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G'bye, Buddha Camp!

Just in case anybody missed the memo, my last day at Ratna Ling was last Tuesday, Feb 16. It's been swell!

I ran around all Tuesday night making sure everything got packed or back where it belonged, then slept in the commons and breakfasted with some folks before I peaced. Janet drove me into town, since she and Kari both had doctor's appointments, so I got to hang out a little bit more with Kari before we both left. Santa Rosa hosted me for a few more hours while I sat around, took photos, nommed, etc., and waited for the Amtrak bus. An hour and a half's ride took me to Martinez, where I stopped off for a few more hours and some sushi before getting on the Starlight Coastal Amtrak train up to Chico to visit my friend 'Lin for a week.

It's been a super-fun week; she just finished up one paying gig and is waiting for the next to start, so she has a week she can take vacays as well. We're mostly hanging out, sleeping in late, watching movies till all hours of the night, eating copious amounts of baked goods, wandering around town, generally enjoying life

I'm gonna come down to San Jose to visit my family for a few days later this week, then hit up the Bay Area to see some more friends, then down to Arizona for the first week of March.
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Gearing up for moving out

It's bittersweet, leaving the Shipping office. It's practically been my home for the past five-some months and I got a little attached. (Fie on me, in a Buddhist retreat center!) I grew into the position while my personality manifested in how it looked, what got prioritized, where things were, how people acted in there.

Tomorrow marks the end of the first two weeks for Bridget, the new shipper. It's been a good, solid two weeks and I'm confident that she'll do well in Shipping, providing good, solid, honest, and cheerful service to our customers, to the company, to the community, and to herself. In these past two weeks, she's learned and practiced on all essential tasks for the position: handling the database, printing shipping labels, packing orders, and making the different kinds of art. Bridget's gotten good enough that I felt comfortable leaving her in charge on afternoons and just providing advice when she calls to ask for it. This best example came this morning, when I had to leave the office halfway through training another new volunteer on the database and came back to see Bridget up the final stretch for the task. Even though she doesn't know everything about Shipping yet, it's only been two weeks and I didn't know much at all until after two months of poking around. However, she has enough knowledge to be independent from me and a good support team upstairs on whom she can depend.

The shipping office is getting a long-needed reboot, and now it's Bridget's home. If there were any shiny surfaces in there, they'd be sparkling after her cleanup job this afternoon with Marianne and Keek. As for all my junk that's been accumulating like barnacles in there, it's been scraped off the desk and is now just in a box in my bedroom, ready to be dealt with properly. The place really is her's, embodying her energy infused by the ideals of Dharma Publishing.

I'm glad to be walking away from the position knowing that, despite my mistakes and bad habits, I've still contributed plenty to the company, both for their public image and internally. After all, I worked on their websites, I kept orders going out (most of them on time), and now I'm adding a visual reference howto guide to the shipping manual. Moreover, I kept the lineage of the Shippers active, thanks to Bridget appearing when she did. By the same token, I do feel a twinge of sadness about leaving, just because it means the end of a chapter. It's somewhat difficult to give up the reins and put myself under Bridget, as it were. I suppose there's a bit of separation anxiety there, too. Despite all that, it is the beginning of a new adventure for me, the long-awaited opportunity to go wherever I want to and see what out's there to do.

What's next? I think I'll stay for the next two weeks at the Ling: assisting Bridget, finishing up my Dharma Publishing projects, and helping out in the kitchen. During that time, I hope to sort out my plans for this summer. After I tie up my loose ends here, it'll be farewell to the Ling to go visit friends and family around California and head down to Arizona for the remainder of the spring.

Will I come back? Maybe. Make that probably. While I've appreciated participating in such a positive community, I feel the need to go back to secular society for a while and experience other people and places. However, it won't be for a while -- you know, at least six months =D I do hope to keep up with the Ling folk, since each and every one of them is a super-duper person and I'm glad to have lived alongside them. So, I'd certainly appreciate the chance to return for a week or a month sometime, to help out in the factory again and be near all this - when it's the right time in my life.

