Sunday, October 30, 2011

Of Costumes, Identities and Hearts' Desires

SpongeBob SquarePants was on the bus heading to the Castro Saturday afternoon, and Cliff’s Variety was packed with people scrambling to get their own Halloween costumes. The bare-chested finalists for the 2012 Bare Chest Calendar were selling raffle tickets on the corner, next to the people processing dog adoptions. A few feet away, a guide talked to eight tourists about Harvey Milk.

Along came a naked man, easily 70-something, toting a backpack and wearing only a white knit hat. This startled and then annoyed the young couple walking in front of me, but I didn’t care. Though I have never walked down a street naked, I have both startled and annoyed people in glorious days gone by, so it’s difficult to offend me.

Saturday one week ago, I spent time with Ken Haller, who was in town for a few days. We walked from his hotel downtown to the Ferry Building. Along the way, we stopped to talk to The Peace Guy (Ken bought a great shirt) and we got a look at Occupy San Francisco’s encampment. Inside the Ferry Building, we bought a toastie at the Cowgirl Creamery. (For details, see the Aug. 28 post). Then we meandered among the Farmers’ Market stalls, tasting pluots and pears and playing with the heirloom beans on display in a big bowl at the Rancho Gordo booth. “You know you want to,” read the sign.

Then it was off to lunch at Colibri, an upscale Mexican restaurant that was willing to let us split an order of guacamole, quesadillas – and even a margarita. Next, Ken headed to the Curran Theatre to see Kevin Spacey in “Richard III,” an astonishingly powerful  show. I saw it Oct. 19 and urged Ken to get a ticket. When he called after the play, he had the same reaction I did: “WOW.”

I moved to San Francisco 16 months ago, and I continue to enjoy every aspect of living in this amazing city. Since my last post, I’ve been juggling transitions, making plans and learning surprising things about myself. I remember assuming in my 30s that at some point you figure everything out, and then you know who you are and what to do in every situation. In my 60s, I now know much is up for grabs much of the time.

In “Comfortable with Uncertainty,” Pema Chodron, an American Buddhist nun, says the best approach is to embrace the not knowing and learn to cultivate fearlessness and compassion. That message is echoed in Integrative Restoration (, a class I am taking from Dr. Richard Miller. His version of yoga nidra (which I was introduced to in Kitty Daly’s restorative yoga class at Big Bend Yoga in St. Louis some years ago), iRest is about freedom from conflict and fear, about balance, about joy and about interconnectedness.

What sent me to this class? First, I had to say goodbye to my 16-year-old cat early in October, a cat I have loved and lived with for over 14 years, a cat who moved to San Francisco with me, a cat who visited Starbucks twice with me during our layover at the Los Angeles airport. She had hyperthyroidism and kidney disease. She was agitated much of the time. And she was losing weight rapidly. I believe that euthanasia is a final act of love, and my vet supported my decision. It was time, but I miss Maggie.

Also, in the middle of October, I had to have my annual mammogram. Two years ago, the mammogram appointment was followed by a second diagnosis of breast cancer. A year ago after the mammogram, when I got the all-clear, I went home and cried for three days. That, I finally realized, was a delayed reaction to the diagnosis in 2009, when I was so desperate to sell the damn condo and move to San Francisco that I spent no time dealing with what had happened. Better late than never.

In any case, like every woman who has had breast cancer, I am not fond of Mammogram Day. This year, I bought myself a ticket to see “Richard III” that very evening, figuring no matter what happened, at least I would get to go to the theater. The mammogram once again was clear, and I went to the theater with a big smile on my face.

Still, saying goodbye to the cat and then experiencing natural anxiety over the mammogram convinced me I needed to get back to meditative yoga. The first week, lying on mats in low light at iRest, we were instructed to go in our minds to a place we feel safe. I discovered that night (and this was reinforced later in the week at home) that I don't feel truly safe anywhere. When I brought that up in class the second week, a surprising number of people nodded in agreement when I spoke.

As soon I as realized that I don’t feel truly safe anywhere (blame cancer, other losses, discomfort with uncertainty), I also realized that fear does not keep me from doing what I want to do. And I am happy to report I aced it when in class we were instructed to express (silently) our heart’s desire. Some people said later they weren’t sure about that, but I am.

I want to be exactly where I am, changing and growing as I build strong, loving bonds with my family.