Friday, March 25, 2016

Crafty BART Exhibitionist

Good news! TWMC (the Truly Wonderful Medical Center) has accepted me as a resident in its yearlong clinical pastoral education program starting this fall. I’m excited, and also pleased for the first time in 17 years to have a really satisfactory answer to the question, “What do you do?” “I work at ____” never felt good, no matter how much I tried to rationalize it, and “I’ve just been laid off by ____” wasn’t noticeably better. I always hastened to add that I volunteer at a soup kitchen. Now I get to say, “I’m studying to be a hospital chaplain.”

However, it’s entirely possible that at the end of the summer internship, I’ll conclude that I very much want to work for this company and to volunteer as a chaplain later on, so I’m going to keep those rationalizations, some of which are entirely solid, dusted off. Also, you can practice your values in just about any job. When I got laid off in January, a young fellow who sat near me, whom I had barely exchanged ten words with (mainly because I worked from home almost every day), asked if he could ask me a question: “Do you regret having worked here for so long?” I was touched by that; I think he was asking if he was wasting his life. I told him honestly that I don’t regret it at all, and that you can be a good person wherever you work.

Based on my experience last time I was laid off and how things have gone so far this time, I’m pretty much convinced that this company uses layoffs as a way of shifting people from where they aren’t needed within the company to where they are, as opposed to ridding itself of them permanently. This morning I was having problems logging onto the company website to look up a piece of information and had to call to get my password unlocked. The person who helped me told me to use my employee ID instead of another common identifier: “Don’t worry, when you’re back at work, you can go back to doing it the usual way.” It appears that being laid off is regarded as a temporary condition.

I trust that TWMC has a waiting list in the event that some of the people they picked for the yearlong CPE program change their minds or can
t participate for whatever reason. I think it’s actually more likely that by the end of the summer, I’ll be very interested in moving ahead and delighted that I get to start the yearlong program.

Backing up a bit, a couple of Thursdays ago, my friend Karen (from chaplaincy class) and I saw the movie 45 Years, followed by Indian food at Roti. The movie was surprisingly affecting, and dinner was delicious.

A couple of nights later, F. and I saw Mighty Real: A Fabulous Sylvester Musical, at the Brava Theater. Sylvester, whose music I love, lived in San Francisco and died of AIDS here in 1988. The crowd at the Castro Street Fair that year chanted his name adoringly, loud enough for him to hear from his home, where he lay ill. The musical at the Brava Theater was excellent, with a first-rate live band, dazzling costumes, and splendid vocal performances and dancing. I was next to an aisle, so I got up and danced with abandon when the final song was played. After all, the theme of the show was, “We are going to die one day, so live! Live!”

That was also a theme of the play Aubergine, which F. and I and Tom’s mother saw at Berkeley Rep the next day, after lunch at Au Coquelet. (Tom was at a union event.) We took BART to Berkeley to meet Ann. After we settled into our seats at the 16th St. station, an elderly man hopped aboard wearing only a shirt and drooping black underpants. He did a bawdy gyrating dance and then turned around and reprised it for the audience members behind him, scrambling off the train just before the doors closed.

I have a friend who does a lot of ushering, including at Berkeley Rep, which she says reminds her of her childhood and of her parents, both of whom are now gone (well, I guess all three are gone). She reported that several people marched out of the theater when they realized that Aubergine is about death. It’s also about family and love and sorrow and, inextricably linked with all of those, food.
One of the characters is a hospice nurse. Ann and I loved it. I was in tears by the end, and I could hear people sniffling throughout the theater. So maybe the theme was, “We are going to die one day, so eat! Eat!”

F. and I got a chance to comply right away, at the soup kitchen’s monthly potluck that evening. The guests included friendly visitors from the Philippines, who used Yelp to find a great place for chicken adobo and lumpia, which they brought in abundance. Meanwhile, someone who lives at Thomas House got inspired to have Thanksgiving in March: turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes. He said that every day is a good day to be grateful. We also had salad, rolls, various kinds of nuts, hummus, chips and guacamole, and there was a huge array of desserts.

The crowd includes soup kitchen volunteers, guests, and people who are sometimes one and sometimes the other, including a fellow I’m particularly fond of who has a wild spray of silver hair, a raspy voice, and a way of leaning back on the couch after dinner with his eyes closed, making a contented purring sound. I noticed that evening that he has become alarmingly skinny, and that his face looked oddly blank. I hope he is not seriously ill.

