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

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Talk Thursday: Security

My mom and dad are in Italy this week.  No, not the town in Ellis County, Texas.  The country shaped like a boot on the other side of the planet.  They're going to Rome and Florence and Venice and places that have more syllables than consonants in their names.  They're going to hang out and eat pasta and drink vino and have a fabulous time.  At least, I hope they are.  (And I'm stuck here at Afrah eating stuffed grape leaves and akawi pie.  I can't even tell you what a tragedy this is.)  There was a time when I did that whole international travel thing, but I have to admit it generally took place in years where I didn't have to replace a roof and a water heater and a stove and a washing machine and a huge transmission component for the Saturn and a cell phone and half my wife's mouth.  Yeah, we can kind of forget international travel this year.  I'm trying to figure out how to get the two of us to Phoenix some time around the holidays so we can reassure our friends and relatives of our continued existence.

Anyway:  I don't think I have ever once in my life had occasion to yell, "Call security!"  I did, once, have occasion to yell "Call my lawyer!", but A. I yelled it in English and everybody around me spoke only Swedish, and B. I didn't have a lawyer, so it really didn't have the kind of impact I would have preferred.  Security, though, is an interesting concept.  For some people it means big ugly guys with guns and six-cell flashlights.  (In my mind, the six-cell flashlight and gun disappear, and I'm carrying a mere Detex watch clock.  Yes, I was a security guard in college.  The things people will do to, you know, eat.)  For some, it's all about money.  For Linus, it's a blue blanket.  (Please, I beg of you, get this pop culture reference.  Lie to me if you don't.  Because if you don't, I'm going to lapse into despair and start into one of my what's-wrong-with-kids-today speeches and nobody wants that. Not even Linus.)

For most of my adult life and probably most of my youth, as well, I've been plagued with anxiety.  What the heck is anxiety, anyway?  Well, that's probably something else that means different things to different people.  What it always meant to me, still means today, is a fundamental, lizard-brain feeling that I Am Not Safe.  Yes, this floor looks very sturdy, but be not fooled; I'm about to fall through it.  Yes, this job looks pretty promising, but don't hold your breath; I'm about to get fired.  Yes, this relationship looks happy and stable; but she's going to leave me any second.  And any number of dreadful occurrences are going to happen before you can say Jack Robinson.  (Don't ask me who Jack Robinson is.  I think he's just one of those people whose name just doesn't take very long to say.)  Tornado? Fire? Flood? Gout? Mitt Romney?  Yep, expect any or all of them any second now.  And once this feeling gets started, it does not want to go away.  There are things that help, but the only thing that's Guaranteed To Work is the judicious application of pharmaceuticals.  Legally prescribed ones, that is.  And what are they prescribed for?  Uh, severe anxiety.  Imagine.

Now, this here's a Buddhist speaking.  We're supposed to be all calm and relaxed-like.  And I am, most of the time.  Unless the anxiety jumps me.  Does meditating help?  Yes, somewhat.  Does chanting, reading stuff out of one of the sutras, something by Thich Nhat Hanh help?  Yes, again somewhat.  Does plunging into a project and just working like hell until I forget what I'm so anxious about help?  Yes, though it doesn't stop it from Coming Right Back as soon as the coast is clear.  but if I need a guarantee, if I want to be positive that I'm going to stop wanting to jump right the hell out of my skin in twenty minutes or less, pharmaceuticals help the best.

I'll give you an example.  I was talking to the New Guy last night about one of those things I really don't want to talk about.  I have quite a few such things, and generally deal with them by saying "Yes, that happened.  It was gross.  Let's move on."  The thing about visiting mental-health care professionals of any stripe, though, is that you really have to talk about the stuff you don't want to talk about or visiting doesn't do you a bit of good.  So I have this way of sneaking up on something, whacking it with my paw, and then taking off at great speed, only to return a few minutes later and sneak up on it again.  I learned this technique from my cat.  New Guy played along pretty well (he must also have a cat, although I haven't asked him).  And gradually we got close enough to the big icky thing I didn't want to talk about that we could, you know, talk about it.  Afterward, in the parking lot, I was a jangly mess of nerves.  So I did something I have not done in a while.  I Took Something. It kicked in, in about twenty minutes, by which time I was home.  And calm.  And secure.  And starting to get very darn sleepy.

