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

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Meditation Smackdown!!

Playing in the background: The air conditioner. It's summer in Texas.
Meters swum today: None (though I did hit a whopping 2800 last Saturday).

Well, it's that time of the quarter, kids. Another issue of Tricycle magazine has arrived and once again I'm feeling completely outclassed. Tricycle, in case you missed my last post on all things Buddhist and mass media, is the magazine that makes yours truly, a card carrying member of Mensa, scramble for her dictionary (Webster's Nth Collegiate in one hand and the Sanskrit to English phrase book in the other) to figure out what the hell it's about. Well, Buddhism, obviously, but this magazine (actually I think it'd be insulted to be referred to as a "magazine"; it is, after all, "the Buddhist review" which should qualify it as "journal" status or at least "quarterly") ain't exactly written on the level of Family Circle. More like the level of Scientific American, which is to say, it's pretty darn dense. An "intellectual challenge," one could say.

I guess if you read Christianity Today and you're the sort of Christian who goes to church at Christmas and Easter, you'd probably feel the same way. All these lofty articles on Insight Dialogue and the Gateless Gate and the fertile soil of sangha. I meditate every day and sometimes get to my meditation group on Sundays and I have read some of Thich Nhat Hanh's greatest hits, but start me reading that article about demon feeding or chod practice and, honestly, I'm a first-grader trying to make my way through The Divine Comedy. (Which I did, but in fourth grade. I have limits, ya know.)

I mean, these writers are hardcore Buddhists. They have names like Venerable Gandalf Aragorn Rimpoche and they go on months-long retreats at Spirit Rock Center and Temple of the Ten Thousand Buddhas. (In fact, they walk there. Two hundred miles. Living off the kindness of strangers.) They live in caves, they sit down to meditate for like fourteen hours at a time, and they sleep in the lotus position. They chop their fingers off to prove how unattached they are to their bodies and say cosmic stuff like, "The setting sun/follows the pilgrim's hat/ down the green mountain." (The correct answer, of course, is "Because the lion is dreaming.")

Meanwhile, over here in Jen-land, I'm trying to figure out how to achieve enlightenment without shaving my legs.

Okay, I'm whining. A little. But: Do I have to do that stuff to be a Real Buddhist (TM)? Can't I be serious about my practice and still keep all my fingers? Enlightenment is certainly something to reach for (I've been there, once, though just for a few seconds, and believe me, it is awesome) but I still live in the world. I still hold down a job and raise cats and so forth and so on. I'm a lot more level-headed than I was a few years ago, though. And I'm nicer to people than I used to be.

One could point out (and one would be right) that one could just stop reading Tricycle magazine, already, if it makes one feel unworthy. I'm not ready to go that far, though. For one thing, I already paid for another year. For another, it doesn't exactly make me feel unworthy. Just outclassed, like I should be in there competing with everybody, lopping off fingers, losing limbs to lotus-position gangrene and responding to all questions with "The pop-tart and the Q-Tip are in harmony."

That's what we need. A new reality show. Last Monk Not Standing. Anyway, I'm going to read Family Circle now.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Indiana Jones and the Big Disappointment

(Spoilers to follow, obviously.)

Okay, I did it--I went to see the big Indy Jones Part IV that everybody's been going on and on about. Well, actually, come to think of it, nobody's been going on and on about it. Except maybe Entertainment Weekly and that was only until the actual movie came out. There was a decent size crowd though, which was more than I can say for the half-dozen movies I've seen in the last six months. And one might unfairly point out that all of those movies were seen on my sofa in my living room, and one would be right.

Was it a total waste of time? Nah. I could have done worse with two hours and eleven bucks. Shia LeBouf was great as the rebel without a point, and Cate Blanchett, despite the bad fake Russian accent, was a knockout as Evil Doctor Whatsherface. The sword fight between moving cars was awesome, and there were too many good lines to mention. And it was nice to see the Lost Ark again, however briefly. Still, I found myself kind of wishing I could have this one and Temple of Doom erased from my brain so I could remember the glory of Raiders and Lost Crusade unsullied by the memory of lesser filmmaking. It was a good movie, and if Indy hadn't been in it I'd have said it was a not-half-bad ripoff of an Indiana Jones movie. But from Indy you just expect more. You've got Spielberg, Lucas, Harrison Ford and John Williams, fergodsake. What could possibly go wrong?