All along the eastern shore, put your circuits in the sea.
This is what the world is for: making electricity.

Do what you feel now - electric feel now.
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Getting down to business, baking coo-kies

For the past couple months, I've been hanging out in the kitchen a lot, chatting with Mo and Tracy and Kari, helping out wash their dishes in the morning, baking in the evenings, all that stuff. It's a happy, comfy place - who doesn't like hanging out in the family kitchen? Well, I've been hoping to actually work in there part-time since November, and it seems the time is ripe! With the Longchenpa ceremony this past weekend, Tracy asked me if I'd like to come do some official baking and prep work in the kitchen during the day. Of course, I said yes!

This has actually been a long time in the making. Back in October, I made two birthday cakes for everyone's birthday that month; and for Halloween and Thanksgiving, I baked some stuff. Although I haven't been in the kitchen much this month since I've got some personal projects in the evening, plenty of my food has come out of those ovens into the Ling's collective tummy. I also mentioned to Mo and Kari that I wouldn't mind coming up to help out in the kitchen doing dishes.

Now that I've got a competent replacement in Shipping to make sure orders keep on going, I've taken the opportunity to go help out in the kitchen these past few afternoons. I'm learning a lot about cooking for fifty (and being careful with my math) and about just basic cooking skills: how to handle different vegetables and keep several tasks going at the same time in a busy kitchen. It's a really great experience and I'm thoroughly enjoying being up and on my feet, making food to keep the community running. Of course, it comes back to me - I eat it, too, and the cooks get plenty of compliments on yummy food. Moreover, after I leave the Ling, I can certainly put this experience down if I want to apply to work in a kitchen for a restaurant or café.

Life is good, guys!

Longchenpa Ceremony

This past weekend marked the Longchenpa ceremony, an especially important time in the Nyingma Buddhist tradition according to the Tibetan (lunar) year. Longchenpa is, according to tradition, a rather decent Tibetan Buddhist philosopher; we publish some of his writings in Now I Come to Die and Kindly Bent to Ease Us volumes I-III (available to buy on the DP website </plug>). Anyway, I think that he died around this time of the year -- somebody correct me if I'm wrong -- so his energy is supposed to be most accessible now.

Since it's that time of year, all of the Nyingma folk in our organization hold a four-day ceremony, so that's us, Odiyan, and the Tibetan Nyingma Institute down in Berkeley. Basically, it's a lot of candles, lamps, and chanting around the clock. No, really, we had people chanting all day every day from Friday afternoon through this morning. During the daytime, everyone participating in the ceremony split into two groups, which traded off chanting and taking breaks; in the evenings and overnight, people signed up for 1- or 2-hour sessions all through the night.

The ceremony (from what I heard) is intended to let you draw some of Longchenpa's energy back from the universe and contribute your own to that cache - but it's also meant to push you beyond your limits and your comfort zone, into that area where you're just so damn tired that you're kinda floating and zenning out. A couple people had to drop out because it was killing their bodies, and I understood why; when they'd come on break into the kitchen where I was working, we had a bunch of red-faced zombies on our hands. They'd quietly get something to eat and moisten their throats, sit around for an hour, then go spell off the other group. Man, oh, man.

Those of us who didn't participate in the ceremony helped out in our own way. We spent some of our regular work hours down at the factory as usual, doing what we could with just half a dozen people. The rest of the time, we came up to the lodge and helped make food and clean up for everyone. (Isabelle and Roger told me about how, this time last year, they ended up washing dishes for three days straight to help the retreat participants focus on Longchenpa'ing.)

The retreat finished this morning at 8:30am and the retreatants got the morning off to relax and unwind. Some people took walks, other people meditated. We all came back together at lunch and went back to our regular work schedules. Everyone seems happy and positive after a great couple days devoted to the ceremony!

