metal chair, or a long wooden bench being jiggled by some other luncher.

Party People is about the Black Panthers and the Young Lords. I didn’t actually love it—it was loud and bombastic throughout, and none of the music really grabbed me. It was somewhat educational, but I suspect I could have gleaned the same facts in five minutes with Wikipedia. However, that I saw it the day after the racist anecdote in class was a bit striking.

On Sunday, as I did my cooking and pondered my classmate’s thoughtless statement, I felt more and more disturbed that I hadn’t been braver. I sent the three teachers an email saying this:

I have been brooding about [my classmate’s] anecdote, wherein he used “black” with the apparent certainty that we would all, with him, understand that as “frightening and menacing.”

In the moment, I was quite shocked—while there is plenty of overt racism, sexism, homophobia, size-ism, etc., online, I rarely hear bigoted remarks with my own ears. (When I do, they are generally directed against women.) I assumed one of you would speak up, or perhaps one of the people of color in the room would, but no one did, including me.

I now feel ashamed and heartsick at my own cowardice.

I am wondering why none of you three said anything, and wondering the same about myself.

I think it was simple fear: of standing out, of being disliked, of turning out to be the only one to feel shocked and thus to feel isolated. And therefore I rationalized, “Well, it must not have been THAT bad, or someone else would have said something.”

Again, I feel ashamed.

I would like this to be addressed in some way on a group level next time we meet. I feel intensely uncomfortable about being in a room where it is not perfectly clear that using “black” or “African American” to refer to a hateful, harmful stereotype is not fine.

At the minimum, I would have liked for [my classmate] to be explicit about his assumptions; e.g., “I am terrified of black people and assume my life is in danger when I am near people who are African American.”

(end of my note)

I received notes back from two of the three teachers, one heartfelt and honest, making it clear that this teacher was also anguished about what had happened and about his failure to respond in the moment, and the other a brief note saying the matter will absolutely be dealt with at length in class. I appreciated both, but was put more at ease by the second, because I’d decided that if the matter wasn’t explicitly addressed on a group level, I would probably have to read my own note above aloud.

That evening was the monthly potluck at Thomas House, which was excellent. The executive director gave a few of us rides home. I asked the guy to my left in the back seat if he wanted a seat belt and he said, “I’m not interested in a seat belt—I want to be thrown clear.”

Then the guy on my right in the back seat said he also didn’t want a seat belt, causing the first guy to say, “Oh, he doesn’t want a seat belt? Then I do want one.”

We had two papers due before our November class (described above), and chapters to read in four books, plus several articles online to read. I felt a little stressed out trying to get this all done. In addition, my boss at work has taken a job elsewhere in the company, and I’ve inherited a couple of his duties, so work is busier, too. And now Laguna Honda is entering the picture. I started to wonder if this is going to be the straw that breaks the camel’s back, and if I should not do it. I was thinking maybe I should just stick with the soup kitchen, which I don’t plan to leave, and continue to be a stealth chaplain there, but I have been wanting to volunteer at Laguna Honda for months now, and I’d like to practice being a real chaplain. I can always do fewer hours at the soup kitchen, plus my class won’t go on forever. It will end next July. Also, I can quit my job and be a full-time volunteer! I mentioned this to my mother and she said, “Don’t tell your father that.”

Monday, November 17, 2014

Out, Damned Chaplain!

Several days after the orientation session at Laguna Honda, I went back to meet with the volunteer coordinator, Jan, and with the spiritual care coordinator, Bob. Jan showed me the various parking options, should I wish to arrive in a City CarShare car. He mentioned that HBO was there that day, in the largely abandoned old building, filming a scary movie or something. I can see why they’d be attracted to that location. It’s atmospheric, kind of ominous looking, and bulging with ghosts.

It sounds like the schedule I was envisioning will work out: to go on Saturdays for a while, until Bob sees that I’m not running amuck, and then I’ll go Thursday evenings for a couple of hours. He has assigned me to the rehab unit, which is one of the few areas of the hospital from which residents may end up being discharged, after some weeks or months. If they end up moving to another area of the hospital, they may be there for the rest of their lives.

He explained that I am there to support residents in practicing their spirituality or religion, not mine, though if they are genuinely interested, it’s fine for me to answer questions about Buddhism. He said there are plenty of Buddhist residents, but they all speak Chinese. An English-speaking Buddhist is a rarity. They offer several varieties of church services throughout the month, plus AA meetings, art, Zumba, all kinds of things. If a resident wants a bible or a rosary or Buddhist prayer beads, Bob has a closet full of those things. And if they don’t want to talk about matters religious or spiritual, we can just talk about whatever. Also, as was mentioned in my class, the chaplain is the one person a resident can order out of his or her room, in which case my gift to that person would be to leave politely and promptly.

