Sunday, March 23, 2014

I Complete My SPCA Training

I continued serving in the Purr Posse for most of the past year. I also started knitting little cat blankets for the office to sell as fundraisers, and am occasionally called in to help with mailings to donors. I actually enjoy stuffing envelopes now and then.

I took a little break from volunteering last month, when I developed a rash on the palm of my right hand that wouldn't have benefited from being stuffed into a rubber glove, and might have been contagious.

After the rash healed enough, I went back to the adoption center, to ease myself back into the swing of things without the complications of gowning and gloving. Turns out, I've gotten better at this over the months. I visited three singleton cats, and two of them climbed into my lap (which hardly ever happened in my early months in adoptions). The third cat had behavioral issues and a full page of detailed warnings that volunteers should wear long sleeved shirts to avoid bites on the arms and instructions on how to remove your hand from his mouth if bitten. I treated the cat with respect and he was a perfect gentleman with me.

Then I thought I might as well take the last training, on matchmaking visitors with cats or kittens. I don't expect to be doing much of that, but wanted to complete my training and get my own Cat Volunteer apron, so I could quit relying on whatever tattered rags were in the bins for partially trained volunteers. It's particularly annoying to have sanitized items falling to the floor through holes in the pockets, and having to replace them with clean ones.

So a week ago I took the class, and am now the proud possessor of my very own maroon apron, a brand new one, with no holes! I have arrived.

Sermon on 29th Anniversary of Congregation Sha'ar Zahav

Here's a sermon that I delivered in 2006 and somehow never got around to posting on this blog:

Sermon on Chukkat and Synagogue Anniversary, July 7, 2006

Last month I marched with the synagogue in the Gay Day parade for the first time in several years. I first marched in the parade in 1979, and marched every year after that for about a decade. Every year I marched, I collected the official parade pin. At the parade this year, I wore a necktie on which I displayed my pin collection. The first pin said simply 1979 Gay Freedom Day Parade and Celebration. Several people asked me what the parade had been like back in ’79. Smaller, I said, and less corporate and marchers didn’t give beads to the watchers. The real difference, though, was that marching back then was much more serious and risky. If we marched in public in a gay parade, somebody might see us.

Those were different times. Back in ’79, most homosexuals were in the closet – our families didn’t know we were gay, our friends didn’t know we were gay, our co-workers didn’t know we were gay, and most especially, fellow congregants of our churches and synagogues didn’t know we were gay. Most religious organizations believed that homosexuals were sick and sinful and unfit to pray to God. When we were allowed to pray, it was only to acknowledge how sinful were our desires and actions and to pray that we might be converted to heterosexuality.

But the gay rights movement had been percolating along for several years, and it was beginning to reach into the hearts of religious people. Congregation Sha’ar Zahav was founded on July 9, 1977, by three gay men – Daniel Chesir, Shamir Ofel, and Bernard Pechter. 1977 was a particularly intense year for gay rights. Anita Bryant had spearheaded the passage of a law in Miami that prohibited gays from being teachers. That hateful slap at our humanity galvanized the gay community and our supporters into the largest San Francisco Gay Freedom Day parade so far. I haven’t asked Daniel, but I suspect it’s not an accident that the three of them decided to claim their Jewish gay identity shortly after that year’s Gay Freedom Day parade. And I don’t have to ask them to know that they wanted to create a place where they could be Jewish and gay at the same time – a place to be Jewish without having to give up being gay, and a place to be gay without having to give up Judaism.

So, Monday, July 9, marks the 29th anniversary of the founding of Congregation Sha’ar Zahav. The challenges of founding a gay synagogue included finding a regular place to meet, finding publishers who were willing to accept advertisements for Sha'ar Zahav services, and gaining acceptance from Jewish organizations.

I first attended the synagogue in 1980. At that time, services were being held at the Jewish Community Center. The first night I came to shul, I was asked to do a reading. That made me feel welcomed and honored. I had grown up in a Reform synagogue; so some parts of the service were familiar and other parts were new to me, but not for long. After a while I was asked to deliver a guest sermon, even though I was a member of a Lutheran church at the time (it’s a long story). I grew away from the church, and joined the synagogue.