Tuesday, March 08, 2016

Snow in Ypsi

As seen on my last visit. It turns that pink color around twilight.

(Click photos to enlarge.)

Monday, March 07, 2016

Tall Brother

Last Wednesday, I got an email from one of my two TWMC interviewers asking if, along with contacting my other references, she can speak with Bob Deel, who supervised me at Laguna Honda. I wrote back that indeed she can, and to tell him hello from me if she thinks of it. I was glad to see her name in my inbox and glad she is planning to check my references.

My classmate Sam wrote me, “To review: I’m not sure when we spoke, but it didn’t really feel that long ago … and from there you have written your essays, applied and now gone to interviews. Shazam!” He will be a great chaplain, too. (Along with the male interviewer at TWMC, I mean.)

Last week I finally got to sit down and open a book, which I’ve been meaning to do since my last day of work, nearly three weeks ago. I’m going to read Ron Chernow’s books about George Washington and Alexander Hamilton this spring if it kills me. While I was reading one afternoon, I noticed Hammett giving me a severe look, as befits a cat who earlier that day had been stuffed into a box and conveyed against his wishes to the vet’s to have his thyroid checked. His weight had edged up slightly, which is good, and the next day, I learned that his kidneys and thyroid are both looking great, so I can go four to six months before the next recheck if everything seems fine.

I spent a bit longer at the soup kitchen than usual last Thursday, moving around as gently and consciously as possible. After observing me for a while, one guest told me, “You’re really kind.” I’m glad that my efforts to take great care are interpreted that way. That is how they are intended.

On Friday I got an email inviting me to be a part of the summer clinical pastoral education program at VFMC and have sent in my acceptance letter. Doing CPE in the summer is a key part of my plan for best use of the next several months and a crucial step in discerning when, how or if to pursue becoming a certified chaplain.

F. and I had a very pleasant and harmonious weekend, during which called me his “beautiful chaplain,” as he now and then does, and I responded that he was an “hombre guapo y alto—is that how you say ‘tall, handsome man’ in Spanish?”

He said that wasn’t quite right.

“Well, then, how do you say it?”

“It depends on the time and place.”

“OK, then how did you say it in Pittsburg, California, in the 1960s,” which is where and when he was a teenager in a Spanish-speaking family.

“Tall brother, how you doin’? You look good!”

By the weekend, I was on page 100 of Ron Chernow’s 817-page book about George Washington. I thought it was going to be a laborious ordeal to read, but it’s genuinely captivating.

Friday, March 04, 2016

Lifted Up

Small correction: Per the bill I just received, driving up to see Carol Joy in Novato in a City CarShare car was actually just $61.81 more than taking the bus would have been, making it an even wiser choice than I thought!

To say more about my clinical pastoral education interview at TWMC this past Tuesday, I arrived early, thanks to having allowed plenty of extra time. This proved to be yet another wise choice, since the driver of the 22 Fillmore, for unknown reasons, directed me to get off the bus several blocks before my stop, in fact, right in the middle of a block—not even at a bus stop. He said, “You wanted to get off at 18th and Minnesota? Get off here.” I got off the bus and I was on 18th St., but there was no sign of Minnesota. I had to stop someone with a smart phone to get directions. On my way back later, I saw that there is a bus stop right at 18th and Minnesota. Odd.

Having some extra time beforehand, I went into the meditation room near the Spiritual Care Services office. There was a woman in there using it as a place to do something on her laptop. When I closed my eyes to meditate for a moment, she politely stepped outside into an adjoining garden, and a splendid cool breeze came in. I was starting to feel boiling hot (in my jacket!), so I got up and stood in the open doorway for a few minutes, and then I walked around the room and came upon a large notebook in which people had written heartbreaking, anguished prayers, for instance, about their baby who was about to die. Periodically, there was a note from one of the chaplains indicating that the prayers had been lifted up and offered to God. It was tremendously moving.

