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

Saturday, June 30, 2012

Books O'the Decade: God's War and Infidel

The nations of Nasheen and Chenja have been at war for so long that nobody remembers exactly when it started, or exactly why.  For several hundred years, Nasheenians and Chenjans have been sending their young men to die at the front.   Sometimes the young men turn tail and run, and when they do, they're often carrying dangerous infections back to a population that hasn't been vaccinated against the latest in germ warfare.  Which is where the bel dames come in.  These ladies are highly-trained, government-sponsored assassins that hunt down the deserters and kill them before they can kill anyone else.  And sometimes they kill other people, too, for reasons known only to them.  

Nyx used to be a bel dame, until a little side work with genetic engineering got her thrown in jail.  Now she's a run-of-the-mill bounty hunter, settling old scores and solving other people's problems by severing heads.  When the Queen Herself calls on Nyx to collect a head, Nyx's hopes of getting her bel dame license back become more than a pipe dream.

Of course there are complications.  There are other interested parties--including other bel dames and Nyx's former boss, who lost a rather important body part to Nyx after a certain "misunderstanding."  There's the Chenjan magician Rhys, who just joined Nyx's team, and for whom she has feelings she doesn't understand.  And then there's the matter of the bounty, herself--a scientist from another world whose knowledge may hold the key to ending the war.

Or the human race.

Six years after the events in God's War, Infidel opens with a schism in the bel dame counsel.  Nyx is recruited--this time by some of the bel dames--to find the leader of the opposing faction and end the split before civil war breaks out in Nasheen.  The search takes Nyx into the neighboring country of Tirhan, where Rhys has retired, married and had two children.  And I can't say another word about this one without tripping over a spoiler or two, but let's just say it involves a new superweapon, some boxing, and one woman's ability to turn into a tree.  And no, I'm not gonna explain that.

Now, y'all know I'm endlessly curious about Muslims, have some Muslim friends,would probably convert if they would have me and make up for it by hanging out at a great Muslim restaurant instead (and leaving very nice tips).  Well, these books are an absolute treat, because Nyx's world is populated entirely by Muslims, descendants of the First Families that came down from the moons three thousand years ago.  Ever wonder what Islam--or any religion, for that matter--will look like in the far future?  This is a peek.  It's bound to get your brain turning, and even if you only know a little bit about Islam, you'll feel the pieces fall into place as you read.  But that's hardly the only reason to buy this series.  It's the best kind of sci-fi; the kind that doesn't waste a lot of layers explaining How Stuff Works and just gets to the frick'n story, already.  And what stories they are.

Ms. Hurley's third and final novel in the series, Rapture, will be published in November.  You'll want to read both God's War and Infidel before then. Yes, you will.  Trust me. Oh, and if you wanna follow Ms. Hurley around on Twitter, she's @KameronHurley.

Friday, June 29, 2012

Micro-Mini-Post: And The Law Dogs Flame Out Again...

14 to 4 in the 5th inning.  I mean, I guess our point spread is getting better?  I had an RBI, though.  That was pretty cool.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Talk Thursday: The Sweet Spot

Okay, I have a topic for Talk Thursday, but I dunno how I'm going to talk about it.  I mean, something momentous happened today, and ever since then it's like talk on all other subjects has been banned.  News commentators were going crazy.  Sean Hannity was foaming at the mouth.  Everybody at work is buzzing about it.  Opinions have grown heated.  My boss's boss, who generally keeps his opinions to himself, actually raised his voice.

I'm talking, of course, about Afrah's appearance on Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives.

This is a Big Deal in the life span of my favorite restaurant.  The owner had to triple his wait staff.  Rumor has it there's a major remodel in the works (though I only know that because I saw the owner peering over something that looked suspiciously like blueprints with a couple of guys that looked suspiciously like architects.  Architects.  You can spot 'em a mile away.)  I'm here on an ordinary Thursday and almost every table is full, even the ones outside.  I was lucky to squeeze in near the door.  Which is scary.  I mean, I need a table for this laptop.  It's not like I exactly have a lap.  But it's all good.  It's great to see something you love get recognized for its, uh, inherent loveability.  And its chicken shwawarma, which is the best in the world.  And its pita bread, which is the best in the world. And its gelato, which--okay, okay, you get the idea.  Anyway, come up to Richardson (Greenville and Belt Line) and frick'n eat something, already.  You won't regret it.  And security is excellent (the police station's right across the street).