The congregation was small then; maybe 40 people came to Friday night services, and most of them were men. There was a part-time rabbi named Allen Bennett. He and I had already met, having served as co-chairs of the Council on Religion and the Homosexual for a couple of years. Then more women started attending services, and there was some wrangling until feminism took hold.

The congregation grew, and we moved from the smallish room into a gymnasium. After another while, we bought the building on Danvers Street and hired a full-time rabbi. We joined the Union of American Hebrew Congregations. In addition to Shabbat worship, we conducted weddings, and funerals, and baby namings, and Bar and Bat Mitzvahs. We acquired land in a cemetery and started taking congregational trips to Israel. We became a full-sized, full-fledged, full-service synagogue.

In this week’s portion, Chukkat, the Israelites are still developing into a congregation. The portion opens with the laws concerning purification of those who have touched a corpse by anointing them with the ashes of a red heifer. Eleazar the priest is commanded to sprinkle the heifer’s blood towards the Tent of Meeting before the heifer is burned and turned into ashes, which are stored outside the camp. Everyone who touches the heifer or its ashes becomes unclean by so doing, but the ashes are to be used for purification. It’s rather mysterious.

What draws my attention is that the blood sprinkling is to be done by Eleazar, the son of Aaron. Sometime between last week’s portion and this week’s, 38 years have passed. This week’s portion records the deaths of Miriam and Aaron, and we know how much time has passed because the Torah tells us elsewhere that Aaron lived 40 years after leaving Egypt. In this portion, also, God tells Moses and Aaron to take the rod and assemble the community and order a rock to bring forth water. Instead, Moses hits the rock with the rod, and is therefore condemned to die outside the promised land.

A changing of the guard is happening; the generation that left Egypt is dying off, and only Caleb and Joshua of that generation will survive to cross the Jordan. Those whose minds were shaped by slavery could not get the hang of following God’s laws and depending on God for food and water and safety. Only a new generation could trust in God enough to succeed in conquering the land and making it home.

We’ve been having something of a generational shift at Sha’ar Zahav, too. We’ve shifted away from a synagogue founded by and for single gay men to one that consists largely of families, of all configurations, and many of them with children – there’s an aufruf, a wedding, or a Bar or Bat Mitzvah nearly every week. Children of members are starting to co-lead services. Not to fear, the synagogue is still a good place to meet someone special; there are still some single members (such as yours truly). In fact, there are some liturgists among us who are interested in writing rituals for non-family occasions such as menopause and retirement.

A synagogue is a place for communal prayer, and is also a place to make friends, to learn about Judaism, to receive prayers for healing, to be comforted on a loss. Sha’ar Zahav has for 29 years been the place where we come to present ourselves to God in all our diversity and uniqueness. And it’s where we come to help each other with our life journeys, and to get encouragement and guidance in our task to help repair the world. Long may its banner wave.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Latest Writing Workshop

Yesterday I went to Alameda for an afternoon writing workshop using the Amherst Method of writing to prompts in a group. My favorite way of writing. There were three prompts, and I'm willing to share my responses to two of them with you.

Things My Mother Said to Me

"When I'm alone, I'm in bad company."

"Pain is inevitable; suffering is optional."

"Pray for potatoes and pick up the plow."

"You can do that; you're free, white, and over 21."

"That was an E-ticket ride."

"They tell me I was a cuddly drunk."

"That poncho is ugly." The one I designed and made for myself out of fake fur.

"I want you to complete the following sentence: Mother, I hate you because ..." I declined to respond, knowing that I wasn't ready to say, and she wasn't ready to hear, what might come up. My brother, not so canny, had replied - 'I don't hate you, but I don't love you either, since you weren't there while we were growing up.'
Because of her alcoholism, we were raised by grandparents, and didn't come to live with her until we were in high school. Anyway, after my brother's response, she turned against him for the rest of her life.

