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

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Talk Thursday: ...And Little Did I Know...

I wasn't gonna write this blog post. I was feeling pretty magnanimous about the whole thing, and I was just gonna let it slide under some rug somewhere. I mean, it ended happily. Even if it was one of the great debacles of all time, a customer service FAIL deserving of a place on, I didn't see how blogging about it was gonna help anything. Besides, I just finished writing a book, for Yarg's sake. I'm in a nice mellow mood about that. Yeah, I still have to edit the thing, and it could be months before it's ready to be submitted anyplace, and who knows, I might have to tear it up and start over, but still, writing a book is a Big Deal. Finishing writing a book is an even bigger deal. Trust me, I know lots of people who have started writing books and never finished them. I've got my share of Unfinished WIPs myself.

But then today's topic comes out of the topic-o-meter. "...and little did I know..." I mean, that's just perfect. It's the story of my whole week. If I'd known, lots of things would have happened differently. So here goes. My apologies in advance if you happen to work for the particular business establishment I'm going to talk about but try very hard not to name. Let's just say they run the tightest ship in the shipping business and they've been used as a prop in a major motion picture.

It all started out so innocently. Client Mr. Burns settles his case. Client Mr. Burns is owed a check. Because the check is somewhat large, it's decided not to send it to him in the mail but via this particular shipping company. So on Thursday last, I prepare an envelope according to the tightest-ship-in-the-shipping-business rules and put it in the box o' packages down in the basement. On Friday, I check the Web site, and it says the package was delivered. No reason to doubt the Web site, and besides, Mr. Burns would have called if the package hadn't shown up. So I'm not at all concerned.

On Tuesday, though, my boss asks me to please check on Mr. Burns. No particular reason, he just has a bad feeling. So I call Mr. Burns and he tells me no, he didn't get a package. This is, uh, surprising, to say the least. I mean, says right there on the Web site that said package was DELIVERED on FRIDAY, APRIL 22 at 9:43 AM. So I try to print out the CONFIRMATION OF DELIVERY promised by the Web site, and when it won't print I navigate the phone tree of the shipping company until I reach a human being.

The particular human being I reach is not all that reassuring. She reassures me that the package must have been delivered, but like the Web site, she can't prove it. I ask her about the CONFIRMATION OF DELIVERY and she tells me she can't get it to print either. Finally she figures out that the reason there's no CONFIRMATION OF DELIVERY is because the delivery driver didn't get a signature. Uh, why not, I ask. There was a cute li'l box on the shipping form that you could check if a "signature not required", but I didn't check it. That should have clued somebody in that a signature was required, no?

No. Turns out the rules had changed...and little did I know...domestic deliveries were all treated as "signature not required." Had been for the past four or five years, this person told me.

To which I said, "You have GOT to be kidding me."

She wasn't.

So we had no proof of delivery, no signature, and no package. How, exactly, did they handle it when something went awry, as, uh, was clearly the case here? Well, I could call the recipient back and make absolutely sure he didn't get it, she said. Or I could talk to a manager. I elected to do both. When I called Mr. Burns again, he stated that he knew the shipping company had been by because they'd left a sticky note on his door stating, "Sorry we missed you! We'll be back!" When I called the representative again and asked why in the world they'd leave both a "Sorry we missed you!" sticky note AND the package, she said, "Well, ma'am, I'll admit that doesn't make a whole lot of sense."

She'll admit that doesn't make a whole lot of sense. Oh, that made me feel better.

At this point I had to tell my boss what was going on. There was, after all, a rather large check gone AWOL. At some point, somebody needed to decide whether or not to call the bank. So I hauled myself down the hall and popped into his office and, uh, told him what was going on.

He said, "You have GOT to be f_____ kidding me."

I avered that, regardless of my wishes to the contrary, I was f_____ kidding him not.

