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

Friday, December 31, 2010

Talk Thursday (on Friday): The Year That Was

Well, it's as good a topic as any, seeing as the topic-o-meter is misbehaving again. So as my li'l fishy on the left there swims boldly forward into 2011, here's some highlights (and lowlights) from the Year that Was.

We didn't get off to a great start. On the first day of spring (!), ol' Dallas was hit with a blizzard-cum-ice storm that knocked down zillions of trees and killed power all over the city, including here, at the Flaming O Ranch. We spent four days in the dark and
cold, which was I guess less
cold than it could have been on accounts of our gas fireplace, but a lot colder than was strictly pleasant. We ate more than a few meals from our Cookbook o' the Decade, Apocalypse Chow: Emergency Eating For Hurricanes, Blackouts, Bachelors and Other Disasters (available everywhere and very
handy, I might add.) Why didn't we evacuate to a hotel? Uh, three cats, that's why. They thought it was awesome that I was sleeping
bundled up on the couch, pulled up next to the fireplace. I didn't exactly get the awesomeness. Next time, generator and air mattress. Sincerely.

Fun with Appliances, Part 1: This summer our kitchen range blew up (!), showering sparks all over Joan. In keeping with the best advice about how to deal with electrical problems, I grabbed the plug with my bare hands and pulled it out of the wall. The nice electric guy says not to ever do that again, please. My hair has mostly stopped curling now, and we have a new range that looks exactly like the old one. Let's hear it for Sears Home Delivery.

Fun with Appliances, Part 2: In the very hottest part of August, our brand-new air conditioner decided to go all kamikaze on us. Our air conditioner repair guy was here for four frickin’ days (with the internal temp hovering near 90) trying to figure out what in hell could be wrong. It turned out to be an obscure part that never, ever goes bad -- and which was still under warranty. So the whole four days cost us $50 bucks for the service call. Wow. Our air conditioner repair guy is a saint. Also, Caesar the Cat loves him.

Fun with Appliances, Part 3: Our plumber threw in a free inspection as part of an end of the year special. Boy, were we surprised to find out our water heater is 19 years old – which makes it a full 7 years past its natural life span. Guess what’s next on the list to be replaced? And here I was hoping for a new dishwasher.

I went to the Pen to Press Writers Retreat in New Orleans in May. That was great. Besides getting to meet F. Paul Wilson, which was basically the Jen equivalent of Judge Harry Stone getting to meet Mel Torme (yes, I'm old, so sue me), I crammed tons of publishing-industry stuff into my brain and learned not how to write great literature but how to tell a good story. And yes, I took scads of notes. I'm a paralegal. I take notes. It's just what I do. So do I have an agent yet, and am I on my way to mind boggling success in the New York industry corridor? Uh, no. But I am getting rejected on a higher level and by more important people. Stay tuned. I also met two really cool people who have become good friends - Rhett in Jinks, Oklahoma and JulieAnne in Ogden, Utah. Get this - JulieAnne and I knew each other in junior high school. Small world? Or small script? You tell me.

The City of Dallas, in a budget-balancing exercise, laid a bunch of people off. Then it said it was just kidding and hired most of them back. Then some departments were eliminated. Then they weren't. It was a bad time to be working for the City. We didn't really think Joan was going to be laid off - she's sort of the last woman standing in her department - but stranger things have happened, so we were pretty nervous between, say, June and October. This ended happily; Joan didn't get laid off. But her salary got cut. Which is not a happy thing. Meanwhile, Jen got a new job, which is a really good one.

In addition to the backyard cats, we seem to have acquired a pair of backyard raccoons. They
are, of course, attracted to the cat food, and since I won't stop feeding the cats, I think we're stuck with them for the duration. They really are kind of cute, and if we can keep my idiot neighbor from shooting them, we could all coexist in peace. That is to say, unless someone else can trap them; I kept trying, and the only things I ever caught were confused cats. The raccoons just managed to get the food out of the trap and take off without triggering it. Not only are they smart, they make me look stupid. Ya gotta admire that in an animal.

In October, the long-suffering Texas Rangers won the National League pennant, only to lose the World Series to the Giants five games later. Win a pennant, lose a Series; that's the way baseball go. It was an interesting time to be a Dallasite, though; I sat through an OA meeting where somebody with an iPhone called out the score every ten minutes, and when the trick-or-treaters came around, Joan and I would pass out candy and yell "Five to two Giants!" to the parents waiting on the sidewalk. I'm thinking this year we might do something crazy like actually watch the games or, even more radical, attend a few, so we know what's going on before the post-season stuff starts. If the post-season stuff starts. Only problem: Tends to be about 103 degrees in the stands for most of those games. Hm, I wonder if I can convince my law firm to rent a corporate box.

So anyway, that was the year, or most of it. 2011 can be a lot more mellow for all of me. I always make the same New Years resolution - to wing it and see what happens. Best of years to all of you, too. And watch out for raccoons.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Happy Everything, Everybody!

And a Merry Christmas, too.
And we'll be speaking before then, but Happy New Year!

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Talk Thursday: If This Is The Season Of Joy...

...Why Do I Feel Like Sheep?

Actually, given my penchant for swim-o-meter graphics I should say, "Why do I feel like fish?" but, I suppose the point is taken even if I was supposed to insert Another Word in there. Why do people, some people, my people, this person anyway, get gloomy around the holidays?

Well, let's see; I can think of a few reasons. It's dark. It's cold. Everywhere you look is full of one dose after another of artificial cheer, from Deep and Profoundly Moving Christmas Specials on TV (A Charlie Brown Christmas, anyone? A Christmas Carol? It's a Wonderful Life?) to happy dancing shoppers on escalators at some fictional mall someplace. You can tell it's a fictional mall because in real malls, shoppers do not dance on escalators. They don't even do happy hops. In fact, if you didn't know better you would swear they were trudging uphill through miles of mud. Mall people never look happy. They never drive happy. And forget driving friendly; driving through a mall parking lot at any time during the month of December is a good way to get an adrenaline rush, and possibly several new insurance claims. No wonder George Romero set "Dawn of the Dead" in a shopping mall; if there's anywhere civilization should breathe its last, it should be there, between Bath and Body Works and 5-7-9. Jen has spoken.

Technically, of course, Buddhists don't celebrate Christmas at all, but try telling that to a Buddhist. At least the ones I know in the States tend to celebrate pretty much anything at the drop of a hat, or a meditation cushion. There actually is a Buddhist holiday in December - Bodhi Day, the celebration of Buddha's enlightenment - but it's not like anybody puts up a Bodhi tree in their houses and decorates it or anything. (Hm. Possible business plan. Must think about this.) I live with a pagan and we still celebrate Christmas, though the whole religious aspect pretty much misses us completely. Unless you consider the tree, the ornaments, the gifts, the -- yep, there's a religious element at work there, but it's not Christianity.

See, back before Christianity, when this time of year was about the Oak King kicking the Holly King's butt and reigning over winter, throwing that Yule log on had some religious significance as well as being a practical way to stay warm in the days before central heating. Pre-Solstice depression was a lot more understandable then. The holiday was, after all, about death. It was the "beginning" of winter, but it was also the "end" of the autumn, the darkest night of the year, and quite often one of the coldest. If you were at all sickly, elderly, frail or otherwise less than hale and hearty, nobody really expected you to make it through the winter. And if you were going to drop dead, there weren't too many nights more symbolic than the Solstice. (Well, maybe Samhain--that's Hallowe'en, to you moderns.) So the whole joy-of-the-season thing wasn't a requirement. Heck, it wasn't even a suggestion. Yeah, things got better as the days got
longer and things started to warm up (even though there was plenty of winter left to go yet) - but you were forgiven if you weren't partying hearty around the campfire with the Oak King, tossing pinecones and acting like a fool.

I admit I like Pagan celebrations better than Buddhist ones. Buddhists take everything way too seriously. Buddhists tend to "celebrate" holidays by meditating and studying the dharma - which, don't get me wrong, is very soothing and all that, but it just doesn't scream "holiday" quite as much as the fire, the Oak King, the pinecones, the feast, the sacrificial baby - just kidding about the baby. And I like either of those better than the whole going to the mall thing and the showing up at the various Christmas parties and smiling until my face aches thing. Okay, yes, some Christmas parties are fun, and giving presents is fun too, but the onerous sense of obligation ruins it for me. I'd rather just, you know, be who I am.

Frankly, I think I'd be a lot happier this time of year if I didn't have so many external-media conspirators insisting that I be overcome with joy at this psuedo-religious gift-a-palooza that starts around mid-October and really doesn't stop until February. I hate, loathe and despise being told what to do. Unless, that is, there's something in it for me, like a pay check or a well-completed project or, I dunno, sanity. Maybe Christmas and I could strike a deal: Don't demand that I be happy, and I'll agree to rise a few notches above surly and, you know, talk to people and stuff. I'm just sayin'.