New shipper, hurray!

As you might have seen, something's been on my mind for the past few months: who is to be my successor? We've been putting up advertisements here, making it a featured item on our other recruitment areas, and asking our friends if they know someone suitable. Two weeks ago, I sent out an email to our volunteer recruiting team and everybody at DP, asking "What's our contingency plan for when I leave in a few weeks?" Not ten minutes later, Bridget (one of the new volunteers who's been here for two weeks) walks in to the shipping room to say hi. "Andy," she says, "I heard you're leaving in a few weeks. I was wondering, how does someone get into Shipping?"

"Well, Bridget," I tell her, "you ask that question." It was the same question I'd put to Gwen back in August before I transferred to Dharma Publishing. We talked to Anette, who supervises all the factory workers, and Magda, who supervises the DP office workers, and scheduled her to start training on Monday, Jan 25.

It's been a week now that I've been working with Bridget, training her how to use the database system and the different shipping programs, how to package books and art for shipment, how to make notebooks and laminate posters and assemble products, and how to work within DP. It's been a super-positive week and Bridget is picking up everything super fast and asking questions when she doesn't. As it is, I mostly just sit on my computer, writing up reference sheets for her (and her successors) to use when I'm gone and answering any of her questions about if an invoice looks good or a package is well-packed or where something else in the office. I feel pretty confident about leaving her on her own, since she has an excellent support team upstairs with Meggie, Andrea, Marianne, and Magda, who know how to do everything I haven't taught her yet.

After a couple days of working, Arnaud held a meeting with Bridget, Meggie (as shipping supervisor), and me (as trainer) to check in. He asked Bridget how she was doing, if there were any issues she had already or foresaw, if she would like to continue with shipping. Thankfully, she said yes, and while she voiced some concerns, they're nothing that can't be overcome - especially with everybody supporting each other to make for a happy, productive office. He then set out what he expected of the Shipping department: to keep the office a clean and welcoming space, half library and half work room; to get orders out in a timely manner, but not to sacrifice quality in favor of rushing orders; and to ask for help if it's ever needed. All in all, it was rather nice.

For these coming weeks before I leave, I'm transitioning myself out of Shipping to let Bridget take over while still providing some support. It's a great situation because orders are still getting out while I have the opportunity to record my knowledge, answer Bridget's questions and make sure she's getting everything done that needs doing, and taking care of some projects here (like organizing parts of the warehouse). Moreover, we're both staying on task, since we stick to the factory schedule and take breaks with everybody, so we get a lot done when we're working and then relax a lot when we're not. My intent is to stay out of the shipping room for most of the day to get Bridget up and running as quickly and possible, but be accessible for if she needs a hand.

So, the great man-hunt is over: we've captured a new shipper!
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Treading in the footsteps

One of the aspects of working at Ratna Ling that really appeals to me is the lineage of volunteer staffers, doing the same jobs, somebody new every three or six months. It's all these different friends coming and going and leaving their mark on the site. I hear a lot of names and stories, but mostly what I see is the remnants of volunteers past.

These traces of old volunteers show up a lot in the shipping room, where things are relatively undisturbed compared to the rest of DP and the factory. Sure, a lot of material comes in and out, furniture moves around now and then, but there's not much one person can actually change in the shipping room.

This makes for a fun game when you find an old note attached to a piece of equipment with some obsolete instructions and wonder, "Who wrote this? Do I know their handwriting? This doesn't sound like something else they've written." Also fun- the legacy of hats: Alaina, two shippers my predecessor, saved up for a month to get a freebie Boston Red Sox hat. Nobody's ever worn it. It's on top of the cabinet now, next to a fancy top-hat that Gwen, my predecessor, made out of cardboard, tape, a kiddie paint set. Keeping them company is my rock-em-sock-em robot helmet from Halloween. I'm eagerly awaiting the next shipper to see what hat they bring.*

Mostly I just got really excited today, thinking about my contribution to the Shipper Lineage. I reprinted all the labels for the small art boxes, I built a bunch of storage boxes for folding thankas, I sorted and labelled all the barcode labels for books (with the new ISBN-13 barcodes, since most of our books only have the ISBN-10), I'm moving the shipping manual into a wiki and consolidating all the various reference manuals, etc., etc. Basically, I'm leaving the campsite in better shape I found it!

