Namo amitabha Buddhaya, y'all.
This here's a religious establishment. Act respectable.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

RIP Ol' Blue Eyes

Paul Leonard Newman, January 26, 1925 - September 26, 2008. Loved. Missed.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Writing As Temporary Insanity. Discuss.

Playing in the background: The soothing sudsy noise of the washing machine.
Meters swum today: None. Overslept. But I'll probably ride my bike down around the lake later.

Repeat 100 times: I Will Not Write Under The Influence of Politics. I Will Not Write Under The Influence Of Politics. I Will Not...well, you get the idea. Having calmed down a little and wiped the foam off my face, and in the clearer light of - uh, midafternoon, I can see how that image about the severed head might have upset a few people. I'll offer no apologies but I will say That's Not Normally Like Me. Brahma vijara maitri and all that.

Thing is, almost all writing is done under the influence of something. Sane sober people hardly ever see the need to sit at a keyboard and type all day for something they may not even get paid for. There are all these jokes about alcoholic poets (I like the one where the poet, sobering up after a long night with the quill, refuses a cup of the blood of life, that is, my favorite stimulant, saying, "Certainly not. Coffee is for novelists.") and of course lots of real writers were serious hardcore addicts of one form or another. Wilde (booze, inflated ego), Poe (booze), Hemingway (pretty much anything he could get his hands on but mainly booze), Hunter S. Thompson (I think heroin mostly), Bret Easton Ellis (God only knows), Anne McCaffrey (whatever it is, I want some). I have the food thing, and I did drink a bit in my day. But honestly, I think writing is closer to temporary insanity. At least, it is for me.

Take last weekend, for example, when I abruptly wrapped up Spellbinder in a bizarre 18-hour binge of wordplay. I was way, way deep in San Sebastian most of that time (my fake Latin American country, named after my late cat and in homage to Hemingway; it's standing in for El Salvador) but I do recollect a few things. Like sitting at the keyboard and thinking, "I'm thirsty," then about two hours later noticing that I was still thirsty because (wait for it) when I noticed the first time that I was thirsty, it flat out didn't occur to me to frick'n get up and get a bottle of water. Another time I remember Joan asked me a question and I answered with "I don't know, I'm not really here." Joan, by the way, frequently sees me glaze over and asks me "Where did you go?" I guess assuming that I'm visiting the Pure Land or some alternate reality; usually I'm thinking about something much more mundane like shopping lists or how not to trim the cat's nails next time. Even when I'm not putting in marathon weekends, though, I'm often up too late, spend too much time thinking about writing when I should be Mindful Of The Present Moment (ie, driving), and calling up friends in the middle of dinner parties to ask if you can drink heroin (ask Gaby about this, she thought it was pretty hilarious).

So, like, is this healthy? Is this halfway normal? Do other writers do stuff like this or am I unique? And if it's not akin to abusing a substance, why does it feel like (as most brilliant stated by Rod "The Bod" Stewart) "I got lightning in my veins, and the rhythm of my heart is beating like a drum"?

I guess it's better than heroin. It is legal, after all.

Incidentally, thanks, Joan, for putting up with me. Again. Still.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Cry the Beloved Country

Playing on the iPod: Stiff Little Fingers, "Suspect Device"
Meters Swum Today: 1700

Well, folks, I just got done watching the First Great Presidential Debate. McCain showed up! Will wonders never cease! and before I get started, we all know who my candidate is, right? There's not really any doubt about that, is there? So anything I say about the other guy is bound to sound a little snarky, right? Yes, I know, I'm letting the Queen of Snark crown slip from my cold dead fingers. As they say in OA, "I'm willing not to be snarky." But I just wanted to clear up that whole partisan thingy right now.

I'm listening to Stiff Little Fingers. This should tell you something.

What we had here was a failure to communicate. Mr. Lehrer with the candidates, the candidates with each other, the candidates with we the people, and we the people with - well, everybody, I guess. I mean, seriously, how many times can you ask the same question and not get an answer before you throw a water glass at somebody? Mr. Lehrer must be a saint. Or he's been doing this so long he's immune, I'm not sure which.

Hang on, I gotta get on another SLF song - "Alternative Ulster," that's a good one. I played this album Inflammable Material (remember albums?) to death in high school. Literally, the black vinyl turned white. Had to buy another copy.