Book o' the Decade Alert! If you're even a little bit interested in religion, you've got to check out The God Virus: How Religion Infects Our Lives and Culture by Darrel W. Ray. You may not agree with his theory of religion-as-virus, but his argument is compelling and the implications for our culture and politics are scary--whether you believe in God or not. Four stars.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Talk Thursday (on Sunday): Exhibition and Privacy

Now there's a topic that's near and dear, especially recently. Before I go into that, though, let's just say that anyone who publishes a semi-weekly Web column/blog/ FaceSpace/Mypage/ Whatever can just about kiss any privacy about anything they've ever written on there, as well as any pictures they've posted, so long and goodbye. What's on the Net, stays on the Net, and they'll find it before your job interview and they'll check it out when you're called for jury duty and if you're a Christian, Saint Peter will probably ask you questions about it when you get to the pearly gates (including, but not limited to, "Is this you sitting on Mick Jagger's lap in your underwear?"). Okay? Okay.

Moving right along then: What sort of exhibitionism is still shocking in our age of telling everyone everything? And what can and should remain private? Or are we in a post-privacy era, where nobody can get away with anything anymore?

When Madonna posted her "Sex" book (says Jen, showing her age), any questions about any part of her anatomy we hadn't already seen were very quickly and messily cleared up. Not only did we see her naked, we saw her mind at work, and pardon me for saying so, Ms. Ciccone, but it wasn't a pretty picture. From that point forward, any "mystery" about the Material Girl was really more a case of what in hell was she going to do next. She continues to pull it off, which is kind of, well, shocking. But she doesn't pull it off in a shocking manner anymore. She just sort of casually reinvents herself every few years, and if there's any tiny part of her life we haven't seen, it's just because we haven't been paying attention.

On the other hand, we have Jodie Foster. (Yes, I'm going somewhere with this. Bear with me.) Ms. Foster is circumspect about her personal life to a degree that one might call paranoid until one realizes that she basically had no life of her own from the time she was about six until she went away to college. (The girl was photographed nude at the age of three, for God's sake, and the image is still used to this day on bottles of suntan lotion.) That she decided to slam the doors on any part of her life that wasn't immediately part of the spotlight not only took guts, it took that rarest of rare things in Hollywood; common sense. Non-Hollywood types didn't even know she was a lesbian until she thanked "my beautiful Cydney" in an acceptance speech back in 2008 (the rest of us had it figured out a long time ago - it's that gaydar thing). I don't know this for a fact but I suspect Ms. Foster doesn't have a Facebook page. If she does, it's probably for her production company.

So we have our two extreme examples, exhibition and privacy. Most of us live somewhere in between. Myself, personally, I get annoyed when I write one of these blog posts and get few or no responses. (Or, worse, those weird Asian responses that are in Han Chinese and when translated, seem to be something about sex, but are otherwise incomprehensible.) Nobody likes to be ignored. Yet it's interesting how people get bent out of shape when their Facebook posts, rather than garner "likes" from their friends, get them into trouble instead. I've heard of cheerleaders getting kicked off the squad when their parents or teachers found pictures of them drinking alcohol; disability benefits recipients losing those benefits because caseworkers found pictures of them partying at the beach; guys who lose jobs because their bosses find pictures of them doing mature things like making copies of their backsides on the office copy machine. Some have thrown public hissy fits. Some have even threatened lawsuits. For getting in trouble for doing stuff that there's absolute proof (including written confessions, in plenty of cases) they did it. I wish I could sit in on some of those depositions, because what we have here, folks, is a case of technology running much faster than our ability to cope with it.

In my case, I didn't get into all that much trouble because I expressed an opinion rather than admitting to doing something like, I dunno, copying my backside on the office copier. (There'd be more evidence; the silly thing would have shattered like a cracked egg.) But, ironically, that's the pattern of my life. I only ever got into trouble for opening my mouth at the wrong time in front of the wrong people, most often in high school, and most often there in front of one particular social sciences teacher who should have retired about ten years before he met me. Now that I have a keyboard and a domain name, I can get into even more trouble, and without even trying too hard. So can we all. We're both much weaker and much more powerful than we realize. You'll note, for example, I did two Talk Thursdays in a week and not only did the earth fail to crack asunder, but California did not fall into the ocean. I have to admit I'm a tiny bit disappointed about that.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Talk Thursday: No Topic? No Problem.

Well, kids, no Talk Thursday topic has appeared in my mailbox yet. Not sure why--maybe the topic-o-meter had a blowout and they had to send to Shanghai for parts - but I'd like to assure my nervous fans, both of you, that this is not a problem. I have never needed an excuse to blather on at great length. Besides, I already have a topic picked out, and I was gonna use it whether it fit in with the "official" topic or not. I'm kinda stubborn that way.

December the sixteenth is not a good day for me. In fact, it's pretty much the worst day of the year to be Jen. The only good thing about it is that when I wake up tomorrow morning it will be December seventeenth and things are bound to get better. Every year I try to forget what happened on December 16 and every year I manage to remember it anyway. Nine years ago, on December 16, 2001, someone I care very deeply about killed himself. And yours truly has really never been the same since.

Oh, sure. I'm familiar with the various platitudes. He wasn't in his right mind at the time. (Well, obviously.) He had some problem, maybe a mental illness, that we didn't know about. (Yes, he had a big problem that we didn't know about then, and probably also a mental illness, and a serious alcohol problem, besides.) There's nothing you can do to save somebody who truly wants to take himself out. (Who wants to save him? It's too late to save him. He's probably a fourth-
grader in Beijing by now. I just want to track him down and beat the stuffing out of him for putting everyone who loved him through all this crap. Too bad it doesn't work that way.) The Lord works in mysterious ways. (Don't even get me started on that one. The Lord had nothing to do with a .34 blood alcohol level, a belt and a handy ceiling pipe.) You need to let this go, Jen. (Uh, hello. Tried that. Been trying for about nine years now. Hasn't worked. Still upset. Thanks for the thought, though.)

And hey, I wasn't even a close friend or family member. Yeah, I cared deeply for the guy, but I was a fringe dweller in his life. I'll be kind and say he probably would have recognized me in a crowd, might have remembered my name without too much prompting. But if I'm still this upset after this long, imagine what his close friends went through. Imagine what his kids went through. Imagine what a thrill it must be for them, to remember Christmas as the time when their daddy

So here, at last, is the point I'm trying to make. If you, whoever you are, are thinking about suicide, if the notion has even crossed your mind lately, but especially if it has done more than cross your mind, please, please please please get some help. Don't rip a giant hole in the hearts of everyone who has ever loved you. Don't leave a hundred or more people to write maudlin blog posts at their favorite Middle Eastern restaurants on a busy Thursday night. Pick up the phone -- right now -- and call one of these numbers: 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or 1-800-SUICIDE (784-2433) (TTY: 1-800-799-4889). In the Dallas area, you can call (214) 330-7722. Okay? Okay. Thanks. Tell them Jen and Stuart sent you.

William Stuart Adamson Jr., April 11, 1959 - December 16, 2001

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Talk Thursday: But For The Grace...

Now there's a loaded Talk Thursday topic if ever I heard one. What am I willing to cop to, that for the grace of somebody /something, I'm not doing/saying/being? I mean, but for the grace of an X-chromosome, I'd be male, but how exciting is that? Not very. A similar genetic coin toss gets made every two seconds and the results are all around us. No, for real blog fodder, you need the good stuff. But for the grace of Gandhi, for example, I'd be British. (Which, not being born in India, I can't lay claim to.) But for the grace of the policeman who came along at just the right moment, I'd have gotten into the big black car with the friendly stranger and who knows what would have happened. (Relax, this never actually happened to me. It's an archetypal story, and I'm just using it as an example.) But for the grace of God, I'd have fallen off the roof and become a paraplegic. Something like that. Some disaster narrowly averted, some horrible fate missed by inches.

The thing is, I don't have that many disasters narrowly averted in my life. Most of them actually happened. I mean, I guess they could have been worse, but bigger disasters narrowly averted doesn't really make up for smaller disasters that actually happened, in my humble opinion. And smaller disasters do not blog fodder make. But for the grace of my dad's amazing pilot skills, we'd have all fallen out of his airplane when the door popped open at 5,000 feet. (No, not really; we were all wearing seat belts, and there's not much suction at that altitude. Kinda rattling for a few minutes there, though.) But for the grace of my ear, nose and throat surgeon, I'd be getting a lot more sinus infections. (Not only isn't that impressive, it's kinda gross.) But for the grace of an old lawyer friend who talked me out of it, I'd have gone to law school. (Doubt it. I was pretty much dead set against going to law school. Old lawyer friend just gave me a much more persuasive argument.) Bor-ring. Pretty soon my legion of screaming fans - both of them - will be skipping past this entry to read the latest Dear Abby column over at the Chicago Tribune site.

So that leaves me with only one option. The scary option. There but for the grace of God, I didn't turn out like this lady.
This is without a doubt the scariest book I ever read. It's so scary I told Joan not to read it because it would give her nightmares. I've read it about five times and it gets scarier every darn time. Forget Stephen King, forget George Romero, forget Ben Kingsley (yes, I'm afraid of Ben Kingsley; go see Death and the Maiden and then come back here and tell me with a straight face that you're not afraid of Ben Kingsley). It ends happily, by the way, but like lots of things that end happily, you have to slog through a lot of mud to get there.

