Category Archives: thoughts

It’s really over. Weird.

Standard

Close to two years ago, I went back to college to complete my long-delayed Bachelor’s degree. It was exciting, challenging, illuminating, and freaking exhausting. In one of my first meetings with my advisor, due to some miscalculation, he put a very ambitious graduation date in my head – Spring 14. It really should have been Spring 15. Yet, once I got that first date in my head, I made up my mind that was what I was going to do. I took advantage of the alternative ways of gaining credit for life experience. I went to Summer School. Some semesters, I took nine units instead of a much more reasonable six. 

And I made it. I graduated in May, walking alongside a group of women whom I considered comrades in the Dominican trenches. The next day I celebrated surrounded by friends from all decades and corners of my life. It was fucking glorious. The day after, I left for a week-long silent meditation retreat where I spent most of my time just gazing at the tall grasses as danced in the breeze and fell in love with the antics of these little yellow birds. I was too exhausted to even meditate, and that was OK. It was the temporary cessation of deadline stress, which I so needed.

This lasted maybe a month or so, pretending there was nothing over my head.  However, there still was. I had taken an “In Progress” on my Senior Thesis and it was due August 1. Of course, being the procrastinator that I am, I didn’t start work in earnest on it until about two weeks ago (though parts of it were already written).  The writing of it wasn’t too difficult. For the most part, it  flowed. However, it is somewhat unconventional as far as Senior theses go. I submitted my draft to my bodhisattva-like advisor and nervously awaited her critique. She loved it. My final draft was submitted a week later. I made the suggestion minor tweaks, and voila! my Senior Thesis was finished.

Unlike other papers, turning this is was a more formal affair, with forms to be filled out and papers to be signed.  Today, I dropped by my advisor’s house for her signature. “You’re done. That’s it. It’s over”, she grinned and raised her arms high in the air in preparation for a huge hug. I stood there looking confused, so she just went ahead and embraced me. Even after the hug, I still looked like I was completely lost. “Graduation is both a celebration and a loss. It’s a new beginning, but it is also an ending. It’s natural to grieve an ending” she said wisely. 

I have already celebrated, and celebrated well, the achievement, the new beginning. Perhaps now is the time for a wee bit of reflection and maybe even some sadness. I loved my time at Dominican, even though the relentless pressure of deadlines sometimes prevented the material from being savored and digested as they deserved.  I’m going to miss it. (But, not enough to go for my Masters . . . at least, not yet.)

Advertisements

So, I had this great idea . . .

Standard

Another semester has been survived . . . barely. It seems that with each subsequent semester  more personal wounds get reopened and more triggers pulled. That’s what I get for studying the humanities, I guess.

Workload-wise this last semester was challenging because I had another round of the Humanities Seminar. Each week we had to read books by authors such as Plato, Shakespeare, Wolff, DuBois, Emerson, Thoreau, etc. Procrastination was not an option with that class. You had to read a book each and every week and be prepared for discussion, as well as some written work that was also due. Loved the material. Hated the pace. My other class was my science requirement – Environmental Science. The lectures were really interesting, but the lab was poorly organized. It was taught by two different professors who apparently had very different standards when it came to grading.  A paper graded by the old fellow would maybe get a C+, while a paper with the exact same effort graded by the younger woman would yield me an A.  The class was made up of a lot of middle-aged white ladies who take their grades VERY seriously. So, naturally there was a revolt. Deans were called. Complaints filed. And ultimately, grading responsibilities were taken away from the old fellow. Don’t fuck with middle-aged white ladies.  We will cut you . . .well, probably not, but we will file a complaint and make a few phone calls.

The most taxing of my courses was the little 1 unit P/NP class called the Senior Project Workshop. Every senior has to do a Senior Project.   You can either do a 30-page research paper, or a creative project with an 8-page research component. I am, of course, opting for the latter. The point of the workshop is to help hone your topic, find an advisor, and get a good start on your research.

I came into the semester really excited about my project. You see, I had this great idea: I would do my research on trauma and memory and then as the creative bit I was going to revisit the event that was the beginning of the end of my academic career in my 20s.  There was something poetic about coming full circle and transforming that trauma from being destructive and painful to something  triumphant and  healing. It was going to be fucking awesome.

The idea was to revisit this event by interviewing the witnesses and those close to me at that time. I wanted to film the interviews. I thought their expressions as they revisited that time would tell more of the story than their actual words. Two filmmaker friends of mine agreed to help me.  Friends as well as my academic and spiritual advisors were cheering me on. It was bold. It was brave. And, of course, it was doomed to failure.

