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

Friday, April 27, 2012

Talk Thursday: Expectation, Reality, Evolution

I'm not supposed to watch the news.  Well, let's just say my doctor "strongly suggested" that I not watch the news.  Something about that half-hour parade of dead people, plane crashes, gruesome murders and, oh yeah, all the weird crap that goes into the presidential election is, uh, Not Good For My Mood.  So, okay, I quit watching the news, and for the most part I've quit going to CNN and, unless I'm really bored and I've already been on and I can't think of anything to add to this work-in-progress of mine, which just cleared eighty pages without bothering to tell me what in the hell it wants to be about.  I have definitely stopped trolling the CNN chat rooms, which I think I said was something like throwing rocks at hornet's nests filled with very dumb hornets that come out and yell at you because they can't figure out that stinging you will get rid of you faster.  (Really, people should be nice to hornets.  It's not like they mean any harm.)

But then there's Twitter.  I can't go half an hour on Twitter without somebody tweeting a link to something utterly fascinating, and while it usually isn't gruesome, dead or weird, it often manages to make me angry.  Lately it's the Republican war on women, which they say isn't really happening, which just goes to show that in addition to waging a war on women, they are also out of touch with reality.  I'm glad the GOP's new agenda is to ban abortion, make birth control expensive, punish women for having sex, pay women half as much as men doing the same jobs and pass laws declaring that pregnant women lose their civil rights at the moment of conception, because honestly? That jobs and the economy and fixing the deficit thing? Bor-ring. I can't imagine there are any Republican women reading my column but if there are, and you're going to vote your party ticket in November, please, for the love of God, comment and explain why.  Because I don't get it.  Being female and voting Republican is like being bovine and voting for the carnivore ticket when there's a perfectly valid vegetarian option.  Either you hate yourself or you hate all other women. Or--or what?  I don't know.  I don't get it at all.

Which brings us to today's topic. (Okay, it doesn't, really, but humor me.)  Expectation is, I think, something we're all born with, and a primary source of suffering.  From the time we're little kids we're taught to expect that certain things will happen; our parents will love us, there will be hot coffee every morning, we'll get a Baby Thataway for Christmas or whatever sectarian holiday we celebrate around the Winter Solstice, and the people we care about will never go away.  Then reality hits: Our parents can't really love us because no one ever loved them; coffee is too expensive; the Baby Thataway either doesn't show up or doesn't work; and Grandma dies of cancer when you're seven.  Not that this really stops us; we form new expectations as we grow up, and when we become parents ourselves, look out.  Our kid will excel at sports, look great in his Prom tuxedo, go to Harvard, get married and have kids of his own.

It occurs to me that nothing brings every parental dream crashing to earth faster than finding out your son or daughter is gay.  Even if it's not fully true, for a second there it all falls apart.  My son or daughter will not get married have children go to Prom play sports go to Harvard (they don't let gays into Harvard, do they?)  Normally you lose these expectations one at a time as your kid makes other plans.  To lose them all at once must rattle you to your very bones.  No wonder parents freak out, yell and scream, say lots of regrettable things and sometimes throw their kids out of the house.  Wouldn't you, if somebody put on cleats and stomped up and down all over your plans for the future?

Luckily, gay people do get married (in some states) or form lasting partnerships (in others), a lot of them have children (70% of lesbians over 40 have kids), lots of them play sports (U.S. figure skating would die an awful death if not for gay men) and the last time I checked, they were in fact letting gays into Harvard.  That's reality.  And also evolution.  Within my lifetime, which is not all that long, cops could arrest you for being gay in public, or for wearing the clothes of the opposite sex.  As recently as 2002 (ie, just a little more than 10 years ago) it was illegal to have gay sex in Texas. A Supreme Court case put the kibosh on that, but whether Texans have evolved or just been dragged kicking and screaming into the early 1900s remains to be seen.  Frankly, I think Texans in general are both more evolved and nicer than the Texas government, but then, I don't need to tell you that; you got to watch Governor Goodhair make a fool of himself all over the country for months.

So what do we do about this whole expectation-reality-evolution thing?  Well, last night at an OA meeting, somebody said that every moment of suffering he could ever recall came from not accepting the world as it is.  Something's not the way he wants it or he wouldn't have done it that way or this guy isn't doing what he wants.  I think Buddha would be all over that.  Temper your expectations, he'd no doubt suggest, and then point out that the Middle Way, in which we neither cling to expectations nor push them away but merely watch them come and go, is probably the path of least suffering for all beings.

As for reality and evolution--well, they happen all by themselves.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Talk Thursday (on Saturday): Ten Weird Things

Okay, so I'm late with another column.  So sue me.  I've been running around like a headless chicken getting a new roof put on this house.  Thankfully it is done, it looks all pretty and it rained yesterday and there were no gushings of water from the place above the hot water heater where it's been leaking.  Now all I have to do is come up with another $3 grand before the roofer comes by this morning to pick up his check.  I'd better do it, too.  He said something about kneecaps.

