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

Friday, December 25, 2009

It's A Wonderful Town, George

Playing in the background: "Wings to Altair" by David Arkenstone

I love "It's a Wonderful Life." I watch it every year on Christmas Eve, all three and a half or so hours of it (with infomercials) and sob all the way through the last reel. Yeah, it's kind of sentimental and smarmy, but you really don't get the full emotional impact unless you watch it from the beginning. It's kind of like Sibelius's Symphony No. 2 in D-minor that way; the fourth movement is momentous, but you won't really understand it unless you watch the whole thing all the way through. (Get a copy of Symphony No. 2, preferably a nice Deutsch Gramophon pressing, and sit down with it for 45 minutes, uninterrupted. You will totally see what I mean.)

In case you recently arrived in America and they don't have TV or the Internet where you're from, here's the story: George Bailey, all-American family man and failed businessman, misplaces a lot of money belonging to his business on Christmas Eve (through no fault of his own). Facing bankruptcy and scandal, he considers suicide. Enter Clarence, Angel Second Class, who shows George what life in his home town of Bedford Falls would have been like if he had never existed. It's not a pretty picture. By reel's end George wants to live again, is restored to his life, and there's a big redemption that I wouldn't dream of spoiling for you. Believe it or not, the film was a flop when it first came out; the subject matter (suicide) was one of those things we don't talk about in 1946, and the fact that it was set on Christmas Eve relegated it to the "Christmas movie" category and it got little promotion. But this is a wonderful little movie. Every time I watch it I see something I hadn't noticed before.

This year, I noticed something that totally shocked me. George Bailey actually did everything he set out to do with his life.

Well, not in literal truth. George, again if you haven't seen the movie, dreams of seeing the world, going to visit lots of exotic places, and then to college, where he's going to become an architect. "I'm going to build things. I'm going to build skyscrapers a hundred stories high, I'm going to build a bridge a mile long." Instead he ends up stuck in Bedford Falls, running the family business, the Bailey Building and Loan, the only competition to rival Mr. Potter's bank and, for the most part, the only place ordinary folks in the town can get mortgage loans. This is what I mean, when I say that George did what he set out to do in life. He builds a town.

Mr. Potter's rent collector, a "scurvy little spider," explains this to Mr. Potter in a pivotal scene; "You can't ignore this Bailey Park anymore. Dozens of pretty little houses, each one worth twice what it took the Bailey Building and Loan to build." Back up a second, there. Dozens of pretty little houses. George didn't build skyscrapers or bridges, he built dozens of houses, and made a huge difference in the lives of dozens of families. See what I mean? He built a town.

As for seeing the world, no, George never got to do that. But he saw a world. He saw a world nobody else had ever seen before; the world without George Bailey, where Pottersville (no longer Bedford Falls) had become a place of gin joints and strip clubs, all his friends were leading wretched lives, Bailey Park was never built and perhaps most important, his brother Harry died at the age of nine and never grew up to become a war hero and save the lives of hundreds of soldiers. After seeing a world like that, you can't wait to get home. And so George came home - having done everything he set out to do. Weird, huh? That Frank Capra was a pretty sharp guy.

(Side note: George Bailey also got me through paralegal school. No, really. The stuff we were reading was so dry I needed a glass of water before I even sat down, and the only way I survived it was to imagine George Bailey reading it out loud to me. Jen as Jimmy Stewart: "Now, when we have a contract, we have first an offer, then an acceptance, with consideration. Minus any of the three elements, a contract is not a contract." Mr. Smith from "Mr. Smith Goes To Washington" also works, but George Bailey does it better.)

I bring this up for two reasons. One, it's Christmas. Two, practically all of us have dreams we never lived out. I, for example, have never moved to El Salvador and taught the dharma out of a little temple somewhere in San Marcos, thus doing my bit to spread Zen through the Spanish-speaking world. Nor have I written the book that will change publishing forever (well, I have, actually, but I haven't gotten it published yet. Still working on that though.) But I've done small things that I hope have helped some people somewhere, and maybe injected some new ideas here and there. Y'all are reading this, you tell me. But again, y'all are reading this. I haven't bored you senseless yet.

So anyway, I'd like to propose that this Christmas and on into the New Year, we stop kicking ourselves for the skyscrapers and mile-long bridges we never got around to, and take a look instead at the towns we built. George Bailey did, and look what happened to him. The rest of us don't even need to consider suicide first.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Happy Christmas, Already

Playing in the background: "Earthlight" by Deuter

It occurs to me that there kind of isn't a Buddhist equivalent of Christmas. At least, I don't think there is; I'm kind of a casual Buddhist - the Buddhist equivalent of a Christmas and Easter Christian, I guess. I know there's one big holiday in the spring, which is your Lunar New Year or your Wesak or whatever it's called in your part of the world, and any number of smaller festivals scattered around, but I don't know of one around now-ish. Maybe there's a Winter Solstice holiday or other. By the way, I love the Solstice. It means the days are going to start getting longer again and there's some hope that light will return to my benighted corner of Dallas. But I've already ranted about how much I don't like this time of year, so, onward.

A colleague asked me yesterday if I celebrated Christmas. I kind of blinked a little and said, "Sure. I celebrate everything." Which was a typically flip answer but still true. I have a li'l Christmas tree up (more of a bush, but it looks pretty) with gifts under it, and we're having friends over for dinner on the appointed day, and so forth and so on. But if I'd grown up in a Jewish household, I'd probably have had up a little menorah and other Hanukkah decorations two weeks ago. I mean, it's a tradition. Even if it doesn't have a part in one's current religion, that doesn't mean one can't celebrate at the same time as the rest of the world.

By the way, Christmas isn't really a Christian holiday (!) Well, not in the sense we think of it. Christmas as we celebrate it was once called Yule, and in preChristian Britain it was the pagan festival where the Oak King kicked the Holly King's butt and reigned over winter. Which was why you decked your halls with boughs of holly and threw the Yule log on, Uncle John and drank wassail and went from house to house singing. When St. Paul showed up in Rome, the Roman equivalent got drafted into a new holiday celebrating the birth of Christ, who was probably actually born in April, and probably in about 4 or 5 B.C. and not the year zero, and who probably, knowing the guy, wouldn't have wanted a big festival for himself. Christmas celebrations were banned for several years when Cromwell was dictator of England on the grounds that they were pagan, and so when they came back, they came back in a big way, and that's why a comparatively minor Christian festival is this big universal hoo ha of presents and good cheer and "It's a Wonderful Life." And that's your history lesson for today, thankewverymuch.

I know a lot of nonChristians get annoyed when people wish them a merry Christmas. I also know a lot of Christians who get annoyed when people wish them "Happy Holidays," seeming to obliterate the above-referenced hoo ha in favor of some bland insignificant good time being had by all. And while I sympathize on all counts, I'd still like to suggest, in the spirit of the season, that we all just LOOSEN THE HELL UP about what holiday it is and think about, for a second, what "Merry Christmas" or "Happy Holidays" or "Scintillating Solstice" actually means.

I mean, you say it all the time. You say it to total strangers. You say it at the post office, to colleagues you try not to speak to the rest of the year, to casual friends at parties. I'd like to postulate that "Merry Christmas" is the rough seasonal equivalent of "Have a nice day," said with about the same amount of sentiment and for about the same purpose; a social salve to soften the end of an interaction. And if you don't get het up when people tell you to have a nice day, why lose one's cool when one is wished a Merry Christmas? Or Happy Holiday? It don't mean anything different, folks. It's just an expression of goodwill. And let's face it, goodwill is one thing we could all use a lot more of these days.

So Merry Christmas. Happy Holidays. Scintillating Solstice. Happy Hanukkah. Merry Kwanzaa. Joyful Buddhist-holiday-to-be-named-later. Celebrate everything, says I.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Jen The Walking Pharmacy

Playing in the background: A D&D game. I'm just watchin'.

So how goes this living with bipolar disorder, you ask. Well, let me tell you. You'd think, having had this my whole life, I'd be used to it by now, but since I've only Officially Had It for a few months, it's a whole new deal. Evidently what happens when you have this is, they port you off to a psychiatrist and said professional tinkers with whatever meds you've been taking (providing you've been taking some) or gives you some to take (provided you haven't been taking some). If you're very lucky, you start feeling better immediately, stop crashing up and down on the ol' mood roller coaster and everything's grand from then on. If you're not so lucky, it takes ages to sort out what you should and shouldn't be taking, and in the meantime you muddle along with weird moods and moments of panic as best you can.

I mean, I could be wrong here, but I think the whole medication parade is trial and error. In my case, it's a trial. I came into this mess on 150 mg of Zoloft, ostensibly for depression. Unfortunately, it was at least partially causing my fits of hyperfertility, ie, mania. So they started reducing that. Immediately I crashed out of my mania and started getting depressed, so they threw Abilify into the pharmaceutical cocktail and slowly increased the dose. I was in a real funk for about a month, until the dose of Abilify started to make a difference. But I began having an Issue with anxiety, as in, having great big whooping panic attacks, usually at work, usually accompanied by a stomach ache. So now I'm on a medication for anxiety. Which is definitely working but I've somehow ended up kind of blah, uninterested in most everything beyond an initial (and generally forced) five or six minutes of enthusiasm. We'll be addressing that on Tuesday.

What's my biggest complaint? The medication for anxiety. And which one do I probably need most of all? The medication for anxiety. Here there be dragons.

Mind you, I have no problem taking the Zoloft. Taken it for years, and okay, it's a lower dose, but it does its job and I can sleep at night (yay!) Abilify, fine, no issue there, even if it's classed as an "atypical antipsychotic". And all this time I thought I was rather a typical psychotic. I'm okay with the cold meds I've taken for like years, literally. No problem with the iron supplements either. But this anti-anxiety medication. I'm really having an Issue with having to take the stuff.

I have always, always, always had Issues with anxiety. My mom remembers when I was a small kid I would have panic attacks about whether or not we'd run out of gas before we got where we were going. (Ah, but she thought I meant the car. I actually meant the whole planet. I was just ahead of my environmentalist time, is all.) And witness my adventures with query letters. I can very easily work myself up into any kind of imminent end of the world type fears about practically anything with very little provocation. But I'm still very annoyed that I have to take an anti-anxiety medication. Somebody look up "irrational reactions to needing to take medication" and see if my picture's there anyplace.

Yes, I'm taking my meds. Why everyone feels it necessary to ask me that, I dunno, but in case anybody was wondering, the answer is yes. Even the anti-anxiety one. Which I hate having to take.