Yes, of course it could have been worse. I could have been born to strict Fundamentalist parents of the type who disown their kids for not marrying someone of the opposite sex. I could have joined the Air Force in college and found out only then how utterly unfit I was for military service. I could have stayed in music school, stubbornly retaken class piano and flunked it a few more times before getting tossed out on my ear. I could have not been wearing my seat belt when the door popped open at 5,000 feet. But frankly, what Ms. Hornbacher and I have in common is plenty bad enough, thank you. And a novel-length illustration of how bad it can get if you don't take care of it is enough to scare me straight. So to speak.

I know I've been lucky as hell that my life hasn't turned out the way Ms. Hornbacher's did. Well, half of it was luck. The other half is doing what the nice medical profession tells me to do. If I keep doing that, will everything will continue to flow along smoothly in the life of Jen? It's more likely than not, but there are no guarantees. Sometimes you can do all the right things and everything can still go wrong. Just ask Ben Kingsley. He starred in BloodRayne.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Ex. Asper. Ated.

Every day, I remind myself more of my mother. During trial prep I heard myself say to my lawyer boys, several times, "Everything's fine," and "Don't worry, I'll handle it." Those are Mom-isms from way back. Then just a few days ago I called my sister and said, "Your mother is driving me crazy." Which is, of course, exactly the thing my mother does when she's annoyed with my father. It's "Your father is driving me crazy" when she's annoyed with him. When she's pleased with him, it's always, "Dad" or, sometimes, "That man of ours." I took a look at myself in the mirror and I'm rapidly becoming a composite of both parents. Mom's face with Dad's hair. Well, that's a cool combination, anyway. Dad's hair is very thick and, though shot through with grey, still all there. And then there's my nose. It's my nose. Nobody in the family has a nose like mine. So I have this original, classic nose. But I digress.

I have a sick relative. My mom used to be a nurse, and I guess once you're a nurse you're always a nurse, kind of like there's no such thing as an ex-Marine. So my mom is taking care of this relative. This is a relative I've spent a fair amount of time with, gone on a number of trips with, etc. And I'm exasperated out of all reason that nobody will tell me what the hey is going on. Or rather, the persons who know won't tell me what the hey is going on. Neither will the relative. Every time I'm on the phone with said relative, the conversation is always hello, how ya doin', fine and goodbye. Every time I'm on the phone with Mom and I ask about said relative, she says, "Everything's fine" or "Don't worry, I'll handle it" and changes the subject. The more pointed I get with my questions, the more obvious the changes of subject. As in, take the hint, Jen. I've always been lousy about taking hints.

It could be that nobody actually knows, that all the test results are coming back negative or, worse, confusing. It could also be that this relative doesn't want anyone talking about it, hence the radio silence. If somebody would just tell me that, I'd probably be fine with it. (Probably. Not necessarily. I'm not promising anything here. I'm just saying probably.) It's the fact that nobody's leveling with me that's driving me up the wall.

I should, of course, be used to this by now. I'm Scandinavian. Way before everything else of interest about me (gay, female, a little loopy, American, writer, paralegal), being Scandinavian is the brightest color in the palette. It's the religion (Lutheran), the background, the whole emotional quality of my life. Scandinavian folk don't talk about anything Serious head-on. We. Just. Can't. Do. That. We hint, we evade, we say "That's nice" a lot. (And then we spend years in therapy wondering why in hell we're wrenched with chronic anxiety all the time. Go figure.) Trouble with me is, I didn't actually spend my entire formative years in North Dakota, and I got exposed to normal-type people who, you know, YELL when they're angry and CRY when they're sad and LAUGH when they're happy and weird stuff like that. Small wonder I'm so mixed up. But anyway. I have much less patience for Chronic Evasion Syndrome than my parents do. Hence, source of conflict. Hence, serious frick'n exasperation.

So I'm reduced to picking up fragments of the story wherever I can, piecing together hints and allegations and things left unsaid. I'm almost to the point of calling another relative, who would probably know more, but I kind of hate to do that because even though I know this person would know something, I'd just be calling because I know this person would know something, which is a rotten reason to be calling somebody, even though I'd also be calling to say hi.

Dilemmas, dilemmas. Is it too late to go back in time and be born Mexican-American?

Cinematic brilliance alert! Go see "Unstoppable." Awesome movie with an unbelievably cool chase scene, even if it's between two vehicles that are unable to make turns and top out at around 70 mph. Highly recommended!

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Talk Thursday (on Saturday): Sticks, Stones, and Words That Stab Much Deeper

Significant words in the life of Jen:

Reading an email from a literary agent on a crowded elevator on my way to work one morning quite recently, I suddenly exclaimed, "GODDAMMIT!!" Uh, it was kinda loud. And everyone turned around and stared at me. I was pretty embarrassed. The email wasn't good news, either.

My ex broke up with me, she said, because she didn't want to be in a relationship "just because it was convenient." Yep, it happened about seventeen years ago and I can still hear it. That's "convenient" with a sharp "c", a long "e" and a pointed "t". I didn't want to hear the word "convenient" for years. Still don't, in all honesty.

When I was about nine, my mother, in an odd fit of prescience, took me to a psychiatrist. I told her I didn't want to go back because the doctor asked lots of questions and I felt invaded. My mother said that when she took her car to the mechanic, she had to answer all his questions or he wouldn't know what was wrong with the car. I didn't get past the word "car." Great. I was now equated with a motor vehicle. I'd better be good or I'd be recycled for spare parts. Or worse, recalled to Detroit. (Or Tokyo.)

Joan, my wife, is often referred to around here as "Pi." While this is a common Southern nickname for a woman, it's not often spelled out as a mathematical formula. It came about that I was abbreviating "pie" as "22/7", which is, "3.14285714...." or the radius of a circle, in a note. Joan read this literally as 22/7, meaning 22 hours, 7 days a week - because everybody deserves two hours off. So now "Pi" means two hours off, the radius of a circle, 3.14285714...or a fine pastry that often contains fruits, nuts, or both. And sometimes it just means Joan.

Back in the Middle Ages, people used to get sick and die of various diseases that involved facial lesions, all of which were lumped together (for lack of medical knowledge) under the general heading of "the pox." Since then (and I've been alive since then; indeed, I've been alive for ages and ages) I've discovered that the word POX!! pronounced exactly that way, with at least two exclamation points, makes a fine, satisfying fake swear word in circumstances where FUCK!! would get you in big trouble. Another satisfying fake swear word is GEORGE W. BUSH!! but that can be taken wrong in certain circles. You have been warned.

"External" is a word most often applied to something that is, uh, not internal; unless, of course, you live around here, in which it means a certain kind of cat. There are two kinds of cats in this house; the internals and the externals. The internals are the spoiled rotten house cats. The externals are the feral cats, who live in the back yard and share food, however unwillingly, with Madame Raccoon. We think rather highly of the externals around here, so much so that we named our external hard drive "Clan External" in their honor.

And this post is going nowhere fast, so in closing, I leave you with the word "ay-yow." This word comes from a cat dialect, most commonly spoken by all black and tuxedo cats. While it is most often used to express the concept, "Give me some tuna," the word literally means "heart's desire." Should one's heart's desire be thwarted, beware of the "maaaaare," which in most cat dialects means, "I'm going to smother you in your sleep."

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Talk Thursday: Whot's It Going To Be Then, Eh?

I stole this topic from "A Clockwork Orange." I hope Anthony Burgess doesn't crawl out of his grave and sue me, the litigious zombie. But it's perfect for my current dilemma. It's right up there with to be or not to be, that is the question. Oops, I just nudged another litigious zombie--sorry, Mr. Shakespeare. Ye gods, zombies everywhere. I've gotta stop watching these late night episodes of The Walking Dead, even if it is the coolest show on TV by a comfortable margin. Go, Sheriff Grimes! Or is it Deputy Grimes? I never did figure that out.

Remember a couple weeks back when I said I got tired of writing this? Or at least I didn't know how safe it was anymore? I mean, it's not like I'm in Egypt or anything, and I'm not gonna spend four years in prison like Kareem Amer, but this thing with my ex coworker is really bringing me down, folks. The whole mess just reared its ugly head again when it came to the attention of some People in Charge at my office. No, I'm not in trouble, but the People in Charge now know this blog exists. The reason I'm not in trouble, of course, is that I've never said anything that reflects poorly on, or for that matter identifies, The Firm. And they know that because they've read it, or at least part of it, at least once. I hope it wasn't while Mr. Naked Guy was up there on the front page, but if it was, well, so it goes. Remind me to get Mr. Naked Guy a fig leaf before he fades into the archives.

A blog is, of course, not exactly a secret. What you put on the Internet stays on the Internet, likely for all time. But anybody who has a blog usually goes to SOME trouble to disguise one's true identity (like Batman) and not to alert certain people to its existence. Like, for example, one's bosses. In my case, I use separate e-mail accounts, and the screw-up was sending an e-mail to the wrong person from the wrong account. Very stupid. But it happened. And so now I'm back to the same dilemma I'm in before. Is it ever safe to write about real life? Work? Things legal? Or should I just take a giant step out of all of it and stick to nice safe esoteric topics like airport security, writing and raccoons in the back yard?

