Category: General

Just a general, misc post.

Writing About the Precepts

In about a week and a half, I’ll receive the Five Precepts from my teachers (I wrote about asking to take the precepts in an earlier post). The precepts are given as part of a formal ceremony in front of the whole sangha and are an essential part of Buddhist practice, for lay followers and monastics alike. Those who take (or receive) the Five Precepts make the following commitments:

I vow not to kill, but to cherish all life.
I vow not to steal, but to respect the things of others.
I vow not to misuse sexual energy, but to be honest and respectful in mind and action.
I vow not to lie, but to speak the truth.
I vow not to misuse drugs or alcohol, but to keep the mind clear.

The precepts are not considered as commandments or imperatives. Rather, they are guidelines. Buddhists take the precepts voluntarily as a way of strengthening our spiritual practice. These precepts become the heart, the underlying framework on which our practice is based. The precepts are not ends; they are means. We cannot possibly uphold the precepts perfectly. What we can do is use the precepts to guide our actions and decisions in order to reduce suffering as much as possible.

In preparing to take the five precepts, we are asked to reflect upon what each of the them means. My thoughts are collected in the next handful of blog posts.

Returning to Full-Time Employment

When I started freelancing over two years ago, I was very excited about my ability to do so. I looked forward to choosing my own work hours, working from wherever I wanted and for whomever I wanted. I envisioned that I’d enjoy the wide variety of tasks required for freelancing: business development, managing client relationships, accounting, etc. Additionally, I thought I’d have the freedom to learn new skills and contribute to side projects.

Freelancing has actually gone fairly well for me. I’ve never been without work (indeed, I seem to find more than I can do). I’ve made a decent living. Being a freelancer allowed me to move from San Francisco to Portland without a disruption in income. I’ve built new skills and have completed some large projects.

But over the last several months I’ve felt a kind of fatigue creep upon me. I never quite feel like I’m off of work. Having my own office space at home and working from coffee shops helps somewhat, but the inconsistency in working environment is also draining. Isolation is also a significant issue. I miss working with people. In particular, I miss working with other developers. Co-working and participating in user groups helps tremendously, but I’ve found that it’s not a substitute for going into the office everyday and working side-by-side with your colleagues.

Perhaps the biggest factor in my decision to return to full-time employment is that I don’t enjoy being a jack-of-all trades as I much as I thought I was going to enjoy it. I don’t particularly care for marketing, business development and accounting. And because I don’t care for those activities all that much, it’s going to be a struggle to become adept at them. I’d rather focus my energies on becoming a better developer and really honing my craft.

All of these thoughts came to mind at the end of August while Sherri and I were in Hawai’i. Apparently there’s nothing like a tropical vacation to put things in perspective. I knew it was time to try something different so I started looking for work as soon as we returned.

The search went well and this week is my last week of full-time freelancing. I’ve accepted a full-time, on-site developer position at FINE Design Group. I start next Monday. I’m pretty thrilled at finding work so quickly and at a company who’s environment I think will suit me well.

On the Continuous Use of Contraceptives

I take contraception and have been doing so for several years now (since I was 18). I take contraception for two reasons: 1) I do not currently desire to become pregnant, so I do not wish to be actively fertile, and 2) I wish to suppress my menstrual cycle.

In fact, I’ve been using oral contraception, “the pill,” continuously (meaning I do not take the placebo pills) for several years now. I have periods very infrequently. The longer I have taken the pill in this manner, the less I have any sort of uterine bleeding whatsoever.

And you know what? It’s wonderful. I don’t feel like total shit for a week out of the year as I do when I have regular periods. I don’t have to carry menstrual supplies and I don’t have to experience the extra hassle and effort of their use. I don’t produce extra waste via tampons and pads. (For women who do menstruate, I highly, highly recommend the DivaCup. Seriously, it changed my life when I was menstruating as much as realizing I could stop my menstrual periods altogether.)

No one told me I had to suppress my menstrual cycle. I first heard about doing this while getting ready for my first Burning Man. Another women noted that if I were scheduled to get my period during the event and didn’t want to deal with it while in the dessert (a real concern given the pack it in, pack it out nature of the event, lack of hand-washing facilities and port-o-potty conditions), that I could just skip the placebo week of pills and immediately start a new pack.