"Action is the magic word." As she put on lively music to help us with house cleaning.

What I really want to say is - we only spent holidays with her until we were teenagers, so it was an unusual and odd relationship, more like playmates than family. Then when we came to live with her, she told us in so many words that she figured we were grown up enough, and that she wouldn't try to raise us. She'd just make meals and write checks from money that our father had left us when he suddenly died, and she had finally stepped up to be our mother to the best of her minimal ability.



If I could convince the crowd inside my head to all be on my side, at least most of the time, at least most of the crowd.

If I remember and love my inner child, and wish her a nourishing balance of play, structure, and security.

If I look to each new day with hope - if not instead of, then at least along with dread or numbness or boredom or shame.

If I pick up the phone and write email in the assurance that I am worth spending time with.

If I look in the mirror, if not with appreciation for what I see, then at least with compassion and a kindly curiosity.

If I set pen to paper every so often, knowing that either something interesting will come out or the practice will do me good, maybe even both.

If I walk, or dance, or yoga or tai chi most days, knowing that it's good for me and that I'll probably feel better for it.

If I pay attention to what I choose to eat, getting full enjoyment from it and letting my inner wisdom help me make those choices.

If I read my email like it contains buried treasure, and I can find new people, places, and activities that will enrich my life,

If I choose to go to workshops and demonstrations, and dances, giving myself permission to make the choices that seem good at the time, and knowing that there's no blame in deciding to make different choices next time.

If I allow myself to have dreams about how I could share my experience and abilities to add beauty and justice to the world.

If I can enjoy reading my mind candy and occasionally read some non-fiction or literary fiction, or magazine articles that I allow to make me think.

If I dust off my music collection and allow the notes to touch my emotions however they will.

If I really live this part of my life, who knows what could happen?

Monday, January 20, 2014

Doing It For Myself

I've been participating in this effort called DIFO, Doing It For Ourselves, since the first focus groups. It's a federally funded health program for lesbian and bisexual women over 40 who are at risk for weight-related illnesses.

It's not a weight-loss program, but a holistic approach to mental, emotional, physical, and spiritual health through peer-led group discussions. Every session involves gentle movements, sharing of some information from research about lesbian and bi women, consideration of how homophobia and fat phobia mess with our self-image and adversely impact our health, and suggestions of techniques we can use to find areas we want to work on and to maximize our chances of continuing with any good habits we manage to form.

I went to a lot of meetings that tried out some of the materials to be incorporated into the program. I also volunteered to be filmed while learning the program of stretching and strengthening that's included in our online materials. On top of which, a still picture from the session is on the group's poster. Look ma! I'm the poster dyke for DIFO!

The actual program began a few months ago, and next week is my last session of the formal series. I haven't made any profound changes to my eating habits, but I have started going to dance classes. At two to four hours a week, this begins to resemble aerobic exercise. And it's a whole lot of fun, too.

I'm also trying to get into a tai chi class. I tried one at the LGBT center a few months ago, but it wasn't my cup of tea. Last week I tried the class at the 30th Street Senior Center. I made it through about 25 minutes before my feet started hurting too much. But I made an appointment with my podiatrist and plan to go back to the class and see if I can last a few minutes more each time.

For me, the secret to getting out and doing something is having someone to do it with. I can drag myself to some places alone, but would much rather have a friend for company and motivation.

The grant also supports a number of community-building events that take place at the LGBT Center. The last such event, a party, included an open mike segment at which I made my debut as a stand-up comic, with a mini-act lasting less than 90 seconds. I figure one has to start somewhere.

Another change I attribute to being involved with DIFO is my engagement in more home decluttering. I pared down all my possessions three and a half years ago, before moving down a floor in my building in preparation for retirement. Now, after three years of retirement, my books and papers, and pretty much everything else, was starting to get away from me - multiplying in the corners when I wasn't looking, and forming piles on every horizontal surface.

