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

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Talk Thursday: Year's End

Aaaaaand suddenly it's the 29th of December. I'm not sure how that happened. I'm pretty sure I haven't missed any days, but how so many of them squeezed into that little span of time between January 1 and now, I can't explain. It seems like the older I get, the more time slips into fast forward. Somebody told me once that it had to do with my relative perception of time; the longer you've been alive, the greater the frame of reference you have for which to view time, so a year seems to go by faster at 45 (when you've had 44 years to view how long a year is) than at 9 (when you've only had eight years). To which I say, hooey. Sounds like something Einstein came up with when he was tossing a ball around on a spaceship and trying to prove that it got to its destination before it left. There's no excuse for clumsy theories of relativity.

Anyway, I'm at Afrah, munching on a piece of pita bread and trying to figure out if I have any great rituals to mark the passing of another year. I know I used to, but that was back when A. I drank alcohol and B. I felt like it was necessary to actually go out on New Years Eve. That I can't remember what they were is, you know, just par for the course. I got home, that's the important thing. At some point I began staying home, which was just, you know, smart. The year that 1999 begat 2000, Joan and I drank an entire bottle of Asti Spumante and began firing a cap gun off the balcony of our overpriced San Diego apartment. Then Joan staggered back out onto the balcony and yelled, loud enough to be heard in Tijuana, "'Sokay, everybody! 'Sjust a cap gun!" because she was worried somebody might call the cops. So far as I know, no one did, though a scared little voice floated in and said, "Thank you," very faintly from another balcony. (Call the cops. Ha. In our fine Texas neighborhood, a whole gang of morons, no doubt led by my idiot neighbor, open fire on the sky right around midnight, and the cops don't even bother to call back.)

New Years Eve is the one time of year I kind of miss alcohol. Not enough to go back, but there's something kind of homey about lolling around on your couch, pleasantly drunk, playing "spot the facelift scars" on Dick Clark's head while the crystal ball (made in Ireland, by the way, at the Waterford Crystal Factory) descends over Times Square. This is, of course, assuming I can even stay awake until midnight; I'm pretty sure that last year I curled up in a blanket, rang in the New Year with Maine and Florida and promptly fell asleep. And that was without alcohol (six years sober, y'all.) I'm gettin' old, Zeke.

So, apart from falling asleep, I don't really have any rituals to ring in the New Year. Every year I plan to get the house clean before the ball drops, and every year that kind of doesn't happen. House blessing? Burning sage? Casting a couple of spells? Nah. Never happens. The guns go off, if we're still conscious we hide under the dining room table, and in the morning we're about the only two among our circle of friends who aren't hung over. Which is great, but no claim to fame, really. We're also the only two that probably didn't go anywhere.

Some friends at work who happen to be from Mexico were talking today about "the grapes." Apparently on New Years Eve in Mexico and other Latin American countries, you try to swallow one grape for every time the bell tolls at midnight, and each one begets a wish. (Allergic to grapes over here, so can't do that, but that's an easy way to get a dozen wishes, if you ask me.) There's also something you do with a suitcase, but I was a little unclear on that. Maybe you put grapes in it. In France they're fond of fireworks, in Russia everybody's supposed to be quiet for the last twelve seconds of the old year, and in Scotland your year's luck is determined by the first person to set foot in your house after midnight. (Ouch. I wonder what happens if the first person is a lost American tourist with a full bottle of whiskey, a set of plastic bagpipes and a really bad map of Edinburgh? I mean, that could herald the Apocalypse.)

What do Buddhists do for the New Year? Well, hey, if they're part of Brother ChiSing's gang, you have a New Years Purification Ceremony. (Buddhists are big on ceremonies.) If you're more Zen, you're probably just going to meditate quietly somewhere. And if you're me--well, yeah, you're probably hiding under the dining room table. Dang, but those guns are loud.

Happy New Year, everybody!

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Boxing Day Deathday

Hope you all had a fine Christmas/Hanukkah/Kwanzaa/Solstice. We did. There were presents (small ones, but presents all the same), a Christmas ham, twinkly lights on the tree and a whole lot of lazing around not doing much. Oh, and we went out for Chinese food with friends. That should become a trend. I ended up with a bunch of gel pens (whoo hoo!!), a new scarf, gloves, a cover for my nooky nook nook and some credit at Barnes & Noble, also for my nook. Joan ended up with a book about Doc Holliday, a gun that fires ping pong balls (don't ask), a cute li'l Irish wallet, the download of a Shakespeare play starring David Tennant and one of the other Doctor Who regulars, and a ticket to see Hal Holbrook in Mark Twain Tonight!. She's really excited about that last thing.

Then, the next day, things got weird. I don't know why I'm surprised, things always get weird around here sooner or later. Have you guys ever known somebody whose birthday was right around Christmas? And they always had people buying them gifts and saying, "Now, this half is for Christmas, and this half is for your birthday" and stuff like that? I did. I had a boyfriend (no, really, I did once; high school and early college) named Noah. His birthday was the day after Christmas. I used to joke that since his birthday was on Boxing Day I should take him to a boxing match. I don't think he ever thought that was funny. But anyway. For reasons on which I am unclear, I Googled him yesterday, to see if he was on FaceSpace or MyBook or whatever and maybe told us what he was up to on his birthday. Was I ever surprised to discover that he wasn't up to anything on his birthday because he was dead.

No doubt, I had the right guy. His first name is Noah, which is not exactly common, and his last name isn't exactly common either, though I'm not going to list it here. The birth date was right and the middle name was right. He died in October. I sat here and blinked a lot. I mean, hello. People aren't supposed to die at the age of almost-45. Particularly without explanation (all I could find was a mention in the Arizona Republic obituaries and the Social Security death registry). There was no mention of a funeral home or a burial site, no listing of "the deceased is survived by." It was about the loneliest obituary I've ever seen. This morning there were two notations in the guest book, left by me and a mutual friend that I emailed with the news yesterday. That's it. That's all. The rest is a mystery.

I might add, we didn't break up under the most pleasant of circumstances. Our relationship was stormy, with frequent fights (some physical) and even a call to the cops one time, courtesy of my neighbor. (Thank you, neighbor.) He was both mentally ill (I know, I know; I see untreated bipolar disorder in everybody--but I think he really did have it) and physically not-well, and he was in the process of flushing his entire life down a large toilet when I decided not to see where all this was going to end and left. He maintained for some time afterward that I left him for a woman, which was partially true but had the unfortunate effect of making it look like he drove me to become a lesbian. (Yep, he drove me and dropped me off. I told him I'd call when I was ready to be picked up. I haven't called yet.) So, this thing about him being dead is a little weird. I'm not sad. In a way I'm kind of relieved. He's probably a lot happier, wherever he is now. (Hopefully not haunting the ASU Library looking for books on art history, critique and semiotics. In all seriousness, you librarians over there at Arizona State may want to have an exorcism.)

What is sad, is adding another name to my list of dead friends. I'm not even very old and there's already quite a few. I don't know if 1987 was just a particularly dangerous year to graduate from high school, or if my generation is just monumentally unlucky. Brain aneurysms, car accidents, "unknown causes" and suicides. Maybe we're cursed.

Or maybe that's just the way baseball go.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Talk Thursday: The Christmas Letter

Is it just me, or has the whole year been stuck on fast-forward? I'm positive by this time last year it was just barely August. Now here it is December, and all kinds of things that I was counting on haven't happened yet. I haven't dropped forty pounds, for one thing. I don't have an agent yet, for another (came really, really excruciatingly close, though. Damn, I hate the near misses.) Haven't taken off on a six-day cruise down the Volga River between St. Petersburg and Moscow, with a two-day stop at the Hermitage to, you know, take in some art. (Well, realistically, that's one for a fatter budget year.) And now all of a sudden it's about to be Christmas and I haven't (gasp!) written the Christmas letter yet.

(Do Buddhists write Christmas letters? Heck, do Buddhists even celebrate Christmas? There's a question that you can ask ten Buddhists and get twenty different answers, never mind forty deep discussions. As far as I can tell, there's one big Buddhist holiday and it's in the spring. The rest of the year is pretty much holiday-free. Or, as I like to think of it, every day is a celebration of life. So Buddhists celebrate everything. Which I guess makes us the anti-Jehovah's Witnesses. If one of those folks knocks on my door and we happen to shake hands, will we explode? Somebody needs to tell the people at the Large Hadron Supercollider.)

I don't know why so many people have a beef with Christmas letters. I like them. There are plenty of people in the world that I used to hang around with a lot but since more or less lost touch with, used to be good friends but our lives went different directions and we drifted apart but I still care about them, that I'm tied to by blood but haven't seen in a long time, and so on, and I really don't think hearing from them once a year is such a huge imposition. Maybe I would mind if the Christmas letters I got were all about their kids winning the Tri-State Spelling Bee with their rendition of psychoichthyspaliadosis while their husbands were busy getting promoted to junior partner at Jackal Jackal Jackal Hyena and Slug, but they're not, usually. Most of the people I know are pretty ordinary. Some of them have some pretty extraordinary stuff going on (like living in Trinidad, or with twenty-six rescue cats, or with stage-four lung cancer), but they, themselves, are just ordinary folks. The older I get, the more I appreciate ordinary.