No, seriously, the roofing company has been great.  That's O'Briant Roofing, They did the roof in an afternoon (and said that they could do three houses my size in a day, if they had to).  I came by at noon to see how things were progressing and discovered that my house was a major construction site.  But when I came back after work, there was no sign the roofers had even been there, apart from the new roof.  They were very careful and thorough about cleaning up.  There's still work to be done, like rain gutters and the closet where the water heater was, but those are small things.  The roof was the big thing.

Amusing anecdote: While I was home at noontime, the roofing crew asked me to let them in so they could do something or other to the pipe that goes up out of the hot water heater.  (That water heater's really had the sheep kicked out of it lately.  It's going into retirement soon, though.)  While I was in the house, I looked for cats, all of whom were missing.  Something about all that banging and clanging and carrying on made for unhappy felines, as you might imagine.  Figuring they might be under my bed, I got down on one knee to take a look, forgetting that's where we store some of the Halloween stuff.  The first thing I saw was a plastic severed arm and I just about scared the bejabbers out of myself.  Seriously, I thought I was going to have to change pants.  Placidly sitting on the other side of the severed arm were three cats.  Oh, go ahead and laugh.  Like that's never happened to you.

Anyway:  This week's topic was to take an Internet meme and run with it.  The problem with that, I wrote back to the topic-o-meister, is that I haven't a clue what a meme is.  I asked Joan and she tried to explain, using as her example "The cake is a lie."  I didn't get it.  All cake is inherently a lie; it looks like a harmless pastry when it's really crack cocaine.  I have proof.  (And doughnuts.  Doughnuts are a gateway drug.  How many young people are we losing every year, one doughnut at a time?)  Finally the topico-meister suggested I just go with Ten Weird Things About Me.  So here they are, in no particular order.

#10.  Am convinced I have at least twice visited a past incarnation of mine, a Dutch nobleman who lived sometime in the late1700s and loved to dance.  He also liked Mozart.  But hey, who didn't?

#9. Am also convinced that Buddhists have the whole idea of reincarnation just slightly wrong, and my own theory of reincarnation would completely negate my having visited a past incarnation of mine, never mind his being a Dutch nobleman who likes to dance.  Oh well.

#8.  I have this thing about my eyebrows.  Namely, I love my eyebrows.  They're big and bushy and in your face, and I Will. Not. Have. Them. Plucked.  When my bangs start brushing against my eyebrows, it's time for a haircut.  I can't stand it when I can't see my eyebrows.

#7.  I scratch the roof of my car when I run a yellow light.  Well, Joan thinks that is weird, anyway.

#6.  For about 11 years, I was in a bagpipe band.  Yes, I play the bagpipes.  Well, I used to.  I think I could probably still manage a couple of tunes.

#5.  On St. Patrick's Day, I get really really proud to be Icelandic and start demanding to know why people don't wear dark blue on June 17.

#4.  I hate, loathe and despise shopping for clothes.  (I think that revokes my woman card.  Oh well, they can have it.)  If it weren't for the Roamans catalog and The Woman Within I'd be naked. And Junonia.  They make fine bathing suits, however pricey they may be.

#3.  I sunburn ridiculously easily.  Like in less than ten minutes.  My sister's got this worse than I do, but both of us go to great lengths to stay out of the sun.  She wears fake sleeves and gloves when she drives her car.  I don't go that far, but I do have a Muslim woman's bathing suit that I wear when my swim team starts swimming outside in the summertime.  (Alas, I don't look that good in it.)

#2.  I don't really look the part, but I do have a purple belt in karate.  That's just below brown belt, which is just below black belt.  At one point they actually let me teach a couple of classes.  That should scare you.  It definitely scared me.

And finally (drum roll, please) the #1 weird thing about me:

Before I became a high-powered paralegal, I worked in a (gasp!) library.  Like, for over ten years.  I mean, can you imagine somebody as loud as I am in a library?  And I was louder back then.  But hey, it's where I met my lovely wife Joan.  And I was good at it.  So watch it.  Don't make me shush your ass.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Talk Thursday (on Wednesday): Caterpillars

My parents fly into town today, and who knows how much time I'll have to do anything over the next few days. So, let's blog. The topic du jour is caterpillars. I think I'm supposed to call to mind the little fuzzy guys that start crawling up my oak tree at this time of year, soon to make little cocoons and emerge later as nifty-looking butterflies and pepper moths. (I love pepper moths. There's no two alike, just like snowflakes.) More moths than butterflies, at least around here, but some very creative moths we have in Dallas. The trouble with moths, though, is that they tend to fly into the house by accident because they're congregating around the outside light, and then you open the door, which is right by the outside light, and they zoom in with you, and presto! They're cat toys. Caesar likes nothing better than to chase moths. Chloe will yell at them if they're out of reach, which is pretty funny, actually.