I suppose I should say something about that other thing that happened, that Supreme Court Affordable Care Act thing. As a Legal Person I am sometimes asked to comment about things I know nothing about, like, say, the Supreme Court.  Really, I don't know anybody who knows anything about the Supreme Court.  They're very mysterious.  The only thing I can say for certain is this:  They're harder to predict than a jury, and juries are--well, hard to predict.  It's been an interesting week, watching lots of people on both sides of the debate talking about the decision like it had already happened, and in their favor.  Alito on the side of throwing out the whole thing?  John Roberts (George W. Bush's John Roberts) on the side of keeping the whole thing?  Never would have seen that coming.  But then, it's hard to see anything coming with these guys.  And despite one of my wacky representatives allegedly saying something about the Supreme Court not being the final word on the constitutionality of something (if I could find the original quote, I'd link to it, folks), uh, yes, it is.  A wiser law professor than I said it best; the Supreme Court isn't last because it's right, it's right because it's last.

Which brings us to the sweet spot, how?  I'm not entirely sure.  When the topic first came up, I thought immediately of the G-spot, which is just the way my brain works.  If I can get something X-rated out of it, I'll go there first.  But this being a religious type establishment, I'd better not talk about that.  I'd better talk instead about my process server friend.  His wife had breast cancer eight years ago.  She's been cancer free all this time, but they don't have health insurance because it would cost them $3800 a month.  Yes, that's $3800 a month.  Note that the insurance company didn't deny them outright; it just made it impossible for them to afford coverage.  If by some chance they both live until 2014 (and I think they will; they're both pretty stubborn), they will be able to get coverage at the same rate the rest of us pay.  (Which is what?  I dunno.  It comes right out of my pay check, so I never think about it.  I think mine's about $600, which is far more reasonable.  You will note, however, that it's not cheap.)  Today has to be a pretty sweet spot for them.  And doubly so for the 50 million people who will at least have a chance to get some health coverage.  And the 26 million of those, who are young people aging off of their parents' health insurance.

And for moi?  Well, I have a table, and I have shwawarma, and in 45 minutes the Law Dogs will be taking on Parkland Hospital. So today's pretty sweet for me too.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Talk Thursday (on Saturday): Six Words and Enabling

It's a two-topic kind of day. (Or was, Thursday, when I was supposed to be writing this.  Hey, I had a softball game.)  First topic:  Write a story in six words.  Here goes.

I married Joan.  My life's complete.

Okay, that's a statement of fact, not a story, but I'm sticking to it.  Besides, I'm up against Hemingway, King and some very big wheels who have written extremely good six-word stories.  A long-winded person like me should stick to 109,000-word stories, approximately.  Besides, my favorite six-word story ever is by my friend Suzy, and it will be hard to top:

Voice-activated wishing machine?  Hell.  Oops.

Did I say softball game?!  Yeah, I kinda did.  Somehow I got talked into joining the Law Firm Softball Team.  We are the mighty Law Dogs, and in our inaugural opening game against Got the Runs (I don't make up these names; I just show up) we went boldly into the field and, uh, got clobbered 16-5.  Which is, as Wayne would say, both bogus and sad.  But, it was fun.  Yours truly actually hit the ball her first time up and made it something like 2/3 of the way to first base before being called out.  I have an Actual Position (catcher) and by the fourth or fifth inning I was, you know, catching things.  I think I stopped balls with basically every part of my body except the glove, but that's not the point. (I have all these little round bruises all over my arms and legs.  Hmm.)  

