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

Friday, August 26, 2011

Talk Thursday (on Friday): Time Changes Everything

You guys wouldn't have liked me very much when I was younger. Really, I was a whole different person. Long ago and far away, when I was, oh, about twenty-six, I had some very definitive ideas about the world. I had opinions, and by God, you had better listen to them because they were right. If you had different opinions, that was fine. You were entitled to them, just so long as you understood that they were completely wrong.

Time changes everything. These days, I don’t even know if I have opinions, much less if they’re right or not. I was in the Company Lunchroom a couple of weeks ago listening to a group of people shoot the breeze about Some Topic of Supreme Importance (I think it involved a heavy metal band) and someone asked me, “You’re pretty quiet. What do you think?” I said, “I don’t know. I guess I’d rather hear what other people think.”

Well, smack me upside the head. Are we sure that was me talking?

I realized not too long ago that I don’t yell at other drivers anymore. I stopped doing it at some point. You gotta understand here, I’ve been yelling at other drivers since I started driving a car. Usually it was not-terribly-polite commentary on their style of driving, their parentage, what they might and might not have lodged up their rectums and certain acts of intercourse they might wish to perform in the future. Then one day I stopped. Just stopped, and now I don’t do it anymore. I dunno if it’s the Buddhism or the Twelve Steps or what, but somehow some maturity has crept into my system. Only took forty-two years.

One of the things that annoyed me the most about a certain person that annoyed me at work was that she reminded me too much of myself. She was just like me when I was twenty-six, and I couldn’t talk to her or give her any advice because I remembered being twenty-six and how I would take no advice from anybody. So I didn’t even try, which was frustrating beyond all reason because I used to love giving advice as much as I used to love telling people what their opinions should be. But somehow I’ve stopped doing that, too. Giving advice, I mean. Well, I still do it once in a while. But not nearly as often as I used to when I was twenty-six.

Time changes everything.

Back about 2001, the Twin Towers were still standing and my mother-in-law was still alive and I went to see Warren Zevon on the opening date of a new tour in downtown San Diego. He had a new band and you could tell they were still working out the kinks with each other but sooner or later they were going to be great. It was just a question of when. I remembered happily noting that the band was going to be back in San Diego again on the second leg of the tour, and I put the date down in my date book (this was before BlackBerries) because I really wanted to see them again when they'd pulled it all together. I thought they would be fantastic. Then Warren got diagnosed with a rare, particularly lethal lung cancer, the tour was canceled, and I never saw the band again. And of course 9/11 happened and my mother-in-law died and Stuart killed himself and with all that going on who knows if I'd have ever gotten back there, but I like to think I would have. Because it would have been fantastic. Rest in peace, Warren.

When I was twenty-six I had written some pretty good stuff and I actually (gasp!) had an agent and I was just moments from literary glory and bestsellerdom, so there was no real reason to worry about my career (though I went to paralegal school, anyway, just in case) and I drank heavily and freebased chocolate. Then I got really sick and my agent dumped me to run for Congress (he lost) and I never did find another one (or at least I haven't yet). It's now 2011 and I'm sober and (mostly) abstinent and I've written some more cool stuff but it has yet to attract any official attention. I work for a law firm. I'm a paralegal and I'm pretty darn good at my job, thank you. I hang around with a Buddhist street gang and I'm married (15 years and going strong!) and if you'd asked me where I thought I'd be when I was forty-two, when I was twenty-six, I'd have told you something else. I don' t know what, but something else. That was before time changed everything.

Even me. No, especially me.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Talk Thursday: Resisting The Urge

Okay, what urge am I supposed to resist this week? I hope it's not the urge to consume frozen yogurt, because I'm off the sugar (mostly) but the frozen yogurt just ain't going away no matter what I do. Probably because it's summer, it's hot, it's dry and frozen yogurt is Just That Summer Kind of Thing, if you can't eat ice cream. This here's a lactose-intolerant household, but for some reason frozen yogurt makes the cut. (Hey, don't look at me. Talk to Joan's weird metabolism.)