I'm dating again, and hoping to become just a bit more hospitable than my usual hermitlike self, so I'd like not to be ashamed to invite someone into my home. With a little nudge from my involvement in DIFO, I invited my space organizer back for a second round of decluttering.

We've been at it for about four sessions. We started with clothes and musical instruments, and swept through my food cupboard in the kitchen. Then I sorted through all my recorder music and every book in the place. I unloaded some eight carton boxes full of books alone. Now I have spaces in my library wall of built-in bookcases for my recorders and my tote bags full of recorder music.

My living room and the papers will be last - I've been working my way up to the areas I find hardest to tackle. Then, look out world, I might just invite you in for a cup of tea.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

The SPCA and Me

I finally got around to applying to be a volunteer at the SF SPCA a few months ago. I attended an introduction to the agency, filled out an application to volunteer, took the first two classes to be a cat volunteer, and promptly came down with a tenacious cold that lasted nearly four weeks.

Then I got well and started working a weekly shift of three hours socializing cats at Maddie's Adoption Center. I bought a short footstool after struggling to get down to the floor and back up while visiting a cat whose condo did not have suitable human seating. By making every possible mistake, I am gradually getting the hang of relating to cats with different dispositions.

Also, I've started taking additional classes to add to my skills. My first class was beginning feline bahavior, which qualified me for the "Green Team," volunteers who are allowed to visit cats with behavior problems. After another week or two, I took the course in Shelter Medicine. That makes me part of the "Purr Posse," volunteers who have learned the protocols of wearing gloves, gowns, and booties to visit kittens and cats who are in quarantine, ill, or waiting for space in the adoption center. So now I'm qualified to visit any cat in Maddie's and most cats in the hospital wing (another class is needed if I want to visit the poor souls with ringworm).

So now I can visit cats at Maddie's or in the hospital wing, or both (but only in that order). But I also noted on my volunteer application that I might be available for office and other types of work as well. So I get periodic emails about particularly pressing needs.

I got one email last week outlining some special tasks in the office, including one that required an "extremely detail oriented person." That sounded a lot like me, so I replied and volunteered. Wound up going at my usual shift time yesterday, but went to the administrative offices instead of Maddie's. There, instead of donning an apron, locking up my purse, and sitting with cats, I  went to an actual office. My task was to page through about 60 years' worth of the SFSPCA's monthly magazine for pictures of the hospital building as it existed during a certain period of time. I'd imagined using Post It notes to mark the pages with pictures, and they did indeed provide me with a new pack of multi-colored Post Its.

At the time, I really enjoyed the task because I got to look through so many issues of the magazine and to glimpse what they thought worth recording at that time. The SFSPCA cared for horses that drew streetcars and fire engines, for dogs that were used for racing, and for countless cats who climbed up trees or telephone poles. The magazine also serialized the novel "Black Beauty," reviewed films for their treatment of animals, and awarded an annual prize to the best animal actor in a film. I liked the praise I got for finding a half dozen good exterior shots, pictures of various parts of the building, and a few articles about the various waves of renovation.

The contents of the magazine were fascinating, but, in retrospect, I also enjoyed being back in an office of my own, with a swivel chair, good lighting, and an enjoyable task to perform.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

La Boheme writings

I finally managed to track down the organizers and join in last Friday's session. We each wrote down two prompts, each of us drew one from a hat, and we had three writing sessions (since there were three of us). Here are the prompts and what I wrote.

Rainy Day in S.F.

I live in a home that's more than a century old, and it's had plenty of leakks since Ive owned it, so the first thing tht comes to my mind when I realize that it's raining is to hope that there's no leak this time.

Then I may think about the plants slaking their thirst, and water accumulating in reservoirs for human uses. Then I might anticipate the luscious aromas of wet foliage when I next go outside.

If there are gaps in the clouds, I wonder about the possibilty of a rainbow and consider where in the sky it would appear.