I think we're divided by a common language. I mean, you ask a guy how the serious problems we're facing with the economy might cut into your budget plans for being president, and he answers with, "I want to increase spending for preschool education"? Hello? Disconnect? And how does a question about dealing with Russia automatically lead to ranting about how we're not taking good care of our veterans? And don't even get me started with the old dude telling the other guy that he doesn't have the experience to understand (fill in the blank here). Why didn't he just call him a young whippersnapper and shake his cane at him? Thank God the younger guy finally mentioned the huge amount of money we're sinking into the war in Iraq and how bleeding $10 billion a month might just possibly be, I dunno, affecting the economy or something. I'd been screaming, "MENTION THE WAR, YOU IDIOT!!" at the TV for at least half an hour by then.

We stopped getting the paper recently, except on weekends, and oddly enough I don't miss it. Except "For Better or for Worse" which is in permanent reruns anyway. Well, I should say, I miss being somewhat informed but I sure don't miss the spike in blood pressure that went with my morning coffee. Yet here I watched the frickin' debates and once again I'll be sitting down to meditate with my AK-47 later. I started out angry, got worried, and ended the evening depressed as hell. I still like my guy better than the other guy, but Lord help me, he did not do a very good job tonight. If I were coming in as an outsider I'd be thinking, no matter who wins this thing, we're all well and truly fucked. No wonder the space aliens don't land here - it's probably on all their star charts: KEEP GOING. DON'T EVEN STOP FOR GAS.

Okay, my guy did do one thing right. He said we should kill Osama bin Laden. On a Buddhist-y sort of level I can't imagine how that's going to help anything but somebody had to say it. Maybe between now and the next debate he could, I dunno, fly over there, find the guy, sever his head and carry it triumphantly onstage in Nashville. That might help. Hell, that might even clinch 270 electoral votes.

Nashville. Dear God, Stuart Adamson lived in Nashville. If they hadn't cremated him we'd be picking up seismometer readings from turning over in his grave. I better go listen to The Skids for a while. And take my meds.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Just Click "Send," Already

Playing in the background: Kitaro, from "Silk Road"
Meters swum today: 1600

After much staring at three small typed paragraphs, and after much prodding from David Isaak who started bugging me about this in February, I finally sent Mindbender to MacMillan New Writers. We'll see what they say. I'm going to drink an entire bottle of champagne and eat a buffet now. Oh, wait, I can't do that anymore. Dammit!!

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Part the Third

Playing in the background: Still nothing.
Meters swum today: None.

Well, gang, with Spellbinder wrapped up there's only one thing to do: Start part three. Oh, and find a publisher for Part One. Did I mention I don't have a publisher yet? I don't have a publisher yet. Working on it though.

So here's what I'm calling part three: Soulmender.

Like it? Hate it? Let me know.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Spellbinder all done

Playing in the background: Nothing.
Meters swum today: None. Am about to embark on a 15 or so mile bike ride, tho.

Sorry for lack of postage, I've had my nose to the proverbial grindstone. I finished Spellbinder, my work in progress, last night. Now I have two volumes of a trilogy done and no publisher for the first one. (Gee, Jen, maybe you should work on finding a publisher. You think? Yeah, I do.)

It ended in a bad spot. I'm sorry in advance. See, a publisher could tell me how to fix that. Okay, I'll stop whining now. I'm tired. 308 pages, in case you are wondering. Roughly 82k words. that's pretty short for me. Course, I am pretty short.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Hurricane Harbor

Meters swum today: 1300.
Playing in the background: Some shoot 'em up movie called Borderland. Antonio Banderas is in it. Not much else to recommend it tho.

Hurricane Ike has come and gone. It didn't really hit Dallas, kind of passed to the east of us, but we got some of the "arms" that spin off and deposit large quantities of rain and wind on unsuspecting Metroplexes. I got to the pool this morning and back in a mild drizzle, which turned into a torrential downpour right around abouts 2pm -- just in time for the Air Force/Houston football game, which was of course moved from Houston to Dallas to get away from the hurricane. In sports programming this is what's called an "oopsie."

Anyway, some really cool gusts of wind and the aforementioned rain. Other than that the storm has come and the storm has gone. Heck, we didn't even lose power. Ike should be clobbering Arkansas right about now. According to the cool weather graphics on the NHC's Web site, it's on its way to merge with a trough of low pressure near the Great Lakes, which should spin serious thunderheads and tornadoes all the way up to Maine. Wow.

