Thursday, August 13, 2020

The Winds of Change, Bringing Fresh Joy

When I was at Rainbow on Monday (would have been Sunday, but I ran out of time: I have kittens), the customer behind me took his mask off so he could start to eat something he was about to pay for. (Technically, he was eating something that still belonged to Rainbow. I disapprove of this.) Hoping to shame him into putting his mask back on, I gave him a steely look for a solid three seconds. When that had no effect, I said, “Would you please put your mask back on?”

He began, “Here’s my view of it.”

I said, “I don’t care what your view of it is.”

He said, “If the virus were really lethal, blah blah blah. If you were really worried about it, you’d double mask. You’d pay someone else to come here and do your shopping for you. Blah blah blah.”

A Rainbow worker approached and asked, “Is there a problem?”

I said, “The customer behind me took his mask off. I asked him to put it back on, and now I’m getting a lecture about the virus.”

The worker said, “I’m sorry to hear that. That sounds annoying.” I couldn’t tell if he was genuinely sympathetic or if he was humoring me, but he then directed me to a cashier, and that was that, except that a few minutes later, the worker came up to me and said, “If this ever happens again—”

I figured he was going to say that it might not be the best idea to tell other customers to put on their masks, and that it would be better to refer the matter to security or to talk to a worker about it.

This is what he actually said: “If this ever happens again, you can complain at our customer service counter, and we can ban that customer for life.”

He added: “I encourage you to do this.”

Rainbow has our backs!

Here Duckworth is wearing his handsome collar with cacti on it for the first time. Within an hour or two, he figured out how to remove it. I found the latch very stiff; I could barely unclasp it myself, and hoped it would actually function as intended if he ever (god forbid) did find himself outside and hung up by his collar. Well, it is a moot point, because if he ever (god forbid) finds himself outside, he will not have a collar on at all.

Having kittens has greatly attenuated my schedule. Greatly greatly attenuated it. I meant to go online the day after I brought them home to attend to their microchip registration. In four days, it will have been a month, and I haven’t been able to find ten minutes to do that. I don’t know how people with actual human children do it—it is my understanding that you can’t stuff a human baby into a bathroom when you need half an hour to iron a shirt without someone trying to climb up the dangling sleeve.

In work news, we have now been issued goggles that we are supposed to wear any time we’re with a patient.

We have several per diem chaplains, including myself, and I know that some of the others have lost hours, but my schedule has not been affected. I sent my boss a gushing text thanking her for this, and got an email back saying this will probably have to change by mid-September. This was not welcome news. My schedule has been perfect. A reduction in hours would affect not just my income, but potentially my health insurance, because that depends on working a certain number of hours.

There’s not a thing I can do about it, so when my boss and I discuss this in more detail, I plan to be entirely gracious. This is an opportunity for practice. That my situation has been excellent for some time is an occasion for gratitude; that it is ending is not an occasion for disgruntlement. No one owes me anything.

When I did Clinical Pastoral Education, the hospital where I did that (the seventh best in the country, according to rankings just released) did not have per diem chaplains, but in the past year or so, they hired several, including three people from my CPE cohort. The day I found out my work schedule will likely be cut, I said to myself that should that hospital ever have openings for more per diem chaplains, I would hasten to apply. That very evening, that occurred, and today I put in an application. I would have done it yesterday, but I have kittens.

What strange little creatures they are. That is Duckworth in both of the two bottom pictures: he currently has one white whisker. So that is also Duckworth on the left in the wool cat house.


I’m slowly getting the hang of this, and things are getting easier, for various reasons: Our fondness for each other is deepening, so that now I am more inclined to see a darling fuzzy friend rather than a bad little cat. (My cats, right or wrong.) Maybe our nervous systems are starting to sync up. Things that seemed horrible the first several times—the unbelievable racket as they chase each other up and down—now just seem like regular life. (My downstairs neighbor, encountered in the lobby yesterday, murmured, “I think I hear them.” That was diplomatic. I’m surprised she can hear anything but them. I apologized profusely for the noise, and she kindly said, “I figure it’s a kitten thing.”)

I now am used to having diarrhea splattered all over the bathroom, surprisingly high up on the walls, and tracked all over the apartment. Again, thank goodness for hardwood floors rather than white carpet. Also, I figure that if the diarrhea is ever under control, this will stop happening. I think it’s a natural consequence of them trying to bury what should be a couple of nice firm turds, but instead is a pile of sloppy wet poo.

Here is our low-tech, easily customizable cat tower:

Yesterday, I was using a knife, so I escorted one of them away from the spot near my feet. He came back. I escorted him away. We repeated that several times. The next time, I picked him up and petted him and offered a compliment or two and set him gently on the kitchen chair. He came back. I repeated the longer, gentler process. He came back. I did it again. This time he did not come back, but stayed on the chair, and I gave myself a little pat on the back: I’m learning.

I wish I had never yelled at them, never seized them up to relocate them, never felt angry, but I did. That can’t be erased from the record. (Unless I forget it when I get dementia, so there’s one thing to look forward to.) But I also have to realize that this is a whole new thing. I have had one cat or the other for 30 years, but did I ever have two kittens? No, I did not. It is a completely different thing.

They are basically the same color: evidently black. The afternoon sun in the kitchen effected this contrast and showed, once again, how much red fur a black cat actually has.

I think this might end up being a wonderful gift in that it is forcing me to do my meditation practice in a new way. This really works: Just pausing, letting my belly soften, and counting to three. The hard part is getting myself to do it rather than to continue with whatever I’m rushing to do, whatever I’m trying to force. When I can do it, it makes a huge difference. The whole day ends up having a different feeling if I do this even once or twice.

This was taken just before their first trip to the vet. What good cats!

During my two years at Upaya, I encountered a large number of wonderful presenters who said very inspiring things. The core faculty routinely said very inspiring things. But the presenter who had the biggest impact on me was Rhonda Magee, a law professor at the University of San Francisco. She gave a presentation on racism, power and privilege. She, too, said very inspiring things, but what really struck me was her physical presence, which sent a nearly palpable calm and ease throughout the room.

I was very impressed by the way she occupied space, with her knees comfortably far apart, and by how she actually did her own practice of embodied presence on a continual basis even while presenting, pausing frequently, with one hand on her heart and the other below her belly button, to check in with her own being: “What is well right now? What is not difficult?”


Last Sunday morning, I was making a pot of beans, starting with peeling and mashing a clove of garlic or two. Let me mention right now that no cat was harmed during this incident. By my foot was one cat or the other; I have to get a close look at them to tell them apart. I figured that was all right, that the worst that could happen was some debris falling on the cat. I mean, it wasn’t like I was going to drop the knife on the little creature.

Moments later, I dropped the knife. I do not recall ever dropping a knife before.

The knife, a small but evidently freshly sharpened paring knife, landed just a couple of inches from the cat’s face. Where it exactly landed was on my foot, apparently having fallen with the blade pretty much horizontal. (I don’t know why it didn’t flip over so that the heavier side was facing down.)

I looked down to see more or less this, except that my Birkenstock Mayari was still on. I couldn’t tell at first if the cat had been sliced.

After I saw that the cat was evidently fine, my next thought was to put both cats in the bathroom so I could deal with the blood, and so they wouldn’t lick the wound and develop a taste for human flesh. Rounding them up, I dripped blood all over my apartment. There were about ten things like this:


I could literally have killed my cat, or blinded it, or caused a horrible wound. Needless to say, no cat is allowed to sit there while I’m using a knife from now on.

I am so glad I didn’t hurt one of my kittens. I am also glad I no longer have white carpeting.

Wednesday, August 05, 2020

Nonstop Cat-Astrophe

Far from it, far from it. There is also very little cat-erwauling.

Of course, my exasperated moments loom largest, with their weight of guilt and regret, but much of the day is quite tranquil. They are often perfectly quiet the whole night, even if I’m in bed for 12 hours. Early in the day and in the evening there are periods of frenzy, but after they have their large morning meal, they mostly doze through the late morning and afternoon. When I am meditating, they seem to become particularly calm.