Whot's it going to be then, eh?

You'll notice I haven't panicked and taken the whole blog down, like this lady allegedly did after the TSA responded to her blog post (interesting analysis of the whole story here). I thought about it, but I'm just not that kinda gal. But it is kind of a creepy feeling. I'm awfully darn circumspect at the office. I hardly talk about my personal life, opinions, etc. at all. And yet here it all is. And now somebody's found it. Maybe. Possibly.

Whot's it going to be then, eh?

It's late and I'm tired and I haven't a clue at the moment.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Talk Thursday: There's A Light At The End Of The Tunnel...

...and it's a backscatter X-ray machine.

Really, even though it's Talk Thursday, there's only one topic allowed by the general media this week. If you're CNN, MSNBC or even some random blogger in Nowhere, Texas, the only thing anybody's talking about is airport security, or lack thereof. It's like there's a ban on all other subjects. Or worse, if you're going to talk about anything else you need to submit to a backscatter X ray and an enhanced pat-down before you can--oh, wait. I'm getting ahead of myself.

Sorry if you're reading this over breakfast, but over to the right here we have a scan of Mr.
Naked Guy. I wish I knew his real name because I'd apologize to him for using his, uh, nudidity in my blog without permission. This is apparently what the average traveler looks like in a full body scan, aka a backscatter X ray, aka the nifty new screening machines that are appearing in airports everywhere. The idea is to see if you've got anything hidden under your clothes. As you can see, Mr. Naked Guy doesn't. As you can also see, he carries slightly to the left. I'm sure you didn't need to know that to let Mr. Naked Guy board his flight. In fact, you probably could have gone the rest of your life without knowing that. I certainly could have. But never mind. Obviously Mr. Naked Guy is not a terrorist and letting him on an airplane will not threaten the lives or safety of the American flying public. In short, Mr. Naked Guy is okay-fine with us.

Now, the TSA has repeatedly assured us that the backscatter X ray is perfectly safe, carries a low dose of radiation and won't make anybody sick. What's more, the nude pictures are viewed in a remote location by one guy (for some reason I'm sure it's a guy) who doesn't know you and who deletes the photos as soon as he's sure you don't have any contraband stashed under your breasts or in your crotch. However, if you're not sure you wanna be viewed naked and/or you're concerned about the whole radiation thing, you can Opt Out (this being America and all). If you do, you're given an "enhanced pat-down." What this basically means is that a TSA agent, most of whom work for a little above minimum wage and get essentially no training, will grope you lots of places that your mama said only the doctor could touch you, and even then only if mama said it was okay. Horror stories abound, from the three-year-old (yes, they grope three-year-olds) who couldn't stop screaming to the celebrity magician (Penn Gillette) who was roughed up and then suddenly treated like royalty once they realized who he was.

(Pause here to contemplate the appropriateness of sitting in a Middle Eastern restaurant writing about airport security. In fact, I wonder if it's even legal. There's a police station across the street, too. If I abruptly break off in the middle of a paragraph, you'll know what hap

So what's it going to be then, eh? Nude-O-Scope or public sexual assault? If you think those options are scary, listen to TSA head John "The Pervert" Pistole go so far as to acknowledge that the new screening procedures "may challenge our social norms." He just don't get it, people. I don't know about you, but I'm a lot more afraid of my government right now than I am of terrorists. I haven't been on a plane since July and I may never get on one again at this rate.

Fortunately, there's a backlash starting to happen. This brilliant guy has started "National Opt Out Day," a day of protest scheduled for (naturally) the day before Thanksgiving, the busiest travel day of the year. Rep. Ron Paul, who is by no means my favorite person, has introduced the American Traveler Dignity Act, which states only that the TSA employees who perform the searches are not immune from U.S. law (as in, laws against assault, child pornography, etc.) -- something that would do a lot to stop the kind of overreaching I've been hearing about all week. And Janet Napolitano, whom I met once back when she was a mere lawyer in Arizona, has indicated, at least a little, that there may be some room for compromise here. So there may be hope.

In the meantime, though, we still have to pick. Nude or groped. At this point I'd probably opt for nude. It'd be safer for everybody. That darn purple belt in karate and plenty of post-traumatic stress makes it entirely possible I might forget myself and deck the poor TSA agent who drew the unpleasant task of feeling me up, which would land me in jail and her (presuming it's a her) on the sidelines with an ice pack. If I opt for the Nude-O-Scope, the only person in any danger is the guy in the back looking at the pictures, and if he passes out, it's not like anybody's gonna notice.

Here's a bunch of nifty t-shirts you can buy to get the point across. And the ACLU has free stickers (they always have free stickers) - request yours now for the busy holiday travel season.

Late breaking news! We have a verdict in the Burns case and it's in our favor!! Whoo hoo!!

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Talk Thursday (on Saturday): Wide Open Spaces

This is gonna be a short post because I'm about to run out the door to have a pre-Thanksgiving meal with Joan and her cow orkers. Sorry for lateitude, by the way. Trial starts Tuesday on the Burns case and things have just been a little crazy around here. Er, more than usual.

I live in Texas, which despite Montana having stolen the title, is Big Sky country. Seriously, go outside on a Dallas morning and take a look up. Unless you're completely hemmed in by buildings, there it is. Nothing but sky for miles and miles. Well, and the occasional airplane. And, yeah, there's the pollution from all the cement plants down Midlothian way. But still. Lots of sky. And how it does go on.

I kind of keep an eye on the Texas sky. I'm not exactly a stargazer, but I'm familiar with the planets (Jupiter's been particularly bright the past few months) and other wanderers through the solar system (pretty sure I saw a meteorite a few weeks ago, streaking across the night sky and fading out somewhere over my head). This time of year, when the clouds start piling in from the south during warm fronts and the north during cold fronts, we get weird spats of rain and blanketing fog, which make for great sunsets right around evening rush hour. Pink and orange and gold with little accents of purple as the night closes in. Good stuff. Better than the old San Diego sky, anyway, which was always clear and sunny and completely devoid of stars because there was so much light. No variety, in other words.

The concept of wide open spaces, and particularly, emptiness, gets discussed in Buddhism a lot. Not to be annoying, but true emptiness is empty even of your idea of emptiness. (Yes, I know. Don't think about it too much.) In fact, form is emptiness, and emptiness is also form. Emptiness is the pure potentiality of the universe, its ability to become anything. Ironic that the subject of wide open spaces should come up in the Talk Thursday circle, because Bro. ChiSing, my favorite Buddhist monk, just did a dharma talk on this very subject a couple of weeks ago. Here's a link to the audio version, and another link to the transcription (done by yours truly, in my lighting-fast fingers mode) for the hearing impaired. Not that I can
promise the whole concept of emptiness/wide open spaces/form/ pure potentiality will make any more or less sense after you listen to the dharma talk, but I enjoyed it, anyway.

To the right here, we have an image of Buddha among the stars, his mind grown so vast (and empty) that he's become the entire universe. This is from the Osho Zen tarot deck, which is gorgeous to look at but kind of hard to use as far as telling fortunes and all that. But it's a great illustration of pure potentiality and the Zen of emptiness. Remember, kids, an empty head isn't always a bad thing. I'fact sometimes it's the thing we all aspire to.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

This Blog Post Does Not Have A Title.

So I heard from my ex coworker the other day. He has a new job, which is much better than the old job and pays a lot more. And he's happy. Which is good. Everyone should be happy, especially at work, because we all spend a lot of time at work. If you're miserable at work you're going to be miserable in general, and life is just too short. Quit a job if it's not fun. My job is fun, even though it's sometimes a little stressful. But certain jobs take certain personalities and not everybody's right for every job. I was miserably unhappy as a credit card collector for Bank of America, for example, even though I was shockingly good at it. (Why? Because I believed everything a cardholder told me, and if they said they could only send me ten dollars I said that was fine. In short, I was easy. I was also cheap.)

Something else about my ex coworker. He stumbled across this blog. My fault, I accidentally sent him an email from the account that has the address in the .sig instead of the Serious Professional One that just has a Serious Professional .sig. And, uh, he's kind of not exactly happy about how he was portrayed here.

Remember back a couple of weeks ago when I stated that I didn't know how safe it was to be writing about this stuff? That I might attract the attention of somebody important, somebody who might give me a hard time? Well, case in point. I go to some lengths to keep Work Life separate from Writing Life. I don't "friend" the Law Firm on Facebook, I don't deal with things literary on work time. I don't even talk about Writing Life during Work Time, unless somebody else brings it up, and then watch the ensuing (and amusing) scramble as I change the subject as quickly as possible. Plenty of reasons for that but the big one is I'm just used to it; it's been a semi-secret for years. Besides, when Writing Life and Work Life bump into each other the consequences are usually messy.

In this case it's safe to say I really screwed up. Yeah, yeah, First Amendment, white American child of privilege, freedom of the press and all that. Glenn Beck has freedom of the press, too. Doesn't mean he uses it well. My point, and I do have one: I either should not have written about my ex-coworker, or I should not have stupidly sent him the link to this blog. I can't exactly take it back at this point, but I can and should apologize. So, ex-coworker, if you're still reading, I am sorry I hurt your feelings. I do like you, I'm glad you are happy and I hope your future days are warm and productive. Namo amitabha Buddhaya.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Talk Thursday: The Story Of My Life.