That, in my humble opinion, is the biggest problem with pharmaceutically-induced security.  It comes with a side effect of unconsciousness.  Joan said she had a terrible time waking me up.  Shaking my arm didn't do it and patting my face didn't do it.  She finally had to take off my shoes.  I don't know why that wakes me up, but it does.  Maybe in a former life I was a World War I soldier in the trenches, and I had to keep an eye on my boots because boots got stolen a lot.  I don't know.  Anyway, I got up and stumbled into bed and woke up this morning with a hangover.  I haven't been hung over for so long I'd forgotten what it was like, but, yeah.  It was a hangover.  That's another downside to the pharmaceutical anxiety treatment.

Still, today's a new day and today I feel better.  No crawling out of my skin, no looming threats of tornadoes or earthquakes or Romneys.  And I'm late for my meeting.  Ciao.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Talk Thursday: Jury Duty.

Yep, it's happened again.  Just when I thought it was safe to open the mailbox.  Cute little white window envelope with a bright orange formy thing inside.  You (yes, you) have been summoned for jury duty.  Oh, for the love of--justice.  I was only down there a couple months ago.  I should be exempt for a while.  Unfortunately, I was down at the municipal Court and this here summons is from the district Court.  The district Criminal Court, in point of fact.  Whole different building and everything.  So it doesn't matter how recently I was down there.  I still have to go.  Unless, of course, I get a postponement.  My boss told me to ask because he's so busy right now, so I'll have to figure out how and hope I get one.  I don't know if they're automatic or if they just give you one if your law firm's donated to the Presiding Judge's re-election campaign recently.

Supposedly, this selection of jurors is random.  It goes by driver's license or voter registration or some other equally arcane set of numbers that I know nothing about.  Considering how many times I've been summoned, I'm a little suspicious, but then again, it sort of has to be random, doesn't it?  They can't be summoning me on purpose.  There's no way any attorney in his or her right mind would ever let me anywhere near an actual courtroom.

Yes, let it be known that people who actually know stuff about the law are generally Not Welcome on juries.  I mean, it happens, but not very often and not to anyone I've ever known.  In my case it's even less likely.  Not only do I know way too much about things legal, I'm also a wiseass.  Example from my last time on voir dire:  Q: "You work for a law firm?" A. "Yes, sir." Q. "And what do you do during the trial?"  A. "I watch the jury and try to guess what they're thinking."  True, dat.  But attorneys tend not to like it for some reason. Can't imagine why.

The first time I was ever summoned for jury duty, I was--hmm, let me see--seventeen years old.  I was all excited, thinking I got the day off from school to see how things worked in the Real World.  Then I found out you aren't eligible until you turn eighteen.  Imagine my disappointment.  I had to wait another eight years and two states to get summoned again.  I walked into the first courtroom and there uponst the bench sat one of my karate students.  (Yes, I used to be a karate instructor.  Well, sort of.  I was one level below brown belt, which meant I was somehow qualified to teach everybody who was one level below purple belt on down.  The judge was below purple belt.  I won't say how far.)  I waved at him and said, "Good morning, Mr. Burns."  He waved back and said, "Good morning, Ms. J----.  You can go."  And out the door I went.

(Just to make this doubly spooky, Joan ended up on a jury in the same courtroom with the same judge, and had to tell the bailiff that she lived with the woman who was once a karate student/sometime instructor at the same school.  The judge decided this wasn't a problem, but it must have been interesting to watch everybody trying to connect the dots.)

My next stab at penetrating the judiciary came while I was working for the Feds.  A day off to do anything was pretty darn cool, since we were working so many hours, and I got full pay for the day no matter when they turned me loose. Surprise!  I didn't get turned loose until 7:30 that evening.  It was a regulatory action, State vs. Somebody Or Other on charges of violating health codes or something like that.  Since I know almost nothing about this particular type of law, I had this fond hope that I might have a shot at jurorhood.  It was a fond, faint hope.  The state's attorney found increasingly creative ways to ask the same question over and over again using different words.  Around and around the room we went, with juror after juror answering variations on the theme of "just because you don't agree with the law doesn't mean you don't have to obey it".  About the third round I got fed up and said, "Objection.  Asked and answered."  The state's attorney turned and looked right at me, which was the first sign that I'd accidentally used my out-loud voice.  Oops.  Well, so much for getting on this jury.

But the defense attorney wasn't going to let me go so easily.  He must have been using me as a ringer.  ("Well, if you get her, then we get her.")  The bailiff kept calling groups of people back into the courtroom, and he always called me.  Every time.  More variations on the same question. Back into the hallway.  Sit and wait.  Then back into the jury box.  By seven in the evening everybody was ready to mutiny.  I couldn't believe I could last this long and not make it onto the panel, but when they finally rattled off the numbers of the jurors they wanted, mine wasn't among them.  And so, tired and cranky and dizzy with hunger, I plodded off toward the parking garage with the other rejects. It wasn't going well for the state of Texas, though.  One of the other jurors leaned over and said to me, "If the State loses this case, it's going to be because their lawyer pissed everybody off."

