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

Sunday, February 28, 2010

OA Convention

Playing in the background: The closing ceremonies

Let it be known I missed two full days of Olympic coverage and very nearly missed the Climactic Hockey Game to attend Dallas Metroplex Intergroup's annual convention. Called the "Texas Twelve Step," this confab featured about 150 of my OA friends old and new, meeting at a hotel not too far from Dallas.

What happens at an OA convention, you may ask. Well, I'm going to tell you. A whole bunch of us gather together and have what's basically a really big meeting that goes on for three days. We had a fantastic speaker by the name of Harlan G., who lectured on what he called "Big Book Boot Camp." (In case you're not familiar with the vernacular, the Big Book is the book called Alcoholics Anonymous, which started it all back in the 1930s.) Harlan mentioned that he thought the century we just passed out of would be remembered for three things; the dawning of the nuclear age, humankind's first ventures off our planet and into space, and the Twelve Steps. Holy carp, that's a lot for a single book to live up to.

The Big Book, just incidentally, was the first time it had ever been posited in a major publication that addiction of any kind was a physical and mental illness rather than some kind of weak will or moral failing. (In fact, the doctor who posited that asked that his name be removed because the American Psychiatric Association had yet to take that position and he was afraid of losing his job.) Harlan spent a lot of time talking about the doctor's opinion. He referred to addiction as a physical allergy as well as a mental obsession. In describing an "allergy," he meant an abnormal physical response to a given substance. The analogy (and I thought this was great) was if you fed ten people nothing but chocolate ice cream for a week, you'd end up with nine people who never wanted to see chocolate ice cream again and one person who said, "Okay, then, can I have yours?" I'd be that one. So would your average alcoholic or drug addict. Same disease, different substances. So for me it's food. Big deal, it could have been booze. I just never got far enough into it.

I've always been mildly jealous of recovering alcoholics. In a way they have it easy. They can't drink alcohol, so all they have to do is look at a bottle and if it says, "Contains alcohol," they don't drink it. Easy. On the other hand, everybody has to eat. How do you know which foods are going to trigger the abnormal reaction, the physical allergy and the mental obsession? Tough answer: Trial and error.

For me it's stuff that's extremely sweet, like Krispy Kreme doughnuts, white cake with white icing (or cream cheese icing), certain kinds of pastries and cookies and things like that. However, there's lots of other sweet things that don't seem to do me any harm at all, and don't know why. Examples: Frozen yogurt, brownies, chocolate cake with chocolate icing, most kinds of pies. I can have a few bites or none of those and then I forget about them. If I had to hazard a guess I'd say that sugar is the equivalent of cocaine to my brain. But not just any sugar. Only certain kinds of extremely sweet uses of sugar. If I could freebase the stuff I'd be in big trouble.

Anyway, it was a great convention. I feel a lot more serene than I have in a couple of days. I think the physical allergy explanation helped. And yes, I caught the Climactic Hockey Game. And it was awesome, even if we didn't win. Hey, a silver medal at the Olympics is nothing to be ashamed of. Back to the closing ceremonies now...

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Olympic Meanderings

Playing in the background: Bobsleds

In case you didn't know this, we are Olympic junkies in this house. Pretty much every day for the last two weeks we've come home, turned on the TV and watched people do insane things with their bodies and various winter sporting equipment thingys. Minus my thwarted opening ceremony and those several days we spent in the dark of course. Pox on Oncor and all who sail with her.

Still, for all my Olympics junkiehood I have a bunch of questions that the commentators never seem to answer:

  • Does ice dancing require ugly costumes or are they just kind of in fashion?
  • Does anybody else see speed skater Lee Ho Sook and think about a werewolf with a Chinese menu in his hand?
  • Ski Cross: Why? And more importantly, whose idea was this anyway?
  • Figure skating: Why not just do it naked?
    Bobsleds: Does anybody ever miss when jumping into the back of the sled and end up getting dragged along behind the sled at 90 miles an hour?
  • Are ski jumpers capable of slipping the surly bonds of earth and touching the face of God, or is that only if they fall?
  • And most important, where's my commentator mute button? I'd pay my cable company big bucks for one of those.
Anyway, that's what goes through my mind as we soak in hour after hour of really bizarre sports programming. It's only every two years, ya know.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Four Days in the Dark

Playing in the background: Olympic snowboarding

Pardon me for being a little late with this week's post, but I've been IN THE DARK FOR FOUR FUCKING DAYS. Thanks, I needed to say that. In case you've been hiding under a rock lately, The Worst Storm Ever To Hit The Dallas Area In Recorded History has just finished plowing through here, leaving a mess the size of Texas and just incidentally knocking out our electricity. For four fucking days. Yes, I know this here's a religious establishment but it was four fucking days. Four fucking days. Four. Fucking. Days. Get the picture?

It wasn't just us, of course. Our neighbors on both sides also got to join us in the Wonderful World of No Electricity. But the ones across the street didn't. They had power the whole time. Pox on them. Well, that's not their fault. Maybe they kept their trees trimmed or something.