So about this enabling thing.  Which has nothing to do with softball (or maybe it does; we shall see).  Enabling is where you do something that lets someone else continue his or her bad behavior, generally an addiction of some kind but could also be rudeness, narcissism, grandiosity or any of a long list of character defects.  I'm of the opinion that the two most obnoxious character defects of human beings are entitlement and hypocrisy.  Why I've fixated on those two, I don't know, but it's interesting that when I was breaking up with The Boyfriend I did plenty to let him continue feeling entitled and never called him on his hypocrisy.

Like, for example, here's a chain of events that's fairly easy to understand: If you quit your job, and then fail to look for another job (because you're too good to work at McDonald's), you will eventually run out of money to pay your bills.  If you run out of money to pay your bills, you will not be able to make your car payments.  If you don't make your car payments, the people to whom you owe money will repossess your car.  And then you won't have a car.  Fairly easy to understand, right?  Well.  At every point along the way, I not only didn't point out reality, I kept feeding into the entitlement.  Of course he was doing the right thing by quitting his job; his boss was completely unreasonable.  Of course he shouldn't take a job at McDonald's; he had two years of college, he was above all that now.  Of course the car loan people were being ridiculous and arbitrary; they'd never treat a __________(fill in the blank with an income level, skin color, ethnic origin and/or religion different from my boyfriend; last time I got "middle-class dark brown Sikh Baha'i") like this.  And when that car got repossessed, nobody was more surprised than I was.

Or was I?  I was trying to break up with him, after all.  Was I perhaps just trying to ensure that he no longer had transportation, so that he could not continue to stalk me?  It's hard to stalk from a public bus. And I am, at times, a devious little weasel.  Which would also make me--a hypocrite.  Who no doubt felt entitled not to be stalked.  No wonder those character defects bother me so much.  

Other stuff that could be considered enabling:  Your husband repeatedly passes out drunk on the living room floor, and you go get him up, get him out of his clothes, and put him to bed.  Your kid, whom you suspect is a heroin addict, keeps coming to you for money, and you keep handing it over "because at least she's not stealing or prostituting herself."  Your toddler kicks and screams when he doesn't get his way, and you end up giving him what he wants to "avoid a scene."  What you're supposed to do, according to the People Who Know This Stuff, is leave the husband on the floor, tell your kid no and inform him or her that he or she can't drop by unexpectedly anymore, and let the toddler kick and scream to his heart's content.  Unless, of course, you're on an airplane, and you're surrounded by hundreds of angry people who feel that they are entitled to a quiet flight.  In which case, you have to break all the rules and give the kid whatever he wants.  You hypocrite.

Well, that's about it.  I don't know how to wrap this up, so I'll go for another six-word story:

Dumping the boyfriend.  I'm a lesbian.

Seriously, I'd have had a lot easier time in my 20s if I'd figured that out sooner. 

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Talk Thursday: Giving Up, Giving In

It is not a gloomy topic.  Well, it can be, but it doesn't have to be.  Giving something up can be great.  I gave up sugar (again) ten days ago and darned if I don't feel pretty good.  Fewer dizzy spells, fewer mood swings, and many fewer hot flashes.  I didn't give up all sugar, of course.  That's practically impossible; there's sugar in everything. But I gave up recreational sugar, the kinds of foods that are supposed to be sweet, like candy and ice cream and Pop-Tarts and most especially, cake.  Cake is like crystal meth to me.  The frosting, in particular.  If it were possible to freebase cake frosting I would have done it by now.  My birthday was two days ago and we had ceremonial cake for me and the two other people in the office that had June birthdays.  I had a moment of total panic when I realized I was somehow going to have to not-eat-cake through this event.  I finally called a friend of mine, who told me that if I were to eat something else, like, say, an apple, nobody would notice.  He was mostly right.  I got through cake time with only one frosty look from the manager.  Not frosting, frosty.

Oh, did I mention it was my birthday two days ago?  It was.  I'm 43.  I had this big birthday blog post planned, full of all the cool stuff that's happened since I was born (The collapse of the Berlin Wall! Men walking on the Moon! The Statue of Liberty!  No, wait a minute--I'm not THAT old.)  But my firm softball team had practice, and by the time I got home I really didn't feel like doing much more than going to bed.  Yes, I said "firm softball team."  I forget how I got talked into this.  Our first game is next Thursday.  I actually did hit the ball a few times, so maybe there's hope.

