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

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Retreat! Retreat!

Playing in the background: The air conditioner. Or maybe the heater. Or maybe the air conditioner. Hard to tell. It's fall in Texas.

I spent all day yesterday at a meditation retreat hosted by Brother ChiSing. I didn't find out about it until the last minute, or rather, I didn't register until the last minute. I thought my sister was going to be in town this weekend but it turns out it's next weekend. So I registered on like Friday. Luckily they squeezed me in. I was bouncing off the **$$##% walls most of the week.

It turned out to be a small crowd and I needn't have worried. As often happens with this sort of thing, only about half the people who registered actually showed up. There were about ten of us which is nice, actually, because we get to know each other better. I'm not very good at that part though. One of the things I really like about meditation retreats is that for the most part you don't have to talk to anybody. But anyway, they were nice folks. We chattered a little over lunch. There were two yoga instructors, an insurance company employee and his wife, a couple of students, a musician and yours truly. Age range: 19 to about 65. So a good mix.

I was late (I am always late) because I went to the pool first. I came in just as they were about to go around introducing everybody, so I kind of slid onto a cushion and said, "Hi, I'm Jen and I've been bouncing off the walls for days and I'll try not to be too obnoxious." I wasn't. Obnoxious, I mean. In fact I may be down a notch or two, though it's hard to tell because I just used the nebulizer. That thing makes me jittery as hell but it's a small price to pay for being able to, uh, you know, breathe.

(Just incidentally, does anybody remember the Duran Duran video, I think it was the one for "Rio," where the keyboard player has a parrot sitting on his keyboard and it keeps pecking at his fingers? Chloe the Cat is sitting here next to the computer and she keeps nipping at my fingers. I wonder if somebody will pay me $1 million per minute to film this or if I'll need to have a sex change first.)

Anyway, it was a nice day. Not a lot happens at these things so I'm not sure how one would report on it. 9:30: Meditating. 10:15: Meditating. 11:00: Meditating. You get the idea. Every now and then we get up and walk for a while, or go around the circle and share ideas, and of course we broke for lunch; divine vegetarian food; pear and potato soup, veggie wraps with hummus & braised kale and - get this - soy banana pudding. There was lots of food left owing to the no-shows so I was able to take home some of the soy banana pudding to Joan. We've been trying for ages to find a non-milk-based pudding equivalent. Dessert choices are hell when you are lactose intolerant.

If you're a Buddhist, going to retreats is one of those things you're supposed to do. Sort of like the Hajj, but I think you can get away with doing that only once. You're supposed to go to retreats at least once a year. I imagine non-Buddhists would also benefit from these day retreats, though. For one thing, nobody bugs you every five minutes, the phone don't ring and you don't have to get up to take out the trash. So it's even better than watching football. It's also quieter. If you have one in your area, you might wanna check it out. I like meditating solo and I like hanging out with ChiSing and the gang. They meet once a week but the times suck for me, so this is about the only time I get to see them.

One of these days I'll get really brave and go away for another weekend. But not before the authorities repossess my idiot neighbor's chainsaw.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

So How's the Book Coming Along, You Ask.

Playing in the background: Weird hissy growly noise from the closet. Either that's the heater settling into this whole being on thing, or my room is haunted.

Well, you didn't ask, but every now and then I just gotta tell ya anyway. And the answer is, both great and lousy at the same time. I seem to have the Curse of the Interwoven Story Threads. You know the deal - novelist has three different proto-protagonists romping through the fictional landscape, the idea being they all meet up at the end when something Really Spectacular happens that just, you know, pulls it all together. Next time I write something I really gotta lose the interwoven story threads and just plow along with one narrator, however unreliable. Course, then how do you cover the stuff that happens that doesn't happen to your narrator but that nonetheless happens and is like important enough that you have to know about it before your narrator does but she's, you know, not there? Like, for example, the sleazy detective going to visit the psychiatrist at eleven at night and falling victim to an unfortunate accident that takes him out of the picture in a more or less permanent kind of way. Neither the detective nor the psychiatrist are graced with the honor of being narrators, but they have to carry the story line anyway because the disappearance of the detective is like really important and if you don't get to, you know, actually SEE what happens, then you won't have a big aha moment later on when you find out that one of the other minor characters has been Up To Something that's, well, minor, but that has an important effect on how the whole thing comes out and hearing about it second or thirdhand simply won't do.