Lately there's also been the urge to scream bloody murder from the depths of my cube. One of my friends at work gave notice, and as often happens when somebody gives notice, the Powers That Be say, "Hey, thanks for giving notice, you can leave, uh, now." There's somebody new starting but not until September, and the first week or so that anybody spends with us practically always involves sitting down with the assistant manager and getting to know a nifty computer program we use that basically runs the whole office. So my dearly departed colleague's cases (most of them) landed in my lap, and I've been frantically trying to figure them all out while keeping my own cases rolling. This is a recipe for insanity, or at least large quantities of stress. So far no screaming has happened, but I've been spending serious quality time with my stuffed fishy. (Yes, I have a stuffed fishy on my desk at work. Everyone else can have a cute li'l stress ball if they want one; I'm a stuffed fishy kind of gal.)

Let's see what else: I've been resisting the urge to buy a new car with money I don't have. There's a reality check waiting for me out there, but in the meantime I have a Serious Handling Issue and I've been through several rounds of "Let's try this and see if it fixes it." So far none of them have. I do have a solid diagnosis now, though; a bent wheel. Unfortunately, a diagnosis is not a cure. It was suggested that I look for a replacement wheel on -- get this -- E-Bay. Apparently it's not as easy to find a new wheel for a '98 Corolla as one might expect.

Yes, I drive a '98 Corolla. Hey, that car and I have been places together. Including Tombstone, Arizona and a little place outside New Mexico called Willcox.

I've also had a mad urge to buy a new washing machine, and for that I might actually have the money, provided it's a floor model and I'm getting it from an outlet store. Seems that right around the time my wheel decided that bending was a good idea, my washing machine thought it would be a great time to go kablooey, in the middle of a load of towels, of course. Chaos and mayhem ensued while the towels were hauled out to the line, hosed down (yes, with an actual hose) and left to dry in the unbelievably harsh Texas sun. Then there was to drain the washer, which was its own version of fun. Then there was to call a repair guy. Then there was to realize we couldn't afford a repair guy until after the car thing was taken care of. Then there was to reschedule the repair guy to right around my next pay check. It's possible that the silly thing can still be fixed. If so, I'm just out the money for the service call. It's also possible that after only seven years, the washer has lost its last sock. In which case I'm out the service call and the cost of the new washer. Meanwhile, I'm out quarters, by the roll, as I haul our stuff down to the Tom Landry Laundry and reacquaint myself with that denizen of my pre-homeowner years, the coin-op washer. How nice to see you again, machine. NOT.

Last and not least, I'm resisting the urge to write about all this in blog format and publish it on the Internet for all the world to see. God knows it'd be the most writing I've done in a week. I'm having this other mad urge to throw out everything I've ever written -- all of it, even the
completed manuscripts--and just start all over with the word "The". But then, that would be stupid. I may be crazy, but I'm not stupid.

Book O'the Decade Alert! Joe Hill's Horns, in which an ordinary guy wakes up one morning with an extraordinary growth on his head, should be checked out by all who are not faint of heart nor hairless of chest. Warning, this is a violent and often shocking tale
that upset me greatly, and one scene in particular has carved a great big screaming red furrow in my brain that I'll probably never get rid of (thanks a lot, Joe), but that said, a terrific read from the man who would be King.

Oops, I said the K word.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Talk Thursday: Garbage

Prescient topic, especially since, according to Texas State Network News, Governor Goodhair is going to announce his candidacy for President any second now. Of course they've been saying that for two months - on a daily basis, in fact - and it would serve them right if he instead announced he was going to shave the good hair and become a Buddhist monk. Unfortunately, uh, no. Just no. Mr. Perry will join a crowded field of Bible-thumping, flag-waving, crowd-inciting, gay-bashing, woman-hating celebutantes and declare aloud again and again, at every possible opportunity, that he's a Christian who loves his country and by that and that alone, we should vote for him.

I don't get it.

See, here's the thing. I wish I could be a Republican. Way back in the 1940s, and even before, in the age of Lincoln, the Republicans had a platform I could get behind. Small government, conservative spending, keeping the official nose out of private business, letting states regulate most areas of life and only sticking the federal arm in there when absolutely necessary. That kind of thing. That's a Republican platform that's gone, baby, gone. In its place is a platform to regulate women's uteruses, let poor people die for lack of access to medical care, restrict marriage to people who are white and normal, establish Christianity as the official state religion and build minarets to issue a call to prayer five times a day. Okay, I may be wrong about that last one. Then again, maybe I'm not.