I've only been in the Criminal Court building one time, and that was for a sentencing hearing that I really didn't want to go to but kind of had to because I knew the victim's mother and somebody had to be there when she took the stand.  I took notes the whole time because, uh, I'm a paralegal and I don't know how to sit in a courtroom and not take notes.  It was ghastly.  Maybe things have gotten better since then?  Maybe if you're not there for a murder trial, it's just an ordinary courthouse?  One can always hope.  I don't know anything about criminal law, either.  So maybe I have a shot.  Just not until February, or at least that's what I'm requesting in my postponement. Remind me not to say "Objection. Asked and answered." this time.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Stupid. Stupid. Stupid.

Let it never be said that Buddhists don't get mad.  We tend to be more even-tempered than your average bear, and we don't get mad often, to be sure.  When we do get mad, though, it's usually because we see some being giving some other being, who doesn't really deserve it, a hard time. At least, that's when I get mad.  And when somebody's giving an entire group of people a hard time, regardless of what group of people, I tend to hit the fucking ceiling.

Before I go any further, though, I'd like to offer a general apology to Muslim women.  Not just the one or two of you who might have been in the Baylor Tom Landry Fitness Center dressing room this morning at about 7 a.m. local time.  No, I think this one should go out to all .8 billion of you.  I had a chance to stand up for you today and I didn't take it because I am a fucking coward.  I'm sorry.  I hope I really mean it when I tell you it won't happen again, because the things I regret in my life are by and large the things I haven't done.  The jobs I didn't take and the adventures I didn't go on and the confrontations that I avoided because I was scared.  I have a way with words, ya know, and when I waste a chance to make them count I just seethe inside.

So, okay. Tom Landry Fitness Center, 7 A.M.  Look, I know the Concerned Women of America work out there.  How can they not? It's a nice, tony place. Sort of a country club without golf.  I'm just a low-rent swim team member who gets to use the place for an hour or so in the morning. And I hear these conversations that make me shake my head in amazement and sometimes want to pound it against the wall.  Most of the time I can ignore them, though.  I mean, people don't like total strangers walking into their conversations to correct the facts of something they picked up from Fox News.  And it's none of my business, anyway. I've got much better things to do than save people from their own stupidity, especially when I know they won't even be a smidgen grateful.

But this.  This was beyond the pale.  This was two ladies talking about the Book of Revelation and how it was all "coming true."  How it said in the Bible that in the end times, our President would be a Muslim.  That the Muslims claimed to have a peaceful religion, but in reality they wanted to take over the world and force everybody to be a Muslim.  That they wanted to institute global jihad because they believed their messiah would only come back to a state of chaos.  That even if only 1% of Muslims believed this way, there were so many of them that the world was in serious danger.  It said so in the Bible. "It's really scary," one of them said to the other.  Yeah.  Bullshit is scary.  At least until you REALIZE IT'S BULLSHIT.

I have an exercise I do when I hear what appears to be hate speech.  I change the group of people being mentioned to another group of people and see how it sounds.  If it sounds unbelievably racist to say, for example, that the Jews claim to have a peaceful religion but in reality they want to take over the world and force everybody to be Jewish, or that the blacks want to institute global jihad so the black messiah will return, then it's hate speech.  This was definitely hate speech.  I'm fortunate not to remember all of it because I think I'd start foaming at the mouth.

Anyway, I struggled out of my clothes, tried to get my stuff together, while half my brain ran to the end of its chain and barked and the other half of my brain held onto the chain and kept repeating, "Do not go over there.  Do not involve yourself in that conversation."  I thought of the time some bitch was going on and on about Obama and I'd burst into song to shut her up. I was too angry to do that; I'd have had to sing something by AC/DC or Stiff Little Fingers instead of Beethoven, and AC/DC and Stiff Little Fingers are not popular among the Concerned Women for America set. The only thing I could really do was get my earplugs in as fast as possible and get out of the dressing room as fast as possible, so I could get into the pool as fast as possible and swim as fast as possible so that I could cool the hell down as fast as possible.  Which took about 45 minutes, in case you're wondering.