Well, actually, I don't know. There was something just not there about this particular installation of the grand saga. I can't put my finger on any one thing. So let's just hit ten of 'em and hope that covers it.

10. Opening shot of the Paramount mountain faded into...a gopher mound. What?! Uh, look, people, said Paramount mountain has faded into a cool mountain in Peru, Mount Everest overlooking some nightclub in China, and an arch at Arches National Park. It's always something grandiose and cool. But a gopher mound? That's just--that's just not right somehow. Not even as a joke.

9. Indiana Jones was a colonel in World War II? Er, how's that exactly? The guy would have had to enlist as a lieutenant like everybody else. The war only went on for five years. That's really not enough time to make colonel. Unless, of course, you kill all of your superiors which, I suppose, could happen.

8. The chase scene through the library was missing a certain vital something. Oh, I know. It may have just been an oversight, but I really wanted to see that motorcycle slam into the card catalog and send cards flying all over creation.

7. Too much plot getting in the way of the story. Any time you have to have long scenes of exposition where the evil Russian doctor talks in a bad fake accent about bringing the capitalists to their knees with the use of - gasp! - psychic powers, you know you're losing your touch. Besides, psychic powers aren't all that scary. Trust me, I've written a book on the subject and I haven't sold anybody the concept. Or the manuscript, for that matter.

6. Space aliens? Come on now.

5. Flying saucer buried in Peru? Come on now. They did that in the first X-Files movie. They also did it better, scary as that sounds.

4. No big finish. Yeah, you had the temple collapsing and the rocks flyin' around and all that good stuff, but so what? The bad guys didn't explode (though they did disappear through a door to "somewhere else"), the good guys didn't get to smooch (too much company) and instead of a tidy wrap-up we got a lecture on the importance of staying in school. Which was nice, but--What?

3. Sorry, comrades, but Communists just ain't as scary as Nazis. Never have been, never will be. Pravda. Dosvidanya.

2. Marion Ravenwood didn't get to kick any butts, or for that matter, even shoot anybody. For cryin' out loud, Spielberg and Lucas, this is Marion frick'n Ravenwood we're talking about here. In Episode I she pan-bashed Arabs, decked gigantic Sherpas, blew away three or four Nazis with one shot, seduced a Frenchman, and pummelled hell out of a pilot with a pair of wooden blocks. This episode she gets to--drive a car. Gee, that's exciting. There wasn't even a courtesy girl on girl catfight with Cate Blanchett. I thought thirteen and a half year old boys lived for that sort of thing.

And finally (drum roll please) the No. 1 reason why Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Whatever The Hell was a big disappointment:

1. The older Harrison Ford gets, the more he looks like my father. Sorry, Harrison, but that's just a little weird.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Jenz Book O'the Decade

We're instituting a new feature here at Buddhist in the Bible Belt: recommending books we've read lately and suggesting that you read them, too, so that you, too, will be cool, well-informed and a proud supporter of the print press. (Both of you.) We'll call it "Book o'the Decade" until we think of another catchy name.

That said, if you're wondering why gas is so darn expensive, if you drive a car, use plastics, put food in Styrofoam containers, cook with natural gas, or you think that suing OPEC to force them to increase production is a good idea, you need to read this book. Yes, it's highly technical, but it's still pretty darn readable, coming as it does from an investment banker who's spent his entire career dealing with oil companies and commodity futures. Among the questions it answers is why pumping more oil won't solve anything and might in fact make everything worse (Hey, can somebody send a copy to Rep. Steve Kenyan? Thanks). Why most of the oil produced by Saudi Arabia doesn't end up as gasoline in your car (it's all about how sweet is your crude). Why the Saudis aren't all rich princes with more money than sense who buy four identical houses in four different countries so no matter where they go, they're still home (sort of true in the 1950s but definitely not true anymore). And most importantly, why my uncle Al was completely wrong when he came back from Riyadh and announced that there was enough oil out there to run the entire planet for thousands of years. (Sorry, Al, God rest your soul.)

I first read about Matthew Simmons in Texas Monthly's annual issue on The Future and liked him immediately. He lives in Houston, he's Mormon and he's, well, an investment banker in the oil industry. Apart from being Mormon, there's nothing to make him particularly likeable (all Mormons are unbelievably nice; it's probably genetic), but in the article at least, he came across as bright, funny, articulate and, well, someone that ought to be listened to. So, listen to the guy, already. And then you can hop over to and buy all the books that say he's wrong.