Back to the phone. After some wrangling I was able to raise the manager of the Garland facility. She also admitted that the situation didn't make a whole lot of sense, but thought that perhaps the best thing to do would be for her to get ahold of the delivery driver and find out if he had left the package behind a plant or under a mat or somewhere else that wasn't screamingly obvious. I agreed that this was a good idea. She asked if this was an emergency or if it could wait until the following day. I told her the dollar amount of the check. She decided it was an emergency. But, then it didn't matter anyway because it turned out the delivery driver was a substitute and she didn't have his home phone number, so she would have to wait until the following morning. She promised to call me before nine a.m.

Now, keep in mind it's Tuesday evening. We had a whole line of nasty thunderstorms roll through here Monday night. If this package has been out in the rain all that time, it's quite likely useless anyway. So the boss and the office manager jointly decide to cancel the check, only it's too late to call the bank so they send a fax.

You know where this is going, right? The sun comes up bright and early Wednesday morning, I go to work, nine a.m. comes and goes and absolutely nothing happens. So I get back on the phone roundabouts nine-twenty, and after another round of press one for English, press two for customer service, press three if you're still breathing, I find out that the person I talked to the previous evening is the night supervisor, and couldn't possibly have called me before nine in the morning because she doesn't come on duty until one in the afternoon. However, they could connect me to the day shift supervisor, only they can't do that either because the day shift supervisor is busy dealing with a big freight shipment that just came in, but she'll call me back as soon as she can.

And you probably know where this one is going too. Do I ever hear from the day shift supervisor? Do I ever hear from the night shift supervisor? Do I, in fact, ever hear from anyone ever again at the tightest ship in the shipping business? Uh, no. That'd be a negative, Roger. They did, however, send me a nice little package of new labels.

About ten o'clock that morning, Mr. Burns calls. The delivery driver just dropped off a package. He thinks there might be a check inside. Is it all right to open it?

Mad scramble ensues. Must now call bank to stop them from stopping payment on the check. Must now make sure Mr. Burns, who has a message on his answering machine that the check isn't valid, doesn't tear it up. Must also make sure the Web site still says the package was DELIVERED on FRIDAY, APRIL 22, 2011 at 9:43 A.M. It does. It's now Thursday, April 27, a day which bears no resemblance to Friday, April 22, except that I'm still dealing with the same ridiculous shouldn't-have-been-a-problem. I mean, come on, people. I have things to do. People to sue. Motions to write.

But, again, it ended happily. Somehow, Mr. Burns and his (valid) check ended up in the same room together. So I should not be upset at a shipping company which has never screwed up before in living memory.

Still, you have to admit: Web site confirmation falsehoods? Customer service fails -- twice? Slightly over thirty grand missing for seventy-two hours? That is one hell of a screwup.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Quick Announcement!!

Hi all -- just wanted you to know that after 72,000 words and 248 pages, I typed the words THE END on my work-in-progress this morning. I still don't have a title, but I'll think of one. A celebration is in order. Drinks would be on me, if I still drank. Coffee on me doesn't have quite the same ring to it. But anyway, whoo hoo!!

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Talk Thursday: Resurrection

When this topic first floated across my email, a song popped into my head. One of those old hymns from Bible camp; “I am the Resurrection/And the life/Those who believe in me will never die.” Not the world’s greatest Bible camp song, though it involved a lot of clapping. This being Easter Week and all that (yes, we Buddhists keep track of the Christian holidays; it’s hard not to when you live in frick’n Texas), it’s wholly appropriate to be talking about this coming back from the dead thing—even if it calls to mind, as it does for me, those creepy-crawly guys that growl and hiss their way through The Walking Dead on AMC. (Seriously. Jesus. Zombies. There’s a connection. It gets creepy if you think about it for too long.)

For some reason, resurrection has become the subject of arguments. When I was in college, some Christian organization was showing a movie about a guy who set out to prove the Resurrection never happened. If Christ never came back from the dead, as the story goes, then obviously all of Christianity was a fraud, and the entire Church would cease to exist. (The tag line: “Can your faith survive?”) I’ll admit I never saw the film, but I thought the premise was a little flawed. I know this will come as a news flash to some of you, but disproving something has never done much of anything to change anybody’s mind about anything religious. Every now and then some guy (it’s almost always a guy) announces that the day of judgment will be, say, next Tuesday at four o’clock, and when it doesn’t happen, his flock doesn’t exactly get up and leave him. If anything, they believe in him even more, because he’s singlehandedly staved off the Apocalypse. (Okay, sometimes they commit mass suicide instead. But nobody’s perfect.)

