Friday, December 26, 2014

The Magnificent and Onion Fruit Organization

Early in December I made a bonus visit to the soup kitchen because one of my fellow chaplaincy students wanted to see what it’s like there. I thought she might get the best feel for the place if she suited up and did some bussing, and after being warmly welcomed by about ten people, just as I was welcomed on my first day, she put on an apron and plunged right in. After shadowing me for a bit, she went off on her own and bussed like a pro.

I didn’t see B. or D., who I had not seen in weeks. It was kind of rainy, as on many of the days I’ve been there recently, so it may be that D. was snuggled up in his RV. He seems like the kind of person you’d only see when it’s sunny. Maybe something similar happens for B.: if he has a dry spot, he very well may not want to get all his stuff wet. Then again, maybe he is dead, or in the hospital, or has gone to another city. I might never know, and I might never see him or D., again. I know my heart is going to get broken a million times at the soup kitchen. There is an inspiring quote from Viktor Frankl in the front of every issue of The Sun: “What is to give light must endure burning.”

A member of the intentional community that runs the soup kitchen has a friend, G., who comes from New York City a couple or few times a year to visit. G. is 90 and plays the piano in the soup kitchen dining room. He’s a lovely fellow. I got to chat with him at one of the volunteer potlucks. On this day, I thanked him for the beautiful music, and not 20 minutes later, I saw some commotion in his area: something had happened. I was worried that he had had a heart attack and expired on the spot, but it turned out that, as he sat on the piano bench, he had suddenly started to fall over backward. Fortunately, the guest sitting just behind him caught him before he fell entirely to the floor, likely preventing a head injury. The paramedics were summoned and took him away. He was lucid and able to walk, slowly, to the ambulance, but he looked forlorn and dazed.

I got a chance to visit with my new friend, H., a guest who is a poet and playwright. Re Ferguson, MO, and Cleveland, and NYC (and NYC, and NYC) he said he thinks that police officers should not work more than three days a week, given the extreme stress of the job. That’s a good idea. We agreed that if white police officers had African-American or brown-skinned friends, that might help. When we don’t know a single person who is gay, it’s easy to be homophobic, but when we have gay acquaintances, friends, or co-workers, gay people start to seem not so bad. I wonder how friendships could be facilitated between police officers and people of color. I heard lately some mention by a police officer of knocking on every single door in his area and meeting the people who live there. I’ll bet if every police officer did the same thing annually, that would make a profound difference.

The first Saturday in December was my long-awaited first visit to Laguna Honda as a chaplain. I called Bob several days prior and left him a message reminding him I’d be coming, but was fortunate to find him in his office, as he had not gotten the message. Normally he has people shadow him on a few resident visits before they solo, but he had a group of volunteers he had to be with, so he was forced to deploy me on my own.

List of residents lately arrived at the hospital in hand, I went to the rehab unit and met the resident I will likely never forget, simply because he’s the first person I spoke with at length there, just as I will never forget B. at the soup kitchen, the first guest I had a long chat with, on my very first day.

I might also never forget A. because, like the soup kitchen’s guests, he is homeless, and kept out of trouble by “recycling” (picking up cans and bottles with a resale value) in the “TL” (Tenderloin). Two months ago, he was shot in the back by an unseen assailant—the bullet is still in his back—and now he is permanently paralyzed from the waist down. He was at San Francisco General Hospital for acute treatment for two months and had just arrived at Laguna Honda a couple of days earlier. He was remarkably equanimous, saying he must now learn how to live this new life, though he teared up a time or two.

He said that he had made a point of trying to help others get food and clothing, etc., while on the streets, and in particular he helped a certain woman, who, in those two months, had not showed up to visit him. Painful. However, he has a brother in another state he hopes to be back in touch with soon.