Learning this was incredibly empowering. Already I had experienced the empowerment of being able to choose when to be fertile. Now I could choose not to have a period. I started using this method whenever the timing of a period would be inconvenient: it coincided with travel, a job interview, etc.

A few years later I learned even more about the periods that occur when taking birth control. I learned that you could stop them all together by taking birth control continuously. Even more wonderful! I asked my doctor about this, she said it was okay to do and re-wrote my birth control  prescription to indicate continuous use so that my insurance would cover each refill. (Sometimes if the prescription is not written for explicit continuous use, insurance companies will not want to cover the “early” refills. If you’re considering continuous use, be sure to have your doctor write the prescription as such.)

Lately I’ve noticed a number of women speaking out against continues use of contraception for the purposes of menstruation control and suppression. One Op-Ed by Karen Houppert published in the New York Times declared that “war has been declared on menstruation.” Another blogger named Julia says “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” And an article by Heather Corrina on a sex-education site for teens goes so far as to directly equate the desire to control one’s menstrual period as a form of internalize misogyny (see I, Being Born Woman and Suppressed). These are just a few examples of the many, I think, mis-informed reactions against the use of continuous contraception for period suppression.

An argument of these critical responses is that this solution is overly marketed to women. Corrina writes that menstruation suppression is “being given the hard sell,” and Houppert in her NYT articles warns women to prepare to protect themselves “for a barrage of advertising and research highlighting the debilitating effects of periods and the joys of menstrual suppression.”

I agree that women are overly marketed to. Actually, we all are. We’re bombarded with advertisements on TV, in print and on the Internet. We’re told that if we buy all manners of products that we’ll be thinner, happier, fitter, wiser. We’re told this in disingenuous ways and its incredibly harmful. There’s no doubt about this. There’s no doubting the power and clout that the big pharmaceutical companies have in our economy and culture. These companies certainly have an interest in developing drugs that we need (or want) to take with regular frequency because this means a recurring revenue source. An unfortunate side-effect of this is that these companies may benefit from health issues that to be maintained by a daily medication. So, these companies have a potential economic interest against finding/promoting preventions and cures for the source of ill-health. Cholesterol maintenance medication is a prime example. People would not have cholesterol issues if they followed a healthful vegan diet. The problem simply wouldn’t exist, nor would the market for the very lucrative cholesterol-lowering medications.

However, this does not mean that all regular-use medications that pharmaceutical companies create represent arbitrary and selfish market creation. Women have a very real need for contraceptive, fertility and reproductive health maintenance options. I think its okay for the companies who make these drugs and for doctors to inform women of their existence.

Opponents seems to think that the marketing of these options to women is an implicit attack on femininity itself, one which in turn gives women no real choice about using these options:

“Do pervasive cultural attitudes about menstruation, and about the female body as being a great annoyance and a burden — attitudes so ingrained and accepted that even some doctors perpetuate them — allow women a real choice as to whether or not, and why, they WANT to suppress menstruation?” (Corrina)

Houppert further dramatizes the supposed attack on femininity by saying, “Western civilization, it seems, hinges on our ability to wrangle our messy cycles to the ground and stomp ’em out once and for all.”

In no way have I ever felt that the availability of options to control my menstrual cycle is implied judgement that having a menstrual cycle is a bad thing. What I detect is that there are valid reasons why a women would want control over when and how she menstruates. Menses is the number one cause of iron-deficiency. A percentage of women have incredibly painful, heavy periods (dysmenorrhea), some women have especially difficult PMS (Premenstrual dysphoric disorder). Both of these can be helped by the pill (via continuous or regular use). For women who have mild periods, there is still a very valid benefit in the convenience of not having a period. I want all women to know this option is available as I do think it can be enriching and empowering.

Some women feel that their femininity in part originates from their menstrual cycle. Blogger Julia writes, “I am a woman and my periods are part of that womanhood, which I love.” I appreciate that some women feel this way. However, not all do, including myself.