So anyway, that's how it's going. Maybe things will iron out after the holidays.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

My Beef With "Criminal Minds"

I have a beef with Criminal Minds. I don't often have an issue with TV shows; I mean, there's a lot of really bad ones out there, and rather than pick on the bad ones I'd like to watch the good ones. But I've been subjected to two "marathons" in the last two weeks on A&E, and I've come to really have a beef with it.

I want to like this show. I mean, it's got Mandy Potenkin in it (or it used to, at least.) He was Inigo de Montoya, for crying out loud (You keel my father. Prepare to die.) Plus, it's about a team of experts doing the thing they do best better than anyone else. I live for that stuff. It's why I bother watching "Top Chef" and "Project Runway." One of my favorite movies was "Sneakers." I'd probably love "Inglorious Basterds." But I still can't like it. It makes my disbelief suspenders fall off. I hate walking around without my disbelief suspenders.

In case you haven't seen this show, "the team" is called out on cases where there's a potential serial killer in a community. They determine who the killer is by the way serial killers are known to behave, such as the always-impressive statement to the press, "The killer is a white male between thirty and forty years of age." Apparently serial killing comes with maturity. There's always some last-minute glitch where they're trying to save the latest victim before some terrible fate befalls her (like being tortured, on camera no less, with electric shocks in one episode. Nice.) And in the end they get their man (it's always a man) and there's some Lesson to be Learned From All This, pronounced in resonant tones by Mandy Potenkin or his replacement and usually quoting some historical personage or other. I mean, it's your standard crime show fare, with some extras.

But here's where they lose me. The serial killers on this show always go after pretty, rich and successful women. Business owners. Happy housewives. Hollywood stars. They get abducted from their homes, their cars, their businesses. The message is obvious: If you're a woman, no place is safe. If you're a pretty, rich, successful woman, your days are numbered. It's only through the power of the (mostly) male Behavioral Assessment Unit that you're allowed to exist at all. Hell, you turn up dead all day long.

Which, in case you didn't know, does not at all reflect reality. Serial killers may be all kinds of things, but one thing they tend not to be is stupid. If they're going to go on killing people, which is what they want to do, they have to not get caught. That means they have to not kill rich powerful women. They need to kill prostitutes, runaways, old people, kids in poor neighborhoods who don't have the means to mount a "Find Caylee" campaign. This doesn't mean prostitutes, teen runaways and poor kids don't have as much right to live as the rest of us. Any living being has the right not to be tortured and murdered, including the aminals that I have to eat for food (but that's a whole 'nother blog post). But serial killers tend to hunt people that aren't going to be missed. Rich business owners, happy housewives and Hollywood celebs don't really tend to fill that bill very well, if you get my drift.

In Buddhist terms, a serial killer is sick. Not in terms of being mentally ill - most of them aren't, at least according to the show - but in terms of being fundamentally disconnected from all other beings. For a Buddhist, the worst thing you can do is kill a human being, because human beings are the only critters capable of reaching enlightenment. Well, I beg to differ on that count - I'm sure my cats are enlightened, and no doubt there are plenty of blissful dolphins, chimpanzees and other higher primates - but anyway, killing humans very very bad. Killing lots of humans? Unbelievably bad. Anyone who would do that is very sick and in need of healing. Yep, Buddhists would not be afraid of serial killers. They would feel very very sorry for them and want to teach them how to meditate. Which may or may not keep them from getting killed, but, you know.

I gather, again from the show, that most serial killers are sociopaths. That is, those rare human beings born without any sense of moral consequence, or what we'd call a conscience. For a Buddhist, this would be like living in hell. If you can't feel compassion for other beings, there's no point in being alive.

Here's the other thing, though. These conscienceless individuals are comparatively rare. The ones that become serial killers are even rarer (most of them figure out early in life that breaking laws = not getting things I want, so they don't graduate to killing people and instead settle for being your annoying neighbor or the colleague who can't shut up about whatever he can't shut up about.) Your odds of being killed by a serial killer are slightly lower than your odds of being eaten by a shark, killed in a plane crash or struck by lightning. Yeah, the guys make good boogeymen, and yeah, I cheered when "The Silence of the Lambs" won Best Picture just like everybody else, but it just don't happen all that often. You'd never know this from watching Criminal Minds, though. The killer is always across the street, down the row, watching from the park, hanging around your back yard at night. Once again, you are not safe. Particularly if you're female and have any sense of personal power - don't worry, it'll get knocked out of you by the end of the episode whether you survive it or not.

So that's my beef with Criminal Minds. I mean, hey, don't take my word for it. Go watch it if you want. Just know the facts are slightly different than presented. Sorry, Mandy Potenkin.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Holly Daze

If it were up to me I'd cancel Christmas. I know that sounds, well, kind of Grinchy, but let it never be said I suggested EVERYONE ELSE cancel Christmas. I'd just like an opt-out card, please. This time of year sucks. It's dark, it's cold, it's miserable, lots of people are mopey, but there's this societal expectation that we're all supposed to be happy and jolly because, after all, it's the holidays. In fact, try writing a blog post like this and see what happens. (I'm waiting.)

I don't know where this got started. I'd imagine around 2,000 years ago, but in fact it's probably closer to a couple hundred years ago, and I suspect the motivation was not to celebrate somebody's birthday but to sell products. Certainly that seems to be the primary motivation these days. This is probably the worst economic year in the U.S. since 1991, maybe even since 1929, yet we're all still supposed to charge out there and go Christmas shopping. With what? I'm tapped. I'm doing good to get presents for my closest friends and relatives. My colleagues can forget about it. I might make them cookies if they're very lucky. Most likely it'll be cards all around. If I can find some cards. Maybe I'll make some on the laser printer.

Yes, I have a tree up. Well, more like a bush. It's about 3 feet tall and pre-lit. We're all a little that way. I might get some lights out there. Some lights would be cheery. But I, personally, am not cheery. I'm just not, okay? I'll be cheery when the Solstice passes and it starts getting marginally lighter.

You're getting the picture, right? This season is anywhere but jolly for a lot of folks, whether they're bipolar or not. Suicides go way way up before Christmas. (Take Stuart Adamson, for example, who took his own life on December 16. And he had all the money in the world, could have gotten some help, etc etc.) People drop dead in hospitals, especially the days immediately following Christmas, at a prodigious rate. And lots of us plod around the country to visit relatives we may love but don't like very much, fight a lot with them and crawl back home even more mopey than we were when we left. (And out several hundred dollars, not counting the $40 or so bucks for the privilege of hauling a bag along.) Oh, did I mention I was tapped? Dry tapped, even. Skipping the trip this year.

So anyway, if you know somebody who gets mopey around Christmastime, don't try to cheer them up or wish them a happy fucking holiday. Just pat them on the shoulder and say, "Hey, dude. I'm here." That's worth a lot. Heck, that's more of a merry Christmas than most Merry Christmases.

By the way, for Ann and all my Jewish friends, happy Hanukkah. And if you're not happy, that's just fine and dandy. Wait a few months and have a fine Purim.

Also by the way, if you don't think the death penalty is appropriate for teen "sexting" (that is, kids, usually girls, too young to know any better sending cell phone pictures of themselves sans clothing to people they like, usually boys - apparently a common practice, though illegal, that has occasionally resulted in the kind of extreme adult overreaction of prosecutors charging both under-fifteen parties with disseminating child pornography) you might want to read this.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Jenz Last NaNo Post

Yep, this is it, kids. It cuts off in a really awkward place, but this is as far as I got before the trial started. It's over now, so hopefully I can get back to it, but for the time being I gotta get out as many query letters as possible before all the NaNo folks do. Yes, I'm mercenary that way. But hey, there's only about 160 literary agents in the U.S. (that I know of) what represent My Kind of Material. I've bugged 15 or so of them, so only 145 to go. Then on to the UK and Canada, I guess. Anyway, I hope you've been enjoying this weird little trip to La La Land. I know I have.


Everybody knows about the Stemmons witches, but since you’re not everybody and you might not know about the Stemmons witches, here’s the deal. They aren’t really witches, for one thing. They’re “Three Hooded Figures,” by some Mexican sculpture artist or other, and for years they’ve sat in front of the Market Center building on the I-35E Freeway, affectionately known as the Stemmons Freeway, the Freeway of Death, Land of the Speeding Motorcycles and half a dozen other less friendly monikers. They’re–well, they look like three hooded figures. They don’t even really have faces, which was what took me so aback when the elevator doors opened. They’re just kind of rough carvings into bouldery shapes of rock. I mean, this is the sort of art that when I see it I want to grab the artist by the lapels and yell something nice like, “EARN your frick’n hundred thousand dollar city contract, sculpture boy!” But, on the other hand, there’s truth in advertising. They’re supposed to be three hooded figures. They sure as hell are.

They’re also somewhat of a local legend. An urban legend or whatever the hell, which is what you believe in when you don’t get dragged into the middle of some crazy multidimensional adventure involving the gods of Asgard, a giant black hole, the end of all reality and, oh yeah, a guy named Loki. The legend is that if you come to see the Stemmons witches at midnight, preferably under the light of a full moon, then they come to life and start moving around. But only if they don’t know anybody’s watching. Apparently that’s important. This legend got started some time in the 1970s, when any number of illicit substances that could make you think that inanimate objects are moving around were in high circulation among local college students (who seem, for some reason, to start most of these legends). I heard it when I was a student at TCU in the early Eighties, though, by which time the consumption of illicit substances had moved up a notch and involved stuff that scholarship kids like me could not afford. I did, however, have occasion to drive over to Dallas after six on a Thursday to see if we could stay up until midnight and watch the Stemmons witches to see if they came to life.

What happened instead was that security chased us off the property and threatened us with arrest if we ever came back. Which, I gather, was starting to happen all the time, so the powers that be finally moved the Stemmons witches from the front of the Market Center building and put them in the courtyard of the World Trade Center, not the seven-towered masterpiece in New York City that shouted “We Are The Commercial And Cultural Center Of The Entire Civilized World And By God Don’t You Ever Forget It” but a weird little two-story job that was built around this big magnificent courtyard. I think the idea was to have lots of foreign embassies rent office space in there for purposes of, I guess, world trade. What happened
instead was the bottom dropped out of the economy the year after it was finished (but the year before President DiCaprio was elected) and the whole area never quite recovered to the high-end rents it was designed to expect. The World Trade Center was primarily leased by massage therapists, a court reporting school, and the Salvadoran Consulate which, I suppose, couldn’t find space up the street on Prudential Avenue. And through it all the Stemmons Witches stood in the courtyard, solemnly being hooded and standing around not coming to life except at midnight under a full moon when nobody was looking.