After A., I visited with six other residents, including a slight fellow who said money had been stolen from him, ditto his credit card. His medication is wrongfully being withheld from him and he can’t sleep. There’s something wrong with his wheelchair and he wants it fixed. His roommate, C., said it’s been a long month, and here I would deploy a smiley face if this blog went in for that kind of thing. C. insightfully observed that his roommate’s problem is that he thinks he can change everything. As C. and I spoke, I could hear his roommate moaning, “This is a nightmare.”

C. told me he was assaulted and has had to have one of his eyes operated on. Next the other eye must be operated on, and then his brain. The first eye surgery went well and he thinks the second will be fine, too, but he’s worried about the brain surgery, whose outcome is not as certain. He asked for my card when I left. I don’t have one, but I wrote down my name and “Spiritual Care Department.”

At the end of two hours, I went to make a report to Bob, who seemed pleased that I’d visited so many residents. He said next time I can shadow him on a few visits.

Back at the elevator, who should be sitting there but the fellow who told me I’m lucky I can walk, precisely where I saw him before. Near him was another guy in a wheelchair, kind of a country-looking guy, who said to the first, “You haven’t told anyone to go to hell lately. Did they tell you to stop doing that?”

Complete silence on the part of the other party seemed to indicate an affirmative answer.

I got into the elevator with the country-looking resident, who observed, “You’re an interesting-looking person.”

“Because of the big mop of hair?”, I suggested.

“That’s part of it,” he agreed.

More flattering was the resident who, upon passing me in a doorway, shrieked, “Wow!” (I politely said
“Wow!” back.)
And then there was the woman I passed in a dining area who called to me, “You’re a sweetheart! You don’t know how much I love you!” I hope that’s the kind of old lady I will be, or the kind of dementia I end up with.

Back at home, I made a nice document with a table of contents to keep track of my visits with residents at Laguna Honda. I may or may not be a good chaplain, but I’m going to chart like a mofo.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Frizz Ball

After returning from Thanksgiving, I went to the soup kitchen to serve at a Sunday brunch shift. I noticed an older guest with a very cheerful face making all kinds of expressions and gestures. He caught my eye, and, without speaking a word or in any way seeming to flirt, he smiled, raised and lowered his eyebrows, looked meaningfully at me, made the zip-my-lips motion. I reciprocated as best I could.

One of our guests has fabulous rock star hair and he commented to me, “Your hair is like mine,” and he told me his hair care regime, which includes something I never thought of doing. I joked, “If my hair looks better the next time you see me, it will be thanks to you,” whereupon he said kindly, “Well, it doesn’t really matter. What’s important is to be a good person.” Here I realized that he was extremely tactfully trying to tell me something that any number of stylists have told me very firmly and without any tact at all: stop combing your hair into a big ball of frizz!

I chatted with an extremely gracious guest a couple of times, a woman with a pleasant face and manner. She commented on how good the pasta was. Usually I walk home from there, but the bus was coming just as I passed the stop, so I got on it and this same woman got on, following another passenger, whom she was cursing at, enraged. She accused the woman of having tried to kiss her neck, and said, “Don’t nod your white face at me, bitch!” The other woman was much younger, perhaps 20, and she remained silent. The soup kitchen guest continued to curse and rage until the next corner, where she got off.

The bus driver, a man, evidently said something about her needing to take her medication, because she got right back on the bus and said, “You don’t tell me to take my medication, bitch! Making a remark to me like that—that’s illegal! I’m going to call and file an incident report, bitch.” Then she got off the bus again and sloshed a whole cup of milk or something all over the windshield and vanished from sight.

It seemed perfectly clear to me that all this anger is her defense against the perils of being a homeless or very low income woman, and it didn’t seem frightening to me—I mean, I sound more or less like that myself when I have to talk to AT&T—but I imagined that the young woman probably felt frightened. The bus driver stood up and asked if we thought he should take some official action or just let it go. “Let it go” was my vote, and he drove on. I remarked to another passenger that I had just seen the angry woman somewhere else and she was as nice as you could want someone to be.

