Becoming Buddhist

Attempting to Live a More Mindful Life


Whoa, Horsey

The year of the bound-and-tied horse (with toilet paper tube). Thank you, LAE

The year of the bound-and-tied horse (with toilet paper tube). Thank you, LAE

I am in a pretty dark place.

It seems funny that a couple of weeks ago I blogged so innocently about the Year of the Horse and the challenges and joys it would present to me in the first part of 2014, challenges like whether or not to buy a house, whether or not to pursue IVF, the challenge I have not talked about–my husband’s extreme unhappiness in his job and his inability to find something else–and the ever-present rollercoaster that is my relationship to writing and publishing. Because like many other times since I turned 39 and started this blog, I feel like life lately has been a bit like hurtling through a series of valleys and mountains and finding myself, a little too often, in the valleys (or hanging on terrified at the top of a steep mountain).

(Every night: the five-things-I-am-grateful-for list, just to keep me honest. Last night, like pulling teeth: my incredibly comfortable bed that will go with me whatever house I live in; The New Yorker; having a job; green tea; my family.)

M and I got burned pretty badly this week. A month ago after the fixer house didn’t work out we casually emailed our landlady to ask whether she would ever sell us the duplex we live in now. It’s too small for long-term as is, but perfectly fine for now, pleasant, and on a lovely cul-de-sac in a neighborhood we like, in a community we like, with friends and neighbors we like. We figured it was a long shot that Ingrid would sell it to us, but no harm in asking. We’ve been feeling anxious to set down some roots. And we like living here–we like the garden and the sunny living room, the south-facing kale bed and the efficiency of the space.

And to our great surprise she said yes, that she “liked and respected” us very much and had thought about selling us her house, actually. We had a long and warm phone conversation where she expressed excitement and stressed that she appreciated open and honest communication, that she wanted to sell to us rather than putting the house on the market because she didn’t want the house to fall into just anyone’s hands. How she felt emotionally connected to the house since she’d lived here all those years, and needed to feel sure that good people were living in it. That she knew we fit in so well in the neighborhood, and that was important, too.

Etc. Etc. Etc.

All of a sudden that cart seemed to be hurtling along towards the top of a mountain, driven by her and her enthusiasm and us and our cautious, terrified enthusiasm. Holy cow. We might be buying a house.

Ingrid asked whether we could afford the house now; we said we weren’t sure. She said she could wait for us for a year to get the money together, if need be. That she was in no rush. Weeks went by; we continued to talk. We met with our mortgage guy. We talked to our realtor friend. We alerted our friends in the other half of the duplex that we were potentially buying the place. Things were hanging in the balance, but also hunky dory; we so appreciated her kind, calm willingness to work with us.

Then she said we should get an appraisal, and we agreed.

When the appraisal came back, she was all of a sudden all business. “It came in at X,” she said. “Can you do that?” We said we wanted to see the appraisal. She waffled. M asked again. She waffled again. We worked the numbers backwards and forwards. We asked for a little time. Her emails became more and more terse until, on Wednesday morning, she called me to tell me she was concerned about the legal issues around selling a house and felt she needed a realtor. Not a realtor to help with a private sale, mind you–a realtor to help her sell the house on the open market.

In other words, deal over. Remorseless.

On the open market, the price will go too high for us to even get a look in. This is Berkeley, people, where 1,000 square feet can sell for $700,000 and no one bats an eyelid.

What galls me–what galls me so much–is the dishonesty of her approach. If she had called and said, “The truth is, I’ve realized that I can just get so much more for it on the open market, and I really need to take care of my long-term financial well-being,” I’d be upset, but not as upset as I am now. Instead she mock-innocently referred to our “misunderstanding,” and assured us that she felt sorry we were upset because she had been “nothing but open and honest” in her approach. What galls me more than her being a lying sack of shit is her insensitivity. When you sell a duplex, new owners can both raise the rent and evict at least one of the families living there. Since we’ve moved in, rents have gone way up. Our neighbors were saving up for a down payment. Both of us will likely be kicked out in six months or less (she’s putting the house on the market this spring; so much for not being in a rush). Can we afford to still live in this town? I have no idea. Good thing we’re all signed up for Kindergarten, and all.

We’ve said all of this and more. I said it to her face; I told her she had betrayed our trust and behaved badly. I told her she was dishonest. And M told it to her via email. Her response to him is prevaricating and grasping. She is a small, small person.

One who really, honestly, isn’t worth my time.

Sure, I think about how you’re supposed to send lovingkindness to even those you have trouble with, those who you–shh–hate.

