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

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Talk Thursday: How To Avoid Doing Laundry

You know, sometimes I get tired. (Imagine. Six and a half hours of sleep on an average night and sometimes she gets tired.) Seriously, I haul myself up to the keyboard every morning--well, most mornings--and I try to at least churn out a paragraph or two of whatever the fuck I'm working on--and don't ask me what that is, it changes frequently. I also try to crank out at least one query letter, if only to prove to Scaley and Fang that all their freaking out at the drop of a hat, or a sock, has been so much wasted energy and I have no intention of giving up. Then I get up, go to work, and ponder on the drive there why I'm trying to impress cartoon dinosaurs and whether or not I should give up.

Look, I'm not going into a full-on whine here, but this isn't easy, what I'm doing. Try it sometime and you'll see. It's kind of like looking for a job when you're unemployed, with the added bonus that it won't pay anything. Well, not for a long time, anyway. I have to admit that so far everybody's been very nice. I keep waiting for that reply that says quit wasting my time, you illiterate moron, but it hasn't shown up yet. Instead they typically say, I'm afraid I'm going to have to pass on this project, but thank you for thinking of me, which, I guess, is supposed to make me feel better. Um, it doesn't. Just in case you were wondering.

Anyway, when query letters get old, there's always laundry. Today's Talk Thursday topic is about laundry, which is pretty funny if you know the division of labor in our household. It's very simple: I do laundry, Joan does grocery shopping. Reason: I cannot stand grocery shopping. When Joan had a hysterectomy and couldn't leave the house for six weeks, we almost starved to death (or maybe cholesteraled ourselves to death; there were a lot of pizzas ordered) because I didn't want to do grocery shopping. I finally dragged myself to the grocery store that we referred to as the Dysfunctional Ralph's, where I promptly had a meltdown in the pasta aisle because there were too many different kinds of rotini. Seriously, there were about 47 different kinds. Who needs that many different kinds of rotini? The manager had to come over and talk to me. It was a little embarrassing.

By contrast, laundry: Sort, wash, dry, fold, put away. Simple. I'd much rather do laundry than grocery shopping. So the best way to avoid doing laundry is to marry me, but unfortunately you're too late there. I'm a wild'n'crazy kinda gal, but a polygamist I'm not.

Technically speaking, I should be throwing in a load of laundry every night after work, so that when the weekend rolls around, there's only sheets and towels to take care of. In real life it rarely goes that well. Half the time I'm lucky to remember to clean the cat boxes (which are in the laundry room), never mind do the laundry. I guess you could say I'm avoiding the laundry, but at least in part I'm shying away from baby-sitting the washing machine. Its automatic balancer went on the fritz about a year ago, and ever since then it sometimes gets off balance during the spin cycle and goes whappita whappita whappita at top volume until somebody runs downstairs and fixes it. This is supremely annoying, especially when all you have to do to balance the silly thing is like move a sock or something about three inches. Eesh.

When it's sunny out, and not too cold, I like to hang sheets outside. Joan says it makes them smell like sunshine. It also saves dryer electricity. I'm not kidding, when I started hanging laundry outside our summer electric bill dropped by about half. Not only are you saving the electricity that runs the dryer, you're also saving the air conditioner from having to cool the house back down after the dryer's been running. Plus, I think hanging clothes outside annoys my idiot neighbor. Added side bonus. (Says the Buddhist.)

So that doesn't really tell you anything at all about avoiding laundry. It does, however, tell you how to avoid query letters. Laundry, after all, has to be done at certain times. (Emergency panty loads come to mind.) Query letters, on the other hand, can be put off indefinitely. Or at least until you start feeling guilty about not writing them, which for me never takes very long.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Talk Thursday: I Am Anti-Abortion. And...

...I will fight to the death for your right to have one.

Yep, here I go. I don't have a topic tonight, so I'm leaping straight into the fray, all over one of those red-flag topics I swore I'd never address back in 2008 or whenever I started this thing. Besides, I had to address this sooner or later. Every time I turn around some idiot is pontificating about birth control or personhood or religious employer's rights not to pay for basic health care. And it's all about abortion. Of course it is. To put it even more simply, it's about punishing women for having sex. That's going to be my sign. I'll mount it on cardboard and carry it around at the next demo. But let's come back to that in a minute. Let's go back to the beginning first. Because I really am anti-abortion. And I really will fight to the death--actually, I've put my life on the line a couple of times already--for your right to have one.