I try to write Christmas letters that are funny, engaging and (most important) true. By nature I'm basically incapable of lying, but I can (and sometimes do) shamelessly exaggerate. So I need Joan to keep my feet on the ground. She has the ultimate thumbs up or down on whether something gets included in the Christmas letter. She also rules on cute, which is a much harder quantity to, uh, quantitize. I mean, it's adorable when the tuxedo cat with only one eye climbs up onto one of our chests and buries her face in an armpit, but to other people, is that cute or just gross? I wouldn't have any idea, see. That's where Joan comes in. (And...expecting a thumbs down on that one. Just in case you were wondering.)

There's also the picture issue. We try to send a couple of pictures along, so people can see that we're aging gracefully. Or not. What few pictures we have of us tend to be on our cell phones, though, and apart from emailing them to myself (which takes ages) I still haven't figured out a good way to get them off. Yes, it's a little faster on the new BlackBerry than it was on the old one, but it still crawls along at a glacier pace. (Obviously I need a Torch. Somebody who has $400 bucks to spare needs to get me one for Christmas. Of course, if I knew anyone who had $400 bucks to spare, I'd probably talk them into donating it to Heifer International for a couple of water buffaloes. I've always wanted to give someone a water buffalo. It just seems like a good thing to do.)

Well, anyway, the Christmas letter isn't gonna write itself, nor is it gonna copy itself, stuff itself into envelopes and mail itself to households in North Dakota, Arizona, Oklahoma and, uh, Trinidad. So wish me luck. Who knows, maybe next year at this time I'll be writing from the Hermitage. Between reading emails from my agent. And forty pounds thinner. Hey, it could happen.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Talk Thursday (on Sunday): Accountability

Tonight marks my last night of ferret-sitting, which is both interesting and sad. I've gotten kind of attached to the little weasels, though I have to admit that they, uh, stink. (Not their fault, really; like skunks, polecats and mongooses (mongeese?), they belong to the family Mustelidae, which translates from Latin as something like, "little weasel-like critters that stink.") The white one (I've forgotten their names) is trying like hell to pull the book away from underneath the door so she can go romping down the hallway, and the brown one is somewhere in the closet doing God knows what and making some strange noises. I hope I don't have to go in there after him. I mean, a man's closet is a pretty private place. Kel is a good friend but I'd still hate to get in there and find out he has, say, a selection of fine evening gowns, high heels and pantyhose or something. There are just things I'd rather not know about people.

Which brings me (however obliquely) to the subject of this week's somewhat neglected Talk Thursday topic: Accountability. That is, the condition of being liable to, answerable to. or otherwise responsible for. I'm accountable for these ferrets, for example. I need to make sure they get back into their little house and that all the doors to that house are well latched. The ferrets will tell you (in ferretspeak, which seems to consist of squeaks and chirping noises) that I'm good for that. Which is to say, I have accountability. In this grand topsy-turvy world of ours, I, a human being, can be counted on for that one thing. We haven't all tumbled into the maelstrom just yet.

Then we take a look at what's going on in Congress and dear God, are we sure about that whole maelstrom thing?

Look, I try to stay away from politics. It depresses me. Especially when we have Joe Joe the Idiot Boy and his seven dwarfs (dwarves?) running for the highest office in the land, railing about what a lousy job the current man-in-charge is doing. (To which I say: You think it's that easy? Go try it sometime.) Besides that, though, we've got all the dwarves (dwarfs?) in charge of doing stuff like deciding about taxes, utterly unable to come to a decision about one lousy tax that they've been talking about for better than a year. It is, ultimately, a complete failure of accountability with these people. As in, they've forgotten who they work for. And to whom they're accountable. And that it has nothing to do with some election that may happen a year from now. And before I get off on a rant here (too late), I'll just ask one question: Is anybody else as sick of this bullshit as I am?

Don't tell me to write my congressperson. He's like talking to a brick wall. My Senator's an even bigger problem; she's retiring and the one Democratic candidate who was going to run has changed his mind and bailed out of the race. (Again, lack of accountability. So what if he'd spend bazillions of dollars and ultimately lose?) I'm to the point where I don't know or care who to complain to about this mess. I just want it fixed, so they can go back to doing things like, I dunno, fixing the economy. Working on the ginormous national debt. Stabilizing Social Security and Medicare. Getting our troops out of Afghanistan. The little things in life. You know. Showing some accountability.

Remind me never to run for public office. I've about had my fill of chasing weasels.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Ferret Sitting and the Collision that Wasn't

I forget how I got talked into this, but some friends of ours are out of town and I've been drafted into ferret sitting. And lizard and cat sitting, but, primarily, ferret sitting. No, that's not really them in the picture. I've been trying to get a shot of them with my cell phone for the last twenty minutes and the little darlings won't hold still long enough. (Well, okay, to be totally honest I've got dozens of shots of them--of their backs as they run away, blurry images of something that looks like a fuzzy worm, a floor panel, half of a guitar--the list goes on.)

Apparently, ferrets have to be let out of their enclosures to run around for about an hour a day or they go stark staring raving mad. I can understand this. One of these two is exhibiting symptoms already, unless those impressive leaps and whirls were actually the chasing of her own tail (and I think they might have been). The other one's been in and out of my backpack several times, and tried to abscond with an empty water bottle on one of the trips. If we could bottle the energy these guys have, we could probably free the nation from OPEC. Seriously, I get tired just watching them.

Changing subjects at right-angle turns: I dunno how many of you watch American Horror Story, but if you don't, you're missing one of the best shows on TV. All the same, one of the conceits of this show has to do with this haunted house being the hub of evil, or one of the hubs of evil, anyway. If you die there you get stuck there, and can't leave the house except on Halloween (don't ask me why they would make an exception for Halloween; I don't write the silly thing). Another one of the conceits is that being dead isn't all that different from being alive. In fact, you might die and miss it completely. Spoiler alert! Violet, the fourteen-or-so-year-old daughter of the family that's unfortunate enough to be living in the house, accidentally killed herself and didn't figure it out for weeks. And it's terribly unfortunate that I'm such a fan of this show, because today I wasn't in a terrible car wreck.

Or was I?

This is what happened. I was coming back to the office from a doctor's appointment. The traffic on the freeway was moving at a pretty good clip; then suddenly it came to a halt, as traffic will do. All the cars in my lane slammed on their brakes. Including yours truly. But I slammed mine on a little too hard, and it had been raining and the road was slick and I went into a skid.

The whole time my brain was yelling at my leg to forgodsake let up on the brake pedal and pump it (my car not having antilock brakes), and the whole time my leg was having none of it. It was pushing the brake pedal all the way to the floor and to heck with what anybody else was doing. I slid down the lane and to the left and right into the guy in front of me. I heard the screech of brakes behind me and was pretty sure the guy behind me was going to crunch me like a bug. There was no way I could possibly avoid slamming into the guy in front of me, and I was going to hit him pretty hard, so I did what I always do in a dire situation. I closed my eyes.

Nothing happened.

After the two crashes should have taken place, I opened my eyes again. Nothing. The guy in front of me was still in front of me, a foot or two ahead. The guy behind me had stopped behind me and a little to the right. And I? I was still sliding, but I hadn't hit anything. And I finally got my leg to unlock so I could pump the brakes and crank the wheel and regain control of the car.

A second or two ticked by. The screeching of brakes gradually stopped. Everybody just sat there for a second. Then, as if we'd all caught our collective breath, we slowly started to pull forward again.

So I drove back to work. Parked the car. Went up in the elevator. Greeted the receptionist, to make sure people could see me. (She could.) Called Joan to make sure people could still hear me. (She could.) So apparently, I am not dead and this is not American Horror Story. But, on the other hand, here I am in a strange room in a strange house, watching two pint-sized weasels roll around on the floor and typing this. That's not exactly normal, you know. And I don't know how in the hell I didn't hit that guy in front of me. Even if the guy behind me managed not to hit me, I should have plowed into that guy ahead. His grey minivan should be a mangled heap of metal in an insurance-company scrapyard right about now.

(Says the litigation paralegal.)

Well, anyway, I ate a sandwich from Afrah a little bit ago, so I'll take that as one more sign that I'm still breathing. But seriously, if I get to my OA meeting tonight and nobody can see me, I might just freak right the hell out.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Talk Thursday: Time

Has come today. Is on my side, yes it is. Keeps on slippin', slippin', slippin' into the future. Makes lovers feel that they've got something real. Only. In a bottle. For me to fly. Too much on my hands. If I could turn back. Nothin' but a good. Of the season for loving. Feels like the first. Love me two. Big. Back in. For the longest. Does anyone really know what it is. And they are a'changin'.

Oh, right. I'm supposed to be writing a blog post.