I guess one thing I take from that experience is an appreciation for how our guests—and volunteers—are on their very best behavior when they come to the soup kitchen, which is a giant compliment. I like going to the soup kitchen, in part, because it’s easy to be my very best self there: calm, cheerful, absolutely present, which is nourishing to me, if to no one else.

Monday, December 22, 2014

“Hash Pipe” by Weezer

SuperShuttle picked me up at about 4:30 a.m. for my Thanksgiving trip to Michigan. It was raining, and as we headed to the airport, I was astounded to see three separate people out on bicycles. The shuttle driver had three electronic mapping devices mounted in front of him, which he consulted often, whereas his engagement with the actual road seemed more tentative. However, we got to the airport safely and he politely addressed me as “sir” two or three times, so all was well.

The day after I arrived, my parents and I went to Jo-Ann Fabrics to look for a dress pattern. My mother is a master seamster, so I had asked her to make me a housedress to wear while cooking on the hot days that have become more common in San Francisco. The three of us sat down with pattern books and thumbed through them looking for dresses. I picked out a pattern for a wrap dress and then some fabric in a bright pink print.

My mother and I spent a good deal of time on this project. I did the sewing and she translated the instructions and provided mentorship and congenial company. Her sewing machine broke when we were about three-quarters done, and the old machine she’d kept just in case also proved to be on the fritz, so I will try to finish on my own.

I had my semi-annual cable news binge, watching what happened in Ferguson, MO, after the grand jury failed to indict the police office who killed Michael Brown. Also terrible was the video of the darling 12-year-old boy in Cleveland aimlessly puttering around on the sidewalk, making a snowball and dropping it, going to stand under a nearby gazebo. Then a police car roars up to him and he is shot dead, evidently before the police officer even gets out of the cruiser, and certainly without any evident exchange of words. This little boy had been playing with a toy pellet gun and someone called 911. The police claimed they asked him to drop the gun—there is absolutely no way—and after they took him from his family forever, they radioed something like “Black male down, age 20.”

It is sickening that the NRA wants everyone to have a real gun, capable of killing people with, when we have police officers murdering children holding toy guns. It is amazing that, with environmental collapse clearly in sight, we still haven’t made up our minds if black people are human beings or not. The world as we know it may literally end while blatant racism is still being practiced. If white adults can own real machine guns, black children should be able to play with pellet guns without being murdered.

One day, I joined my parents on their regular walk. My mother has lately discovered the joy of breaking into a jog and I was able to take a little video of her running down a hill. It is a joyful sight.

After grumbling here about my new camera, I got a characteristically kind and generous offer from my father, who said that I should bring my new camera to Michigan, and we could take some pictures, and if my camera seemed satisfactory to him, he would take it in exchange for his camera, which is identical to the one I loved and lost. I can still get the camera I liked, but not in silver, only in red or black, so my father also said that if I wanted to buy one in black or red, he’d take it in exchange for his silver one.

(This reminds me of when I was about eight years old and a friend’s father gave me an old film camera. My father offered to give me a brand new camera in exchange for the vintage item. I took a lot of pictures with the camera my father gave me—an Instamatic? I can still remember how it looked and the way the film smelled. Later my father bought me a Nikon FG that I used for years and still have in the closet. He got me a case to go along with it, and a yellow lens filter for snowy days, and cleaning accessories. What a great gift that was.)

I did take my camera to Michigan and my father and I sat down and took pictures of the exact same scene and I liked the look of his photos better, and, try as I might, could not duplicate the color balance using my camera, though in trying to do this, I learned a lot about my camera’s controls. Because the pictures taken by the new camera look terrible to me, I’ve had to explore all its options, and while I wouldn’t say I love it, I’ve become somewhat enamored of all the things it can do, so I’ve decided to keep it. Maybe I will still buy another of the original camera, in black, as well.