Strictly speaking, Buddhists tend to be pro-life kind of critters. Pro-life in this instance means something a lot larger than being anti-abortion, though a lot of them are that, too. Pro-life in a Buddhist contexts means being against the death penalty and in favor of early childhood education. It means wanting basic health care available for everybody and not just the ones who have jobs. It also means not stomping on ants, not squishing bugs, chasing rodents out of your home using sonic aversion instead of, say, nerve gas. It's all the fault of that First Precept, which reads something along the lines of I promise to do my best not to kill living beings. (Interesting that Buddha put this one first, when thou shalt not kill barely made it to No. 6 on the parallel list that most of us are more familiar with. That just goes to show something or other, but I'm not sure what.) Buddhists want you to have life, and have it abundantly (borrowing from that other list again, or at least that tradition). And they also want not to kill things, and they'd positively love it if you didn't kill anything either.

So abortion is the killing of a living being. Whether or not it's a human being is hardly the point; it's a living being, and that's good enough. If I promise to do my best not to kill a living being, then all living beings equally qualify. But abortion has to be legal, folks. It has to take place in a sterile environment and be performed by doctors who know what the hell they're doing. I don't like abortion--hate it, actually--but there it is. Buddhists do not make choices for other people, and sometimes an abortion is the kindest possible choice.

When? I have no idea. It's none of my business. If you say that you need to have an abortion, I believe you. I wish you wouldn't have one, and I'm happy to try to talk you out of it if you want to let me, but that's up to you. I can't imagine anybody ever wants to have an abortion. If you're in a situation bad enough that you've decided to have one, well then, my friend, advice from me is not what you need. You need a hand to hold, a convenient shoulder, somebody who's going to stay calm through the whole thing and hang around afterward to help out with all that stuff that's bound to happen. I can do that.

Here's my own personal catch-22: My odds of getting pregnant are slightly lower than the temperature at absolute zero, but if I did get pregnant, I have absolutely no idea what I would do. I couldn't have the kid. The meds I'm on make my womb a toxic waste dump, and by the time I knew I was pregnant (if you can't get pregnant, you don't keep track of your cycle--or at least, I don't) the damage would already be done. I couldn't have an abortion because--well, because I wouldn't. The idea makes me a little sick. But I couldn't bring a horribly maimed kid with a hole in its heart and no limbs into the world. But I couldn't--this gives me a headache. For a while last year I thought seriously about having my tubes tied, just on that one in a million chance that a rapist got past my purple-belt karate skills and knocked me up before I killed him. (Yeah, I know, I promise to do my best--It would be an accident. Really.) My doc talked me out of it, reminding me that nature was going to take its course in a year or so anyway and that having anesthesia is Very Very Bad if it's not strictly necessary.

Anyway: What happens if abortion is illegal? Well, let's see. Obviously many women die trying to give themselves abortions, or going to unsafe non-clinics; abortion rates are actually higher in countries where abortion is illegal. Women go to jail for giving birth to a stillborn baby after attempting suicide. Hospitals go to court if a pregnant woman refuses a Caeserean section and--get this--get actual court orders requiring the woman to submit to the surgery because her baby might be harmed if she has the gall to try to deliver the child naturally. Women who have miscarriages are investigated as potential criminals. In fact, pregnant women get arrested for just about anything that might be harmful to the baby - including falling down. Oh, wait! Did I say that's what happens if abortion is illegal? All that stuff is already happening all over the United States. No matter how pro-life a Buddhist may be, I doubt very many of them would say that pregnant women are better off in jail.

So there you are. A Buddhist conundrum. I am still anti-abortion. And I'll still fight to the death against these idiots who don't think that birth control counts as health care, the "personhood" laws, the mandatory sonograms (state-sanctioned rape; thanks for that, Governor Goodhair) and all the other legal assaults on women that seem to be the color of politics this year in America.

And for your right to have an abortion.

Even though I wish you wouldn't.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Talk Thursday: Slips of the Tongue

I spose when one says Slips of the Tongue, one means stupid things one shouldn't have said, but I immediately think of conversations I shouldn't have had with people I shouldn't have been talking to in the first place. Given my cluelessness about some aspects of homo sapiens, it should not surprise you to learn that it took me until rather recently to figure out that there are plenty of times where the better part of wisdom is just to shut the hell up. Even if you, yourself, can manage to avoid saying something stupid, you might invite the other person to say something stupid, and that's something for which other people have trouble forgiving you. Never mind that you keyed his car, shot his dog and took off with his best girlfriend; he'll hunt you down to the ends of the earth for one of those awesome final-battle thingies because once, in the third grade, you made him say "MacGillacuddy" in front of Mary Lou Farnsworth. (Shame on you about the dog, by the way. Next time leave the dog out of it.)