Here's where I get weird on you guys and start talking about a third-rate horror film called "The Mist." Well, actually it's a pretty decent horror film, for all that it was made on a low budget, and it's based on a Stephen King story.  (Major spoilers ahead.  You have been warned.) If you're still there, what basically happens is that a creepy fog takes over a town and traps a bunch of people in a supermarket.  There are creatures out there in the fog.  Creatures with tentacles and long insecty appendages and big wings.  In short, giant bugs.  We only gradually get to see them, and I'm pretty sure we don't get to see one full-on until about halfway through the movie.  Conditions in the supermarket deteriorate, people start going crazy, one woman starts a psuedo-religious cult and the few that are still sane decide it's time to make a run for it.  They get as far as a car and escape onto a deserted road where they can't see more than ten feet ahead.  Are there giant bugs everywhere?  There are.  Does it seem like all the humans have been killed?  It does.  Has civilization been wiped out?  It looks quite possible.  The people in the car start to bicker, then get into a heated argument, then finally decide if they don't find safety before they run out of gas, they'll commit collective suicide with the one gun they have between them.

Well, this being a Stephen King story, the ending's not that simple. (In fact the ending changed slightly from the story to the movie, but I'm not going to tell you how.)  The car comes to a halt, night starts to fall, and the intrepid travelers discover they don't have enough bullets for everyone.  So the brave hero guy offers to kill everybody, including his young son, and take his chances on the road.  He shoots his fellow passengers in the head, saving his son for last, and then gets out of the car, fully expecting to be eaten by a giant bug.  Instead, a cordon of Army troops marches out of the fog and "rescues" him.  And after all the stuff with the mist and the giant bugs and the psuedo-religious cult and How People React In Very Tense Situations, it turns out that what the movie was actually about was giving up.  When do you do it?  Why do you do it?  And how do you live with yourself, if God forbid, you give up ten minutes too soon?

Obviously I'm getting to something here.  I should stop messing around and just address the frick'n point, already.  I'm talking about Mindbender, kids.  I sent query letters No. 106 and 107 this morning.  Is this a big deal? No, not really.  Having apparently worked through most of my query letter anxiety, I think I can keep writing query letters until the cows come home, or until the giant bugs attack, anyway.  But let's consider: I wrote the book in, I think, 2001.  (When did I have my breakdown?  I think it was late 2001.  Didn't everybody have a breakdown in 2001?  It was not a good year.)  So, okay, it might have been 2000.  And then I had the breakdown and did nothing for three years, and in 2004 I started writing the new draft, and then we moved to Dallas, and a bunch of other stuff happened, and I wrote another draft, and then I met Kellum and Sally, and I started writing Spellbinder and Soulmender and then I went to that thing in New Orleans and--okay, I think we're caught up.  If Mindbender were a human being it'd be demanding a Nintendo DX and a new ten-speed.  It would be almost five feet tall.  It would be angsting about starting middle school next year.

You're getting the idea, right?  I'm wondering if I might be Wasting My Time.  Or somebody's time, anyway.  I'm wondering if the Time For Getting Mindbender Published has come and gone.  Or if it never came in the first place.  Look, I string words together pretty well.  I don't doubt I can write a publishable novel.  I just wonder if I've done it, this time.

Or if I should go back to the proverbial drawing board and, you know, give up.

Anybody?  Hello?


At least I hope they're crickets and not, you know, giant bugs.  Like in a Stephen King story.

Friday, June 8, 2012

Talk Thursday (on Friday): Enemy Mine

Well, the topic's supposed to be "The Sun", but when I think of the sun I always flinch and look over my shoulder to make sure it's not glaring at me, so I think my title's pretty darned appropriate.  Yeah, I know.  It's a golden G-type star within the life-sustaining zone of Sol III, and if it didn't exist, we hairless bipedal beach apes wouldn't, either.  But the sun and I are not friends.  We have never been friends.  We will never be friends.