Apparently, to be a Republican candidate for high office, you have to be a Christian, and what's more, you have to be a loud Christian. You can't just be one of those guys who sits in the back on Easter and Christmas; you have to be one of those women with the big breasts and clipboards who chases other people around to form committees (you know who you are). You have to be evangelical. You have to pray out loud in public (in direct contradiction to Matthew 6:5; don't understand that, never will). You have to have big prayer dates with other evangelicals and refuse to invite people of other faiths. Unless, of course, you're Mormon. Then you sort of have to be quiet about your faith, because people aren't sure if you're a Christian or not and you don't want that to become an Issue.

Well, here's my take on that Issue. I don't care. If you call yourself a Christian, then you are one, whether you're a Mormon Christian or a Presbyterian Christian or a Flying Spaghetti Monster Christian (long live the noodle of Christ!). But why do you have to be a Christian to be President? Can't we have a Jewish President? Or, hey, maybe a Buddhist president? No, I don't want the job, but here I was just thinking that Brother ChiSing would be perfect for it. (Ducking in case he throws a Thich Nhat Hanh book at me.)

I'm gonna say it: I'm an atheist. Yes, I'm also a Buddhist, and no, that's not a contradiction. I've pondered this long and hard lately, and I've come to the conclusion that while Buddhism acts like a religion, it's really more of a philosophy. You don't need to believe in God, or any supreme being, to be a Buddhist. Buddha was a man, not a supernatural being. He found a way to be happy with ordinary things, and he taught it to his followers. If you follow Buddha's path, you, too, can be happy with ordinary things, and if you pass it on, you will be happier still. And you will not need to meditate out loud in the middle of a busy street in front of hundreds of people in order to show what a pious Buddhist you are. (I don't think it's possible to meditate out loud.) You will know what you are, and you won't need to prove it to everybody every ten minutes.

I once asked Brother ChiSing if there was a God, and he said (in a typically obscure Brother ChiSing way) that it did not matter if there was a God or not. If there was one, and He was enlightened, that was great. If there was one, and He wasn't enlightened (and to judge by the Old Testament, He wasn't, at least then) then He needed to be. Either way, that was His problem to worry about, not ours. Try running that by your local quorum of evangelicals at the latest prayer breakfast. Somehow, I don't think they'd find it at all comforting. And I have to tell you, living in a nation run by some guy (it's usually a guy) who feels the need to host prayer breakfasts for other Christians makes me very uncomfortable. I'm sure it's all about the money (Presidential campaigns can get expensive), but still, there are 300 million people in this country and only about 80 million of them are evangelical Christians. What do the other 220 million do on Saturday or Sunday mornings? And do they mind being alienated in the pursuit of the almighty campaign dollar?

I do. Just for the record. I think it's garbage. That's all.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Talk Thursday: Way Safe?

Well, kids, Ramadan has started. I know I should not complain; I don't have to fast between sunup and sundown every day for a month. But I do have to abstain from the World's Greatest Pita Bread for thirty days, which is plenty bad enough when you're as hooked on it as I am. That is, unless I can talk someone into coming with me to the nightly Iftar bash at Afrah. Afrah closes after lunch and then reopens at sunset, where they put on an Iftar spread that's supposed to rival the palace of the Sultan Himself. I've always wanted to go, but I've hung back for two reasons: 1. I haven't been fasting all day, so I'm not sure I could do it justice, and 2. It's kind of not my party. I mean, I'm deeply indebted to the Muslim community of Richardson for letting me hang around on the periphery, listen to their Arabic and their wild pop music, and eat their unbelievably wonderful food, but I kind of think crashing their party would be pushing it. It wouldn't be, you know, safe.

I don't mean safe in the physical-danger sort of way; Afrah is about the safest place you could possibly hang out. Besides the clientele, which is mostly couples and young families with children, the restaurant is right across the street from the Richardson police station. I'll bet they never get robbed. I mean safe in the I-don't-want-people-to-stare-at-me sort of way. I am sort of an outsider; I don't look terribly Middle Eastern, I don't wear a hijab and if you didn't know I could be counted on to be there, snarfing down baba ganouj, every Thursday from six to seven, you'd probably wonder what in the heck I was doing there.