Well: Today I had jury duty. This is a thrilling prospect for a legal professional who knows she has a greater chance of ever being named a Supreme Court Justice (without law school, or a law license, no less) than she does of ever sitting on a jury. Why? I dunno. Could have something to do with my big mouth. Last time I thought I was getting close--at least, I was part of a group that kept getting hauled in and out of the courtroom and asked many questions--but the district attorney kept asking the same question forty different ways, and at one point I got impatient and said, "Objection. Asked and answered." She turned around and stared right at me, thus making me realize I'd mistakenly used my out-loud voice. And as Neil Tyson would say, five minutes later I was out on the street.

This time was better. I didn't even get near a courtroom. After being stuck in a hallway for about fifteen minutes, which turned out to be entirely the wrong place, I finally got redirected to the Central Jury Room (TM), which was a lot nicer than the hallway. There were chairs, for one thing. It was unseasonably warm and I fell asleep. Twice. Groups of people would get called and go someplace. After a while some of them would trickle back in. I kept waiting for them to call me but they never did. I got through several chapters of this new book I'm reading (Needle in a Haystack by Ernesto Mallo; check it out, and then check out everything else he ever wrote--I just became his No. 1 fan), played with my phone, tweeted a lot and pondered the absurdity of my blown afternoon. Then, right around the time it was too late to really go back to work and too early to really go home, the bailiff-in-charge announced that they were done and everybody else could leave.

Which left me with ninety minutes to account for and no real clue what to do with them.

Ordinarily, on a Thursday afternoon, I leave work and drive up to Afrah, the (stop me if you've heard this one) World's Greatest Middle Eastern Restaurant. I write a blog post, eat some of the (stop me if you've also heard this one) World's Greatest Pita Bread and then go to my OA meeting. But somehow I didn't think Afrah would have wanted to host me for a full 2 1/2 hours. Let's face it, that's a lot of pita bread. So instead I headed home, by way of picking up cat food and litter, with the idea of taking a nap first and heading up to Afrah afterward.

Hands up, who thinks this was a big mistake. Yeah, thanks for the vote of confidence there.

So I got home. I had a bowl of cereal. (You think that's a strange snack, wait until I tell you what I had for dinner: Peanut butter and banana sandwiches on chocolate graham crackers.) I lay down on the couch with Chloe the Cat, who's been glued to my side like an extra sweater lately. And I fell asleep. And my little phone alarm rang to inform me that it was time to get up and go to Afrah. And I...

Went back to sleep. Yep.

Woke up about seven, realized I'd missed both Afrah and my meeting, and came over here. Fished my laptop out of my backpack and wrote this, working around the peanut butter (yes, there is peanut butter on my arrow keys, and no, I don't know how to get it off). And now, with time standing still and my schedule in complete disarray, I think I'll go to bed, before I'm tempted to polish off the rest of the crackers. It's been a strange day, indeed. Most peculiar, mama. Whoa.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Talk Thursday: Natural Consequences

In case anybody's wondering, the little fish-o-gram has not been retired. He's making less than frequent appearances because I'm having, shall we say, a sucky couple of weeks as far as swimming goes. Oh, I'm still showing up, but I'm late or I'm leaving early or else I'm just incredibly slow, and some days I've been lucky to crack a thousand meters, much less log a 1200, which is the lowest notch on the fish-o-gram. (And also three-quarters of a mile, in case you can't calculate that in your head. I can't, either.) I have a choice here between lowering my standards, or just not using the fish-o-gram. So far the fish-o-gram is losing. Still, I'm kind of missing it, too. So we'll see what happens.

This segues perfectly into today's Talk Thursday topic. The natural consequences of eating sugar and oversleeping: Slowness in the water, minimal meterage and missing Mr. Fishy. I dunno what you think of when you hear the expression "natural consequences", but I immediately think of driver's ed. You know, that class in high school that you had to take if you ever wanted to get behind the wheel of a car, but that seemed to have all the practical application to piloting a vehicle that trigonometry did to balancing a checkbook. "Natural consequences" were the ones you couldn't avoid if you did something stupid with the aforementioned vehicle. Take a turn too fast, for example, and your wheels would come off the street, and if you did it exactly wrong, you might even roll over. Slam on the brakes too hard and not only wouldn't you stop, but you'd careen off one direction or another and possibly spin around a few times. It all had something to do with gravity and physics and vectors and thrust and things like that, and you couldn't talk your way out of it like you sometimes could a ticket. If X, Then Y. No unknowns to the equation.


Well, except that we're human beings, of course. And despite the clear and convincing evidence that If X, Then Y, we somehow think we can beat the odds, defy gravity, turn physics on its ear and tell the vectors to come back another day. Every time I take my life in my hands and get on the Suicide Highway (or the 75 Central Expressway, as it's known to Dallasites) I see people do amazing things with cars that are apparently supposed to defy the rule, but instead end up proving it over and over again. Sometimes I come across the wreckage of said cars after they've been proven wrong. So maybe natural consequences are the ones that people don't believe in, regardless of how right-in-front-of-your-face the evidence may be.

I can use myself as another example. I can't, or at least shouldn't, eat sugar in copious quantities. It's practically impossible not to eat sugar at all. Too many things have sugar in them, like ketchup, for God's sake, and peanut butter. I managed it for twenty days once, as an experiment, and boy did I get testy. But if I just avoid things that are supposed to be sweet, like cake and doughnuts and sweet rolls and ice cream and stuff like that, I'm generally okay. Which is to say, my blood glucose isn't zooming up and down, I'm not practically losing consciousness every time I stand up, my meds are working the way they're supposed to and I'm feeling, you know, pretty good. As opposed to that lovely half-dead, dragged-naked-through-wet-grass-and-then-stomped-on sort of feeling that I get when I'm coming down from a sugar high. (I went to a chocolate tasting once--yes, you may point out how incredibly dumb that was--and was sick for three days.)

So logic would dictate that, when a cake or something shows up in the kitchen at work, my brain would kick on and say, "Ahem. If X, Then Y." Especially if it's a white cake with white or cream cheese icing; that stuff is like cocaine. Sincerely. And not wanting to feel like I'm half-dead and dragged-naked-through...yeah, I'd simply stay away from the cake. And sometimes I do. But sometimes I don't. Sometimes I stand there with a fork in my hand, like a crack addict with a dime bag, and say to myself, "Just this once."

Yeah. This once. Natural consequences be damned. If X, Then Y doesn't apply to me. I defy gravity, I repeal the laws of physics. And then the next morning, I drag myself out of bed and contemplate calling in sick. Which I never do, because it was my idiot behavior that got me into this mess. If you're gonna howl all night with the big dogs, don't whine like a puppy in the morning, or something like that. And then, as I'm now back on sugar, I have to get back off sugar. Which--pardon all the drug references, but they're really fucking apt--is like trying to get off cocaine. It's really hard. And even though I know I'm going to have to do it, and that it will be really hard, and that I'll feel terrible for days while the sugar clears my system, I still do it. I still do it.

Which just goes to show something or other.

I read someplace that in the brains of real drug addicts, the "go" signals -- that is, the ones that tell your brain to "go" get drugs after they've been triggered by something--work three times as fast as the "no-go" signals, which are the logical ones that convince you to stop. If you act at all impulsively, you're screwed. You can only kick a habit like this if you're willing to stop and take a few deep breaths each and every time you start craving whatever-it-is, to give the "no-go" signals time to fire up. In short, engage the brain. Pay attention to the natural consequences. Remember that If X, Then Y. Which is, uh, really hard.

Why? Because we're human beings. Just ask those drivers on the 75.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Talk Thursday: Comfort Food

Happy Thanksgiving, everybody!! I hope you all have a place to go engage in a celebratory meal with friends and relatives, and time to think about what makes this country great and all the blessings in your lives and stuff like that.

I, on the other hand, am thinking about what I nearly always think about. Namely, food.

I don't do Thanksgiving with family for the same reasons a lot of you probably wish you don't. That said, however, I do have a gathering of friends to go to later this evening. And I'm very much looking forward to the company and the gossip and the cameraderie and the playing with the cats and chickens and so on (our friends are urban chicken farmers). But over and above all that, I'm looking forward to the food. I've been told to expect turkey, of course, but also sweet potatoes, twice baked potatoes, creamed corn, veggies, pumpkin pie, pecan chocolate chip pie and chocolate Irish cream cheesecake. In short, a veritable smorgasbord of doom for the cardiovascular system. Not to mention people who aren't supposed to eat sugar.

Um, yeah. That would be me.

I take this whole mess of prescription drugs, see. A bunch of them aren't supposed to be taken with alcohol. I don't drink, so not a problem, but guess what sugar breaks down to as it's being digested? Yep. And the prescription drugs don't know if they're being interfered with by real alcohol, or the also-ran equivalent. Either way, they don't work as well as they should, and that's not a Good Thing if you're me.