The other day, I left my apartment briefly twice without putting them in the bathroom, and both times I re-entered without them taking any particular notice of the open door; they were rewarded with thin flakes of dried tuna. I had to choose the right moments for these experiments. At other times, I crack the door to toss out a bag of cat poop for a later trip to the trash chute, and one or the other of them covers several yards in a split second to try to get out the door.

Last night I got mad at them and scooped them up and dumped them into the bathroom. I growled ferociously to express my displeasure, and one of them looked at me with a fearful expression. I felt terrible and apologized profusely when I let them out of the bathroom. They evidently forgave me, because this morning I woke up to find Howie curled into a perfect little ring under the covers, asleep nestled against me. Duckworth was curled into a similar ring and asleep wedged under my chin.

I confessed my sins to Carol-Joy, who pointed out that mother cats teach their kittens what not to do by providing negative feedback, complete with growling. “You’re their mother!” she said. That made me feel better.

I got a call from my boss asking if I could work on a certain day. I wasn’t able to, but since she was on the phone, I asked her about my email about masks at work and aerosolized coronavirus. She said the policy is clear—masks are certainly required—and that I should feel free to tell my co-workers that I would like them to follow the rules, and if I need support, she is there.

Go, Bitch!

A few highlights from May, June and July: My apartment did get painted, and the floor did get refinished. This stuff was used for the floor, and I am really happy with it: AFM Safecoat Polyureseal BP Interior Wood Floor Finish. It’s more or less a water-based polyurethane, or akin to that, and caused no problems with fumes whatsoever. Even right after the three coats were applied, the smell was mild and nutty, not at all unpleasant, and the finish is shiny and seems very durable.

While the floors were being done, I moved to the empty apartment across the hallway. It was the world’s shortest move, from the door on the left to the door on the right.

It was nonetheless a long day of moving. Even SpongeBob was near collapse.

It was boiling hot many of the days that I was there, and the protests were raging outside, accompanied by the racket of helicopters overhead, but it was generally a pleasant, relaxed period: no computer.

Same stuff, different apartment:

After the floors were done, I moved back to my place to find hardwood and/or drywall dust on every surface, including every item in the uppermost cupboards in the kitchen, which had been closed, and all the windows, including the outsides of my living room windows. I spent many hours cleaning up. The ceremonial transfer of my grime-encrusted shower curtain from the neighbor’s place back to its ancestral home was a stirring moment.

I ordered a new bed—a simple wooden platform and a latex mattress—from Savvy Rest, along with three different pillows. Expensive, but I wanted my new cat, should such be obtained, to have something really nice to shred. As the King has observed, you can have nice furniture or you can have a cat, but you can’t have both. Also, since I spend so much time sleeping, I wanted to have something that was free of toxic chemicals, which these items are, or as close as you can get. I am happy with them, and Savvy Rest’s customer service is outstanding.

The refinished hardwood looked gorgeous, though I was shocked at how it highlighted every speck of dust and every piece of hair—formerly, all that crud had disappeared gracefully into the carpet, which I sometimes went six months without vacuuming, since a carpet that hasn’t been vacuumed for six months is indistinguishable from one that hasn’t been vacuumed for two weeks. Shocking to think how much debris must have been in that carpet by the time it was ripped up. It was not new when I moved in, and that was 22 years ago.

A woman from a cat rescue place came one day and took all of Hammett’s leftover food and medication. Many, many tears were shed for Hammett; at other moments, I was doubled over in pain over my deceased family member.

I aspired to go out for a walk every day, but a lot of days it just seemed easier to remain inside my pleasure dome, and it still does.

As for getting a cat, I was ambivalent. I was able to have all my windows wide open, and the breeze and fresh smells of the outdoors were so lovely. It was clean! It was quiet. It was peaceful. Having a cat in San Francisco is expensive. And the SPCA’s process for getting a cat proved to be rather daunting. It was no longer possible to go there and let your eye fall on the just the right cat. Their website basically said that one kitten is pretty much like any other, so just pick one you like the looks of, and they’d convey it into your care while maintaining social distancing: there would be no opportunity to meet the cat before taking it home.

Nonetheless, I started keeping an eye on their website and applying to “meet” (not actually meet) this or that black kitten. Sometimes a very cute cat disappeared from the website several hours after it appeared there, meaning it had physically been taken off the SPCA’s premises. The difficulty of the process burned away my ambivalence and soon I was applying to not-meet cats left and right, and that’s how I ended up in my current predicament.

A few days before I adopted Duckworth and Howie, I went to the Dolores Street Hill Bomb, which was really, really fun (though I learned later that it had spanned three days this year, and the day before I attended, someone was killed). It was mostly young men sailing down the hill from 21st St. to near 18th St., and they were mostly on skateboards, some holding an open beer, some puffing on a joint as they flashed by. Some were on bicycles—one fellow was standing entirely atop his bike, with one foot on the seat and one on the handlebars. Dazzling! A few were girls. When one lady skater went by, her friends shrieked encouragement: “Go, bitch!” Near home, I saw a couple of little kids sitting with their skateboards on the sidewalk. I said, “Thank you! That was really thrilling.” The face of one of them lit up.

This is the only photo I took that actually has a skater in it:

Sunday, August 02, 2020

Crazy Lady in the Laundromat

Not me this time.

I had to do a massive amount of laundry this week; the whole thing ended up taking five hours. In the laundromat, I saw a woman was using several dryers at the left end, so I started from the right end, skipping two that I suspected might give me problems, based on past experience. I needed nine dryers total, and ended up using dryers that were near dryers this woman was using. There were only three or four people in the place, including us two (all wearing masks), and it is a large room with a very high ceiling, and the door was wide open: a low-risk situation, in my estimation.

The woman started to say something to me. At first I thought she was pointing out dryers she had just finished using that still had time on them: how nice! But then I realized she was enraged: “We’re in a global pandemic, in case you’re not aware of it! I’m over at this end, so could you please stay at that end?”

“I need all of these dryers,” I tried to explain to her, but she had literally covered her ears with her hands and was yelling, “I don’t want to hear it! Don’t talk to me, lady!”


But I could sympathize. A couple of months ago, it was me lecturing a civil libertarian in the laundromat about the need to wear a mask, and in the past week or so, I was startled and disgruntled to walk into my small, enclosed office at work to find two unmasked co-workers. I stormed back out and it took me a few hours to stop being angry. It was not a good morning.

Several days earlier, I had sent my boss an email asking if, with there being more and more opinion that the virus can be aerosolized, it would be wise if masks were required at all times in our offices, with eating and drinking being done elsewhere. The response I got to that was: no response, and I felt rather irritated—my signature emotion—because we regularly are reminded about the importance of safety at work, but when I sent a note about an actual real-life safety issue, that was evidently not of interest at all. When I most recently arrived at work, I saw that the temperature takers were now wearing face shields as well as procedure masks. I asked one if that was a personal choice or if it’s required, and she said it’s required.

Meanwhile, speaking of irritation: kittens. My fuzzy little teachers. They have mastered the art of standing on the start button for the printer, which is also a copier, and making it spew forth a blank page. The other day, this happened, but then a second page came out, and a third. I looked at the printer and saw that it was in the process of making 94 copies of nothing.

It is a constant struggle not to fall into irritation, which begets more irritation and makes all of us unhappy. I nearly swatted one with a comb when he attacked a towel that came temptingly within reach, and I once or twice a day get tired of gently pushing one cat, then the other, then the other, then the other away from my plate and I unceremoniously dump them on the floor. At such moments, there seem to be about eight of them. Fortunately, the payoff for reacting calmly and offering affection in as many moments as possible is nearly immediate, which is good. I’ve noticed they don’t respond when I inform them that I’m thinking of taking them back to the SPCA.

It was also helpful to learn about their first days: I learned this week that they were part of a litter of five kittens found motherless in someone’s back yard at four weeks old or so. They were taken to Animal Care & Control, and because they had roundworm, they were sent to the SPCA for treatment, and then they went to foster care for a couple of months. This gave me a tender feeling toward them: I’ll take care of you, you little orphaned cat! You can live with me!

