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

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.