By the way, I seem to be having my monthly fit of hyperfertility. In case that's not obvious. This morning at work I tried to write a Motion to Compel Order for Summary Judgment and Request for Sanctions on Quantum Meruit Letters Rogatory, which, in case you know nothing about law, makes absolutely no sense whatsoever. I was practically bouncing up and down at my desk and coming up with way too many excuses to scoot down the hall to the copy room and back at high speed. If I time it just right I can slide into home right outside my office door. And yes, I have had too much coffee, thankewverymuch.

Back to the book though. (This is the worst kind of hyperfertility to have. I want to do everything all at once but I can't focus on any one thing in particular. For the amount of stuff I actually get done I might as well not be hyperfertile at all, and oh look, a cloud.) I have this one thread that's going great guns, featuring my twelve-year-old-just-turned-thirteen, his new girlfriend (he thinks), the Enigmatic But Evidently Not Evil Government Agent and, uh, the bad guys. Fine. Then there's the Bad Guys themselves, who have their own thread and that's, uh, not going so well. And finally there's the Family Members, who also have their own thread that basically has not existed since chapter the first, or maybe second. In order to have the Interwoven Story Threads you must first have actual threads so I think I might be in trouble here. To say nothing of the fact that one of my narrators has been unconscious for about the last six chapters. Approximately. I thought I'd turned the corner on this thing and was about to wrap it up in the next month or so. Now I'm thinking not so much. Unless, of course, I go take the Family Members completely out of the picture and just have them show up for the Big Reunion at the end of the story. See, I told them to stay on the damn cruise ship but did they listen to me? No. Not even the midnight chocolate buffet could do that.

The thing is, I know what they do. I know the officious uncle and the family friend/criminal go case the various haunts of the Bad Guys in hopes of catching them, uh, being bad. But what do they say? Where do they go? Does anyone even care? Or should I pitch them all out and focus on my half-insane art-dealer would-be assassin, who's fascinating and who wears tight tops and short skirts? Or am I, in fact, completely incapable of even seriously considering this dilemma because I am both hyperfertile and COMPLETELY SCATTERBRAINED?! Oh look, a cloud.

Apropos of nothing, Joan and I were watching something on NatGeo about locusts, those creepy grasshopperlike structures that get together in gangs, fly into the sky with the sound of a B-52 engine, blot out the landscape and eat all the crops. Before they're old enough to do that, though, they're these cute little nymphy nymphs and instead of flying they kind of hop and walk along. They really are kind of cute. Anyway, they're hopping and walking along and I started saying, "Boing! Boing BOING boingy boingy BOING walk walk walk BOING" and Joan about fell out of her recliner laughing because, um, I don't often narrate the activities of onscreen insects, I guess. And this somehow became an iconic Jen and Joan moment because, after taking out the trash one evening, Joan said, "I think there are some boings in the garden." So there were. And they were pretty cute. I didn't even know it was boing season.

Having said all that, I think it's high time I took my meds and went to bed, don't you? Because honestly, I'm not even sure I'm qualified to be blogging right now.


Saturday, September 19, 2009


Since I ran my caveman post, I've had emails from all over the planet. Slight exaggeration but not much. Most very supportive. Two members of the church wrote me and expressed their opinions. One of 'em was having trouble posting this to the Comments section so I'll post part of it here:

Oh Jennifer. What a sad thing to have happen. I apologize for the situation you found yourself in at my church this afternoon. You'll notice that I was not at the service. And I do not think of you as a "Caveman", lesbian, or any other label, but simply as my friend Jennifer, the writer. How sad that some would consider homosexuality as a "tragedy." You'd think in this day and time, with all we have learned from science, (that people do not "chose" their sexual identities, but are born with them), that we'd cease being closeminded. A child is a child of God, and that's that in my book. And a gay or a lesbian is no less in the sight of our Lord as is a Downe's Syndrome child.