Of course, it's the next shipper's prerogative to say, "This is silly," like how I organized the computer desk to be left hand-friendly, and change it up again. And there's doubtless some smart thing that Gwen or Alaina or Javier or Alex or Meggie did in the past that we've forgotten or I've messed up. But it's all good, as long as that ball keeps on rolling.

* I'm also eagerly awaiting the next shipper so that I can train them before I leave after February.
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Hey guys! I just learned something awesome!

Preface: I'm really not a fan of milk beyond a splash of white in my tea or coffee. It's both a lactose thing - not drinking much milk turned me into a bit of a lactard - and a texture/flavor thing. For years, I've been pouring cereal in a cup and eating it dry.

Today, I came up to the commons for breakfast (and internet - it's down right now at the press barn) and had my regular breakfast, a mix of granola and pumpkin flax in a cup. Tara just asked why no milk? I gave her the run-down on me and milk and she suggests soy milk. "Nope, still too thick." Rice milk? "Hmm..." Conclusion: rice milk with cereal is yummy nummy!

Further information: Tara tells me that almond milk is pretty similar, but that I should buy the orangy carton (which is pretty thin), not the blue carton (which is creamy). Tara is my Jiminy Cricket for real cereal eating!

P.S. These people I live with are HILARIOUS. They are SO SMARTLY GOOFY. I would quote them but they're all "you had to be there" moments. (Also, we'd probably lose our PG rating if I put that stuff on the internet.)
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Two weeks on, one week off ...

Well, more like four months on, two weeks off.

I'm in my last stretch for my stint at the Ling, guys! Six month contract, started in August, and stretching it out through February. It's crazy. This is the longest I've lived away from Delaware, guys! Since I got off the rez for two weeks, though, I thought I'd do a little Compare and Contrast between Ling life and the Outside World. (There's a reason it's called the Ratna Ling Retreat Center, folks.)

The first thing I saw off the boat? All the commerce! There were grocery markets and coffee shops and retail and newspaper stands and oh man so many places I could spend my money (what little I've earned recently). Buying things was kinda funny; it felt kinda like backsliding into pre-Ling habits. So much is freely offered to us at the Ling: the food, the kitchen, the woodshop, etc., and then there's people sharing rides, baked goods (George's bread is SO GOOD - he made French bread last night and it was so nummy!), paint (for painting) and yarn and whatnot. We're so socialist, guys, even those of us who are fascist capitalist American pigs.

What's next? Let's talk about the people. There's so much diversity out there - especially down in Berkeley. Back in December, the Ling had 50-60 people and now it's closer to 40; all adults except the occasional 19-20yo and sometimes somebody's kid. We see each other all day, every day, so it doesn't really matter what particularly you're wearing or how long your beard is getting. (Okay, the beards are actually a bit of a joke, and I'm not just talking about how long they get.) So let's talk about how the entire population of the Ling could fit on a subway car. If we were all moving out and lugging our personal belongings, maybe two and a half cars. I got off the subway and there were a bunch of kids with skateboards sitting around the plaza shootin' the shit, couples with strollers, hobos, college kids, canvassers, people from all walks of life. Seeing all these different people, I've got this enhanced appreciation for who they are: how they move and act and talk, what they wear, what they're thinking about, if they went to classes or work today, all these little niggling details of life.