On the other hand, we have Galveston:

Quick history lesson. Roundabouts 1900, Galveston was submerged by the largest hurricane ever to hit the continental U.S. They didn't give em names then, but if they had, they woulda retired this one. 8,000 people died and to this very day, there's nowhere you can go in Galveston where you're more than three feet from a gravesite. Galveston went from being a prosperous little town, rivaling Houston as the big port in Texas, to, uh, nothing for quite a while. As a result, it's Houston that has all the petrochemical plants and so on. Galveston is still a town, but it's mainly a tourist hangout.

After 1900, Galveston built a sea wall to keep out the storm surge. This is an artist's representation:

The sea wall is 17 feet high but some of the storm surge from Ike still managed to go over top of the thing. No photos yet, either, but it apparently suffered heavy damage. So while everybody's carrying on about whether or not we should have rebuilt New Orleans, maybe we should think about the wisdom of puttin' a town on a barrier island. I mean, they call them barrier islands for a reason, folks.

While all this was going on, we watched Casino Royale, the new Bond flick. We have Showtime free for a month for some reason.

Friday, September 12, 2008


Playing on the iPod: David Arkenstone, Spirit of Tibet
Meters swum today: A mere 1200. I was late as hell. Traffic was amazing.

I never complain about traffic. Well, almost never. When you drive down one broad avenue all the way from your house to the office, make a grand total of two right turns and two left turns, and pull into your spot some 20 minutes after you leave (give or take the occasional construction truck backing up or a crazy guy wandering around in the street near the hospital) I don't think you should ever complain about traffic. I could almost ride my bike faster (if not for two nasty hills). Still, today traffic was amazing. Scores of people pouring north on all the freeways and spilling out over the surface streets, including my nice broad avenue. It was like this yesterday, too. I didn't make it to my OA meeting, even, but that was on account of my leg hurt like a mother. Still does, though less so today.

So anyway, between the traffic and my leg and the general sense of foreboding in the air, to say nothing of all the screaming headlines (certain death; I like that) and NOAA maps, it appears a hurricane is headin' this'away. By the time it gets to Dallas it'll probably just be a lot of wind and rain but a lot of wind and rain in Dallas is, uh, still a lot of wind and rain in Dallas. Best to be off the streets, away from the windows, somewhere safe and curled up with a number of cats. Hot chocolate is also good. That's my plan for the weekend. I might come out on Sunday if there's a dry place to stand.

Speaking of traffic, though, here's my new Book o'the Decade:

It's fascinating, and not just for traffic engineers. Traffic is a fine reflection of human behavior, the good, the bad and the kind of ugly. They had traffic jams in ancient Rome, big trucks driving around whose only purpose was to advertise in 1879 New York, and Samuel Johnson, circa London 1600, once commented that the traffic situation in that city was "untenable" and might even lead to "social unrest." Wow. Anyway, good reading. I'll be finishing it up this weekend, quite possibly by candelight.

On that Other Thing, the Big Relationship Issue: I've spent a lot of time on the ol' meditation cushion, chanting to myself, "No matter what happens (in breath) I'll be okay (out breath)." It seems to be helping. I'm mostly on board with it now, in no small part because my time traveling neocraftsperson friends are also on board with it and I didn't wanna have to do it without them. Besides, it's what Joan wants, it's such a simple thing (though the implications are astronomically complicated), and heck, I love her. So. I still have my moments of clinging with fingernails and teeth but I'm floppin' over to the other side. Still a number of things out of my hands, though. Details to follow soon.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

I suck at taking my own advice.

Playing on the iPod: David Sylvian, "Approaching Silence"
Meters swum today: 1500

One of the big things in Buddhism is non-attachment. That is, refraining from investing a lot of emotion in the holding-on to something, whether that thing is a person, a job, a physical object (or as they say in legalese, a "tangible thing"--I love that), a concept or an idea. The reason for this is simple: Everything changes. Nothing stays the same. If you invest a lot of emotion into, say, the idea that the Republican Party is the best for the country, and then you, say, suffer through eight years of George Junior, you're faced with two options, neither of which are pleasant: Letting go of the idea that the Republican Party is the best for the country, or deciding that George is just the exception that proves the rule. Or, I guess there's a third option, deciding that George is doing a great job and anyone who doesn't think so is pinko scum despite the reams of evidence to the contrary. (Does anyone use the word pinko anymore? It just sounds so 1950s.)