I'm not gonna bother to refute most of those statements, but the President-as-Muslim one is just too ridiculous to let lie.  The Bible, or rather the Book of Revelation, was written a good 70 or 80 years after the death of its supposed author, John the Baptist.  It reads like a good acid trip and was probably brought on by poisonous mushrooms.  I'm supposed to believe that this book references the President - of a form of government that does not yet exist - of the United States - of a country that does not yet exist, on land that is not yet known to exist, across an ocean that is not yet known to exist - and states that he will be a Muslim, a religion that does not yet exist (around the year 600, people, in case you're wondering)?  Even for me, who once believed that she could be recalled like a defective automobile and stripped for spare parts, that's a bit of a stretch. Yet the Concerned Women for America are all over it.  Have they actually read the Book of Revelation?  Or anything else in the Bible?  Or do they just take Cal Thomas's word for it?  I mean, seriously.  Is there any thought process that goes into this stuff whatsoever?

Here's the part that really frosts me.  I took off out of that dressing room because I didn't think there was any way I could say anything without totally blowing my stack.  Once I'd calmed down a little, I realized I could have shut the whole thing down without even raising my voice.  All I would have had to do is walk over there, put my hands down on the counter and say, in a soft voice, "Ladies, there are Muslim women in this dressing room right now.  Go ahead and talk smack about them if you want to, but please keep your voices down."  That's it.  That's all that needed to be said.  It wouldn't have been rude, I wouldn't have come across as a bitch, I just would have made them aware that their conversation was being overheard.  That probably would have stopped it entirely and if there were Muslim women in the room (and the odds are in my favor there; lots of nurses and nurse's aides use the fitness center, and lots of those nurses and nurse's aides are from Someplace Else, and lots of those Someplace Elses are Muslim countries), somebody would have spoken up for them.

Believe me, there are plenty of times I wish somebody had spoken up for me.  The times I've overheard conversations about "the gays" this and that, or "the crazy people" this and that, or better still, "so and so did (insert bizarre behavior here), he must be bipolar."  And there I stand, invisibly lesbian, more invisibly bipolar, thinking to myself, "I'm nothing like that.  We're nothing like that.  Where is he getting that?" and not having the guts to speak up.  It happens less and less often these days, since I'm getting older and my tolerance for bullshit is dropping, but there's always a sense of threat there, a fear that if you out yourself as a member of the group being discussed, all that negative attention will turn on you.  If you're lucky, they'll just yell at you and call you names.  If you're not lucky, they might beat you up or kill you.

That's why we need to speak up for each other.

I'm sorry I didn't do that today.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Talk Thursday: We're Not In Kansas.

The praying hands sculpture
outside Oral Roberts University. Eesh.
And we're not in Dallas, either.  Or we weren't for the weekend, anyway.  I was supposed to go up to Tulsa to be in an outdoor swim race, using the term "race" as loosely a possible.  I mean, you've seen Michael Phelps.  And you've seen me.  And you know I look about as much like Michael Phelps as Paul Ryan looks like Heidi Klum.  So when I say "race," here, I'm talking about "making it to the finish line under my own power," as opposed to, say, "being hauled along by a guy in a canoe while somebody calls 911."  Extra bonus points if I manage not to be last.  But about three days before I was supposed to leave, I realized this whole "race" thing wasn't going to happen.  I was having knee issues and fear-of-sunburn issues and if-I-have-to-swim-this-thing-in-the-burqini-I'm-going-to-be-even-slower-than-the-slowest-one-there.  So I quit.  Bailed on the race.  Said to hell with it and drove up to Tulsa with no intentions whatever of jumping into a lake.

So what did I do instead, you ask.  Well, I had dinner with an old friend.  

If you've been following me around for long enough, you might remember my somewhat ill-fated trip to New Orleans for the Pen to Press Writer's Retreat.  While I was there, I met somebody in one of those I've-known-you-my-whole-life sorts of ways.  His name's Rhett, and he lives in Tulsa with his wife and extended family.  We were going to have dinner anyway, back when I was swimming in the race, but, yeah.  I drove 500 miles round trip to have dinner with Rhett.  And you know what?  I felt a lot better for having done it.  

Let's face it, I haven't been having an easy time of it the last, oh, six or eight months.  It's gotten bad enough that I've had to See Somebody about it, and up until I got back from Tulsa I didn't have much hope of things ever improving.  I feel different now.  Well, kind of like things might improve after all, even if they haven't, yet, exactly.  The most important thing Rhett told me is that I have to keep going.  I can't stop mid-novel and just not pick it up again because it's, you know, gotten all difficult on me.  Nor can I stop pimping the one I've already finished to everyone and God.  I've only sent it out to about 107 people.  That means there's 6,999,999,893 people I haven't sent it to yet.  My God, I really have to get moving.  That's a serious lot of emails.  