To say nothing of the fact that I'm also hypoglycemic, which is kind of like being diabetic but without the glucose meters and the toys and stuff. It can be a precursor to diabetes or it can be genetic, which is the case with me (grandmother and uncle both had it). I get the lows but not the highs, and I can tell when I've got the lows because I'll stand up from a chair and almost lose consciousness. (Actually, I sometimes make it all the way from my desk to the hallway by the ladies' room before the vertigo hits. That's even more fun, grabbing for the wall to stay on my feet.) What causes the lows? Eating sugar. Or rather, eating sugar an hour or so ago, in quantity, by itself with nothing else. As soon as it clears the system, I crash and burn. The only cure is a regular meal, but it's faster to just grab some more sugar and start the whole cycle over again. I'm kind of stupid that way.

Some people are alcoholics. Some people are drug addicts. Some people can't stop gambling. Me, it seems to be All About The Sugar. I react to sugar like some people react to cocaine. There's no such thing as just a little bit. If I have some, I want more. Lots more. And if I have more, things get all kinds of ugly.

For about the last year, I've been trying to get off the sugar. I don't mean all sugar--there's sugar in all kinds of weird foods, like yogurt and ketchup, so it's hard to avoid altogether--but to a reasonable extent, giving up things that are supposed to be sweet, like doughnuts and cookies and cakes (especially cakes with white or cream-cheese frosting; that frosting is heroin. I'm serious.). I do okay--I once went 60 days, in point of fact--but lately it's been off and on. Five days here, three days there, and I think I had a streak of like eight or ten days earlier this month. Then Something Happens and suddenly I'm back on the sugar. Which means I have to get back off the sugar. And here's a news flash: Every time I try to get off the sugar, it's really hard.

Back when I quit drinking, I went through a weird three-week period where suddenly, out of nowhere, I'd start craving alcohol at odd times. Like the middle of the work day, say, or at ten a.m. on a Saturday. It was weird, but I figured it was just the last of the stuff making its way out of my system and it would go away soon. It did, and I haven't had a drink in about five years. Still, alcohol's easy. You look at a bottle and if it says, "Contains alcohol," you don't drink it. Sugar, on the other hand--there's sugar in practically everything. In fact, your average American eats 156 pounds of added sugar every year--a lot of it in the form of high-fructose corn syrup, which is just all kinds of bad for you. In 1850, that same average American only had 5 pounds of sugar a year. Which just goes to show something or other, and not that we've made brilliant progress in marketing high fructose corn syrup.

Anyway, there's no cure for my condition except to stay off the sugar, and there's no way to stay off it unless I can get off it to begin with. Which means I just need to keep trying. One of the Buddhist precepts is about not consuming intoxicants, which is usually translated to mean alcohol. I'd take that a step farther and say that anything that separates you from your practice is an intoxicant. If you feel rotten about yourself and are on an up-and-down roller coaster from eating (and then not-eating) sugar, you're not going to be meditating in a very serene frame of mind. So I'd throw sugar onto that list of intoxicants not to be consuming. At least, for me.

I'll bet Buddha never had this problem. Heck, in his time sugar maybe hadn't even been invented yet.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Talk Thursday: Occupied

Well, kids, I'm at Afrah and Joan's in class and the Topic-O-Meter hasn't spit anything out for tonight yet. So I'm stuck with either coming up with my own topic (always a treat) or just writing a random blog post on something or other. Either way, the topic will show up later and I'll end up writing a Talk Thursday on Friday or Saturday, with which there's nothing exactly wrong. I used to think that more than one Talk Thursdays in a week would cause the universe to collapse, but either it hasn't happened yet or it did but I didn't notice. Either way, I'm no longer worried.

So, tonight I'm going back to a topic I missed altogether, when I was dealing with the monsoon and the midnight shipwreck and the beautiful servant girl who pulled me from the sea, warmed my breath with hers and--oh, wait, that wasn't me. Anyway, the topic was "Occupied." Which could mean anything, of course, but I think I was supposed to refer to those folks who began Occupying Wall Street (#OWS) two months ago and gradually spread across the country, Occupying one city after another as they went. They even (gasp!) Occupied Dallas.

Far be it from me to suggest that Dallas has a flair for organization or anything, but the folks at Occupy Dallas had me pretty impressed. For one thing, they have their own web site, which is still operational even though the police moved in and trashed their encampment the day before yesterday, at about 1:00 in the morning. (More on that later.) The Occupy movement has been criticized for failing to have a nice party platform on which to stand. (Of course, the Tea Partiers have a "party platform" with only one plank, which states, "We hate anything Obama ever touched, and it's not because he's black, either," and that seems to be good enough for Fox News, but I digress.) A quick look at this Web site tells you that a platform is being hashed out as we speak. OD is opposed to cutting Medicare, Social Security and Medicaid. They're in favor of sustainability, especially as it pertains to economics. They like to meet and discuss things rather than have some person-in-charge make decisions for them. They're promoting the Occupation Proclamation. Oh, and just incidentally, they're not in favor of one A.M. police raids. Particularly when the city of Dallas told them that they could stay.

Here's what happened. The city manager sent an eviction notice to Occupy Dallas, informing them that they had to move out of their camp south of City Hall because of what she termed "numerous rule violations." Occupy Dallas filed for an injunction against the city, citing their First Amendment rights to peaceable assembly. A Federal judge said no, but Occupy Dallas didn't get evicted on Tuesday. In fact City spokesman Frank Librio said that attorneys for both sides would meet again Wednesday morning to discuss what would happen next. Tuesday evening, the Mayor Himself issued a statement, saying that " action will be taken this evening at Occupy Dallas. City attorneys will discuss the next steps with this group's legal representation tomorrow."

And true to their word, the city did not evict the protesters Tuesday. They waited until Thursday at one A.M., at which time "hundreds of cops" descended on Occupy Dallas and chased everybody out. The situation, the police explained, had just become "untenable."

Here's what I think. I think the situation had become "embarrassing." After all, if New York and Chicago and L.A. could chase protesters out of their public parks, what in hell was Dallas doing, just fooling around? Clearly a world-class city like Dallas had better evict its protesters, too, lest it look stoopid next to the bigger kids on the block. You know, the ones who will give you a wedgie at the bus stop if you aren't cool enough to join their gang. And yes, that does seem to be about the mentality we were dealing with there. From everybody concerned.

So what's next for Occupy Dallas? I don't know, but I'm keeping an eye on the Web site. The whole thing's been awfully interesting. In the meantime, I plan to Occupy Richardson. Or rather Afrah. See you on Main Street.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Guest Post: Why I Don't Exist, By God (By God!)

(Jen here: I found this on a CNN chat board, where--I know, I know--I'm not supposed to be trolling. The author is a guy named Colin and that is 100% of what I know about him. If any of you know the man, tell him I put this up because I couldn't NOT put it up; it was just too darn brilliant. Whoever he is, he is a genius. Colin, I salute you. Rock on.)

Dear Evangelical Christians:

God here.

First, I do not exist. The concept of a 13,700,00,000 year old being, capable of creating the entire Universe and its billions of galaxies, monitoring simultaneously the thoughts and actions of the 7 billion human beings on this planet is ludicrous. Grow a brain.

Second, if I did, I would have left you a book a little more consistent, timeless and independently verifiable than the collection of Iron Age Middle Eastern mythology you call the Bible. Hell, I bet you cannot tell me one thing about any of its authors, their credibility or their possible ulterior motives, yet you cite them for the most extraordinary of claims.

Thirdly, when I sent my “son” (whatever that means, given that I am god and do not mate) to Earth, he would have visited the Chinese, Ja.panese, Europeans, Russians, sub-Saharan Africans, Australian Aboriginals, Mongolians, Polynesians, Micronesians, Indonesians and native Americans, not just a few Jews. He would also have exhibited a knowledge of something outside of the Iron Age Middle East.

Fourthly, I would not spend my time hiding, refusing to give any tangible evidence of my existence, and then punish those who are smart enough to draw the natural conclusion that I do not exist by burning them forever. That would make no sense to me, given that I am the one who withheld evidence of my existence in the first place.

Fifth, I would not care who you do or how you “do it”. I really wouldn’t. This would be of no interest to me, given that I can create Universes. Oh, the egos.

Sixth, I would have smited all evangelicals and fundamentalists long before this. You people drive me nuts. You are so small minded and yet you speak with such false authority. Many of you still believe in the talking snake nonsense from Genesis. I would kill all of you for that alone and burn you for an afternoon (burning forever is way too barbaric for me to even contemplate).

Seventh, the whole idea of members of one species on one planet surviving their own physical deaths to “be with me” is utter, mind-numbing nonsense. Grow up. You will die. Get over it. I did. Hell, at least you had a life. I never even existed in the first place.

Eighth, I do not read your minds, or “hear your prayers” as you euphemistically call it. There are 7 billion of you. Even if only 10% prayed once a day, that is 700,000,000 prayers. This works out at 8,000 prayers a second – every second of every day. Meanwhile I have to process the 100,000 of you who die every day between heaven and hell. Dwell on the sheer absurdity of that for a moment.