Sometimes I take in one of those Shroud of Turin shows on NatGeo or the History Channel. The shroud, in case you did not know this, is a piece of cloth with a radiographic image of a guy who looks remarkably like Jesus. Supposedly the image was made as His body dissolved into light, which is pretty interesting because, uh, you can only see the image with a radiograph. So as He was dissolving into light He had to predict that many years in the future, somebody would invent radiography, and then they’d be able to see that he’d dissolved into light, which is kind of an obscure thing to be thinking about at the moment you’re going from the state of being human to the state of being divine, if you ask me. But hey, he’s Jesus, right? He can do whatever He wants, right? So, yeah, he could commune with his divine state and dissolve into light and think about radiography all at the same time. I mean, why not.

So do Buddhists believe in resurrection of the body and life everlasting? I dunno. Go ask a Buddhist. Just kidding. Seriously, though, let me channel my inner Brother ChiSing here and say that Buddhists believe it does not matter if there is resurrection of the body and life everlasting. What’s important is living mindfully and graciously in this life. After all, this life is the one we have. There’s no reason to speculate about a life we don’t have. Anyway, if this is the only life we have, we would want to live it as mindfully and graciously as possible. And, if there is resurrection of the body, we would want to live this life as mindfully and graciously as possible, so as to be resurrected in a blessed state and have a better chance to be of use to more people following the resurrection.

What, you were expecting something profound? We haven’t even settled the question of reincarnation yet. Ask ten different Buddhists how reincarnation works and you’ll get twenty answers and forty deep discussions. And that’s just if you ask them today. Ask them again tomorrow and you’ll get twenty entirely different answers. Ask them before they’ve had their coffee and—no, don’t do that. That could get ugly.

What do I think about the resurrection of the body? That’s easy. Gross and no thank you. Reincarnation I can handle; Nature is a very efficient recycler. Besides, I’m planning to be cremated and made into plant food. This Jesus guy better be pretty good if He’s going to try to reconstitute me from ashes, soil and a big ol’ live oak. I’m just sayin’.

Happy Easter, everybody!!

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Book O'The Decade: The Coffee Shop Chronicles of New Orleans

Y'all may not know this, but I'm rather partial to New Orleans, even though I've only been there like twice. The first time was for this big Mensa hoo ha, right before Hurricane Katrina (in fact Hurricane Cindy hit while we were there; only a Cat One, but saying "only" and "Cat One" in the same sentence when discussing hurricanes is like saying "only" and "Hurricane" when discussing alcoholic beverages). The second time was for the big Pen to Press Writers Retreat, where I got to hang out with the inimitable F. Paul Wilson, stayed with good friend Marcia and maybe possibly met my new agent (which is to say he hasn't rejected me, yet.) And of course there was that stint with the Small Business Administration, in which I talked to scads of people every day on the phone, and gave them directions to places I'd never been all over Orleans, Metarie and Plaquemines Parish to meet with loan adjusters, appraisers and other trustworthy government officials. So I kind of have a hankerin' for the place in a not-sure-I'd-wanna-live-there-but-it's-awesome-to-visit kind of way.

(And were they ever hiring paralegals after Katrina. Wow. Every old firm in Louisiana had like three or four positions open because people had been evacuated and just couldn't make their way back for whatever reason. After the SBA laid me off I was saying to Joan, "Seriously, we could do a lot worse," but apparently libraries weren't hiring at the same prodigious rate. So we stayed put. But it was a thought.)

Anyway, this and the blog and my extreme fondness for things made from the essence of ground beans made me a natural to review The Coffee Shop Chronicles of New Orleans, a novel in three parts by David Lummis. Click on that link and it'll take you to, where you can get a copy in both Kindle and paperback. You can also get it as a vastly cooler and more technologically efficient NookBook, about which I'm not the slightest bit biased. (Nooks rule! Kindles drool!) I just knocked off Part One, and I'm not sure when Part Two is coming out but you'll hear it here first.