Safety is an odd concept to someone who basically grew up without it. That I even know to look for it from time to time surprises me. I somehow missed all the lessons about the things a woman needs to do to stay safe; I don't understand that there are certain parts of town I should never venture into, for example, or that I shouldn't go out by myself at night. Don't know how I missed 'em, but I did. They must have been right after the lessons about how to put on pantyhose and how to combine a hair flip with giggle for maximum attractiveness to the male sex in an alcoholic watering hole, because I never got those either. This whole being female thing is a mystery to me.

Also, the things I expected to be safe never were. School, for example, was not safe. I know I'm not alone in that one; school wasn't safe for a lot of people. But all the Dick and Jane books sure led us to expect that school would be the one place where all our peers would be on our best behavior and nobody would get hurt and everybody would be friendly to everybody else. (Pause here for hysterical laughter.) Church wasn't a whole lot better; between the same kids I spent hours trying to avoid at school and some old white dude in the sky threatening to fry me alive with lightning bolts, it was actually worse in some ways. And home? Uh, forget home. Home is probably the most dangerous place on earth for a ridiculously high number of kids. You'll notice hardly any kid ever gets beaten up or sexually abused or kidnapped or locked in a closet by a complete stranger. No, it's usually mom and dad, and they usually get away with it unless, as sometimes happens, the kid dies.

So you'll forgive me for thinking this world we live in is maybe not terribly safe. I took karate lessons for about three years there, with this idea that at least I'd be prepared when whatever-it-is came at me. Unfortunately, karate wasn't terribly safe either, and I eventually had to quit because I was getting too close to brown belt and I didn't, uh, look the part. (Seriously, whoever heard of a fat karate instructor? That would be like Mr. Miyagi on steroids or something. Crazy.) I could probably still give whatever-it-is a run for its money, though. And stomp on it a few times.

Anyway. For the next thirty-ish days, I'll be having my Thursday night dinners at La Madeleine, where I'm currently munching on an overpriced shrimp salad (oh, excuse me, a salade) and wondering if there's somewhere besides La Madeleine and Hooters that has free wi-fi. Starbucks, maybe, but Starbucks is definitely not safe. They sell frosted scones at Starbucks. That's like the end of the world, worse than doughnuts.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Mini-Post: Channel This!

Pleased to report that after 31 days of July, yours truly pulled off not 34 but 35 kilometers in the ol' pool. That translates to 22 miles, or the breadth of the English Channel. Whoo hoo!

Yep, that's me to the left there, at the 2k marathon swim. Well, half-marathon, anyway; I think 5k would be more fittingly marathonish. Maybe next year. As it was, I started off too fast, didn't realize it until I was almost through with the first hundred meters, tried to slow down, really didn't manage it all that well, and almost crashed and burned at about meter 900. But I kept plodding along, and roughly half an hour later I was done. If I'd known they were gonna let me finish the silly thing, I don't know if I would have signed up. I mean, they said I only had 45
minutes. I figured they'd stop me around meter 1600 or so. But no. They let me go the whole 2000. Those guys.

By the way, look at that crummy foot position, willya? Geez. Gotta work on that.

In other news, I finally have a sun-resistant bathing suit. Fittingly for this, the first day of Ramadan, it's called a burqini. No, this is not me; pictures of me in my burqini are not ready for prime time. But check it out! Hood covers neck, shoulders, and all the easy to burn areas. Long sleeves cover arms and, in my case, even fingers. I had to dispatch the pants forthwith; they were way too long and, uh, floopy. Swapped them for a pair of white leggings, which work fine. I can now go out and swim in the sun without fear for the first time in--like ever. Where was this thing when I was a kid? I could have saved myself certain melanoma. Well, possible melanoma. Well, it could happen, okay? I can't even tell you how many nasty sunburns I had between one and eighteen. I test-drove it last weekend at Hurricane Harbor and it worked fine. No, I didn't wear it for the marathon swim; it does have an unfortunate habit of slowing me down just a little.

And, by the way, to my Muslim readers, if I have any: I get it. Muslim women have told me time and again that they feel safe when they cover up. Yeah, it's a religious obligation and it shows their devotion to God and so on, but my tour guides to the Muslim world (both of them) told me that they just feel safe under the hijab. I get it. The second I put on the burqini for the first time and realized that nobody would be staring at my ass because they wouldn't be able to find it, I got it. Safe from the sun, safe from prying eyes. Too bad Buddhists don't make a fashion statement this way because I'd do it. I really would.