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

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?