Anyway, I had a Job Related Crisis some time back (See "Buddha's Cube Farm Warriors") and although the Crisis passed, the idea is still with me. The idea is that all jobs end. Sooner or later you will move on, get fired, quit, retire, or something. So, be willing to let go of the job when that time comes, rather than clinging to it with fingernails and teeth and saying, "Hell no, I won't go." (Now, that sounds really 1960s.) Why? Because everything changes. Nothing stays the same. All relationships end. Friends move away. People die. So, enjoy them while they're here and then let them go.

And, as the title of this post suggests, I suck at it.

I'm not gonna tell you what this is all about, because it's Not Time Yet, but let's just say there's something Joan wants to do and I don't. Well, it's not fair to blame it on Joan because she's only pointing out the obvious but, anyway, she's pointed it out, and I don't wanna do it. I still feel like there's another option and I'm still clinging to that option with fingernails and teeth and saying, "No draft, no war, US out of El Salvador." (Hey, I got all the way up to the 80s. Can cell phones be far behind?)

This is one of the Big Relationship Issues, like whether or not to have a kid. (No, it's not about having a kid, thank God.) It's something we probably should have settled a long time ago. And that's not even a fair statement, entirely, because Everything's Changed Since Then. What's more, it isn't the sort of thing that can be done halfway. You either do it or not. And sometimes I'm okay with it. Half an hour ago, for example, I was like, "Well, okay, if that's what it's gonna be, then let's do this and this and this to get ready for it." That was half an hour ago though. Right now, at the moment, I'm back to fingernails and teeth. And in another half hour I might be back to "Well, okay."

To say I'm Massively Conflicted is an understatement. And it hasn't even happened yet. Can't happen, really, for a while. But it's either move toward it or don't. Get ready for it or don't. And what I've been doing is moving toward it, then running right back to where I started and saying, "Uh-uh. Nope. Not gonna do it." Which doesn't help either way and isn't fair to Joan or to me or, well, to anybody.

Suffering? Oh yeah. Let's talk about suffering.

I am stuck - that is attached - with two disparate and irreconcilable ideas. I have to let go of one of 'em. And from where I sit, today, right now, in this last two seconds before I have to get my backside back to work, I can't seem to pry either one from my fingers. The wise thing to do, probably, is to let go of both the ideas and let whatever's gonna happen, happen. But, again, when have I ever taken my own advice?

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Jen's Theory of Bigfoot Sightings and UFOs

Playing in the background: A tennis tournament
Meters swum today: 1600

(This came about when I was answering an email from a relative, which mentioned that municipalities with a higher than average number of Bigfoot sightings also have a higher than average number of UFO sightings. Don't ask me what municipalities we're talking about, but I imagine one of them is not Dallas. Waco is a distinct possibility.)

Many hundreds of thousands of years ago, when we'd just become homo sapiens, we were sharing the planet with an unknown number of other species of proto-humans. Fossil evidence says we hung around with Neandertals for something like 60,000 years in the meadowlands of central Europe, until the latter finally died out due (probably) to the warming environment. In the last few years scientists have dug up the remains of a new species in Indonesia, homo florensis, that some people are calling "hobbits" because their maximum height was about three feet. These guys might have actually survived into the modern era, as local legends refer to events and sightings as recently as "eight lives of men" ago (roughly translated as 300-500 years ago.) And of course there were the great apes, like the "dark men of the forest" (lowland gorillas) occasionally encountered by African peoples and others, that did not officially exist until the late 1800s.

What All This Means Is, for a very long time we as a species have been aware, or fuzzily aware, of the existence of Others Like Us That Are Not Us. If you were a homo sapiens and you came across a Neandertal, each of you would likely think the other one was pretty creepy-looking (which might, along with an inability to hook up sperms and eggs between two disparate species, account for our current lack of Neandertal DNA; evolutionarily speaking, the big cave men were a dead end.) So does it not logically follow that, in moments of mortal peril (ie, being alone in a forest and suspecting predator animals might be following you) that you might catch a glimpse of something, a large animal, say, or maybe just a disturbing tree or rock formation, and "see" a large furry humanoid creature that bears a number of striking parallels to our long departed buddy, the Neandertal?

I suspect what's going on here is more racial memory than hallucination, though it has aspects of both. It's ridiculously easy to fool the eye and having read more than my fair share of court transcripts and depositions, I can tell you that if three or four people saw the same event from three or four different angles, you can get six different descriptions, nine or ten major areas of disagreement, a couple of fistfights, at least two motions in limine and possibly one finding of contempt. And that's just the times where there's enough evidence to get to court in the first place.

