Friday, January 30, 2009

Does the Roshi like carrot cake?

What kind of birthday cake does a Roshi want? I made him a carrot.

Actually, I made two, double layer, 8 inch carrot cakes. The last two are baking and will be done in half an hour.

I used a kitchen aid mixer cook book. I think this is the first cake I've made from scratch.

Frustrated, I struggled to make good time. I started baking these cakes at 9pm and it's going for 1am, and I haven't made the icing. I expected to be good at baking.

My dad was a marine for 21 years and his M.O.S was cooking. He's an accomplished baker, trained at Johnson and Wales. He whips up gourmet goodies on a whim. No matter how late it is on a saturday night, he bakes his muffins for Sunday mass. I expected some of that experience to rub off on me.

Am I trying too hard to make this Sangha party successful?

The genmai was watery today.

I struggle to be the teacher I want to be because of the teacher I need to be right now.

I'm surviving in the New Orleans Recovery School District where my classroom management consists guerilla tactics. There is no discipline program-there are reactionary measures, but there is no discipline. We attempt positive behavior support, but that consists of what the teachers can afford, and in a district that doesn’t pay you on time (or like this week-the wrong salary), that’s not much.

I know that when I build resentments, I shut down. When I start noticing how indecent everyone is, my Bodhisattva attitude goes right out of the window, and instead of helping, I start thinking- what is help? Am I helping? Could I possibly help?

The long answer to that is: no. I often feel like I’m a storm trooper. I work for a for-profit charter that is making money off of the poor, while pushing a state standardized test that I see de-skilling our work force, let alone depriving citizens from a real education. I can see why one doesn’t abandon the Deathstar- it’s because you’re so dizzy, so caught up in the chaos, you can’t help yourself, let alone others. I can’t fight the system while I teach for an extended school day with no planning. So whether or not I am aiding in this debauchery is a dilemma for me.
But the short answer to that is: yes. I know when I’m doing wrong. Like when I don’t turn in my lesson plans, when I don’t grade my papers in a timely fashion, when I take advantage of the poorly planned schedule, or go off on a child. I’ve crushed as many students as I’ve inspired. I walk in everyday with the notion of keeping it undercontrol, but when you’ve been spit on, or told off, or directly insulted, it’s tough.

I’m better than I was; I’ve only fought two students this year, and hit one in the head with a book. This may sound shocking, but last year a student was arrested while waiting in the parking lot with a lead pipe. Last year, I screamed myself hoarse. Last year, I cried myself out of the classroom while kids called me a "pussy."

This must sound horrible. The fights need explanation, but what can I say? I was attacked and defended myself. My kids are big. Overage. They outnumber me. I’m white, short, and everyone thinks I’m gay. They’ve been thinking I was going to quit since the day I walked in. So when they put their hands on me, I strike back. I’ve only been in two fights this year because I rear naked choked one student and arm bared another. (Of school grounds-in both cases, I was surrounded by adolecents who know no fear and threatened to take my bike) No one wants a shot at the title. I’ve never struck anyone, thanks to Jiu-jitsu.
The book slipped out of my hand in the middle of a rant and hit a student in his head during class.

Of course, I’ve thought long and hard about how I attracted this action. I was really violent all through my youth. The son of a Marine and Sicilian mother, who believes she’s a gangster, who’s own mother was stabbed by her husband, my grand father.
Can I get a, "All my ancient twisted karma..." ?
But I’m a path...I claim progress, not perfection.

And the worst part is, sometimes, in the back of my mind, I’m thinking: "I don’t need this job. I live at a temple, and I know I can live at other ones, and I don’t need this world."
Which is totally contradictory to what I believe a Bodhisattva should be. Also, my teacher discourages "professional monks", arguing that we need to be out in the chaos. He is hesitant to ordain anyone, and I know I’m not ready anyway.

When I say that I want to be priest or a monk, I mean to say that I love the way and the three treasures, that I want to give my life to preserving these things, learning about these things, and that by wearing a kesa, I’m asking for help. I know that struggle is good, I know that I’m right where I need to be and I’m not quitting. I’ve been doing it for two years, and I’m still sitting, still observing. But eventually, I’ll leave this temple and find another teacher. This teacher will strengthen your hara, but neglects the mind and the heart. I’m still giving him a chance and hearing him out, but I don’t think it’s a good match.
But for now, I’ve committed to learning how to teach. It’s a daily struggle, and I’m heartbroken more than inspired. Things don’t always go my way. That’s a tough for me to accept. I’m uncomfortable, like those tough days of zazen, when your knees feel like they’re going to explode.

But I don’t ring my own gong.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

I will go to work, I will go to work, I will go to work.

I went to work.