My period is not my source of femininity. Nor is my fertility, my genitals or my breasts. I am my source of femininity and I alone define it. The act of taking contraception does not inherently or implicitly endanger femininity. Women who make the decision to use contraction in this manner aren’t necessarily demonstrating an internalize misogyny.

That’s not to say that we don’t have a ways to go in our cultural understanding and acceptance of menstruation. Many women are ashamed of their periods, of any “accidents” they might have during their period, of even talking about their periods. I cringed during the scene in the movie SuperBad when one of the party guests, a male, discovers he has period blood on him. He proceeds to freak out and so does the rest of the party. The scene wasn’t funny to me, as I imagine it was written to be. A mature person should be able to handle fluids associated with normal bodily functions. As should an adolescent who is or on the verge of being sexually active. So, just like all aspects of women’s reproductive health and sexuality, we need to continue to promote open, honest dialog and education.

Some opponents site the unknown health effects of using contraception continuously for period suppression. These health concerns are largely exaggerated:

We know that suppressing your period long term is not detrimental (actually, there’s evidence it’s beneficial, but I digress). And how do we know that? From decades of observing the effects of menstrual suppression in women who, you know, don’t menstruate for extended intervals: Pill users, pregnant women, breastfeeding women.

(from The Well-Timed Period blog)

Using hormonal contraception continuously carries no greater side effects than taking contraceptive pills plus the placebo pills intermittently.

I think that women who are opposed to the use of contraception for period control do not have a complete understanding of how the menstrual cycle works particularly in relation to hormonal birth control. All hormonal contraception, regardless of whether you take it continuously or not, suppresses the menstrual cycle. There’s a very good overview of this available in the article Menstrual Suppression vs. Continuous Use .

In short: Fluctuations in hormone levels cause changes in the uterine lining. The uterine wall thickens in preparation for possible pregnancy. When pregnancy does not occur the thickened lining of the uterus is shed, along with any unfertilized ova. This is a menstrual period.  If you’re not planning for a pregnancy, there is no reason to have cyclical changes in your uterine lining. Hormonal birth control forgoes this uterine/menstrual cycle by maintaining a thin uterine wall. There’s nothing to shed when you’re taking hormonal birth control, so there’s no reason to have a menstrual cycle. There’s no evidence to suggest that regular bleeding is necessary or even good for the uterus beyond its function as stated above.

When you bleed while taking the pill you aren’t really having a menstrual period:

“What you do have when you use the Pill is a monthly withdrawal bleeding episode, or a fake period. This withdrawal bleeding and the menstrual period are not one and the same thing. Briefly, by manipulating the dose of hormones in the Pill, you can destabilize the thin uterine lining enough to cause some bleeding.” (from Menstrual Suppression vs. Continuous Use )

In fact, these withdrawal bleeding episodes are not medically necessary. Rather, the decision to induce them was a marketing one, as mentioned in this NPR interview:

“Marketers at the manufacturing company which developed the pill,” says Segal, “felt at the time that an oral contraceptive might or might not be accepted by the public. These were very different times. Not only was this the first oral contraceptive but it was the first medication given to healthy women for any purpose at all.”
Taking away ovulation and imposing synthetic hormones was already a big change, and apparently marketers felt it might be too much to also take away monthly periods.
“You have to remember also that this was a time before drugstore pregnancy tests, so that if a woman was not bleeding, having a regular menstrual period, she wouldn’t know for sure whether she was pregnant or not,” says Segal.

“Such anxiety about unintended pregnancy was another reason why marketers felt it was better to have one week off, to allow this artificial menses to occur,” he explains.

To be clear: I am not criticizing a woman’s decision to use birth control or not use birth control, for whatever reason and in whatever manner (continuously or otherwise). That is a personal decision. If you aren’t comfortable taking medication, if you have other means of contraception that you are comfortable with, that’s fine. If you take contraception but don’t mind having regular periods, that’s fine too. If you choose to take birth control continuously to eliminate or reduce withdrawl bleeding, that’s also okay.

What I am criticizing is the notion that women who use technology to control their fertility and/or their menstrual cycle are somehow doing so out of an internalized misogyny, or are otherwise betraying the feminist cause.