Or not. Having two cameras seems kind of wasteful for the amateur photographer. Spending time at the soup kitchen has made me more aware of this kind of thing, and has also made me think about food. The core volunteers probably eat many meals at the soup kitchen, and I am positive they don’t insist edibles must be organic and vegan or free roaming. (I lately heard someone refer to free-range chicken as “free roaming” chicken. Cute!)

Accordingly, I decided to be a non-vegetarian for Thanksgiving. I gather that it is less work for my father to produce a non-vegetarian holiday meal than to make the elaborate vegetarian meal he has often made. The last time he did it, it required starting at 3:30 a.m. So as a gift to my father and in solidarity with the soup kitchen’s guests, I ate and enjoyed roast chicken on Thanksgiving, along with Waldorf salad, and low-carb biscuits and cheese biscotti made by my mother. The biscuits and cheese biscotti were fantastic. That was our entire meal, along with wine for some and San Pellegrino for others. My father tries to make precisely as much food as people will eat during the actual meal, which even more encourages enjoying what is offered: leftovers are unlikely.

Afterward, my sister and parents and I lounged in front of the TV and watched some football and a couple of episodes of Orange Is the New Black. The others had my mother’s sugar-free raspberry cheesecake for dessert. I had to draw the line there. I quit eating sweets other than fresh fruit January 1, 2012, and it was totally easy and remains easy. It was a one-time gift from the universe, so I’m heeding what they say in AA: “Don’t pick up the first one.”

On Monday I had a salmon burger at Café Zola with Amy and ditto with Ginny on Wednesday. Both visits were delightful. After returning from lunch one of those days, I got a glass of soy milk from the refrigerator and Mom called from the TV room that it sounded like snacking was underway. I said, “You don’t want to become weak from hunger, especially right after lunch.”

“It’s a dangerous time,” Mom agreed.

I said I’d heard a great song on the car radio. It sounded like the guy was saying “I got my hash pipe,” and sure enough, the song was “Hash Pipe,” by Weezer, as determined by visiting WRIF’s website.

“The knowledge just builds and builds,” Mom said admiringly.

I was sad the night before I left, as is often the case. I noticed my thoughts: “I hate living so far from my parents and sister. I shouldn’t have left in the first place. Should I move back here?” Then I noticed this thought: “I should be over this.” Aha! Why should I be over this? I might never be over it.

I remembered what a guest speaker in my chaplaincy class said about maintaining a “posture of tranquility” and the thought came to me that I should leave in good cheer, and I did leave in fairly good cheer, with a new batch of nice memories.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Day of Death

My chaplaincy class has a few optional field trips, including “Death in the City,” which was this past Saturday. (A classmate emailed me, “I’m really looking forward to the Day of Death.”) 

We started at the Columbarium, which is an above-ground cemetery, a round, domed building full of “niches,” each of which contains someone’s cremains (except for a couple that are just honorary, like one for Harvey Milk).

The building opened a hundred years ago, and the niches on the lower floors are simple and dignified. All you see for most of them is a metal front plate and the family’s name, or there is a glass front and you can see the urn or other container.

As you ascend to upper floors of the building, it’s more like Dia de los Muertos altars, with photographs and mementoes. One niche even featured a tiny electronic sign flashing the name of the deceased over and over.

Then it was on to the San Francisco National Cemetery, at the Presidio, where we were invited to contemplate our feelings both about death and about the military. Much of training to be a chaplain is about knowing one’s own biases and sensitivities, so that they don’t unconsciously get acted out on those the chaplain hopes to serve.

The vast majority of the gravestones here are identical—simple white marble, with larger and more elaborate monuments here and there.

It was a beautiful day, not raining for the first time in days. 

(Click photos to enlarge.)