I also have a bias, here. I love reading books about Saudi Arabia. I think I have an unrequited crush on the entire Middle East. As I once said to a rather startled colleague, I dig Muslims. They're awesome. Something about the way they pray in public and have sex in private, instead of the other way around. That and the whole "if God wills it" thing that they seem to take very seriously. I mean, you hear people say, "God willing" once in a while, but if you hear a Muslim say it (even if it's a casually dropped Inshallah to his wife over the cell phone about what time he'll be home), he/she probably really means it. These folks pray when they get up in the morning, before they start work, before meals and four other official times during the day. I realize this is hard to do in a society that's done its level best to pretend it doesn't have a state religion; it's probably easier in Saudi Arabia. Still, wow. Imagine what your life would be like if everything you ever did was for the glory of God. Okay, that may not be true of every single Muslim everywhere but boy, it sure looks like that to this slightly jealous outsider, who has never been that positive about anything, ever.

Anyway, get the book, folks. Try your local library.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Coolest Rejection Slip Ever

Dear Jennifer:

Thank you for submitting The Mind Bender's Apprentice to Wild Child Publishing. I have had a chance to read the first chapter and synopsis, and while I think you have a very imaginative and interesting story here, we will not be offering a contract on this manuscript.

The idea is a good one, but there are areas in the storytelling that need to be strengthened. Chapter one starts out in an almost omniscient point of view. It would be better to start out deep in Cameron's POV. Also, the I can't quite tell who the market is for this story--adult or young adult?

At times there is more telling than showing in the manuscript. I would suggest going through it and making sure it is as active as possible. You may want to find a critique partner, if you don't have one already, to help you hone your prose.

I still think you have a wonderful voice and great talent. Please consider us again in the future.

So how'dya like them apples? I guess I could snarkily point out that anybody who could confuse this with young adult fiction has not read the synopsis I spent a month pounding my head against the wall trying to write, but that's not the point. Rejection slips, by and large, are, "Thanks, don't bother us again, goodbye." When an editor takes the time to write you a personal note, you don't suck nearly as much as you think you do.

(Incidentally my "inappropriate content" filter on my work email catches the word "suck" and flags it as profanity. It also catches the words "Avis Rent A Car" for reasons I cannot explain. We have a case where a guy got s*cked into some machinery at work. We're going to have to start saying he, I dunno, Rented A Car. Hm, new Mafia euphemism for 'death'. "Yeah, ya know Vinnie? He rented a car. Real shame. Terrible for his wife and kids...")

Just to point out how little things have changed, I got the email in my box and knew immediately (from the typeface perhaps?) that it was a No. Rather than read it I forwarded it to Joan, who came back with, "Hm, those are good ideas. Have you thought about....?" It took me almost four days to read the thing. I still haven't responded to it yet, though I need to. You'd think somebody who tosses sentences around all day, at work and at home, would not be afraid of them. Well, ya'd be wrong. Sentences are scary. Check out this article if you don't believe me.

Other than that, things are kind of crazy around here, what with company and the ongoing audit thing at work and the Final Dash to Billable Hours for the month of May and just incidentally, I seem to be going through another hyperfertile phase with Spellbinder. I think I know how it's gonna end now. Should be interesting. More on Buddhism, bugs, Bentleys, babes and buttocks to follow shortly.

Friday, May 16, 2008


Sorry for the quietude lately. Between the audit at work and my old friend Melissa suddenly appearing in town (more on that later) it's been a little crazy around here. But I did want to let you all know that Joan and I got married.

Five years ago.

However, it's now a legal marriage, says the Supreme Court of California. We just wrote to the Secretary of State asking for our certificate. The way I read the decision (and I know I'm not a lawyer, but I can play one for myself) we don't have to do it again. We're already married. If not, we'll be there in July doing it again. And I don't wanna hear all the stuff about "But you guys live in Texas and it's not legal there." Texas has to accept it. Loving v. Virginia, 1968. They won't, of course. They'll kick and scream and there will be lawsuits and somebody will invoke the Defense of Marriage Act and it'll get dragged through the courts for years. But they will accept it, eventually. Last time I checked the Constitution trumps pretty much any other law ever passed.

But ya know, all of that's incredibly unimportant. When we got married, we were married for a little less than a year before the court told us we weren't married. Then a couple years later we were married again, and then we weren't, and now we are. And finding out I'm married is probably the best thing that happened during a very rough week.

