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

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Talk Thursday (on Saturday): What I Did This Summer

Sorry for the delay. We had technical difficulties. Apparently my antivirus software was having an argument with something called "Norton 360". I don't even know where that came from. I thought it was illegal for your laptop to download something without telling you. Well, even if it's not illegal, it certainly shows a breach of trust in the relationship. Perhaps we should seek counseling.

I know summer doesn't officially start until June twentysomething, but for me it kicked off in early May, when Texas Frightmare Weekend roared into town. Two solid days of horror movies, memorabilia, guest lectures, extremely amusing T-shirts, great costumes and all things scary. Next year's weekend is already in the planning stages, so if you're a fan of horror and you live anywhere near North Texas, you should really consider checking it out. If nothing else, it's not often that you get to see six movies for fifty bucks. Okay, some of them were better than others. But still.

In late May I went to the Pen to Press Writers Retreat in New Orleans, where I had a number of spooky experiences. New Orleans is kind of rumored to host those, from what I hear. Among them: Hearing a bunch of things I didn't know I already knew, all rolled into a package and actually explained for the first time, about how best to write commercial fiction. Running into JulieAnne, a girl I went to junior high school with a million years ago in the wilds of Utah. (And by the way, you should check out her blog; it is really good.) Wanting a beer, for the first time in like five years, to the point of calling my sponsor and asking her to talk me out of ordering one. She doesn't normally do beer, just food, but she humored me. Maybe it was just the alcohol flowing freely in the French quarter or something. Couldn't have been the intense anxiety about having to, you know, talk about writing with people, something I basically never do except in certain contexts. Nah.

We've also had a lot of fun with appliances blowing up and otherwise misbehaving. Next on the agenda is almost certainly the water heater, which, we found out quite recently, is 19 years old. That's, oh, about seven to nine years past the life span of a water heater. My uncle Bob told us not to worry, though, because water heaters only fail when you're out of the house for two or three days so that they can flood your entire basement. We don't have a basement, though, just kind of a laundry room, so hopefully we are exempt. At least until we save up another $600 or so, that is.

Recently, we've had yet another dispute with our idiot neighbor about yet another tree. Last summer, while I was out of work, I watched him bring in a skid loader and dig a big hole in his back yard. This could not possibly end well. Turned out he was installing an underground swimming pool, normally the kind that sits three to four feet above ground. Once you put them underground you start running into city issues, such as needing to get plumbing and drainage permits and putting up a certain kind of fence to protect the local kiddos and things of that nature. He didn't do any of those things. I checked. (I have that power.) He did, however, come over and ask us to remove two trees on our side of the fence because they were dropping leaves in his new pool. Oh, for Christ's sake. I was thinking about saying something along the lines of it's nothing you and your chainsaw on your own side of the fence can't handle, but, no further comment. Still, I dutifully called our tree guy and he came over and gave us an estimate. I took the estimate next door and showed it to the idiot neighbor. Just to be a sport, I even told him I'd pay for half, as long as I got it up front in cash. He hemmed and hawed and finally said he'd get back to me. I'm not holding my breath.

I also had a lot of fun with hypoglycemia this summer as a result of the continuing tinkering with meds (which, despite the fact that it's been going on for a good seven or eight months now, shows no sign of even slowing down). I spent three weeks on the vegetables-and-whole-grain train and have come to the reluctant conclusion that I'm probably stuck there. Every time I try to eat the way I used to, it all comes crashing back, which is to say, I almost go crashing to the floor. I mean, there are worse things in the world than eliminating sugar and white flour from one's diet, but I'd rather do it because of some saintly religious ideal or other instead of "because I frick'n have to." Kind of like one of my bosses eats strictly kosher to serve the glory of God rather than "because I was raised that way." Yes, that's childish, but I'm age-frozen at about twelve and a half, so I can be that way.

Last weekend, Joan and I were upgraded to new BlackBerries by our kindly service provider. Not the Torch, which would have been great, but considering mine is almost five years old, anything is a significant step up. Mine is fuschia, which is just cooler than cool. We had all kinds of trouble getting them up and running, though. There were two trips to Fry's involved and something like four hours spent on the horn with tech support. But, they work now and mine rings to "In a Big Country." It was either that or Warren Zevon's "Lawyers, Guns and Money." Heck, now that I think about it I don't see why I can't use both.