Finally, the only reason you even consider believing in me is because of where you were born. Had you been born in India, you would likely believe in the Hindu gods; if born in Tibet, you would be a Buddhist. Every culture that has ever existed has had its own god(s) and they always seem to favor that particular culture, its hopes, dreams and prejudices. What, do you think we all exist? If not, why only yours?

Look, let’s be honest with ourselves. There is no god. Believing in me was fine when you thought the World was young, flat and simple. Now we know how enormous, old and complex the Universe is.

Move on – get over me. I did.

Very truly yours,


Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Talk Thursday (on Wednesday): From That Moment Forward

Hope y'all don't mind a Thursday post on Wednesday, but I have Other Plans for Thursday night. Yes, this means I'll miss my meeting, and what's worse, I'll miss the World's Greatest Pita Bread. But for once it'll be worth it; I'm going to a book signing. Yes, I know the last time I went to one of these, things got a little lachrymose, but I don't think that's gonna happen this time. You see, the book signing, for which I had to buy a $40 ticket weeks in advance (rather, Joan bought it for me; thanks Joan, you rock!) is for the King.

No, not the King of Pop. The other King.

Big Steve.

Yeah. Stephen King.

Okay, yes, it's taking place at the Majestic Theatre, and I'm in the cheap seats, and the odds of actually getting my precious volume of 11/22/63 anywhere near the Sharpie marker of the Master of Horror are extremely small. Arguing, for the moment, that I even have a volume of 11/22/63, because I don't at the moment and I don't think I'm funded to pick one up between now and then. But still. I'll be in the same room with the guy who created the Walkin Dude and Johnny Smith and Delores Claiborne. Blockade Billy and Leland Gaunt and Dr. Louis for Godsake Creed. I think that's worth missing pita bread, don't you?

So here's my Talk Thursday column, a day early and a little bit beside the point. The actual topic, from the Topic-O-Meter, was too long to fit into the title bar; it was something like, "If I had to go back to one event I've experienced and relive my life from that event forward, it would be..." See what I mean? But I think "From That Moment Forward" covers it. In any case, I thought about it for all of about five nanoseconds and knew exactly what moment we were talking about, here. We were talking, of course, about the night Stuart Adamson kissed me. And the happy-go-lucky days that followed.

Normally I don't smooch and tell, but since the other pair of lips is no longer in this world, I figure it's okay. Anyway, it's not the actual smooching I want to talk about. It's the happy-go-lucky days that followed, or hours that followed, or all the stuff that happened afterward. To make a long story short, I was in Birmingham, England at the time, which, if you've never been there, is kind of the British Detroit. I think they actually do make cars there, or did at one time, and it's a rough town where bad things happen to people sometimes (though, of course, never with guns). I was at a club, where a concert was about to happen, and a poll tax riot broke out (if you don't know what a poll tax riot is, ask someone). In the ensuing chaos I got whacked on the head with something and knocked cold for somewhere between several seconds and several hours. When I came around, a bouncer was holding up his hand and saying, "How many fingers? Who's Prime Minister?" I got the first one right but not the second one (Ms. Thatcher having retired some years before), so he figured I was fine and turned me loose.

Here's a news flash: If you're hit on the head hard enough to lose consciousness, you almost certainly have a concussion and possibly something even more serious. There are three things you need to do in this situation: You need to not drink alcohol, not go to sleep, and seek medical treatment immediately. What I did instead was chug a few beers, sing along with the crowd and then crawl back to the hostel where we were staying and fall fast asleep. Doctor? Nah. Never even occurred to me. Now this is the moment we freeze-frame so that I can go back in time, fix it and have everything turn out differently.

Instead of drinking, singing and sleeping, this is me going to the hospital and explaining I was just knocked unconscious. This is me, hanging around in the E.R., bored out of my skull, being observed by medical professionals until the following morning, when they've decided I'm not in any immediate danger. Instead of spending the next two weeks hanging around in England and Scotland and acting increasingly weird, I'm accepting the very wise suggestion of one of the medical professionals and going home early. Not the end of the world. I've already kissed Stuart Adamson; what else do I expect to do, knock boots with Sinead O'Connor? Oh hey, this is me, going to my Regular Doc once I touch down in the States. This is him, examining my X-rays and discovering -- gasp! -- a greenstick skull fracture above my right temple. This is the MRI I'm having that discovers the damage to my right temporal lobe, which has either caused (a long shot) or made worse (much more likely) my bipolar disorder.

Stars and garters, here's me at the tender age of twenty-one, seeing a psychiatrist for the first time instead of waiting until I'm forty. Here's me getting prescribed a sheepload of medication and adjusting, slowly, over the next eighteen months or so. Here's me not getting confused at work and wandering off; here's me not mouthing off at all the wrong times in front of all the wrong people; here's me not dealing with crushing migraines my whole last two years of college. Hey, see that tornado that started ripping up my life right around this time? Well, here it is not happening. Here I am getting out of a lousy relationship and being happily single. Here's me getting a decent job right out of college because I never screwed up all the jobs I had before that.

In short, here's me having a halfway normal life.

SCREECH!!! That's the needle skipping across the record and bonking against the metal thingy in the middle. (Do they even have record players anymore? I have one, but, you know, do people? Does anyone under thirty even know what one is?)

The fantasy just doesn't go that far. I may be halfway something, but normal isn't it. And let's face it; isn't normal a little--ya know--boring?

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Talk Thursday: Before Cell Phones

I gotta start this off with a complaint. Well, maybe just a peeve. This happens at work sometimes and it really frosts me and I don't know why. I'll pull into a parking space, get out of my car, head for the elevator. A colleague will pull in next to me and get out of her car (it's always a female; I've never seen a male do this). Said colleague will be talking on a cell phone. It's braced against her shoulder, or she's talking on her headset (it's usually braced against her shoulder, though) and she's in the middle of some conversation that Should Not Be Had In Public, often about the breaking-up of a relationship or the color of poop in somebody's diaper that morning. Said colleague will follow me, or walk next to me, to the elevator and down in the elevator and across the bridge to the building and into the lobby. And then, finally, once we're in the lobby and waiting for the main elevator, said colleague says, "I have to go, I'm about to get into the elevator," and hangs up. Whereupon she looks at me (for the first time in five minutes) and says, "Good morning!"

Too late.

Honestly, I don't know why that bugs me so much. Maybe it's being privy to the conversations I'd rather not overhear. Maybe it's knowing she was driving and talking on her cell phone, which is dangerous. Maybe it's flat-out being ignored, then suddenly being acknowledged, like I only exist when it's convenient. But anyway. It puts me in a sour mood. Do not ever let anyone tell you that Buddhists are always placid and content. We do get in sour moods. Sometimes we even (gasp!) lose our tempers. Over cell phones. Talk about attachment to material things.

It's a little hard for me to believe this now, but I actually lived more than thirty years on the planet without a cell phone. I once had nothing more than a simple land line with an answering machine and thought that was plenty. I never worried about somebody trying to reach me in class or at work or some number of other places where I might not be reachable. The guy in charge of my band (yes, I was once in a band) had one of the first car phones, and he used to leave me amusing messages that sounded something like this: "Jennifer, I'm going to be late to practice because my hearing ran over, so I need you to stop by my house and you stupid son of a bitch pick up the keys from my wife and watch where the hell you're driving go down and unlock the church..." What cell phones existed were huge and clunky and had these weird antennas that stuck up in the air. I couldn't imagine ever needing one. Doctors and lawyers and emergency managers might need something like that, but me? Hardly.

Fast forward to 2011 and try to separate me from my BlackBerry. Go on, I dare you. Many braver men than you have tried and failed.

I might point out, I didn't even have e-mail back then. I'd heard of it, but only a few people had it, and no one that I knew. My dad was on something called "Compuserve" that he seemed to really like, and I was glad he was having fun and so on, but as far as I was concerned, computers existed for one purpose only: To serve as glorified typewriters. Oh, and video game consoles. I was particularly taken with a game called "Welltris" (three-dimensional Tetris) that no one else had heard of. Now I get my e-mail on my cell phone, and play a game called "Brickbreaker" that no one else has heard of. One of these days I'll spring for "Angry Birds." No, I probably won't.

I don't just use my BlackBerry, I rely on that sucker. I read headlines on it, tweet on it, keep my appointments on it, keep my address book on it, get directions on it. It keeps me entertained when I'm waiting for something and oh yeah, once in a while I actually do call somebody on it. If I ever lost it I wouldn't know where I was, where I was going, what was happening in the world or what I was supposed to do next. The mere thought makes me a little green. I have a cartoon somewhere of a meditation instructor saying to the student, "Your posture's very good. Now drop your shoulders a little bit and try to relax your grip on your cell phone." Yep, that's about it. When they pry it from my cold dead fingers.

By the way, my BlackBerry has a meditation timer. Yes, I know I'm hopeless.

Techno-geeks rejoice! Afrah, home of the World's Greatest Pita Bread, is now on Twitter! Follow them @AfrahMedFood. And tell them Jen sent you. I wonder if they tweet in Arabic?

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Talk Thursday: The Blog Post that Didn't Happen

I dunno if this blog post is going to happen.