Monday, December 08, 2014

I’ll Be the Judge of That

At work on Monday, a mild conflict arose between myself and the representative of a group I’m working on a project with. This group has been particular about how this project is carried out, more so than the other 13 groups I’ve worked with this year. They asked us to do something we really didn’t want to do and there was a lengthy detour while we had several meetings about it. In the end, we had to agree to do what they wanted. Immediately after the meeting where this became clear, I sent a note saying we would be delighted to take care of it, and then I forwarded this note to one of my own co-workers, saying I thought I’d better send that gracious message while the afterglow of reaching an agreement was still upon me. She complimented my good thinking.

A couple of days before the project was scheduled to conclude, lo and behold, the representative decided that there was yet another thing they needed changed in a system that is used by many people beyond this group. I basically said we were absolutely not going to do it, and he basically said he’d see what his manager had to say about that, which is how the former issue began to escalate, too.

To digress semi-briefly, my chaplaincy class has a reading list consisting of 19 books, plus tons of online readings. I ordered every book right away, but there was one I couldn’t get at first: Professional Spiritual & Pastoral Care: A Practical Clergy and Chaplain's Handbook, edited by Rabbi Stephen B. Roberts, MBA, MHL, BCJC. Huh! Didn’t notice the MBA until just now. BCJC is Board Certified Jewish Chaplain. I have no idea what MHL is. To the non-religious eyes, looks boring, right? Not least because of all those credentials. Amazon listed this book—for $50—but said it was back-ordered. Weeks passed, and I finally canceled the order and ordered it from—for $35—but it was also back-ordered there.

I felt a little self-conscious about my neighbors maybe seeing a box from ChristianBook waiting for me in the lobby, like I should run around and tell them all, “I’m not a Christian!”

It finally arrived the day of my class in November, and it is actually an excellent book, not extremely well-written, but chock full of interesting advice for the aspiring chaplain. I read an assigned chapter on listening and realized that I was dealing with my co-worker in just the wrong way, in a way guaranteed to increase conflict.

I wrote up some reminders for myself for effective communication at work (and, I suppose, anywhere):

—How can I foster relaxation in this situation or conversation?

—How can I support connectedness?

—How can I nurture a sense of security?

—How can I give the other person as many options as possible, to promote a sense of choice and power?

I thought of several areas where this person could make some choices, and in our next meeting, which was just him and me, I greeted him warmly and asked what he’d like to talk about first, rather than telling him what we’d talk about first. I’d absolutely thought we would end up having to do this other thing he was pushing for, and therefore would have to delay the grand finale of the project, but in the context of our pleasant meeting, with me offering him options every time I possibly could, and after I showed him what his request would entail, he said it would be perfectly fine not to make the change! (I confess I also casually mentioned that another influential group in the company was perfectly fine without this change.) Anyway, that was a satisfying ending to that particular problem.

And then I thought again about my classmate who made the racist remark, realizing it would not be helpful to spend the time until the next class rehearsing offended speeches. My task is to find a way to act in a constructive manner, as at work, and as explicitly elucidated in Rabbi Roberts’ very good book.

Saturday, December 06, 2014


Funny to think this was taken not only before Carlos died but before I even met him. That’s my old camera! Yes, I was the kind of person who had a pepper grinder at work. 

(Click photo to enlarge.)

Friday, December 05, 2014

The Man from Ft. Bragg

One afternoon, while doing an errand near work, I passed a fellow I often see standing on the sidewalk with a cup for spare change. He’s friendly, about 70, with white hair and a beard. He told me a few months ago that he would soon start receiving Social Security and not have to beg for money anymore. When I saw him, I put two dollars in his cup and asked, “Did you start getting Social Security?” He said that indeed he did, and that he had rented an apartment in Ft. Bragg, on the coast about 200 miles north of here.