Speaking of Seeing Somebody, the New Guy said something to me the other day that just about knocked my socks off.  I was describing my fits of anxiety with writing query letters, which, just incidentally, were bad enough a few years ago (when I still drank) that I had to get drunk to write them.  He said he wouldn't be too surprised if a lot of writers had problems with query letters.  There might be a question of degree, what with needing Scaley and Fang framed in my kitchen and so on, but seriously, what I'm trying to do (he said) is very hard.  Writers are superstitious creatures.  Probably most of them have some sort of query-letter ritual they go through when they send one of those horrible things to somebody who might or might not read more than the first six words.

Again, I had to hold on to my socks.  Seriously?  Not only am I consumed by anxiety, but I'm not even unique?  Holy cats. I don't even know what to do with that.  Except to keep going.  To keep going is easier than stopping.  If you don't know that, you've never driven back from Tulsa to Dallas on a Sunday afternoon in a beat-up '98 Corolla.  

Yep, I came full circle on that one.  Without stopping at the Choctaw casino, even.  

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Talk Thursday: "Annie Lennox Called...

...she wanted me to tell you she loves you."

Yep, that's quite the topic heading from which to take off.  Particularly when you consider the fact that if Annie Lennox ever did call and tell me she loved me--or even leave a message to that effect--I'd probably flip.  I mean, Annie Lennox.  Annie fucking Lennox.  Hello?  Not only is she gorgeous, she's intelligent, multitalented, obviously possessed of a sense of humor and last but not least, Scottish.  That's about as good as it gets in this crazy world.

That said, the number of people who call and leave messages that they love me are rather few and far between.  My parents, of course, and my sister.  And Joan, once in a while, when she's farther away than the average text message.  Still, if any of you want to call and tell me you love me, please feel free.  I was thinking the other day how awesome it would be if someone were to walk into my cube once a day, tell me I was doing a great job and pat me on the head.  This is about as likely to happen as, oh, Annie Lennox calling and leaving a message that she loves me, but it'd still make me feel a lot better.  Woe unto today's grade schoolers, who get trophies whether their team wins the soccer game or not; in Real Life (TM), nobody pats you on the head and tells you you're doing a great job.  Well, okay, it happens once in a great while.  When it does happen, you save the card or letter or email in your file marked "Hugs" and go through it on days when you're depressed, because it doesn't happen very damned often and you know that when it does happen, they Really Mean It.

Most of the time, I get a voice mail, as opposed to a message, but when I do get a message, it tends to be, "So and so called.  He's really pissed off about (blank)."  (Blank) is inevitably something I have no control over, but rather than be allowed to recruit the person who does have control over it, I get stuck returning the call anyway and apologizing on someone's behalf, then telling So and So that the situation, whatever it is, will be fixed forthwith, which, again, I don't have much control over.  Here's a Buddhist conundrum:  I basically have no control over anything, yet my job is asking me to have control over a great many things I have no control over.  When I show up; I sometimes have control over that.  (Though this morning, I was half an hour late.)  Whether or not I bring doughnuts; I usually have control over that.  (This morning I brought doughnuts.  If you're already going to be half an hour late, you might as well go for forty minutes and bring doughnuts.)

Here's something else I have no control over: Money.  The other day we found out that Joan is going to need oral surgery, and it's going to cost five figures.  Not all at once, thank God, but over the next five years or so.  The really big ugly final number was so big I couldn't even wrap my brain around it. It was like somebody telling me the nearest star is four light years from here.  I have no concept of how far light travels in a year.  Just no concept whatever.  And that much money--that's half my take-home pay for a year.  I mean gas, groceries, mortgage, electricity, food, vet visits, therapy bills, washing machine repairs.  Just an unbelievable amount of money.

So today I did something one should Never Ever Do.  I rolled some money out of an IRA.

I expected the earth to crack asunder, the temple curtain to tear from top to bottom, the sun to split and turn black in the sky.  That didn't happen, but I did sort of feel like throwing up.  I mean, this was the financial equivalent of traveling forward in time, finding my old lady self and stabbing her repeatedly in the chest.  Borrowing from your retirement fund is like--like passing a bill in Congress increasing the budget deficit, or something, and expecting your grandchildren to pay for it when they get older.  Surely our wise leaders would never do such a thing.  It would just be wrong.

Well, rightly or wrongly, it's done and I did it.  And we have the first round of oral surgery more or less sewn up, if you'll pardon the expression.  I'll need to adjust my tax withholding for the rest of the year, and I guess we'll worry about next year next year, but there we are.  If Annie Lennox feels like calling me up and telling me she loves me, this would be the perfect time.  Not only is she gorgeous, intelligent, multitalented, funny and Scottish, she's also rich.  Hello?  Annie?  I'm waiting.