It started out pretty well. I was talking about the Rangers. I mean, what else would I talk about? Tonight is Game Six of the World Series, the Rangers are ahead three games to two, and This Could Be The Night that makes it all worthwhile. Not that it isn't worthwhile, anyway. I mean, it's baseball. It's the only sport, apart from hockey, that I can convince myself to be interested in for more than five minutes. Mainly because it's like an outdoor carnival without any rides, and the people-watching is just as much fun as the actual game (as opposed to hockey, in which everything just happens too darn fast for me to get bored), but anyway, I was talking about the Rangers.

Then I started thinking about my boss's boss's daughter again, and all the fun went out of the Rangers.

You see, my boss's boss's daughter has been very sick. She went to the hospital about three weeks ago and they found a brain tumor. The adjectives they pinned to this thing weren't exactly encouraging. Words like fast-growing and inoperable and malignant. She was supposed to go to M.D. Anderson to be examined by a specialist, but she became too sick to travel and soon after lost consciousness. Sometime during the night last night, she died. She was nineteen years old. And so I just can't quite get up the usual enthusiasm that I normally would for Game Six of the World Series.

It's a big world and bad things happen in it. I get that. And sometimes very young people die of mysterious causes and it's monstrously unfair. I get that, too. And it's Quite Normal to find this sort of stuff depressing and be mopey and out of sorts about it. Yep, no problem there. But how do you write a blog post about this? I mean, how do you combine the Rangers with your boss's boss's daughter dying without looking kind of insane?

I might add, I didn't know my boss's boss's daughter. I've never met her. I know my boss's boss, though, and I've met his wife, and they're good people. I can't even remotely imagine what it must be like to lose a child (I don't have kids, myself). I've lost grandparents, good friends, one friend in particular that felt like getting an arm chopped off, but it can't even remotely compare to losing a child. That's losing a whole future. A whole rest-of-your-life. How do you write about that? I can't even think about it for more than a few seconds at a time.

So I don't think this blog post is going to happen. I think I've given it the old college try, though, and I can slouch off to my meeting having made a decent effort. If the Rangers win tonight, it'll be the weirdest mix of emotions I've dealt with since I stole my ex's vacuum cleaner to get back at her for stealing my cat. And I'm not even going to try to explain what that felt like.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Talk Thursday: Frustration

I have to be honest with you: I laughed out loud when that topic rolled out of the Talk Thursday topic-o-meter. Because frustration doesn't even begin to cover it. Pounding my head against the nearest available brick wall is more like it. People, you don't know frustration until you've been me. (Once again: Grandiosity -- common symptom of bipolar disorder.) But, yeah. Frustration? Let's talk about that.

Remember the unnamed literary agent who requested the fifty pages? And then the hundred and fifty more pages? Well--that's where the story ends. It Didn't Work Out, as they say. Which, really, is not something to lose any sleep over; most of these relationships don't work out, which is why it's so worth celebrating when they do. All, the same, this is a lot like being out on a date, parking somewhere, getting to second base, starting to wonder if you might need a condom, hoping you in fact have a condom someplace, trying to discreetly check purse pockets without interrupting the main event, and then suddenly the other person says, "I just remembered I have to be someplace. Sorry, it was nice meeting you," and gets up and leaves. No matter what you do next, you feel about an inch high and covered in mud. And--oh hey, you did have a condom, right here next to that couple of useless pens that always make their way to the bottom of your purse. Too bad you don't need it anymore.

Seriously: The whole getting-an-agent thing is exactly, exactly like the more perverse parts of dating. Both ways. It starts out with letters, like love notes back and forth. Then, if you get past that phase (and I did once! I did, although it was a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away), you start exchanging presents. Then phone calls, and sooner or later you have to sign the pre-nup. (That's the contract of representation, in case this analogy's breaking down.) Having signed that, everything's grand, right? Wrong. You're just getting started. There's still the taking-on of the various monsters of relationship hell (this would be the editors at the publishing houses of choice, ha-ha), more presents, more phone calls, and, if you are incredibly lucky, you sell a book to somebody. That's the saying I-do part. Now you're joined at the hip by money, a far stronger force than love if ever there was one. Now you've managed to get each other into bed. (Yes, you waited for marriage--not out of morality but just because that's how this analogy rolls, kids. You don't like my analogy, write your own.) Hope you like each other, because it's just going to get more interesting from here. Sometimes it all works out. Sometimes your agent dumps you (and his entire client list) to run for Congress. And sometimes it all fizzles out at second base, leaving you frustrated as hell and looking for a brick wall against which to pound your head.

So what do I do now? Well--so far I'm doing what I was doing before. Writing query letters, dodging Scaley and Fang,* and hoping to get another hot date again soon. As a dear friend of mine pointed out this very afternoon, there has to be something there, because someone saw it, and if there's something there, than someone else will see it too. It's just a question of who, and when, and so I'm not supposed to stop submitting places until I've submitted to everyone in the world. Tall order, considering we hit seven billion humans yesterday, but I figure I can probably scale it down to the ones who speak and read English, just for, you know, simplicity.

*For those of you who haven't been introduced, Scaley is the T. Rex of Anxiety, and Fang is the Velociraptor of Sudden Panic. They live in my kitchen and love to hang around when I'm writing query letters. Why query letters are of any interest to a dinosaur, I have no idea, but all I have to do is type the word "query" and there they are. If anybody wants them, they're for sale. Cheap. Free, even. Call me.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

We Interrupt This Blog For An Important Announcement:

We're goin' ta the Series!
We're goin' ta the Series!
We're goin' ta the Series!

Uh, yeah. AGAIN.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Talk Thursday: Shooting for Happy

I spent most of today doing origami. Yep. Paper folding. This is one of those things that they file under "other duties as required" in your job description. It wasn't exactly a thousand paper cranes - more like sixty-five copies of a motion filed in the bankruptcy court - but fold them I did, and stuff them into envelopes and mail them. (Aside: How does one person get sixty-five creditors? I find that astonishing. I mean, okay, some of them went to the bankruptcy trustee and the lawyers and the judges and stuff, but still. Sixty-five. Wow.) And folding and mailing them was only the last step in the process. Before that was the copying, and the stapling, and the sorting, and the printing out all the mailing labels. And the finding of the sixty-five envelopes and the making sure the postage meter had enough postage and--well, I do go on.

When that was done, I had a motion to knock off and a set of discovery to start. In between I wrote a medical chronology and amended a petition. (Does anybody know if having a physical altercation with somebody in the seat next to you, while driving a car on a freeway at the same time, constitutes gross negligence in and of itself? Anybody? Bueller?) In between there were emails to answer and envelopes to open, phone calls to take and a bunch of things to scan and sort. I also spent an hour up front covering for the receptionist, who's on vacation. And then all of a sudden it was 5:30 and time to break everything down for the night and drive like a maniac (minus the physical altercation, made easier in that there was no one else in my car) up to Afrah. So there it is. A day in the life of a litigation paralegal. Minus all the paper folding, it was pretty typical.

I've been giving a lot of thought to this whole day in life thing, in part because Joan's been asking me about it. Why did I do this, what does that mean, what's the difference between this and that. It's made me give some thought to a whole bunch of stuff I just do without thinking. If there were such a thing as Take Your Wife To Work Day I'd have done it already and let her follow me around all day. She's about to start paralegal school, in case you all didn't know that. It's her choice for the post-librarian career apocalypse, or, how to make a living when the City of Dallas crashes, burns and lays everyone off. She's about to go do what I do, which makes me wonder what I do already. And if I'm happy doing it, which is the other big thing. I've been doing it for darn near fifteen years now, so would somebody mind telling me if I'm happy?

The truth is, I didn't come to this field right away. I graduated from college with a degree in English and not clue one about what to do with myself, apart from a job at the college library (it was a really cool job, doing patent research, but it paid next to nothing and was only 20 hours a week) and some vague idea that I'd be writing this great bestseller and be set for life. (Grandiosity: Often a symptom of bipolar disorder.) I kept doing the patent research job, though,until the governor of our fine state cut my entire department. Then I ended up at Bank of America (don't laugh) during the Security Pacific merger, doing customer service for delinquent accounts. Yeah, those jerks who call you when you miss a payment. Did that for a year and a half, then moved to California, where I landed another library job and, uh, met Joan. So that ended happily, kind of, and I bounced around the lower rungs of the library ladders in town until an attorney at one of the libraries where I worked said, "Why don't you come work for me?" So I did and the rest is history. Strange history, but history all the same.

The thing is, with a job like mine, you have to love it. Otherwise it kills you. You're neck-deep in other people's problems, your clients get frustrated, opposing counsel can sometimes be a jerk, there are setbacks and setbacks to setbacks, any resolution to a case can take years, and as the paralegal, you get to hear about it all. You're the nerve center of the whole operation.