I asked how he gets up there, and he said it’s two bus rides. The first, to Santa Rosa, costs five dollars and the more rural route to Ft. Bragg costs $23. He had to pay a security deposit along with his first month’s rent, so he was a bit in arrears this month, but he said that starting next month, he’ll be fine on his Social Security alone. I told him I was delighted for him, and said I guessed that meant we wouldn’t be seeing him anymore, and he said, “That’s right. As soon as I get $80, I’m going home.”

I said, “Then handshakes are in order,” and we shook hands and exchanged names. I learned for the first time that his name is Michael. I told him how delighted I was for him and headed back to work, but then half a block away, I thought, “Wait a minute.”

I walked back and put $80 in his cup and said, with a smile, “Go on home.” He peered into his cup and when he realized what I’d done, tears came to his eyes and he gave me a big hug. When I passed that spot later, leaving work for the day, he wasn’t there, and I imagined him sitting on the bus, heading to a snug little apartment of his very own.

I pondered how being generous is not about establishing who is generous and who is not, nor who is helpful and who is helpless. Generosity is a natural expression of our connectedness, and we will all take turns being the one to give and the one to receive.

There is a little addendum to this story, which is that several days later, imagine my surprise upon seeing this very person at the soup kitchen, looking rather bedraggled. Had the money been stolen from him, or did he spend it on alcohol? Here I felt a twinge of conscience at possibly having contributed to his delinquency. I had to wonder if there was even any Social Security or apartment in Ft. Bragg.

Then I waited to feel indignant, but found I never did. For one thing, if there’s no apartment in Ft. Bragg, that’s sad, not a thing to be angry about. I really wanted there to be an apartment in Ft. Bragg. Plus, whatever he did with that money doesn’t change my kind intention in giving it, as one of my chaplaincy classmates pointed out.

In the end, I concluded that if this guy is a good enough actor to get a handshake, a hug, sincere good wishes and $82 all from the same person—well, those are very impressive survival skills.

Thursday, December 04, 2014


One day at the soup kitchen, D. told me about someone he knows who has a wart on his nose and took the initiative to have little legs and wings tattooed around it. Now, according to D., people say, “Hold still!” and hit this fellow in the face, attempting to squash the bug. I suspect the latter clause was apocryphal, but I’d like to think there is someone walking around town with a wart-bug on his nose. Maybe they say, “Hold still!” and try to flick the creature off his face.

On the fourth Sunday in October, at a four-hour brunch shift. I filled eight big trays with sliced bread and then handed out numbers at the gate with a volunteer who is an attorney and a very serious swimmer. She swims to and from Alcatraz. The two large trees across the street were gorgeous in the early morning sun against the clear blue sky. A young woman in a BMW pulled up and parked out front. I wondered if she was nervous parking there with so many homeless people about, but after she got out of the car, she walked in the gate: a volunteer coming to serve rice, beans and salad.

We were at the gate from 8 until 9:30 or so, and then I sat down at a table in the dining room and ate. A fellow told me he had been granted an “Obamaphone” and just had to find two dollars so he can take a bus to a nearby city to fetch it. (I did not give him two dollars. I don’t give money to anyone while at the soup kitchen because I don’t want to be the ATM machine there. It’s also my intention not to give anyone money right near the soup kitchen, either, but I often do.)

I spotted a young woman in the food line I had talked to there before. She is covered with tattoos and has beautiful dark green eyes and a touchingly sweet manner. She has some sort of very charming accent, I can’t figure out from where. The first time we spoke, she told me her shoes are made of hemp. She appears to be entirely in possession of her mental faculties, and she is immediately likable. It makes me wonder how she comes to be at the soup kitchen—a relationship breakup or a suddenly lost job?

I noticed her wiping away a tear as she waited to get food, and I went over to see what was wrong: A Muni driver had ignored her, pulling away before she could board the bus. I could see how that one little thing could be the last straw in a period where something major has gone wrong and you don’t know if it will go right again. “Am I invisible?”, she asked. For what it’s worth, I told her Muni drivers do that to everyone, and I asked if I could give her a little pat on the shoulder. That’s one thing I’ve learned in my class: to ask before touching people. Also, institutions such as hospitals or jails may have very specific rules about physical contact that a volunteer chaplain needs to know.