Well, they were sure as hell moving now. The one in front grabbed me by the shirt front and pulled me out of the elevator. I didn’t even know they had arms under those hoods. I was a few feet off the ground before Cheryl could start screaming and by the time she did, the other two Witches were picking her up and shaking her. The first one, which had me, said something to the other two that sounded like stones being ground together and they dropped her. Then they all converged on me, just as security showed up (a little late to save me from being eaten by statuary) and people around the lobby finally figured out something weird was going on and ran
this way and that.

Then Loki, who I’d almost forgotten about in the confusion, winked into existence next to the Stemmons witches. He yelled something in Old Norse that sounded like a piano being tossed downstairs while fighting off a pack of rabid wolves and the statues froze again. Well, the three Witches froze, anyway. The ones outside, who were watching this through the window with fascination, didn’t seem to be affected at all.

“What the hell was that?” I demanded, picking myself up from the ground.

"Help,” Cheryl added from some distance above me. The Hooded Figure that grabbed her had frozen with its arms–I guess they were sort of arms–up in the air. She was suspended from the arms at around armpit level.

Loki reached up and yanked on one of her legs while looking up her skirt. She came loose and landed on top of him, which if you ask me was what he had in mind all along. In any case, he ended up with his head up her skirt and she ended up–never mind. Let’s just say I reached down and pulled her to her feet as fast as possible.

“Damn,” said Loki from the floor.

“Thanks,” said Cheryl, who had completely missed Loki’s attempts to grab her crotch.

“Welcome.” And, to the security guards and startled onlookers, I added, “What? Haven’t you people seen anybody attacked by the Stemmons Witches before?”

As I said it, another ripple went through the air. The nearest Witch lunged at me. Cheryl screamed, and I grabbed her and backed away. Loki, whose prurient interests were for once distracted by the much more exciting problem of saving his skin, skittered backward across the floor until he ran into me. “Don’t just stand there!” he bellowed as the Witch lurched after us. “Run!”

“Run?” I exclaimed, ducking a swinging stone arm. “Run where?”

“Just run!” Loki got to his feet and pushed us toward the main doors.

Cheryl came to this conclusion faster than I did. She ran – surprisingly fast in the high heels–across the big marble floor, ducking around security guards and pushing past the startled onlookers. I followed behind her, and we reached the main doors of City Hall just as the first swish of a stone arm went through the air above my head. We sprinted outside, the doors shut, and the first of the Stemmons Witches slammed right into it. The glass, which was bulletproof, didn’t break, but it did bow out in an alarming kind of way that suggested it would fail eventually, given enough time and enough impacts from a big concrete boulder.

Loki popped into existence next to me again. “Well, that was just great!” he yelled, flapping his arms for effect. “Why don’t you just walk up to Thor and punch him in the eye next time for good measure? And steal his hammer?”

“I think we already did that one,” I said, between pants. I was a little out of breath.

“What I’m telling you. Stop pissing off powerful beings.”

As he said it, the Stemmons-Witch-in-charge thudded off the inside of the door again. The other statues-come-to-life drew back. “We need to keep moving,” Cheryl suggested. “Where’s your car?”

“The usual place.” We all sprinted across the street toward the library, under which I left the car for my five-minute commute across the street after I dropped off Pandora (the better to be ecologically correct under the DiCaprio Mandate, you know.) We got into the lobby just as shrieks arose from across the street behind us. “Okay, that’s it. We’re getting Pandora.” I ran over to the elevator and pressed the DOWN button.

“Pandora?” Loki raised his eyebrows. “Cute little redhead, glasses, worked at TCU Library?”

“Once, a million years ago,” I retorted. “Now she’s a cute little brunette with glasses and I’ll thank you to keep your paws off her.”

“Ouch,” Loki said as we stepped into the elevator. “Do I detect a spark of jealousy?”

“We’re married in this incarnation of reality,” I said. “So paws off.”

“Mel Gibson’s going to be heartbroken,” Loki said.

Cheryl elbowed me. “You never told me you had a crush on that senator from California.”

“It’s a long story.” The elevator doors opened and we spilled out on L-1, home of the parking garage, the city print shop and, oh yeah, cataloging. I pushed through a door marked Employees Only and steered our little party of three through a maze of cubes.

Like I said, it breaks off in kind of an awkward spot. Sorry about that. If I finish it and stick it on Lulu for $4 a pop, will you buy it? My oral surgeon and I will thank you.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Jenz Eighth NaNo Post

Having broken rocks on the freeway for most of the evening - er, that is, written query letters most of the evening - I felt like editing something that did not require any thought whatsoever. So here 'tis. We left off with Annie and co. going to check out the bouncing penises of Dallas on the front lawn of City Hall:

Loki sighed and slid off Cheryl’s office chair. Cheryl’s eyes widened when she saw the size of his cock, and his downy coat of fur. “Um, he should put some pants on,” she said, a little embarrassed at the impropriety.

“I doubt too many other people are going to notice him,” I sighed.

“No, she’s right,” Loki said. “This is City Hall, after all. It’s a masterpiece of chaos. I’ll just meet you out there.” He disappeared.

Cheryl gasped. “Where did he go?”

“Downstairs,” I said. “By the express elevator. Look, I’m sorry. I’ll get your chair cleaned.”

“No, that’s okay.” Cheryl put her hand on the back of the chair as though it might bite her. “Does, um, does he drop by often? Because I’ve never seen him before.”

“God, I hope not,” I said, sincerely. “In a nutshell, the world’s probably in great danger and I’m probably going to have to do something heroic now. Or maybe Loki is. I’m not sure. Last time I didn’t know what was going on either, and–”

“This has happened before?”

“I told you it was complicated. Let me go down there and see if I can sort it out.”

“I’m coming with you,” Cheryl announced.

“You don’t have to do that.”

“Yes, I do. I’m coming with you.” She pulled her chair back into the hallway. “I’m your secretary, and if the world’s going to need saving, you’ll need me to take notes.”

“You’re not my secretary, you’re the department receptionist,” I said. “In fact, last time I checked you were an admin assist II.”

“Oh, are we comparing government service points now? I’ll pass the secretary’s exam someday, you just wait.” She stalked past me to the elevator.

Great. Now I’d hurt her feelings. I ran after her. “Cheryl, wait a second.”

“Forget it. An AAII can take notes just as well as a secretary.” She had a notebook in her hand, and a small pen. “Just pardon me if my shorthand squiggles aren’t quite what they should be just yet, okay?”

“People use shorthand anymore?” I followed her into the elevator.

“Yes, and if you were paying any attention to the numerous emails and the reams of continuing-ed sheets I’ve been sending you, you’d know that.”

I’d definitely hurt her feelings. Well, there was nothing like dragging her into some weird multidimensional adventure to make up for it. “Look, I’m sorry. I can explain.”

Cheryl was in no mood to be mollified. “You already did. You said Loki is the Norse god of chaos and he’s here because the statues are coming to life and something about saving the world.”

I was a bit taken aback. “I thought you didn’t believe me about the statues.”

“Why wouldn’t I believe you? I have eyes, don’t I?” Cheryl sounded like she was about to cry. “It doesn’t take an AAIII or higher to have eyes, you know.”

“Cheryl, I’m sorry,” I said for what felt like the third or fourth time but was probably only the second. “I didn’t mean to hurt your feelings–”

Then the elevator door opened and I was face to face with the Stemmons witches. And for a while I forgot all about apologizing.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Feeling Sorry For Myself, Inc.

Hello all. I am sick, mopey and feeling sorry for myself. I think I just have a cold, since I'm not running a fever or "progressing southward." It just so happens to be a long weekend, though, in which I had fond ideas of going to the North Texas Mensa RG and hanging with the smart folks, riding my bike around the lake a couple of times and lots of other stuff I'm not actually up to doing. Well, to be honest I did go to part of the RG this morning and heard a fascinating lecture on how the Mafia killed JFK, followed by another one on the leadership skills of Julius Caesar. In between there were games of Scrabble and one of Are You Smarter THan A Fifth Grader (answer: Not so much) and a pretty decent, if not exciting, trivia lunch. But then I got very tired and had to head home, wrap up in a blanket and apply cats topically.

Luckily for me, there's lots of food in the house. Or maybe that's not so lucky. Anyway, there's food. I'm craving bread and butter above all things. No idea why, but if I could get away with chowing down an entire stick of butter I'd probably do it. Yes, my doc just fiddled with my doses of meds. Yes, me and food get weird every single time somebody fiddles with my doses. No, I don't think that's fair. Yes, it's fabulous that I haven't gained any weight. Look, I'm feeling sorry for myself, okay? Quit bugging me with all this positive thinking crap.

I do have some honest to God good news to report, though. One of my query letters got a nibble. Well, at least a reply. No, I think it counts as a nibble. The agent had some good tips and when I responded with a question, she actually answered it (oops, I said she. Okay, it was a she. That narrows it down to half the literary agents in the country, excuse me for living.) Anyway, that was pretty cool. I gotta do some stuff to my query letter which I'm kind of avoiding by writing this blog post.

Tammy was over here a while ago, picking up the leftover lasagna of which there was tons. She's pretty good company. And in about an hour I'm probably going to lose consciousness because that's just how it goes for me anymore (pox on the whole circadian rhythm thing, anyway.) But maybe I'll feel better tomorrow. I certainly hope so. Being sick sucks. So I go back to tinkering with my query letter. Maybe I can still get a few more out before the other NaNos.

Hmm, I should throw in something Buddhist-y. Okay, how about this: "Freedom means being able to choose how we respond to things. When wisdom is not well developed, it can be easily obscured by the provocations of others. In such cases we may as well be animals or robots. If there is no space between an insulting stimulus and its immediate conditioned response, anger, then we are in fact under the control of others. Mindfulness opens up such a space, and when wisdom is there to fill it one is capable of responding with forbearance. Its not that anger is repressed; anger never arises in the first place." -Andrew Olendzki, " Calm in the Face of Anger ," Tricycle, Fall 2006.