It is possible to be fully unashamed of your period and still make the decision to banish it from your life. It’s also possible to feel some negativity about your period and decide to banish it from your life. This doesn’t mean you hate yourself, your femininity, or that of your sister’s (biological and otherwise).

I’m curious to hear from other women out there. Have you chosen to take contraception continuously? Did you feel pressured into doing so so? Does it make you feel empowered? Do you choose not to take birth control in order to stay connected to your “natural” femininity? Has the availability of birth control affected you in a positive way? A negative one? How so?

Working with the Five Rememberances

Over the last several months, I’ve been dealing with persistent illness. What started as a bad cold in early March evolved into bronchitis and then a severe sinus infection. Finally, after two rounds of antibiotics along with a consistent regiment of medication to manage post-nasal drip, I’m starting to feel more like myself. I have my energy back and it feels great.

What I’m reflecting on now is how difficult it is to cope with illness. I can handle being sick a day or two here and there. I don’t like it, but I can usually recognize my need to rest and follow suit. However, anything longer than that and I start to go nuts. I feel guilty for being sick (I should have taken better care of myself). I feel anxious (I’m not going to be able to bill the number of hours I wanted to this month). I feel lousy (because my body is fighting an infection and/or virus). I feel scared (what if I never get better and it’s like this all the time?). In fact, I’m feeling a bit anxious just writing about this.

Lately I’ve found some relief from these anxieties by reflecting upon the Five Remembrances, which are written about in the Upajjhatthana Sutra. The Five Remembrances are:

I am of the nature to grow old; there is no way to escape growing old.

I am of the nature to have ill health; there is no way to escape having ill health.

I am of the nature to die; there is no way to escape death.

All that is dear to me and everyone I love are of the nature of change; there is no way to escape being separated from them.

My deeds are my closest companions; I am the beneficiary of my deeds. My deeds are the ground on which I stand.

Buddha said that we should reflect upon these facts regularly. It may seem depressing to remind yourself that you are of the nature to “grow old,” “have ill health,” and “die,” let alone that you’ll inevitably be separated from all that you love. However, I find great freedom in these words. It’s true — I can’t escape growing old, becoming ill, dying and loosing all that I care about. Reminding myself that these things are inescapable is normalizing. It removes some of the guilt, attachment and anxiety I feel around them. Decay is just as much as part of the universe as is growth and it’s progress continues regardless of my involvement.

Moreover, the Five Remembrances reinforce the importance of living an ethical life by reminding me that “my deeds are the ground on which I stand.”

Ada Lovelace Day 2009: Sherri Montgomery

In January, I signed a pledge to participate in Ada Lovelace day by “publish[ing] a blog post on Tuesday 24th March about a woman in technology whom I admire.”

Early on I decided to write about my girlfriend, Sherri Montgomery. Perhaps picking my girlfriend is “cheating” a bit, but I wanted to highlight and make public her accomplishments in a way I know they haven’t.

Sherri is a true renaissance geek. She’s been involved in technology since her college days and has done a bit of everything: Perl hacking, shell scripting, NOC setup and management, *nix administration, project management, etc. Additionally, Sherri a gifted teacher and synthesizer of information. These two skills have served her well in her current System Analyst position at Qwest, where she facilitates communication between non-technical end-users a technical programming staff. Sherri is also a Yoga teacher and Zen practitioner, the effects of which she brings to her interactions in the tech world.

Below is a brief interview that I conducted with Sherri earlier this week.

How did you get your start in technology? What different positions led you to you current job?

I would say I was drawn to technology as a kid. I was generally fascinated with the way things worked, the history of places & things, and knowing the names of things like stars and rocks. I remember asking for a chemistry set as a kid and wanting books about astronauts.

When computers started to show up at school I enjoyed learning a little bit here and there. In college I finally tried out a computer science course and enjoyed it a lot. After college various jobs in secretarial positions gave me greater access to computers, eventually ending up with a group that developed GIS software. It was a small group and they wanted to have me help test so I was encouraged to learn about unix since the software was developed for various implementations of this operating system. The office had systems from Sun, SGI, and HP, among others and I really interested in how unix worked.