One of the questions in my interview was: “If you are woken in the middle of the night when you’re on call because someone’s baby has just died, what emotions do you think you might feel?” I considered that, and said that I thought I would probably feel first terrified—will I say the right thing in this very worst moment of some stranger’s life?—and then sad. They asked where I felt the sadness. This was an easy one for a 25-year practitioner of mindfulness meditation. I said that I felt it in a large, diffuse area of my chest, and as a slight tension behind my eyes, where tears would come from. They asked if I might cry when meeting with the baby’s parents, and I said I might. I said that if it were my baby who had died, I might really appreciate it if the hospital chaplain was also sad enough about my terrible loss to weep.

The male chaplain pointed out that I had just said minutes before that, while I think it’s good to be in touch with my emotions while providing care, I didn’t envision walking around the hospital sobbing and asking the patients to comfort me—is it the case that I can take in new information or experiences and change my views accordingly? Certainly it is, and I appreciated both his pointing out that evident inconsistency, and even more, his seeming to see this rapid evolution in views as a good thing. He is a really lovely person. Also, he looks kind of like Mark Ruffalo. I got the feeling that both of them were looking for evidence that I’d be a good fit, not for evidence that I wouldn’t be. 

Had I mentioned the on-call thing? When you’re a CPE student, you spend one night every week or so sleeping onsite in case a chaplain is needed during the night anywhere in the hospital: a baby that has died, a cancer patient in physical or emotional anguish, anything.

At VFMC, in case you’re interested, you work your full day, stay overnight, and then have the next day off, unless that day is Saturday. At TWMC, you can come in as late as 4:15 p.m. the day your on-call starts (earlier if it’s a class day), and then you stay overnight and work the whole next day. In the latter scenario, I’d have to get someone to come the morning of the next day to feed Hammett and give him his medication.

The last piece of good news for that day: neither one of the TWMC interviewers was wearing a black jacket. The woman was wearing slacks, a nice top, a pretty necklace, and a fine-gauge black cardigan. Also, I didn’t have a hot flash while we were meeting.

After that second interview, I felt very excited about the various possibilities. For instance, maybe I can do the summer CPE program at VFMC and the yearlong program at TWMC. Or at least the summer program, which may make it obvious that where I really belong is in a nice anonymous cubicle at a large company, staring dreamily at a computer.

Thursday, March 03, 2016

Perfectly Attired Blogger Goes on at Length About Her Favorite Subject

This past Monday I had my interview at VFMC for the summer unit of CPE (clinical pastoral education), which is considered to be an internship. The yearlong program starting in the fall is considered to be a residency and, according to the woman who interviewed me, I probably don’t have enough education completed for that, though the Sati Center’s program might suffice; it’s a little hard to sort out in the case of a Buddhist student.

I had been practicing and practicing my answers to eight likely questions and got to deliver two of them, but for the most part, my interviewer asked me to expand on things that had been in my essays, so I got to talk about myself for the better part of an hour, always an agreeable pastime.

I’d asked Ann Marie if I could take my jacket off after arriving and she hesitated before saying that if the interviewer was dressed casually, I could ask for permission to partially disrobe: “I’m feeling rather warm—would you mind if I took off my jacket?” Fortunately, the room we met in was quite chilly, so I had only one hot flash, and I ended up being glad that I’d made all that effort in regard to the jacket (and my ladylike new purse), because my interviewer was wearing a black jacket, which she kept on throughout, and when I asked her what a CPE student wears, she said—alas—“The way you’re dressed is appropriate.”

VFMC has four campuses, two I could walk to and two rather far away, including one clear across town, but both of the latter can be reached by bus. They would decide where to place me partly based on the population I want to work with and, I imagine, on their needs, as well.

I was a little disheartened to learn that I might not have enough education to be accepted into
VFMC’s yearlong CPE program, and so was very pleased to find out that this doesn’t seem to be a consideration at TWMC, where I interviewed the following day. My chaplaincy classmate Sam said they didn’t seem to care much about this when they interviewed him, either.

He has been accepted into TWMC’s yearlong program and he’s really excited about it. Based on that, and based on my own communications with them, they are my first choice, so it was very lucky that the other interview was the day before—practice beforehand, and also practice in wearing a dress jacket, which you wouldn’t think would have much effect on anything, but somehow it does, as does carrying a purse. Like, it’s somehow harder to get on a bus wearing a jacket and carrying a purse. So by Tuesday, I was an old hand at both, and I really liked the two people who interviewed me, and we had a lovely conversation, again mostly based on their questions pertaining to my essays.