Okay? Okay. I'm going now.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Jenz Seventh NaNo Post

 I looked down. One of the sculptures at the far end of the lawn appeared to be moving. I’d never liked this particular sculpture. Depending on your mindset, it looks like six misshapen and partially melted giant grey rotting Hersheys Kisses, or six misshapen giant grey rotting cocks and balls. Or, I suppose, lumps of poo. Well, my mind tends toward the dirty so I pretty much call them the Six Dicks of Dallas.

The Six Dicks were on the move. First one, then the others and finally the whole group began to bounce around. At first it was just an experimental bounce or two. Then they bounced a little more excitedly, and pretty soon they were bouncing around in earnest. I watched one in particular go boing boing boing boing boing across the lawn toward the fountain, scaring hell out of the WFAA news crew and bringing around of uproarious laughter from Bill and his gang of crazy friends. Then it went boinging back the other way, boinged around its fellow bouncing penises, and boinged up and down around the rest of the group. This particular round of boinging must have been some form of communication, because pretty soon the whole gang was boinging up and down together in unison. This would have been hilarious if it hadn’t been so deucedly weird. It was like watching a Keith Haring drawing that had somehow come to life.

“I did that?” I asked Loki as the penises started to boing toward the group of animal statues looking up at my window.

“I told you to can it on the Skadi jokes. Look what you did.”

“You gonna tell me what’s going on?” I asked. The group of boinging penises had reached the WFAA crew again, scattering them to the four winds. As I watched, they boinged up to the longhorns, hopping easily over the Crime Scene Do Not Cross tape. The longhorns seemed to recognize them, or at least, they weren’t too bothered by the boingy new arrivals. In fact, when the lead penis went up to the lead longhorn and snuggled up next to it with a weird chirpy purrlike noise that I could hear even through the window, the head longhorn didn’t even flick it with its tail. Instead, it nuzzled back, which was among the more disturbing things I’ve ever had to witness. Maybe the longhorn was a gelding and it was meeting its former genitalia, all grown to large angry life and boinging around on its own. I think I’d be just fine with never seeing anything like it again.

“Oh, why not,” Loki sighed. “Skadi’s this sleeping giant. You reordered all reality and it pissed her off.” He frowned, thinking. “Yeah. That’s mainly the gist of the thing.”

Cheryl poked her cute blonde head around the corner. “Hey, have you seen my ch–what the hell is that?”

Loki looked offended. “Well, nice to meet you too, Toots.”

I groaned and rubbed my temples. Naturally, Cheryl could see him. That meant I wasn’t hallucinating and couldn’t console myself with the notion that I’d temporarily gone insane. Sigh. “Loki, Cheryl. Cheryl, Loki. Pasnakomtyez.”

“Spaciba,” Loki said. “Radavats skhadeetvee.

I elbowed him. “Don’t be rude. That’s ‘pleased to have sex with you,’ not ‘pleased to meet you.’”

“I was serious. She’s hot.”

Cheryl was, of course, goggling at us. I decided to keep it simple. “Cheryl, Loki’s the Norse god of chaos. He’s here because, um, because the statues are all down there and, um, it’s his fault.” Which was simple enough.

“Why are you in my office chair?” Cheryl asked. Which wouldn’t have been the first question that came to my mind, but am I Cheryl? No, I am not.

“Because it’s fun.” Loki pushed himself around in a circle. “Good thing I don’t have one of these. I’d spin myself around all day long.”

“Should I call security?” Cheryl asked me.

“I doubt it would do any good,” I said. “Him being the god of chaos and all, I’m sure he could scramble their walkie-talkies and keep them from getting to a working elevator.”

“Hey,” Loki protested, as if I were giving away state secrets.

“Look, it’s a long story,” I finished. “We’re going to check out whatever’s happening downstairs, right, Loki?”

Loki looked blankly at me, then at Cheryl (well, actually at Cheryl’s perkily perfect size-B breasts, but anyway, in Cheryl’s general direction) and then back at me. “We are?”

“Yes, we are,” I said, even more pointedly. “Come on.”

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Jenz Next-in-a-Series NaNo Post

 I dropped my bag instead, which had the same effect. “Argh! Goddammit!!” Loki looked up from the screen and glared at me. “You did that on purpose!!”

“Hey,” I said, ineffectively. “You’re on my computer.”

“No I’m not. I’m in your chair.” He spun around once, just for effect. Then, stopping, “Why do I feel like we this conversation have before had?”

“What?”

“Forget it. Annie Sipkins. I’m Loki of Asgard.”

“We’ve met,” I said. “And I distinctly remember not liking you.”

“No, you’re wrong. You thought I was great. We danced, we drank, we fucked like bunnies...”

“Well, I’ve re-ordered all reality since then,” I told him. “And I remember very distinctly not liking you.”

“Argh! Goddammit!!” Loki waved his arms at me. “Don’t say that!”

“Don’t say what? I remember not liking you?”

“No, that you can say. Just don’t say that other thing.”

“That thing about re-ordering all–”

“Sssst!” Loki put his finger to his lips. “That’s what I’m saying!”

“Fine,” I said, exasperated. “Get out of my office chair. I need to sit down.”

Loki hopped to the floor. He was about four, maybe four and half feet high, and his feet er, hooves, didn’t quite reach the ground from my chair. He walked–waddled–past me to the door, and for one glorious second I thought he was leaving. Then he came back with the chair that belonged to Cheryl–well, it belonged to the City of Dallas, but Cheryl sat in it most of the time. I could tell it was Cheryl’s by the traces of long blonde hair draped over the back. “There,” he announced, plunking into the chair. With a push of his tail he spun himself around again.

“I don’t want to hear about it,” I said.

“About what?”

“About whatever you’re here to bother me about. And don’t even try kidnapping me to some other dimension because I’ve got metal taps on my Soft Spots now.”

“Sorry,” Loki said. When I looked up, “Oh, relax. No kidnapping’s going to happen. But I’m positive I’m going to have to drag you back out of your boring, mundane little life–”

“Actually, I kind of like my life,” I said.

“–and involve you in some heroic quest or other,” Loki finished, as though I hadn’t spoken. “Because in case you hadn’t noticed, things are getting a little weird down Dallas way.”

“Yes, I had noticed,” I retorted. “And I’m positive that it’s all your fault.”

“No, actually it’s yours.” This startled me and at the same time didn’t surprise me at all. “You’re the one who burned the Tree of Life.”

“Yeah, well, so what?” I shrugged. “I mean, it’s all still here, isn’t it? The world and all that stuff you like? Pop-tarts? Librarians? Tetris?”

“Sure,” Loki conceded, which surprised me. It wasn’t like Loki to be so darned agreeable. “But there’s always consequences. Any time you do something, you’re gonna create side effects, like ripples in reality.”

“Like that butterfly flapping his wings off the coast of China–” I began.

“And starting World War Three off Papua New Guinea. Exactly. And when you do something like re-ord–” He stopped, clapped his hand over his mouth, and then resumed, “Do that thing you did, well, things can really get weird. Whole planets can disappear. Epochs can be erased. To say nothing of pissing off giants.”

“I’ve pissed off a giant?” I glanced down at the animals, which were still looking up at me with great interest. “Which one?”

“Not any of those,” said Loki. “Skadi.”

“Scotty?” I almost started laughing. “Beam me up?”

Loki rubbed his forehead. “Look,” he said. “I know you’re trying to be funny, but that joke gets really old after the first ten thousand or so years.”

“A thousand pardons,” I said, giggling. “Or is it more like, ‘Scotty! I need more power!’”

“I thought you didn’t watch Star Trek.”

“New reality, new rules. ‘Scotty! You get his tricorder, I’ll get his wallet!’”

“Cut that out,” Loki said. “Seriously.”

“Or is it more like, ‘Scotty! How much longer to repair this goddamned engine?”

A ripple went through City Hall. I felt my office start to wobble under my feet, and the windows shook just a little.

“Warned you,” Loki said as it passed.

“Warned me about what?”

He tossed his head at the window. “Take a look.”

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Why Jen Bailed On NaNo, And Other Stories

Folks, I have to bail on NaNoWriMo for this year. I have a really good excuse, though. I'm in court. (I've always wanted to say that.) Seriously, for most of last week I was getting stuff ready and for most of the last two days I've been sitting in a courtroom listening to a really sad story unfold. It's gonna last at least another week and maybe right up to Thanksgiving. And seeing as I'm crawling home after seven most nights and passing out on the floor (well, actually, Joan makes me go all the way into my room - very annoying) I am not coming anywhere near the necessary word count that would make winning NaNo possible. If the only way to win is not to play I choose to bail. Well, actually I choose not to have any more stress than necessary because frankly there's a lot of it right now. But in case you've gotten fond of the silly posts from the still-unnamed sequel to No Accounting For Reality, those will continue off and on. As soon as I catch my breath. Meanwhile, it's back to the briefs, boys, or as they say in court, litigate this!!

Monday, November 9, 2009

Jenz Fifth NaNo Post

“Okay, this is getting a little ridiculous,” I said to Bill as we stood in front of City Hall,
watching the menagerie. The electric neon Pegasus was the most interesting of the lot. It didn’t exactly fly, quite, but it did flap its wings and leap once in a while, carrying it over the backs of the cows and the small stallions and the giant warhorses. The warhorses, especially, were a little ridiculous. I mean they had to be ten feet high at the shoulder, and not even Clydesdales get that big. Or that coppery green.

“They been comin’ in all morning,” Bill told me. “First the one with the wings. Then the two big ones. Then the smaller ones. I think they came from farther away.”

“They did,” I said. “I’m pretty sure they came from the front of the Marriott on
Stemmons Freeway.”

Bob tilted his head and looked at me sideways. “You think so?”

“I’m pretty sure. I go past them every Wednesday to see my shri–er, I go that way a lot.” I squinted at the ten-footers. “You ever hang around outside the Trammel Crow building, Bill?”

“Not much,” Bill said. “Security’s pretty good over there.”

“Oh,” I said. “I was just thinking those looked like the horses from out front.”

Bill looked at me. Looked at the big horses. Looked back at me. “You know
somethin’,” he said, “I think them horses mighta just walked down here from the Trammel Crow building.”

“That’s what I was saying,” I said. And then I thought of something. “Bill. Let’s go see
if they’re still there.”

“If what’s still where?”

I rolled my eyes. “If the horses are still in front of the Trammel Crow building.”

“You go ‘head,” Bill said. “I’ll stay here ‘n keep watch.”