I have this very clear recollection of being twelve and out someplace with my mother. God knows why, but I suddenly said, "Nobody can make you do anything, really." My mom looked over at me (some feat, since she was driving and I was in the back seat) and said, "Yes, they can." I said, "No, they can't. Not really. Not if you don't want to." She said, "Jennifer, people make you do things all the time." I said, "But that's because you choose to. If you didn't want to, they couldn't make you."

Mind you, if I could see how weird her expression was, I might have dropped the subject. But then, back seat and all. She did raise her voice, though. "If you don't do some things, like pay your taxes, you'll go to jail," she said. I said, "Right, and as long as you know that, and it's okay, they can't make you pay your taxes." Mom misground a gear. "What do you mean, it's okay? It's not okay." "But if it was," I insisted. "If you thought about it and you decided you weren't going to pay your taxes and they might send you to jail but that was okay, then you wouldn't have to pay your taxes and no one could make you."

My poor mother. Here I was presenting her with an anarchist's argument on the way to soccer practice. No wonder I spent a lot of hours with a child psychiatrist. These days I try to avoid topics that I know will upset people. That afternoon, however, I realized I'd just cracked a code, stumbled upon a truth of being human that adults didn't want kids to know. Just for the record, I do pay my taxes. Sent those suckers off this afternoon, in point of fact. But I do think on some level, I was basically right. You can do anything you want, as long as you accept the consequences.

Another stupid conversation I shouldn't have had: I was being interviewed for a job. I'd known from pretty much the moment I'd walked in that this was never going to work, but I've never come up with any pleasant, polite way to say, "You know, I just realized I have to floss my cat, let's do this another time, shall we?" There ought to be some code, some universal phrase you can use to indicate to the other person that this is over before it begins and maybe instead of both wasting your time with each other, you could go down to Starbucks and get a venti upside down caramel macchiatto with extra whipped cream.

But there isn't, or if there is I don't know it, so I sat there for about 45 minutes listening to this guy talk about his former assistant and how she'd been ripping him off thousands of dollars a week and it had taken him over a year to notice. He would have forgiven all, he said, if she'd just admitted it and agreed to a repayment plan. "I've seen it all," he continued, "and nothing surprises me." (He'd already said this four or five times.) "There's nothing you can say that would shock me."

You know where this is going, right? Yep, right you are. Once again I opened my mouth without one clue what was going to come out of it, and what came out of it was, "So if I told you I was a space alien, you'd believe me?" And five minutes later I was out on the street, to quote the Sexiest Astrophysicist Alive. I may have just discovered that universal phrase.

Last one: I was sitting in the lunch room with a number of cow orkers and a Subject of Some Seriousness was under discussion. I forget what it was, but it was Serious. Opinions went around the table and back again. At some point somebody turned to me and said, "What do you think, Jen?" And I opened my mouth, again not at all sure what was going to come out, and said, "I think I'm more interested in what everybody else thinks."

Well, smack me with a rolled up newspaper. Are we sure that was me talking? Because I seem to remember that my job is telling other people what to think. Or was that BB (Before Buddhism)?

Hmm. I wonder what everybody else thinks.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Talk Thursday: Fruit Basket!

I suck at getting people presents. Not the shelling out money for them, wrapping them up and sending them in the mail; I'm good at that part. What I'm not good at is guessing what someone might want. To actually know what someone might want, you have to pay attention. You have to catch subtle references to this and that in everyday conversation, and latch onto those moments of "Boy, I wish I had a _____ because that would sure solve that problem" when they come up.

Well, of course I'm no good at that part. Half the time I'm not even sure other people exist on Planet Jenster. I've been known to run right into solid walls that don't happen to be there in whatever reality I currently inhabit. So you see the problem. To be good at getting people presents, you have to be good at people. I sometimes have to call my sister, the anthropologist, to explain some situation that just happened at work. I am not good at people. I'm nice to people, most of the time, but I just don't get them on some fundamental level. Sooner or later, they always need explaining.

Joan, on the other hand, is an unacknowledged master of the art. I can't tell you how often I've opened a package and found not only something that's exactly what I wanted, but something I've completely forgotten is exactly what I wanted, until the moment I opened the package, and then I remember and am thrilled to bits. She does this with other people, too. She not only knows that my dad would love a pound of pistachios for Christmas, but exactly what flavor he'd like best and what grower in Arizona has the freshest this time of year. I would be in deep trouble on many levels if not for Joan. Oh, heck, I'd probably be dead by now. I hate grocery shopping, you see, and our stash of canned goods can't last forever.