This goes back a long, long way, back when I was just a cute cuddly toddler splashing around in the waters of Lake Metigoshe (Bottineau County, North Dakota; Where Vacation Land Begins!) Okay, it was the early Seventies and it's not like the whole concept of sunscreen had exactly caught on, but my folks were about to find out that I, like my dad, could sunburn in less than ten minutes simply by sitting there.  Put me in a bathing suit and drop me in the water and it takes even less time.  The glare of the sunlight off the water, probably. And lest you think there can't possibly be enough sun in North Dakota to burn anything, brother, you have not been there during the dog days of August.  No air conditioning, either.  We used to run off the dock in our pajamas, climb into bed soaking wet, and sort of sleep, kind of, until morning.

And I shouldn't even be complaining, really, because I have a sister and she has it worse than I do.  I'm pale.  She's a whiter shade of pale.  (In fact, that was my ringtone for her, with my old phone.  Now it's "Viva Las Vegas."  I'm getting more classic-rocky in my old age.)  She wears a hat and glasses everywhere, never leaves the house without sunscreen and wears fake sleeves and gloves when she drives her car.  (It looks kinda classy, actually.  Very Grace Kelly.) In short, she does all the stuff I'm supposed to do.  Though I'm getting better at it.  Really, I am.

Sunburns?  Oh, honey, we can talk sunburns.  My mom was hypervigilant with the sunscreen and kept us in during the brightest part of the day, but the sunburns happened anyway.  I read somewhere that just one severe sunburn in childhood -- just one -- predisposes you to skin cancer. I think about all the severe sunburns I had and wonder why I'm not already dead.  (I'fact, if we lived long enough, we'd all die of skin cancer, says my doc.  The sun is nobody's friend, in that respect.  But we'd have to live an awfully long time.)

About six months ago, I noticed a red spot on my nose.  It had been there quite a while, but it seemed to be getting bigger.  When it sort of failed to act normal, I went to my doc and showed it to her.  She made some "Hmm" noises and said I'd probably better see a dermatologist.  So I went to see the dermatologist, who also made "Hmm" noises.  And then took out a can with a long nozzle on it and zapped my nose with it.  Liquid nitrogen.  She zapped a few other spots that I hadn't been aware of; one next to my chin and another one up by my left eyebrow.  Not to worry, she said; they'd fall off by themselves.  Er, what are they? I wanted to know.  "Squamous cell carcinoma," she said, as though it was the least interesting thing in the world.  "But don't worry.  They don't have roots or anything."

Uh, last time I checked, words that rhymed with Oklahoma were bad in a medical context.  And what's this having roots business?  That was all I needed; something sprouting on top of my nose, putting roots down through my nostril and into the roof of my mouth.  Ew.  Double ew.  Anyway, I have to go back once a year for rechecks; once a squamous cell carcinoma, always a--yeah.  So now my big adventure is to find a sunscreen that f____ works.

Well, that is to say, that both works and doesn't make me break out in hives.  I've been using a Coppertone "sweatproof" 36 SPF thingy in a blue bottle.  It has two major disadvantages; it fails in less than an hour and it's really thick and greasy.  I've worn it twice to two different outdoor swims and both times I've ended up with a light burn across my back and shoulders.  Either the waterproofing doesn't last the requisite 90 minutes, or 36 SPF means the sun burns right through it in 36 minutes, meaning it has another 24 minutes to cook me before I get out of the water. Either way, it's not doing the job.  So I'm on a quest to discover a sunscreen that will do the job.  Talk about your uphill battles.

No doubt you've heard of Neutrogena, the company that makes high-end skin products.  Soaps, lotions, body washes, makeup.  Well, they also make sunscreens, and my sister likes them.  So I tried one; 100 SPF, guaranteed waterproof (though the "guaranteed waterproof" label is going away; seems that the government caught the sunscreen industry out and made them admit that, in fact, there's really no such thing as a waterproof sunscreen).  I didn't get to try it in the water.  On the second day I broke out in hives all over my arms, neck, chest and face.  I was coating myself with Caladryl lotion and not wearing makeup; I looked like my face was peeling off (very George Romero).  So I gave the $11.00 bottle of sunscreen to Joan and tried another one.