So I got back into my car, drove up Ervay and over to Pearl, and kept going until I hit
Ross. Sure enough. In front of the Trammel Crow building, where two large statues of horses normally hung out, there were two large pedestals where there should have been two large statues of horses. And one security guard on his cell phone, loud enough for me to hear even inside the car; “No! I’m telling you, somebody stole the horses! Yes! Those horses! Yes! Both of them! No! I didn’t see anybody out here with a goddamned crane and flatbed truck! Look, come see for yourself if you don’t believe me!”

Knowing I shouldn’t, I pulled the car over to the corner, as close as I could get to where the guy was yelling into his cell phone. “Hey!” I bellowed, in that tone of voice that brought absolute silence to a meeting of overexcited junior accountants.

The guy looked up. “What?”

“Your horses are down at City Hall. In the front yard. Under my window.” I didn’t need
to add the “under my window” part, but I couldn’t resist.

“Oh.” The guard blinked a few times. Then, back to his cell phone, “Never mind, Jack. I got a line on where they wandered off to.” Pause. “No, I didn’t mean that in the literal sense. I meant that–never mind. I’ll call you back.”

I was about as involved as I wanted to be on this one, so I rolled up the window and drove back to City Hall. The media was already arriving, staking out camps around the fountain. Bill, who had somehow established himself as master of ceremonies, was steering them this way and that. Some police were stringing a much larger string of Crime Scene Do Not Cross tape around the new herd of animals (I’ve heard of animals) that now consisted of the longhorns, the stallions and the Really Big Horses (I could swear one of them was ten feet tall.) The neon-colored Pegasus, in an apparent agony of impropriety, had sort of frozen next to a tree in hopes of not
being noticed. People noticed. You can’t be flashing electric blue and red around here and not be noticed, unless of course you’re a Dallas police officer.

I went up to my office, pondering What This All Could Mean. Loki never warned me
that when I re-ordered all reality, I might inadvertently bring a bunch of statues to life. Was I supposed to do something about this? Because honestly, I was a bit baffled. And it would have been a bit arrogant of me to assume I was the center of the universe, wouldn’t it? Just because all the statues were standing under my window staring directly up at me was no reason to believe any of it had anything to do with me. Furthermore, it was probably just a coincidence. Just because I could remember the Time Before, when George Bush was President of the United States (that one always gave Pandora the giggles; she said it was something about absolute proof of the Peter Principle, which I didn’t get, and that it was probably just as well I was in this world, where he was Commissioner of Baseball, which I certainly did) didn’t mean any of this had anything to do with me. I mean, who was I, anyway? Just some mousy secondary auditor who’d been kidnapped by the gods, done battle with the
powers of Asgard in the form of the Dallas City Council, died and lived to tell about it, and oh yeah, saved all of reality from imminent implosion. Pish. It had ended happily. I had my nice city job, my adorable wife, my fat little house cat, my President DiCaprio. So what if there were a bunch of statues roaming City Hall. It had nothing to do with me.

Thus reassured, I opened my office door. And there, in my office chair, was a short
dwarflike being with hooves and a tail, playing Tetris on my office computer. “About time you got here,” he said. “I’m about to break ten million. No! Don’t say anything! Break my concentration and I’ll curse you for all eternity!”

Friday, November 6, 2009

Jenz Fourth Nano Post

8702 words. Not easy to write on vacation (I'm in Phoenix). Here's the latest.

Dallas traffic was unbelievably light that evening. Maybe the story of live metallic psuedo-robotic cows painted to look like real cows had shaken everybody up enough to call in sick. In any case, I made it to the Black Eyed Pea in Uptown in a little under fifteen minutes, a new record. Which meant, by my calculation as I jumped out of my green Toyota Prius and sprinted across the parking lot to the restaurant, I was only about a half-hour late for our anniversary dinner.
Spike, our usual waiter, flagged me down in the lobby. “Your ex-wife is waiting for you at your usual table,” he told me. “And she’s been flirting with this pretty redhead for most of the
last half hour.”
“I’m sorry. I hope she ordered a nice appetizer.” I careened into the restaurant, swept over to the table and fell into the empty chair. “Hi,” I added lamely to Pandora. “Sorry I’m late.”
Pandora gave me a frosty look from across the table. I didn’t see any redhead in
evidence, but then I really didn’t expect to. Like any good husb–er, spou–er, significant sweetie,I live in terror of upsetting my wife. Not because she might beat me up, mind you, but because she might give me that look. Still, Pandora adored me. I wasn’t sure entirely why, having been basically not there for most of the first few years of our relationship and including our wedding, but I’d tried to make up for it by being thoughtful as hell in the years since. Like taking her on nice vacations on my city-accountant salary. Like buying her little gifts, because she liked little gifts. Like always remembering our anniversary. I did remember it, I told myself indignantly. I just also kind of forgot it, is all.
“No worries.” Pandora picked up a menu and peered at me over the top of it. Pandora has the most adorable blue eyes, and they look fantastic behind the Pierre Cardin glasses,magnified to about twice their actual size. The whole package was framed by delicate shoulder-length brunette hair. Okay, I adored her right back. It was the least I could do, considering. “I’ll just order the New York strip steak with the side of lobster and a glass of Chardonnay.”
I smiled at that, because the Black Eyed Pea offers neither lobster nor strip steak (though to my understanding, it does stock a pretty good repertoire of Chardonnay.) Neither of us drink,for that matter; she’s diabetic and I’m–well, let’s just say the last thing I need is alcohol churning around in my system and making things even weirder than they are. “Okay, go for it,” I told her as Spike came up to our table. “I’ll have a Southwestern buffalo chicken wrap and a glass of diet Coke.”
“You always order the same thing,” Spike complained, tugging on his earring. “I buy these neat little gel pens in these neat sparkly colors and I don’t even get to use them.”
“I’ll have the deep-fried sweet and sour chicken livers and the side salad,” Pandora
announced, handing him her menu.
“Ew.” I made a face. “Do you actually know what livers do in the body?”
“Yes.” She smiled sweetly. “They make you threaten me not to kiss me ever again.”
I sagged. “Did I threaten that?”
“Once.”
“When?”
“Let’s see.” She touched her chin with her index finger in that way that so inspires terror in six-year-old first graders and errant library patrons. “2004. In December, in New Orleans. We were walking by the riverfront and I suggested we go down to Harrah’s because they had liver cuts on their buffet, and you said–”
“Okay, okay,” I said, letting her win this round. I let her win a lot of rounds. Mainly
because I hadn’t been physically present to defend myself. Or mentally present, anyway. “Really, I’m sorry I was late. You probably heard something about cows coming to life and roaming around City Hall?”
“Coming to life?” Pandora raised an eyebrow. “I heard somebody stole the metal cows and replaced them with fake cows meant to look like metal cows.”
“Well, they’re also saying that they’re robots created by the kids at UNT Robotics, but they’re metal cows come to life,” I told her. “Honest. I was right next to one.”
Pandora frowned. Her frown isn’t nearly as cute as her smile. “That’s odd,” she
understated. Quite brilliantly, I might add.
“What’s really odd,” I said, “is that the whole herd of them seemed to want to stand right under my window and stare up at me. Like I was the prime attraction in whatever brought them
to life or something. Kind of like the sacred tablet in Night At The Museum.”
Pandora was still frowning. “Do you think,” she asked very carefully, “that it might have anything to do with The Time Before?”
I blinked, a little stunned. Pandora hardly ever mentioned The Time Before – the time, that is, before I start having actual memories of being married to her. As far as everybody we know is concerned, I got a high fever or something a few years ago and sort of went into a fugue state and forgot all about Pandora and how we met at the TCU Library as young naive freshmen and ran into each other a few years after graduation at a band reunion and fell head over heels in love and flew to California and got married and spent most of the next decade wondering if we were actually married or not while various entities fought about it in court. Then Kinky Friedman was elected governor of Texas and signed us into existence as an Official Married
Couple (TM), proclaiming that as far as he was concerned, lesbians had as much right to be miserable as anybody else. And so there we were, the only legally married lesbian couple in Texas–for about five minutes until he finished signing the proclamation. Man, was it a busyweek at City Hall.
I sort of knew better, kind of, but I rarely mentioned it because it upset Pandora and, as I believe I said earlier, I live in mortal terror of–yeah. Besides, my side of it is a lot less believable. Kidnapped by Loki, thrust into the dark sewer of the collective unconscious, taking up arms in the immortal battle of good and evil, rescuing the Tree of Life from the deep freeze in downtown Rejyavik as a new ice age closed its terrible fist over all of Western civilization and a black hole threatened to swallow the planet, being dead, not being dead – well, you get the idea. It was a lot easier to just go along with the whole fugue state thing. Besides, it made me more charming in polite company. “Oh, she doesn’t remember President Schwartzenegger. That’s when she was a little bit out of it,” Pandora would say, and I’d grin stupidly. I’m good at
grinning stupidly. Years of practice.
“I don’t know,” I said when I realized the question was still hanging there in midair. “I guess it could.”
“Because you did that weird thing with reality,” she said.
“Re-ordered all reality. Yeah. Like the Genesis Device blowing up at the end of the second Star Trek movie.”
“You don’t watch Star Trek,” Pandora reminded me.
“I do now. Case in point.” I rubbed my forehead. “But what would that have to do with statues of cows coming to life?”
“Well, nothing,” Pandora said. “Unless it’s not just statues of cows.”
“Tell you what,” I said, wanting to get this subject off the table before our food got here and made everything all awkward. “If anything else weird happens, I’ll just assume you’re right and start to plan accordingly. If not, I’ll just write it off to one more surreal day in citygovernment. Okay?”
“Plan accordingly how?” Pandora asked.
And then Spike was back with our food, saving me the embarrassment of having to admit I hadn’t the foggiest idea. I mean, I didn’t exactly get any warning the last time. Loki just kidnapped me, office chair and all. So she had a point. Plan accordingly how? I dove into my southwestern Buffalo chicken wrap and just didn’t answer.
Which worked fine until the next morning, when I got to City Hall and was greeted by fourteen cows, one electric neon Pegasus, two stallions and two big Chinese warhorses.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Jenz Third NaNo Post

Folks, we've broken 5,000. Can Nirvana possibly be far behind?

“Cheryl, they’re not real cows. They’re metal cows that have somehow come to life.”

Cheryl frowned and shook her head. “I don’t think so,” she said.

“No, really. They are. I was close to them this morning and they’re definitely metal.”

“Here comes the vet,” Cheryl said, pointing down to the lawn where a small brown van with Dallas Zoo painted on the side pulled up next to the fountain.