Coffee Shop Chronicles is the saga of B. Sammy Singleton, the gay, agnostic, eight-years-sober son of a preacher man who came to New Orleans from New York looking to become a real writer. The first person he meets is Catfish, who runs a shop that sells architectural salvage and rehabilitates low-income housing. Catfish has recently been sprung from jail, accused of tomb desecration; when he promptly disappears, Sammy sets out to find him. Along the way, he learns that Catfish's family is old New Orleans, and their fortune was built on the backs of slaves. As Sammy learns more about what he begins to call the American Holocaust, he finds out more than he ever wanted to know about Catfish, and more to the point, how a person might hate his family name so much that he might consider irreversible alternatives to separate himself from his history.

Coffee Shop Chronicles is not without its flaws. It's too long, for one thing; at least seventy pages too long, and probably more than that. It shifts back and forth in time in a way that made me dizzy and didn't really tackle the meat of its subject until the very end. But when it got there, it really got there, and packed most of its emotion into the last forty pages in a way that can't be described as other than gut-wrenching. I'm very much looking forward to Part Two, and it wouldn't surprise me at all if this is one of those Hunger Games Trilogy type deals where Part Two's going to end on some massive cliffhanger that practically begs to have Part Three already purchased and in hand. So go check it out. (And if you have a Nook, as opposed to a proprietary Kindle, you really can check it out, from your local library. So there. Nyah.)

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Two Blog Posts In One Day?!

Well, yeah, because y'all need to go read this. One of the best articles I've read on bipolar disorder. Maybe someday this condition will stop being something that only crazy people and Charlie Sheen has and start being something the Buddhist next door and Catherine Zeta-Jones has--and that will be okay, because people know a little bit about it now and don't need to be afraid of it anymore. It's not contagious. Sincerely.

Talk Thursday: Time Has Come Today

Well, it seems my hyperfertility is at an end. It always ends; that's the trouble with hyperfertility. It ends, and then I look back on the 70-odd pages I wrote when it was in full swing and ask myself what the f____ I thought I was doing. Obviously they're crap and need to be thrown out. (True? Probably not, but I'm mopey now so that's the first thought.) Whether or not they get thrown out, though, time has resumed its normal speed. Which is to say, time has come today. Or so the Talk Thursday topic-o-meter tells me.

The song, by the way, is by the Chambers Brothers, redone by the Ramones and the lyrics can be found here. I don't get it. I don't get lots of songs, so this doesn't particularly bother me, but I try to actually get Talk Thursday topics so I can write about them in a way that makes sense. I do get time travel, though. It has to do with space travel. It was good old Einstein who figured out that the passage of time depends entirely on where you are standing. Toss a ball on a moving train, for example, and it will take much less time to travel 100 feet than the same tossed ball on a stationary train platform. Toss the same ball on a rocket ship moving at near the speed of light, and the ball doesn't take any time at all to travel the hundred feet. In short, the ball travels back in time and arrives before it was tossed. Yep. I get that, no problem.

Where the whole time travel thing starts breaking down for me is in movies that use it for a plot device. This is where I need my sister, who always pinpoints the plot holes. Take, for example, the Christopher Reeve movie Time After Time. (Please.) Christopher Reeve's character receives a watch as a present from an old woman, which he then takes back in time and gives to the woman when she was young. My sister pointed out that the watch could never have in fact existed, because if she didn't get it before Christopher Reeve gave it to her when she was young, and he didn't get it before she gave it to him when she was old, then where, pray tell, did it actually come from? The watch is trapped in a Schroedinger's riddle of existence. One of these days the movie director will open the box and find out the watch was dead the whole time.

Perception of time also varies from person to person. One minute means very different things in, say, a football game versus waiting for the results of a home pregnancy test. Yesterday our server went down at work (nice servers shouldn't go down) and the afternoon was a lot longer than our afternoons normally get. In fact, by three o'clock I'm sure it was normally at least four-thirty on any other day. Once I'd done all my filing and boxed up the old files and cleaned off my desk and done some professional reading, what else was there, you know? Rearrange the file cabinet, I guess. By which time it was still only four. Time stood still. I needed Christopher Reeve's watch.