By now I had my own computer at home, a very early Macintosh I bought used from an employee. It had no hard drive, but I had an extra floppy drive and could run most stuff that way. I also had a dial-up modem by this time and was investigating the world of BBSes. As the Internet began to shape up I spent a lot of time on MUDs. I began to pick up both HTML as it was emerging and simple C programming for creating things for an AberMUD based in Sweden. I also took community college classes on networking technology and unix shell scripting at night.

I finally made a jump in technology in 1997, joining a small, local call center where I did telephone support for ISPs and a company manufacturing network hardware. After a few months there I was hired by Metro One Telecommunications to work in their NOC. I moved onto managing the NOC for a while then on to the senior sysadmin team where I did 6 hardware (Sun) upgrades at call centers around the country.

I left Metro One to work for Amdocs as a support engineer for the Sleuth Fraud Management System. I performed hardware, OS (Solaris), and database support to customers across the US. Eventually I also took on setting up web servers and configuring business intelligence reporting platforms for clients. When Amdocs closed their Oregon office I was hired by Qwest, one the clients I had previously supported.

You work as a Systems Analyst at Quest. What does that job entail?

I am the “subject matter expert” for the Business Objects Enterprise/Crystal Reports business information area. This covers a few hundred report objects providing automated data to over 100 users. I implement standardization of data connectivity, compliance issues, and report schema. During upgrades I act as project manager for teams that span across IT, Technical Clients, and Business Clients. I also help test, release and write user documentation for upgrades.

I am also the subject matter expert on the unix operating system and a suite of web trouble ticket tools developing using DB-MAN. When I joined Qwest in 2002 I began learning Perl to help support these tools. I’ve since implemented a simple back-up process using unix shell scripts to keep a second production server in sync with a primary product server. I managed both the project and primary development of migrating tools and scripts from Sun/Solaris to Linux Red Hat. Currently I’m learning basics of PHP.

I also work across teams to help identify processes clearly, define requirements for both client and technical audiences, write technical documentation for teams, and coach people on unix, business intelligence, and other tools such as HP Quality Center, Caliber from Borland, and Sharepoint. I am a primary tester for emerging releases for the Windows laptops and desktops used by my team as well as coordinator for hardware upgrades.

I understand you are also a Yoga instructor and Zen practitioner. How do you think this informs or affects your role in the technology field?

When I am frustrated, because that happens when you have teams unable to understand one another, both practices help me contain the frustration. I am able to more clearly understand why I get frustrated and am able to maintain a calmer perspective. Yoga & Zen have really developed my compassion for all beings, I think this helps me to listen to people more carefully since I want to clearly hear what needs they are trying to meet. When I am stuck on a project (flow of documentation, defining business requirements precisely, some troublesome bit of Perl…) sometimes just stopping and stretching mindfully will help. I move around, increase my breath, feel my body and let my mind settle. Sometimes this will help me get unstuck!

What do you see as the biggest barrier to women succeeding in technology? What can/should the tech community do to lower these barriers?

When I was getting into technology in my 20s I had to present a fairly tough persona. Not just “one of the boys”, but showing I could be just as hard and competitive, mentally and physically (since I was on the hardware side of things, moving around 250 servers). I always felt like I was on my guard, at times even more so with women co-workers or superiors. I can recall in 1999 finding out I was being paid $20K less than my male co-workers (with less than 6 months on the job) after 2 years with the company I worked for. When I brought this disparity to the attention of my male superiors, citing it for entertaining a job offer, they essentially shrugged and wished me luck.

The barriers have improved over the years, grown shorter, but there still are so many more men in technology than women. I see and hear men in the community trying to work to reach out to and include more women. I hear the voices of women in the community doing all they can as well. There are so many more programs now to encourage women and girls into technology than ever before. It seems like there shouldn’t be as great a difference now, but for some reason the ratio hasn’t shifted hugely.

I personally would like to see more collaborative projects and less competitions. Events that encouraged people to foster and share their strengths and differences, creating synergy.

Where do you see yourself in the future in regards to tech?