Then I sit back and appreciate bein inside out of the rain, dry and warm. And grateful that I don't have to go outside in it. In fact, the last day it rained, I used it and a recent cold as my excuse to avoid going on a walk that probably would have lasted several hours and done me in. Let's hear it for rain, source of many good things.

"They're not very good," he said, chewing the french fries with mild disdain. "Too salty, too greasy, and not crisp."

She appropriated one fry from his plate, bit off a tiny piece, chewed it doubtfully, and agreed. "Not good at all," she said. "Not that my salad's any better."

They had come into the greasy spoon diner to get out of the rain,
and had felt obliged to order something to pay for their shelter.

But they had been grumpy and out-of-sorts before the heavens had opened upon them. They had been driving south to visit her family when the car suddenly overheated and plumes of smoke shot into the cabin and oozed through the edges of the hood, and he had taken the first exit and driven to the first garage, hoping every instant that the car would neither grind to a halt nor burst into flame. They had been lucky enough to find an open service station, but the car was 20 years old, and diagnosing its ailment and getting replacement parts would take some time.

So they were stuck in this one-horse town and already feeling sorry for themselves when, just to complete their joy, the clouds dumped a downpour on them and they had dashed, soaked  to the skin, into the first open business they saw.

"Looks like we may need to stay here for a night or two," she said. "Maybe we can borrow a phone book or get some recommendations from the waitress."

"I'm not ready to think about that yet," he said. "Let me just enjoy my misery in peace."

So should I tell her? She has to know how I feel about her. She knows that I'm a dyke. She knows how much I rejoiced when she received her call and could finally bbe ordained. She knows how hard I worked to perfect the Mozart solo cantata that I sang for her ordination. She knows how eagerly I aggreed to meet her in Anaheim when she came to California for a convention. She knows how little I could afford to fly to Virginia to visit her. She knows that I was unable to eat a bite whenever we shared a meal in Virginia. And most especially she knows that first night of the visit, when we sat together on her sofa, that I could neither fall asleep along with  her, nor make the first move. She already knows how I feel about her, and that nothing will ever come of it.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Favorite Color?!

I finally connected with someone at the Cafe La Boheme Friday writing practice group. I've wanted to go for several years, but only tried it once and didn't find anyone else who was there to write. After it  became a Meetup group, though, with RSVPs and pictures of attendees, I thought it would be more regular. Not so. I went there today and, even though the organizer and 5 other folks RSVPed, only one other person was there. Fortunately, there was a fairly good picture of her on her profile and we recognized each other. After it became clear that we were the only ones, I took over and got us writing to the prompt that I had come up with last night. I wrote as follows:

I was listening to a podcast last night about "drunk tank pink." Apparently research has shown that drunk, angry, aggressive people become calmer and behave better in a room with walls that are painted the color of PeptoBismol. Moreover, sometimes professional athletes are not able to perform their best when confronted by a piece of cardboard that is pink. They do, however, regain their abilities when shown a blue or green  color to cleanse their visual palate.

These ideas came to me last night while I was trying to think about my favorite color. I used to say that my favorite color was blue, the boys' color, the color of sky and sea and strength. But the fact is that I have made very little effort to increase the amount of blue in my life, except for the blue jeans that I usually wear and the blue jackets that I wear outside. Most of my blouses and tops are purple or raspberry.

Anyway, what is a favorite color, really? Maybe the question should be what is your favorite color to wear, to have on the walls of your house, to dominate in your artwork or garden? What color soothes you, or excites you, just by looking at it? What color do you identify with?

Many years ago, I had my colors done. The consultant looked at my skin, eyes, and hair, and composed a set of muted colors that she felt would look very good on me as clothes or cosmetics. I didn't like any of the colors, and have never bought anything using them.

Politically, I'm a lavender sort of gal, being a lesbian, and I really enjoy looking at purple flowers - lilacs, lavender, wistaria, Mexican sage. The last one I especially like for its fuzzy, pettable texture - but don't get me started on textures. Yum.

Anyway, the matter of one's favorite color depends on where the color will be - flowers, walls, clothes, paintings. It is by no means a simple question.