But, there comes that time in life when one has to get a gift for someone without the luxury of consulting one's sweetie first. What's worse, one sometimes has to get a gift for one's sweetie. In such dire circumstances, I fall back onto the only refuge that seems to have something for everyone: My two best friends, Harry and David.

Okay, yes, they are a little pricey, and yes, paying three dollars apiece for apples that one can't really tell from any other apple is slightly insane. That aside, it's really hard to screw up an H&D gift. Need to go as healthy as possible? No problem; just send fruit. Need to comfort a chocoholic? Not an issue; they have chocolate-dipped practically everything. Got somebody on the list that goes for the savory over the sweet? Throw in nuts, crackers, cheese, sausage, and something called Milk Chocolate Moose Munch (how can you possibly go wrong?). And not only do they have all these nifty products, they've already arranged them into lofty gift packages called Towers of Treats, so you don't even need to think about it. Just point, click and send. Gotta love that. Last time I was on there they even had wine. If I ever find out they have My Sweet Nancy I might seriously reconsider swearing off alcohol. Maybe. Possibly.

Okay, this is as far as I can take this particular Talk Thursday topic without starting to sound like an advertisement (H&D aren't paying me for this, which is good, because if they were I'd insist they double my salary). Bear this firmly in mind, though: I don't send Harry & David because I'm a generous person. I send Harry & David because I'm a coward who lacks imagination. And that's about enough of that for now.

Agent alert! I've had another nibble from another agent. Sent the package last week. Maybe we'll get past second base this time. Typing with crossed fingers. We'll see what happens...

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Talk Thursday: START THE CAR!!

Well, actually that's supposed to be TURN THE CAR AROUND!! but I think it amounts to basically the same thing; something of monumental importance just happened and the nearest vehicle needs to be commandeered into getting over there immediately (or out of there immediately) so that whatever it is can be Dealt With. When I was growing up in North Dakota, Turn The Car Around almost always meant there was an animal. There were, you see, many long drives between Here and There, with lots of Not Much in between, so if you saw two or three cars on the side of the road, especially near a slough or a pond or some other source of water, it was almost certainly an animal. So you turned the car around and doubled back to the pond/ slough/river in a hurry so that everybody could pile out of the car and check out the moose/deer/black bear/man-eating turtle or whatever the hell. Thus do I remember many fond encounters with nature. Some of them, though, turned out to be ordinary cows, lost in translation along the side of State Route 50. Whatever they were, you never wanted to get close. They might have babies. And you might piss them off.

Other times, Turn The Car Around was a threat, direct or indirect, as to what would happen if You Kids Don't Behave. This is one of the tools from the Mom Toolbox. If the kids are fighting about who's taking up the most room in the back seat, whose turn it is to use the binoculars, who said what to whom or whatever piece of drama three-to-ten-year-olds can come up with during a long car trip, Mom simply said, "If you kids don't knock it off right now, I'm going to Turn The Car Around." Instant silence. No matter what happened, we didn't want them to Turn The Car Around. Surely something dire would occur if the car got turned around. Even if we were going someplace we actually didn't want to go, we still didn't want Them (the grownups) to Turn The Car Around. I'm not sure why. Maybe if they Turned The Car Around, we wouldn't get to see the animal.

All things considered, I'm pleased that Turn The Car Around has given way to Start The Car!! That all started during my fetish with balloons. No, not that kind of fetish. It was just that, for some reason, I started getting this mad compulsion to steal ornamental balloons. The kind people tied to their porch if they were having a party or an open house. Restaurants were better, because they used more balloons, and because I felt a little less guilty stealing balloons from a commercial establishment than I did stealing them from a private house. Anyway, I'd sneak up on the balloon display, take a nail file out of my purse, saw through two or three of the cords, grab the balloons and run back to wherever Joan was, yelling, "START THE CAR!!" Horrified that we might get arrested for grand theft balloon, she'd fire up the engine and we'd speed off into the night, now possessed of two or three completely useless rubber objects filled with helium. We never kept them. I always made her slow down at the first sign of little kids, and we'd offer them through the window. "Hey, kid, want a balloon?" I'm sure lots of horror movies start out with that same line.

For the life of me, I don't know why I stole balloons, or why I stopped, but it's a good thing I did before I got really crazy and decided to steal a hot air balloon. (It was just a matter of time.) So I've reverted to Turn The Car Around whenever I'm driving through Nowhere, Texas, where there are plenty of animals. The problem is, most of the animals you see by the side of the road in Texas are armadillos, and most armadillos you see in Texas are, uh, dead. Something about the fact that they jump to about bumper height when startled, which they often are, especially when they hear somebody yell, "START THE CAR!!"