Look, we didn't have much of a wedding. It was at somebody's condo complex clubhouse. We didn't have a lot of money and it wasn't like we could expect anyone to help out. After all, we weren't "really" getting married. It was all just a cheap excuse to throw a bash and wear white. (I don't look good in white.) That was some people's attitude. The pastor wouldn't even have the thing at the church for fear of getting in trouble with the bishop. So, yes, we got "married." And then yesterday all the "quotation marks" went away.

Last night, I had dinner with my wife. (Yes, Joan, I know you hate being called a wife.)

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Mother's Day, Joan's Birthday and other significant goings-on

Sorry for lack of postage lately. Here's a quick catch-up on all things Jen:

  • It's Joan's birthday. She's one year before one of those "0" years. She says to miss the whole "0" year thing she's going to be "_1" for two years in a row; I might do likewise. I, too, am coming up on that one year before one of those "0" years. Different year, though.
  • It's Mother's Day. I sent her a nice rosemary bush.
  • Jenna Bush got married. I'm sure that was all very nice.
  • My old friend Melissa that I literally haven't seen in 20 years is coming through town on her way to her new place in Alaska and so I'm taking Wednesday morning off. I haven't taken a morning off in ages.
  • We're being audited at work and I'm plowing through reams of old files in search of obscure facts about cases I never worked on.
  • Joan and I got invited to stay with my folks at their vacation home in Sandy Eggo over the Fourth of July weekend. Actually, it's a house that belongs to some friends of theirs who will be out of town, but hey, it's a nice house.
  • Joan got herself a new iPod for her birthday and gave me her old Nano, which is like my Shuffle only it has a screen. Which is, of course, totally cool.
  • In an effort to be eco-friendly, and also because I'm cheap as hell, I got us a clothesline. Sun and wind are free.
  • When you hang stuff to dry on the clothesline, the sun and wind don't do a very good job of getting the cat hair off of things.
  • Panties look rude hanging on a clothesline. I don't know why, they just do. I started hanging them sideways because I'm a prude.
  • Not running the dryer makes it lots cooler in the house.
  • Our neighbor's daughter graduated from UT Arlington yesterday and they had a big bash. My walls were vibrating with Mexican polka music. Well, that's okay. They're nice folks.
  • I got Joan a series of Tarot card reading lessons for her birthday. I got to go along for part of the first one. The teacher has two cats. They are awesome. The lessons sounded kind of cool, too.
  • Lisa, my old boss from when I worked for the Feds, came by to see me for about five minutes. That was cool.
  • It's late. I'm tired.

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Funeral March for a Goose

Playing in the background: Karunesh, "Moon Temple" from Zen Breakfast (thanks, Kellum!)
Miles rode on the ol' bike today: About 15

I slept late, on purpose, and missed my morning swim. Instead I decided to head out on my bike for a ride around White Rock Lake, our urban oasis. It's about three miles from my house, all downhill, and somewhere between nine and twelve miles around depending on which way you go. And then three miles back, all uphill. Sometimes I have Joan come rescue me but I was endeavoring to avoid that today.

Anyway, I just arrived at the park and was heading south on the trail when I came across a flock of geese. Or is it a gaggle of geese? I'm not sure. A whole bunch of geese, anyway. They were standing in the middle of the road with their heads thrown back and kind of howling. Honking. Whatever.

I came to a stop because I'm a little afraid of geese. One of our neighbors used to have three of 'em and man, you did not want to piss them off. They're big birds (probably at least 30 pounds) and they have big beaks. They also have nasty tempers. So I pulled over, wondering why in hell they were all out in the middle of the road like that, and then I saw a single goose, dead, sprawled in the roadway.

Cars do come down this road, but not very often, so I'm not sure if this guy got hit by a car, or what. He wasn't all that damaged, apart from part of his neck. One wing was stuck up in the air and appeared to be moving so my first thought was that he might still be alive. I got a little closer (see above re: afraid of geese; I was being brave) but once I saw his eyes I could tell he was gone. (She? I dunno.) The wing was moving in the wind, that was all.

Then I looked back at the flock. They were still at it. Heads up, necks extended, honking at the sky. Once in a while one would look over at me, or at the dead guy. Then they went right back to their honking. Or howling. It was more like howling.