So those of us who can't really afford to bail and go to a hotel room ended up doing what cave men did in the days before electricity; hunkering around the fire (place) and saying ug a lot. We do have a fireplace, of course, which was what made this merely a massive inconvenience as opposed to completely intolerable. I camped out on the couch for three nights, doing possibly permanent damage to my spine and avoiding real sleep almost entirely in the process, and kept an eye, or a nose maybe, on the fire. (Fireplaces are scary. If things escape from them they get really scary.) Joan, always the hardier soul, still slept in her room, albeit with the door open and lots of extra blankets. During the day, when we had actual light, we did fun things like the dishes and sweeping and tiptoeing around trying not to trip over anything in the dark. And read books. A lot of books. I knocked through "Detour: My Bipolar Road Trip in 4D" (highly recommended) and Malcolm Gladwell's "Blink" (I haven't finished it yet but so far it's not bad.)

Let's see, what else did we do. We ate a lot of take out food. We also took out a lot of food, as in everything in the fridge, to the trash can. We shared space on the sofa with all three cats, which were delighted that we were A. both home (we couldn't get out of the driveway) and B. huddled close together (cats are sluts for body heat.) We took showers (we did have hot water) by flashlight and candlelight. It was kind of like camping, minus the neat stories around the campfire. Okay, there were a few of those too. And I guess it could have been fun if it wasn't so mind-numbingly dull and irritating. We also monitored our electric company, Oncor, on Twitter to see when, oh when, the great denizens of power would get around to little old us. Was it my imagination or did they handle all the rich neighborhoods first? Must have been my imagination, I'm sure they'd never discriminate.

Okay, I'm calming down and wiping the foam off my face. But I did miss the Olympic opening ceremonies, which if you're me is kind of like showing up late for your own bat mitzvah. And speaking of Olympics, I'm going back to them now. Electricity is a beautiful thing.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

The Fifth Precept and Other Fun Things

Playing in the background: Deuter, "Sea and Silence"

Every now and then I think I'm maybe taking this Buddhism thing a little too serious. Is it possible to be too serious about one's religion? Well, if it is then I am. What I've tripped over this time are the Five Precepts, which are sort of a simplified Ten Commandments phrased as "I promise to refrain from" instead of "Thou shalt not". These are, of course, the Big Five for laypeople; monks and nuns have scads more, I think numbering in the hundreds, and I think part of the job of being a monk or nun is just memorizing the silly things, never mind living by them. Anyway, the Big Five things for laypeople to promise to refrain from are killing living beings, taking that which is not freely given (stealing), sexual misconduct, lying and abusing intoxicants. It's number five that's getting me into trouble this time, and I don't even drink.

Reason this comes up: My cow orkers and I went out to dinner Friday night. Copious amounts of alcohol were consumed by just about everybody except me. This was a fancy restaurant, drinks were on the house (or on my boss, more to the point) and everybody was having a good time. And then there was me, sipping my ginger ale and dodging diet Coke jokes. (It was such a classy joint that I thought it'd be rude of me to drink diet Coke. Besides, ginger ale is kind of amber colored, fizzy and could look like an alcoholic drink if you squinted at it really hard.) A colleague had ordered a dessert wine, and I asked if I could have a sniff of it because it smelled good. She then got annoyed that I didn't actually want a taste of the stuff, and snipped at me "one swallow won't get you drunk, for God's sake" and was, I think, mightily offended that I turned it down.

Hey; I used to drink. I remember liking dessert wine a lot, especially ice wine. And she's right, one swallow probably wouldn't have done any harm. Still, precept number five. And here's where I wonder if I'm maybe taking this too serious. It says to refrain from the abuse of intoxicants. One sip of ice wine is probably not abuse of anything. It wasn't likely to lead to the ordering of a glass of the stuff for myself, either, because that would have occasioned even more comment and I'd already had my fill of diet Coke and ginger ale jokes for the evening. I'd rather just be invisible at these gatherings.

So what is abuse of an intoxicant, anyway? Most Buddhists I know take it seriously, too, and don't drink at all. Some drink a little bit but avoid getting drunk. And some drink a lot, which is I guess a reasonable cross-section of the rest of humanity, never mind Buddhists. But there are good religious reasons for not drinking alcohol if you're a Buddhist. Alcohol basically undoes all the stuff you do when you're meditating. Sure, it's relaxing, but it's relaxing in exactly the wrong way. Instead of teaching you to let go of your troubles and tread the Middle Way, it instead suggests to you that your troubles don't exist at all and won't as long as you keep drinking. Which is basically false. Besides, most people who drink socially drink to "take the edge off" of a situation, such as a dinner out with co-workers, that they'd rather avoid. By skipping the drink and instead exploring in meditation why you'd rather avoid it, you do yourself more good in the long run. Or so goes the theory.

I have even better reasons for avoiding alcohol; it messes with my medication, and can in fact turn one of them toxic. But my cow orkers don't know about that. So they make jokes about diet Coke and ginger ale, and I cling to the Fifth Precept with fingernails and teeth - which, let's face it, is probably not what the Buddha had in mind. Still, it's worked all these years, so I think I'll plow ahead. Or drink to that, as they say. With ginger ale. Or diet Coke.