There was a man and a woman, and the man, in particular, several times pointed out a correspondence between two aspects of my experience that I hadn’t noticed. He did this in a very warm and kind manner and I finally realized that he was being a chaplain to me, and that he must be a really excellent chaplain.

Several times they both smiled and nodded after I answered a question, as if I’d given the exact response they were hoping for. One question was about a new role I might like to try on in a peer group. When I couldn’t think of anything, they both looked glum, which was kind of sweet. I think that was the only thing they seemed disappointed about, and, even better, it sounds as if my chances of getting into their yearlong program are better than my chances of doing their summer program. For one thing, there are more slots in the yearlong program. Also, there is a school in Berkeley that requires its students to do a summer CPE program, which helps fill up the summer programs. More on this interview next time.

Wednesday, March 02, 2016

Oops, Sorry!

This is a bit embarrassing, particularly after I made reconnaissance trips to two different Walgreens stores to see what they stock that I use, and after I carefully kept a list of all the things I was going to buy with my 20 percent discount on the first Tuesday of the month. When I saw an older woman in Walgreens with a big pile of stuff, I smiled to myself: kindred spirits. Except that you have to be 62 to get the discount.

I bought my own big pile of stuff and was several blocks from the store when it occurred to me that the total was kind of high. I walked all the way back to point out that my receipt didn’t show any sign of a 20 percent discount and they pointed out that I’m not 62 and I pointed out that one of the people who works in that very store said all you need is an AARP card, but evidently that is not right. I guess maybe in the original conversation, my wonderful Walgreens employee friend—I still like her, even though I very nearly ran out of BioBags waiting for the first Tuesday to roll around—said something like, “I don’t want to assume anything, but do you have an AARP card?”, which to her meant I was 62, but to me just meant I had an AARP card. If I’d known that, I wouldn’t have renewed my AARP membership. Sorry!

A couple of weeks ago, I met with one of the people who was a guest speaker in our chaplaincy class. He’s a really sweet fellow, and gave me some tips for my clinical pastoral education interviews. While I was downtown, I returned the jacket that was too large.

The next day, I had lunch with my friend Judy, and the day after that, I picked up my thrift store jacket from the cleaners and found that the stain was still there. Using a Sharpie on it was effective, but only for about four seconds. After that, the stain reasserted itself. The original stain was in an area where it might not have been noticed, but I also saw there was a second stain in a prominent location, so the problem of having to have a nice jacket by the following Monday remained unsolved.

I read online that ISIS is threatening Mark Zuckerberg due to Facebook’s efforts to eliminate ISIS-related accounts. Since he lives part-time 1.5 blocks from me, let’s hope ISIS uses weapons that can be aimed very precisely. He also has a home in Menlo Park—that’s the place where he bought up four neighboring properties—but since his wife is a doctor at San Francisco General Hospital, they probably spend a lot of time here. On the other hand, she might be on maternity leave right this minute, so who knows?

Another thing difficult to analyze is just how much money I’m saving via my new frugality practices: Taking the cab saves money, but getting a huge, ugly red-brown stain on the sleeve of my second-favorite blouse while on Muni means I’ll have to replace the blouse, which will cost about as much as three typical cab rides. It also turns out this blouse is no longer available, making the calculation even more complicated.

On Friday of that week, per Judy’s advice, I made an appointment with a personal stylist at Nordstrom and went down there. I’d indicated that I was willing to spend this amount and, if necessary, up to that amount. When I got there, a stylish young lady told me they didn’t really have anything in that range and for a moment, I feared I was about to spend $500 on a jacket, but it turned out they had items priced lower than my lower figure and higher than my higher figure. I didn’t try on any of the latter, and within minutes, we had selected a lovely jacket and that was that except for having to have its sleeves shortened.

I went on to Michael Bruno, near the Castro, to look at bags, since I don’t plan to carry a purse to work every day. There was a sign in the window saying something like, “Duct tape can’t fix stupid but it muffles the sound.”

On Saturday, I drove up to see Carol Joy in a City CarShare car. Yes, this was about $90 more than taking the bus, but I figured that riding the bus both ways would cause $155 worth of personal misery, so this was an obvious frugal move. We always have brunch at Toast, but there was going to be a 20-minute wait, so we tried a new place across the freeway, Bistro de Vine, where I had eggs with avocado, mushrooms and chicken apple sausage, home fries, and the best toast I’ve ever had. They either grill it or use a panini press, the server told me.