However, not enough of us are willing to keep an open mind and remember that we are all brothers and sisters in Christ. Because I'm "old" I realize that there will always be those who cling to long-held beliefs and I know I can't change them. Rather, I pray that God will soften their hearts while those whom they offend can find forgiveness in their hearts. It's truly a dicey situation and one I fear will always be with us. I just hope we can learn to live with grace and love and leave the rest up to God.

Jen adds: In the Mormon Church, Downs Syndrome kids are considered especially close to God and therefore to be cherished. Interesting, huh? When I found the First Church of Hemingway I'm thinking we should reserve a special place of honor for lesbians. No particular reason, except cats tend to like them and Hemingway liked cats so it kind of follows. Oh, and Sally, you are not old. :)

Jackie, who invited me to the service to hear her sing and who was utterly mortified about all this, filled me in later on the purpose of the healing service; that it was to look at things that affected your family, not just your immediate family but your parents and grandparents and so on. Being gay most certainly impacts a family and not always in good ways. And, yes, the way it was presented did sort of make it sound like being gay/Buddhist/Muslim/three-toed sloth was the same thing as being a rapist/murderer/child abuser/etc, but that wasn't the intent.

I did know that, actually. I just hope anybody there who had a gay/lesbian/Buddhist/Muslim/three-toed sloth family member also knew that and didn't start feeling worse instead of better. At least for many years, the worst part about having a family member who was somehow different was that somebody might find out. Retarded kids got hidden in back rooms. Unwed mothers were sent away. Gay and lesbian kids were disowned and told not to darken this doorstep again. I think changing religions was pretty much a declaration of war and probably still is in a lot of places. Not because parents didn't love their kids but because somebody might find out. Hopefully the healing service made it obvious that everybody has some dark family secret or another, but we all have friends, and Jesus is always there. And if somebody finds out it's okay. The world won't end.

My stupid example is Harry Potter's aunt, whose name I always forget. She spent most of the first five books horrified by the idea that someone might find out she had a sister who was a witch. The fact that she also had a nephew destined to save the world (says Jen, who has not read the last two books yet and is just taking a wild guess) didn't even enter her head. Which is sad. But they're sad books.

Meantime, I'm still wondering, why me? Why that service? Why that church? Why that day? Divine intervention? Divine comedy? Or is it as Depeche Mode once said; "I think that God has a sick sense of humor"?

In short, it's been a very interesting several days. But I seem to have a lot of friends who do not care how many toes I have, or that I'm lazy.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

So Easy, A Cave Man Can Do It.

Wow. Two blog posts in two days. This is probably a record.

I'm a big fan of the Geico cave man commercials. As a denizen of the litigation industry, I'm not a big fan of Geico, but that's a whole nother blog post. In case you missed the whole series, a couple of Neanderthals wander around modern day society, being tough and cool, hanging with friends, picking up pretty girls, bowling, whatever, and then one of them sees a poster or billboard for Geico Insurance with the tag line, "So Easy A Cave Man Can Do It." Instantly all the fun's over. I think they had a brief TV series that kind of went down in flames after accusations of racism. Something about Rev. Fred Phelps pronouncing "God Hates Brow Ridges," or maybe it had something to do with the Neandertal Anti-Defamation League.

Anyway, the most recent one has a cave man walking up to a display of TVs, pausing to chat on his BlackBerry, then looking up in time to see the Geico commercial. I think this one is my favorite. He tears off his glasses, throws aside his BlackBerry, takes off his shirt and runs out into the rain while the music behind him says something like "I gotta be who I am."

Reason this comes up is that my friend Jackie had a gig today at this Episcopal church. I told her I'd be there because I love to hear her sing, and because her original songs are by turns witty, scathing, irreverent and sad. Course at this one she was going to play mainly religious material but that was okay. It was some kind of "intergenerational healing service", where you pray for tragedies that have afflicted your family in the past and for stuff you've got going on now. Which I can get behind, Buddhist that I am. At least until I saw the long list of "family tragedies," which the priest read out loud. Among them: Domestic violence. Rape. Murder. Suicide, mental illness, homosexuality, lesbianism, drug addiction, miscarriages --

Uh. Hold it. Back up. What?