I’ve been so sad, friends. Near tears at all times. I’m tense and short with Leo. Short with my dad, who is visiting, for all his repeating himself and his long, rambling stories. I feel guilty that we opened the can of worms and have ensured the eviction of our neighbors. Mostly, I feel so disillusioned. It’s not about the house, not at all about the house–it’s about feeling betrayed. I’m painting California with the whole bad brush, too–my prevailing feeling in the last 24 hours is homesickness for New England, where–and I am probably deluding myself–I feel sure no one would do business like this. I feel like the betrayal and uncertainty is up to my eyeballs and I don’t know how to sleep or eat or even be anymore. I think we should move away; then I don’t. I think we should try to reason with her again; then I think we should not bother.

And of course: I got rejected by another agent today, and while she said such beautiful things about my book all I could hear was that she “thinks it will be tough to position.” L whined the whole way home from San Francisco in the car. Another mom said something that hurt my feelings at L’s school this morning. I wrote an essay, and a friend doesn’t think it’s any good. My dad lectured M for an hour last night on how he can be more of a go-getter. M’s boss has lost his biggest client and M fears the firm will fold.

And I just keep thinking, when can I crawl under the covers and cry for three days? Can I do that now?



Small Things

Just a short one, today.

The family friend I mentioned months ago died last week. I watched the last of his videos, one where he launches the wooden boat he had spent the last year building with his kids. His face in the video is gaunt with rictus. He looks terrible. His kids—just teenagers, heartbreaking—look drawn and terrified. But the boat moves beautifully in the Portland harbor.

He died a few weeks after the launch.

Meditating, the night after he died, I couldn’t find him anywhere. I hope that means he’s already sailed off to wherever it is we go; I don’t want spirits hanging around, after all, and why would he come to find me? But I have felt in the past two years a deep connection to this man that I don’t even really know, I think because from afar, I watched him die. And I watched him die with incredible grace. He furthered my practice in that I realized along the way that, as Pema says, no matter what we do, we still have to face old age and death. He made me realize that if I want to live this life I have to really live it. Experience it, be present with it, breathe through it. And so in that way, I wanted to find him and send him off.

Meditating the night after he died, I said this:

Jonathan, I send you lovingkindness, safe passage, and gratitude for your grace.

And I send your children and your family love and white light to continue living.

Hard, though.


Feeling the Life Force

A fellow blogger named Natalie followed Becoming Buddhist, and when I went to read her blog, I discovered the site of another woman who recently suffered an ectopic pregnancy. I instantly felt oh, pity and understanding and sadness for her, and if you’re reading, Natalie, I send you lovingkindness and white light for your loss.

I noticed that Natalie had a poem on her blog. The poem expressed this huge grief, and ended with a line to the missed baby to the effect of “Mom and Dad will always love you.”



I sympathize, but my feelings about this loss are very different than that. That could be because I’m ardently pro-choice, and I see all the ways a baby could not come into this world. Or maybe it’s because I have a kid already, and to me that blastocyst that went with the tube was not, yet, something to love. It was an idea, a beautiful one, but still that: an idea. It made me think how much easier it is to lose a pregnancy at seven weeks than it is at 13, at 27, at 39. I know two people who lost pregnancies that late, and several who lost them about halfway along. That loss must be indescribable. This one is…different.

But as the days go by, I can’t tell if it’s getting easier or harder. For a while, the feeling of being so happy to be alive took precedence. Then the rude awakening–I wrote about this last time–that there are still bills to pay, memoirs to write, children to rear, bathrooms to clean. Life does, as they say, go on, and when you step back onto that Tilt-a-Whirl you nearly get thrown off with the shock of it (okay, I’m being super dramatic now). I went through an angry period; I’m sort of in an anti-social phase. And now, I’m also terrified of what else might happen. I spent Saturday morning in the ER staving off a potential complication of the surgery (I’m fine) and I found a painful lump in my left breast last night, which is terrifying me. We all have colds. My mortality, my fragility, seems to dangle in front of me, and with it, that opposing and equally irrational feeling: nothing bad can happen to ME; it already has!

But anyway.

What I really wanted to write about is my dreams. Since I got out of the hospital, since no longer being IV-dripped a cocktail of saline, anesthesia, morphine, anti-nausea meds, antibiotics, and Vicodin every day, my dreams have been full of creation. In them I play my guitar and sing; I was a backup singer for the Rolling Stones the other night. And there’s tons of sex, I won’t reveal any gory details, don’t worry–but just the idea of sex. And while I don’t write in my dreams, I wake up thirsty to sit down and work, so ready to get to work.

A collection of some of the fertility talismans that are scattered around my house.

A collection of some of the fertility talismans that are scattered around my house.

At first, with all that sex, I thought the universe was giving me a sign to try to make another baby. But I think, more, that I’ve been feeling life force, chi, prana, spirit, brio. I think my dreams are revealing to me what’s important and what’s vital: connection and creation.

I’m happy to be alive.

And also, quite close to the surface, at times very depressed. These things seemed at odds but you know, they’re not. I suppose you can be both happy to be alive and sad about the state of your life in the same breath.

I’m practicing again, in my achy-boned way. Marc’s been poking me in the morning and mumbling “go meditate.” This makes me laugh.

But off I go.