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.