When I'm hyperfertile, time gallops forward at a ridiculous pace, and the only way to keep up is to run alongside as fast as possible. Everything's faster. I even type faster. Then it ends and everything slows back down to a normal pace, which is like a crawl in comparison. Kind of like going 90 mph on the freeway (which I'm sure none of you would ever, ever do) and then slowing back down to the speed limit. Yeah, you're still traveling at an insane pace, faster than any of our ancestors ever dreamed possible, but it feels so slow.

And so, slowly, I am wrapping my brain around my work-in-progress and figuring out that A. the last 70 pages may or may not be crap (is that cat alive or dead?), B. I have no idea how to end this thing, C. I probably need to do another draft and maybe more than one, and D. Caesar the Cat makes a great editor, but a human being might be needed as well. Which is not much comfort at seven in the morning. Time has come today. Time!

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Talk Thursday: Wants; Needs; Must (Do)s

Now there's an interesting topic for somebody who's basically been avoiding all of the above for the past several days--well, okay, at least a week. Oh, don't get me wrong--I'm still swimming, getting to work and getting the basic chores done around the house--but I'm not getting much of anything else accomplished. Seems that the mysterious affliction known as hyperfertility, which attacks only people named Jen and which I'd kind of despaired of ever having again now that I'm (ahem) Being Treated For My Condition, isn't completely gone after all. In fact I'm on quite the tear at the moment. I've cranked out something like 60 pages of the current work-in-progress in the last two weeks, and at the rate I'm galloping along I might actually have the book done by the end of the month. Which would be all kinds of awesome; I'd have two books to flog around instead of just one, and that would give me a cheap excuse to become a paying member on Querytracker. Not that I need an excuse, technically, but I think I may have mentioned I have fiscal anorexia? I don't spend money unless I have an excuse. And it has to be a cheap excuse because--yeah.

What is hyperfertility, you ask. Well, hyperfertility is where for whatever reason, I can't frick'n stop writing. It usually happens right around the time I'm most likely to get pregnant (and I doubt that's a coincidence), and it also happens to co-exist with mania. I'm not truly manic in that sense (yes, I'm still snarfing down my USRDA of pills), but a little bit hypomanic? Yeah, I'd cop to that. Still, I'm not staying up to all hours of the night and I'm not talking a mile a minute (though I do, for some reason, have the lyrics to ABBA's "Fernando" stuck in my head). My doc and I just tinkered around with one of my doses of something or other to fix an issue with something or other else, and that may have set this off; he says not to worry, give it a few weeks and everything will straighten out. To which I thought, "A couple of weeks! Great, that's enough time to finish the book!"

Wrong answer, right? Well, hey, it's the one I've got.

So on the wants list, I've got falling by the wayside beading, TV of pretty much any kind (though I managed to catch "House" on Monday), any serious pursuit of anything else, and any cooking of anything that takes more than ten minutes. I've been recruited as a betafish for The Sekrit Projekt (google that; I'm not even gonna try to explain) and I've only been over there once. On the needs list, I'm managing to keep up with the chores, but I haven't mowed the lawn yet this year, nor have I had the blades sharpened on the mower. I also haven't done anything about having the exterminator come by, the gas man check out the stove, or the washing machine guy come fix the balance issue. And as for the must dos--well, I'm getting to work every day and I'm working on work stuff while I'm there. But I always do that. Even when I'm fatally distracted, I'm pretty good at doing my job.

(Yes, I'm also bathing and doing the laundry. I have certain standards, ya know.)

The last time I was hyperfertile, which was almost a year ago, I just typed like mad and waited for it to pass. And it did. I have a feeling I'll be doing the same thing this time. The lawn, the stove, the washing machine and all that will still be around when it does. Which isn't to say some people won't be impatient with me, such as a certain person with whom I reside. Uh, sorry, sweetie. But I'm keeping up with the chores, right? Right?