The problem with a project such as this is that is dependent on other people willing to play along.  Over the years I’ve done lots of processing of this event, and I was ready to look at it with a new lens.  I wasn’t prepared for the resistance I encountered from the other witnesses: one refused to speak to me at all, two initially were willing, but blew off our appointments to talk; one, I sadly discovered, killed himself; and my brother said that he “has chosen to forget everything about our shared past together.”

Ouch.

For the workshop, our final deliverable was supposed to be an introduction to our project, complete with thesis statement. I wrote, instead, a eulogy for not only my project, but for any hope of me having anything substantial to say ever. It was pretty bleak.

My advisors offered me suggestions for salvaging my idea. They tried to prop up my spirits. I felt completely depleted, bereft of hope or inspiration. As you can imagine, this made the holidays super fun.

As of this writing, I still don’t know what the hell I’m going to do. However, having had a little bit of rest and solitude, I feel slight sparks of inspiration returning. There may even be something in the failure of this project that may become a project. There have been learnings, but they really have nothing to do with the original trauma I wanted to explore.

School starts again in about three weeks. I’m hoping that those little embers of inspiration don’t burn out, but rather become some wonderful creative fire so that by the time the semester starts I’ll once again be brimming with enthusiasm.

Wish me luck. I’ll need it.

Quarterly check-in

Standard

Yes, it does seem that the only time I remember to catch up with my bloggedty-blog is when I’m on break from school. And so it is now.

This has been my summer of aversion. Both of the classes I took this summer brought out all kinds of lovely, teenager-esque bouts of rebellion and sullenness. As I told my therapist/teacher/mentor it felt like I was finally going through the adolescent rebellion phase I missed out of as a teenager.  My inner voice was so loud and whiney – I don’t waaaaaaaant to. This is stuuuuuuuuuuupid! – it sometime leaked into my outer voice.  It is indeed fortunate The Boyfriend suffers from some hearing loss, as it gave him an easy out to ignore my bitchy, petulant complaints.

I had been looking forward to what I thought was going to be an easy A – The History of Stained Glass. It was one of those short courses: two-and-a-half hours a night,  two nights a week for five weeks, with a few of those nights being field trips to local churches. Oh right. Churches. Christian churches. Religious iconography. Lots of Christian religious iconography. Did I ever mention I have some long-standing and deep-seated issues with Christianity? One would think after the anguish and angst  I put myself through the last semester writing a 20-page paper comparing and contrasting Christianity and Buddhism to meet my World Religions requirement, that I would know better than to submit myself to an intensive class filled with a whole lotta Bible tales.  However, my prof was cool and kept the emphasis on the metaphorical aspects of color and light and made it quite approachable even for us heathens.  Yet, when it came time to do our final project, I didn’t go anywhere near church glass and did my paper and presentation on Frank Lloyd Wright. And yes, I got an A, but I wouldn’t describe it easy.

The other challenge I took on simultaneously, except for it lasted 10 weeks, was math. Please don’t ask me what kind of math it was. I doubt the teacher could even describe it.  The catalogue called it Finite Math. It didn’t much matter what they called it, it was a requirement so I had to take it.

While I wouldn’t say I was looking forward to it, I’m not completely math aversive. When it comes to everyday and business math, I’m pretty good. Back when I used to crunch numbers for survey research, I even found it fun. This class was not fun. If it weren’t for the kindness of the substitute prof (the original professor was in a serious car accident the second week of class and never returned) who took pity on us, I could have easily ended up with something less than an A. (Who me? Obsessed with grades?) I think we were graded by our efforts and earnestness rather than any real understanding. Inwardly, in class I was screaming “Why? Why? This is stuuuuuuupid!” yet from all outward appearances I was engaged and was able to answer questions by mere pattern recognition rather than any deeper understanding of the problem.  The final was a take-home and we were encouraged to work with our classmates on it. On the final day of the class, our prof made us each a card with a personal note, and gave us a hug on the way out.

In about two weeks, I return to school.  From what I can predict this semester will be filled with lots of reading for my Humanities seminar, and who knows what the Environmental Sciences class will be like. I also will start work on my Senior Project. Lots of thoughts swirling around about that. The one I’m most interested in doing has a lot of contingencies around it. It’s an exciting prospect, but too early to write about.

Hope all has been well in your parts of the world.