For today's Talk Thursday topic, I'm instructed to "think of the Smashmouth song," which of course being practically Methusthelean in age, I have never heard. So I "googled" the lyrics. Here they are. While I can't say all of that happened to me, I can still relate to quite a bit of it. Like the part about one's checking account being overdrawn. Well, mine isn't--yet--but let's just say it would be really really awesome if Joan's pay check hit early this week. And the part about finding the car and then not being able to find my keys. Half the time I'm positive there are car key gnomes that deliberately sneak your car keys out of wherever you put them and hide them places you could swear you haven't been in a week. The rest of the time, though, I take my meds.

Today I ended up at the pool with a neatly packed backpack full of all the stuff I needed EXCEPT for my little bag of jewelry. For this avid beader, walking around with no jewelry feels like what an ordinary woman would probably feel like walking around stark naked. Yet I could swear, I packed up my little black and crystal netted necklace and my little black and silver earrings and my wine colored bracelet that matches my wine colored pants, and tucked it into the outer flap of my backpack with my little pill box and my lucky coin and my hairspray. Still, when I got out of the pool, I found the pill box and the hair spray but no lucky coin and no jewelry. When I got home, I found out that I'd left the little bag on my dresser, next to my lucky coin. Why I remembered to stuff my pill box in there is beyond me, but it's a good thing I did or I'd have been even later to work than I already was. One Does Not Go To Work Without One's Meds. It's noisy enough in my head with the volume control fully engaged, if ya get mah drift.

And yeah, okay, the Jen as absent minded professor thing is amusing, but I like life more when I'm calm and mindful and deliberate and doing things slowly, one at a time, like Thich Nhat Hanh says. Which isn't all that often, but at least I try. And occasionally patience is rewarded. After all these months with my annoying coworker, putting up with his endless sad stories about how patently unfair it was that he had to work for this crummy law firm, he suddenly up and resigned. He gave actual notice, by which definition he could have stayed a week or so longer, but oddly enough, management didn't want him to. Indeed, they could hardly wait to get him out the door. And the lack of having him around has been almost dizzying.

Have you ever lived with something unrelentingly negative for so long that it just becomes part of the atmosphere? And then all of a sudden it's gone, and only then do you realize how bad it was? I can come up with two analogies, one lofty and one mundane: Clinton winning the Presidency in 1992, and getting new tires and a spin balance on my old Toyota pickup. Watching the Democratic convention unfold in North Dakota, thanks to my uncle's brand-new (at that time) satellite TV, I saw Mr. Clinton come to the podium amidst a surge of energy that was palpable and said to myself, "There's our next President." I realized then how utterly draining the last twelve years had been. Likewise, dealing with my temperamental truck that had needed new tires for months since I'd been in a wreck: Pulling out of the service station, I felt like I was gliding along on a pane of glass. "Wow, it must have really been bad before," I said to myself.

That's kind of what this is like. Sure, I freaked out six ways to Sunday when I thought I might be handling a double case load again, but my boss Dave has put my mind at ease about that; "Who told you you were handling both case loads? Nobody? Well, then why did you assume that? Okay, then calm down." I'm really starting to like the guy, which is funny considering how much we didn't hit it off at first.

Incidentally, here's a pic of (right to left) Indiana Jen, boss Dave (as the Joker) and his case manager Sal (as El Mariachi) on Halloween. See why I like the guy? That costume took some serious work. Plus, he stayed in character, to the point of greeting one of the suited partners (just come from a hearing) with, "We meet again, Batman."
Anyway, other people in the firm are now coming and talking to me and telling me they had the exact same issues with him that I did. Not that he did a bad job or that he was slow or anything like that, but just the unrelenting negativity. And the lack of getting it. As in, this is the reality of working at this particular law firm at this particular time in this particular century; accept it or get out. As I believe I've stated a couple of times before, I was and still am fine with it. My only real complaint, and it is minor, is that they aren't paying me as much as I want. I made more at a former job, so part of me still thinks I should be getting paid that amount, but the rest of me has pretty much gotten over it because jobs are scarce right now and this is a really good one no matter how much they're paying me. Ever heard the expression, "my way or the highway"? Well, it isn't my way because it's not my law firm, but that's the gist of it. And I could go into the whole doctrine of nonattachment and walking the middle way thing here, and quote Buddha half a dozen times, but I won't. Let's just say it's better for everybody that my annoying coworker and the law firm have parted company. I hope that if I encounter somebody like him in the future, I will find some way to simply not deal with him, rather than let him suck my energy like a vampire. Stregoi. Whatever.

(Hey, it came to my attention yesterday that the word that means the closest thing to "vampire" in old Romanian is "stregoi," and the word that means the closest thing to "witch" in the same language is "stregoica". Now, in Italy, there's a form of witchcraft called "strega", so what is the common root of all of those words? Streg? Strego? And what does that word translate as in the original Latin/Roman? Inquiring minds want to know.)

So coming back to the original point (and I do do that, occasionally), one might wonder how I became the dumping ground for my annoying coworker's complaints in the first place. Well, my friends, people will do that to me. Normal people. Weird people. Any people. On airplanes. In offices. On jury duty. In libraries, even. They walk up to me, sometimes without even introducing themselves, and begin talking about their many woes. After years of this, I have determined that it has to be the tattoo. The invisible one on my forehead that says, "Your sad story welcome here." And that, ladies and germs, seems to be the story of my life. Rock on.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Jen, Jimmy Carter and A Lachrymose State of Affairs

I notice I often start out a blog post with, "Most people don't..." and then go on to explain how I am not most people. Well, we already know I'm not most people, so let's just skip all that and get directly to the point. Yesterday I met President Carter, took some lousy pictures of the guy with a shaky cell phone cam and made a public mess of myself. Okay? Okay. Moving on:

Mr. Carter has a new book out. It's called "White House Diary" and even though I'm only into early 1977, it already has my vote for
the next Book O' The Decade. There's what you remember, there's what you think you remember, there's what they told you in school, and then there's what actually happened. Jimmy Carter was the first President I was aware of, the first campaign I followed, the first time I picked a favorite, and the first time I announced anything remotely resembling a political point of view. According to my mom, I walked into a dinner party around the time of the Democratic National Convention in 1976 (shortly after the Freedom Train blew through town but before Mr. Carter clinched the nomination) and announced that I liked Democrats better than Republicans because they didn't wear suits and they were real people. I was, I think, about eight. Well, look, folks, I probably wasn't talking about Walter Mondale or Teddy Kennedy. I was talking about the guy who would eventually walk from his swearing-in to the White House, the guy who started out as a peanut farmer in Nowhere, Georgia. Mr. Everyman Himself. James Earl Carter, Junior. Jimmy to his friends. And we were all his friends.

Okay, say what you want about his presidency. He was in a bad spot from the get-go (a bit like Obama) and he didn't get a lot of cooperation in making the bad situation better (a bit like
Obama). Foreign relations stuff distracted him from very real
battles at home (a bit like Obama). But was he the worst president in history? Hardly. Harding. Jackson. Hoover. Just to name a few. And has a better man ever held the office? Uh, no. (Sorry, Obama. You're close, though.) And has there ever been a better ex-President? I don't think so. Hard to imagine George W., or even George H.W., spending his retirement time making sure the poor have a decent place to live. And has he retired? No, he has not. He's got to be in his late eighties/early nineties, and it doesn't appear as though the guy has even slowed down very much.

All of these were reasons that brought me to Sam's Club (of all places) in Grapevine, Texas (of all places) yesterday evening. Not being a member of Sam's Club, I'd snagged a copy of the book from a local Barnes and Noble. I got unbelievably lost on the way there; my directions sucked, traffic was insane and I ended up driving around a hospital parking lot going, "It has to be right here someplace" until I chanced to see the Sam's Club sign. On the other side of the freeway. Naturally. I finally got there just after they'd let the crowd (and it was a big crowd; probably two hundred people by my guess) go in. We were all shepherded through a fire door in the back of the building, guarded by Secret Service guys (very obvious in their formal black suits) and local police.

Now, a quick word about me and Sam's Club, or any big box store, or pretty much any situation with large quantities of people, goods and noise all crammed together. SO not a winning situation for me. I tend to have meltdowns. Had one at the State Fair a couple of weeks ago, in fact, on the Midway. Too hot too loud too many colors too many people too much noise too much everything arrrgh. Usually when this happens I freeze up, Joan notices and says, "Is everything okay?", I say "NO!" and start flapping my arms like a deranged penguin attempting flight and Joan grabs me and steers me to someplace quieter before I completely freak out. If Joan isn't there, of course, the freezing-up is not interrupted, and I just get steered around by whoever's there and say "yes, ma'am" and "no, sir" a lot until it occurs to me that if I got out of here I would not be freaking the hell out and then I find a door and run for my life to someplace safe, generally the car, where I lock myself in and hide until I calm down and can once again act like a rational human being.