Programming less, managing more — something I would not have thought I’d have said 5 years ago. I have come to see that my knack with seeing how things fit together, finding patterns, and understanding flow is best suited to helping projects run smoothly through to implementation and beyond. I have come to enjoy the “people” side of things more and find especially rewarding helping seemingly disparate teams communicate in a way that they can find understanding and the ability to work together. Because of my technology background I know I would be valuable in managing technology projects since I understand the both the technical and business sides.

25 Things

You’ve probably seen the “7 Things” meme on the blogs of tech folk. Well, on Facebook it’s “25 Things” and after having been tagged a number of times, I gave up and wrote my 25 things.

  1. I’m an ENFP, born in the year of the Monkey, and a Cancer with a Scorpio Moon and Aquarius rising.
  2. I was born in Alameda, California and have lived in many Northern California towns, including: Sacramento, El Cerrito, Pacifica, Davis, San Francisco. Oregon is the second state I’ve lived in.
  3. I’m the oldest of four children and two step-children and the only female among my siblings. All of my immediate family still live in California and I miss them greatly at times.
  4. I attended my first college class when I was 11. It was introduction to Political Science  at the local community college and I remember having a really difficult time taking note quickly enough. I hadn’t really learned how to take notes yet, so I think I was trying to write *everything* down.
  5. I’m a total cat person, although I love all creatures. My current cat (Atari), even though he’s only 7, has had a series of medical issues. I’ve spend thousands of dollars taking care of him, all worth it.
  6. I earned my Bachelor’s from UC Davis with a major in English. While a student at UC Davis, I helped manage the student-run film theater two years in a row.
  7. I paid for my college education entirely on my own with scholarships, government loans and by working. At one point I had three jobs while I was a full-time student.
  8. My family owned a series of business when I was young including a construction company and a print shop. I helped out with these business from an early age, earlier than I can really remember. My first job outside of my family’s business was at Radio Shack.
  9. When I was 21, my mother and father divorced. My father responded by hatching a plot to kill my mother, her divorce attorney and one other person. Thankfully, the police were alerted. My father was arrested and charged with solicitation of murder. He plea bargained and served two and a half years in a California state prison.
  10. The last time I saw my father was during his arraignment nearly seven years ago. He was wearing an orange jumper and shackles. I wasn’t able to speak to him. Sometimes I find myself wondering what he’s up to now.
  11. In 2000 I got to see my favorite band, The Cure, in concert 5 times across two continents.
  12. I grew up watching Star Trek (mostly the Next Generation) and it’s had a huge impact on my intellectual and ethical development.
  13. I love to read, both fiction and non-fiction. There are stacks of magazines and books all over my apartment. I try to read a book a week, with varied success.
  14. In 2008 I started practicing with a Zen Buddhist group. As a life-long atheist, it is a very new thing for me to have a connection to both a spiritual community and a spiritual path. I feel like I’ve found something I didn’t even know was missing from my life.
  15. I’ve nearly cried at the two Precepts/Jukai ceremonies that I’ve attended.
  16. In 2008 I also started a yoga practice. In addition to the positive physical affects, yoga has helped me feel more compassion toward my body, improved my body image, and made me feel more generally connected to my body.
  17. I have Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder as a result of on-going childhood trauma. I have been in on-going EMDR and talk therapy for a couple of years now and have been doing very well. Still, certain circumstances are difficult (witnessing violence, large crowds, loud noises, etc.).
  18. I love working with computers and am thrilled that I am able to make a living as a freelance programmer.
  19. I’m vegan. At first, my veganism was based primarily in a concern with the environmental cost of meat and dairy production. But as I educate myself further about the ethics of animal treatment and animal rights, I think that is the paramount issue.
  20. I am still figuring out what I want to be when I grow up. Increasingly, I want to find a way to bring my skills to public/community service. I’m just not sure how.
  21. In 2008 I began my first relationship with a women. It’s the most fulfilling, supportive relationship I’ve had yet and I look forward to nurturing it over the years. I, do, however, somewhat morn the final letting go of my heterosexual privileges. I look forward to a time when we can get married and enjoy the same rights as our straight counterparts.
  22. I’ve been married before, once, to my high school sweet heart. The marriage didn’t last long, however, and we were divorced in our early 20s. We didn’t have any kids (thank goodness).
  23. I very much want to start and raise a family. Much of my planning these days is about making that happen.
  24. I very much look forward to raising that family in Portland, in my newly found dharma community.
  25. In August of 2007 I was living in San Francisco and had just come back from a weekend trip to Portland. On the plane flight home I became terribly sad realizing that I did not want to leave Portland and go back to San Francisco. It was that weekend I decided to more to Portland for good. I started making plans and selling my stuff. Six weeks later the $800 Toyota I had bought to move with was packed and I drove to Oregon to start my new life. I love it here and don’t think I’ll ever leave.