Each evening, I clean the bathroom, including sweeping it. The cats love chewing on the broomsticks. I figured I would just sweep as if they didn’t, and after they got bumped a time or two, they would conclude the broom is not a toy. While I was doing this one recent evening, Howie got an audible bump on the head from the wooden broomstick. Not a hard bump, but I felt horrible and decided I need to just stop sweeping every time a cat approaches, pick him up, cuddle him, put him back down, resume sweeping, stop sweeping …  However many times it takes, and treats might help with this.

I’ve been buying a lot of cat stuff: Toys and more toys and yet more toys, water bowls, food bowls, treat bowls, wet food, dry food, treats, collars, ID tags, high-sided litter boxes, litter that I hope I can transition them to, more of the current litter that I hate but that they are used to, enzyme cleaner, prescription wet food, prescription dry food, probiotics …

I got them tags at Pet Food Express, then decided I should get the kind that go right along the collar. I ordered two per cat from Amazon because I want to have their name, my phone number, their chip number (so no one has to take them to the vet to determine the number), the chip phone number, and the phrase “I’m lost if outside.” That was $40, and then I realized I had ordered the wrong style; I needed the kind that would clip onto a safety collar. Most fortunately, I was able to cancel the order the next day and can start over. I ordered them two darling collars, one with pineapples on it and one with cacti. The SPCA gave me two collars, but at the smallest size, they were a little loose. Duckworth didn’t mind wearing his collar, but Howie went berserk and got his lower jaw stuck inside the collar, so I took both collars off. The cute ones I ordered from Amazon go smaller.

They still both are having soft stools, but fecal tests came back negative for parasites, and since they are eating, drinking, peeing, pooping, and full of energy, their vet agreed to delay one more week before starting medication. The first time I took them to the vet, the office visit fees were waived and the total was extremely low. A week later, I dropped off stool samples and picked up seven more cans of food and four more packets of probiotics (FortiFlora). This time the fee was $250. “Four cans of food cost two hundred and fifty dollars??” I asked the office person. I was standing on the sidewalk outside the pet hospital, talking to her on the phone. It turned out that included the fee for the two fecal tests. I was often stunned by the cost of care for Hammett, and had to remind  myself that from now on, it’s going to be the same except twice as much.

So, anyway, after many episodes of getting mad at them for this or that and having to rein myself in, I had to call Tom to see if I’m a good person. He said I am. I asked why. He said because I left a corporate job to do work that has more meaning for me. I asked why else. He said because I eat in a “stable” manner. I asked why interpersonally. Like, what makes me a good friend (if anything does)? He said I have a good sense of humor, and I’m pretty nice to be with. The latter is probably a stretch at moments, and the assertion more indicative of Tom’s good nature than mine, but I felt better after I talked to him.

Then I reminded myself that I can’t do a single thing about anything I have done in the past. Nothing. And resolving to do anything in the future is equally fruitless. Completely. In this moment, is my sympathetic nervous system activated or is my parasympathetic nervous system engaged? AKA, am I lost in thought or am I conscious of any form of sense data? Howie (the human) frequently mentions being mindful in “just this moment” in the hope that we can be “less reactive.” What is it to react? It is a burst of emotion. It is to insist that something be otherwise. Trying to hurry, for me, guarantees reactivity. Trying to do too much in a given moment, ditto.

I’ve been thinking lately about Stephen and Ondrea Levine, and their frequent mentions of “soft belly.” Also about Paul Haller recommending a frequent “pause.” And about Christina Lehnherr asking, “Is it possible to relax completely with whatever is occurring in this moment?”

I have now begun pausing when I notice I’m beginning to feel tense—which is often—and just saying “soft belly” and letting my belly relax and counting to three. That is all I need to do! Yet how easy it is not to do it.

When I arrived at work most recently, I saw there was still no response regarding aerosolized coronavirus, so I sent a low-key follow-up, but in the end, all I can do is to keep myself safe as best I can. I plan to double mask when I’m in the office with others, and to be in the office as little as possible. It occurred to me that if the coronavirus can be transmitted as an aerosol, it probably always could, and I haven’t gotten it yet, so panic is probably not warranted, but being careful is. My entire risk budget is allocated to working in a hospital. Beyond that, I need to be careful.  I would like to see my parents again one of these months. I think my mother is afraid I’m going to die. When we got off the phone a couple of weeks ago, she said, “Promise me you won’t die.” I am doing my best.

I have been leaving classical music on for Howie and Duckworth when I go out and leave them locked in the bathroom, which is every time I go out. They are definitely not ready to have the apartment to themselves. I am streaming the same classical music station my parents listen to: WRCJ. It’s nice to think that my parents and I and D&H are all listening to the exact same thing at some moments.

Wednesday, July 22, 2020

Ace Moving, Critical Oversight and Snake Transport

On Sunday, I did manage to do all my normal cooking and go to Rainbow, though I was up until past midnight. For some reason, having kittens makes everything take a lot longer. I remember when Carlos died, Howie (my teacher) said, “Anyone I know who’s been through this has been able to do only the minimum.” I think the same may be true of having kittens.

I had placed a rush Amazon order for more of the cat litter D&H are currently using, and more of the food the SPCA sent me home with, and two litter boxes with high sides. All of that came Sunday night, and on Monday I deployed one of the new litter boxes, which they seem to like fine.

Sunday night I didn’t put them in the bathroom at bedtime for the first time. They both hopped onto the bed with me and didn’t cause the slightest disturbance all night, though that appears to have been a fluke. You’re supposed to play with them before bedtime until they get tired out, but so far I haven’t discovered how long that might take. Right now they are not supposed to leap up in the air, because they were both just neutered. Maybe after they can jump up, it will be possible to tire them out a little.

On Monday morning, they both sat on my lap while I had breakfast, and they did the same Tuesday and today, though I think they are animated by different impulses:

Duckworth: “I want to be with my mommy!” (He is always the first one on my lap, flinging himself down and going right to sleep.)

Howie (the cat): “If he’s doing / having that, then I’m doing / having that.”

They are of course very interested in getting into the walk-in closet, where I am putting everything they want to chew that I don’t want them to chew—basically, everything I own is going in there piece by piece. When I open the door, Howie, who is an exceedingly determined soul, rushes in immediately. Duckworth then thinks it over and decides (as far as I can tell), “Hmm, if he’s going in there, I suppose I could do the same.” I pick Howie up and then I pick Duckworth up. By the time I get Duckworth scooped up, Howie is struggling frantically to get down: “Unhand me right now!” Meanwhile Duckworth is like, “Yay! Reunited with my mother.”

This morning, I got a text from Tom saying that the floor guys were coming in half an hour and he needed help moving the rest of the stuff out of his apartment. I knocked on his door and announced myself: “Ace Moving and Critical Oversight.” We also needed to move his snake, in its big glass cage, out of his place.

Then the workers arrived. Actually, they arrived in time to help move the couch, thank god. Then they set up an astonishing racket, exactly over my place. I closed all my windows, remembering how much dust was generated when my floors were done, and ran the fan and HEPA filter. It was great that there was such a cacophony, because once it’s over, two rampaging cats should sound like nothing to my downstairs neighbor.

Today I began taking photos of the cats and wondered why I hadn’t done this right away. Even if none is good enough to post here, I will enjoy seeing those photos later and remembering these first days. I’m sorry now that I didn’t take a picture or two the day they came home with me, and each day since then.

I think at first they both were pooping solid poop, and then one started having diarrhea, and now they both have diarrhea. I hear a sneeze maybe once a day; not sure who. I see someone scratching behind his ear once a day; not sure who. Duckworth has a pellet-like lump behind his right underarm.

I called the SPCA animal hospital to see what I should do. I left a message about 11 a.m. and hadn’t heard back by 5:30 p.m., so I called them again, meaning to leave another message, but this time someone answered and said that diarrhea in cats so young is urgent, and they should be seen very soon. However, they have no appointments available for weeks. However, I can bring them to the emergency clinic—which may entail a wait in line of up to four hours.