I'm done being vague- who's going to find me out? Maybe I want to be found. After reading the last few posts, I realized I'm protecting the organizations I belong to. And who knows, maybe there is nothing to protect.


I have three lives right now- I'm a teacher in the New Orleans Recovery School District, I'm a resident at the New Orleans Zen Temple, and I'm in A.A. I've been teaching for almost two years, at the temple just as long (as a resident,5 months), and sober for three months. When I'm not grading papers, sitting zazen or doing samu, or working the 12 steps, I like to take a Bikram yoga class. I'm also studying for the GRE, which I'm not completely sure is worthwhile, but since my students are so test focused, I wanted to join them in their anxiety. It's not the same though, because my studying is going well and I don't expect to do well on math. And there are no stakes. My anxiety comes from elsewhere.


For instance, my Roshi's 76th birthday party (also the anniversary of our temple). Robert's senior student put me in charge. I'm the 2nd and last resident, which bumps me ahead of some other lay practitioners who have been around longer. Anyway, I can't imagine I'll make anything Robert will like.


I remember my jukai, last year. Jeff prepared a feast: rack of lamb, asparagus, roasted potatoes, and choice wines and cheeses. We're a Deshimaru lineage and Robert lived in France with him for at least 20 years. So not only do we break a lot of "rules" by eating meat, smoking, and drinking, but we do it well, with class and style.


Despite what I thought was a grand meal, Robert delivered a scathing review.


My Zen teacher is a surly guy who thinks with his kyosaku. I like him, but I'm not sure how far I'll go with him. He's fine for right now.


I don't drink anymore, so Jeff is in charge of beverages. I also don't prepare meat; I'm not a vegetarian, as I take what's in my bowl, or on the menu, but I don't cook with meat. I was vegan when I came to New Orleans, but it didn't last long.


So here is my menu of light fare: Humus, vegetables/pita, spring rolls, egg rolls(with pork!), and bruchetta w/toasted baguette slices.


I made a practice batch of egg rolls last night. The sauce was a little off and the filling was a little bland.


I think this is my debut as tenzo. I'll try and serve the supreme meal.


Wednesday, January 28, 2009

10 Original Dharma Heirs

I left work early yesterday. I was sitting in my office, staring at curriculum, and the sun was so bright outside. So I left, went and sat in the park, near the water, near the geese.

I woke up today, sat zazen, but could not breath. I couldn't keep my legs together either. I felt nauseous. My head pounded. After ceremony, we had our breakfast ceremony, and the genmai was too thick, too hot, and I was the one who prepared it. It wasn't my turn and I woke up late, but someone must have woke up even later, because he never made it to the temple.

After breakfast, my head still hurt, and I was feeling grey. I called in and said my eyeballs hurt. I didn't say that much, but I said I didn't feel well. I skip a lot of work.

Jeff and I talked about our teacher. I walked into the office the other day and said hello, how was your day, and he responded, "Don't bother me with that shit, I'm busy."

I should have said, "What are you doing here? Don't you have cats to feed?"

I just walked away. At 76 years old, you're off the hook.

I'm spending my day looking at other zen temples. Thinking about why I want to be a priest. Also thinking about why I want to go back to school. Thinking about why I want and if any of it makes sense.

I've always wanted to write. I don't mean publish; I mean I want to sit quietly and write.

Since I've started to practice Zen, I have thought about becoming a priest; I don't mean I want to teach, but I want to wear the kesa and follow the way.

These are the two things I can do. This is what I'm good for, meaning, I'll show up on time and try really hard to do a good job. Getting mixed up in teaching was bad for the universe. My heart's not in it. Never was.

I felt obligated.

I'm also editing a book for the temple. If I ever disclose where I am and who my teacher is, maybe I'll name it. I'll be vague for now, as to not slander the sangha.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Zen Master Came to Town.

Roshi came today. I was standing at the door of the zendo, waiting to hit the han, and there he was, looking wan, and dressed in black. I shook his hand and didn't say a word. Jeff, the other zen temple resident, looked like he saw his own wraith. Of course, my roll down on the wood was filled with nervous energy.

Durning zazen, I kept thinking- did I leave my cellphone on? Then I heard his familar voice during kusen, "Head presses the sky." So I forgot about it.

After ceremony, he mimicked our weak chanting and told us to be louder. He told me I played the mukugyo too fast. During mundo, I asked how we are supposed to take refuge in the three treasures and he told me that I sit on my Zafu crooked.

Perfect. Afterward, I felt inspired by his presence. I started editing our edition of Deshimaru's Hannya Shingyo. I watched Empire Strikes Back. I melted choclate chips and peanutbutter and mixed it with cereal.

Now I'll study for the GRE and get ready for bed.

I think I need a Shuso, or I'm going to spend my time in this temple like a 12 year old kid without parents.