In 2009 I want to…

This post is a bit late in coming as it’s already the third week in January. But, I wanted the holiday-season cobwebs to clear a bit before I clarify my 2009 goals. They are ambitious, certainly, and I present them below.

1. Attend a Beginner’s Mind retreat and one sesshin.

I’m looking forward to attending a Beginner’s Mind Retreat. It’s the shortest retreat that Great Vow offers and it follows a rather relaxed schedule (by Zen standards anyway). It’s the sesshin that I’m terrified of. Sesshins are either 7 or 10 days and follow a very rigorous schedule including many hours of sitting. You rise at 4 a.m. and do two hours of zazen just before breakfast! I know whichever sesshin I choose will be challenging and have moments of discomfort (well, probably many). But it’s a necessary and integral part of my practice. In that regard, I look forward to it. I also hope to take the 5 Precepts this year.

2. Learn the basis of three other programming languages.

The purpose of this goal is to continue to broaden my skills as a programmer. In 2008 I learned the basics of C++. In 2009 I want to step this up. I’m planning to learn the basics of Processing, Python and Ruby.

3. Participate in more community events and start speaking at them.

This community definitely includes the Portland tech community, but I would also like to look at building my connection to the LGBT community, and find additional ways to support fellow women in technology.

4. Read 50 books.

This is roughly one book per week on top of my standard blog and magazine reading.

5. Be debt free.

This is a big one. I’ve worked up a substantial debt (for me anyway) during the processes of moving to Portland and getting settled. With diligence, however, I think I can do it.

6. Explore/Join an NVC practice group.

Before I left San Francisco, I completed an introductory course in Non-violent Communication. It’s actually what originally started me on a path to practicing Zen. Now that I’m more or less settled here in Portland, I’d like to find a way to continue building my NVC skills.

7. Develop my artistic skills.

I’m not sure which form this will take. It could be as simple as continuing to write consistently in this blog. It could be voice or instrument lessons (I’ve been itching to play the trumpet again, strangely). It could be taking a painting or ceramics class. I’m not sure quite yet. I do know that it’s a side of my brain that I’d like to develop and is an integral part of Zen training as well.

8. Launch at least two of the side-project ideas that I have.

I have a list of at least a half dozen size projects, none of which I’ve brought to fruition. In 2009 I want to make time for some of these and complete at least two.

Year-end Review for 2008

Steven, Sherri new Portland friends

2008 was a very busy year for me. I can tell this simply by looking at my Flickr account. I usually make a set per outing or trip and for 2008 I had 15 separate sets. In 2007 I only had five.

Although I moved to Portland in October of 2007, it was really in January when I started to settle in and make Portland my new home. Prior to this was the hassle of moving for the second time in two months, finding an office, and traveling back home to California for a couple of weeks to celebrate the holidays with family and friends.

My first road trip in 2008 was to the Evergreen Aviation Museum. The museum is home to a number of aircraft, including the SR-71 Blackbird, but it’s main claim to fame is the Spruce Goose. I tried to get some good photo graphs of the aircraft, but it was just too big to capture with my tiny point and shoot camera. It’s so big, in fact, that I couldn’t see the SR-71 at all until we walked to the other side of the Spruce Goose. I highly recommend the Evergreen Aviation Museum. It’s a fun day trip from Portland and not too long of a drive through some very beautiful wine country.