To be honest, I don't know how I'd do anything else. If that's happy, then happy I am. More to the point, I love what I do and hate when I can't do it. Unemployment, in particular, drives me nuts. I'd rather be--well, I don't know what I'd rather be, but I'd rather be working, that's for sure. I went to paralegal school mainly to fill in the gaps that show up when you learn on the job rather than by the book. Joan's going to get something a lot more tangible than I was shooting for: A happy ending to what's become a very dreary tale. She's sharp, she's been to law school for a year, she's chosen a good school, and it's not like she hasn't given it plenty of thought. I think she'll be fine. But I wouldn't be at all surprised if her experience is completely different than mine. Not better or worse, just very different.

Classes start October 18. I'll be a paralegal-school widow. Yep, that's me, home with the cats watching taped episodes of Warehouse 13. Oh, I'll survive somehow.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

On The Existence of God, Or Lack Thereof

Now there's a nice lighthearted topic to discuss with friends and total strangers. If there's a better way to win friends and influence people, I can't imagine what it is. In all seriousness, though, Buddhism has been described as "a religion without a god" by some old dude who was a lot wiser than me. Buddha Himself seemed to think that this was an intractable problem, and predicted that Buddhism would die out within 500 or so years of his death. Which it did, in India, but it had already spread to China by then and was working its way into Japan. And it got back to India, eventually, which just goes to prove something or other.

(India, by the way, has millions of gods. They might have one for every Indian. If not, they at least have enough that everyone who wants one, gets one, and those that don't can afford to give theirs away to friends or family members. "Here, will you take care of my god for me while I run up to the store?" "Sure, in fact, I can adopt it if you want." "Be my guest." Polite bunch, Indians.)

Anyway, Buddhism isn't too hung up on the existence of God. When you read through the Dhammapada, you can get through all five thousand pages (approximately) without once tripping over a reference to the existence of God. Well, unless you count "divine calm," "divine edification," "purity of heart" and stuff like that. Which do sound suspicious; I mean, if they're divine, where do they come from? Gotta be a divine being out there someplace. Or is there?

Pose this question to ten different Buddhists and you'll get twenty different answers, not to mention forty deep discussions. My Buddhist monk friend ChiSing said that if there is a God, He must be an enlightened being, and if He isn't enlightened, He needs to be. I leaned on him a little more (he used to be a Baptist) and he said that it doesn't really matter if there's a God or not; our job in this life is to practice compassion and walk the Noble Eightfold Path. Not because God told us to but because it's the right thing to do. (Is there anything more annoying than the right answer that's not the answer you set out to get? Grrr.)

A long time ago, when I was running with a Lutheran street gang, I told my Lutheran pastor friend I wasn't sure I believed in God. He asked what God, in particular, I didn't believe in. I told him I didn't believe in the Old Testament God with his fits of temper and putting Moses in charge (seriously, is it me or would that guy be the first one kicked off the island on "Survivor"?) and messing with Job's head and almost getting Isaac killed and stuff like that. He said (to my surprise) that he didn't believe in that God, either; he believed in the New Testament God, who said (about Jesus) "This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased" and offered salvation for the whole world, no exceptions--"that all those who believe in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life" and all that. Given some thought, I could see his point, but I didn't believe in the New Testament God either. Nor, to be fair, did I believe in Zeus, Jupiter, Hera, Aphrodite, Osiris, Isis, Qetzlcoatl or Thor. (Rather fond of Thor, though. Hey, I'm Icelandic.) I was an equal-opportunity disbeliever. I didn't tell the pastor this, though. Somehow I didn't think he'd take the one-more-god-past-pantheism disbelieving as all that good of a thing.

So if there is no God in Buddhism (and again, that point is up for debate), what's the focus? Well, the Noble Eightfold Path, mainly, and compassion and lovingkindness for all beings. I've met religious folks who don't believe it's possible to be a good, moral person without believing in God. I don't get that. Seems like all humans are born with a tendency to like other humans and want to be with them. It's the rest of the world that gets in the way. And to suggest that we wouldn't be good to each other unless we were afraid of going to Hell--well, that's just sad. That's suggesting that human compassion is moot and we're all just robots operated by fear.

I think they're wrong. I know plenty of good, moral people who don't believe in God. Some of them are Buddhists and some of them aren't. And some of them write blog posts. Cheers, y'all.

Book o' the Decade Alert! For those of you trying to navigate the Twelve Steps with no faith in God, or a healthy doubt as to whether God exists, please allow us to present to you Waiting, by Marya Hornbacher. Yes, it is possible to get sober/abstinent/drug free without forcing yourself to believe what you don't believe. Besides that, though, Ms. Hornbacher is an amazing writer. Check out her earlier books - Wasted, Madness and Sane - for some unputdownable nonfiction.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Talk Thursday: Masculinity and Testosterone

I love me a good Talk Thursday topic that I know nothing about. Gives me a great excuse to display my ignorance to my legion of screaming fans (both of you). But first, let me explain something. There's this popular notion that lesbians hate men. I don't know how that got started, but it's a pretty wacky idea and I'd like to put it to rest right here, right now, please. Lesbians do not hate men. Why should they? It's not like they have to live with them.

Having said that, I now must admit that except for my father, I've never lived with a man, or even shared close quarters with one for more than a day or two. I did have a boyfriend (!) in high school and early college, but I never lived with him. Which, in retrospect, was a good thing, as I'd rather munch pita bread at Afrah than serve 20 years to life.

So maybe if I'd hung around men more, I'd get some of this stuff, but I suspect you just gotta be a man to understand certain things. Such as why a guy works his way up into a lofty position of power, like governor or Presidential candidate or person-in-charge of some huge 20,000 member megachurch, and then throws it all away to chase seventeen-year-olds in skirts. Honestly, is there a thing about positions of power that makes this happen? And if it is, why are only men affected? You never see screaming headlines that say things like, HILLARY CLINTON CAUGHT IN LOVE NEST WITH 20-YEAR-OLD COMBAT PILOT. (Ooo, but you should. What a delicious scandal that would be.) I posed a similar question on this blog a while back and got what I think might be the only honest reply; a guy telling me that no red-blooded American male would bother becoming governor or a Presidential candidate or a person-in-charge of a huge 20,000-member megachurch if he didn't think, at least on some level, that it was going to get him laid.

Something else I don't understand about the whole masculinity/testosterone thing: What is it about being a guy that switches your brain off when you get angry? I don't mean everyday, garden-variety angry, but when you pass that level and head toward homicidal. Something about being a guy means once you've reached a certain level of being angry, you must kill something or the world will cease to spin on its axis. Again I look to the ex-boyfriend for inspiration. When we were in college, we were walking across the lawn one day when a bunch of kids (and they were kids; the oldest one was probably ten) started throwing oranges at us. I doubt they really meant any harm--maybe it was just a great day to throw oranges; I dunn0--but one of them glanced off his shoulder, and he went from zero to homicidal just like that. Did he listen to me when I told him to leave them alone, they were just kids? No, he did not. He was going to kill somebody and to hell with anything I had to say on the matter. I even tried getting physically in his way. He knocked me down and just kept going. Eventually I ran into a building and called campus security, but as it turned out, he couldn't catch the kids. He was still mad when security got there -- at me, for getting in his way. If I hadn't done that he'd have caught them for sure.

So, okay, I don't understand men. I'm sure I'm not alone among women there. The thing is, though, I don't have to understand men. I'm not trying to live with them. I live with a male cat, and he's strange enough, but he's also thirteen pounds. If there's an argument, I can win by picking him up. Women who have to understand men because they live with them are in a whole different ball game, and sometimes I think they're playing with weighted bats, as it were. (Yes, it's baseball metaphor time around here again. Is it my fault the Rangers made it to the postseason?)

I will tell you, though, that I seem to have a little testosterone reserve of my own. A couple of years ago, Joan was being harassed by a colleague. For various reasons, she wouldn't rat him out to Personnel. Every time she came home with another story about what he'd done lately, I started to feel this urge to drive down there, wait in the parking garage, and then beat the snot out of him when he showed up to go home. How did Joan talk me out of it? She kept saying, "Jen, that's something a man would do." Ouch. My inner cave man fell right into line.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Talk Thursday: Do-Over

The only thing more boring than writing is writing about writing. That is, to the person outside it. To the person inside it, writing about writing makes perfect sense; after all, it's not like you can talk about writing. Well, I mean, I guess you can, but it doesn't go over very well at parties. Probably because there's not much happening. If y'all could see me now (and one of these days I'll hook up my webcam and blog Live! From Afrah!), all you'd see is a fat chick hunched over a table near the counter, typing like mad on a laptop that's perpetually in danger of having baba ganouj smeared all over it. You'd probably also notice she's one of the few white chicks in the place, and that she's not wearing a hijab, but other than that, unremarkable. Just woman, pita bread, baba ganouj, laptop and much typing. Yeah. That's exciting.