After bringing two cats in carriers home in a cab last week, I decided never to go anywhere again with both of them at once, unless absolutely necessary. So taking two cats to the SPCA’s emergency clinic could literally take the better part of two whole days. I was planning to get their medical care there, which I figured even with four cab trips would be cheaper than going where I took Hammett, but I am not going to spend two whole days standing in line at the emergency clinic, especially since it’s urgent, so I’ll likely be going back to my normal place, which is just three blocks away. I can walk there. Both cats remain full of energy, so neither is in dire straits, as far as I can tell, but I will take them in tomorrow, if possible.

Sunday, July 19, 2020

Howie Can Type!

I left D&H in the bathroom when I went to work yesterday. I felt a little nervous about leaving them there for so many hours, but didn’t see an alternative, as I don’t yet know what I don’t know about how to keep them safe. I felt actually anxious at work, enough that I had to do some diaphragmatic breathing. While I suspect a low-level anxiety underlies my entire being, almost never am I in the position to say, “I feel anxious,” but I did yesterday. Maybe it’s the COVID era, specifically, reading too much news about it, cycling compulsively from one news site to the other all day (sfgate, New York Times, Washington Post).

Wonderfully, I got an email from Hammett’s cat sitter during the day asking how our first night had gone. That was awfully kind of her. I told her about the foot standing and the hair digging and she said she didn’t think I actually needed to leave them in the bathroom when I’m out as a way of helping them feel secure in their new place. She said, “They already fell in love with you.”

However, I think I do need to leave them in the bathroom when I’m out as a way of making sure they don’t destroy everything in the apartment or get hurt. I was very happy to see them when I got home from work. I put them back in the bathroom so Tom and I could bring up four enormous boxes from Savvy Rest: my new bed. Then I invited Tom to sit down in the living room for the first time since the coronavirus era began, with his mask on and more than six feet away from me. I opened the bathroom door and sat down again. In a few moments, a little figure appeared.

“You got a cat!”

Then, “Two cats!”

Then, “Awww—they’re friendly! He’s purring!”

(Thank you, cat foster parent!)

The first night Hammett was here, I let Tom peek at him in his cat carrier in the bathroom. He took one horrified look over his shoulder, and that was the entirety of his relationship with Tom. He never came to like Tom, though later in life, he would sometimes let Tom pet him.

But D&H liked Tom right away, and the feeling was more than mutual.

I just hope their running up and down is not driving my downstairs neighbor crazy, especially now that there is no carpeting here. The ambience here has shifted very suddenly and very dramatically over the past couple of days. It was pristine, fresh and airy, with all the windows wide open—the only remotely good thing about having one’s cat die. I was wearing my Birkenstocks, enjoying the sight of my toes.


Howie typed that!

The windows are now closed, or open no more than an inch or so. The bathroom needs a deep clean twice a day, and D&H have already shown interest in Birkenstocks as toys, along with everything else as toys. That’s OK. When I start thinking about how I will handle this or that, I just tell myself, “That is the imaginary future.” What needs to be addressed in this very moment is nonexistent or is easily handled.

I put them in the bathroom last night. I let them out about two and a half hours before my alarm was going to go off this morning so they could play and continue to explore. I found them sitting perfectly still in the bathroom, one on the back of the toilet and one on the edge of the sink, not in their cozy box on the floor.

After being liberated, they periodically joined me on the bed. One of them from time to time climbed under the covers with me, and then back out. Another was interested in biting my hair. Later they began an intensive session of mutual suckling, a sign of being separated from their mother too soon. After awhile, I gently separated them. The SPCA said not to let them do this because they can damage each other’s skin.

I plan to train them using positive reinforcement only, though I’m not quite sure how that works. Like, when I offer a treat, how does the cat know what he’s being rewarded for, since he is by definition not doing anything bad at that moment? I will learn about this. Hammett learned the word “No” and heeded it, but I don’t want D&H to learn that, if possible, though it has already escaped my lips a few times. Some piece of paper I got claimed that cats are trainable, so, along with encouraging them to behave like good roommates, I am hoping to train both of them to enjoy being cradled like babies, with their feet up, and I’m planning to teach one of them to high five and the other to shake hands. Just as a project, and for mental stimulation for them.

I got a really important piece of advice from a worker at Pet Food Express. He said if one of them does something bad, start playing with him. That has been a lifesaver already. It distracts the cat from the undesired behavior, and avoids any kind of negative reinforcement.

I was looking at cat towers and tunnels yesterday online, another disheartening experience if one seeks to avoid non-toxic materials. Fortunately, I have four huge cardboard boxes now! Out of these, I am going to make a cat platform, a cat tunnel, and a thing to conceal the wires under my desk.

The most alarming thing D&H do so far is that they really love to chew on wires. They have already damaged my phone charger cable—in several places, you can see the bare wire—and one of them actually tore part of the antenna off my alarm clock-radio. I have put as much out of reach as I can, and will cover the rest in short order. I imagine you can buy some spiral things to protect wires with, as well.

Neither one of them has any interest in Hammett’s old bed, and they also didn’t go near his scratching post at first, which is a really nice one made out of solid wood that is still in excellent condition. I was thrilled when I saw D (or H) briefly use it this morning, and then later they both used it with great vigor. Whew!

Speaking of enthusiasm, it is great to see them eat with tremendous enjoyment. I am feeding them morning and night, and not leaving food out.

No photos yet because they are so often in motion, and I also would rather take a picture of a specific cat, not just of a cat, and I cannot tell them apart without a moment or so of examination, and they usually are not still long enough for that. The photos I posted were the ones that were on the SPCA website.

I dreamed last night that I was explaining to three men the benefits of nose breathing and that it is even a good idea to tape one’s mouth shut at night to allow a whole night of nose breathing. They seemed skeptical, but it is a good idea; I hope to get caught up on the past couple of months here and will say more about that. But in case I have to let that go, get this book: Breath, by James Nestor. I would type in the subtitle, but I have kittens. He was also on Fresh Air. His book contains a lot of incredibly interesting information. It also contains a huge amount of stuff that I plan to ignore, but what I have implemented has completely changed both my waking and sleeping lives.

Friday, July 17, 2020

Three-Person Family

So, two cats is probably approximately one more than I can handle, but two things pushed me over the edge. One was feeling guilty about how much time Hammett spent by himself when I was out of town, especially his final two years, when I was traveling to New Mexico for school. I will never again leave a cat all by itself. The second was the hope that two cats will be playmates for each other, filling in when I’m not available and maybe tiring each other out enough that there will be slightly less energy for shredding furniture.

I went over to the SPCA to fetch Duckworth and Howie today. “Howie” is an homage to my teacher of the same name. “Duckworth” appeals to me because it has an imposing ring, but also a comical one, and lends itself to the pleasing nicknames Duck or Duckie. It was a lovely day, sunny and warm. I met with an SPCA worker in the parking lot of the adoption center to go over details.

Suddenly she said, “Oh, you can see them—they’re right there.” They were in a room on the perimeter of the building, along with a third kitten. I went over to the window and one or the other of them starting meowing and reaching out a paw toward me. His brother joined him, reaching out so far I feared he would topple off the wooden platform. It was as if they were saying, “Oh, my god, there’s my mother!” I was so glad that happened, because otherwise I wouldn’t have seen them until I got them home, took them into the bathroom, and opened their carrying cases. It reassured me tremendously: I picked out the right cats.

I had sent an email earlier in the day asking where they had spent their first three months, and with whom. I learned that they had come from Animal Care & Control, which was not necessarily good news. It suggested that they had been scooped up off the street, or might even be feral. So another great thing was when the worker at the SPCA, while explaining all the stuff she was going to give me, pointed out the notes about them their foster parent had written. They were in foster care! That was great news. Hammett was in foster care, and was immediately relaxed and affectionate, for which I thank his foster parent. He did not mind being cradled on his back like a baby; I think that was also thanks to his foster parent.

I took Howie and Duckworth home in a cab, one meowing and one making a little squeaking noise. I put them in the bathroom and expected that they might cower in there for a while, but at least one of them immediately wanted to leave the room and explore (but was not permitted). I put Hammett’s bed in there, and I also cut the top half off one of of their cardboard carrying cases and lined it with a folded towel.