But the kind of caterpillar I generally think of looks like this:
Mainly that's because I live in Dallas, where despite the recession and talk of no government funds, some road or another is always getting torn up for repairs. Right now it's the 635 all the way from the I35 interchange to the 75 by my office. I usually come up from downtown and miss most of the fun, but I can see it out most of the office windows and let me tell you, it is not pretty. If you gotta drive in North Dallas, you'd do well to take the surface streets.

Then there's this kind of caterpillar, which tends to show up at my idiot neighbor's house. Have I mentioned my idiot neighbor lately? This little guy showed up to dig a big hole in his back yard, while I watched (and secretly videotaped, in case he's a serial killer and he was digging an underground bunker to hide the bodies.) It turned out to be for a below-ground swimming pool, of the sort that requires proper drainage, a four-foot locking fence, and a city permit. None of which he bothered with. Did I mention he's an idiot? I should have figured he didn't have the smarts to be a serial killer. At least not for long. (Course, if I disappear after writing this blog post, check under the pool.)

Now, really, I should not be complaining about construction. After all, it brings jobs. (You know, those things that the Republicans were so excited about for five minutes, before somebody mentioned birth control.) And it doesn't affect me all that much, because I can drive around it (some people can't) or go through it at times of day when it's less likely to be jammed with angry motorists (and Caterpillars). But there are days when I'd like to look out my office window (or somebody else's office window; my office doesn't have a window) and just watch our resident hawk zoom around, instead of the big yellow trucks moving back and forth. I'm just sayin'.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Talk Thursday: Why on Earth Does Anyone Live There?

I'm just now getting a look at Wednesday's paper. The headline (in 46 points, no less): "FAST AND FIERCE: Dozen twisters terrorize area. Twin supercells hit at same time. Rampant damage, but no deaths." They almost sound disappointed. I guess supercells aren't very exciting unless they kill hundreds of people. I gotta say they were exciting enough. I got rousted from my desk--twice--and herded down to the basement of our building, where I got to hang with my colleagues in an underground conference room for--well, some period of time; I didn't have my cell phone (note to self: A must during tornado warnings) so I really didn't know how long. (I'm glad I wasn't Joan. She got hauled out of her underground office--I guess it wasn't underground-y enough--and out into the parking garage, where she spent about three hours sitting in her car with two colleagues. She had her cell phone, though.) The day was pretty much shot at that point. Most of the people I needed to talk to weren't answering their phones, and the sirens kept going off and scaring the crap out of everybody.

For the record, Dallas does not have days like this very often. Yes, we have tornadoes, and somebody in the weather biz could probably tell you how many and when. But despite our dubious distinction of hanging around at the southernmost corner of Tornado Alley, it's maybe two or three times a year at best that this sort of thing happens, and usually it's a tornado watch, not a tornado warning. Yes, two or three times a year is plenty. I don't live in Oklahoma City for a good reason. Several good reasons, actually. But we don't walk around in terror of tornadoes, the same way we didn't freak out over earthquakes when we lived in Southern Cal, or heat index warnings when we lived in Phoenix, Arizona. (Actually, Joan never lived in Phoenix. As she says, "It's too effing hot." But she did live in Florida, where there are hurricanes, and grew up tracking tropical storms across the Gulf on little maps.) For a really fun night with tornadoes howling all around, see this post.

Inevitably, the question must arise among non-Dallasites who have never done a tornado warning: Why on earth does anyone live there? Yes, good question. If we'd had it to do over again we'd have built Dallas about four hours south of here, partially on a barrier island and partially on the mainland, connected by a causeway and ringed with protective hurricane walls. Oh, wait, then we'd be Galveston. Seriously, though. If you look at Tornado Alley, you'll see that, on balance, not a lot of people live there. It's pretty rural country, with small towns and only the occasional city (Hi, Tulsa! Hi, OKC! Hey, how's it going, Minneapolis?) So maybe we actually thought this thing through. Where Tornadoes, Build Only Farms.

But that doesn't explain Southern Cal and San Francisco: Where Earthquakes, Build Only Really Expensive High Rises And Million-Dollar Homes? I lived in California for 11 years and we had many, many earthquakes during my tenure, including the big Northridge quake of 1994. That sucker woke me up. Briefly. I also spent a large-ish chunk of my formative years in Salt Lake City, which is earthquake country, and grew up doing earthquake drills, hiding under desks, standing in doorways (which has since been discredited; you're better off under something solid, like a heavy table). Yet every time the shaking started, I did the same thing; nothing. I sat there, or stood there, looked around and thought, "Hm. We must be having an earthquake." By the time that thought crawled slowly through my head, the shaking would have stopped. If we'd ever had a really big one, I'd have been flattened.