Which brings us, more or less, to the present moment, the only moment that we will ever have, the only moment that matters. Savor the present moment, kids. Especially if you live in North Texas: Savor the brief pause between the blast furnace and the deep freeze, the 90-degree days and the 75-degree nights. They're all too rare in this world of colliding weather systems. And speaking of which, it's the 5th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina today. Having a roof over one's head is a good thing. Having a house that's not under ten feet of water is also a good thing.

Going to renew my flood insurance now. Later.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Talk Thursday: Growing Up

Well, I could waste this whole post on fond memories of North Dakota or truly horrible memories of Utah, but I thought I'd skip it. I thought instead I'd let y'all know that I don't seem to be done yet.

Growing up, I mean. Because I spent about three hours today completely incapable of opening an email.

Lemme back up a sec. Y'all will no doubt recall that I went to the Pen to Press Writers Retreat in New Orleans at the end of May. I met three agents there and one editor who wanted to see my stuff, so I've been sending out these submission packages. Three down, one to go (the hardest and most complicated, so it's been taking me a lot longer to put it together - but it WILL leave the laptop before the end of August. I repeat, it WILL leave the laptop before the end of August.) Having temporarily conquered Scaley, the T-Rex of Anxiety, I completely forgot he had an evil twin. Maybe we can call this one Fang, the Velociraptor of Paralysis or something. He lurks unseen on the clifftops, not nearly as big and imposing as his brother, but prone to swooping down on you when you least expect it and locking you up at your keyboard like a goldfish in an ice cube.

I got a response from one of the agents, see. And I completely freaked. I think, on some level, I had forgotten that sooner or later, they were, you know, supposed to respond.

I immediately tried to think of alternatives to opening this email. Let's see, I could forward it to Joan. No, impossible to do in Gmail without opening it first. I could call Joan at work, give her my password over the phone and ask her to hack my account. Then she could open the email, read it, and tell me what it said. Or hey, I could delete it unread. Then I'd never know, would I? Well, thank God I didn't go that route. I've at least made it past that developmental phase of "if I can't see it, it doesn't exist." That makes me what, about four?

Finally, I emailed Joan and asked her to tell me to open the email. This is very silly, but it usually works. Hey, I grew up in Utah, remember? Given a direct command by someone in authority (wear a sweater, say your prayers, stop pouting, spread your legs) I tend not to argue. I've been known to call my OA sponsor and tell her to tell me not to eat something. That works too. Still, you'd think by the age of fortysomething I'd be perfectly capable of telling myself what to do.

Anyway, Joan emailed me back and told me to open the damn email. Which I did. And it said:

Dear Jennifer,

Thank you for letting me consider your writing sample. I didn’t make the connection with your story that I would need to request more, but please keep in mind that another agent may feel differently. I wish you the best of luck in placing your work.



Seriously, what was the big deal? Did I expect there to be, I dunno, a long rant about how I clearly don't know what I'm doing and should consider selling used cars or maybe working for a law firm? I doubt very many literary agents have that kind of time. And I was a little bit snarky about the fact that I got a form rejection when I distinctly remember we chatted about jewelry and body art before we got down to business, but I got over it.

So why, then, all this wasted energy? Seriously, am I age-frozen at about seven? Little kids freeze when they think they're in trouble. Little kids and some cats I've known.

The other day it occurred to me that I'm late all the time. Well, that's occurred to me before (and doubtless many people who know me), but for the first time I wondered what, exactly, I'm getting out of being late all the time. Clearly if it were all negative I'd have stopped a long time ago. So there must be a positive. And I think it's the adrenaline rush. It's much more exciting to be trying to get somewhere before the clock strikes or the gate falls or whatever bad's going to happen starts to happen than it is to just leave ten minutes early so I'll be sure to get there on time. Negative attention being better than positive attention? That might make me about ten.

Oops, make that twelve and a half. An attractive coed just walked by and I looked up for half a second. Okay, back to preadolescence. Besides, I'm late.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Weird Wednesday: Uncool Behavior

Our air conditioner has been giving us fits of late. Air conditioners, in case you did not know this, are all members of a sinister secret society that is sworn to act according to certain rules. One of these is to never, ever break down in the dead of winter, or even when it's kind of warmish outside. No, the only time air conditioners are allowed to break down is when it's 102 in the shade and the air cannot be safely distinguished from water. (Unless, of course, it's also a heat pump, in which case breaking down in midwinter is strongly encouraged.)