But, anyway, I do like to write about writing. I think the expression we're looking for here is "getting it out of my system." Today in particular I'm practically tearing my hair out because I can't talk about writing. Not to my peeps at work, anyway. I've been working very hard at keeping my working life separate from my personal life, and for the most part I think I've succeeded. I mean, my cow orkers know I have a partner, and that I live in Far East Dallas with some cats and hang with a Buddhist street gang and swim a lot, but that's about it. That I write stuff has not intruded into the office consciousness, at least as far as I know. Course, if it had, I probably wouldn't have noticed; to paraphrase Luke Skywalker, if there's a bright shining center of office gossip, I'm in the cube it's the farthest from.

Which meant there was no one to tell when I got an email from the agent that had requested the first fifty pages of Mindbender. Last week, when I got the first email, I was so busy that all I thought about was where in the world I'd find the time to get together a package to mail and when I'd be able to get myself to the post office. And of course how I'd evict Scaley and Fang, my fraternal twin dinosaurs of anxiety and panic (respectively) from my kitchen so that I could somehow make this happen. But I did evict the dinosaurs and I did get the package together and yes! I even got myself to the post office. And I wasn't expecting to hear anything for a while, but now it's what, about a week later, and here's another email.

It took me a really long time to open this email. I darn near forwarded it to Joan, unopened, and asked her to just read it to me, but that would have been cowardly. I may be crazy, but a coward I ain't. I took a deep breath, stretched my shoulders and my fingers, told myself it was okay no matter what it said, and when I was momentarily convinced, I clicked on the email.

The guy was writing to say he wanted another 150 pages. And I about fell out of my chair.

Uh, what? Another what? He wanted what? I had to do what? How was I supposed to do that? Scaley and Fang immediately materialized in my cube and started making a big mess. Then it occurred to me that this was actually good news and I should be celebrating with the Spirit of Happy, not chasing around the Dinosaurs of Angst. But I couldn't. Celebrate, that is. Because I was at work and no one at work knew anything about this and--then the phone rang. It does that. Often at the most inopportune times.

When I got rid of the annoying insurance adjuster on the phone and the smoke cleared and the dust settled and I'd managed to convince Scaley and Fang they'd be much more comfortable in the conference room, I suddenly realized I was going to have to do it all again. Head back to my kitchen. Get to work. Put another package together. Convince Microsoft Word 2010 to number pages without drawing a cute little border around each one (Whose idea was that? Bill Gates, I hope somebody tattoos a black outline around your face). And do it all in the next couple of days, no later than Monday for certain. Eesh. My first thought was to skip my usual meeting tonight and head home immediately, but Joan (who, seeing as she lives with me, does know about this writing thing) told me no, I'd better go to the meeting. Something about when I get all angsty and start bouncing off the walls, a meeting helps. It's probably safer for any ceramics she might have around, anyway.

So I go forth for a do-over, or a do-it-again, or a same-task-different-pages. Or something like that. Wish me luck. And yes, I know I'm a little manic right now. But be honest; can you think of a better time? And do you think I should take out all that smooching on page 137, or should I just leave it there and let the lips fall where they may? And why am I asking you, anyway? Have a nice evening, y'all.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

URGENT Mini-Post: From His Holiness the Dalai Lama on the Matter of His Reincarnation

This was released yesterday. You can read the whole thing here. It is long but quite interesting and sets out the Tibetan Buddhist understanding of reincarnation--sort of a "how to" manual, as it were. The two paragraphs you're probably the most interested in are reproduced below.

As I mentioned earlier, reincarnation is a phenomenon which should take place either through the voluntary choice of the concerned person or at least on the strength of his or her karma, merit and prayers. Therefore, the person who reincarnates has sole legitimate authority over where and how he or she takes rebirth and how that reincarnation is to be recognized. It is a reality that no one else can force the person concerned, or manipulate him or her. It is particularly inappropriate for Chinese communists, who explicitly reject even the idea of past and future lives, let alone the concept of reincarnate Tulkus, to meddle in the system of reincarnation and especially the reincarnations of the Dalai Lamas and Panchen Lamas. Such brazen meddling contradicts their own political ideology and reveals their double standards. Should this situation continue in the future, it will be impossible for Tibetans and those who follow the Tibetan Buddhist tradition to acknowledge or accept it.

When I am about ninety I will consult the high Lamas of the Tibetan Buddhist traditions, the Tibetan public, and other concerned people who follow Tibetan Buddhism, and re-evaluate whether the institution of the Dalai Lama should continue or not. On that basis we will take a decision. If it is decided that the reincarnation of the Dalai Lama should continue and there is a need for the Fifteenth Dalai Lama to be recognized, responsibility for doing so will primarily rest on the concerned officers of the Dalai Lama’s Gaden Phodrang Trust. They should consult the various heads of the Tibetan Buddhist traditions and the reliable oath-bound Dharma Protectors who are linked inseparably to the lineage of the Dalai Lamas. They should seek advice and direction from these concerned beings and carry out the procedures of search and recognition in accordance with past tradition. I shall leave clear written instructions about this. Bear in mind that, apart from the reincarnation recognized through such legitimate methods, no recognition or acceptance should be given to a candidate chosen for political ends by anyone, including those in the People’s Republic of China.

The Dalai Lama

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Talk Thursday: Harried

I just reread my post about writer's block and thought: Wow, I'm not bipolar or anything, am I?

Anyway. This is a great Talk Thursday topic because it perfectly describes the last month of my life. At work, at least, I've been positively slammed. I've had eight sets of discovery responses due this month. For you non-legal people, sets of discovery means that both parties have asked the other side in the case a set of formal questions, which need to be answered in Proper Legal Language according to a strict set of rules (the Texas Rules of Civil Procedure, in case you're curious). Discovery sets usually come in threes, which means three documents to which to respond. Each response can take upward of a couple of hours by the time you sit down with the client, get their answers to the questions, go over the questions themselves, object to anything that might be objectionable, turn the client's answers into Proper Legal Language, and then take the whole deal to the attorney for review. (After which, of course, it comes back with lots of changes, which can then take another x number of hours.) One set of discovery can pretty much knock down your timetable for the week. Two sets of discovery can pretty much become your week. Eight sets of discovery--well, that's two sets a week for four weeks in a row, folks. That's--that's just insane.

Now, here's the rub. While the sets of discovery are getting done, nothing else is. And it's not like everything else understands that there's discovery due and politely waits in the background for its proper turn. Oh no. Life and the law firm moves on. There are still motions to write, chronologies to create, records to order, filings to file, letters to crank out, depositions to schedule. In your copious spare time, of course. Because discovery trumps all. Miss a deadline for a set of discovery and you've "waived all your objections," which means, in short, that you've totally screwed up your case and are probably looking at a malpractice lawsuit. Miss one of those other deadlines, though, and you're at least in big trouble, and maybe fired.

So it's been an interesting month. I've tried to refrain from running around like a headless chicken trying to do everything at once, but hey, I get manic as hell sometimes, so it does happen. And then right in the middle of all this, when I was wrapping up Set of Discovery No. 8, I got The Call.

Okay, it was actually The Email, but The Call sounds ever so much more religious, doesn't it? And this being a religious blog and all, I couldn't help it. The Email was from a literary agent, asking for a partial on Mindbender. And everything came to a screeching halt for about five minutes while I stared at this email and said something that contained numerous swear words. Hard to say what this felt like, but I guess the best analogy is that I went fishing, fell asleep on the dock, and woke up to find that I had a bite on my line, only to discover I had forgotten my net, my cooler and some other vital piece of equipment fishermen need for when they actually catch something (the last time I went fishing, I was fifteen, so please pardon me for not having a clue). In short, I was utterly emotionally unprepared. I was off in discovery-land, remember? I mean, I'm not complaining here, but it was the apotheosis of bad timing. Five minutes after I stepped off an airplane in Thule, Greenland, without my laptop and miles from electricity would have been a better time. For serious. I think they have electricity in Thule, though.

And so a mad scramble ensued. First, I had to evict Scaley, the T-Rex of Anxiety, and his adopted older brother Fang, the Velociraptor of Sudden Panic, from my kitchen so that I could at least try to get some work done. Then I had to tell Joan I loved her every five minutes so that she wouldn't strangle me for muttering ceaselessly about how sucky this narrative was and how a reasonably well-trained chimpanzee could have written it and that obviously it wasn't worth mailing to an illiterate troll living under a bridge in Zaire, never mind a literary agent in New York. Then I had to figure out how to number the pages (curse you, Word 2010) after the first attempt left this fine-line border around each and every page (nice, kind of decorative, even, but, no. Just no.) Then I had to get myself and my pages to Office Depot to pick up a couple of big envelopes, get myself and my envelopes to the Post Office, and get back to the office before my lunch hour expired so I could get back to the discovery before I blew my deadline. And, oh yeah, get something to eat. I think I scored an apple and some string cheese.

Pant. Pant. Gasp. Whew.

So that's how I spent Tuesday and Wednesday. Some fun time, huh? But, pleased to announce, the package got mailed, the world did not crack asunder, Scaley and Fang are afraid of Ativan and today at four P.M., the last of the eight sets of discovery left the building. Which means I can relax and, uh, concentrate on that huge pile of mail that's about to fall on me. You know, from all the other cases.

October will be easier. I keep telling myself that.