“Well, this should be interesting.” I got up. “Come on, Cheryl. Let’s go see what they have to say.”

“What about the Latino Cultural Center contract?” she asked, hurrying after me.

“I’ll look at it later.”

By the time we got downstairs, the vet was hopping out of her truck. She was a stocky redhead with a green Dallas Zoo t-shirt and a monumental chip on her shoulder. Like most chips, it was invisible, but it was definitely there. She took a look at the longhorns, tilted her head to the left, tilted her head back to the right, and jumped back into the truck.

For a second I thought she was going to peel back out of the park as quickly as she got there, but she came back out with a big metal tackle box. Well, it looked like a tackle box, anyway. When she popped it open, it was full of medical stuff. Long pointy things and short square things and scissorlike things and a bunch of other stuff I didn’t want to really guess at. One of them was a big syringe. She took this out, stuck its needle into an ampoule and sucked up some clearish-yellow fluid that looked a bit like diabetic pee. That done, she approached the longhorns (after moving around some very well-meaning but obviously clueless police officers and ducking under the Crime Scene Do Not Cross tape). One of them, a big male (actually, I
think they were all male but this male was bigger than the other males), detached himself from the group and came over to her. She reached up, skritched him between the horns (well, kind of on his nose, actually) and plunged the syringe into his side.

Or rather, tried to plunge the syringe into his side. Instead of plunging, the syringe took off to the side. The impact with the side of the cow bent the needle up at a sharp right angle, making the whole thing look more like a J-hook than a syringe. She held the syringe up to the light, eyeing it curiously.

“Well?” one of the emergency management guys wanted to know. He was hiding behind one of the police officers, and well back from the Crime Scene Do Not Cross tape.

“Metal,” said the vet. Shrugging, she ducked back under the Crime Scene Do Not Cross tape and tossed the now-useless syringe into a nearby trash can. Bill and two or three of his crazy homeless friends immediately went after it, convinced that it contained heroin insteadof diabetic pee.

“What do you mean, metal?” The emergency management guy looked aggrieved.

“I mean, they’re metal,” the vet retorted. “As in, not animals. So I’m going.” She started for the truck.

“Wait a minute.” The emergency-management guy got brave, stopped hiding behind the policeman and went after her. “You can’t just leave. We have a situation here.”

“No, you don’t. You have a bunch of animated metal cows.”

“That’s exactly what I’m telling you. How is it possible that we have a bunch of
animated metal cows?”

The vet shrugged. (Did I mention the monumental chip on her shoulder? Well, she could barely shrug.) “Look, they’re not cows,” she said, in case this wasn’t obvious. “That is to say, they’re not live animals.”

“Yes they are!” the emergency management guy told her. “One of them even crapped all over the steps to the fountain!”

“So what do you want me to do about it? I’m a veterinarian, not a street cleaner.”

The emergency management guy rubbed his bald spot. He looked like he might blow a blood vessel. I can’t imagine being easily stressed is a good thing for an emergency management guy. “So you’re just going to leave,” he restated the obvious.

“Yeah. When you get some live animals that are giving you a problem, call me again.” And with that, she really did jump back into her truck and drive away.

“Well, there you have it,” said one of the news people, who had been trailing behind the vet. “The cows at City Hall are not real animals, people. They now appear to be complex robotic creations. Suspicion is, of course, likely to fall on the University of North Texas Department of Robotics students, whose past pranks include creating a life-size replica of Mayor Laura Miller that ran the city undetected for most of the 1990s...”

“Oh, for God’s sake,” I said to Cheryl. “Do you realize what this means?”

“Yes. It means Laura Miller was the mayor for most of the 1990s,” Cheryl said.

I sighed. “No. It means people are more willing to believe in animated robotic cows
built as a prank by a bunch of robotics students at UNT than they are to believe that the longhorns at the other end of City Hall have somehow, mysteriously come to life. Why do you think that is?”

“Maybe because one is technically plausible while the other is completely impossible,” Cheryl said, startling me.

“Hmmph.” I hate it when she starts making sense. “Well, that’s–that–” I stopped. I just didn’t know where to go with that.

Cheryl nudged me. “Let’s go back inside. The Latino Cultural Center beckons.”

“Actually, it mostly repulses. It’s purple and orange, for one thing. Whose idea was
that?”

"The architect’s. You know how they get.”

Needless to say, the rest of the day got a bit weird. I’d look at the Cultural Center
contract and look over at the cows. I’d watch All My Children and I’d look over at the cows. I’d rattle off emails about various budgetary thises and thatses and I’d look over at the cows. I’d call one of the junior accountants over some fine point of contractese and I’d look over at the–

“Annie.” Cheryl poked her head into my office. “Phone for you.”

I jumped about a mile. “Don’t do that,” I complained.

“Sorry.” Cheryl pointed at the phone again. “But Pandora’s calling wanting to know if you died.”

“OH SHIT!” I grabbed for the little clock; half past six. “I’M LATE!!” I grabbed my purse and flew past Cheryl, trailing a stream of numbers and chi-squares and equations. The cows watched me run out of City Hall, but they didn’t move from their post by the window. They’d been joined by a couple of horses. I’d notice the horses in the morning.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Jenz Second NaNo Post

3409 words and counting...

The media were all over it about ten o’clock that morning. News crews set up camerasall over the front lawn, irritating the homeless guys by chasing them out of the prime spots.
Some guys from the Office of Emergency Management–I didn’t even know the city had an Office of Emergency Management, which should tell you how good I am at handling emergencies–were walking around yelling at people. Police officers put up one of those barriers of Crime Scene Do Not Cross tape to keep the news crews safe from the cows, or more like keep the cows safe from the news crews. The cows didn’t pay attention to any of this. They just stood there on the lawn, staring up at my window.

I tried to work, which is to say, I tried not to look at the cows. It worked about this well: I checked my email. I looked at the cows. I checked my calendar for the day. I looked at the cows. I read a letter from an irate contractor. I looked at the–

"Creepy, huh?” Cheryl said from behind me.

I jumped about a mile, the letter fluttering from my fingers. “Jesus Haploid Christ,” I
exclaimed. “Do you mind not scaring a person?”

Cheryl, a chirpy blonde that was sort of my secretary and sort of the accounting
department receptionist and, I dunno, the director of office potlucks, bent over and picked up the letter, throwing plenty of unnecessary hip wiggle into the movements. “You dropped this.”

“Thanks.” I took it back from her. I looked at the cows. I looked back at the letter. “So what’s the brilliant plan?” I asked. “They gonna get some metalworkers out here, figure out how all fourteen cows slipped their moorings?”

“Actually,” Cheryl said, “I think they’re getting a vet from the Dallas Zoo.”

“A vet? To treat metal cows?”

"Oh, they’re not metal cows,” Cheryl told me. “They’re just painted to look like they’re metal cows. That’s why they need a vet. To make sure the paint won’t irritate their skin.”

I looked at Cheryl like she’d grown a pair of longhorns herself. “Wait a minute,” I said. “You’re telling me that they’re telling them that those guys–” I pointed out the window to indicate which direct object I had in mind at the moment–“are real cows?”

“That’s what it said on the news.”

“Oh, good night.” I turned on the tiny set that I kept next to my keyboard to ensure I
wouldn’t miss a single episode of All My Children. The black and white screen faded in, shimmered a little, and settled into the middle of a newscast:

“–front of Dallas City Hall, where sometime during the night, a crew of suspected pranksters stole all fourteen longhorn statues from the front of the river display.”

“Pranksters?” I said. “They have to be kidding.”

“The replacement cows, which were painted to look like the metal cows, are being
checked out by veterinarians. Authorities suspect that the pranksters are UNT Dallas students from the Department of Agriculture and Animal Husbandry, although no arrests have yet been made in the case.” Change of scene. “An 18-wheeler jackknifed on I-35E early this morning, causing a traffic backup at the 360 interchange that extended all the way south to Houston–”

I snapped off the set. “For God’s sake, they’re not even reporting the real story.”

“No, it’s true about the 18-wheeler,” Cheryl said. “I live out by 360 and this morning it
took me 20 minutes just to get to Starbucks.”

I rubbed my forehead. “That’s not what I meant. I mean why would anybody bother to steal fourteen metal cows that probably weigh two tons apiece and replace them with fourteen real cows painted to look like metal cows?”

“I think that’s why they’re looking at college students,” Cheryl said, helpfully. “Because only a college student would think that something like that makes sense.”

“Cheryl, they’re not real cows. They’re metal cows that have somehow come to life.”

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Jenz First-and-a-Half NaNo Post

I have had a couple of requests for the rest of that scene. This makes for a pretty long blog post, but what the hell. Here 'tis.

Now, you’d think a herd of metallic cows that suddenly sprang to life, did a little moseying and then settled down for naps might be done with their brief return to animation (arguing that they were animated in the first place; they’re metal, for Godsakes). And again, given the source of this information, I wouldn’t have been at all surprised to find the whole herd back by the fake river, striking their usual poses and waiting for tourists. But I’d be wrong. When I showed up on the Tuesday morning after Veterans Day, they were still there, the whole herd of them. The pile of smelly metallic turds, no longer smelly, was also there. What was more, the cows were standing right under my office window - and when they saw me, the whole herd started to moo.

I’ve been freaked out plenty in life, but having a herd of metal cows moo at me was a new one. I took a startled step backward and dropped my keycard. Nice going, Annie, I thought to myself as it hit the ground. If you broke it, there goes next week’s pay check. Not that it’s really possible to break a key card. I think about that whenever I drop anything. It all stems back to a high school music class and a really expensive metronome named “Dr. Beat” and look, I don’t wanna talk about it, okay? It was kind of traumatic.

“They’ve been doin’ that since yesterday,” said the crazy homeless guy, whose name, as I was about to discover, was Bill. He was a big African-American dude, six feet or maybe a little taller, hulking in his thick navy blue coat and scarf, and wearing a red stocking cap.

“Doing what?” I demanded as I retrieved my unbroken key card from the sidewalk. “Mooing like that?”

"Naw. Standin’ under the windah. Lookin’ up at it.”

“That’s my window,” I said, and though it was, the cows might have been looking at any one of the seven windows above and below it. I was, after all, just the Chief Auditor. The deputy mayor’s office was above mine, the mine inspector’s office was above that one, and all the way at the top, where prestige knows no bounds, was the office of the Catering Director. Without her we would all starve to death, so we gave her the best office in city government. Only the Mayor’s is higher and more ostentatious.