Another rule of the Air Conditioner Code is that one can never break down in an ordinary way, like by having a freon leak or by needing its condenser hose unplugged. One must always cause headaches for both the owners and the repair guy by being as obtuse as possible as to what is actually wrong. Our air conditioner, by the way, is brand new. We had it installed last October. Since then the repair guy has been out here three times, once for a gas leak, once because it was running prolifically but producing no cool air, and then this crazy thing.

It started off rather innocently, as misbehaving appliances sometimes do (unless they're ranges). We'd get home and the house would be around 80 degrees. Not that unusual, considering it's 102 in the shade and the air is--yeah. I mean, really, 20 or 25 degrees and you're doing pretty good. But, again, this is a brand new unit. It's running full tilt. Is that normal? Or should it get to stop and rest once in a while? Do machines need to rest? I am not sure, but I do know that air conditioner units sometimes freeze up if they run too much.

Anyway, the next couple days we came home and it was 82. Still not too bad, but starting to get annoying. Then one night I woke up and it was 85. At three in the morning. It was actually cooler outside than it was in the house. At this point I started to consider that there might, possibly, be something seriously wrong. Again. I opened the closet where the a/c lurks and got the shock of my life. Huge quantities of water were pouring down the side of the unit and puddling all over the floor. I don't care how hot it is outside, that is not normal.

So the repair guy came and determined we must have the ever-popular Blocked Condenser Hose. The compressor is supposed to shut off when the hose is blocked, so that it won't, uh, flood the closet. (Like it kind of already had.) He pumped some compressed air through the thing, got it draining properly and charged us $50 bucks. I cleaned up the mess, which is usually my job when these things happen. The next night we came home and it was--85 degrees in the house again.


So I called the repair guy back and he came back over. He inspected the unit for possible ice lock. Nothing. Just in case he turned the heat on, raising the temperature to a nice balmy 87. Then he went outside, messed around with the freon, tapped on things, fiddled with other things, and came back in with a temperature gauge that he proceeded to hold up to all the vents in the house. "Well, it's cooling," he decided, "but not very much."

Which meant what, exactly? Well, after two hours he still wasn't sure. His best guess at this point was that (obscure part) had gone bad, but he didn't have one on him and the store didn't open until eight in the morning. He'd be back then. This was fine; Caesar the Cat really likes him. But we got to spend a third night lying under fans without much by way of clothes on and cursing our continued existence.

The next morning the repair guy, who by the way is a saint, was back with (obscure part.) He popped it in and within seconds, the temperature started dropping. He shook his head in puzzlement. "I've never seen one of those go bad before," he said. Well, they do if your unit is a member of the sinister secret society of air conditioners, but I decided not to bring that up.

Total charge for four hours of labor, poking, prodding, hose clearing, freon enhancement, cat-fussing-over, (obscure part) and three service calls: $50. (Obscure part) was still under warranty.

Now I ask you: How weird is that?

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Oh Baby, Talk Thursday To Me.

Today I've been handed a set of multiple iterations of the infamous Talk Thursday topic. In fact, six, count 'em, six topics. Rather than just pick one and go off on one of my cute li'l rants I thought I'd just, I dunno, do all of them at once. Here we go:

Talk Thursday To Me: The glam rock band "Poison," about which I know almost nothing, was one of the loosely classified "hair metal" groups of the late Eighties. I believe they were called that because their hair was considerably better than their music. (It was nice hair.) Because my friend Tammy might read this I'd better carve out a great big exception right now for Bon Jovi, who of course were and continue to be awesome.

Show Me The Contradiction: Even though I just ranted about the whole gay marriage thing, I gotta toss this one out. (In case you missed it, Judge Walker lifted his stay and it will be legal for gay and lesbian couples to marry each other in California once again starting August 18. Moving right along:) This quote from someone named McClusky at the Family Research Council, some anti-gay group or other: "Judge Walker is in fact making victims out of these people who might now go get married and then not know what the status of their relationship is." Um, I'm not sure where he's been, but Joan and I tried to get married in 1999, got "domestically partnered" in 2003, had basically no rights with that arrangement until 2004, then moved to Texas, where we may have some rights and we may not (Texas Constitution vs. "Full Faith and Credit" clause of the U.S. Constitution and Loving v. Virginia, 1963), got legally married in California again in July 2008, watched the state of our union go to popular vote and lose in November of that year, had a judge determine we were still married anyway some couple of months thereafter, and who the hell knows what'll happen when the Ninth Circuit takes a look at this latest ruling, if in fact they even bother to do so. If anybody is making us "victims", it sure isn't Judge Walker. Any time I can quitclaim my house back to myself and Joan as "a married couple" and joint-file my taxes, y'all just let me know, okay?