So there I was at Sam's Club, already a stressful situation, made worse by the layers of security, and about to meet Jimmy Carter. Mr. Carter was on the other side of a row of barrier tape, some ten or so feet away from the crowd. His minions took the books away from us, and the Secret Service guys checked them to make sure they weren't loaded before they took them to his table. He signed the books while the minions indicated which person they belonged to. He looked up from each book to the owner and thanked them for coming. I'm already well into the "yes, ma'am" and "no, sir" phase at this point, and I probably looked like a scared rabbit across the barrier tape when I said, "Thank you" to Mr. Carter, got my book and let myself be herded over to the little section that was set up for the taking of photos. I was still
standing there, blinking a lot and clutching my book as though someone was going to take it away from me, when I realized that I didn't get to say what I came there to say. Which was a shock. Up until that moment, I didn't know I'd come there to say anything.

So I got back in the line, which was shorter now. The Secret Service guy tried to take my book and I held onto it. "I just need to say something," I said. He started to frown. "Nothing bad," I added in a hurry. He was still frowning, but he went up to the table and said to Mr. Carter, "This young lady wants to say something."

Young lady. Dude. Ya flatter me.

So I leaned out as far over the barrier tape as I could go without falling on my face and I said, "Mr. Carter, you've been a hero of mine since I was nine years old, and a lot of people breathe a lot easier because of everything you've done. Thank you."

He looked surprised. He blinked. He said, "What a nice thing to say." And then he smiled at me. Pa rum pa pum pum.

I managed not to really start bawling until I was locked in my car. But it was a close thing.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Talk Thursday: Things That Make Me Go, "Hmmm ..."

  • Why did they name them the Texas Rangers when plainly the whole state does not root for them? I mean, there's the Houston Astros and the Fort Worth Cats and who knows how many other local teams. Course, the Arlington Rangers sounds kind of wordy and the Dallas Rangers is just plain geographically inaccurate, but still.
  • Why does the main pitcher for the Giants look like a 17-year-old surfer dude? He's gotta be at least 26 in real life. Plus it's awfully cold to go surfing off the coast of San Fran, though I imagine people do it. (Heck, I did it in San Diego and it was pretty cold there too.) Seriously, a nice haircut and maybe some facial hair and he'd look much more mature. Give it some thought, my prepubescent pitcher friend.
  • Why is it, exactly, that I've been feeding feral cats in my back yard for like six years now, and only in the last month have I managed to attract the attention of raccoons? I mean, not that there's anything wrong with raccoons, I just don't want them in my yard. Or my house. Or my attic. Or...
  • Is there some ratio of amount of annoying your annoying co-worker is to amount of time they spend with you? Ie, if they can only spend a little time with you, do they ramp up the amount of annoying to maximum, whereas if they're going to hang out in your vicinity for hours, they dial the annoying back to a moderate amount?
  • Why does calling in sick so you can sneak off on a job interview make you feel so much more guilty than calling in sick to sneak off to a ball game?
  • Observation: Both Lutheran Christianity and Buddhism teach that attaining nirvana and/or going to heaven are obtained by doing very little; in Lutheranism, by accepting God's grace, and in Buddhism, by sitting around, doing nothing, and looking at the floor for a long time. So if I was once a Lutheran, and am now a Buddhist, am I theologically consistent, or just lazy?
  • Observation: Cats are not allowed on the table at my house. Yet, I let my big boy, Caesar (@carpefelem) sit on the table behind the laptop when I'm writing. So does this make me a bad mom? And if so, can I get around it by promoting him to chief editor?
  • Observation: Everyone in the waiting room in my psychiatrist's office is, by the sheer fact of being there, a little bit crazy. Why, then, do we each slouch into chairs and hunch into little individual bundles of mild hostility and distrust and eye each other as if we might attack at any moment? I mean, it's not like it's exactly a contest. We'll all be the same amount of crazy when we come out the other side. Maybe it's to scare the normal people.
  • Do the fish in the aquarium in my psychiatrist's office gradually go insane as they're exposed to so many crazy humans, or does the aquarium glass protect them? And how can you tell one way or the other, seeing as they're, you know, fish?
  • Why, in the name of all things holy, am I incapable of going to the post office like a normal human being? Yes, I know, I'm not a normal human being. There's no need to rub it in.
  • If there really were an Antichrist, would he be tall and have horns and a tail, or would he be more subtle and crafty and look more like, I dunno, Karl Rove?
  • What is it about office parties that causes everybody to revert to their high school personas? We have the grumpy intellectual, the handsome but vapid guy who says "dude" a lot, the girl who'll do it with anybody, the quiet girl who wishes she was the girl who'd do it with anybody, the rebel, the popular kids, the losers, the band kids who sort of hover on the fringe of acceptability, and then the office manager, who somehow ends up being kind of the den mother, I guess. Me, I'm the one with the behavior so unpredictable people say "Hi" and then flinch, not sure if I'll say "Hi" back or suddenly feel some pressing need to run straight into them or, worse, the nearby wall. It's like I never left.
  • If meditation is really good for the brain, why aren't I cured yet?
Okay, I'm out of hypothetical questions for the time being. If anybody has an answer for the one about the fish, I'd like to know. Sincerely, I'm feeling bad for the clownfish and the loach.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Mini-post: Raccoon Update

Just thought y'all might want to know I no longer have a raccoon in my back yard.

I now have two raccoons.

Thank you, thank you. Be here all week.

Friday, October 22, 2010

We Interrupt This Blog For An Important Announcement...


I mean, in case you didn't hear the scream, or something.


Okay, enough of that. We now return you to your regularly scheduled programming.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Talk Thursday: Mea Culpa

I don't know what the hell is wrong with me.

Well, actually I have quite a list. But let's keep it simple, shall we? This particular I-don't-know-what-the-hell-is-wrong-with-me is about that whole writing thing. That I'm supposed to be doing while I'm waiting for the Powers That Be to get done reviewing all that stuff I did since New Orleans and maybe, possibly decide it has merit and should Go Farther. Best thing to do while waiting to hear back about your book? Write another book. Everybody says so. Somebody says so, anyway. Well, mea culpa for being an overachiever, but I seem to be writing about four of them at the moment.

Honestly, I don't know how that happened. It's gotten to where I just open a file and start typing, having no idea which one I'm in or where I am in it. I read back over the last couple of sentences, say "Yeah, that sounds good," and then just go. No attempts to avoid crummy sentence construction or adverbs or all those other pitfalls that lure the unwary. No attempts to think, even. Just typety typety type type type. And whatever comes out is what comes out.

Some of you may be familiar with the #amwriting hash tag in Twitter. When I actually remember to use it, it's a beautiful thing. Once you type in the hash tag, you can click on it and see folks around the world who are #amwriting at the same time you're #amwriting (sorry if that helping-verb thing is bothering you, but it's not my hash tag.) Part of the #amwriting deal is that you're supposed to tell everybody what you're working on, though, and for me it hasn't been that simple. Nothing I'm working on (and I use the term "working on" in the loosest way possible here) has anything remotely resembling a structure yet.

Other folks who use this #amwriting hash tag seem to know what they're doing. "#amwriting a blog post." "#amwriting Chapter Three of my novel." "#amwriting #amediting section two so I can move on to section three tomorrow." That kind of thing. If I tried to do that it would sound something like, "#amwriting something or other about Loki, Skadi, statues coming to life in downtown Dallas and the potential apocalypse our mothers warned us about." Yeah. That would sound great on the back of a book jacket. Or better still, "#amwriting about why Buddhists would make lousy ghostbusters, a crazy cat lady, a former alcoholic and her gay would have been husband." Sure, why not? "#amwriting something or other about a missing musician and a great big lawsuit involving a roof collapse, which are somehow related, but I haven't figured out how yet." Yeah. Or how about, "#amwriting something I shouldn't be writing about the thirteen-year-old daughter of one of the protagonists of the book I wrote that hasn't been published yet and may not ever be, so this is probably a colossal waste of time, but if it ever is, this'll make a nice follow up, " Oops. That's probably more than 140 characters.

Honestly, is it too much to ask of your subconscious that it be able to fit the basic concept of whatever the hell you're writing into a Tweet-sized block of logic? I mean, seriously, would that kill it? F. Paul Wilson was so good at this in New Orleans. He got The Keep down to three words: "Nazis and vampires." Even Damnable, which got wordier, didn't faze him much: "Special Forces soldier who knows he's going to Hell discovers he's the only thing that can keep the rest of the human race from going with him." (Actually, that might have been Schwaeble. Well, it was neatly put, anyway.) And even beyond the whole neat-parcel-of-a-concept, how about having one of them running at a frick'n time?! I'm scatterbrained enough as it is, people! I do not, repeat, do not need what little time and energy I can devote to writing yanked four different directions. I just don't, okay?

But, ultimately, it comes down to this. I'm the owner of the brain. I don't believe in muses or the breath of God blowing through my fingers or any of that claptrap. Not that I understand how it all works - I'm happy enough that it does - but somehow I'm responsible for it all. So, ultimately, it's my fault that I'm scatterbrained. And I can't for the life of me figure out why being scatterbrained holds any advantage for yours truly. When I'm scatterbrained at work, I take a frick'n Ativan. I can do that. I have a prescription. But there's no prescription for scatterbrained writing.