“Mebbe they want you to feed ‘em,” the man suggested. “Course, they doin’ okay with the grass and all.”

There are days I wish the library would just open up at seven a.m. so I could walk to my office unmolested, but this was not one of ‘em. However disturbing crazy homeless people may be in a city that’s pretty much determined to pretend they don’t exist, they’re good company when confronted by fourteen metal cows with pointy horns. Long horns, too. Or did I say that already?

“I’m Bill,” he added. “Just call me Bill.”

“Hi, Bill. I’m Annie.” Homeless people disturb me, too, but I wasn’t about to be rude to him. He might hide behind me when the head longhorn decided to charge. “Uh, how long has this been going on?”

“What?”

“The cows,” I said, thinking with mild annoyance that it should be fricking obvious I was talking about the fricking inexplicably animated metal cows.

“Oh. Since yest’day about one, I think.”

“Have the police been here?”

“The po-lice? What they come here for?”

I looked up at him to see if he was for real. He seemed to be. “Well, I just figured, if you’ve got a bunch of animated statues walking around, the police might want to know about it.”

“Girl, them po-lice ain’t interested in nothin’ unless we smokin’ weed out front of the liberry,” Bill told me. “And they ain’t really even interested then less’n we got some to share.”

“Okay,” I said, although it wasn’t okay. Animated metal cows are not okay. Police who smoke pot in front of the library aren’t okay, either, though I only had Bill’s word to go on that. “Well, uh, Bill, I’m gonna go up there and give ‘em a call, okay? You know, just to like make a report and all that?”

“Sho,” said Bill. “Do whatever you want. They ain’t goin’ noplace.” He paused, as if he’d forgotten something. “Oh. You gotta quarter?”

I did, and I gave it to him with a handful of other change. I backed away from the cows,which continued to stand there, cowlike, until I got up to the main doors. I waved my keycard and the door gave a clunk. Still backing up, I eased myself inside and pulled the door shut in front of me. The cows stood there. Well, they stood a little closer to the building, but they just stood there, not trying to follow me. But it was still me they were staring at. Bill, who was moseying off in the direction of the library, didn’t get so much as a passing sniff.

“Okay,” I said out loud to myself. The word echoed in the empty entrance hall. No one ever gets here this early but me. Which sucked, at the moment. It would have been nice to have someone other than a crazy homeless guy who called himself Bill and chatted about pot smoking in front of the library to comment on the phenomenon of animated metal cows. It would be even better if the someone could say, “Oh, yeah, I handled it” in the kind of offhand way that I find so reassuring from law enforcement personnel and so irritating from my junior accountants.

But, no. It was just me. I backed away from the doors. The cows followed me with their metallic eyes all the way to the elevator. It wasn’t until the doors closed in front of me and I started up to the third floor that I was free of iron eyeballs. The sensation was a great relief for the twenty or thirty seconds it lasted. Then I got out of the elevator, walked down to my office, and there they were again. All fourteen or so of them, staring up at my office window as Bill ambled away into the distance. And, yes. It was my window they were looking at. Not the Mayor’s, not the police chief’s, not the Director of Catering. Just me and mine.

I could tell already that it was going to be a long day, and I hadn’t even put my lunch away in the refrigerator yet.

Jenz First NaNo Post.

(In case you don't know what the hell a NaNo is, go to this site: National Novel Writing Month. Here's my profile.)

I wasn’t there the day the longhorns came to life, but I heard about it.

I’m not talking about the Texas Longhorns here, though God knows they could use a little life even if they did manage to beat OU this year. I’m talking about the longhorns in front of City Hall. Fourteen or fifteen of ‘em, sculpted in iron or brass or whatever material they make realistic cow sculptures out of these days. The way they’re positioned, they look like they’re coming down out of a canyon or something and heading to a creek for a drink. One of em even has its head down in the water. I mean, they’re cute as a bug’s ear, or a cow’s ear, or a sow’s ear, or something like that. Tourists come pose in front of ‘em and take pictures. I’ve always been kind of fond of the longhorns. If nothing else they’re a nice distraction from the usual crowd of homeless guys that hang around in front of the fountain and yell charming if incomprehensible things at me when I come in to work about seven a.m.

But, anyway. The longhorns. From the way I heard it, the one with its head in the creek suddenly lifted its muzzle and sniffed the air. Depending on who you ask, this was accompanied by a loud shriek of metal that stopped once the longhorn was upright. It turned its head both ways, gave a kind of cow shrug, and started forward.

A few seconds later, the next longhorn started to quiver. This one was just standing at the head of the fake trail, looking interested, so there wasn’t any shriek of metal. It just started to turn its head to check whatever was happening with its friend there by the creek. After a minute or so it ambled down to the water, stuck its head in, took a drink and followed its friend.

The guy who told me about this – who was, like most of the other witnesses, homeless and a bit crazy – said that it didn’t happen all at once. It was first one statue, then another, and then another. Some of them started to nibble at the grass. Some of them checked the water out. Some of them just moseyed around, as if the whole becoming-animated thing had messed them up and they’d forgotten where it was they were going. One of them even lifted its tail and left a pile of smelly metallic turds next to the fountain. You gotta feel sorry for a cow that’s been sitting on a load that size since the early 1970s.

Anyway, the herd got itself back together into, well, a herd and moseyed over toward City Hall proper. Sorry for saying “moseyed” so many times, but if you’ve ever seen a cow move, you know they don’t walk. They mosey. And this isn’t even arguing about the fact that they’re flesh and blood cows versus large metal cows that have inexplicably discovered how to move. So, moseying along, they found themselves a large patch of grass and began to mow, as cows will do. This went on most of that Sunday until dark when, again according to my crazy homeless eyewitness, the cows sort of hunkered down in the grass and went to sleep.

Yep, it's the sequel to No Accounting For Reality. And I promise it only gets weirder from here.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

A Buddhist Blogs About Muslims on a Pagan Holiday.

Playing in the background: Game 3 of the Series. Go Philly!

The first Muslim I ever met was a young woman at a hotel where I was working in college. It was a horrible job--making beds, scrubbing floors, cleaning up after the BYU basketball team (don't ask) after a tournament, stuff like that. She was a Western woman, grew up somewhere in Wisconsin, married a Muslim and decided to convert - not because he asked her to, although he did, but because she decided it would be easier on the kids to just have one religion in the house. I kind of beg to differ on that point - I think kids do better if they're exposed to lots of different religions - but hey, it wasn't my house and they weren't my kids. Anyway, she was nice. Shockingly normal. The only time I remember her religion coming up was that one day she got a hole in the knee of her pants (which she wore under her cute little regulation maid's dress) and insisted on going home to change, unlike moi who would have just shrugged and kept working.

The second Muslim I ever met was the accountant in a library office where I worked. He was from India. He was Muslim but his wife's people were Hindu so he also practiced the Hindu traditions, about which he said some Muslims have a problem, but no Hindus did (this doesn't surprise me; Hindus have about 3 million gods, and I have no idea how they keep them all straight.) Once I heard him talking to his wife on the phone in one of the 3 million languages they speak in India (one per god?) and he suddenly switched to Arabic halfway through the conversation. I turned my head because the transition from round vowels and consonants to sharp pointy Arabic was obvious even to moi, a rather unschooled (at this point) child of the world. When he got off the phone I asked him what all that was about and he said that there were some things it was simply not appropriate to discuss in certain languages. Serious eyebrow raise over that. Once I asked him once which religion he preferred and he said, "All roads lead to downtown Phoenix." I still remember that fondly because I've always thought the idea of an eternal paradise is basically incompatible with human nature, and if we go to downtown Phoenix when we die, it would make a lot more sense to me. If you're good, you can go to the ballpark. If you're really bad, you have to go to the kids' science museum.

The third Muslim I ever met was at a job I took in 2005 to help out Katrina survivors. She was from I think Qatar (might have been Kuwait; I remember a hard sound at the beginning - I suck at memorizing countries of the world). She invited me to mosque and I was actually on the verge of accepting before I weaseled out. She got after me as to why and I sheepishly admitted that the Muslims would never take me. She found this concept shocking and asked why. I finally told her I was a lesbian. After a couple of long blinks, she said, "Oh, that's no problem. In my country, both of you just marry same husband. No problem." I was kind of surprised because I'd been given to understand that Muslims were pretty strict about homosexual behavior. She laughed and said, "Well, if you were boys, big problem! But two girls, no problem."

I dunno why I'm bringing this up except that I've been thinking about it a lot lately. I hang out at Afrah! a lot (best pita bread EVER) and I was just thinking the other day, "If I'd been born in a Muslim household, would I be a good Muslim?" I think the answer is probably, if my third friend was right and I didn't live in Saudi Arabia. Way too conservative for me there. But then, I grew up in a Christian household and somehow still ended up being a Buddhist so what does that prove? You can be a Buddhist and a Christian at the same time (don't tell some of the Christians that though; they might not like it) so I imagine you could also be a Buddhist and a Muslim at the same time (probably same issue as with the Christians) but the Buddhists would not care if you were gay, straight, Lebanese, Sikh, Hindu or anything else. We'll pretty much take anybody who wants to let go of greed, anger and ignorance and cultivate peace, love and understanding. That doesn't make us the going faith, though. Just one among many. I'm a pretty good Buddhist when I'm not a bad one.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

I'm Sick and It's Baseball

Playing in the background: Angels vs. Yankees, game 6. Go Angels!

Has anybody but me and Joan and Neil Degrasse Tyson noticed that The Los Angeles Angels translates as The The Angels Angels? Well, I guess nobody minds. Unbelievably, the Angels have made it to game 6 of the league champeenships, and for the first time in recent memory I'm actually watching baseball. Watching baseball on TV is kind of like watching golf, only faster and most of the fans aren't as well dressed. Baseball is a quintessentially American/Japanese/Latino/Carribean experience that just can't properly be experienced on the other side of a television camera. But, frankly, this is such a good series that it's almost worth it. I mean, the Angels? Hello? That's just too weird. And against the Yankees, no less. Damn Yankees. Oh, wait, that's a musical. I hate musicals. Go go boys boys!