I remember feeling mildly disgruntled when a chaplain showed up when Carlos was in intensive care last year. The word “chaplain” had a negative connotation for me—it still does—and I felt intruded upon, so I’ll try to remember that when people are asking me to get lost.

As mentioned, 80% of the residents at Laguna Honda will live out their lives there. One hundred percent of them have little money and few resources. It’s the hospital and care facility of last resort, so you might think it would be a grim place full of filthy people in wheelchairs slobbering on themselves, with grumpy nurses attending to them or not, but it is precisely the opposite. In this beautiful, light-filled, art-filled building, every single staff person I saw was smiling, almost radiant. The residents have the conditions that they have, but they are obviously clean and well cared for. I’d venture to say they are loved, and if so, that makes it a place akin to the soup kitchen. People were friendly and welcoming. You can tell Jan gets happier every day that he’s there, and he’s been there for years, coordinating volunteers along with one other person.

As I was leaving, a resident in a wheelchair—nearly 70% of their 800 residents use wheelchairs—said, “You’re lucky you can walk! I’m trapped in this prison.” I murmured something, and he said, “You’re pretty. You’re lucky you can walk. You’re pretty.” I noticed he had a bible verse on the back of his chair, written on a piece of cardboard, so I said, “I see you have a prayer on your back,” and he said, “Yes. You’re pretty. You’re lucky you can walk.”

Before I can start volunteering, I have to provide proof of having had a flu shot plus have two TB tests back to back, so I’m in the process of doing all that.

There was a tall crane towering over my neighborhood the day I went to Laguna Honda for my interviews, Mark Zuckerberg’s marble bathtub or giant server or some such being delivered. The crane was parked in front of his house on 21st St., which is a permanent construction project.

You used to hear, at night, some vehicle go by blasting extremely loud music, with massive bass causing everything in the vicinity to throb. That’s gone. I don’t know what kind of cars those were, but I’ll bet most of them weren’t BMWs, Teslas, or custom-built Mercedes convertibles. Now you hear, at night, the unmistakable sound of a high-performance sports car skidding around the corners way too fast.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

I Said Belly Dancer, Not Ballet Dancer

My long-awaited volunteer orientation session at Laguna Honda was a couple of weeks ago. I’d thought it would be 500 people sitting in rows of chairs in an auditorium, but it was 18 people around a conference room table. That explains why it’s so hard to get into one of these sessions. Energetic and entertaining volunteer coordinator Jan Doyle spent two hours or so telling us about Laguna Honda and its residents and things volunteers should be aware of. He told us that women volunteers should not go into the rooms of male residents who could have the ability to overpower them physically. He said that elderly does not equal sexless, and cited the example of the 105-year-old resident whose birthday wish was for a visit from a belly dancer (which he got).

Eighty percent of Laguna Honda’s residents will live out their lives there, while the other twenty percent are getting rehab or other forms of positive care, and can expect to be released. They also provide positive care for residents with HIV, which Jan pointed out come in two distinct groups that may tend to be judgmental about each other: gay men, who got HIV via sex, and street people, who got HIV via I.V. drug use. He said the former are generally eager to go home, while the latter, once they notice they are sleeping inside and are warm, well fed, and well cared for, tend to want to settle in at the hospital permanently.

Jan said to consider what resident population our personality might be a good fit with, depending on whether we are introverts or extroverts. Some groups of residents will interact more, some less. It can take a long time to establish a relationship with a mentally ill resident, even one on medication, because he or she may have learned not to trust others.

I’d thought I might end up doing a little hospice volunteering there, but their hospice volunteers have all been through the San Francisco Zen Center’s training program, which is not as time-consuming as Sojourn’s (at San Francisco General Hospital) but is still more than I can do. They also have a group of NODA volunteers on call: No One Dies Alone, volunteers who come when death is imminent.

After the formal orientation was over, Jan took a few of us on a tour of the hospital. The room where we met is in the old building, where administration now resides, but most of this large and beautiful building is empty. Looking at it from one of the new towers, I saw blank, empty, dark windows on the upper floors. Kind of creepy.

The new building, with its two towers and pavilion, is also beautiful, very full of light and also full of really splendid artwork. Jan said it’s not OK to take photos of patients, but it’s OK to take photos of everything else, including the artwork.

They have a farm! Anyone, including volunteers, can go there and pet the animals, which are very used to human contact, with the exception of the goose, who doesn’t care for it.

Jan said it’s better for volunteers to start with a small number of hours and work up, and also that if we don’t like our area, we should tell him, because there are many different areas of the hospital. He wants us to be happy, because happy volunteers are long-term volunteers, and long-term volunteers lead to happy residents. In a survey several years ago, the residents said the nurses were their favorite thing about the hospital, and their second favorite was the volunteers. Jan said these results caused the volunteer department suddenly to be treated with more interest and respect.