Then we went to see the light-hearted How to Be Single. We noticed children riding around the mall on large motorized animals. It turned out there was no age limit and that we were under the weight limit, so after the movie, we each paid $10 to ride a motorized animal around for 15 minutes. It was really fun and renewed my desire to get a motorcycle, but my father says I’m not allowed to.

We ended our day together with dinner at the Sonoma Latina Grill, which is owned by the same people who own the La Tortilla company, the Tamayos.

Tuesday, March 01, 2016

The Most Perfectly Recycled Cans Ever

A couple of weeks ago on a Tuesday, Ann Marie and I spent an enjoyable but somewhat grueling day looking for a jacket for my CPE (clinical pastoral education) interviews. That is, being with Ann Marie was excellent, while shopping, as always, was horrible. We went to Nordstrom Rack and to Ross, then to lunch at Ananda Fuara, then to Goodwill. I bought a beautiful jacket at Nordstrom Rack that needed to be taken in a bit, in my opinion. However, in the opinion of the alterations lady I took it to a couple of days later, it was simply the wrong size, so it was back to the drawing board.

The day after shopping, I have no idea what I did. Almost every single thing in my calendar has an X by it, meaning that I didn’t do it. It appears that it took me all day to recycle some cans and to telephone my cat sitter.

On Thursday I volunteered at the soup kitchen and had my weekly phone date with Margaux, who is also in a career transition. That evening, F. and I had a horrible interaction on the phone and I hung up on him for the first time ever. A bit later, he hung up on me for the first time ever.

Fortunately, I already had an appointment scheduled on Friday with my mental health professional. I was going to tell her about losing my job, but didn’t get around to that. We spent the whole 50 minutes talking about F., who had said something really quite hurtful. Deborah said he’s figured out this is an area where he can effectively take a jab at me. I asked if I should not let him get a rise out of me, but she said no, no, no—she advocates being authentic, not pretending that we aren’t hurt.

When I got home, I called F. to see about having a talk. He thought it would be better to do in person, and suggested that he come over in the late afternoon. I was planning to announce to him what he’d better never do again and what the consequences of doing so would be. I felt anxious and upset, and was also feeling the effects of not having gotten much sleep the night before. It was a lousy afternoon.

It seemed inevitable that we were going to have our final fight. In fact, I was so sure we were going to break up that I cleaned my bathroom so I wouldn’t have to be newly single in a dirty bathroom, but then I had a brainstorm. I called to run my idea past him, and when he got here, instead of having a big fight, we sat face to face and took turns telling each other, “I would feel very loved if you would [do or not do this or that].” I even let him go first. After one of us spoke, the other would say what he or she had heard: “You would feel very loved if I were slower to react and didn’t immediately leap to negative conclusions.”

After that phase, which took probably ten minutes or less, we took turns telling each other, “I feel very loved when you … ” and also repeating those words back, giving the person the pleasure of saying, for instance, “You feel loved when I’m very quiet in the morning and careful not to wake you up.” In the first phase, we communicated in a tactful manner what we wish the other would do differently, and in the second phase, which was longer, we shared what we’re already doing well. The whole thing was extremely touching and we ended up feeling very close to each other.

Another good thing that happened that day was that my father told me on the phone that Ypsilanti had felt the Bern earlier that week when Sanders appeared at a place within half a mile of their house. They intended to go, but didn’t end up making it and were worried Bernie would be all alone and feel dissed. But in fact, parking lot after parking lot was full to overflowing, so Bernie was well received in Ypsilanti.

The next day, my walking friend and I took a long stroll, stopping for lunch at Ananda Fuara, where we had a wonderfully delicious pureed Hungarian mushroom soup, spaghetti with vegetarian sausage, garlic toast, and crispy potatoes. We liked everything and particularly thought the soup was superb, no pun intended. That day I noticed two particularly unwelcome casualties of Mission neighborhood gentrification: Majahual, the restaurant where Carlos and I went on our first date, and my own personal bike shop, Freewheel. My bike shop! Will these scoundrels stop at nothing?

After my walking friend and I parted, I went to Community Thrift, where they had many jackets. I found one that seemed perfect, except for a whitish stain in a rather unobtrusive location. I bought it and dropped it off at Wayne’s to be dry-cleaned. In the evening, F. and I had burritos by candlelight.