So the question inevitably arises, for people who don't live in Southern Cal and would never think about moving there; Why on earth does anyone live there? Same question Southern Californians ask when they read about nasty winter storms dumping feet of snow on Chicago. Also the same question Chicagoans ask about Floridians tracking Hurricane Furious across the Atlantic to see if it'll land on their doorsteps. And probably the same question Floridians ask about Dallasites, as we dive into our bathtubs and haul mattresses in after us. Everyone thinks their natural disasters are far superior to other, more foreign natural disasters in distant, less civilized states. Which is another way to say, you just get used to it.

I live in Dallas because my significant sweetie got a job in Dallas. (The alternative was almost Lubbock. Dodged a bullet there.) Before that, I lived in Southern Cal, for much the same reason (different sweetie, different job; she dumped me for a bimbo receptionist, oh well, life goes on.) My parents moved from Arizona to Salt Lake City because they missed their friends. My aunt and uncle are selling their place in the north and moving to Scottsdale, Arizona because it's too much work to keep up two houses. People move to certain towns for all kinds of reasons, but rarely does the type of natural disaster make the list. That's just something that comes with the package.

Anyway, I like tornadoes. They're big and solemn and, if you're 30 miles away and relatively safe, neat to watch. Not that I've ever actually seen one, of course. Every time one comes along, I'm usually in a basement or a bathroom or some other dank windowless abode, hoping it misses my house. Well, the house has been there since 1958; it's probably okay. And if not, we need a new roof. But that's a whole 'nother blog post.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Sebastian, Nicholas and the Talking Heads

I'm not what you'd call superstitious, exactly, but I do sometimes see things happen that seem to link together with other things that happen. Which is a roundabout way of saying I'm superstitious. Kind of. Let's put it this way: If a black cat crossed my path, I wouldn't turn around, but I'd probably start humming that song by the Stray Cats. Which is why I shouldn't gamble. Well, one of the reasons. The other reason is the Fifth Precept, under which I promised to do my best to avoid alcohol, mood-altering substances of various kinds, and, uh, gambling. Pretty explicitly, in point of fact. Well, Buddha said "horse-racing," but Buddha didn't know they were going to build Las Vegas and frankly, I think he'd be a little appalled if he had.

I dunno if you live in a state where this goes on, but around here everybody was nuts for the Mega Millions Lottery, for which the pot got up to a ridiculous half-billion dollars last week. I don't know what one would do with a half-billion dollars--buy Namibia? Feed India for a year?--but nobody I know seemed to be able to resist trying to find out. We even had an "office pool" at the ol' law firm, into which $5 bills were flung. I got around the "no gambling" prohibition by bringing in Joan's $5 bills, but really, is karma dumb enough to be fooled by such a cheap trick? I think not. Obviously we didn't win, and I think part of why we didn't win was that I joined in. I mean, not only was I gambling, but I was knowingly and deliberately gambling, in violation of the prohibition, and using a cheap excuse (come on, it wasn't Joan's money any more than it was my money. It all comes from the same place) to boot. That's GOT to be bad karma.

Yes, I know. The other reason we didn't win was that our odds were half a billion to whatever number of tickets we bought. But, like I said, I'm a wee bit superstitious. Which was why getting introduced to someone's cats yesterday became an adventure in not getting completely startled. I was over picking up a couple of cat traps that belong to Kittico, and the nice man who'd been using them to trap, neuter and release some of the scads of stray cats in his neighborhood invited me in. Two big fluffy Siamesels came up to greet me and sniff fingers. "JoAnn," said the man (I don't know why he thinks my name is JoAnn, but I'd decided not to argue with him), "meet Sebastian and Nicholas."

For the uninitiated, Nicholas is the name of one of the bad guys in my novel. San Sebastian is the city where it all happens. That this guy would have cats named Sebastian and Nicholas is like the weirdest coincidence ever. The only thing that would be weirder is if his cats were named Nicholas and Roland, and then I can promise you I would have bolted out the front door and never come back, not even for the cat traps. (Roland being the other bad guy. And a lot worse than Nicholas. To say nothing of fluffier.)

When it comes to the stupid book, things just seem to happen in a weird coincidental sense. Yesterday morning, before I met Nicholas and Sebastian, "Once in a Lifetime" by the Talking Heads came on the radio. Which isn't significant, either, except that I quote it all the way through the book. Whenever that song comes on the radio, something good tends to happen. What with the Talking Heads and Sebastian and Nicholas, pardon me if I was expecting maybe some good news from a literary agent or other all day yesterday.

I didn't get any. But hey, the week is still young. And I sent another query letter this morning. Hi, Ms. Lyon, I'm cute, quiet, housebroken, amenable to the editing process and I like the Talking Heads. Into the blue again, into the silent water, under the rocks and stones (there is water underground...)