The young woman nodded and I touched her shoulder briefly and invited her to come sit at our table. Sometimes people chat as they eat, particularly if they know the people they’re near. Less often, people talk to those they don’t already know, and most often, they don’t talk to anyone, but just eat silently from plates heaped with as much food as they can hold. So our table was silent after the brief conversation about the Obamaphone. After a while, the young woman looked up and said, “This is really good,” meaning the food. When I got up to return to my duties, I told her, “I’m sorry about Muni. I’m glad you’re here, and I hope your afternoon will be good.” That’s all I can do: help the soup kitchen function and try to make sure people don’t feel alone and unseen.

Another day, an agitated guest was telling whoever would listen about the bacterial infection he can’t get any doctor to take seriously. He indicated a small wound on his face, red but not actively bleeding, and said, “Look what’s coming out of it!” Before I could remember an urgent engagement elsewhere, he unwadded a couple of the tissues clutched in his hand and showed me nothing worse (fortunately) than faint smears of blood. He explained what I was seeing: “Little white things are coming out of it: plastic pellets. I’m full of them!” Then he pointed at another guest. “That woman has the same thing. I hope she isn’t also completely full of plastic pellets, like me.” I assumed he was talking about minute pieces of skin or flesh.

Thus, when he later announced the connection between gay men and Ebola, I said, “You’re probably right. That sounds like good advice,” and he walked away happy. Another volunteer said, “No, that’s not right. I’m a lesbian,” but she hadn’t heard the discussion about plastic pellets. I knew I wasn’t going to argue him out of any of his delusions, so why upset him? Also, I wasn’t personally highly offended (though if the orator is sane, we should speak up about racism, sexism and homophobia, etc., whether we are members of the group being insulted or not). Now, if he’d said my father causes Ebola, I might have said, “Hello? My father does not cause Ebola!”

Wednesday, December 03, 2014

Career Advice of Bugwalk

What I said about wanting work to be afraid of me notwithstanding, here is a slightly revised excerpt from an email to a friend with a new job:

First, I’m wishing you the best of luck at your new job.

But if this job doesn’t work out, there’s another good job out there somewhere, for sure.

After I was laid off from The Best Company There Is and then rehired in another part of the company several months later, I was very motivated to keep my new job, and I adopted a new approach, which is that whenever my boss asks me to do something, I say, “Sure! I would love to do that!” I formerly was prone to arguing about details—does this even need to be done? Is this the best way to do it? Etc. I resolved never to indulge in that again.

I also try to make sure my boss’s life is easy and smooth. I handle problems myself as much as possible before going to him. What I say to him is positive and constructive. I try not to waste his time.

I never ever ever say anything negative to him about another person. A co-worker would have to shoot me before I’d complain to my boss. No matter what a colleague of mine does, there is no benefit to me in mentioning that to my boss. (I also almost never ever ever say anything negative about a co-worker to a third co-worker. I do not want to be seen as that kind of person.)

I read recently that what we say about others will be seen as attributes of ourselves, a quirk of psychology. So if I go to my boss and say, “Mulene is pretty, nice and smart,” he’s hearing those words and seeing my face and they get associated with each other, and he sort of thinks I am pretty, nice and smart. And if I say to my boss, “Mulene is ugly, mean and stupid!”, then he thinks I am those things.

I have also noticed that when Person A goes to HR to share a very legitimate complaint about Person B, Person A can eventually look forward to being laid off. HR is there to protect the company. From whom? From troublemakers! Who are the troublemakers? The ones who come to them with complaints. It’s totally backward, but I think that’s how it tends to work.