He kept going. Alcoholism, estrangement of a family member, "spiritualism," witchcraft, Satanism, tarot card reading, divination, having psychic abilities, cruelty to animals, family members that aren't part of the Judeo-Christian tradition such as Buddhists and Muslims; habitual criminal behavior, participating in genocide...

And there I sat, the lesbian Buddhist Tarot card reader with the mild psychic powers and the Wiccan wife who, uh, practices witchcraft. At least occasionally.

I gotta tell ya, I have heard gay people called many interesting things, but gay-person-as-"family tragedy" was a new one on me. I mean, if you had a gay son and you spent most of his teenage years telling him that God hates gay people and so he turned around and killed himself one day, that would be a family tragedy. (And you would be a moron.) But I don't know of any faith that has a ritual of mourning because a niece just admitted that she, uh, kind of likes girls. Likewise psychic powers. I mean, you don't ask to have psychic powers and you don't ask to be gay. You're either born that way or you're not.

And having a Muslim or a Buddhist in the family is a "family tragedy"? Up there with domestic violence, rape, mental illness and forGodsake genocide? Certainly the members of this church are entitled to think that their religion is the correct one, but do they really say to their friends, "My brother in law is a Muslim," and expect the same pat on the shoulder and the "I'm so sorry" that they'd get if they said, "My brother-in-law beat up and murdered my sister"?

Half the time it doesn't even occur to me I'm gay. I'm kind of post-gay. I mean, yeah, I'm married to a woman, and we have cats and own a house together, but we're so boring we could put your teeth to sleep and we live in a 1950s neighborhood with lots of other boring people and I doubt we occasion much comment from anybody around. The neighborhood kids would probably refer to us as "the two fat ladies" before they said "the two lesbians" or whatever less-than-flattering equivalent term kids are using these days. I go to work and pay bills and clean house and do laundry and really lead a rather unremarkable life. If I had to list my defining characteristics, I'd probably put being a lesbian fifth or sixth on the list, underneath being Scandinavian, fat, liberal, a writer, and Buddhist with a Lutheran background. It just doesn't enter my consciousness that often. Until something like this happens and there I am, the cave man from the Geico commercial, putting down my bowling ball and walking off in disgust as the pinsetter that reads "So Easy A Cave Man Can Do It" comes down at the end of the lane.

So I didn't have the option of tearing off my glasses and running dramatically away into the rain to be a cave man. I'm not sure how one runs off and is dramatically a lesbian Buddhist Tarot card reader, anyway, because I am one pretty much every day and I don't think I'd do anything different if I were, say, a polysexual Hindu palm reader. Instead I had to wait for a break in the music so that I could get up and leave without embarrassing Jackie. If she hadn't been there, I'd have left a lot sooner. Or made a scene. Or maybe both. Hard to know. And now I'm home and writing this blog post and trying to decide if it would be okay to mention that the church was SAINT LUKE'S EPISCOPAL CHURCH ON ROYAL LANE AT PRESTON or if that would be bad manners.

I wonder if anybody else there had a gay friend or family member. I imagine so; practically everyone does. I wonder if anybody else there had any idea how casually they were inflicting terrible damage on these folks by equating their gay and lesbian family members with wife-beating genocidal Satan-worshipping rapists. I imagine Muslims get used to being associated with suicide bombers (though they probably never like it) and Wiccans get used to being lumped into the same category as Satanists (even though Satan is a Christian concept that has no place in this pre-Christian tradition). But I hope they don't. I hope they're outraged every single time, and I hope they get in people's faces every single time. There nothing wrong with being gay, lesbian, Muslim, Buddhist or psychic. People don't choose these things; they are chosen. So plainly God wants them that way. And if God wants them that way, they aren't "family tragedies." As a Buddhist might tell you, they just are.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

The Paperback Is Out!!