I went in to visit them several times, letting them be in charge of how much contact we had. On the second visit, one of them strolled over and casually stood on my foot while grooming himself. I nearly cried with joy: how sweet! I was sitting on the toilet, leaning forward, and after a bit, one of them climbed up my back and then his brother joined him. One of them licked my neck while the other dug through my coiffure. I think this is a match.

They immediately used their litter box to pee and poop. One of them hopped into the sink and tried to drink from the faucet, so I brought in a bowl of water and they both started drinking from it.

Cutest moment: When I leaned over the tub to do something or other and a little black face appeared on either side of my legs, as they tried to see what I was looking at.

They are basically identical, and they weigh the same, although one feels a little rounder than the other. Duckworth has a single white whisker, and Howie has some unobtrusive brown marks on his head. The latter is the main way to tell them apart. Their eyes are very alike.

Thursday, July 16, 2020

First Photos of Duckworth and Howie

Tomorrow I am going to the SPCA to adopt these two three-month-old brothers, at the moment named Leon and Lenny.

I went to Pet Food Express just now to get a second litter box and some toys. The clerk was very helpful, and I felt very depressed after I talked to him. He pointed out the garish plastic litter boxes and the various little cheap plastic toys and an ugly piece of stuff you can put under your garish plastic litter box for pee and poop that ends up outside the litter box and various ugly pieces of plastic you can put treats in to stimulate your cats' minds.

It occurred to me that the last time I had been there, and the tens of times before that, I was picking out something to delight Hammett, and then I just burst into tears. I felt so sad, and also overwhelmed at all the stuff I need that I had not even thought of, and guilty: I have not even brought Duckworth and Howie, or whatever their names end up being, home yet, and already they are being deprived of a lot of important pieces of plastic.

Then I got a grip and reminded myself that all I really needed at that moment was a second litter box, and it did not have to be the perfect litter box. I also chose a couple of toys that I actually liked, and headed home.

When I pasted in their photos just now, I felt better. Aren’t they cute?

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First Photo of Hammett

The day I adopted Hammett, in October of 2006, the SPCA gave me an information sheet about him that had this photo of him on it.

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Monday, May 18, 2020


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Saved by the Sangha

At Rainbow, I found the line outside short and moving along rapidly. Having enough space between me and the person in front of me is easy: I just leave enough space. The problem can be enough space behind, as that depends on someone else. Last week, the person behind me was careless about this. Irritation arose. Dirty looks were looked. Yesterday, the person behind me was careful; I was relieved and happy. I thanked her.

As always, it was nice to see all the workers in Rainbow and chat with a few of them. Still no toilet paper. There were small boxes of tissues, spaced far apart from each other: social distancing. This also makes the shelf look not so empty, and, as a worker told me, lessens the possibility that a customer will accidentally touch a package other than the one she is buying.

All good in the produce section except no garlic. A sign in the empty garlic bin advised that there were plastic bags of peeled cloves available. Needless to say, those were gone, as people no doubt bought way more than they needed. I understand. Garlic is essential. But how long is it going to keep? Dragonwell tea from the bulk department was available in little packages.

At the cash register, the cashier who likes Black Sabbath reweighed my containers of olives without protest. I had poured out the brine because I don’t need it and didn’t want a possible messy accident in my bike bags on the way home. At Whole Foods, they probably call the police if you pour out the brine. Actually, you probably couldn’t find a sink to pour brine into, whereas Rainbow has at least two sinks available for customers.

The cashier also put extra tape on my olive containers, just to be on the safe side, and put them in a compostable bag. I commended the outstanding job she was doing, and she hinted that my mentioning that at the customer service desk would not be taken amiss. I said I would do that online, and I did. After I got home, I sent an email expressing my admiration and thanks and then I noticed that a general feeling of benevolence had been restored: saved by the sangha yet again.

I had a nice afternoon chopping vegetables and having a weekly treat: an orange or a couple of tangerines chopped up and buried in roasted, salted cashews. My weekly treat used to be two croissants followed by two pieces of pepperoni and sausage pizza. My work pants are threatening to fall off. A neighbor gets a Community Supported Agriculture box and had a few extra small Finn potatoes. She passed those on to me, and I cooked them up yesterday evening in about half a cup of EVOO. Delicious.

By the evening, I’d reached that vaunted psychological state summarized by the word “whatever.” Whatever. I’m sure the kitchen will look better after being painted than it does right now, at least in regard to the expanses of drywall. If it doesn’t, so be it. Everything ends sooner or later. Every last thing has to be let go of before we die; might as well let go of a few of the easier ones when the opportunity arises.

I pasted my long list of grievances, complaints and demands into a new appendix in my home restoration document called Cavalcade O’ Gripes, and made a much simpler list for my next conversation with the building owner: I hope the paint boss is getting semi-gloss for the kitchen. I hope we can abort if he shows up with something else. I hope he may offer to redo the bathroom, but if not, fine; maybe later we can redo with the leftover semi-gloss from the kitchen. Or if he does offer to redo the bathroom, I hope he can use the leftover semi-gloss from the kitchen, because I’ve discovered I don’t really care for eggshell. And I have decided to have the hardwood refinished throughout the apartment rather than re-carpet.

Sunday, May 17, 2020


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Follow-Up on Pain Job

Paint job, that is.

On second thought, maybe that was not such a great phase one: I realized the day after the painters were here that they had used the wrong paint in both rooms. We asked them to use the same kind of paint as what was already on the wall: matte in the hallway, eggshell in the bathroom. They did the opposite. I gather matte paint is absolutely not the thing to use in a bathroom because of its lack of resistance to moisture and tendency to grow mildew or mold, and I can attest from personal experience that it looks dreadful, and is also unpleasant to the touch.

(The only horizontal surfaces in the bathroom where one might set down a toothbrush or a cup are the windowsill and a charming little fold-out shelf below the medicine cabinet; the latter is mainly where I have occasion to touch the new paint.)

I also now see areas where the primer wasn’t properly covered with paint, plus that the painters didn’t paint the windowsill at all. This is easy to notice since it’s a tiny bathroom and the windowsill is directly opposite the door.

In sum, I’m sure there must be even more ways a painting job could be screwed up, but I can’t think of any off the top of my head. All right, here’s one: The painters refrained from pooping on the floor before they left. But they did make sure to drip paint on every single surface in the bathroom: the toilet, the tub, the sink and the floor.

When I told the building owner about the swapped paints, it was clear she didn’t want to have a fight with the painting boss about it. They say that no one but a sociopath actively enjoys conflict, but I will freely admit that I would not mind having a fight with this idiot about what was done in my place. In fact, I would like to, but I will not; I know that no good comes of venting anger and that a better question is: How can the desired results be achieved in a harmonious manner? Also, how can I collaborate with others?

And: How am I thinking about this? I must admit I am mentally rehashing my grievances over and over, such that the matter now looms very large, which shows that my life is, on the whole, fantastic.

I am pondering the next phase of this job, which is the kitchen, which right now has ancient, beautiful, semi-gloss paint on the walls and perhaps enamel or semi-gloss on the cabinets. The building owner mentioned that the paint boss said he “might not” be able to get our desired color in the paint I requested in the first place. (Possibly the most vexing part of this whole thing is that I asked for a certain paint, and the paint boss said “Sure” and then showed up with something else. Withholding facts makes it impossible for people to provide informed consent and to exercise true autonomy. It is an ethical lapse.)

I am not sure why this person “might not” be able to get the right color, since ECOS does custom color matching. I think it is more that he “didn’t feel like it.” I am pretty much positive that on kitchen painting day, he will show up with the wrong color in the wrong type of paint: eggshell, perhaps.

I’m trying to decide how to proceed. I really don’t like the idea of my entire kitchen being wrecked. Maybe it would be better to have just half of it painted, or even just the areas where there is drywall. Honestly, maybe it would be better to live for the rest of my life with the unpainted drywall. It hasn’t bothered me much at all for the past year. I can probably live peacefully with it forever. Would whatever the painters do be an improvement, in that it wouldn’t be visible drywall, or would it be a disimprovement, in that it would make my beautiful, ancient paint disappear? (Not to mention the dings they would no doubt make in my newish refrigerator and stove.)