Yippie Ki-Yay, Mothers: The Lancet, a British medical journal, recently announced that home births were "too risky" for infants and that even though giving birth at home means fewer risks for women and a shorter recovery time, women "should not have the right to put their babies at risk." I'm stunned and amazed that any woman should think for a second that she can handle giving birth to her own child, thank you very much, instead of coughing up tons of dough to have it done in a hospital where she can be assembly-lined into the delivery room with the rest of the mothers, told to push on command and kicked out the door as soon as her insurance company gives the word. I mean, really. Next thing you know we'll have scads of women thinking they have the right to control their own bodies or something. I mean, the very idea.

You Should Always Listen To: Your iPod, especially if you have annoying co-workers. I have one who's not really annoying, just very frick'n LOUD. So loud that I can't hear my iPod over her. However, it does do a pretty good job of covering up the idiot on the floor above me who seems to know exactly where my desk is and BOUNCES A BASKETBALL for up to ten minutes at random times throughout the day. At least, I think it's a basketball. He might be playing tympanis.

And Now For Something Completely Different: I think next week is my week to pick a Talk Thursday topic. If you have any suggestions, feel free to comment.

None Of The Above: Flying to Salt Lake City Labor Day weekend. Maybe we'll get the cool flight attendant who yanked the slide and bailed from the plane with a beer. I mean, if he still has a job and isn't in jail and all that.

Oops, that turned into a rant after all. Oh well. We cannot all be enlightened.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Weird Wednesday: What The Hey Is This?

I hope you can see that okay. It's a photo taken by a friend with an iPhone at a party. She was aiming, I think, at the large girl exiting the frame to the left. (She missed.) That's the side of the garage on the right, and there's some party-goers in the background.Then there's that thing in the middle. Uh, hello? What is that? My friend says there wasn't anything there when she took the shot. Certainly there wasn't anyONE there. And even if there had been, she wouldn't have been out of proportion to everyone else, cut in half and floating a foot or two off the ground.

Seriously, that is a weird photo. Anybody got an explanation?

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Mopey Midlist Authors, Buddhism and the Cessation of Suffering

Okay, I'm not often one for picking on other people's blogs. I mean, blogging ain't easy sometimes, even if it is cheap (and remind me to speak to The Network about doubling my salary again soon). Nonetheless I have a bone to pick with Jane Austen Doe, whoever she is, who wrote this article (way back in 2004, but it's circulating again on Twitter as a warning to aspiring authors everywhere) about the woes of not being one of the Stephen Kings of the publishing world. Go read it, or the first and last couple of paragraphs, anyway.

A lot's happened since 2004, but one thing hasn't changed. That thing is this: There are lots of writers, very few of them are published, and even fewer of those make kajillions of dollars doing what they do. (Okay, that's three things. It's Sunday and I don't have to count if I don't want to.) I read the article, and I didn't feel at all warned. What I felt instead was pissed off -- not at publishers, which is evidently at whom I was supposed to feel pissed off -- but at Jane Austen Doe. Honey, I hate to tell you this, but whining doesn't benefit your career any more than repeatedly telling your agent, "My career as a writer is over." Oh, wait, that's kind of the same thing, isn't it?

I'm sorry, but I just can't get past this fact. People out there have paid for what this woman writes, and she's complaining. So she has a day job. Don't we all? I do, and I love it, and even if I were one of those writers making the kajillions of dollars, I can't imagine quitting it. For one thing, my manager would probably kill me. For another thing, I need the health insurance. For a third thing, I'm not stupid. There are no certainties in life. Buddha even said so. Everything changes. Nothing stays the same. I'm on my third job in five years, and luckily this one's a really good one even if they're not paying me as much as I wanted. I'm not published, still hope to be, and I would be perfectly fine with midlist authordom. Yes, you can write that down and refer back to it in case anything major happens. Meantime I've been pondering slightly more practical things, like how I can get enough time off to go on a book tour on the off chance I ever have to.

Granted, there's a whole lot wrong with the publishing business model. It's undergoing major changes and I imagine in five or ten years it's going to look very different. Still, we're never going back to the days of the family-owned, literature-loving publishing houses that nurtured writers along from the cradle to the grave. Publishing houses aren't like that anymore, and what's more, people don't read like that anymore. Like lots of other businesses, publishing houses are churning out a product that sells as much as possible at the lowest cost possible. That's how corporations work. They exist to make money. If you're going to deal with them, you might just want to accept that fact, because it's not like they're gonna turn around and change just because you don't like it.