Playing in the background: Rain. Lots and lots of rain.

Well, after a big wrangle with the Lulu powersthatbe regarding spiral wrap vs. perfect bind and the ever so important location of the bar code, the paperback version of No Accounting For Reality is finally out! You can buy it here. And somehow I was able to keep the price at $10. One of the reasons we finally went with the spiral wrap vs. the perfect bind, which I did like ever so much better. Oh well. It's an ugly business, publishing.

In case you're wondering what it's about: Municipal accountant Annie Sipkins tangles with Thor, Loki, the Dallas City Council and the end of the world while trying to save the Tree of Life from Dutch Elm Disease. Accompanied by Thor's (talking) hammer and a sarcastic house cat, Annie navigates the sewer of the collective unconscious, battles frost giants and fends off mashers at the PostMortemBar. Will she succeed before the last caramel machiatto in existence is sucked down by the black hole at the end of all time? Anyway, it's available and you can go get your copy now, or download it for $4 (still a cheap read for a short airline flight.) Enjoy! And yes, Childrens' Medical Center still gets $1 for every copy sold of the e-book through at least December. ($96 and counting, by the way. Which is pretty remarkable considering we've done it almost all a dollar at a time-most of my friends are as broke as I am.)

Hey, speaking of weird fundraisers, remember that guy who yelled "You lie!" at the President during his health care address to Congress? Well, he's a South Carolina representative named Joe Wilson. His Democratic opponent for the 2010 election, Rob Miller, has cleared $1 million in donations, mostly from out of staters, for his campaign war chest since Tuesday evening. Pretty remarkable, considering he only had $60,000 before that. If you'd like to contribute to Mr. Miller's campaign, go here. I sent him $10, myself.

While I was tilting at windmills (and stop me before I subreference again), my friend Kellum Johnson (no relation) also got his book published: The Encyclopedia of Beings from Faith and Folklore. I've seen a proof copy and it is magnificent, complete with art work from my amazing cover artist, Suzi Eberhard. If you like mythology, this is required reading; a fun, snarky, often irreverent look at gods and monsters and other interesting critters that have been fodder for campfire stories since we were all cave men. (And women.) That guy on the cover is a Native American monster referred to as Throws-People-Off-Of-Cliffs. C'mon, with a name like that he's got to have an interesting story. Check it out. Tell em Jen sent you.

Please excuse the shameless self-promotion, but it was either this or a maudlin retrospective on 9/11/2001 and the happy-go-lucky days that followed. Maybe I'll do that next post.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

I Feel Better Already. Sort Of.

Playing in the background: "Top Chef." Tom Colliccio looks like a vulture (still).

Well, kids, I'm sure that my 100 million closest friends and I are writing blog posts about the President's Big Speech just about now. The only thing worse than being an unappreciated blogger is being not-even-unique. But hey, it's my bandwidth and I'll yack about health care reform if I want. Besides, just wait. I'm about to clear up one of the Big Mysteries of the Buddhist Bible Belt. That should be worth stickin' around for.

In case there's any doubt about where I stand on this issue, uh, there should not be. I'm completely in favor of scrapping the entire system and bringing in something like NHS in the UK, but being as that's too radical for most of my fellow Americans, I'm fine with the plan the President first proposed. Reasons: one of my best friends, Tammy, hasn't been able to afford health insurance for about the last seven years. Nother reason: I've also been on COBRA three times in the last ten years, and it's like totally shocking how much it's gone up in price in that time. Most recent quote: $502 a month, of which the government's paying most. First time: A mere $192. Hands up who thinks that's a pretty darn outrageous price increase for roughly the same care (in fact I think it's gotten worse) in that short a time period. Yep. Third reason: Joan, who works for the City and should have Really Good Insurance (that's what they say about government employees, overpaid lazy bureaucrats that they are - they're supposed to have great benefits) needs two sleep studies, and our out of pocket cost for each one is $400. That's almost like not having insurance at all, at least in the effect it's having (she's had one and the next one is, hopefully, going to happen at the end of the month).