When I left there, I went down into the Forest Hill Muni station—another creepy place—and took the train one stop to Castro St. station, and near there had a nice Greek omelette and green tea for lunch. Then I walked home, a short walk. I might take Muni back and forth to the hospital, or maybe a City CarShare car, partly depending on the time of day. I could even walk home if I had time. I’ll do that one of these days.

I’d wanted to get over to Open Studios, but it wasn’t going to work out, so instead I did the ironing I didn’t do Friday night and then went over to Arlequin on Hayes St. to meet my chaplaincy class small group. Many of the other patrons were quite dressed up, even in suits. Perhaps they were going to the symphony or the jazz center later. I went 25 years in the San Francisco neighborhoods I frequent without seeing a single person in a suit. It still is an odd sight.

We had a very nice visit, and then one of my classmates gave me a ride to Papalote, where I picked up a burrito for dinner.

Saturday, November 15, 2014


A few months ago, my little Canon camera developed a symptom of the flash sometimes firing when I turned it off. After it began to happen about half the time, I took it in to Gasser’s and they sent it to Canon for a $35 estimate, and then said the repair would cost just $100, which apparently was an unusually low amount. In two weeks, I had the camera back, but minus the battery. Fortunately, I had documentation showing I had left the battery with them, and they found it and said they’d mail it to me, but it never turned up. Finally, they said they’d just give me a new battery if I stopped by.

I walked over to the store—it’s not far from where I work—and a young man in the repair department, A., showed me what had happened with the battery they’d mailed: the envelope was in his hand, returned for insufficient postage. He was really nice about it and apologized repeatedly and offered me a discount on a camera bag or some such. I told him that wouldn’t be necessary: now I had the battery and all was well.

To my aging eyes, he seemed terribly young, like in his 20s? Is that old enough to have a job? I really appreciated how bothered he seemed by the snafu with the battery, and wanted to encourage him in his career, so I sent a note saying he had handled everything perfectly, and that I can see he’s an asset to Gasser’s and that he shouldn’t worry that Gasser’s had lost a customer.

I put the battery back in the camera and started taking pictures, and after about 20 pictures, the flash went off when I powered down. I called Gasser’s and someone there said they could send it back to Canon. I said maybe I would just live with the symptom, but I’d appreciate having my $100 back. The fellow said it didn’t work that way and convinced me that we shouldn’t let Canon off the hook so easily, and so I dropped the camera back off, and then nearly four weeks passed, during which every time I called, A. was at lunch or on vacation, or I was told someone else would call me back but no one did, or someone was curt bordering on rude.

I called them back recently, expecting to be thwarted yet again, and by this point had decided that the employees at Gasser’s were incompetent bordering on malevolent, so, prior to making the call, and bolstered by thoughts of the annoying things that had happened, I was mentally rehearsing peevish things to say, but also noticing what these potential statements indicated about what I feel entitled to:

“My camera has been there for nearly six weeks, all told.” (I’m entitled to a speedy resolution, to get what I want in a timely manner.)

“Every time I’ve called about this, the person I need to speak to has been away at lunch or gone on vacation.” (I’m entitled to be able to reach the person I need to speak to right away.)

“More than once, I’ve been told my call would be returned, but never got a call back.” (I’m entitled to have my calls returned.)

“One person I spoke with was impatient and unfriendly.” (I’m entitled to be treated with kindness and courtesy at all times by all people. Once in a while I reflect on the glaring contrast between how I sometimes see others and how I would like them to see me: I might assume the worst about them, but want them to assume the best about me. I take their unwise actions to be proof that they are bad people while counting on them to look beyond my unwise actions to somehow discern the mostly kind heart beating underneath.)

By the time I actually placed the call, I was back in a neutral frame of mind, intending to be polite and pleasant. I told the person who answered the phone that I was calling about my camera that had been there for nearly six weeks, but then, already warming to my topic, I started to feel a little annoyed and mentioned that I was not having much luck getting in touch with anyone in the repair department. The person interrupted me and said he’d transfer me to the that department.

I spoke with A. himself, who said he’d been on vacation (and out to lunch) and then he thanked me for the card I’d sent. Thus I was saved by my own earlier act of kindness, because then the tone of the conversation was entirely friendly. He was remembering the nice thing I did, I was remembering the nice thing I did (because he reminded me), and there was no room for petty complaint.

He said he had bad news and good news for me: Canon had been unable to fix my camera, but instead had sent me a brand-new camera, still in the box, which I can pick up at my convenience. (I guess it’s good that the repair was estimated at $100. This means I have basically bought a new camera for $100. It’s a good thing the repair didn’t cost $350.)

Weirdly, I feel a little nostalgic for my old camera. It was my shiny little friend, but I’m sure I’ll warm up to the new camera right away.