I'm also sick, which is the other reason I'm watching baseball. When all you feel like doing is lying on the couch, baseball makes a nice distraction. Honestly, I haven't been sick since - well, probably two years anyway. Which is kind of a record. I used to clock in with a sinus infection about every six months, owing to my peculiar facial geography (one set of sinii unformed, another set deformed - surgery in 1997 to correct but I still Have Issues.) Maybe the last cold snap blew in some kind of allergen that got caught up my schnoz. I dunno, but I'm sick and it's baseball and the only thing I have better to do is finish the book (I'm on about the last chapter, with maybe some fine-tuning to go). One should not, however, write while feverish. Or while out of it, because I'm not technically feverish. One can, however, watch baseball. Which means that I've come full circle on that one.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Big Bad Buddhist Bipolar Books o' the Decade

Meters swum today: 1400
Playing in the background: The ceiling fan

Probably most of us have wondered what we'd do if we were presented with the news that we had a serious illness. By "serious" most of us probably mean "fatal" but it doesn't need to be. Even if somebody hands you news that you have, say, diabetes or Parkinson's or some other massive systemwide malfunction, you will probably spend some time contemplating What This All Means and then decide what to do. Ie, if I found out I needed a septuple bypass and I was 82 years old, as recently happened to a family member of my shponsor, would I have the surgery or not? There's a number of factors to be taken into consideration. How comfortable am I now? If I drop dead, will it be sudden or lingering and painful? What's this surgery like? How's the recovery? What will my life be like afterward? In the case of the septuple bypass I might have Just Said No to the surgery. Ann's dad ended up having the surgery, though, and he's doing very well. Better than before, in fact. You never know how some of these things are going to turn out.

Which is kind of what happened when somebody handed me the news that I might have bipolar disorder, recently confirmed and now being medicated. So what did I do? I went skydivin', I went Rocky Mountain climbin', I went 2.7 seconds on a bull named Fu Manchu...

Well, actually I went to a Buddhist meditation retreat, which was maybe the strangest choice ever. Try being on a manic tear and meditating sometime. I hopped into the church bound bound bound bound bound like one of those boings that we have out in the garden (see previous post), threw myself onto a cushion, apologized to everybody in advance for being obnoxious, and then attempted to sit still for the next roughly eight hours. Yeah. That was interesting. Must have been so for my fellow retreatants, too, saintly folks all.

I also did what anybody with a librarian in the household is bound to end up doing; read books. Lots and lots of books. Joan is my book pimp; anything I want, she can get it, from the latest NYT bestseller to an obscure text about the perfection of wisdom. Course, I sometimes have to wait a while, being as the library has wait lists for a lot of popular stuff (budget cuts, ya know.) But I've got four different books on bipolar disorder, and two of 'em have made my Books o'the Decade list already.

The first one is Bipolar Disorder for Dummies. You gotta love the title. If you're not medically inclined but you need to know how not to go completely insane, this is a great place to start. Any of the Dummies books are automatically fantastic (pretty sure I also have Container Gardening for Dummies, Lawn Care for Dummies and Buddhism for Dummies. No, I am not kidding about that last one.) This is also a great reference for family members or friends who have to live with you. Let's face it; bipolar disorder = not easy to live with. You never know which of your two or three roomies you're going to encounter on any given day. In fact, I'm sending a copy of this to my parents, also saintly folks, who are hosting me and Joan for four days in November.

The second one is New Hope for People with Bipolar Disorder. (Sorry for lack of graphic but I seem to be having Issues this morning.) This one is a little more medically technical, but it's full of cool stuff about how the brain works, how it doesn't if you have this thing, and even has a couple of brain scans so you can actually see what's going on. Plus a lot of stuff about hope, optimism, the power of positive thinking and a whole long chapter about the different new kinds of psychotherapy, which is an essential part of treatment (and also one I haven't started yet) along with drug therapy. Almost all of the new schools of thought and even most of the old ones talk quite a bit about mindfulness. As in, don't worry about what's going to happen to your brain tomorrow; today everything's good, today you're taking your meds and they're working, today you can handle stressful things, etc. It's like Buddhism has infiltrated the psychology profession while nobody was looking. Well, that's okay. We could use a few Buddhist psychologists.

And have I figured out what else I'm gonna do with my life? No. What I'm mainly figuring out are my new and exciting limitations. Climbing to the Mount Everest base camp; probably out. Can't be that far away from modern medicine. Flying to Europe: Maybe still in, but the time difference will have to be very carefully managed. Guess what knocks my system all wonky; sleep disruption. And guess what I'm very good at from many sessions of wild hyperfertility. Yep, you guessed. I think flying to Australia might be out. That's a time difference of twelve hours and I'm just not sure how I could possibly do that in anything remotely resembling a vacation-size time period. Getting a book published: Still in. Or it better be, anyway. I have a new heater to pay for somehow. Staying up all night writing is definitely out, even on holiday weekends. Alas. And I was all set to jump into NaNoWriMo on November 1, too.

Well, guess what. I'm gonna do NaNo anyway and write the sequel to No Accounting For Reality. Right now I'm calling it No Accounting For __________, because I don't have a word to complete the title yet. Stability? Serenity? Sanity? I dunno. It's about statues coming to life all over Dallas. If you have any suggestions, feel free to comment.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Friday Frights (on Sunday): Screams in Waxahatchie

Careful. She snaps.
Playing in the background: Joe Jenkins on Spa



Well, technically it's Sunday morning but for me it's still Saturday night. Still, by the time I get this thing done and posted it will be Sunday afternoon, if I am lucky. So okay, Sunday. (Yep, a little zippy today).

We interrupt Jen's freaking out about needing a new heater and her recent diagnosis to take in the report of the the intrepid Jen, Suzi and Charlie, who trekked to Waxahatchie last night to visit Screams. Screams is a temporary horror theme park so important to the local economy that they put a sign up on the freeway. No kidding, an actual permanent road sign. The park is about 40 minutes south of Dallas off the I-35E, and it assembles about five haunted houses of varying degrees of scary, a "Trail of Terror" for a few extra bucks, vendors hawking everything from Tarot card readings to wax models of your own hand (you can decorate the nails), live entertainment (scary guys leaping out at you from behind trees, a David Bowie tribute band, walking horror comedians) and even some rides. Pretty darn cool. If I'd been in high school I'd have been in Jen heaven. (Most people there were high school age.) But I still had a great time, even if it meant being up a little past my bedtime. Okay, a whole lot past my bedtime. Which may be why I'm a little manic today. Or it could just be the adrenaline. Much screaming happened. See name of park, above.

Owing to the crowd and the fact that they kicked everybody out at 1 am, we missed the Trail of Terror, but we did get to five haunted houses, which was why we went. I dig haunted houses, the kind where they have people leap out and startle you senseless and large displays of gruesomeness and cool special effects. As it happened, we ended up doing 'em in order of scary. All five of 'em were very well done, showing a lot of care and attention to detail, and ranked between an AWESOME and a WOW on Jen's famous five-star rating system. So for this post we're gonna rank these things in order of scary, too. One to five skulls, five being the scariest. And let us be off!

Ghoulish Graveyard
Star rating: AWESOME (four stars)
This is a kid-friendly rendition of a graveyard, with tombstones listing interesting personages, their dates and causes of death. Keith Richards is in there, just to give you an idea of the sense of humor factor. There are s-fx that jump out at you, and a lot of silly stuff - like the dead gangster who appears to fire a machine gun at you in the car buried nose-up. And, yeah, lots of guys that run out from behind stuff and go "Rhaaaahr!!" but that's just a standard of the genre.

Pirates of Peril Point in 3-D
Star rating: WOW (five stars)
When I said carefully done and with a lot of attention to detail, I was not kidding. This attraction was amazing. They're playing music outside from the "Pirates of the Carribean" movies, for one thing, alternating with the "Dead Men Tell No Tales" voiceovers from the Disney World ride. There's a mural drawn across the entire outside wall in fluorescent chalk, which, when you get your 3-D glasses, suddenly has additional layers of detail that you couldn't see before. The whole interior is like that, including one room where the crabs seem to stand out from the walls until you realize that two of them actually DO stand out from the walls, and those two are attached to the hands of a scary guy, and he comes at you and goes "Rhaaaahrrr!" but again, standard for the genre. Best of all, they made it actually feel like a sinking ship - you step on boards that shift underfoot, whole sections vibrate and rock from side to side, and somehow they got the interior very dank and, uh, salty-smelling. (Didn't hurt that it was raining, or misting anyway.) This attraction was the best example of the degree of care and attention that's obvious throughout the whole park. Minor quibble - impossible to keep the 3-D glasses on over regular glasses. And a bit intense for little kids. 10 and up and maybe younger kids into pirates would love it though.

Death Trap Maze
Star rating: AWESOME (four stars)
This one was based loosely on the Saw movies, which I personally can't get into - I like my humor supernatural in origin, thankewverymuch. It was an actual maze, complete with dead ends and twisting turns and gates that shut behind you. Oh, yeah, and scarily masked clowns prowl the hallways, startling the f*ck out of unwary travelers. Coulrophobiacs* beware.

Arcane Asylum
Star rating: WOW (five stars)
The lunatics have taken over, the nurses are wearing skintight Spandex nurse costumes and things are getting really weird around here. Plenty scary and plenty funny. Even those of us who were just diagnosed with a major mental illness (hello) could appreciate the humor. And we really appreciated the nurses. Automatic one extra star. Could have done without the guy with the chainsaw at the end, but what can ya do. Not for kids under, say, 14.

The Dark Castle
Star rating: AWESOME (four stars)
The Dark Castle is the premier attraction, a classic that Screams has been doing for years. By far the scariest of the haunted houses, it's way too intense for kids and probably even younger teenagers. There are sloping hallways, people opening holes and yelling out at you (my favorite: "That one on the end! She smells delicious! Keep going, dearie, the kitchen's just ahead!") This was the only one that really scared me, that got me out of courtesy-scream mode (scream once in a while and the scary guys who leap out of dark corners will leave you alone; it is, after all, what they're there for) and into full fledged Oh my F******g God screaming in terror type screaming. I also spent most of this one clinging to Suzy (who seemed pretty amused; apparently I scream like a little girl). Only reason I'm not giving it five stars is that some of the scary stuff is associated with torture. Yeah, I know, that's kinda standard in the industry, but they were demonstrating a Judas cradle (look it up, people, I ain't gonna tell you what one is) and as a past member of both Survivors of Torture International and Amnesty International, that kind of stuff FREAKS ME OUT. Sorry, but it's my rating system and I can be arbitrary if I want to.

Anyway, a grand time was had by all, I'm hoarse as hell this morning and I got about five hours of sleep. I'm too old to do this very often but once in a while is a lot of fun.


*"Fear of clowns," people. C'mon now, this is why we have Wikipedia.