This one should have been perfect.  60 SPF, "sensitive skin" formula, hypoallergenic, blah blah blah.  Hypoallergenic, my foot.  Used it once.  More hives.  So I'm back to the Coppertone, and temporarily looking like a zombie.  Fortunately, my cow-orkers have a good sense of humor.

In reality, I doubt there's a sunscreen made that can withstand the Texas sun for more than an hour, so if I do any of the open-water swims or Hurricane Harbor wave simulations I'm gonna have to break out the Muslim bathing suit.  Which is fine.  I feel very safe in that suit.  The ol' devil Sun can't get me.  Well, except on the very tip of my nose.

Where a squamous cell carcinoma used to be.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Radical Acceptance and Fluffy Bunnies

My doctor told me to stop watching the news, and for the most part I've done it, except for occasional forays into the local weather.  Can't help but think he made the right call, there.  Nothing on the news is ever good.  It's a long parade of murders, rapes, arson, impending financial disasters, chaos, mayhem and serial killers stalking beautiful, smart, assertive professional women in Large City (oh, wait, that's an episode of Criminal Minds.)  Really nothing there that will improve my mood at all.  He didn't say to stop browsing CNN and MSNBC online, but I imagine he would have, if it had crossed his mind.  He would probably also tell me to stay out of the chat rooms, where I taunt the stupid hornets in their stupid plastic-bubble hornet's nests until they come out and yell at me.  (As I said, they're fairly stupid hornets.)

Okay, I haven't done such a good job of quitting the chat rooms.  Or staying off CNN and MSNBC altogether.  Recently I've wandered over to such gems as RHRealityCheck and NAPW, and if those don't thoroughly piss you off, there's always Mother Jones and BadBreeders.  Believe me, if you want outrage and fury and a loss of all hope for the future of the human race, your Internet can do that for you.

Mind you, I don't know why I read this stuff.  It's kind of the equivalent of repeatedly poking a sore tooth with your tongue.  If I knew of a Web site that only had happy stories about fluffy bunnies and cute smiling toddlers and pictures of kittens, I might go there.  But I don't.  Kittens do not create bandwidth traffic.  Outrage creates bandwidth traffic.

Yet somehow, according to Buddhism, all this has to be okay.  Not just "That stuff exists, but I'm going to ignore it and be marginally happy," but really, truly okay.  We gotta be in the world, with all the suffering that there is, and totally accept it--because only by totally accepting it can we hope to change it.

I hate stupid rules like that.  They give me headaches.

Turns out, though, that there isn't much of an alternative.  Either you're mindful and engaged with the world, and fully accepting of whatever's going on at the present moment, or you're not, and if you're not, you ain't gonna be happy, y'all.  (Me: In the present moment, sitting at my dining room table, in my jammies, typing this and drinking coffee.  Well, not typing and drinking at exactly the same second, but you know.)  If your brain is off making future plans while your body is, say, washing the dishes, all you're gonna get out of it is clean dishes and confusion.  I don't know the exact formula for happiness, but I do know the perfect formula for misery: Dwell on all the things that went wrong in the past, plan all the stuff you're going to do in the future, and forget entirely about today.  Yep, that'll do it faster than any Web site I've ever been to.

So.  Can I totally accept the morons in suits trying to pass laws to re-enslave American women, the  famous pastors in Georgia and South Carolina that want to send me to a concentration camp (or just kill me), the sweet but deluded folk in Utah that think I'm going straight to the fiery pit (maybe without even dying first!), and the congressman who would happily let me die of an ectopic pregnancy if it meant the fetus got big enough to save? That is a totally unfair question, and I protest.  I want to work on accepting the fluffy bunnies and the cute smiling toddlers and the pictures of kittens first.  The kittens are the hardest, since they raise my blood sugar.  In the meantime, I'd be fine with all those other guys existing, as long as they would stop hurting people and stay far away from me.  Turns out, though, you don't really get a choice on those things.  Like I said, it's a dumb rule.