School’s out for summer

Standard

I wrapped up my last class of the semester this week. It was an intense semester, with nary a break in workload. Essentially, I was doing a full-time class load on a part-time basis. So, one would think that when the end finally came last Tuesday, that there would be sense of elation in being free from the heavy workload, or at least a flush of pride for my accomplishment. But, no. Instead, I immediately felt my spirit start to slip downward. While I posted “woo hoo” on Facebook to acknowledge the end of the semester from hell, I felt more like “wah, huh?”

An old classmate from Burbank responded to my “woo hoo” status with a faux yearbook comment, including the mandatory (or at least in our day) “have a bitchin’ summer.”  Those words released a flood of memories of what the last day of school used to be like: it was only a half day, with no expectation of any kind of serious work to be accomplished; the giddiness of the prospect of three months where every night was like a weekend night wherein we could stay up late and sleep in the next morning; and usually, that first night of the summer felt particularly celebratory, including the mandatory blasting of this little ditty:

It’s different as an adult. Being out of school just means a temporary let-up of the pressure of the unrelenting due dates. With less distractions from school, I can give more energy to work. Doesn’t that sound like fun?

I need to stop this before I once again land in my dark place. I just wanted to touch base, say “hi” to y’all. I’m hoping that I’ll have the inclination to blog before Summer semester starts at the end of the month. After this semester, I done run out of words with all the writing I had to do for class – maybe about 60 pages total?  So, it makes perfect sense that right now what I’m most excited about is the Oakland Internet Cat Video Festival where no words, or much thought is needed to enjoy such simple pleasures as surprised kittens.

The lack of adventures of a middle-aged coed

Standard

As I wrote a few months ago, I’ve gone back to school to finish my senior year of college, and to finally lay claim to those letters that I gave up on 30 years ago. And I don’t regret that decision. Not at all. I just wish someone had told me how much freakin’ work it entails!

I was quite excited about being in the classroom again. Firing up some old neurons that hadn’t been sparked in decades was something I was looking forward to. Perhaps even meet some new interesting people with whom I would spend my leisure time chatting with at a cafe or lounging on the quad discussing some obscure philosophical treatise. Ah yes, college life.

But somewhere in this fantasy, I forgot about having to complete actual homework assignments; papers, projects, and presentations.  Oh right. So, most of my non-school evening nights and weekends are now dedicated to homework. I do allow myself one evening of guilt-free TV viewing. Which, course, is not to say that I only watch TV one night a week. I just watch it and feel guilty about it.

The old, bad habits that got me in trouble the first time around are once again rearing their ugly head. I am a major procrastinator. But, at least this time the procrastination gives me a jolt of adrenalin and I finish the assignment just in time. Before, I would procrastinate until I would be awash in panic which would then turn into hopelessness and I would just give up. I’m not giving up anymore. And apparently whatever I’m doing is working because I’ve been getting A’s on all my assignments.

One thing is different this time around, though. I’ve found I’ve developed this streak of perfectionism. Or maybe I’ve had it all along, I just gave up before since I knew I couldn’t achieve it. Now, I’ve developed this delusion that I can actually achieve it. I polish my papers until the prose glistens. We’re required to use at least five citations on our research paper? I use 15. I question my art history professor’s qualifications because she gave me 100 on a paper when later I found a misplaced comma. I really only deserved a 98 for that mistake alone.

Hopefully, next semester, I’ll calm the fuck down. I doubt with my class load I’ll have time for my neurotic shenanigans. My Humanities seminar (non-Western civilizations) requires us to read a book a week, and in my Critical Inquiry class I will be producing two to three 15 page research papers.

Why yes, yes I am crazy. But I’m kinda loving it.

Giving up the written word

Standard

The other day when I was meeting with my Kalyana Mitta group (basically a Buddhist support group and book club), one of my sangha mates said. “I have to confess I was naughty and brought a book with me on retreat.” I looked around the room to see the reaction to his revelation. For the most part, everyone looked understanding and sympathetic to his disclosure. On the other hand, I probably looked fairly puzzled. Doesn’t everyone bring books with them on retreat? Oh god, am I the only one?

Of course, I have read and heard teachers advise against reading or writing during retreats. It breaks the continuity of mindfulness. The oft-used analogy is if you put a kettle of water on the stove and then take it off, then put it back on and take it off, the water is never going to boil. Same thing with our mindfulness. If we keep losing it by getting lost in words (written or being written), it breaks the continuity of the mindfulness and we’re never going to get the full benefit of the extended practice period. OK, yeah, I get it. But, honestly now, are people actually holding to that?