Except, of course, more writing. You know, just keep cranking it out and hope it makes sense eventually.

Oh joy.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Going Out Even Further On A Limb...

Or Why My Current Place Of Employ Is A Five-Star Hotel, by Jen.

Reading back over my last blog post, it occurred to me I might want to explain why, if my Annoying Co-Worker is right about a lot of his complaints, I'm okay with working at The Firm. Because, honestly, it could sound like I'm just resigned. (He'd probably call me brainwashed.) And that's not it. I've been in this biz for a little over eleven years now. I've worked in firms and I've worked in firms. And here's a list of the stuff that's NOT going on at my firm, but has gone on at at least one of the other firms I've worked for, and maybe more than one.

(Let's face it, I gotta change some minor identifying details here. Yes, the First Amendment and all that, yes, blog boldly and blog often, etcetra, etcetra, but as I believe I may have mentioned, I like my job and I want to keep it, and I'm kinda adverse to getting sued, or worse, hunted down and shot, so just in case, I gotta do what I gotta do here, folks. And if you're an attorney, and you think this blog is about you, you're so vain.)
  • None of the attorneys at my firm scream at people, call them stupid, make references to their sexual prowess or attractiveness or in general act like three-year-olds in nice suits.
  • None of the attorneys at my firm indulge in weird forms of sexual harassment, for which they apparently feel they will not be busted, such as trying to discuss different forms of Japanese bondage pornography with their paralegals.
  • Nobody at my firm is sleeping with anyone they shouldn't be sleeping with, making a Big Deal out of it, and using it to manipulate other persons into getting things that don't normally come with his or her position, like, I dunno, free parking.
  • To the very best of my knowledge, and I have a lot of knowledge, nobody at my firm is doing anything illegal out of the back room.
  • Everybody at my firm, from the senior partners to the newest young case managers, is expected to uphold certain ethical and professional standards. These ethical standards are even (gasp) written down in a book in case any questions come up later.
  • Nobody at my firm carries a concealed weapon.
  • Nobody at my firm has ever asked me to forge a signature on a document.
  • Nobody at my firm has ever asked me to notarize a signature when I didn't see the person sign the document.
  • Nobody at my firm has ever asked me to notarize a signature after he or she blatantly forged the signature of the person who was supposed to sign the document right in front of me. (Remember that thing about ethical standards?)
  • If there's some kind of internal gossip loop in my office, my cube is in the corner it's the farthest from.
  • Nobody at my firm has ever demanded that I draft and/or file a motion whose sole purpose is to harass the other party. (Yes, this did happen at one particular place I worked. A lot, if you'd like to know.)
  • Nobody at my firm has ever asked me to come up with 160 billable hours in a month that only had 120 working hours, without working any overtime. (Two words. Im. Possible. Er, unless you heard that joke about the attorney who dies and goes to heaven? And he says to St. Peter, "There must be some mistake, I'm only 37 years old." And St. Peter says, "That's strange, according to your billable hours, you're 109."?)
  • Nobody at my firm has ever sent me threatening emails from a bogus address and then laughed at me when I didn't get the "joke."
So does this mean everything's rosy? No, not exactly. Bad stuff happens. Senior Attorney and I had one disastrous mediation where everything that could have gone wrong did, about half of which was my fault, 40% of which was the fault of my predecessor and 10% was just the fickle finger of fate, as it were. I felt bad about that for days. We were also gearing up for a trial, putting in ridiculous amounts of time on it, and it all suddenly ground to a halt when the court postponed us one month on its own motion. The assistant manager doesn't seem to like me very much (I once asked the receptionist if it was because I was a woman, a lesbian or a Buddhist, and she told me it was because I was a carbon-based form of life). And yeah, there are definitely favorites among the field, and I'm not one of them. But, as I just said, since none of the above are going on, I'm fine with it. If that makes me a happy little worker bee, well, fine. But otherwise, just call me Been There, Done That in Dallas.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Talk Thursday: And Amidst All The Clamor...

You know, sometimes I get tired of writing this. Well, not tired exactly, but sometimes I get a little concerned. I don't know what all it's safe to write. Strange question for a white American child of privilege typing words on the Internet, neatly under the banner of the First Amendment, but there it is. Who's reading this stuff, anyway? Anybody important? Anybody who might get riled about something, call me up, give me a hard time? Like my boss, for example? Will I get in trouble if I talk about work? Or am I nice and safe, as long as I restrict everything to lofty concepts and diatribes at things I have no control over anyway?

By the way, we're relatively safe from my parents. They won't read this unless I actually take the time to send 'em copies of my entries. Don't know why, but there we are. I've been updating them on the raccoon situation, but I tend not to send them entries that contain the word "fuck" more than once. I have an image to maintain, here. I'd hate to be seen as the daughter who talks, uh, just like her dad.

Anyway, I'm gonna talk about work today. Every office has an Annoying Co-Worker, and of course I've got mine. Amidst all the clamor of ringing phones and grinding paper shredders and grinding copy machines that sometimes act like paper shredders and "Who in hell drank all the coffee?!" and "JEN!! Get Mr. Burns* on the phone! RIGHT NOW!!" comes this little bundle of Bad Attitude. I'm not sure how it became my good fortune to become his personal confidante. He has a Bad Attitude because he's afraid he's going to get fired. What I haven't told him, but would if I had the guts, is that he almost certainly is, and what's dooming him is not his work, or lack thereof, but the aforementioned Bad Attitude. I'm not kidding. An office can tolerate just about anything but rampant negativity.

Here's what happened. This person went on medical leave for several weeks, which is how I got hired in the first place. I was filling in for him and working mainly for one junior attorney. A couple of weeks went by and another paralegal, who worked for a much more senior attorney, got fired. Senior attorney, because he was senior, grabbed me and said, "Forget those files. Work on my files." Which I did, because A. I had no choice and B. I tend to be an obedient person where there's money involved. More Senior Attorney and I didn't mix well at first but now we get along fine; I think he didn't like change and we each had to warm to the other's sense of humor, and there were a few crises along the way, but there are always crises in law firms. Meanwhile, junior attorney didn't have anybody working on his files for a couple of weeks there, except me when I had a few minutes, which I didn't, very often. It was kind of a protracted exercise in crisis management.

So guess what happened. Annoying Co-Worker came back from medical leave and immediately got blamed for everything that possibly could have gone wrong while he was gone. Put another way, junior attorney had decided he liked me better, but he couldn't have me back because he was junior attorney. So he took it out on Annoying Co-Worker. Is this fair? No. Is this right? No. But there are two ways to handle it. One is to take a deep breath, remember one's sense of humor, and just do what one can until Junior Attorney calms down and remembers that Annoying Co-Worker was fine for the past year and a half and nothing's really changed. The other way is to develop a Bad Attitude. Uh, yeah. You guessed.

So for the past two months, Annoying Co-Worker has been coming into my cube on a near-daily basis and complaining about everything that's Wrong With The Firm. This is not handled right. That is a blatant show of favoritism. The other thing doesn't make any sense. Furthermore, this guy is out to get him and that lady doesn't know how to run an office and none of this would have happened if he hadn't asked for a raise, which just goes to show how utterly unfair this is, and by the way, he specifically asked this other person to change this here policy and it still hasn't been changed. Well, about that last thing I had a moment of insight. I mentioned to Annoying Co-Worker that the name of the firm is X and X, and the other partner is married to an X, and the manager's name is X, and unless his last name is X, which it is not, he's not going to win this argument. This made all the impression of a fingernail on hard steel. Since then I've more or less quit giving advice. Wise men don't need it and fools won't heed it, as my old great-aunt Maude used to say.

In all seriousness, if they weren't going to fire him back when all this started, they are certainly moving that direction now. And so I listen to Annoying Co-Worker trash-talk the place I work, which just incidentally I really like in spite of its weirdness, and wonder what in hell to say. Besides "Shut up, already!!" which isn't exactly polite. It bothers me because I really don't have any complaints. Most of the things he says about The Firm are true, but they don't bother me. Why? I don't know. They just don't. Maybe because I have simply Accepted Reality and he hasn't. Not everybody is cut out for every kind of job, and this may just not be his.

Here's the part that does bother me, though. Talking to him reminds me of talking to myself about ten years ago. I remember being at least that stubborn, that pigheaded, that quick to pick fights I couldn't win with managerial types who were in positions of legitimate authority. I remember doing some pretty damned outrageous things, and why I didn't get fired for half of them, I have no idea. I must have really been a good worker because honestly, I was out there. Maybe that's the reason I quit trying to help. I came into the situation with unclean hands, as it were. But, one might point out, I grew out of it. (The meds sure helped. So did the Buddhism; for one thing, I no longer drag my bad moods to work with me and dump them on other people. Buddhists consider that kind of behavior to be the height of rudeness. Would that everyone else thought likewise.)

So maybe he'll grow out of it. Maybe it's just a phase. Maybe. Possibly. Except that I'm 41 and he's 53.