I used to have a co-worker of notably sunny and calm demeanor. One day he and I got a very provocative, complaining email from a third person. I was all up in arms, but Ben said, “I’m not letting him get my goat,” and he read the first two words of the email and then deleted it. I’ve never forgotten the way he prioritized his own happiness by avoiding things that could only be upsetting or annoying.

Sometimes the thing we have to avoid in order not to be upset is our own thoughts.

But whatever you might think, one key to hanging onto a job is for people to see you as someone who does her job cheerfully and willingly, causes no problems for the boss or anyone else, and never says anything negative, most particularly not to the boss.

By “boss,” I mean my boss, but also anyone in any position of authority, such as a team lead, or someone directing me in a project or task, or even someone training me to do a project or task.

Crossing my fingers for you!

Tuesday, December 02, 2014

Task Cowers as Blogger Approaches

Our landlord’s two daughters stopped by for a visit recently, taking the opportunity to meet as many of us tenants as they could. They assured me that they have no intention of selling the building, which would always have been a problem, but now would be catastrophic. If something happens to this place, I’d have to move in with roommates or move to another town. I couldn’t afford a studio or one-bedroom apartment at San Francisco’s current astronomical rates, so I was relieved to hear them say this.

One daughter lives in Coalinga, 200 miles south of here, but lately spends three weeks per month with her mother in San Rafael, about 30 minutes north of here, and she will be the one to take over administering the building once her mother is gone; they lost their father a few years ago.

The most exciting thing I had to show them was the backyard of the gentleman next door, who is evidently a hoarder. They took a photograph to show their mother. I happened to pass his garage one day when the door was open, and it was literally full of boxes of stuff—from side to side and top to bottom. All that stuff in the backyard provides excellent habitat for rats, which are prey for raccoons. If you’ve not heard the sound of a raccoon savaging a rat, you’re not missing out. Our landlord’s daughter said she’d be worried about all that stuff being a fire hazard, and I’m sure if the merest spark ever contacts it, the entire block will go up in a giant conflagration. But since the fellow has been living there for decades and no one has burned to a crisp yet, I don’t worry about it, and I don’t have any hard feelings for him. Imagine being compelled to spend so much of your life energy dealing with your giant pile of stuff. 


One day while I was making my bed, I drew my back my arm just as Hammett ran up behind me and his head collided with my elbow with a little thump. He threw himself down on the bed, and, just to show he hadn't lost his oomph, gave me a single chomp on the hand.


At work, I noticed that a colleague famous for the elaborate vegetable smoothies she makes in the kitchen using a handheld blender was looking more svelte. In such a circumstance, I quite often say, “Have you lost weight? You look great,” but when I remember, I leave off the part about looking great, so as not to value one size over another. “You look great now that you’re smaller” is equivalent to “You looked awful when you were bigger” or “If you gain weight again, you’ll be ugly.”

So I said to my co-worker, “Wow, have you lost weight?”, which she interpreted as a compliment, which is fine—I don’t insist that people feel insulted—and she said, “Yes!” and attributed it to her recent project of building an enclosure to put her recycling, compost and garbage bins in. She showed me a photo of the truly handsome wooden structure she had made. I was impressed. As I left the kitchen, she said happily, “I can do anything, right?”


I was shocked when I heard that Ray Magliozzi, one of the Car Talk duo, had died. I often listen to them on weekend mornings and didn’t realize they had stopped recording new shows two years ago. Until Ray died, I had never known which one of them was which, but after looking at their website, listening to a Terry Gross show remembering Ray, and consulting Wikipedia, now I know that the one who didn’t die was kind of the main host, the one who was the first to say “Don’t drive like my brother” at the end of the show, and the one who listed all of the personnel who supposedly help produce the show. Ray was Tom’s sidekick, with the oft-mentioned infectious laugh. In the first photo I saw of them, it was immediately obvious who was who. It was fun seeing the photos, some going decades back, and reading quotes from Ray. My favorite began, “Don’t be afraid of work. Make work afraid of you.”