What if I were to get a call from my doctor with the bad news that I have metastatic cancer? What would I say about the kitchen then? The answer is: Who cares? Do whatever you want. Ditto if I learned that something had happened to one of my parents or one of my sisters. It is also often instructive to think about how Tom would react to something. (He has offered to help me patch the holes in the wall that the painters didn’t bother to patch before painting.) He would never even notice most of what I’m fuming about, and because of that, he enjoys many more moments of peace and happiness than I do.

So, two other good questions: Is there anything I can upgrade from a demand to a preference? Is there anything I can compromise on? I imagine there is.

However, I’m going to try asking the building owner if we can please engage a different painter to do the kitchen and the living room; we can pay the current painter for the paint he already ordered.

At work recently, I was with a patient when she had a seizure, a first for me. We were chatting away when all of a sudden her face twisted and her eyes opened wide and her body began to jerk. Her face looked like something out of a horror movie. The main things I felt were confusion and astonishment. Just at that exact moment, her bedside nurse walked in and called a Rapid Response. I asked her later what I should have done if she hadn’t come in just then. She said that stepping out of the room and yelling “Help!” is generally very effective, and she also pointed out the purple Rapid Response button on the wall behind the patient’s bed. This can be used if there is distress short of cessation of breathing. For that, use the Code Blue button.

The seizure lasted just a minute or so. The patient opened her eyes and appeared calm, but when asked to look to her right or left, or to blink her eyes, she didn’t or couldn’t; she stared steadily into my eyes during most of this time, but I don’t know if she was really seeing me. One of the responders said that certain antibiotics lower the threshold for having a seizure, and that quite often, it is never known why a seizure occurred.

On my bike ride home, I noticed many more people out on the street, the majority maskless, I would say. In front of my building, I had to wait while several people walked barefaced up and down the sidewalk before I could open our front gate. Something had changed, but I wasn’t sure what. I knew that “opening” was underway, but this seemed to be more of a do-whatever-you-feel-like thing; a loud and obviously large party was underway somewhere nearby. This is worrisome. It appears that those who really don’t want to get sick will have to limit themselves to essential outings indefinitely. A friend who falls into that category and who normally travels all the time, many trips per year, said she thinks it would be crazy to go anywhere at all before year’s end. How do I feel about all of this? Angry, of course.

Thursday, May 14, 2020


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Eco Dreck

I am forcing myself to visit patients who speak Spanish only, and slowly by slowly, I am becoming more fluent. Reading El Tecolote helps. Each story is in both languages. Usually I can understand reasonably well what has been written in Spanish, but if I had to convey the same thing from scratch verbally, I would not be able to. I have started reading the Spanish aloud, being sure of what it means, and then looking away from the paper while I repeat a sentence or a half-sentence aloud. I think that is really helping. Now I can say, “¡No me digas!” (“Don’t say that!”)

I was able to speak fairly easily with the painters this morning. One of them later complimented my Spanish and asked if I’d studied it in school. (Yes, for years and years.) When the time came, I was able to say, “¡Emergencia de baño!” They thought that was funny. As the hours went on, they chatted more and more freely between themselves; I hope they felt relaxed and welcome in my place.

I was pleased to note that, when they had finished painting the hallway, I smelled nothing. Later I observed that they had not patched pinholes in the hallway, where snapshots had formerly been affixed. Some had disappeared, some were quite obscured, and some were still black little holes in the wall. Probably the only person who will notice this is me, and now I can be sure such holes get patched when they do the kitchen and living room. The eggshell paint in the bathroom has a bit more of a kick than the flat paint used in the hallway, but it’s not terrible.

What was slightly terrible was discovering that they did not use the paint I requested! I requested ECOS paint and ECOS Air Purifying Primer. They used Benjamin Moore Eco Spec paint and primer. Or at least, Eco Spec paint. I don’t see the primer can. The blog I’ve been consulting gives another Benjamin Moore paint, Natura, high marks, but observes that it does contain mildewcide, which is not ideal. I called Benjamin Moore to see if the Eco Spec contains mildewcide and learned that the primer does not, which is good, though I’m not even sure if that’s the primer that was used here today. The guy said the paint probably didn’t, either, because usually interior paint doesn’t, but it turned out that it does. The most commonly used mildewcide is not good for living bodies.

The living room was sealed off from the work area with plastic, but every last thing in the kitchen got coated with a very fine dust. Good thing I had thought to put plastic over the Squeezebox Boom and my other boombox. Everything else could be dusted, vacuumed, wiped or mopped off, which took an hour or so.

I found a review online where someone said the Benjamin Moore Eco Spec eggshell paint gave off horrible fumes that were still plaguing him three months later, so now of course my head is aching and I feel dizzy, but I’m reminding myself that there may be millions of other people who love this paint. Even my blogger recommends it, if you don’t mind mildewcide.
This was a good phase one. I am going to ask the owner of the painting company to get the exact stuff I want for the rest of the apartment, and on painting day, I will examine the cans to make sure it’s the right stuff.


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Yesterday, I made a trek to the Castro to visit the bank, drop the too-large Birkenstocks off for shipping, and go to Walgreens and Cliff’s. The woman who owns my apartment building was lately extolling the effectiveness of Mucinex tablets for relieving chest congestion. I’ve been compiling a little list of things to do in case of mild to medium chest congestion, or severe chest congestion in the event that medical care is not available. My list includes breathing in eucalyptus steam, or just plain steam; drinking plenty of fluids, including hot tea; pursed lip breathing; and “proning.” (I often have seen the palliative care interdisciplinary team at County Hospital do the latter, or semi-proning, to assist a dying person who has a lot of fluids gurgling in his or her throat.)

I added Mucinex to my list. At Walgreens, I discovered that there are approximately one million Mucinex products. The one I wanted was tablets containing guaifenesin only. Just for the heck of it, I got the extra-strength version, whose only active ingredient is 1200 mg of guaifenesin. Even the Walgreens version was kind of expensive, and you have to take one every 12 hours. Hopefully I will never need to take any, but I now have 28 of them, just in case.

At Cliff’s I got elastic for sewing some masks, and for shoring up a sagging pair of pajama bottoms.

My bathroom sink hot water tap had been dripping for eight or nine months, which I had mentioned every few months to the building owner and building manager. A couple of days ago, the building owner said it would be fine to have this fixed, and to ask the building manager to call the plumber. The building manager said she was reluctant to pay for a house call for such a small need; I grudgingly agreed to wait until there was at least one other need in the building, but later that day, I checked to see just how much water was going down the drain (not to mention making a really annoying noise), and found that it amounted to 13.5 gallons per day, at worst. (Usually the drip stopped during the night.)

I let the building owner and manager know that, and was advised that I could go ahead and schedule the plumber myself. The plumber came right after I got back from the Castro yesterday and ended up having to replace the hot and cold taps and the spigot, or whatever you call it. The charming, old-fashioned fixtures are gone, but the new ones look lovely, and it is now one hundred percent silent.

I heard or read somewhere that the COVID-19 stimulus was just an advance on a future tax refund, but quickly confirmed online that that is not so, and it is also not taxable. Speaking of tax refunds, I have been wondering for some weeks where mine is, and finally discovered that because so many IRS workers are not in the office, they are not able to process taxes filed via paper at the moment; they’ll get to these returns when they can.

Today painters turned up to paint my little front hallway and bathroom. Tomorrow will be the one year anniversary of the flood. I wanted to do the painting in stages so I could see how tolerable the paint smell was. The same painters, in March, painted all the common areas of the building with “odorless” paint that reeked for weeks and weeks. Tom even commented on it, as I think I mentioned here. I did some research and asked if we could use ECOS paint for my place, and ECOS Air Purifying Primer.

I had a couple of conversations with the owner of the painting company, who has an extremely deep voice and deadpan manner. At the end of one conversation, I said, “Have a good rest of the day.”

He said, “Thanks. What day is it?”

“They all kind of seem the same, don’t they?” I agreed. (Even mine do, despite going to work two days a week, for which I am so grateful: My income has not yet been interrupted, and I get to see people.)

The owner turned up along with the painters this morning and pointed out some plaster in the kitchen that was about to fall, on the side of the ceiling not affected by the flood. I asked if we had to have the drywall guys back to fix this before his crew could paint, but he said, “Nah, we’ll fix it.” He also said they would regrout around the tub, removing the old stuff first.