Does that explain the occasional footprints and the weird tufts of hair that don't match any known animal? No, though one DNA test recently discovered a tuft of (gasp!) opossum hair on top of a frozen gorilla suit. I'd be thrilled to bits if somebody found one of these critters alive. I'd be even more thrilled if the guy found one of these critters alive and left it the heck alone. We don't do nearly enough nothing sometimes.

My theory of UFOs: I don't have one. I saw one, once, though, in the desert near Phoenix at night. Top secret aircraft? Maybe. Drunk helicopter pilot swapping all his landing lights to bright orange as a premature Halloween joke and flying in a weird loopy spiraly pattern because he couldn't see straight? Possibly. Whatever it was, it was flying, and I couldn't identify it. Therefore, a UFO.

People have been seeing these things for thousands of years, too; they're even depicted in Maya carvings and paintings from the Middle Ages. And the Bible. For example; Ezekiel saw two wheels a'rollin', way in the middle of the air. Much earlier than that, in the first chapter of Genesis in fact, the people of the sky (whoever they were) saw that the daughters of men were fair (and not bad lookin', either) and interspecies fooling-around beget the Nephilim which, if you believe this stuff, had multiple faces and tended to die in infancy. Siamese twins? Possibly. The book of Leviticus, written after Genesis but before Ezekiel, goes on and on about how very bad it is to have sex with "angels." (I have heard "sky men" is a better translation, but ancient Aramaic is not one of my languages) This seems like a strange thing to prohibit if it isn't an active problem. That'd be like finding a sign next to Loch Ness that says, "Do Not Feed That Thing In The Loch That Does Not Exist."

Leviticus also cautions men against eating critters that crawl upon the bottom of the sea and wearing shirts made of two kinds of stuff. Tell that to the next fundamentalist Christian you see eating crab or lobster while wearing poly-cotton. I'm just sayin'.

Just to tie this all together, the writers of "The Six Million Dollar Man" presented compelling evidence (a good script) that Bigfoot (played by Andre the Giant) was actually an alien. If you can't trust Colonel Steve Austin, who can you trust?

Aside: Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. See it. Watch it. Live it. It's effing amazing, complete with a pivotal moment in which a character learns that "we all have darkness and light inside of us; what makes us what we are depends on which one we choose to act upon" that Buddha himself would have appreciated. I'm wishing I'd read the book now. Oh, and Helena Bonham Carter is in it, too. Very cool.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

You Win. I Win. We Lose.

Playing on the iPod: 2002, from "River of Stars." The aforementioned quote is Jackson Browne, however.
Meters swum today: 0. Overslept.

Look, I hate this whole us vs. them thing. No matter who the us and them are - Catholics vs. Muslims, Republicrats vs. Demmicans, cute Texas gymnasts vs. Chinese infants - the outcome is always the same: We lose. We, the human race, the planet, all beings, and so on.

Still, this is an election year and Us and Them are out in force. I do vote, as every thinking adult should, and I do have this to say about the coming election; this is the most well-defined Us and Them I've ever seen.

I mean, have you guys seen some of the photos from the respective party convention floors? On the Democrat side in Denver we have a bunch of folks that would not be out of place on a street in downtown Dallas. A slim majority of white folks. More black folks than Hispanic but a fair amount of each. Some Asians, Middle Easterners and plenty of people about whom you just can't tell. They're mostly older - you have to have some party clout to get into this thing, which usually means you've been working for them for a while - but other than that, quite the diverse bunch of folks. I'll bet we have most of the major religions in there, although you can't usually tell that by looking at somebody. Heck, there may even be a Buddhist or two. Of course the nominee is Christian - hard to imagine a presidential nominee who was any other religion, except maybe Jewish, and only then if his/her name isn't Lieberman - but other than that, a nice slice of humanity. Maybe next time we can get some animals and plants in there, too.

Meanwhile, in St. Paul, we have - rich white people. Scads and scads of rich white people.

Okay, I know there must be some nonChristian nonwhite nonrich folks who are planning to vote Republican this November, but I guess none of them were invited to the convention. Or else they are all camera shy. Or else - I don't know what else.

So besides everything else that's at stake this November, we have the ultimate smackdown: The Rich White People vs. Everyone Else on the Planet. Or at least that's what it looks like. Any nonrich nonwhite Republicans care to comment?

Oh, and do I need to tell you whose side I'm on?