Sherri and Christie waiting for the MAX
Sherri and Christie

It also turns out that this outing was the first date I had with my future beloved, Sherri. We’d gone hiking together a few weeks earlier, but shortly afterward we had the nerve-racking yet glorious I-like-you-you-like-me-too conversation. We’ve been dating ever since. This relationship is a milestone for me in a number of ways. For one, my beloved is the first woman I’ve ever dated. And this is the most well-adjusted and mutually supportive relationship I’ve ever had. I’m grateful everyday for it and see lots of good things in our future together.

In the spring I took the Mazamas Basic Climbing Education Course (BCEP). The Mazamas is a well-established mountaineering club based here in Portland. Every year they run a six-week introductory mountaineering course.

Climbing at Horsethief
Climbing at Horsethief

It’s incredibly well-priced (in my opinion) and open to a range of ages and fitness levels. In many ways the course was extremely challenging. Prior to taking the course, I had very little if any outdoor experience, so in many ways I felt a bit under prepared. I hated the rock-climbing portions of the course. But I loved the snow sessions we did on Mount Hood. I didn’t manage to make it on an actual climb in 2008, but would like to try for 2009. At least once anyway.

View of the Gorge
View of the Gorge from Oneota Gorge

2008 also saw a number of hikes around the Portland area, mostly in the Columbia River Gorge, but also elsewhere. Some destinations were: Hamilton Mountain, Dog Mountain (with snow), Oeneota Gorge, Squaw Mountain, and aborted Larch Mountain hike (snow, again), Tyron Creek, and a handful of easy hikes in Forest Park.

Jizo at Great Vow Monastery
Jizo at Great Vow Monastery

I began three notable practices in 2008, all related: I became vegan, started doing yoga and started sitting with a Zen Buddhist group. These three practices have made an immeasurably positive impact on my life. Even as inchoate as these practices feel (being vegan is about 10 months old, the other two a little over six), I can feel a greater sense of equanimity about myself. I endeavor to continue, nurture and grow these practices throughout 2009.

At the night market in Vancouver, BC
At the night market in Vancouver, BC

Often I like to travel for my birthday, so this June Sherri and I took a trip to Vancouver, British Columbia. We drove up in a rental car and rented a flat for five days. It was a fantastic trip. I really enjoyed getting to spend five days straight with my sweetie and Vancouver is a beautiful, wonderful city. The only real annoyance about the trip was waiting in traffic to get back through the U.S. border. That and I think I gained two pounds by eating lots of vegan halvah available at one of the restaurants near where we stayed.

Other fun Portland day trips included trips to Sauvie Island (for picking raspberries) and to Kiyokawa Orchards in Hood River county (to pick apples). Sherri and I even managed to make a weekend trip to the SF Bay Area in order to meet each other’s friends.

2008 also saw the stabilizing of my young freelancing business. I learned a lot about what to do and what not to do and have forged a great relationship with a couple of clients. I’m also slowly learning about and becoming involved in the Portland tech scene.

In October I traveled to the Bay Area once again to attend the surprise party for a close friend’s 30th birthday and was reminded of the value friendship.

Mom and Me and the Chinese Garden
Mom and Me and the Chinese Garden

In November, my folks visited for what might become their annual Portland trip and we had a wonderful time visiting the Saturday Market, Powell’s and the Chinese Classical Garden. They also met my girlfriend for the first time, which went very well. It met a lot to me that they visited and specifically noted how happy I am in Portland and how well I seem to be settling in.

Christie in Snowy Oldtown Portland
Christie in Snowy Oldtown Portland

December ended with a crazy snow storm that dropped several inches of snow in metro Portland (very uncommon) over two weeks. Locals humorously referred to it as “snopacalpyse” and “snowmaggedon,” while the resulting melt was referred to as “thawnami.” Portlanders sure like to make up new words. I left shortly after the snow began to attend my mother’s graduation (a Master’s in counseling) and then became stuck in Sacramento for a few unfortunate days. Fortunately I was able to find someone to rideshare with on Craigslist and we arrived safely in Portland after a relatively uneventful drive up (except of course for installing chains and driving through 50 miles of snow). Sherri and I spent a very quiet Christmas together hangout in the flat trying not to eat too many Christmas cookies.

Potted Doug Fir Decorated for Xmas
Potted Doug Fir Decorated for Xmas