Having said all that, I need to convey to y'all (including Sen. John Cornyn, who keeps sending me emails - dude, I read yours, read mine, okay?) how completely serious I am about some bill getting passed. Pres. Obama said that leaving things the way they are, is not acceptable. How not acceptable is it? Well, to me it's so unacceptable that I'm gonna leak one of the longstanding secrets of this blog (told you I'd get back to that eventually.)

Back in, oh, September of last year (!) I wrote a post called, "I Suck At Taking My Own Advice." I alluded to a Big Relationship Issue where Joan and I did not see eye to eye, momentous along the lines of whether or not to have a kid (though it wasn't about that, thank goodness.) Here's what that was all about: Joan has talked on and off about wanting to leave the country. Not just on vacation, mind you, but packing up the cats and the - well, not much else, really - and Going To Live Elsewhere. Yeah, she has a destination in mind, but we don't want to alert that country's immigration department just yet, so I can't say where.

The problem? Well, I like it here. Not here in Texas per se (though I do like it here in Texas, probably more than anywhere else I've lived) but the States generally. I know this statement gets overused to the point of ridiculous, and for all the wrong reasons, but I'm a patriot. A flag-wavin' freedom-lovin' Fourth of July fireworks-watchin' loyal American. Yes, this country has been through its times of being particularly messed up, and yes, we've done some Really Stupid Things. But hey. I'm an American. Americans are my people. I love them. And it's hard to imagine bailing on them, especially when things are tough and they need me the most.

Let's face it, there are only two possible outcomes to this discussion, and somebody's gonna be unhappy no matter what happens. As a Buddhist, I try not to be too attached to anything, including ideologies, countries and concepts. So I should be able to Let Go of my point of view a little easier. Hah! One's religious preference may or may not have any effect on one's general stubbornness. And as I believe I mentioned in September 2008, I suck at taking my own advice.

The conversation flared up from time to time, most notably during particularly stupid moves by the Bush Administration, and reached a fever pitch just before Wall Street imploded. Then Obama became President and we started thinking Maybe It Would All Be Okay. Then through most of August, people (including mah fellow Texans) started yackin' about death panels and care rationing and how much it would suck for the urban poor to be able to, I dunno, take their kids to the doctor. Yep, we were back to the same discussion again. And, as I believe I mentioned in September 2008 - oh wait, I mentioned that already.

So I'm gonna come out of the closet here, so to speak, and say that much to my amazement, I'm on the boat now. If we, the Americans, tear ourselves to shreds to the point where we can't pass some kind of health care reform, I will flop over to the side of unattachment and go with my sweetie elsewhere. Not because I don't love this country -- I do; I'm crazy about it, in fact. Because I can't support it with my tax dollars anymore if an issue this basic, already postponed for the last 60-odd years by companies, individuals and politicians who are more interested in what's in it for them, gets skewered on a partisan stake when there's so much to lose. Like, you know, people's lives. And before y'all start emailing me about don't-let-the-door-hit-you-in-the-ass-on-the-way-out, let me just say, that's exactly what I'm talking about.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

This History Break Brought To You By...

Playing in the background: Can't tell. Really tired and everything sounds fuzzy.

Hey, I stumbled across this while I was looking for a decent terrain map of El Salvador (the real-life stand-in for my fictional San Sebastian). In the third book, Our Heroes end up in Chalchuapa, where (in both fiction and real life) some Mayan pyramids were discovered in recent years. They've long since been covered up by soil and plant growth over the centuries, so they're being dug - very carefully - out of the growth and studied by anthropologists.

Here's a pic of a pyramid half-covered and half not. Very cool. Saw one of these close up roundabouts 1996 and it's kind of an eerie sight.

Apropos of absolutely nothing, did anybody catch the first ep of "Surviving Disaster" on Spike yesterday? That was awesome. If you ever need to know how to take a plane back from hijackers, or if you just like to write really violent fight scenes, you will want to see this show. Next week we'll be escaping a burning building, kids. Now that could come in handy someday.