Apparently, people do.

Tomorrow I’m off on retreat again – five days up at Spirit Rock at a silent retreat co-lead by my golf club wielding teacher. When I met with him yesterday, I wanted to get some clarity on the reading thing.  He confirmed what I had heard before and whipped out the ol’ kettle analogy. I get it, but what I can’t understand is what people do in their rooms after the last sitting and before they fall asleep.  We have no access to electronic media – there is no cell or WiFi signal out there. And certainly no TV. Do people simply sit in their rooms staring mindfully at the walls?

My teacher looked at me rather gently as he told me the obvious: after the last sitting, people simply go to sleep. Oh right. Sleep. At 9:30 at night. Sleep. With no need to wind down, no transition. What a concept.

I have often marveled at how many of the dorm windows are dark when I come out of the last session at 10 or so.  I’m usually one of the last to leave the sitting, so I know all my  fellow yogis aren’t in the hall. Maybe they’re down in the dining hall enjoying a nice rice cracker and a cup of tea.  Doubtful. So the only other option is that they are already in bed. At 10 o’clock. Does not compute.

As you may have surmised, I’m a night owl. I tend to go to bed between midnight and 1 am.  Trust me, I’ve tried to go to bed earlier, but it doesn’t work.  I even diagnosed myself with a mild case of Delayed Sleep Phase Disorder.  I’m fortunate, it doesn’t impact my life that much since I tend to stay away from jobs where I have to be at work early or where my boss is a stickler about tardiness.

I’m also one of those people who cannot simply hop into bed and fall asleep no matter how tired I am. I need time to wind down. Even if I get home really late, I watch a little TV to let the mind know it’s time to stop thinking. So, on retreats with no access to mind-numbing TV, I will spend some time journalling and then take a dharma book with me to bed and try to read myself to sleep. And even that doesn’t always work, especially when I’m struck with anxiety or energy surges from a long day of meditation. As much as I love Spirit Rock and being on retreat, I’ve had plenty long dark nights of the soul there when I’ve found myself battling anxiety and sleeplessness.

Since this is a short retreat and with my teacher co-leading, I’ve decided to push myself a bit. I’m giving up the written word for the duration of the retreat. No reading, no writing.  I’m going to keep my kettle on the stove. If that means I’m still in the hall meditating at 2am, so be it. Basically, I’m going to meditate until I’m exhausted and can hopefully fall asleep without my routines.  (Though, don’t expect me at the 6:30 am sit.)

It sounds a bit extreme, I realize. But, worry not, I’ll still have a book tucked away in my suitcase if my plan doesn’t work out.

Tears for Aurora

Standard

I blame my metta practice for how easily and frequently I find myself tearing up.

As I watched Anderson Cooper tonight interviewing victims of the Aurora, CO theater shooting,  I noticed I had stopped breathing. I recognize too well the look of shock and horror in the witnesses eyes. My heart breaks for them. I cry for them. I know from experience their lives may never be the same. A trust has been broken. While there is no written contract stating that your life will never be touched by violence, you certainly never expect to be just minding your own business in the relative safety of your home or a movie theater and then be confronted by someone with a gun.

That happened to me over 30 years ago and there are still reverberations. I was at a friend’s house and two men burst into the home threatening to shoot us. They didn’t. They did other things. My body still holds the memories. The event still occasionally revisits me in my dreams. This even after years of psychological and spiritual work. I feel fortunate to have therapists and teachers who have helped me turned that shitty event into the manure in which to grow my compassion.

But through the tears there is also anger and outrage. But, it’s not directed at the shooter. I don’t feel pity for him, yet I know it takes a very sick, deluded person to do what he did. No, my anger is at the NRA and its supporters who think it’s OK to be able to legally sell assault rifles to the general public and who have fought tooth and nail for people to be able to buy as many guns and as much ammunition as they please. No red flags were raised about this guy and his recent weapon buying spree. It was all legal. And it makes me sick. And I want to get on a soapbox. I want to blame some “other” for allowing this. But, I know it will do no good. Already online I can read the gun control debates. Everyone just spouting “I’m right, you’re wrong” with no true dialogue.

Tonight as I was doing my metta practice I did a round for everyone affected by the events today in Aurora. And while I certainly wish them happiness and peace, health and strength, and ease of well-being, I wish with all my heart for them that one day that they may once again feel safe and protected. It may take some work, but I want to hold them and tell that it is indeed possible.