Look, writing commercial fiction is a job. It doesn't pay very well. (In my case, it doesn't pay at all, but hopefully that will change; hey, stranger things have happened.) The risks are high and the odds against ever making any money at it are pretty staggering. I can't imagine doing it for any other reason than love. I guess that is my beef with Ms. Doe. She's getting paid for it, if not making a living at it. She has a day job, she still writes, and while she doesn't mention it except in passing, she has kids and a significant sweetie who loves her. Yet what she's focused on here are all the things she doesn't have. The hundred thousand dollar advances. The big publicity tours. The lifetime book deals. People like that drive me crazy, which doesn't stop me from feeling sorry for them. They make themselves and everyone around them miserable.

Remember, kids, there's a difference between pain and suffering. Pain is the negative stuff that inevitably happens as a consequence of that whole being alive thing. Suffering is what happens when you dwell on that pain and nurse it to the exclusion of everything else. Buddhism is into the cessation of the suffering of all beings. If there's a core statement of Buddhist faith, it would probably be this: LIGHTEN UP, ALREADY.

Okay, I've spewed enough. I'm going to shut down my three-year-old laptop and take my significant sweetie out of my 58-year-old postwar box house to meet some friends at a cheap restaurant and dish about our jobs. (Yay, we're all still employed!) And then, tomorrow morning, I'll start doing something else about my hopeful future potential midlist authordom. It's a dirty job, but someone's gotta do it.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Talk Thursday: Beautiful Release

Now there's a topic that could go a lot of different directions, some of which are kinda not appropriate for a religious-type blog. But just when I was thinking what the hell and wandering over there anyway, a Federal Court in San Francisco dropped a great big surprise into my lap.

I am still married.

Yes, I realize that's not the sort of thing that surprises most people. You don't often wake up in the morning, look around, assure yourself of the continued existence of the roof and the cat and your significant other, and then ask yourself, "I wonder if I'm still married." But then, as far as that goes I am not one of most people. I am one of the approximately 36,000 men and women who got married in California between June 17, 2008 and November Something Or Other of that same year. The few. The proud. The married same-sex couples, who despite the passage of Proposition 8 that November were deemed to Still Be Married by the California Supreme Court. Something about what the State of California joined, a 52% majority could not put asunder. So, in other words, we were married, as were our 35,998 close friends, but no other women who wanted to marry women or men who wanted to marry men could join our elite little fraternity.

There's so much wrong with that I don't know where to start, but as I said on this very blog some time back, the California Supreme Court essentially said, "That's not our problem" when presented with the many logical issues they had just created. "Ya gave us something to rule on, we ruled on it, you guys deal with the consequences," said Ronald M. George and the Supremes. Like how married gay couples, domestically partnered gay couples, and married straight couples would all need different joint tax returns for the state of California. Like one kind of couple could get a divorce where another could only get some kind of separation agreement. I mean, the implications were staggering. Certainly the anti-gay marriage crowd was staggering, which was why when a few couples decided to sue in Federal Court on the grounds that the whole Prop. 8 thing violated the Equal Protection Clause of the Constitution, they decided to throw into their briefs the notion that I, and my 35,998 gay brethren and sistern, should be summarily declared not-married whenever the gay couples lost the lawsuit (which was what they must have fully expected would happen. Certainly I expected it would happen; nobody was more stunned than me when the tweets started rolling in yesterday about four o'clock.)

One thing that has always bothered the piss out of me is that legal decisions get mentioned in two sentences on the evening news, maybe with one singular quote of the judge or justice highlighted in some nifty graphic on CNN. So everybody who heard the thirty-second story thinks they know what actually happened and don't realize that just the court's decision, which is generally the end of several YEARS' worth of work, can run to hundreds of pages. Take the Federal court's decision yesterday, for example. 139 pages. That's actually kind of short for a Federal court opinion. But I strongly encourage you to read it, because it is a wonder. The anti-8 crowd came across as incompetent, their experts were plainly idiots, and half the time you get the idea that the judge was just letting them talk to see what in hell they'd say next. Honestly, it's not often you get an entertaining court decision of any kind.

Anyway, I could go on but it's late and I have to run to an OA meeting. But back to my premise. Beautiful release. Joan and I have been on this train since 1999, the chaos and mayhem in San Francisco, the "domestic partnership law" and God alone knows what else. It sure as hell was nice to wake up this morning and still be married.