So I feel very excited! If the primer and paint don’t smell awful, then we can go ahead with the kitchen, and once that is done, I can move stuff as needed into the kitchen and/or the apartment across the hall, and we can paint the living room and replace all the carpet with astronomically expensive wool carpeting, which I will no doubt pay for. And then once the SPCA opens, I can go looking for a kitten.

I decided I will probably not move to the apartment across the hall. My current place has been home for 22 years, and I will have new paint and carpet soon. I also have quite a new stove and refrigerator, and brand-new bathroom sink fixtures. Also, after the flood, my bathroom was re-plumbed with copper. I’m pretty sure that the other apartment has not been re-plumbed, meaning it will need to happen in the future, most likely after a horrible catastrophe, which I have already gone through in this apartment. Finally, my apartment has more light, and at least one additional way to get out in case of fire, because my kitchen has a door to the outside, which the kitchen of the apartment across the hall does not.

I have cash on hand to pay for wool carpeting in part because I did not put Hammett through chemotherapy, which would have cost probably $10K, and maybe more like $15K.

When Thelonious died, I had to keep telling myself the story of her end, to help it sink in why she wasn’t here. While Hammett was with me, I sometimes told him the story of the day I met him; I think he enjoyed hearing it. I am now telling myself the story of his end: He was diagnosed with cancer. We did not have any choice about this; Mother Nature made this decision. The choice I had was in regard to how much physical, emotional and financial suffering he and I would endure, and I chose that these would be limited as much as possible: I chose hospice. For seven weeks, he thrived on prednisone, and then the end, inevitably, came. His last day had many moments of peace and even pleasure, I believe. As far as I could tell, he was not suffering unduly. He was loved, cherished and carefully tended his whole life, and he was on his mother’s lap when he died. I still miss him terribly, enough to cry every couple of days or so. He was the sweetest cat ever. My beautiful cat, now in heaven. (Did you ever see a photo of him?)


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Drunk Text Me Later

The title of this post was overheard at work, one RN speaking to another.

One of my fellow chaplains (one of the CPE students) shares a first initial with me. We are two years apart in age, we both have short grey hair, and we both often wear a French blue button-down shirt. It even so happens that the first three letters of her last name are the same as the first three letters of my middle name. Because we share two units, another coincidence, we are frequently confused for each other.

As I walked through the ED last week, someone called to me, “Thanks for the rock!”

I said, “Huh? Oh! You’re welcome.” For Nurses’ Week, we had handed out coin envelopes, each containing a polished stone and a piece of paper instructing the recipient to carry the stone in her pocket and to let it remind her that she is valued. I would have explained that the stone had not come from me, but I know that no one in the ED has time to chat about a thing like that.

Fortunately, my colleague is a very good chaplain, judging from the fact that patients say, “Nice to see you again,” rather than, “Get lost! I told you last time!” I can also tell my co-worker is a good chaplain from her chart notes. I have been explaining to such patients that they are seeing me for the first time, but I might not do that every time in the future; my colleague said she doesn’t bother if it seems it will merely create confusion.

I lately had an encounter that caused me to think something about chaplaincy that had never consciously occurred to me before. I visited a patient in his 50s who had been perfectly healthy until he came down with the flu. This initiated a catastrophic sequence of events, and the patient was now very seriously ill. On the wall were several large photographs of his young family; the patient said he liked having them there so that his care team “can see I’m not just a specimen.”

In the course of our talk, the patient observed that he was enjoying talking to a chaplain because what would happen was not “predetermined.” He also said, “I’m lying here and maybe someone comes in, and maybe they don’t.” He seemed to be feeling that he was at the mercy of others, and also that he had been stripped of agency.

For this patient, a visit with a chaplain was a chance to experience something open and alive that could go in any direction, and of which he was equally an author and creator.


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An Appreciation of the Mother of Bugwalk

My Birkenstocks arrived and proved to be comically large. I should have used the measuring guide supplied online rather than the chart that attempts to match one’s United States shoe size with the European size. (The guide printed inside the top of the shoebox also would have afforded the correct size.) Determined to emerge from this pandemic a Birkenstocks wearer or to die trying, I ordered another pair, one European size smaller.

A week or so ago, I spoke with the owner of my apartment building about getting going with the remainder of the flood-related repairs in my place (so I can get a kitten!). She said that the person who lives across the hallway from me is moving out, so I could potentially move there while the painting and carpeting in my place are completed. I asked if I could just stay there permanently, and she said that was certainly a possibility.

One of the best kinds of flooring for persons with chemical sensitivity is hardwood, but only if it was refinished well in the past. There is low-VOC stuff you can use for refinishing hardwood, but apparently it’s not very good; four coats might be needed. The apartment across the hall has hardwood that was refinished long ago.

Also, the person who is moving out of that apartment could be an interior decorator if she wanted. When I have now and then caught a glimpse of the place, it is gorgeous, whereas my approach to home décor is one hundred percent functional: I have placed my breakfast on this plastic-topped folding table and it has not yet fallen on the floor, so I guess this will make a good kitchen table.

That apartment is also farther from Mr. Phlegm-O-Rama (at least a little) and completely sealed off from Mr. Hoarder, with his endless projects and the sickening smell of his dryer sheets; his dryer vents into the shared space outside my kitchen window. However, I’m sure it is also closer to something I would dislike just as much, so maybe it’s better to stick with my familiar set of gripes.

On Mother’s Day, I called to thank my mother for her many excellent acts of parenthood, including but not limited to not braining me with a brick when I was a helpless infant. Also our idyllic garden in which she labored for so many years, the vegetables she grew that we actually ate, the bread she baked, the delicious meals she cooked (including chop suey and kniffles). 

How she taught me the commutative property of some mathematical operations before I even went to kindergarten, and started teaching me to read when I was three. She taught me shapes by pointing them out as we walked around the neighborhood; I remember her pointing out the ellipse-shaped window in a door. She also sent me to the YWCA to learn to read music before I was in kindergarten.

She filled our home with music and NPR. In the evenings starting when I was maybe 10 or so, we played chamber music in the evenings. My mother played the piano, my sister played the violin, and I played the cello. It was lovely. I remember we played trios by Frank Bridge.

She made sure we had music and swimming lessons, and classes and lessons in all kinds of other things at the Y, and she drove her three children back and forth to all of these engagements.

She expressed enthusiasm for a huge number of things (bugs, meteorology, chemistry, rocks, history … ) and demonstrated competence in many areas, including painting, fixing the dryer, making wicker baskets, re-caning chairs, and hanging wallpaper. She was not afraid to teach herself how to do new things. She modeled a love of nature and all living creatures, even including the mice who lived in our attic, for whom she put out dried corn. “Spiders are our friends and sisters,” she told us. She was unperturbed by my most alarming choices, or at least acted like she was unperturbed.

In the past decade, she convinced me to avoid refined carbs, and that I should overhaul my omega 3:6 ratio, which I think has had marked health and mood benefits. 

Maybe best of all, my mother is one of the funniest people I've ever known. She has made me laugh thousands of times; coming upon my scribbled notes makes me laugh again.

I love you so much, Mom. You are everything to me.

Not wanting my father, also a very loved and very appreciated parent, to feel left out, I wished him a happy Mother’s Day, too, and thanked him for carrying me in his womb for nine months. (That was him, wasn’t it?) He assured me that I was welcome.

I feel connected to my parents when I smell a fresh breeze, or see lovely greenery or flowers or trees, and when I eat my gorgeous salad each morning, with its vivid colors and fresh flavors.

Thursday, May 07, 2020


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Mostly Just Crying

Two Mondays ago, right after I posted my last post, still feeling uplifted by the online training I had attended with Roshi Joan Halifax and Frank Ostaseski, I learned that one of the members of my family had died suddenly and terribly. It was emotional equivalent of being walloped with a two-by-four: shock, followed by bottomless sorrow. My relative, only in his 50s, had just completed several years of education so that he could embark on a new career, one motivated by the desire to be of service; he began his first job in his new field just several months ago. Seeing a photo of him dressed for his new endeavor—in a suit jacket, complete with jaunty tie—brought nearly unbearable anguish.