And now do those people get around? CARS! and SUBWAY TRAINS! and PLANES! man, I'm starting to sound like a children's book. But wow: there are places in the world where's it not 5-10 minutes walk from end to end (or 15min if it's raining). You'd think I'd grown up in the middle of the woods instead of in a college town of 20k residents 20k students, but four months is a long time in my life!

What do they eat? WHATEVER THEY WANT but it's mostly mass-produced somehow. I mean, sure, we get a lot of our cooking supplies from Sysco, but I feel like there's such an emphasis on organic and vegan kinda food up here, given that we have a bunch of health-conscious types up here that we're kinda closer to the food. Like, for personal groceries, we go to WholeFood and Trader Joe's instead of Walmart and Target. um.. that's about it.

okay enough of all this. I've got some projects to do.

P.S. Winter holidays were very nice! I got to see lots of family (my actual blood family, not my Ling family) and some friends (sorry for the people I didn't see! but I'll be back in June) and eat lots of whatever I wanted (aka lots of hamburgers and steaks and munchies).
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THUNDER AND LIGHTNING GUYS!  well okay, two lightnings and one thunder. BUT IT STILL COUNTS UP HERE.

We never get thunderstorms up at the Ling. Now and then, like every other week or so, it'll rain for a day or two. But it never proper storms, it just rain rain rains.  Bo-ring.

The rain is a mixed blessing. On the one hand, it means there's clean, fresh water pouring into our reservoirs. On the other hand, it means we have to move all the books and supplies we left outside into one of the warehouses. On the one hand, we get all wet walking around outside. On the other hand, you can dump all your extra crap and just go take a nice walk in the cleansing rain. Also, it washes my glasses.

Unfortunately, I have to schlep my stuff back from the office to my room through it. Fortunately (and this is the best part of all), my room is all of 500 feet away and I can sit on the back patio and watch the rain come down!  Well, I could if there were street lights out, which there aren't.

(that might have just been the factory loading dock gate getting blown around, though)
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Check out mah new digs, man!

Leigh, the volunteer coordinator, dropped by my office yesterday (Saturday) afternoon, after everyone's been back for a few days and caught up on all the backlog from vacation. She says to me, "Andy, I've got a question for you -- a residential question. There's a couple coming up to Ratna Ling on Tuesday night and would you mind moving to the press barn to open up your [two-person] yome for them?"

Let's take just a moment to cover how I've been quietly bemoaning the lack of a headboard on my bed ever since I moved in back in August. Let's also review real quick how quiet my yome has been since Gerardo moved out in November. Now we can check out the press barn, which is a house built next to Temp Warehouse 1. (It's called the press barn because it used to be a barn and it's right next to the printing press building.) 3br; full bath; kitchenette w/ full fridge, microwave, coffee machine, and sink; wifi; back porch; small yard where the deer congregate. Got all that? Alright, back to our program already in progress.

Leigh: "You wouldn't actually need to be moved out until Tuesday afternoon. Just make sure you do your sheets and clean up the place before then and we'll check it over and transfer your security deposit over to the new room in the press barn."

Fast-forward to today. It took me maybe an hour and a half to pack up all my stuff and walk it down the hill from Yome E to the press barn. Take another hour to unpack my junk and sort through what I've been meaning to put in the commie closet. Nice shower in the bathroom. Three hours later and I got some new digs!

While the yome was pretty cool and exotic, plenty of room to stretch out, a nice walk through the woods to work, living in the press barn is gonna be downright luxurious: I don't even have to leave the house to get a shower or fix some food. There's the choice to roll out of bed and be at work in five minutes or to make some coffee and eggs before going over to the press. Moreover, upstairs are Mallory* and Rachel, whom I've always thought were pretty cool people. Maybe I'll stay here past February after all. =D

* It seems I'm always a week behind Mallory. She arrived at Ratna Ling a week before I did in August, she moved into the press barn last Saturday, etc. At least I can take solace in the fact that I'm a year or two older.