Book o'the Decade Alert! I started Mockingjay, Part Three of the Hunger Games series, last night. Part two, Catching Fire, ends on one hell of a cliffhanger. It would not hurt to have Mockingjay around as you wind down the last couple of chapters. I'm just sayin'.

*Mr. Burns is a fictional client. He did not get into a car accident, in which he was not injured, and we did not sue anyone on his behalf. He makes a darn handy cover for things that happen in real cases, though, which I'm not at liberty to discuss otherwise. Thanks, Burnsie.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

How To Catch A North American Raccoon. Maybe.

Thought y'all could used an update on the raccoon situation. After my brilliant failure at the whole trap-and-relocate-under-cover-of-darkness thing, I was content to just Let Things Be. Hey, she's cute, she's fuzzy, she wasn't getting into the garbage (no doubt because of the availability of cat food) and she didn't seem to be rabid (wary of people, respectful of cats). Plus, she wasn't bumbling around in the attic, though we did hear her scuttle across the roof a few times. Raccoons play hell with attics. I've never been in my attic, but I imagine I'd notice if a raccoon was thumping around on the ceiling.

Unfortunately, my idiot neighbor, who just incidentally is an idiot, has become privy to the situation, and as is typical with this guy, he is Not Happy. No doubt the raccoon is also in his yard, maybe getting into his trash, and probably splashing around in his illegal, unpermitted, unfenced pool. Or maybe just chewing on stuff, I don't know. In any case, he came out of his house a few mornings ago (the neighbor, not the raccoon) and asked Joan if the raccoon was ours. As in, a pet. Joan narrowly missed exclaiming, "What the fuck?!" which was what I would have done, too, probably. I mean, honestly, who would keep a raccoon as a pet?! They have sharp teeth, sharper claws, and they're really fierce when they don't get what they want (as my somewhat mauled bin of external cat food can testify.) Idiot Neighbor went on to say that since she worked for the city, she should get rid of the raccoon. Joan pointed out, politely I might add, that she worked for the city library, which isn't generally known for handling wild animals (unless you count homeless persons). "Well, can I shoot it?" Idiot Neighbor asked. Now he's asking Joan for legal advice. He must have us confused. Joan told him, correctly, that it was against the law to fire a gun within city limits. He stomped off in disgust. Now that we know his M.O., which begins with him wanting us to do something for him, usually at our expense or at least not at his and then ends with him stomping off in disgust, he's not as intimidating. But he's so not my favorite person. He's also an idiot, in case I haven't said that already.

However, there's still a risk that he might actually shoot the animal. If there's any justice in the world, he will miss, put a bullet right through the side of his illegal, unpermitted, unfenced pool and render it useless. Still, I don't want Madame Raccoon to get shot, so after a series of phone calls around the Metroplex, I finally got hold of a guy named Matthew Evans, whose company, A Wildlife Professional, gave me instructions on how best to trap a raccoon. Once we've caught her, they will relocate her to a wildlife preserve, the location of which he was not at liberty to reveal but it was about twenty miles from here, and he does have a license to do so. The charge will be $75. Eminently reasonable, says I. (His email is if you live in the DFW area and you have a problematic raccoon.)

So here's what you do. Get a Havaheart trap from Home Depot or Lowe's (we already have one from all that feral cat trapping).Get several cans of sardines and cat food. Open one of the cans of sardines. Pour the oil outside the front of the trap and on the bait pan. Put the can of sardines, open but otherwise undisturbed, clear in the back of the trap behind the bait pan. Open the can of cat food. Scatter the cat food around the mouth of the trap, inside the trap and leading past the bait pan. Weight trap down with bricks, rocks, bungee cords or anything else that will hold it still.
Set trap. Go inside. Wait.

If you catch a cat, or something else, let it go. Cats are too smart to get caught twice. Usually. If the raccoon is able to tip the trap or otherwise get to the sardines without getting inside, try again with another can of sardines. The law of averages says sooner or later she will not be able to get at the sardines without going inside. Try this for a week. If unsuccessful, and only if unsuccessful, give Matthew a call and proceed to Phase II.

So last night I set the trap with sardines as instructed. This morning I opened the door at six a.m. to find not a raccoon, but one very confused cat inside the trap. It wasn't one of my externals; it was one I'd never seen before, a calico with a tabby ringed tail (not unlike a raccoon, actually). Only after I'd opened the trap and she'd shot across the lawn like she'd been launched from a gun, probably never to be seen again, did I notice that the can of sardines was outside the trap, empty. I got an immediate mental picture of Madame Raccoon reaching between the bars of the trap, grabbing the can, passing it hand to hand to herself down the length of the trap and hauling it outside to munch on her treat. She also knocked over the external food bin again, just for good measure.

Well, that's okay. It's the first night. I'll try again tonight and see what happens. Hopefully my idiot neighbor will be passing out drunk around eleven and won't remember he's supposed to go raccoon huntin'. Did I mention he is an idiot?

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Talk Thursday: A Proclamation To The World

Gee, that's nice and subtle. But, that's the topic and I'm stuck with it, so I might as well roll with it, as my old Great-Aunt Maude used to say. Everybody ought to have a proclamation to the world, and here's mine:

In all seriousness, though, if one were to take all the Sutras and the commentaries and the koans and the writings of Confucius (just for variety) and the poetry of Li Po and throw it in a blender, and if one were to pour the resulting great big philosophical mess into a pot and try to boil all of Buddhism down to its most basic essence, this is about what you'd be left with. Buddhism teaches that the quickest way to make yourself completely miserable is to get attached--to things, people, theories, ideas, concepts. Why? Because everything -- things, people, theories, ideas, concepts -- is temporary. Everything changes. Nothing stays the same.

If you're hanging on for dear life to, say, a girlfriend who's trying very hard to be nice about breaking up with you (and I've been on both sides of this equation, so I know of what I speak), the best thing that can possibly happen is that you're going to make both people miserable for a longer period of time. The worst thing that can possibly happen is that you get arrested for stalking, which can be very embarrassing to explain to potential future employers (and potential future girlfriends.) But that's a very real risk if you can't just get over it, already, and let go. Same story if you cling to an object that you simply must have that, by the time you can afford it, no longer makes any sense in the context of your life. I see a lot of men, for example, who are by God going to own an open-top Ford Mustang even though what they really need, what with the wife and three kids, is a nice mini-van or SUV. I see women do the same thing with certain pieces of jewelry and pricey outfits.

And ideas--good God, don't get me started. I have an aunt and uncle who almost literally had to hold their noses to vote for John McCain in the 2008 election, but they had voted Republican their entire lives and they were not going to vote any other way no matter how bad they thought their candidate was. (Not voting at all apparently wasn't an option, either.) And I'm not saying they were right or wrong to vote the way they did, but the very idea that they couldn't not vote for the guy, however much they disliked him -- that's attachment, all right.

Now, this can be taken too far the other way. I've run into Buddhists who like to play "more unattached than thou" (kind of a variant on Christianity's "holier than thou," I guess). These guys (and they are mostly guys, for some reason) do strange things like chop their little fingers off to prove how unattached they are to their bodies, or walk 200 miles to a monastery (living off the kindness of strangers, and whatever they find along the way) to meditate for a year, hoping there will be room for them when they arrive because phoning ahead for a reservation is playing hell with the fickle finger of fate. Yeah, I agree; that's a bit weird. To push something away is the opposite of clinging to it, but either way you're still controlled by that thing.

So the Buddha, being a pretty sharp guy, came up with a little thing he called The Middle Way. The idea, if I understand it correctly, is to neither cling to things, nor push them away, but just let them be what they are. It's kind of like standing in a stream. You don't try to hang on to any particular water molecule; you just sort of let them all flow around you.

Take people, for example. They will come and go like the tide. Enjoy them while they are around. Don't chase after them when they're gone. They'll either come back or they won't. Things are sometimes harder; everybody has a thing they prize above other things, and it's hard to cope with the reality that the thing will fall apart someday and be worthless. (Take my BlackBerry. Please.) But ideas are probably the hardest of all. Trying not to get attached to ideas, just letting thoughts flow through your brain and not pouncing on them and carrying them off like a cat with a feather toy, is sort of the mental equivalent of standing on one foot on a peaked roof during a thunderstorm and yelling algebra equations at the sky.

Fortunately, there's this thing called "meditation." Do it every day for forty or fifty years, and supposedly, you too can just let thoughts flow through your brain. Or so they tell me. I'm not yet attached enough to the idea to become convinced. But then, I've only been at it for four or five years at this point. I'm still a youngster. Would I speed things up if I trekked overland 200 miles or so to a monastery and checked in for a year? Maybe, but I'm unattached to that idea. Seriously. Frickin'. Unattached.

To wrap this up, the world would be a lot more peaceful if we could all become a little more unattached from the things that drive us the most crazy. Like, say, traffic. And politics. And maybe money. And look, America could use a Buddhist president. Next time out of the box, we ought to give that some serious thought.

In the meantime, get over it, already. Yes, you know who you are.

Quick Book o' the Decade plug here for The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins. It's been a very long time since a book made me cry. I'm halfway through the second book in the series, Catching Fire, and it just keeps getting better. Check it out. And don't get too attached to any of the characters. I'm just sayin'.