One bright spot later that week was learning that there has been some easing of the virus-related restrictions—it looks like maybe we can go ahead with the rest of the repairs in my place any time. I had gloomily been contemplating that bringing home Hammett’s half-sibling was months away, but maybe it will be a lot sooner than that. I walked over to his vet to pick up a card from his sitter. It had this quote in it: “Death leaves a heartache no one can heal, love leaves a memory no one can steal.”

Another piece of good news: I called one of the airlines to see if I could argue them into giving me back the change fee they had subtracted from a credit and found that they had already done it. All I had to do was to thank them. Also, the credit does not expire until the end of next year. I’ll probably go somewhere by then.

After several days, the anguish about my relative had abated a bit, meaning that I could stop feeling crappy about that untimely death all the time and get back to feeling crappy about Hammett. (I have a friend who also recently lost a cat and a close relative; she said her new cat thinks that humans “mostly just cry.” That made me laugh.)

By today, I was feeling good enough that I had the emotional energy to feel a little disgruntled when the owner of the laundromat I frequent said I cannot bring my lightweight folding chair into the laundromat because it is “stationary.” That didn’t initially make sense: it’s just as easy to move the chair as it is to move my own body, or even easier, given that I’d be well rested from sitting in the chair. After I stand around for 90 minutes, I might be too exhausted to move two inches in any direction. “Bogus,” a friend agreed. But later I had to concede that I would actually be more likely to move when I saw someone coming if I didn’t also have to rise to a standing position and pick up my chair, so, after some 38 years, the era of sitting on a chair in the laundromat is over. Will I ever sit down in a laundromat again? Seems like it could be at least a couple of years. However, that is literally my worst problem at the moment.

Monday, April 27, 2020


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Spiders Are Our Friends and Sisters

As my mother used to say, and maybe still does say.

The loss of Hammett (on March 21) has made the boundary between crying and not-crying quite porous. When I was describing one patient’s sad situation to the next day’s on-call chaplain, I found myself in tears, which is good. I remember being on call one night at the children’s hospital during CPE and telephoning one of our supervisors, like myself an Enneagram One, to share something sad. I was deeply admiring when she immediately burst into tears: what easily activated empathy! I want to be able to feel deeply, and it is fine to cry when with a patient. As one palliative care doctor said during a training, “Just try not to cry more than the patient.”

Today I attended the first of three online training sessions presented by Roshi Joan Halifax, founder of the Upaya Institute and Zen Center, where I just finished the two-year chaplaincy program, and Frank Ostaseski, founder of the Zen Hospice Project. Offered on a donation basis, it was called Bearing Witness Together in Troubled Times, and today’s session was absolutely superb. I was scribbling notes throughout. These two teachers are so excellent, and it was also a huge comfort and joy just to see Roshi’s beloved face and hear her voice. Even though the panelists could not see any of the 1000+ participants, I got up and put on my rakusu, anyway, which Roshi gave me when I received the precepts.

I find myself craving nature, beauty, pleasurable sensory experiences. There is often a breeze coming in the small screened window in my walk-in closet, carrying the lovely scent of the big tree and other greenery just outside, and the grassy park beyond. I know that with every breath, I breathe in an infinitesimally small particle that was once inhaled by Hammett, and one inhaled by F., and one inhaled by each of my parents, and by every breathing creature that has ever lived. At least, so I once read somewhere, and I like to imagine it is true.

Because my parents were and are such avid gardeners over so many decades, inhaling the scent of plants makes me feel connected to them, as does eating my morning salad, with all the beautiful colors and tastes, each grown in some garden somewhere. I have FaceTimed with my mother a couple of times lately. It is wonderful to see her, though seeing the familiar room that I normally see in person gives me a pang. Will I be in that room with my parents again?

I read today that the meat supply chain is breaking down. This is obviously terrible for those who eat meat, and considerably more terrible for all the animals who were and will be killed. Could it have the good effect of pushing us toward plant-based eating, much more efficient and much better for our health? Or does it merely presage the breaking down of the supply chain for all the other kinds of food? Will I be found months from now in my apartment, desiccated, clutching a final herb-crusted black olive?

Along with the fresh breeze at the window and the lovely morning salad, I am enjoying sautéing onions, garlic and ginger for my weekly pot of beans. I had been putting fresh, raw ginger in canned salmon; adding freshly pressed garlic at the end of cooking beans; not bothering with onion for the beans; and eating fresh red onion in my salads. Then I got the message, via chronic chest pain, that this might not be appreciated by my digestive system. I was also putting garlic granules on toast, which is so delicious, but I think might have been the biggest culprit, because 99 percent of the pain disappeared when I stopped doing that.

I also stopped with the raw or barely cooked ginger, garlic and red onion, though I am a huge believer in the healthfulness of these things, and started sautéing for my beans as mentioned above, yellow onion rather than red. Now that I feel better, I bought a red onion to put in my salads, but will stop again if the pain returns.

I plan to start putting bay leaves in my beans and will research what other kinds of aromatic stuff you can put in beans.

For several months, on the advice of my fantastic chiropractor, I have been using this thing called YogaToes for about 30 minutes daily, to prevent hammertoes. The effect is subtle but at this point unmistakable. My toes are definitely lying flatter on the ground, and I now feel sort of reluctant, having made this ongoing effort to straighten them out, to mash them into slippers. Setting out to obtain some slippers that would allow freedom for my toes, I ended up ordering some Birkenstocks, the Mayari style, which looks like it affords even more liberation for the toes than the Arizona style I used to have.

For the final many years that I had them, or all the years I had them, I never wore them to walk outside. I wore them when I took out the trash. I actually don’t think Birkenstocks are very comfortable, but I want to be the kind of person who thinks Birkenstocks are comfortable, so I guess the two ways the coronavirus has transformed me so far have to do with bay leaves and Birkenstocks. Also, I am craving fruit, particularly bananas and citrus fruit.

There is a lot of work yet to be done in my apartment because of the flood that occurred here in May of 2019. Sanding of drywall, priming and painting are needed in the front hallway, bathroom, kitchen, and living room. The entire place needs to be re-carpeted. Hardwood in the front hallway and kitchen needs to be refinished. There are bare bulbs dangling from wires overhead here and there. Something needs to be done about that.

The common areas of the building were lately painted, supposedly with low-VOC, odor-free paint. So far, it has reeked for eight weeks. Even Tom, who (unlike myself) never complains about anything, said he couldn’t wait for the unpleasant stench to abate. I’m glad that painting occurred, because otherwise they would have gone ahead with the exact same paint in my place, and then my apartment would have become literally uninhabitable for at least eight weeks.

This morning I was thinking that I would have to resign myself to living in the place as it is until I move out, which will probably be when I die. It was a slightly dismaying thought, mostly because I know I would periodically succumb to self-pity about it. Living in a construction zone would not be good, but risking my health also wouldn’t be good. I used to smoke when I was a teenager, alas, and am deeply desirous of avoiding COPD and lung cancer.

Then I remembered that if both of two options are bad, then both are good! Avoiding weeks of a terrible odor would be good! Having a beautifully redone apartment would also be good! Mainly, I reminded myself that I am not a victim. I have agency here, and I can choose, and I can take full responsibility for my choices.

Then I had a brainstorm and sent the building owner an email proposing a phased approach:

Maybe we could pick out paint that will hopefully be fine and:

Phase 1: Sand, prime, paint the bathroom. If that goes fine, or once the smell has died down …

Phase 2: Sand, prime, paint the front hallway.

Phase 3: Sand, prime, paint the kitchen.

Phase 4: Hardwood, carpet, paint the living room. I could be out of the apartment for a couple of days for this phase.

Doing something like this would lessen the paint smell at any given time and give plenty of time to notice if a given paint was really a problem.

Finally, a small tragedy this morning, when I opened the swing-open window, which I never did when Hammett was here, and saw some gunk with legs sticking out of it on the inside of the frame. Alas, a squished spider. I had seen that spider near there, but not right there. She must have ventured to that location for a change of scenery, which proved fatal.