I didn't know what to do. The longer they all stood there in the road, the more likely it was that another one would get hit. I didn't want to just leave but even less did I want to move the dead goose out of the road. What if they all attacked me? (Once again, see above re: afraid of geese.) They were obviously upset. Okay, yes, they're birds, and I'm not a bird so how can I know they were upset. Well, you're not me, so you can't know whether or not I know the birds were upset, and trust me, they were upset. I got the feeling that this had just happened, they were all in shock, and they were howling their grief to the sky. That's why they were standing in the road, which is kind of un-goosey. Most of the time they hang around down by the water and take off if people get too close.

I was just about to take off my sweater and see if I could roll the goose over on top of it and haul it out of the way when a landscaping truck came along. I jumped up and down and waved, and he saw me, and he leaned out of the window, very puzzled. I asked him if he'd haul the goose carcass away so that the other geese would disperse before one of them got hit. He got out, looked at the goose, looked at the other geese, and then looked at me like I was crazy before he said, "Sure, lady, I'll put him in the truck." Which he did, after trying and failing to pick him up by his wing. Told you they were big birds. He finally had to pick him up by both feet.

The other geese stopped howling and watched this, very interested but not looking like they were in attack mode or anything. When the truck pulled away, they stepped back a little from the road and watched it go. One or two of them ventured out to check out the spot where the dead goose had been. Then they all turned around as a group and headed back to the lake. Some of them were still howling but most of them were just chattering now. If you've never heard geese, they sound kind of like a cocktail party. Lots of conversations you can't quite make out all going on at once.

I swear to God, I was at a goose funeral. I've never seen anything like that before in my life. Anybody who doesn't think aminals have feelings has plainly not spent enough time around them. I'm calling to mind a poem written by somebody I used to know, written on the occasion of finding a dead bird; "Why are you here/all alone? There must be/someone/in the avian world/who misses you."

Friday, May 2, 2008

Last one on child abuse for a while. Honest.

Playing in the background: The breathless pause between the deep freeze and the blast furnace (it's spring in Texas)
Meters swum today: Nada. Going back tomorrow.

Look, sorry to be such a downer, but between the FLDS kids and Elisabeth Fritzl I'm having nightmares. What's weird, though, is for once in my life I don't feel like driving over to Eldorado (or flying over to Austria, which is just across the street from downtown Dallas) and beating the snot out of one of these men. In times past that'd be my first reaction. "He did what?! To his own daughter?! I'll *&^*%!! kill him!!" Then the more rational part of my brain would remind me that spending the next twenty years in jail wasn't my idea of a good time and I'd settle for ranting at whatever co-worker or family member was unlucky enough to be closest about how effed up is our culture that it can churn out monsters like this and maybe these bastards just need to spend twenty-four years locked in someone else's cellar with a couple of armed sadistic rapists so they can Understand What It's Like. (Not that I have Issues. Certainly not.)

That's not happening this time around, though. With the FLDS kids, my first thought was, "Why don't we just make the men leave and let the women and children stay?" Not exactly an original thought but hey, it was new for me. Then this thing in Austria came along and I've hardly given Josef Fritzl, quaintly dubbed "Horror Dad" by the British media (I love those guys), a second thought. I've seen his pic a few times on the Internet and what usually crosses my mind (after "No wonder he had to rape his own daughter, what other woman would have him?") is something like, "That poor deluded psychotic. Somebody please lock him up before he hurts himself or anyone else" and then I'm right back with Elisabeth and her kids. How are they feeling? What do they need? Do they know there's a whole country, hell, half a planet, cheering for them and wishing them well right now? And is there anything I can do to help? (Not really, no. But I always want to help.)

This Means Something, Roger. I'm not sure what, though. Maybe all those trips through the A.A. Big Book are starting to sink in. Or maybe it's the Heart Sutra. Well, probably not that second thing. I'm kind of a Buddhist Catholic; "The Sutras? Oh, yeah, I've heard those are good books." It's just a little scary, though, because if my first immediate thought isn't to strangle the perpetrator, I might start to, I dunno, develop some compassion for these human monsters that were once five-year-old children who laughed and played with puppies before something went so drastically wrong and turned them into the creatures they are now. If that happens, I might have to acknowledge the vast complexity of the natural world and how useless all our dualities of "yes" and "no" and "truth" and "falsehood" and "good" and "evil" actually are. And if that happens (yes, I'm almost done here), A. I'll be displaying some signs of maturity and B. I might have to start having compassion not only for the human monsters in my own life, but (Buddha forbid!) for my own stupid self. I mean, yikes. What's a person to make of that sort of thing?